Call our Sales Team on 0208 912 2120

Without the Prince

9th May 1952, Page 37
9th May 1952
Page 37
Page 37, 9th May 1952 — Without the Prince
Noticed an error?
If you've noticed an error in this article please click here to report it so we can fix it.

Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

SO many rumours have been started recently about the Government's plans for transport that I feel my copy of the White Paper should be signed by the Prime Minister and countersigned by the Minister for the Co-ordination of Transport, Fuel and Power before 1 can consent to regard it as authentic. While the lobby correspondents, the inspired oracles and the Parliamentary eavesdroppers have played their own variations on any one of half-a-dozen themes, the leaders of the Government have endeavoured to beat time with their tattered copies of "Britain Strong and Free," to the principles of which they profess still to subscribe. The effect of this gallant . attempt to orchestrate the storm has been somewhat spoiled by the obscurity of " Britain Strong and,Free " on the subject of transport.

Not unnaturally, the members of the Opposition refrained during last week's debate from directly opposing the action taken by the Government to prevent or mitigate an increasein fares. They preferred to emphasize the apparent inconsistencies in recent Government statements and to ask when something that looked like a definite. policy would be forthcoming. Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, who tOok over the task of opening the debate in the unavoidable absence of the Minister of Transport, did his ingenious best to explain why action that had been taken to delay the railway increase had apparently not been possible before London Transport fares went up.

Sir David in the Desert Whether the Home Secretary succeeded in convincing the Opposition that the Government's action on fares had been legally and logically consistent throughout is extremely doubtful. He appeared himself to weary of what he described as this "somewhat arid section" of his speech. In fact, except for the advantage of scoring Parliamentary points for and against, it seemed scarcely worth pursuing. What matters most, as both the Government motion and the Opposition amendment suggested, is whether the public has or has not to pay extra fares, and whether some way can be found of improving the efficiency of the country's transport so that costs are reduced.

According to advance reports, the White Paper should have been published in time for the debate. As no comprehensive statement of Government policy was available, the debate was very much like " Hamlet" without the prince. As soon as they ventured away from the subject Of the fares increases, the Conservative speakers were obviously groping in the dark, not wishing to say anything that might be contradicted within a few weeks, or even days, when the White Paper was published.

No such inhibitions troubled the Opposition speakers. In the absence of the real thing, they made up their minds to put on a puppet show and to spring-clean the stock characters, both good and bad, who will be called upon to function, night and day if necessary, when at length the denationalization Bill is presented on the stage. Mr. Herbert Morrison began the parade with a good-tempered, if old-fashioned, model which has in its time done duty for both sides as the shrewd and kindly friend of the 'family who has a knack of putting the world to rights and • bringing about the

happy ending. Mr. Morrison proposed a general inquiry which would include M.P.s from all parties and would go into such questions as efficiency, overheads, administration costs, managerial charges and fares.

New readers who like to follow the plot, if there is one, should know that this well-meaning creature with a taste for moralizing was turned out of the ,House some years ago by Mr. Alfred Barnes, the previous Minister of Transport, who evidently thought that the general inquiry had had its day. The return under the wing of Mr. Morrison may be said to mark a notable change of policy. Its part in the story is plain. White it is occupying the centre of the stage and giving voice to a series of long-winded platitudes and homespun untruths, we can slip out to the bar, secure in the knowledge that in our absence nothing will have happened.

Some doubt exists about the goodness or badness of the character with the foreign accent usually referred ter as a subsidy. Mr. Morrison went so far as to call it dangerous and to deprecate its possible influence on the British Transport Commission, evidently cast in his mind as the heroine of the piece. One or, two other Members were not so sure. Mr. Walter Monslow, in particular, thought that a little sowing of wild oats in the form of a temporary subsidy would not be a bad thing.

Of unadulterated villains there was no lack. Mr. Frank McLeavy rather surprisingly put forward politics for this role, a glozing and double-crossing villain indeed, for until now most of us had imagined that the introduction of politics into transport had actually been made by Mr. McLeavy and the other Socialists when they passed the Transport Act. Mr. Monslow, whilst putting in a good word for the subsidy, maintained that the real bad hat was the basis of compensation paid, particblarly to the railways.

• They Also Ran On this point, Mr. John Hynd took over where Mr. Monslow left off and produced several sinister characters of his own, including the fuel tax and the low wages paid to railwaymen. As was to be expected, he also arraigned the C-licence holder: Mr. James Callaghan completed the cast with the worst villain of them all, the road haulier, who in the best melodramatic tradition has a financial stranglehold upon the Government and is on the point of foreclosing the mortgage.

There seems little hope at present of a peaceful settlement. The lay figures have been given an airing and the puppet-masters seem prepared to use them to the full when the time arrives. The Bill will have to fight its way on to the Statute Book. Even what seem moderate statements by Opposition speakers in last week's debate are revealed as hostile on closer examination. _" Any Socialist who contended that, merely because a Socialist Government passed a Socialist Act, it was perfect, would be unreasonable," said Mr. Morrison. "We are -ready to consider modifications in the public interest. We are inclined to think that, if anything, the Transport Act ought to have gone further in the direction of co-ordinating road commercial transport."

And apparently this was not intended as a joke.

comments powered by Disqus