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Mr. Byers: I confirm that I did not contravene that section of the code.

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 and 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.

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In a parliamentary question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), the Secretary of State was asked

The Secretary of State answered:

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:

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.

5.11 pm

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

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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:

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: "

sorry, "sin"—

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

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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,

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:

The letter was leaked and when Ingham was asked about his conduct, he said in a speech to the Independent Broadcasting Association:

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.

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