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Sunday, 26 May, 2002, 15:06 GMT 16:06 UK
Byers defends Desmond decision
Richard Desmond
Mr Desmond gave 100,000 to Labour
Stephen Byers has called for the publication of a report on which the decision to allow the purchase of Express Newspapers by soft-porn publisher Richard Desmond was based.

He made the suggestion on Sunday and again defended his decision to give the go-ahead for the purchase of the Daily Express, Sunday Express and The Star by Mr Desmond.

A press report said the transport secretary had misled the public over his part in the deal by saying he simply followed the advice of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).


If it was published I think people could see I simply followed advice I was given

Stephen Byers
According to the Mail on Sunday the OFT report said Mr Byers, who was trade secretary at the time, was the only person who could decide if Mr Desmond was a fit person to own the group.

Mr Desmond - who owns such titles as Asian Babes and Readers' Wives - hit the headlines a fortnight ago after it emerged he had donated 100,000 to Labour.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's World this Weekend programme Mr Byers responded to the allegations by saying he wished the OFT report could be published to end speculation about his role.

Stephen Byers
Mr Byers said he hoped to keep his job
He said: "The report from the OFT addresses competition concerns. It also contained references to whether Mr Desmond was a fit and proper person.

"There was advice from other government departments on that particular issue and I took that advice into account.

"On competition grounds [I took] advice from the OFT and on the fit and proper issue I took the advice from other government departments which was contained within the report from the OFT.

"It would be valuable in fact if this report could be published so that everybody could see clearly what the advice was I received on which acted.

"If it was published I think people could see I simply followed advice I was given."

Later the OFT said it was willing to consider publication of the report if it received a formal request.

"Certainly, if we receive a formal request to publish we would consider it very seriously and we could move very quickly. We look to be as open as possible," a spokesman said.

Such a move would be a departure from normal procedure as advice to ministers is normally treated as confidential.

Any commercially sensitive passages might have to be deleted if publication went ahead, the spokesman added.

Scalps

Mr Byers was also quizzed over a separate report that Peter Mandelson was ready to take over his job at the department of transport should the call come.

The transport secretary has been under consistent pressure to quit ever since he stood by his former spin doctor over her now notorious email calling for bad news to be buried in the fallout from the 11 September terror attacks.

The subsequent row rattled on for months until what became known as 'Spingate' claimed the scalps of both DTLR media boss Martin Sixsmith and spin doctor Jo Moore.

But Mr Byers rubbished the story saying he hoped he would be allowed to continue in his current role.

"I've begun the process of improving the public transport system and I want to be in this job to carry it through."

Mr Byers' comments come against the background of a report by the influential Commons transport committee which said his 10-year-plan for transport was "incoherent" and "incomprensible".

See also:

26 May 02 | UK Politics
11 Jan 01 | Business
14 May 02 | UK Politics
12 May 02 | UK Politics
17 May 02 | UK Politics
22 May 02 | UK Politics
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