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The Right Honourable
 Stephen Byers 

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)

In office
23 December 1998 – 8 June 2001
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Preceded by Peter Mandelson
Succeeded by Patricia Hewitt

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)
Assumed office 
9 April 1992
Preceded by Ted Garrett
Majority 15,037 (40.7%)

Born 13 April 1953 (1953-04-13) (age 56)
Wolverhampton, United Kingdom
Political party Labour
Alma mater Liverpool John Moores University

Stephen John Byers (born 13 April 1953) is a British Labour politician, who has been the Member of Parliament for North Tyneside since 1992 and has served in the Cabinet as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions.


Early career

Stephen Byers was born in Wolverhampton. He was educated at the fee paying Wymondham College, the City of Chester Grammar School and the Chester College of Further Education, gained a law degree at Liverpool John Moores University and became a law lecturer at Northumbria University from 1977 until his election to Parliament in 1992.

A supporter of the Trotskyist Militant tendency in the Labour Party, 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 MP. He contested the safely Conservative seat of Hexham at the 1983 general election, finishing in third place and some 14,000 votes behind the former Cabinet minister Geoffrey Rippon. He was first elected to Parliament at the 1992 general election for the safe seat of Wallsend, 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 a supporter of modernising the Labour Party. Blair gave him a job as soon as he became the Leader of the Opposition, placing him in the Whips Office. He became a spokesman on Education and Employment in 1995, and he became something of an "outrider" for the New Labour project, regularly floating radical ideas on Blair's behalf to test reaction, such as when he briefed journalists in 1996 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 first drew attention to himself when he said 8 times 7 was 54 in a BBC interview promoting a Government numeracy drive.[1] It is also worth noting that his Wallsend constituency had been abolished and he was elected for the equally safe North Tyneside and had a staggering 26,643 vote majority in 1997.

Cabinet Minister

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, a move widely regarded as a demotion.


MG Rover

Byers has been 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[2] with the Phoenix Consortium which formed the group. Although this deal ensured the survival of the group for five years it ultimately collapsed at extensive cost to the UK tax payer and with large profits to the Phoenix Consortium.[3] Byers answered this criticism in his submission to the Trade and Industry committee,[4] 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.


The first source of controversy was the decision, taken at short notice and implemented over a weekend, to ask the High Court to put the privatised railway infrastructure company Railtrack into administration (7 October 2001), leading to the creation of Network Rail - effectively renationalisation of Britain's railway infrastructure company. Although the UK Office for National Statistics insists that it is correct to have classified Network Rail as in the private sector, in Parliament on 24 October 2005, Byers said that he made "no apology for [his decision to apply for the administration order] and for unwinding the Tory privatisation that was Railtrack".

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

Increasing pressure on Byers and exit from Government

At almost the same time, it was revealed that Byers' political adviser Jo Moore had sent an email on 11 September 2001 suggesting that the terrorist 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 row broke out again. A leaked email from the DTLGR'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 it was announced that both Moore and Sixsmith had resigned, but Sixsmith later said he had not agreed to go, and that Byers had insisted on Sixsmith's departure as the price 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.

From May 1997 when Department of Transport had been merged into Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, many had argued that Transport should have retained its separate cabinet representation from the outset and in the Summer 2002 reshuffle Transport was demerged with local government and the regions becoming a part of the remit of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Transport portfolio retained by a full time Secretary of State for Transport.

Backbencher after leaving the Government

On the backbenches Byers has kept up pressure for the Labour Party to keep to the right. In August 2006, for example, he controversially suggested that Labour heir-apparent Gordon Brown should scrap 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".[5]

Alleged misfeasance in public office

The legality of the decision to put Railtrack into administration was challenged by the individual shareholders who launched legal action alleging that Byers had committed the common law offence of misfeasance in public office. This was the largest class action ever conducted in the English courts, brought by 49,500 small shareholders in Railtrack. Keith Rowley, QC, the barrister for the shareholders, alleged Byers had "devised a scheme by which he intended to injure the shareholders of Railtrack Group by impairing the value of their interests in that company without paying compensation and without the approval of Parliament". The case was heard in the High Court in July 2005; some embarrassment was caused to Byers when he admitted that an answer he had given to a House of Commons Select Committee was inaccurate.

However the Judge found on 14 October 2005 that there was no evidence that Byers had committed the tort of misfeasance in public office. This would have required the shareholders to establish that Byers had been motivated by a deliberate desire to injure them, and the Judge found that his motive was to improve railway organisation. Byers asserted that he had been entirely vindicated by the judgment, but the reality was that the judge had only found that there was no evidence of malice on Byers' part.

The case had also led to the public disclosure of thousands of documents and communications from within government - including confidential minutes of meetings with the prime minister and the chancellor of the exchequer - which would not otherwise have seen the light of day. The public and City criticism which their disclosure generated was highly damaging to the reputation of the British government for fair and honest dealings with its citizens.

The circumstances in which Railtrack had been put into administration were highly controversial, with allegations in Parliament on 24 October 2005 that the company had not been insolvent at the time and so the administration order had been wrongly obtained. This was because of the jurisdiction of the independent rail regulator to provide additional money to maintain the company's financial position. Alan Duncan MP, then the shadow transport secretary, said in Parliament that this aspect of the affair - which was not dealt with in the shareholders' case in the High Court - was "perhaps the most shameful scar on the Government's honesty" and "an absolute scandal". In November 2006, the business section of the Sunday Express reported that Geoffrey Weir, the lead shareholder in the misfeasance case, had asked the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration to investigate whether there was maladministration on the part of civil servants at the Department for Transport when the administration order was sought. The basis of his complaint appears to be an alleged failure on the part of officials at the Department for Transport to disclose all relevant facts to the judge who was asked to make the order. The newspaper reported that the Parliamentary Commissioner had opened a file and the investigation was getting under way. How far this new line of challenge will get remains to be seen.

Byers apologised in the House of Commons on 17 October 2005 for having given a "factually inaccurate" reply to the Select Committee but said that he had not intended to mislead them. This personal statement to Parliament was not accepted by the MP who had asked the original question, and the matter was remitted to the House of Commons Standards and Privileges Committee for investigation. As a result of that committee's report, Mr Byers made another statement of apology to Parliament.

Criticism of the Brown Government

Following the troubles of Prime Minister Gordon Brown over the Budgets of Financial Years 2007/08 which controversially scrapped the 10p starting rate of Income Tax and 2008/09 which included a planned 2p rise in Fuel Duty, Stephen Byers condemned the decisions, accusing Gordon Brown of manipulating the tax system for "tactical advantage", urging an "immediate halt" to proposals to increase taxes on motorists and further he 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 rethink of tax policy.[6][7]

Expenses controversy

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 £125,000 in second home allowances for a London flat owned by his partner, where he lives rent-free.[8] Allegedly included in his expenses claims was £27,000 for redecoration, maintenance and appliances for this property.

On 14 November 2009 he announced that he would be standing down from parliament at the 2010 general election[9]


External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Ted Garrett
Member of Parliament for Wallsend
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for North Tyneside
Political offices
Preceded by
Alistair Darling
Chief Secretary to the Treasury
Succeeded by
Alan Milburn
Preceded by
Peter Mandelson
Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
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
Succeeded by
Alistair Darling
as Secretary of State for Transport
Succeeded by
John Prescott
as Deputy Prime Minister


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