Utility Goods (Prices)

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Ormskirk 12:00 am, 3rd November 1949

I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman had been there when such an amendment had been moved, he would have used the full force of his oratory against it. I have already pointed out that the hon. Gentleman did in fact make that qualification about the limit to which these protests should be taken, but the fact still remains that someone at that meeting, and the "Manchester Guardian" seems to pay the full tribute to the hon. Gentleman, was fanning the glow and getting these shopkeepers to the point where they were passing more regrettable resolutions.

It is a fact that they seem to have forgotten all about the general strike since the order came into force, and I think the hon. Gentleman and I would welcome that fact. So far as I am aware, it is being loyally carried out, but I do not think that is any fault of the National Chamber of Trade and of that meeting which the hon. Gentleman addressed that evening. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) referred to my contacts with that body, but of course the National Chamber of Trade has been playing politics for a good many years, and the fact that its, so far as I can see, permanent chairman is Sir Walter Womersley, the former Tory member for Grimsby, might perhaps be one of the reasons.

The hon. Gentleman suggested that the effect of these orders has been unfair to the retail trade, and although he did not put it in the same extravagant words we get from leading members of the National Chamber of Trade, he rather suggested, as others have suggested, that our policy is based on some hostility towards the retail trade. We are always being told that the retail trade has suffered unduly over recent years by what this Government has done and that this is the last stage in a whole succession of crushing burdens we have put on them. As some suggest, though I know the hon. Gentleman did not suggest it, it is part of the policy to put them out of business and existence.

I should like to remind hon. Members that the facts simply do not bear out the suggestion that this Government has been treating retailers badly. They should recognise that the shortages are due to circumstances which the Tory Party would not remove, because in "The Right Road for Britain" they said they would not do so. Retailers have been involved in more trouble and difficulty than in pre-war years, but there is no doubt that as a body retailers have prospered far more under this Government than ever they did even in the best pre-war years.

The retailers' prosperity depends on the purchasing power of their consumers and under this Government we have not seen the tragedy of hundreds of small shopkeepers closed down in the depressed areas. This can be proved by figures. Among every class of shopkeeper, with the exception well known to the House of pawnbrokers and back-street moneylenders, the number going bankrupt has been only a small proportion of what it was in even the most prosperous pre-war days.

I should like to give the figures of failures in the retail clothing distributive trades which the hon. Gentleman suggested I am "picking" on. In 1938 there were 241 bankruptcies and 238 deeds of arrangement in the clothing retail distributive trades—479 failures in one of the most prosperous years before the war. In 1948 there were 26 bankruptcies and three deeds of arrangement, giving a total of 29. So that in one of the most prosperous years under the administration of the party opposite there was something like 16 times as many failures in the retail clothing distributive trades as there were last year.

I do not see anything in the Government's treatment of retailers to suggest that anything we have done up to now has brought depression and harsh burdens on them. The hon. Gentleman has not brought forward any figures to suggest the effect of these orders on the retail trade. We have had fairly full discussions with the trade, and I think the trade would be the first to agree that we amended our tentative proposals in the light of our discussions. Therefore, not only can I call with confidence on the House to reject the hon. Gentleman's Motion, if he is going to press it to a Division, but I tell him that I cannot for the life of me see why he chose to raise it tonight.