Born in Wolverhampton, he gained a law degree at University of Liverpool and became a law lecturer. He was first elected to Parliament in 1992. As a staunch Blairite, he rose swiftly, becoming an education minister in 1997, and joining the cabinet, first as Chief Secretary to the Treasury and then as Trade Secretary, in 1998.
After the 2001 general election he was made Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government & the Regions, a move that was widely regarded as a demotion. His time in this job turned out to be highly controversial. Critics argued that Transport should be a job in its own right from the outset. The first source of controversy was the decision, taken at short notice and at a weekend, to ask the courts to put the privatised railway infrastructure company Railtrack into administration (October 6, 2001). This angered investors who had lost money, and under pressure from the City, the government eventually had to agree compensation terms.
At almost the same time, it was revealed that Byers' political adviser Jo Moore had sent an email on September 11, 2001 suggesting that the terrorist attacks made it "a very good day to get out anything we want to bury." Moore (and Byers) survived the resulting outrage, but in February 2002 Moore became involved in a further row over "burying" bad news. The Department of Transport's head of news Martin Sixsmith, a former BBC news reporter, had warned Moore not to "bury" any more bad news on the day of Princess Margaret's funeral. On February 15 it was announced that both Moore and Sixsmith had resigned, but Sixsmith later said he had not agreed to go, and that Byers had insisted on Sixsmith's departure as the price for losing Moore.
Byers' troubles continued over the following months. The Labour-dominated House of Commons Transport Select Committee criticised the party's transport strategy, and a long-running row over Byers' decision as Trade Secretary to allow pornographic-magazine publisher Richard Desmond to buy the Daily Express newspaper returned to the limelight. The pressure on Byers was too much, and he resigned on May 28, 2002. In the reshuffle that followed his resignation the post was split up with lcal government and the regions becoming a part of the remit of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Transport portfolio retained by a full time Secretary of State for Transport.