Orders of the Day — Trade Policy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd March 1948.

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Photo of Mr Philip Piratin Mr Philip Piratin , Stepney Mile End 12:00 am, 2nd March 1948

In that case, the best way of finding out the position is for the President of the Board of Trade to set up as quickly as possible a working party on coal distribution. Perhaps we may then be able to get to the bottom of this. It appears that there is not always agreement by those in the trade in regard to the findings of a working party committee, and so I would suggest an independent committee, which I am sure would get to the bottom of this affair.

The President of the Board of Trade should not waste his time in appealing to manufacturers and industrialists. Last year, the Chancellor of the Exchequer made an appeal to industrialists not to declare large dividends. He did not take appropriate measures to ensure that they did not declare large dividends, but merely appealed to them not to declare these large dividends because it might irritate the workers. The fact is that the industrialists did not heed his appeal, because the dividends have been higher than ever. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer has not learnt his lesson from his predecessor, because he is now appealing to industrialists to reduce prices. I am afraid that he will be as unsuccessful in his appeal as his predecessor was in asking for reduced dividends. I ask the President of the Board of Trade to take note of this, and to take appropriate steps.

I cannot say much about profits, because that is a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which I hope will be adequately dealt with in the Budget. On the question of distribution costs, however, I ask the President of the Board of Trade to undertake a thorough investigation, so that the House may be satisfied that the Government are taking adequate measures to reduce these costs in every field. Secondly, I ask that wherever price controls are instituted, they shall not be on the basis of the most inefficient firms, but on the basis of the most efficient firms. It might be asked what will happen then to the others. My answer is clear. It will be the best incentive for them to become efficient and to produce more cheaply. If they cannot do that, then they can go to the wall; and there will be many firms going to the wall sooner or later unless the whole economy of the country is overhauled—at least in this case, any drastic steps will be in the interests of the nation. I also ask the President of the Board of Trade to carry out an investigation in regard to prices and profits. Such an investigation was held soon after the 1914–18 war, and as that was instigated by a Conservative Government, I do not think I am going beyond the bounds of reasonableness in asking this Government to do likewise—a step which could well have been taken a year or two earlier. Those are some of the steps which take us some of the way towards solving the economic crisis.