British Retail — [Sir Alan Meale in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 6th March 2013.

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Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington Conservative, Watford 2:30 pm, 6th March 2013

Yes, I have reflected on that fundamental point. Many hon. Members want to contribute, so I cannot address all aspects of retail. Suffice it to say that although in the past shops appeared, on the surface, to give people much greater choice, if we add the internet and other channels, people have great choice now. I do not completely agree with the hon. Gentleman, but his point is valid.

Many people of my father’s generation came out of the Army with a small amount of money and could never dream of opening a big factory or going into a big form of business, but they were able to use their money to open a market stall, as my father did in Yorkshire. Unfortunately, the Marks and Spencer dream of going from a penny bazaar to a major multinational did not happen in my family, but we ended up with two market stalls. My father’s business doubled in size over 30 years from one market stall to two.

The serious point is that in those days the barriers to entry were low and could be met by people with small savings and an idea. For almost any item of clothing, household goods, luggage or anything that people could think of, there was a place for a niche shop. It is easy to say, “All that has changed. It is now in the hands of Tesco and the other big companies.” I do not quite buy that, although, yes, in the start-up system it is generally true that not many people, for a number of reasons, are opening shops; they are not saying, “I want to sell shoes, so I am going to take a store in Watford high street.”

Even if someone is acceptable as a tenant, they probably cannot afford to pay the rent or the rates. Compared with my father’s generation, there probably is not the same demand for the high street, but that does not include internet start-ups. There are many such examples in my constituency, including the sister of

Jenny Reed, who works in my office. Hayley Reed had no business experience, but she set up a shop in her spare room. If I might ruthlessly plug the shop, it is called ProperPresent.com, and is similar to what previous generations would have created in bricks and mortar. The retail sector, albeit differently, still allows for start-ups and for choices that fit people’s modern lifestyle.