Ernest Marples

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The Right Honourable
The Lord Marples
PC
Postmaster General
In office
17 January 1957 – 14 October 1959
Prime Minister Harold Macmillan
Preceded by Charles Hill
Succeeded by Reginald Bevins
Minister of Transport
In office
14 October 1959 – 16 October 1964
Prime Minister Harold Macmillan
Sir Alec Douglas-Home
Preceded by Harold Watkinson
Succeeded by Tom Fraser
Personal details
Born Alfred Ernest Marples
(1907-12-09)9 December 1907
Levenshulme, Manchester, Lancashire
Died 6 July 1978(1978-07-06) (aged 70)
The Princess Grace Hospital Centre in Monaco
Resting place Southern Cemetery, Manchester
Nationality UK
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Ruth, née Dobson[1]

Alfred Ernest Marples, Baron Marples PC (9 December 1907 – 6 July 1978) was a British Conservative politician who served as Postmaster General and Minister of Transport.

As postmaster general he saw the introduction of Premium Bond scheme and of postcodes. His period as Minister of Transport was controversial. He both oversaw the significant construction, he opened the first section of the M1 motorway, and the closure of a considerable portion of the national railway network with the Beeching cuts. His involvement in the road construction business Marples Ridgway, of which he had been managing director, was one of repeated concern regarding possible conflict of interest.

In later life he was elevated to the peerage before fleeing to Monaco at very short notice to avoid prosecution for tax fraud.

Early life[edit]

Marples was born at 45 Dorset Road, Levenshulme, Manchester, Lancashire.[2] His father had been a renowned engineering charge-hand and Manchester Labour campaigner, and his mother had worked in a local hat factory. Marples attended Victoria Park Council School and won a scholarship to Stretford Grammar School. By the age of 14 he was already active in the Labour Movement, as well as earning money by selling cigarettes and sweets to Manchester football crowds. He also played football for a YMCA team.

Marples worked as a miner, a postman, a chef and an accountant. He was commissioned into the Royal Artillery in 1941, rose to the rank of Captain and was medically discharged in 1944.

Marples married Ruth Dobson (1919-2014), who on his elevation to the Peerage in 1974 became Lady Marples.[1]

Political career[edit]

Marples joined the Conservative Party and in 1945 was elected as Member of Parliament for Wallasey. In 1951, Winston Churchill appointed him a junior minister in the Conservative Government 1951–1955.[3] Marples was a minister under Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home throughout the Conservative Government 1957–1964.

Postmaster General[edit]

In 1957, Harold Macmillan appointed Marples Postmaster General. At that time the telephone network was controlled by the General Post Office, and Marples introduced subscriber trunk dialling (STD), which eliminated the use of operators on national phone calls. On 2 June 1957, Marples started the first draw for the new Premium Bond scheme. He also introduced the first postcodes to the UK.[4]

Minister of Transport[edit]

Marples was Minister of Transport from 14 October 1959 until the Conservatives lost the 1964 General Election on 16 October 1964.

As Minister of Transport, Marples oversaw the introduction of parking meters and the provisional driving licence in 1958 and two Transport Acts. The Road Traffic Act of 1960 introduced the MOT test, roadside single yellow lines and double yellow lines, traffic wardens, and the 250 cc engine limit for learner motorcyclists.

The Transport Act 1962 dissolved the British Transport Commission (BTC) which had overseen the railways, canals and road freight transport and established the British Railways Board; it also put in place measures which simplified the process of closing railways. The Act was described as the "most momentous piece of legislation in the field of railway law to have been enacted since the Railway and Canal Traffic Act 1854".[5]

In anticipation of the 1962 Act, the government appointed Dr Richard Beeching as Chairman of the British Railways Board with a brief to recommend and implement such changes as were necessary to end of the losses that were growing rapidly at the time. The Beeching cuts, or "Beeching Axe" that followed resulted in the major closures for both stations and lines. It may not be entirely a coincidence that as Beeching was closing railway lines, the government was providing funding for the construction of motorways, which were being built by companies in which Marples had an interest (see below).

Peerage[edit]

Marples retired from the House of Commons at the February 1974 general election. On 8 May 1974 he was made a life peer as Baron Marples of Wallasey in the County of Merseyside.[6][7]

Business interests[edit]

In the late 1940s Marples was a director of a company called Kirk & Kirk,[3] which was a contractor in the construction of Brunswick Wharf Power Station.[8] Marples met civil engineer Reginald Ridgway (1908–2002), who was working as a contractor for Kirk & Kirk.[8] In 1948 the two men founded Marples Ridgway and Partners, a civil engineering company that started with one five-ton ex-army truck and one crane.[8]

The new partnership took over Kirk & Kirk's contract at Brunswick Wharf[8] and in 1950 Marples severed his links with Kirk & Kirk.[3] Marples, Ridgway's subsequent contracts included building power stations in England, a hydro-electric station in Scotland, roads in Ethiopia and (significantly) England, and a port in Jamaica.[8] The Bath and Portland Group took over Marples Ridgway in 1964.[8]

Controversies[edit]

Conflict of interest[edit]

Shortly after he became a junior minister in November 1951, Marples resigned as Managing Director of Marples Ridgway but continued to hold some 80% of the firm's shares.[3][9] When he was made Minister of Transport in October 1959, Marples undertook to sell his shareholding in the company as he was now in clear breach of the House of Commons' rules on conflicts of interest.[9] He had not done so by January 1960 when the Evening Standard reported that Marples Ridgeway had won the tender to build the Hammersmith Flyover and that the Ministry of Transport's engineers had endorsed the London County Council's rejection of a lower tender.[3][9][10]

Marples' first attempt to sell his shares was blocked by the Attorney-General on the basis that he was using his former business partner, Reg Ridgeway, as an agent to ensure that he could buy back the shares upon leaving office.[9] Marples therefore sold his shares to his wife, reserving himself the possibility to reacquire them at the original price after leaving office;[3][11][12][13][14] by this time, his shares had come to be worth between £350,000 and £400,000.[9]

In 1959 Marples opened the first section of the M1 motorway shortly after becoming minister. It is now understood that although his company was not directly contracted to build the M1, Marples Ridgway "certainly had a finger in the pie".[15] Marples Ridgway built the Hammersmith Flyover in London at a cost of £1.3 million, immediately followed by building the Chiswick Flyover;[8]

Marples Ridgway was also involved in other major road projects in the 1950s and 1960s[16] including the £4.1 million extension of the M1 into London, referred to as the 'Hendon Urban Motorway' at the time.[17]

Use of prostitutes[edit]

When Lord Denning made his 1963 investigation into the security aspects of the Profumo Affair and the rumoured affair between the Minister of Defence, Duncan Sandys, and the Duchess of Argyll, he confirmed to Macmillan that a rumour that Ernest Marples was in the habit of using prostitutes appeared to be true.[18] The story was suppressed and did not appear in Denning's final report.[19]

Flight to Monaco[edit]

Early in 1975 Marples suddenly fled to Monaco. Among journalists who investigated his unexpected flight was Daily Mirror editor Richard Stott:

"In the early 70s ... he tried to fight off a revaluation of his assets which would undoubtedly cost him dear ... So Marples decided he had to go and hatched a plot to remove £2 million from Britain through his Liechtenstein company ... there was nothing for it but to cut and run, which Marples did just before the tax year of 1975. He left by the night ferry with his belongings crammed into tea chests, leaving the floors of his home in Belgravia littered with discarded clothes and possessions ... He claimed he had been asked to pay nearly 30 years' overdue tax ... The Treasury froze his assets in Britain for the next ten years. By then most of them were safely in Monaco and Liechtenstein."[20]

As well as being wanted for tax fraud, one source alleges that Marples was being sued in Britain by tenants of his slum properties and by former employees.[11] He never returned to Britain, living the remainder of his life at his Fleurie Beaujolais château and vineyard in France.[11] He died on 6 July 1978.

Popular culture[edit]

In 2009 his name was used for a website ernestmarples.com which campaigned to have the UK Postcode dataset released as Open Data and drew threats of legal action by the Royal Mail against its founders.[21][22] The dataset was opened up on 1 April 2010 following support from many people, including MPs,[23][24] and Code-Point Open can now be downloaded free with data.gov.uk.[25]

The founders of the site claim that they were not aware of the controversy around him at the time they chose him for the website.[26]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "(Alfred) Ernest Marples, 1st Baron Marples; Lady Ruth Marples (née Dobson)". Image Details. National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 31 October 2011. 
  2. ^ Dutton, D.J. "Ernest Marples". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 10 October 2008. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Ernest Marples, Minister of Transport (28 January 1960). http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1960/jan/28/personal-statement#column_381 |chapter-url= missing title (help). Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). United Kingdom: House of Commons. col. 380–381. Retrieved 31 October 2011. 
  4. ^ Arthur, Charles (7 October 2009). "Who would really benefit of postcode data were free?". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 31 October 2011. 
  5. ^ Kahn-Freund, Otto (March 1963). "Transport Act, 1962". Modern Law Review 26 (2): 174. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2230.1963.tb00706.x. JSTOR 1093306. 
  6. ^ The London Gazette: no. 46286. p. 5747. 10 May 1974.
  7. ^ Cracroft-Brennan, Patrick (21 October 2008). "Life Peerages under the Life Peerages Act 1958". Cracroft's Peerage. Heraldic Media Limited. p. Life peerages - M. Retrieved 31 October 2011. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g "Reginald Ridgway". The Daily Telegraph (London). 29 March 2002. Retrieved 12 September 2010. 
  9. ^ a b c d e Loft, Charles (2006). Government, the Railways and the Modernization of Britain. Routledge. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-7146-5338-9. 
  10. ^ "MINISTERS OF THE CROWN (PRIVATE INTERESTS)". Hansard. 28 January 1960. Is he aware that there has been a Press report, which I am unable to confirm or deny, that the Minister of Transport was in fact the senior partner of a firm of contractors which has obtained a contract worth £250,000 and that we understand, according to this Press report, that the right hon. Gentleman is now trying to dispose of the shares he has. In a case of this kind, does not the right hon. Gentleman think it most improper, at any rate, that any Minister of the Crown should be associated with any company with which such a contract is placed? 
  11. ^ a b c Norm, Terry (1 October 2011). "Railways and Things The Age of Steam". History of Local Railways and Stations. town of Ammanford Web Site. Retrieved 31 October 2011. 
  12. ^ Henshaw, David (1991). The Great Railway Conspiracy. Hawes, North Yorkshire: Leading Edge Books. p. 126. ISBN 978-0-948135-48-4. 
  13. ^ Dudley, Geoffrey; Richardson, Jeremy (2001). Why Does Policy Change?: Lessons from British Transport Policy 1945-99. Routledge. p. 45. ISBN 978-0-415-16918-9. 
  14. ^ Hamer, Mick (1987). Wheels within Wheels: Study of the Road Lobby. Routledge. p. 50. ISBN 978-0-7102-1007-4. 
  15. ^ "Life in the fast lane - part two". The Guardian (London). 22 January 2011. the M1 was very much the darling of Ernest Marples, Minister of Transport in Harold Macmillan's Tory government in the 50s, who just happened to be a director of Marples Ridgeway, a civil engineering company specialising in road construction. Although the company didn't officially build the M1, it certainly had a finger in the pie. 
  16. ^ "Marples, Ridgway & Partners Limited". 11 November 1964. Mr. A. Lewis asked the Minister of Transport whether he will publish in HANSARD a table of figures giving the contracts obtained by Marples, Ridgway & Partners Limited during the past 13 years, and the amounts of such contracts in each case. 
  17. ^ "M1". Hansard. 21 April 1967. 
  18. ^ Lamb, Richard (1995). The Macmillan Years 1957-1963: The Unfolding Truth. London: John Murray. p. 482. ISBN 0-7195-5392-X. 
  19. ^ Sandbrook, Dominic (2006). Never had it so good: a history of Britain from Suez to the Beatles. London: Abacus. p. 674. ISBN 0-349-11530-3. 
  20. ^ Stott, Richard (2002). Toronto: Hushion House Publishing. pp. 166–171. ISBN 1-84358-040-3.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  21. ^ Arthur, Charles (7 October 2009). "Who would really benefit if postcode data were free?". The Guardian (London). 
  22. ^ The Silent State, Heather Brooke
  23. ^ "Alfred Ernest Marples, Baron Marples of Wallasey, is very happy because the Ordnance Survey have released free postcode data. Yay! His name was chosen because he was the person who introduced the Post Code.". 
  24. ^ "Postcode data to be free in 2010". BBC News. December 2009. 
  25. ^ "OS Code-Point Open". data.gov.uk. 
  26. ^ "Interview with me about Ernest Marples". ernestmarples.com. 

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
George Leonard Reakes
Member of Parliament for Wallasey
1945February 1974
Succeeded by
Lynda Chalker
Political offices
Preceded by
Charles Hill
Postmaster General
1957–1959
Succeeded by
Reginald Bevins
Preceded by
Harold Watkinson
Minister of Transport
1959–1964
Succeeded by
Tom Fraser