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Not a free market by Janus
INITIAL reactions to the Government's decision to end carriers' licensing as soon as possible have been clear-cut and generally approving. One factor they have perhaps deliberately not taken into account is the additional problem that will arise if and when the British application to join the Common Market is accepted. The Minister of Transport, Mr John Peyton, has also chosen not to deal with this particular point. although he must have it in mind.
Within the Common Market, or so it would seem, the distinction between transport for hire or reward and transport on own-account is regarded as immutable. The ultimate aim must be a common licensing system based on this principle, if only in pursuance of the equally sacred principle of harmonization--which in human terms means broadly speaking not letting the other man get away with something you are not allowed to do yourself.
AT the bargaining table Britain may have to ask the European Economic Community to bend the rules on certain points or to provide for exceptions. In this context it may not seem politic to make a fuss about goods vehicle licensing. All that would be required is to put into reverse a change that has certainly now been accepted but with no great show of enthusiasm and even with some misgivings in certain sections of the road transport industry.
To the Continentals it may merely seem yet another example of British eccentricity that, at the very moment when the negotiators are again getting down to business, the Minister would choose to introduce legislation which will take the British licensing system even farther than it is at present from the general practice within the EEC. It is rather as if, having eliminated the half-crown and in due course the sixpence as part of the move towards decimalization, the Treasury had simultaneously decided to reintroduce the guinea piece and the groat.
British operators would be entitled to complain that the prospect is still uncertain. It has been their frequent theme that politicians tend to choose their industry as a Parliamentary battleground. It was only within the last few months that they had at last seen the provision of a generally acceptable legal framework capable of remaining much the same for at least a generation.
CERTAINLY many hauliers have not accepted the situation without misgivings. They are not entirely converted to the principle of complete licensing freedom propounded by the Geddes Committee and largely followed in the framing of the Transport Act of 1968. There are even complaints that some of the problems they fear are already arising.
It cannot have been easy to get the wide measure of agreement that has now been reached. What may have tipped the scale with some hauliers was that at least the 1968 Act could be seen as the end of the legislative road. The consolation will seem more than a little spurious if it becomes clear that entry into the Common Market will bring further drastic changes in the law.
Some are recognized as inevitable. The limits on drivers' hours will eventually have to be the same throughout the enlarged Community. On the present understanding this will mean a further reduction to eight hours in the total driving day. The rest period of at least 11 hours a day will continue and there will also be a limit to 260 miles in the daily stint.
PART from the limits imposed by these
factors the Community policy does not at present specify the length of the driver's working—as distinct from driving—day. It is likely that this loophole will soon be closed to bring Continental practice in line with what is now British law.
Operators may feel inclined to underestimate the effect that membership of the EEC will have on their rates. Negotiations on this subject within the Six have so far produced little result. The dream has been of a comprehensive scale of charges which might apply first to international traffic and ultimately to domestic traffic as well. There would be a 23 per cent range within which the actual prices would be allowed to vary.
Harmonization must have its limits. The difficulties of formulating, applying and particularly enforcing a universal rates tariff hardly need to be set out. They can only be increased under a completely free licensing system which allows the trader who mainly carries on own-account to accept loads from other people and to make a charge for the service.
On drivers' hours and on rates there is no remedy. If conformity with EEC policy on these two points is part of the price for Britain's entry, operators will have to pay it. If necessary they will also have to accept changes in the licensing system. On this issue they are justified in asking whether tli present system, although it has reached a awkward stage, ought to be allowed t evolve even farther away from th framework into which it will ultimately b forced.
THE Minister cannot have overlooke this. Here is one reason for supposin that the promise of quick and simpl legislation to abolish carriers' licensing ma not be fulfilled in exactly the way envisage( At this point of time the reason does rit seem particularly powerful but it may sti cause some hesitation in the drafting of th new Transport Bill.
It is not completely safe to assume tht the days of carriers' licensing are literal] numbered. The consideration is one du could have immediate consequences fc operators who might be coming round t the opinion that there is no longer muc point in objections to applications fc carriers' licensing and no point at all in di burden of taking a decision to th Transport Tribunal.
Even without this warning operators s far have shown little inclination to abando until the last moment any privileges the imagine they enjoy from the possession t an A or B licence. The railways display a equal obstinacy. They seem set to contint their practice of fairly widespread objectior until the bitter-sweet end.
Not much satisfaction can be drawn froi this situation. The two licensing systems d not run happily in tandem. Apart from th bureaucratic inconvenience of having t obtain two separate licences for the sam vehicle, many anomalies are bein discovered. They arise largely from the nee to categorize a fleet of vehicles in differer ways on each application form.
THE problems may impinge most of a on transport consultants and othe representatives of applicants. Mo: cases are reasonably straightforward and n great difficulties arise. Operators as a whol are not unduly worried.
If in the end it is decided to retai carriers' licensing for the time being, whil repealing the provisions for specis authorizations and thus fulfilling the mai election pledge, legislation could be devise to iron out the anomalies and some of th other difficulties that experience has ahead revealed. There is no basic problem i having two licensing systems running sid by side. The obvious procedure would be t. divide between the two systems the power of restriction and of enforcement that wer previously combined in one system.
Operational snags could not completel be avoided. There is already a temptatio: for some operators to prefer vehicles with plated weight of not more than 16 tons an thus avoid the need to hold a carrier' licence. The escape route is of limite, value and of no value at all to trader interested in carrying only their owl traffic. A single licensing system mus be the ultimate aim but little harm would b caused by delay in bringing it about.