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Norman Lamb: That is an appropriate suggestion. We are debating the rights and protection of civil servants. The Secretary of State should confirm tonight that there will be a proper investigation. In that way, the Government could demonstrate that they are making a break from the past and re-establishing the proper standards of conduct among special advisers in the civil service in general.

7.43 pm

Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West): I am not sure whether the Government Whips will find my decidedly unspun contribution helpful. Frankly, that is not the issue. The Opposition have called for the debate to talk about spin in general, and about one person in particular, Jo Moore, the special adviser to the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, and the author of a disgraceful and infamous e-mail.

I do not know Jo Moore personally, although I know a number of people who have worked for her. They all bear witness to her loyalty and professionalism, as well as her qualities as a supportive and sympathetic manager. The crass, stupid and ill-judged e-mail, which was sent while the rest of the world watched in horror the television pictures of the carnage that the World Trade Centre had become, displayed precious few of those qualities. The revulsion that she has caused is genuine and cannot be lightly dismissed.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is right to observe that one mistake in an otherwise impressive work record does not justify the ending of Jo Moore's career. He is correct that due process was followed in the Department and that a formal reprimand was issued by the permanent secretary in accordance with published civil service procedures. However, that cannot be the entire story, not now and not ever. On 11 September 2001, the world changed for ever. It was the day on which we all had to make some dramatic decisions. The brave New York firefighters had to decide how often they would go back into a burning building, knowing full well that their chances of coming out alive were diminishing by the second. There were people trapped inside the twin towers who found temporary respite in the floors above the blazing inferno. Their decision was whether to jump to certain death or be burned alive.

It was decision time for those of us who have spent our political lives campaigning against the arms race and opposing the great majority of American foreign policy from Vietnam to Cuba, and from Nicaragua to Chile. It was time for us to put our reservations to one side, and in some instances our prejudices, and to give full and unqualified support to a traumatised American public.

Like others, I am proud to represent a multi-cultural constituency. It was time for me to visit mosques and community centres to reassure my law-abiding Muslim constituents of our solidarity against those who will attempt to make them scapegoats for the dreadful atrocities that occurred on 11 September. I include the former leader of the Conservative party.

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It is decision time also for Jo Moore. As was famously said about another very special adviser, when an adviser becomes the story, his or her position becomes untenable. In my view, Jo Moore's position is no longer tenable. The decision is hers, but it is time for her to do the honourable thing and reconsider her position.

We should consider the role of special advisers, their background, their function and the controls upon them. They were officially recognised and set up by the 1970 to 1974 Heath Government. It seemed that they were a Conservative creation, but they existed well before that, back to the time of Lloyd George. As I said in an intervention, their function is set out in the model contract, which appears in House of Commons research paper 00/42.

The Government deserve some credit for introducing further controls on the activities of special advisers. They implemented the recommendations of the Neill committee to establish a code of conduct for special advisers. Distinguished and senior civil servants have said that there are no problems with special advisers per se, unless they cross the all-important dividing line between what is laid down in the code of conduct and their own political ambitions and priorities.

What greater example of such ambition can there be than using the position of special adviser as a stepping stone to becoming a Member? Before the Deputy Chief Whip becomes too excited, that happens on both sides of the House. I have done some research. I recommend that Members study a list that has been compiled by the Library. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) was a former special adviser. He is now an Opposition Front Bencher. I wonder whether he was the special adviser who crafted the speech for Jonathan Aitken, who was banged up for perjury, about the simple sword of truth.

The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) was a special adviser, and the list goes on. The right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) is sadly not in his place; he never is nowadays. He was a special adviser. I do not think that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) was a special adviser, but he was paid by the public purse to do the bidding of Baroness Thatcher.

Opposition Members are obsessed with the concept of special advisers, but of the 24 Members who were once special advisers, 18 of them are Conservatives. What does that show us? It is clear that the Conservative party, for all its cant and hypocrisy is happy to use publicly funded special advisers as a recruitment agency for the parliamentary Conservative party.

Mr. Don Foster: I accept the hon. Gentleman's point about the total number of hon. Members who held such positions. However, it is sad that his list failed to mention the current Foreign Secretary, who was also a rather infamous special adviser and one of the first to be brought to book because of the way in which he was behaving. Has the hon. Gentleman forgotten that case?

Mr. Salter: Far from it. I recommended that hon. Members examine the list in the Library, which includes the Member to whom the hon. Gentleman referred and many others, some on our side of the House. I was suggesting that the proportion of Conservatives on the list was what they might find somewhat embarrassing.

Peter Bradley: In view of what we have heard from Conservative Members this afternoon, when there are

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issues of far greater moment happening in the world, does my hon. Friend agree that this is not so much a case of poachers turned gamekeeper, as poachers turned hypocrite?

Mr. Salter: My hon. Friend makes a point, and the subject of hypocrisy will feature later in my speech. If he will bear with me, I shall get on to that in some detail later. He also suggests that parliamentary time is at a premium and that it is inappropriate for us to have this debate. As I said earlier, there is real concern outside the House, and my hon. Friends should not dismiss it lightly. The Secretary of State has followed due process. It is for Jo Moore to decide whether her continued employment by our Government is a problem, and whether her position is tenable. I would suggest that it is not.

I think that this is the first Opposition day debate of this Session. The party that spawned spin doctors and special advisers has used valuable parliamentary time to expose its own weaknesses on this subject, and also to continue to whip up the media frenzy. This is a time when an historic agreement in Northern Ireland is possibly within our grasp after more than 30 years and a time when terrible incidents are taking place as the middle east peace process deteriorates. Frankly, if I were them, I would concentrate on the potential black hole in our public finances, rather than wasting time on this issue, but it is not for me to tell them how to be a decent Opposition.

Chris Grayling: I remind the hon. Gentleman that this is the second Opposition day of this Session. On the first, we chose to debate the key issues of the future of our countryside and education system. The reason for our holding this debate today is that the Government have offered no other opportunity to the House to debate what has become a matter of national interest and, indeed, of importance to the Government.

Mr. Salter: All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that that other Opposition day cannot have had much of an impact, because it certainly passed me and my constituents by.

It is worth looking at some of the facts that the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) attempted to highlight during the opening exchanges. I am at a loss to understand why a special adviser—or, indeed, anyone—thought that councillors' expenses were a problem that needed to be buried. I will take issue with any Minister who thinks that having properly remunerated councillors is something to be ashamed of. I like to think that there is nobody of that ilk, certainly on the new ministerial team. We have had bumbling amateurism for far too long in town halls the length and breadth of this land. I praise the Government for seeking to improve standards in local government and in our town halls. The question, therefore, is why any special adviser thinks that that is a subject to be buried, when I suggest that it is one to be applauded.

Mr. Don Foster: I sought to point out earlier that the reason the Government were interested in the matter not receiving much public attention was simple. The document published on 12 September contained a plan to

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reverse a commitment that they had given to ensure that all councillors, rather than just a few, would be eligible for pensions.

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