- Stephen Byers
The Right Honourable
name = Stephen Byers
constituency_MP = Tyneside North
majority = 15,037 (40.7%)
9 April 1992
birth_date = Birth date and age|1953|04|13|df=yes
nationality = British
party = Labour
Liverpool John Moores University
Stephen Byers was born in Wolverhampton. He was educated at the fee paying Wymondham College, the City of
Chester Grammar Schooland the Chester College of Further Education, gained a law degree at Liverpool John Moores Universityand became a law lecturerat Northumbria Universityfrom 1977 until his election to Parliament in 1992.
Byers was elected as a councillor to the
North TynesideDistrict Council in 1980, and was its deputy leader from 1985 until he became an MP. He contested the safely Conservative seat of Hexham at the 1983 General Election, finishing in third place and some 14,000 votes behind the former Cabinetminister Geoffrey Rippon. He was first elected to Parliament at the 1992 General Election for the safe seat of Wallsend, following the retirement of Ted Garrett, and secured a majority of 19,470.
In 1993 Byers joined the influential Home Affairs Select Committee. He became an ally of
Tony Blair, a fellow northeastern Labour MP who was also a supporter of modernising the Labour Party. Blair gave him a job as soon as he became the Leader of the Opposition, placing him in the Whips Office. He became a spokesman on Education and Employment in 1995, and he became something of an "outrider" for the New Labourproject, regularly floating radical ideas on Blair's behalf to test reaction, such as when he briefed journalists in 1996 that the party might sever its links with the trade unions. Byers was swiftly appointed to Shadow ministerial posts and became the Minister for School Standards with the title of Minister of Stateat the Department of Education and Employment following the victorious 1997 General Election. While at this post Byers first drew attention to himself when he said 8 times 7 was 54 in a BBC interview promoting a Government numeracy drive. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/49415.stm Minister's maths mistake] , BBC News, January 21 1998] It is also worth noting that his Wallsend constituency had been abolished and he was elected for the equally safe Tyneside North and had a staggering 26,643 vote majority in 1997.
He joined the Cabinet in July 1998 as
Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and became a Member of the Privy Council. After the sudden resignation of Peter Mandelson, Byers was appointed as Secretary of State for Trade and Industryin December 1998. After the 2001 General Election he was made Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government & the Regions, a move widely regarded as a demotion.
Byers has been heavily criticised for his part in the collapse of the
MG Rover Group. Byers, as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, advocated the 2000 dealcite web |url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/741757.stm |title=Rover Buyout Welcome |publisher= BBC|accessmonthday=9 May | accessyear=2000] with the Phoenix Consortiumwhich formed the group. Although this deal ensured the survival of the group for five years it ultimately collapsed at extensive cost to the UK tax payer and with large profits to the Phoenix Consortium.cite web |url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/5211954.stm |title=Rover Collapse to Cost UK 600M |publisher= BBC|accessmonthday=25 July | accessyear=2006] Byers answered this criticism in his submission to the Trade and Industry committee,cite web |url= http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmselect/cmtrdind/1075/ucm702.htm |title=Submission from Stephen Byers|publisher = UK Parliament|accessmonthday=25 April | accessyear=2006] stating that his actions had largely been in line with government policy and that the long slow collapse of MG Rover Grouphad been preferable to a short sudden collapse.
The first source of controversy was the decision, taken at short notice and implemented over a weekend, to ask the High Court to put the privatised railway infrastructure company
Railtrackinto administration ( 7 October 2001), leading to the creation of Network Rail- effectively renationalisation of Britain's railway infrastructure company. Although the UK Office for National Statisticsinsists that it is correct to have classified Network Rail as in the "private" sector, in Parliament on 24 October 2005, Byers said that he made "no apology for [his decision to apply for the administration order] and for unwinding the Tory privatisation that was Railtrack".
Byers' decision angered private investors who had lost money, and under pressure from The City, the government eventually had to offer compensation terms. It also led to the largest class legal action ever seen in the British courts.
Increasing pressure on Byers and exit from Government
At almost the same time, it was revealed that Byers' political adviser
Jo Moorehad sent an email on 11 September 2001suggesting that the terrorist attacks made it "a very good day to get out anything we want to bury." Moore (and Byers) survived the resulting outrage, but in February 2002 the row broke out again. A leaked email from the DTLGR's head of news Martin Sixsmith, a former BBCnews reporter, seemed to warn Moore not to "bury" any more bad news on the day of Princess Margaret's funeral, implying that she was attempting to do so. On 15 Februaryit was announced that both Moore and Sixsmith had resigned, but Sixsmith later said he had not agreed to go, and that Byers had insisted on Sixsmith's departure as the price for losing Moore. In May it was confirmed by the Department that Byers had announced Sixsmith's resignation prematurely, though the Government said that this was due to a misunderstanding, and he had done nothing wrong.
Byers' troubles continued over the following months. The Labour-dominated House of Commons Transport Select Committee criticised the party's transport strategy, and a long-running row over Byers' decision as Trade Secretary to allow pornographic-magazine publisher
Richard Desmondto buy the " Daily Express" newspaper returned to the limelight. The pressure on Byers was too much, and he resigned on 28 May 2002.
From May 1997 when Department of Transport had been merged into Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, many had argued that Transport should have retained it's separate cabinet representation from the outset and in the Summer 2002 reshuffle Transport was demerged with local government and the regions becoming a part of the remit of the
Office of the Deputy Prime Ministerand the Transport portfolio retained by a full time Secretary of State for Transport.
Backbencher after leaving the Government
On the backbenches Byers has kept up pressure for the Labour Party to keep to the right. In August 2006, for example, he controversially suggested that Labour heir-apparent
Gordon Brownshould scrap inheritance taxin order to prove his "New Labour" credentials to Middle England. This suggestion was widely criticised by many MPs, who claimed that the publicity surrounding Byers' plan would "frighten constituents in the high-priced south into believing they would have to pay death duties, when most won't". [ [http://politics.guardian.co.uk/columnist/story/0,,1855486,00.html The Byers plan deliberately ignores obscene inequality] , Polly Toynbee, The Guardian22 August 2006]
Alleged misfeasance in public office
The legality of the decision to put Railtrack into administration was challenged by the individual shareholders who launched legal action alleging that Byers had committed the
common lawoffence of misfeasance in public office. This was the largest class action ever conducted in the English courts, brought by 49,500 small shareholders in Railtrack. Keith Rowley, QC, the barrister for the shareholders, alleged Byers had "devised a scheme by which he intended to injure the shareholders of Railtrack Group by impairing the value of their interests in that company without paying compensation and without the approval of Parliament". The case was heard in the High Court in July 2005; some embarrassment was caused to Byers when he admitted that an answer he had given to a House of Commons Select Committee was inaccurate.
However the Judge found on
14 October 2005that there was no evidence that Byers had committed the tortof misfeasance in public office. This would have required the shareholders to establish that Byers had been motivated by a deliberate desire to injure them, and the Judge found that his motive was to improve railway organisation. Byers asserted that he had been entirely vindicated by the judgment, but the reality was that the judge had only found that there was no evidence of malice on Byers' part.
The case had also led to the public disclosure of thousands of documents and communications from within government - including confidential minutes of meetings with the prime minister and the chancellor of the exchequer - which would not otherwise have seen the light of day. The public and City criticism which their disclosure generated was highly damaging to the reputation of the British government for fair and honest dealings with its citizens.
The circumstances in which Railtrack had been put into administration were highly controversial, with allegations in Parliament on
24 October 2005that the company had not been insolvent at the time and so the administration order had been wrongly obtained. This was because of the jurisdiction of the independent rail regulator to provide additional money to maintain the company's financial position. Alan DuncanMP, then the shadow transport secretary, said in Parliament that this aspect of the affair - which was not dealt with in the shareholders' case in the High Court - was "perhaps the most shameful scar on the Government's honesty" and "an absolute scandal". In November 2006, the business section of the Sunday Expressreported that Geoffrey Weir, the lead shareholder in the misfeasance case, had asked the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administrationto investigate whether there was maladministration on the part of civil servants at the Department for Transport when the administration order was sought. The basis of his complaint appears to be an alleged failure on the part of officials at the Department for Transport to disclose all relevant facts to the judge who was asked to make the order. The newspaper reported that the Parliamentary Commissioner had opened a file and the investigation was getting under way. How far this new line of challenge will get remains to be seen.
Byers apologised in the House of Commons on
17 October 2005for having given a "factually inaccurate" reply to the Select Committee but said that he had not intended to mislead them. This personal statement to Parliament was not accepted by the MP who had asked the original question, and the matter was remitted to the House of Commons Standards and Privileges Committee for investigation. As a result of that committee's report, Mr Byers made another statement of apology to Parliament.
Criticism of the Brown Government
Following the troubles of Prime Minister Gordon Brown over the Budgets of Financial Years 2007/08 which controversially scrapped the 10p starting rate of
Income Taxand 2008/09 which included a planned 2p rise in Fuel Duty, Stephen Byers condemned the decisions, accusing Gordon Brown of manipulating the tax system for "tactical advantage", urging an "immediate halt" to proposals to increase taxes on motorists and further he condemned the government's proposed Inheritance Tax reforms that had been launched in response to Opposition proposals to reform the tax. He went on to urge the government to carry out a fundamental rethink of tax policy. [ [http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article3908643.ece Stephen Byers damns Gordon Brown as 'distant and uncaring'] , The Times11 May 2008] [ [http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article3908643.ece Stephen Byers backs Telegraph drivers campaign] , Daily Telegraph12 May 2008]
* [http://www.epolitix.com/EN/MPWebsites/Stephen+Byers/home.htm ePolitix - Stephen Byers] official site
* [http://politics.guardian.co.uk/person/0,9290,-780,00.html Guardian Unlimited Politics - Ask Aristotle: Stephen Byers MP]
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/2013341.stm BBC News report on Stephen Byer's sacking from the UK Government by Tony Blair]
* [http://www.theyworkforyou.com/mp/?pid=10083 TheyWorkForYou.com - Stephen Byers MP]
* [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4683927.stm Byers admits lying over Railtrack] -
BBC, 14 July 2005
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