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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. Byers: Since 26 February my ministerial team and I have introduced new laws to get rid of abandoned cars; we have tackled bed-and-breakfast accommodation for children—[Interruption.]

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

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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.

Hon. Members: Resign!

Mrs. Theresa May : (Maidenhead) rose

Hon. Members: Resign!

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) must also be heard.

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 today


and that


On 26 February, the Secretary of State said:


The agreed statement issued by his Department this week states:


The Secretary of State said on 26 February:


However, the agreed statement says:


The Secretary of State said on 26 February:


However, the agreed statement issued by his Department on Tuesday said that


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

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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 rose

Hon. Members: Resign!

Mr. Speaker: Order.

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 that


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

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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?

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?


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