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Sunday, October 31, 1999 Published at 13:16 GMT

UK Politics

Byers not 'playing politics' with Archer

Lord Archer: Accuses Labour of a "pre-planned smear campaign"

Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers has said a new investigation into alleged share dealing by Lord Archer is not a deliberate attempt to disrupt the novelist's campaign to become mayor of London.

Mr Byers said he was not "playing politics" by ordering his most senior civil servant to examine whether fresh disclosures about the deal warranted a full scale inquiry.

Trade Secretary Stephen Byers: "I think it is material evidence which may require the investigation to be reopened"
He said he had a responsibility to draw to his officials' attention fresh evidence about the matter.

Lord Archer has accused the government of conducting a "pre-planned smear campaign" to prevent him becoming mayor.

The investigation was sparked by a letter to The Economist magazine from Lord Archers' lawyers Eversheds, earlier this month.

Mr Byers felt its account of the 1994 deal, which saw Lord Archer buy £250,000 of Anglia TV shares while his wife Mary was on the board and sell them within hours at a profit of £77,219, days before a takeover bid, differed from previous accounts of the matter.

[ image: Stephen Byers:
Stephen Byers: "Duty" to tell officials about the matter
Mr Byers said the letter had raised the share dealing spectre again, not Labour politicians.

'New evidence'

Speaking on GMTV, he said: "What has changed is that Jeffrey Archer's own solicitors have put new information into the public arena which in fact casts doubt upon the reason Jeffrey Archer gave five years ago as to why he actually purchased the Anglia TV shares in the first place."

Mr Byers said: "In the light of that new evidence, I think it is appropriate that people should consider whether or not we need a fresh investigation.

"I have a responsibility to draw that to the attention of my officials and they will decide whether or not there should be a fresh investigation.

"I am not playing politics because the decision as to whether or not there will be an investigation will not be taken by myself."

Lord Archer defeated former Conservative transport minister Steven Norris to secure the nomination as Tory candidate for London mayor.

His opponents in next May's election will be the successful Labour candidate, and Liberal Democrat Susan Kramer.

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