UK intelligence work defends freedom, say spy chiefs

 

GCHQ director Sir Iain Lobban: "We don't want to delve into innocent emails and phone calls"

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Britain's security services defend - rather than undermine - freedom and democracy, the head of MI5 has said.

Andrew Parker was being grilled alongside GCHQ director Sir Iain Lobban and MI6 chief Sir John Sawers in an unprecedented public hearing.

He said 34 terror plots had been disrupted since the 7 July, 2005, attacks in London.

The three men were quizzed on the work of their organisations by the Intelligence and Security Committee.

The committee of MPs and peers normally takes evidence from the security chiefs in secret.

But they have been under pressure to be more open after leaks by ex-US security contractor Edward Snowden revealed widespread spying by GCHQ and the US National Security Agency.

'Walk out'

MI6 chief Sir John Sawers warned the politicians that "our adversaries were rubbing their hands with glee, al Qaeda is lapping it up" in the wake of the Snowden revelations, adding: "The leaks from Snowden have been very damaging, they've put our operations at risk".

GCHQ chief Sir Iain Lobban said activists in the Middle East and "closer to home" had been monitored discussing ways of switching away from communications they "now perceived as vulnerable".

Agencies' official tasks

  • Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ): Safety and security of the UK's cyber- connections and infrastructure
  • Security Service (MI5): Protection of national security against threats from espionage, terrorism and sabotage
  • Secret Intelligence Service (MI6): Collects Britain's foreign intelligence

Source: GCHQ, MI5 and MI6

He also suggested the leaks could help paedophiles avoid detection, and said the success of intelligence operations required the country's enemies to be "unaware or uncertain" of methods.

The Intelligence and Security Committee has already carried out a limited investigation into claims that GCHQ used the American National Security Agency's vast Prism programme, which gathers information from internet companies, to circumvent UK laws.

Sir Iain was asked about these claims, but said his agency acted within the law and rejected the idea that they were involved in widespread snooping.

He said: "We do not spend our time listening to the telephone calls or reading the emails of the majority. That would not be proportionate, that would not be legal, and we would not do it."

He said the type of people employed by GCHQ were focused on combating terrorism and criminals and would "walk out" if they were asked to spy on innocent people.

Andrew Parker, John Sawers and Iain Lobban The three men were questioned for 90 minutes in a parliamentary committee room

Andrew Parker, who handles agents within the UK, told the committee a total of 34 terror plots had been foiled since 2005 including "one or two" plots aimed at causing mass casualties. Most had been foiled as result of the intervention of the police and security services.

He said MI5 was aware of "several thousand individuals in this country who I would describe as supporting violent extremism or are engaged in it" and "almost all" of the plots had involved some of "these people".

He also warned about the growth of "terrorist tourism", where British nationals travel abroad for training before return to the UK to plot attacks, with the civil war in Syria currently proving a magnet for those seeking "jihadi" activity among groups linked to al Qaeda.

Committee chairman Sir Malcolm Rifkind began the 90 minute hearing - televised with a two-minute time delay to prevent the inadvertent release of sensitive secrets - by saying it was a "very significant step forward in the transparency of our intelligence agencies".

The agency chiefs explained what they saw their role as in a post-Cold War world and whether they were worth the £2bn in taxpayer money they receive each year.

'Not James Bond'

Mr Parker, who took over as head of MI5 earlier this year, said it was a "proportionate investment against the threats the country faces".

Responding to concerns raised by leaks by ex-US security contractor Edward Snowden, he said: "The suggestion that what we do is somehow compromising freedom and democracy - of course we believe the opposite to be the case.

Analysis

Seeing three spooks in a row on the telly is unprecedented.

But forget thoughts of James Bond, Skyfall and all the rest of it. And forget too that image of spies hiding in bushes.

The "soup of the internet," as it was described, is the big challenge.

One might expect that men whose organisations operate in the dark might have looked reluctant public witnesses.

But they appeared rather keen - with soundbites at the ready - to spell out their anger at the intelligence leaks by the former US spy Edward Snowden.

There was no spy-speak or acronyms when Sir John Sawers of MI6 said al-Qaeda "is lapping it up" and "our adversaries are rubbing their hands with glee".

And the session concluded with news that it won't be the last: Sir Malcolm Rifkind concluded by saying "we look forward to further open sessions".

"The work we do is addressing directly threats to this country, to our way of life and to the people who live here."

MI6 chief Sir John Sawers was quizzed about why the security services had failed to predict the fall of the Soviet Union, 9/11 and the Arab Spring.

He said that was not their job, telling the committee: "We acquire the secrets that other countries don't want us to know... we are not all-knowing specialists in what's going to happen next month or next year."

Both he and Mr Parker stressed that they would never condone or be complicit in the torture of terror suspects, but Sir John admitted the security services were not adequately resourced or trained to cope with the scale of the terror threat in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

"It took us some time to adapt to the scale of the threat we faced," he told the committee, but they had "learned a huge amount over the last 12 years" and he was "satisfied" with the "rigorous compliance procedures now in place".

Sir John, whose agency runs spying operations around the world, said agents in the field did not operate in isolation "like James Bond" and there was round-the-clock support available to them if they needed it.

MI6 chief Sir John Sawers: "The leaks from Snowden have been very damaging"

"We have a system to enable guidance to be issued from head office and if we don't feel clearly enough it falls one side of the line or the other - or the facts are just uncertain - then we will wake the foreign secretary up and ask him for a view one way or the other."

'Mass spying'

Documents leaked to the Guardian newspaper by Mr Snowden - who is currently in Moscow where he has sought sanctuary from the US - revealed that agencies are able to tap into the internet communications of millions of ordinary citizens through GCHQ's Tempora programme.

Although the committee cleared the agency of any wrongdoing in the 197 specific intelligence reports it looked at, it is now undertaking a wider inquiry into whether the laws governing surveillance are adequate for the internet age.

How intelligence is gathered

How intelligence is gathered

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who created the world wide web, has said encryption cracking by UK and US spy agencies is "appalling and foolish".

Journalist Glenn Greenwald, who worked with Mr Snowden on stories for the Guardian about spying by the National Security Agency and GCHQ, said the Parliamentary system had, so far, failed to hold Britain's intelligence agencies to account.

"There was a huge suspicion-less system of mass spying that the British people and the American people had no idea had been built in their name and with their money," he said.

But he added: "I believe that that system can bring about real accountability if there's the political will."

Sir David Ormand, former head of GCHQ, earlier defended the closeness of Britain's intelligence relationship with the US, telling BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We have the brains. They have the money. It's a collaboration that's worked very well."

Asked why there had been such a fierce debate about the Communications Data Bill, dubbed the "snooper's charter" by critics, when GCHQ was already gathering large quantities of data covertly, he said the agency was "primarily a foreign intelligence agency" and the proposed legislation concerned British data.

He added: "You shouldn't be looking to GCHQ to provide what can very much more cheaply and easily provided by the internet service providers. That requires legislation and Parliament got itself in a bit of a tangle over the details of that legislation."

Sir David also dismissed Sir Tim Berners-Lee's criticisms, telling BBC Breakfast he thought the scientist was "probably exaggerating for effect, in order to get his point across and fire a shot across the bows of the intelligence agencies".

 

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  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 932.

    Wish one of them would have done the "you cant handle the truth!" speech

    "You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives.. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, & then questions the manner in which I provide it" A Few Good Men(1992)

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 931.

    The Trio, defensive, worried and shameful all look on tenterhooks. They try to create a need to be in that seat, where as for any reflective person who should peer, the result would seem transparent from the get go.

    The enemies of our country and the united kingdom as a whole, were created by ourselves, it's happening right now in Syria! This is NOT Edward Snowden's fault! It's our governments!

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 930.

    It’s a shame Snowden is stuck in Russia. It would have been interesting to know what links there were between US, UK and Russian intelligence on problem countries around Russia’s boarder. Of course it would be rude (or dangerous) for Snowden to release something that might embarrass his hosts. I bet the US now wishes he was in S. America.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 929.

    SMART ASSES how did you know I was white, have you been spying on me. With you son I think the phrase "shooting ducks in a barrel" apply, too easy. TONYINSELBY@916 now you gone and told them you work in Tesco's they be able to find you now mate,OAKTWIG @923 I would like to reply but like OLLYINLDONDON cannot understand a word of you entry, try English it does help you know. SMART ASSES bed and now

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 928.

    Freedom? My bum....

 

Comments 5 of 932

 

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  56.  
    Get involved 11:39: Politics Live readers on the TV debates

    Some more comments from Politics Live readers on the TV debates

    No meaningful mass media debate between the main party leaders? Just another example of politicians' disrespect for the population at large. They all think that the ONLY moment of accountability is at the ballot box and violently object to any other forum (unless it`s in their own particular interest).

    John Hyland

    Am I the only one who would be thankful if no debates took place at all? Televised Punch and Judy Politics can be seen every day on the news and in particular at Wednesday's Prime Ministers Questions. This is not informative nor even remotely entertaining.

    David Parker

    The problem is, the Conservative party have backed themselves into a corner. They have been banging on for the last few years how weak a candidate Ed Miliband has been and it's come back to haunt them.

    Expectations of Ed are so low, even an even debate would be a landslide victory for the Labour Party. From the Conservative point of view, it doesn't really make sense to give Labour the platform, where the best they could do is break even.

    Nicholas Williams

    It seems unlikely that any of the party leaders will win a majority in May. They are going to have to work together for the common good of an electorate tired of their silly and destructive adversarial politics.

    Let's make a reality TV show instead. It might be interesting if all the party leaders were shut in a plush stately home with plenty of TV cameras and given a task or do - agree a plan to build an environmentally sustainable economy in the UK would be a good one. There are many more tasks like that to be tackled.

    It would be tempting to make them stay in there until they agreed. In the real world we all need politicians to work together for the common good - something else they would have to agree on.

    It might even make good television. It is what Parliament needs to become after 7 May.

    Simon Court

     
  57.  
    @daily_politics BBC Daily Politics

    tweets: 'Britain now gives away an eye-watering £12bn a year' in foreign aid, says @StanburySteven in his film for Thu #bbcdp

     
  58.  
    11:37: TV debates: Lessons from history Brian Wheeler Political reporter
    John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960

    Nothing gets TV executives salivating - and political leaders quaking - like a live televised debate. Beneath the glare of the studio lights, a politician is at his most exposed. One stumble, a flash of anger, an inappropriate joke, a memory lapse or just a failure to bring your "A Game", and the whole shooting match can be over. The fate of nations sometimes hang in the balance. But the lessons are still there to be learned....

     
  59.  
    11:33: Where do we stand on the TV debates?

    Here's what the main players are saying:

    • David Cameron will only take part in one debate, his communications chief Craig Oliver has said. That debate must feature at least seven leaders and must be held this month. Mr Craig also criticised the "deeply unsatisfactory process" of organising the debates
    • Labour aren't happy. Alastair Campbell has accused Mr Cameron of making "pathetic excuses" to avoid the debates, which he says the prime minister is scared of losing
    • Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has offered to take Mr Cameron's place in the one-on-one debates. He says he would be happy to defend the government's record
    • But Lucy Powell, vice chair of Labour's election campaign, says the head-to-head should be between those who could be prime minister after 7 May
    • SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon says the prime minister is "clearly running scared of having to answer for his government's record of failure and incompetence"
    • A UKIP spokesman says Mr Cameron is "acting chicken"
    • Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood says Mr Cameron's behaviour is "unacceptable and arrogant"
    • The Democratic Unionist Party says broadcaster have made a "complete and utter mess" of plans to hold the debates
    • Publically, the broadcasters have said very little. But privately, they seem determined not to buckle, says our assistant political editor Norman Smith
     
  60.  
    11:27: No 10's briefing for political reporters Ben Wright Political correspondent, BBC News

    On TV debates the PM's spokesman referred all questions back to Director of Communications Craig Oliver's letter of last night. Asked if David Cameron was running scared the spokesman said "that is not a premise I would accept".

     
  61.  
    11:23: Shapps on Daily Politics Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    Andrew Neil and Jo Coburn are joined by former Labour minister Andrew Adonis as guest of the day. Conservative chairman Grant Shapps will be talking TV debates. MPs Paul Flynn and Andrew Percy will debate whether PMQs should be abolished, while a film from Giles Dilnot looks at civilian use of drones after a parliamentary report on the issue. And they will be looking at party names after the Beer, Baccy and Crumpet Party was told by the Electoral Commission that its moniker was "describing women as a sexual object in a demeaning way and would cause offence if it were to appear on ballot paper". You can watch the programme live from 1200-1300, or later, on the Live Coverage tab on this page (if you're reading this on the BBC app, to watch the it live you have to click here and open the page in a browser)

     
  62.  
    11:05: Hague on debates
    William Hague

    William Hague has told MPs that the Prime Minister's offer for a television debate should be taken up. Speaking in the Commons this morning he said: "When I recall asking Tony Blair when I was leader of the opposition in 2001 for a television debate there was not even an offer of a debate from Tony, not even the pretence of a debate, there was a very clear 'no debate whatsoever'. And this prime minister is offering a debate and that is an offer that should be taken up that was never offered by Tony Blair in similar circumstances."

     
  63.  
    @patrickwintour Patrick Wintour, Guardian political editor

    tweets: Ms Moneypenny lives. Only 19% of senior civil servants in intelligence agencies are women - report from Intelligence and Security Committee.

     
  64.  
    @OfficeGSBrown Gordon and Sarah Brown office

    tweets: Gordon Brown: #TBT to me at primary school. On #IWD2015 Stand #UpForSchool to empower the next generation of women

    Gordon Brown
     
  65.  
    10:50: Expert view: Are debates dead? Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    So are the debates dead? Well, maybe not. But only if the broadcasters hold their nerve. In other words if they decide to press ahead with the three debates and empty chair the prime minister. It would be a huge decision - and many at Westminster remain sceptical that the BBC would be willing to do this.

    However, privately, the broadcasters' insist they will not buckle and will not allow one party to "dictate" the conditions. They insist the single 90 minute seven, or even eight party, debate proposed by the prime minister will "not cover the ground". And crucially, both Labour and the Liberal Democrats say they will still turn up for whatever debates the broadcasters' decide to hold. Ed Miliband will even take part in the head-to-head without David Cameron - and subject himself to a grilling from Jeremy Paxman. Senior Lib Dems say Nick Clegg would be ready to stand in for the prime minister in the final head-to-head, making it a Miliband v Clegg clash.

    The danger for the prime minister is that even if the debates lose their impact without him - he risks a backlash from voters for failing to take part. Downing Street's hope - that the broadcasters will buckle and either agree to his proposal or just scrap the whole idea of TV debates for this election.

     
  66.  
    10:46: Harvey Proctor

    Earlier, we reported that the home of former Conservative MP Harvey Proctor had been searched by police investigating historical allegations of child abuse. He phoned the Today programme to give his reaction and deny any wrongdoing. You can listen to his interview with James Naughtie here.

     
  67.  
    10:41: Electoral reform society on debates

    Reaction to David Cameron's TV debate decision is coming in thick and fast. Electoral Reform Society Chief Executive Katie Ghose says: "This unseemly squabble over TV debates has to end now. In the run-up to an election that's too close to call, the British public expect to hear from all the party leaders. Everyone involved needs to recognise that fact and come to an agreement before it's too late.

    "Compared to other advanced democracies around the world, Britain has been extremely late to the party when it comes to TV debates. It would be a national embarrassment if we end up being the first to leave that party as well. No TV debates in 2015 would be a backward step in terms of our democratic development."

     
  68.  
    10:40: DUP on TV debates

    The Democratic Unionist Party says broadcasters have made a "complete and utter mess" of plans to hold pre-election TV debates. The party has begun legal action against the BBC for excluding it from its earlier proposal of two UK TV debates. Today, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds told the BBC's Good Morning Ulster that the BBC and other broadcasters had "messed up big style" during the entire debates process.

     
  69.  
    10:40: Rural fuel rebates

    Away from Westminster, the European Union has approved the rollout of rural fuel rebates to 17 areas in Scotland and England. The move will mean some retailers can claim back up to 5p per litre duty relief on unleaded petrol and diesel, and pass on the savings to customers. The 17 areas include parts of the Highlands, Argyll and Bute, Northumberland, Cumbria, Devon and North Yorkshire.

     
  70.  
    10:35: Hustings origins

    Where does the word "hustings" come from? Our colleague Trevor Timpson, the BBC's Vocabularist, has been taking a look.

     
  71.  
    10:30: Plaid Cymru on debates
    Leanne Wood

    Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood says she is "ready to debate the prime minister and the other party leaders at any time".

    She adds: "People want these debates to go ahead so that they have the opportunity to hear from the parties that they will be voting for in May. Plaid Cymru is ready for these debates and we look forward to setting out our plans for an alternative to Westminster's austerity agenda. The prime minister's efforts to manipulate the broadcasters are unacceptable and arrogant and it would seem that he is running scared of his record being open to scrutiny."

     
  72.  
    10:25: TV debates: A broadcaster's view BBC News Channel

    Former Sky News chief Chris Birkett, who this time is heading up a team hoping to stage a prime ministerial debate on YouTube, says the broadcasters have been firm so far and that he won't be surprised if the broadcasters stick firm with the current plans. But he suggests there may need to be a look at how the debates are organised in the future.

     
  73.  
    10:13: Scottish polling reaction
    Andrew Morrison and James Cook

    After last night's Ashcroft polling on Scotland, our Scotland correspondent James Cook is out in Glasgow speaking to some of those involved in the election. First up is Glasgow East Tory candidate Andrew Morrison. He says his party is "fighting hard" to increase its share of the vote - especially because Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson is from the constituency. He says the response he gets on the doorsteps has been mixed, with many not having decided how to vote yet. Mr Morrison agrees with our correspondent that Scottish politics is now being seen through the prism of nationalism v unionism.

     
  74.  
    10:12: 'Cameron running scared' BBC News Channel

    The British public wants to see the TV debates, according to Labour's Lucy Powell. She says Ed Miliband debating Nick Clegg head-to-head, as suggested earlier by Lord Ashdown and the Liberal Democrat leader, is not the table at the moment. The debate should be between those who could be prime minister after the election and says David Cameron is "running scared".

     
  75.  
    10:11: Your say

    Some more of your views on the TV debates

    David Cameron gives Ed Miliband a thumping (metaphorically) every Wednesday at PMQs - I don't think for a minute that he's running scared or has anything to prove.

    D.Williams

    Politicians are there to serve us, not vice versa and television is a great medium to reach millions across the country, allowing us to hear how they propose to do that and get a measure of their leadership qualities.

    Garan Jenkin

    If Cameron can't be bothered to turn up for debates (plural) then I can't be bothered to turn out and vote.

    Colin Smale

    A pointless exercise overhyped by journalists with nothing better to do. The politicians will tell us what they think we want to hear. Far better to judge them on what they have done over the lat few years. Parliamentary question time is a disgrace by all parties

    Rob Whitrow

     
  76.  
    10:09: Alastair Campbell on debates BBC News Channel
    Campbell

    David Cameron is investing "pathetic excuses" over the TV debates, Alastair Campbell says. He is worried out losing them, and that is why he is not taking part, Tony Blair's former director of communications says. And it is an insult to the British people not to give them a chance to see a one-on-one debate, he adds.

    He admits he was "sceptical" of Tony Blair taking part in the debates previously, but the precedent has now been set, he says.

     
  77.  
    @LordAshcroft Lord Ashcroft, pollster

    tweets: Factors in voters' decisions between Con and Lab and how they've moved. Cons need points top right, Lab top left:

    Ashcroft tweets
     
  78.  
    09:51: Transport questions House of Commons Parliament

    Over in the Commons, Transport questions are just getting under way. Topics today include the Airports Commission, rural railway stations and compensation payments to passengers for delayed rail travel. You can follow today's proceedings on our dedicated Westminster live page.

     
  79.  
    09:50: Clegg on UKIP Call Clegg
    Nigel Farage

    Nick Clegg bets a UKIP candidate (not Nigel Farage) who calls his programme "several pints" that the Lib Dems will have "many, many, many, many, many more" MPs than his party after 7 May. He says UKIP will be a "pipsqueak" party in comparison.

     
  80.  
    09:48: Clegg on spending Call Clegg

    On defence, Nick Clegg says the spending review will decide how much of GDP goes towards defence in the future. The deputy prime minister says money was misspent to the tune of billions in the past and must be properly spent in the future. It comes amid a debate on whether the UK will be able to honour a commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence.

     
  81.  
    09:47: Tony Blair donation

    A bit more on Tony Blair's decision to donate £106,000 in total to Labour candidates fighting the election. In a letter to candidates in key seats, the former PM says: "I know how hard it can be to raise money to fund a local campaign, but for you, in one of our 106 battleground seats, it is even more vital. This is where the election will be won for Labour and that is why I am making a donation to all 106 campaigns."

     
  82.  
    09:38: TV debates latest
    Leaders

    Here's our latest story on the TV debates, leading off with David Cameron's political opponents accusing him of running scared.

     
  83.  
    09:35: Clegg on eurostar Call Clegg

    Nick Clegg tells LBC the sale of Eurostar was a good deal and good value for the taxpayer. He says the state is not simply there to manage transport companies. But he says infrastructure - particularly HS2 - carries many benefits for the country. The line "is something which is long long long overdue", the deputy prime minister adds.

     
  84.  
    @AlexForsythBBC Alex Forsyth, BBC political correspondent

    tweets: So @David_Cameron seems to have unified political parties from across the spectrum in their response to his position on #debates

     
  85.  
    09:25: Clegg on drugs policy Call Clegg

    Meanwhile, over on LBC's Call Clegg phone-in, the deputy PM is talking about drug laws. Mr Clegg says the full force of the criminal justice system should be focussed on those criminals and gags who peddle illegal drugs and "profit from misery" of addiction. The comments come after news that the Liberal Democrats' manifesto will include a pledge to hand drugs policy from the Home Office to the Department of Health.

    The system at the moment "just doesn't make sense", Mr Clegg says, but adds that drugs will still remain illegal and there will still be civil penalties for users.

     
  86.  
    09:22: Nicola Sturgeon on debates
    Nicola Sturgeon

    SNP leader of Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon is the latest politician to criticise David Cameron over his refusal to take part in more than one TV debate. She says he is "clearly running scared of having to answer for his government's record of failure and incompetence - and this arrogance in trying to lay down the law is all about getting out of debates, not taking part".

    "I will debate him anytime, anywhere, on any number of occasions. However we have accepted the broadcasters' proposals, and believe we should stick with that, rather than allow a Tory Prime Minister to dictate the terms of debate."

     
  87.  
    09:13: Deputy PM on debates Call Clegg

    Nick Clegg has told LBC he is prepared to stand up and defend the government in the TV debates if David Cameron doesn't take part. The deputy prime minister says he is "about the only person who is prepared to step up to the plate and actually defend the record of this government."

     
  88.  
    09:06: 'Down to the broadcasters ' Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    It all hinges on what the broadcasters do now. At the moment, they are saying nothing in public. But privately, they seem determined to tough this out.

     
  89.  
    09:05: Labour's Scottish challenge
    Ballot box

    There are other political stories today, even if the debate row is drowning out coverage. Prof John Curtice has been speaking to BBC Scotland about Labour's prospects north of the border at the election. He said there may be tough times ahead for the party after new polling by Tory peer Lord Ashcroft suggested big gains for the SNP at May's election.

     
  90.  
    @xtophercook Chris Cook, Newsnight policy editor

    tweets: I don't get why CCHQ doesn't just say "Last time, we think the debates were a distraction and we would rather run a traditional campaign"

     
  91.  
    09:03: Your say

    Politics Live readers on TV debates

    Mr Cameron, in effect, is the CEO of the United Kingdom. His duty is to abide by what the electorate requests or risk losing power, he has already lost face. He doesn't want to stand in front of his company's employees and explain his failures.

    Chris

    Either David Cameron or Ed Miliband will be obliged to form a (probably minority) government on 8th May so why is Cameron running scared of a 1 to 1 debate with Miliband?

    ... The public want to see an old fashioned 1 to 1 between the 2 potential Prime Ministers and if it doesn't happen it will be David Cameron's fault.

    Andy Kirkland

    If the conservatives think Ed Miliband is so weak why is David Cameron not willing to go head to head with him?

    Pat Pierce.

    Cameron is always going on about the achievements of this Government, how at all costs the good work being done should continue and not change course, the long term etc. If he speaks so passionately about this and how anything else would be utter chaos and doom, and he wants people to vote Tory, why does he not go all out in TV debate with Miliband and pull opposition apart and vice versa, so the voters get to see a real debate.

    K.Pearce

     
  92.  
    @IsabelHardman Isabel Hardman, assistant editor at The Spectator

    tweets: Tory MPs are in a mutinous mood over defence spending, dismissed as having "no votes". Me in today's Times

     
  93.  
    08:47: 'Thatcher would have debated' BBC News Channel

    Lord Ashdown tells the BBC he can't imagine Margaret Thatcher refusing to take part in debates - he says David Cameron's decision is "unbelievable". The former Lib Dem leader adds that broadcasters should go ahead with their plans and "empty-chair" the prime minister if needs be.

     
  94.  
    08:46: Greens on TV debates
    Nathalie Bennett

    The Green Party has just released a statement on the TV debate row: "This swerve by Cameron will further damage trust in our political system. Not only is Cameron's announcement cowardly but it also shows his contempt for the electorate.

    "People want to see a set of debates between all major party leaders, yet the Prime Minister is clearly scared of scrutiny.

    "Natalie is very much looking forward to debating with the other 6 party leaders. David Cameron must not be allowed to scupper these plans."

     
  95.  
    @jimwaterson Jim Waterson, BuzzFeed UK deputy editor

    tweets: Happy to host a seven-way leaders' debate over Twitter group DMs at a time that suits the parties.

     
  96.  
    08:40: What's happened so far?

    It's been a busy morning in Westminster. Here's a quick recap for those of you heading to work or just arriving at the office:

    There's bound to be plenty more to come. We'll bring you all the latest news and analysis. Don't forget to let us know your views; emails is politics@bbc.co.uk or tweet @bbcpolitics.

     
  97.  
    @kayburley Kay Burley, Sky News presenter

    tweets: So @campbellclaret says he's been prepping @Ed_Miliband for #TVdebates by 'playing David Cameron' Now there's a thought...

     
  98.  
    08:27: Harvey Proctor BBC Radio 4 Today

    "The police wish to interview me", Mr Proctor says. He wants it to happen "at the earliest opportunity", he adds.

     
  99.  
    08:25: Harvey Proctor BBC Radio 4 Today

    Harvey Proctor says he was a discreet man and he would not have discussed his sexuality with senior colleagues in the Commons. He tells Today he did not know about alleged sex abuse. He says he is "sure" some of the allegations are true, but others are not.

     
  100.  
    08:24: Harvey Proctor on claims BBC Radio 4 Today

    Former Conservative MP Harvey Proctor is speaking to Today after his house was searched by police. The police have told him they are investigating historical sex abuse allegations going back to 1970s and 1980s, he says. The offences he committed in the past would no longer be offences - they related to the age of consent, he adds. He denies ever attending sex parties of being part of any "rent boy ring" with high profile figures.

     

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