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Legalizing Robbery

14th February 1947
Page 23
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Page 23, 14th February 1947 — Legalizing Robbery
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Which of the following most accurately describes the problem?

Honesty Should Apply to States Just as Much as to .

the Individual Citizens

CAN there be two standards A honesty? We have • hitherto been tinder the impression that there could be only one. Now the Socialist Government is departing from honesty in the real sense of the word. To our mind, the State should be as scrupulous as the individual is expected to be. If the representatives of the Nation indulge in plundering priyately owned businesses and chattels, they cannot expect to restrain others from following their bad example.

During a war, when a nation is fighting for its very life, certain ethics may have to go by the board. The right of the individual may have to suffer, his land or other property be temporarily commandeered, and he himself conscripted either for labour or the Armed Forces. Even then, however, he has a loophole if a conscientious objector, whilst many requisitioned assets are normally, returned at the conclusion of hostilities or at some definite date afterwards.

• With so-called nationalization, however, there is no loophole for those concerned, and compensation, as put forward in the Transport Bill for those industries and persons affected by it, is totally inadequate. Many will be forced out of reasonably flourishing businesses, in which they have put all their endeavours for many years, 'and will become applicants in a labour market for which much of their training is likely to be unsuitable. Certainly, the amounts they will receive will not, as at present contemplated, arid failing amendment, be sufficient to keep them and their families in the same reasonable comfort as formerly, even if they supplement them by any earnings they obtain by reason of their "qualifications."

A Capital Levy on Thousands This matter was most ably summed up, so far as railway shareholders are concerned, in a recent leader published by "The Financial Times," and it applies with even greater truth to those engaged in road transport, particularly the smaller men.

Railway stockholders have merely invested money, albeit the majority looked to the returns to keep them in their dedining years, whilst hauliers have invested both their work and their capital. The former will lose only interest-,, the latter their businesses.

It is pointed out in the leader in question that since 1941, under the Control Agreement, the yearly sum paid out to railway stockholders has been £43,000,000. After nationalization this will be reduced to £25,500,000, whilst the Government, at present a tenant paying a yearly rental of £43,000,000 for the use of railway, property, will become the freehold owner, and m the process• will have reduced its annual payment to £25,500,000—in other words, it is the planned confusion of the concept of a loan and that of an investment. Owners, whether of railway or of road transport, will be reduced to the status of simple money lenders, entitled to no more than a minimum yearly interest on their "capital."

The Method of the Highwayman All these people are to-be held -at the point of the pistol and plundered of Most of what they have gained by hard; unsparing 'work, ot, in the case of shareholders', retrenchment's which have permitted the saving of a little capital: If this be not barefaced robbery. then in what-other way can it be described? • • Similar remarks would apply if municipalities lost their passenger transport fleets and equipment for little more than the meeting of any outstanding loan, which is the manner in which municipal electricity undertakings may be absorbed. In addition, however, in the case of road transport, many of the municipal fleets pay considerable sums towards the reduction of local rates. This "profit," if under nationalization it remains such, would automatically go to the British Transport Commission instead of to help the local authorities concerned and the ratepayer.

Punishment is usually meted out to an offender against some law, but, in this instance, we shall have many thousands of people heavily penalized merely for the sake of a Socialist whim; for something in the nature of an experiment, the result of which might prove catastrophic; for something which will turn the transport industry upside down and take it years to recover to anything like a normal condition, if it can ever do so.

Road transport, as an industry, is bound to be affected more than any other to which this drastic policy is being applied. There are only four mainline railways, but there are thousands upon thousands of hauliers, and it is all the more galling to the latter that they have been told that their present efficiency and value to the community are recognized. It is only because the railways are to be taken over that road hauliers also must suffer virtual extinction.

Now let us see what a well-known and respected Labour leader—at one time chairman of the T.U.C. and a former Cabinet Minister—has to say upon this subject. We refer to Mr. J. R. Clynes, who, on January 28, issued a momentous statement. He said that the industrial situation in Britain to-day has reached a stage of crisis which compels him, in the evening of a life spent in trying to help the workers, urgently to appeal to his countrymen to face the facts. Never in our history has the prosperity of our great industries been so fraught with danger; never before have we confronted problems of such moment to the people's standard of living.

Yet, he said, we are still wrangling over academic theories, still haggling about methods and experiments, still pipe-dreaming. Instead, we should be concentrating our whole energies on the one job that matters—higher production. Hard work and a realistic approach to our difficulties is our one hope. When we have achieved the vital industrial recovery upon which the well-being and happiness of this Nation depend, we can return to the luxury of our own differences. We may then find leisure for the theorists. To-day we can afford time only for hard work.

Will the inexperienced politicians and the fanatical ideologists give heed to such wise and knowledgeable counsel? We fear that they will not, but will continue to drag down our country into an abyss in which they also may perish.

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