I have tried to follow the problems of the retail trade for many years. I had the privilege once of sitting on a Select Committee which dealt with a kindred problem many years ago. I join with the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Leslie) in congratulating the Retail Trade Committee on probing into what is almost the unknown. It is well that the House of Commons should on occasion be brought face to face with this colossal retail trade, the largest single industry in the land. The Board of Trade have to be congratulated on asking the opinion of Parliament on these proposals before they try to implement them. I am sure that the Board will be wiser after this Debate than they were before. I have asked the Government over and over again to follow what is done in other countries and to take a census of retail distribution. Every pound of coal, every yard of cloth, every bag of potatoes taken to the market is known to Government Departments, but hardly anybody knows anything about this enormous industry of buying and selling. If the hon. Lady the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) does not mind me saying so, the labour of this Committee is nearly all guesswork about the retail trade. I am not blaming the Committee for that, because nobody in the country knows the size of the problem. The nearest that can be got to it is to consider the number of persons employed.
I do not think that the Board of Trade will be able very soon to come to a decision on the recommendations of this Committee. The tragedy about this business is that three years of war have passed and nothing has been done. Is it not too late already to do anything? The hon. Lady the Member for Frome shakes her head. If the war lasts another three or four years the work of the Committee and their recommendations will be worthy of consideration, but I should imagine that more small traders have gone out of business already than the number who would go out if these recommendations were implemented.