Transport and politics: let the people choose
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-1E APPOINTMENT of David Dwell as Transport Secretary at year was the latest step in a ide-ranging political career 3ting back to 1966. He has .trved in the Treasury, Employlent, Energy and Northern [rend offices. He holds a First lass Honours Degree from ambridge and was a Lieutenant I the Coldstream Guards from )54 to 56. The following is the Psult of a question and answer )ssion with lain Sherriff.
S.: How do you view the propo31s on transport in the Labour arty document, summarised in le April 3 issue of Commercial fotor?
.H.: First of all, I must congraturte Commercial Motor on its scoop" in obtaining a draft of lese proposals. For they emonstrate to all of us the true ature of Labour's thinking — 'Filch is all for bureaucratic Nitro!, infringement of perDnal liberty, and economic inefciency.
It is futile to think that a body f people, whoever they are, in a National Transport Authority," ould successfully monitor and agulate the provision of transort facilities, and the use of lese facilities, throughout Great .ritain.
The only reliable indicator of /hat people need, and what ley are prepared to pay, is the ,peration of personal choice in le market. Only this can give Iritain the efficient transport ystem which we must have if we are to remain competitive nd improve our living stanlards.
S.: Have you any thoughts on he proposed preferential treatnent for the Freightliner Comp a ny, the proposal to relationalise the NEC and the deprivatisation of the testing staions?
).H.: The Labour Party shows its rue colours here. If its members irgue that Freightliner should plone benefit from heavier veights, they clearly accept the nerits of my heavier lorry goposals. But, of course, they vish to restrict them to just one ype of transport — the one they )refer. That's real discrimination Or you.
I find it surprising that the
Labour Party intends to oppose the personal initiative of the NFC's own employees and managers who themselves took the decision to invest in their own ,future. And the privatisation of the testing stations could lead to real benefits for 5oth their customers and employees.
U.S.: On the other hand, the Labour Party is not alone in its opposition to the privatisation of test stations.
D.H.: I think people are bound to be concerned at proposals to change any well tried system. The present hgv testing scheme is highly regarded, and rightly so. But I see no reason why testing should have to be carried out by Civil Servants. The important thing is that the work should be done impartially, efficiently, and to the highest standards, and I shall make sure that the new private sector scheme meets these requirements in full.
I shall also be looking for some practical improvements in the service offered to the industry, which I know would be welcomed by many operators — things like testing outside normal hours, and the provision of extra facilities at test stations.
The proposals in the Transport Bill, which is now before Parliament, provide only the basic framework for the new system. The important work is all in the detail — the choice of the people who will carry out testing, the conditions they will have to observe, and the way we will monitor the performance of the scheme to make sure that it meets the right standards and continues to serve the needs of the industry. On all these issues I shall have the help of the industry itself, through the new vehicle operators' panel which I have set up to advise me on the key decisions about the future of the system.
U.S.: What do you think of the proposal to return to proof-ofneed licensing?
D.H.: I must say, looking at all these Labour Party proposals, they make Barbara Castle look like an "apostle of liberalism"! Both I and my predecessor have made it quite clear that this Government firmly believes that it is the customer who is best placed to decide what will best suit his freight transport needs. It would be wrong for the Government to seek to interfere with his freedom of choice. That is why we had the quantity licensing provisions in the 1968 Transport Act repealed in our first Transport Act in 1980.
The Government's role, as we see it, is to ensure free and fair competition through the framework of taxation and regulation within the present liberal quality-licensing system. That is our approach — and it is 'entirely consistent with Armitage who found nothing to commend in quantity licensing.
U.S.: Nevertheless, Minister, in times of recession the road haulage industry suffers badly as its customers drop their demand for its services.
The industry responds by asking for stricter controls on the entry of new businesses to the market, either by strengthening the quality criteria of the present licensing system or by introducing quantity controls.
Can these demands be met, or is this a penalty to be paid for a free market system?
D.H.: I believe that the road haulage market should remain as free and competitive as possible, consistent in particular with minimum safety and environmental standards.
I agree with Armitage that there is, no case for direct quantitative controls over operators or lorries.
Qualitative controls should be aimed at improving safety and the environment: they should not be used as a backstairs method of introducing quantity controls.
Whitehall is in no position to tell the haulage industry or its customers what the "right'. amount of road freight is. Only the market can do this. Administrative restriction of the amount of road haulage would be a recipe for inefficiency and higher prices.
I.S.: You obviously consider that a Channel link with France is necessary. Which method do you prefer — railway or the rail bridge link?
D.H.: What I have said is that I would like to see a project go forward if it can be privately financed. But this is an issue which is complex in economic, financial and technical terms and it is important that it is carefully evaluated.
Different forms of link have different implications which we must study. I fook forward to re