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Saturday, 16 February, 2002, 13:11 GMT
Calls for spin doctor controls
Jo Moore
Jo Moore said people "invented stories" about her
The government is under increasing pressure to curb the activities of its spin doctors following the resignations of Jo Moore and Martin Sixsmith.

Calls are being made for a legally recognised code of conduct to regulate the behaviour of special aides - and to define the role of civil servants.

Transport Secretary Stephen Byers is also under pressure to quit following the departure of his spin doctor Ms Moore and the chief press officer at the Transport Department, Mr Sixsmith.


It is perfectly clear that Stephen Byers cannot run his own office, let alone a transport network.

Theresa May
Tory transport spokeswoman

An internal battle between the pair ended on Friday when both of them quit. The double resignation came shortly after Downing Street called on Mr Byers to get the "civil war" raging in his department "sorted out".

The chairman of the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee, Dr Tony Wright, said what had happened in the department was a "fiasco".

He told the BBC the saga made it even more urgent for the government to bring in a legally-enforceable code of conduct governing the behaviour of aides like Ms Moore.

The chairman of the Commons Transport Committee, veteran Labour MP Gwyneth Dunwoody, said she believed many of the problems with special advisors stemmed from Downing Street.

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think number 10 has got to re-think its attitude both to civil servants and in the way there appears to be a group of people operating out of there who are neither elected nor civil servants."

Jonathan Baume, the general secretary of First Division Association (FDA), the trade union representing senior civil servants, is calling for new laws to protect his members.

In-fighting

"We want to make sure we never find ourselves in this situation again," he told the BBC.

Shadow transport secretary Theresa May said Labour's obsession with presentation has seriously affected the neutrality of the civil service and called for Mr Byers to quit.

"It would be wrong for him to survive when both of his appointments have had to go," she said.

"It is perfectly clear that Stephen Byers cannot run his own office, let alone a transport network. He should go."

Martin Sixsmith and Stephen Byers
Mr Sixsmith had said the story was "nonsense"
Ms Moore had faced widespread calls for her to quit since sending an e-mail on 11 September suggesting it was a good day to "bury" bad news.

On that occasion Mr Byers stood by her, but she eventually quit along with Mr Sixsmith at the end of two days of leaks that had brought into the open the level of in-fighting among officials in the transport department.

The problem was highlighted in Ms Moore's resignation letter to Mr Byers.

It said: "Clearly there are some individuals in the department who are not prepared to work with me and are even prepared to invent stories about me as they have done this week."

Earlier on Friday, Mr Sixsmith said the whole story was "complete nonsense and worse than that a distraction".

E-mail rebuke

The latest row was sparked by newspaper reports that Mr Sixsmith rebuked Ms Moore in an e-mail for planning to release bad rail figures on the day of Princess Margaret's funeral.

Downing Street initially said the e-mail rebuke did not exist but performed a U-turn on Thursday afternoon after its existence was confirmed.

Tony Blair's official spokesman was furious at having to contradict his earlier statement and at the way the discussions had been "spun and twisted" in leaks to the media.

The e-mail at the centre of the row was sent by Mr Sixsmith to Mr Byers and copied to Ms Moore and an unnamed official.

Staff in all government press offices had been ordered by the head of the government's information and communications service not to air their complaints about ministers' spin doctors in the media.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Nicholas Jones
"Tony Blair is under pressure"
Amanda Platell, former spin doctor
"I would never have cycled around with one of those silly caps on "
Theresa May, Shadow Transport Secretary
"The culture of spin seems to be right at the heart of the government"
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