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Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): This is very small beer, is it not? Many people outside this place will be wondering what all the fuss is about. It is not as though the Secretary of State has been found in a Paris hotel in the company of three Saudi arms dealers. It is not as though he has accepted money in brown envelopes from Mohammed Al Fayed or been found guilty of committing serial perjury in the High Court. There has been a minor misunderstanding, it has been cleared up and we should move on.

Mr. Byers: It is helpful at times such as this to be reminded of what happened during the time when the

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right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir Brian Mawhinney) was chairman of the Conservative party. He seemed to have very little to say about those issues. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. His constituents in Sunderland are concerned about abandoned housing and antisocial behaviour by tenants. Those are the sort of issues that matter to the public, and that is the agenda on which I intend to deliver as Secretary of State.

Norman Lamb (North Norfolk): The Secretary of State repeatedly invites us to compare the statement he made in February with the statement he made today. There is a subtle but important difference. Today he says that he had been told that Mr. Sixsmith had agreed to resign. That is something that a person can do while continuing in employment and negotiating a termination package. However, on 14 occasions on 26 February, the Secretary of State stated that Mr. Sixsmith had resigned. That is an important and crucial difference. Is it not scandalous that the taxpayer is now being asked to pay Mr. Sixsmith's hush money in circumstances in which it is clear that the Secretary of State has misled the House?

Mr. Byers: Martin Sixsmith is being compensated in accordance with his employment rights, as is right and proper. I say once again that the hon. Gentleman should look at the statement I have made today, the statement I made on 26 February and the statement made by my permanent secretary on 25 February about the events of 15 February. He will then recognise that I have not misled the House.

Mr. Mike O'Brien (North Warwickshire): Everyone who has followed this issue has known for a long time that Martin Sixsmith disputed the issue of his resignation. That has been public knowledge for a long time. The issue needed to be clarified today, and now that my right hon. Friend has done so will he accept that many people in the west midlands will be appalled by the lynch-mob mentality that has pervaded the Martin Sixsmith issue. They want to know that the west coast main line and transport in the west midlands are the issues on which the Secretary of State is focusing. I am pleased to hear that he intends to do that and to ignore the attitude of the Conservatives.

Mr. Byers: My hon. Friend is right. The agreed statement on Tuesday was the resolution of that dispute, and I welcome that. As my hon. Friend says, we face many problems and challenges in addressing transport in the west midlands.

I was pleased a couple of weeks ago to visit the passenger transport executive in the west midlands and to look at the issues that it is facing. I believe that we will be able to make real improvements in the transport system in the west midlands, as well as in the rest of the country.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): May I remind you, Mr. Speaker, that, during business questions on 26 February, which followed the Secretary of State's statement, I asked whether the record of the House was accurate? I also asked whether the integrity of the House of Commons was not at stake, as the Secretary of State's statement explicitly stated that Mr. Sixsmith had resigned. After the Secretary of State's statement, Mr. Sixsmith went on television to say that he had not resigned. Was

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not the Secretary of State deliberately using parliamentary privilege to impugn the professional competence of a civil servant who could not answer back? Instead of Mr. Sixsmith being asked to resign, should not the Secretary of State do so voluntarily?

Mr. Byers: The statement agreed between my Department and Mr. Sixsmith addresses some of the matters referred to by the hon. Gentleman. I repeat that hon. Members should read in full my statement on 26 February. They will then see that I have not misled the House.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker: Order. We must move on to the business statement.

Mr. Gale: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman should know that points of order are taken after statements. We are about to hear a statement from the Leader of the House.

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Business of the House

2.21 pm

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook): The business of the House for next week will be as follows:

Monday 13 May—Second Reading of the National Insurance Contributions Bill.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Excellent.

Mr. Cook: I thank the hon. Gentleman. I am glad that I have the confidence of the House on that point. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will vote for the measure.

Tuesday 14 May—Motion to approve the First Report from the Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, on Select Committees.

Motions relating to the Ninth Report from the Standards and Privileges Committee, on a new code of conduct and guide to the rules.

Wednesday 15 May—Opposition Day [13th Allotted Day]. Until 7 o'clock there will be a debate entitled "Post Office Closures and Royal Mail Delivery Services" followed by a debate on the environment. Exact title to be confirmed. Both debates will arise on a motion in the name of the Liberal Democrats.

Thursday 16 May—Progress on remaining stages of the Adoption and Children Bill.

Friday 17 May—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week after will be:

Monday 20 May—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Adoption and Children Bill.

Tuesday 21 May—Opposition Day [14th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Wednesday 22 May—Consideration of Lords Amendments to the National Health Service Reform and Health Care Professions Bill.

Thursday 23 May—Remaining stages of the State Pension Credits Bill [Lords].

Friday 24 May—Motion on the Whitsun recess Adjournment.

The House will wish to know that on Tuesday 14 May 2002, there will be a debate relating to the pet travel scheme in European Standing Committee A.

[Tuesday 14 May 2002:

European Standing Committee A—Relevant European Union documents: 11596/00 and 12488/01; Rabies: restrictions on the non-commercial movement of pet animals. Relevant European Scrutiny Committee Reports: HC 23-xxviii (1999–2000); HC 28-iv (2000–01); HC 152-iii; HC 152-xxi; HC 152-xxiv and HC 152-xxvi (2001–02).]

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): I am most grateful to the Leader of the House for giving us the business details. The right hon. Gentleman is rightly renowned for his respect for the House and for its conventions and proprieties. You will recall, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the right hon. Gentleman recently came to the House, willingly and quickly, to apologise

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after he had been grievously misled by a Government Department. He promptly came to apologise, and the House understood and respected what he did.

Has the Leader of the House recently had a word with the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions? If not, will he be kind enough to take the Secretary of State into a quiet corner and give him a lesson about the proper relationship between Ministers and the House of Commons, and about decency and honesty—in politics and in the House?

I ask that because I want the Leader of the House to tell us when he will allow time for a debate on the censure motion, in the name of Her Majesty's official Opposition and relating to the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, that is due to appear on the Order Paper. Today, we heard a performance from the Secretary of State that was completely inadequate and almost contemptuous. It is self-evident that we need an opportunity to have a proper debate so that the matter can be much more thoroughly examined, and resolved. That certainly would be in the interests of the House, and perhaps of the Secretary of State.

I have described the attitude to the House of the Leader of the House, which I respect. When will he provide an early opportunity for the Opposition's censure motion to be debated, dealt with and resolved?

Mr. Cook: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for reminding the House of the statement that I made to the House to correct the record. It may be relevant to consideration of the events about which we have just been hearing, but I should inform the House that the initial statement to the House on the matter about which I was subsequently obliged to correct the record was a line cleared by Mr. Martin Sixsmith. I used precisely the line that had been agreed by him and the Prime Minister's official spokesman. In view of the current unreliability of the line that Mr. Sixsmith approved, I have my own views about his reliability.

I have heard nothing in the past hour to suggest that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions did anything other than to put to the House, honestly and fairly, what was put to him by his Department, specifically by his permanent secretary. The words that he used were identical.

I do not doubt the right hon. Gentleman's commitment to the House. He is a genuine parliamentarian—

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