Byers faces calls to quit as he tries to defend spin doctor

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Indy Politics

Attempts by Downing Street to defuse a row over Stephen Byers' spin doctor Jo Moore were undermined on Friday by the news that a powerful Commons committee was poised to investigate the affair.

Tony Blair and Mr Byers tried to draw a line under the dispute, claiming Ms Moore should not be sacked over her e-mail urging colleagues to "bury" bad news on 11 September when the airliner hijackers struck. But as Labour grandees lined up to criticise Ms Moore, the Secretary of State for Transport was also called on to resign over separate claims that his special adviser had urged civil servants to brief journalists against Bob Kiley, London's transport commissioner.

Last night on Channel Four News, Mr Byers said that briefing against Mr Kiley by press officers was legitimate.

The seriousness of the affair was underlined when it was revealed that the Commons Public Accounts Select Committee is to widen an inquiry into the civil service to include evidence on the latest allegations of interference in Whitehall.

Ms Moore could be called upon to explain her alleged attempts to use government press officers to "spin" as if they were Labour officials.

The Tories also stepped up the pressure last night, calling for Sir Richard Wilson, the Cabinet Secretary, to explain his role in the events. Mr Blair's official spokesman refused to say whether Sir Richard had been involved in the investigation into the affair.

Mr Byers will face questions in Parliament about Ms Moore's conduct on Monday, as part of an emergency statement in the Commons on Railtrack.

He broke his silence on the row yesterday, telling the BBC Ms Moore had made a "terrible error of judgement". But her e-mail was an "isolated mistake" that did not warrant her dismissal, he said.

Mr Byers also denied claims that a senior civil servant was forced out of his job after refusing Ms Moore's requests to take part in a dirty tricks campaign against Mr Kiley. He said Alun Evans's move to "a very important job" on the foot-and-mouth inquiry was not due to any "conflict" with Ms Moore.

But Tam Dalyell, the Labour MP for Linlithgow and the father of the House, told the BBC that Mr Byers and Ms Moore should have been sacked.

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