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 Mavis Tate Mrs Mavis Tate , Frome

I am sure the Committee will sympathise with me in the difficulty in which I find myself in being the only member of the Retail Trade Committee who is also a member of this House. It is naturally my wish to present the Report of the Committee in as favourable a light as possible, and I only wish that other members of that Committee whose ability and experience far exceed my own could address this Committee in my place. I listened with very great attention to the speech of the President of the Board of Trade, and I am sure that all of us sympathise with him in the very great problems with which he has to deal and in the immense complexity of those problems. His speech to-day was certainly directed towards giving pleasure to all sections of the retail trade. But I am not so certain whether it will be possible to fulfil the expectations to which he gave rise. The Retail Trade Committee's Report was unfavourably received in some quarters, and I think that was so for two reasons. First, it did present hard and unpalatable facts, facts which are inescapable because they are the result of war, which produces difficult, inequitable and wretched condi- tions. Second, as I think other Members have said, the retail trade is not too well able to make its voice heard. There is no doubt that although there are bodies representing the small trader, the small trader himself finds it difficult to study a Report such as the third intermediate Report of the Retail Trade Committee and still more difficult to make his voice known to his organisation to which, unfortunately, many do not belong, for one reason or another. When the Report was first brought out there were large headlines in the newspapers which gave the impression to the small trader that it was the wish of that Committee that he should be swept away by compulsory means and that if he wished to remain in trade he would have to fight for his existence. That is not the case; there is not one line in the Committee's Report which suggests or advocates compulsory closing. It is left entirely to the discretion and wish of the small trader himself. Having heard several rather severe criticisms of our Report, may I say that I deeply appreciated the kind reference made to it by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Leslie) and his support.

The sympathy of the Committee and of the country has been aroused in favour of the small trader, and that is very natural, because the small trader who maintains his existence to-day is a man who has his roots and traditions in the trade. These traders—men and women—of experience have built up their trade by years of hard work, with real knowledge, initiative and enterprise. The little trader who had no knowledge of trading has been swept away as a result of the war, and the small trader who remains today is a man of real value not only to the retail trade but to the community, and I am desirous of helping to see he survives. The President of the Board of Trade has told us that it was his wish as it was the declared wish of his predecessor, to maintain the present balance of trade as between one trader and another. I would be far happier about the condition of the retail trade if I believed that that could, in fact, be done, but the President on his own showing—and he referred to table 9 at the end of our Report—agrees that the balance has already been upset. The trader who has been most severely hit by the impact of war is the small trader. It is true that in a large number of cases departmental stores have suffered, but in the main that has been the result of the blitz. The impact and difficulties of war have largely hit the small trader, and I fail to understand—unless the President intends to impose some compulsory measure of closing upon large departmental, co-operative and multiple stores immediately—how on earth he will maintain the balance of trade. If he intends to do that, he intends to go far further than I or any other member of the Committee would have dared suggest and certainly much further than it was suggested we should go if there was to be any hope of a unanimous Report.