Barber shop talk
Committee room 16 at the House of Commons was, as expected, packed to the doors yesterday with people eager to see and hear how John Barber, the sacked British Leyland managing director, would acquit himself in the face of questioning from MPs who are conducting an inquiry into the British motor industry. Those hoping for a few fireworks were, however, disappointed. Barber fended off the embarrassing questions, which, for the most part, were scrupulously polite, and only once was asked directly about his personal downfall.
It was left to Hamish Watt, the only Scottish Nationalist on the all-party group, to suggest that the Ryder report on the car company was “hanging the wrong man”. Barber replied: “I can’t give you an impartial answer. I am not here to defend myself.”
He did reveal that final confirmation of his departure from the British Leyland boardroom came on the day the Ryder report was published. Barber was summoned to the office, of Anthony Wedgwood Benn where Sir Don Ryder told him there would, be no place for him in the new Government. controlled company. It is now known that the Prime Minister himself, rather than Sir Don, took on the task of asking Lord Stokes to relinquish the chairmanship and. become Leyland’s honorary president. Barber was being equally cautious outside the committee room yesterday.
His future plans were not being revealed and he would not say whether he had had overtures from potential employers. He seemed happiest at being able to take his first holiday for a year.
Lord Stokes, maintaining his usual jovial optimism, was asked what he thought was the best aspect of the Ryder report. “The money”, he said. Later he faced a suggestion from Frank McElhone, a Scottish Labour MP, that the price of government finance had been “a hatchet job” on the management.
“Yes, if you like to put it that way”, Lord Stokes replied.
“But one has reservations. I do not think these things can be answered in black and white terms.” Not surprisingly , the MPs decided to clear the room and ask Barber some more searching questions in private.