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Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the hon. Lady speak.
Mrs. May: How can the Secretary of State come here today and yet again attempt to put the blame for his own failures on the civil servants in his Department? Just what does it take for this Secretary of State to go? Is he content to stay at any pricea despised Secretary of State who no one trusts and no one will deal with? He has said that his Department needs a fresh start. He has prided himself on taking tough decisions. Let him salvage something from his shattered reputation: give the Department the fresh start it needs and go now.
Mr. Byers: I think that that was prepared a little earlier, before the hon. Lady had read my statement. The important point that the House needs to address
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Answer the questions.
Mr. Byers: I will answer the questions.
Mr. Byers: I will answer all the questions. When Opposition Members have had the opportunity to read my statement, they will see that most of the questions have already been answered in it.
The situation is this. The hon. Lady referred to the Dimbleby programme, on which I was very clear about the circumstances of the resignations. That was reaffirmed by the points made in yesterday's statement by the permanent secretary, Sir Richard Mottram. His view was that the situation of both Martin Sixsmith and Jo Moore was untenable in the light of circumstances in the Department's press office and that we should seek their resignations. I agreed with that. It was a recommendation from the permanent secretary, and I made that clear. If hon. Members see the transcript of the Dimbleby programme, they will see that I said that.
The crucial issue, I think, relates to whether, in the circumstances, Martin Sixsmith's resignation was communicated to me. As yesterday's statement from Sir Richard Mottram makes very clear, he informed me and the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Richard Wilson, that Martin Sixsmith had agreed to resign. It was on that basis that I made the announcement. The hon. Lady raises the issue that the condition of Jo Moore resigning was that Martin Sixsmith should resign as well. There were no such conditions attached to Jo Moore's resignation.
On the issue of whether I have been involved in the detailed discussions relating to Mr. Sixsmith's termination, the situationI hope that I made it clear in my statement, but I shall try to clarify it for Opposition Membersis that I made it clear to Sir Richard Mottram that, in my view, which I believe has been strengthened
Those, I think, are the key issues raised by the hon. Lady. I am clear that, given the way in which he conducted himself in the Department, Martin Sixsmith was not a suitable person to remain in government; but that, ultimately, was not a decision made by me as Secretary of State. It is a matter to be discussed between the permanent secretary and Mr. Sixsmith himself, and those discussions were continuing up until last Friday.
Andrew Bennett (Denton and Reddish): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his determination to deal with the real problems that his Department faces in sorting out local government finance, securing a modern transport system for us, and making a reality of urban regeneration. Does he accept that he will be judged at the end of this Parliament, both by Labour Members and in the country, on his success in those areas rather than on the minutiae of today's debate?
Mr. Byers: Of courseand I must stress that not just my ministerial team but the vast majority of civil servants in the Department are committed to achieving those objectives. They are impartial: they serve the Government of the day. We have experienced difficulties in this particular instance, but they have occurred in the communications department and, thankfully, not in a department that has been responsible for delivering on those important aims.
We need to ensure that we concentrate on the key issues that concern people in our country. Those issues are very clear. I can understand why the Conservatives do not want to talk about them: they were responsible for 18 years of neglect. Communities in our country are still suffering the scars inflicted by that Conservative Government, and that is what the Conservatives do not want to talk about. They will concentrate on the contract of employment of one senior civil servant. What about the millions who lost their jobs under a Conservative Government? We hear nothing about that. But this Government, this Department and this Secretary of State are dedicated to improving transport, to reforming local government, to giving decent housing to our people, and to the regeneration of our communities. That is our agenda, that is the country's agenda, and that is what we will deliver on.
Mr. Don Foster (Bath): It would be all too easy to call for the Secretary of State's resignation over this one issue. After all, the Tories do it at the drop of a hat. But does not this particular issue demonstrate the feuding that has been going on for far too long at the very heart of the Secretary of State's Department? Not only has that feuding detracted from the Department's ability to do its work; it is symptomatic of a crisis of management within the Departmenta crisis of management that has led to chaos on our railways, in London Underground, and in National Air Traffic Services.
Does this not mean that the Department no longer even knows what is going on? For example, it does not even keep records of the research that it has commissioned, and does not know whether or not vital safety recommendations to improve our railways have been implemented. Even today's statement was entitled "Resignation of Martin Sixsmith", although it is absolutely clear that he has not resigned at all.
Even more important than the crisis of management over which he presides, however, is the Secretary of State's own behaviour. Section 58 of the ministerial code specifically requires ministers not to issue instructions contrary to the civil service code, and requires them to behave as good employers. As it is clear from his statement that the Secretary of State was directly involved in the removal of Mr. Sixsmith, how can he claim not to be in breach of section 58 of the ministerial code?
How can a senior member of the right hon. Gentleman's Department be removed without any inquiry into allegations of misconduct, particularly when it is now claimed that Sir Richard Mottram has said that there has been no misconduct? Surely if the Secretary of State and his Department are behaving as good employers, Martin Sixsmith should have the same employment rights as anybody else. Like the Secretary of State, Martin Sixsmith deserves to have a hearing. Can the Secretary of State tell the House of what Martin Sixsmith is actually guilty?
Is it any wonder, with all this going on, that it appears that the only person retaining full confidence in the Secretary of State is the Prime Minister? Given all of these causes for concern about the crisis in his Department, would it not be right for the Secretary of State at least to move over and make way for somebody else to lead the Department and to go now?
Mr. Byers: I have looked carefully at the ministerial code as well, and the hon. Gentleman will know that section 58 clearly talks about issuing instructions. I thought that I had made it clear in my statementcertainly Sir Richard Mottram did yesterdaythat Sir Richard Mottram came to me on 15 February to say that, in his view, in the interests of the Department, the best outcome would be if Jo Moore and Martin Sixsmith resigned. That was his recommendation to me, and I agreed with it. There is no question of instructions; a permanent secretary came to me and made a recommendation. That was the substance of the allegation that has been made.
The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) says that the Department is not doing anything, and that it is in paralysis and crisis. This is a Department that, in the last eight months[Interruption.] Conservative Members immediately talk about what we did in relation to Railtrack. I know that it is very difficult for the Conservatives to come to terms with the fact that we have acted in relation to their failed privatisation, but the reality is that we have. In addition, we have issued a White Paper on the reform of local government structures and finance. For the first time since 1947, we have issued a Green Paper on changing the planning system. We have also changed the Strategic Rail Authority to provide greater focus. We have the new deal for communities, which is making a difference to literally hundreds of thousands of people in our country.
That is what we have been able to do in the Department. It is not a Department in paralysis; the Department is taking action. The Liberal Democrats