TORIES WILL FIRE 'RANSPORT BROADSIDE
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Conservative intentions revealed in exclusii `erview with Shadow Minister
[HE Tory Party at Westminster is quietly building up a formidable team and a formidable argument against Mrs. Barbara Castle and the things she is doing at w Transport Ministry.
A task force of 20 MPs, each with a working group behind him, is probing deeply Ito every sphere of transport, meeting people and reporting back to their front ench.
If and when Mrs. Castle produces her Transport Bill, they warn that she will ice the most detailed and well drilled opposition that has ever been put up to a tajor piece of legislation. Up to a score of different faces will be ready to appear n the front bench to attack her policies, constructively as well as destructively.
The group has another aim: to produce, in the next two years, an up-to-date and etailed Conservative policy on every aspect of transport, the most constructive nd exhaustive they have ever had—and much different to the somewhat meagre Froughts they presented for the 1964 and 1966 elections.
Their new attitude will be based on the need for a financial breakthrough on road onstruction, because they believe that roads, not rail, are the expanding basis of the ystem. Resources must be poured into roads like they were into housing during he breakthrough of the fifties, and the bonus will come because the money and ffort will bring vast economic as well as social returns.
At the head of this Conservative drive is Mr. Peter Walker, 34-year-old City iusinessman, MP for Worcester, who was appointed Shadow Transport Minister ast April.
He has provided something new on the political scene: a transport spokesman vho is not afraid to pitch into the Government good and hard.
Although he makes no pretensions to a background steeped in transport matters, us quick, pungent comments about Mrs. Castle's actions have already marked Lim out as a man who is doing his homework, and the kind of figurehead the ransport industry badly needs.
When COMMERCIAL MOTOR interviewed Mr. Walker at 8.30 a.m. one morning le had already been up and doing for two hours. His answers showed that, among ither things, he is impatient with the time wasted, by both Tories and Socialists, over the nationalization argument; that he is against the principle of passenger ;uhsidies, and that he is in favour of something approaching "traffic dictators" in he big towns.
Mr. Walker will be happy to stay as the Tory Party's No. 1 on transport matters mtil the industry is put on its feet under a Tory Government. The following exlusive question-and-answer session with him adds up to the clearest exposition if Conservative transport policy since Labour came into office.
Q: What is your considered reaction a Mrs. Castle's White Paper?
A: We all agree that the real need in ransport is for better roads, better railways tnd better ports. The White Paper does iothing to achieve such an object. The tctions of the Government less than a week )efore publication of the White Paper were o cut the road building programme by :14m., the railway investment programme by 10m. and the investment programme in he ports by £10m. The White Paper contains LO solutions of any importance and reflects 11 the bankruptcy of transport thinking luring 13 years of Labour Opposition and he 21 months they have been in government. There are throughout the White Paper wo very dangerous Socialist themes. One
• i the theme of subsidy to retain inefficient .nd uneconomic services, and the other is he theme of expanding public ownership, ly means of the National Freight Authority. Vhen these themes are turned into detailed )olicies, they will be strongly opposed by the Conservative opposition.
Q: What is your view of the present carriers' licensing system?
A: I believe that all in the industry are agreed that the present system is in need of change. The RHA have expressed their willingness to propose their views on the future of licensing. My view is that the new system must have three basic principles— it must allow genuine competition, it must be a system under which vehicles have to be properly maintained, and it must be a system which prevents irresponsible operators from entering the industry. I would therefore advocate much more freedom than under the present system, but it would be a system where any new entrant obtained a probationary licence, and during a probationary period he would be judged as to his ability in management, vehicle maintenance and solvency. Such a system would prevent the irresponsible operator undermining the standards of the industry.
Q: Do you think any useful purpose can be served by setting up passenger transport authorities for conurbations?
A: This conception reflects the old Socialist attitude: if there is a problem, put a planner in the works. Such authorities may have a useful purpose—it depends on the quality of the people who sit upon them. But it ill becomes a Government that has recently done so much damage to passenger transport by taking away the investment allowances on buses, and by the interestfree loan that will be taken from the operators in the Selective Employment Tax, to suggest that the setting up of some new authority is going to solve the passenger problem. Passengers and public transport would be served much better if a lower burden of taxation was imposed upon them.
Q: Is the policy of subsidizing uneconomic but socially essential passenger services right or wrong?
A: It is wrong. Certainly I adhere very strongly to the principles outlined in the Beeching report. It is tragic, in a week which our country has been facing a major economic crisis, that the Minister of Transport should be so irresponsible as to proclaim that she is going to keep 4,000 miles of uneconomic railways in operation, subsidized by the ratepayer and taxpayer. The right role for the railways is as a highly efficient, economic, viable transport organization. If the Beeching report had been carried out, with its considerable development of trunk routes, and the development of liner train services, the nation, the railwaymen and the user would all have been better served. Who can really defend a system where for example old age pensioners who probably travel infrequently by rail will probably have a substantially increased burden on their rates in order to subsidize their next-door neighbours who are using the railway every day to go to work? In rural transport, I would like to see the licensing of smaller vehicles. Local carriers should be encouraged to run small units, like Dormobiles, etc. Wherever you have subsidies you always have inefficiency and wastage. The pressure has always been upon the politician to increase the subsidy rather than the efficiency. It is thoroughly dangerous to extend the subsidy system to transport, when such a system has already been proved to be economically bad both during the period when food was subsidized and more recently with prescription charges.
Q: Are there too may operators in the A and B licence haulage sector?
A: In some areas there would probably be enough. But my system of licensing would create the situation where the road haulage industry adequately met the needs of the country. I do not think you can specify whether there are too many or too few. You
need reform of the whole system so the market demands are met. You have to have the small man to give the local service. Providing you have standards of maintenance and efficiency, large firms and small ones can work efficiently.
Q: Are you in favour of fixing freight charges for road hauliers?
A: No. I think this would be nonsense. Every load and every journey is different. Who would fix the charges? Presumably some civil servant, who is far less capable of doing so than the correct price being arrived at between the customer and the haulier. Fixed prices, if too high, encourage the inefficient. If too low they result in inadequate re-investment in the industry. I am certain that the market mechanism must be allowed to work. If you demand adequate standards of maintenance in vehicles, and standards of management, you will not get a cut-throat industry.
Q: Are you in favour of permitting foreign-based hauliers to operate in Britain?
A: As I am in favour of British operators operating in Europe and elsewhere, I am obviously not opposed to foreign-based hauliers operating in Britain, providing of course that competition is fair and that they have to comply with a similar burden of licensing and taxation, and similar regulations to those which apply to the British haulier.
Q: How would you tackle the problem of urban congestion?
A: The one significant thing about the Labour Government's White Paper is that it proposes nothing to tackle this problem. Ideas are mentioned, but all are subject to further study, further negotiation and further talk. It was the Conservatives who commissioned the Buchanan report. This indicates quite clearly that urban congestion can only be tackled by considerably increased spending on roads, and on parking. In my view in the years ahead we are going to have to give a much greater priority to this form of spending than in the past. Much more must be done in the science of traffic control. I have recently visited New York and Cleveland, where the traffic controllers are far more effective and have far more power than those responsible in this country. London traffic was speeded up quite considerably when Mr. Marples devoted some attention to this problem. Much more can be done elsewhere, and I would immediately provide for the training in America of a traffic controller for each of our major towns and cities, and thereafter see that the local authorities were given the powers to ensure the controllers could take the type of action that would speed up the flow of traffic within our towns and cities.
Q: Will the emergence of the National Freight Authority lead the Conservatives to reconsider their whole policy, particularly with regard to the Transport Holding Company and the possibility of denationalization of BRS?
A: The tragedy of transport in postwar Britain is that from 1945 to 1951 the then Labour government devoted all their attention to nationalizing the railways and road haulage. From 1951-55 the Conservatives devoted their attention to denationalizing road haulage. In the late 1950s more attention was given to the important realities of transport—the building of new roads and the modernization of the railways. Mr. Marples not only substantially increased the roadbuilding programme, but provided the railways with a plan for the future and established the Transport Holding Company upon a sensible commercial basis.
Those with the interests of transport at heart would have hoped that this would have been the end of the nationalization and denationalization conflict, and that all effort could have been concentrated upon the practical problems of transport. But, alas, we now have as Minister of Transport a dedicated left-wing Socialist. And although she refuses in her White Paper to give any detail as to the method of operation of her NFA, there can be no doubt than she intends it to be used as an instrument of extending nationalization. My belief is that she will allow the NFA to enjoy considerable hidden subsidies so that it is able first to undercut the private haulier and thereafter to buy him out at a cheap price.
Such a policy would be disastrous to the country, and the Conservatives would immediately take action, when returned to power, to see that the free enterprise haulier was enabled to compete fairly with the public sector, and if this meant a degree of denationalization of the NFA we would not hesitate to do it. Another tragedy of the National Freight Authority would be that it would mean the virtual end of the THC. I pay tribute to the way that since 1962 the Transport Holding Company has fitted into the road haulage industry as a genuine commercial competitor. The accounts of the company have in themselves been a tribute to the management. If only other nationalized industries had acted as responsibly as the THC, the public and private sectors would be working in happy collaboration throughout the economy. Mrs. Castle will have done great harm to an important nationalize industry if she now undermines the succes of the THC by her left-wing views.
Q: Are you happy with the way th RHA has handled its latest rate increas recommendations?
A: I think the RHA have been in genuine dilemma in that whilst they did no wish to lay down freight charges for thei members, they did have a responsibility particularly to the many smaller firms tha are members, to give some indication of till increases in costs that have and will talc, place primarily as a result of Govenunen action in imposing higher fuel costs, takim away investment allowances, imposing SE1 and, of course, in meeting the higher wages It may be that in future the RHA mus make even more clear that these figures an facts to be used in negotiating with custo mers. In practice, of course, any increase it rates has been the result of negotiations witt customers in what is a competitive industr3 —competing not only one haulier agains another, but also against other forms o transport.
CBI will oppose direction
STATING that it had already started a search ing study of the transport White Paper, du Confederation of British Industry has reiteratet its firm belief that competition in the transpor field is to the benefit of the user. It says du CBI will feel obliged to oppose "measure: which limit the user's freedom of choice". The Confederation believes that private!: owned transport has a major role to play, corn plcmentary to the State sector.
Studying dangerous substances
THE Standing Advisory Committee ca
Dangerous Substances has arranged for k technical sub-committee to examine in detai the draft of the revised Model Code of Prin ciples of Construction and Licensing Condi tions for Petroleum Storage.
Miss Alice Bacon, Minister of State at tht Home Office, stated this in the Commons Iasi week.