§ Mr. Speaker
I must inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.
§ Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)
I beg to move,That this House deplores the culture of spin in the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions; condemns the attitude and advice of the Special Adviser to the Secretary of State, Ms Jo Moore, and Ministers who acted upon her advice, thus perpetuating that culture throughout Government; agrees with the Chairman of the Public Administration Committee that Ms Moore's e-mail of 11th September was 'incompatible with any idea of public service'; believes that as long as Ms Moore retains the confidence of Ministers, she brings Her Majesty's Government into disrepute; and calls on the Secretary of State to dismiss her forthwith.I am sure that we will all remember the events of 11 September for the rest of our lives. Just as a generation defined themselves by what they were doing when President Kennedy was assassinated, so a whole generation of people will define themselves by what they were doing when they saw the events of 11 September. Up and down the country, people watched their televisions in disbelief and wondered if what they saw could actually be happening.
Let me refresh the memory of hon. Members about those events. At 1.45 in the afternoon British time, a plane travelling from Boston to Los Angeles carrying 92 people crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Centre. Fifteen minutes later, at 2 pm British time, a second plane carrying 64 people—
§ Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North)
Will the hon. Lady give way?
§ Mrs. May
No, I will not.
I am sorry to say that that intervention is an example of some of the appalling attitudes taken by members of the Labour party.
§ Mr. Gardiner
Will the hon. Lady give way?
§ Mrs. May
No. Certainly not.
Fifteen minutes later, at 2 pm British time, a second plane carrying 64 people hit the south tower.
§ Helen Southworth (Warrington, South)
This is just exploitation.
§ Mrs. May
At 2.30 pm British time, a third plane carrying 65 people crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, and workers in companies such as Cantor Fitzgerald, based in the World Trade Centre, phoned their loved ones and left messages telling them that they were about to die.
150 Between 2.30 and 3 pm British time, major Government buildings in Washington were evacuated in anticipation of a further strike. Between 3 and 3.30 pm British time, both towers of the World Trade Centre collapsed. At 3.30 pm, the Prime Minister abandoned his speech to the Trades Union Congress in Brighton.
I am sure that all hon. Members shared my sense of utter disbelief as we watched those horrifying scenes. Indeed, the world stood transfixed, unable to comprehend the horror unfolding before our very eyes. Yet, in the midst of all that, at 2.55 pm, Ms Jo Moore, special adviser to the Secretary of State, his appointee, sent an e-mail to her departmental colleagues that said:It is now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury. Councillors expenses?To think that someone's immediate reaction was to see what was happening in New York and Washington not as a human tragedy but as a political public relations opportunity that Ministers should make the most of is almost beyond understanding.
The events of that day marked a change in how we view our own position in the world but they also marked the time when the culture of this Government's news management stepped beyond the barely acceptable and became the disreputable. We have not tabled the motion lightly, but it is a sad commentary on the Government's attitudes and approach, and the culture of spin that they have nurtured, that Ministers' actions have brought us to this debate today.
Indeed, I am not alone in feeling that way. Speaking of the e-mail sent by Jo Moore, the Chairman of the Public Administration Committee, the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright), said:The question is whether what happened is consistent with any notion of public service that I or anybody else has. I thought at the time it wasn't, and I haven't changed my mind now.He also said that her actions were "incompatible with public service".
The hon. Member for Hornchurch (John Cryer) said:the behaviour she's displayed, it flies in the face of any public service ethos that I have ever heard of, and it flies in the face of everything the Labour party ever stood for.The Prime Minister said:what Jo Moore said …was horrible, wrong and stupid." —[Official Report, 17 October 2001; Vol. 372, c. 1165.]Given those comments, and the sense of outrage felt throughout the House and outside, I find it incomprehensible that Ms Moore is still in her post. It reflects not only a lack of understanding on her part but a sorry lack of judgment on the part of the Secretary of State.
A number of questions still need to be answered. My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) wrote to the Secretary of State on 12 October, asking him to state publicly whether Jo Moore still had his firm support, to give an assurance that no one acted on the advice in the e-mail and to say whether he had spoken to her before she sent it. So far, he has not replied.
I invite the Secretary of State, not only for his own sake but to restore some faith in Government, to take this opportunity to respond to the following questions. Where was he on September? Did he speak to Jo Moore on that day, and if so, at what time? Did he speak to anyone 151 else in his office about her e-mail on 11 September, how did he learn of its existence and content, and who told him? I would be very happy to let him intervene if he wishes to respond now. I see that he chooses not to.
It has been pointed out that the member of staff in question was disciplined, but there are again a number of outstanding questions about the procedure that was followed. The Secretary of State needs to answer them, to allay concerns in the House and elsewhere.
It appears that, having initially not taken any action, when the story of the e-mail broke on 8 October, the Secretary of State disciplined Ms Moore personally. The normal procedure is for the permanent secretary to discipline civil servants and special advisers, yet in this case the rebuke that came later from the permanent secretary seems to have been made only after some delay, and only then because journalists were claiming that the Secretary of State had broken the rules on disciplinary action.
This is a case in which the Secretary of State said that Ms Moore had done wrong and the Prime Minister said that her action was "horrible", but one in which Ministers were determined from the outset that she should not lose her job. I wonder just what it takes for a spin doctor to lose her job in this Government. Why did the Secretary of State take it upon himself to protect her job before the permanent secretary had any chance to investigate? Is it not the case that he clings to Jo Moore because he knows that if she goes, he is next in line?
Later still, we had Ms Moore's apology, which took a week to be made and which contained no direct apology to the families of those involved in the horrific events of 11 September. Rather, she seemed most concerned to apologise to the Government and to Ministers. A further issue is the manner of her apology. Any interview with a special adviser should be authorised; we do not know who gave the authorisation in this case. Nor do we know why Sky News was chosen initially as the sole recipient of the apology. For many of us, however., the most telling aspect was not the apology but the look on Ms Moore's face when she turned away from the cameras. She spun her way in, and she tried to spin her way out.
§ Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell)
How can Conservative Members be so expert in giving apologies when my constituents have been waiting five years for an apology for the privatisation of British Rail? In my book, that decision represented a privatisation of the public service ethos to which the hon. Lady has referred. Will she take this opportunity to apologise to my constituents and to the United Kingdom for the privatisation of British Rail?
§ Mrs. May
I am sorry that, by his intervention, the hon. Gentleman has shown yet again that there are some Labour Members who simply do not seem to understand the extent and nature of what Ms Moore did with her e-mail on 11 September. The issue is not only about her individual action, but about the fact that that action represents the culture of spin that lies at the very heart of the Government.
Of course that e-mail is not the only example of spin from the Government—the canker of the culture of spin that lies at the heart of the Government. There are other examples even from the Department for Transport, Local 152 Government and the Regions. Ms Moore herself was involved in trying to persuade a junior civil servant to leak information to journalists that was aimed at discrediting Bob Kiley, the London transport conunissioner, while he and the Secretary of State were involved in a dispute over the future of London Underground. The fact that she did so was confirmed yesterday in a written answer in Hansard, at column 94W. Surely that attempt was contrary to the code of conduct for special advisers, yet no action was taken against her. Instead, the Secretary of State, rather than reprimanding his special adviser, spoke to the Department's director of information, Alun Evans, who had protested on behalf of his junior member of staff. Five days later, Mr. Evans was moved to another post.
§ Mr. Mike O'Brien (North Warwickshire)
Will the hon. Lady give way?
§ Mrs. May
The question is whether Mr. Evans left the Department voluntarily. Perhaps the Secretary of State would also like to answer that question today.
I understand that the posts of director of information and head of news at the Department are vacant and appointments are due to be made in the next few weeks. I think that it would help to restore some confidence among staff in the Department if the Secretary of State would today state categorically that Ms Moore will have no role whatsoever—will not be consulted or invited to comment—on those appointments.
The Secretary of State must answer those questions if he is to clear up some of the confusion that surrounds all those events. He has something of a record when it comes to press officers. In 1997, when he was a Minister at the then Department for Education and Employment, the press officer Jonathan Haslam resigned, reportedly after a row with the right hon. Gentleman, who had asked him to issue a press release criticising the record of the previous Government. [Interruption.]
The charge against the Secretary of State, and against those Labour Members whose jocularity shows how little they understand about the nature of the civil service, is that he has perpetuated the culture of spin by his connivance in the politicisation of civil servants who are press officers.
§ Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green)
There is no doubt that Jo Moore's e-mail was totally inappropriate. As the hon. Lady is so clear about what she is willing to condemn, does she also think that the culture that was created in the Conservative party by Archer, Aitken, Hamilton, Best and Allason did anything to damage the integrity of politics in this country?
§ Mrs. May
The point is that Ms Moore is still in her post. She has not been sacked, and she has not had the decency to resign. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to muse on the complaint brought against the Secretary of State by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) —that while he was Secretary of State at the Department of Trade and Industry he suppressed publication of a report into the affairs of his hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson).
153 The Secretary of State must also answer the accusation that, although the Government outwardly professed to be as disgusted as the rest of us by Ms Moore's e-mail, internally they seem to have followed her advice, because a number of bad news stories were released in the immediate aftermath of the events of 11 September.
We all know that the now infamous councillors' expenses story was released the following day, although according to press reports the Minister for Local Government has insisted that the announcement was cleared for publication the day before. Press reports also suggest that the release was unusually sent to the Local Government Chronicle only one hour before its press deadline. As Chris Mahony, its news editor, put it:To be thinking of such things at such a time shows that these people's minds are even weirder than we thought.
§ Mr. Mike O'Brien
On the matter of the minds of certain people, it was clearly horrible, stupid and wrong to write that e-mail, but at a time when our country is engaged in a war against terrorism, when our armed forces are committed in Afghanistan, when there is a crisis in the middle east and in Northern Ireland, is it not horrible, stupid and wrong for the Conservative Opposition to waste a day on the career of a junior adviser and the Government's relations with the press?
§ Mrs. May
I think that when the hon. Gentleman reflects on the remarks that he has just made, he will realise that it was inadvisable to pray the armed forces in aid on this issue. If he has accepted that what Jo Moore did was horrible, wrong and stupid, what is the next stage? In doing something of this nature, she brought politicians, politics and the Government into disrepute. What she did has implications for us all. It is not surprising that the electorate are so cynical about politicians when they see such spin from the Government's spin doctors.
§ Alan Howarth (Newport, East)
Will the hon. Lady give way?
§ Mrs. May
No, I shall make some progress.
On 12 September, there was a release on pensions for councillors and the release of new planning guidance for the west country, which will force the construction of 200,000 more buildings on green fields, irrespective of local wishes. On 14 September, the Government published exam results, which showed that standards in maths among 11-year-olds were getting worse. On 4 October, the announcement was made of the cancellation of the proposed Picketts Lock athletics stadium, jeopardising our chances of hosting the 2005 world athletics championships.
Let us consider the Government's handling of their decisions on Railtrack. What exactly was said in the telephone call between the Department and Ernst and Young on 11 September? The Independent on Sunday reported that Alan Bloom, head of the accountants' insolvency arm, was called on the afternoon of 11 September to discuss plans to force Railtrack into administration. Mr. Bloom told colleagues at Ernst and Young that he had been told to "get stuck in" at Railtrack. The fact that the Government were applying for Railtrack 154 to go into administration was leaked to the press on the evening of 6 October. We now hear that they have had to employ a City public relations firm to do their spinning on Railtrack instead of Ms Moore. That means more taxpayers' money.
§ Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)
If the Government deliberately used that period to release what the hon. Lady describes as bad news, will she assure hon. Members that, had the announcement on Picketts Lock and the other matters that she listed been delayed for a month, no Conservative Front-Bench Member would have jumped up and down to complain about withholding bad news?
§ Mrs. May
The question that the hon. Gentleman needs to answer is what should happen to Ms Moore, in the l5ight of her e-mail on 11 September
The past few days have provided more examples of the problems of spin. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had to come to the House yesterday to defend herself against allegations of spin after issuing a significant press release on errors made in tests on sheep brains for BSE late one night without a press conference.
Perhaps even more significant was yesterday's personal statement in another place by Lord Macdonald. He apologised not only for giving an unclear answer in the House of Lords, leading their lordships to believe that the number of special advisers had increased under Labour from 78 to 81, when it had gone up from 38 under the last Conservative Government to 81 under Labour, but for attempts by his officials to persuade Hansard to change the written record of what he had said.
Not only Opposition and Labour Members have expressed disgust at Ms Moore's attitude and that of Ministers defending her, as any perusal of newspapers' letters pages will confirm. I have a letter from Mr. Jonathan Lord, who lives in Cheshire. It states:I …wanted to express my own thoughts about the matter in the hope that you could pass them on to whomever might be able to influence the final outcome of this unfortunate affair …If she truly understood what she has done she would have resigned to redress the moral balance and because of a shame that needed time to heal in private …The whole episode confirms that politicians and their acolytes have an enduring faith in the gullibility of the electorate and I think it stains the whole political process. If Government truly wishes to try and tackle what it perceives as the cynicism of the electorate then their handling of this issue could not have been a more retrograde step.Mr. Lord's letter strikes at the heart of the debate.
§ Alan Howarth
The hon. Lady speaks of a stain on the political process and the importance of maintaining a good reputation for politics, yet she displays a remarkable zest in her hounding of Ms Moore. Is she aware that nothing is so unpleasant in politics as the pack in full cry in pursuit of an individual that it has decided to tear to pieces? The hon. Lady is engaged in the politics of the mob; she should know better.
§ Mrs. May
I am sorry about that intervention because I expected better of the right hon. Gentleman. I expected him, along with some of his colleagues, to understand the full nature of what Ms Moore had done through her e-mail and the ministerial reactions to it. As I said, Mr. Lord's letter gets to the heart of the debate.
155 This issue goes beyond the actions of one Government spin doctor. It is not just about what Ministers have referred to as a single mistake; it goes to the very heart of the approach that this Government take to the electorate and, indeed, to our parliamentary democracy. It typifies a culture of spin that says that whatever the issue, spin matters more than substance. Little wonder that there is an attitude of cynicism towards politicians and politics among the general public, when they hear of actions such as this which tell them that the Government are more interested in burying a few announcements than in the feelings of people who witnessed or were involved in those horrific tragedies on 11 September.
This issue strikes at the heart of a relationship that has underpinned and strengthened our Governments over the centuries—that essential relationship between nonpolitical civil servants working hard and with dedication whoever is in government, and the politicians whom they serve. I wonder what decent, hard-working civil servants think when they see Ms Moore keeping her job.
The culture of spin brings Government and politicians into disrepute. It tarnishes Parliament; it affects all of us.
§ Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North)
Will the hon. Lady give way?
§ Mrs. May
Sadly, the whole approach of this Government has been to place emphasis on the ephemeral and ignore the substantial. That was, perhaps, summed up when Mo Mowlam said:all Jo did was to take the process to its logical conclusion".After 11 September, the Government did indeed issue bad news stories, but in this whole sorry saga we have a bigger one. It is a bad news story that, at a time when all thoughts should have been focused on support for our allies in the United States, people were reading in their newspapers that politicians were intent on pulling the wool over their eyes. It is a bad news story because, at a time when people needed clear leadership, straightforward talk and honesty from all in Government, they had a sense that they were being deceived.
The Government have a particular responsibility at times such as this to put their conduct beyond reproach, but in the matter of Jo Moore they have failed in that duty. Despite all the available evidence, against the advice of senior Labour Members, and contrary to the better judgment of some members of their own Cabinet, they have decided to retain their confidence in her. In the process, they have inflicted unnecessary damage on our national life.
By her actions, Ms Moore has demeaned the whole notion of public service. By his failure to sack her, the Secretary of State has tarnished the Government; and by their failure to act, the Government have debased politics itself.
§ 4.8 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Mr. Stephen Byers)
I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:believes that Ms Jo Moore's e-mail of 11th September was horrible, wrong and stupid; notes that she has been dealt with under the Department's disciplinary procedures and that the Permanent 156 Secretary has given her an official warning as to her conduct and that she has expressed her heartfelt regret and offered a full apology; welcomes the decisive action that Ministers have taken in regard to Railtrack which will be welcomed by the travelling public; rejects the policies of the Opposition, who would have continued to pour money into propping up the company, thus amplifying the problems caused by the way they privatised the rail industry; and further welcomes the work of DTLR Ministers in developing positive policies, to improve the position of local government, to tackle problems of homelessness and urban regeneration and to develop proposals for regional government and contrasts this with the policies of the Opposition who decimated local government, ignored the problems of deprived communities and centralised power.".We heard a number of serious allegations from the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) about my Department. I intend to address all of them individually, specifically and in detail. My objective will be to replace innuendo with reality, allegation with truth, accusation with fact, and then to address the key issues—the substance—facing my Department, and how we intend to meet those challenges in the months ahead.
I intend to give more details about our proposed replacement for Railtrack, and how we mean to put the interests of the travelling public first. I intend to put our action in relation to Railtrack in the wider context of a programme of modernisation and reform of our essential services, but also to refer to our 10-year transport plan, totally ignored by the Conservative party; to the steps that we are taking to provide decent homes for people, totally ignored by the Conservative party: to our support for neighbourhood renewal and regeneration, totally ignored by the Conservative party; to the new freedoms that we want for local government, totally ignored by the Conservative party; and to our recognition of the importance of our regions—totally ignored by the Conservative party. It should come as no surprise that the hon. Lady ignored housing, neighbourhood renewal, regeneration, local government and communities for the last 30 minutes, because they were ignored for 18 years under a Conservative Government.
§ Mrs. May
If I am so uninterested in issues such as housing and homelessness, why was I prepared to attend and speak in the debate on Third Reading of the Homelessness Bill last night? The Secretary of State bunked off.
§ Mr. Byers
I have confidence in my ministerial team; the hon. Lady does not have them worried—and, having seen the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) perform last week, I can understand why. Let me deal with the allegations that have been made.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
Is not it a fact that the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) was able to attend the debate on the Homelessness Bill only because the Government introduced that Bill? The Conservatives spent 18 years creating homelessness.
§ Mr. Byers
My right hon. Friend's reply is far better than mine and he is right. I return to the allegations, which I shall deal with individually and specifically.
§ Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Secretary of State has made it clear that he will take the debate much wider than the motion. There is a rather disagreeable news management element to that: 157 getting other stories out and disguising the main purpose of the debate, which was initiated by the Opposition. How appropriate is it for Members to depart from the main tenets of the motion tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends?
§ Mr. Speaker
Although we are debating a motion, an amendment has also been selected. If the hon. Gentleman reads the amendment, he will find that there is enough scope for everyone to have their say, including the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight)
With that in mind.
§ Mr. Byers
Conservative Members seem reluctant to deal with the specifics of the allegations, which I will come to, but I shall be grateful if they bide their time and listen to what I have to say on the issues.
On the specific allegations, the first relates to councillors' allowances and issuing the press notice as a result of the events of 11 September. The press notice on councillors' allowances was provisionally planned, at the end of the week before, to be released on Wednesday 12 September. The publication of the press notice, along with the consultation documents, went ahead as originally planned on 12 September. The details of the press notice were cleared by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government on 10 September. Those are the facts of the case.
§ Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)
If indeed the events were as the Secretary of State describes, what on earth was the meaning behind Ms Moore's e-mail?
§ Mr. Byers
The point is that the publication was planned the week before. The allegation made from the Dispatch Box by the hon. Member for Maidenhead is that we somehow altered the programme because of the events of 11 September. I am trying—[Interruption.] No. If hon. Members read the record, they will see that the allegation is that we rushed through the announcements because of the events of 11 September. I would be grateful if the hon. Lady would confirm that that is exactly what she said.
The allegation—with respect, it is not to do with the e-mail—is that we rushed out news because of the events of 11 September. I am telling the House that it was agreed the week before that that information would be published on 12 September, and 12 September was the date on which it was published.
§ Mrs. May
If, indeed, the press release on councillors' expenses was due to be published on 12 September, and that had been planned the previous week, why was councillors' expenses the very example of bad news that the Government needed to bury that was put in Ms Moore's e-mail of 11 September?
§ Mr. Byers
It was presumably advice that she was putting in the e-mail. I did not see the e-mail, so I do not know. That is the reality of the situation.
158 The point raised by Conservative Members is clear, and their motion is very specific. It talks aboutMinisters who acted upon her advice",and the reality is that it was advice that was not acted upon, because the press release was already planned to be published on 12 September. That is the issue.
§ Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)
§ Mr. Boswell
If, as the Secretary of State says, he did not see Ms Moore's e-mail, can he tell the House who saw it and what action they took on it?
§ Mr. Byers
I am making the point that no action was taken on it. I certainly did not see it. The first time I saw it was on 8 October, and that is on the record. That is the reality of the situation. Like the hon. Member for Maidenhead, most of us were concerned about other events on the afternoon of 11 September. That is the true position.
§ Mr. Byers
No, I want to make an important point. An e-mail was sent to two individuals—Alun Evans and Robin Mortimer—and copied to another special adviser. The advice was not acted on; the press notice went out, as planned from the week before, on 12 September. It really is as simple as that.
§ Mr. Byers
No. That is the position in relation to councillors' allowances. The other information that the hon. Member for Maidenhead alleged was rushed out as a result of the events of 11 September was planning guidance in relation to the south-west. That is the other substantive allegation that was made. It was alleged that we rushed out information on councillors' allowances: not true. The second allegation was that we rushed out information on planning.
The situation in relation to planning guidance in the south-west is as follows: I agreed the final text at the beginning of August, and agreed at that time a planned publication date of 5 September. The delay between the beginning of August and 5 September was to allow the document to be published. As a result of production delays in the Stationery Office, it became clear that printed copies would not be ready in time. As a consequence, it was agreed before the end of August to delay publication by a week, until 12 September. Copies were finally received in the Government office of the south-west on 10 September. They were posted to all who had taken part in the public examination on the morning of 11 September, in advance of the formal publication the next day. I have to say that the idea that a document of such size could suddenly be brought together overnight, to be put out on 12 September, really beggars belief. That is the reality of the situation.
§ Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
§ Mr. Byers
No, I want to make this point. The two central allegations of information being rushed out on 159 councillors' allowances and on south-west planning simply do not stand up when we look at the facts. That is the reality of the situation.
§ Mr. Duncan
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
§ Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
§ Ms Abbott
The minutiae of the Conservatives' motion are a matter for them. The Secretary of State will be aware that the question in the public's mind is whether, for this Government, questions of news management take precedence over every other issue. We are all aware that the Tories, in their time, were as ruthless at news management as anyone. However, is the Secretary of State also aware that it is not enough to say to the country that the Tories were just as bad? People in 1997 voted for something different and better.
§ Mr. Byers
I accept the thrust of the argument that it is important to ensure that we can properly debate such matters and that people have confidence in the information provided. In addressing the two central allegations on councillors' allowances and planning for the south-west made by the hon. Member for Maidenhead, I have sought simply to go through the facts, so that people are aware of them, and the facts are very clear and precise. There was no news management. Those announcements went ahead as planned on 12 September. That is the truth of the situation. No innuendo; no accusations—that is the reality.
§ Mr. Alan Duncan
§ Mr. Paice
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way, but he is being very selective about which allegations he wishes to rebut—[Interruption.] He has listed only two. I draw his attention to the announcement about the receivership of Railtrack. Does he think that many people in this country will believe that it was a coincidence that that announcement was made during a weekend, just a few hours before the military action in Afghanistan began?
§ Mr. Byers
I have to respond to five or six allegations, and I have only got to No. 2, but as Railtrack has been mentioned specifically, I shall address the issue. There were two aspects, but the precise point that the hon. Gentleman raises was not mentioned by the hon. Member for Maidenhead. She referred to Alan Bloom and a conversation that allegedly took place on 11 September, and I shall come to that in a minute.
On the timing of the Railtrack announcement, it beggars belief that someone would have timed those events to coincide with the outbreak of hostilities in 160 Afghanistan. When I met John Robinson on the evening of Friday 5 October, I had no idea that hostilities would begin on the Sunday; I am not even sure that that had been agreed at that time. But once that meeting had taken place, we were on course to apply for administration by petition to the High Court on Sunday 7 October. That was the sequence of events; it had nothing whatever to do with the outbreak of hostilities in Afghanistan. When the hon. Gentleman has time to reflect on that, he will realise that that simply must be the case.
§ Mr. Alan Duncan
§ Mr. Byers
I want to answer the point on Alan Bloom, and I shall then come to the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan).
§ Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West)
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
§ Mr. Byers
I want to answer this point first. The hon. Member for Maidenhead refers to the front page of The Independent on Sunday, which said that Alan Bloom, who is the Ernst and Young administrator with responsibility for the administration of Railtrack, spoke to me on the afternoon of 11 September. There is no truth in that; Mr. Bloom has said very clearly on the record that no such conversation took place on 11 September, and I hope that the hon. Lady will accept that. Perhaps she should not believe everything that she reads in newspapers. That article was wrong and inaccurate, but I am afraid that it is an example of what we see reported in the press. When there is a smell of a good story, we often do not see the facts reflected in some of the information that is printed.
I come now to the allegations about Alun Evans, who was director of communications in my Department. The hon. Lady says that there was a disagreement about the provision of information in relation to the London underground and that, as a result, he was moved to another post five days later. Alun Evans took up his new post on 1 October, and I understand that the disagreement that people are referring to took place in the middle of July. My mathematics is not too good, but I know that there are more than five days between the middle of July and 1 October, so there is no substance to that allegation. The important point is that—
§ Mr. Byers
I shall explain the circumstances, and then I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman. When Alun Evans first took up his appointment, it was envisaged that he would return to policy work at some future date in the civil service, which is where his expertise lies. That has now been done. He has taken up an important post working with Dr. Iain Anderson on his inquiry into the handling of the foot and mouth outbreak. I understand that Mr. Evans discussed his next posting with the permanent secretary in the normal way and that he welcomed the opportunity to work with Dr. Anderson on such an important issue. That is the position with regard to Alun Evans. He was not forced out of his post; he is developing his career in the civil service.
§ Mr. Blunt
Will the Secretary of State give the House an undertaking that Alun Evans' replacement as director 161 of communications for the Department will not be, as has been the case with many other appointments under this Government, someone like the ex-Daily Mirror journalist who is head of the news department at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but someone drawn from the Government Information and Communications Service?
§ Mr. Byers
The appointment of a director of communications is not made by the Secretary of State. It would be improper for me to try to influence that decision. The hon. Gentleman is showing his ignorance of how the civil service works. The appointment is made by an independent body and, as Opposition Members who have been in government will know, not by the Secretary of State. That is the truth of the matter—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Let the Secretary of State speak. I cannot hear him at times because of the noise
§ Mr. Byers
I must give way to the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) who has been up and down like a jack-in-the-box.
§ Mr. Alan Duncan
What explanation did Ms Moore give the Secretary of State for singling out the issue of councillors' expenses in her memo as bad news to be buried when, according to him, the process for announcing it the next day anyway was already in train?
§ Mr. Byers
When that e-mail was drawn to my attention, which, as I think that I said, was on 8 October, there were more important things that I needed to consider about why it had been sent and that concentrated my mind. As the amendment says, it was "horrible, wrong and stupid" and should not have been sent. Given that we all condemn what Jo Moore did, the issue is the punishment that should be imposed on her. I took the view that the appropriate process was for her, as a civil servant, to be dealt with according to the official disciplinary procedure. The permanent secretary conducted that and, as a result, issued her with an official warning. That is the situation.
§ Mr. Kaufman
The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) hoped that the next director of communications in the Department would not be an ex-Daily Mirror journalist. Will my right hon. Friend guarantee that his next director of communications will not be an ex-journalist from The Guardian, like Bernard Ingham?
§ Mr. Byers
My right hon. Friend has revealed why it is probably better for Secretaries of State to be kept out of the appointment process.
§ Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell)
Will the Secretary of State give way?
§ Mr. MacKay
§ Mr. Byers
I have given way extensively; I want to answer the allegations made by the hon. Member for 162 Maidenhead and get on to the substance of the real work going on in my Department. She made an allegation about the position of Jonathan Haslam, arguing that he left his appointment as director of communications in the Department for Education and Employment when I was a Minister there. Mr. Haslam himself made his position clear, insisting that he had not quit and saying:I have taken a career decision after being offered a wonderful job. David B lunkett"—the then Secretary of State—has been very kind to me. I get on well with him and all his ministers.That is what Jonathan Haslam said on the record about his position.
There is one outstanding allegation—about dirty tricks against Bob Kiley—to which I must reply, and then I will have dealt with all the allegations made by the hon. Member for Maidenhead. I have spent more than 20 minutes going though them and I want to finish with that final allegation before moving to matters of substance.
I want to take hon. Members through the position in relation to Bob Kiley. I have never embarked on any dirty tricks against Bob Kiley, who commissioned from Parsons Brinckerhoff a report on standards and safety in the London underground and the possible impact of the Government's proposals to modernise the system through a public-private partnership. It came to my attention that Mr. Steve Polan, one of Bob Kiley's assistants, had received a draft copy of the independent report and its conclusions. Mr. Polan had marked up changes on the report that he wanted to see. In his covering letter to Parsons Brinckerhoff, Mr. Polan says:the report should not endorse in any way the possible wisdom of undertaking the necessary standards review after the award of the PPP contracts. My changes were intended to convey this, as well as to make the conclusions a bit more pointed".He continues on the independent report:I've eliminated some of the quoted material … for reasons that are self explanatory the quotes were not particularly helpful".The report was supposed to be independent. I felt that people had the right to know; no dirty tricks, no attack on Bob Kiley. When Opposition Members read what actually happened, they will wonder who embarked on a dirty-tricks campaign.
§ Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk)
Will the Secretary of State give way?
§ Mr. Byers
I have addressed all the allegations made by the hon. Member for Maidenhead. If I have missed any, I should be grateful if she would intervene to point out where I have done so. I think that I have comprehensively addressed every single allegation that has been made.
§ Mrs. May
The Secretary of State has missed the overall allegation of my speech. In failing to act against 163 Ms Moore and in keeping her in her post given what she had done, he has brought this Government, politics and politicians into disrepute.
§ Mr. Byers
The issue was the culture of spin, to which the hon. Lady referred eight times. In her speech, we witnessed spin around allegations that have no substance. We have dealt with each of the allegations that she has made. In relation to Jo Moore, I did what was appropriate. That was that she should be subject to the normal disciplinary procedures of the Department. She is a serving civil servant and deserves to be dealt with as such according to the disciplinary procedures—and, by the permanent secretary, she was.
§ Mr. Byers
Now that we have dealt with all the allegations—specifically, individually and in detail, I hope—made by the hon. Lady, let us move on to the real issue.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The Minister has indicated that he is not giving way.
§ Mr. Byers
The record will show that I have given way on numerous occasions. I want to address the issues that Conservative Members do not want to address: why we took action against Railtrack and what we are doing with our 10-year transport plan, and for regeneration of our communities, for housing, for our regions and for local government. I shall address those issues in the time that is available to me. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We must have some calm in the Chamber. The Chamber must come to order.
§ Mr. Byers
First, I shall consider what we think might well replace Railtrack: a company limited by guarantee. As I said during Question Time, it will ultimately be for the administrator to assess and make recommendations on proposals for the transfer of Railtrack's assets out of administration, as a going concern. Under schedule 7 of the Railways Act 1993, I will have to approve any such transfer. However, there is every possibility that there will be more than one proposal before the administrator. The Government and I welcome that. At the same time, however, it would be irresponsible if we did nothing and simply left it to others to work up a viable successor to Railtrack plc. We have therefore developed what we regard as an attractive successor vehicle, and will put a proposal to the administrator for a company limited by guarantee to take over Railtrack plc's railway assets and its role as a network operator. We are confident—
§ Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)
§ Mr. Byers
I want to make some progress. I have spent nearly half an hour on the first part of the debate and want to address some of the issues in our amendment.
164 We believe that when people have had the opportunity to look at the detail of our proposals for a company limited by guarantee—a detailed written reply has been made available this afternoon—they will realise that there is substance behind them, and most important, that the financial arrangements with the private sector will be in place and successful.
§ Mr. Redwood
Will the Secretary of State guarantee that a clear amount of funding will be laid out for any potential bidder who is interested in Railtrack plc? Will he confirm that that will be the same for all bidders and that he will not offer certain sums for his preferred option that he will not make available for others? In the interests of the travelling public and Railtrack group shareholders, he needs to offer firm and clear money that will be delivered, unlike last time, and have a proper competition to see who makes the best proposition.
§ Mr. Byers
If the right hon. Gentleman is saying that we have to put the interests of the travelling public first, he is right. As I said to the hon. Member for Maidenhead at Question Time, we shall issue guidelines in the next few days to address those issues. It is right and proper that when people put together a bid or submission, which might be expensive, they know the terms under which such approaches are made to the administrator.
§ Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West)
§ Mr. Byers
What a choice. I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) first.
§ Kevin Brennan
On Railtrack, does not my right hon. Friend's announcement undermine the Opposition's case that the Government have been trying to bury bad news stories? Do not most people think that the Government doing something to sort out the mess of the Tory privatisation of Railtrack is a good news story?
§ Mr. Byers
It is important to remind ourselves that Railtrack went into administration because of its financial circumstances. We have to use that as an opportunity to remodel the railway industry, which our proposals will do. As a result, Railtrack's successor will be able to put the interests of the travelling public first. As we know, Railtrack was compromised on that and found it very difficult to achieve.
§ Mr. Kilfoyle
Is my right hon. Friend aware that Labour Members in general welcome the expeditious way in which he has moved against Railtrack? Will he remind the House of the extra handout that it demanded at the crucial moment?
§ Mr. Byers
My hon. Friend asks a difficult question. The proposal was uncosted and Railtrack wanted a blank cheque. Contained in the bundle of documents that we put to the High Court, which are in the House of Commons Library, was the statement that Railtrack would have a deficit of £1.7 billion by next March. We decided to put taxpayers' interests first and that Railtrack would have to 165 go into administration. As I said in last week's statement, we chose to put the interests of millions of railway travellers before the interests of Railtrack's shareholders.
§ Mr. Shepherd
Is not the Secretary of State missing the point on behalf of the Government? The country has entered a perilous time. We are engaged in Afghanistan and our citizens, whom we represent, are vulnerable. Of all times, this is when we must be most able to trust the Government, but Ms Moore has put into our minds the thought that this is a manipulative episode. We want to be able to trust, and the Prime Minister will want us to be able to trust him, so that when he asserts something, we believe that it is true.
§ Mr. Byers
I have a great deal of time for the views of the hon. Gentleman, but the hon. Member for Maidenhead made assertions and I have tried to address each one in turn, factually and specifically. With respect, I think that the record will show that I have done that. I have no reservations about responding. It is right that I should and I hope that I will satisfy Opposition Members about the circumstances that we are in.
§ Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement on Railtrack's successor body, which will be able to raise capital in the financial markets. Can he give a logical reason why the same facility should not be extended for investment in London Underground and other transport projects in respect of which a revenue stream is generated?
§ Mr. Byers
When my hon. Friend looks at the proposals for London Underground, she will recognise that it will continue to be a publicly owned and operated system. It is important always to remember that. People have made the comparison with Railtrack, but the two companies are quite different. London Underground will remain publicly owned. There will be no privatisation of that company.
I should like to make some progress and to outline the issues that the Department is dealing with. On the 10-year transport plan, £8.4 billion is already—
§ Mr. Smith
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Before he leaves the subject of Railtrack, we all welcome the moves that he has made but will he assure us that, whatever arrangements he makes, projects to which funds 166 have already been committed by Railtrack, such as the Vale of Glamorgan passenger railway line, will still go ahead under any new set up?
§ Mr. Byers
I have to admit that I am not totally on top of the details of that. I offer my hon. Friend my profuse apologies. I will find out this evening and write to him about that plan.
§ Mr. Ivan Henderson (Harwich)
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
§ Mr. Byers
My worry is that the intervention may concern another local transport project of which I am not aware, but of course I will give way.
§ Mr. Henderson
I thank my right hon. Friend. Does he now agree that it was wrong to give shareholders £700 million while the industry was crying out for further investment into its infrastructure for safety reasons? Does he think that it was wrong that although the company would have suffered from a £700 million deficit by the end of this year, it gave shareholders another £88 million? Does he agree that that was a sign of a directorship that was out of control and had no interest in the industry?
§ Mr. Byers
My hon. Friend is right about the figures, which show the conflict that was at the heart of Railtrack. On the one hand it obviously had to enhance value for shareholders, but on the other it needed to invest in the railway network. It was a conflict with which it could not come to terms. We all know the results.
§ Mr. Byers
I must make some progress as many hon. Members wish to speak and I have taken longer than I intended.
The Department is involved in regeneration and community renewal and in ensuring that our regions share in national prosperity and that every part of our country has decent housing that is fit for the 21st century. Within three years, we will ensure that 300,000 children are no longer in unfit homes. We will meet our target on rough sleepers by March next year.
On Saturday, I announced proposals for the private licensing of landlords, which will help local authorities to ensure that private landlords can no longer neglect communities. Our new deal for communities is targeting support for those areas in greatest need and our neighbourhood renewal project will ensure that all neighbourhoods get the prosperity that some are receiving at present.
The charges laid against us today have been serious. I hope that we have been able to deal with all of them. We will not allow those charges to divert us from our task. We must deliver a new and positive agenda for the future. In so doing, we must ensure that the negative forces do not stand in the way of measures to build a better Britain—a Britain of opportunity where all can achieve their full potential and a fair Britain underpinned by social justice. This is a bold and ambitious vision for our country. It is one that we can achieve and I commend the amendment to the House.
§ Mr. Don Foster (Bath)
Given the present international situation, it is perhaps surprising that the Conservatives have chosen to use precious parliamentary time to debate this issue. It is less surprising that they have chosen in their motion to deal with the style of Government operation rather than to engage in debate on key policy issues, as the Secretary of State said.
§ Mr. Andrew Turner
My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) asked the Secretary of State whether trust was at the heart of the issue. The Prime Minister asks for our trust. If we believe that we cannot afford him that trust, is not that a very serious problem? Does not it justify raising this matter today?
§ Mr. Foster
If the hon. Gentleman can be a little more patient, he will discover that I have much sympathy with the points that he has just made, as I believe that the Government have brought on their own head this debate on their conduct in government. The Secretary of State attempted, towards the end of his lengthy remarks, to deal with new and important announcements in respect of Railtrack. I worry that that shows the very desire to manipulate the media about which many hon. Members are concerned.
However, the debate should not concentrate solely on the behaviour of one of the Government's special advisers, Jo Moore. The debate should deal with the climate of spin and manipulation that is evident right across the Government. Jo Moore's e-mail plumbed new depths, but the Government have taken spin and manipulation to new heights. At the taxpayer's expense, they have doubled the number of so-called special advisers, raising it from 38 to 81. The Government have become past masters at double counting figures, and announcing good news stories again and again—each time pretending that the story is new. They have sought to become adept at manipulation but fortunately they do not always get away with it.
The Secretary of State was asked what the purpose of the Jo Moore e-mail was if the timing with regard to the question of councillors' expenses was already planned. Many hon. Members will have been slightly confused by his answer, but it served the purpose of ensuring that people looked carefully at what the Government did on 12 September.
On that date, the Government published a consultation paper on the issue of councillors' pensions. I hope that the Minister for Transport, when he responds to the debate, will confirm that that document recommends a set of procedures that run counter to what was agreed following a Liberal Democrat amendment during the passage of the Local Government Act 2000. The Government agreed then that it would be right to allow all councillors, regardless of their function, to have access, if their councils wished, to a pension. In the consultation document, the Government have completely reversed that decision. It is no wonder that they wanted to keep that out of the public domain.
As we have heard, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Lord Macdonald, only yesterday had to make a personal statement in another place to apologise for giving an unclear reply about the number of political advisers on the Government's payroll. I argue that it is just that 168 approach to the political process that brings it—and politicians of all parties—into disrepute. If we want to explain the declining turnout at elections, we need look no further than the way in which spin and manipulation erode confidence in Government and politicians.
In such a climate it is no wonder that an editorial in today's Daily Mail can suggest that "a zealous spin doctor" such as Jo Moore might feel it perfectly okay to suggest that Government bad news could be buried in the immediate aftermath of the 11 September atrocities. So far, both Ministers and the media have understandably tended to focus on Ms Moore's e-mail, but it was astonishing to discover that the wider concerns, expressed by many people over the years, about the conduct of special advisers should have been proved to be so right, in such tragic circumstances.
I can agree with at least one element of the Government's amendment. It rightly states that Jo Moore's e-mail was "horrible, wrong and stupid". It certainly was. Jo Moore clearly has no sense of public service, and no notion that there is a difference between party interest and public interest. I am absolutely convinced that no one who operates or thinks in the way that she did should be working in the public sector.
Ms Moore would have us believe that this error of judgment was a lapse in an otherwise blameless career. What other construction could possibly be placed on her remark that she could not believe that she had sent the e-mail? But it was not a momentary lapse. It is clear from what civil servants and others have said that she has been controversial throughout her career in government. Ministers, other advisers who have no interest in public exposure and civil servants who risk their career if they make complaints are usually the only ones who see what special advisers are up to. The difference this time is that Jo Moore's particular style of operation has been laid open to public scrutiny.
§ Kevin Brennan
The hon. Gentleman made a specific criticism about the number of special advisers and spin doctors. Do I take it that he believes that the number of Liberal Democrat special advisers in the National Assembly for Wales and the Scottish Parliament whose posts have been created since 1997 should be cut?
§ Mr. Foster
No, the issue is one of proportion. I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that it is valuable to have special advisers working within the system. I hope that he also acknowledges, and this is the crucial point, that those special advisers operate according to a clearly agreed code of practice, and they must abide by that. I shall turn in a moment to that matter as it relates to the Government's special advisers.
We have heard that a disciplinary procedure has operated in this case. The hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) asked one question about that procedure, and I want to go further. Given that we have been told little about the precise nature of that procedure, will the Secretary of State tell us whether the reprimand was confined to the single issue of Ms Moore's e-mail, or whether it covered other matters? Does the reprimand mean that Ms Moore has received a written warning that will remain on her record, and if so, for how long will it remain on her record? Has she been told that any repetition will result in dismissal? What steps are being 169 taken to monitor her conduct? Do we have to wait for the unlikely event of a further leak about a similar e-mail, or is her conduct now being monitored within the Department and, if so, by whom? Equally importantly, to whom will that person report?
Many have described the sending of the e-mail as evidence of gross professional misconduct and therefore the basis for dismissal without further inquiry into Ms Moore's other activities. I do not believe that that would be sufficient. Indeed, it is not right for the House to determine the employment or dismissal of civil servants. Our concern here should be the terms and conditions of employment, and the code of practice for such civil servants. It is not enough simply to demand that Jo Moore go and assume that all will be well. With her out of the way, things could return to normal and the system carry on as before, without the opportunity to debate the wider issues. That is why the Conservatives' call for Ms Moore's resignation misses the point—her resignation by itself is not enough.
§ Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire)
The hon. Gentleman has asked a question that is in my mind: what exactly is the Department's procedure for dealing with breaches of discipline? He set out his view of the position. Is it his interpretation that it would not have been possible legitimately to dismiss Jo Moore for this particular offence, although there may have been others which would have been relevant? That is certainly my interpretation of events.
§ Mr. Foster
I asked my questions because we do not know the answer to that particular question. I hope that the Minister who responds to the debate will answer it.
We must address the much wider question of Ms Moore's behaviour and the way in which it has been handled by the Government. There needs to be a full inquiry into her conduct. So far, we have had feeble responses not only from the Secretary of State today, but from the Deputy Prime Minister in an appearance before the Public Accounts Committee and from Lords Falconer and Macdonald when they answered questions on this matter in another place last week. Their refusal to conduct any sort of inquiry despite well-sourced and numerous reports of wrongdoing undermines any faith we might have had in the Government's attempts to regulate their own advisers' conduct—a point that was made earlier.
Even more worryingly, the Deputy Prime Minister has gone so far as to suggest that the only circumstances in which evidence of misconduct will be investigated are when a serving civil servant raises a formal complaint. That is simply not good enough. The longer this goes on, the greater is the risk that Ms Moore's apparent immunity from investigation will undermine faith in the ministerial code. I hope that Ministers will realise that those who fail to investigate and correct misconduct are in effect guilty of it themselves. There must be a clear investigation into at least two issues.
§ Ms Abbott
The argument in favour of Ms Moore is that she only made one mistake. Does the hon. Gentleman 170 agree that in many spheres of the public sector one mistake can, in effect, finish a person's career? Why should things be different for Ms Moore?
§ Mr. Foster
The question is whether that particular mistake warranted such an outcome. The argument that I am trying to make is that there are several wider issues involving Ms Moore that should lead to a full investigation and the appropriate disciplinary procedure, and that until we have held that inquiry it would be wrong to make a judgment.
The two particular issues that should be included in the investigation include the alleged smear campaign against Mr. Bob Kiley, to which the Secretary of State referred, and the briefing that took place when Railtrack was placed in administration—a matter that has not been referred to in detail today. Both incidents suggest that unless a formal investigation is announced by Ministers during this debate, the code of conduct for special advisers will not be worth the paper on which it is written.
There is no doubt that a smear campaign was conducted against Mr. Bob Kiley. Despite the Secretary of State's comments, the evidence is clear, not only from numerous newspaper reports, but also from Polly Toynbee, who said on "Any Questions" the week before last that she had been on the receiving end of such a campaign. She also said that the campaign emanated from the offices of the Secretary of State and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
On the same programme, when the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), was asked about the matter, he did not deny that there had been a smear campaign. He even justified it, arguing that the Government had to do something about the campaign against the public-private partnership. It has been alleged to me, by a credible and senior source, that Jo Moore was intimately involved in that campaign, and that, if not a prime mover, she certainly instructed a junior member of the Department's press office to start leaking material. The Deputy Chief Whip appears to question what I am saying, but I have to advise him that, unfortunately, the Secretary of State has also provided that information, so I did not need to obtain it from another source. The hon. Gentleman will find the information in a written answer from the Secretary of State in the Official Report, column 94W, on 22 October.
The interesting point in that answer and in what the Secretary of State has said is that Ms Moore instructed not the head of the communications department but a junior member of the Department's press office. Surely, that is in clear breach of the arrangements that should be enforced. She should have been talking to the senior person in that Department.
§ Mr. Todd
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way once more. He is pursuing an interesting line. Could he refer back to the Opposition motion, which calls on the Government peremptorily to dismiss Ms Moore? Presumably he disagrees with that judgment, as it would obviously be outwith any procedure that is available to the Minister or his departmental officials?
§ Mr. Foster
I have already shown that I agree with that view—notwithstanding my strong condemnation of what Ms Moore did and my deep concern about other activities 171 in which she appears to have been engaged. As I have already said, it is only appropriate that the decision should be made by the proper authorities—through the civil service—not by the House, and that it should be taken after a thorough investigation has taken place. I am concerned that such an investigation is being denied by the decision of the Secretary of State and of the Deputy Prime Minister.
§ Kevin Brennan
The hon. Gentleman has referred several times to the code of conduct for special advisers. Is he aware that the code says that one job of a special adviser is "devilling" on behalf of a Minister? Does he agree that such an absurd term should perhaps be revisited in the light of all that has happened?
§ Mr. Foster
I absolutely agree that the code of conduct should be revisited. I have been calling for that for the past three years. The word "devilling", in my understanding—although I would want to check it in a dictionary—means finding out information, not acting in the way that the hon. Gentleman seems to be implying.
§ Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury)
In earlier exchanges, the Secretary of State sought to avoid the central allegation about his judgment and why he did not sack Jo Moore in the light of her despicable e-mail. From the hon. Gentleman's remarks, it seems that there should normally be the ability to dismiss someone summarily for gross misconduct. It is hard to envisage anything more gross or more of a misconduct than what we have heard set out as the facts surrounding Jo Moore.
§ Mr. Foster
I can think of little more, but we need to abide by the arrangements that have been laid down, and according to those the Secretary of State does not have the power to make that summary dismissal. It must be done by the civil service, through the civil service rules. I maintain that there needs to be an investigation into all the activities surrounding this case. I would not be surprised in the slightest if the outcome were dismissal, but I do not want to propose anything that would he against the very rules that I am seeking to have upheld.
Much has been made of the effect of Jo Moore's involvement in seeking to blacken the name of Mr. Bob Kiley in relation to what happened to Mr. Alun Evans. The Secretary of State sought to persuade us that Mr. Evans's move out of his job as director of communications had absolutely nothing to do with any concern that he might have about people at a junior level trying to persuade staff in the Department to bury news or do anything untoward. He told us that Mr. Evans has quite properly moved on to develop his career.
I suppose that we have to take the Secretary of State's word for it, but I do so with considerable difficulty. I note that Mr. Evans has been transferred to work in the Cabinet Office on a foot and mouth inquiry due to last only six months. This is a man of whom the Department's press release, on his appointment on 18 February 2000, said:Mr Evans, 41, is a career civil servant. He is currently working in DETR on secondment from his post as Head of the 10 Downing Street Strategic Communications Unit. Before that, he was Principal Private Secretary to David Blunkett, Gillian Shephard and Michael Portillo at the Department for Education and Employment.It does not strike me as a very sound career move for such a man to be buried away on a short-term investigation.
172 The clear question for the Secretary of State is this: can he say with absolute certainty that he did not breach clause 58 of the ministerial code, which specifically requires Ministers not to issue instructions contrary to the civil service code and requires them to behave as good employers? Can he confirm that for the record?
§ Mr. Foster
I am very grateful to the Secretary of State for that confirmation. In a moment, I shall ask him another question on that matter and on a parliamentary answer that he has given in relation to it.
The Deputy Prime Minister, who is in charge of the Cabinet Office, clearly feels able to rely on Alun Evans's discretion, and he will not say anything for fear that it would have a direct impact on Mr. Evans's job. Lord Macdonald has claimed, as the Secretary of State has just now claimed, that the Government are confident that all the relevant codes are operating perfectly as they should be doing. However, Opposition Members have tabled various parliamentary questions about the operation of those codes of conduct. One such question asked very specifically whether the Government have kept a full record of all contacts between Ministers and their special advisers. I ask the Secretary of State to tell us later whether such a record has been kept and whether that record will, as we have requested, be made available.
The other issue that I should like to raise is on the Government's decision to place Railtrack into administration. I am sure that the Government are aware of the leak, in The Times, of the Department's "Ariel plan" which itemised in detail precisely who in the Department would do what. For example, Jo Moore was given the task of fixing up most if not all the key ministerial interviews and media appearances and another special adviser in the Department was given the task of talking to academics in the transport sector.
My question for the Minister is why political appointees were needed for that task. The clear impression given by the "Ariel plan" was that the Department's press office arid the director of communications, Mr. Alun Evans, were routinely bypassed, with political appointees operating as a parallel press office. Jo Moore herself is described by many journalists as their first point of contact for the Department. Is that really consistent with the job description that is provided in the model contract for special advisers, and does it not suggest that the Department's most important and sensitive media activities have become politicised and that the civil servants who are concerned with the press and media have been sidelined?
When he was asked on the "Today" programme about Jo Moore's conversation with The Sunday Times business section that weekend, the Secretary of State said that he did not know whether such a conversation had taken place. I hope that we will discover the answer to that question in the Secretary of State's answers to parliamentary questions. He is supposed to keep a written record of all contacts that he has on such matters with his special advisers. I therefore hope that, although he could not answer that question on the "Today" programme, the House might soon receive an answer to it.
The Secretary of State is also aware that he is required to give specific instructions to special advisers on the activities that they can undertake in briefing the media. 173 In a parliamentary question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), the Secretary of State was askedwhat contacts he has authorised between his special advisers and the media since 7 June in relation to Railtrack.The Secretary of State answered:Special advisers contact the media as necessary on issues across the range of the Department's responsibilities."—[Official Report, 22 October 2001; Vol. 373, c. 94W.]The answer certainly seems to be a clear indication of special advisers having been given blanket permission by the Secretary of State. Consequently, I believe that the Secretary of State is in clear breach of his specified responsibilities to monitor and authorise the work of his special advisers. I should be interested to know whether he accepts that interpretation.
The keeping of records is certainly vital. It is equally vital that the Secretary of State monitor and authorise the work of his special advisers, as failing to do so could cause huge problems for those special advisers, not least the possibility that they could fall foul of the law of insider trading, as the Railtrack case has vividly highlighted.
Jo Moore may well have deserved dismissal on more than one count, but that is not the main focus of my concern. Whether she stays or goes, action is urgently needed to lend substance to all the Government's fine words about standards in public life. When the Government came to office, in 1997, they were committed to a civil service Act to give the civil service and all relevant codes a statutory footing for the first time. That was part of the Cook-Maclennan agreement that was struck before the 1997 general election. At that time it was a particularly live issue, because of the Conservative party's abuses of power and the precarious position in which it put the civil service during Margaret Thatcher's "one of us" regime.
The Government remain nominally committed to introducing such a Bill, but in four years they failed to do so. Worryingly, an unnamed Minister was quoted in The Independent on Sunday on 21 October as saying of a civil service Act:We wouldn't want that. That would definitely be opposed. I would be very surprised if the government even started down that road.I hope that we will be given confirmation that the view of that Minister is not held by the Government at large.
It is vital to start down the road towards a civil service Act. The Government must investigate all the issues surrounding the Jo Moore case, or the cynicism of which Ministers often complain will multiply, and they will only have themselves to blame.
There is an old adage that those who live by spin die by spin, but sadly it is not accurate. The spin and manipulation that have become so much a part of the Government's culture must end. If they do not, it will not be only the Government who will suffer, but the whole political process, which is sadly already in such disrepute.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
If there is one thing harder to stomach than the Conservatives in indignant mode, it is the Liberal Democrats in 174 sanctimonious mode. I suppose that we should be grateful for the fact that it was not the hon. Member for Southwark. North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) who spoke for them. It is fascinating that we had that lecture on morality from the Liberal Democrats, given that they invented the "Focus" leaflet, which has turned lying into such a fine art that it ought to be eligible for a lottery grant.
I suppose that I have residual expertise in the subject of the debate, as for a few years I was what has since been described as a spin doctor when I worked at No. 10 Downing street. In fact, I was more of a spin anaesthetist, because I regarded it as my job not to get things into the newspapers and on the television, but to prevent them from appearing. When I was telephoned at home by Harold Wilson asking me to ring up the editor of ITN or of a newspaper to complain, I promised that I would do so and instantly forgot about it. I recommend that course of action to my right hon. Friends.
Let me make it clear, as I did on the "Question Time" television programme the week before last, that I regard what Jo Moore did as inexcusable, and that it would have been better if she had left or been removed from her job—but for the Opposition to take up one of its scarce days in the House of Commons to deal with the case of a fairly unimportant Government employee must be regarded by anyone who does not live in the enclosed climate of this place as utterly inexplicable.
Our constituents are worried day by day about the fighting that is taking place in which their husbands, sons or brothers are putting their lives at risk; they are worried—whether validly or not we do not know—about the anthrax threat; and they are worried about the present floods. Indeed, there is a series of issues about which ordinary people living normal lives are seriously concerned, but I can break it to the Opposition that one of those issues is not Jo Moore
I have listened to the debate with growing incredulity. We appeared to be hearing an indictment of a combination of Lucrezia Borgia and Cruella de Vil, yet all that we have is one deeply unfortunate, regrettable, deplorable e-mail. It is interesting that Conservative Members have tabled a motion that begins:That this House deplores the culture of spin".They appear to be unaware of what happened before 8 October when the e-mail was revealed, before 11 September and before 1 May 1997. It is fascinating that the political party that degraded communication between the Government and the press in the post-war period to new depths has tabled such a motion.
Conservative Members have omitted to take account of the first rule of politics, which is enunciated in St. John's Gospel:"He that is without spin"—sorry, "sin"—among you, let him first cast a stone at her.We should all take account of that because we live in glass houses. However, no glass was ever so fragile as that of the house in which the Conservative party has lived for many years.
The Tories' record on spin makes the Government look like backward denizens of a kindergarten. They are guilty not of one culpable remark in one e-mail but, for example, of a serious conspiracy at the highest—or lowest—level 175 of Government. I refer to the Westland affair, Sir Bernard Ingham and the way in which a civil servant acted politically and managed the deliberate destruction of a member of a Conservative Cabinet—Michael Heseltine.
Let us consider the events. Patrick Mayhew, the Solicitor-General, was urged by Margaret Thatcher to write a letter to Michael Heseltine about three words that he had used on Westland when he was Secretary of State for Defence. The letter was marked "confidential". The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) asked about interpretations of Government rubrics, and I shall therefore provide the official definition of "confidential", which means that,unauthorized disclosure would be prejudicial to the interests of the nation".Bernard Ingham ordered Colette Bowe, chief of information at the Department of Trade and Industry, to leak the letter to the detriment of Michael Heseltine. She was a conscientious civil servant and she refused to do that. Ingham said to her:You'll … well do what you're … well told.The letter was leaked and when Ingham was asked about his conduct, he said in a speech to the Independent Broadcasting Association:I must tell you that I—and I am sure my colleagues—have never regarded the Official Secrets Act as a constraint on my operations. Indeed, I regard myself as licensed to break that law as and when I judge necessary; and I suppose it is necessary to break it every other minute of every working day, though I confess the issue is so academic that I have not bothered to seek counsel's advice.That was the Prime Minister's press secretary, talking about the law of the land which he, as a civil servant, had had to sign. So it is not surprising that although Ministers in the Conservative Government always connived with Ingham at the lies and slander and traducing in which he was involved, one of them who was at the receiving end, besides Mr. Heseltine—namely John Biffen, described by Ingham as a semi-detached member of the Cabinet—said of Ingham, when forced out of the Cabinet, "He is not the sewage, he is the sewer". That is what a former Conservative Minister said of someone whose actions transcend beyond all recognition the kind of thing that Jo Moore unwisely and deplorably did a few weeks ago.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
As the Member who, sitting where the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) is sitting now, named Colette Bowe in the House, may I remind my right hon. Friend that we argued that it was quite improper for Bernard Ingham and, indeed, Sir Charles Powell—as he now is—to remain civil servants, and that they should have been paid with party funds?
§ Mr. Kaufman
My hon. Friend is right. He will remember the evening of the first ballot for the Conservative party leadership, which saw the ejection of Margaret Thatcher. He will remember the scene on the steps of the British residence in Paris, when Mrs. Thatcher came down to say that she would fight and stand in the second ballot. Who should be next to her but Bernard Ingham, a civil servant, at a party political event?
§ Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
§ Mr. Kaufman
I will give way later—[interruption] As the Leader of the Opposition might say, they do not like what they are hearing.
§ Mr. Miller
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
§ Mr. Kaufman
Will my hon. Friend allow me to continue for a moment?
We then come to another event 10 years later—only five years ago. This is a subject in which my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) is greatly interested and, although he and I have disagreed on it, he has shown considerable integrity in pursuing his point of view. I refer to the export of arms to Iraq.
Does the House remember—if not, I feel obliged to remind it—the Scott report? That report concerned not a remark in one e-mail by one civil servant, but the deliberate violation by a Conservative Government of their own arms embargo on Iraq, which included Alan Clark advising arms salesmen on how to evade it and enticing people into circumstances in which they were prosecuted and could have been sent to jail. That is the Conservatives—that is the way they do it. Not only were they breaking their own embargo and exporting arms to Iraq up to the moment when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, they were granting him trade credits up to that moment.
§ Mr. Redwood
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for elderly Members to embark on reminiscences of former Prime Ministers and other Ministers whom they knew, which do not seem to be covered by the subject of the debate?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)
That is not a point of order. If what is being said were not related to the subject of the debate, I would of course have stopped it.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) objects to my speaking directly on a Conservative motion about "the culture of spin", which is what I am doing.
Let us come to the culture of spin. The Scott report was published on 15 February 1996, only a year or so before the Conservatives lost office. What did it contain? It consisted of five volumes and 1,806 pages, plus appendices. A civil servant who was the Prime Minister's press secretary—Ingham had gone—withheld it from publication, and also withheld it from the Opposition until three hours before the debate. It was only because of the brilliance of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that the Conservatives were trounced on that. The fact is that the Conservatives—by spinning, by withholding, by lying—deliberately tried to prevent the House of Commons from validly debating the Scott report. Let us move on.
§ Mr. Kaufman
I give way to the hon. Gentleman, because I am about to refer to a constituent of his.
§ Mr. Key
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. For the record, let us remember that Tony Benn invited 177 Bernard Ingham to leave The Guardian and join the Government information service. There is no parallel between the Ingham case and what is happening now.
§ Mr. Kaufman
The hon. Gentleman's memory is not accurate, but I shall not argue with him because he has given me an opportunity to note that my good friend Eric Varley went to the Department of Industry having been Secretary of State for Energy. Eric Varley was contemplating bringing Bernard Ingham from the Department of Energy to the Department of Industry. I did my best to persuade him not to, because I remembered Bernard Ingham's career on the Yorkshire Evening Post and the Leeds Weekly Citizen.
I advise the hon. Gentleman that I am coming to one of his constituents—namely, Sir Edward Heath. We are bringing ourselves up to date. [Interruption.] I would not want the Conservatives to think that I dwell only on the past, so let us come to Amanda Platell, communications director under the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and former editor of the Sunday Express. She published a front page carrying a huge lie about me, for which the Press Complaints Commission forced her and Rosie Boycott to apologise.
The Conservatives are good in respect of the ex-journalists they pick up. They employed Amanda Platell and every one of us remembers with relish, coupled with a certain nausea, watching her television election diary. We remember her saying how she was so worked up about The Spectator interview with Sir Edward Heath that she telephoned the editor, the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson), and in the middle of an election campaign tried to de-spin what had already been spun by achieving some repudiation of what Sir Edward said.
What we have from the Conservative party is an extremely long—
§ Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh)
Could the right hon. Gentleman possibly give way?
§ Mr. Kaufman
Not only possibly, but probably.
§ Mr. Francois
I acknowledge the right hon. Gentleman's seniority in the House, but we would not want him to miss anything out. Is he aware that a recently published biography of the Duke of Wellington claimed that he once resigned because he thought that a letter written to him by Castlereagh had been delayed by two hours? Does the right hon. Gentleman consider that an example of spin by the Conservative party and would he like to chuck that in too?
§ Mr. Kaufman
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on getting that on the record. It is likely to be as irrelevant a remark as any he makes throughout his parliamentary career.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State tried to widen the debate by talking about the various achievements of the Government, including Railtrack.
§ Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I must apologise to the right hon. Gentleman for interrupting his speech, 178 but I fear that there may be about to occur a much more dramatic example of the culture of spin, which the House is debating, than any he has mentioned. At 5 o'clock, the IRA made a statement on decommissioning and I understand that the Prime Minister has summoned the press to be at No. 10 at 5.45 pm. He wishes to make a statement of his own in response to the IRA statement.
So far as I know, there is no indication that the Prime Minister has the slightest intention of coming to the House, to which he has a prime responsibility to account, to give hon. Members an account of this important matter and of the Government's attitude towards it. Do you. Mr. Deputy Speaker, have any indication, contrary to my assumption, that the Prime Minister does, indeed, intend to come to the House, and, if not, what we can do about it? How long do we have to go on being treated in this dismissive fashion in Parliament by this Government?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I have no knowledge of the matter to which the hon. Gentleman refers. The Speaker's views on these matters are well known. Hon. Members on both Front Benches will have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. It is not for me to comment further.
§ Mr. Kaufman
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman intervened with his customary sincerity and I do not quarrel with him for being concerned about that matter. His point of order was a great deal more sincere than anything else we have heard from that side of the House this afternoon.
§ Mr. Miller
This news has also just been brought to my attention. I have listened to my right hon. Friend's wonderful speech with the usual enthusiasm that I give to his speeches. Does he agree that the news that has just been announced illustrates once more just how petty the Conservatives are being? There are far more important things affecting this country—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Before the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) answers, I must tell him that I have allowed him a reasonable amount of latitude in this debate so far. I do not want him to wander too far from the original motion or from the amendment.
§ Mr. Kaufman
Of course, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Let me point out something to the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles), as I gave him notice that I would do. He is a great expert on cinema, and the chairman of the films group in the House of Commons. I recommend that he go to see the new Ken Loach film, "The Navigators", which is about the privatisation of the railways and the disaster inflicted by the Conservative party on the railways with regard to Railtrack and to the operating companies. That is the kind of subject that we ought to have been debating today, and the kind of thing in which people in this country are interested.
I said to the Conservatives on the day of the Queen's Speech, and I repeat it to them here and now, that they were beaten by a landslide in 1997 and by a landslide in June this year. That will be as nothing compared with the drubbing they will get at the next election, unless they somehow reconnect themselves to the real concerns, interests and worries of the people of this country. 179 They show no signs of doing so. They continue to be an irrelevant rabble, and this debate, which they have initiated, is proof of that.
§ Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells)
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who, as always, was occasionally entertaining and, even more occasionally, accurate in his remarks and observations. I want to pick him up on the point with which he started, when he sought to belittle the motion before the House in the Conservative party's name and, by implication, the subject under debate.
I believe that this issue goes to the heart of the democratic process. Democracy requires knowledge so that people can make informed choices. Knowledge requires information that is timely, accurate and freely given. We are not political innocents in this House, and we know that, in addition, Governments have a legitimate interest in putting the best complexion on their activities. However, the activities of Ms Jo Moore, as described in the debate, go so far beyond anything legitimate or constitutionally proper that they should engage the serious attention of the House; otherwise the people whom we represent will continue to be disillusioned about the political process. That is also reflected in the disgracefully low turnout in all the elections in which we participate. So I believe that this important subject should concern all hon. Members.
The example that I wish to cite goes a very long way beyond the normal political knockabout that enriches the British political system. It also goes way beyond the Jo Moore school of news management. It concerns a political cover-up, by the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, involving a report that was embarrassing to the Government. I wish to describe the circumstances in what I intend to be a short speech—it is the only point that I wish to make, but I think that the House will agree that it is important.
I refer to the inquiry into the business affairs of the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson), which involves his links to the late Robert Maxwell and, in particular, the treatment of an apparently undeclared payment of £200,000 to the hon. Gentleman by a Maxwell company. I shall not discuss the details of that payment because it is the subject of an inquiry by the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges—a Committee of the House. In other words, my subject is not the conduct of the hon. Gentleman, but rather the conduct of Ministers, especially the Secretary of State.
The House will know that, in May of this year, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Mrs. Elizabeth Filkin, whom I regret to say is not to be reappointed to her position, reported on the case of the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West, and upheld the serious complaints and charges made against him. The Standards and Privileges Committee deliberated and decided to postpone judgment for three months, until after the general election. That period expired in August, and I understand that the Committee deliberated today on whether to accept Mrs. Filkin's observations and, if so, what to do about the hon. Gentleman. All that is well known, but it is less well known that everything that Mrs. Filkin investigated earlier this year, and all that the Committee is deliberating on, was already known to Ministers two years ago. Quite simply, they covered up that information for reasons of political expediency.
180 The background can be easily and quickly described. In 1998, I first wrote to Ministers at the Department of Trade and Industry about serious breaches of company law, involving companies in the Maxwell group. I also stated that stock exchange regulations had been broken and that tax laws had been similarly breached. I referred to the undeclared payments to directors in the group. I wrote a total of four letters to the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and I specifically asked for an external, impartial inquiry into the matters about which I had written because I knew that the Department was investigating the affairs of a Labour Member and ex-Labour Minister. Instead of accepting my request, the DTI carried out an internal inquiry during 1999. We now know that that inquiry found everything, but the result was given the Jo Moore treatment. I believe that Ms Moore was working for the right hon. Gentleman at the time and either directly, or possibly through her influence, succeeded in burying the report. On the day before the Christmas recess in December 1999, the right hon. Gentleman, who is now Secretary of State of the Department under review today, answered a planted parliamentary question, saying that the inquiry was complete and that no further action would be taken.
§ Mr. Redwood
Has my right hon. Friend noticed that there are no Ministers on the Front Bench? Does that not show the utter contempt in which they hold the House of Commons? My right hon. Friend is making serious allegations, but there is no Minister present and the Whip is making no effort to secure one to hear those charges.
§ Mr. Heathcoat-Amory
That is certainly a monstrous discourtesy to the House, which is typical. I could not help noticing that the Secretary of State scuttled out of the Chamber when I rose to speak; I think that he knows a lot about his doings in his previous post. The conclusion of the investigation, revealed in answer to a planted question, could have been the end of the matter. However, I, of course, corresponded with the right hon. Gentleman and pointed out that I was still awaiting a substantive reply to the four letters that I had written to the Department in 1998. I pointed out that it had not even given me the courtesy of providing a copy of the answer to the planted parliamentary question. The Secretary of State refused adamantly to engage in any further correspondence.
That would have remained the position but for a curious twist. Mr. Tom Bower, an investigative journalist, discovered the material on which inspectors and officials from the Department of Trade and Industry had worked in 1999 and publicised it in a book called "The Paymaster". It was only because of that that Mrs. Filkin, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, could reopen her inquiry—[Interruption.] Ah, the Minister for Transport has returned. The material discovered by Mr. Bower is alluded to in the 170 pages of Mrs. Filkin's report, published in May, which I have already mentioned. It contains details of the £200,000 payment and information about breaches of stock exchange regulations and tax rules. Of course, it goes beyond the duties and responsibilities of Mrs. Filkin to pronounce on apparent breaches of tax regulations, but that information is in her report. I draw to the attention of the House the fact that all that information—and more—was in the earlier DTI report, which had been drawn up two years previously and suppressed.
181 The Secretary of State told me that he was prevented from publishing his internal report, but that is only because he chose to conduct an internal, in-house inquiry instead of the external, independent inquiry, followed by publication of its findings, that I had demanded. In any case, even if he could not, for reasons of commercial confidentiality, publish the entire report, he could certainly have acted on its contents. He could have sent its findings to the relevant authorities; otherwise, what is the point of having an inquiry at all? The Secretary of State said that the report was handled solely by civil servants. Why, therefore, did he answer that parliamentary question in December 1999? By doing so, he took responsibility for the report. He must therefore take responsibility for the inquiry and what happened to it. In any case, it is simply inconceivable that experienced civil servants should overlook the importance of what they discovered during that inquiry in 1999.
The reason for the cover-up is simple: one Secretary of State in a Labour Government was investigating the affairs of a colleague—and someone who had recently been a Treasury Minister. That inquiry involved the affairs of the late Robert Maxwell, who was the great Labour tycoon. Therefore there was motive and opportunity for a cover-up, and there most certainly was a cover-up. There is simply no other rational explanation.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he has given notice of what he is saying to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson)?
§ Mr. Heathcoat-Amory
As I explained at the start of my remarks, the object of this debate and my contribution to it is not the conduct of the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West. That is being investigated separately by the Committee on Standards in Public Life. It is not my duty to pronounce judgment on another Member of this House. The object of my remarks is the conduct of Ministers and specifically the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions.
I believe that there has been a cover-up, and it is an insult to the House if there has been one. It is an indictment—and a serious one—of the Government's entire attitude towards openness and the truth, and will remain a stain on the reputation of the Secretary of State until he discloses the content of the secret report.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
I have a difference of judgment from that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), and perhaps a difference of experience. In my experience, many of our fellow citizens have rightly or wrongly become deeply interested in the issue of Ms Moore, which they see as involving the heart of the Government. Those at the Linlithgow constituency Labour party meeting on Sunday were deeply interested in and very concerned by the issue. In addition, when my right hon. Friend worked for Harold Wilson, he was paid by the Labour party. He was not paid out of public funds. That makes a bit of a difference.
I want to address the matter of the civil service ethos which is based on "neutrality of process"—I understand that that is the technical term. Neutrality of process makes 182 it possible for civil servants to serve faithfully Governments of different political complexions, and justifies payment from public funds.
All those on the Government Front Bench will recognise that, when they came to office, they were welcomed strongly and warmly by civil servants who had been working for Ministers of another party for 18 years, and that those same civil servants became very protective of the incoming Ministers. Similarly, when the Conservative Government entered office in 1979, I am sure that those who had been working for Labour Ministers became, overnight, protective of Ministers with very different views.
I know from my experience as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Richard Crossman that when he came to office after Keith Joseph—a man of remarkably different views—the civil service, overnight, became loyal to its new "master".
If people such as special advisers are to be paid from civil service funds, one wonders whether the neutrality of process can continue in the way that we have accepted in Britain.
Going back to the distant past, the Cabinet Minister to whom I was Parliamentary Private Secretary had three special advisers when he was Secretary of State for Social Security. They were Professor Richard Titmuss, the leading sociologist of the day; Professor Brian Abel-Smith, who probably knew more about pensions than anyone else in England and Peter Townsend, who had written a seminal book on family life in Bethnal Green. Other Departments had special advisers. The Treasury had Nicholas Kaldor, who was an extremely distinguished economist whatever anyone thinks about his economic views. They 'were totally different from today's special advisers, who seem to be factotums for Ministers. What special expert advice do they bring to a Department?
I recollect that the same Mr. Crossman had a press officer called Peter Brown who was a career civil servant of weight. When Crossman wanted to do something that was slightly party political, Peter Brown said, "No, Mr. Crossman. I will not put that out for you." Not once did Crossman argue. Peter Brown's judgment was paramount: it was either, "Yes, Mr. Crossman" or "No, Mr. Crossman." Departments' press officers should be career civil servants who are prepared to say unpalatable things to Secretaries of State, however powerful, when those Ministers cross the line. If the Secretary of State cannot understand that Ms Moore has committed a sackable offence, it raises questions about his fitness for that job.
There is another matter to consider, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott). What would happen to other people who made a single mistake of such enormity? A doctor would get into great trouble, and so would another civil servant.
What do senior civil sell ants in the Department for Transport. Local Government and the Regions think about that? I am not pretending that I have talked to them, but it does not take much imagination to determine what they may say. People in Ms Moore's position will ask those civil servants to make a judgment. When she does that, they may well reply, "What judgment?". I get the impression from constituents that there is searing resentment in the civil service about what has happened.
183 Errors of judgment are one thing, possibly technical mistakes. Moral lapses are another matter. I fear that I come into the category of those who think that what happened with Ms Moore on 11 September was more than a technical judgment; it was a moral lapse. It mocks attempts to build up idealism and demonstrates the aggressive cynicism of media management culture. As I said to the Prime Minister's face, I fail to understand his inability to recognise that Ms Moore's continued employment in her capacity of special adviser sullies his Government. If hon. Members think that I am going over the top, we should all reflect on the 58 per cent. turnout at the election, which showed what people think of the profession of politics.
Had a Secretary of State for Transport under a previous Labour Government been in the position of my right hon. Friend, I have no doubt that whatever else they were doing, Harold Wilson or James Callaghan would have sat beside him in the House. I noticed that he was left to dry on the Front Bench. No other Cabinet Minister was present, not even the Leader of the House or Chief Whip. Only the Minister for Transport was here.
§ The Minister for Transport (Mr. John Spellar)
Did my hon. Friend hear the information that was conveyed earlier? It gave a good reason for Ministers not being present. They are involved in an important historic event and he is getting things grossly out of proportion.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I happen to think that the House of Commons is important. When it has such a debate, I ask myself what events require all senior Ministers to be elsewhere. It is not a question of amour-propre, but of parliamentary democracy.
§ Ms Abbott
Whatever this evening's circumstances, it is not the first time that senior Ministers under pressure have been hung out to dry by their Treasury Bench colleagues. On the subject of Ms. Moore, she should at least have been suspended. At best, the failure to suspend her suggests collusion with the attitude behind her e-mail; at worst, it raises the suspicion that she cannot be moved because she knows too much.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I had better not be drawn into such speculation. I undertook to make a short speech.
§ Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
§ Mr. Dalyell
No, forgive me, but not at the moment.
I told the Whips on Saturday that if the Conservative amendment is narrow and confined to the general issues of Ms Moore's case, it will have my vote, and that is what I will do tonight.
§ Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who gave a fine speech. He was more eloquent on the Jo Moore case than I could possibly be.
I have declared my interests in the Register of Members' Interests. I have also noted that several Labour Members of weight and experience who deeply love 184 parliamentary democracy believe that there has been an offence. I hope that we will hear more of that during this important debate.
I want to concentrate on the Secretary of State's counter-attack. He claimed that he had important work to do on the railway industry and represented bankrupting it as a triumph. He suggested that we should acquit him of the serious charges of which he stands arraigned by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) and others because of that work. I want to demonstrate why he should be condemned and lose his position in office. In addition to the matters eloquently raised by other hon. Members, he has made a catastrophic mess of the railways and of the contribution that the public-private finance initiative could make to our economy.
The Secretary of State did not do the House the courtesy of setting out his proposals for Railtrack during the debate, although he said that he would like to refer to them. For the sake of greater accuracy, I have been able to get a copy of the written answer that he provided through the normal channels when the debate was taking place. It would have been much better had he told us of its contents prior to the debate or as part of his contribution to it. Such matters should not go unexamined simply because he finds it more convenient to weasel out such details around the back while we listen to a serious debate on the Floor.
§ Mr. Spellar
Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that the Secretary of State should not have given way to the Opposition's numerous interventions on other issues? He might join us in regarding them as less important, but his colleagues wanted to focus on them and they would have criticised my right hon. Friend had he not given way and responded.
§ Mr. Redwood
Of course the right hon. Gentleman should have taken those interventions and attempted to answer the serious charges levelled against him in this Opposition day debate. He decided to try to hijack the day by also referring to the railway industry. It is a discourtesy to the House that he did so by means of a written answer, which we could not easily obtain as we were in the debate, while pretending that we knew what he was on about in his other remarks.
The right hon. Gentleman split his speech into two halves. I am glad that he took interventions from colleagues on the Opposition Benches. It was the least that he could have done in the circumstances. I give him no particular marks for doing so—I would have given him anti-marks had he refused—but as he spent about 20 minutes on the railways, it would have been better if he had told the House more about what he had in mind.
In the written reply, the Secretary of State claims that his successor company limited by guarantee will have the same sources of income as the Railtrack company that he has just helped to bankrupt, namely, that it will haveproperty income, track access charges and grant.He goes on to say:Some 90 per cent. of the company's income would therefore be covered by stable long-term contracts.Would it? The Railtrack company in administration thought that its income was covered by suitable long-term guarantees and contracts. Its report and accounts for the last financial year available made it clear that on 2 April 2001 185 it had negotiated with the Strategic Rail Authority and the Government and had been offered accelerated payments of £1.5 billion so that it could carry on trading. It clearly needed those payments in view of the safety and regulatory burdens placed on it by the Government and the regulators.
The company thought that those were guaranteed payments. It was on the basis of that promise—that contract, which is recorded in the accounts—that the directors and their auditors signed off those accounts on a going-concern basis. This is a deeply serious matter. People bought and sold shares on the back of that arrangement. People lent money to Railtrack to carry on with new projects on the back of it. Bankers took comfort from it to finance the railway industry as we would want. We discovered that although the Government were said to be party to that guarantee of £1.5 billion in accelerated payments, they could, at the drop of a hat, change their mind and remove the money.
How is anyone to be sure that if the Government set up the new structure—a company limited by guarantee—their promises of funding for a substantial portion of the money that it needs will be any more worth while than those worthless promises to the shareholders, employees and all those involved in the business of Railtrack?
We also learn from the statement that the successor company will have access to the same property income as the predecessor company. How can that be true? In his haste, the Secretary of State decided to bankrupt Railtrack plc, the subsidiary company, and not Railtrack Group, which is the company in which people have a shareholding interest and which was the larger company that was privatised with all the assets and interests. When he does some of the more detailed work, he will discover that some of the properties are owned by Railtrack Group but are not also owned by Railtrack plc. Surely he must admit that some of the property is available for sale and distribution to the shareholders of the company that is in suspension owing to the bankruptcy of its principal subsidiary, thanks to him, and that it will not necessarily be made available for the future good of the railways and to buttress the balance sheet of the successor company. It is going to need a lot of buttressing if it is to persuade people to lend it substantial sums of money.
This extraordinary answer goes on to say that the new company that the right hon. Gentleman has in mindwould not need equity to raise debt finance.It will be the first company in the world that does not. Anyone who knows any elementary banking—I thought that all Labour Members now had to learn it to praise the public-private finance initiative to raise money from banks—will realise that the first thing that a banker looks at is whether the company has any wherewithal or resources of its own. If things go wrong, will there be a reserve that it could pay out from when the bankers understandably want their money back because of failure? The Secretary of State now says that he can invent a company that does not need any reserve or equity in the early days and that somehow people will mysteriously lend it money on his say-so, even though it is a company of straw.
The right hon. Gentleman goes on to say that the company will be encumbered with Railtrack's existing debts, which makes it even less exciting for those thinking 186 of venturing into business once again with the Government. The written answer says that the company will be able to borrow from the debt markets as necessary.
Even odder is the Government's statement that this new company—with no equity, lots of debts inherited from the old company and a wobbly guarantee from the Government on whether it will get any grant—will havea solid investment-grade (i.e. at least BBB) credit rating.How will it do so if it has no equity and no Government-granted reserve on day one?
Does the Secretary of State realise that the company that he bankrupted had a single A credit rating, so he is aiming for a substantially lower rating for his successor company? Surely that makes him a bit of a noodle. It will certainly mean that he will end up borrowing money, through this company, on a much more expensive basis than did the predecessor company. Far from making the service cheaper and better for the rail travelling public and all those involved in the rail industry, by his own admission he wants to create a company with a worse credit rating, which will have to pay more for its money. On the basis of the prospectus so far and the few flimsy paragraphs that I have here, I do not see how the company could possibly have a BBB credit rating. It is more likely to have the junk bond rating that is accorded, for obvious reasons, to Railtrack in administration.
The answer goes on to inform us that the company will overcome some of the obvious problems by being offereda standby, subordinated loan facilityby the Government, which will be capped but does not have a Government guarantee. Let us work that one out. What great gobbledygook and rubbish is herein described. Either the company has a Government guarantee or it does not. If it has one, it is public money and it has to be raised from the taxpayers and scored against the borrowing requirement of the country as the Government get us into the red again, as they undoubtedly will. If it does not have such a guarantee, it will not do anything for the company when the City is assessing it. People will say that it does not have a guarantee on the money from the Government, so they will not give it much credit for having such a facility or arrangement.
The Secretary of State optimistically says that all those problems will eventually be resolved because, over the years, the company will build up a big reserve out of the profits that it will undoubtedly make. Has he seen the figures for the most recent trading period of the old Railtrack company? Does he not understand that the company was burdened with about £750 million of additional costs by regulatory and Government decisions? Unless he is about to lower safety standards and change the regulatory requirements, those costs will continue, so how is the new company suddenly to make money when the old company was unable to, struggling as it was with the regulatory burden?
The right hon. Gentleman lives in the realm of fantasy when he concludes his answer by saying that the structure of the company will enable the Government to deliver its much-lovedten year plan commitment of some £30 bn of public expenditure on the railways but with much improved value for money",and the famous £34 billion of private investment that that money will lever in. If the Government are seriously planning to spend £30 billion of taxpayers' money on the 187 railway, would it not have been sensible to have paid the amounts owing under the accelerated contract agreed with the old company for only £1.5 billion, which would have avoided the need to put it into administration? Will the Government now set out in detail how much of that £30 billion is payable to whoever may be taking over from Railtrack in administration in the next three-year period, year by year?
The Secretary of State should now grasp this important point. As he decided to put the junior company into administration, he will have a problem in ensuring that he does not intervene unnecessarily in the affairs of a private sector company with private sector shareholders that is not in administration, namely Railtrack Group. He also has to be careful not to offer anything unreasonable for one possible solution to the mess that he has created without offering similar facilities to other bidders and potential buyers.
Railtrack in administration may have an asset surplus or deficit. The administrators will work that out in due course. What is for sure is that if there is any asset surplus, it resides in the hands—and is to the benefit—of the shareholders of the group that owned the company before it went into administration.
It is now incumbent on the Secretary of State, as well as on the directors of the company and the administrator, to work to ensure that the proceeds of any onward sale or disposal of the company in administration are maximised. The way in which that can be done is crystal clear. The Government must set out the amount of money that they will offer the railways. They must also set out the regulatory framework, and guarantee that they will not change it unreasonably or unnecessarily. They must make a statement about what they want the railways to achieve and then, through the administrator, put the project out to bidders. In that way, we will be able to see who will produce the best result.
It is not the Secretary of State's job to think up a half-baked scheme for a company without equity—a scheme that is meant to take the dividends out of profit making and, it is claimed, plough back what will probably be make-believe profits into the future of the railway. Effectively, the scheme is trying to freeze out other possible solutions that may be more profitable and successful, and more capable of levering in private finance.
I can see no way in which the Secretary of State's proposed company limited by guarantee could lever in anything like £34 billion in the early days, weeks or even years of its progress. Unless the Government change the flow of grant, subsidy and regulation, nor can I see any way for that company to be profitable and successful. It certainly will not be if the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions is, effectively, the shadow chairman or director of the whole enterprise, as the written answer implies that he wishes to be.
We learn through the press, but not from the Secretary of State, that the Government are looking for a chairman of the new enterprise, and that they will pay the princely sum of about £1 million a year. That is a very generous incentive, and it might be attractive to many people. However, any eventual office holder might be wise to ask the Government to pay the cash up front. As we have seen with Railtrack, the great danger is that the Government 188 can make a promise one day, but fail to pay the bills thereafter. I assume that such a large pay offer has been made not to wind up Labour Back-Benchers—who may find it offensive—but because the Government know that a person who takes on such an extraordinary task needs to be offered danger money.
Instead of offering danger money to see whether there is someone who can be tempted, the Government should think again about the whole project. They should say that a company limited by guarantee under these circumstances, with the stakeholders that they have in mind, is not going to work, and they should acknowledge that they have a duty to let the administrator put the company up for sale in the usual way. As far as winning back the trust of the British public in the railways is concerned, the Government should set out how much money they are going to offer, and on what basis they will offer it.
In my constituency of Wokingham, I was very close to getting the old Railtrack and other interested parties to agree on a project for a new station and a proper transport interchange. They are much needed. I am now told that the matter has been put on ice and that the administrator cannot make decisions about new projects because he is not sure how much money he will get, day by day, from the Government, or how much will be available in future for capital expenditure.
In March this year, the Railtrack accounts showed that capital expenditure to a value of £1.777 billion had been contracted for but not undertaken up to that point. Is that capital expenditure still going ahead, or will the Government renege on the contracts? If it is going ahead, will the Government stand behind it and make the money available? If the Government are not going to make the money available, how on earth do they think that that capital expenditure can be paid for? Why will they not come forward with plans that will allow them not only to undertake the capital expenditure of £1.777 billion, but to accomplish all the extra schemes—such as my scheme for Wokingham station—that have not yet been agreed but were well advanced and in the pipeline?
The Labour party will rue the day that a Labour Secretary of State bankrupted a trading enterprise in the private sector. The Government's lack of belief in true public-private partnerships has been exposed. The Secretary of State's decision has raised the cost of capital for the railways, delayed capital expenditure and undermined what trust the City had in the Government's actions and inactions. Ministers have lost trust in all sorts of ways, but I suspect that the Secretary of State has lost trust most damagingly in the past week or two through his actions and antics with the railway industry. The future of that industry is now much grislier as a result.
§ Mr. Mike O'Brien (North Warwickshire)
It gives me great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), who gave one of the most extraordinary—not to say bizarre—speeches that I have heard from a former Conservative Cabinet Minister. It was bizarre because the right hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest that Railtrack ought to be given more than another £1 billion in taxpayer's money—even though my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State knew that the company would be in debt by more than £1 billion by April next year, and close to financial meltdown.
189 The idea that the Government should throw good money—taxpayers' money—after bad in that way belies almost everything that Baroness Thatcher stood for when she was Prime Minister. The right hon. Member for Wokingham seems to have turned on its head the notion that companies should not be bailed out by the taxpayer. He seems to be a convert to some form of Keynesianism—or to a form of left-wing socialism that even the former Member of Parliament for Chesterfield might have found a little too red.
§ Mr. Redwood
The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood—probably deliberately—what I said. I said that, if the Government promise £1.5 billion, they should deliver. They will find out that their ridiculous alternative to the company that they have decided to bankrupt will cost them much more than £1.5 billion. The bankruptcy occurred because the Government intervened and over-regulated the railway.
§ Mr. O'Brien
Railtrack's financial meltdown occurred because of the way in which the industry was privatised by the previous Conservative Government. There are Conservative Members who have been in the House a long time who bear a major responsibility for the problems of poor services on this country's railways. They also bear a responsibility for the problems faced by shareholders who invested in the botched privatisation of the railways which created Railtrack.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State faced a clear choice. Railtrack was in serious financial difficulties. It was demanding further inputs of taxpayers' money which would have been lost in due course. There was a need for the Government to intervene. The Tories' only answer to the problem is to throw more taxpayers' money into a company that was collapsing. My right hon. Friend did what the public wanted. Years of privatisation had failed to deliver effective services, and some services had deteriorated badly. For example, Water Orton station in my area of north Warwickshire used to win awards, when the railways were a nationalised industry, for being one of the best-kept and best-run stations in the country. Since privatisation, services have constantly gone down hill. The responsibility for that lies in the privatisation of the railways, and especially in the failures of Railtrack.
The public wanted action, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State delivered it. He has set out new proposals to deal with the problems of under-investment in our railways. The proposals will ensure that private investors will be able to invest in the railways in the future. They will also ensure that creditors can be paid by the company itself, in so far as that is possible, and that employees' pay and pensions are safeguarded. That is an important consideration for me, as my father and most of my other relatives worked—or, indeed, still work—in the railway industry. They want to ensure that their pay and conditions are protected.
§ Mr. Redwood
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
§ Mr. O'Brien
I have given way to the right hon. Gentleman once. I shall be generous to him and give way again, even though in his ministerial past he showed no such generosity to Back Benchers. I forgive him that, 190 as Labour Members belong to a forgiving party. However, we will not forgive him for voting for privatisation of the railways.
§ Mr. Redwood
I think that the record will show the hon. Gentleman that I was very generous, as a Minister and shadow Minister, when it came to giving way. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way now.
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Government will stand behind all the court actions brought by the families and relatives of people involved in rail crashes? Those actions could result in substantial and successful claims. The hon. Gentleman will know from the Railtrack balance sheet that there are many unresolved claims. Will the Government pay damages to the victims?
§ Mr. O'Brien
I very much hope that the Government will stand behind the British public and ensure that we have a decent rail service, that taxpayers' money is spent properly and that we are not constantly bailing out the failures of a Conservative privatisation that has caused all the problems.
I had not intended to speak in this debate because the matter of Jo Moore has not caused me a great deal of angst, but I was moved by the sheer hypocrisy of the approach adopted by Conservative Front-Bench Members. Jo Moore is, after all, a fairly junior adviser who sent a very stupid and wrong e-mail. If every Member of the House who had done a stupid or wrong thing were sacked as a result, the Benches on both sides of the House would be far more sparsely populated than they are even today.
The Conservatives' position shows us how deeply out of touch they are with the British public. They do not even understand that there is a great deal of national concern about very serious issues such as the anthrax scare, the way in which the war on terrorism is being conducted and the fact that, today, it appears that there has been an historic announcement about the Provisional IRA. Those are the sort of matters that the House would have been debating if we had a serious Conservative Front-Bench team.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Have you received any information about whether there is to be a statement to the House about the historic announcement to which the hon. Gentleman referred? I understand that the Prime Minister is speaking to the media. Surely the House should be addressed.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
A point of order was made earlier, and the Chair gave a ruling at that time which I cannot go beyond. This is not strictly a point of order for the House, but no doubt Ministers will have heard the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. O'Brien
It is indeed a bizarre turn of mind—to use the phrase employed by Opposition spokesmen—that has caused the Conservatives, on this of all days, to choose to discuss the career of a junior official and the Government's long-term relationship with the press. These are matters that one might say are, to use an American expression, inside the beltway. They are not of immediate concern to most members of the public.
191 My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) referred to constituents of his who are concerned about these matters and who raised them with him, and he might be surprised to hear that the only comment made to me by a constituent came from a councillor, who said, "They're not going to sack that woman, are they? It seems that she was very stupid, but is it a sacking offence?" This matter is on the front pages of the newspapers, and is of deep concern only to Conservative Front Benchers.
I accept that matters to do with the morality and proper running of the Government are ones about which the House ought to be concerned. I accept also that the Government's relationship with the press is a matter of public interest and concern, but there is a question about the priority that one affords those concerns when there are so many more important issues before us.
§ Ms Abbott
I listened with care to my hon. Friend saying that the general public are not interested in the details of the Jo Moore affair, and I am prepared to concede that the man or woman on the No. 73 bus is not discussing it as we speak. However, my hon. Friend must understand that the accumulated weight of such incidents is a concern of the general public, and it breeds a cynicism that lies behind the very poor electoral turnout in many constituencies earlier this year. If colleagues insist on claiming that the ordinary public are not concerned about the aura of sleaze created by such incidents, we will see an even greater drop in turnout in forthcoming elections.
§ Mr. O'Brien
My hon. Friend plays right into the hands of Conservative Front-Bench Members, who seek to make the issue of what they call "spin" into sleaze, which damaged them when they were in government. They have not got us on that; there are no incidents of sleaze that they can hang on the Government, so they are now trying to use the Government's relationships with the press to suggest that we cannot be trusted.
I turn now to the reasons why we should, from time to time, be conscious of being—I say this advisedly to my hon. Friend, whom I have known for many years—on-message.
§ Mr. O'Brien
Yes, it is.
The Conservative party's hypocrisy in this matter was clearly set out in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), but he omitted a reference, which is well worth making, to the leak of a certain memo sent by a special adviser to the then Prime Minister in 1992. The memo, which was about campaigning, dealt with the fact that the Conservatives were failing to make enough of the asylum and immigration issue to stir up votes. Conservative Front Benchers will realise who drafted that memo, because it was a colleague of theirs who now sits on the Front Bench. There was no call from Conservative Front Benchers at that time for the dismissal of the individual involved. Perhaps what is good for one person ought to be good for another.
§ Mr. Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar)
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
§ Mr. O'Brien
Yes, because I have referred to a particular individual.
§ Mr. Pickles
Does the hon. Gentleman recall that the incident to which he referred was reported in a newspaper article and that the person involved was not a special adviser?
§ Mr. O'Brien
I gather that the individual worked for Conservative central office, advising the party leadership on campaigning matters. The reprehensible advice given in that memo was cause for dismissal, but it resulted instead in the individual's promotion. I might also refer to the embarrassment caused by the previous shadow Chief Secretary during the election campaign, but I will not go into that. The individual concerned appears to have got promotion out of the incident.
I am concerned by the vilification of Jo Moore to which one of my hon. Friends has referred. Jo Moore is an otherwise fairly inconsequential person who sometimes speaks to the press and sometimes gives advice to the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. Certainly, her memo was very unpleasant, but the blame culture in which Ministers and parliamentarians accept they live is not something to which we should expect civil servants, whether or not they are special advisers, to be subject. In industry, and indeed in the public sector, good managers are desperately trying to move away from a blame culture in which every time someone does something wrong, they must cover it up or risk losing their job.
§ Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak)
§ Mr. O'Brien
If hon. Members will bear with me, I will give way in a moment.
Good managers in the public sector and in industry seek to move away from the blame culture to ensure that people are more open about what they do, so that they do not feel that they will automatically be dismissed if they do something wrong. Managers want to know what is happening in their business. They want people to know that they should not be afraid to come forward if they have done something wrong, because they will be disciplined sensibly and reasonably and it will not necessarily be the end of their career.
The Secretary of State has decided that the disciplining of this particular special adviser by the permanent secretary is the end of the matter. That was a courageous decision. It may also have been a good management decision. Time alone will judge whether it was good politics. It was certainly a move away from the blame culture that civil servants worry about all too often as they make decisions. Indeed, as we move towards freedom of information it will be especially worrying for civil servants to realise that much of what they do can find its way quickly into the public arena.
We must get away from that culture of blame. The decision may not necessarily have been right, but it was certainly courageous, just as my right hon. Friend's decision about Railtrack was courageous.
§ Mr. Levitt
My hon. Friend has a legal background. Does he share my view that if someone had been 193 dismissed from their post in similar circumstances to those faced by Jo Moore, no employment tribunal would have upheld that dismissal? In fact, she would have been reinstated had such a case come about.
§ Mr. O'Brien
It would certainly have been difficult if an industrial tribunal had been involved, although I doubt that it would have been in these circumstances. It would have been difficult for the Secretary of State to sustain a dismissal over an e-mail of a few words, no matter how reprehensible. As I said earlier, if every MP who made a stupid error of judgment, who said something crass or indeed, to quote my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, horrific, were to lose their job, the numbers sitting in the House would be much fewer.
§ Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon)
Does the hon. Gentleman think that it would add to the ability of the House properly to gauge the merits of the action taken by the Government if a full copy of Ms Moore's employment contract, together with any side letters and supplemental agreements, was put in the Library during this debate?
§ Mr. O'Brien
The hon. Gentleman wants the contracts of employment of people employed as civil servants to be placed in the public arena. He should be extremely cautious about doing that. In some parts of the public sector people are employed under contracts with specific responsibilities which are quite proper, and for all sorts of reasons they may not want those details made public. There is already enough concern about working in the public sector—something that the Government are trying to address. We should not go in that direction.
§ Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West)
Perhaps I can help my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett), who has evidently not done his homework. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the Library research paper No. 42 which actually gives details of the model contract of employment for special advisers. He would be well advised to read it.
§ Mr. Burnett
§ Mr. O'Brien
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall not give way again as I want to deal with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott). She asked about the culture of spin. The history is that during the 1980s, the Labour party was in a mess. The Conservative party was rampant. As Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher—as she was then—was putting the best light on the party's activities, to use the description given by an Opposition Member. The way in which the Conservatives presented things was to spin to an extraordinarily successful extent.
The Labour party, on the other hand, was disunited during the 1983 election. Discordant messages were coming from Front Benchers—a little like the present Conservative party. However, we learned two lessons during that period. The first was that in order to communicate effectively with the public, to get through the barrage of tittle-tattle, speculation and personality politics that sometimes passes for political comment in 194 some of our media—although there are honourable exceptions—we needed a clear message on policy, on the key issues of education, crime, the national health service and jobs. That required all members of the Labour party—not only those on the Front Bench but those who were standing for election—to be able to set out that clear message. That involved the second lesson: it required an element of discipline. It required an acceptance that the fratricidal battle in the Labour party during the 1980s—a battle currently taking place in the Conservative party—should not continue; that we should have a clear view of our party's message to the British public; and that we should set it out, especially on issues such as crime, education, the health service and jobs—the things about which people were concerned. Party unity and discipline were important. The old trade union adage "Unity is Strength" was not merely a slogan; it was an essential requirement for us to be electable as a Government.
By 1997, the Labour party was united, had a clear message and was—indeed, is—ready for Government. Some people may not agree with the Labour Government. Indeed, some of my constituents did not even vote for me—
§ Mr. O'Brien
These things happen. We learn to carry the burden.
At least people know that the Labour party has a clear set of policies and a clear agenda. It presents that agenda well, with skill. Okay, there have been excesses and mistakes, but that discipline and that unity are necessary. Those discordant notes are now restricted, with a few exceptions, to the Opposition. That is why the spirit of unity that has enabled Labour to win two important and spectacular victories must be preserved.
It is right that people should follow their conscience from time to time. I have no problem with that; it is an important right for Back Benchers. However, it is also important that the Government should have a clear policy which they set out, and that their Whips should perform the job they have been given to do. Previously, they were elected; they are now appointed by the Prime Minister. They have to ensure that the Government deliver what Labour MPs were elected to do.
The amendment is wide-ranging and I have one question for my Front-Bench colleagues. Last Friday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was in Atherstone in north Warwickshire, where he spoke to Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat local authority leaders and chief executives. He received an enthusiastic response to his comments about the Government's consideration of reform of local authorities, to free up local government and ensure that we make progress on the regional agenda—points covered in the amendment. He mentioned that the Government were looking at the power to borrow against assets, which was met with great delight by chief executives and leaders of all the political parties. Will Ministers confirm that in the next few months—hopefully, before Christmas—a White Paper will be published on the issue of local government reform and, specifically, on the power to borrow against assets? That would greatly reassure many councillors of all parties.
195 The reform of local government finance is close to the heart of everyone in Warwickshire. In the early 1980s, under the Conservatives, we experienced education cuts that resulted in school closures and teachers having to leave the profession. There was a cut in our police force of 11 per cent. Social services were devastated.
Since 1997, there have been substantial improvements. Much more money is flowing into education, although not enough. Some of the policing issues have been addressed, but I shall not be diverted into that. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State confirm that the problems relating to local government finance faced by the shire counties will be addressed as part of the Government's overall examination of the background to local government?
During the past four years, the Government have not freed local authorities in the way that they and I had hoped. We now have the opportunity to do something radical on finance and by giving councils the freedom to make the decisions that local people want. That is the way in which we shall revitalise politics. That is how people will know that those whom they elect locally can make real decisions about the future of their locality.
Making politics relevant is about talking about the issues that concern people. It is about education, the health service, local government and social services. It is about ensuring that we are effective on law and order. People will not be moved to vote at the next general election on the basis of whether Jo Moore is employed as a special adviser. They want to know that they will be treated properly when they go to hospital and that their kids will get a decent education. They are interested in the simple things that make a difference in their life. The Government need to deliver on those. I believe that they will, and that is why they deserve to be re-elected.
§ Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien). I share his views on the dangers of identity cards, but I am disappointed by his failure to understand the danger to democracy posed by issues such as Jo Moore. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). It was refreshing to hear such an honest, sincere and non-partisan speech in the House. It is an important moment when the Father of the House questions the survival in post of a Secretary of State from his own party.
This is an important debate—it not only highlights the appalling behaviour of Ministers and their advisers in one Department, but demonstrates yet again that we have a much wider problem with politics today. For a Minister's special adviser to say to a reporter from The Sunday Times that if he were to write that Railtrack was bankrupt and about to be taken over by the Government he would be viewed by the public as—I almost quote—a certain type of idiot is, not to put too fine a point on it, a blatant lie. He would not have been seen as an idiot, he would have been seen as prescient and well informed. Jo Moore was trying to deceive. From their unwillingness to do anything about it, it is clear that she was doing so with Ministers' backing.
§ Mr. Spellar
If the hon. Gentleman looks beyond the first paragraph of the article in The Sunday Times, he will 196 see that the reporter asked not only whether it was true that the Government were not going to bail out Railtrack, but whether they intended to renationalise it. That was the question posed. As the Government had no intention of renationalising it, clearly to have said that they did would have been making a mistake. The hon. Gentleman should look at the real question that was posed.
§ Mr. Gibb
I have looked at it. The full question was whether Railtrack was bankrupt, whether the Government were going to take it over and whether it was to be renationalised. Jo Moore also denied the two other points, about Railtrack going bankrupt and the Government taking control of it. She denied those suggestions point blank.
Sneaking out bad news stories while the country—let alone the media—was focused on the terrorist atrocity in the United States was another outrageous attempt to deceive, this time by concealment. Such an approach is all about protecting the image of a political party and has absolutely nothing to do with good government. It is about keeping one party in power. It is as though the whole purpose of politics was to keep a certain group of individuals in control of the levers of power, in their salaried ministerial positions.
Those two incidents reveal clearly, for all to see, the state of politics in this country today. It is no wonder that the popular perception of politicians is that they are all the same and all in it for themselves. The previous Speaker, Lady Boothroyd, said in her valedictory speech:I know from my postbag how much disillusion about the political process there is among the general public. The level of cynicism about Parliament, and the accompanying alienation of many of the young from the democratic process, is troubling. It is an issue on which every Member of the House should wish to reflect. It is our responsibility, each and every one of us, to do what we can to develop and build public trust and confidence."—[Official Report, 26 July 2000; Vol. 354, c. 1113–14.]I am afraid that there seems to have been very little reflection of those concerns in the House until this afternoon. If I were to say that politics should not be about personal ambition, that politicians—including Ministers—should be honest in their pronouncements and motivated by conviction and a determination to do good, I am sure that many would regard such a statement as naive. Some hon. Members follow such an approach to politics, but many do not and the public believe that none of us does.
One thing is clear—Ministers in the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions are certainly not seen by the public to be conducting themselves on that basis, yet that should be what motivates us all. There is a hunger among the public for a new and honest approach to politics, and if we are to restore people's faith in our democratic process we need to adopt it.
There are thousands of examples of the deeply cynical approach to politics practised by all the political parties. Jo Moore provides an example of the worst excesses. The Prime Minister led us to believe in 1997 that he had no plans to raise taxes, but over the past four years taxes have risen by 4.8 per cent. a year. The Conservative party was elected in 1992 on a clear platform to cut tax year on year, yet over the following five years taxes went up by the equivalent of 7p in the pound.
The Prime Minister said before the 1997 election that he loved the pound. Straight after it, he announced plans to join the euro, in principle, when the economic 197 circumstances made it beneficial. It is no wonder that people are so deeply cynical about politicians and the political process.
The classic example of deeply cynical politics was the handling of the National Air Traffic Services issue by the then DETR. In opposition, the Labour party was totally opposed to privatising the air traffic control service. The current Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the right hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith), famously said,Our air is not for sale",but in government Labour went ahead with a public-private partnership, the next best thing to privatisation.
As the PPP was the next best thing to privatisation, one would have expected the Conservative Opposition to support it, but the prospect of a potential defeat of the Government by joining the hard left of the Labour party in the Lobby was too great a temptation for us to resist. It was not our finest hour of principled politics.
There is no doubt in my mind that politics has become far too tribal: Tory good, Labour bad, or vice versa. The yah-boo of Prime Minister's Question Time infuriates the public, who find the whole process a bizarre way of conducting business.
Political parties are a useful shorthand, bringing together people of broadly similar views and outlook, but it has now gone beyond that—the tribalism of contemporary politics, the desire to control everything, seems to require us as Members of Parliament to behave in a way that hon. Members in the past would not have countenanced.
In discussing any issue—health, education, transport—I am expected to cite statistics that have March or June 1997 as the point of comparison. Government Members are expected to denounce the whole 18 years of Governments up to 1997, but how can the Prime Minister and his colleagues denounce the whole of that period, when he and the whole new Labour project are about how Labour got it wrong in the 1980s and have adopted huge swathes of our policies from the 1980s and 1990s, including a wholesale acceptance of monetarism, which was the very hallmark of those 18 years of Conservative Government?
When we are debating the important issues of the future of our railway system and roads network, the public expect a debate on the issues themselves, such as whether the railways should be run by the private sector or by the state. If they should be run by the private sector, should the tracks be owned and operated by the same company? What type of regulator should we have? Simply to attack Conservative Members for mishandling the railways until 1997, as some hon. Members have done today, or to attack Labour Members for mishandling the railways since 1997, as some Opposition Members might do, is tedious and irrelevant.
Moreover, the Government's whole approach to the problems faced by Railtrack reveals a deeply cynical mindset. When the Secretary of State reached the conclusion that Railtrack needed to be restructured, he should have come to the House and explained that Railtrack needed a new structure, how that structure should be created, and how shareholders would be compensated. However, rather than facing up to the 198 restructuring of the whole industry after careful thought, he has simply pulled the plug on shareholders and Railtrack, thereby precipitating a crisis. He has redesigned the whole industry on the back of an envelope and in a hurry. That is no way to run a railroad, and it is a deeply cynical ploy by the Government to acquire shareholder assets on the cheap.
The conduct of Transport Ministers on the disgraceful e-mail and the misinformation on Railtrack have starkly highlighted how very much we all need to change the way in which we do things. We have to be scrupulously honest in our use of statistics; we must use facts and figures with integrity. We should not pick a date to demonstrate a point when a date two months earlier would demonstrate the opposite of that point. How often have all hon. Members used that trick? It is wrong and it lacks integrity.
In the past few years, the Red Book, for example, has become an instrument of Government propaganda rather than an objective collection of economic facts and figures. Recategorising expenditure on family credit benefit as a reduction in tax revenues simply because it will be paid through the payroll is simply dishonest. It is simply dishonest also to include, in a table summarising the Budget's tax measures, public expenditure on the provision of the winter fuel allowance, which costs £640 million, as a tax cut.
The media can also take their share the blame. They report only the sensational, personality politics, splits and big events. Debates in the House on proposed legislation that affects thousands of people rarely get a mention even in the broadsheets. Such legislation is dull but important, whereas the press want excitement even if it is unimportant.
For anyone with a really serious interest in politics, it is almost impossible to discover from the media what is going on in the House of Commons. It is no wonder that people do not take politics seriously. Moreover, as a consequence, hon. Members tend not to take politics and Parliament seriously. We tend to measure our own and one another's achievements in newspaper column inches and air time, not in the quality of the argument that has been made. There is a tendency to use exaggerated language to attract media attention, all of which is off-putting to the public.
There is an enormous amount at stake. Turnout in elections is at an all-time low, with only 59 per cent. of the electorate voting in the most recent general election. More alarmingly, only 39 per cent. of 18 to 24-year-olds turned out in that election. There is among the public a pressure for decision making to be taken out of the hands of elected politicians and put into the hands of unelected officials. Interest rates set by the Monetary Policy Committee and the Bank of England, more discretion for judges, numerous new and increasingly powerful commissions, and the increasing prominence of experts: down that road lies the decline of democratic government.
Experts are not the answer. They do not always get it right. Sometimes they cannot tell the difference between a cow's brain and a sheep's brain. Experts do not always take into account the wider philosophical issues, and they rarely take into account how decisions in one sphere can affect activities in another. Experts should give advice, but decisions should be taken by Ministers who are accountable to Parliament at the Dispatch Box and scrutinised by powerful Select Committees. Increasingly, 199 because of the way in which politics is conducted, public opinion wants the opposite—for experts and non-elected people to take those important decisions.
We need an end to the ranting at Prime Minister's questions. The Prime Minister's exaggerated attacks on Conservative Members and Conservative Members' attacks on Labour should be replaced by a calm and forensic questioning of policy. We saw the beginning of such an approach in questions during the current war, and I hope that that approach will continue when the hostilities have ended. The division of opinion between the two parties today is too narrow to warrant that type of exaggerated language.
When the Government have it right, the Opposition have to acknowledge it. The Opposition have also to explain why the Government have it right and actually vote for the relevant measures in the Lobby. Conservative Members should also oppose the Government when they have it wrong, even if doing so will make them unpopular.
A concept of new politics is developing. It is refreshing, and those who practice it will have the support of the public. Those who continue the old approach will expose themselves as out of touch. In the most recent recall of Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) praised the Prime Minister's conduct in the war against terrorism. However, his comments were greeted with murmurs of derision from some Labour Members who failed to comprehend that a Conservative Member could voice support for a Labour Prime Minister. Their response marked them out as people who simply do not understand what the public want from their Members of Parliament. It marked them out as practitioners of old politics and as people who put their party before their country.
Politics is about doing good. If we want to restore people's faith in politics, in politicians and in democracy, we all need to change the way in which we do our business.
§ Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden)
By contrast with the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb), I believe that people are motivated to vote and have a keen interest in politics and politicians when they feel that politicians are expressing their views and when the Government and the Opposition are presenting the types of policy that they want.
I realise that quality of life issues are much more basic than some of the high-minded issues that we have been debating today, but people in my constituency, I dare say like those in every other hon. Member's constituency, are concerned about precisely those issues—such as the frequency with which their streets are swept and their rubbish is collected; whether they can walk their kids to school or go out for a drink without being threatened by someone; the number of abandoned cars in the street and the number of cars for sale on the highway; and the graffiti that disfigures buildings and makes their local environment ugly and threatening. I challenge anyone to deny that every hon. Member has had more letters about those issues than they have ever had about Jo Moore.
I therefore warmly welcome the lead that the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, his ministerial colleagues and his Department and civil servants have taken in tackling those menaces. 200 I welcome also the interest shown by the Home Secretary and others in getting to grips with antisocial behaviour and environmental crime. We ignore those issues at our peril.
I have never ceased to be surprised by the way in which Conservative Members have allowed themselves to become entangled in the types of issue that do not have much impact on the lives of most people—so much so that they managed to spend four years increasingly losing touch with people's real concerns, and another four weeks, last May and June, deservedly losing people's votes. This debate is just another example of Conservative Members withdrawing from reality.
The people we represent, whatever our party, have a rightful expectation that we are here to serve them and to debate the issues that really matter to them. On Opposition days like this one, they would be disappointed. I see myself as the servant of Mitcham and Morden, and the majority of the work that I do as its Member of Parliament is devoted to helping the people who come to see me or write to me. I appreciate that that is my choice and I do not imagine myself as having a great parliamentary career—
§ David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde)
At least my hon. Friend will not have a career in opposition for 20 years like the Tories.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
§ Siobhain McDonagh
I make no apology for concentrating on local issues. As we all know, all issues are local issues. The Secretary of State visited Pollards Hill in my constituency one morning in August to launch the Government's neighbourhood wardens scheme, of which we have three. They provide much support by maintaining a responsible civilian presence on the streets, giving young people a model of good citizenship, and helping to address the quality of life issues that people have been concerned about for decades. My right hon. Friend spent time with local residents, who were thrilled to welcome him, and explained to him the problems that they face in trying to keep their community together.
One of the key things that I did during the recess was to find out whether the issues that dominate in those areas of my constituency that have most need, most crime and most deprivation are replicated in others that are more wealthy. I undertook a survey in Longthornton ward, which anyone would recognise as south London suburbia, to find out the concerns of the local people. I had almost 300 replies. People referred to crime and the fear of it, youth nuisance, race relations, loud music blaring from houses and cars, speeding vehicles and traffic congestion, work lorries parked outside residences overnight, abandoned cars, the sale of cars from front gardens and the public highway, fly tipping in roads and back alleys, recycling facilities and recreational facilities. None of those issues is the stuff of newspaper front pages, but all are certainly at the forefront of our constituents' minds.
When asked what sort of facilities they would like to see improved in their area, people came up with a range of ideas. They included more police on the streets, 201 more facilities for bored teenagers and more community facilities for families and pensioners. People want better roads, better drains, better street lighting and cleansing.
§ Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester)
To which amendment is the hon. Lady speaking?
§ Siobhain McDonagh
I am addressing myself directly to the Prime Minister's amendment and the issue of urban regeneration. It would be a good idea if the hon. Gentleman did the same.
§ Peter Bradley (The Wrekin)
In the survey that my hon. Friend conducted in her constituency, which was a worthwhile venture, how many of her constituents told her that spin was the single contributory factor to the degradation of their daily lives?
§ Siobhain McDonagh
§ Peter Bradley
What a surprise.
§ Siobhain McDonagh
Much of Mitcham and Morden was laid out in the 1920s and 1930s, and could be described as classic suburbia. However, for too many years the quality of people's lives in neighbourhoods such as Lavender, Phipps Bridge and Figges Marsh in Mitcham and Morden has been challenged by social problems, often manifested in graffiti, vandalism and other forms of antisocial behaviour.
That is why I support the neighbourhood warden scheme. It was created to help to lift up such areas, and so far, in my view, it has worked. It has given a fresh focus to the desire that my constituents have expressed to see cleaner, safer, better neighbourhoods. I understand that the result of bids for the next stage of the neighbourhood warden scheme will be announced tomorrow, and I know that Merton has put in an ambitious bid, which would add five more wardens to the existing three, and would create a graffiti removal squad of four. I hope that Ministers will look favourably on the hard work that has been done by Merton council in seeking match funding with the public, private and voluntary sectors to enable it to make its bid and to bolster the success of the warden scheme.
I do not know where Conservative or Liberal Democrat Members were last night during the very important Adjournment debate on abandoned cars. Perhaps none of them were present because they do not share my concern about quality of life issues. The neighbourhood warden scheme and other initiatives advanced by the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions are proof of the Government's commitment to improving people's quality of life alongside public services.
I welcome the imminent publication by the Secretary of State of a consultation document on unlicensed and abandoned cars. I understand that the document will propose a move towards continuous registration during a vehicle's lifetime. That will help to speed up the process of establishing ownership and will enable local authorities to take charge of abandoned cars and arrange for their disposal much more quickly. It will also enable the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and the police to catch up 202 with road tax dodgers much more effectively. I welcome such developments, which I doubt would ever have happened under the Conservative party.
I strongly urge the Government to continue to be bothered about those issues because they are what ordinary people are bothered about.
§ 7.5 pm
§ Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester)
There have been some remarkably good speeches in this debate. I particularly enjoyed and agreed with almost all of the speech of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), and the second half of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb), which is all I heard. I strongly agree with him about the need for more intelligent, mature politics, and less yah-boo, which has done so much to bring politics into disrepute in this country.
§ Mr. Salter
I, too, am a great fan of the speech by the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb). If we need more consensus and more pluralism in politics, will the hon. Gentleman explain why his party has just elected the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) as its leader?
§ Mr. Tyrie
I shall let that comment pass. The hon. Gentleman is taking a leaf out of the book that my hon. Friend said we should throw away.
I was also impressed by the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), which offered a devastating analysis of the Railtrack decision. I have suggested to him that he try and get it into print, because unfortunately, partly for the reasons to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton alluded, many people will never find out about that speech. The best place that my right hon. Friend can put what he said is in a newspaper, if he wants it to be more widely noticed.
Unlike many hon. Members who have spoken, I want to address the main motion, which is about advisers, and the conduct of one adviser in particular. I shall then draw some general conclusions from that. The memo that Ms Moore put out was foolish and tactless, but it is in the same category as the behaviour of a couple of Whips who get together about five minutes after they have heard of the death of one of their colleagues and talk about what majority he had and what the by-election will be like. We all know that such tactless and tasteless exchanges take place. The difference in Ms Moore's case was that it was recorded in an e-mail and circulated at a time of great international concern.
My view is that Ms Moore probably should not go for having written that memo, because in itself it is not a hanging offence. The problem for her is much deeper than that: so much else has come to light about her behaviour in the Department that is unacceptable. It is beyond dispute—although the Secretary of State tried to dispute it, but less than half dealt with the points in the press—that over a sustained period Ms Moore sought to discredit Bob Kiley and to rubbish him as best she could. She also tried to get the chief press officer at the Department to engage in similar activities. He rightly turned down that request, because if he had done otherwise he would have 203 breached the rules in the guidance given to him as a civil servant, which requires that in his contact with the press he should avoid anything that is tendentious or polemical.
In trying to get the press officer, Mr. Evans, to breach his guidance, Jo Moore broke her own guidance in several clear and important ways. I shall read out examples. The guidance makes it clear that advisers should not put civil servants in an embarrassing position or one that prejudices the impartiality of the civil service. The code states that theyshould act in a way which upholds the political impartiality of civil servants and does not conflict\kith the Civil Service Code.Jo Moore's actions with regard to Kiley were not consistent with that.
Secondly, Ms Moore broke another equally important part of the code, which states:Special Advisers … must observe discretion and express comment with moderation, avoiding personal attacks".It is beyond dispute that she engaged in personal attacks and that that happened over a sustained period. No sudden rush of blood to the head led to those serious mistakes, for which she should have resigned. It is a tragedy for her and probably for her boss that they did not separate quickly.
Even if Jo Moore had resigned, why all the brouhaha about, as someone put it, one relatively minor adviser? I understand that she is a press, not a policy adviser. She certainly does not appear to have given good advice on Railtrack if she was being paid as a policy adviser. The issue has been magnified partly because of the press feeding frenzy that is part of the response to the tragedy on 11 September. However, Jo Moore has become the subject of such attention mainly because she symbolises so much that is wrong with the way in which new Labour goes about its business in government.
Advisers' activities get up the noses of all hon. Members, including Labour Members, many of whom have spoken up. Many Ministers dislike the behaviour of special advisers. Even worse, all hon. Members know that Jo Moore's role model is Alastair Campbell, who has been doing such dirty work for years. He has initiated attacks on Opposition parties in contravention of the special advisers' code, smeared individuals—there are numerous reports of that—and breached the rules that limit partisan activity. He has done that at taxpayers' expense and in breach of his contract. The Prime Minister has done nothing about it; indeed, he has praised Alastair Campbell at the Dispatch Box for engaging in such activities.
Under Labour, advisers play a key role in the new style of government that they have wrought in the past four years. It is much more centred around 10 Downing street and far more presidential, with far fewer devolved decisions, even to Cabinet Committees. No. 10 is run by advisers. The organisation chart that I eventually managed to get out of the Cabinet Secretary after a year and a half of pressing shows that all the lines of accountability in 10 Downing street run not to a civil servant but to Jonathan Powell, a special adviser. The other most powerful person in No. 10 is, of course, Alastair Campbell. Both were brought in by the Prime Minister.
The traditional lines of accountability and information flow in No. 10 have been changed, and civil servants have been replaced by advisers. Throughout Whitehall, 204 advisers are more numerous, often more influential and powerful, and able to intervene more directly in the conduct of Government than ever before in peacetime.
§ Mr. Sôin Simon (Birmingham, Erdington)
Is it always wrong to change the traditional lines?
§ Mr. Tyrie
That is a fair question. My main objection to Labour's actions is that the Prime Minister and the Government have tried to pretend that nothing has changed and that everything is exactly the same as before. Time and again, they have sent the Cabinet Secretary to Select Committees. I attended a Select Committee meeting where that happened. He had been briefed to say that no real change had occurred, that there were a few more advisers and a slightly stronger centre, but nothing to worry about.
If the Prime Minister had said in his manifesto that he disagreed with the traditional style of Cabinet Government, that he supported a more presidential style to reflect the modern age, that he would appoint 80 advisers, triple the number of advisers in No. 10 Downing street and make the whole No. 10 apparatus answerable to outsiders that he had appointed, I would have disagreed with him, but taken the proposal as a respectable experiment and been prepared to give it a try. However, he did not do that.
The Prime Minister has taken huge amounts of power, which were hitherto spread much more widely around Whitehall, and he has tried to do it by stealth.
§ Peter Bradley
I respect many of the hon. Gentleman's opinions. I formed that view of him when we served on the Select Committee on Public Administration. However, he has made a serious allegation against the Cabinet Secretary. Does he suggest that, when the Cabinet Secretary gave evidence to that Select Committee or others, he purposely misled members? If so, can he produce any evidence?
§ Mr. Tyrie
That was a hollow intervention. If we examine the Select Committee transcripts, it is clear that the poor Cabinet Secretary was in a terrible state when he was asked direct questions about where power lay in No. 10 after 1997. The former Cabinet Secretary tried to conceal the fact that all lines of accountability ran to Jonathan Powell. It was squeezed out of him with difficulty that Jonathan Powell now sits at the desk of the former principal private secretary, and is the gatekeeper to the Prime Minister. Under all previous Administrations, the principal private secretary, not a chief of staff from outside, fulfilled that role.
The transcripts contain many other examples and hon. Members who read them would get the same impression as I did of a Cabinet Secretary who was somewhat embarrassed by the need to defend what he almost certainly perceived as unacceptable, or at least by a new style of government that he was not permitted to describe as openly as he would like.
The effects of the change in the style of government are profound. I would object less if the change had been effected openly, but it has not. The changes and the introduction of advisers on such a scale have meant the erosion of the traditional check of an impartial civil service on Ministers' overweening power in a system that 205 amounts to elective dictatorship in some people's opinion. The civil service can no longer act as a check. Cabinet government and Cabinet Committee government is dead. The Thatcher era was run on the basis of Cabinet Committees. [Interruption.] Those who disagree with that should read the memoirs. No memoir by a former Minister from that time disputes that the Thatcher era was run by Cabinet Committees.
§ Mr. David Cameron (Witney)
I understand that the Cabinet did not meet for almost two weeks after 11 September. If we consider that and the length of time it took to establish a war Cabinet, it shows that Cabinet government as my hon. Friend understands it has changed unbelievably in this country.
§ Mr. Tyrie
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. Cabinet government has been dead for a long time but some dignity remained in the system. Nowadays, as my hon. Friend points out, the Cabinet does not even bother to meet.
I have mentioned the removal of the traditional check that an impartial civil service provides and the end of Cabinet Committee government. However, there is another indirect but pernicious effect: when Parliament cross-examines Ministers, it is often not cross-examining the people who have made the decisions and have the power. It is very senior advisers at No. 10 and No. 11 who should be brought before Select Committees, but they rarely appear. Those are the people who have so much of the power in this country, and in an American committee system they would appear before committees.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The hon. Gentleman is making a characteristically important and thoughtful speech, but there was a man called Charles Powell—and who was sent to the Select Committee considering Westland? I think it was Sir Robert Armstrong.
§ Mr. Tyrie
I entirely agree with the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, but the big difference is that Charles Powell was a civil servant and not a special adviser. Indeed, several senior civil servants objected to his having stayed longer than three years. There are precedents, but he stayed for five years, which caused some tension. He was a civil servant, however, as was Bernard Ingham. Jonathan Powell and Alastair Campbell are not; they are special advisers.
The hon. Gentleman himself, in his speech, seemed to criticise the way in which advisers have carried on. But I suspect that many Labour Members, when criticising special advisers, often privately—incidentally, I think that their private briefings to the press have contributed to the press activity that we have seen over the Jo Moore case—are using a code of their own. They are criticising presidential government. They are criticising the fact that even Cabinet Committees do not seem to matter any more. And they are criticising the demise of Cabinet accountability to Parliament, something to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
Front Benchers do not like it either. They are assassinated by innuendo; they find themselves being taken out by whispering campaigns. A number of those 206 who have been so taken out in the past have mentioned it to me privately, although I shall not embarrass them by revealing their identity here. Others have talked to the press, and have complained publicly.
What is to be done about all this? Only the Prime Minister can reform the culture of media manipulation that is to some degree corroding, and is certainly deleterious to, the credibility of British politics at present. In the meantime, however, I think that a few practical things can be done to limit the damage being done by the adviser system as it currently works.
First, permanent secretaries should be given power to enforce the contracts that special advisers sign with a Department. They do not have that power now. The Secretary of State said that he had asked the permanent secretary to discipline Jo Moore, but the truth is—the Minister is not listening—that he has not the power to sack Jo Moore. He has not the power that he would have over every other civil servant n his Department. Richard Mottram could not act, and he should be given the necessary power.
There is another—related—change that I would make: the civil service should be put on a statutory basis. We cannot continue as we are, with the civil service nominally answering to the Crown but in fact always highly dependent, in every way, on the Executive. There should be a civil service Act, which, ultimately, would make special advisers as well as civil servants directly accountable to Parliament rather than the Crown.
Thirdly, I would give the Cabinet Secretary, acting on the advice of permanent secretaries, power and responsibility to establish whether special advisers are really doing nothing more than party-political work, and have become no more than party-political hacks. When it is concluded that that is what advisers have become, they should cease to be civil servants, and their salary should be paid in full from party funds. There is widespread concern that what we have now is a huge cohort of Labour special advisers who are paid by the taxpayer to do highly party-political work. That is a form of tax subsidy to the governing party.
I submitted the first two recommendations two and a half years ago, in both oral and written evidence, to the Neill Committee on Standards in Public Life. I am pleased to say that they were accepted and appeared in the report, but so far the Government have failed to act on it. I believe that the third recommendation is essential to the restoration of public confidence.
I ask those on my own Front Bench to make one pledge. I hope I shall hear that when we come to power we will sharply reduce the number of special advisers, as part of wider reforms to restore some credibility to parliamentary democracy.
§ Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham)
I shall not detain the House for long, as I wish to say only a few words. I am a quiet, shy, retiring sort.
I think that the key issue in all this is public perception and public trust. I want to make it absolutely clear that I support the Government's amendment—[Interruption.] I ask Members to be patient, and to wait for what I shall say later.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) and to the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb), who is not present now, for 207 their deep, thoughtful, serious speeches, which all Members should read at their leisure. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), who is also not present but who spoke passionately, although I did not agree with all that he said. And I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), whose very surgical speech highlighted key points.
I think that the conduct of the special adviser to the Secretary of State has been appalling. We are supposed to be standing shoulder to shoulder with the USA—so we are told by certain quarters—yet following those terrible atrocities, that infamous memo was sent out. As other Members have said, there can be no doubt that if a Minister had sent an e-mail saying that 11 September had been a very good day, he or she would have been sacked on the spot. It seems that special advisers have more protection than Ministers in terms of accountability to the public.
It must be said that the shadowy figures who lurk in the depths of ministerial offices spreading their views are not held to account, but I am astonished that the person involved in this particular case has not already gone. My reason is simple: resigning would have been the most decent and honourable thing to do. I hope the Minister who winds up will tell us whether that person offered her resignation, and, if she did, who is protecting her by refusing it. There has been no apology, apart from half an apology after several days, and the Government appear still to be dragged through the mire weeks after the event. To be honest, I think that they should put her out of her misery, and that we should spare them yet more embarrassment.
What has been done undermines the great achievements that this Labour Government could boast about. It is time that we stopped the rot. I must tell the Secretary of State that he should do the decent thing, even if she will not.
The hon. Member for Chichester mentioned the model contract promulgated on 19 May 1997, shortly after Labour's election, by the Prime Minister. Section (viii) states that special advisersmust observe discretion and express comments with moderationThere can be no doubt that, when that e-mail was sent, moderation was not used and discretion was not observed.
A written constitution is long overdue. We need to reinvigorate our failing democracy. As has been said, when nearly half the electorate do not vote in general elections, two thirds do not vote in local elections and three quarters do not even bother to vote in European elections, there is a fundamental problem in our democracy. There are those who say, rightly, that we must concentrate on public services; but when the values that are supposed to underpin a Government are completely undermined—and the e-mail is just one symptom of that—those people should not expect their people to come out and vote for them, because they will not expect to believe the promises made at election time.
The Government have an obsession. That was true of other Governments, but this Government over-egg the pudding, triple count the figures, oversell the good news and bury the bad. That needs to end, and end now. If the Prime Minister were here—he is not, and I understand that he is on important business elsewhere—I would say, 208 "Relax. Chill out. What on earth are you afraid of? You can convince the people without the spin. You have a good story to tell, so tell it as it is."
§ Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is difficult for Members to send out a message about the importance of the Chamber when the Prime Minister is here so little and plays so much less of a role in the proceedings of the House than did all his predecessors?
§ Mr. Marsden
With respect, tonight the Prime Minister has a pretty good excuse. I hope that this will be an historic night on which the IRA starts to decommission its weapons and, perhaps, lasting peace is brought to Northern Ireland. On the wider point, I totally agree. The Prime Minister does not vote very often and is not seen here very often, which is a great worry for parliamentary democracy. [Interruption.] I shall give way to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport if he wants to comment. No? He remains seated and simply mutters under his breath.
§ Mr. Francois
The hon. Gentleman is clearly being courageous tonight, although, if he does not mind my saying so, if this is a speech for the Government amendment, I should love to hear his speech against. Does he think it fair to say that it would have been honourable—I use that word in its literal context—for Jo Moore to resign, considering what she did?
§ Mr. Marsden
Yes. The Government should stop defending the indefensible and simply sack the special adviser.
Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye)
Does my hon. Friend agree that Jo Moore has a contract? No one has sought to defend what she did or said, but they seek to comply with the law for which he and I voted some short while ago, which gives rights to contract workers.
§ Mr. Marsden
Perhaps my hon. Friend did not hear me earlier. I simply refer him to the model contract. We are not privy to the specific contract, but if it follows what the model contract says, Jo Mooremust observe discretion and express comment with moderation".To my mind, regardless of whether she should have done the honourable thing herself, the Secretary of State should have ensured that she went on those grounds.
The Conservatives are being absent-minded over their history in terms of spinning a good yarn and sleaze over the years. That is appalling, but I shall vote against the Government on the substantive motion. I say, in the name of God, this special adviser should go for the sake of parliamentary democracy.
We need to renew the tarnished image of this Government and this Parliament, because, due to the obsession with control and spin, we need to rebuild the British public's faith in their politicians and political parties, which is dwindling away. The public do not understand why this individual remains in her job and the sullying, drip-drip effect tarnishes us all.
§ Norman Lamb (North Norfolk)
First, I pay tribute to the brave speech of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden). It takes courage to speak as he did from the Labour Benches.
I spent the past eight years working as a specialist employment lawyer, giving advice to organisations large and small about a range of employment law issues. I should preface my remarks by saying that it cannot be for the House to decide that a public servant should be dismissed. No public servant and no employee, however odious the alleged remarks, should be tried and convicted in his or her absence. Proper process is important, which is why our call for an investigation of the range of issues raised in the debate is the right way forward.
As a newly elected Member, I have the advantage of recent experience of the real world outside and I share the view of the hon. Members for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) that there is a deep despair over the conduct of politics and the manipulation of the media. It is all very well to hear that residents in Mitcham and Morden do not state in surveys that those are their main concerns, but that is not to say that they should not be debated in the House.
Despite the fact that I do not believe it right to try and convict an employee in her absence, the issues that have been raised are important matters of debate. Jo Moore's actions on 11 September could amount to gross misconduct. I was interested to hear the contributions from various Members who speculated about how an employment tribunal might consider the matter, but in two respects her conduct may have reached a level of gravity amounting to gross misconduct.
First, consider the sheer callousness of the comments made in the aftermath of the atrocities of 11 September. It beggars belief that someone could have such a mindset as even to think of so exploiting the horrors of 11 September. In many respects even more serious is the fact that Jo Moore's e-mail contained not just the private thoughts of a somewhat warped mind, but, effectively, an instruction, or at the very least powerful advice, from someone close to the Secretary of State addressed to an impartial senior civil servant, thereby putting him and anyone else who received the e-mail in an extremely difficult position.
I have little doubt that Jo Moore's sending of that e-mail amounts to a clear breach of the code of conduct for special advisers, in particular paragraph 5, which states:Special Advisers should conduct themselves with integrity".Could anyone describe her e-mail that day as an act of integrity? The problem is that we are told that formal disciplinary procedures have already been pursued, although precisely what action has been taken is left in considerable doubt.
Clearly, from what the Government tell us, some action less severe than dismissal has been imposed, so to dismiss Jo Moore now on the narrow basis of the motion would amount to unfair dismissal. Proper procedures, it appears, have already been followed. Again, I argue for a wider investigation of all Jo Moore's actions in the Department, in particular the allegations regarding the suggestion that she instigated a smear campaign against Bob Kiley and in so doing asked a junior civil servant to act in a way that would have breached the civil service code.
210 The suggestion is that, because Alun Evans took up the civil servant's concerns, he paid the price for seeking to uphold the highest standards of conduct and was transferred to another Department. Those are serious allegations.
§ Mr. Spellar
I fully realise that the hon. Gentleman prepared his speech before he heard the Secretary of State's comments, but my right hon. Friend clearly outlined the chronology, which absolutely contradicts the hon. Gentleman's version of events.
§ Norman Lamb
I reject that. I heard the Secretary of State's defence of the situation, but the full facts have simply not yet come out in the open. That is why an investigation is so important. I would like to know precisely what sequence of events led to the disappearance of Alun Evans from the Department, and not merely the gloss given today by the Secretary of State. Did Alun Evans at any time raise concerns about the propriety of the information put out to attack Bob Kiley, either by the Secretary of State or by anyone else in the Department? We must know the answer to that question. The issues need properly to be investigated.
I am led to believe that during Jo Moore's absence from work, two firms have been brought in as advisers to the Secretary of State. I understand that Brunswick, where the wife of the Chancellor of the Exchequer will soon be working, and Finsbury, where a former Labour adviser, Karl Milner, is said to be handling the Government's accounts, may be involved. Questions must be asked. Has either firm been retained? Which tasks are they performing? Have the rules governing the employment of PR consultants been followed? Why should the taxpayer fund three apparently parallel operations? We have a departmental press office, a troop of special advisers—there were three in the Department at the last count—and one or more PR agencies. Those questions need to be answered.
It seems that the Government have a clear choice. Either they take no action and reject the calls for an investigation—
§ Pete Wishart (North Tayside)
Whom would the investigation that the Liberals propose comprise? What would it determine other than disciplinary action, which has already been conducted by the Government?
§ Norman Lamb
The investigation needs to be conducted by the Department, but there are issues that go wider than those in respect of which Jo Moore has so far been disciplined. If the Government take no action, they send out a message to all other special advisers that such conduct is acceptable. More worryingly, that leaves other civil servants in the invidious position of fearing the consequences of standing up to the unacceptable demands of spin doctors. Alternatively, the Government could agree to an investigation to get to the bottom of these murky waters. Simply to refuse an investigation on the basis that no formal complaint has been made by a civil servant is unacceptable. It would require an act of professional suicide for a civil servant to raise his or her head above the parapet.
§ Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)
Given the gravity of the charges that have been made, and the 211 precise point that my hon. Friend is making about it being difficult for a junior civil servant to blow the whistle in such circumstances, is it not incumbent on the head of the home civil service to launch his own investigation into these circumstances? Should he not announce that today?
§ Norman Lamb
That is an appropriate suggestion. We are debating the rights and protection of civil servants. The Secretary of State should confirm tonight that there will be a proper investigation. In that way, the Government could demonstrate that they are making a break from the past and re-establishing the proper standards of conduct among special advisers in the civil service in general.
§ Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West)
I am not sure whether the Government Whips will find my decidedly unspun contribution helpful. Frankly, that is not the issue. The Opposition have called for the debate to talk about spin in general, and about one person in particular, Jo Moore, the special adviser to the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, and the author of a disgraceful and infamous e-mail.
I do not know Jo Moore personally, although I know a number of people who have worked for her. They all bear witness to her loyalty and professionalism, as well as her qualities as a supportive and sympathetic manager. The crass, stupid and ill-judged e-mail, which was sent while the rest of the world watched in horror the television pictures of the carnage that the World Trade Centre had become, displayed precious few of those qualities. The revulsion that she has caused is genuine and cannot be lightly dismissed.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is right to observe that one mistake in an otherwise impressive work record does not justify the ending of Jo Moore's career. He is correct that due process was followed in the Department and that a formal reprimand was issued by the permanent secretary in accordance with published civil service procedures. However, that cannot be the entire story, not now and not ever. On 11 September 2001, the world changed for ever. It was the day on which we all had to make some dramatic decisions. The brave New York firefighters had to decide how often they would go back into a burning building, knowing full well that their chances of coming out alive were diminishing by the second. There were people trapped inside the twin towers who found temporary respite in the floors above the blazing inferno. Their decision was whether to jump to certain death or be burned alive.
It was decision time for those of us who have spent our political lives campaigning against the arms race and opposing the great majority of American foreign policy from Vietnam to Cuba, and from Nicaragua to Chile. It was time for us to put our reservations to one side, and in some instances our prejudices, and to give full and unqualified support to a traumatised American public.
Like others, I am proud to represent a multi-cultural constituency. It was time for me to visit mosques and community centres to reassure my law-abiding Muslim constituents of our solidarity against those who will attempt to make them scapegoats for the dreadful atrocities that occurred on 11 September. I include the former leader of the Conservative party.
212 It is decision time also for Jo Moore. As was famously said about another very special adviser, when an adviser becomes the story, his or her position becomes untenable. In my view, Jo Moore's position is no longer tenable. The decision is hers, but it is time for her to do the honourable thing and reconsider her position.
We should consider the role of special advisers, their background, their function and the controls upon them. They were officially recognised and set up by the 1970 to 1974 Heath Government. It seemed that they were a Conservative creation, but they existed well before that, back to the time of Lloyd George. As I said in an intervention, their function is set out in the model contract, which appears in House of Commons research paper 00/42.
The Government deserve some credit for introducing further controls on the activities of special advisers. They implemented the recommendations of the Neill committee to establish a code of conduct for special advisers. Distinguished and senior civil servants have said that there are no problems with special advisers per se, unless they cross the all-important dividing line between what is laid down in the code of conduct and their own political ambitions and priorities.
What greater example of such ambition can there be than using the position of special adviser as a stepping stone to becoming a Member? Before the Deputy Chief Whip becomes too excited, that happens on both sides of the House. I have done some research. I recommend that Members study a list that has been compiled by the Library. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) was a former special adviser. He is now an Opposition Front Bencher. I wonder whether he was the special adviser who crafted the speech for Jonathan Aitken, who was banged up for perjury, about the simple sword of truth.
The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) was a special adviser, and the list goes on. The right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) is sadly not in his place; he never is nowadays. He was a special adviser. I do not think that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) was a special adviser, but he was paid by the public purse to do the bidding of Baroness Thatcher.
Opposition Members are obsessed with the concept of special advisers, but of the 24 Members who were once special advisers, 18 of them are Conservatives. What does that show us? It is clear that the Conservative party, for all its cant and hypocrisy is happy to use publicly funded special advisers as a recruitment agency for the parliamentary Conservative party.
§ Mr. Don Foster
I accept the hon. Gentleman's point about the total number of hon. Members who held such positions. However, it is sad that his list failed to mention the current Foreign Secretary, who was also a rather infamous special adviser and one of the first to be brought to book because of the way in which he was behaving. Has the hon. Gentleman forgotten that case?
§ Mr. Salter
Far from it. I recommended that hon. Members examine the list in the Library, which includes the Member to whom the hon. Gentleman referred and many others, some on our side of the House. I was suggesting that the proportion of Conservatives on the list was what they might find somewhat embarrassing.
§ Peter Bradley
In view of what we have heard from Conservative Members this afternoon, when there are 213 issues of far greater moment happening in the world, does my hon. Friend agree that this is not so much a case of poachers turned gamekeeper, as poachers turned hypocrite?
§ Mr. Salter
My hon. Friend makes a point, and the subject of hypocrisy will feature later in my speech. If he will bear with me, I shall get on to that in some detail later. He also suggests that parliamentary time is at a premium and that it is inappropriate for us to have this debate. As I said earlier, there is real concern outside the House, and my hon. Friends should not dismiss it lightly. The Secretary of State has followed due process. It is for Jo Moore to decide whether her continued employment by our Government is a problem, and whether her position is tenable. I would suggest that it is not.
I think that this is the first Opposition day debate of this Session. The party that spawned spin doctors and special advisers has used valuable parliamentary time to expose its own weaknesses on this subject, and also to continue to whip up the media frenzy. This is a time when an historic agreement in Northern Ireland is possibly within our grasp after more than 30 years and a time when terrible incidents are taking place as the middle east peace process deteriorates. Frankly, if I were them, I would concentrate on the potential black hole in our public finances, rather than wasting time on this issue, but it is not for me to tell them how to be a decent Opposition.
§ Chris Grayling
I remind the hon. Gentleman that this is the second Opposition day of this Session. On the first, we chose to debate the key issues of the future of our countryside and education system. The reason for our holding this debate today is that the Government have offered no other opportunity to the House to debate what has become a matter of national interest and, indeed, of importance to the Government.
§ Mr. Salter
All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that that other Opposition day cannot have had much of an impact, because it certainly passed me and my constituents by.
It is worth looking at some of the facts that the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) attempted to highlight during the opening exchanges. I am at a loss to understand why a special adviser—or, indeed, anyone—thought that councillors' expenses were a problem that needed to be buried. I will take issue with any Minister who thinks that having properly remunerated councillors is something to be ashamed of. I like to think that there is nobody of that ilk, certainly on the new ministerial team. We have had bumbling amateurism for far too long in town halls the length and breadth of this land. I praise the Government for seeking to improve standards in local government and in our town halls. The question, therefore, is why any special adviser thinks that that is a subject to be buried, when I suggest that it is one to be applauded.
§ Mr. Don Foster
I sought to point out earlier that the reason the Government were interested in the matter not receiving much public attention was simple. The document published on 12 September contained a plan to 214 reverse a commitment that they had given to ensure that all councillors, rather than just a few, would be eligible for pensions.
§ Mr. Salter
The hon. Gentleman did not listen closely to the Secretary of State, who made it clear that the document was cleared before 11 September. There is no indication at all of a deliberate attempt to bury this or anything else that has happened subsequent to 11 September.
I am also at a loss to understand why the Conservatives, stuck as they are in a bizarre 1980s time warp, seem to think that the recent decision by the Secretary of State on Railtrack is an embarrassment for the Government or the Labour party. I have news for Conservative Members: the decision was applauded in my constituency and on the Labour Benches. I hope that there are one or two more such decisions in the offing, frankly.
The Secretary of State comprehensively refuted the wholly spurious allegations spun into this debate by the Opposition. Much of this Opposition day debate is bereft of facts and brims with hypocrisy. As my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Peter Bradley) said, hypocrisy is at the heart of the Conservative approach to the issue. It is not a term that I use lightly, but it is wholly justified when the record of Conservative Members is put under the microscope.
The obsession with spin doctors, special advisers and news management that so excites Tory Front Benchers may not seem quite so important when they are reminded of their own record. I do not often read The Guardian. However, I was privileged to spend 50p on it on the day that it had a letter, a couple of days after the famous e-mail incident received publicity. It was froman ex-employee of the Government information service, specifically the press office of a Whitehall … departmentand states:this kind of news manipulation was standard practice. An example of this would be on the day of the appalling Dunblane shootings, my colleagues and I were instructed by our chief press officer to release any 'bad' news stories for the very reason that they would be overlooked or 'buried' in the next day's coverage of events. I would like to point out that the Dunblane tragedy occurred during the last Conservative administration.If that does not demonstrate breathtaking hypocrisy, I would like to know what does.
When it comes to news management, it is also worth looking at the record of the Government Whips under the Conservative Administration. Helpfully, one of their former colleagues, one Gyles Brandreth—a name that I have trouble pronouncing—the former Member for Chester, has published his diaries. They are entitled "Breaking the Code", which is apt. An entry headed 20 May states:The end of the Maastricht road is nigh … NormanLamont—did well. He battled through the mayhem and came out on top. The Labour Party abstained so, inevitably, we won the vote, but it was a hollow victory. At least fifty of our side either voted against or abstained. It's taken almost a year to secure this Third Reading, hundreds of hours of debate, dozens of futile divisions, endless late nights, and, beyond these walls, no one seems to have much of an idea about what any of it's about!He goes on to talk about the celebrations taking place, and says:I said to David Davis of the SS".—215 I assume that that was a regiment in the last war—'I'm not sure that we should be celebrating yet. The headlines aren't going to say "Maastricht Bill Achieved", they're going to trumpet "Tories Biggest Ever Revolt".'I think not", said Davis with a sly grin.'Why not?''Why not? Because the Queen Mother has just been rushed to hospital. Haven't you heard? It's touch and go. We're not sure if she'll last the night.' Wolfish leer followed by conspiratorial chuckle.News management is nothing new.
What hypocrites the Conservatives have been. Was the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) demoted? Was he reprimanded? No, he was promoted. He is a member of the shadow Cabinet and the new chairman of the Conservative party.
§ Chris Grayling
There is a fundamental difference between wilful news management on a day of international tragedy and coincidence, which the circumstance that the hon. Gentleman has just described clearly was.
§ Mr. Salter
The hon. Gentleman might say that, but the press would not.
With regard to the media, this has been a gentle wicket for the Opposition. They have had a willing media and the issue has been blown out of all proportion. However, not all the media have slavishly danced to the same tune. Alone is the Reading Evening Post—a publication that I commend to my hon. Friends and one that I know the Deputy Chief Whip has watched with interest. After the Jo Moore affair, its opinion column, which appeared in the national papers, said:If the outside world knew how hard-nosed journalists can appear when they are doing their job they probably wouldn't pick up a paper again.If they knew some of the conversations doctors had when operating on patients, they would be appalled.And, of course, there is outrage this morning over the e-mail sent by a "spin doctor" on the day of the World Trade Center atrocity, advising government departments to put out all their embarrassing news because the papers would be full of the biggest story for decades.But Jo Moore, special advisor to … Stephen Byers, was reacting spontaneously. It's her job to know the news agenda.Just as it's the job of reporters to become adrenalin-charged when a big story breaks, even if it would seem insensitive when hundreds of people have been killed.The insensitivity comes about in the leaking of an internal memo that was never meant for the public domain precisely because it would be potentially upsetting to people.The person who leaked it is the one guilty of insensitivity and should be the one to walk.We are at war against terrorism, the world teeters on a window ledge of danger and uncertainty.It really is time to get a sense of proportion.I advise hon. Members to read the Evening Post more often. So we have seen double standards in certain sections of the press, just as we have seen them in sections of the Conservative party.
While I have the ear of the Minister, and a wide-ranging amendment has been moved, I should like to lay out my shopping list for Reading, as one is not often called to speak in the Chamber, and I hope that he 216 will note it down. We require an expansion of our boundaries and the granting of city status and—please, Minister—can we have an integrated transport strategy?
To sum up, I suggest that the motive behind the debate is pure mischief making. Opposition Members do not want Jo Moore to resign because they want this argument, this distraction from what is going on in Afghanistan and Northern Ireland to rumble on, and I find it sad that some Labour Members have chosen to dance to their tune. It is all very well for Opposition Members to praise a Labour Member for making a brave speech but he was one of the most supine members of the 1997 intake. What sticks in the throat of many Labour Members are the born-again revolutionaries who have suddenly worked out that they have no political future and embraced a left-wing ideology that they know precious little about. I tell the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden), who is sadly no longer in his place, to enjoy his 15 minutes of fame because it will not last. When the parliamentary Labour party stood firm against the fuel protesters and the subsidised farmers, he was the only Member who broke ranks.
We will survive this problem. I hope that Jo Moore will do the decent thing and that the Government will continue to take even more privatised services back into public ownership. I end by saying, "You've made a great start, lads. Keep up the good work."
§ 8.3 pm
§ Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh)
It is a privilege to follow the honourable comrade for Reading, West (Mr. Salter).
The conduct of Ministers in the DTLR is of particular importance to my constituents. Many of them commute to London by rail, often to work in the City; some continue their journeys across London using the underground. Tomorrow morning, I will meet Mr. Theo Steel, the deputy managing director of First Great Eastern Railways, to discuss the implications for service levels on the First Great Eastern line into Liverpool street station of Railtrack being forced into administration by DTLR Ministers.
For a Government committed to raising large sums from the markets to finance the reform of public services, the events of the past fortnight could be described, even charitably, as distinctly sub-optimal. The private finance initiative is a key plank in the Government's strategy for public service reform. Across the public services, from health care through education and transport, the Government's declared strategy is to use private finance to supplement public investment, particularly in infrastructure projects. That point has been made repeatedly—indeed, ad nauseam—by the Prime Minister at Question Time, even in the few months during which I have been a Member of Parliament, but a credible strategy of public service reform, based on much greater use of private capital, cannot be executed if private capital is then slapped in the face by Ministers.
The reliance on private finance is particularly acute in transport policy. Raising private match funding is an absolutely fundamental part of the Government's much-vaunted 10-year transport plan. In essence, the Government will stump up some £30 billion for future investment if the City and other investors provide the other £34 billion. But who now will rationally trust the 217 Government to keep their part of the bargain? Mr. Charles Saunders, head of international equities for the State of Wisconsin pension fund—one of the largest pension funds in the world, which invests mainly on behalf of public sector workers from that state—was quoted in The Sunday Telegraph, as opposed to the Reading Evening Post, on 21 October, as saying:I will have to look again at any investment in the UK which has a significant Government involvement.The journalist who wrote the associated piece, Mr. Neil Bennett, elaborated on that reaction, saying:The fund owns 8.7 million Railtrack shares and, boy, is Saunders angry. He is scathing that the Government could go to court and declare Railtrack bankrupt without allowing the shareholders to represent themselves. 'Not very principled' is about the politest thing he will say about Byers.Many other major investors at home and abroad on whose money the Government were relying to bring their plan to fruition will have noted Ministers' actions and been very disturbed by them. That is a very important medium-term consequence of what has happened.
Ministerial conduct is also critical to the future of the tube. London's tube is already in trouble and is deteriorating further, along with the morale of its staff. Its track is old; its signalling system is highly unreliable; and its trains are failing more often. Everyone agrees that the system desperately needs investment, but it will not be forthcoming while the dialogue of the deaf continues between the DTLR and Treasury Ministers on one hand and Mayor Ken Livingstone on the other about the Government's ill-judged PPP proposals.
The House should recall that Ministers welcomed the arrival of Mr. Bob Kiley to help Mr. Livingstone run the tube, but when he tried to do exactly that, they savagely undermined him via off-the-record briefings, some of which, we believe, were delivered in person by Jo Moore. The saviour of London's tube was transformed into a victim and assassinated in the media for the heinous crime of being loyal to his own boss. London simply cannot go on like this.
Given that in four years Ministers could bring no credible modernisation plan to fruition—and they still have not—how do they think they will persuade the private sector to invest in the crumbling infrastructure now? An overarching issue is that the tube is crying out for investment, which it is even less likely to receive thanks to the actions of Ministers at the DTLR. If I were a London Member of Parliament of any party, I would now be very seriously concerned about the implications of the Railtrack fiasco for the future of London's tube service.
The actions of DTLR Ministers have also been very bad news for Railtrack employees and shareholders. It should be noted that those two categories are in effect often one and the same. The Government tend to think of "shareholders" as a pejorative term, often thinking of them as fat-cats or extremely rich people. However, the reality is that most shareholders—of whom there are now several million in this country, thanks largely to the Conservative party—have much more modest holdings, often of a few thousand pounds or so, in individual shares or as part of a pension plan. They are among the people who are losing out from what has happened to Railtrack. 218 In addition, a large number of Railtrack employees were encouraged to buy shares in the company for which they worked. More than 80 per cent. of company employees are shareholders to a greater or lesser degree.
It is official Government policy to encourage employees to invest in the companies for which they work; they actually provide tax incentives to encourage that. Who thought about that when Ministers decided to bust the firm? Moreover, as The Times reported on 20 October:Mr Byers is also under pressure from thousands of council workers in his constituency of North Tyneside, where the local authority pension fund has lost millions of pounds invested in Railtrack.Ministers at the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions have not served the public well, whether they are my constituents in Rayleigh or the wider electorate. Responsibility for that fiasco lies with Ministers at the Department. If anyone has any career-related suggestions for the Secretary of State as a result, they can now e-mail them to him at his new brand new private e-mail address which, I am told, is "Stephen— bay.no-org at all/backslashed by Gordon.com."
In July, the House united to defend the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), the Transport Sub-Committee Chairman, against over-mighty Ministers. In essence, Members of Parliament stood up that night to be counted. This is another occasion on which they should stand up and show Ministers that they cannot treat with contempt people who are democratically elected to Parliament on their constituents' behalf—or, indeed, those constituents themselves.
§ Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith)
Like every Labour Member and, indeed, like members of other parties, I condemn Jo Moore's actions and e-mail, by which I was deeply shocked. I will go further; although she is certainly not the issue that my constituents are raising at my surgeries, I accept that there are important issues about the role of advisers and politicians, as well as their relationship with Parliament and the media, which are worthy of serious debate. However, the very fact that an error may have been made which our constituents are not raising on a daily basis emphasises that it is our role as Members of Parliament to pay attention to the health of our parliamentary system.
Although some Conservative Members, including the hon. Members for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) and for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie), sought to make thoughtful contributions, it must be said that the Conservative motion is not worded in such a way as to contribute to a serious debate. Moreover, it cannot be said that the way in which the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) opened on behalf of the Opposition contributed to such a serious debate. What we got instead was an attempt to whip up a simulated, media-centred frenzy and the type of yah-boo politics that the hon. Member for Chichester later deplored. Those who were angered by Jo Moore's e-mail, as I was, will be utterly disgusted and sickened by the cynical way in which, as a result of her very first words this afternoon, the hon. Member for Maidenhead tried to capitalise on the public sympathy and feelings arising from the horrible events of 11 September.
219 Nevertheless, we are debating the conduct of Ministers at the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. If we are going to discuss the conduct of Ministers and conduct worthy of condemnation, let us talk about ministerial behaviour that is truly deserving of condemnation. I am talking, of course, about the behaviour of Ministers who, from 1993 to 1997, left us with the botched privatisation with which the Labour Government have had to deal ever since. A lot could be said about that botched privatisation, but I shall refer to just two examples, which have continuing political relevance. The first is the scandal of the sell-off of the rolling stock leasing companies, in which, I remind hon. Members, the privatised companies were sold off for £1.8 billion and, a few months later, were sold on for £2.7 billion—a cool £900 million profit for doing nothing much at all.
That sell-off is one for which Opposition Members, or at least their predecessors, must take full political responsibility. It is instructive to read the conclusion of the Public Accounts Committee when it investigated the sell-off. The summary in its 65th report points out that the members of the committee asked civil servants in the relevant Department for the reason for the timing of the sale of the rolling stock leasing companies. Paragraph 23 states:They told us that Ministers decided in mid-1994 to change the order of rail privatisation because franchising was moving slowly.The civil servants said that that was becauseA different sequence would have put wider policy objectives at risk, particularly the achievements of the whole of rail privatisation before the General Election and the benefits that Ministers associated with this.In other words, because those Ministers were scared of losing the 1997 election, they pushed through a botched privatisation, which cost the taxpayer £1.5 billion to £2.4 billion. That is a genuine scandal; it affects the real world, as opposed to any scandals arising from spin which, important though they are, are issues in the beltway—a word used earlier—of our political system.
The second example concerning the privatisation of Railtrack to which I want to refer is the monumental failure of the company itself, for which Opposition Members must take direct responsibility, because the privatised Railtrack was created by the Conservative Government; it was a creation driven by political dogma. On top of the defects with which the company was saddled at the start for political reasons, it managed to add a woeful failure to manage its own business and an inability to make decisions. Those failures in turn prevented others from making decisions.
Members have spoken about major schemes that have had problems as a result of Railtrack's failures, particularly difficulties arising on the west coast main line. My experience of Railtrack is more local, but it concerns similar failures and delay. Next year, passenger trains and stations will return to a line in south-east Edinburgh from which they have been absent for decades. However, they should have been running last autumn—a year and a half before they are due to return. That delay is the result of difficulties arising from Railtrack and its decision making. In Edinburgh, we are still waiting for a decision about the future of Waverley station in the centre of our city, which is important for east coast mainline services, services from elsewhere in Scotland and the transport infrastructure of my city. Because of its location, 220 the station is also important in several key decisions on planning and urban development in the city of Edinburgh. However, Railtrack's decision making seems to have dragged on and on; other schemes in Scotland have suffered similarly as, I know, is the case with schemes throughout the country. I therefore welcome the Secretary of State's proposal to replace Railtrack with a not-for-profit company. He and his predecessors have tried to work with the structure that they inherited and were right to say "No more" when asked for yet another blank cheque by Railtrack.
I want to take this opportunity to urge my right hon. Friend to move ahead as quickly as possible with the establishment of a new company, because, as he is well aware, if administration continues for more than six to nine months, difficulties for investment will begin to arise. Railtrack delayed some decisions for too long. My right hon. Friend knows that I am particularly keen that the decision on Waverley station be taken as soon as possible.
I also urge my right hon. Friend to think carefully—I am sure that he will—before adopting the vertical integration model for the railways which I know is being pressed on him by a number of train operating companies and industry experts. Such a model is almost certainly appropriate in certain circumstances, but adopting it runs the risk of replacing one type of conflict between different parts of the railway with another, especially between train operating companies that have a regional focus and those operating longer-distance services and freight companies. Indeed, I was interested to note that the Rail Freight Group today circulated a briefing to many Members making that very point.
In putting their arguments in this debate, the Conservatives have tried to take the very same advantage of the tragic events of 11 September as they have—perhaps rightly—accused Jo Moore of doing. The difference is that Jo Moore's proposals were not acted on. The Conservatives have tried to take advantage of 11 September for their own narrow political gain, and I hope that when they reflect on the matter, they will realise what a great mistake such an approach has been.
§ Mr. Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle)
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me in this debate, not least so that I can add my voice to those who have condemned the disgraceful actions of the Secretary of State's special adviser, Jo Moore, in sending her now infamous e-mail on 11 September. As one of the newest Members of the House, I am particularly pleased to find myself able to concur wholeheartedly with the highly articulate sentiments of the Father of the House, the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell).
I say to Labour Members who have tried to make out that this debate is merely about a disgraced official at the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions that it is nothing of the sort. It is about ethics, trust and issues that go to the very heart of the governance of this country.
Most people to whom I have spoken in my constituency are not angry or even very surprised at Ms Moore's e-mail. They simply shake their heads in sad resignation at the fact that such appalling behaviour should go on at the very highest level of government. Ms Moore's 221 extraordinarily cynical and shameful comments do not tarnish the reputation just of Ms Moore or even the Secretary of State. They undermine all of us on both sides of the House who are trying hard to win back the electorate's trust. That trust is vested not exclusively in any one party, but in all who try to serve as politicians.
Unless the Government act decisively to break with Ms Moore and all her kind, they will send the most terrible signal to the electorate that the careers of professional, political spin doctors are far more important to them than public confidence in the British political system. However, the latest actions of Ms Moore merely highlight an endemic problem that plagues this Administration: total obedience to special advisers, spin doctors and opinion pollsters.
The culture of spin in the previous Parliament seemed to know no bounds. Yet in opposition, the Labour party was critical of any increases in the number of special advisers. Back in 1995, when the then Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Forsyth, increased the number of special advisers in the then Scottish Office from one to two, George Robertson, then a leading member of the shadow Cabinet, commented:this is no longer a Government, it is purely a propaganda machine. The Tories are drafting in more 'civil servants', not to do the work of the Government, but to do their political dirty work for them.So, how have this Government's deeds matched their high-minded words in opposition? Have they reduced the number of special advisers whom they attacked? No, they have more than doubled the number—there is now an army of special advisers—from 38 in 1997 to 81 so far this Parliament.
§ Mr. Simon
Will the hon. Gentleman run through the mathematics, because I am puzzled? He says that the number of advisers has more than doubled. What happened in the Scottish Office in 1995?
§ Mr. Barker
The number went from one to two.
§ Mr. Barker
If the hon. Gentleman listened carefully, he would realise that I am attacking the hypocrisy of the Labour party, which is pious and prim in opposition and totally remorseless and unrepentant in government.
I do not say that special advisers do not have any role in the Government. They are able to aid their Ministers on matters where it would be inappropriate for career civil servants to become involved or to give expert advice. However, their code of conduct is crystal clear. It states that special advisers shouldconduct themselves with integrity and honesty. They should not deceive or knowingly mislead Parliament or the public.Theymust not take public part in political controversy, whether in speeches or letters to the Press, or in books, articles or leaflets; must observe discretion and express comment with moderation, avoiding personal attacks; and would not normally speak in public for their Minister or the Department.When that code is not adhered to, the position of the special adviser is simply not tenable.
222 Was Ms Moore acting with integrity when she sent that e-mail on 11 September? Was she acting with honesty when she misled a journalist from The Sunday Times over plans to take Railtrack into administration? Was she not making a personal attack when she tried to persuade a junior civil servant to do the dirty on Bob Kiley to selected journalists? Has she not taken a very public part in a political controversy, culminating with a personal television exclusive for Sky news? I suggest that the count is guilty, guilty, guilty, and that Ms Moore should go.
The Secretary of State did not sack his special adviser because, we are told, the matter was "one isolated incident". The Prime Minister called the e-mail "horrible", but defended the decision that to sack someone and end their career was too heavy a penalty. Are those the standards of behaviour that the Prime Minister had in mind when he spoke at the outset of his Administration of his new Government being whiter than white? If widespread condemnation from all parties, the media, the public at large and the families of people involved in the tragedy is not a reason to end a discredited career, I do not know what is. It is important to remember that Ms Moore is not a career civil servant. She is not a graduate who has come through the apolitical civil service. She went into a political appointment knowing it carried the risks and uncertainties of any political post. She is certainly no deserving case for pity.
We are well aware that Ms Moore is not alone in the world of Labour party spin. She is, after all, playing a game of follow-my-leader. Just last week, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs sneaked out unfavourable news in the dead of night and a special adviser in another place tried to change Hansard to save the face of the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Those incidents are bad news: they are bad for the Government, bad for Parliament and bad for democracy. It is no wonder that public confidence in politicians is ebbing, as many hon. Members on both sides of the House have commented.
Confidence in the Government's handling of the crisis in the railways is at rock bottom. My constituents are desperately worried by the collapse of Railtrack. They see little prospect of much needed improvement to both Bexhill and Cooden Beach stations. My constituents who travel by rail have to contend with damp, broken glass, peeling paint, decrepit infrastructure and unfinished repairs. Yet people in Bexhill still have no clear idea from today's debate, or anything that the Secretary of State has said today, of when we will get the station that we deserve. They rightly look to the Secretary of State to marshal his energies to hold together the fabric of our local railway stations, not the careers of disgraced political advisers.
As a new Member of Parliament—and contrary to the view of many in the country—I have been truly impressed by the way in which so many hon. Members do their utmost for their constituents. They work incredibly hard, with the best of motives, to try to make a difference. However, the respect that they should enjoy from the public for that work is hard to gain and very easy to lose. The spin and smirks of Ms Moore and the Secretary of State's refusal to dispense with her is another hammer blow to the electorate's confidence in politics and politicians. Her continuation in office should concern all hon. Members who seek to bolster public confidence in elected politicians and parliamentary Government.
223 All hon. Members should be worried—as indeed many of us who have contributed to the debate are—by the appallingly low turnout at the last general election. We must be concerned about ever-increasing voter cynicism and apathy. For anyone who hopes to reverse that trend, the proliferation of spin doctors, misinformation, leaks, cover-ups, selective briefings and obstinate refusals to remove the worst offenders makes it more difficult to restore public confidence and simply fuels the fire of public contempt. No single act will stanch public contempt for the political establishment and no individual can shoulder all the blame for voter disillusionment with politicians, but by breaking with Ms Moore the Government could send a clear signal to the country that we, their elected representatives, are at last starting to get the message.
§ John Mann (Bassetlaw)
I have listened to the entirety of the debate and have to say, "Dearie, dearie me." I was offered two tickets to the Strangers Gallery and, thankfully, chose not to invite constituents down for the day to listen to Parliament at its finest.
This is a full day's debate on spin doctors. My barometer of public opinion is taken over a £1.20 pint at Manton miners welfare club on Sunday evening, along with 1,000 other people. There may be other barometers of public opinion, but none is as fine as Manton miners welfare club and the 1,000 who throng there on a Sunday night. If hon. Members knew the good people of Manton, they would realise that they do not shy away from giving me their views on the world, the issues of the day and their priorities. They do so in large numbers and the most forthright of terms. They have not yet heard of Ms Jo Moore. They have heard of Demi Moore, Bobby Moore, Roger Moore, Ilkley moor and Markham Moor. Some of them have even heard of Ian Storey-Moore. But I have not met one who has heard of Ms Jo Moore. Perhaps I live in different circles from those who claim that there is a groundswell of public opinion commenting on her.
I have gone further. I have met more than 100 constituents in different parts of my constituency this weekend—that included three public meetings What are their major concerns? They have many and they have been clear in articulating them. Have spin doctors been mentioned once, formally, or informally? No, not once.
I thought that, perhaps, I was only seeing part of the picture so I checked my post bag. It was not the record post bag—I have been a Member of Parliament only since 7 June—but the second largest, with more than 300 letters, not one of which concerned Ms Moore or spin doctors. There were many letters on other issues. As the Minister for Transport is present I must mention that there were a number in support of the establishment of Finningley airport—they were all 100 per cent. in favour.
While I was consulting my constituents in advance of this debate I saw a little grey mouse at my home in the constituency, scuttling between cupboards and washing machine. My newly arrived papers outlining this week's debates lay on the table. Far be it for me to compare today's debate and the irritating little grey mouse, but somehow that comparison stuck with me. In my mind's eye I can see it scurrying from kitchen to pantry seeking the crumbs of inspiration. A once great British institution seeks similar solace. Where once it was led by a grey 224 man, it is now led by a grey mouse. Given the early opportunity of an Opposition debate—a full day—who but a grey mouse would have hidden from the major issues of our time?
Let me help those on the Opposition Benches and suggest some issues of the day. I have constituents who are serving Queen and country. That would be an issue worthy of debate today. I have a private finance initiative bid for nine new secondary schools, which would be a worthy subject. I have slum housing that is awaiting the creation of a special purpose vehicle to allow it to be regenerated. We should be debating economic and social regeneration and decent warm houses in safe strong communities with the Secretary of State and his Ministers today.
What about regional economic developments, such as Manton pit site, which has been awaiting redevelopment for more than 10 years? That is worthy of debate with Ministers today. What of the A1, with its multitude of dangerous and inefficient roundabouts? That is what my constituents would have wanted us to debate and not the frith and froth of spin doctors. In Bassetlaw, when we talk about spin we talk about Wilfred Rhodes, Jim Laker and Sir Garfield Sobers. The world does not end in the suburban gardens of the chattering classes of London.
Nottinghamshire has one long-standing Tory Member of Parliament. Tories in my patch lament the missed opportunity when their party rejected the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) as leader. Today, when they look at the Opposition Front Bench, they must be scratching their heads in bewilderment.
In the past two weeks, we have heard the little grey mouse trying to roar. This is not the mouse that roared; this is the mouse that squeaked. The Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions has been pursued by Opposition Members, who are all sporting an expression as though he has just announced that hell has been abolished and sin is permissible.
Most Labour Members are not fooled, however. Let us be clear about what is going on. It is a witch hunt. Why have the Opposition been screaming like Furies for the Secretary of State to be burned at the stake? The answer is that they want to be absolved from blame for their failure with Railtrack. That blame can be laid, falsely, at the feet of this Government, but to do so is another attempt to mislead the British people.
The little grey mouse is seeking a way out. In the past week, the Tories have started preening themselves as the champions of the poor and dispossessed. There is no escape for the little grey mouse. All the holes have been sealed. Much to the disappointment of the Opposition, we are left with only the truth.
On 25 June 1997, the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) said that Railtrack's only solution lay in privatisation. He taunted the newly elected Labour Government's doubts and reservations with regard to the privatisation of Railtrack. That is the truth, and today we stand vindicated. The privatisation of the railways in general, and of Railtrack in particular, is widely held by voters as one of the most shoddy and shameful policies ever thrust through the House. Even George and Lenny from John Steinbeck's famous novel "Of Mice and Men" would have struggled to come up with a less coherent plan.
225 The previous Administration sold the public the dream of privatisation of Railtrack as a way to run the service more efficiently and effectively, and more safely. That was not true, and did not happen. Railtrack is bust simply because the Government and the Secretary of State cannot continue to throw money at a company that is so flawed.
On 24 November 1994, the then Secretary of State for Transport, the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney), claimed thatprivatisation offers the best future for Railtrack",and said that it would serve bydelivering efficient track maintenance and encouraging investment in the upgrading of railway lines."—[Official Report, 24 November 1994; Vol. 250, c. 729.]What did we get? An organisation that combined the worst aspects of private and public companies, which could pay vast sums of money to shareholders because it cut down on track maintenance and staff. It was an organisation that required vast amounts of public money to continue to operate. I use the word "operate" in the broadest possible sense.
We got a company that grew ever more complex as more people were taken on as managers. Engineers with experience of the railways were not taken on. The new managers sought to create even more complex management structures. In short, we got a shambles.
That was the "best future for Railtrack". It was nothing more than smoke and mirrors, or castles and kingdoms in the air. Today, we should be debating the real issues. We should be dealing with politics, not politicking. Therefore, I say "Well done!" to the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions for reigniting the £30-million project to replace and renovate slum housing in the Meden valley, and for its role in creating coherence in regional economic intervention through the regional development agencies. I applaud too the Department's willingness to consider an extended and expanded regional airport network.
We should debate the real issues, those international, national and local matters that are important to voters. In my area, when will Finningley airport be opened? Will the A1M be expanded southward through Nottinghamshire, and will our model of housing regeneration be rolled out in other areas?
It is said that a week is a long time in politics. Housing regeneration on the Royal estate in Warsop was first consulted on by the Heath Government of 1972. In life, 29 years is a long time. Thank goodness the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions is prepared to act, at last.
Good governance is about the people's priorities. Today, in this debate, we have witnessed the politicians' priorities, and Parliament is the weaker for it.
§ Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire)
I am very grateful to be called, Madam Deputy Speaker. I want to associate myself with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb). He has thrown down a challenge to all Members to approach politics with a real sense of integrity and honesty. I was moved by his speech, and I hope that other Members will reflect on what he said.
226 I am grateful for the opportunity to look at the work of this important Department and its Ministers and advisers. That work needs to be clear, open, accessible and concentrated on the areas of greatest need. I want to raise four issues of substance affecting my constituency on which the Department's work, sadly, does not meet those criteria.
The first issue is the Government's proposed 33 per cent. cut in the civil defence grant. I understand that there is a legal challenge to that measure by the Merseyside fire and civil defence authority. If the cut is made, my county will lose one emergency planning officer and one emergency planning assistant. Their services will be denied not only to the county council but to Bedfordshire's three district and borough councils. It is the opinion of senior figures in the county council that its operational response to any emergency will be compromised if the cut is made. In an incident, it is normal to have three eight-hour emergency shifts, and if the cut is made, only two of those shifts will have specialist emergency planning input. At this time of heightened tension, it is highly irresponsible of the Department to press ahead with that proposal.
The second issue is DTLR Ministers' unwillingness to leave their Whitehall bunkers and go out and see some of the problems that the Department is supposed to be addressing. I asked in a written question for a Minister to come to the Dunstable and Houghton Regis conurbation, which has a population of 50,000, to see the appalling traffic congestion that my constituents face daily. The reply was that no Minister was prepared to come to my constituency, and the buck had been passed to a multi-modal study. I echo my distinguished predecessor, Sir David Madel, who called throughout the previous Parliament for a Minister to come and see the unbelievable traffic congestion against which my constituents battle. That area has lost 1,500 jobs in the past year—as many as went at Vauxhall, where special assistance was given. In Dunstable, a quarter of the shops are empty because of the traffic congestion in the town. Yet no Minister will come to see the problem for himself.
Thirdly, I ask Ministers to take seriously the seemingly complete opposition to Translink, the guided busway scheme that the Government propose to install between Luton and Dunstable. In my time as a Member of Parliament, not a single person has said to me that they are in favour of it. As far as I am aware, no one, at any public meeting, has spoken in its favour. I understand that local parties, including even the Dunstable Labour party, have said that they are against the scheme. I am not sure about the policy of the Liberal Democrats, but there is certainly a huge majority against Translink. Ministers propose to spend some £63 million on a scheme of highly questionable and highly marginal benefit to my constituency. Furthermore, Translink would remove the possibility of reintroducing rail to the area, be that heavy rail, light rail or tram.
Fourthly, if Ministers have £63 million to spare on a scheme that none of my constituents want, I respectfully request that they redirect at least some of that money towards the extremely hard-pressed Bedfordshire social services budget. There is a shortfall of about £3.5 million for the social services budget of Bedfordshire county council.
227 The new money announced by the Government recently was welcome, but I am sure that Ministers and all hon. Members appreciate that an increase of £223,500 a year will not go far towards a social services deficit of about £3.5 million. The county council has to undertake statutory duties and it has no discretion as to their fulfilment. Furthermore, the situation as regards social services is not helped by a reduction of about 49,700 in the number of care-home beds, as reported this year in the Laing and Buisson independent survey of the sector.
Those are four areas of substance and I ask Ministers to rethink their positions and to re-engage with those issues which are of vital concern not only to my constituency but to those of many hon. Members.
§ Mr. Siôn Simon (Birmingham, Erdington)
I am extremely grateful to have the opportunity to make one point about spin. I want to make only one point because I remember reading that Lloyd George said that almost all speeches in almost all circumstances should contain only one point. I took that very much to heart, as I so rarely have more than one point to make.
Before I make that one point, I offer the—
§ David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)
That is two points.
§ Mr. Simon
As I said, I would normally make only one point, but this is a special extra point. My non-point, intermezzo point, is to offer the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Barker) the opportunity to retract the erroneous and unpleasant allegation he made about a special adviser who attempted to have the House of Lords Hansard corrected. In fact, it was a civil servant, so I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will want to take this opportunity—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman does not want to speak.
§ Mr. Francois
We have been told ad nauseam this evening that special advisers are civil servants, so what is the difference?
§ Mr. Simon
If the hon. Gentleman does not know the difference between a special adviser and a civil servant, I shall certainly not—
§ Mr. Francois
The hon. Gentleman certainly does not know the difference.
§ Mr. Barker
If the case was as described by the hon. Gentleman, I stand corrected, but the thrust of my argument stands absolutely.
§ Mr. Simon
I want to make my one point about spin because I like to think I know something about it. I have a fairly rounded view of spin. I was once a humble, junior spin doctor. Indeed, for a short while I even worked under none other than the now notorious Ms Moore, which experience enables me to confirm that she is a most unusually single-minded and unsentimental woman. I think that Ms Moore's own interests would have been better served had she chosen to apply to her own 228 expendability the same sense of ruthless pragmatism for which she has been so much admired professionally by so many of us for so long.
Not only have I been a humble press officer, I have also been a newspaper columnist and from that position it behoves me to say something that has been completely missing from the debate. As a newspaper columnist I was certainly—as are all newspaper columnists—by far the most naked, mischievous and unaccountable type of spin doctor there is.
§ Mr. Barker
The hon. Gentleman may have been mischievous and naked, but he was not paid for by public funds.
§ Mr. Simon
The point is that the whole notion of spin over substance, which Opposition Members think this is about, is a completely incoherent concept. Spinning is no more than a derogatory term for the gentle and ancient art of communicating the substance. Twenty years ago, the Labour party was hopeless at spinning. Before the 1983 general election, our national executive committee met especially to reaffirm its confidence in its own leader. That was not clever presentation. We were not then the party of spin. It was the same general election in which we fought on what my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) notably called the longest suicide note in history. That reminds me of a letter in The Times a couple of weeks ago wondering whether the Conservatives' recent three-month leadership contest might not be the longest suicide vote in history.
The point is—[HON. MEMBERS: "The point, the point."] Yes. The point is that the tables have been turned. Twenty years ago, we were hopeless at spin and not very clever at substance. Those were the glory days of spin for the Tories, with the Saatchi boys, Tim Bell and "Labour Isn't Working". Those people invented the modern theory and practice of spin. In those days, when the Tories were the sultans of spin, they were also not half bad at substance—they destroyed our manufacturing industry, put 5 million on the dole and gave us 15 per cent. interest rates and boom and bust. We all know the story. We might say that 5 million unemployed and the annihilation of the economy was not a very good thing—that it was a despicable business—but we could hardly say that it was insubstantial.
Communication is not the opposite of substance. Spin can exist only if one has something to communicate. The supposed accusation of so-called spin is incredibly patronising to the British people. They have voted for us in overwhelming numbers for the second time, while the Tory party is at its lowest ebb for 200 years. Perhaps it provides Conservative Members with some comfort in those cold, dark hours of the night to believe that that is all down to spin. Perhaps it makes them feel better about themselves to believe that the people are stupid and voted for us because they were tricked by the astonishing mind-controlling techniques of Alastair Campbell's evil spinocracy. If that is what they want to believe, it is fine by me—they can stay in opposition for even longer than we did—but the truth is that people are not fools, bamboozled by spin, as the Tories seem to be. The people, like the Labour Government, are obsessed with substance.
Conservative Members will start bellowing and complaining if I talk about the substance—the millions of jobs that we have created, the lowest interest rates, 229 inflation and unemployment for generations, and the new schools and hospitals being built all over the country.[Interruption.] There we are; they do not want to hear it. They do not want to hear the substance because they are obsessed with spin. The fact is that we are rebuilding this country, which they almost destroyed. That is the substance. The spin lives only in once place. What we have heard from Conservative Members today has nothing to do with ordinary people's lives. It is nothing but spin.
§ Pete Wishart (North Tayside)
This has been a truly extraordinary debate. We have had surveys in Mitcham, the Bassetlaw £1.20 pint and the sleaze surrounding Wellington. It really has been quite a journey, and thankfully we are getting quite close to the end of today's debate. I am one of those who believes that the public will be genuinely mystified about why Conservative Members want to spend the best part of a day debating Government special advisers when there are so many worrying issues that the public want the House to address. One of those issues is the state of the railways, to which I shall address the bulk of my comments.
No one can condone what Ms Moore did, and I think that she should have resigned or been sacked for her repugnant remarks. The apologists among Labour Members who have tried to excuse her continuing employment with the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions have been less than convincing on the matter. They were presented with an excellent opportunity to draw a line under the Government's spin. They had an opportunity to try to re-engage the public in our democratic processes and institutions, but that is now an opportunity lost.
Nevertheless, to fill a day's debate on the subject, as Conservative Members have attempted to do, is a complete and utter waste of time. Surely the public want us to consider issues that are more important than the short-term employment concerns of a Government spin doctor. Surely the public want us to consider the state of the railways and offer solutions for a way forward. Other than the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), we have heard very little from Conservative Members on the issue of Railtrack. So far we have heard that Railtrack is in receivership and that it will be taken over by an as yet undefined and unspecified not-for-profit consortium, but detail has been short on the ground. However, given the state of the railways in this country, it is detail that we now require.
Conservative Members' major contribution to the current state of the railways has been the privatisation of Railtrack, which has now been shown to be an utter and complete dismal failure. However, their failure even partly to acknowledge their culpability in the overall failure of Railtrack privatisation has been well noted by the public, who I think have been following the debate with great interest.
Railtrack's failure may be even more significant for the Government. The failure might even be an important watermark in successive Governments' continuation of privatisation drives. If failure on that scale can happen on the railways, it can happen in any proposed privatised public service.
230 In fact, if the privatisation of public services was going to work, it should have worked on the railways, which are almost uniquely placed to be a success for the privatisation of public services. They rely and depend on a steady, loyal and—given the state of the railways—reasonably easily satisfied customer base. There is no competition; Railtrack effectively works as a private monopoly. Indeed, Railtrack will be shown to have been a complete and utter piece of cake when we start to consider the continued privatisation of schools and hospitals, which is part of the Government's programme. How many more times will we be back here to discuss another waste of taxpayers' money when yet another privatisation failure emerges?
The Railtrack privatisation has shown us that such privatisation is a relatively straightforward way of taking public money and transforming it into shares and inflated salaries for executives. Will the Government now take stock of their whole attitude towards the private financing of public services? Are they prepared to consider in full detail all the implications of this failed privatisation? I remember the restlessness and long faces among Labour Members towards the end of the previous Session, when the Prime Minister, in particular, was full of the privatisation zeal. In the light of the Railtrack debacle, I look forward to a much more cautious line on the privatisation of public services coming out of No. 10 Downing street.
Perhaps Conservative Members are reluctant properly to discuss the railways because it was Conservative Members who privatised the railways and created the failure that is Railtrack. It is they who are the most culpable in this whole affair. The problem with Railtrack is the very nature of privatisation. It was Conservative dogma that led to the privatisation of Railtrack, and it was the failure of that privatisation that took Railtrack into administration.
It is the contradiction at the heart of the privatisation of public services that was Railtrack's major downfall. One sign of Railtrack' s conflicting priorities is the fact that while it faced a deficit of £700 million in November, it was still prepared to pay out £88 million to shareholders at the beginning of October. That is the reality of privatisation—shareholders must come first. However, those shareholders had a choice; they could choose to invest in those companies. Railtrack's customers do not have a choice, so they have to put up with a substandard, second-rate service. It should now be the industry and not individual companies or shareholders that come first.
I want to spend a little time specifically on the Scottish situation. The logical step now for Scotland would be to take full control over the rail network. Transport is already a devolved matter for the Scottish Parliament, but when it comes to the rail network it is a completely different story. The Scottish Parliament will finance and administer the next ScotRail franchise, but strategic control over the development of the rail network still rests with the Strategic Rail Authority in London. Most importantly, Ministers in the Scottish Parliament will not be able to direct the SRA to pursue specific investments in Scotland, which means that decisions, such as offering GNER a two-year extension to its current contract, are outwith their control, as is the forward planning required to improve the network, especially as it takes four years to improve and receive new rolling stock. Such decisions infuriate the Scottish rail travelling public and frustration 231 and anger build up, especially among passengers on the disgraceful east coast line between Aberdeen and Edinburgh.
The Scottish Parliament is only able to advise, and that is not good enough. It needs the power to decide how best to improve the transport network in Scotland, including the rail network. Railtrack's collapse should be the catalyst for the Government to re-examine how the Scottish and Welsh railways should best be run.
The demise of Railtrack presents an opportunity to restructure Scotland's rail infrastructure. We need a distinctly Scottish approach and a Scottish solution to the problems of Scottish railways. A Scottish public rail investment trust—or, forgive me, Sprint—would seem to be the solution. Sprint could take control of the rail infrastructure and develop co-operation between the rail industry partners in Scotland. Operating outside the public sector on a not-for-profit basis—
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)
Order. I remind the hon. Member that the motions under discussion do not refer to Scottish railways.
§ Pete Wishart
The point I am trying to make is that the demise of Railtrack is an important issue in Scotland, and I am suggesting a way forward for my constituency. To be fair, Scotland has a relatively simple rail industry. We have one Railtrack zone and one engineering company. They could be brought together under the control of one organisation. If authority were given to the Scottish Parliament to make those decisions, we could improve the rail service in Scotland.
We all deserve a better rail service throughout the United Kingdom, especially in Scotland. I hope that lessons from the failed Railtrack exercise will inform the way forward. In Scotland, the demise of Railtrack gives us an opportunity to further this distinctly Scottish approach and make the railways work for the people and not for profit.
§ 9.7 pm
§ Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster)
I am grateful for the opportunity to debate the liberty taken by the Government, even in the light of the cross-party support, to release unpalatable news to the media. The sad fact remains that while all this is going on, British soldiers, especially my constituents, are risking their lives. They are fighting to make people who work in offices safe. They are fighting for freedom, democracy and the democratic way in which we choose to live our lives, whether we be Christian or Muslim. Sadly, Jo Moore sees them as no more than a shield behind which to slip through councillors' allowances or, more suspiciously, the renationalisation of Railtrack.
I am amazed that the Government, who have chosen to raise Britain's profile in the world as America's leading ally, should allow such a sinister reason for doing that. This is the same Government who were poised to slaughter the entire sheep flock, before the investigation showed that the wrong brains were being tested. Surely the same standards should apply in the case we are debating. If political advisers are appointed for their brains, perhaps we are using the wrong ones.
232 The lack of an apology, and the television performance that Jo Moore gave, showed enormous disrespect to our soldiers, our councillors and Railtrack's shareholders, and to the families of those who died.
§ Mr. John Smith
Does not the hon. Gentleman think that the greatest disrespect to our soldiers, who may well be going into Afghanistan, is the sickening spectacle of the Opposition wasting six and a half hours of parliamentary time discussing this nonsense, and not discussing the brave efforts of those soldiers?
§ Mr. Wiggin
Perhaps the Government should have considered that before they renationalised Railtrack. Would the hon. Gentleman genuinely want to be a hero so that his party could slip out bad news behind his courageous acts? Perhaps police numbers are so low—back to 1997 levels—because of the Government's behaviour. It is hardly encouraging for new recruits to believe that their acts of heroism will be used merely as a cover for more Government bad news. Railtrack's 300,000 voters or shareholders cannot be surprised by the Government's behaviour after they constantly undermined the company and moved the goalposts. The Government effectively ruined it months before news of their shameful behaviour was released stealthily.
Transport is not a Government strength. Anyone who has been parked on the M4 on a Friday or Sunday evening cannot help but wonder at the environmental and practical wisdom of a bus lane that leads people away from the airport instead of helping them to arrive in time to catch their aeroplanes. Lowering the speed limit simply allows traffic jams to stall vehicles, but the environmental cost of stationary traffic goes against anything that the Government promised, and not for the first time.
In my constituency, the A49 forms the north-south spine and is a narrow road on which several lives have been lost. We also suffer the effect of huge lorries that wind their way down roads that were built hundreds or even thousands of years ago. Lorries that drive through Pembridge, Eardisley and Lyonshall make life miserable for residents. Money for bypasses or simply better roads that drivers would prefer is not available, despite the increase in transport budgets.
The traffic problem in Hereford city is a national joke. The Liberal Democrat-controlled council is responsible for the appalling traffic jams. Without better roads, the pollution will be as bad in that beautiful city as it is in London.[Interruption.] Indeed, the Liberal Democrats have changed the one-way system several times.
The bridges over the River Wye constitute another crisis for my constituents. The capacity of Bridge Sollers bridge has been reduced from 10 tonnes to three tonnes. That forces agricultural traffic into Hereford city. Plans have been mooted for another Wye crossing, which cannot come soon enough. I hope that the Government will support that proposal.
I can often be seen disguised in my crash helmet because I regularly ride here on a motor bike. The Government are not doing nearly enough to encourage the use of motor cycles. We should immediately allow them to use bus lanes; in fact they already do that.
§ Pete Wishart
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. If my discussion of the Scottish railways was out of order, why do not the same rules apply to the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin)?
Madam Deputy Speaker
The hon. Gentleman will recall that I gave him some latitude to discuss that topic. I am therefore affording the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) the same latitude.
§ Mr. Wiggin
Anti-car appears to equal anti-engine philosophy, which is creeping into planning. I believe that that is in the Department's remit.
Motor cycles are at great risk of theft, and insurance is correspondingly high. That happens because it is not possible to anchor a motor cycle adequately. The huge risk that road users take must be balanced with some sort of encouragement. That leads me to the Westminster version of the West Lothian question: will Members of Parliament or motor cyclists have to pay to enter the congestion zone? I hope that that will be made clear.
In my local regional area, Advantage West Midlands considered future transport strategies. It focused mainly on Birmingham and issued platitudes such as, "Being at the centre of the UK's public transport network does not always feel like an advantage." There is no advantage to the position in the west midlands. Travelling to my constituency by train takes longer than driving, and that includes the pleasure of sitting on the Fulham Palace road.
Specific projects include getting the Eurostar to run to the west midlands and Birmingham airport. Advantage West Midlands briefly touched on increasing public transport uptakes in rural areas. What a shame that it did not tackle the major problem of where the MS meets the M6—12 lanes become six there. We want not active traffic management, but better roads with more lanes and possibly higher speed limits.
§ Matthew Green (Ludlow)
As the hon. Gentleman's neighbour, may I ask him whether he is proposing to turn the A49 into a dual carriageway?
§ Mr. Wiggin
Given the number of lives lost in certain areas, I think there is a good argument for dualling parts of the A49. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would agree that anything that would bring prosperity into the region would be popular.
More money is also required for the dial-a-ride heroes, those who will collect people if they are disabled and take them wherever they need to be. They have a serious problem—money is available only to new schemes. Any scheme that has been running for more than three years is likely to lose its funding.
As for the rail freight investment of more than £1,000 million, I wonder who will now invest in any sort of rail. Railtrack has changed its management structure. It changed its principles—it issued a new statement of principle—but perhaps that was just an effort to appease the Government. I do not think that anyone had a chance at Railtrack, given the way in which it was undermined. The constant harping from the extreme left, to the effect that the railways should be renationalised, may have done us a favour: perhaps there would have been more than 300,000 victims had their voices not been heard. It could so easily have been a larger number. This has, however, hit all of us who hope to retire one day on our pensions.
234 The question is now the same for the NHS and for the welfare state. Not only have the Government thought the unthinkable, they have now done the unspeakable. We must wait and see whether they deliver. As a rail user, I must say that my mind is not closed to improvement, nor am I so dogmatic that I cannot kindle a glimmer of hope for a better rail service in the future. I am acutely aware, however, that the bill will be picked up by the taxpayer. The main thrust of the Government's argument for the necessity to stop Railtrack was ever-increasing debt. Why will a non-profit-making company be any different? Will the money still not be needed?
§ Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that trading while insolvent is still a criminal offence under the Companies Acts? That is precisely what Railtrack was doing.
§ Mr. Wiggin
Railtrack was expecting more money from the Government, on which the Government reneged.
§ Chris Grayling
I found one aspect of arguments advanced by Members on both sides of the House today slightly confusing. If the model adopted by the last Conservative Government for privatising the railways was so fundamentally flawed, why—given the opportunities for restructuring presented by the franchising round and by the situation at Railtrack—have the Government chosen to adopt exactly the same model, but without the Railtrack shareholders, for the future of our railways? Perhaps we got something more right than the Government sometimes suggest.
§ Mr. Wiggin
My hon. Friend is absolutely right.
The advantage to a non-profit-making company is supposed to be safety. That, if it were true, would be laudable, but airlines are private and work acceptably—and this is, after all, the Government who privatised air traffic control, or at least attempted to do so.
§ Mr. Don Foster
There is a considerable difference between the issue of safety in a competitive situation and the same issue in a monopoly. In a competitive situation, it is vital for airlines to ensure that safety is their number one priority. Were that not to be so, we would simply choose to travel on a different airline.
§ Mr. Wiggin
I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's implication that monopolistic companies gamble with people's lives. However, it is extraordinary that the same model is to be used for the underground, and I think that some scrutiny should be given to the cavalier way in which Bob Kiley has been treated. I am curious about the appointment of Richard Bowker, who was formerly with Virgin. Trains and is now to head Son of Railtrack, or whatever it is to be called.[Interruption.] Yes, he is.
§ Mr. Spellar
May I correct the hon. Gentleman? The rumours in the press link Mr. Bowker to the Strategic Rail Authority, not to the company limited by guarantee, which could succeed Railtrack, or to any other suggestion from the administrator.
§ Mr. Wiggin
I am grateful to the Minister. Will he confirm that Mr. Bowker is being paid £500,000? It seems to me to be a well-paid job and a fairly plump fee line. 235 If what the Minister says is the case, I am grateful for his intervention and not surprised that the rumours about Mr. Bowker's appointment are untrue. After all, with the Secretary of State's record on employment, I would be surprised if he were allowed to hire anybody.
§ Angela Watkinson (Upminster)
We have heard of many instances of blurred lines of responsibility between civil servants and Ministers, which do nothing for democracy and everything for effect, and we have grown weary of this culture of spin. We need look no further than local government over the past two years.
Instead of the Government dealing with a few seriously failing councils with huge debts and collapsing public services, under the guise of modernisation all councils were obliged to undergo major change. Enormous costs were associated with that change, however, and those costs diverted funds from essential services run on budgets already stretched to the limit. Last year, the London borough of Havering, in which Upminster falls, experienced the third-highest council tax increase in the country. Another 20 per cent. increase is forecast this year. Councils could ill afford the costs of the change imposed on them.
The imposition of cabinet-style local government has made councils far less democratic, with power vested in small decision-making groups. The majority of councillors are now without a meaningful role outside their ward casework and scrutiny committees set up to examine policy retrospectively are, in the main, toothless tigers with minimal influence on the executive.
The old committee system might have grown cumbersome, but it could and should have been streamlined. At least under the old system all members were involved in the decision-making process and they could contribute their ideas before decisions were made.
Spin would have us believe that local government has been improved, but words such as "open government", "accountability" and "modernisation" simply disguise more and more regulation, loss of local control and centralisation of power. We have grown used to multiple counting in funding announcements such as those in respect of the Small Business Service, which were well documented by the Trade and Industry Committee.
The Government tell us what a good deal the public-private partnership will be for London Underground, but publication of a critical report on value for money by Deloitte and Touche was delayed by High Court injunction. Its inconvenient findings came to light only when the injunction preventing publication was overturned. That followed the shameful attempt to discredit Bob Kiley, a professional and experienced man of impeccable reputation, by special adviser Jo Moore.
Is it any wonder that the infamous e-mail was sent by Jo Moore when it was simply the culmination of the Government's culture of spin? When national attention was on the dreadful events in New York and Washington DC, one of the Government's 81 special advisers thought of a way to turn them to the Government's advantage. She gave a belated apology, the main thrust of which was regret that the Government had been embarrassed.
Tonight, the Government have the opportunity to redeem this sorry situation. I urge Labour Members to support the motion.
§ Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale)
By any standards, this has been an excellent debate. Front-Bench speakers on both sides of the House have been challenged and there have been some brave non-partisan speeches.[Interruption.] I note that a number of those who are challenging the quality of the debate were not present for large chunks of it. Perhaps some of them were not present for what was certainly the highlight for me, when there was an extraordinarily vitriolic attack on the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden) by the hon. Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter). The hon. Members for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and for Shrewsbury and Atcham all said that the Opposition motion reflects a subject in which wide sections of the public in their constituencies and throughout the country take a great interest.
I shall explain why it was entirely appropriate for the debate to take place when undoubtedly grave and significant events are happening elsewhere. The Opposition have rightly given unswerving support to the actions of the coalition forces, and specifically to the political leadership that has been given by both President Bush and the Prime Minister on these matters. I take up immediately the challenge issued by my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) to praise the Government when they get things right—by saying that in the matters relating to the global crisis the Prime Minister's conduct of his office has been simply superb.
It is precisely because we have sought to present a united front with the Government on such vital matters that it would have been inappropriate for us to use today's Opposition day, as some Labour Members have suggested, to debate international policies with which we on the Conservative Opposition Benches have no fundamental quarrel.
Also, because the crisis is so grave and its consequences so worrying for so many in the United Kingdom and beyond it, the Government must demonstrate that now, more than ever, they are acting at all times in perfect good faith. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) said in a telling intervention, there is a particular need for us all to be able to trust the word, the judgment and the truthfulness of Ministers, and that is threatened by the culture of spin that is mentioned in the Opposition motion, and why the debate is not only appropriate now but essential.
The motion is not about—
§ Hugh Bayley (City of York)
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
§ Mr. Collins
I will give way in a moment, but not now.
The motion is not about whether the Government should have any special advisers. Special advisers have served in Administrations formed by the past six Prime Ministers—three Labour and three Conservative—and they can perform a valuable and worthwhile role. That is something that the House might expect me to say because, in common with a number of Members on both sides of the House, I was a special adviser, as was the Foreign Secretary. [Interruption.] Those on the Government Front 237 Bench who are expressing outrage at the idea of a former special adviser ever serving in the House might like to point that out to the right hon. Gentleman.
Special advisers were in post when the previous, Conservative Government left office, and no doubt there will be special advisers when the Conservative party next returns to power. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) asked whether there will be fewer special advisers under the next Conservative Government. That was a specific policy on which we fought the last general election and, in common with all other policies, we are reviewing it. It seems that it is certainly a direction in which we would wish to proceed.
The issue is not whether we have special advisers, or how many we have, but how they do their job and whether it is acceptable for them to be in a position to give orders to career civil servants—an unprecedented innovation under the Labour Administration.
When I was a special adviser, the only civil servant who worked for me was a secretary—a typing secretary, not a permanent secretary. Under the present Government it is clear that many special advisers, including the now infamous Jo Moore, behave as if they have as much if not more power than Ministers who are accountable to the House. We know that this has been and is a matter of concern to both Back-Bench and Front-Bench Members on both sides of the House.
None of us is claiming to be perfect. All Governments in the past—no doubt this will apply in future—have from time to time sought to manage the news in their favour. The hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien) is quite right to say that all of us are capable of error, and no doubt all of us have said or done things that we regret. However, as Labour Members have said, it is precisely because the events of 11 September were so horrendous that Jo Moore's e-mail must be seen as much more than just an error of judgment. The Chairman of the Public Administration Committee, the Labour hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright), has rightly said that Ms Moore's e-mail wasincompatible with any idea of public service".The Father of the House, the hon. Member for Linlithgow, in a deeply impressive speech, said that it was a moral lapse, and that if the Secretary of State could not see that Ms Moore had committed a sackable offence, the question would then arise about his own fitness to be a Secretary of State. The Secretary of State should dwell on the fact that that was said by someone on his own side.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House have shown that there is almost a complete cross-party consensus that Jo Moore should go. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) called on her to resign or to be sacked. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham said that, in the name of God, this special adviser must go. The hon. Member for Reading, West said that Jo Moore's position was no longer tenable. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz) condemned her action, and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon) called on her to reflect ruthlessly on her own expendability. That was not exactly a vote of confidence.
238 The Independent on Sunday stated last weekend that a member of the influential parliamentary committee of the parliamentary Labour party had told the paper that there wasa majority view within the Parliamentary Labour Party that"—Jo Moore—ought to go.We have had some excellent speeches from my colleagues on the Conservative Benches. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) set out the detail of some very serious problems arising from the way in which the Government reach decisions on a range of matters. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) and my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) made a compelling case for questioning the Secretary of State's judgment on the rail industry, and described the damage that his decisions have done to the Government's standing with financial institutions at home and abroad.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton made a searching, challenging and, at times, moving speech in which he took no prisoners on any side and, I suspect, accordingly earned the respect of the whole House. He will be a very fine addition to the Public Accounts Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester—in my recollection he was a tremendous special adviser—was characteristically generous in his assessment of Ms Moore's e-mail, but rightly pointed to the other very damaging evidence of her behaviour that has since come to light. My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Barker) made a very impressive speech, rightly drawing attention to the difference between the Government's attitude now that they are in office and the attitude that they took in opposition when the Conservatives increased the number of special advisers at the Scottish Office by the grand total of one.
My hon. Friends the Members for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) and for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin) raised important issues for their constituents in thoughtful speeches, and deserve an early reply from Ministers. My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) pointed out how the culture of spin has undermined effective local democracy.
There remain serious allegations surrounding the Secretary of State and his special adviser. He may believe that he has satisfied those who are calling for answers. I have to tell him that he has not. We have yet to hear a proper answer to the report that his special adviser swore at and lied to a journalist from The Sunday Times on 6 October, a point made powerfully by my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton. We have yet to be told that there will be a proper investigation—[Interruption.] Ministers may regard this as somewhat amusing. I have to tell them that the press and the public will not.
§ Mr. Spellar
Obviously, this is a speech that the hon. Gentleman prepared earlier before listening to the responses from this Dispatch Box. Let us take the quote from The Sunday Times journalist. According to the newspaper's report, he said that he would be runninga story tomorrow that will say Railtrack is bankrupt and that the government is taking control, renationalising it.239 As we were not going to renationalise, it was perfectly correct to tell them what we were doing. Why does not the hon. Gentleman get it right?
§ Mr. Collins
The Minister has made a most basic error—he has assumed that he is the only hon. Member in the Chamber who has a photocopy of The Sunday Times article. In fact, Jo Moore refused to answer any questions about Railtrack, so the journalist said:I will tell you that we are running a story tomorrow that will say Railtrack is bankrupt".Is that untrue, or do the Government now contend that Railtrack was trading perfectly safely? [Interruption.] I see, fine. The journalist continued:and that the government is taking control".That was also an entirely fictional story. Indeed, he then used the word, "renationalising". Was Jo Moore's reply, "You've got part of the truth"; "You're a little way towards it"; or even "You're getting warm, but I cannot tell you."? No, she replied:If you run that, you'll look a f***ing idiot.That is not the appropriate behaviour of special adviser to a Secretary of State, and it is one of the many reasons why she should be sacked.
§ Hugh Bayley
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
§ Mr. Collins
No, I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. Unlike Jo Moore, he has already been sacked from the Government. He probably did not deserve to be sacked; she certainly does.
We have yet to hear whether there will be a proper inquiry into the reports that Jo Moore sought to involve Mr. Alun Evans in a dirty-tricks campaign against the London transport commissioner, Bob Kiley. We have certainly not had any response to the revelation made by the Chairman of the Public Administration Committee—a Labour Member, so I should have thought that Labour Members would like to listen to what one of their own has to say—[Interruption.] Fine, they are not interested in what a Labour Member, the Chairman of the Public Administration Committee, has to say, but they will hear it any way. Last week, he said that the report about Jo Moore's misbehaviour towards Alun Evans had been independently confirmed by sources in the civil service.
Bizarrely, the Secretary of State implied this afternoon that Mr. Kiley was the originator, not the target of those dirty tricks. Of course, that is by no means the only bizarre aspect of the saga; it seems that at one time the Government were trying to say that Ms Moore had never even sent the e-mail.
I now turn to what is now known as "the Marsden memorandum"—the record of his amicable conversation with the Government Chief Whip, whom I am delighted to see in her place. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham said:Stephen Byers' spin doctor Jo Moore says September 11 is a good day to bury bad news.The Government Chief Whip's response was:Jo Moore didn't say that.The hon. Gentleman said:That is exactly what she said in her e-mail.240 A little flustered perhaps, the Government Chief Whip then said:We don't have spin doctors in Number 10—or anywhere else!"—an absolute cracker.
We still do not know what Ms Moore does for her salary of £70,000 a year—more than any Back-Bench Member receives. She is paid that amount for a three-day week, so pro rata, she is paid more than a member of the Cabinet. She cannot talk to journalists on The Sunday Times because they will not take her word for anything. She cannot brief anyone on rail issues; the Government have to hire a City public relations firm to carry out that part of her job. If she cannot speak to the press, people might think that she was keeping fingertip control over developments in her Department, but the linchpin of the Secretary of State's defence this afternoon was that the decision to issue the now notorious press release on councillors' expenses had already been taken before she sent her e-mail.
So we have a dilemma: if we do not believe the Secretary of State, we know that he acted on immoral advice and both he and his special adviser should go; but if we believe the Secretary of State, we must think that for £70,000 a year, his special adviser does not even read her papers and knows nothing of what is going on in her Department, so she is incompetent.
We find out that Jo Moore's job is a rather cushy number, because for £70,000 a year, she has the chance, as we learn from one of this weekend's diary columns, to leave this message on her answerphone at work:Hello, this is Jo Moore. I'm afraid that I'm now away for the week as it's half term. Erm, so please don't leave a message after the tone because I won't be calling you back. Thanks. 'Bye."'Bye" is precisely what we want to hear from Jo Moore; it has long been time that we heard that. We shall vote soon and it is already clear that a number of Labour Members will vote for the motion tabled by the Opposition. The Father of the House, the hon. Member for Linlithgow, said in our debate that Ms Moore's continued employment sullies the Government; he will vote for the motion. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham said in a brave speech that he too would vote for the motion. As he said, if a Minister had used those offending words, he or she would have lost their job. Hon. Members on both sides of the House should reflect on his words on the "Today" programme this morning, when he said:I would hope that MPs, regardless of it being a three-line whip, would think to themselves, 'What do my constituents want? Will they actually support me if I slavishly follow the Government line … Or do I actually now stand up and finally be counted?'It is time for Government Members to stand up and be counted. There is only one honourable course that they can take; there is only one way that hon. Members of all parties can seek to uphold standards of public decency; there is only one way in which hon. Members can demonstrate that they are listening to the outrage of their constituents, and that is by voting "Aye" in favour of the Opposition motion.
§ The Minister for Transport (Mr. John Spellar)
One would never have thought from that peroration that the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) was the sensitive soul who referred to 241 supporters of the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) as "Ward 8 from Broadmoor". One would never have thought that he could be so shocked or that an expletive deleted would throw him and give him a touch of the vapours, let alone a journalist from The Sunday Times—and we know what sensitive souls and caring individuals the press are. What a load of sanctimonious nonsense we heard from the hon. Gentleman and many other Members.
Early in our debate, my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) asked why we were having it. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) put his finger on the reason; it is because the Opposition cannot make a case on any other issue and cannot think of anything else to say. It is truly extraordinary that, on the first Opposition day debate under the new Conservative leader, they have chosen this subject. The meeting at which members of the shadow Cabinet took that decision must have been interesting. It must have been a case of pass the parcel with the Leader of the Opposition asking, "Shadow Chancellor, would you like to lead the debate?" and the shadow Chancellor replying, "Well, it's a bit difficult when we've got the strongest economy in Europe." When the Tories were in government, they doubled the national debt in only five years, but we have been paying off that debt. The economy has been growing strongly; even with the impact of world recession, our economy is holding up the best, so obviously the shadow Chancellor wanted to duck the issue.
The shadow Secretary of State for Health would probably not have been keen to have a debate in the face of record hospital building, dramatically increased numbers of medical trainees and increased funding for hospitals, let alone the Tories' own appalling record and, of course, their commitment to privatise the health service. The previous portfolio of the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) was education. In the face of rising standards across the country, what case could Opposition Members have made, given their record? Each shadow Minister passed the parcel until it ended up with that hapless bunch who are shadow Ministers for the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. Beauty and the beast had to sit down and decide which issues they were going to discuss. They could not discuss the underground, because the Conservative Government neglected investment year after year. Even the disagreements between us and the Mayor are about how we spend the extra money that the Government are putting into the underground.
The Opposition could not debate buses because they created havoc with privatisation, which led to difficulties in many cities across the country. They could not debate aviation because the Chancellor took a world lead in organising insurance cover for our aviation industry, which many other countries have followed. We know that they could not debate the railways because only one Conservative Member did so in the debate. I give the right hon. Member for Wokingham credit for that, even if his supporters were referred to as "Ward 8 from Broadmoor". The Conservatives know the difficulties that they would face if they spoke about the railways. They would have to answer not only for privatisation but for the subsequent mismanagement and the rushed botched job on Railtrack in 1996, driven by ideology and a shortage of cash.
242 Having considered transport issues, the Conservatives will have looked across the rest of the DTLR portfolio and on each issue seen solid, realistic action that is delivering for people across the country. They could not deal with any of the questions raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) about the social environment, abandoned vehicles and housing because they neglected those issues over the years and did not give a damn about the people living in such areas.
§ Mr. Andrew Turner
Is the Minister really saying that abandoned vehicles are more important than whether Opposition Members can trust the Government of his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at this very important time?
§ Mr. Spellar
I am prepared to take a survey in any pub, club, workplace or bus stop in the country, asking people whether abandoned vehicles and dereliction in their areas are more important than the nonsense of this debate. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to make that clear.
The debate was no more enlightening or elevating than the motion. We heard the usual Liberal Democrat self-righteousness from the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster). Any Member who has seen the leaflet "Focus" in their area will know the saying—I am sure that the Tories say it as well as Labour Members—that there are lies, damn lies and Liberal "Focus" leaflets.
The hon. Gentleman made quite a bit of special advisers. I understand that the Liberal Democrats have a couple of them in Scotland—Sam Ghibaldan, for policy, and Polly McPherson, for media—and a couple in Wales, so why all the complaining about the proliferation of such advisers?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to talk about the extra Short money that the Liberal Democrats have received. In the 1992 to 1997 Parliament, the main Opposition party received just £1.5 million and the Liberal Democrats £316,000. In the last financial year, the Conservatives received £3.377 million and the Liberal Democrats £1.085 million. I do not know whether they are all spending that money down the pub or on special advisers—the people whom they are so keen to oppose. That is not to mention the considerable number of ex-special advisers who litter the Opposition Benches, who were certainly not shrinking violets in post.
My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) also raised the question of the number of special advisers. He seems to be in vogue on the Tory Benches at the moment, but that will probably not last as they remember some of the disagreements that they have had with him. In answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton, he said that when my right hon. Friend worked for Harold Wilson, he was paid by the party. As has been rightly pointed out by Opposition Members, the world has changed—under both Governments. The nature of government has changed and the demands of a 24-hour media especially have had a dramatic effect. That is why we have Short money and special advisers. My hon. Friend must accept that.
My hon. Friend must also accept that special advisers were initially employed to protect the independence of the civil service, rightly dealing with political issues and 243 maintaining a degree of separation between themselves and civil servants. It is rich for the Tories—who represent the party of Bernard Ingham, the Saatchis, Tim Bell and others—to argue about the role of special advisers. Was it Sir Bernard Ingham who described a member of the Tory Cabinet as "semi-detached"?
§ Chris Grayling
If the role of special adviser was created to protect the civil service, why did a special adviser issue press instructions to the civil service?
§ Mr. Spellar
The issue rightly went further and consideration was given as to how it should be dealt with. I meet Bob Kiley regularly and he has never complained about that. Indeed, Ken Livingstone recently said that he and Bob were not worried about it, and he complimented my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
As my right hon. Friend said in his opening remarks, the key consideration is whether an attempt was made to alter a report that was undertaken—allegedly objectively—by a team of consultants. That is a legitimate exercise when putting across Government policy.
§ Mr. Collins
Will the Minister confirm that the only political party for which Sir Bernard Ingham stood was Labour and yet he worked for a Conservative Government, which illustrates the difference between us in office and him in office? If Mr. Bob Kiley has not complained to him, will he accept, when we send him the transcript of Mr. Kiley's remarks on the BBC's 6 o'clock news, that Mr. Kiley is extremely unhappy? Will he go back to his Department and institute a full investigation into the allegations that Ministers have consistently dodged?
§ Mr. Spellar
As I said, I meet Bob Kiley regularly. We have a good business relationship and he has never raised that issue. The mock indignation on his behalf is thoroughly unbecoming.
We have dealt with The Sunday Times article., but it has rightly been pointed out that Jo Moore refused to respond to leading questions on Railtrack. She did not spin. She said:Railtrack is a private company. You should address your questions to them. I have nothing to say about Railtrack.When asked whether we were going to renationalise it, she rightly said that we were not. It is misrepresentation and indeed spin by Opposition Members to present that in a different way.
The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) made an unfortunate point. He implied that there was a link between the commencement of the bombing in Afghanistan and the Railtrack announcement. Once the schedules had been published and we had decided to open up discussions on Railtrack, it was clear that an announcement would be made on Monday morning. Press leaks precipitated that and did not serve Ministers' interests because their weekends were thoroughly disrupted.
It is improper to make such suggestions about the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence. Having served in the Ministry of Defence—[Interruption.] If the Conservative deputy Chief Whip stops bawling, I can make it clear that the Ministry of Defence keeps that information on a—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) is upset this evening. The House needs to be calmer.
§ Mr. Spellar
So the Conservative Deputy Chief Whip should be, Mr. Speaker, having tabled such a lamentable motion.
I was making a serious point. The Ministry of Defence and the military obviously keep such information enormously tight—on a need-to-know basis—and rightly so. The suggestion that they would leak that story to another Department is both extraordinary and a considerable slur on their professionalism.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien) tried to get the debate back on to a stable basis and asked some straightforward questions on financing. He will be aware that there have been discussions with a number of people in local government and other stakeholders. They will be looking into giving councils flexibilities, incentives and the support that they need to deliver top quality public services, as well as removing red tape and giving them the opportunity to be much more innovative and truly responsive to local needs and aspirations. The modernisation of local government finance remains a priority for us, including new freedoms for local authorities to borrow capital, about which my hon. Friend asked.
The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden) said that he would vote for the Conservative motion. I am not surprised about that in someone who rushes off to give The Mail on Sunday a full transcript of a conversation with the Chief Whip.
§ Mr. Paul Marsden
I have been goaded now. Does the Minister not realise the depths of despair felt by the public because the Government cannot understand that this special adviser should go and that, for the sake of parliamentary democracy, we should surely understand what is right and what is wrong? For goodness' sake, do the decent thing and make her go.
§ Mr. Spellar
I notice which side of the Chamber is cheering. For an hon. Member who experienced such support from the Labour party when he was jumping in and out of deciding whether he was going to be a candidate at the general election to demand that someone should be peremptorily sacked is, frankly, unbecoming.
The debate this evening has demonstrated the sheer lack of ideas of the Conservatives—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We only have a few more minutes. The Chamber is too noisy. Hon. Members should listen to the Minister.
§ Mr. Spellar
In recent press reports, the Leader of the Opposition has said that he wants to lead the party of ideas. What has become clear today is that the Conservatives have no ideas. They do not even have anything meaningful to say. They could have used today to talk about railways, as the right hon. Member for Wokingham did. They might have seen fit to offer an apology for the years that they spent in government running down the system and failing to invest in the 245 network, but there was not a peep out of them. Even after their defeat at the hands of the electorate they are unrepentant. They are more than happy to defend the failed privatisation and even the £88 million dividend that was paid out while the company was going bankrupt.
The simple fact of the matter is that the Conservative party has nothing to say. It has nothing to offer.
§ Lynne Jones
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The Minister is not going to give way. I know the reason why.
§ Mr. Spellar
We have seen the same old Tories, hiding from their record, refusing to apologise and avoiding the real issues. They went to the country in 1997 and again in June and the public sent them a clear message. They are not fit for government and we have seen tonight that they are not fit for opposition either.
§ Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 167, Noes 340.248
|Division No. 39]||[9.59 pm|
|Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)||Ewing, Annabelle|
|Ancram, Rt Hon Michael||Fabricant, Michael|
|Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James||Fallon, Michael|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Field, Mark (Cities of London)|
|Bacon, Richard||Flight, Howard|
|Baldry, Tony||Flook, Adrian|
|Barker, Gregory||Forth, Rt Hon Eric|
|Baron, John||Fox, Dr Liam|
|Bellingham, Henry||Francois, Mark|
|Bercow, John||Gale, Roger|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Gibb, Nick|
|Blunt, Crispin||Goodman, Paul|
|Boswell, Tim||Gray, James|
|Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)||Grayling, Chris|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia||Green, Damian (Ashford)|
|Brady, Graham||Greenway, John|
|Brazier, Julian||Grieve, Dominic|
|Browning, Mrs Angela||Gummer, Rt Hon John|
|Burns, Simon||Hague, Rt Hon William|
|Burt, Alistair||Hammond, Philip|
|Butterfill, John||Hawkins, Nick|
|Cameron, David||Hayes, John|
|Cash, William||Heald, Oliver|
|Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)||Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David|
|Chope, Christopher||Hermon, Lady|
|Clappison, James||Hoban, Mark|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey||Howard, Rt Hon Michael|
|Collins, Tim||Jack, Rt Hon Michael|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Jackson, Robert (Wantage)|
|Cormack, Sir Patrick||Jenkin, Bernard|
|Cran, James||Johnson, Boris (Henley)|
|Curry, Rt Hon David||Key, Robert|
|Dalyell, Tam||Kirkbride, Miss Julie|
|Davies, Quentin (Grantham)||Knight, Rt Hon Greg (E Yorkshire)|
|Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)||Laing, Mrs Eleanor|
|Djanogly, Jonathan||Lait, Mrs Jacqui|
|Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen||Lansley, Andrew|
|Duncan, Alan (Rutland & Melton)||Leigh, Edward|
|Duncan, Peter (Galloway)||Letwin, Oliver|
|Duncan Smith, Rt Hon Iain||Liddell-Grainger, Ian|
|Evans, Nigel||Lidington, David|
|Lilley, Rt Hon Peter||Shepherd, Richard|
|Llwyd, Elfyn||Simmonds, Mark|
|Loughton, Tim||Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)|
|Luff, Peter||Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)|
|McIntosh. Miss Anne||Soames, Nicholas|
|MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew||Spelman, Mrs Caroline|
|Maclean, Rt Hon David||Spicer, Sir Michael|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Spink, Bob|
|Malins, Humfrey||Spring, Richard|
|Maples, John||Streeter, Gary|
|Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)||Swayne, Desmond|
|Mates, Michael||Swire, Hugo|
|Maude, Rt Hon Francis||Syms, Robert|
|Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|May, Mrs Theresa||Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)|
|Moss, Malcolm||Taylor, John (Solihull)|
|Murrison, Dr Andrew||Taylor, Dr Richard (Wyre F)|
|Norman, Archie||Taylor, Sir Teddy|
|O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)||Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)|
|Osborne, George (Tatton)||Tredinnick, David|
|Ottaway, Richard||Trend, Michael|
|Page Richard||Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)|
|Paice, James||Tyrie, Andrew|
|Paterson, Owen||Viggers, Peter|
|Pickles, Eric||Walter, Robert|
|Portillo, Rt Hon Michael||Waterson, Nigel|
|Price, Adam||Watkinson, Angela|
|Prisk, Mark||Weir, Michael|
|Randall, John||Whittingdale, John|
|Redwood, Rt Hon John||Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann|
|Robathan, Andrew||Wiggin, Bill|
|Robertson, Angus (Moray)||Wilkinson, John|
|Robertson, Hugh (Faversham)||Willetts, David|
|Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)||Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)|
|Robinson, Mrs Iris (Strangford)||Wilshire, David|
|Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)||Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)|
|Roe, Mrs Marion||Wishart, Pete|
|Rosindell, Andrew||Yeo, Tim|
|Ruffley, David||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|Salmond, Alex||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Sayeed, Jonathan||Mrs. Cheryl Gillan and|
|Selous, Andrew||Dr. Julian Lewis.|
|Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)||Bradshaw, Ben|
|Ainger, Nick||Brennan, Kevin|
|Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)||Brown, Rt Hon Gordon (Dunfermline E)|
|Allen, Graham||Brown, Rt Hon Nicholas (Newcastle E & Wallsend)|
|Anderson, Rt Hon Donald (Swansea E)|
|Brown, Russell (Dumfries)|
|Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)||Bryant, Chris|
|Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary||Buck, Ms Karen|
|Atkins, Charlotte||Burden, Richard|
|Austin, John||Burgon, Colin|
|Bailey, Adrian||Bumham, Andy|
|Banks, Tony||Byers, Rt Hon Stephen|
|Barnes, Harry||Caims, David|
|Barron, Kevin||Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)|
|Battle, John||Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)|
|Bayley, Hugh||Caplin, Ivor|
|Beard, Nigel||Casale, Roger|
|Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret||Caton, Martin|
|Bell, Stuart||Cawsey, Ian|
|Benn, Hilary||Challen, Colin|
|Bennett, Andrew||Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)|
|Benton, Joe||Chaytor, David|
|Berry, Roger||Clapham, Michael|
|Betts, Clive||Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)|
|Blears, Ms Hazel||Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)|
|Blunkett, Rt Hon David||Clark, Paul (Gillingham)|
|Borrow, David||Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)|
|Bradley, Rt Hon Keith (Withington)||Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)|
|Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)||Clelland, David|
|Clwyd, Ann||Heppell, John|
|Coaker, Vernon||Hesford, Stephen|
|Coffey, Ms Ann||Heyes, David|
|Cohen, Harry||Hill, Keith|
|Coleman, Iain||Hinchliffe, David|
|Colman, Tony||Hodge, Margaret|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton N)||Hoey, Kate|
|Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston)||Hoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey|
|Corston, Jean||Hope, Phil|
|Cousins, Jim||Hopkins, Kelvin|
|Cox, Tom||Howarth, Rt Hon Alan (Newport E)|
|Cranston, Ross||Howarth, George (Knowsley N)|
|Cruddas, Jon||Hoyle, Lindsay|
|Cummings, John||Hughes, Beverley (Stretford)|
|Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland)||Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)|
|Humble, Mrs Joan|
|Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)||Hurst, Alan|
|Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire||Hutton, Rt Hon John|
|Darling, Rt Hon Alistair||Iddon, Dr Brian|
|Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)||Illsley, Eric|
|Davidson, Ian||Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead)|
|Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)||Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)|
|Dawson, Hilton||Jamieson, David|
|Dean, Mrs Janet||Jenkins, Brian|
|Denham, Rt Hon John||Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)|
|Dhanda, Parmjit||Jones, Helen (Warrington N)|
|Dismore, Andrew||Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)|
|Dobson, Rt Hon Frank||Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)|
|Donohoe, Brian H||Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)|
|Doran, Frank||Jowell, Rt Hon Tessa|
|Dowd, Jim||Joyce, Eric|
|Drew, David||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Drown, Ms Julia||Keeble, Ms Sally|
|Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)||Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)|
|Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)||Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)|
|Edwards, Huw||Kemp, Fraser|
|Ellman, Mrs Louise||Khabra, Piara S|
|Ennis, Jeff||Kidney, David|
|Etherington, Bill||Kilfoyle, Peter|
|Farrelly, Paul||King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)|
|Field, Rt Hon Frank (Birkenhead)||King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)|
|Fitzpatrick, Jim||Ladyman, Dr Stephen|
|Fitzsimons, Mrs Loma||Lammy, David|
|Flint, Caroline||Lawrence, Mrs Jackie|
|Flynn, Paul||Laxton, Bob|
|Follett, Barbara||Lazarowicz, Mark|
|Foster, Rt Hon Derek||Lepper, David|
|Foster, Michael (Worcester)||Leslie, Christopher|
|Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)||Levitt, Tom|
|Foulkes, George||Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)|
|Francis, Dr Hywel||Linton, Martin|
|Galloway, George||Lloyd, Tony|
|Gapes, Mike||Love, Andrew|
|Gardiner, Barry||Lucas, Ian|
|Gerrard, Neil||Luke, Iain|
|Gibson, Dr Ian||Lyons, John|
|Gilroy, Linda||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Godsiff, Roger||McCabe, Stephen|
|Goggins, Paul||McCafferty, Chris|
|Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)||McCartney, Rt Hon Ian|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||McDonagh, Siobhain|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||MacDonald, Calum|
|Grogan, John||MacDougall, John|
|Hain, Rt Hon Peter||McFall, John|
|Hall, Patrick (Bedford)||McGuire, Mrs Anne|
|Hamilton, David (Midlothian)||McIsaac, Shona|
|Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)||McKechin, Ann|
|Hanson, David||McKenna, Rosemary|
|Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet||McNamara, Kevin|
|Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)||MacShane, Denis|
|Havard, Dai||Mactaggart, Fiona|
|Healey, John||McWalter, Tony|
|Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)||McWilliam, John|
|Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)||Mahmood, Khalid|
|Hendrick, Mark||Mahon, Mrs Alice|
|Hepburn, Stephen||Mallaber, Judy|
|Mann, John||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Marris, Rob||Shaw, Jonathan|
|Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)||Sheerman, Barry|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Sheridan, Jim|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Shipley, Ms Debra|
|Martlew, Eric||Short, Rt Hon Clare|
|Meacher, Rt Hon Michael||Simon, Siôn|
|Merron, Gillian||Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)|
|Michael, Rt Hon Alun||Singh, Marsha|
|Milburn, Rt Hon Alan||Skinner, Dennis|
|Miliband, David||Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Miller, Andrew||Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)|
|Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)||Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe)|
|Moffatt, Laura||Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)|
|Moonie, Dr Lewis||Smith, John (Glamorgan)|
|Moran, Margaret||Soley, Clive|
|Morgan, Julie||Southworth, Helen|
|Morley, Elliot||Spellar, Rt Hon John|
|Morris, Rt Hon Estelle||Starkey, Dr Phyllis|
|Mudie, George||Steinberg, Gerry|
|Mullin, Chris||Stevenson, George|
|Munn, Ms Meg||Stewart, David (Inverness E)|
|Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)||Stewart, Ian (Eccles)|
|Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)||Stinchcombe, Paul|
|Naysmith, Dr Doug||Stoate, Dr Howard|
|O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)||Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin|
|O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)||Stringer, Graham|
|Olner, Bill||Sutcliffe, Gerry|
|O'Neill, Martin||Tami, Mark|
|Organ, Diana||Taylor, Rt Hon Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)||Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)|
|Owen, Albert||Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)|
|Palmer, Dr Nick||Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)|
|Pearson, Ian||Tipping, Paddy|
|Perham, Linda||Todd, Mark|
|Picking, Anne||Touhig, Don|
|Pickthall, Colin||Trickett, Jon|
|Pike, Peter||Truswell, Paul|
|Plaskitt, James||Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)|
|Pollard, Kerry||Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)|
|Pond, Chris||Turner, Neil (Wigan)|
|Pope, Greg||Twigg, Derek (Halton)|
|Pound, Stephen||Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)|
|Powell, Sir Raymond||Vaz, Keith|
|Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)||Vis, Dr Rudi|
|Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)||Walley, Ms Joan|
|Prescott, Rt Hon John||Ward, Ms Claire|
|Prosser, Gwyn||Wareing, Robert N|
|Purchase, Ken||Watson, Tom|
|Pumell, James||Watts, David|
|Quin, Rt Hon Joyce||White, Brian|
|Quinn, Lawrie||Whitehead, Dr Alan|
|Rammell, Bill||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Raynsford, Rt Hon Nick||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Reed, Andy (Loughborough)|
|Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)||Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)|
|Roche, Mrs Barbara||Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)|
|Rooney, Terry||Wood, Mike|
|Ross, Ernie||Woodward, Shaun|
|Ruane, Chris||Woolas, Phil|
|Ruddock, Joan||Worthington, Tony|
|Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)||Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)|
|Ryan, Joan||Wright, David (Telford)|
|Salter, Martin||Wyatt, Derek|
|Sarwar, Mohammad||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Savidge, Malcolm||Mr. Tony McNulty and|
|Sawford. Phil||Angela Smith.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments):—
§ The House divided: Ayes 324, Noes 205.252
|Division No. 40||[10.14pm|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Cox, Tom|
|Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)||Cranston, Ross|
|Ainger, Nick||Cruddas, Jon|
|Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)||Cummings, John|
|Alexander, Douglas||Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland)|
|Anderson, Rt Hon Donald (Swansea E)||Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)|
|Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire|
|Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)||Darting, Rt Hon Alistair|
|Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary||Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)|
|Atkins, Charlotte||Davidson, Ian|
|Austin, John||Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)|
|Bailey, Adrian||Dawson, Hilton|
|Banks, Tony||Dean, Mrs Janet|
|Barnes, Harry||Denham, Rt Hon John|
|Barron, Kevin||Dhanda, Parmjit|
|Battle, John||Dismore, Andrew|
|Bayley, Hugh||Dobson, Rt Hon Frank|
|Beard, Nigel||Donohoe, Brian H|
|Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret||Doran, Frank|
|Bell, Stuart||Dowd, Jim|
|Benn, Hilary||Drew, David|
|Bennett, Andrew||Drown, Ms Julia|
|Benton, Joe||Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)|
|Berry, Roger||Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)|
|Betts, Clive||Edwards, Huw|
|Blears, Ms Hazel||Ellman, Mrs Louise|
|Blizzard, Bob||Ennis, Jeff|
|Blunkett, Rt Hon David||Etherington, Bill|
|Borrow, David||Farrelly, Paul|
|Bradley, Rt Hon Keith (Withington)||Field, Rt Hon Frank (Birkenhead)|
|Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)||Fitzpatrick, Jim|
|Bradshaw, Ben||Fitzsimons, Mrs Loma|
|Brennan, Kevin||Flint, Caroline|
|Brown, Rt Hon Gordon (Dunfermline E)||Flynn, Paul|
|Brown, Rt Hon Nicholas (Newcastle E & Wallsend)||Foster, Rt Hon Derek|
|Foster, Michael (Worcester)|
|Brown, Russell (Dumfries)||Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)|
|Bryant, Chris||Foulkes, George|
|Buck, Ms Karen||Francis, Dr Hywel|
|Burden, Richard||Galloway, George|
|Burgon, Colin||Gapes, Mike|
|Burnham, Andy||Gardiner, Barry|
|Byers, Rt Hon Stephen||Gerrard, Neil|
|Cairns, David||Gibson, Dr Ian|
|Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)||Gilroy, Linda|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Godsiff, Roger|
|Caplin, Ivor||Goggins, Paul|
|Casale, Roger||Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)|
|Caton, Martin||Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)|
|Cawsey, Ian||Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)|
|Challen, Colin||Grogan, John|
|Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)||Hain, Rt Hon Peter|
|Chaytor, David||Hall, Patrick (Bedford)|
|Clapham, Michael||Hamilton, David (Midlothian)|
|Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)||Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)|
|Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)||Hanson, David|
|Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet|
|Clark, Paul (Gillingham)||Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)||Havard, Dai|
|Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)||Healey, John|
|Clelland, David||Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)|
|Clwyd, Ann||Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)|
|Coaker, Vemon||Hendrick, Mark|
|Coffey, Ms Ann||Hepburn, Stephen|
|Cohen, Harry||Heppell, John|
|Coleman, Iain||Hesford, Stephen|
|Colman, Tony||Heyes, David|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton N)||Hill, Keith|
|Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston)||Hinchliffe, David|
|Corston, Jean||Hodge, Margaret|
|Cousins, Jim||Hoey, Kate|
|Hoon, Rt Hon Geoffrey||Merron, Gillian|
|Hope, Phil||Michael, Rt Hon Alun|
|Hopkins, Kelvin||Milburn, Rt Hon Alan|
|Howarth, Rt Hon Alan (Newport E)||Miliband, David|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||Miller, Andrew|
|Hoyle, Lindsay||Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)|
|Hughes, Beverley (Stretford)||Moffatt, Laura|
|Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Humble, Mrs Joan||Moran, Margaret|
|Hurst, Alan||Morgan, Julie|
|Hutton, Rt Hon John||Morley, Elliot|
|Iddon, Dr Brian||Morris, Rt Hon Estelle|
|Illsley, Eric||Mudie, George|
|Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead)||Mullin, Chris|
|Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)||Munn, Ms Meg|
|Jamieson, David||Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)|
|Jenkins, Brian||Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)|
|Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)||Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)|
|Jones, Helen (Warrington N)||Naysmith, Dr Doug|
|Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)||O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)||O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)|
|Jowell, Rt Hon Tessa||Olner, Bill|
|Joyce, Eric||O'Neill, Martin|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Organ, Diana|
|Keeble, Ms Sally||Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)|
|Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)||Owen, Albert|
|Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)||Palmer, Dr Nick|
|Kemp, Fraser||Pearson, Ian|
|Khabra, Piara S||Perham, Linda|
|Kidney, David||Picking, Anne|
|Kilfoyle, Peter||Pickthall, Colin|
|King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)||Pike, Peter|
|King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)||Plaskitt, James|
|Ladyman, Dr Stephen||Pollard, Kerry|
|Lammy, David||Pond, Chris|
|Lawrence, Mrs Jackie||Pope, Greg|
|Laxton, Bob||Pound, Stephen|
|Lazarowicz, Mark||Powell, Sir Raymond|
|Lepper, David||Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)|
|Leslie, Christopher||Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)|
|Levitt, Tom||Prescott, Rt Hon John|
|Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)||Prosser, Gwyn|
|Linton, Martin||Purchase, Ken|
|Lloyd, Tony||Purnell, James|
|Love, Andrew||Quin, Rt Hon Joyce|
|Lucas, Ian||Quinn, Lawrie|
|Luke, Iain||Rammell, Bill|
|Lyons, John||Raynsford, Rt Hon Nick|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Reed, Andy (Loughborough)|
|McCabe, Stephen||Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)|
|McCartney, Rt Hon Ian||Roche, Mrs Barbara|
|McDonagh, Sbbhain||Rooney, Terry|
|MacDonald, Calum||Ross, Ernie|
|MacDougall, John||Ruane, Chris|
|McFall, John||Ruddock, Joan|
|McGuire, Mrs Anne||Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)|
|Mclsaac, Shona||Ryan, Joan|
|McKechin, Ann||Salter, Martin|
|McKenna, Rosemary||Sarwar, Mohammad|
|McNamara, Kevin||Savidge, Malcolm|
|MacShane, Denis||Sawford, Phil|
|Mactaggart, Fiona||Sedgemore, Brian|
|McWalter, Tony||Shaw, Jonathan|
|McWilliam, John||Sheerman, Barry|
|Mahmood, Khalid||Sheridan, Jim|
|Mahon, Mrs Alice||Shipley, Ms Debra|
|Mallaber, Judy||Simon, Siôn|
|Mann, John||Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)|
|Marris, Rob||Singh, Marsha|
|Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)||Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)|
|Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)||Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe)|
|Martlew, Eric||Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)|
|Meacher, Rt Hon Michael||Smith, John (Glamorgan)|
|Soley, Clive||Twigg, Derek (Halton)|
|Southworth, Helen||Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)|
|Spellar, Rt Hon John||Vaz, Keith|
|Starkey, Dr Phyllis||Vis, Dr Rudi|
|Steinberg, Gerry||Walley, Ms Joan|
|Stevenson, George||Ward, Ms Claire|
|Stewart, David (Inverness E)||Wareing, Robert N|
|Stewart, Ian (Eccles)||Watson, Tom|
|Stinchcombe, Paul||Watts, David|
|Stoate, Dr Howard||White, Brian|
|Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin||Whitehead, Dr Alan|
|Stringer, Graham||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Sutcliffe, Gerry||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Taylor, Rt Hon Ann (Dewsbury)||Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)|
|Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)||Winnick, David|
|Taylor, David (NW Leics)||Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)|
|Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)||Wood, Mike|
|Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)||Woodward, Shaun|
|Tipping, Paddy||Woolas, Phil|
|Todd, Mark||Worthington, Tony|
|Touhig, Don||Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)|
|Trickett, Jon||Wright, David (Telford)|
|Truswell, Paul||Wyatt, Derek|
|Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)||Angela Smith and|
|Turner, Neil (Wigan)||Mr. Tony McNulty.|
|Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)||Davits, Quentin (Grantham)|
|Allan, Richard||Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)|
|Ancram, Rt Hon Michael||Djanogly, Jonathan|
|Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James||Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Doughty, Sue|
|Bacon, Richard||Duncan, Alan (Rutland & Melton)|
|Baker, Norman||Duncan, Peter (Galloway)|
|Baldry, Tony||Duncan Smith, Rt Hon Iain|
|Barker, Gregory||Evans, Nigel|
|Baron, John||Ewing, Annabelle|
|Beith, Rt Hon A J||Fabricant, Michael|
|Bellingham, Henry||Fallon, Michael|
|Bercow, John||Field, Mark (Cities of London)|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Flight, Howard|
|Blunt, Crispin||Flook, Adrian|
|Boswell, Tim||Forth, Rt Hon Eric|
|Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)||Foster, Don (Bath)|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia||Fox, Dr Liam|
|Brady, Graham||Francois, Mark|
|Brake, Tom||Gale, Roger|
|Brazier, Julian||Gibb, Nick|
|Breed, Colin||Gidley, Sandra|
|Bruce, Malcolm||Goodman, Paul|
|Burnett, John||Gray, James|
|Burns, Simon||Grayling, Chris|
|Burstow, Paul||Green, Damian (Ashford)|
|Burt, Alistair||Green, Matthew (Ludlow)|
|Butterfill, John||Greenway, John|
|Calton, Mrs Patsy||Grieve, Dominic|
|Cameron, David||Gummer, Rt Hon John|
|Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife)||Hague, Rt Hon William|
|Cash, William||Hancock, Mike|
|Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)||Harvey, Nick|
|Chope, Christopher||Hayes, John|
|Clappison, James||Heald, Oliver|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Heath, David|
|Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David|
|Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey||Hendry, Charles|
|Collins, Tim||Hermon, Lady|
|Cormack, Sir Patrick||Hoban, Mark|
|Cotter, Brian||Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Cran, James||Holmes, Paul|
|Curry, Rt Hon David||Horam, John|
|Davey, Edward (Kingston)||Howard, Rt Hon Michael|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)||Rufney, David|
|Jack, Rt Hon Michael||Russell, Bob (Colchester)|
|Jackson, Robert (Wantage)||Salmond, Alex|
|Jenkin, Bernard||Sanders, Adrian|
|Johnson, Boris (Henley)||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)||Selous, Andrew|
|Key, Robert||Shepherd, Richard|
|Kirkbride, Miss Julie||Simmonds, Mark|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)|
|Knight, Rt Hon Greg (E Yorkshire)||Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)|
|Laing, Mrs Eleanor||Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)|
|Lait, Mrs Jacqui||Soames, Nicholas|
|Lamb, Norman||Spelman, Mrs Caroline|
|Lansley, Andrew||Spicer, Sir Michael|
|Laws, David||Spink, Bob|
|Leigh, Edward||Spring, Richard|
|Letwin, Oliver||Streeter, Gary|
|Liddell-Grainger, Ian||Stunell, Andrew|
|Lidington, David||Swayne, Desmond|
|Lilley, Rt Hon Peter||Swire, Hugo|
|Llwyd, Elfyn||Syms, Robert|
|Loughton, Tim||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Luff, Peter||Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)|
|McIntosh, Miss Anne||Taylor, John (Solihull)|
|MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Maclean, Rt Hon David||Taylor, Dr Richard (Wyre F)|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Taylor, Sir Teddy|
|Malins, Humfrey||Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)|
|Maples, John||Thurso, John|
|Mates, Michael||Tonge, Dr Jenny|
|Maude, Rt Hon Francis||Tredinnick, David|
|Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian||Trend, Michael|
|May, Mrs Theresa||Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)|
|Moore, Michael||Tyler, Paul|
|Moss, Malcolm||Tyrie, Andrew|
|Murrison, Dr Andrew||Viggers, Peter|
|Norman, Archie||Walter, Robert|
|O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)||Waterson, Nigel|
|Öpik, Lembit||Watkinson, Angela|
|Osborne, George (Tatton)||Webb, Steve|
|Ottaway, Richard||Weir, Michael|
|Paice, James||Whittingdale, John|
|Paterson, Owen||Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann|
|Pickles, Eric||Wiggin, Bill|
|Portillo, Rt Hon Michael||Wilkinson, John|
|Price, Adam||Willetts, David|
|Prisk, Mark||Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)|
|Pugh, Dr John||Williams, Roger (Brecon)|
|Randall, John||Willis, Phil|
|Redwood, Rt Hon John||Wilshire, David|
|Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute)||Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)|
|Rendel, David||Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)|
|Robathan, Andrew||Wishart, Pete|
|Robertson, Angus (Moray)||Yeo, Tim|
|Robertson, Hugh (Faversham)||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)||Younger-Ross, Richard|
|Robinson, Mrs Iris (Strangford)|
|Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Roe, Mrs Marion||Mrs. Cheryl Gillan and|
|Rosindell, Andrew||Dr. Julian Lewis.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to
§ MR. SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.
§ That this House believes that Ms Jo Moore's e-mail of 11th September was horrible, wrong and stupid; notes that she has been dealt with under the Department's disciplinary procedures and that the Permanent Secretary has given her an official warning as to her conduct and that she has expressed her heartfelt regret and offered a full apology; welcomes the decisive action that Ministers have taken in regard to Railtrack which will be welcomed by the traveling public; rejects the policies of the Opposition, who would have continued to pour money into propping up the company, 253 thus amplifying the problems caused by the way they privatised the rail industry; and further welcomes the work of DTLR ministers in developing positive policies, to improve the position of local government, to tackle problems of homelessness and urban regeneration and to develop proposals for regional government and contrasts this with the policies of the Opposition who decimated local government, ignored the problems of deprived communities and centralised power.