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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

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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:

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—

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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.

Hon. Members: Hear, hear!

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

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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 rose

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Minister is not going to give way. I know the reason why.

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