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£4m. for Whitewash R EPRESENTATIONS from the Road Haulage Association on

23rd May 1952, Page 29
23rd May 1952
Page 29
Page 30
Page 29, 23rd May 1952 — £4m. for Whitewash R EPRESENTATIONS from the Road Haulage Association on
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

the White Paper have been invited by the Minister of Transport and the way is open for frank, but reasoned, discussion. The most urgent matter for consideration is the proposed levy, initially at the rate of £4m. a year, on road transport. In opposing it, the Association is supported by practically every other organization of operators.

The objections to the levy are plain and fundamental. It is an extraordinary paradox and creates a system that the Government has professed to abhor. It is subsidy run riot.

It is expected that the sale of the Road Haulage Executive's undertaking will involve the British Transport Commission in some loss and that the railways will be deprived of traffic by the expansion of road transport, and the levy is intended, over a period of years, to cover these deficits. Mr. J. Gurney Braithwaite, Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, has said that its purpose is partly to compensate the public for the £.30m. spent on the nationalization of road transport and, at the annual luncheon of the R.H.A., last week, he averred that it would be imposed only where road transport encroached upon rail.

An Invisible Distinction To distinguish between road transport that competes with the railways and that which does not is almost impossible. The Government is trying to do so by excluding from the levy "small local delivery vans operated under C,licences," but the dividing line is arbitrary and unsatisfactory. An hauliers are to be subject to the tax, although many of them do not compete with the railways and have never done so. They are engaged wholly on short-distance work, probably in areas where no railways exist.

Similar conditions apply to many C-licensees operating vehicles other than " small local delivery vans." Thousands of traders run vehicles of about 3 tons payload capacity on wholesale delivery and inter-depot work for which the railways are entirely unsuitable, either for geographical reasons or because the nature of the goods requires that the drivers shall have an intimate knowledge of them. It is not difficult to foresee the situation which might arise if railway workers were made wholly responsible for the delivery of, for instance, pharmaceutical supplies. Because his vehicles may be over a certain unladen weight, the druggist is presumably to be made to compensate the railways for the absence of traffic which they could never satisfactorily carry or distribute.

Why Not the Motorist ?

If, as Mr. Gurney Braithwaite said, the levy is to_be imposed only on competitors of the railways, part of it should be paid by the private motorist. The car owner abstracts a great deal of railway traffic, as the railways will be the first to agree. The outcry which would greet any suggestion of a special tax on the private-car user is easy to imagine, but is there a stronger case for imposing the levy on a haulier who delivers chippings from a local quarry to the roadside, than on the motorist who, by taking his family on holiday by car, deprives the railways of perhaps £20 in fares?

In fact, the only class of road user who can easily and positively be identified as competing with the railways is the operator of long-distance passenger services. A person who travels by coach when he or she could go by rail is equally culpable, but to attempt to apply a form of entertainment duty to road travel would be to carry the pursuit of equity to absurdity.

During the committee stage of the Finance Bill, a Government spokesman summarily rejected a plea for the remission of the increased duty on oil fuel on the ground that discrimination between one class of road user and another was unfair and undesirable. Apparently, equity prevails only when the Government is asked to make a concession; when it wants to take something from road users, discrimination is wholly fair and eminently desirable.

The £335m. which vehicle owners will pay to the Treasury this year appears to have been left out of account in proposing the new levy. If the Government wishes road transport to subsidize the railways, it already has more than adequate funds for the purpose. The levy is indefensible on all counts, It has all the appearances of a white-washing expedient designed to quieten the Parliamentary Opposition, but is one that has little hope of fulfilling that object.

Railway efficiency will not be increased by placing an artificial burden on another form of transport. If the principle of subsidy is to be carried to its logical conclusion, the railways should compensate the canals, cyclists should pay a levy to bus operators and private hoteliers should make a contribution to the maintenance of the Hotels Executive.

Instead, the railways should be allowed to develop by the removal of some of the statutory burdens which they shoulder as public carriers. They should be permitted grater freedom in varying rates and in accepting traffic. If the obligations of road and rail are made similar, there can be no question of unfair competition by one with the other and no case for a road haulage subsidy will exist.

In resisting the proposed levy, great diplomacy will be required. The Transport Bill, which will give it statutory force, will be opposed by every Socialist, and solidarity on the part of the Government supporters is essential. Some Conservatives do not like the levy, but for political reasons they must accept it as part of the Government's general design for transport. The question of the levy cannot, therefore, be fought out on the floor of the House of Commons. It must be defeated by logical argument and negotiation before the Bill is presented.

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