Andy McSmith's Diary: With MPs threatening to get heavy, Tony Blair comes quietly


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It has been a long time since Parliament has heard from Tony Blair but he has now, reluctantly, agreed to revisit the building.

I reported in November that the Commons all-party Northern Ireland committee had asked the former Prime Minister to come and explain the so-called “comfort letters” sent out in 1999 to 187 people reassuring them that they were not wanted by the UK police.

One lucky recipient was John Downey, who produced his letter when he appeared in court last February charged with the murder of four soldiers who died from an IRA bomb in Hyde Park in 1982. The judge ruled that his trial could not go ahead.

Blair’s first response to being asked to give evidence was to say that he would willingly answer questions in writing, but he did not want to put in a personal appearance.

There followed a heavy hint that he might be ordered to. That will not be necessary. He has agreed to come. He will appear next Tuesday.

For services to intolerance?

Staying with Northern Ireland, Maurice Mills, former mayor of Ballymena, believes that the MBE awarded to him in the New Year Honours list was just recognition of his 43 years of public service as a Democratic Unionist councillor, and does not retract a word of what he has said in the past, no matter how offended some might be.

That includes his suggestion that Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005, “could” be a warning from God to the city that had hosted a gay festival, and that the “abominable and filthy practice of sodomy” was to blame for the spread of Aids in Africa.

“My position is taken from the word of God and I’ll obviously not be moving from that, it’s as simple as that,” he tells the Belfast Newsletter.

Many unhappy returns

I feel for Nick Clegg, It was his birthday today – his 48th – and he had to spend part of his morning sitting on the front bench in the House of Commons listening to David Cameron and Ed Miliband arguing. Still, by the time he is 49, he is not likely to be in government and may not be an MP, so I suppose he should make the most of it while it lasts.

Murphy’s wake-up call

There must have been bitter experience behind this tweet by Jim Murphy, the teetotal leader of the Scottish Labour Party: “I always enjoy it when someone on their way back from a late-night drinking session rings the doorbell at 2am to offer support and advice.”

A leaky procedure

Now that the Tory MP Mark Pritchard is back in Parliament with the accusation of rape no longer hanging over him, he is able to ask how the fact of his arrest last month became public knowledge.

The information was not leaked: it was printed in a document called “Votes and Proceedings”, issued to MPs, which listed among the documents received that day a letter from the police to the Speaker, John Bercow, “relating to the arrest of Mark Pritchard”.

Pritchard is due to have a private meeting with the Speaker this week, but I hear that Bercow has adroitly headed off the inevitable complaint by contacting the Procedure Committee saying he wants the rules changed so that the next time an MP is arrested, it won’t be announced in this manner.

A message to the Cabinet  

“This Cabinet is out of order,” said the red-lettered sign on the broken down hand drier in the gents’ toilet in Portcullis House, part of the parliament buildings. Was that a political statement by the works department, or just an odd choice of words?