asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that while ample stocks of adults' shoes are available in shops there is a shortage, particularly in London, of children's shoes; that this shortage is causing much anxiety to parents, schools and nurseries; that his Department has been repeatedly warned of the development of the shortage; and what steps are being taken to meet the difficulty?
Some shortage of children's shoes is, I am afraid, inevitable at this stage of the war, since we have lost nearly all our rubber supplies, and hides must mainly be imported from overseas and run the risk of enemy action on the way. Civilian requirements must, moreover, be balanced against very heavy Service requirements. I cannot, therefore, hold out any hopes of an increase in the total civilian supplies. I have, however, been taking steps to maintain the supply of children's footwear at the highest possible level and gave instructions last October to switch production, so far as feasible, from adults' to children's footwear. The production of children's leather footwear has now for some months been at the rate of about 30,000,000 pairs a year, that is to say more than three pairs a year per child. More children's leather footwear is being produced now than before the war, though no new rubber footwear for children is being made. I am also encouraging the development of children's shoe and clothing exchanges which, with the help of the W.V.S. and other women's organisations, are making rapid progress in many parts of the country. These exchanges are principally for children under five, but I am glad to say that many schools are running similar exchanges for older children. The House may rest assured that, in spite of the inevitable difficulties which lie ahead, I shall do my utmost to maintain supplies for the children.
Is the right hon. Gentleman that the complaint is not of a shortage of adult shoes? There are plenty of useless, stupid, adult shoes available. The shortage of children's shoes is extremely grave. Is he aware that, although our home production has certainly increased, it is the shortage of overseas supplies that causes the trouble, and that a special increase is needed? What is the Department doing to satisfy that special demand?
I have given the figures of the shortage and of our present production. Those figures should be known. Overseas supplies are, of course, a very grave pre-occupation. The U-boat is still the enemy of the child. I have indicated that cargoes of hides have to run the gauntlet of enemy action. We are very well aware of these matters, and I have given evidence to show that we have had them very much in mind for some time.
I beg to give notice that I will raise this question on the Adjournment.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is necessary to have strong shoes for the country child?