HC Deb 06 April 1960 vol 621 cc393-9
The Minister of Transport (Mr. Ernest Marples)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to make a statement about the group which is to advise about the British Transport Commission.

In accordance with the statement which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made on 10th March, I have

Note: This correction has been made in col. 171.

now appointed the body which will advise me and the British Transport Commission. It will be composed as follows:


Sir Ivan Stedeford, K.B.E., Chairman and Managing Director, Tube Investments Ltd


Mr. C. F. Kearton, O.B.E., Joint Managing Director, Courtaulds.

Dr. R. Beeching, A.R.C.S., B.Sc, Ph.D., Technical Director of I.C.I.

Mr. H. A. Benson, C.B.E., F.C.A., partner in Cooper Bros., chartered accountants.

The Treasury and the Ministry of Transport will also be represented.

The task of the advisory body will be to examine the structure, finance and working of the organisations at present controlled by the Commission and to advise the Minister of Transport and the British Transport Commission, as a matter of urgency, how effect can best be given to the Government's intentions as indicated in the Prime Minister's statement.

Mr. Benn

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm, as to function, that this body has no executive responsibility? Will he tell the House whether it will be free to reach conclusions other than on those questions contained within the Prime Minister's statement and also to consider the development of transport needs generally?

As to the membership of the planning board, can he tell the House what has happened to the pledge made by his right hon. Friend that the British Transport Commission would be represented on the board? Can he tell us how that body, which does not include members of the Commission or the trade unions, or anyone with railway experience, can possibly reach an advisory conclusion which has any meaning as a matter of urgency?

Mr. Marples

We did think of having the Transport Commission represented on the advisory body, but, on reflection and after a great deal of thought, it was decided that the advisory body should be small and that neither the Commission nor the trade unions should be on it— [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because the advice of the Commission and the unions can best be put forward without inhibitions and in all freeness if they are not on the body itself.

The body will not be executive, but purely advisory. Its terms of reference are extremely wide: to examine the structure, finance and working of the organisations … I am quite certain that it will take into account other forms of transport when giving its advice.

Mr. Benn

Will it be free to make recommendations on matters beyond those contained within the Prime Minister's statement? Will the right hon. Gentleman recall that the Fleck Report came out not in favour of more decentralisation, but rather the other way round?

Mr. Marples

I ask the hon. Gentleman to study the terms of reference carefully. The body is to examine the structure, finance and working of the organisations at present controlled by the Commission". Those terms of reference are very wide. I am extremely grateful to these men for giving up their time for this work. I think that their advice will be extremely comprehensive.

Mr. Grimond

Is it not implicit in the Minister's statement that the Transport Commission is at present incapable of running its own business? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] If that is so, why does the right hon. Gentleman not get rid of those members, and, if these people know more about transport, put them on the Commission instead? Can the right hon. Gentleman say when the new body is expected to report, and whether the Government intend to do anything whatever about the railways till it does report?

Mr. Marples

I cannot say when it will report, but I shall be in close touch —weekly or fortnightly—with it, so that if it makes recommendations immediate effect can be given to them. The hon. Gentleman, as a lawyer and the leader of a great party, knows that it is very unwise for people to be judges in their own cause. As this body is to examine the question of the railways, it would be wrong in principle to have on it people who were themselves concerned.

Sir W. Robson Brown

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he is to be congratulated on being able to recruit and to gain the advice of such exceptional men, who have distinguished themselves in industry and cannot do anything but contribute to the success of modern railways?

Mr. Marples

These men have been chosen for their wide, practical experience of large-scale organisations. I would hope that, as such, they would be accepted by the House, because one thing which will ruin any reorganisation will be if it becomes a party political matter again.

Mr. Donnelly

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that implicit also in his statement is a grave indictment not only of the Transport Commission, but of the Ministry? Surely there are people in the Ministry with a fund of knowledge about the railways and experience of transport problems in this country, so that it should not be necessary to go outside the Ministry to seek the expert advice that the Government should be having?

Mr. Marples

The advisory body is not necessarily to give expert advice. It will be considering expert advice which is given to it. It will be in close touch with the Commission, the unions, and they and anyone else may make any recommendations they wish.

Sir R. Nugent

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the body which he is appointing, and the expert membership he has there, is just the right sort of body to be able to tackle this very difficult problem, and that it would be a great mistake to muddy the waters of the very difficult job which it has to do by making it a political issue?

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that one of the tasks of this body will be to look into the working of the railway system, to disentangle the economic aspects from the uneconomic aspects, and to give advice on how the modernisation scheme should be remodelled to meet the needs of the future and to avoid large expenditure on modernising installations and services which are now out of date?

Mr. Marples

I think that I can assure my hon. Friend that the terms of reference are wide enough for this body to be able to make almost any recommendation it likes. [Interruption.] I am extremely sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) takes—

Mr. Robens rose

Hon. Members: Sit down.

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is not worthy of the dignity of this House that Members should interrupt a Member who is speaking, so that we cannot get on with business. Let the Minister finish. He is in the middle of an answer.

Mr. Marples

These men have been chosen not on any sectional basis— [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] They do not represent the trade unions, the Commission, or anyone else. They have been chosen purely because they have experience of large-scale organisations, and, as such, I am quite certain that they will be successful.

Mr. Shinwell

While it might be unexpected that the Minister would appoint somebody on this body from the railway trade unions, would it not have been appropriate, advisable and more in the interests of an effective, considered and objective report to have asked the unions to suggest somebody not connected with the railways? When he informs the unions that this is not a party matter, is he aware that what he has done is to appoint a number of industrial tycoons who are likely, I think, to be more representative of the Tory Party?

Mr. Marples

Not necessarily. A number of very wealthy people and industrial tycoons are members of the party opposite. The members of this body have not been chosen on that basis. The trade unions and the Transport Commission have been treated the same. They can give whatever evidence they wish to this advisory group.

Mr. P. Williams

Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that this advisory body will be able to hear evidence from outside the railways, in particular from the British shipping industry?

Mr. Marples

Yes, Sir. I am quite sure that it will welcome informed advice and opinions from interested outside bodies. That is its job. I am sure that it will do it well.

Mr. Popplewell

Is the Minister aware that those who are interested in the industry will learn of his statement with deep regret? Is he also aware that the people he has appointed are, many of them, representing the same types of industry, Tube Investments Ltd., I.C.I., Dorman Long's, and banking and finance, from which already there are part-time members of the area boards? Some of them are already members of the Commission. In view of that, does not the Minister realise how ridiculous his statement is? Will he not take it back with a view to allowing people who really understand transport to get on with the job? He knows that on the area boards there are part-time appointments, and that he has several people with the same types of qualifications as those whose appointments to the advisory body he is now announcing, and that they are already interfering with transport and have turned it from a profitable undertaking into an undertaking showing a big deficit since they were appointed?

Mr. Marples

The hon. Member's question contains a number of inaccuracies. There is no member of this advisory body who is with Dorman Long's and no member of the Transport Commission.

Mr. Popplewell


Mr. Marples

The point is that these men have great experience of transport. In fact, one of them gives a great deal of business—millions of pounds a year —to transport. He knows what is expected of it and will see that we get an efficient system.

Mr. Mellish

The right hon. Gentleman will understand that most of us on this side of the House, at any rate, honestly and sincerely believed that the time had come when politics should be taken right out of the transport industry. We have pleaded for this and, indeed, since 1947 this has been argued politically. Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise, therefore, that his statement today, with the absence from it of reference to representatives from the T.U.C., will now create tremendous doubts in the minds of those who work in this industry? They are very important people. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to look again at the whole membership of this body and see whether or not he cannot bring the workers interested into it.

Mr. Marples

After great thought it was decided that both the Commission and the unions would be better giving evidence than deciding—

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Many hon. Members are rising, but it is quite clear that we cannot debate this matter without a Question before the House.