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Lord Beeching (Transport Co-Ordination Study)

Volume 722: debated on Tuesday 14 December 1965

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asked the Prime Minister on what date he first asked Lord Beeching to undertake single-handed the transport co-ordination study.

As Lord Beeching's pro-railway evidence to the Geddes Committee was given months before this and as the Prime Minister has given his reasons to the House for deciding against Lord Beeching, in view of this disqualification, why did he ask him in the first place?

The hon. Gentleman has worked hard, but I did not say that it was a reason for deciding against Lord Beeching, but that it was a reason for saying that he should have assessors who would be capable of representing the road haulage interests. Otherwise, their interests would have had to be expressed, as I am sure they would have been, by hon. Gentlemen opposite when the Report was debated. From 13th November and for the next month, we were concerned with other matters with Lord Beeching—namely, the terms on which he should return to I.C.I. and the terms on which he could carry on his chairmanship of British Railways and hold this inquiry—after which it was clear that we would not agree on the assessors.

When the right hon. Gentleman first offered the post to Lord Beeching, did he then submit that assessors should sit with him, or was this raised only after the Prime Minister's return from the United States?

No, Sir. To the best of my memory, I did not raise it with Lord Beeching at that time—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"]—but I know that it was being discussed. I think that the Ministry of Transport was discussing it at that time, but we ran into many other difficulties, including discussions with the head of I.C.I. about the period for which Lord Beeching could be released—I was involved in four or five meetings: we had to get over that—before we knew whether Lord Beeching was willing to undertake any job of this kind. Before this was clear, the other difficulties supervened which, very much to my surprise, meant that he was not able to accept the assignment.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many hon. Members on this side of the House are much more interested in the co-ordination of transport than in the people concerned? When can we expect the policy of coordination followed by legislation which is long overdue and which hon. Members want?

I share my hon. Friend's keen desire to see this done. As I have said many times, I was disappointed that we were not able to get Lord Beeching on the terms I mentioned, so that we might have been a good deal forrader with the integration plan than we are. I think that we were right to insist on its not being a report, which would certainly have been bitterly attacked by hon. Gentlemen opposite because it did not pay enough attention to the road haulage interests as well.

Does not the Prime Minister's statement indicate that he made this proposal, quite properly, to Lord Beeching, that, when he got back from the United States, he was then forced, under pressure from the Minister of Technology, to insist on the assessors sitting with Lord Beeching, and that that is why the latter had to refuse this position?

I am sorry to see the right hon. Gentleman casting so vainly about for these little attacks on the Government. If this is the best he can do after six months—borrowing ideas from his back benchers—I am really disappointed. If he cannot do better than that—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer"]. I am going to answer, but we were told that we would get attacks from the right hon. Gentleman—

Yes, Sir. I am about to do so.

The answer to the Question is, as I said, that when I approached Lord Beeching on the first occasion, he immediately raised with me a number of questions affecting his future and the subject of I.C.I. and British Rail. These had to be settled before we could discuss the basis or the terms of reference of his inquiry. When we came to discuss whether it was possible for him to undertake the inquiry, this problem arose. It did lot come from pressure whether by my right hon. Friend or anyone else. It was a reasonable requirement, which I think that the right hon. Gentleman if he had been in my place would have put to Lord Beeching.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I beg to give notice that I will raise the matter on the Adjournment as soon as possible.