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Negotiable Bonds

6th July 1951, Page 32
6th July 1951
Page 32
Page 32, 6th July 1951 — Negotiable Bonds
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

THROUGH all the vicissitudes of the past few years, the road and rail negotiating committees have continued to function. They appeared to survive with scarcely a tremor the fundamental change of structure when the Road Haulage Executive came in as a third party and the main dividing line was no longer between road and rail so much as between nationalized transport and free enterprise. The haulier, facing the future with some trepidation, saw a ray of hope in the continuation of the machinery. His bonds were tighter, but at least they remained negotiable. It is doubtful whether he now sees the matter in exactly the same light.

The original intention in setting up the negotiating machinery was entirely laudable. The time and trouble of everybody concerned, including the Licensing Authorities, would be saved if the parties at loggerheads over an application could reach agreement out of court. Operators with good cases would be helped by the chance to discuss them on equal terms before a negotiating committee, instead of being left to play a lone hand against the serried ranks of the objectors and their legal advisers in the traffic courts.

Change of Status

The negotiating procedure represented the change from colonial to dominion status. It was a sign that the road haulage industry was growing up and showing a commendable eagerness to manage its own affairs. The Licensing Authorities showed no disposition to resent the fact that _part of their work was being taken from them They have several times expressed their approval of the committees, to the satisfaction of all concerned

On paper. the work done has been remarkably successful. By far the greater number of applicants invited to meet negotiating committees have taken advantage of the opportunity and in the majority of such cases agreement has been reached which has made it possible to withdraw either the applications or the objections Nevertheless, many hauliers, including some who sit on negotiating committees, are beginning to wonder whether the machinery has now outlived its usefulness.

Chancing his Arm

Figures which show a satisfactory proportion of agreements reached as a result of discussion may be read in more ways than one, They may prompt one to ask why objections to so many applications were ever lodged in the first place. If the machinery were not in existence, would-bc objectors might be more careful to ensure that they are on solid ground before putting in their caveat. It is not sufficient to represent that there is no great harm done by an objectoi chancing his arm at the negotiating stage and amicably withdrawing before the case reaches the traffic court. Just over half of the objections come from the Railway Executive or the Road Haulage Executive. Attendance at negotiating committees by their representatives and advisers is all part of the day's work. To the haulier it may mean a day's work lost. It irritates him to suspect that the loss is unnecessary. Discussions at negotiating committees take place in private. Frivolous or unreasonable objections at that A30

stage do not attract the publicity they would receive if aired in the traffic court. There is a temptation. therefore, to press. such objections in advance in the hope of mutilating an application which would stand a good chance of success in the traffic court in its original form. Admittedly, the main purpose of the negotiating machinery is to enable a compromise to be reached, but the compromise is intended to be something more readily acceptable to the Licensing Authority than the original application. It is disobeying the spirit of the scheme to invite concessions in return for the withdrawal of an objection which the objector himself knows would be given short shrift if it came to the test.

Some time ago, the British Transport Commission decided to modify the agreement under which objections were not normally made to applications for renewal without modification. Operators deprived of permits, it was argued, should be prepared to agree to alterations in the terms of their licences so as to restrict them to the 25-mile limit.

Pressing the Point

This point, as might be expected, was not conceded by the Road Haulage Association, and, so far as is known, has not yet been successfully argued in the traffic courts. An objection of this kind is rarely now taken to that stage. The Commission, however, still presses the point on negotiating committees, presumably in the hope of achieving there what the Licensing Authorities would indignantly deny to it.

The root of the trouble is the " ganging-up" of the two Executives of the Commission. The common policy for opposition to A and B licences is maintained right through the piece. Where one Executive may show signs of weakening at the negotiating stage, it is at once reminded of its obligation to vote solidly with the other.

The time is overdue to consider whether the negotiating machinery is fulfilling its original purpose. Instead of helping the applicant to reach a satisfactory agreement out of court, it is being used to whittle down the terms of his licence. From the point of view of the Commission, the licensing system supplements the more than adequate provisions in the Transport Act which prevent the haulier from operating outside a narrow range. The haulier prefers to regard the system as his safeguard against further encroachments.

The Status Quo He is justified in his view. During the recent unofficial strike of R.H.E. drivers, hauliers were called upon at short notice to handle traffic outside the 25-mile limit, and the R.H.E. was pleased to grant short-time permits for the work. The existence of hauliers with suitable licences and vehicles was invaluable on that occasion and will be equally useful at times in the future. The haulier is not the only person to benefit from the preservation of the licensing status quo.

The B.T.C. should abandon its somewhat childish cloak-and-dagger tactics. It should object only where it intends to maintain the objection up to the licensing court, and it should agree that the restrictions imposed upon the haulier by the Transport Act should not be used as the excuse to squeeze him still further by means of the Act of 1933.

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