§ The Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Mr. Stephen Byers)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement about Martin Sixsmith in response to—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I understood that some hon. Members wanted to hear a statement from the Secretary of State; he will be heard.
§ Mr. Byers
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement about Martin Sixsmith in response to questions and concerns of hon. Members.
On 26 February, I made a statement to the House concerning Martin Sixsmith. In that statement, I briefly described events that took place on 15 February. I said the terms of Martin Sixsmith's departure were continuing. Those discussions were conducted without ministerial involvement. A resolution has been arrived at under which Martinexplicitly that the details of the events of that day were set out in the public statement made by my permanent secretary on 25 February. Both statements made it clear that discussions aimed at resolving Sixsmith is compensated in accordance with his employment rights, and an agreed statement was published on Tuesday of this week.
Also on Tuesday, a copy of the agreed statement was placed in the Library and reported to the Select Committee on Public Administration, which had asked my Department to clarify the position of Martin Sixsmith as part of an inquiry that it was conducting. I want to take this opportunity to explain to the House how the settlement that was reached with Martin Sixsmith and the agreed statement published on Tuesday relate to my oral statement in the House on 26 February. In particular, I want to address the concern that paragraph 2 of the agreed statement is in conflict with my statement in the House on 26 February and, as some have said, shows that I misled the House. That is simply not the case, and I want to explain why to the House.
My permanent secretary's statement of 25 February describes in detail two conversations that he had with Martin Sixsmith on Friday 15 February, which led him to inform me that Martin Sixsmith had agreed to resign. His statement also outlined how the announcement was made before it was possible to agree the detailed terms of Martin Sixsmith's resignation, and described his further meeting with Martin Sixsmith on the evening of 15 February, in which Martin Sixsmith argued that he had not resigned.
It is to precisely that sequence of events that the agreed statement refers when it says that the Department, while acting in good faith, announced that Martin Sixsmith had resigned on what turned out to be an incorrect understanding of earlier discussions that day between Martin Sixsmith and the permanent secretary. There is therefore nothing new here, and indeed nothing that was not a matter of record at the time of my statement on 26 February, which explicitly referred back to my permanent secretary's account.
In my statement to the House I made clear the reason for my understanding, based on the information that I had been provided with, that Martin Sixsmith had agreed to 294 resign. It was, of course, also abundantly clear from what Martin Sixsmith had said and from the statement of the permanent secretary that Mr. Sixsmith had said that the release of the announcement without his agreement changed everything. All this was apparent on 26 February when I made my statement to the House and indeed before, and was a matter of public record.
I also described the discussions that were taking place with Martin Sixsmith about an alternative civil service job or agreeing a settlement under his contract. As I said on 26 February,there have been a number of meetings and discussions involving Mr. Sixsmith in an attempt to resolve the detailed terms of his departure."—[Official Report, 26 February 2002:Vol.380,c.563.]I made it clear that at the time of my statement they had not been concluded—that is, the terms of his departure had not yet been agreed. An agreement has now been reached, which gave rise to Tuesday's agreed statement.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I expect better from the hon. Gentleman, who is a member of the Chairmen's Panel.
§ Mr. Byers
I have not misled the House, as some have alleged. All my statements to the House have been based on the information available to me. That is precisely why the agreed statement with Mr. Sixsmith explicitly says that any misunderstanding over his resignation was in good faith.
While these discussions about the employment status of an individual civil servant have been taking place, Ministers in my Department have not been diverted from the real tasks that face us and the people of our country. Those tasks are to rebuild communities—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The Minister must be heard. There is no point in anyone shouting across the Chamber.
§ 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. Speaker
Order. I say to hon. Members that the Minister is in order. If it were otherwise, I would tell him. Now, let the Minister make his statement.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Mr. MacKay, you are very, very excited. I am chairing the proceedings, and I say that the Minister is in order. I am well aware of the title of the 295 Minister's statement, but the Minister can make the statement. The content of the statement is his business, and he can put it to the House.
§ 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.
§ Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I should like to thank the Secretary of State for his courtesy in giving me prior sight of his statement.
Yet again, the Secretary of State has come to this House to explain our incorrect understanding of history—but he is at it again. He has just said that he is here todayto address the concern that…the agreed statement is in conflict with my statement in the House on 26 February",and thatThat is simply not the case.
On 26 February, the Secretary of State said:Martin Sixsmith offered his resignation, which was accepted, on 15 February."—[Official Report, 26 February 2002: Vol. 380, c. 574.]The agreed statement issued by his Department this week states:The Department accept that Martin Sixsmith…did not resign on February 15th".The Secretary of State said on 26 February:Mr. Sixsmith's resignation has been accepted".—[Official Report, 26 February 2002; Vol. 380, c. 571.]However, the agreed statement says:The Department accept that Mr. Sixsmith has remained in their employment since his contract began on 19th November 2001.The Secretary of State said on 26 February: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".—[Official Report, 26 February 2002; Vol. 380, c. 567.]However, the agreed statement issued by his Department on Tuesday said thatwere it not for these unfortunate events, for which no blame is being apportioned, he would continue to be a successful Director of Communications in DTLR".
The House is always immensely forgiving of those who explain how they have made a mistake, but today we have heard no remorse, no regret and no glimmer of an 296 apology. Last year, the Secretary of State told his electorate that he was "open and honest". Is it not clearly the case that he has not been remotely open and honest when he claimed today that what he said on 26 February is the same as what his Department said on Tuesday? If he had a single shred of decency left, would he not go—and go now?
§ 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 Department—not 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.
Particularly in relation to today's statement by his right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, this is the Secretary of State who on 29 January this year told this House thatthere is no agenda for the abolition of Cheshire county council, or any county council."—[Official Report, 29 January 2002; Vol. 379, c. 142.]The right hon. Gentleman is going to get away with that as well.
No wonder we have reached the situation where a letter writer in one of today's newspapers says that even if the Secretary of State announced his resignation, we would 297 not know whether to believe him. The Secretary of State talks about abandoned cars. He is the one who should be abandoned.
§ Mr. Byers
I agree with one aspect of the hon. Gentleman's comments—the 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?
§ 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?
§ Mr. Byers
I stress to the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues that they should examine the record. They should look at my statement to the House on 26 February and my permanent secretary's statement on the public record on 25 February about events on 15 February. When they do that, they will know that I have not misled the House.
§ Tony Wright (Cannock Chase)
My right hon. Friend has rightly come to the House today to correct an inaccuracy. I commend him on that because it is important that those matters be corrected. He mentioned that his permanent secretary had written to me, as Chairman of the Public Administration Committee, this week. He said: 298Needless to say, nothing in this 'Agreed Statement' affects the evidence I gave to your Committee on 7 March or my Secretary of State's statement to Parliament on 26 February, which in turn referred to my public statement of 25 February.That means that those who want to attack the Secretary of State must also attack the permanent secretary and the Cabinet Secretary. All gave the same account of events on the day that we are considering.
When the Committee discussed the matter with the Cabinet Secretary, he agreed that there was "chaos" in that section of the Department on the day in question. Is not the important issue to ensure that such chaos never happens again?
§ Mr. Byers
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I am sure that hon. Members look forward to the recommendations of the Public Administration Committee when it concludes its report. There is no doubt that there were problems in the Department; they have been resolved. The agreed statement on Tuesday is part of the resolution of the difficulties, and drew a line in sand. I am pleased that that is the case.
§ Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden)
Twelve thousand constituents who travel on the trains every day are primarily concerned that, following the Secretary of State's renationalisation of Railtrack, punctuality has deteriorated. That is more important than his prolific loss of spin doctors. They also note that he has disowned, dismissed or seen depart the chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority, the chairman of Railtrack, the Rail Regulator and another regulator. They were all appointed by him or his Government. If he cannot get on with those people and they do not trust him, how can my constituents trust him to run the railways properly? And if none of those people was required to be paid £200,000 to keep quiet, why is the taxpayer, and not the Labour party, required to pay that sum to Martin Sixsmith?
§ Mr. Byers
I have great respect for the Rail Regulator, who I believe is doing a very good job. On the issue of changes at the top of the Strategic Rail Authority and Railtrack, I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that I do not think that those organisations were delivering to his 12,000 constituents coming in from St. Albans. There is a choice: we can either make big changes to have the opportunity of improving our railway system, or we can tinker around at the edges. I have chosen to make the big changes that are needed. The right hon. Gentleman may criticise me for doing so, but in the end, his 12,000 constituents who travel every day will be the judge. By the time of the next election, what will really matter to them will be not the debate that we are having here this afternoon but whether their trains are safer, more punctual and more reliable—and they will be.
§ Gillian Merron (Lincoln)
The Opposition are baying for my right hon. Friend's blood. While the payment to Martin Sixsmith was legal, my right hon. Friend will be as appalled as I was to learn that, in the public interest report on Lincolnshire county council which found its Tory leader guilty of £750,000 of illegal payments—
§ Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire)
May I ask my right hon. Friend to cease wasting any more time 299 on this issue and to get back to the fundamental responsibilities of his Department—not least transport? Is he aware that, in many instances, it took football supporters more than seven hours to get out of Wales and back to London after the cup final on Saturday? That is more important to the people of this country, and it is certainly more important to the businesses of Wales, whose livelihoods depend on those transport links.
§ Mr. Byers
My hon. Friend makes the point that really matters to the people of this country. We face huge challenges, and she has just given a good example of where the railway system is not delivering the quality that we all expect it to. Obviously, we need to take steps to ensure that it is improved. Those are the big issues. I have to say to my hon. Friend that, while there has been all this froth from the Opposition, we have not been diverted from delivering what really matters to the people of our country. When hon. Members look at my statement on 26 February, specifically referring to my permanent secretary's statement on 25 February, they will realise that I did not mislead the House.
§ Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)
What is the Secretary of State's definition of shameful ministerial conduct?
§ Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton)
Could the Secretary of State assure Labour Ministers that he will not be distracted by the pedantry of the most mendacious of Oppositions? Can he also assure us that he and his Ministers will get on with the really important business of ensuring that local councils such as my own—a Lib Dem council—are transparent, and that they properly engage with local communities in the essential business of regeneration, which affects them far more than whatever happens to Martin Sixsmith?
§ Mr. Byers
Yes, sometimes they are terrified, or at least slightly worried, because my hon. Friend speaks independently. He speaks his own mind on behalf of his constituents. What he has done today is to articulate the view of his constituents, and the constituents of all hon. Members, that there are far bigger issues that need to be addressed.
A Secretary of State needs to deliver on the policies and priorities of his Department. I intend to do that. He needs to be truthful to this House. I will do that as well.
§ Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)
I know that the Secretary of State wants to draw a line under this, but I honestly doubt that he has managed to do so today.
300 Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, whatever the substantial differences between him and Martin Sixsmith, the one thing they have in common is that they have both taken an inordinate amount of time to tender their resignations? If it subsequently emerges that the House has been misled about any of these matters, will the Secretary of State tender his resignation?
§ Mr. Byers
The ministerial code is absolutely clear: a Minister who knowingly misleads the House should tender his resignation. That is absolutely right. [Interruption.] Opposition Members who are shouting should look at my statement. I will say this again—[Interruption.] Right hon. and hon. Members may not want to hear, but if they look at my statement of 26 February and my permanent secretary's statement of 25 February they will realise that I have not misled the House.
§ Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
When the House debates the substantive issue of the railways, as a new Member I often shake my head in disbelief at the number of statements by Conservatives who are simply trying to reinvent history. Will my right hon. Friend please ask the amnesiac Conservative party to apologise—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman should put a question to the Minister; he should not concern himself with the Opposition.
§ Mr. Byers
The key issue is that we should be debating those big policy issues relating to our transport system, regeneration, planning, housing and local government. The Conservatives are running away from those big issues, for a simple reason: either they have no policy in those areas, or they know that many of them will be required to invest massively over a long period. As their party is committed to cutting investment, they want to run away from the debates and the arguments about those issues of substance.
§ Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)
The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) referred to Cheshire county council. I for one would like it to be abolished very quickly, and I am delighted about the White Paper that was announced today. While it still exists, however, will my right hon. Friend ignore the froth and nonsense that we are hearing and concentrate on some of the things that are going on in the council? There are appalling employment practices, and cuts in services that are affecting my constituents.
§ 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. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal)
The right hon. Gentleman will know that earlier in his period of office I suggested in the public print that we should give him the 301 benefit of the doubt, and not cavil about a number of these smaller incidents. Does he accept that now—[Interruption.]
§ 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 said—as paragraph 299 of the minutes of evidence makes clear—that 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 him—either directly or indirectly—that 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 Gorton—in which the Conservative party was not simply trounced, but humiliated—no mention was made of the name of Martin Sixsmith? Nor, indeed, was mention made of the name of the hon. Member for Maidenhead—whatever it may be—or 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.
§ Mr. Byers
I look forward to Manchester being epresented by my right hon. Friend and my other hon. Friends for many years to come.
302 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 concerned—I have said this in the House before, and I shall say it again—I 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 303 refuse to say sorry. So why does not the Secretary of State prove me wrong by living up to the best traditions of this House and doing at least one honourable thing—resigning?
§ 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.
§ Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)
On 26 February, I asked:Will the Secretary of State say whether Mr. Martin Sixsmith was a civil servant in his Department on 22 February?The Secretary of State replied:As I said earlier, Martin Sixsmith offered his resignation, which was accepted, on 15 February."—[Official Report, 26 February 2002; Vol. 380, c. 574.]If that is not misleading the House, what is?
§ Mr. McLoughlin
I do apologise. I was trying to give the Secretary of State a copy of what he said.
§ 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 A1 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 304 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
305 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. 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.