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I understand that the posts of director of information and head of news at the Department are vacant and appointments are due to be made in the next few weeks. I think that it would help to restore some confidence among staff in the Department if the Secretary of State would today state categorically that Ms Moore will have no role whatsoeverwill not be consulted or invited to commenton those appointments.
The Secretary of State must answer those questions if he is to clear up some of the confusion that surrounds all those events. He has something of a record when it comes to press officers. In 1997, when he was a Minister at the then Department for Education and Employment, the press officer Jonathan Haslam resigned, reportedly after a row with the right hon. Gentleman, who had asked him to issue a press release criticising the record of the previous Government. [Interruption.]
The charge against the Secretary of State, and against those Labour Members whose jocularity shows how little they understand about the nature of the civil service, is that he has perpetuated the culture of spin by his connivance in the politicisation of civil servants who are press officers.
Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): There is no doubt that Jo Moore's e-mail was totally inappropriate. As the hon. Lady is so clear about what she is willing to condemn, does she also think that the culture that was created in the Conservative party by Archer, Aitken, Hamilton, Best and Allason did anything to damage the integrity of politics in this country?
Mrs. May: The point is that Ms Moore is still in her post. She has not been sacked, and she has not had the decency to resign. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to muse on the complaint brought against the Secretary of State by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory)that while he was Secretary of State at the Department of Trade and Industry he suppressed publication of a report into the affairs of his hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson).
The Secretary of State must also answer the accusation that, although the Government outwardly professed to be as disgusted as the rest of us by Ms Moore's e-mail, internally they seem to have followed her advice, because a number of bad news stories were released in the immediate aftermath of the events of 11 September.
We all know that the now infamous councillors' expenses story was released the following day, although according to press reports the Minister for Local Government has insisted that the announcement was cleared for publication the day before. Press reports also suggest that the release was unusually sent to the Local Government Chronicle only one hour before its press deadline. As Chris Mahony, its news editor, put it:
Mrs. May: I think that when the hon. Gentleman reflects on the remarks that he has just made, he will realise that it was inadvisable to pray the armed forces in aid on this issue. If he has accepted that what Jo Moore did was horrible, wrong and stupid, what is the next stage? In doing something of this nature, she brought politicians, politics and the Government into disrepute. What she did has implications for us all. It is not surprising that the electorate are so cynical about politicians when they see such spin from the Government's spin doctors.
On 12 September, there was a release on pensions for councillors and the release of new planning guidance for the west country, which will force the construction of 200,000 more buildings on green fields, irrespective of local wishes. On 14 September, the Government published exam results, which showed that standards in maths among 11-year-olds were getting worse. On 4 October, the announcement was made of the cancellation of the proposed Picketts Lock athletics stadium, jeopardising our chances of hosting the 2005 world athletics championships.
Let us consider the Government's handling of their decisions on Railtrack. What exactly was said in the telephone call between the Department and Ernst and Young on 11 September? The Independent on Sunday reported that Alan Bloom, head of the accountants' insolvency arm, was called on the afternoon of 11 September to discuss plans to force Railtrack into administration. Mr. Bloom told colleagues at Ernst and Young that he had been told to "get stuck in" at Railtrack. The fact that the Government were applying for Railtrack
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): If the Government deliberately used that period to release what the hon. Lady describes as bad news, will she assure hon. Members that, had the announcement on Picketts Lock and the other matters that she listed been delayed for a month, no Conservative Front-Bench Member would have jumped up and down to complain about withholding bad news?
The past few days have provided more examples of the problems of spin. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had to come to the House yesterday to defend herself against allegations of spin after issuing a significant press release on errors made in tests on sheep brains for BSE late one night without a press conference.
Perhaps even more significant was yesterday's personal statement in another place by Lord Macdonald. He apologised not only for giving an unclear answer in the House of Lords, leading their lordships to believe that the number of special advisers had increased under Labour from 78 to 81, when it had gone up from 38 under the last Conservative Government to 81 under Labour, but for attempts by his officials to persuade Hansard to change the written record of what he had said.
Not only Opposition and Labour Members have expressed disgust at Ms Moore's attitude and that of Ministers defending her, as any perusal of newspapers' letters pages will confirm. I have a letter from Mr. Jonathan Lord, who lives in Cheshire. It states:
Alan Howarth: The hon. Lady speaks of a stain on the political process and the importance of maintaining a good reputation for politics, yet she displays a remarkable zest in her hounding of Ms Moore. Is she aware that nothing is so unpleasant in politics as the pack in full cry in pursuit of an individual that it has decided to tear to pieces? The hon. Lady is engaged in the politics of the mob; she should know better.
Mrs. May: I am sorry about that intervention because I expected better of the right hon. Gentleman. I expected him, along with some of his colleagues, to understand the full nature of what Ms Moore had done through her e-mail and the ministerial reactions to it. As I said, Mr. Lord's letter gets to the heart of the debate.
This issue goes beyond the actions of one Government spin doctor. It is not just about what Ministers have referred to as a single mistake; it goes to the very heart of the approach that this Government take to the electorate and, indeed, to our parliamentary democracy. It typifies a culture of spin that says that whatever the issue, spin matters more than substance. Little wonder that there is an attitude of cynicism towards politicians and politics among the general public, when they hear of actions such as this which tell them that the Government are more interested in burying a few announcements than in the feelings of people who witnessed or were involved in those horrific tragedies on 11 September.
This issue strikes at the heart of a relationship that has underpinned and strengthened our Governments over the centuriesthat essential relationship between non- political civil servants working hard and with dedication whoever is in government, and the politicians whom they serve. I wonder what decent, hard-working civil servants think when they see Ms Moore keeping her job.