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Trade And Commerce

Volume 387: debated on Tuesday 23 March 1943

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Trade Organisations


asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will appoint a committee of the same kind that was appointed in February, 1918, for the purpose of considering the probable extension of trade organisations, combinations, trusts and cartels, to consider and report on what action should be taken to safeguard the public interest?

I do not propose to appoint such a committee at the present time, but I fully appreciate the importance of the questions to which my hon. Friend refers, and I will keep his suggestion in mind.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that monopoly control is the greatest menace to the future of the people, and, if he does, would he consult the Prime Minister in order to draw his attention to the fact that it is no use making statements in speeches unless concrete steps of the kind suggested in the Question are taken?

I think that the steps that are being taken to control prices and profits are more effective than setting up another committee. I do not regard the procedure in the last war as one to be copied. A committee was then set up, but it was late in the day-and was ineffective, and it was followed by very inadequate legislation. We are doing very much better.

Air-Raid Wardens (Uniforms)


asked the President of the Board of Trade how many clothing coupons air-raid wardens have to surrender in respect of their uniform; and why are they compelled to give up additional coupons from time to time whether they need any replacements of uniform or not?

Full time members of the wardens' service, whose uniform consists of battledress, overcoat and boots, obtain both the initial outfit and all subsequent replacements against an annual surrender of 18 coupons through their local authority. The uniform itself is worth 43 coupons. This surrender represents the annual saving which results from having coupon-free clothes to wear at work. A similar system applies to all wearers of essential civilian uniforms.

Does the Minister realise that this arrangement is leaving wardens, particularly women wardens, with very few coupons for their other needs, and it gives them no incentive to make their uniforms last as long as possible?

I do not think that that is really so. Full-time wardens who wear their uniforms while on duty have a great advantage over civilians who have not that facility, and it is in view of that that this arrangement, which I think is quite generous, was made.

Utility Furniture


asked the President of the Board of Trade what steps he proposes to remedy the shortage of utility furniture in Nuneaton and district, particulars of which have been supplied to him by the honourable Member for Nuneaton?

If my hon. Friend will send me particulars of any cases where holders of buying permits in Nuneaton and district have been unable to obtain utility furniture, I shall be pleased to look into them.

In view of what I think is the general belief that people will expect to see utility furniture in shop windows, will my right hon. Friend tell the House and the country what steps people should take who have been blitzed or who have got married to obtain this furniture?

Steps will be taken in the latter case before marriage has been regularised. It is only necessary for people falling within any of the classes of those who are entitled to utility furniture to obtain buying permits, which they do through the Assistance Board. These people order from a shop the articles of furniture they prefer on the list with which they are supplied. We do not want to immobilise large supplies of furniture for window displays, but to get it as quickly as possible in the possession of those people who are entitled to it. A number of exhibitions have been held in different parts of the country.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a general feeling of damping down supplies and not to make utility furniture known to the general public, and will he take steps, apart from displays of furniture in shop windows, to see that those who need a supply know the machinery for getting it?

I am anxious that it should be made widely known. It is not at all my wish to damp it down. Production is going well, and I am anxious that it should be taken up. In Glasgow there has been an exhibition, which was opened by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it had only a very limited appeal, and will he take steps to see that there are other channels through which supplies are made available?

I should be glad to do anything on those lines if my hon. Friend would make some suggestions.

Wireless Sets (Valves And Components)


asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware of the shortage of valves and spare parts for wireless sets; and, in view of the numerous instructions issued by Government Departments as to food, clothing coupons, National Service Regulations, etc., by wireless, will he make the spare parts more easily available?

As the House knows, the production of valves and other components for civilian wireless sets is limited by the heavy demands of the Fighting Services for wireless equipment of all kinds. Nevertheless, the production of valves in this country for civilian sets is very considerable, and, in addition, substantial quantities of American type valves have been imported from the United States. But there are still shortages of a few types of valves. As regards components, the principal difficulty has been with electrolytic condensers. As I informed my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. J. Dugdale) on 19th January last, steps have already been taken to increase the production of these.

Maximum Price Orders


asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware of the great difficulty experienced by small drapers, especially in cases where the husband has been called up, of understanding and complying with the complexity and multiplicity of Orders issued by his Department regarding the prices of goods; and whether he will take steps to reduce the number of such Orders and to increase the simplicity of their language?

I am anxious that, subject to fair treatment of all concerned, maximum price Orders should be as few, uniform and simple as possible. I have recently decided on uniformity in future in the method of expressing margins in relation to Purchase Tax, and I have asked the trade for suggestions for further simplification. My Department keep in close touch on all these matters with the trade associations concerned, and traders in difficulty can obtain advice from their organisations, and also from the Local Price Regulation Committee in their area.

Utility Goods


asked the President of the Board of Trade what percentage of utility goods have been sold at maximum price?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the clothing trade in particular at least 80 per cent. of the clothing manufactured is sold at maximum prices, irrespective of the quality?

There is nothing illegal in selling at the ceiling price, or maximum price, but what is illegal is to sell above it. My hon. Friend will, I am sure, appreciate that I could not possibly check up on all the information he asks for in a manner which would allow me to answer his question adequately, as I have not the means at my disposal.

Concentration Of Industry


asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, before any trade or industry is controlled and concentrated, he will publish, for the information of the public, an explanation of what is proposed and why it is necessary, especially as they have never been properly informed of the reasons for closing many small but important industries?

As my hon. and gallant Friend is aware, an explanation of the reasons for the policy of concentration of production was published in Command Paper No. 6258 of 1941. Before any particular industry is concentrated, the reasons are explained to representatives of the industry, and details discussed with them.

Has the right hon. Gentleman considered setting out for the information of the public the reasons for the concentration of industry, because in spite of what has been said many people do not know, and many of the individuals concerned do not understand why?

The general reasons for the concentration of industry were explained in a Command Paper issued by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Production when he initiated this policy as President of the Board of Trade. The reasons are very simple; they are to release labour, to save materials and to enable factory buildings to be used for other purposes. In the particular instance of any trade we discuss the reasons not with the public generally but with the trade itself.

Are not the methods in force very arbitrary, and would it not be possible to give a little more enlightenment on this subject? The position is not very satisfactory.

Post-War Economic Policy


asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he can say in what manner he proposes after the war to continue manufacture in factories owned by the State in Swindon and district, in view of the special consideration to be given by the Government to factories now established in the former distressed areas?


asked the Minister without Portfolio whether plans now being made for the period following the war include the disposal to private enterprise of factories acquired by the Government for war purposes?

I have been asked to reply to the Question addressed to my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister without Portfolio, and with my hon. Friends' permission, I will answer both together. I have at present nothing to add to what I said on this subject in the Debate on Economic Policy on 3rd February last. I then stated that I was most anxious that we should explore well in advance, before final decisions are taken, what are the best possibilities for these factories after the war, particularly for those which are situated in pre-war distressed areas, where it has been found that employment was not sufficiently diversified.

In order that private firms may prepare to co-operate with the Government in the transition period, will my right hon. Friend give them some guidance as to what the Government have in mind?

I think that in the first instance it is desirable that we should have preliminary discussions such as are now taking place between the various Departments in London, and reports as to possibilities submitted from the different areas. No decisions have yet been taken. We must get the materials first.

As I have already said, inquiries have been sent to a number of industrial organisations in the trades with which the Board of Trade is concerned, asking them to express their views to me upon all these post-war problems.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Swindon and district is not a distressed area, but that if plans are not made quickly unemployment and distress may occur there after this war?

The Government are committed, as has been announced, to full employment so far as it can be achieved in all areas. Swindon was very fortunate before the war in not being a distressed area. Other areas were not so fortunate. We will endeavour to see that misfortune befalls no area.

Will the right hon. Gentleman hold fast to the view that those areas which were distressed areas 10 years ago get better consideration than they got before the war?

Safety Razor Blades


asked the President of the Board of Trade the percentage of safety razor blades released by wholesalers to the quantity purchased by the public, based on the period June, 1939, to June, 1940?

I regret that the particulars for which my hon. Friend asks are not available. The total production of blades in this country in 1937 was 562,000,000. Production last quarter, in spite of labour and raw material difficulties, was at the rate of 564,000,000 a year and was higher in the two previous quarters. I am giving close attention to this question.

No, Sir, but I am going into this matter very carefully, as I am not satisfied at present.

Surgical Lint (Misuse)


asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that owing to the lack of washing flannels and gloves, some chemists are recommending the use of surgical lint for this purpose; and whether he will take steps to stop this practice?

To use surgical lint in place of washing flannels is very wrong, and I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for reporting to me the name and address of the chemist who recommended to him the use of lint for this purpose. I have arranged for one of my officers to visit and admonish this chemist. I am considering, in consultation with my right hon. Friends the Ministers of Health and Supply, what further steps may be expedient to check such misuse of this essential material.

May I ask whether the use of surgical lint has been prohibited by any Order?

No, Sir. Surgical lint is very necessary, but not for the purpose of washing one's face.

This man will be admonished for trying to persuade customers to misuse surgical lint.

Towels (Hairdressers)


asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is now in a position to make a statement on the provision of extra towel coupons for hairdressers?

I cannot at present add anything to the replies which I gave on 2nd March to my hon. Friends the Members for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) and the Clayton division of Manchester (Mr. Thorneycroft).

May I ask that the right hon. Gentleman should bear in mind the difficulties that hairdressers are experiencing at the present time?

Yes, Sir. I stated in reply to a Supplementary Question on the date mentioned that I am most anxious to do whatever I can to assist hairdressers, but supplies are difficult to obtain.

Toilet Preparations Order


asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that the complete banning of petroleum products under the Toilet Preparations Order is causing hardship to hairdressers; and whether he will consider releasing some of these products on a quota basis?

The Order to which my hon. Friend refers does not affect the sale by hairdressers of hair preparations already made up on 31st December last. Further manufacture of hair preparations from petroleum products was probihited as from this date owing to the need to economise in shipping space and in materials essential to the war effort. But I am prepared to look into any case of special hardship, where a hairdresser already holds a considerable stock of petroleum products.



asked the President of the Board of Trade how many perambulators have been manufactured during the past month; and how many will be available for sale per week in the future?

The number of perambulators and folders produced in February is estimated at 26,330. I hope that this rate of production will be at least maintained.

Is the Minister aware that since he promised to look into this matter of perambulator supplies the allocation for Middlesbrough has been reduced and the allocation for Scotland has been considerably increased?

I undertook to try to see that justice was done. If my hon. Friend thinks that it has not been done, perhaps he will approach me on the matter.

Will the Minister take steps to see that these statements about Scotland are also looked into?