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Friday, 1 March, 2002, 16:18 GMT
Should Stephen Byers have resigned?
Opposition leaders have renewed their attacks on the Transport Secretary Stephen Byers as Tony Blair prepares to defend the under-fire minister at prime minister's questions.
Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy has said that better roads and railways will not be delivered unless the transport secretary and his top civil servant, Sir Richard Mottram, quit.
The Conservatives and Lib Dems are angry the minister is still in office, despite admitting he may have given a misleading impression of his role in the departure of his former press chief Martin Sixsmith, who insists he was forced out of his job.
Mr Byers told the House of Commons on Tuesday he regretted that comments he made in a Sunday television interview may have suggested he played no role in discussions leading up to Mr Sixsmith's departure.
What do you think? Should Stephen Byers have quit?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Byers should be sacked and made to live out an eternal hell of trying to get around the country on public transport.
The most worrying thing about this is that Blair is able to ignore demands for Byers' resignation when the press, both opposition parties and most of the electorate think he should go.
Byers admitted lie this time gives further weight to the impression he had lied to 3 others: over his dealings with BMW; the Railtrack chairman, and the railway regulator.
Thus it is not just dishonesty that should preclude his staying in the job - he will have no credibility in his future dealings.
Byers lied. As a representative of the Government and our minister he should be punished. It is as simple as that.
Surely if we forced all the corrupt politicians to resign there would be very few left indeed. However Byers should resign because that he appears to be quite useless at his job. Either that or it is now government policy that we are supposed to have a truly awful transport system.
I do not think Mr Byers should resign. He should be sacked. It's about time that the Mr Blair and New Labour got their act together and fixed the dreadful transport system. And while they are fixing it they could perhaps try and fix everything else that seems to have gone a bit Blair-shaped in the last 5 years.
I wondered, occasionally, but without much interest, where did the Tory voters disappear? Answer: To these letters pages.
Isn't it ironic that people are calling a politician (Stephen Byers) a liar? Maybe we should consider our Prime Minister's own track record on telling truths.
Let's have a balanced party select committee to examine the facts verified by the civil service and presented to the committee with recommendations made by the law society who should be independent. The legal profession will then have made a totally unbiased professional judgement. The PM can then be seen to make a squeaky clean decision without his influence.
Of course he should resign. How he has the brass neck to defend his position and blame his civil servants is beyond belief.
Honour and integrity are rare commodities in the Blair team. So why does he have to resign? An incompetent minister shows the Prime Minister in good light. Forget the suffering of the travelling public! Mr. Blair needs all the hype and spin he can get. Mr. Byers seemed to have done a good job at that.
Isn't it marvellous that the Tories make a complete cock-up of this nation's railway system by selling it off and investing virtually nothing over the period of their administration? How long were they in government? Was it really 17 years? And now a government who have been in power for five and a bit years get the flak because the railway infrastructure is in a mess. Okay, so Mr Byers may not be a boy wonder but the Tories have to take a lion share of the blame for the situation we find ourselves in today.
Politicians bemoan the fact that they have a bad reputation, that they are not taken seriously. Is it any wonder when a Minister receives backing from the man at No 10 for admitting lying outside the House of Commons, but not within the House? So that's all Ok then. When a government is so bent on manipulating the truth to present the right image that policies no longer matter, that favours are to be bought in return for donations to party funds, small wonder so many honest, thinking citizens hold Blair and his ilk in contempt. I long for a return to the politics of passion and belief - I did not agree with everything either Mr Kinnock or Mrs Thatcher represented individually, but I knew they had principles, and respected them both for it. The current regime seems dominated by the single principle of retaining power for the sake of it.
Blair should announce Byers' resignation.
Then the Queen should announce Blair's resignation.
Let's have an election now!
This is just typical of the hypocrisy that is inherent at the heart of new labour. When this party came to power claiming to be whiter than white it seemed like a breath of fresh air. How wrong that impression was. This government has lurched from Ecclestone, Mandleson, Vaz, Robinson and now Byers. With this all happening in the first 5 years of power...It took the Tories 18 years to become like that. God help us if Labour win a third term!
This Government needs to focus on actually producing good results rather than wasting time dressing up poor ones. The British public know that New Labour has not made good on any of their 1997 election promises!
At stake now is Blair's integrity. People have had a high regard for him. The spin has to STOP. It is an insult to the taxpayers and voters. Get to the real business, remove the mess makers and manage and run the country as deserved by us, the citizens. Politicians are destroying the fabric of fair play and integrity we expect form all.
"Oh yes he should go" you all say, as if you lot have never been dishonest in your lives! Don't make me laugh!
When in opposition, Labour mercilessly gunned for Tories who had failed to live up to the standards expected of our elected representatives. Despite the rhetoric, we now see that despite Tony Blair's promises, Labour members have been arguably worse. If Mr Blair is to retain any respect, he must be seen to punish those who lie to the House of Commons and the British electorate.
Lets review Labour's record on honesty. Mandelson, Robinson, Byers all had one trait which they share with others in the Government, that being a lack of integrity. Byers should go and go quickly so that more important issues can be focused on.
I watched the speech and as he struggled on he looked and sounded more and more pathetic. I have only one question... how much is he paid to lie and cheat and be so ultimately bad at his job? Because at the end of the day he is. Three times asked to resign, hated by the general public, putting the blame on others, unable to take responsibility where it is due and clearly very bad at his job... It must be an awful lot of money.
Another example of corruption at the highest level of this government. The public wanted them, now they are going to have to pay through the nose. They were warned. Now Blair will take everybody to the cleaners. Your hard-earned taxes go to keep people like Byers on high salaries and huge expense bills. What must Labour think of the public?
No Minister should lie to the public. Any Minister guilty of lying should be sacked from Government. How otherwise can Ministers be trusted? Stephen Byers should be sacked forthwith.
If Blair is serious in his support for Byers, they should BOTH go.
Blair should have announced Byer's resignation. Give him a taste of his own medicine.
Byers should definitely go, not only should he be held accountable for his lies, but he has also jeopardised the anonymity of certain civil servants.
Isn't it rather ironic that this pathetic bickering episode has had the effect of burying the real news? This was given top coverage on all news channels, while the Middle East and Zimbabwe were forced to take a back seat. Let's get some sense of priority!
Byers should go. The Labour government has been corrupted by the power of a large majority and believes it can control the public with spin. Integrity, honesty, and truthfulness are felt unnecessary behind the shiny veneer presented to the public. Byers' department has denied the existence of emails, resigned Sixsmith, and lied about blocking his move to another senior post. These are dirty deeds and Byers should not be allowed to get away with it.
Byers is a liar. He has taken more liberties with the truth in the past few months than should be taken by any peacetime politician in his political career. The way that Tony Blair clings to liars and cheats, such as Byers, Vaz and Mandelson, proves the extent of which his Government is corrupt and twisted - from top to bottom and all the way through.
If Stephen Byers had any respect for the voters of this country, then he would have resigned now. If this Labour Government had any respect for the electorate, it would have sacked Byers. As neither occurred, we can only draw one conclusion. Tony and his Cronies are power-hungry monsters who treat the electorate with contempt.
Of course Byers isn't allowed to quit YET! Tony needs to keep him busy long enough that hunting can be banned, in order to free up horses that in turn will get people out of their cars (just in case charging people entry to London isn't enough!)
This has been a bad week for politics. Whatever happened to honour, integrity and honesty? There MUST be some in the House of Commons who share the general dismay. Why do they not speak up?
We have now learnt that MP's do not tell lies - they tell untruths. What a load of rubbish! Mr Byers has the cheek to advise Lord Mottram that Mr Sixsmith should not be given another job in the civil service. I wonder why he doesn't take his own advice.
Why does New Labour have only one answer when they are caught with egg on their faces? " It was the all the Tories fault, we are only clearing up their mess". The man should be sacked and kicked out of Government. (Better still made to travel on trains until he rots). We thought the Tories were bad, New Labour is worse.
To build a good map of current events, keep asking yourself as events unfold, "Cui bono." Ultimately, if enough people do this the manipulations of those who are responsible will fail to achieve their intended purpose. To exercise the responsibilities of citizens requires understanding how the money and operations work on any issue or set of issues, and how it relates to the general flow of resources.
After yesterday's circus ring performance, something has to be done. We have seen way better control and professionalism in local government than we have in central government. The people need a new transport minister who is prepared to spend more time sorting out the critical transport problems than 'spinning around'.
Ken Eastwick, UK
I told you so!!! The end justifies the means - I suggest you trust no-one from now on because, let's face it, everyone's out for what they can get! Trust - a dirty word.
We have a Prime Minister who condones the action of a Government Minister who blatantly lies in front of millions of T.V. viewers. What the hell is this country coming to? We are reaching the stage when it will no longer be 'proud to be British'.
I feel very strongly that he should resign. His defence is non-existent, and he has given the department nothing.
Mr Byers is a perfect example of why so few people vote these days.
Why bother when you can't trust a single word spoken from the mouths of Politicians. We really could do with someone in government who cares about the people of this country rather than themselves.
Time to move on now, this is getting boring. Let's judge Byers in a couple of years when we can see if his policies are starting to work or not.
Increasing taxes, high and wasteful public expenditure, crumbling infrastructure, bungled execution of policies are all hallmarks of a classic Labour party administration with the exception of this being the most arrogant British government ever.
In reverse chronological order:
My wife and I cannot believe the carefully chosen and calculated words he used on the TV which appeared insincere at the time, and his statement of 'regret' that the PM has not called for his resignation. We need to re-establish confidence in our government officers irrespective of political alliance.
This whole affair points the finger to one place, Tony Blair. He has allowed this to happen and in the process destroyed the trust the British people had in him and his government. The mystery is why the opinion polls do not reflect this. Who was it that said that the people get the government they deserve?
I think that Stephen Byers should have been sacked along with this present government. I am totally fed up with Blair's attitude to everything, like the NHS, schools etc its time for a fresh new government who would be behind the people and country....
I emigrated from Africa to the UK in 1999. Byers, Blair, Parliament - symptoms of a country in decline. I fear the only difference between the First World and the Third world is the ability to get a second credit card to pay the first.
Tony Walker, England
Ian Duncan-Smith misled Parliament himself today. Blair actually said (way back in 1996, after the Labour Party Leadership election) 'I would expect Ministers in a Government I lead to resign if they lie to Parliament.' He didn't rule out ministers lying to millions of ITV viewers!
Can't someone commission Mr Dyson to create a purple and green device that can be surgically connected to every MP's brain so that it 'beeps' whenever they tell an untruth, are economic with the truth or even just tell bare-face lies! Oh, I've just spotted two problems with this! 1) We'd never be able to hear them talking above the almighty crescendo of 'beeping' and 2) the batteries wouldn't last very long! Are there no truly honest and open people left in Parliament today?
Byers will survive but parliamentary integrity is dead!
How can the nation trust a government minister who has such difficulty telling the truth? This is not the first time in which senior members of industry and government have contradicted Mr. Byers' recollections, nor is it the first time he has removed civil servants from their posts because they would not support the party line. The man is lacking in integrity and character and should be "resigned".
I surprised the Conservatives are howling for Byers' resignation... he's much more of a threat to the Labour Party in his present position, where he can do damage...
The comments that the Conservatives cannot lecture due to 18 years of scandals are not relevant. Tony Blair set his stall out quite clearly when saying that he wanted to be purer than pure. His party has neither been nor seen to have been anywhere near pure. The Conservatives have learnt from the past and have changed as Labour did so dramatically in the early 90s. Nobody thinks that Labour will withdraw from the EU, allow dead bodies to remain unburied and unilaterally disarm. Duncan Smith himself only became an MP in 1992. As for Stephen Byers, he has proved that he couldn't run a bath never mind the nation's transport system.
Chris Tucker, UK
William Lack, England
The most worrying aspect of the Byers saga, is that it continues to shift the focus away from intelligent debate on the vital transport issues of this country. The responsibility for this rests primarily with Byers and Blair. The management of the Government's communications on transport (for which they must take joint responsibility) has discouraged intelligent debate in the Press about the strategic development of transport, and fostered sensationalist stories, which are only tangential to the vital issues.
Many of the problems are ones that will not be solved in the short-term and go back a long way, even pre-Thatcher. Others, such as NATS and Railtrack appear to be of the Government's own making. Where will it all end? Hopefully with a change of Minister.
"President" Blair has decided to support Byers and the rest of the Labour party sheep have given their tacit support. He should go - any honest decent human being would resign, but honest and decent are not terms you would apply to politicians and certainly not to the Labour party
The trouble is Byers has lost any credibility he had over this and with transport such a hot and problematic issue the government need a man with good credibility in that position more than ever. Although I don¿t agree with the government on some issues I think they generally do a good job, but Byers has to go or they will fail on transport because no one has faith or trust in him. It does seem that his more interested in his own political survival than the interests of his party and the country.
Labourites are criticising the press and anybody but themselves for the state of the transport department. Let's not forget that this issue is entirely of the transports department own making, and Mr Byers total lack of control within his department. In addition to this the transport system is in chaos, and let's not forget the local regions, Mr Byers other domain, the social and economic standards has never been so wide as it currently is. If this is what the DTLR is capable of after five years under labour, what will it be like after Ten years? I say stop chasing after the sheep and sack the shepherd.
It's incredible that he hasn't resigned yet. You wonder whether he has some sort of hold over Tony Blair that prevents Blair from sacking him. Byers already seemed incompetent and accident prone, and now he's been caught out lying. He cannot continue.
The arrogance, playground fighting and downright money wasting by spin doctors is very annoying. If Byers can't control his department he must go. However, I find it enraging that the Tories have the cheek to lecture Labour on this affair when they spent much of their 18 years in power tackling one scandal after another.
Martin Sixsmith should have known better than to send an e-mail referring to Princess Margaret's funeral date. This was the cause of this whole unfortunate saga. Also, given that he was aware that he had not resigned, why did it take him one week before speaking to the Sunday Times in order to put his side of the story?
The railways are in chaos. The roads are in chaos. There is no plan VISIBLE to the people who pay for the infrastructure (the public) to rectify any of this. I am sick and tired of lies and spin from just about everyone in this government. And as for the stealth taxes!! Yes, he should resign, and others should follow.
Can Steven Byers survive? Yes if Tony bids it. But long term this whole affair will hurt Tony's cronies. Why? Because the whole issue races back to Jo Moore's September 11th recommendation. It showed her morality, her job brief and the government's idealism of 'results' over truth and accountability.
I am a 51 year old life long Labour supporter whose late husband was a Tory supporting barrister. I am pleased to say that both my sons support Tony Blair. However all three of us are totally disillusioned by Mr Blair's apparent lack of judgement in continuing to support Byers.
SS Lee, UK
Byers should stay and be allowed to get on with his job. If Sixsmith wants to play the media game then he should go back to being a journalist. After his pathetic interview this morning on the Today program, then I agree with Byers that there is no place in government for him or his sort.
One begins to wonder of the competence of the boss who has not taken decisive action to remove the dry rot from his government. Byers'
mistakes are costing the taxpayers countless millions of pounds.
Yes, he should resign. He is holed below the waterline and sinking fast. It is obvious that the longer he hangs on to office, the greater the damage he will do to his department, the government and his party. If he has any integrity, he will go quickly.
Of course he should resign. What has happened to integrity? Why doesn't anyone seem to be trustworthy? No wonder we all lose our faith in human nature.
The civil servant's first role is to protect the MPs' interests. Clearly, these two word wizards have been somewhat lacking in this task. It's hardly Byers' fault then that he has to contend with a couple of renegades.
It is not so much that Byers' antics have distracted him and his department from the job at hand. It is that people do not want to have an important department of state run by someone who is clearly untrustworthy. However good or bad he is at his job, in the end it is his lack of integrity that matters and this is why he should resign.
Will he do the right thing? Don't hold your breath!
Martin Sixsmith appears before television cameras with newspapers strategically placed to show the headline: "Liar Byers, pants on fire." Then we hear his interview on Radio 4 this morning where he was all reason and goodwill. Who can we really trust in this affair?
Byers should go, but he won't. His actions - and his support from Downing Street - reflect the contempt by which this government holds anyone not part of their own circle. And that includes the ordinary citizens of the UK. Do Saint Tony, his cronies or spin-doctors really think that we believe everything they tell us? Or should this become compulsory? Don't worry about damaging your credibility Messrs Blair and Byers - you don't have any.
Mr Byers should indeed resign. Not only that, but Sir Richard Mottram's role (or rather apparent lack of role) in the matter should also be scrutinised. He, after all, presides over the department, yet he has managed until only very recently to maintain a convenient distance from the whole debacle. I don't think his rather less tolerant predecessor (Sir Andrew Turnbull) would have let his shop get so out of hand.
Graham Shelton, UK
It has got to the stage where he now looks like the besieged Richard Nixon in 1972. There comes a point in time when you look at Mr Byers and think: "I no longer believe a word you are saying." He has got to go.
It's outrageous that Byers can receive Prime Ministerial support for free when ordinary British businessmen are expected to make party donations to obtain the same privilege.
If Lord Falconer can preside over the Dome debacle without having to resign, I feel sure that Byers will similarly survive his own shambolic situation.
Peter Moore, UK
Yes he should resign. He has shown his incompetence not just at this job but at his other ministries too and this is the third major occasion that his 'recollection' of events differ markedly from people he branded liars (remember Railtrack). Transport in this country is in such a deep mess it will take perhaps 10 years or more of investment and reform - far longer than Byers' (or any minister's) career in Westminster so keeping him on 'to deal with the big transport issues' to avoid a new Secretary of State having to master the brief that as some people are saying is a red herring. He is an incompetent meddler. He should resign immediately.
Of course Stephen Byers should go - immediately! He is incapable of running his own department never mind tackling the rail network. This is only the tip of the iceberg however. The entire New Labour government is a complete shambles and rotten to the core. In essence, it was never 'New' Labour - the British public were conned - and now here we are, as we were in the 70s with 'Old' Labour - with industrial strikes and shabby public services. The idea of a Labour government is good in theory - but does anyone out there really believe that Mr Blair or any of his cronies believes all men are equal? The Labour theory will always be exploited by greedy MPs in this way - these New Labour guys are Tories through and through!
He should resign on the basis of the transport department's latest thinking - road tolls. What a marvellous example this would be of New Labour traits: stealth tax, spin and big brother. Wrap up an idea as reducing congestion, tax drivers and be able to track their every automotive movement at anytime. Oh, and they might be able to gain speeding fines along the way.
The government should tell us where it is spending our money. Let's find out if Byers is the only waste of our money!
Could everyone please stop slagging off Jo Moore. Her only mistake was putting her advice in writing - advice echoed, and followed, in other corridors of power.
Steve Parkinson, UK
Mr Sixsmith's resignation certainly had the smell of a stitch-up about it at the time it was announced. I think it's fairly clear that Ms Moore persuaded her political boss that someone else would have to be dragged down with her. After all, Martin Sixsmith was a TV news journalist and therefore has a reputation for honesty. Mr Byers is a politician and therefore has no such reputation to cling to.
He has done nothing to further the usage of public transport other than try to price motorists off the road (which any idiot could have told him wasn't the right way). He's bungled everything he's touched with supreme incompetence. He should resign his seat let alone as a minister.
Westminster Village - zzzzz; Spin - zzzzz; Journalists - zzzzz. Voter apathy and disinterest stems from politicians of all parties lying.
Byers is correct when he states it is a personnel issue for the head of unit to resolve. There is no basis in the claim by Tim Collins that the minister has been further damaged, this is just political point scoring and has no basis in the facts of the case. One suspects there is a serious breach in the normal civil service codes of practice and the government should pursue the leaks with the full vigour of the law, as someone, somewhere, is acting in a manner which is not within the remit of the civil service and the responsibilities that come with the holding of a post within any Government department.
Michael Dupree, UK
We can't know the truth at this stage, as either side could and probably are bending it to make themselves look good. In general I'd tend to trust a journalist more than a politician (though it is a close call). Regardless of the facts, Mr Byers has a huge mess on his hands and as he seems to believe that resignation is the right way to resolve such issues, he should have the strength of character to take his own medicine and resign. But he won't will he?
Why do we need spin doctors? My understanding is that their salary is paid from general taxation. It's sickening to think that we are fed what amounts to propaganda and to add insult to injury we all then have to pay for it. Whatever happened to the simple truth? Perhaps if we got rid of all spin doctors, quangos - in fact every facet of a bloated civil service - we could afford decent public services.
Stephen Byers has managed to achieve what I thought was impossible - make his predecessor John Prescott look good in the job.
Robin Chakraborty, England
The only one decent thing Stephen Byers has ever done was to apologise yesterday about the state of the railways. He's been the worst transport minister ever and that's saying something.
I think that Stephen Byers shouldn't be able to weather this catalogue of failures but I believe that he will.
This problem is indicative of one of the worst things about this Labour government.
They're a cowboy government with a hidden agenda and do as they like, flying in the face of public opinion - the very people they're meant to be serving.
The sooner Blair and his bunch of underperforming hypocrites are out the better for the whole country.
R. Sobrany, UK
People should save their ammunition. What's the point of blasting the Transport monkey when the Downing Street organ grinder is to blame?
Of course he CAN survive - Tony Blair has decreed he has "full faith in Mr Byers".
Sadly, this is typical of the Blair Government - promote incompetence and shoot the whistleblower.
Never mind this spin doctor nonsense, Byers should resign because the transport system in this country, presided over by his department, is a complete shambles and getting steadily worse.
25 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Byers faces fresh spin woe
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