20 FEBRUARY 1953, Page 2

Transport Bill's Progress

The Transport Bill, having had its third reading on Monday, left the Commons for the Lords a better Bill than it was originally, but still lacking some essential adjustments and amendments. From confused White Paper to hasty first draft and then through the Parliamentary mill to its present status the Government's first denationalisation scheme has staggered along, giving great trouble to its sponsors and conveying no feeling of joy and confidence to anyone else. But it is a much better measure now than it was nine months ago. The levy to be paid by the freed road hauliers to the fettered railways was an idiotic device from the start, and now very little of it is left standing. The arrangements for handing back much of the Transport Commission's road fleet to private enterprise have been cured of many of their early defects, though great care will still have to be exercised to ensure that the effect of such economies and improvements in_ organisation as the Com- mission has been able to achieve is not lost. The laudable first provisions which made it possible once again for road services to compete with rail have now been supplemented by further measures giving the railways power to defend themselves by granting special rates and fares more readily. The rail- ways, it is true, are still not free from the vast incubus of State regulation which has been accumulating not merely in the past six years but throughout their history, but at least they are freer than they were. It is now up to them to show that they can make good use of still more freedom. It cannot be pretended that the Government's ideas on the subject of rail- way decentralisation, which is said to be one of the main objects of the Bill, are clear to all concerned. This may possibly mean that there may later have to be a supplementary Bill, carrying further the liberating work.of the present one. If that is to come, then the sooner it comes the better, for the Labour speakers in the long transport debate have never ceased to threaten repeal of the present measure and a prolongation of the game of nationalisation-shuttlecock.