Industrial Concentration and Retail Trade.

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

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Photo of Mrs Jennie Adamson Mrs Jennie Adamson , Dartford

It is not my intention to discuss the Report of the Retail Trade Committee, because the Government have not yet made up their mind as to the recommendations. I will confine my remarks to the question of utility production, particularly to the points of view put to me by the housewives of this country. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade referred to utility clothing and boots and shoes. I want to make some observations on that subject, and on perambulators. There are two sections of the population who are deeply interested in the question of furniture. They are the bombed-out families and the couples who intend to get married. They tell me that when you go round the shops, whether the large shops or the small shops, you find that the stocks of furniture are very small, that the prices are outrageously high, and that the quality is shoddy. I was interested when the right hon. Gentleman spoke about utility furniture, but I have not yet seen any in the shops, and I have not yet had a report from anyone who has been able to buy it.

I was interested in the statement that he has set up an Advisory Committee of experts and practical people, including a humble housewife. I hope that, as a result of their recommendations, he will make as big a success of utility furniture as he has done of utility clothing. I hope that stocks of utility furniture will be forthcoming at a very early date, and that there will be simplicity of design, with strictly controlled prices, and that it will be of good material, pleasant to the eye, as well as durable. I trust that my right hon. Friend will bear in mind that there will be a big demand immediately, and that, also, we have to look to the future, because when the war is over, and our men come back, there will be a high marriage rate, and those people will not be very patient if they cannot get the furniture to set up their homes. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will take immediate action to secure "supplies, and that he will also look to the future. I want to speak about perambulators. I have a letter here which, with the permission of the Committee, I will take the liberty of reading. It came on the 17th of this month from one of my constituents. She says: Dear Madam,—I feel I must write to you as I know what an interest you take in all the problems that confront housewives and mothers in your district. I am not writing on behalf of myself alone but for all expectant mothers. I am expecting my first baby and am naturally very pleased about it, but since … I have realised what an uphill struggle it is to even get the bare necessities for a baby. For instance, surely something could be done to control the prices of prams and cots, etc. I have been trying for a pram to-day and I find that the same model that a few months ago would cost £6 now costs £13 5s., and apart from the price, the quality is so poor, and one of the most essential things (the brake) is now being omitted.It seems very unfair that there is so little being done for the young mothers, when our Government is always telling us it is our duty to carry on having babies. She goes on to say: It is very sad to hear the expectant mothers … worrying and wondering how they are going to provide for their baby, especially Servicemen's wives. I know you will understand the difficulties as you are a mother yourself, and I thought perhaps you would be able to raise this question in the House and perhaps get something done. I think my constituent has hit the nail on the head and put the problem in a nutshell. Perambulators are a necessity, particularly in districts where you have young married couples going in for families, and they are not only a necessity but a means of transport. They are a necessity to the mother when she goes shopping, and, more important still, the young and intelligent mother of to-day uses the perambulator as a means of putting the baby to sleep in the open air. It is a bad thing for a young mother to have to carry a heavy baby, and it is bad for the baby. I also appreciate the fact that the materials used in the construction of perambulators may be materials which can also be usefully employed in the manufacture of munitions. But I am going to appeal to the romantic and sentimental side of the President of the Board of Trade and ask that something tangible may be done to help the young mothers of our country at the present time in regard to what I would call a priority problem of utility production.

I want to make a few observations about utility boots and shoes. I have not yet had the pleasure or necessity to buy any utility boots and shoes, but I believe that they are not yet in the shops in substantial quantities. I believe that there is a wide range of different styles, from women's walking shoes to babies' sandals. I am very pleased that the Board of Trade has eliminated the nasty, cheap, shoddy shoe and has made it possible for ordinary folk to get a good and pleasing design at a popular price. I ask that special attention should be given to this problem so that we can get available supplies.

I will conclude by making a reference to utility clothing. I congratulate the President of the Board of Trade, his predecessor and his Department on the fine job that they have done in regard to the production of utility clothing. It was introduced about a year ago, and it certainly has, as my right hon. Friend said, checked the rise in prices of clothing, which like everything else were soaring and making it almost impossible for ordinary people to be able to buy useful clothing. I attended an exhibition of utility cloth at which there were buyers and representatives of the trade. I was delighted with the wide range of cloths available for ladies' dresses and costumes and for the needs of children. I spoke to a buyer in the woollen trade, and he gave me his candid opinion about the utility clothing. He told me that it was the best value ever offered to the British public for a long number of years and that the public were certainly protected to the hilt because they got good durable clothing at a reasonable price. And not only that. We all know that famous dress designers have co-operated with the manufacturers and the Board of Trade in order to make utility clothing available to people of ordinary means. I myself have a utility dress. It was designed by a famous dress designer, and yet as an ordinary woman in Great Britain I can get this at a price which is very reasonable and well within the pocket of the ordinary working-class woman. If utility dresses are good enough for me in which to come to the House of Commons they ought to be good enough for everybody else.

I want to pay a warm tribute to the Board of Trade. We are always criticising Government Departments, and rightly so, when there is room for just complaint, but when the Board of Trade or any other Government Department do a useful piece of work in the way that the Board of Trade have done for utility clothing, it is only right that we should express our appreciation in this Committee and the hope that they will extend their sphere of operations as successfully in other directions. I want to emphasise the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Barnes) in regard to high prices for household linen. That is a sphere to which the Department might usefully direct their attention. It is impossible for housewives at the present time to replenish stocks of household linen at a reasonable price. The quality is not too good and the prices are too high. Although the Government say that we ought to spend less, unfortunately the housewife has to replenish her stocks in order to carry on her work.