9 AUGUST 1975, Page 3

Small encouragement, large doubts

The Government's decision — supposing Mr Varley holds to it — to advance no further Public money to Norton Villiers Triumph is to be welcomed as a small gesture that some element of sense has now entered into their philosophy of government spending. But the Public sector spending deficit remains at a figure near £10,000 million, and a refusal to continue the financial commitment to NVT will not make a great dent in that sum. Likewise, a refusal to give a further subsidy to NVT is of no great importance in itself, unless it is a true indication of Government intentions in much more important areas of expenditure. One swallow, after all, does not make a summer.

Even if the Government is now given the benefit of the doubt, however, other ee. onomic and industrial decisions made in recent weeks give rise to very serious doubts about the capacity of ministers not Merely to reduce the rate of British Inflation, but to prepare the national economy for recovery. Aside altogether from criticisms of the anti-inflation package — and particularly of Mr Healey's Willingness to impose statutory restraint on incomes, as opposed to relying on the disciplines of the market — the observation must be made that the time gained by the squeeze is hardly being used wisely. In Particular, Mr Shore's betrayal of the undertakings given by his department to Mr Freddie Laker of Laker Airways Suggests that it is still the socialist !ntention of a socialist government to unnede rather than encourage British enterprise wherever possible. The official reason for now denying Mr Laker the traits of a £10 million investment — made With the specific and repeated encourage!gent of the Government — is that his Skytrain' scheme would wound the Monopoly of British Airways". Mr Shore seems to take no account of the fact that Monopoly invariably encourages both inefficiency and high prices, and in this is „Inimical to the interests of the consumer. the wings of British Caledonian, in addition, are to be clipped; and even if this gives Mr Laker some sour satisfaction — Since BC were one of the companies Protesting that Skytrain' would damage their interest and arguing, therefore, that the project should not be licensed — it is ,honetheless deeply depressing for anyOody who wishes to see sufficient wealth created in Britain for the achievement of those social objectives to which governallents of all parties have dedicated themselves.

buring their last period of opposition it kilecame clear that the Labour Party were ."ecotning committed to schemes of nationalisation or part public ownership for their own sakes, and not merely because Illey believed the state was required to intervene to prevent the breakdown of „services or increases in unemployment. this marked an important break with the eonsensus belief of British politics for many years to the effect that the creation ut wealth should be encouraged in order to Provide a bigger national cake, parts of llrhieh could be divided among the less ie,rtunate sections of the community. In ,59 Mr Gaitskell, and in 1964 Mr Wilson, 13,1edged themselves not to increase taxa20/1, but nonetheless to increase social Vending, believing that extra resources 1:aild be created by greater economic efficiency and growth. Mr Gaitskell was not given the opportunity to test his belief that this could be done within a planned economy; and Mr Wilson failed in his attempt to do it. It is now clear that Labour is committed to a high taxation economy, tightly controlled — in so far as that is possible — by the state, and evincing the maximum discouragement to private enterprise. Even if there are some indications that the Government is willing to exercise some little discipline over its own spending, the evidence that they are also committed to a system of economic management bound to prevent rather than encourage the growth of national wealth far outweighs any encouragement to be derived from the decision not to proceed with Mr Benn's support for NVT. The truth is that Britain needs Mr Freddie Laker more than it needs Mr Peter Shore; and until that fact is grasped by the electorate as well as by the politicians the chances of national economic recovery are slight indeed.

Queen Mother

That unique combination of humanity and dignity which is the principal contribu tion made to the art of monarchy by the British Royal Family is epitomised by nobody so well as the Queen Mother, whose seventy-fifth birthday fell this week. On her marriage to Prince Albert of York, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon had to exchange the peaceful life of the daughter of an English country genetleman for the more strenuous routine of the wife of a Prince. But she could not even then have foreseen the far more taxing task that would eventually fall to her, of being the consort of an unwilling and shy King. That George VI was able so superbly, and with strength and courage, to discharge his duty was in very large measure due to the love and support steadfastly given him by a wife who was, in contrast to himself, spontaneous and even extrovert. Queen Elizabeth also passed on to her own daughter that high sense of duty which marked the career of her husband: but because widowhood in no sense reduced her participation in public life, she has remained an outstanding representative of the Royal Family, and thus may be said to have helped more than anybody for a generation to mould its character image. At seventy-five she shows no signs of failing powers, and no desire to depart the limelight. Of few public figures of her age and activity can it be said, as it can of her, that the public will welcome her continued participation in the life of the nation with delight.

Soviet opportunity

The fact that last week's Helsinki conference took place at all can be seen as a victory for the Russians. They have wanted such a conference for twenty years, and finally they got it. But even if this may make them feel a little smug (and Mr Brezhnev was very tactful about not showing it), there is no reason why we in the West should necessarily feel alarmed — not, that is, unless we believe that our leaders have become so soft and ingenuous that they will place their trust in the promises of what has been repeatedly proven to be a brutal and untrustworthy dictatorship. Our leaders may often be stupid, but they are not, we assume, stupid enough to think that Helsinki gives them any excuse to play games with our security. One may even hope that, having gone so far in showing their goodwill towards the Russians, they will be all the more eager to show that they have not been guilty of a sell-out. In any case, there is no point now in being churlish. Instead, armed with the deepest scepticism, we should be looking to see if anything good can come out of what quite probably may turn out to have been nothing better or worse than a gigantic waste of time.

Before passing any judgment, we must invite the Russians as soon and in as many ways as possible to provide us with the proof of their good intentions. An excellent example has already been set by the managing director of Reuters, Britain's international news agency. In a letter to Mr Gromyko, the Soviet Foreign Minister, he invoked the spirit of Helsinki to demand an end to Soviet harassment of British correspondents. This harassment has rarely been carried to extremes, but it has been almost intolerable nevertheless. Two Reuters correspondents, guilty of nothing more than trying to report Soviet affairs as accurately and objectively as possible, were accused last year not only of slandering the Soviet Union but also — quite preposterously — of having homosexual relations with a Soviet citizen. Life for foreign correspondents in Moscow is not the greatest fun at the best of times, and such accusations hardly add to their general feeling of safety and well-being. Furthermore, a Reuters chief correspondent was invited to the KGB headquarters behind Lubianka Prison for an unexplained interrogation on the very day before he was due to leave Russia at the end of his assignment. What possible purpose could there have been in this, other than to make him feel uncomfortable? But the Russians now have a chance to make amends for their malevolent stupidity. They have recently refused a visa to another Reuters correspondent, Mr Roy Gutman, apparently on the grounds that his previous job as a correspondent in Yugoslavia obliged him to report situations that they found unpalatable. Let them give Mr Gutman his visa, even if he doesn't want it anymore. Here is a perfect opportunity for the Soviet Union to show in specific and immediate fashion that Western countries are not the only ones to understand the true meaning of detente.