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Thursday, 9 May, 2002, 14:52 GMT 15:52 UK
Prime Minister's Questions
BBC News Online's Nick Assinder gives his instant view on the winners and losers as Tony Blair faces his weekly grilling in the House of Commons.
  Click here to read your views
Charles Kennedy on Stephen Byers: "How many goes does the transport secretary get? The prime minister is very fond of three strikes and you're out - shouldn't he be out?"

Iain Duncan Smith taunted Tony Blair over his support for Stephen Byers amid accusations the transport secretary had lied.

He said: "I remind the prime minister of something he said: 'This is your chance to get rid of the lies, broken promises and sleaze. Please vote for Stephen Byers on 1 May'."

  • For his offensive, Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith picked the row over Transport Secretary Stephen Byers and, later on, hospital waiting lists.

  • Charles Kennedy too focused on accusations that Mr Byers had misled Parliament over the "Spingate" affair.

  • Other MPs asked about: The Middle East conflict; the menace of air guns; the delayed plans to rebuild Wembley stadium; the work of mountain rescue teams; the fight against illegal drugs; calls for the retired military officer corps to be awarded the Queen's Jubilee Medal; proposals to dock benefit from the parents of unruly children; demands for the Royal Family to pay inheritance tax; the Department of Health's entertainment budget; powers to deal with anti-social behaviour; Northern Ireland peace process.
    Transport Secretary Stephen Byers, sat between Margaret Beckett and Geoff Hoon, had to watch silently as his boss sought to defend him.

    Conservative MP Mark Hoban - who laid on the perfect scoring opportunity for Tony Blair by asking whether patients in his Fareham constituency would be getting the same standards of health treatment as continental neighbours.

    Mr Blair quipped - "It's about this time that you need a planted question, I always feel."

    David Taylor, Labour MP for Leicestershire North West caused an uncomfortable moment for Blair when he attacked the government's record on Wembley Stadium.

    "Doesn't this show that our party is still too susceptible to the metropolitan elite," he said, echoing the type of criticism of new Labour which normally comes from Conservative benches.

    Now MPs have heard it from the prime minister's own mouth.

    "The allegation that Stephen Byers misled this House is wrong."

    The gasps of disbelief did not come just from the opposition benches.

    Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith did what he could to embarrass the prime minister over the behaviour of his transport secretary.

    But it took Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy to deliver what should have been the killer question - should Mr Byers not be subjected to the "three strikes and you're out" rule.

    But faced with the sort of brick wall and overwhelming self-confidence - some would say arrogance - displayed by Tony Blair, they had no chance.

    The moral victory may have gone to the two opposition leaders, but the prime minister emerged unscathed.

    Here are some of your views.

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    Tony and his cronies are not just drinking in the last chance saloon on this one, they are raiding the till too...
    Mike Toogood, UK

    I totally agree. Teflon Tony won again!
    Stuart, USA

    Byers is dead in the water. It is Blair's style not to sack people under pressure, but to reshuffle them to enable them to 'spend more time with their constituents'.
    Peter, UK

    You have summed it up about right, Kennedy and Smith should watch a few videos of Hague and get a sense of humour going in their attack on Blair. He hates sarcasm aimed at him, it's good to watch.
    Mike Willox, Scotland

    Agree broadly with Nick, but I feel there is a stronger point to be made.

    Until the Tories have any policies to debate then PMQ's will resemble the Somme, repeated Tory attacks being gunned down by a secure, well emplaced front bench. For an ex-soldier IDS's tactics are especially stupid!
    Daniel Ljunggren, England (Swedish national)

    I think you've got to hand it to the prime minister. He's still got what it takes after five years. Duncan Smith just doesn't know how to score points. What points has he got to score on anyway?
    Dave Hartley, Birmingham, England, UK

    Tony Blair has fallen into a very dangerous trap. He seems to believe that if he says something it must be true. He is quite wrong. The electorate will remember his remarks and remove him and his lying ministers at the first opportunity.
    Graham Shelton, UK

    Once again Charles Kennedy was left to provide the only real opposition to Tony Blair, other than the petty political sniping from Iain Duncan Smith.
    Jonny, England

    It now appears as if the prime minister is misleading the house about Byers misleading the house. This government has no shame and the Labour backbenchers who continue to support it are showing how impotent they really are.
    Andrew Reynolds, UK

    I agree that Blair emerged unscathed, shrugging off the Byers issue, which ordinary voters really don't care about. Perhaps the one other question that irritated the PM was Dennis Skinner's regarding inheritance tax (for the Royal Family).

    Politics wouldn't be the same without Old Labour!
    Sam Cannicott, England

    Just because Blair appeared to talk his way out of the Byers situation, it was only "talk" - no substance ... as usual.
    Peter, London

    If we are to minimise the apathy and discontent, which surrounds politics then cabinet ministers must not show the kind of arrogance and disregard for the political system, as shown by Stephen Byers during this debacle
    James Oxley,

    The most disappointing thing today was the total failure of both opposition leaders to pull up TB on his ridiculous claim that the public do not care about the behaviour of the transport minister. I doubt I am alone in being interested in where our tax is being wasted.
    Kirsten Williamson, France

    I was in the Strangers Gallery (first ever time) on Wednesday and you get a better sense of what's really happening.

    It's about POWER not policies.

    Yesterday - Blair had that place at his command, IDS behaved like a man who knows he's in second place, many Tories (to their credit not all) huffed and puffed in an idiotic display of those who no longer have anything to be arrogant about, Lib Dems were jolly polite. Meanwhile, despite all the activity, there is no progress. Byers stays until Blair can find a flaw-free replacement.
    Geoff Farrell, England

  • See also:

    08 May 02 | UK Politics
    Downing Street backs 'liar' Byers
    08 May 02 | UK Politics
    Euro campaign urges Blair to act
    08 May 02 | UK Politics
    Bleak outlook for Byers
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