Stephen Byers

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For the Canadian actor, see Steve Byers.


The Right Honourable
Stephen Byers
Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions
In office
8 June 2001 – 29 May 2002
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Preceded by John Prescott (Environment, Transport and the Regions)
Succeeded by Alistair Darling (Transport)
Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
In office
23 December 1998 – 8 June 2001
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Preceded by Peter Mandelson
Succeeded by Patricia Hewitt
Chief Secretary to the Treasury
In office
18 July 1998 – 23 December 1998
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Preceded by Alistair Darling
Succeeded by Alan Milburn
Member of Parliament
for North Tyneside
Wallsend (1992–1997)
In office
9 April 1992 – 6 May 2010
Preceded by Ted Garrett
Succeeded by Mary Glindon
Personal details
Born Stephen John Byers
(1953-04-13) 13 April 1953 (age 61)
Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, United Kingdom
Political party Labour
Alma mater Liverpool John Moores University

Stephen John Byers (born 13 April 1953) is a British Labour Party politician who was the Member of Parliament (MP) for North Tyneside from 1997 to 2010; in the previous parliament, from 1992, he represented Wallsend. He did not contest the 2010 general election.

During Byers' ministerial career, he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions in the Cabinet.

Early career[edit]

Stephen Byers was born in Wolverhampton. He was educated at Wymondham College a state-run day and boarding school, Chester City Grammar School and the Chester College of Further Education. He then gained a law degree at Liverpool John Moores University and became a law teacher at Northumbria University from 1977 until his election to Parliament in 1992.

Byers was elected as a councillor to the North Tyneside District Council in 1980 and was its deputy leader from 1985 until he became an Member of Parliament in 1992. Said to be a one-time supporter of the Entrist and Trotskyist group "Militant" within the Labour Party – which he denies – Byers publicly rejected the group's approach by 1986.[1] In the 1983 general election, he contested the Conservative stronghold seat of Hexham, finishing in third place and some 14,000 votes behind the former Cabinet minister Geoffrey Rippon. He was first elected to Parliament in the 1992 general election in Wallsend, a Labour stronghold, following the retirement of Ted Garrett, and secured a majority of 19,470.

In 1993, Byers joined the influential Home Affairs Select Committee. He became an ally of Tony Blair, a fellow northeastern Labour MP, who was also in favour of 'modernising' the Labour Party. Blair gave him a job as soon as he became the Leader of the Opposition, placing Byers in the Whips Office. He became a spokesman for the Department for Education and Employment in 1995, and he identified himself as an "outrider" for the New Labour project,[1] regularly floating radical ideas on Blair's behalf to test reaction. An instance of this is when Byers briefed journalists in 1996 saying that the party might sever its links with the trade unions. Byers was swiftly appointed to Shadow ministerial posts and became the Minister for School Standards with the title of Minister of State at the Department of Education and Employment following the victorious 1997 general election. While at this post, Byers drew attention to himself when he said 8 times 7 was 54 in a BBC interview promoting a Government numeracy drive.[2]

His Wallsend constituency was abolished in 1997 and he was elected for the equally safe North Tyneside constituency with a 26,643 vote majority.

Cabinet appointment[edit]

He joined the Cabinet in July 1998, as Chief Secretary to the Treasury and became a Member of the Privy Council. After the sudden resignation of Peter Mandelson, Byers was appointed as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in December 1998. After the 2001 general election, he was made Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government & the Regions.

MG Rover[edit]

Byers was heavily criticised for his part in the collapse of the MG Rover Group. Byers, as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, advocated the 2000 deal with the Phoenix Consortium instead of the bid from Alchemy Partners, a successful turnaround private equity investor that would have slimmed down the business.[3] Although this deal prolonged the existence of the group for five years, it ultimately collapsed at extensive cost to the British tax payers while giving large profits from a dowry given by the seller BMW to the Phoenix Consortium.[4] Byers responded to this criticism in his submission to the Trade and Industry committee,[5] stating that his actions had largely been in line with government policy and that the long slow collapse of MG Rover Group had been preferable to a short sudden collapse.

Railtrack[edit]

The first source of controversy in the Railtrack incident was the decision, taken at short notice with disregard for the regulator Tom Winsor, and implemented over a weekend, to ask the High Court to put the privatised railway infrastructure company Railtrack into railway administration, on 7 October 2001. This ultimately led to the creation of Network Rail, which effectively renationalised Britain's railway infrastructure company. Although the British Office for National Statistics insisted that the placement of Network Rail in the private sector was correct, Byers, in Parliament on 24 October 2005, said that he made "no apology for [his decision to apply for the administration order] and for unwinding the Tory privatisation that was Railtrack".[6]

Byers' decision angered those private investors who had lost money, and under pressure from The City, the government eventually had to offer compensation. The action also led to the largest class legal action ever seen in the British courts.

Exit from the Cabinet[edit]

In late 2001, it was revealed that Byers' political adviser, Jo Moore, had sent an email on 11 September 2001, suggesting that the September 11, 2001 attacks made it "a very good day to get out anything we want to bury". Moore and Byers survived the resulting outrage, but, in February 2002, the public uproar broke out again. A leaked email from the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions's head of news, Martin Sixsmith, a former BBC news reporter, seemed to warn Moore not to "bury" any more bad news on the day of Princess Margaret's funeral, implying that she was attempting to do so. On 15 February, the resignations of both Moore and Sixsmith were announced. Later on, however, Sixsmith stated that he had not agreed to go, but rather that Byers had insisted on the head of news' departure as his price to pay for losing Moore. In May it was confirmed by the Department that Byers had announced Sixsmith's resignation prematurely, though the Government said that this was due to a misunderstanding, and he had done nothing wrong.

Byers' troubles continued over the following months. The Labour-dominated House of Commons Transport Select Committee criticised the party's transport strategy, and a long-running row over Byers' decision as Trade Secretary to allow pornographic-magazine publisher Richard Desmond to buy the Daily Express newspaper returned to the limelight. The pressure on Byers was too much, and he resigned on 28 May 2002 to be replaced by Alastair Darling. The BBC announced the change with the comment "It's bye-bye Byers, hello Darling".[7]

From May 1997, when the Department of Transport had been merged into the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, many had argued that Transport should have retained its separate cabinet representation from the outset;[weasel words] in the Summer 2002 reshuffle, Transport was demerged with Local Government and the Regions thereby becoming a part of the remittance of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Transport portfolio retained by a full-time Secretary of State for Transport.

Return to backbenches[edit]

On the backbenches, Byers kept up pressure for the Labour Party to keep to the centre ground. In August 2006, he suggested that Labour heir-apparent, Gordon Brown, should discard the inheritance tax in order to prove his "New Labour" credentials to Middle England. This suggestion was widely criticised by many MPs, who claimed that the publicity surrounding Byers' plan would "frighten constituents in the high-priced south into believing they would have to pay death duties, when most won't".[8]

On 14 November 2009, he announced that he would be stepping down from Parliament at the 2010 general election.[9]

Following the criticism of the Prime Minister over the budget of 2007, which dismissed the ten percent starting rate of income tax as well as that of 2008, which included a planned two percent rise in fuel duties, Byers accused Gordon Brown of manipulating the tax system for "tactical advantage" and urged an "immediate halt" to proposals to increase taxes on motorists. He also condemned the government's proposed inheritance tax reforms that had been launched in response to Opposition proposals to reform the tax. He went on to urge the government to carry out a fundamental rethinking of tax policy.[10][10]

Expenses[edit]

As part of a series of reports highlighting MPs' expenses claims, on 10 May 2009, The Sunday Telegraph reported that Byers had claimed more than GB£125,000 in second home allowances for a London flat owned by his partner, where the MP lived rent-free. Allegedly included in his expenses claims was £27,000 for redecoration, maintenance, and appliances for the property.[11]

Lobbyist investigation[edit]

In March 2010, Byers was among the politicians caught out by undercover journalists who were posing as lobbyists from an international company. The journalists were from The Sunday Times and filming for a Channel Four investigatory series called Dispatches. He was shown describing himself as a "cab for hire" and offering to lobby his parliamentary contacts in support of the fictitious company for a financial payment of between £3,000 and £5,000 per day. Byers claimed to have influenced outcomes for National Express and Tesco through his relationships with Lord Adonis, Transport Secretary, and Lord Mandelson, Business Secretary, respectively. He claimed that he had he phoned Mandelson to put a stop to “massively bureaucratic” food labelling regulations after he had been contacted by Tesco. He later withdrew his name for consideration by the fictitious lobbying company via email, claiming he had over-stated his role, writing, "I have not spoken to Andrew Adonis or Peter Mandelson about the matters I mentioned". When the story broke, National Express and Tesco also denied there was any truth in Byers' statements.[12] Byers referred himself to John Lyon, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. Byers expressed confidence that Lyon would clear his name, but he was eventually banned from the parliamentary estate. On 22 March 2010, Byers' administrative suspension from the membership of the Parliamentary Labour Party was announced alongside those of Patricia Hewitt, Geoff Hoon and Margaret Moran. However, all four remained members of the Labour Party itself.[13]

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b O'grady, Sean (2001-10-13). "Stephen Byers: Spinning off the rails". Profiles, People (London: The Independent). Retrieved 2010-04-01. 
  2. ^ "Minister's maths mistake". UK (BBC News). 1998-01-21. Retrieved 2010-04-01. 
  3. ^ "UK | UK Politics | Rover buy out welcomed". BBC News. 2000-05-09. Retrieved 2010-04-01. 
  4. ^ "Business | Rover collapse 'to cost UK £600m'". BBC News. 2006-07-24. Retrieved 2010-04-01. 
  5. ^ "Uncorrected Evidence m7". Publications.parliament.uk. Retrieved 2010-04-01. 
  6. ^ "UK | UK Politics | Byers admits untruth on Railtrack". BBC News. 2005-07-14. Retrieved 2010-04-01. 
  7. ^ "What was 2002 — a year of foot-in-mouth". London: The Times. 28 December 2002. Retrieved 2010-04-01. 
  8. ^ Logged in as click here to log out (2006-08-22). "Polly Toynbee: The Byers plan deliberately ignores obscene inequality | Comment is free | The Guardian". London: Politics.guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 2010-04-01. 
  9. ^ "Ex-minister Byers set to quit as MP | UK news | guardian.co.uk". London: Guardian. 2009-11-14. Retrieved 2010-04-01. 
  10. ^ a b Oliver, Jonathan (11 May 2008). "Stephen Byers damns Gordon Brown as 'distant and uncaring'". London: The Sunday Times. Retrieved 2010-04-01. 
  11. ^ Swaine, Jon (2009-05-10). "Stephen Byers bags £125,000 for his partner's flat through MPs' expenses". London: Telegraph. Retrieved 2010-04-01. 
  12. ^ Anushka Asthana, Toby Helm and agencies (2010-03-21). "Stephen Byers claims no rules were broken during lobbying sting | Politics | guardian.co.uk". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2010-04-01. 
  13. ^ "Cash-For-Lobby Affair: Stephen Byers, Patricia Hewitt And Geoff Hoon Suspended By Labour | Politics | Sky News". News.sky.com. Retrieved 2010-04-01. 

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Ted Garrett
Member of Parliament for Wallsend
19921997
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for North Tyneside
19972010
Succeeded by
Mary Glindon
Political offices
Preceded by
Alistair Darling
Chief Secretary to the Treasury
1998
Succeeded by
Alan Milburn
Preceded by
Peter Mandelson
Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
1998–2001
Succeeded by
Patricia Hewitt
Preceded by
John Prescott
as Secretary of State for Environment, Transport and the Regions
Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions
2001–2002
Succeeded by
Alistair Darling
as Secretary of State for Transport
Succeeded by
John Prescott
as Deputy Prime Minister