Page last updated at 07:25 GMT, Thursday, 24 September 2009 08:25 UK

Aide quits over attorney general

Stephen Hesford

Labour MP Stephen Hesford has resigned as a parliamentary aide after attorney general Baroness Scotland was fined £5,000 for breaking employment laws.

Mr Hesford, MP for Wirral West, has stepped down as parliamentary private secretary to minister Vera Baird.

Baroness Scotland was fined after being found to have employed a housekeeper who was not allowed to work in the UK.

The Tories said she could "no longer credibly stay in her job", but Gordon Brown again gave her his backing.

Speaking after Mr Hesford's resignation, the prime minister told BBC Radio 5 live it was "a very difficult matter", but the attorney general had acted "in good faith".

"Baroness Scotland has apologised unreservedly for the action that was taken," he said. "She has also paid the administrative fine that was levied by the Border Control Agency.

"I take this very seriously indeed, but when you look at the facts of the case, she has been misled by an employee who has given her wrong information.

"If Baroness Scotland had wilfully or knowingly employed any illegal worker, then obviously she wouldn't be in her post."

But Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling repeated his call - one also made by the Liberal Democrats - for her to step down.

I just think it wrong that someone who has the honour to serve in that office should remain considering the circumstances
Stephen Hesford

"Baroness Scotland made this law, she broke it, she can no longer credibly stay in her job," Mr Grayling said.

"The British people know it, Labour ministers know it. Is Gordon Brown the only person left in the country that thinks she should keep her job? He just doesn't get it."

'Accountable'

In a letter to the prime minister, Mr Hesford said: "My decision comes about because as an aide to the Law Officers, whilst I have great personal regard for the Attorney General, I cannot support the decision which allows her to remain in office.

"In my view the facts of the case do not matter. It is the principle which counts, particularly at a time when the public's trust of Whitehall is uncertain to say the least. We have to be seen to be accountable."

The UK Border Agency said Baroness Scotland had taken steps to check Tongan Loloahi Tapui's right to work but had not kept a copy of documents, as required by law.

The attorney general apologised what she called a "technical breach" and said she accepted the fine.

Speaking to the BBC's World at One programme, Mr Hesford said he saw the matter as "a personal honour situation".

Baroness Scotland
Baroness Scotland oversees criminal prosecutions in England and Wales

"The attorney general is the senior law officer, the chief adviser on legal matters to the government, and as a matter of principle I just think it wrong that someone who has the honour to serve in that office should remain considering the circumstances of yesterday," he said.

"Almost regardless of the facts... if you have the honour to serve you also have the principle to uphold that if things go wrong you don't stay in you don't stay in a position that could possibly make your job harder, which this undoubtedly will, or embarrass the government which you serve."

He said that Baroness Scotland was "otherwise a very good minister", but her position "at the top of the legal tree" was "a peculiarly sensitive one".



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