BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: UK: Politics  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
England
N Ireland
Scotland
Wales
Politics
Education
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Tuesday, 14 May, 2002, 18:28 GMT 19:28 UK
Blair backs Byers after Potters Bar
Tony Blair and Jeremy Paxman
Mr Blair faced a grilling from Newsnight
Tony Blair has given his backing to Transport Secretary Stephen Byers, in the wake of the Potters Bar rail crash.


If people were being fair to him [Mr Byers], they would respect the decisions he has made

Tony Blair
Mr Blair said it was too early to speculate on the cause of the crash in which seven people died, even though there are question marks over track maintenance.

Mr Byers had got all of the big strategic decisions on the railways right, Mr Blair stressed.

But asked if the under-fire transport secretary would still be in his job at the next general election, Mr Blair said: "I never comment on reshuffles."

This was seized on by the Conservatives as a sign that Mr Byers was being lined up for the sack.

Drugs 'failure'

Tory chairman David Davis said: "After months of trying to cover up his Transport Secretary's lies, the Prime Minister today hung Stephen Byers out to dry.

"In a humiliating put-down to his beleaguered Transport Secretary, he refused to back up his assertion that he would be there at the next election."

In the first of three BBC Newsnight interviews to mark five years of Labour in power, Mr Blair also admitted that Britain's drugs policy - in common with that of other European countries - was failing.

"I would certainly be prepared to concede that drugs policy is not working," Mr Blair said.

He gave his backing to a pilot scheme making bail conditional on entering a drug rehabilitation programme.

But he categorically ruled out the decriminalisation of any illegal drugs.

Right decisions

In the interview, with the BBC's Jeremy Paxman, to be shown later on Tuesday, Mr Blair said criticism of Mr Byers was unfair.

Stephen Byers
Mr Byers: Under fire
"People attack him for all sorts of reasons but if you look at the three key decisions he has taken they are the right decisions," he said.

Mr Byers had been right to force Railtrack into administration and install new management.

He had also been right to appoint former Virgin Rail executive Richard Bowker as head of the Strategic Rail Authority, Mr Blair said.

It was more important that Mr Byers had handled the big strategic decisions in the right way, he added.

"If people were being fair to him [Mr Byers], they would respect the decisions he has made," Mr Blair added.

National Insurance

Mr Blair insisted Labour had not misled the public over its decision to increase National Insurance to pay for NHS improvements.

"At the time of the election, we did not have any intention to raise National Insurance or any other tax."

The government had not received the Wanless Report into NHS funding.

The world economy has also suffered in the wake of the 11 September terror attacks in the United States, Mr Blair added.

'Stronger economy'

On crime, Mr Blair admitted that there was still a lot of work to be done.

Mr Blair summed up Labour's five years in power by saying Britain was a "fairer" place.

It had a "stronger economy", a better education system and more investment was being pumped into the NHS.

But he admitted there was still "a lot more to be done."

The second part of the interview will be shown on BBC 2's Newsnight at 2230 on Wednesday, with the third and final instalment on Thursday at 2230


Key Stories

Analysis

PLEDGES ANALYSIS

HAVE YOUR SAY

AUDIO VIDEO
See also:

14 May 02 | UK Politics
14 May 02 | England
14 May 02 | UK Politics
13 May 02 | UK Politics
13 May 02 | UK Politics
24 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


E-mail this story to a friend



© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes