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The Government have a particular responsibility at times such as this to put their conduct beyond reproach, but in the matter of Jo Moore they have failed in that duty. Despite all the available evidence, against the advice of senior Labour Members, and contrary to the better judgment of some members of their own Cabinet, they have decided to retain their confidence in her. In the process, they have inflicted unnecessary damage on our national life.
By her actions, Ms Moore has demeaned the whole notion of public service. By his failure to sack her, the Secretary of State has tarnished the Government; and by their failure to act, the Government have debased politics itself.
I intend to give more details about our proposed replacement for Railtrack, and how we mean to put the interests of the travelling public first. I intend to put our action in relation to Railtrack in the wider context of a programme of modernisation and reform of our essential services, but also to refer to our 10-year transport plan, totally ignored by the Conservative party; to the steps that we are taking to provide decent homes for people, totally ignored by the Conservative party; to our support for neighbourhood renewal and regeneration, totally ignored by the Conservative party; to the new freedoms that we want for local government, totally ignored by the Conservative party; and to our recognition of the importance of our regionstotally ignored by the Conservative party. It should come as no surprise that the hon. Lady ignored housing, neighbourhood renewal, regeneration, local government and communities for the last 30 minutes, because they were ignored for 18 years under a Conservative Government.
Mrs. May: If I am so uninterested in issues such as housing and homelessness, why was I prepared to attend and speak in the debate on Third Reading of the Homelessness Bill last night? The Secretary of State bunked off.
Mr. Byers: I have confidence in my ministerial team; the hon. Lady does not have them worriedand, having seen the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) perform last week, I can understand why. Let me deal with the allegations that have been made.
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): Is not it a fact that the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) was able to attend the debate on the Homelessness Bill only because the Government introduced that Bill? The Conservatives spent 18 years creating homelessness.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Secretary of State has made it clear that he will take the debate much wider than the motion. There is a rather disagreeable news management element to that:
Mr. Speaker: Although we are debating a motion, an amendment has also been selected. If the hon. Gentleman reads the amendment, he will find that there is enough scope for everyone to have their say, including the Secretary of State.
Mr. Byers: Conservative Members seem reluctant to deal with the specifics of the allegations, which I will come to, but I shall be grateful if they bide their time and listen to what I have to say on the issues.
On the specific allegations, the first relates to councillors' allowances and issuing the press notice as a result of the events of 11 September. The press notice on councillors' allowances was provisionally planned, at the end of the week before, to be released on Wednesday 12 September. The publication of the press notice, along with the consultation documents, went ahead as originally planned on 12 September. The details of the press notice were cleared by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government on 10 September. Those are the facts of the case.
Mr. Byers: The point is that the publication was planned the week before. The allegation made from the Dispatch Box by the hon. Member for Maidenhead is that we somehow altered the programme because of the events of 11 September. I am trying[Interruption.] No. If hon. Members read the record, they will see that the allegation is that we rushed through the announcements because of the events of 11 September. I would be grateful if the hon. Lady would confirm that that is exactly what she said.
The allegationwith respect, it is not to do with the e-mailis that we rushed out news because of the events of 11 September. I am telling the House that it was agreed the week before that that information would be published on 12 September, and 12 September was the date on which it was published.
Mrs. May: If, indeed, the press release on councillors' expenses was due to be published on 12 September, and that had been planned the previous week, why was councillors' expenses the very example of bad news that the Government needed to bury that was put in Ms Moore's e-mail of 11 September?
Mr. Byers: I am making the point that no action was taken on it. I certainly did not see it. The first time I saw it was on 8 October, and that is on the record. That is the reality of the situation. Like the hon. Member for Maidenhead, most of us were concerned about other events on the afternoon of 11 September. That is the true position.