Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Tories Failing to Press Home New Attack on Byers

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Tories Failing to Press Home New Attack on Byers

Article excerpt


STEPHEN BYERS' hopes of Cabinet survival - despite charges of lying to Parliament over Railtrack - rose today after the Tories failed to press home their attack.

Shadow transport secretary Theresa May said yesterday that Mr Byers "appeared" to have misled Parliament, the one offence that could bring him down.

Today she said only that she would be consulting colleagues later in the day over what further offensive, if any, to launch.

The Liberal Democrats, at a private meeting last night, decided not to go for the Transport Secretary because they agree that he was right to cut off Railtrack's funds and take direct control.

The Lib- Dems ' transport spokesman, Don Foster, said: "The emphasis on who said what to whom and when does not alter the basic fact that Railtrack's position was untenable. To ensure the creation of a safe, reliable and affordable railway it had to go."

Mr Byers looks certain to secure continued backing from Mr Blair and from a government machine which has always been determined to stop the Opposition or the media gaining a scalp, whether of a Cabinet minister or a political adviser.

Provided no new shock emerges, he should escape the sack. But the series of recent setbacks, from the misconduct of his political adviser, Jo Moore, to separate allegations of dishonesty from Railtrack's chairman, could leave him permanently damaged.

Mr Byers had looked in danger after the rail regulator, Tom Winsor, suggested he was threatened by the Transport Secretary not to attempt a Railtrack rescue.

Mr Winsor told a Commons committee last night that Mr Byers had warned him that any attempt to bail out the ailing company would be scuppered by emergency legislation to strip the regulator of his powers.

But Mr Winsor told the Transport Committee Mr Byers had spoken, at a meeting on 5 October, of introducing emergency blocking legislation if he applied for an interim review - the mechanism which could have unlocked hundreds of millions of pounds for Railtrack by bringing forward fees from other parts of the rail industry. …

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