Perhaps if there had been a development council it would have been possible to consult the whole trade in one operation. The point I was trying to make was that with this large number of trade associations—I think the figure of 25 was mentioned—with the manufacturing side, the wholesalers and the retailers organisations and the special Scottish organisations and all the rest of it, it would have been quite impossible, in anything like a measurable period of time, to have consulted all of them before coming down to the House and making this announcement. The hon. Gentleman has used the word "consultation," but to a good number of people in the trade it means something quite different to the meaning he was putting upon it. What a lot of them mean by it is that I should not have proceeded in this matter until I had got their agreement.
There has been, I think, a good deal of humbug in the past two or three months about my failure to consult. Suppose for the sake of argument I had been able to call a mass meeting of all the trade associations concerned. I should probably have had to take Caxton Hall to do it, like the hon. Gentleman and his friends. Supposing I had put these proposals before them. There could not have been any question of agreement in my lifetime or the lifetime of the hon. Gentleman. I have experienced negotiations for several months on the price change of a single commodity. How could we have got agreement? I am certain that most of the associations would have said they had not the power to agree and that they would have to go to their regional bodies, local associations, or individual constituents; and was the House of Commons not to be told until all this process had been gone through?
To suggest that I tried to do it without any consultation at all is, of course, misleading, because in answering a supplementary question by the right hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) after my statement in the House, I made it clear that I was expecting representations from the trade, and said that I or other representatives of my Department would be glad to consider them. In fact, deputations were received by myself and my Parliament Secretary from the retailers, the wholesalers and the manufacturers. It took quite a number of meetings to get round these bodies. It was made plain to those deputations that the decision to make the reduction of 5 per cent. must stand, but that within this decision the views expressed and the suggestions put forward would be taken into account in deciding how the reduction would be spread among the retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers. It is common knowledge that we considerably amended the form of the tentative proposals in the light of their comments, and it was only after discussions that we could decide what would be a reasonable division of the burden between the retailer, the wholesaler and the manufacturer. So much for the question of consultation.
The second point raised by the hon. Gentleman was whether the order itself was fair and reasonable. "Wise and equitable" were his words. Clearly hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot be opposed to a reduction in the price of household textiles and clothing. The hon. Gentleman associated himself with that laudable desire, and the fact that the Tory Party has plastered the hoardings of the country with lavish promises about the cost of living suggests that one essential element they would have to tackle sooner or later is the level of distributors' margins as well as manufacturers' profits.