|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
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 sayingI am sure that the Tories say it as well as Labour Membersthat 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 ScotlandSam Ghibaldan, for policy, and Polly McPherson, for mediaand 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 advisersthe 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 changedunder 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.
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 undertakenallegedly objectivelyby 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?
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
I was making a serious point. The Ministry of Defence and the military obviously keep such information enormously tighton a need-to-know basisand 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.
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