Industrial Concentration and Retail Trade.

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

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Photo of Mr Charles Waterhouse Mr Charles Waterhouse , Leicester South

Because I am sure that my hon. Friend is one of those who wisely plan their sartorial arrangements. He complained about the publishing of our decisions before we were able to implement them. That point has worried and annoyed a good many people in this House, and not the least my hon. Friend the Member for Evesham (Mr. De la Bère), who is not here at the moment. It is difficult for a Government Department to decide at what point to make their declaration. If they wait until the whole thing is finished, it is certain that there will be leakages. When we discuss matters with the traders, the traders have a perfect right to discuss what they have said with other people. Then you get garbled stories put about which do not do any good to the Department, or to the policy which it is proposed to put into effect. Therefore, in each case it is necessary to take a decision as to the exact point at which an announcement should be made, and, by and large, I do not think that we have failed much in our judgment on that.

I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Linstead) on a most remarkably good and clear maiden speech. He was speaking with an intimate knowledge of one section of industry, and on the other hand he balanced his views in a way which is bound to call forth the respect of the Committee as a whole. He put forward several interesting suggestions, some practicable, others not quite so practicable. One was that we should have fixed prices instead of ceiling prices, but I assure him that that would not by any means always help the class of trader which he had in mind. There are not a few cases where the small trader is able to sell at prices which are impossible for the larger trader. He suggested too that there should be a general licensing and a pro rata reduction in retail trade. That would be a very considerable task, and one which may or may not be possible, but I think it would hardly be practicable to work it out at this stage.

My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Colegate) raised a point about shops being opened at Donington, and I hope he will send me particulars. I understood him to say that before licences could be given to those shops it was necessary to apply to the local co-operative organisation. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Ham has any views on that. Possibly my hon. Friend may like to discuss it with him and see exactly how this curious situation arose. I should like again to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford for her extremely able and well-informed speech, and I should like to reassure her in one or two directions. We have now been able to get up the production of perambulators—when I say "we" have done so, the Board of Trade take little credit for these things; we have merely got the trade so to organise themselves that by a special effort they have got a considerable increase, up to 300,000 perambulators a year, which is rather more than one perambulator for the first-born child in every family. It is not very much, it does not leave a very considerable margin, and we are trying to get further increases, but we think that it will help the position.

The hon. Lady also asked about furniture. She hoped that we should get sound furniture of good design at low prices, and complained that she had not yet seen any utility furniture. At that I can hardly be surprised, because the committee to consider which furniture should be utility was only set up last week, and I am afraid it will take some little time before the furniture gets through into the shops. She also mentioned the shortage of boots and shoes, and that again is a direction in which we hope there will be an early and material improvement.

My hon. Friend the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) dealt well and truly with those who criticised her Report, and I say advisedly "her Report," because I know that no one on the Committee took a more active or useful part in producing that Report than she did. Hon. Members as a whole must be most grateful to her, and to the members of the Committee, for the work they have done and for the information which they have made available to us. I do not propose to argue the question of the Report in any way. In his opening speech my right hon. Friend said that he was here to receive the benefit of the opinion of hon. Members, and the views that have been expressed have shown the great diversity of that opinion. We have had those who said, virtually, that they accept the scheme out of hand; we have had others who said equally clearly, that they did not like the scheme at all. But I should emphasise this point: It is very easy to criticise a scheme, and it is extremely hard to build up one. The Craig Henderson Committee have been in session now for just about 14 months. They have found this problem as difficult as any problem which has faced us on the civilian side of war-time organisation.