Mr. Collins: The Minister has made a most basic errorhe has assumed that he is the only hon. Member in the Chamber who has a photocopy of The Sunday Times article. In fact, Jo Moore refused to answer any questions about Railtrack, so the journalist said:
We have yet to hear whether there will be a proper inquiry into the reports that Jo Moore sought to involve Mr. Alun Evans in a dirty-tricks campaign against the London transport commissioner, Bob Kiley. We have certainly not had any response to the revelation made by the Chairman of the Public Administration Committeea Labour Member, so I should have thought that Labour Members would like to listen to what one of their own has to say[Interruption.] Fine, they are not interested in what a Labour Member, the Chairman of the Public Administration Committee, has to say, but they will hear it any way. Last week, he said that the report about Jo Moore's misbehaviour towards Alun Evans had been independently confirmed by sources in the civil service.
Bizarrely, the Secretary of State implied this afternoon that Mr. Kiley was the originator, not the target of those dirty tricks. Of course, that is by no means the only bizarre aspect of the saga; it seems that at one time the Government were trying to say that Ms Moore had never even sent the e-mail.
I now turn to what is now known as "the Marsden memorandum"the record of his amicable conversation with the Government Chief Whip, whom I am delighted to see in her place. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham said:
We still do not know what Ms Moore does for her salary of £70,000 a yearmore than any Back-Bench Member receives. She is paid that amount for a three-day week, so pro rata, she is paid more than a member of the Cabinet. She cannot talk to journalists on The Sunday Times because they will not take her word for anything. She cannot brief anyone on rail issues; the Government have to hire a City public relations firm to carry out that part of her job. If she cannot speak to the press, people might think that she was keeping fingertip control over developments in her Department, but the linchpin of the Secretary of State's defence this afternoon was that the decision to issue the now notorious press release on councillors' expenses had already been taken before she sent her e-mail.
So we have a dilemma: if we do not believe the Secretary of State, we know that he acted on immoral advice and both he and his special adviser should go; but if we believe the Secretary of State, we must think that for £70,000 a year, his special adviser does not even read her papers and knows nothing of what is going on in her Department, so she is incompetent.
We find out that Jo Moore's job is a rather cushy number, because for £70,000 a year, she has the chance, as we learn from one of this weekend's diary columns, to leave this message on her answerphone at work:
Early in our debate, my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) asked why we were having it. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) put his finger on the reason; it is because the Opposition cannot make a case on any other issue and cannot think of anything else to say. It is truly extraordinary that, on the first Opposition day debate under the new Conservative leader, they have chosen this subject. The meeting at which members of the shadow Cabinet took that decision must have been interesting. It must have been a case of pass the parcel with the Leader of the Opposition asking, "Shadow Chancellor, would you like to lead the debate?" and the shadow Chancellor replying, "Well, it's a bit difficult when we've got the strongest economy in Europe." When the Tories were in government, they doubled the national debt in only five years, but we have been paying off that debt. The economy has been growing strongly; even with the impact of world recession, our economy is holding up the best, so obviously the shadow Chancellor wanted to duck the issue.
The shadow Secretary of State for Health would probably not have been keen to have a debate in the face of record hospital building, dramatically increased numbers of medical trainees and increased funding for hospitals, let alone the Tories' own appalling record and, of course, their commitment to privatise the health service. The previous portfolio of the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) was education. In the face of rising standards across the country, what case could Opposition Members have made, given their record? Each shadow Minister passed the parcel until it ended up with that hapless bunch who are shadow Ministers for the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. Beauty and the beast had to sit down and decide which issues they were going to discuss. They could not discuss the underground, because the Conservative Government neglected investment year after year. Even the disagreements between us and the Mayor are about how we spend the extra money that the Government are putting into the underground.
The Opposition could not debate buses because they created havoc with privatisation, which led to difficulties in many cities across the country. They could not debate aviation because the Chancellor took a world lead in organising insurance cover for our aviation industry, which many other countries have followed. We know that they could not debate the railways because only one Conservative Member did so in the debate. I give the right hon. Member for Wokingham credit for that, even if his supporters were referred to as "Ward 8 from Broadmoor". The Conservatives know the difficulties that they would face if they spoke about the railways. They would have to answer not only for privatisation but for the subsequent mismanagement and the rushed botched job on Railtrack in 1996, driven by ideology and a shortage of cash.
Having considered transport issues, the Conservatives will have looked across the rest of the DTLR portfolio and on each issue seen solid, realistic action that is delivering for people across the country. They could not deal with any of the questions raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) about the social environment, abandoned vehicles and housing because they neglected those issues over the years and did not give a damn about the people living in such areas.