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1st January 1954, Page 52
1st January 1954
Page 52
Page 52, 1st January 1954 — Passengers Only
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

SECURE in the knowledge that they have provided a more than adequate defence of the existing passenger licensing system, the Thesiger Committee can face with complacency the critics who would have preferred to find in the report recommendations for drastic changes. Any objections on these grounds must be levelled at the Minister of Transport, who was responsible for setting up the Committee. It is odd that the Government should have thought the inquiry necessary, when they have no intention of setting up a committee to investigate the licensing of goods vehicles.

The Thesiger report makes a bold comment on the difference between the granting of licences for passenger services and the granting of A and B licences for goods vehicles. .Very few individuals are directly and immediately affected by variations of A or B licences, but an increase in passenger fares, a decrease in frequency, or a change of route must affect a large number of people in their daily lives. Although the Committee make the point in order to justify the difference between the two appeal systems, it may be given a more general application. The choice of structure for agoods vehicle licensing system is not so important. The haulier can adjust himself to it, whereas the passenger must have a flexible system that can change more easily to suit his varying demands.

Some such reasoning may lie behind the fact that there has been no Royal Commission or public inquiry into the effects of the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, in spite of many requests, now from one side. and now from the other. A committee set up to report on goods vehicle licensing should find no lack of evidence from individuals and from organizations. There would be a proposal—one need hardly say from where—for restrictions on the C-licence holder. There would be a countersuggestion that C-licence holders should be allowed to carry for hire or reward.

Sweeping Proposals On such points the evidence might be held to cancel itself out. There have in the past been put forward for serious consideration proposals every bit as sweeping, such as that the licensing provisions of the 1953 Act should be rescinded, that statutory rates should be fixed, and even that the B licence should be abolished. These would no doubt be pressed once again, if the opportunity arose, and it is not difficult to guess what a committee on goods vehicle licensing would make of them. It would be interesting, however, to know what the committee would recommend on certain other matters, which come up for discussion time and time again. . Arguments unending have taken _place on the subject of the farmer who can make a charge for carrying on his C-licensed vehicle the goods of other farmers in the locality, and yet not be deemed to be carrying for hire or reward. To a visitor from another planet, or even perhaps from another country, it would be difficult to explain why farmers shourd have privileges denied to any other section of the community. But only a minority, even among hauliers, suggest that the farmer's C licence should be like any other C licence; and a Minister who once referred to farmers and featherbeds in the same sentence was soon afterwards out of office. The more usual criticism of the agricultural licence is concerned with the use of words. The man who calls himself a farmer sometimes appears contented with a remarkably small plot of land, and the size of his holding is in inverse ratio to his definition of "locality." The difficulty is to find alternative words that dispose of the criticisms without raising a host of new objections. Our imaginary committee would be tempted to solve the problem of the agricultural licence by recommending no change.

The same would apply to allegations which would almost certainly be made of the misuse of the C-hiring margin. A convenient device for enabling. traders to replace vehicles temporarily off the road was seized upon and developed as a method of evading the use of nationalized road haulage services. The legality of this development is still open to question, and the committee of inquiry would be urged to recommend that the Act be reworded to show clearly what limits should be set to the C-hiring margin. Once again, the difficulty will be to find better wording. The decision is likely to be that no change is needed.

Understandable Hope Another *hare that would out-distance its pursuers is the perennial proposal for the licensing of clearing houses. This would be advocated by many of the clearing houses themselves, in the understandable hope that they would be chosen, and some of the hauliers would support them. The proposal was actually submitted to the Government by the hauliers during the hectic period of post-war planning that preceded the end of hostilities, but the hauliers have grown more cautious in these harsh days of peace, and it is unlikely that they would say the same thing now. An almost insuperable difficulty would be to decide when a subcontractor of traffic is not a clearing house. The committee of inquiry would be well advised again to make no recommendation.

What other amendments would be pressed? Little criticism would be heard of the Licensing Authorities or the appeal machinery. The transfer of appeals to the Transport Tribunal raised scarcely a ripple, and the occasional word spoken against a Licensing Authority is usually concerned with some point where he differs from his colleagues in procedure. Much more will be said on such subjects as contract-A licences, the waywardness of applicants and objectors who fail to keep appointments in the traffic courts, the responsibility for the completion and preservation of drivers' record forms, and the general uselessness of many other records that operators are bound to keep. One cannot imagine a judicious committee making more than minor recommendations on any of these points, but that will not prevent powerful arguments from being put forward.

Nevertheless, it may be that the Government have in mind further legislation involving changes in the licensing system. If this is so, there is a case for a committee of inquiry with a fairly wide range of membership. The Thesiger Committee came down on the side of leaving well alone, but in appraisal has been of service, and its recommendations, although comparatively minor, are sensible. If,a road haulage committee did as much, it would be worth setting up.

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