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

Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to develop my speech. I intend, of course, to deal with the distribution of supplies. There are two methods of expressing sympathy with the small trader. You can endeavour to find some means of underpinning and safeguarding his position, or you can express glorious hopes which you have no hope whatever of being able to implement. It would be very easy in my Division to express sympathy with the small trader and to say that he must not be allowed to disappear. I would like to say that; I do not want to see him disappear. I want to see his position safeguarded and maintained, but I prefer to assist him by facing the truth, which is hard and unpalatable because, as I have said, conditions imposed by war are hard and difficult. There are three main difficulties which the retailer has to face. One is lack of supplies, another is lack of labour, and the third is the severe control of price margins.

Let me deal first of all with the shortage of supplies. When the President referred to this question in his speech he told us how he had been obliged to concentrate industry and suppliers and to limit supplies. He said that that was part of his policy. We have only to think for one moment to appreciate that the inevitable result of war must be an enormous contraction of supplies. If there is concentration of manufacturers and of industry there must inevitably follow a certain concentration of the retail trade. It cannot be avoided, however much you may regret it. Now we come to the distribution of supplies. I should be the first to admit, representing as I do an area which, in some parts, has been a reception area and, in other parts, an evacuation area, that there has not been equality of distribution of supplies.

I say that equality of distribution of supplies is an almost insoluble problem, because if it were solved for to-day, tomorrow there would be inequality again, because of the shift of the population. But suppose that we arrive at a point when we have absolutely fair distribution of supplies, is there any hon. Member who will tell me that an equal distribution of much too little will enable a trader to trade at a profit? If there is an equal distribution of too little, there is only one way in which a trader can trade at a profit, and that is if he is permitted to charge so high a price for his goods that he is able to pay his overhead charges no matter how few goods he sells. Therefore, hon. Members have to face that problem and acknowledge that difficulty. We cannot solve the problem by equal distribution of supplies, desirable though equal distribution of supplies is. Therefore, I come back to the fact that, much as we may dislike it, some concentration of the retail outlets is inevitable if we have limitation of supplies and concentration of manufacturers and supplies.