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 Arthur Colegate Mr Arthur Colegate , The Wrekin

In the very short time which the Co-operative movement leaves for private industry to speak I wish to raise one or two points regarding the speech of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. It was of the usual suave type, and painted a picture of the concentration of industry proceeding smoothly and efficiently. I feel that I am perhaps being a little unfair in having to break up that picture. As a matter of fact the concentration, as we call it, of industry has brought about a number of very serious difficulties, and while I agree that on the whole a good deal of good has been done, it must be recognised there has not been sufficient forethought in the Board of Trade about these concentration of industries schemes. The case of the pottery industry is well known. An attempt was made to close it down too soon. It has now had, in effect, to be reopened to a large extent. The same thing has happened in other industries. An industry in which I am concerned, the bicycle industry, has to some extent been the subject of the same treatment. I think the scheme has now been withdrawn, but even now there is not sufficient appreciation on the part of those Departments concerned that the reduction or the abolition of the basic petrol allowance, and the great strain being put upon all forms of transport, has made the bicycle industry an essential industry so far as the war workers of this country are concerned. Without it large masses of them cannot get to and from their work, and yet at the moment it is impossible in many districts to get spare parts for bicycles.

The Board of Trade should look further ahead than they do at present, and consider not only whether an industry is required at the moment, but what will be the effect upon it of shutting down some other industry. Let me give an illustration of some of the injustices which are caused by this policy of concentration of industry. This is a case which came to my own notice. A manufacturer in an industry which was concentrated very early on, was asked by the Ministry of Supply to undertake war contracts. He did so, and got the whole of the factory on to war work, except for that part of it which had been leased to the Admiralty, at the Admiralty's request. The result was that his firm was not allowed to become a nucleus firm in its industry. The War Office, having got, through the Ministry of Supply, enough of the goods supplied by that factory, are stopping the contracts. The manufacturer said, "To assist the Government, I undertook those contracts, and I will now go back into the concentration scheme." The Board of Trade said, "Not only will we not allow you to become an essential part of the concentration scheme, but we will allow you no materials, and you must shut up your business." I shall be pleased to give my right hon. Friend the name and address and details of the firm, if he will consider the matter.

A great deal too much importance is attached to the idea that anything which is bigger is better. That is totally untrue. The Ministry of Supply can tell you that, in engineering, some of the most efficient firmes are found amongst the small firms. I am, fortunately, married, and I have not to do the shopping, but, in any shopping that I have done, I have invariably found that, the smaller a firm is, the more efficient it is. Nothing can exceed the inefficiency of the large chain stores. In the rural districts, the cooperative societies do not bother to serve a district which is below a certain size; and, therefore, in the country we are accustomed to much better service than is given in the chain stores, where they adopt an attitude of "take it or leave it." At times the co-operative societies and other large concerns appear to exercise a somewhat unfortunate influence. I have had experience recently of one new-scheme which was started for war industries in this country, where it was necessary for the new community created to provide a shopping system. The experience of the committee set up to deal with the question of whether commissions should or should not be given to certain shops, was that the matter was referred to the local co-operative society.