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

But we do not want to accept that as an inevitable movement. Nearly all the big successful business men of the day started with small businesses; even the great Woolworth started as a very small firm; and we must see that the small man has a decent chance. Some very practicable proposals are put forward in this Report. I know that they may be criticised and that they may work out roughly, but I say to the President of the Board of Trade that some scheme is better than nothing at all. The insurance idea has been accepted as part of our social system. We have it for unemployment and for health, and it does not seem un- reasonable to apply the same principle in dealing with this problem. I do not think that in the circumstances of the case it is fair to put the whole burden upon the trade. After all, the conditions with which we are dealing have arisen out of action by the State; they are due to the war, to the limitation of supplies and other factors; and I think that if trade is asked to make a contribution to compensate those who have gone out of business the State should be a partner in the scheme and make its contribution on, say, a 50–50 basis. I believe that if that principle were recognised much of the opposition to the insurance principle would go by the board.

I say to my hon. Friend who opened the Debate from the Opposition Front Bench that it would be a great pity if the Co-operative Movement should try to get out of the obligation of bearing their fair share. After all, theirs is a popular movement, a movement that depends for its prosperity, its success and, indeed, its existence upon the working classes. It is essentially an organisation of little men, and it would be a tragedy if it were to be said that though it is a popular movement it is selfish and narrow in its outlook, and that though a good case had been made out for traders who survive to make a contribution to those who suffer as a result of the war it tried to get out of contributing its share. That attitude would do it a great deal of harm and would be unworthy of a great movement for which I, and I think most people, have great admiration. All I would say to the President of the Board of Trade and to his Department is, "Do not let this thing wait." This is a critical moment. It is the time for action. If after the Recess, and as a result of this Debate, the right hon. Gentleman has made up his mind and presents a practical scheme based on the principles in these recommendations, I believe he will have a smooth passage for his legislation.