Blair warns Byers not to 'bury' news

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Indy Politics

The Prime Minister has warned Stephen Byers not to "bury" news of the Government's approval of controversial plans to build a fifth terminal at Heathrow airport.

In a complete reversal of Labour's normal attitude to news management, Tony Blair has privately instructed the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions that an announcement should not be hidden amongst dramatic developments in Afghanistan or elsewhere.

Downing Street has told Mr Byers that the Government will "clear the decks" for the Terminal Five decision so that no other significant statements will be made on the same day.

The instruction means that Jo Moore, the beleaguered "spin doctor" at the Transport department, has been further side-lined and that her days as Mr Byers's adviser are numbered, according to Whitehall sources.

Mr Blair's office intervened after news last week that senior officials at the Department for Transport had been ordered to rush out the Terminal Five announcement at a moment's notice. Civil servants had originally been asked to prepare the documents for mid-November, however last week they were ordered to get the papers ready for immediate release from the middle of this week. Officials said they believed it was another cynical exercise in news management.

Mr Byers has been under constant pressure to dismiss Ms Moore since she sent out an e-mail on 11 September trawling for bad news that could be "buried" under cover of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre.

Officials said they detected her influence in preparations to announce the approval for Terminal Five, which will be bitterly opposed by environmental groups, surrounding residents and local authorities in west London.

Mr Byers has said he will be making a statement on the issue in the Commons. A spokesman for the department said the announcement on Terminal Five would be made "in due course".