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 Alexander Spearman Sir Alexander Spearman , Scarborough and Whitby

I was delighted to hear the President of the Board of Trade express sympathy with the small trader, but I should like to have seen more indications that he was going to translate that into practice. I think there should be some financial assistance from the State to compensate the small trader. Owing to the war, the Government have very properly had to curtail supplies and this is likely to become much more severe in the near future. Also very properly under the circumstances the trader has been restricted from using his natural remedy of raising prices, and I should like to suggest that the Government should make a contribution and relieve traders who wish to withdraw from business of their contractual obligations for rent or mortgage interest. As the landlord in that case would be getting better security, it is reasonable that he should obtain a lower yield. I therefore suggest that he should only receive, say, 75 per cent. of his ordinary rent. I understand that there are about 650,000 traders and that the average rent is somewhere about £100 a year. If one in five traders withdrew, that would entail a cost to the Government of about £9,000,000. In actual fact the Government could make use of a large number of those shops for storage purposes and for offices, which they are continually requiring. Therefore the actual cost would only be a fraction of that amount. At this time many of us hesitate to urge the Government to spend money even for the most desirable social services because we fear inflation. In this case, however, there would be no inflationary effect at all. In fact the very reverse is the case, because there would be an increase in supplies through a saving of fuel and light and a diversion of labour to productive purposes.

Therefore I ask the Government to relieve the small trader who wishes to go out of business of his obligations in tire way of rent which would enable the fund obtainable from the levy to be used for two purposes—to provide a livelihood for some of those old people in shops, who may well become destitute, because after 60 or 65 it may be very difficult for them to obtain other work; and secondly for the young people, who of course will be able in these days easily to obtain other work, to set an annual sum which they will have the opportunity of accumulating so that they can after the war reopen in business. They will of course be at a great disadvantage compared with their competitors who have remained in business all the time, and retained their goodwill, but they will have this compensation to enable them to reopen. If this levy system takes place I ask that the allocations should be graded so that a larger percentage on his turnover shall be paid to the small man who needs it most; and, secondly, that it should be compulsory only for those whose turnover is over £2,500, which would save a great deal of office work and relieve the small trader of the burden of filling in more forms and further regulations, which are so injurious to him. In conclusion, I would make an appeal to the President of the Board of Trade that, not only in the cause of justice but as a matter of expediency, he should take steps which would enable such a very deserving section of the community to preserve themselves.