Dictatorship in Traffic and Travel
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Feu) Members of Parliament Have Any Real Knowledge of the Value of Road Transport to the Nation and to Trade and Industry and the Travelling Public in Particular. That is Why so Few Objections to Stifling Restrictions Are Made in the House
By a L Bottomley
WITH great interest, I have read the deliberations of VY Mr. E. B. .Howes in his article on his visit to the House of Commons published by you on May 19.: Like many of us would be, I do not imagine that Mr. Howes was surprised at the lack of interest that was shown on the subject. On the contrary, it would no doubt fulfil his expectations, as it would all of us who have followed carefully the Government's policy towards road transport in general. It has also been obvious for some time that the absence of interest was due to ignorance of knowledge on the part of the majority of the MY.s. It is, of course, due to this majority that road transport has never been appreciated for the part which it has played, and is playing, in the prosecution of the war.
This lack of appreciation is confined not only to M.P.s but extends to the heads of many of the war, factories, whnse main object is, quite rightly production.
Although transport is termed " non-productive," it must be considered one of the .main accessories necessary in meeting that end. Imagine the position in the grave days of 1939, and the much graver days of 1940, if traders, particularly those engaged on Government contracts, had been dependent on the other forms of transport for the delivery of their anxiously awaited products. I think I am quite safe in saying that we would not have held the happier position' that we are holding at-the present time. Do not assume from this statement that I am implying that-the present position is to be attributed solely to road transport. This is, of course, very far removed from the true facts, but all of us in the ipdustry can claim a fair share of recognition from the general public, even if this be not forthcoming from those who act for the public.
I like Mr. Howes's impression of Mr. Noel-Baker in the character of a window-dresser, one, I must say, who is not concerned about the value of the products which he is displaying, but chiefly in arranging his display to attract the unsuspecting general pub/Lic. Exclude, however, from the general public those meriabers who understand road-transport operation, and who have,no intention ofobserving the M.O.W.T. scheme through
" rose-coloured glasses." They know better. They also observe daily the cases of inefficiency, only one example of which Mr. Strickland brought forward at the debate.
Mr. Noel-Baker Should Hear What Drivers Are Saying
I might suggest to Mr. Noel-Baker that for him to obtain a true picture of the position, he has to meet only a number of drivers, and obtain from them their views on operation under the Ministry scheme, as against that under private enterprise. 1-le would, I am sure, he left in no doubt as to their opinion. I believe that the present-day driver is bearing his task with fortitude in the hope that one day he will be free horn this Government control, and it is this hope that urges him to put every ounce into his effort for quick victory. Mr. NoelBaker has stated in the past that, after investigating alleged cases of,inefficiency, he has satisfied himself that such cases were either unfounded or were necessary to meet a certain urgent demand. Frankly, I. agree that it is certainly only he who has been satisfied.
I am glad that Mr. Howes confirmed the impression of many when he stated that several of the members who took part in the House debate were ex-railway members. What of the balance? Had they any interest in railway organizations? Such an interest was quite apparent in
• the pre-war days when road-transport operators were not permitted to be masters of their own businesses.. Every effort must be made in the pot-war period to avoid a repetition of this unfortunate position. It is admitted that almost every industry is under necessary control during the war, but how many industries in pre-war days were subject to such rigid control as was road transport? How many enterprises desirous of building up their business were subject to opposition from their competitors, as was the case of -road transport, both passenger and goods? Even if the railways had been able to state a legitimate case, such opposition could be described only. as an imposition.
Railway Monopoly Was
of No Value to' the Public If the railways had had something to offer the public in competition with the road, one could have understood their eagerness, but never have they been' known to study the requirements of the public. When they had the monopoly, they could have exploitecrtheir possibilities, but they failed hopelessly, with the result that the travelling public and the manufacturer realized that a better means for transport was in view, and, in their interest, they naturally supported it. Then came the "dog in the manger " attitude, which, unfortunately, was supported by a rail-minded and rail-interested Government. It is daily impressed upon us that this is a war for freedom, but it seems -perfectly obvious that this will not apply to members of the road-transport iedustry, who must continue the war for existence.
• I agree with Mr. Howes's suggestion that the obvious moral is for road transport to be properly represented in the House by parties who can debate a subject which is part of their life, and which can be debated on fact and not purely, assumption. Furthermore, more publicity should be given to the cause in the national Press, so that the general public can be aware of the situation, and so. that they can learn that their future method of travel might be dictated to them, and, from the trader's point of view, that he will have little choice in the dispatch of his products. Until such publicity be given, the true state of affairs will be known only by those people who are interested in the trade papers which, along with "The Commercial Motor," are fighting hard.
In conclusion, I do not think that we can ever expect
the Government to adopt the suggestion put forward in Mr. Howes's penultimate paragraph. My impression is that, having made up its mind that road transport is but a nominal part of war-time function, it will prefer to continue its thoughts in tha,t direction. To be made to think otherwise would be far removed from its imaginative powers, and might have an adverse,effeet on its post-war intentions towards the industry.