Industrial Concentration and Retail Trade.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 23rd July 1942.

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Photo of Mr Hugh Dalton Mr Hugh Dalton , Bishop Auckland

No, because I am saving my coupons. It is not one's duty to expend coupons rapidly but to expend them as slowly as possible having regard to the stock of clothes one possesses. This suit was made in 1930. It is generally too thin to be worn in the British climate. On the whole, utility clothes have been well received, and quite rightly. They will become relatively cheaper when the Purchase Tax has been removed, as was arranged in the last Finance Act. That will take effect next month. Utility clothing now amounts to about 70 or 80 per cent. of the total civilian production. When I came to the Board of Trade I at once began to study this question, and I said that my aim was to raise utility production to 100 per cent. That caused some concern in some quarters. I went on to say in the same speech that I was told there were serious technical difficulties in the way of doing that, and that I was going to look into them. I wish to reassure, those who were greatly disturbed by that statement by telling them frankly that there are serious difficulties in the way of raising it to 100 per cent., difficulties which arise from the very heterogenous character of our materials on the one hand and of the method of manufacture on the other. Therefore, I can give some measure of reassurance to those who were disturbed by my original statement when I say that the making of utility clothing up to the 100 per cent. will not, in fact, be achieved in the near future. I make that statement after having gone into the matter with care. Utility footwear is coming along very well and is much praised by those who have seen it and worn it, but it is not yet in the shops in substantial quantities, although I hope that it will be in a few months' time.

One word on the organisation of the clothing industry. Last autumn, in order to maintain civilian supplies of clothes, we had to take certain immediate steps. Labour was drifting away from the industry and in other directions was being withdrawn. In view of the size and variety of the clothing industry, which contains no fewer than 25,000 firms, although many of them are very small, rapid concentration was impossible, and we therefore decided, as a first step, to designate a number of firms which were making utility clothing for civilians and Service clothing for the Forces. We gave them protection for all their labour outside certain age-groups, and we directed supplies of utility cloths to these designated firms. A list of them was published last month, and they number some 2,000. Those 2,000 firms were designated because they can furnish a large proportion of the essential clothing, both Service and civilian. Those designated firms are furnishing something like 80 per cent. of the utility clothing and about 70 per cent. of all made-up civilian clothing, but I wish at once to say that we have to continue to rely even now—I will speak about the future in a moment—for part of our supplies—the remainder apart from what I have indicated—upon undesignated firms. So far as designated firms are concerned, the Ministry of Labour may desire to call up or withdraw some of their younger labour, and also it may be necessary to take some of their factory space for other war purposes. Therefore, the remainder of the trade, the hitherto undesignated firms, still have in the aggregate a very considerable importance. It has in these circumstances been decided to give the whole of the clothing industry an opportunity to make voluntary plans for concentration, and the details are now under discussion with representatives of the trade. The concentration will proceed by regions, and the designated firms will be regarded as the natural nucleus firms for concentration, the natural but not the inevitable. Undesignated firms may also qualify to be nucleus firms. The first region in which we are tackling the concentration problem will be the Leeds district, which of course has great importance from the point of view of production.