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Thursday, 9 May, 2002, 09:27 GMT 10:27 UK
Defiant Byers to address Commons
Stephen Byers in the House of Commons
Calls are growing for Mr Byers to quit
Transport Secretary Stephen Byers is to make a Commons statement later on Thursday following claims he lied to MPs over the resignation of spin chief Martin Sixsmith.

But the transport department says Mr Byers does not intend to apologise or even clarify his position as he "has not done anything wrong".

Officials say the row about Mr Sixsmith has so far been "all heat and no light".

But that may not be enough to prevent the Conservatives from pressing ahead with a censure motion over the issue - the Opposition equivalent of a vote of no confidence.

Potent

The Tories say Mr Byers "misled the House" by saying Mr Sixsmith had resigned when he had not.

Shadow leader of the House Eric Forth tabled a censure motion on Wednesday evening, but it may not be heard until next week.

A censure motion is a power rarely used and is the most potent parliamentary tool the opposition can use against an individual minister.

But if it came to a vote, the Tories would be unlikely to win because of Labour's huge majority.

Mr Byers is due to make his statement at 1330BST.

Martin Sixsmith
Sixsmith: Byers said he had resigned

'In good faith'

Prime Minister Tony Blair mounted a strong defence of Mr Byers at Prime Minister's Question Time on Wednesday.

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said Mr Blair should sack the transport secretary for misleading MPs.


It was clear the secretary of state had been told Mr Sixsmith had agreed to resign

Tony Blair
Prime Minister

Mr Blair said: "I don't accept that people were misled at all."

He insisted Mr Byers had acted in "good faith".

"It was clear the secretary of state had been told Mr Sixsmith had agreed to resign. It was equally clear that Mr Sixsmith disputed that he had resigned," Mr Blair said.

"Therefore, the parties were not in agreement.

"Therefore, there had to be negotiation... Terms have now been agreed and he has indeed departed."

'Unfit for office'

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said Mr Byers' position had become "even more untenable" and urged him to resign.


It is quite clear that this is just yet another episode which has shown Stephen Byers is incompetent and unfit for office

Theresa May
Conservative transport spokeswoman
"I have never ever asked for a minister to stand aside, but I think it would be better for all concerned - himself included - if Stephen Byers were just to give up the ghost on this one," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Thursday.

Shadow transport secretary Theresa May said Mr Byers should "set the record straight" and apologise to MPs for saying Mr Sixsmith had resigned when he had not.

"Frankly, I think Stephen Byers himself should offer his resignation because it is quite clear that this is just yet another episode which has shown Stephen Byers is incompetent and unfit for office," she told Today.

The row stems initially from an e-mail sent by then transport spin doctor Jo Moore suggesting bad news could be "buried" after the 11 September attacks.

It then escalated after reports that Mr Sixsmith had e-mailed Ms Moore to warn her not to announce bad news on the day of Princess Margaret's funeral.

Downing Street initially said the e-mail rebuke did not exist but performed a U-turn after its existence was confirmed.

It was later announced that both Ms Moore and Mr Sixsmith had resigned.

Regret

The transport secretary announced both resignations on 15 February and made a Commons statement on the issue 11 days later.

But Mr Sixsmith, a former BBC correspondent who is to get a 200,000 pay-off, insisted he had not resigned.

The row was sparked again on Tuesday when the transport department acknowledged Mr Sixsmith had been telling the truth.

"The department regrets that, while acting in good faith, they announced that he had resigned on what turned out to be an incorrect understanding of earlier discussions that day."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Robin Chrystal
"His fate depends on the continued backing of Tony Blair"
David Davis, Conservative Party chairman
"Mr Byers has effectively convicted himself as a liar"
Martin Cutts, Plain Language Commission
"Nobody emerges with any credit at all fom this"
 VOTE RESULTS
Should Stephen Byers resign?

Yes
 88.51% 

No
 11.49% 

11166 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion


BBC News Online's Nick Assinder gives his instant view on the winners and losers in the weekly prime minister's question time.
Who won, who lost


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