HC Deb 28 April 1965 vol 711 cc434-6
30. Mr. Galbraith

asked the Minister of Transport if, in view of the need for an independent inquiry into the coordination of transport services, he will now appoint a committee with an independent chairman to make such an inquiry.

Mr. Tom Fraser

I would refer the hon. Member to the Answer I gave to the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) on 10th March.

Mr. Galbraith

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that the reply to my hon. Friend does not answer our difficulties at all? Is he not aware how thoroughly unsatisfactory it is for him to take kudos by appointing a well-known national figure like Lord Hinton to carry out an investigation and then, by making him a civil servant, to muzzle him so that no one knows what advice he is giving? Should not the Minister either do the job himself, with his own civil servants, or, if he must appoint a great public figure, could not he at least leave him free so that his deliberations are known to the country?

Mr. Fraser

The hon. Gentleman does not seem to realise that Lord Hinton has become a civil servant—

Mr. Galbraith

I said so.

Mr. Fraser

—so he is like any other civil servant. It does not lie in the mouth of the hon. Gentleman to complain about great public figures being muzzled after being appointed by the Government. Does he not remember what happened to the Stedeford Report?

Mr. Strauss

But can my right hon. Friend give further consideration to this very important matter? Could he not make some special arrangement with Lord Hinton so that it may be possible that, after Lord Hinton's very careful scrutiny, Parliament and the public may have some idea of what his conclusions and recommendations are? If we do not know that, we shall not know to what extent the Minister accepts or rejects them, or what the right course to follow is.

Mr. Fraser

I should have thought that what Parliament and the public were more entitled to know would be what proposals I will be bringing forward for transport co-ordination. I should have thought that they would be less concerned with the extent to which I have taken the advice given to me by one public servant or another in order to reach the conclusion that I make on the matter. Surely, the public and the House should discuss in debate what the Government propose, and not what someone else proposes.

Mr. Powell

If the right hon. Gentleman intends, quite properly, to accept and defend the responsibility for whatever decision eventuates, what is the point of specifying the name of the public servant for the time being from whom he is receiving some of the advice?

Mr. Fraser

The right hon. Gentleman seems to be forgetting the history of this situation. At one time, there was great public discussion about the possibility of Dr. Beeching taking on this job. It was quite clear that Dr. Beeching did not intend to do it as a temporary civil servant — [HON. MEMBERS: "Quite right."]—but intended to make his study and publish a report. That was quite clear. In the event, however, it was not possible for him to do this job and I had to make a statement to that effect on 23rd December last. Then I was under considerable pressure to say what I would do instead, and I thought that I was being courteous to the House in coming forward and telling the House precisely what I was doing.