Leading article: The bad habit of untruthfulness

Click to follow

The revelation came during the hearing of a class action against the Government brought by former Railtrack shareholders, who believe Mr Byers forced the company into administration in order to renationalise it. Mr Byers had told the select committee that he first discussed Railtrack's future with the Treasury in August 2001. The prosecution produced a list of dates in June and July of that year on which Mr Byers had discussed options for Railtrack with the Treasury. It was this that prompted his embarrassing admission that he had misled MPs.

It is for the court to decide whether Mr Byers intentionally ripped off Railtrack shareholders. But it is already possible to draw conclusions about his personal conduct. What is more, his actions appear to be part of a worrying pattern of "untruthfulness" in this Government.

Tony Blair strenuously denied that he had anything to do with the naming of the government scientist David Kelly over the Iraq dossier affair. The Hutton inquiry discovered that he had chaired the very meeting in which the strategy was discussed. Earlier this year, the Parliamentary Ombudsman found that Dawn Primarolo, the Paymaster General, had failed to give accurate information when questioned about tax credit overpayments in the Commons. The Immigration minister Beverley Hughes misled Parliament over her knowledge of lax visa checks on Romanian and Bulgarian applicants. She is the only minister to have resigned for misleading the House.

Mr Byers is no longer a minister. But his admission this week should surely preclude any chance of a return to the front benches.