OWNERSHIP AND THE LIBERALS
From Our Political Correspondent
SOLUTIONS to our present economic and political difficulties proposed in the two most recent pam phlets issued by the 20th century Liberal Party, whether intentionally or not, put forward a doctrine rooted in medieval Christian thought and re-affirmed in a 19th century Papal encyclical. Apparently Liberals, through a consideration of the state of British society today. have come to the conclusion that the best way of ending the unnecessary and dangerous rivalry between capital and labour is to encourage the wider ownership of property, thus avoiding the twin dangers of monopoly capitalism and State ownership—the same policy as that advocated by Pope Leo XIII in his famous encyclical Rerum Novarum.
Policy The two pamphlets are " Towards a nation of owners" (1s. 6d.) by the Liberal Whip, Donald Wade, M.P., which. outlines methods for encouraging wider ownership of both homes and industry; and " Own as you earn " (Is.) by the prospective Liberal candidate for Colne Valley, Richard Wainwright, which discusses in more detail
proposals for stimulating employee shareholding. Although these are not. in fact, policy statements, the policy on ownership laid down in them can be taken as that which would he applied in the unlikely eventuality of the Liberal Party being called upon to form Her Majesty's Government.
As i general step, Mr. Wade proposes the abolition of Estate Duty and the substitution of a new Inheritance Tax. which would vary according to the size of each individual bequest so that the more widely a man divided up his estate on his death the less the beneficiaries would have to pay.
To encourage wider homeownership, Mr. Wade suggests modification of Shedule A income tax, or its abolition and replacement with a site value tax; abolition of profits tax on Building Societies, which cannot by their constitution make profits; and making 95 per cent. mortgages available.
Easier To make It easier for the small business and the independent shopkeeper and craftsman to flourish, he proposes ending discrimination against self-employed persons in the National Insurance scheme; easing the burden of rating on independent retailers; and making sites more readily available to independent retailers in new town planning schemes, where all too often shopping facilities are unduly limited in favour of the large multiplem rw astores. de further suggests that it should be made easier for people to start up in business on their own. "It is, in fact, more difficult now for a working man to start up on his own than it was 50 years ago," he comments. The creation of smallholdings should also he encouraged. Loopholes in the 1957 Restrictive Trade Practices Act—the "Monopolies" Act —should be closed.
Finally, employee shareholding in industry should be stimulated by tax concessions. since the present tax system frightens many firms off the whole idea. Profitsharing and employee representation in management should also he encouraged. In parlicular. Mr. Wade proposes that employees should be encouraged to own shares outside their own particular firms.
One objection Mr. Wade and the Liberal Party will have to face on this latter suggestion concerns the extent to which ownership— and thus power—should be divorced front responsibility. As it is, most shareholders are irresponsible in that their sole interest in the particular company is limited to the shares they own and the dividends they draw. They take no part in running the business; that is left to salaried employees.
To what extent should this divorce of power from responsibility be encouraged, as it would be by Mr. Wade's proposals to stimulate employee shareholding outside their own company? One of the great arguments in favour of employee shareholding is, after all, that it gives the worker a definite stake in the company for which he works and thus helps to break down this unnatural divorce, Efficiency
Another question which needs further consideration is the right relationship between small and large businesses. It may be that, other things being equal, it is harder for a large firm to work efficiently than a small firm because the difficulty of the individual being able to feel himself part of a team grows as the size of the firm does.
Thus, most large companies now find it necessary to run internal publicity departments and "house magazines" so that the right hand knows what the left is doing; while I.C.I., one of the "monster" companies in this country, has found it advisable to break itself up into separate divisions which work in quasi-independence.
"Onward in Freedom", a general statement of the aims and policies of the Conservative Party published on Tuesday as part of their "Roll-call for Victory" campaign this autumn, says on this topic: We believe that more and more people should be owners as well as earners, and we-plan to enlarge the opportunities and simplify the arrangements for the ownership of shares and for the. purchase of houses."