Inverness Set for Showdown - 50 Years On
The Transport Users' Consultative Committee hearing of the Highland closure proposals in Inverness Town House on 9th and 10th March, 1964 will be the most panoplied affair of its kind since the present arbitration procedure was established. In addition to a multitude of individual objectors, practically every town and county council north of Inverness was reported to have entered an objection to the proposals by expiry of the time limit on 20th January. Many of these bodies have briefed counsel - in most cases resentfully, for it is held locally that the Government has already decided that discretion is the better part of valour in an election year and that merely to satisfy the proprieties, objectors are being put to unnecessary expense to fight a battle already yielded. On the other hand, if there is a point to the hearing, Highlanders consider that a mere two days is totally inadequate for full discussion of all the issues. To judge by some of the unrestrained language the British Rail proposals have already provoked, the Inverness Town House sessions in March will be lively. Most outspoken has been Mr. F.G. Thomson, managing director of the Invergordon Distillery and a leading figure in the Scottish Vigilantes Association, which has claimed letters of support for its struggle against the closures amounting to as many as 3,000 a week, from exiled Scots as well as those closely involved. "The biggest tissue of lies ever perpetrated on the British public," has been one of Mr. Thomson's reported attacks on the Beeching Report, with the added comment, referring to its calculations of financial savings if closures are executed, that "no professional accountant, or back-street bookie's runner for that matter, would put his name to figures of that sort." He is also reported to have said that Scots would not tolerate the black magic of Dr. Beeching or the tantrums of Mr. Marples "who are our servants and ... will serve us," and to have enjoined the Secretary of State for Scotland to "stand up for Scotland and speak to Mr. Marples or get out among your sheep again." More restrained support for the opponents of Scottish closure has come from Lord Polwarth, chairman of the Scottish Council (Development and Industry), who on 27th January led a delegation representing local authorities, industry, trades unions, farmers and tourists' interests in a 2-hour interview with the Prime Minister, the Minister of Transport and the Secretary of State for Scotland. The essence of the delegation's case was that the new approach of the Government to the development of depressed areas had introduced conditions of which the Transport Act procedure with regard to rail service closures took no account. The latter provided only for the hearing of appeals against passenger train withdrawals on grounds of hardship; there was no statutory machinery whereby objections to abandonment of freight services could be heard. The delegation contended that the effect of the proposed closures on economic growth was important and that no adequate arrangements existed to take account of it. It rejected the Beeching Report assumption that closures were justified because most of the lines had already been in existence for 50 to 100 years without inducing development; only now, it said, were years of effort to promote an economic growth policy for Scotland beginning to take practical effect. In all but a few minor cases, the delegates urged the Ministers to delay closures for two to three years, during which there should be continuing consultation on their relevance to Scottish development between the Minister of Transport's working party on closure cases and various Scottish bodies. The delegation seems to have come away under the impression that it had made its point, but later reports discounted this impression. There is a growing feeling that firm Ministerial decisions on the Highland closures will be pronounced before the summer is out.
Many thanks to Roger Piercy for digging this out of his archive.
Dr. Richard Beeching (for anyone who has never heard of him) was Chairman of the British Railways Board from 1961 to 1965. He was a physicist and engineer appointed by:
Ernest Marples, who was Minister of Transport from 1959 to 1964, having previously been Managing Director of Marples Ridgway, which built many of Britain's motorways; he sold his 80% shareholding to his wife whilst in office. He was elevated to the Peerage in 1974 and the following year fled to Monaco to avoid being prosecuted for tax fraud. Allegedly, he hadn't paid any tax for 30 years.
The Secretary of State for Scotland was Michael Noble, a sheep and cattle farmer. He was ennobled as Baron Glenkinglas of Cairndow after losing his Argyll seat to the SNP in 1974.
The Prime Minister at the time was Sir Alec Douglas-Home, who held that office for 364 days.