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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
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 pointher 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.
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' conducta 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.
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 administrationa 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?
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 understandingalthough I would want to check it in a dictionarymeans 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 be 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:
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?