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Mr. Byers: That task is to rebuild communities and give new hope to neighbourhoods. That is why, since my oral statement on 26 February, we have introduced new laws to get rid of abandoned cars; introduced measures to stop the scandal of children in bed-and-breakfast accommodation; set up nine projects to tackle low-demand and abandoned housing[Interruption.]
Mr. Byers: What we are witnessing is the fact that the Conservatives do not like issues to be addressed. These are the real issues that matter to the people of our country: tackling abandoned cars; stopping the scandal of children in bed-and-breakfast accommodation; tackling the Tory standard spending assessment for local government; projects to tackle low-demand housing; and since 26 February, a bid to take over Railtrack by a company that will put the travelling public first and remove a failed Tory privatisation. Those are the real issues that matter to real people in the real world. So for this Department and this Secretary of State there will be no distractions; we will be getting on with the job.
Mr. Byers: What I will say to hon. Members is that they should look at my statement of 26 February, the statement made by my permanent secretary on 25 February, which refers explicitly to the events of 15 February, and the agreed statement made on Tuesday. When hon. Members, on reflection, look at what was said on 26 February and at my permanent secretary's statement on 25 February about the events of 15 February, they will in all honesty recognise, putting aside party political points, that this House has not been misled by this Secretary of State.
Mr. Don Foster (Bath): Given that the Secretary of State has developed a reputation for presiding over the burying of bad news, is it not a great shame that on the day of the publication of the vital White Paper on regional government, he now stands guilty of seeking to bury good news?
The important aspect of this statement is the question of when the Secretary of State is going to start taking responsibility for the chaos within his Departmentnot only the chaos that surrounds the alleged resignation of Martin Sixsmith, but the chaos on our buses, roads and railways. When will the Secretary of State start taking responsibility, and how many lives is he to have?
This is the Secretary of State who wishes to talk about the record of his Department under his leadership, but this is the Secretary of State who created confusion in the chain of events leading up to taking Railtrack into administration, and got away with it. This is the Secretary of State who created confusion over the value-for-money studies on the public-private partnership for the London tube, and got away with it. This is the Secretary of State who told us that no additional money was needed for National Air Traffic Services, then announced that it was going to get it, and got away with it. He told us that there would be no additional money for Railtrack shareholders, then reneged on that, and got away with it.
Mr. Byers: I agree with one aspect of the hon. Gentleman's commentsthe publication today of the White Paper on the English regions is good news. I am personally delighted to have been able to author it jointly with the Deputy Prime Minister.
There is no hidden agenda to abolish Cheshire county council. The whole point of the White Paper is that we are giving people in the regions the choice, and I should have hoped that the hon. Gentleman would realise that.
The reality is that despite all the blather and froth coming from Conservative Members, this Department is delivering on the things that matter. We are making progress on buses, roads and the railways, and over time we will see real improvements in the areas that matter to the people of our country.
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East): Does my right hon. Friend accept that most people recognise the difference between matters involving who said what to whom and when, and a genuine attempt to deceive? Does he also accept that people will view the Conservatives' synthetic indignation for what it is: cynical opportunism?
Mr. Byers: My hon. Friend is right. I ask commentators and hon. Members to consider the statement that was made on 26 February, that of my permanent secretary on 25 February and the agreed statement. People will then realise that the House has not been misled.
Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire): Does the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that in the memory of even the longest-serving Members, those who are privileged to act as Secretaries of State in the service of the House, have, irrespective of the normal partisan give and take, always sought to attain high standards of accuracy, truthfulness, and when appropriate, humility? Does he understand that he has demeaned those standards by his behaviour in the past three months? Does he also understand that he has treated the House with contempt and that he should not therefore be surprised if the House adopts a similar attitude to him?