Utility Goods (Prices)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd November 1949.

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Photo of Mr John Boyd-Carpenter Mr John Boyd-Carpenter , Kingston upon Thames 12:00 am, 3rd November 1949

I think the hon. Member has not fully appreciated the effect of the orders, which, I think, he has not got in front of him. The effect is not to reduce directly the amount of utility clothing sold. It is to diminish the percentage on each particular utility article which the retailer is entitled to retain. Therefore he will appreciate that on the same turnover a reduced income results. I hope I make myself clear.

The method the President of the Board of Trade has seen fit to adopt in pursuing the admittedly praiseworthy idea of seeking to reduce the cost of living would be more tolerable to the people concerned if it had been applied less narrowly. It contrasts very oddly, for example, with the trading methods em- ployed by the Government, who have done nothing to reduce their profits. The Minister of Supply raised the cost of nonferrous metals within 24 hours of the announcement of devaluation to the extent of 30 per cent. and set an example in this respect.

Nor have the nationalised industries, who are perhaps even more to blame because they sell directly to the public, done anything of the sort to reduce their income. On the contrary, gas and electricity charges have been raised; and if the Government are making a sincere attempt to reduce the cost of living by cuts in the cost of articles that the public buy, it seems a little odd that they should have gone out of their way to impose these sacrifices upon one section of private trade, while the nationalised industries they control are acting in a precisely contrary sense.

It is this contrast between the treatment of the retailer and the behaviour of the Government in every other sphere of our economic activity which I believe has given rise to a good deal of the sense of undoubted injustice which exists. The people concerned feel that they have been picked on by the Government for unexplained reasons for sacrifices which the Government have not imposed on anybody else. It may be because they are a section of the community that cannot strike, that serves the public in little businesses of their own with their own capital involved in them, and therefore that obviously cannot strike without ruining those businesses. Whatever the motives of the Government, there is a feeling that the selective treatment of these people by the Government has been a mean and shabby business and it undoubtedly leaves behind it a sense of rankling injustice.