Ministerial Conduct (DTLR)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:21 pm on 23rd October 2001.

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Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Conservative, Bexhill and Battle 8:21 pm, 23rd October 2001

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

"conduct themselves with integrity and honesty. They should not deceive or knowingly mislead Parliament or the public."

They

"must not take public part in political controversy, whether in speeches or letters to the Press, or in books, articles or leaflets; must observe discretion and express comment with moderation, avoiding personal attacks; and would not normally speak in public for their Minister or the Department."

When that code is not adhered to, the position of the special adviser is simply not tenable.

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 Parliament—and contrary to the view of many in the country—I 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 worried—as indeed many of us who have contributed to the debate are—by 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.