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Political Commentary By JAN US

19th May 1950, Page 41
19th May 1950
Page 41
Page 41, 19th May 1950 — Political Commentary By JAN US
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

Dropping the Pilot

BEFORE 1945, Minister of Transport succeeded unto Minister like mediocre batsmen on a bowler's wicket. One point sometimes put forward in favour of the present Minister is his apparent willingness to stay until the Government puts the shutters up.

The opinion is growing that Mr. Barnes's record tenure of office should be brought to an end. The recent dead-heat in the House of Commons was on a motion directly affecting his department, and, had the vote gone against the Government, it might have led to his resignation.

Much may be said for the contention that, once a Minister has piloted a major measure through Parliament he should give place to somebody else who does not regard every sub-section and every comma of the Act as part of a sacred text. The present Minister of Transport is, before everything else, a fundamentalist. The Act is there. It cannot be amended by one jot or one tittle. Any suggestion that it was not, in every clause, the direct result of divine inspiration be regards almost as a personal attack.

This attitude of mind largely accounts for the feeble response made by Mr. Barnes to accusations in the House of Commons concerning the damage and hardship caused to hauliers by the activities of the British Transport Commission. His principal anxiety was to prove that the damage and hardship were natural consequences of the Transport Act, and therefore, presumably not damage and hardship at all.

To say that everybody knew what would happen once the Aet came into force, and that for this reason nobody should be blamed when it does happen, is hardly a more satisfactory argument than to say that universal knowledge of what results from applying a lighted match to a haystack is a perfect excuse for arson. There was no suggestion in the debate that the Commission has exceeded its powers. So great are these powers, in fact, that it would have difficulty in going beyond them. The real complaint was that the powers were being used with too little regard for the welfare of hauliers under free enterprise.

Attacks and His to Accusations Are

irrelevant Grounds

The Minister was able to point to only one real concession. Nine months ago I pointed out the absurdity of the provision whereby original-permit rights were lost if an operator took his son into partnership, or changed the name of his business, or died and left his widow to carry on. At that time, the Minister was defending the logic of the provision on the completely irrelevant grounds that "licences have never been transferable."

Apparently, the Minister now agrees with me that a mistake was made in drafting the Act. "When this matter first arose," he said, "we frankly thought that such cases were covered in the terms and provisions of the Transport Act." He is not quite so frank as to why, if he thought the point was covered, he should have gone to such pains to think up ingenious reasons to justify the fact that the point was not covered. In my earlier article I compared the offending clause to'a monster in a legal labyrinth. The whole apparatus of restriction and persecution is a much greater and fiercer monster. Like a bulldog, once it has sunk its teeth in the quarry, it can only tighten its grip. It cannot withdraw.

The pitiless attack is in full swing. Original permits, as the Minister stated, have been granted to 10,974 operators. In many cases it is known that they are restricted in scope. At best, they tie the holder for the most part to the kind of work he was doing before. The system of surveillance is a source of irritation to him and his customers. When 12 months have passed, he may be reasonably certain that the permit will not be renewed.

There is already evidence of what will happen next. Without a permit, the operator will be unable to carry all his customary traffic. His opponents may, therefore, object to the renewal of his licence to cover the same tonnage as before. Indeed, as the Road

Feeble Haulage Executive is also interested in short-distance work, and very likely has vehicles idle, there is no need to grant him a licence at all.

As the Minister puts 'it, with his keen sense of observation: " I have noticed that they wither and wilt directly Pickfords or anyone else enter, the field of competition with them."

So the monster is to continue his ravages In Berkeley Square and in the ivory tower, they drink their tea and shrug their shoulders. . . . This was all foreseen in 1947. There is a clause somewhere to justify it. Never mind the haulier. Let him "wither and wilt." Pickfords, "or anyone else," will soon cook his goose.

Summary Execution

At this stage, even some of the Socialist M.P.s begin to flinch. Mr. Cecil Poole, no great friend of the haulier and an implacable enemy of the C-licence holder, confessesto being unhappy "about the way the small road operators are being treated at the present time." His solution of the problem may be summary execution rather than the death of a thousand cuts; it would at least be more merciful. "To leave the hauliers neither taken over nor with traffic with which to earn their living is an impossible position."

From the Minister's point of view, it is by no means impossible. If it follows from the provisions of the Act, then it must happen. Having created a misshapen monster, the Minister must needs bow down before it and do whatever it comma.nds. Mr. Barnes may imagine himself another Frankenstein and pride himself on inventing something seemingly alive—until one looks a little closer. The appearance of undesirable characteristics in his invention causes him to rise in its defence like a mother hen over a day-old chick. He will countenance no criticism and no change. • While this state of affairs continues, nothing will be done to ease the lot of the free-enterprise haulier. There is something to be said for dropping the pilot in favour of someone else who can recognize the monster for what it is.

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