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Mr. Byers: I know that my hon. Friend has raised his concerns about employment practices in Cheshire county council with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government, and my right hon. Friend and the Department will examine them closely. There is a big job to be done, and we simply want to get on and do it.
Mr. Gummer: Does the Secretary of State accept that he told the House that Martin Sixsmith had resigned? He has now told the House that Martin Sixsmith had not resigned. Those are two different positions. Why did he not just come to the House and say "I am sorry"? The House would have accepted that. I will apologise to the House for misleading it by suggesting that the right hon. Gentleman was honest, if he will apologise to the House and admit that he was dishonest.
Mr. Byers: I say with all due respect to the right hon. Gentleman, who also thinks independently about such issues and does not jump on to bandwagons, that if he looks at my statement of 26 February, at the permanent secretary's statement of 25 February, and at the outline of the events of 15 February, he will recognise that my statements have not misled this House.
Mr. Michael Trend (Windsor): I, too, serve on the Public Administration Committee. In his evidence to us, Sir Richard Mottram saidas paragraph 299 of the minutes of evidence makes clearthat he was "very reluctant" to make his personal statement, but that it was "put to" him that he should do so. Did the Secretary of State put that point to him? Did the Secretary of State instruct, ask or encourage Sir Richard to make his public statement, or suggest to himeither directly or indirectlythat he make it?
Mr. Byers: Sir Richard made the statement; he may have been reluctant to do so. [Hon. Members: "Ah!"] I say that because I honestly do not know, but according to the hon. Gentleman that is the evidence that Sir Richard gave to the Select Committee. What I do know is that permanent secretaries are not instructed by their Secretaries of State to make public statements. That is the situation. In answer to the hon. Gentleman's question, there was no instruction by me to Sir Richard Mottram. That is not the way in which relationships between Secretaries of State and permanent secretaries operate.
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): Given what my right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) have said today, is he aware that, during the local election campaign in Gortonin which the Conservative party was not simply trounced, but humiliatedno mention was made of the name of Martin Sixsmith? Nor, indeed, was mention made of the name of the hon. Member for Maidenheadwhatever it may beor of 15, 25 or 26 February. What were discussed were the issues that my right hon. Friend has raised today, rather than those raised by the Conservatives. That is why, as long as the Conservatives carry on in their current direction, Manchester city council will continue to have an overwhelming Labour majority, and we in Manchester will continue to be represented solely by Labour MPs.
As far as the Government were concerned, last Thursday's local government election results were pleasing to say the least. It is interesting to note that the Conservative Opposition are not mentioning those elections. Throughout the country, Labour held the day in most areas, and gained in many others, which people did not expect.
Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): Do not the many incorrect understandings of key issues during the past year, involving the Secretary of State and his Department, demonstrate carelessness on his part? We have now established that Martin Sixsmith was not lying. Do we believe that the chairman of BMW was lying during the Rover crisis? No. Do we believe that the chief executive of Railtrack was lying? No. The people of this country know what the answer is, and that is why the Secretary of State should resign.
Mr. Byers: When difficult and tough decisions are taken, there are people who disagree with their outcome. The right hon. Gentleman raises two specific issues, and as far as Railtrack is concernedI have said this in the House before, and I shall say it againI make no apology for bringing to an end what was a failed Tory privatisation. As far as BMW and Longbridge, in Birmingham, is concerned, I make no apology for saving 6,500 jobs. That was my action, which was not helped by the Conservatives who wanted to sell Birmingham out, to sell Longbridge out and to sell out those 6,500 workers. I make no apology for standing alongside those workers and defending their jobs. If people such as the right hon. Gentleman wish to complain about that, they can do so, but the public expect Ministers to take such decisions on their behalf.
Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley): Do not the simple facts of my right hon. Friend's statement today confirm that the two events of Tuesday this week in no way conflict with his statement on 26 February or the statement the day before by his permanent secretary? It is amazing how the Tories are trying to distract my right hon. Friend from doing his job, but I hope that he gets on with completing the reorganisation of local government finance, which is seen as an important issue in many parts of the country.
Mr. Byers: My hon. Friend is right when he points out that hon. Members should consider the documents and the statements together to see the true picture. He is also right to point out the importance of the statement on the regions White Paper. Since 25 February, we have also announced another initiative to identify nine pathfinder projects for areas of low housing demand, including one in my hon. Friend's constituency of Burnley. Those projects will make a real difference for hard-working people who have been trapped in negative equity because the value of their properties has dropped. Those are the real issues that matter to the people of Burnley and to the people of this country and the issues that I as the Secretary of State will continue to pursue.
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): The traditions of this House make it clear that all MPs are honourable people. However, honourable people do not blame everybody except themselves. Honourable people do not hide behind other people. Honourable people do not
Mr. Byers: I say once again to the hon. Gentleman that he should look at the agreed statement of Tuesday this week, my oral statement on 26 February and the statement by my permanent secretary that outlined the events of 15 February. When he has done that, even he will have to recognise that there is no reason why this Secretary of State should resign.
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): May I follow the point raised by the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Trend), because I too am a member of the Public Administration Committee? It was the Cabinet Secretary who advised Sir Richard Mottram to make a statement, and not my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. What my right hon. Friend has said from the Front Bench is true. I believe it, and the whole House should endorse the version of events that he has described.
Mr. Byers: I welcome that intervention from my hon. Friend, because it clearly shows the way in which Conservative Members are using the issue to make party political points. The fact that a member of the Select Committee partially quoted evidence given to the Committee, without revealing that other evidence had been given by the Cabinet Secretary that he had suggested to my permanent secretary that a statement should be made, reveals much about how the Conservative party is treating this issue.