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 Percy Harris Sir Percy Harris , Bethnal Green South West

I think it can be agreed that in this Debate we have seen Parliament at its best. The various interests concerned can feel that their points of view have been put forward to this Committee. I should like to congratulate the President of the Board of Trade on the amount of study, thought and time that he has obviously put into this problem. He was wise, I feel, to wait for this opportunity to hear all the different points of view, because the last thing we want is a Minister exercising autocratic powers unless he feels quite sure that he has behind him the feeling of the country as expressed in Parliament. I should also like to congratulate the hon. Lady the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) on her association with this most valuable Report and indeed with all three. Reports, which are a most valuable contribution to our knowledge on this subject, and to congratulate her also upon her speech, which gave a personal and human touch to the dry and dusty words of the third Report.

For a long time before the war the small trader was getting a rough time. The competition of the multiple shops, the department stores and the Co-operative movement was being felt by all independent traders. In many cases we have seen their shutters go up, shops change hands and traders appear in the Bankruptcy Court, and under war conditions the chances of survival must obviously become less and less. We must not forget, also, the shopkeepers who have already been called up for service. Many of them have already lost their businesses through going into the Army, and there is no provision here for them. That process must go on as the age-limit is raised and as the different classes are called up. I believe that Parliament and the State have a responsibility to see that no injustice is done to them.

I do not accept the doctrine of my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) that we have to be realists and must allow these independent traders to be swept away by the pressure of the Co-operative Movement. I am all for the Co-operative Movement, I think it is a good Mea, but we do not want to have them as the one sole means of distribution. [Interruption.] That is the inevitable corollary of the argument which the hon. Member was putting forward.