HC Deb 23 April 1941 vol 371 cc164-6
32. Mr.Lyons

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will give an assurance that in any proposals for the telescoping of industry and the consequent closing of business concerns that will be entailed, he will safeguard the position of the small proprietor in that the multiple stores and co-operative society branches are not allowed privilege against him to his complete commercial annihilation?

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Captain Waterhouse)

Yes, Sir I can assure my hon. and learned Friend that, in approving proposals made by manufacturers for concentration of production, no advantage is given to the suppliers of large concerns that is not also available to the suppliers of the small retailers.

Mr. Lyons

Would my hon. and gallant Friend say whether, in view of the great apprehension on this matter, he would cause some public announcement to be made of the safeguards and their nature, so as to prevent hundreds of thousands of people being put into a pitiful position?

Captain Waterhouse

My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has made it very clear that his aim and object are to safeguard the position of the smaller men, and he will do nothing to their disadvantage at all. I hope that that will meet the point of my hon. and learned Friend.

My. Lyons

While I am grateful for that, would my hon. and gallant Friend take steps to see that some statement is made of what these safeguards are to be, because the word "safeguard" used by a Government Department is not trusted in the minds of the people? They would like to know concretely the proposals that are to bring about what my hon. and gallant Friend suggests.

Captain Waterhouse

My hon. and learned Friend will realise that these schemes are arranged between the firms concerned, and that it is therefore impossible for the Board of Trade to lay down any specific safeguards. What they have undertaken to do is to bear the interest of the small men specially in mind when schemes are submitted for approval.

Mr. Lyons

In the meantime will not the small man himself be put out of business because of the complete lack of policy of the Department in this matter?

Sir Joseph Lamb

Will my hon. and gallant Friend ascertain what stores these large firms have acquired and are now holding for their own purposes?

Mr. Rhys Davies

Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman undertake that when any schemes come before him to close the premises of small business men he will see that a proportionate number of branches of the big firms are closed in the same way?

Captain Waterhouse

There is no scheme at all at present for the retail shopkeepers. The retail shopkeepers are not at present being asked to concentrate. If they find that it is necessary owing to the reduction of business to concentrate, they will do it of their own free will, and in so doing they will not in any way be forced by the Government. The Government are generally sympathetic to their difficulties, and will do all they can to see that they get a square deal. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir J. Lamb) will put his question down.

Mr. Lyons

Arising out of the very unsatisfactory nature of the position that has been disclosed, I shall take an early opportunity of raising the matter on the Adjournment.