Page last updated at 16:50 GMT, Monday, 17 October 2005 17:50 UK

Byers says sorry over Railtrack

Stephen Byers

Ex-Transport Secretary Stephen Byers has apologised to the House of Commons for giving inaccurate evidence to MPs about Railtrack.

He said he had made an "inadvertent error" while giving evidence to the Commons transport committee.

"I want the House to know that I did not lie to the select committee, that I did not deliberately mislead," he said.

But senior Tory Chris Grayling said he did not accept the explanation and said he wanted to pursue the matter further.

Railtrack went into administration in October 2001 after the government withdrew funding in the aftermath of the fatal Hatfield crash in 2000. Both Mr Byers and the government had always denied any wrongdoing.

I deeply regret that this has happened and I wish to offer my sincere apologies to you Mr Speaker and to the whole House
Stephen Byers

During a Commons committee hearing into Railtrack in November 2001 Mr Grayling asked Mr Byers if he had begun discussing a change in status for Railtrack before a key meeting in July 2001, at which the company's chairman warned Mr Byers of the financial difficulties.

Mr Byers told MPs that he had not.

However, earlier this year Mr Byers admitted in the course of a High Court case brought by Railtrack shareholders that his answer had been untruthful.

His admission came after the court heard he had ordered an options paper on Railtrack, set up a joint working party with the Treasury to discuss Railtrack's future, and had discussed options with the prime minister before the July meeting.

Mr Byers told the court "it is true to say there was work going on, so yes that was untrue".

Asked if it was deliberately inaccurate, Mr Byers told the court in July this year: "It was such a long time ago I cannot remember, but it is not a truthful statement and I apologise for that. I cannot remember the motives behind it."

In a personal statement to the House of Commons on Monday, Mr Byers said he had since thought "long and hard" about why he had given the answer that he had to the select committee.

Regret

He said he had considered the 25 July 2001 meeting with Railtrack's chairman the moment at which discussions about its future had begun.

The earlier preparation of an "options paper" on Railtrack by his department, in conjunction with Number 10 and the Treasury, had not represented discussions in the true meaning of the word, he said.

"I want the House to know that I did not lie to the select committee, I did not deliberately mislead the select committee, but that due to an inadvertent error, I gave factually inaccurate evidence to the select committee," he said.

"I deeply regret that this has happened and I wish to offer my sincere apologies to you Mr Speaker and to the whole House."

But Mr Grayling, shadow leader of the Commons, said he was not satisfied with Mr Byers' apology.

'Jaw dropped'

He told Commons Speaker Michael Martin: "I do not accept and I am not satisfied with the right honourable gentleman's explanation and I seek your guidance as to how to press this matter forward."

Mr Martin said Mr Grayling should reflect on Mr Byers' statement and speak to his secretary if he was still not happy.

But shadow transport secretary Alan Duncan said his "jaw dropped" when he heard Mr Byers' explanation.

He said he had seen papers that showed there were meetings before 25 July 2001 where the future of Railtrack was discussed.

He said he believed Mr Byers had "compounded his guilt" with his statement.

The Railtrack shareholders lost their case for compensation after failing to persuade a judge that Mr Byers acted maliciously and actively sought the firm's collapse.



SEE ALSO
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