Three Times for Luck A m S nobody else seems prepared
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to give the an answer, the Road Haulage Association have gone on asking questions of themselves, Three months ago, shortly after the Government announced their decision to put an end to disposal, the Association's National Council dedicated themselves to strenuous opposition to that decision. The margin of the vote is not known, but the resolution provided an unequivocal answer to the question posed by the Government's change of policy.
Soon afterwards each member of the Association received a questionnaire inviting his views. The exact form of the questionnaire was not published at the time, but it subsequently became known that what could be described as the 64-dollar question ran as follows: "Do you approve of the Government's intention to allow British Road Services to retain more vehicles than provided by the Transport Act, 1953? " Of the replies, 17 per cent. showed approval, and 83 per cent. showed disapproval_ What proportion of the membership replied is not known, and the information might be irrelevant. Evidently the many thousands of hauliers with no strong views one way or the other did not bother to fill in the form, and no inquiry of this kind ever gets a positive response from mbre than a fraction of the people interested. The proportion of four or five to one probably gives an accurate impression of the composite opinion of hauliers, and provides as decided an answer to the question as one can expect.
The third time of asking came at the Association's Harrogate conference. There was once more a call for strenuous opposition, this time "by all possible means." Of the eight speakers who took part in the resolution concerned with disposal, only one claimed a little doggedly to be carrying the burden of the 17 per cent. who voted, so to speak, for the Government in the questionnaire. Even he could scarcely be described as putting the Government's point of view. His mail argument was that B.R.S. had maintained a high level of rates, whereas the buyers of transport units too often indulged in cut-throat competition.
The remaining speakers were scarcely more polite to the odd man out than they were to the Government. It was suggested that hauliers who favoured an early end to disposal were acting selfishly, because they had already bought all the units they wanted. The Conservatives were confounded with their own earlier statements promising complete denationalization. Prominent persons in trade and industry who had expressed approval of the Government were pilloried as unrepresentative of the organizations for which they claiined to speak. A too-powerful B.R.S., it was felt, could ultimately do many times more damage to independent hauliers than the one or two operators who happened to be cutting rates at the present time.
When the resolution came to the vote, there were only three dissentients, so that the conference gave the most emphatic answer of all to the Association's question. Thrice the call to arms had sounded, and the charm was fully wound up. Now the time had come to ask questions of somebody outside the Association. It was
evident at the conference that the answers were not known. More than one speaker showed a genuine bewilderment, and even distress; at what seemed a corn-pletely heartless and motiveless. betrayal by the Government. The Conservatives were out for appeasement, said one speaker, but he seemed doubtful about who was being appeksed.
It is something of an oddity that, perhaps because they have the support Of the Socialists as well as their own party in Parliament, the Government have not so far bothered to give reasons for their change of policy. The White Paper on transport policy was the harbinger of denationalization, but the brake has, been applied without so much as a warning postcard: Only the hauliers are desperately anxious to have the reasons, and it would have been interesting to have a representative of the Government at the conference to absorb or return the fire of the angry hauliers, rather as Mr. A. T. Lennox-Boyd did atBlackpool, when he was Minister of Transport and the hauliers were in general not pleased with some of the provisions he was
putting into his Transport Bill. •
Light Into Dark Corners
This time the Minister of Transport did not go, nor did his Parliamentary Secretary, new any other member of the Government. However, the guest of honour at the banquet was Earl Swinton, who had only recently relinquished an important post. There was still a hope that something might be said to throw a light into dark corners.
Would it be rude on a social occasion to ask too many
questions of a guest? The Associatioti's. chairman, Mr. James Barrie, did his best to observe the proprieties. He forbore from quoting previous remarks by Earl Swinton himself on the subject of nationalized transport and free enterprise, although these would not have been difficult to find. In their place, Mr. Barrie was able to supply apposite quotations from such people as Lord. Kilnauir. He suggested that the Conservatives, without any necessity, were admitting the failure of their policy by bringing it to a halt. Worse still, they were letting the haulier down.
To those people with experience of political speeches it soon became clear that the hauliers were not going to get from Earl Swinton the answers to Mr. Barrie's implied questions. He went at some length over the old battles, deplored the restrictions . under which hauliers had been placed by the Socialists, and congratulated them on the restoration of their freedom. When he came to touch upon the latest. development, he kept well away from any significant statement. He spoke of the trader's freedom of choice, of the virtues of competition, and of the right of the railways to operate road services.
If Mr. Barrie had his answer from the oracle, it was very much like the usual answer from an oracle. When the subject of disposal comes up for discussion in the House of Commons, there may at last be a public statement from the Government to explain their new line. In the meantime, the leaders of the R.H.A. will no doubt press forward with the opposition for which they have thrice been given a mandate by the hauliers they represent.