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Mr. Byers: I thank my hon. Friend for her kind words. It is important not to lose sight of the issues that really matter to her constituents and others, including the reform of local government andespecially in her constituencytackling the problems of children growing up in bed and breakfast accommodation. Far too many children are denied life chances because of the conditions in which they are being brought up, and we want to take action to address that. Those are the real, big issues that matter to people outside this place.
The present issue is a media story, because it is linked with a director of communications. The media have focused on it and are not interested in anything else. However, I have the responsibility in my Department to deliver on the big issues that people really care about, such as transport, quality of life, decent homes and the regeneration and restoration of hope to communities. I and the Government will not be diverted from delivering on that agenda.
Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle): The Secretary of State told the House some time ago that the notorious e-mail that started all these discussions was never sent by Mr. Sixsmith to Miss Moore. Can the Secretary of State say whether that e-mail, or a similarly worded one, was sent to anyone else in his Department by Mr. Sixsmith, or was a hoax within the Department, or was just an invention of the newspapers?
Mr. Byers: The e-mail to which I referred in my statement was clearly false. What actually happened has been made public, and I shall be more than happy to place a copy of the relevant e-mail in the Library of the House so that all hon. Members may read it. The director of communications, Martin Sixsmith, sent an e-mail to me at my personal e-mail address rather than, as is normally the case, to a private secretary. That e-mail was sent on the Monday following the weekend of the death of Princess Margaret. The Friday of that week had already been announced as the date of her funeral. The e-mail was sent at about 12.30 pm to me as Stephen Byers MP. It beganthese words may not be exactly correct, but they are fairly precise"You asked me to reschedule an announcement to Friday".
The implication was that I, after Princess Margaret's death, had approached Martin Sixsmith and said that I wanted to change the date of an announcement to the Friday. That is totally inaccurate. Anyone who read that e-mail would have drawn the same conclusion as I did. I do not know why Martin Sixsmith sent the e-mail in that form, but, without any explanation behind it, it clearly had the potential to put me, as Secretary of State, in a difficult situation.
Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley): Is it not a fact that anyone who analysed Martin Sixsmith's talk on Radio 4's "Today" programme this morning and Richard Mottram's statement yesterday would fully accept the statement that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has just made? Is it not also the case that much of the protest today results from the fact that my right hon. Friend had the guts to take action to deal with the Tory shambles of rail privatisation? That is what the Opposition are protesting about. We should let him get on with doing the rest of his job in the same bold and courageous way that he has done it for the past few months.
Mr. Tyler: In his response to my hon. Friend, the Secretary of State made great play of the fact that he had not instructed that the resignation or dismissal of Mr. Sixsmith should occur. The word "instruct" does not appear in paragraph 58; can he explain that discrepancy? Furthermore, if the Secretary of State did not instruct that Mr. Sixsmith should lose his job, did he agree with the proposition that Mr. Sixsmith had to go? Was that connected with the e-mail that he has introduced at this late stage of our discussion, and will he place that e-mail in the Library so that we may see the context of the statement that he has just made?
Mr. Byers: In response to a previous question, I said that I would place a copy of that e-mail in the Library. I shall of course do so because it is right that hon. Members should read it. I have also said that I agreed with the recommendation made by the permanent secretary. I made that absolutely clear.
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): Is my right hon. Friend aware that among the so-called pundits called on by the BBC and other media organisations over the past few days is a manone Andy Woodwho worked from when our Government were elected in 1997 to undermine their efforts to obtain an agreement in Northern Ireland? Is not the reality that although the vast majority of civil servants have worked loyally to implement the reforms that we have tried to make and to support the efforts of my right hon. Friend and his colleagues to improve investment in
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): On "The Frost Programme" on Sunday morning, the Secretary of State for Scotland dismissed Mr. Sixsmith as a spin doctor who was seeking to negotiate his exit package. Does the Secretary of State agree with that description of a senior civil servant in his Department? Are we to infer from that that when Cabinet members say that senior civil servants are spin doctors, it is a dismissable offence?
Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): Will the Secretary of State categorically state that at no time did he insist that he would not accept the resignation of Jo Moore without the resignation of Mr. Sixsmith?
Mr. Byers: I hope that I have made that clear, but I shall try to do so again. There was no linkage between the two. Jo Moore resigned without any conditions being attached. I understand from the statement made by Sir Richard Mottram[Interruption.]
Mr. Speaker: Order. There is no point in the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. MacKay) asking the Secretary of State a question if he does not allow him to answer it. The right hon. Gentleman should let the Secretary of State answer.
Mr. Byers: I think that we have done the right thing by securing the resignations of Jo Moore and Martin Sixsmith. As I said earlier, I honestly believe that the Department is now in a stronger position to move forward and to meet the challenges that lie ahead.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During the statement, the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) chose to smear in a most disgraceful fashion the reputation of Andy Wood, a distinguished public servant with many years of service to his country through public service in Northern Ireland. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will rise to apologise. If he does not, Mr. Speaker, will you confirm that it is wholly out of order for hon. Members to treat in such a disgraceful fashion the civil servants who serve our Government and our country?
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members are responsible for what they say. That is a privilege that has some responsibility attached to it. What the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) said is not a matter for the Chair.
Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I worked with Andy Wood for a long time when I was a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Northern Ireland Officeas was the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) laterand I can confirm that he was a public servant for more than 30 years. I should like your guidance, Mr. Speaker. Do you have any authority to protect public servants from the sort of attack that we have just heard? It was clearly wrong and demeaned the hon. Gentleman and the Ministers whom he served as a Parliamentary Private Secretary.