Byers stands by his actions

15 Nov 01
The Treasury had a leading role to play in the demise of Railtrack, Transport Secretary Stephen Byers admitted to MPs this week.

16 November 2001

During evidence to the Commons transport sub-committee, Byers said the Treasury had been closely involved with negotiations on the future of Railtrack from July onwards.

'The Treasury was involved throughout and looked at the proposals for restructuring,' Byers said on November 14. 'By August I decided that a fallback was needed. We were clear that no more public money would go to Railtrack. So we had parallel proposals ongoing.'

Byers admitted that these included emergency legislation that would give him the power to place the company into administration. 'Legislation was drafted as part of contingency planning. It is being presented like some secret. We have been totally open and honest about our decision,' he said. But he refused to answer questions on when the legislation was drawn up.

Byers categorically denied that he threatened to use this legislation if the rail regulator, Tom Winsor, offered Railtrack an 'interim review' – a lifeline that could have kept the company afloat. Byers said he had been open with Winsor about his intentions and should he have attempted to intervene, the High Court could have 'taken this into account when considering my petition'. He added: 'It is not for me to introduce legislation when I want to. The role of the regulator is a subject for Parliament.'

He dubbed allegations that he withheld a £162m payment to Railtrack as a 'red herring', stating that by October the company was already more than £700m in deficit.

He also made it clear that there would be no extra public money for the successor body to Railtrack.


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