Tory MPs furious after committee fails to criticise Byers for winding up Railtrack

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Indy Politics

Labour MPs have been accused of blocking an attempt to criticise formally Stephen Byers, the Transport Secretary, for his decision to pull the plug on Railtrack.

Tories are furious that a draft report by the Labour-dominated Commons sub-committee on transport lays most of the blame for the Government's decision to put Railtrack into administration on the managers of the privatised rail network.

The two Conservatives on the committee, Chris Grayling and Anne McIntosh, clashed with Labour members at a private meeting about the report, which is due to be published in the next few weeks by the full Select Committee on Transport.

They now intend to issue their own minority report, which will set out how Tom Winsor, the rail regulator, told the committee that Mr Byers threatened to pass emergency legislation to bar him from helping to bail out Railtrack.

At the centre of the row is the Government's claim – supported by the majority of the Labour MPs in their report – that Mr Byers' decision to put Railtrack into administration had not wrecked plans for raising £34.5bn from the private sector for future investment in the railways.

The Labour MPs are furious with the Tories for refusing to sign the final report, which also criticises the Strategic Rail Authority's former chairman Sir Alistair Morton. He had publicly cast doubt on the chances of persuading the private sector to invest more money in railways after Railtrack was wound up.

The Labour members attacked Ms McIntosh for refusing to compromise on the report. But she said: "We couldn't reach an accommodation and it got very nasty."

The split on party political lines means that Mr Byers will escape any serious political fall-out from the most searching examination of his handling of the affair.

But he still faces legal challenges from shareholders and Steve Marshall, a former chief executive of Railtrack, who says he will seek nearly £2bn in compensation, claiming that Mr Byers was guilty of "misfeasance" or abusing his power for political ends.

The Tories had claimed the Strategic Rail Plan announced last week by Mr Byers and the new SRA chairman, Richard Bowker, stood no chance of success after the decision on Railtrack, which slashed its share value, and cost shareholders thousands of pounds.

But Labour MPs pointed out that two Canadian bankers told the committee shareholders had a short memory, and that the not-for-profit company that would succeed Railtrack would be able to raise billions from the market within six months.

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