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Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. May: No.

Sadly, the whole approach of this Government has been to place emphasis on the ephemeral and ignore the substantial. That was, perhaps, summed up when Mo Mowlam said:

After 11 September, the Government did indeed issue bad news stories, but in this whole sorry saga we have a bigger one. It is a bad news story that, at a time when all thoughts should have been focused on support for our allies in the United States, people were reading in their newspapers that politicians were intent on pulling the wool over their eyes. It is a bad news story because, at a time when people needed clear leadership, straightforward talk and honesty from all in Government, they had a sense that they were being deceived.

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.

4.8 pm

The Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Mr. Stephen Byers ): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

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We heard a number of serious allegations from the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) about my Department. I intend to address all of them individually, specifically and in detail. My objective will be to replace innuendo with reality, allegation with truth, accusation with fact, and then to address the key issues—the substance—facing my Department, and how we intend to meet those challenges in the months ahead.

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 regions—totally 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 worried—and, 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. Byers: My right hon. Friend's reply is far better than mine and he is right. I return to the allegations, which I shall deal with individually and specifically.

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:

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getting other stories out and disguising the main purpose of the debate, which was initiated by the Opposition. How appropriate is it for Members to depart from the main tenets of the motion tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends?

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: I am grateful, Mr. Speaker. I moved the amendment when I began my speech.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): With that in mind.

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. James Gray (North Wiltshire): If indeed the events were as the Secretary of State describes, what on earth was the meaning behind Ms Moore's e-mail?

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 allegation—with respect, it is not to do with the e-mail—is 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: It was presumably advice that she was putting in the e-mail. I did not see the e-mail, so I do not know. That is the reality of the situation.

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The point raised by Conservative Members is clear, and their motion is very specific. It talks about

and the reality is that it was advice that was not acted upon, because the press release was already planned to be published on 12 September. That is the issue.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry) rose

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) rose

Mr. Byers: I will give way once more.

Mr. Boswell: If, as the Secretary of State says, he did not see Ms Moore's e-mail, can he tell the House who saw it and what action they took on it?

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.

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