Nar of ittrition
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PUTTING forward its plans for ationalisation, Labour Party ratory is much more sparing iese days in references to the eed to capture the
commanding heights" of the conomy. It may have been 3alised at last that the phrase rriacks more of a dictatorship ind a military dictatorship at mat) than of a democracy. Experience has also shown let the euphoria aroused by 'eking the public a present of n industry such as transport on disappears when the lenge is seen to be for the Norse. The Party cannot
bandon its policy of expanding ublic ownership, but a more 3utious approach is required — war of attrition rather than an II-out attack to plant the red flag n the citadel.
Direct nationalisation of road aulage is ruled out in the .ansport discussion document repa red for the party
3nference next October. The tain excuse is the size of the bill compensation, a 3nsideration that seemed the • :est of the Party's problems in le old heady days.
Even the one obligatory xception is tackled with some esitation. The NFC must, of 3u rse, be reclaimed from the rilderness. But there is the wkward fact that so many of le employees now have shares 'their company and may elieve that that is as far as ublic ownership should go. The ocument does not shirk the roblem, but neither does it rovide a solution.
Doubts are fewer about the treatment of hauliers in general. The railways provide a safety net for whatever is threatened. Introduce legislation in their favour, and as their prosperity increases (a consummation devoutly to be wished) so will that of the hauliers decline.
Unfortunately, the methods proposed to achieve this result seem as foolish as they have always done. One of the less sensible provisions of the 1968 Transport Act called for a licensing or permit system for the long-distance carriage of freight by road. The plan was quietly abandoned. It has been revived in the new document.
Other similar ideas, such as the encouragement of the use of transfer terminals, have the same purpose of getting traffic on the railways without specifically making the transfer compulsory. In compiling the document, as much thought has been given to the vocabulary as to the actual proposals.
Freight planning agreements are to be promoted "so that the needs of industry and the capacity of the railways are synchronised by means of Government intervention". This could be translated as giving the trader the right to send his goods by road on condition that he does not exercise the right in a way that the authorities might deplore.
There has been only one occasion, in the Transport Bill introduced after the war, when the unfettered freedom of the own-account operator was directly challenged; and the offending provisions were removed before the Bill became the 1947 Transport Act.
The circumspect approach adopted in the latest proposals makes it unlikely that the challenge would be revived. It is suggested, however, that the encroachment into the hire and reward sector should be stopped.
Implementation of this intention would have to mean the reintroduction of something akin to the old system of carrier licensing, with its distinction between the right to carry one's own traffic and the need for a licence to carry for other people. Once the trader is successfully fenced out, the next Labour Government, if the document is accepted, would be able to cope with the professional haulier at its leisure.
There is plenty of scope. There are the 91 recommendations in the Foster report for a start — although ironically the Foster Committee, unlike the Labour Party planners, rejected direct regulation of the size ofthe industry as one of the legitimate purposes of licensing.
Hauliers with no more than a few lorries, the document warns, will have to be "eliminated." The details are left to the imagination.
As for the remainder, the prospect is bleak. There will be an increase in vehicle excise duty for heavy lorries. There will be no increase, however, in gross vehicle weights.
There is one exception. Freightliner vehicles will be given relief on taxation of fuel as well as vehicles. The company will be allowed to use heavier vehicles than those permitted for independent operators, including those on own-account.
This extraordinary proposal, which might appear designed simultaneously to pander to the environmentalists and to cause maximum perplexity to vehicle manufacturers, must surely be among the first casualties encountered by the document at the Party conference. Much of the discussion on vehicle weights and taxation already touches the lunatic fringe. It will go beyond if it has to embrace the principle that, while all vehicles are equal, some are more equal than others.
The Labour Party being what it is, there can be no doubt on the other hand that it will accept the restatement in the document of the old plan for a National Transport Authority as an ideological adjunct to the Department of Transport.
Naturally, it will have a "broader and more interventionist role". In the light of the general tone of the document, the role must be exercised in such a way as to give the maximum advantages to the railways in competition with road operators.
If the document avoids any reference to the "commanding heights," it does not have the same inhibitions on the subject of integration. The word has always had a superficial attraction because of its associations with orderly planning. It is a pity that once again it is being used to disguise the favouring of one form of transport — and an inevitably declining form — at the expense of the rest.