Blair backs Byers in Railtrack row

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair flew back from Washington to back his beleaguered Transport Secretary Stephen Byers in the row over Railtrack being put into administration.

The Prime MInister's official spokesman said today: "The Prime Minister's view is that Stephen Byers has acted entirely properly, that he made exactly the right decision, he has put the interests of the taxpayer and the travelling public first."

Calls for Mr Byers to resign had increased after evidence to a Commons select committee yesterday in which Tom Winsor, the Rail Regulator, accused the Minister of misleading the House of Commons.

Mr Winsor said Mr Byers had warned him that emergency legislation would be introduced to remove Mr Winsor's powers if regulator offered Railtrack further financial help.

When Railtrack was debated in the Commons, Mr Byers had specifically denied making such a threat

Asked whether Mr Blair had been brought up to date with Mr Winsor's comments to the committee the spokesman said: "The Prime Minister is aware of this. I have to say I think the interpretation that is being put on this is pretty extraordinary.

"Of course there are going to be some people who object to the decision that has been taken, but we firmly believe that the travelling public deserve a better railway, that they have been shortchanged by a botched privatisation and decades of under–investment.

"We believe that the taxpayer is fed up to the teeth with pouring more and more money into a company that has failed to deliver a better railway, and Stephen Byers has acted to put this right."

Asked about Government's minutes of the key meeting between Mr Byers and Railtrack chairman John Robinson in July, the spokesman said: "If the Financial Services Authority choose to have an inquiry then obviously we will cooperate."

Asked whether Mr Blair retained confidence in Mr Winsor's role as the regulator, the spokesman said the Government was examining the whole issue of the regulatory regime.

The spokesman argued that the story was being over–played in the media, adding: "It is certainly not exercising us a huge amount."