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Divorce (Religious Marriages)

Mr. Andrew Dismore accordingly presented a Bill to make provision enabling a court to require the dissolution of a religious marriage before granting a civil divorce: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 26 October, and to be printed [Bill 35].

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Opposition Day

[2nd Allotted Day]

Ministerial Conduct (DTLR)

Mr. Speaker: I must inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

3.43 pm

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead): I beg to move,

I am sure that we will all remember the events of 11 September for the rest of our lives. Just as a generation defined themselves by what they were doing when President Kennedy was assassinated, so a whole generation of people will define themselves by what they were doing when they saw the events of 11 September. Up and down the country, people watched their televisions in disbelief and wondered if what they saw could actually be happening.

Let me refresh the memory of hon. Members about those events. At 1.45 in the afternoon British time, a plane travelling from Boston to Los Angeles carrying 92 people crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Centre. Fifteen minutes later, at 2 pm British time, a second plane carrying 64 people—

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. May: No, I will not.

I am sorry to say that that intervention is an example of some of the appalling attitudes taken by members of the Labour party.

Mr. Gardiner: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. May: No. Certainly not.

Fifteen minutes later, at 2 pm British time, a second plane carrying 64 people hit the south tower.

Helen Southworth (Warrington, South): This is just exploitation.

Hon. Members: Ooh.

Mrs. May: At 2.30 pm British time, a third plane carrying 65 people crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, and workers in companies such as Cantor Fitzgerald, based in the World Trade Centre, phoned their loved ones and left messages telling them that they were about to die.

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Between 2.30 and 3 pm British time, major Government buildings in Washington were evacuated in anticipation of a further strike. Between 3 and 3.30 pm British time, both towers of the World Trade Centre collapsed. At 3.30 pm, the Prime Minister abandoned his speech to the Trades Union Congress in Brighton.

I am sure that all hon. Members shared my sense of utter disbelief as we watched those horrifying scenes. Indeed, the world stood transfixed, unable to comprehend the horror unfolding before our very eyes. Yet, in the midst of all that, at 2.55 pm, Ms Jo Moore, special adviser to the Secretary of State, his appointee, sent an e-mail to her departmental colleagues that said:

To think that someone's immediate reaction was to see what was happening in New York and Washington not as a human tragedy but as a political public relations opportunity that Ministers should make the most of is almost beyond understanding.

The events of that day marked a change in how we view our own position in the world but they also marked the time when the culture of this Government's news management stepped beyond the barely acceptable and became the disreputable. We have not tabled the motion lightly, but it is a sad commentary on the Government's attitudes and approach, and the culture of spin that they have nurtured, that Ministers' actions have brought us to this debate today.

Indeed, I am not alone in feeling that way. Speaking of the e-mail sent by Jo Moore, the Chairman of the Public Administration Committee, the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright), said:

He also said that her actions were "incompatible with public service".

The hon. Member for Hornchurch (John Cryer) said:

The Prime Minister said:

Given those comments, and the sense of outrage felt throughout the House and outside, I find it incomprehensible that Ms Moore is still in her post. It reflects not only a lack of understanding on her part but a sorry lack of judgment on the part of the Secretary of State.

A number of questions still need to be answered. My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) wrote to the Secretary of State on 12 October, asking him to state publicly whether Jo Moore still had his firm support, to give an assurance that no one acted on the advice in the e-mail and to say whether he had spoken to her before she sent it. So far, he has not replied.

I invite the Secretary of State, not only for his own sake but to restore some faith in Government, to take this opportunity to respond to the following questions. Where was he on 11 September? Did he speak to Jo Moore on that day, and if so, at what time? Did he speak to anyone

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else in his office about her e-mail on 11 September, how did he learn of its existence and content, and who told him? I would be very happy to let him intervene if he wishes to respond now. I see that he chooses not to.

It has been pointed out that the member of staff in question was disciplined, but there are again a number of outstanding questions about the procedure that was followed. The Secretary of State needs to answer them, to allay concerns in the House and elsewhere.

It appears that, having initially not taken any action, when the story of the e-mail broke on 8 October, the Secretary of State disciplined Ms Moore personally. The normal procedure is for the permanent secretary to discipline civil servants and special advisers, yet in this case the rebuke that came later from the permanent secretary seems to have been made only after some delay, and only then because journalists were claiming that the Secretary of State had broken the rules on disciplinary action.

This is a case in which the Secretary of State said that Ms Moore had done wrong and the Prime Minister said that her action was "horrible", but one in which Ministers were determined from the outset that she should not lose her job. I wonder just what it takes for a spin doctor to lose her job in this Government. Why did the Secretary of State take it upon himself to protect her job before the permanent secretary had any chance to investigate? Is it not the case that he clings to Jo Moore because he knows that if she goes, he is next in line?

Later still, we had Ms Moore's apology, which took a week to be made and which contained no direct apology to the families of those involved in the horrific events of 11 September. Rather, she seemed most concerned to apologise to the Government and to Ministers. A further issue is the manner of her apology. Any interview with a special adviser should be authorised; we do not know who gave the authorisation in this case. Nor do we know why Sky News was chosen initially as the sole recipient of the apology. For many of us, however, the most telling aspect was not the apology but the look on Ms Moore's face when she turned away from the cameras. She spun her way in, and she tried to spin her way out.

Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell): How can Conservative Members be so expert in giving apologies when my constituents have been waiting five years for an apology for the privatisation of British Rail? In my book, that decision represented a privatisation of the public service ethos to which the hon. Lady has referred. Will she take this opportunity to apologise to my constituents and to the United Kingdom for the privatisation of British Rail?

Mrs. May: I am sorry that, by his intervention, the hon. Gentleman has shown yet again that there are some Labour Members who simply do not seem to understand the extent and nature of what Ms Moore did with her e-mail on 11 September. The issue is not only about her individual action, but about the fact that that action represents the culture of spin that lies at the very heart of the Government.

Of course that e-mail is not the only example of spin from the Government—the canker of the culture of spin that lies at the heart of the Government. There are other examples even from the Department for Transport, Local

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Government and the Regions. Ms Moore herself was involved in trying to persuade a junior civil servant to leak information to journalists that was aimed at discrediting Bob Kiley, the London transport commissioner, while he and the Secretary of State were involved in a dispute over the future of London Underground. The fact that she did so was confirmed yesterday in a written answer in Hansard, at column 94W. Surely that attempt was contrary to the code of conduct for special advisers, yet no action was taken against her. Instead, the Secretary of State, rather than reprimanding his special adviser, spoke to the Department's director of information, Alun Evans, who had protested on behalf of his junior member of staff. Five days later, Mr. Evans was moved to another post.

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