Square Deal Denied
It has been the popular perception for 60 years, that the pre-war railways call for a "Square Deal" - equality with other transport, began in 1938. It began in 1921, when railways sought legal powers to operate road haulage. Their competitors needed no legal power to set up in road haulage, and for many years, paid little or nothing towards road construction and maintenance. Road haulage was subsidised by ratepayers in general, and railways in particular. Railways were denied road powers until 1928, and even then, had limited rights and stringent obligations. Railways then called for hauliers to be subject to the same statutory regulations as themselves no more, no less. This was followed by three ineffective Government inquiries, spread over seven years, which kicked this reasonable request into touch. As Government would not regulate road haulage on equal terms, Railways asked for the only alternative the same commercial freedom as road haulage. At this stage, Railways gave their long search for equality, an eye catching title "The Square Deal Campaign".
It is overlooked that railways sought equality only with road haulage, but they were also concerned about the privileged, protected and subsidised position of coastwise shipping, which was allowed by Statute to object to competing rail charges, whilst railways had no similar rights with regard to shipping or road haulage. Rail charges from ports were designed by the Government's scheme to protect coastwise shipping.
It was generally supposed that the "Square Deal" was about to be conceded when war broke out, and was thereby thwarted. Government papers researched by Ted Gibbins reveal that Government interfered with, and delayed the findings of the 1938/39 Inquiry, and prove that they mever had the slightest intention of conceding equality. To have done so, would have led to Government subsidising inefficient uncompetitive industry, which would not invest in modern methods, but depended on an archaic rail charges system, enforced on railways by Government, and specifically designed to provide heavy industry with uneconomic rates subsidised by profits from classes of traffic, which road haulage were discriminatively "creaming-off".
The "Unsquare Deal" continued both during and after the war, and well into the period of State ownership. Politicians claimed that railways were glad to accept a low fixed Rental from their own revenue for sequestration during the 1939-45 War. Government and Railway papers show the Companies had no fears about wartime viability. The media criticised Government's inequitable wartime railway policies. Some Ministers warned of bankruptcy. But Government went ahead ruining railways, whilst ineffective control of road haulage enabled them to prosper. No other industry was so thoroughly skimmed. It was a natural progression of the "Square Deal Denied".
Softback, 17x23cm, 202 pages,
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Updated: 29 December 2022