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Wednesday, 15 May, 2002, 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK
Should Stephen Byers resign?
Transport Secretary Stephen Byers has denied misleading MPs over the departure of his press chief Martin Sixsmith.
Mr Byers had been under renewed pressure to resign after it was admitted that he mistakenly announced the resignation of Mr Sixsmith in February.
He said he had made it clear during a previous statement to MPs that negotiations were ongoing in relation to Mr Sixsmith's position.
The departure of his media chief cost the taxpayer nearly £200,000 in compensation, which Mr Byers said was "in accordance with his employment rights".
Shadow transport secretary Theresa May told an animated House of Commons that if Mr Byers had "a shred of decency left he would go and go now".
Do you think it is time for Mr Byers to resign? Should the payout to Mr Sixsmith be funded by the taxpayer?
This debate is now closed. Please read of your comments below.
No, Byers should not resign. He should be sacked by Blair. If Blair doesn't remove Byers from the Cabinet very, very soon he will lose credibility himself (if he hasn't already lost it - he has with me, anyway). Doesn't Blair realise that the public hold him ultimately responsible for the actions of his Ministers? The problem for Blair is, he doesn't have anyone capable of taking his place - perhaps this is the real reason why he is dithering about sacking Byers. Spin your way out of this one, Tone!
Plainly Blair needs Byers in order to shore up his coalition of "Blairites" in the cabinet. He can't afford to lose one and risk Brown's coterie becoming more powerful than it already is!
Sylvia Humphrey, UK
It seems to me the poor bloke doesn't get a chance to do his job, because he has to spend so much of his time defending himself against petty opposition squabbles. There should be a mandatory code of conduct that keeps all Commons business on real issues of public importance.
As a Local Government Councillor I willingly accept the new Code of Conduct put in place by Central Government. I expect MPs to lead by example - and often share the electorate's disappointment.
Craig McL, UK
I care about Martin Sixsmith. Not on a personal level, but on the principle of protecting employees' rights.
We rely on our government to create fair rules for employment, and it is quite shocking that someone can be 'resigned' without their agreement. If this can happen in a high-profile government department, what chance have the rest of us in more anonymous roles in the private sector?
As an employer I am constantly amazed at how quick everyone is to call for dismissal for virtually every real or perceived error by politicians and the like. Isn't there meant to be a disciplinary procedure ?
Does Byers strike you as a considerate man trying to do his best to serve his country or as a self-seeking weasel? Who cares about Martin Sixsmith? What about ministerial responsibility for the failures of your department? Am I right in thinking that the last minister to resign for the failures of his department was Lord Carrington in 1982? Do ministers take any responsibility for anything now?
Stephen Byers should definitely go. He has broken promises about targets for the railways, and lacks integrity. This government is becoming increasingly arrogant and self-righteous, due to its continuing public support at the polls. It's this very complacency and incompetence that led the downfall of the Tories a few years ago. Tony Blair should remember that, for his own sake.
Ian Duncan Smith has gone up in my estimation for the swift and decisive action he took in sacking the minister who cracked a racist joke. And quite right too - anyone with such a lack of judgment should not be in a position of power.
Why, then, has Blair repeatedly allowed Byers to cling to power when he has proven time and time again he is not only incompetent but untrustworthy too?
After today if he has not resigned by the morning he should be sacked.
I do not think Byers should resign, nor do I think he should be sacked. His continued presence should help bring about the end of this arrogant government.
Stephen Byers has caused nothing but grief over our rail industry. Railtrack should never have been put into administration and was a well performing company. Byers is only trying to kid himself over the "I never mislead the commons" row about Martin Sixsmith.
Another wonderful media spin which seems to delight those overpaid hacks. As an ordinary taxpayer I look for results and improved public services. I do not want to know what delights and pleases those in the "Westminster Village" and I guess neither many others.
Damned right he should retire, at last, though it is a great shame that it takes something like this to occur before he does.
Ian Michie, England
I want to know what dirt Stephen Byers has on the likes of Blair and Cook that are so dearly protecting him.
Clever chap that Byers. He's got everyone believing that it's the fact he mislead Parliament that really matters. It's not. It's the fact he tried to get rid of a civil servant he took a dislike to because he upset his "friend" Jo Moore. Byers couldn't get him sacked, because Sixsmith didn't do anything wrong (although Byers claimed that Sixsmith was leaking stories to the press, nothing was proven, and all that was leaked was the truth anyway). He couldn't make him redundant - hence the scandal.
Mr. Byers should resign because he has to spend time to keep his job and cannot devote his time to the transport department. Today, we just have another train accident. How many lives have to be lost before we have a good transport system? I would probably not vote labour in the next general election if they can't deliver a safe transport system.
John Shelton, UK
A government that starts squirming to get one of its members out of trouble has lost the plot, and governments that lose the plot lose elections.
Stephen Byers continued survival just goes to show that Tony Blair is right: you can spin your way out anything. Truth and substance count for nothing in the sleazy spin world created by Tony Blair. I believe that Tony Blair is incapable of understanding just why most decent people are repulsed by the actions of Stephen Byers.
If I had made so many errors in my job my employer would have sacked me ages ago. Obviously MPs and especially close friends of Mr Blair can make as many blunders as they like at the cost of the economy and public and still get the backing of their boss (Mr Blair). If Mr Blair feels so strongly that he believes Mr Byers is doing a good job, he won't mind going to the people and asking them what they think!
For goodness' sake, of course he should go. Now if we can just move on... Oh, wait a minute. We can't move on until he fixes the transport system!
Simon Tucker, United Kingdom
Stephen Byers should be relocated to a Government department better suited to his natural talents. How about the new minister for Communications?
The reason that lying to Parliament has traditionally been such a heinous crime is because Parliament scrutinises the work of the executive - it is a crucial part of our democracy. If ministers are allowed to lie at will because it's convenient for them, then why bother having Parliament at all?
If he doesn't resign then although Tony is right behind him and has faith in him, he will disappear Byers from office at the next cabinet reshuffle.
Andy Roberts, Kent, United Kingdom
He's no liar, but anybody who makes the number of mistakes that he has made in such shorter period of time must be treated as a liability. How Blair can trust him with our Transport system is beyond me, but notice the lack of Transport policy coming from the Tories. Just another mud slinging match I'm afraid.
A common argument in Byers' defence has been that his lack of integrity on these matters is less important than his abilities to perform his duties as a minister. This is as unrealistic as most New Labour oxymoronic arguments. Byers wishes to raise huge sums of money from the private sector. Any such agreements rely on trust. Since Byers' word is not worth a bean, either there will be a lack of interest or, more likely, investors will charge a hefty premium for the additional perceived risk.
The breathtaking arrogance being demonstrated by Blair in not ridding himself of Byers shows a staggering lack of respect for the British electorate. Does he really think that we are stupid enough to believe Byers? Is Blair's memory so short that he cannot remember the terminal damage this sort of sleaze did to the Tories in the 1990s? And if Blair thinks moving him in the reshuffle will pacify us he is wrong....the issue at stake is trust in the government and i suspect that it is already shot to bits.
I cannot believe the arrogance of Stephen Byers. His behaviour in any other business outside of Parliament would have resulted in his instant dismissal.
Byers should be out, if only as a sign to other politicians.
I hate politicians, I really do, and I'm afraid that my view is similar to that of many people in my age group (under 20). The crux of the matter is that politicians these days lack the ability to come out with a straight 'yes' or 'no' answer, or a simple admittance of making an error. Time and again on things like Question Time and the news I have seen interviews with a politician who has clearly made an error or been caught doing something they shouldn't be, but refuses to admit it and instead comes out with a stream of jargon-filled, political rubbish which quite nicely veers away from the actual point and never answers any questions. Stop with the elaborate, evasive speeches and have the guts to admit to your mistakes.
Byers should go just on the basis that he is incompetent and not fit for office, just like the rest of the cabinet.
Byers's record speaks for itself, the man is a consummate deceiver, incompetent and worst of all for a man in his position, a serial blamer of others in his own department. The fact that he is still in office, shows how out of touch the PM is with reality, though it is doubtful that he has ever had more than a tenuous link with it in the past and the fact that he believes political cronyism is more important than honest, transparent government.
Teresa May's comments in the house yesterday, that if Byers had a shred of decency he would go now, are obviously misplaced, because if he did have a shred of decency, he would have gone years ago after he blew the BMW/Rover fiasco.
The fact that Andrew Marr has to spend half his reports telling us why this tedious story matters shows how little it does matter, and how far Andrew Marr has lost the plot. Bring back Robin Oakley!
The answer is undoubtedly 'yes'. Not because the relatively trivial misdescription of the circumstances of Mr Sixsmith's departure, but because of his refusal to accept that he has misled Parliament (which he evidently has, albeit perhaps unwittingly), his failure to apologise for doing so and, perhaps most crucially his reluctance to take responsibility as Secretary of State for the extraordinary misinformation for which his Department appears to be responsible. Surely as a whole, the Department knows the employment status of its staff?
I think Byers should stay because it's so much fun watching him shamefacedly tell one lie after another. I think it's great! Where would we be without him!
The government has been wondering why the turnout in the recent elections has been so low. Sadly, the reason is obvious to anyone except a politician. Politicians can no longer be expected to behave honourably and therefore a vote counts for nothing. Perhaps the last who did was Lord Carrington in 1982, who resigned on a point of principle. Imagine that happening today?
Quite frankly, who cares? I'm sure no one apart from political junkies and people inside Westminster give two hoots about this anymore. All politicians lie, why all the fuss?
I thought ministers were responsible for what happens in their departments. Clearly Byers thinks he is not responsible and therefore does not deserve to be a minister and should resign immediately
Who cares? If he fails to sort out the transport network then he should be replaced with someone that can sort it....Oooppps - Looks like its time to replace him then. How long have Labour been in power, how bad are our railways and roads? Mr Blair, do the maths, Byers = incompetence, lose him.
The ridiculous rantings of some of the posts on here are laughable. To blame the Tories for the situation is party politics at it's most base and pathetic level. Stephen Byers's integrity has been called into question over the BMW affair, the Railtrack debacle and now thirdly the Martin Sixsmith sacking/resignation. As a Secretary of State if you are caught in one lie you have to fall on your sword, but three is obscene!
Why is Blair so supportive of Byers? What has Byers got on Blair that Blair can't risk coming out? This is the only possible explanation for why Byers is still in post, unable to control or develop anything except a good lie.
Maybe it's about time we stopped using the phrase "spin" and adopt the correct word which is "lies"?
Just because so many people (mostly opponents of the government of one kind or another) believe Mr Byers deliberately lied or tried to mislead parliament does not mean he actually did. Ironic really, because usually if you accuse a prominent person of lying based on belief rather than evidence you get sued, but not where parliament is concerned for some strange reason. But how worried the Tories must be that he will succeed in his job that they have to pursue him like this!
Tony Blair has made a huge mistake by keeping on Stephen Byers. By doing so he gives the appearance of caring about winning a media war more than the perception of truth and honesty. Byers might, as one contributor remarks, be useful in taking flak at the moment, but he is storing up a well of mistrust and disillusionment with himself and his government.
Byers is a liar and should resign forthwith if he has a shred of decency.
Alex Belardinelli has a very weird view of the world if he thinks that this government's thorough incompetence is a matter that should not be reported. I notice that every item he mentions as non-stories was a New Labour fiasco. I have news for him, foot and mouth was not a non-story. The government's incompetence destroyed many people's lives and virtually wrecked an industry, two if you include tourism.
Byers should go as there should be no place in a Government for a serial liar.
Alex Belardinelli, UK
I'd be particularly interested to find out whether the other press officers who have been moved on in what appears to have been a post-Jo Moore witch hunt, have been cleared or found guilty of any misdemeanour. People's careers, many of them long standing and highly professional, have been tarnished as a direct result of this disgraceful affair and none of them appear to have been told why.
As one of the many who instinctively presumes that "if it's in print, it must be true", Byers should undoubtedly go. However, on the half dozen or so times I've seen something at first hand that finally hit the press, I can only say that they got it horribly, horribly wrong, each and every time ! Who do you listen to ?
Having seen the Secretary of State's defence of his actions today in The House I have lost all faith in the ability of Britain's remaining constitutional establishments to deliver democracy.
The whole thing was a complete farce from its tragic beginning to its unfortunate end.
Byers and his supporters are dragging democracy in the UK through the gutter.
Shame on Blair and Labour for so tarnishing the image and reputation of the British Government in the wide eyes of the whole world.
Today I am truly ashamed to be British.
Of course he should have been sacked a long time ago. He either can't tell the truth or he doesn't know what he's talking about. Whichever it is, the man has no place in government.
The fact that Tony Blair has kept him on for so long (even if he gets rid of him in the summer), just shows how out of touch the prime minister is with the views of ordinary people.
Of course he should. And of course he won't!
I am so sick of hearing about this. It is a total distraction from the business of government. I suspect the only reason any one cares is because the media are largely business controlled and they are the real spin masters. Has anyone actually considered the triviality of the lie in this case - or the ease with which Sixsmith changed his story once he had the requisite funds? And does anyone really believe that telling the truth in one area automatically guarantees complete integrity in all areas? This is a pantomime brought about by the vested interests who are gunning for Byers because they lost money in Railtrack.
Steve B, Scotland
Andrew Mitchell, England
What can I say? We have an arrogant and out of touch Government and it took them all of six minutes to get like that after the election in 1997. Yes of course Byers should go and Imelda Blair should stop playing politics as well since she has never been elected to represent anybody on anything!
Why are members of the public demanding Mr Byers resign? The reason exactly is that this whole "debate" is a result of successful Tory spin implemented by the Conservative Party and the Tory press. The uproar (the spin in question) about this shown by the Tory frontbench has made most members of the public mistakenly believe that Mr Byers has done something terribly wrong but not being exactly sure what. Mr Byers sacked a spin doctor because the Tory frontbench and the Tory media demanded it (the whole reason why she was sacked resulted from another Tory spin escapade). Often when people are sacked it is often claimed that they "resigned" and so this happens from both sides of the political divide. Mr Byers hasn't done much wrong.
All at Westminster must be wondering how the rules have changed so dramatically without them noticing. It's now possible for a secretary of state to have an argument with his staff, publicly denounce his staff, lie to the public and parliament, and blame his staff.
It might sound a bit "Sir Humphrey" but ask any rail traveller whether New Labour dithering is a joking matter.
Do they think if they just sit on the country like an egg, it will hatch? It will not, and the stench is rising.
A cynical view is that there are factions within the DoT machine who have been out to get rid of Byers because he has had the temerity to question their cosy relationships with the roads lobby and their completely irresponsible attitudes to the railways.
He made absolutely the right call on Railtrack, a brave and responsible decision as the incumbent management was clearly more interested in their wallets than in the welfare of passengers or running any sort of public service.
Revenge is being sought; Sixsmith is being used as the means to an end. I am just surprised he can't see that.
If we are to believe the explanation given by Byers (and I can't see any evidence contrary to his story) then the guy made a statement based on what he was told by his staff - what did he do wrong? Obviously he trusts them to give him correct information and for that reason he clearly wasn't deliberately misleading MPs. It was a mistake that he was not to blame for. I think too many people are a little retarded and selectively interpret the news reports; so should he leave because the majority of people have trouble comprehending the news? No.
It's so easy isn't it? Why don't all you lot be ministers and try it yourselves. It is a mess, but I rather someone did do something about the Tory shambles aka Railtrack than just put frills on it. I think a not for profit company is a good idea. Why should we sell off the nation's assets (hard work of previous generations) at the first instant they lose money? All the private sector will do is cherry pick the good bits, and toss out the hardest. This also applies to the undergroud, NHS, and the post office. Get some proper management in there, outsource if needed, but no more.... somebody's burning money. The only reason the Tories have been so vocal is to take pressure off themselves for doing something so stupid in the first place. Think people...
Anyone who lies to the House of Commons has to go; it's in the rule book!
So obviously Byers must go!
He shouldn't resign, he should be sacked and if the PM is too weak to sack him he should resign too, to enable a stronger PM to be installed.
He should definitely stay. I've got a ?5 bet that he makes it to the end of the year!
For Blair's sake, he has to go. It's either him, or a third election victory.
Those defending Byers must know that they are defending the indefensible. If it was wrong for the Tories to behave like this, and elections were fought over the issue then of course he must go. I think one could now suggest a new piece of terminology. A Byerism: A statement by a government minister made in the full knowledge that a retraction or apology would be necessary later.
Ian Duncan Smith demanded and got the resignation of a shadow cabinet minister who told a joke, at a private function, which he considered to be in questionable taste. Blair supports a Minister of the Crown who did not tell the House of Commons the truth. Who are the more honourable people?
The arrogance of Blair towards the electorate is breathtaking. Byers has consistently shown that he is inept and incompetent. If Byers was employed in a commercial position, he wouldn't last a week. He should have been sacked months ago.
He should resign. If I lied in my job I would be fired. It just goes to show how far moral values have fallen in this country that lying is acceptable. The government and in particular the PM should be leading the way, and I suppose they are - downwards.
I'd vote to let him stay. A constant source of 'foot in mouth' he and Mr Mandelson should be retained for entertainment value alone. Forget the policies, there's no way the transport system will be sorted anyway.
If Byers were a normal individual working in the private sector, he would have been out of a job by now. He is constantly implicated in these kind of affairs, and there's no way all these implications can be false. Meanwhile, the UK still has to endure failing public transport and soaring private car use costs. In the meantime, Byers' only noteworthy achievement was the donation of millions of pounds of taxpayers money to disgruntled Railtrack shareholders.
Wole Ogunremi, UK
Yes/No - who cares? The very fact that he's still there says everything about the ethical state of this Government. Things can only get better..
No he should not resign. He had the guts to take control of Railtrack away from the parasites that ran it which is the first step in sorting out the mess created by privatisation.
Since that day he's been under constant attack by the Tories who demand his head at every opportunity. Perhaps if he wasn't having to spend time on nonsense like this he might be able to do his job and fix our nation's transport systems?
Vlad Sobell, UK (St Albans)
How on earth is it that people like Byers, Mandelson and Archer manage to be basically flawed yet still remain in office long after serious doubts have been raised?
He is either a blatant liar or incredibly stupid. Either way he shouldn't be entrusted with a Government Department. Of course he should go.
Once again "Yes, Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister" are being played out for the amusement of the nation. It is a testament to the civil service's unique talents that they are as accurate today as they were 15 years ago.
Stacey Turner, American in the UK
Of course he should resign. In the most charitable light, he had no understanding about what was going on in his Department, and failed to manage his staff effectively. At worst, he said something he did not know to be true to protect himself. That makes Mr. Byers either incompetent or untruthful. Either way, he's not fit to run a Department of State, and should go.
Well let's look at his qualities, he's devious, incompetent, patronising and does not seem to think he needs to explain his actions to the people who elected him... No, he seems perfectly suited to be a minister to me.
It is disgraceful that Byers should attempt to foist the blame on his Department. A senior civil servant either resigned or they didn't - there is hardly room for any misinterpretation. Small wonder that transport issues don't seem to be being addressed - I should think Byers is regarded with utter contempt within his Dept. I pity the Civil Servants who have to serve him.
As pointed out by Mr Harrison most people believe all politicians to be as bad as each other. Therefore why bother with any of this? The replacement will be just the same. Why else do politicians employ spin doctors?
David Harrison, UK
Byers did not deliberately mislead Parliament, why should he resign for a genuine mistake?
The Transport Department, particularly the railways, need him. He is the first Transport Minister in years if not decades to actually make an attempt to understand the rail industry and get to grips with the issues. Let's face it, before him Prescott was all bluster and no action, not helped by the fact that he had too many "hats". Before that the Tories changed transport ministers on average once every few months, so there was no hope of any of them making any difference.
Byers has been in some unfortunate positions, and he's certainly handled some of them badly, but he's not done anything to justify sacking/ resignation and should be given the chance to really get his teeth into the job.
Why should Byers resign? This whole Government lives by spin and thrives on it. He is only following in the footsteps of his great leader.
The business of sacking any employee is, as I understand it, fraught enough. Sacking a public figure like Sixsmith is doubtless harder and attempts to make the whole thing look like a decorous resignation has clearly created confusion and unpleasantness. Whilst this reflects badly on Mr Byers, I still find it hard to see what, if anything, he has done wrong besides misinterpret the actions of a few of his subordinates. Surely insufficient grounds for the removal an experienced, if somewhat anodyne, Minister. Certainly the Railtrack reclamation was messy, but nobody could have prevented that.
Don't the media just hate it when they can't get someone prominent fired. Stick in there Steve!
Mr Blair, you are still quite a popular PM, don't let this fool drag you down. Sack him.
Clearly Mr Byers should go, but who will replace him? Is it time for yet another comeback for Peter Mandelson?
Bob Sunderland, England
Byers must stay to retain continuity at Transport if for no other reason. To replace him would cause even more delay to sorting the terrible mess created by successive Governments since nationalisation.
No. Keep him, at least he makes the news and this may lead to some junior minister from our government actually appearing on a news programme to talk to us. I realise we will never get a cabinet minister talking to the BBC. Without Mr Byers putting his foot in it we might never hear from our leaders.
If Stephen Byers' departure is anything like the trains, it will be either delayed or cancelled.
They say that individuals should be promoted to just below their level of incompetence. Mr Byers has obviously been promoted one step too far. He should be sacked.
Is Blair saving this scalp for the Tube public-private partnership? With the government making so many mistakes the old Tory rule of 'one strike and you're out' for ministers has had to be changed to 'cats have nine lives', and with his Brit Pop mates our Tony is certainly one cool cat!
The Labour Party media scanners might like to know that the behaviour of the government has moved me to vote for any party likely to get rid of New Labour.
The only reason to keep Byers is that it is politically expedient to keep a scapegoat nearby. It's a pity that recently it always seems to be the transport position.
Byers is incompetent but is being kept: is this a spin? Is something going on that this government needs a smokescreen for?
It's a shame Stephen Byers isn't related to Pinocchio; rather than resigning we could have used his nose as another new bridge across the Thames.
During a crisis in which he asked for the resignation of a Conservative minister, would-be Prime Minister Tony Blair told Parliament that under his administration, any hint of impropriety would be immediately followed by a resignation. It seems to me that Tony Blair has been misleading Parliament.
Jo Moore should have been sacked for the original error. Sixsmith, backed by the senior civil servants thought he could 'put the boot in' to help her on her way. He should have been sacked along with his backers. Byers was just too weak to stand up to his mandarins and his advisors.
Of course he should go - he has done far worse than telling a bad taste joke at a rugby club! Or do these standards not apply to those actually in government?
I don't understand why the PM keeps Byers? Can't he find someone who can do the job?
For a long time, Stephen Byers has failed to deliver any significant improvement in our transport system. He can't continue to lie and blame the incompetence of his department. He has shown that he is willing to deceive all and shows a true lack of competence. I agree with the consensus that he must go and that he shouldn't be allowed the honour to even resign.
Even if he did resign, could we really believe him?
Iain Cowan, United Kingdom
During the Tory administration, similar incidents would spark some outrage, a bit of infighting, a small amount of job negotiation, followed by a resignation. With Labour, it seems everyone has nailed their bodies to the job and utterly refuses to be moved regardless of all the chaos that goes on around them. They have no morals, no integrity and most of all, no sense that they are doing anything wrong!
Paul T Horgan, UK
Resign - yes. Will it make a difference? No.
Even if (and it's a very big if) he has never actually done anything wrong, he has such a poor reputation amongst politicians, the industry and the public that his position is now completely untenable. If Tony Blair is unwilling to sack him, surely he should do the honourable thing and resign himself?
What does it take to get rid of this man? We have had the fiasco over the re-nationalisation of Railtrack (which is still ongoing), the near insolvency of NATS and most famously Ms Moore and 11 September. He is incompetent and a liar and the sooner he goes the better for all the travelling public. Tony - sack him now!
He should go for being a terrible transport secretary, never mind for this spin-doctoring row...
Luke Senior, England
Yup. Off he goes. Funny how this government, initially elected to end Tory arrogance and sleaze, seems to be every bit as corrupt, incompetent, arrogant and sleazy itself.
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