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Under the code of conduct for special advisers, they are supposed to record all contacts with the media. That was not true only on 11 Septemberthere were cases before and since that date. However, if those contacts are recorded, we want to know who checks that they are accurate and how we can find out whether they took place. Indeed, we want to know whether records have been kept at all. My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester faced blank obstruction from Ministers when he sought information on those matters, which should be open and above board. Why was the code introduced if the information is not available to Members of Parliament?
Last week, there was an extraordinary situation when Mr. Jonathan Baume of the First Division Association was questioned on the "Today" programme. He said that there had been selective leaking of last week's informationas hon. Members will recall the minutes of the meeting were issued just as the Chancellor was getting up to make his autumn statement. However, Mr. Baumea civil servant of great experience who represents his civil service colleagues in the First Division Associationsaid that the leaking was done at a political level. How can we find out who is responsible for what and who is accountable to the House when there appears to be a civil war between the professional civil servants on the one hand and the special advisers and their ministerial masters on the other? Surely some degree of codification must be established.
Of course, we have been promised that the Freedom of Information Act 2000 will be fully implemented. The House was assured that, by now, we would be well on the way to full implementation, yet we are told that, as with the trains under Railtrack, it has got stuck up a siding somewhere, and we do not know whether it will come this year, next year, sometime or never. Indeed, the notice board in the station says that it might come in 2005, butwho knowsit might be cancelled altogether.
The right of access, on which the debate rightly concentrates, is stalled somewhere in the system, but, worse than that, the Minister referred to the civil service Bill, which was promised in the 1997 manifesto. Indeed, it was an integral part of the agreement between my party and the then Labour Opposition that should have been introduced in the 1997 Parliament.
Mr. McLoughlin I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for saying that. It is first time that I have heard that that Bill was part of the agreement between the Liberal Democrats and the Government. Will he tell us the timetable for any other undertakings? If he believes in open government, perhaps the British people should know what under-the-table deal was done when the Government had the majority that they then had.
We are now told that the civil service Bill, to which the Minister referred, is not likely to appear for years. Why? We are told that it is very difficult to get legislation through the House. We believe that such legislation should be introduced as quickly as possible, and I am sure that Conservative Members would welcome it equally sincerely.
The Chairman of the Select Committee on Public Administration, the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright) said just a few weeks ago that there is a "creeping politicisation" of Whitehall. The only way to reverse that is by ensuring transparency and honesty and by codifying the proper roles and responsibilities of the professional civil service, and that involves legislation. There is nothing new about politicisation or media manipulation, but perhaps they have been used slightly more successfully in the past.
Mr. Bernard Ingham, as he then was, indulged in some very splendid spinning. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will be interested to hear that, when I referred to that on the "Today" programme, that gentleman, now Sir Bernard Ingham, indulged in some correspondence with me, denying that he had actually undertaken any negative spinning involving members of the Government. Indeed, he said that he was coming to their aid and defending them. He said:
There has been a change, and let us give credit to the Government. The same secrecy does not now surround the spin doctors. We tend to know, in a matter of hours, who is spinning against whom. In those days, the master spinner himself was cloaked in anonymitywell, for a few hours any way. At least now, such information comes out remarkably quickly because it seems that, as soon as a spin doctor indulges in anything of that sort, someone in another part of Whitehall, or in the Labour party, quickly jumps up to say, "It wasn't me, guv," and tells us where the origin lies. That is a step forward in the circumstances.
I congratulate the Government on the fact that the transparent spinning against one another in the Labour party and the Government at least offers us an occasional vignette of the civil war that is going on.
I also congratulate the Conservative party. What other great political party would have decided to pick on the rail industry over recent weeks to indulge in endless debates in the House? It is very public spiritedevery time the words "rail" and "Conservative" appear in the public prints, the public remember that it was the Conservatives who did it.
As transport spokesman for my party, I spent hours, as did my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey), pointing out the mess we would get into if the then Government insisted on privatising the railways. We told the Labour party, then in opposition, that if we two parties stood shoulder to shoulder and told the public and the institutions that if British Rail was privatised by the Conservative party, we would try and make sure in the next Parliament that it was brought back under public control, that there would be a bond payment and no profit to anyone who bought shares, the railway industry would not be privatised. It could not have been. No institution would have dared to do that when a Conservative defeat was in prospect.
I am delighted that the Conservative party refers constantly to the incompetent way in which it ruined one of our great national industries. It was confirmed again on "Today". I am not sorry to keep giving a plug to Sue MacGregor, for she is a good friend of mine, and I think that before she goes she should be congratulated on the work that she has done. On "Today" this morning, a spokesman for Stagecoachone of the companies that has rolled with the cash of privatisationsaid that everybody agrees that the way in which privatisation has gone through was a mistake. I hope that the Conservatives will tell us later that they, too, feel that it was a dreadful mistake.
In the mean time, we who are responsible to the public for what is going on, must take notice of the fact that today we are told that Railtrack investors will have to go to law to get the documentation that they require to establish what the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions has been doing. We cannot do that. We Members of Parliamentthe High Court of Parliament, as it wereare having such difficulty in getting information out of Ministers who say that they are accountable to us that it seems as if the lawyers will be the only people to obtain it.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): I am a little confused. The hon. Gentleman seems to be saying that the railwaysthe way in which the Government have handled the industry and the lack of communication about itis a legitimate argument for debate, but earlier he said that it was not. Which is it?
Mr. Tyler: I have never said that it was not a legitimate argument for debate. I have simply said that the accountability of the Government to this House, not just of the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, is what we are discussing. I have not suggested that the activitiesin this field or any otherof the Secretary of State, the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions or the right hon. Gentleman's special adviser are improper. What is improper is if the House starts passing motions demanding the sacking of a civil servant or special adviser. We demand the sacking of Ministers. We have done that in the pastthey are responsible to us.