Stick, Twist or Bust?
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AT the moment, it is difficult to say whether the complaints about original permits are a passing shower or the first rumblings of the storm that must fall upon the haulier sooner or later. In some parts of the country at least local officials of the Road Haulage Executive have turned down far more applications than they have granted.
This conduct runs completely counter to reassurances given by Sir Cyril Hurcomb—in such definite terms that they must be held to constitute promises—that original permits would be issued almost without demur for the initial period of 12 months at any rate. This declaration of policy was reinforced only a short time ago by Mr. David Blee, a member of the Railway Executive. In the course of his evidence before the committee considering the application for an increase in railway rates, he stated that the bulk of the 17,000 requests for original permits would be granted.
Vigorous protests are certain to have been made by hauliers against what appears a palpable breach of faith. In the meantime, operators are still receiving replies to their applications. A few lucky ones have permits giving them exactly what they wanted. Others find only part of their applications granted. The remainder have been given a blank refusal.
Even the favoured few cannot be altogether happy about the futute. They will certainly have noticed the long list of conditions, in particular Number 6, instructing them to keep a register of long-distance journeys, showing dates, what traffic is carried and how much, and the points between which it is carried.
The register is to be open for inspection by the R.H.E., who may "extract any information required "-'a grisly phrase, somewhat reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition. A polite request for a list of customers might have saved the hauliers and the R.H.E. from the trouble of keeping and examining the register.
Other hauliers, whose equally polite requests for original permits have been turned down, or modified, have noticed that, in giving its decision, the R.H.E. has drawn attention to the option to apply for an ordinary permit. Hauliers, in their present mood, are suspicious of this invitation to put themselves out on a limb. With an ordinary permit, they are wholly reliant on the good favour of the R.H.E. The permit can be revoked at any time and the holder has no redress.
Wishful Thinking Possibly, or so many a haulier reasons to himself, the R.H.E. wiShes merely to give him a false sense of security. It would be so easy to allow him to operate under an ordinary permit until the time for claiming acquisition is past, after which the permit is withdrawn.
The haulier, growing more and more nervous, begins to conjure up enemies out of his imagination. May it not even be held that acceptance of an ordinary permit destroys his acquisition rights? The fear may seem absurd, but stranger things have come to light as a result of digging below the surface meaning of the Transport Act. These acquisition rights are elusive. Hundreds of possible claimants lost them because since the appro a32 priate date in November, 1946, a slight change took place in the ownership of the businesses. Now these unfortunate people are .supposed, in some equally miraculous fashion, to have had their rights restored.
At least, that is what the haulier has been told. Queer goings on, indeed, but presumably the new legal department of the British Transport Commission must have something about which to argue. It all goes to show ' that a haulier cannot be too careful in making up his mind what to do if his original permit has been refused, or be not in accordance with his specification.
He is not compelled to apply for an ordinary permit. He is at liberty to carry on within the 25-mile radius, or he may exercise his much-discussed acquisition rights. In the last event he has to satisfy certain conditions. He must prove that the refusal or pruning of his application will interfere with some activity which he has carried on before and after November 28, 1946. The activity must have been continuous up to the time of the decision by the R.H.E. on his permit application, except for incidental interruptions, where, for example; the traffic is seasonal. The interference has to be "substantial," a word that one may safely prophesy will be the cause of much discussion at meetings of the Arbitration Tribunal, to whom disputes on this part of the Act will be referred.
There is no need for the haulier to sacrifice the whole of his undertaking in this way. He may offer as much or as little as he likes. Compensation for the whole business would be similar to what he would receive in the event of compulsory acquisition. For part of the business, compensation for goodwill would amount, roughly speaking, to £70 for each ton of the unladen weight of the long-distance vehicles handed over Substantial Interference The R.H E. may meet the haulier's request for acquisition in various ways. If it accepts his claim, it must take what he offers, except for any items not directly relating to a road haulage business. If it disputes his claim, the matter goes to the Arbitration Tribunal. It is also open to the R.H.E. to offer a substituted permit that would avoid the substantial interference in question.
Examination of these possibilities quickly shows that the R.H.E. stands to win either way, whether the haulier "stick, twist or bust." If the R.H.E. does not particularly want a business, the necessary original permit will be forthcoming; it can easily be revoked at the date of renewal should circumstances alter. If the R.H.E. wants the traffic but not the vehicles, it may refuse the original permit and wait for the reaction from the haulier. Should he call the bluff, and ask for acquisition, presumably a substituted permit will be offered; should he decide to struggle on unaided, or even with the help of an ordinary permit, the R.H.E. may stand on the shore in comfort to watch the spectacle, and, by jerking away the life-line at a carefully chosen moment, make his extinction practically certain, If the R.H.E. wants the traffic and the vehicles as well, it steadfastly refuses any sort of permit. The haulier, like the heroine in the old-fashioned melodrama when the Villain forecloses on the mortgage, is faced with the choice .between two
equally unattractive forms of ruin. .• • In the old melodrama, the heroine usually had a brief time in which to make her decision, and the hero invari'ably turned up at the last moment. In the same way . the haulier' has one possible•chance of turning the tables • in his favour.
If his application for an original permit be not dealt with to his liking, he has three months in which to decide whether to offer the whole of his business, part of it or none of it. He may continue as if. the permit had been granted until one month after the appointed day, i.e,, until March I. or even later where the 'decision on his application is made after the end of January.
Before he is forced to make up his mind there will be a General Election. . If the -present Opposition be successful, the haulier may confidently hope that the crazy legal. structure reared as a necessary consequence of the 25-mile limit will be 'completely swept away in a matter of weeks.