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Summary

  1. Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind deny wrongdoing after Dispatches/Telegraph claims
  2. Proposed schedule for televised election debates published by broadcasters
  3. David Cameron's election pledge to keep universal benefits for pensioners
  4. Lib Dem Nick Clegg says a rising prison population is a sign of "failure, not success"
  5. UKIP set out its health policy, including an already announced extra £3bn of annual spending.

Live Reporting

By Angela Harrison

All times stated are UK

Get involved

Night round-up

A quick look back at the main stories of the day:

  • Two MPs who are both former foreign secretaries have been suspended from their parliamentary parties in what's been dubbed a "
    cash for access" scandal.
  • Labour's Jack Straw and the Conservative, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, were secretly filmed discussing possibly working with a fictitious Chinese company. Both deny breaking any rules and have referred themselves to parliament's standards watchdog.
  • Labour leader Ed Miliband says he would ban MPs from taking paid directorships or consultancies
  • In other news, David Cameron says the Conservatives would
    keep universal benefits for pensioners if they were re-elected
  • Broadcasters
    have set out the order of the proposed leaders' TV election debates. They would finish with a Cameron v Miliband head-to-head the Thursday before the country goes to the polls on 7 May
  • UKIP leader Nigel Farage
    says his party would find an extra £3bn for the NHS, funded by reducing payments to the European Union
  • In the Commons this afternoon, the Chancellor George Osborne and shadow chancellor Ed Balls traded accusations that both of their parties failed to act on information about tax avoidance and evasion relating to HSBC

That's all from the Politics Live team for tonight. We'll be back at 06:00 tomorrow to bring you the latest political news.

'Committee's decision'

Newsnight

More reaction to the allegations about the two MPs and former foreign ministers, Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who both deny any wrong-doing. There have been some calls for Sir Malcolm to stand down as chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, after the two men were secretly filmed separately discussing possibly working for a fictitious Chinese company.

The former chairman of the same committee, Labour's Kim Howells, told Newsnight the committee's reputation cannot be "dragged down, it is too important".

"Its reputation isn't being improved when it looks as if the chair of the committee is the victim of a sting operation," he said, adding that any decision on whether Sir Malcolm should leave that post had to be made by the committee.

'Cash for access' row

Newsnight

Adam Afriyie
BBC

Conservative MP Adam Afriyie tells Newsnight that "It's very important that every MP has outside interests and sometimes outside earnings". But Green MP Caroline Lucas said being an MP was "about public service" and a "full-time job".

Tomorrow's Independent

Independent
Independent

Tomorrow's Times

Times front page
Times

ComRes poll for Daily Mail

The Daily Mail

More on that new ComRes poll for the Daily Mail, which puts the Conservatives two points ahead of Labour. It suggests UKIP has slipped four points to 13% and that the Greens are on 8% - level with the Lib Dems.

Con 34% (+3)

Lab 32% (+2)

LD 8% (NC)

UKIP 13% (-4)

Green 8% (+1)

Others 6% (-1)

ComRes interviewed 1,004 GB adults by telephone between 20th and 23rd February 2015. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of all GB adults.

Tomorrow's Daily Mirror

Mirror
Mirror

Tomorrow's Financial Times

Ft front page
FT

James Chapman, Daily Mail

@jameschappers

tweets: First @DailyMailUK/@ComResPolls poll: Tories up since Jan, Ukip on slide: CON 34 (+3) LAB 32 (+2) UKIP 13 (-4) LIB 8 (-) GRN 8 (+1)

Nick Sutton. Editor, World at One

@suttonnick

tweets: Tuesday's Telegraph front page: Straw to take job with firm he lobbied for in Commons #tomorrowspaperstoday

Telegraph front page
Telegraph

Putin on Ukraine

An issue abroad which will interest UK politicians: Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has said he thinks war with Ukraine is an "apocalyptic scenario" which is very unlikely. He told Russian television the peace deal agreed in Minsk was the best way to normalise the situation and denied that Russian troops had been helping rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Sex selection

House of Commons

Parliament

Fiona Bruce MP
BBC

In the Commons, MPs have rejected an amendment aimed at clarifying the law and explicitly banning abortion on the grounds of gender alone - voting 292 to 201.

Conservative Fiona Bruce had pressed for the change, with the backing of more than 100 MPs drawn from both sides of the Commons. But after a brief debate, MPs rejected the proposal - which would not have changed the law but sought to update 1967 legislation drafted before it was possible to identify the sex of a foetus.

Twitter on Dispatches

Twitter hashtag

#PoliticiansforHire is drawing together comments on the Dispatches/ Telegraph investigation.

Words such as "sleaze" and "greed" appear, alongside phrases such as "media stirring", "minimum wage" or in praise of investigative journalism.

Journalist @jennykleeman

tweets: Wincing as well as cringeing #PoliticiansforHire

Tom Latchem (@theboylatch)

tweets: "Whatever the rules, our footage raises questions.." (ie. We don't have proof of rule-breaking so we'll run it anyway.) #PoliticiansforHire

There's not much sympathy for the MPs, with anger being directed at the fees they can command on top of their salaries.

However, a few speak up for politicians, including @JamesMills1984 of Labour who

tweets: I hate lobbying scandals as the majority of politicians I've met regardless of party aren't driven by self-enrichment.. #PoliticiansForHire

Dispatches

Iain Watson

Political correspondent, BBC News

This is more about tone than a question of breaking any rules. Sir Malcolm and Jack Straw are saying they stayed within the spirit and letter of the rules, but the impression being given is that they are looking around for other work when they should be concentrating on their day job.

What's happening in Parliament?

House of Commons

Parliament

Over at the Houses of Parliament, MPs are continuing their scrutiny of the government's Serious Crime Bill, which is going through its remaining stages in the Commons. The House of Lords is also busy, debating athe Modern Slavery Bill. Our colleagues at Democracy Live

bring you all the latest.

Dispatches

Channel 4

Jack Straw
Channel 4

In secret filming, Jack Straw says he "turns down quite a lot" [of offers of work]. "I have to be able to justify myself afterwards and to my constituents," he is heard to say.

In a statement later to the progamme, he says he had made it clear that any work undertaken would be after he had stood down as an MP. All his outside work had been fully and properly declared, he said.

'Cash for access' row

#politiciansforhire hashtag is trending on Twitter.

12 MPs targeted

Channel 4

Dispatches says reporters approached 12 MPs asking if they would be interested in joining the advisory board of a Chinese company. Half of the MPs did not respond, while one said they were not interested, the programme says.

'Old ruse worked well'

Channel 4

On Dispatches, reporter Anthony Barnett reminds viewers that the programme did the same kind of 'sting' five years ago and that this led to an inquiry and "a couple of changes" to the rules.

"Our ruse worked so well last time, we thought we would give it another go," he said.

The programme and a joint investigation by

the Telegraph led to ex-foreign secretaries Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw
being suspended from their respective party groups in parliament. They were secretly filmed apparently offering services to a private company for cash. Both deny doing anything wrong.

Matthew Harris, LBC executive producer

@hattmarris84

tweets: Rachel Reeves goes on to brand Andrew Rosindell a 'misogynistic dinosaur' for questioning her competence during/after her pregnancy.

'Fuels cynicism'

BBC News Channel

Some more reaction to the cash for access story. The Daily Mirror's associate editor Kevin Maguire tells the BBC News Channel it "fuels cynicism" and further erodes faith in politics and politicians. It isn't the voters who are most angry about it, he adds, but other MPs. Mr Maguire adds that it is "quite astonishing" that Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw - two former foreign secretaries - fell for the sting.

Animal slaughter

A Tory MP said he would prefer to be stunned if his throat was to be cut, as ministers were urged to ban non-stun slaughter.

Former army officer and Beckenham MP Bob Stewart said witnessing pigs having their throats cut made his heart bleed, adding it was "quite disgraceful" animals in the UK were not pre-stunned before they were killed.

He was speaking in a debate triggered by an e-petition signed by 116,163 people calling for an end to the slaughter of animals who have not been stunned.

Miliband on the arts

Sean Coughlan

Education correspondent

Ed Miliband
BBC

Labour would

put the arts at the heart of government, with schools playing a key role, says party leader Ed Miliband.

Rotherham scandal

House of Commons

Parliament

Louise Casey, the author of a withering report on Rotherham Council's failure to tackle child sexual exploitation, has told MPs that South Yorkshire Police should face the same level of scrutiny over their "failure".

She told the Communities and Local Government Committee: "The police have to step up and accept the same level of responsibility to those victims and those perpetrators as the local authority.

"We were asked to inspect Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council and we left no stone unturned. It's a pretty thorough and damning report. The same level of scrutiny has not happened ... to the police in Rotherham over that time."

Lord Ashcroft, former Conservative treasurer

@LordAshcroft

tweets: Average of the Ashcroft National Poll 2nd February to 23rd February CON 31.8% LAB 32.2% LDEM 8.2% UKIP 14.0% GRNS 7.8%

TV debates

Natalie Bennett, Nigel Farage, Nick Clegg, David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nicola Sturgeon, Leanne Wood
Getty Images

Back to the TV debates for a moment, following the broadcasters' announcement of the proposed schedule. Darren Hughes, deputy chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, has said: "We welcome today's agreement by the broadcasters as another important step forward in getting the TV debates which the British public deserve.

"But it's now up to the parties to commit, once and for all, to taking part."

Pensioners' protection

The Prime Minister says the Conservatives will

continue to protect benefits for pensioners if they win May's general election.

Campbell on Labour

Tony Blair's former spin doctor Alastair Campbell has said the current Labour team needs to "step up" because there is too much focus on Ed Miliband. "There is a responsibility for Ed Miliband to engage and liberate the broader team, but more importantly for that broader team to step up to it ... the election is becoming far too focused on the two leaders," he said.

He said Tristram Hunt, Andrew Burnham and Rachel Reeves were key players who should increase their profiles to show Labour had a "talented" team and boost the party ahead of the election.

Ed Miliband
Getty Images

Russian sanctions

House of Commons

Parliament

Also from the PM's statement earlier - Conservative MP Cheryl Gillan pushed the prime minster for detail about when sanctions on Russia might be in place. There is "concern the unrest may spread", she said. David Cameron said the argument for more sanctions was increasing. "Europe and America need to make the weight of their economic relationship with Russia pay. At the end of the day, Russia needs us more than we need Russia," he added.

Labour response

House of Commons

Parliament

Responding to the Prime Minister's earlier statement, Labour leader Ed Miliband saidhis party supported the proposals for a passenger name directive. In addition to this though, the "Prevent" programme must be looked at again, to see how local communities can be better integrated into the scheme, he argued.

Labour also supports the prime minister's proposals to "extend economic sanctions" on Russia if the Minsk ceasefire agreement was not adhered to. It was "vital the international community stand ready to increase pressure on Russia", he added.

Afternoon round-up

The top headlines today include:

  • Ex-foreign secretaries Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Jack Straw
    have been suspended from their respective party groups in parliament after being secretly filmed apparently offering services to a private company for cash
  • Both political veterans deny doing anything wrong. The Dispatches programme will be broadcast on Channel 4 at 8pm, you can read the
    Daily Telegraph's report here. Here's a guide to the row and
    the rules for MPs.
  • David Cameron says the Conservatives would
    keep universal benefits for pensioners if they are elected to government in the general election
  • The broadcasters
    have set out the order of the proposed leaders' TV election debates. They would finish with a Cameron v Miliband head-to-head the Thursday before the country goes to the polls on 7 May
  • UKIP leader Nigel Farage
    says his party would find an extra £3bn for the NHS, funded by reducing payments to the European Union
  • In the Commons this afternoon, the Chancellor George Osborne and shadow chancellor Ed Balls traded accusations that both of their parties failed to act on information about tax avoidance and evasion relating to HSBC
  • Later, the Prime Minister said the government wanted the police and security services to have access to passenger name records for all routes in and out of Britain

James Cook, BBC Scotland Correspondent

tweets: Former Downing St communications director Andy Coulson to stand trial on perjury charge on April 21 following hearing in Edinburgh today.

Minimum wage

Iain Watson

Political correspondent, BBC News

The business secretary Vince Cable has revealed that the Low Pay Commission will recommend an above inflation - 3% - increase in the adult rate of the minimum wage from £6.50 and hour to 6.70 an hour (the biggest rise since 2008).

Sturgeon: People's nightmares

Nicola Sturgeon
BBC

Nicola Sturgeon has criticised the Prime Minister after he claimed an alliance between the SNP and Labour would be the "'ultimate nightmare scenario" for Britain after the general election.

On a visit to London, the Scottish First Minister said: "People in Scotland should think that anything that is a nightmare for David Cameron is a good thing for most other people."

Passenger name records

House of Commons

Parliament

The need for police and security services to have access to passenger name records for all routes in and out of Britain, was the subject of the "most substantial discussions at European Council", the Prime Minister tells MPs.

Following the attacks in Paris and Copenhagen the council agreed that EU legislators would "urgently adopt a strong and effective passenger name directive", Mr Cameron says.

Russia must 'change course'

House of Commons

Parliament

Turning to the situation in Ukraine, David Cameron says "far from changing course" Russia's "illegal actions in Eastern Ukraine have reached a new level".

He warns that Russia must "change course now or the economic pain it endures will only increase".

The government will debate how to enact this at the upcoming G7 summit.

In Quotes: Nick Clegg on prisons

"Prison works' is a slogan, not a solution. It is not working when it routinely turns first-time offenders into hardened criminals. We want to end the revolving door that sees offenders leave prison with no help and no hope, only to return to their cell a few weeks later."

Labour attacks Lib Dems on prisons

Shadow justice minister Sadiq Khan responded to Nick Clegg's speech about prisons saying: "Under Liberal Democrat ministers, there's been a surge in suicides, a massive spike in violence and prisoners are idling their time away in their cells or on landings."

LBC radio

@LBC

Tweets: On who will win the election in May, Jeffrey Archer tells @ShelaghFogarty "I haven't got a clue. It will be 400 by-elections."