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Mr. Redwood: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He probably needs an intervention, as he is wallowing badly. Will he explain where all the stories in the press come from about his boss, the Minister for the Cabinet Office? She is not here tonight, but the stories say that she is on the way out, that she is useless and not a team player, and that she has fallen out of love with Downing street. Does he take the line that Conservative Members take, which is that the stories came from senior Labour spinners and members of the Government? Or does he take the line being put out by Downing street--that all the journalists who wrote those stories are liars?
Mr. Tipping: The right hon. Gentleman ought to stick to his spinning on the cricket pitch. As the new leader of a political unit, he should do a bit of research. My boss is not the Minister for the Cabinet Office. If the right hon. Gentleman cannot get the small points right, what hope is there for the new campaign that he is to lead forth?
Mr. Redwood: The Minister for the Cabinet Office is clearly the Minister's boss in this debate, because she should be here to answer it. I hope that the Minister talked to her before producing this drivel. Will he answer the question? Did the stories about the right hon. Lady come--as we all know that they did--from Labour spinners and senior members of the Government, or is the Minister going to say that all journalists are liars?
Mr. Tipping: I think that the right hon. Gentleman needs to look at what my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office said. She said that there was no substance in allegations that the Prime Minister or his official spokesman spun against her.
Mr. Tipping: I sometimes wish that journalists were remarkably well informed and researched. If they were, they would write stories about the numbers of doctors and nurses in training and about standards rising in our schools. They would be interested in the comprehensive spending review and the transport plan, both of which are to be announced shortly. None of those stories appear, and that is a measure of how out of touch many journalists are.
Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester): That sounded a bit like Pravda. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) asked where all the stories about the Minister for the Cabinet Office came from. Are they all a complete fiction? What did the right hon. Lady mean when she told Saga magazine, in response to that very question, that someone was out to get her?
Mr. Tipping: I am always delighted to give way to an hon. Member who was special adviser to two successive Chancellors of the Exchequer between 1986 and 1989. The hon. Gentleman makes the allegation, but he must tell the House where the stories come from. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office has made it absolutely clear that she has no idea as to the provenance of those stories. She has said that she disbelieves the claim that the Prime Minister and his official spokesman were spinning against her.
Mr. Gummer: As the special advisers that I employed included members and candidates of other parties, it is difficult for the hon. Gentleman to attack me. May I bring him back to a point that he made earlier, when he repeated the Prime Minister's view that the new Labour Government would re-create confidence in these matters with the British public? Given that they have failed even to re-create confidence with Mr. Follett, what hope have they of convincing people who were not on their side in the first place?
Mr. Tipping: Mr. Follett writes interesting books, which are pure works of fiction. I am very sorry that my friend Ken Follett cannot distinguish fact from political fiction. I think that he should stick to his real job of writing novels.
I remind the right hon. Gentleman that Lord Neill said that standards in public life were higher now than in 1994. The criticism tonight is that the Government are not responding quickly enough to the committee's report. Our position is unchanged--we will respond to the 41 detailed recommendations by the end of July, which is just 18 parliamentary working days away. Conservative
No time limit is set down by which a response must be made to the committee. I remind the House that the previous Administration took nine months to respond to the second report of the committee, then under the chairmanship of Lord Nolan. It is less than six months since the sixth report was published, and so that there is no confusion, I will reaffirm that we intend to respond before the end of the month.
Mr. Lansley: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Is it not true that when Lord Neill went to the Public Administration Committee, he said that he wished that the Government had made a response sooner, and that they had made it by now? Secondly, is not the point that the Government are getting into all kinds of disasters because they should have responded--and positively--at an earlier stage?
Mr. Tipping: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's good wishes and good news. I wish that he would give us more support of this kind. However, these are complex matters, and we will be responding to them. There are 41 recommendations covering a wide range of issues, some of which have important constitutional implications.
Mr. Tipping: Just a minute. The recommendations that relate to the conduct and privileges of Members of Parliament are particularly complex. The House will want to consider those issues carefully. They have already been subject to some preliminary discussions by the House.
I am in a position of slight embarrassment, in that two special advisers are among those who wish to intervene. I refer to the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing), who was special adviser to the right hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) from 1989 to 1994--she is sitting next to her former boss--and to the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), who was special adviser to Jonathan Aitken and to the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley) from 1995 to 1996. So I will give way first to special advisers.
Mr. Tipping: Substantial sums of extra money are being invested in education and schools, in health and hospitals. The amount of money spent on the civil service is declining from that spent by an Administration to whom she was a special adviser.
Mr. Bercow: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Why, in 1998, did the then Minister for School Standards, the right hon. Member for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers), complain to the permanent secretary at the Department for Education and Employment when the press officer, Mr. Jonathan Haslam, refused to insert party political material into an official Government news release?