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Friday, 10 May, 2002, 05:15 GMT 06:15 UK
Sixsmith: Byers 'tore up' agreement
Stephen Byers in the House of Commons
Calls are growing for Mr Byers to quit
Stephen Byers has insisted that he did not mislead MPs over the departure of media chief Martin Sixsmith from the transport department.

But the transport secretary's latest statement to the Commons immediately came under fire from Mr Sixsmith, who accused Mr Byers of breaking an agreement not to comment further on the case.


I have not misled the House as some have alleged

Stephen Byers
Mr Sixsmith told the BBC: "I think it's a shame that he has seen fit to tear up that agreement now and reopen that argument."

Mr Byers has been accused of misleading MPs by saying Mr Sixsmith had resigned when this was not the case.

But during his statement on Thursday, the transport secretary insisted that he had made it clear during a previous statement to MPs that negotiations were continuing in relation to the former BBC reporter's position.

Censure motion

During a stormy Commons session, Mr Byers said that the 200,000 pay-off Mr Sixsmith received was "in accordance with his employment rights".

Later, Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith wrote to Prime Minister Tony Blair urging him to give the opposition space next Tuesday so that it could debate a "motion of censure" against Mr Byers.

The motion would ask for the transport secretary's salary to be reduced - a Commons technicality - and will be debated within the next 10 days even if Mr Blair refuses to allow it to replace a scheduled debate on the modernisation of Parliament.

Meanwhile the Liberal Democrat's Don Foster insisted that Mr Byers "did mislead Parliament" and had failed in his job at the DETR.

"The public deserves a secretary of state on whom they can rely to be clear about what's going on, to take responsibility for his department and to provide a safe, reliable and affordable public transport system," he said.

But Mr Byers - who is also secretary of state for the regions - received a boost in the form of the backing of Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott who predicted his colleague would play a major part in the next stage of the government's plans for devolution into the English regions.

Shadow transport secretary Theresa May told MPs that if Mr Byers had "a shred of decency left he would go and go now".

But Mr Byers insisted: "I have not misled the House as some have alleged - all of my statements to the House have been based on the information available to me.

'Incorrect'

"That is precisely why the agreed statement with Mr Sixsmith explicitly says that any misunderstanding over his resignation was in good faith."

Martin Sixsmith
Sixsmith: Byers said he had resigned
Mr Byers added that resignation announcement was based on an "incorrect understanding" of earlier discussions that had taken place between a senior official and Mr Sixsmith.

The Tories say Mr Byers misled MPs by saying Mr Sixsmith had resigned when he had not.

'Chaos'

Mr Foster asked when Mr Byers would start taking responsibility for events in his department.

"Not only the chaos which surrounds this particular issue ... but the chaos we have on our buses, roads and railways," he said.

Mr Blair mounted a strong defence of Mr Byers on Wednesday.

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.

Rebuke

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 later admitted an e-mail on the matter - addressed to Mr Byers, not Ms Moore - had been sent by Mr Sixsmith.

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

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

But Mr Sixsmith insisted he had not resigned.

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

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"This isn't over yet"
Transport Secretary Stephen Byers
"I have not misled the House"
Shadow Transport Secretary Theresa May
"We have heard no remorse, no regret and no glimmer of an apology"
 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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See also:

09 May 02 | UK Politics
Byers survives - for now
09 May 02 | UK Politics
The things Byers said
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