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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 October 2005, 12:10 GMT 13:10 UK
Byers to face rail 'lies' inquiry
Stephen Byers

Ex-Transport Secretary Stephen Byers will be investigated by the MPs' standards watchdog over claims he lied to Parliament about Railtrack.

MPs have unanimously decided to ask the Commons standards and privileges committee to investigate the claims.

Mr Byers has apologised for giving inaccurate evidence to MPs but insists he did not deliberately mislead them.

Tory Chris Grayling said ministers may be "evasive, difficult, or downright disingenuous" but should not lie.

Commons debate

During a personal statement to the Commons on Monday, Mr Byers apologised for "an inadvertent error" that had caused him to give "factually inaccurate" evidence to the transport select committee in 2001.

I did not lie to the select committee, I did not deliberately mislead the select committee
Stephen Byers
Ex-Transport Secretary

Shadow Commons leader Mr Grayling said he did not accept the explanation and said he wanted to pursue the matter further.

He says it should go to the standards and privileges committee so the dispute can be resolved completely.

Speaker Michael Martin agreed on Tuesday to the unusal move to allow MPs to debate the issue.

Denied wrongdoing

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.

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.

Motives 'forgotten'

Mr Byers told the court "it is true to say there was work going on, so yes that was untrue", but said he could not remember his motives for saying the words.

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.

Ahead of Wednesday's debate, the prime minister's official spokesman said it was for the Commons to decide about Mr Byers' behaviour.

"The court has made its judgement, that should be reflected," said the spokesman. "Stephen Byers has set out his case and the House itself will debate the matter and that is where it should be left."

Regret

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 denied discussions about Railtrack's future were under way earlier.

He had not considered asking for an "options paper" from his department and the Treasury to be "discussions" in the true meaning of the word, he said.

In this week's personal statement, Mr Byers told MPs: "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.

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


SEE ALSO:
In detail: Byers court exchanges
15 Jul 05 |  UK Politics
Railtrack ruling was 'inevitable'
15 Oct 05 |  Business
Ex-minister denies Railtrack plan
12 Jul 05 |  Business
Byers in the dock
13 Jul 05 |  UK Politics
Byers wished to 'kill' Railtrack
04 Jul 05 |  Business
Railtrack 1bn payoff plan claim
28 Jun 05 |  Business
Railtrack case goes to High Court
27 Jun 05 |  Business


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