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

That is a point of view which my hon. and gallant Friend is entitled to put. I was stating it in my own way. There are, I suggest, four tests which ought to be applied to any ques- tion of closing shops. First, what are the needs of the shopping public? In each case one ought to see in what direction our conclusions lead us. In reply to that test I think it is clear that the needs of the workers are best met by having a number of small shops scattered throughout different parts of an industrial area rather than that the public should have to go to a large shop in the centre of the area. Second, there is the suitability of the staff for war work. Again, in small shops owing to domestic problems and the age and health of the people employed, they are much less suitable for war work than those in larger shops. Third, there is the suitability of the premises for war work. Again, small shops are not suitable, whereas larger premises are suitable for setting up offices and things of that kind. Fourth, there is the question of comparative hardship. The small trader loses everything, whereas the larger shop is in a position to carry on on a smaller scale. Looking at these four fundamental points, we are driven to the conclusion that small traders ought to be specially considered and opportunities given to them rather than the large trader to remain in business. But, as we have seen from information given us to-day, it has worked out the other way round, which is not a very satisfactory state of affairs.

The question of contributions for compensation has been raised and no doubt it would be possible to arrange some scheme of contributions. That would be a valuable asset, but at the same time I think we ought to appreciate that the position is quite different from that involved in the concentration of industries. Where you have concentrated industry nucleus firms will be called upon to make some contribution for compensation for those which have closed and they would be able to do it because the Government will flood them with orders. They will be in a position to work full time, whereas the contribution of the Government towards many shops is to restrict their supplies. There is a fundamental difference between the two positions, and I should have thought that there was doubt as to whether a levy was practicable. I think it is a case where State funds ought to be made available for the purposes of compensation. I would ask the Minister to consider whether he can work out some machinery on these lines—that the local price regulation committees, which are largely representative of the consumer interest, in conjunction with the Joint Industrial Councils for Retail Trade, should register all shops and decide which should be kept open and which should be shut. There you have a representative body, working at the present time, which seems to be fitted to carry out a duty of this kind.

Compensation should be on the lines to which I have already made some reference, and people should be given a chance of restarting after the war, although I do not think a man who has had to go into the Forces ought necessarily to have to take his compensation in the form of restarting in the same business. He might be given assistance towards starting in something else, if he desires it and it seems reasonable. There should be controlled re-entry into the shopping business, and if there is to be controlled re-entry, surely there ought to be controlled withdrawal too. No arrangements have been made for that. Finally, I would say that undoubtedly the State will, after the war, enter territory not previously occupied, and we must take care that in that advance the small man is fitted in. We must not lose the immense benefit to the nation of the initiative and drive of the individual, whether he is large or small.