Industrial Concentration and Retail Trade.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 23rd July 1942.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Charles Waterhouse Mr Charles Waterhouse , Leicester South

I owe the Noble Lady a special apology and I hope I may receive her special prayers in my turn. This Debate has shown how difficult is the task before my right hon. Friend in taking a decision on this subject. This was clearly set out in the speeches of the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) and the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies). One said, "Hurry up and put it into operation," and the other said, "Let us not have it at all." It is interesting to note how this Debate has, happily, cut right across all old party divisions. Here is the hon. Member for Westhoughton, a staunch Socialist and believer in State interference, advocating laisser faire and saying, "Let us do nothing at all. We have got on very well for three years. Why not just try it out for the rest of the war?" My right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bethnal Green, like me a staunch individualist who hates State interference, has been saying, "Let the State take a hand and see what it can do for the small traders." My right hon. Friend deserves the sympathy of the House and the prayers of the Noble Lady when his turn comes for her intercession.

I should like to deal in some detail with the points that have been raised. The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) asked about the basis of compensation in concentration schemes. There is no static basis. The schemes have been worked out in agreement with the trade, as far as we could and, as a general rule, we lay down that when an arrangement is made between the nucleus firm and firms which are to be shut down, the nucleus firm should not increase its profit until the absorbed firms have been able to make up their loss. That does not work in every case, but, by and large, that is the principle in that form of compensation. Then there is the other form of compensation by a levy over the whole trade. It is generally based on a payment sufficient to keep the material and the building in a proper state to operate after the war. It was suggested that the selling organisations of concentrated firms should be kept in being. That clearly is our object. It was one of the main reasons which persuaded my right hon. Friend who is now Minister of Production to introduce this scheme that he wanted to keep these firms alive. He did not want them to go bankrupt owing to the general shortage of labour and materials, but that after the war they should take their places in what we hope will be a time of prosperity. It was also suggested that the local price regulation committees should work out schemes of concentration for the retail trade. I do not know whether the hon. Member who suggested that had many friends on those price regulation committees, but I do not think he will have any to-morrow when they read that suggestion. If any such suggestion were made to those committees they would reply that it would put on them a burden which they were quite incapable of carrying in addition to their other tremendous tasks.

The speech of the hon. Member for South East Ham (Mr. Barnes) was made, naturally and properly, from the angle of the great co-operative movement. The hon. Member thought very little indeed of this scheme. The co-operative movement has not felt the pinch quite as much as some other traders. The figures published in the Report make that clear. The hon. Member asks therefore: "Why should we, with a prosperous movement able to carry our own sick, also contribute to the sick of other and less prosperous branches of the retail trade? "Really, although that is a possible line of thought, I do not think it is one that the hon. Member would carry very far. If my right hon. Friend decides to adopt the Report, I believe that the co-operative movement would loyally fall into line with its suggestions. The hon. Member was not over-complimentary about our progress with utility goods. I was very relieved to find that the hon. Member for Dartford (Mrs. Adamson) batted out so strongly in the other direction that she scored, if I may say so, a good many more runs than the hon. Member. If one considers the magnitude of our task, it will be seen that we have had a very remarkable achievement in the production of utility clothes. It is impossible merely to wave a wand and hope that the intricate set-up of an industry can start producing new and modified lines. The whole essence of British industry is to produce a large variety of goods, and it is not easy for it to be canalised into a narrow channel. I therefore hope that the hon. Member will not feel that we have done too badly in this type of production.