Queen's train deal with Heath

By Severin Carrell
Sunday 05 January 2003 01:00

The Queen offered to give Edward Heath the privilege of using the Royal Train in exchange for a £200,000 upgrade of its carriages by the taxpayer, it has been revealed.

The deal was secretly brokered in 1972 by senior Buckingham Palace officials at a time when the then Tory Prime Minister was wrestling with mounting industrial unrest, rising unemployment and the worst of Northern Ireland's Troubles.

One memo signed by Sir Robert Armstrong, who was a Downing Street official and the future head of British American Tobacco, said: "The Palace would like to justify the expense by extending the use of the Royal Train to the Prime Minister."

In another memo, Sir Martin Charteris, the Queen's private secretary, offered No 10 a tempting glimpse of the delights on offer: the Queen's personal coach, plus the principal dining room, the equerry and secretary's saloon, the prince and princess's saloon and the staff saloon.

But the Downing Street papers, released last week by the Public Records Office, show Mr Heath was uncomfortable about risks of a public backlash to the Queen's request.

With unemployment climbing above one million, the papers show that Mr Heath twice ordered his ministers to cancel statements in the House of Commons about the modernisation plan.

"The Prime Minister approves the proposed expenditure," wrote one official in November 1972. "He thinks, however, that this should be treated as routine replacement of out-of-date rolling stock which falls short of contemporary safety standards."

The papers suggest that although the royal offer was accepted, no Prime Minister has yet taken it up. The Blairs have come the closest, however. In 1998, Cherie Blair commandeered the train to take the wives of seven world leaders in Britain for a G8 summit from Birmingham to Chequers. It emerged that travelling along with a party that included Hillary Clinton, Bernadette Chirac and Naina Yeltsin were a bevy of hairdressers and manicurists hired from the Birmingham department store Rackhams.

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