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29th December 1967
Page 37
Page 37, 29th December 1967 — NOT MASTERS OF THEIR FATE
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

WHAT must be considered a reasonable complaint by the

road operator concerns the extent to which other people control his destiny. Apart from those already nationalized there are few other industries subject to such wholehearted Government control. Whatever party is in power there is seldom an opportunity for operators to shape their own future.

Even what seemed the innocuous practice of rate recommendations has now been denied to the haulier. In emphasizing the point for the second or third time the Prices and Incomes Board take it upon themselves to follow the example of all three political parties, the Bow Group, the Fabian Society and any number of other organizations and to suggest how they think the road haulage industry can be improved.


Here are the Board, for example, on the need for the injection of free enterprise: "In the light of our experience of the industry over the last two years we are convinced that continued, and possibly more intense, competition is essential if the pace of change in this industry's attitudes, working practices and institutional framework is to be accelerated. By improving safety the new regulations will put competition on a sounder basis by diminishing the extreme form of competition which stems from the willingness of irresponsible operators to cut costs at the expense of safety."

The meaning of this must be that the road haulage industry is inefficient in many respects and that the cure is more and yet more competition. But there is good competition such as the Board would wish to see and the bad competition that is actually practised by operators. Fortunately the Minister of Transport is taking steps which will get rid of that kind of competition and the good will therefore prevail.

An implication is that the Board consider their two years' experience has been traumatic. They may consider that they have more than done their duty by the road haulage industry and ought now to be given an honourable discharge. They bow out gracefully as Mrs. Barbara Castle takes over.

All that hauliers had asked was that the Board should give them at least some help towards getting the rates increases they felt they needed. The offer of "more intense competition" as the solution is hardly palatable. Hauliers could also have done without the lecture on the shortcomings in their attitudes, practices and "institutional frame work" whatever that may be. On the basis of the only evidence that really matters, that is to say the opinion of customers and the continued improvement in vehicle productivity, hauliers have nothing with which to reproach themselves.

The Minister may agree with the Board that competition—the right sort of competition—is suitable for hauliers. She holds the contrary opinion on the railways. Her Transport Bill is a conscious attempt to seal them off from outside interference. If the Board's analysis is right this would also seal them off from any change in their attitudes and practices. It is hard to imagine that the Board would consider that no change is needed or indeed that it should not be "accelerated".

When it comes to the point there is room for argument on whether the Bill in its present form would bring about the expected increase in competition among road operators. For those people who like their licensing system to be complicated it is surprising what a large amount of pleasure is to be found in sections 56 to 66 dealing with what it is now necessary to call "operators' licences".

As foreshadowed in the White Paper an applicant will not only be expected to tell the licensing authority what facilities he has for looking after the vehicles and drivers and observing the law. He may also be asked for particulars of his financial resources and of the likely demand for the use of his vehicles. The right of objection vested in road transport associations, the police and local authorities may be a more formidable obstacle than at present.

The objections cannot relate to what the operator may have said about the use to which he expected to put his vehicles. The licence itself will apparently not carry restrictions apart from a limit on the number of vehicles, except that the licensing authority will be entitled to confine the operation of the vehicles to the carriage of goods on own account.

Revocation, suspension and curtailment of a licence may take place on a number of grounds, including the following: "That the holder of the licence made or procured to be made for the purposes of his application for the licence, or for the purposes of an application for the variation of the licence, a statement of fact which (whether to his knowledge or not) was false, or a statement of intention or expectation which has not been balled."

The haulier is familiar with this wording. It conjures up the spirit of the many sections of the Road Traffic Act which will disappear when the new Bill becomes effective. It brings a distant echo from the world of normal user. If the applicant has talked idly to the licensing authority of hopes which have not materialind, one of the objectors, or presumably even an individual operator, would be entitled to bring the matter to the notice of the licensing authority.

There was a time when many hauliers supposed that possession of an A licence carried with it the right to carry any traffic anywhere. The illusion was shattered in a succession of cases at the end of which it may have seemed that apart from the return load factor the difference between an A and a B licence had become imperceptible. It is possible within the terms of the new Bill that the concept of "general goods Great Britain" could be whittled away even if railway objections were not certain to prevent a grant from being made in those precise terms.

It is no Geddes-dream of limitless competition that Mrs. Castle is offering to operators. She has retained many of the features of the present system. The time-honoured distinction between own account and hire or reward is to be abolished and there are of course many other changes even within the field of "operators' licences".


More extended opportunities could have been given to operators to comment on the precise details and not merely on the summary provided by the White Paper. Unless ample time is provided during the committee stage in the House of Commons the opinions of operators—expressed at secondhand by the MP's on the Committee—will pass unregarded and the body of the industry will have to digest another unfriendly piece of legislation.

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