HC Deb 25 October 1939 vol 352 cc1444-61

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

3.58 p.m.

Mr. Lewis

This Clause empowers the Board of Trade to say to what articles the Bill shall apply. Is the President of the Board of Trade willing to give an assurance that, in the first instance, he will make the list of goods as short as possible? [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I will say why. This Bill is going to mean added difficulties for traders. Traders are already carrying on under very great difficulties, and the President of the Board of Trade will obtain power to add to the list at any time any goods which it appears necessary to add. I think it is desirable that, in the first instance, he should see how far the Measure is necessary before he applies it.

There will be the possibility—I might almost say the probability—of a number of complaints which prove to be unsubstantiated. Each of these complaints will involve an extra burden on the trader against whom it is made, particularly in the case of a retail trader. He will probably have to appear before the committee to show that the complaint is not justified. Even if the complaint be not justified, he will be put to all that trouble. In the case of a small, one-man business, the man himself will have to go; and in the case of a larger business the manager or some other responsible person will have to go, as it will be a serious matter. All that means a loss of valuable time at a moment when business is being carried on under great difficulties. I therefore ask my right hon. Friend whether he can assure the House that in the first instance he will make the list of goods as short as he feels he can, with the proviso that he retains a right to add to the list at any time any goods that he wishes to add.

Mr. Rhys Davies

To whatever point the President of the Board of Trade will give due weight, and however short or long the list of articles may be, I hope that at any rate the articles included will be such that, if the price regulation is violated, it will not be violated against the consumer. The list really must contain those articles which are most liable to be exploited by the retailer and the wholesaler against the consumer.

4.1 p.m.

Captain Hammersley

Before the Minister replies, on the Motion that is before the Committee, I might perhaps ask a question relative to the cotton trade. Can my right hon. Friend give the Committee some information as to what his intentions are in respect of cotton textiles. The position, I understand, is that a Cotton Board is in existence. I do not know what powers the board has, whether in fact it has any statutory powers at all, but I do know that every day the cotton industry is expecting this board to fix the margins of cotton yarns, and it seems to be in the national interest that the fixation of these margins should take place at the earliest possible moment. Moreover, the fixation of margins should be on the lines of the principles laid down in this Bill. I want to bring to the notice of the President of the Board of Trade the fact that there is the strongest possible repugnance, in responsible circles in the cotton industry, to the very large margins of profit which took place in the last war, and there is a feeling that they should not be repeated now. It seems very difficult to make up one's mind whether prices are to be fixed in accordance with this Bill and the detailed cost to be fixed by some kind of control. If the right hon. Gentleman now or later could give some indication of his intentions it would be helpful.

There are many complaints—I will give a particular example—about the price at which A.R.P. black-out cloth is being sold. These complaints have been brought to the notice of many Members of this House. I myself purchased black-out cloth just before the war started. I sent to a large London store and got the cloth at 1s. 11d. a yard; it was black Italian, 54 inches wide. Then I made an inquiry of a local retailer for the same material a few weeks ago, and the price was 2s. 3d. a yard. I next went to one of the largest merchants who deal in this material and I obtained supplies at 1s. a yard. Those supplies can be obtained by the trade at 1s. a yard to-day. The producers in the trade are not the people who require to make or who are making very large profits. One shilling a yard for material which is now being sold retail at 2s. 3d. a yard does indicate that the margin of profit being made by retailers for merely handling the material is really out of all proportion. As far as the producing section of the industry is concerned the sooner it gets regulated margins in accordance with the principles of this Bill the sooner the industry will be pleased, and I hope the President of the Board of Trade will be able to give to the industry some indication as to how he hopes to act in the matter.

4.5 p.m.

Mr. Mander

I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give us some indication of the number of articles he is likely to bring under this procedure, and that if he feels that the number should be considerable he will not hesitate to make it so, because the country undoubtedly wants this Bill to operate effectively in bringing down prices to a proper level. If it were thought that only a very limited number of articles would be included it might have a rather unfortunate effect.

Brigadier-General Clifton Brown

I suppose that "goods," as mentioned in the Bill, would include agricultural products. Would the Minister under the Bill have power to interfere with Milk Board prices or anything of that sort under the contracts which have already been made? If so, that might make it impossible to carry on business. I know that my right hon. Friend would not do anything of that sort, but I think we ought to have some assurance that he will not interfere with agricultural products without consulting the Minister of Agriculture.

4.6 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore

Is it possible for the Bill to be made retrospective? There are many cases in which profiteering has already taken place and in which it did take place in the first week of the war.

The Chairman

That subject does not arise on this Clause.

Sir T. Moore

Then I must raise it at a later stage.

4.7 p.m.

Sir Herbert Williams

Apparently the word "goods" is not defined in the Bill. The question raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Brown) raises in principle the same point as I wish to raise. I ask whether "goods" would include things like water, gas and electricity. I mention them because I have some association with public utilities, and it is important that we should know whether electricity is an article or a service. Gas is clearly a commodity, and so is water. It would be useful if the President of the Board of Trade would give us some indication, not whether it is his intention but whether it would be within his power to prescribe that electricity comes within "goods."

4.8 p.m.

Mr. Stanley

Perhaps first of all I may reply to one or two of the more specific questions that have been asked. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Willesden (Captain Hammersley) very ingeniously asked on this Clause a question about the textile industry, which has nothing to do with this Bill. He asked as to the possibility of the Cotton Board imposing margins on the industry. I cannot say anything more now than that of course we shall not bring under the scope of this Clause goods which are already regulated in price in a different way. Where the actual selling margin or selling price is already fixed by Order of course there is no possibiliy of profiteering beyond that, and there is no necessity for the machinery of this Bill. That too is the answer to the question of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newbury (Brigadier-General Brown).

Brigadier-General Brown

The Milk Marketing Board fixes its own prices.

Mr. Stanley

I said before, on the Second Reading, that there was no intention of extending this scheme by covering the sort of article which is likely to be the subject of price control by another Department. With regard to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams), the reply is that "goods" is a very wide term, and can cover anything except land. I think it is almost impossible to be more precise in the definition, but of course it is not the intention—clearly it cannot be the intention and under the machinery of the Bill it could not be done—to bring in such things as gas, electricity or water. They are already controlled in one way or another.

Mr. A. V. Alexander

If that is so, I would ask a question on the matter which has been raised by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams), because I have had notice of the raising of my flat rate for gas by 45 per cent. What is the Board of Trade going to do about that?

Mr. Stanley

I think it is very clear that whatever may be done by the appropriate Minister with regard to the price of that kind of commodity, it does not really fall within the machinery of this Bill as the kind of goods we have in mind.

Mr. Aneurin Bevan

Are we to understand that this Bill gives no protection against increases of electricity? In many cases you cannot live without electricity; it is almost as essential as bread.

Mr. Stanley

Our view is that if it is necessary to take action in regard to the price of electricity, gas, water or any other commodity, this machinery would not be the best means of doing it. As most of these commodities are regulated by their own Acts, it is clear that it ought to be done by some plain regulation of prices rather than by a Bill of this kind.

With regard to the general question which has been asked, I am afraid it is impossible, before the Act has been passed and the machinery has been set up, and before I have had a chance of consultation with the various organisations, to give an assurance as to whether the list will be long or short. It will depend upon the amount of profiteering in various articles which are reported to me and call for immediate action. I am anxious, as everybody is in this House, not to include anything in the first, list, or subsequent lists, which it is not necessary to do, and I would like to confine myself as far as possible to goods of general consumption which really enter into the cost of living rather than embark upon a long list of various goods. Above all, one is anxious in the early days of starting a new machine that it should not be overloaded unnecessarily. Beyond that I cannot give an assurance, because I must deal with the commodities in regard to which I am convinced, and it is proved to me, that in fact profiteering is going on.

4.14 p.m.

Mr. George Griffiths

The President of the Board of Trade seems to be rather hazy about this matter. Immediately the war broke out the Government decided that rent rectriction must be applied at once. The workers cannot do without a house in which to live, and they cannot do without either gas or electricity. There is a restriction of rent, but the President of the Board of Trade says that he is not sure about gas and electricity. He ought to put gas and electricity in the list of things to which the Act is to apply.

4.15 p.m.

Mr. Silkin

I am rather apprehensive at the statement which the President of the Board of Trade has just, made, as it goes to the root of this Bill. Is he going to regard this Bill as a preventive method, or is he going to deal with profiteering when it actually takes place? I had been led to believe by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman on Second Reading that it was the intention of this Bill to prevent profiteering and not to deal with profiteering after it had taken place, but I rather gather from what he now says that he is going to wait until profiteering actually takes place on specific commodities and complaints reach him before he deals with the matter. I hope that he does not really mean that, but that he will, in the first instance, deal with necessities and regulate these, whether in fact profiteering is taking place or not, so as to prevent the profiteering which we know is taking place throughout the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) mentioned the question of the restriction of rent. The Government did not wait to see whether profiteering took place with regard to rent, but at once introduced a Measure restricting the increase of rent. In the same way I hope that the Minister will at once deal with necessities and regulate them, and not wait until profiteering actually takes place.

4.17 p.m.

Mr. J. J. Davidson

I agree with the Minister when he suggests that it would be practically impossible to put down a specific list of goods to be dealt with under the Act, and the machinery of the Act will enable the Minister to discuss the types of goods as complaints come along. But I want to press the Minister with regard to electricity, gas and water for a better assurance than we have been given. The Minister stated that their own view was that these commodities did not strictly come within the meaning of the Act as far as they are concerned. Electricity to-day, apart from gas and water, very often decides the rent. When working-class people take a house they have also to consider the amount of electricity they are likely to use, and, even in London, people in lodgings have to consider what they are likely to have to pay for electricity. It materially affects the income. It is the same with regard to cooking or preparing meals in the home. Therefore, I ask the Minister to give the assurance at least that he will review very carefully the whole question again in relation to his own particular powers.

4.19 p.m.

Mr. E. J. Williams

I would like to put another point with regard to electricity. In the First Schedule it says that the cost of the provision of materials is to be taken into consideration in calculating the price of the article. I am sure that the President of the Board of Trade will appreciate that in the production of articles in these days an enormous quantity of electricity and gas is consumed. Unless electricity, gas and water are taken into consideration under the Bill, it is obvious that people can be exploited through the cost of the production of the article itself. I can see no means by which it is possible to ascertain whether they are being exploited and whether profiteering actually takes place unless electricity and gas are brought within the scope of the Bill in order to decide the quantum used and the price paid in the production of the article itself, apart entirely from the increased charges and the rising prices that the consumers have to pay in households normally. From that aspect alone in the Schedule and the machinery of the Bill it will be essential to bring in electricity and all the kinds of power consumed in the production of the article.

4.20 p.m.

Mr. Bevan

I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman says, that this machinery may not be the best kind of machinery to use in attempting to regulate the price of electricity and commodities of that kind, but I hope he will agree that if this machinery is not appropriate, then it is necessary that the attention of the appropriate Department or Departments should be called immediately to the matter so that the appropriate machinery can at once be devised to deal with these articles. My hon. Friend has pointed out that they enter very largely into the cost of production of a huge quantity of goods, and unless the price is regulated there will come a point at which there will be profiteering by the seller, which will be reflected in the cost of other products, and that will bring the sellers of those other products into disrepute for profiteering, without justification.

I realise that it is very difficult to deal with this question of electricity. We know from past experience that the supply of electricity in this country is an organised ramp; that they have means of increasing their cost of production which this House has not been able to check, and that much of the legislation under which they operate fixes their rate of profit. Their rate of profit, though legally fixed, bears no relation to the actual cost of production. They may increase the price of goods to themselves by being the suppliers of their own raw materials. We know that there are holding companies which exploit electricity to an inordinate extent. Although I am not arguing that the right hon. Gentleman is not right in saying that this is not the proper machinery with which to deal with this particular production, I do say that this production ought to be dealt with specifically, otherwise the result may falsify the whole scheme of the Bill.

In order to protect a large section of people, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will include paraffin oil at once in the list of scheduled commodities. Paraffin oil is very important, and recently there have been increases in the price of this commodity. I may be wrong, speaking generally, but certainly there have been very considerable increases in the price in rural areas. If paraffin oil is not included in the Schedule, the most unfortunate effects may take place, especially in the rural areas.

Mr. Stanley

It is certainly within the scope of the Bill.

Mr. Bevan

I am not questioning that, but I was hoping that the right hon. Gentleman would include paraffin oil as one of the commodities specifically covered, immediately. Even where there is a supply of electricity, cheap paraffin oil is a good standby in rural areas, and if the people are not protected against a rise in the price of electricity it may well be that the rural people will find themselves in a difficulty if, seeking to protect themselves by using paraffin oil, they find that the price of paraffin has not been protected. If the price goes up against them they will be badly hit. Therefore, in compiling a list of goods to be immediately regulated I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider the inclusion of paraffin oil.

4.25 p.m.

Mr. Alexander

I shall not advise my hon. Friends to divide against the Clause, because the rejection of the Clause would take away part of the essential power which it is requisite the President of the Board of Trade should have. Having listened to the right hon. Gentleman's explanation in reply to various hon. Members I am coming more and more to the conclusion that this Bill is likely to be far more window-dressing than anything else. I am not saying that in any hypercritical sense, because I recognise the great difficulties that must face any Government in trying to draft legislation to deal with the problem that has to be met. It is clear from what the right hon. Gentleman has said that he is merely the head of one section of Government trading control in this country and that various other Government Departments purport to deal with this or that side of trade functions. He says, in effect, "I cannot make any Order dealing comprehensively with profiteering, in case I should deal with something that comes within the province of another Government Department." Therefore, we may have a price fixed, perhaps, at a wholly unjustifiable rate by the Ministry of Food, or we may have a price fixed at a wholly unreasonable level by the Ministry of Supply, and we may have prices ultimately adopted for goods which are not priced all the way through. In such circumstances there will always be a complete answer available for any trader who is brought before a tribunal, because he will be able to say that some other Ministry had fixed the price of the raw material.

The whole thing becomes make-believe in so far as it is thought to be an effective check against the raising of prices and profiteering. It is a very difficult job to legislate, but in dealing with this problem of preventing profiteering at the expense of the nation during a time of national emergency, a time of war, there ought to be one Department which deals with it. If there are to be sectional functions performed in regard to the price-fixing of certain commodities then, at any rate, there should be some Department responsible for co-ordination and for the prevention of undue prices. You have not that co-ordination here. That is the real position. The Bill has been put to us as a moral deterrent but, in effect, it is window-dressing. There may be a few people hauled up here and there, but nothing effective will be done. For example, if it has not already taken place, I understand that we shall have a tremendous rise in the cost of newsprint, the price being fixed by a Government Order with no real justification.

The President of the Board of Trade, the head of the Department that we have always looked upon in the past as the Department which controls trade and all the things relating to trade, will have no real power. He has told us in advance that he cannot do anything in regard to the Schedule of price-fixing where it is dealt with by some other Department. The Government will have to think a little more about this matter. If the Government want to have a safeguard against the deterioration of the morale of the people and to stop the everlasting spiral of wages chasing prices but never catching up with them, they will have to deal with all these commodities and not with one or two. I know the right hon. Gentleman's difficulties in regard to the policy that he has explained. I should like to see a Department like the Board of Trade exercising a proper supervision over the whole of this matter and itself performing the proper function of economic co-ordination.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. Stanley

I will reply to what the right hon. Gentleman has just said. Although he has been extremely courteous I think he has, nevertheless, been very unfair, and it is really quite impossible to sustain the suggestion that the Bill is only window-dressing on the previous remarks I addressed to the Committee. What I said was, that where another Government Department had fixed the price at which an article was to be sold, then clearly the machinery of this Bill was completely inapplicable. You have to assume that in fixing the price of an article the Department concerned has taken into account the question of profit and has fixed the price at a level which it considers will prevent excessive profits. The remedy, if it has not done so, is to challenge in the House the level of the prices fixed. It would be absurd when a Government Department responsible to this House has fixed the price at which an article is to be sold to add the article to the list under this Bill, and go through all the machinery to see if there has been profiteering.

Mr. Bevan

Suppose they have not fixed a proper price?

Mr. Stanley

The remedy, if there is any idea of profiteering, is for the matter to be ventilated in the House and for the fixed price to be defended in the House.

The hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) and several other hon. Members raised a very important point. I am not in the least saying that the price of gas, water and electricity is not a matter of importance. To many people the price of these articles is probably far more important than the price of the majority of the goods which are specified in the Bill. I do not know whether such things as rent and transport charges, and fares would technically come under the Bill, but I am not saying that there is not just as much responsibility on the Government to see that there is no profiteering in these vital services as to see that there is no profiteering in vital commodities, and I accept the suggestion that these are matters which must be watched closely by the appropriate Government Department, and that we must be prepared to take action, not to prevent an increase in price, because an increase may come from natural causes, but to prevent undue profit being made as a result of the emergency. That is an assurance which, I think, hon. Members are entitled to ask, and an assurance which I am prepared to give.

Sir Patrick Harmon

Does the right hon. Gentleman contemplate some kind of coordination between Government Departments so that when prices are fixed there will be somebody to see that excessive charges are not taking place?

The Chairman

I think hon. Members are rather inclined to get into something like a Second Reading Debate, and are not confining themselves to the specific proposals in the Clause.

4.35 P.m.

Mr. Barnes

I want to submit to the President an angle of this problem which is affecting many traders, and which I do not think he has yet fully grasped. Take two commodities, petrol and newsprint. Under the Bill the different sections of users are provided with certain machinery which they can function. Even the consumers have some machinery. There is a machinery for an appeal and a court of referees. There is a proper investigation into the question of the price structure. The President of the Board of Trade has made a statement to the effect that any goods, or articles or commodities whose price is fixed by some other Department is outside the scope of the Bill.

Mr. Stanley

No, it is not outside the scope of the Bill, but I said that I should not propose, for obvious reasons, to put it in in one of the Orders.

Mr. Barnes

In considering a Bill of this kind I submit that some of the problems which are arising as a result of the multiplicity of methods which are being adopted to deal with what is one common problem—

The Chairman

That bears out what I said just now. Hon. Members are rather inclined to discuss very much wider questions than those which arise on the Clause, which merely deals with particular goods.

Mr. Bevan

The fact that the President of the Board of Trade has told the Committee that it is not his intention to include certain goods in an Order is, in my submission, no reason at all why an hon. Member should not argue that Orders should be issued for goods which are technically within the Bill.

The Chairman

That may be so, but the hon. Member must leave it to the Chair to decide.

Mr. Barnes

In discussing this problem, and because of the statement made by the President of the Board of Trade, I submit that we are entitled to know whether or not certain commodities will be outside the scope of the Bill. Let me put a case which, I think, will convince him that commodities of this kind should not be outside the scope of the Bill. I was quoting the case of petrol and newsprint. There has recently been an increase in the price of petrol and the whole of that increase has gone to the large petrol suppliers. All the rest of the industry, the users and consumers of petrol, have no machinery by which the increase of price can be examined. If that article came within the provisions of the Bill garage proprietors and commercial users of petrol could function the machinery of the Bill and, if necessary, put up a good case to the Board of Trade, but they are precluded from doing so.

When we come to newsprint the price is proposed to be increased from £12 5s. to £17 Per ton, and the general price of paper has increased by 50 per cent. Again, that has been increased, one can only assume, by some form of Government regulation, but there is no machinery such as the Bill provides for the users and consumers of paper to institute any inquiry under the Bill. Therefore, it occurs to me that it would be a greater safeguard to traders if articles like newsprint, paper and petrol could be brought within the provisions of the Measure.

4.40 p.m.

Sir H. Williams

This Debate is of very great importance. The Clause we are now discussing can apply the provisions of the Bill to any commodity. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has given us some indication of the extent to which he intends to use his powers, and that is the matter which the Committee has been discussing for the last few minutes. About 80 per cent. of the transactions taking place in this country will not in practice be brought within the scope of the Bill, for if all foodstuffs are to be left out, and if all commodities the prices of which are fixed by other Government Departments are cut out, what is left will not amount to a very large percentage of the total transactions. If Government Departments fix prices in respect of a whole range of things, whether they are bought for military or civilian purposes—as in the case of steel, pig-iron, scrap, and innumerable commodities—what is left will be a very small percentage. An interesting thing is that we shall not be able to use the machinery of this Bill for the purpose of challenging the prices at which Government Departments themselves buy things, even when we know that in many cases they buy at prices which are quite stupid.

I doubt whether, in the long run, we shall succeed in controlling prices by legislation, but if we are to make an experiment, let us make it on a sufficiently wide scale. At the present time, if I go to a petrol pump, and the man there says the petrol is 1s. 8d. a gallon, and I say, "I think that is an extortionate price," I cannot use the machinery of this Bill. I could use that machinery if the President of the Board of Trade would permit me, but he has made a declaration of intention this afternoon which means that I cannot use it. A case of this sort was mentioned at Question Time to-day. The Minister of Food has announced that margarine is to be all alike and is to be priced at, I believe, 6d. a lb. What will be the effect of that? We shall be allowed to buy only one quality, and the people who, because of lack of means, have bought a cheaper quality at 4d. a lb. in the past, will be forced to pay 6d. a lb., and there will be no redress. It may be said that 6d. a lb. is a reasonable price. Should I be entitled, under the Bill, if I had a shop, to empty it of all commodities except those which were rather expensive, and then compel my customers to buy those things? We shall have no protection whatever against totally unjustifiable profiteering, in one sense, as far as the consumer is concerned, which may be established by the Ministry of Food, who are apparently going to standardise everything and make the poor people pay more and deprive rich people of the choice which they used to have, thereby irritating both. I think my right hon. Friend ought to give us a little more satisfaction by assuring us that the Bill will be interpreted in such a way that the public can be properly protected.

4.43 p.m.

Mr. Stanley

I cannot allow the last speech to go unchallenged. If the speech had been made by anybody except the hon. Gentleman and in any place except this Committee, I should have said it was nonsense, but as it was made by the hon. Gentleman, in this Committee, I will not say it was nonsense. I will say that it was quite unjustifiable. I have announced—and I think everybody who has studied this matter sees the reason.—that where the Government, who are responsible to the House and can be challenged by the House, have fixed a price, the article in question does not come within the machinery of the Bill; and to say that that means I have withdrawn 80 per cent. of all transactions from the scope of the Bill is to say something which I think I should be justified in describing as nonsense. My hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) has some knowledge of the range and variety of goods sold in dry goods stores, for instance, all of them things that enter into the ordinary life of the ordinary citizen. That is not the case with pig-iron, scrap, steel, or even pulp. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for South-East Ham (Mr. Barnes) is under a complete misapprehension. It is not the product made from the raw material that is controlled which I should propose not to include in the Bill. It is only the thing which is itself controlled.

I would not bring that under this Bill because already the House of Commons, if it is what it is supposed to be and what hon. Members always claim it to be, is the most effective control of all. The person who has fixed the price, the Minister responsible, is responsible to the House, and any hon. Member, instead of going to a local committee, and from that to a central committee, can come to the House, question the Minister as to why he fixed the price, how he fixed it, and what were all the factors involved, and if that hon. Member is not satisfied by the answer which he receives, he can raise the matter in an appropriate way. Those who have been taught to believe in Parliamentary government have been taught to believe that the most effective control which we can have is the possibility of challenging things in the House. When the Government have fixed the price of an article, and when the opportunity of challenging the Government has not been taken in the House because it is recognised that the price is a fair one, then to include the article under the machinery of this Bill would be sheer duplication. It is clear that effective and fair price-fixing is the biggest control that one can have against profiteering, for that is the only price at which a person may sell. I quite agree that if and as the war goes on, and as commodities may get scarcer and our difficulties increase, more and more price control may be instituted, and more and more goods will be withdrawn from the purview of this Bill; but I believe they will be so withdrawn because they will then be under such a control, which is even more effective against profiteering than the machinery of this Bill can be. It is only because I believe that that other machinery is the more effective that I say it would be a mistake to try to duplicate it in this Bill.

4.47 p.m.

Mr. Bevan

There may be some misunderstanding arising out of the remarks of the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams). The report of this Debate will be read throughout the country, because a very great deal of interest is taken in this subject, and, therefore, what is said in the Committee this evening may serve as guidance to large numbers of committees that have been established to watch these matters. During the last few weeks, there have been established in South Wales a number of voluntary committees the function of which is to watch the movement of prices, and I believe that these committees have already sent information to the President of the Board of Trade with regard to the movement of prices in those areas. It would be a very unwise thing for any provision merchant to concentrate his sales on goods the prices of which are unregulated. What the hon. Member for South Croydon has suggested is that, if he had a shop. he might clear his stocks of articles which come under the orders and confine his sales to those goods that are unregulated and upon which he could make a maximum profit. The answer to the hon. Member is that a person who did that would do no business. The hon. Member is assuming a division of labour of a most extraordinary kind in the trading community, a division by which one class of traders will confine themselves to selling goods on which they can make only a standard profit, and the other class will confine themselves to goods on which they can make unlimited profit.

The Chairman

The hon. Member is now getting a long way from the Clause.

Mr. Bevan

I will not pursue that matter, Sir Dennis. We are really discussing the amount of goods in respect of which the right hon. Gentleman intends to issue Orders. That is a very important matter. One of the difficulties that face us is that here we have a Bill which confers wide powers on the right hon. Gentleman, but he does not tell us to what extent he intends to use them, and therefore, we are very much in the air in discussing the matter. We do understand that the right hon. Gentleman intends to include in his list of price-regulated goods most of those articles which ordinarily fall within the cost-of-living index. Frankly, I am not much concerned about the others because, as the right hon. Gentleman said, the consumer will regulate the price of luxury goods, and, as long as you have a commonsense definition of necessary goods and luxury goods, you get some kind of control over the prices of all goods. We want a regulated market and a free market. Unless we turn the whole system upside down, we must have those two markets running parallel and the line of demarcation between them will be determined by the particular goods with respect to which the right hon. Gentleman issues orders. There is only one modification, as my hon. Friend has pointed out—that you must have a processing valuation by which the prices of the raw materials which enter into the costs of production of both, are regulated.

The Chairman

In other words, you must have something which is outside the scope of this discussion. I think I must ask the hon. Member not to proceed with that point.

Mr. Bevan

With all respect, Sir Dennis, I submit that I must raise this point. The right hon. Gentleman has made it clear that there is hardly a commodity which cannot be brought within these Orders. I respectfully ask you, therefore, on what grounds am I out of order in what I have said?

The Chairman

The hon. Member must not question me in that way. I have just given him a warning which I am sure he can understand, and I must now rule that he is quite out of order in the ideas which he has just expressed.

Mr. Bevan

I am in a difficulty, to which the whole Committee is exposed.

The Chairman

If the hon. Member's difficulty is that I have ruled certain matters to be outside the scope of this discussion, then I am afraid he must put up with a difficulty, as many of us have to do. I have ruled quite definitely that it is outside the range of the Debate on this Clause to discuss other methods of controlling other prices.

Mr. Bevan

I accept your Ruling, Sir Dennis. I would be the last person to challenge it. The difficulty which faces me arises out of the fact that we have no guidance as to the category of goods with respect to which the right hon. Gentleman intends to issue Orders, although he may issue Orders with respect to practically all classes of goods. He has power under the Bill to define the basic price, the permitted increase and the ultimate price and, of course, the ultimate price means the sum of the other two. All I am asking is this. Where he has power to do so, will he have regard to those: basic prices which enter not into ultimate consumption, but into industrial consumption, because they affect the ultimate price of luxury articles as well as necessary goods, and, therefore, will affect the very thing we want to have regulated—the goods concerning which he issues Orders? Although we allow the luxury market to flow freely it is important that we should scrupulously watch the market of industrial consumption, the prices in which affect both categories, industrial consumption and ultimate consumption. I am convinced that unless the right hon. Gentleman does so, the whole scheme will fall to the ground. I hope that people in the country will not assume from what was said by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Sir H. Williams) that traders are to be permitted to say to customers, "We are not going to supply you with sugar unless you—"

The Chairman


Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.