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

The 25,000 is the total; it includes them all. I want to emphasise that discussions upon concentration are in an early stage, and I do not want to prejudge them, but we are considering whether we can get a concentration arrangement satisfactory to all the different sections concerned as a follow through behind the original step of designating this group of 2,000 firms.

I have looked for a definition which brings out one or two points in utility production. Utility products are intended to be goods sufficiently clearly defined for their prices to be fixed—that is important; planned to meet essential needs in a sensible manner; and produced in the most economical way possible in terms of material and labour. I emphasise that utility goods must be clearly defined so that their prices can be fixed. I am not going to speak at length on the regulation of prices under the two Acts which govern the matter, but one of the reasons for the promotion of utility production is that it does facilitate price control and the prevention of excessive charges. So long as there is miscellaneous and varied production it is impossible clearly to define the articles produced in such a way that you can fix the prices and enforce the fixed prices. It is only if you have a relatively limited range of clearly defined articles made according to specifications that you can fix prices, and I am very anxious that price regulation should be fair and effective. The other point of utility production is to get the greatest output from the limited resources now available and so keep the costs of production at the minimum. This means in many cases simplification of designs and the giving of large orders for a small range of goods rather than small orders for a large variety of goods.

I will at this point merely enumerate briefly the other branches of industry in which utility production has either already begun to take effect or is planned to take effect at an early date. Pottery: Here we are limiting the number of articles produced. We hope that before long there will be a good supply of utility pottery at fixed prices. The Central Price Regulation Committee has spent much time on that problem. Holloware: We have reduced by some 60 per cent. the types and sizes of kettles and other pots and pans, and we hope before very long that we shall have a larger supply of these necessary articles coming forward. As to umbrellas—for people who carry them; I do not—we are standardising these down to two sizes, and we are taking out half their ribs. Those which had 16 ribs will now only be allowed to have eight. We are going to impose a maximum content of cloth and steel in umbrellas. Furniture presents a very difficult and important case. There have been many justifiable complaints from the public of the high prices and the poor quality of the stuff being sold as furniture in many shops. At the same time, more labour and more timber are being used in furniture manufacture than can be afforded on a broad view of the national resources. There are innumerable different types and sizes of furniture, so that effective control is very difficult. It is difficult to define the articles.

In view of all these considerations, I decided some little while ago that we must have some utility designs leading up to utility production. I have appointed to advise me a committee which includes not only expert designers and manufacturers, but also people who know what the public wants, including two women. One is what would be commonly described as a working woman in the sense that she works for her own living. She is, in fact, a cook in a canteen, and she is a very good judge of what is required in a working-class home. The other woman has a long record of work in connection with the designing of houses, furniture and so on. It is a good committee, and it is getting on with its work, and I hope that before long specifications will be ready. I should like to publish some of them and some of the models when we have them. I hope that by the late autumn good utility-style furniture at fixed prices will be coming into the market to be available for those who really need it.

In addition to that, utility production is now proceeding in pencils, mechanical lighters and household textiles, which will come in greater quantity soon. I am planning for utility cutlery and suit cases. I believe that the further development of utility production will be of great value in maintaining the essential supplies of the civilian population.