Labour "Deserting" Re-nationalization
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Socialists now favour "integration"; Liberals want licensing freedom, too
FROM OUR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT
HAULIERS interested in the Liberal revival—and the consequent possibilities of a Labour Government or Liberal power-balance--will also be interested to know that both these parties, at this moment, favour some channelling of traffics from the roads to the railways.
From an investigation into current transport policies, I found that both nationalization and re-nationalization are not words which are currently in favour. But " integration " is, in the Labour and Liberal parties alike.
The Liberals are at present putting the final touches to a policy document on transport which, if accepted by the party hierarchy, will be published in a few weeks.
There is thus a natural reluctance to give advance details, but certain points can be assumed to be among this resurgent party's aims. They include:—
l. A highly competitive transport industry, with only the railways in complete public ownership.
2. Road travel 'costs at their highest where congestion is worst.
'3. Abolition of the licensing system, giving a modest free-for-all in which the most efficient would survive.
4. A "true" division of national transport costs between road and rail.
• The Labour Party, meanwhile, are soft-pedalling on nationalization but claim that road and rail need " integrating " and that, while rail profits are a worthwhile aim; profits should not force public service into playing second fiddle.
Service Before Profit "For the railways, first of all we want public service, then profit if possible. For public transport as a whole we think there should be integration, for a variety of reasons." These are the words of Mr. George Strauss, the man who, in a Labour Government, would probably become Transport Minister.
But if Labour is planning a wholehearted return to pre-1953 in road transport, many people will be surprised. "Current policy does not necessarily embrace complete public ownership," I was,told at Westminster.
It might be partial private ownership . . . it might be partial control. But what Labour is seeking to eliminate is conflict between two essentially " public•' services; there should be integration "and decisions by a supervisory body in the general public interest."
Labour is, for instance, opposed to Tory plans like the provision in the present Transport Bill to take control of bus companies away from the "railway interests" and piff them under a separate c10 .body. But when we turn to possible integration controls, all the Party will commit itself to just now are the mainly minor fields of, say, making a decision where a new road haulage depot should be.
Labour spokesmen are keen to point out that their earlier committal to re-nationalization of long-distance road transport has been replaced by a more cautious attitude which is deliberately loath to go overboard on this topic.
They say: "There a-re various ways to achieve the effect of greater integration under public control of a large portion of long-distance road haulage. We would devise the best method of achieving control and general integration with the existing publicly-owned transport set-up."
The aim, I gather, would be to state a " minimum requirement." The methods , would "depend on studies we would make."
This is a far cry from re-nationalization, though in the event the medicine might be equally distasteful to some sections of the transport industry.
Handle C Licences With Care Labour realize that the future of C licences is also politically explosive. I was told: "We feel there is a strong case for saying that an attempt should be made to deal with this situation not by complete banning of private C licences, but by various pressures—even possible licensing arrangements —upon new applications.
"Other countries in Europe are taking various steps in this connection by, for example, taxing freight rates for commercial vehicles by government order in such a way that they should not take away traffic which, in the national interest, should go on the railways.
"We are not prepared to go further than to say at the moment that the matter should be most carefully studied with a view to reaching what we believe is possible—some way of seeing that the part of the bulk traffics increasingly going on the roads should be induced to go, where appropriate, on the railways."
Unnecessary Restriction This is where Labour and Liberal thoughts come closest, in ends if not in means. Broadly, the Liberals believe that the licensing system should go because. by its very nature, it restricts where restrictions are no longer necessary.
But they also say that public transport should move towards rates more directly related to public costs, and that the costs of congestion should bring about the heaviest rates of all.
The Liberals say: "We are not in favour of nationalization of the road haulage system. We believe that to have a co-ordinated transport system it must be competitive and the consumer must decide what transport he wants to use.
"This is the way to find what should be expanded and what should be contracted. At the moment, the railways do not have a fair share because they are not on an equal basis with road users, who get the roads free.
" More and more road users will have to pay for the use of roads, by tolls, parking meters, etc. Road taxation is on the wrong basis: it is not related to congestion. We do not want to raise the total revenue from roads, but change the way it is raised, so that people using cars would prefer to use the railways, whict would be brought onto a more competitive basis, and subsidization would ix used strictly as social grants."
Relate Prices to Costs
Returning to the licensing system, on prominent Liberal M.P. said: "Probably the best thing is not to abolish the licence themselves, but make them available tr anyone wishing to run bus, coach o goods services with vehicles that are in ; proper and safe condition.
"Our main point is to get price charged which are related to costs. I road traffic bore its true costs, would ii fact the railways be so uneconomic?"
So if the Liberals want to abolish th restrictions of the licensing system, an Labour wants to strengthen them, hot parties are at one in being concerned E the apparent "inequalities" between roa and rail.
Planning All Sectors Both parties also seem united again the Government in their belief th planning and expenditure should be on firmly integrated basis between road ar rail rather than rapidly developing in a directions at once.
As for the present Transport Bill, tl Liberals broadly approve of it, thom they do not think it goes far enoug Labour, curiously, are not entrench against it.
While a new Labour Government woo probably bring in a Bill of their own, th acknowledge that their aims might pc sibly be served by wide exercise of t acknowledgedly extensive powers that N Marples is taking for himself.
And a final word on railway closur The Labour Party accepts that unecor mic services must be stopped, provic there is no serious possibility of put hardship.
Apart from integration, the crux of Labour fight against the present Transp Bill is that "the Tory emphasis is entir on profitability, while our case is t profitability is an element to be tal into account, but so is public servic which they eliminate completely."