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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 Moore

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.

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7.33 pm

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:

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.

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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

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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?

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