asked the President of the Board of Trade why the covering letter accompanying the questionnaire issued by him in connection with the fact-finding inquiry into resale price maintenance states that the Board is already fully aware of the general arguments for and against resale price maintenance, when specific questions contained in the questionnaire ask manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers to indicate what, from their point of view, are the advantages or disadvantages of fixed prices; and whether he will take steps to correct the misunderstandings which may arise from this contradiction.
The distinction intended is between arguments of a general nature, which have already been exhaustively canvassed, and the specific considerations which lead the individual firm in the circumstances of its particular industry or trade to adopt or refrain from adopting resale price maintenance.
Is my hon. Friend aware that in respect of particular items the retail trade is left in great doubt, because his columnar treatment allows of four possibilities whereas, in fact, there is a fifth possibility—that the prices are neither fixed nor suggested? Therefore, leaving it blank gives room for doubt, because either the goods are not supplied or, if they are supplied, their price is neither fixed nor suggested. I know that this is a matter which is causing difficulty and I am wondering whether my hon. Friend is aware of this.
Naturally, in an exercise of this nature, there is scope for disagreement about the questions which might have been asked. I will, however, look into the point which my hon. Friend has raised, although I should point out that the questions which we included in the questionnaire followed consultation with a great many trade organisations.
Mr. Gresham Cooke:
asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will place a copy in the Library of the questionnaire which he is sending out to wholesalers, manufacturers and retailers in connection with his fact-finding inquiry into resale price maintenance; and what steps he has taken to satisfy himself that the questionnaire which has been drafted for retailers is suitable for the average small retailer in this country and will be understood by him.
My right hon. Friend is arranging to put a copy of the three questionnaires in the Library. With regard to the latter part of the Question, careful consideration was given to the problem of drafting the questionnaire in a form which would both make it readily intelligible and produce the kind of information which we are seeking.
Mr. Gresham Cooke:
Is my hon. Friend aware that hon. Members will be grateful to be able to see the questionnaire, because it has been suggested to some of us that it is a difficult and comprehensive questionnaire for the average small shopkeeper to answer?
The National Chambers of Trade, the Proprietary Articles Trade Association, the Federation of British Industries and other trade bodies were specifically asked whether the questions would be understood and answered by large and small traders. They considered that the questions would be easily intel- ligible. I hope that my hon. Friend does not underestimate the intelligence of the retailers.
asked the President of the Board of Trade whether his questionnaire in connection with resale price maintenance has now been distributed to all persons to whom it is intended it should go; what has been the method of selecting the recipients; what is the latest date by which the information has to reach his Department; and when he expects to announce the result.
asked the President of the Board of Trade how many questionnaires he is distributing in connection with his fact-finding inquiry about resale price maintenance; how many will go, respectively, to manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers; through what channels they will be distributed; and what arrangements are being made to inform individuals who do not receive a copy of the questionnaire how they can get one if they wish to do so.
The questionnaire should by now be in the hands of most of those intended to receive them. Nearly 8,000 have been distributed in all, some 6,000 to retailers, the balance being divided between wholesalers and manufacturers. A number of representative trade organisations have assisted by distributing copies to wholesalers and to retailers, and my right hon. Friend is glad of this opportunity of acknowledging their help; manufacturers have received copies directly from the Board. In all cases attention has been paid to securing coverage of firms of all sizes, and in all regions, concerned with almost all types of goods. A notice has been published in the Board of Trade Journal, informing interested persons that they can obtain a questionnaire if they so wish. The final date for return is 17th September, 1960, but I am not yet in a position to say when the inquiry will be completed.