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EDITIONS
 Friday, 31 May, 2002, 07:52 GMT 08:52 UK
Byers 'knifed in back' says Prescott
John Prescott and Tony Blair
Mr Prescott said his role would help him support Mr Blair
The "final knife into the back of Stephen Byers" was thrust by the Labour-dominated Commons Transport Select Committee, says Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

He indicated that the committee's critical report into the government's 10-year transport plan spelt the end of Mr Byers' career as transport secretary.

You go on about it - I'm in my wheelchair and I have got diabetics and therefore I must be finished

John Prescott

"It's true they made a savage attack in words and language and frankly, we must say that the select committee and Gwyneth Dunwoody put the final knife into the back of Stephen Byers," the Deputy Prime Minister told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

But the suggestion has been angrily denied by members of the influential committee, who have accused Mr Prescott of trying to intimidate them.

'Vinegar Lil'

Louise Ellman, Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside, told Today on Friday: "Neither John Prescott nor anyone else is going to intimidate me or any other member of the committee."

She was sorry Mr Prescott had made the comments, which probably came in "anger and frustration".

If you want to know what he (Mr Prescott) calls Gwyneth it's Vinegar Lil

Brian Donohoe, Labour MP
Ms Ellman said Mr Byers had been "a marked man" who had clashed with vested interests over the collapse of Railtrack.

"I believe that is what decided his fate and I was sorry to see him go," she added.

The MP argued the government often saw select committees as a threat but their "constructive" comments should be heeded.

Fellow Labour MP and committee member Brian Donohoe said: "The report was not part of the process that led to Stephen Byers' resignation.

"It was the dripping venom that had been going on for some considerable time from every source."

He said Mr Byers had enjoyed a "good relationship" with the committee.

"If you want to know what he (Mr Prescott) calls Gwyneth it's Vinegar Lil," Mr Donohoe added.

Mrs Dunwoody is on holiday abroad and unable to be reached for comment.

Re-nationalised

Mr Prescott has mounted a robust defence of the government's 180bn transport plan, which Ms Dunwoody derided as vague, confused and poor value for money.

Mr Prescott, who has benefited from the break up of the department of transport, local government and regions, also hit out at critics who have hinted that he was ready to retire from politics.

And he suggested that in hindsight it would have been better to renationalise the railways when Labour came to power.

Mr Prescott - whose new department, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister will assume responsibility for local government and the regions - was clear in his targeting of blame for Mr Byers' demise.

When I'm 64

Asked about rumours that he was to quit politics, Mr Prescott retorted: "You guys, you go on about it - I'm in my wheelchair and I have got diabetics and therefore I must be finished.

Gwyneth Dunwoody
Dunwoody's committee 'knifed' Byers in the back
"I'm 64 on Friday, so I am obviously knackered.

"Don't talk rubbish. Talk about the substance. Let the people who listen through this microphone think about whether you have still got your abilities to be able to make judgements and to deal with the problems as they see it."

On the railways, Mr Prescott said: "I made a decision whether we should renationalise the railway system ... I said we would have to find 5-6bn compensation - do I put that into investment which I started to do and reorganise the railway or pay compensation?

Rail mistake?

"You can say history looks - that perhaps that was not the best decision - but at that time, we were trying to stabilise the economy.

"We needed more money for health and education and we didn't want to put it into Railtrack and compensation.

Every transport minister is unpopular

John Prescott
"You can say the decision was wrong, but I suspect if I'd have been making the same decision then... I would have probably made the same decision."

Mr Prescott insisted that all transport secretaries were "unpopular", even the late Barbara Castle.

"Barbara Castle brought in seat belts and drink driving [laws] - she was unpopular. Every transport minister is unpopular, but we must take the long term decisions and that is longer than three or four years," he said.

Alistair Darling, the new transport secretary, would now be looking at the issues, which take at least 10 years to solve.

"People have to understand that and poor old Alistair will go into the job now - everybody, journalists, talk as though things are going to be transformed over night.

"You cannot do it that way. It's long term... Alistair has to review all of these things... but nobody's going to turn down the record amount of money, the increase in people using public transport."

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  Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott
"Every transport minister is unpopular, but we must take long term decisions"

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30 May 02 | Politics
30 May 02 | Politics

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