Sunday Paper Review 22 April 2012

Easily the most eye-catching story in the papers can be found in the Mail on Sunday, which releases a catalogue of shocking claims about MI5 - Britain's domestic security and intelligence service.

The paper is claiming that MI5 betrayed enemies of Colonel Gaddafi last year, before the toppling of the dictator. These opponents of Gadaffi had taken refuge in London, and according to the paper were exposed to Libyan government operatives also working in the capital. These Gadaffi loyalists were apparently given a grace-and-favour apartment in London.

The paper believes their revelations, exposed in secret documents, will cause a 'political storm' - with the suggestion that the policy of appeasement to Gadaffi, which on the face of it changed when the coalition took power - appears to have continued under the surface. Tory MPs line up to express outrage. There might be more of them.

Another Mail on Sunday story bound to upset large swathes of Middle England is the claim that sources in the European Court "tipped off" lawyers representing the radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada, giving him a hand in his long-running attempts to resist deportation from Britain to Jordan. According to the paper - which quotes Home Office sources - someone in Strasbourg told Qatada's lawyers that he could still appeal against his deportation - which he did earlier this week.

Reading this story raises the immediate suspicion that the Home Office is preparing to soften the ground, in the expectation that the Grand Chamber of the European Court will, indeed, allow an appeal. This would delay Qatada's deportation indefinitely. There are very strong grounds for suspecting this is true - Theresa May told the Commons last week that while she was convinced they had waited until a deadline for Qatada to appeal to expire before re-arresting him, she warned that the European Court could still allow an appeal anyway.

If this happens, and the Court say that Theresa May ordered Qatada's arrest too soon, it could be highly toxic for the home secretary - to the point where she might have to quit.

A thread which runs through several Sunday papers is growing dissent among Conservatives to reforming the House of Lords - something very few Tories appear to want but which David Cameron is allowing to keep the Lib Dems on side within the coalition. Everyone accepts that most of the public couldn't care less if elected or unelected people sit in the Lords, nevertheless it's going to cause major headaches for the PM, with The Observer claiming that it's no longer just Tory backbenchers who are grumbling - it's now Cabinet ministers, too.

According to the paper there are five Tories at the top level of government who have expressed concern, including heavyweights Philip Hammond and Michael Gove. The Observer says the rift could "fatally undermine the coalition", which might explain why the Sunday Telegraph is reporting that Nick Clegg might be prepared to give some ground - increasing the number of peers in the reformed chamber to 450, up from the coalition's original plan for 300.

But a leader in the Sunday Telegraph makes the case for leaving the unelected chamber as it is - saying "the Lords is fine, don't fix it."

The paper's view is that:

The risk is that it would become a mere echo chamber for the Commons, blandly endorsing its legislative programme. Insofar as it tried to impose a programme of its own, it would make a direct challenge to the sovereignty of the Commons – which the present unelected body does not. An elected second chamber would also lack the expertise of the present one.

One issue which hasn't properly broken out of Westminster yet, but could cause a major public backlash, is regional pay bargaining. The coalition is convinced that national pay scales should be broken up. Currently everyone in the public sector outside London can expect to get the same money for doing the same job, but ministers think this is keeping wages artificially high in the north of England.

According to The Observer the health secretary Andrew Lansley is now firmly behind breaking up the national payscales. The paper reports that some Lib Dem MPs are unhappy about the proposed changes, and the unions' response? Well, you can imagine.

Here's the Sunday front pages...