I'll be in post for years, a defiant Byers tells MPs

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Indy Politics

Stephen Byers, the Transport Secretary, defiantly predicted yesterday that he would remain in post "for years to come" as he shrugged off Tory calls for his resignation over the Martin Sixsmith affair.

In an emergency Commons statement, he went on the offensive and attacked a "small number" of civil servants who were determined to undermine his department.

Mr Byers admitted publicly for the first time that it was his view that Mr Sixsmith should not be given a job anywhere in Government, although he claimed that this was ultimately a matter for the civil service.

The Transport Secretary also promised to publish in the House of Commons library the now-infamous e-mail sent to him by his director of communications on 11 February.

Mr Byers told a packed Commons that Mr Sixsmith had indeed resigned last week from his post at the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions.

But he also said he had made clear to Sir Richard Mottram, the Permanent Secretary at the DTLR that Mr Sixsmith should not be moved elsewhere in Whitehall.

"I have not been directly involved in those negotiations. I have not met or spoken to Mr Sixsmith since his resignation and the detail of these discussions has been conducted by Sir Richard," he said. "I made it clear to Sir Richard that in my view – and this view is strengthened by the events of recent days – Mr Sixsmith should not be given a job elsewhere in Government. Ultimately, I was not in a position to block any arrangement about his future employment elsewhere in the civil service."

Mr Byers said that he wanted to emphasise "this is not an argument between elected politicians and civil servants" but did single out press officers in the DTLR for criticism.

"What is at issue here is whether one or two unnamed officials, acting quite contrary to the traditions and ethos of the civil service, can be allowed to disrupt and undermine the vital work of a Department of State," he said. "I do not believe they can. I should stress that only a small number were involved and their actions are being investigated. The vast majority work in a very good, committed and dedicated manner."

Relying heavily on Sir Richard's statement on Monday, Mr Byers said that in his view, Mr Sixsmith had indeed resigned and all that remained were the details of his departure. Crucially, Mr Byers attacked Mr Sixsmith for giving a misleading version of his e-mail to The Mirror which implied it had been sent to Jo Moore.

Mr Byers said that on Monday of the week of Princess Margaret's funeral Mr Sixsmith sent him a personal e-mail saying the Transport Secretary had asked him to reschedule an announcement to the Friday.

The implication that the rescheduling was anything to do with the funeral was "totally inaccurate and wrong", Mr Byers told MPs. He told Brian Donohoe, the Cunninghame South MP and member of the Transport Select Committee, that he looked forward to appearing before him "for many years to come". In answer to another MP, he later said of his present job: "I've started so I've finished."

Theresa May, the shadow Transport Secretary, said it was "a day of humiliation" for Mr Byers and his version of events was "simply not credible". She added: "His department is in a state of paralysis. Key issues not addressed. A breakdown in trust between himself and the civil servants. He has compromised the impartiality of the civil service.

"His version of events is simply not credible as yet again he resorts to blaming civil servants for his own failures. Ducking and weaving around the facts, resorting to the last bastion of new Labour: the desperate attempt to carefully choose the words to give one impression when the reality is very different. Spinning constantly. Spinning to the end."

Mrs May said Mr Sixsmith had not resigned despite Mr Byers saying he had and Mr Byers had claimed to have had nothing to do with his departure despite having discussed it.

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat transport spokes-man, said Mr Byers had broken the ministerial code of conduct. "Section 58 ... specifically requires ministers not to issue instructions contrary to the civil service code and requires them to behave as good employers," he said. "How can a senior member of his department be removed without any inquiry into allegations of misconduct, particularly when it is now claimed Sir Richard Mottram has said that there has been no misconduct?"

Mr Sixsmith had a right to a hearing, he said. "Can the Secretary of State tell the House of what Martin Sixsmith is actually guilty? Given all of these causes of concern ... would it not be the right thing now for him at least to move over and let way for somebody else to lead his department, to go now?"

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