Industrial Concentration and Retail Trade.

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

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Photo of Sir Geoffrey Mander Sir Geoffrey Mander , Wolverhampton East

My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has, in a very interesting way, dealt with certain aspects of the great responsibilities which rest upon his shoulders, and I shall confine myself in any comments I have to make to these particular subjects. I think it would generally be agreed that the remarkable revolution of the concentration of industry—because it is nothing less—has been carried through in a very peaceful manner, and much more with general agreement than seemed possible when it was originally introduced. The President of the Board of Trade has said that the future is not pre-judged and that it is open to all the firms that have been concentrated to open again after the war, but it will generally be agreed that in a great many cases at any rate that is not likely to take place. Many of the firms that have been taken over will never restart business again. What the Government have been doing is to hasten the inevitable process of the times in bringing about large aggregations of capital and no doubt involving greater Government control and investigation and that sort of thing, and this can no more be stopped than Canute could stop the inflowing of the waves. The firms that have been brought into these larger units—sometimes 10 per cent. of the whole of an industry is all that remains—will come to realise the many great advantages that accrue, and they will not be inclined to go back to the very much smaller way of doing things. The larger units are much more economic and satisfactory in many ways. At the same time, I hope that in future we shall have no dull uniformity of treatment and that there will always be room for the small man with his energy and enthusiasm, for future Nuffields and people of that kind who are able to bring in the drive of private enterprise which is so essential and vital in our national life.

In the concentration schemes that have been put through the question of goodwill has been well dealt with on the whole. Arrangements have been made for maintaining the sales organisation, and that has enabled the goods of many of the firms which have been temporarily closed down to go out under their own name, but still one cannot help wondering how far it is really justifiable to keep sale organisations going because they are employing a certain amount of man-power, which one would have thought, was hardly justified in present circumstances. My right hon. Friend referred to the two types of concentration—voluntary and compulsory. It will be agreed that the voluntary schemes have been much more satisfactory than the_ cases where the Board of Trade has had to step in and impose its own views. There is one point to which I would ask my right hon. Friend to give special attention. When a decision has definitely been made that certain firms are to be nucleus firms, an Essential Work Order should immediately be issued. I can see that there may be difficulties in doing that until that stage has been arrived at, but when that stage has been reached I can see no disadvantages, and there are many advantages, because the firms who are to be placed in that position must be able to keep their employees. The conditions vary in different parts of the country in accordance with the scarcity of labour, but it is a very important point to which my right hon. Friend ought to give attention.

There is this point too. I believe at the present time definite action by the Board of Trade is being withheld for political reasons. I mean in the sense that, where you have a shortage of supplies some of which might go to the private trader the rest to war work, there is a tendency to say, "We must leave some for the private trader to go to the public, because they have been so accustomed to use this or that kind of article and you must not interfere with the habits or the free will of the subject to do what he has been accustomed to do. There might be questions and representations made in Parliament." I hope that my right hon. Friend will impress upon his staff that they need fear nothing of the kind. The House of Commons will be wholeheartedly behind his Department in taking firm and drastic action even if it interferes with the ordinary and normal habits of the citizens of the country. All supplies required for war purposess should be used for these purposes and for no private purpose whatsoever. The question of compensation has been dealt with only up to a point. There are inescapable charges which are generally agreed, but the question of the profit has not reached anything like so satisfactory a solution, and it would be interesting if the Minister who is to reply can say something more about the basis of compensation, both in respect of inescapable charges and profit.