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Mr. Barker: If the hon. Gentleman listened carefully, he would realise that I am attacking the hypocrisy of the Labour party, which is pious and prim in opposition and totally remorseless and unrepentant in government.
I do not say that special advisers do not have any role in the Government. They are able to aid their Ministers on matters where it would be inappropriate for career civil servants to become involved or to give expert advice. However, their code of conduct is crystal clear. It states that special advisers should
Was Ms Moore acting with integrity when she sent that e-mail on 11 September? Was she acting with honesty when she misled a journalist from The Sunday Times over plans to take Railtrack into administration? Was she not making a personal attack when she tried to persuade a junior civil servant to do the dirty on Bob Kiley to selected journalists? Has she not taken a very public part in a political controversy, culminating with a personal television exclusive for Sky news? I suggest that the count is guilty, guilty, guilty, and that Ms Moore should go.
The Secretary of State did not sack his special adviser because, we are told, the matter was "one isolated incident". The Prime Minister called the e-mail "horrible", but defended the decision that to sack someone and end their career was too heavy a penalty. Are those the standards of behaviour that the Prime Minister had in mind when he spoke at the outset of his Administration of his new Government being whiter than white? If widespread condemnation from all parties, the media, the public at large and the families of people involved in the tragedy is not a reason to end a discredited career, I do not know what is. It is important to remember that Ms Moore is not a career civil servant. She is not a graduate who has come through the apolitical civil service. She went into a political appointment knowing it carried the risks and uncertainties of any political post. She is certainly no deserving case for pity.
We are well aware that Ms Moore is not alone in the world of Labour party spin. She is, after all, playing a game of follow-my-leader. Just last week, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs sneaked out unfavourable news in the dead of night and a special adviser in another place tried to change Hansard to save the face of the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Those incidents are bad news: they are bad for the Government, bad for Parliament and bad for democracy. It is no wonder that public confidence in politicians is ebbing, as many hon. Members on both sides of the House have commented.
Confidence in the Government's handling of the crisis in the railways is at rock bottom. My constituents are desperately worried by the collapse of Railtrack. They see little prospect of much needed improvement to both Bexhill and Cooden Beach stations. My constituents who travel by rail have to contend with damp, broken glass, peeling paint, decrepit infrastructure and unfinished repairs. Yet people in Bexhill still have no clear idea from today's debate, or anything that the Secretary of State has said today, of when we will get the station that we deserve. They rightly look to the Secretary of State to marshal his energies to hold together the fabric of our local railway stations, not the careers of disgraced political advisers.
As a new Member of Parliamentand contrary to the view of many in the countryI have been truly impressed by the way in which so many hon. Members do their utmost for their constituents. They work incredibly hard, with the best of motives, to try to make a difference. However, the respect that they should enjoy from the public for that work is hard to gain and very easy to lose. The spin and smirks of Ms Moore and the Secretary of State's refusal to dispense with her is another hammer blow to the electorate's confidence in politics and politicians. Her continuation in office should concern all hon. Members who seek to bolster public confidence in elected politicians and parliamentary Government.
All hon. Members should be worriedas indeed many of us who have contributed to the debate areby the appallingly low turnout at the last general election. We must be concerned about ever-increasing voter cynicism and apathy. For anyone who hopes to reverse that trend, the proliferation of spin doctors, misinformation, leaks, cover-ups, selective briefings and obstinate refusals to remove the worst offenders makes it more difficult to restore public confidence and simply fuels the fire of public contempt. No single act will stanch public contempt for the political establishment and no individual can shoulder all the blame for voter disillusionment with politicians, but by breaking with Ms Moore the Government could send a clear signal to the country that we, their elected representatives, are at last starting to get the message.
John Mann (Bassetlaw): I have listened to the entirety of the debate and have to say, "Dearie, dearie me." I was offered two tickets to the Strangers Gallery and, thankfully, chose not to invite constituents down for the day to listen to Parliament at its finest.
This is a full day's debate on spin doctors. My barometer of public opinion is taken over a £1.20 pint at Manton miners welfare club on Sunday evening, along with 1,000 other people. There may be other barometers of public opinion, but none is as fine as Manton miners welfare club and the 1,000 who throng there on a Sunday night. If hon. Members knew the good people of Manton, they would realise that they do not shy away from giving me their views on the world, the issues of the day and their priorities. They do so in large numbers and the most forthright of terms. They have not yet heard of Ms Jo Moore. They have heard of Demi Moore, Bobby Moore, Roger Moore, Ilkley moor and Markham Moor. Some of them have even heard of Ian Storey-Moore. But I have not met one who has heard of Ms Jo Moore. Perhaps I live in different circles from those who claim that there is a groundswell of public opinion commenting on her.
I have gone further. I have met more than 100 constituents in different parts of my constituency this weekendthat included three public meetings. What are their major concerns? They have many and they have been clear in articulating them. Have spin doctors been mentioned once, formally, or informally? No, not once.
I thought that, perhaps, I was only seeing part of the picture so I checked my post bag. It was not the record post bagI have been a Member of Parliament only since 7 Junebut the second largest, with more than 300 letters, not one of which concerned Ms Moore or spin doctors. There were many letters on other issues. As the Minister for Transport is present I must mention that there were a number in support of the establishment of Finningley airportthey were all 100 per cent. in favour.
While I was consulting my constituents in advance of this debate I saw a little grey mouse at my home in the constituency, scuttling between cupboards and washing machine. My newly arrived papers outlining this week's debates lay on the table. Far be it for me to compare today's debate and the irritating little grey mouse, but somehow that comparison stuck with me. In my mind's eye I can see it scurrying from kitchen to pantry seeking the crumbs of inspiration. A once great British institution seeks similar solace. Where once it was led by a grey
Let me help those on the Opposition Benches and suggest some issues of the day. I have constituents who are serving Queen and country. That would be an issue worthy of debate today. I have a private finance initiative bid for nine new secondary schools, which would be a worthy subject. I have slum housing that is awaiting the creation of a special purpose vehicle to allow it to be regenerated. We should be debating economic and social regeneration and decent warm houses in safe strong communities with the Secretary of State and his Ministers today.
What about regional economic developments, such as Manton pit site, which has been awaiting redevelopment for more than 10 years? That is worthy of debate with Ministers today. What of the A1, with its multitude of dangerous and inefficient roundabouts? That is what my constituents would have wanted us to debate and not the frith and froth of spin doctors. In Bassetlaw, when we talk about spin we talk about Wilfred Rhodes, Jim Laker and Sir Garfield Sobers. The world does not end in the suburban gardens of the chattering classes of London.
Nottinghamshire has one long-standing Tory Member of Parliament. Tories in my patch lament the missed opportunity when their party rejected the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) as leader. Today, when they look at the Opposition Front Bench, they must be scratching their heads in bewilderment.
In the past two weeks, we have heard the little grey mouse trying to roar. This is not the mouse that roared; this is the mouse that squeaked. The Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions has been pursued by Opposition Members, who are all sporting an expression as though he has just announced that hell has been abolished and sin is permissible.
Most Labour Members are not fooled, however. Let us be clear about what is going on. It is a witch hunt. Why have the Opposition been screaming like Furies for the Secretary of State to be burned at the stake? The answer is that they want to be absolved from blame for their failure with Railtrack. That blame can be laid, falsely, at the feet of this Government, but to do so is another attempt to mislead the British people.
The little grey mouse is seeking a way out. In the past week, the Tories have started preening themselves as the champions of the poor and dispossessed. There is no escape for the little grey mouse. All the holes have been sealed. Much to the disappointment of the Opposition, we are left with only the truth.
On 25 June 1997, the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) said that Railtrack's only solution lay in privatisation. He taunted the newly elected Labour Government's doubts and reservations with regard to the privatisation of Railtrack. That is the truth, and today we stand vindicated. The privatisation of the railways in general, and of Railtrack in particular, is widely held by voters as one of the most shoddy and shameful policies ever thrust through the House. Even George and Lenny from John Steinbeck's famous novel "Of Mice and Men" would have struggled to come up with a less coherent plan.
The previous Administration sold the public the dream of privatisation of Railtrack as a way to run the service more efficiently and effectively, and more safely. That was not true, and did not happen. Railtrack is bust simply because the Government and the Secretary of State cannot continue to throw money at a company that is so flawed.
We got a company that grew ever more complex as more people were taken on as managers. Engineers with experience of the railways were not taken on. The new managers sought to create even more complex management structures. In short, we got a shambles.
That was the "best future for Railtrack". It was nothing more than smoke and mirrors, or castles and kingdoms in the air. Today, we should be debating the real issues. We should be dealing with politics, not politicking. Therefore, I say "Well done!" to the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions for reigniting the £30-million project to replace and renovate slum housing in the Meden valley, and for its role in creating coherence in regional economic intervention through the regional development agencies. I applaud too the Department's willingness to consider an extended and expanded regional airport network.
We should debate the real issues, those international, national and local matters that are important to voters. In my area, when will Finningley airport be opened? Will the A1M be expanded southward through Nottinghamshire, and will our model of housing regeneration be rolled out in other areas?
It is said that a week is a long time in politics. Housing regeneration on the Royal estate in Warsop was first consulted on by the Heath Government of 1972. In life, 29 years is a long time. Thank goodness the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions is prepared to act, at last.