As-it-happened: PMQs and Pat Finucane statement

Alex Stevenson By

Follow our live coverage of David Cameron trying to cheer Tory party spirits in prime minister's questions, as a weak winter sun shines down on Westminster.

Finucane statement

12:56 - I'm going to wrap up this live blog now - time to  get a story up on the Finucane statement promptly. Come back in 15 minutes or so and you'll be able to peruse it carefully...

12:55 - It all comes down to the truth, Cameron says in reply. Inquiries cost millions of pounds and don't always help. "I think the process we've been through is right," the PM responds.

12:53 - Miliband's main call is for a public inquiry, in line with the request from Pat Finucane's son John and the Irish government. "On this side we continue to believe a public inquiry is necessary for the Finucane family and for Northern Ireland," he finishes.

12:50 - Ed Miliband, responding for the opposition, says he welcomes Cameron's apology. "What makes it even worse is some 23 years after this appalling crime, his family still searches for the truth with the utmost courage and dignity," he says.

12:48 - Now Cameron defends his decision not to go for a public inquiry, suggesting that this report has done more to reveal the truth. 

12:46 - "It would be a serious mistake for this report to be used to promote or reinforce a particular narrative of any of the groups involved in the Troubles in Northern Ireland," Sir Desmond says in his report.

12:46 - The PM pledges to study the report in more detail, but suggests in general that this couldn't really happen again. 

12:44 - "Collusion should never, ever happen. so on behalf of the government and the whole country, let me say again to the Finucane family I am deeply sorry."

12:42 - Sir Desmond calls a "wider relentless attempt to defeat the ends of justice". Senior RUC officers deliberately lied and obstructed the investigation, it's found. There was no political conspiracy, but ministes were misled. Nelson was prosecuted in 1992 but got away with it.

12:40 - The agents involved were not "rogue agents", it's clear. Nelson, a British Army double-agent involved in the shooting, should be considered as an employee of the Ministry of Defence, the report finds. So the Army is responsible for Nelson's "targeting activity". Cameron adds: "Most shockingly of all, Sir Desmond says an RUC officer or officers did propose Pat Finucane  as a UDA target."

12:39 - Around 85% of the paramilitary UDA's intelligence came from the British state. Both the Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary had prior notice of the planned assassinations, but didn't do anything to prevent the attacks. "It is really shocking this happened in our country," Cameron says. In the Finucane case, the PM says it should have been clear there was about to be an imminent attack - but they took "no action whatsoever to act on the intelligence".

12:37 - Cameron says the extent of disclosure is "without precedent". This was an "extremely dark and violent time in Northern Ireland's history,.. but we should be in no doubt this report makes extremely difficult reading".

He says the report reveals there was not an overarching state conspiracy to murder Patrick Finucane. But he does find "shocking levels" of state collusuion nonetheless. He would not have been murdered had it not been for different strands of involvement by the British state. Oh dear. This is bad. The frontbenches look very serious, as they should do.

12:35 - Here's a bit of context

  • Pat Finucane died after being shot by gunmen 14 times at his family home, with his wife and children present, in February 1989. He was a Belfast solicitor who had represented Irish republicans.
  • Three inquiries led by John Stevens established that the Royal Ulster Constabulary had colluded with the paramilitary Ulster Defence Association, leading to the deaths of both Finucane and Adam Lambert.
  • Ken Barrett, who confessed to the murder, was sentenced to 22 years in 2004.
  • Cameron ruled out a public inquiry in 2011, instead asking Sir Desmond De Silva to conduct the report into the murder being published today.


12:35 - The PM begins by outlining the state of play, noting there was "state collusion". He says he has already apologised to the familty on behalf of the British government. The problem now is limited information in the public domain. It's the extent and the nature of public collusion, he says.

12:34 - I'm going to be following the statement carefully on here, but be warned - this is just prep for a news story. Here's what Cameron has to say.

PMQs exchanges

12:33 - And now another question for the SNP's MPs - half of their total have got questions in this session, which is more than can be said for any other party. Apart from Alliance. Hmmm. The question is a legitimate one, about the UK government copying policies from the Scottish government.

12:30 - One of the new Labour MPs is welcomed by the prime minister after asking a question. I'm afraid I still haven't worked out who they are. Then Gavin Barwell, the Croydon Central Tory MP, who asks a thoroughly loyal question about austerity and welfare benefits. I'm more interested in Cameron's bald spot, which is growing ever so slowly. A bit like the UK economy.

12:29 - Plymouth's Oliver Colville asks a bo-ring question about science investment and broadband. Then comes Naomi Long, the Alliance MP for East Belfast, who's worried about violence from dissident republicans. Violence has no place, Cameron replies. Just a few moments away from the Finucane statement now, but first Sheryll Murray asks a question about a Cornish cheese company. Excellent.

12:26 - What about child poverty, Emily Thornberry asks. Cameron says he's keen on a "genuine and lasting reduction in child poverty". It's the causes of poverty he wants to address. Drug and alcohol abuse, family breakdown, unemployment - lots of things need to be looked at.

12:25 - Labour's Rushanara Ali gets in a jab at Cameron on government borrowing. Then Graham Brady, Tory backbencher chief, isn't keen on air passenger duty. The government isn't keen on doing anything differently, he says. But the PM points out the rise in APD has been limited to inflation.

12:24 - Bill Cash, arch eurosceptic, wants to know what Cameron thniks about comments on the "federalisation of Europe" from Jose Manual Barroso. The PM is happy to back Cash here. "It is to this House, that represents our taxpayers, that I should account," he says.

12:23 - The Green Investment Bank is the subject of a question from Labour's Chris Williamson. Is it going to get borrowing powers, given the ropy progress the coalition is making? "Even at a time of fiscal difficulty, we've put £3 billion of money into this green investment bank," Cameron says. So right now it doesn't need to invest. A total failure to answer the question.

12:22 - Former Welsh secretary Cheryl Gillan stands up, to get some kudos for progress since her 2009 private members' bill, the Autism Act. Cameron will be relieved she hasn't raised her usual bugbear, High Speed Rail 2, which she thoroughly despises.

12:21 - The SNP's Angus O'Neill gets talked over by MPs, as he tries to make the case against austerity by flagging up Iceland. Cameron's not impressed by the SNP making the case for independence by trying to tie itself to Iceland. That makes Ken Clarke, now in semi-retirement somewhere in Whitehall, chuckle to himself. Shortly afterwards Mike Weir, another SNP MP, gets in a question - this one about work experience placements to meet Whitehall targets. Cameron dodges that one, of course.

12:18 - Senior Tory Sir Gerald Howarth complains about the "tidal wave of immigration" Britain saw under the New Labour government. Fortunately immigration has fallen by a quarter in recent years, Cameron says. Clegg seems to be listening to that answer especially carefully, but finally nods his approval.

12:17 - Andy Slaughter, Labour, has another go at Cameron for the opposition on benefits. This just gives the PM another opportunity to repeat his attacks on Labour. Then comes Treasury committee Andrew Tyrie, who wants to clear up the PM's position on secret courts. "We want this bill to pass through parliament... and I'm sure we'll be listening even more carefully in the House of Commons," he pledges. Ed Miliband is chuntering away across the despatch box, and Cameron can't help but get in a jibe against him - and Balls. "I think the leader of the oppostiion is catching the disease from the shadow chancellor of not being able to keep his mouth shut for more than five minutes." The Commons seems rather bemused by that aside. Miliband will be very pleased with himself.

12:15 - Oh dear - Bercow gets the date of Magna Carta wrong, I think, after Lib Dem John Hemming wonders whether the government plans on repealing it altogether. Cameron explains that, in short, the answer is no.

15:00 - CORRECTION - John Hemming's office have been in touch to point out that the above comment is completely, utterly, 100% inaccurate. Magna Carta was originally signed in 1215, but the current version which still has articles one, nine and 29 in force actually dates from 1297 - as referred to by all concerned. Painful though it may be, but Hemming, Cameron and Bercow are all correct. We are not. For which, we apologise.

12:14 - It's Dennis Skinner next, the Beast of Bolsover, who isn't happy with the snoopers' charter. "Where did he get this advice and idea from? Was it down at Wapping? Was it his friends down there? Tony? Rebecca?" Cameron is bemused, but trying to be serious. His responsibilities are national security, he says. He's backing home secretary Theresa May to the hilt. "Because we currently have that data for fixed and mobile telephony, what are we going to do as that telephony moves over the internet?" A very strong response from the PM there, but it still won't be enough for civil liberties fans.

12:12 - The first question after the Ed-Dave spat is about the nurse who died in the royal radio prank. "What's happened is a complete tragedy. There are many lessons that will have to be learned," Cameron says.

12:11 - The exchanges move on to benefits and tax. "A party that isn't serious about controlling welfare isn't serious about controlling the deficit, either," Cameron says. Miliband quotes Vince Cable, the business secretary, who said that "very wealthy people stamped their feet". The Lib Dems are fed up that there was no mansion tax, of course. The knee-jerk response from Cameron is about trade union donors, of course. Cameron has a quote of his own - a Labour trade minister, whoever that is. "They are not a serious party and everyone can see it."

12:09 - The yelling continues as Cameron issues another staunch defence of the government's autumn statement. Miliband responds by saying things have come to a pretty pass  "when the boy from the Bullingdon Club lectures people on bullying. Absolutely extraordinary. And he wrecked a restaurant recently!" Now Miliband is grinning - he is so earnest he doesn't come across as a bully, just a very naughty little boy...

12:07 - Miliband accuses Osborne of "trying to play divide and rule". But there is a tax on strivers, he insists. Ed Balls is nodding away frantically by Miliband, but George Osborne is nowhere to be found. The PM says: "I'm surprised the shadow chancellor is shouting again this week because we learned last week like bullies all over the world he can dish it out but he can't take it." Massive cheers from the Tories as Cameron sneers down. Balls is proffering a page from what looks like an IFS briefing, I think. 

12:06 - "It's the cleaner who cleans the chancellor's office while his curtains are still drawn and he's still in bed," Miliband says, giving an example of the kind of person affected by these changes. Cameron ripostes well, rejecting the tax claim and bludgeoning the opposition with figures. "This is th party for work," he says, indicating the Tories. Miliband attacks Cameron for being "wrong on the detail". Quite a feisty set of exchanges, this is.

12:05 - Miliband is following up the autumn statement, and Osborne's point about scroungers getting lots of lie-ins. Cameron responds by talkign about the need to "get on top of the welfare bill". He points out the personal allowance has been cut, but Miliband comes straight back and says taxes are being raised overall for people in work.

12:03 - Even more ridiculous cheering for Ed Miliband. The Tories really are extremely worked up, cheering Miliband noting the fall in unemployment. The Labour leader presses on with employment nonetheless. Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers, sitting to Cameron's right, looks like she hasn't been getting much sleep lately.

12:02 - Rabid cheers as Tory Christopher Pincher begins. He trumpets the fall in youth unemployment. Nick Clegg is looking particularly chirpy next to Cameron. A nice easy opener for Cameron, who points out this is the largest quarterly fall in youth unemployment on record. "Obviously there is no room for complacency," he says, sounding extremely complacent.

11:59 - The prime minister is in position, sitting a few places down from the despatch box. He'll shuffle along when the time comes, no doubt. As usual, the chamber is packed. All that body heat will no doubt make the chamber one of the warmest places in the Palace of Westminster...

11:58 - Nearly ready to go now, as Speaker John Bercow offers his customary rebuke to MPs for chit-chatting too much in the chamber.

11:37 - Other topics worthy of consideration include the internet snooping bill, which is now being rethought; pressing for an update on the government's position on Leveson; or even Cameron's position on the war on drugs. Miliband's unlikely to ask about Pat Finucane, given the statement which is following. Nor is unemployment particularly promising, given how impressively it's falling right now. Good news is rarely good for the opposition.

11:35 – There's not much of a chance Ed Miliband is going to ask about gay marriage, because all the main parties agree on this. If he does raise the issue, it will be to wind the prime minister up about the significant chunk of the Tory party which is desperately opposed to the measure. Actually, therefore, maybe it would be worth Miliband going in on this – it becomes a question of Cameron's leadership.

11:30 - Mein Gott! It's half past 11 already. Which means it's time to kick off our coverage of this lunchtime's exchanges in prime minister's questions – a much trickier challenge for David Cameron than the two-hour yawnathon he breezed through yesterday evening in front of select committee chairs. From 12pm the PM takes questions as usual from parliament's best and brightest. Then at half-12 Cameron will make a statement on the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.

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