§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Lyttelton)
I beg to move," That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I think it would be well, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, to refer to the general economic policy which is being pursued by His Majesty's Government, so that the place of this Bill in the general scheme can be shown. That economic policy is one of large design and extends over the whole financial, industrial, commercial and social activity of the country. It has the general objective of assisting the diversion of production and productive capacity to war purposes, while at the same time keeping down the cost to the public of the necessities of life. Industrially, these objectives are secured partly by the Government's control of the prices of the raw materials required in war, secondly by their control of the distribution of those raw materials, and thirdly by the rationing of food and clothing. Before the rationing of clothing was introduced the volume of manufacture was largely controlled, in consumers' goods, by the Limitation of Supplies Orders. Socially, rationing has the great advantage of ensuring a fair distribution to all classes of the population of the limited amount of goods which we are able to put at their 852 disposal, and a further virtue of rationing is that it prevents the pressure of demand on a limited supply from pushing up prices. On the financial side, inflation is further avoided by a system of high taxation and the campaign for saving, which has the effect of immobilising in the hands of the public; the extra purchasing power which has been put into them as a result of the war. It can be seen then, that these measures are part of a concerted and comprehensive economic policy, all parts of which fit into the general conception. All these measures are co-ordinated, and it would be quite untrue to say that any one of them is isolated or opportunist. They are part of a general plan.
Up to this point, however, I have omitted any reference to either wages or prices. It must be clear, if we are to carry on the industries of the country at the present level of wages and to avoid any further rise, that, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said, it can be done only by maintaining the purchasing power of money, or ensuring that the cost of a reasonable quantity of the more essential needs of every citizen is kept fairly steady. It is obvious that there are three ways in which, in these times, prices may rise. The first is by a reduction in the supply of goods, due to the diversion of resources to war purposes. The second is an increase in purchasing power flowing from the increased activity —greater employment and longer hours —which war has brought. Expressed more theoretically, a rise in price may take place through an increased volume of purchasing power being brought into relation with a static volume of commodities, or a decreased volume of commodities being brought into relation with a static volume of purchasing power. Thirdly, a rise may take place as a result of an actual increase in costs due to the war, such, for instance, as the extra cost of ocean freight, insurance and so forth. Ail these three causes may operate at the same time, and today, in this country, there is an increase in the purchasing power in the hands of the public —a moderate increase; there is also a declining volume of consumer goods, and an actual increase in costs.
The first two of these causes are dealt with by the Chancellor's policy of immobilising purchasing power by means 853 of voluntary and involuntary savings and high taxation, and by the rationing policy adopted by the Ministry of Food and the Board of Trade. As regards the third cause, some rise in prices must be justifiable and inevitable. These actually-greater costs, particularly in those services which I have mentioned, are a direct result of the increased risks and delays caused by war and by the enemy. They have, however, been partly met by Government control, by judicious purchase of raw material, and by direct subsidy of some foodstuffs.
I have already described the general economic policy, which seeks to make the ground unfertile for a growth in prices, but it is clear also that direct measures to control prices are a necessary complement to the wider measures which I have described. It would be quite impossible to impose permitted prices or maximum prices, except as part of a General scheme. Unless demand is regulated to supply, and unless the extra purchasing power in the hands of the public is absorbed by taxation or by savings, no measure directed merely to the control of prices could hope to meet with any success.
I think that thus the objects at which this Bill aims will be agreed to in principle by everybody. It seeks, like the present Act, to control prices, to prevent profiteering in war, and to assist the Government's other measures in making available to the population their necessities at reasonably low prices. I think that at this point I should shortly describe how the present Measure widens the scope of the original Act. The Prices of Goods Act passed in 1939 aimed at keeping price increases within reasonable limits. A basic price was laid down and was the price at which goods were sold on 21st August, 1939. Under Section 4 of the Act traders were permitted to add to this basic price increased costs and charges which had been incurred as a result of the war, but the trader was under an obligation to justify the marking up of prices. Under Section 5, on the recommendation of the Central Price Regulation Committee, the Board of Trade were enabled to specify the permitted price for defined classes of goods. The present Bill which, like the present Act, is intended to apply to consumers' goods other than foodstuffs, and not to charges, such 854 as charges for electricity or gas, differs from the Prices of Goods Act chiefly in three ways. It gives power to the Board of Trade to fix maximum prices instead of merely permitted prices. Secondly, it adds control of the prices of services such as, for instance, furniture storage, to that which already obtains for prices of goods. Thirdly, the present Bill does not rely, as the original Act so largely did, upon complaints from the buyer, but imposes a responsibility of a more direct nature upon the Board of Trade.
The Prices of Goods Act has, up to a point, worked very well, and this has been mainly due to two causes—first, the admirable work which the Central Price Regulation Committee has done and which has been done by the local price committees throughout the country. I cannot pass on without paying a tribute to the very skilful way in which, under the chairmanship of Mr. Evershed, the Committee has performed a very difficult duty. Secondly, it has worked well because the British trader is patriotic, law-abiding and honest, and submits willingly to restrictions on his trade once he is satisfied that they are being equitably applied and, above all, that they are necessary. There is a number of main defects under the present Act. I think they can be summarised under eight main heads. Firstly, the Board of Trade, as I have already said, has no power to fix maximum prices, and we must have this power if a really strict and effective control is to be exercised. Secondly, the Act does not enable unnecessary re-sales by middlemen to be properly checked. Thirdly, it is based upon prices ruling in August, 1939, and there is no magic in this particular date, nor any guarantee that prices on that date of certain articles were not already unduly high. Fourthly, the Act has been much less effective in dealing with the wholesaler and the manufacturer than in dealing with the retailer as, owing to the reduced volume of goods available the retailer, relying upon the wholesaler or manufacturer, for supplies for his trade, has been reluctant to voice complaints against him. Under rationing the position is now different, because it is the customer who brings trade, not the goods. Fifthly, it has become evident that the costs which are allowed to be taken into the computation may require adjustment, 855 such as the overhead expenses in relation to reduced turnover. Sixthly, the Act, where it seeks to prevent the holding up of goods, requires strengthening. Seventhly, the Act covers only goods and leaves services untouched. And lastly, although the present Act applies to secondhand goods it is ineffective in controlling their prices because it is impossible to prove any basic price.
As I have already said, the present Act, largely because of the skill of the Price Regulation Committees, has worked well, and these defects have not impaired its general utility, but the gradual depletion of stocks of consumer goods, although they are still considerable, and the limitations of current manufacture imposed by the necessities of war, have placed an increasingly severe strain upon that Act. Early birds have, as usual, begun to appear in some numbers and have found the usual supply of early worms awaiting them. I propose to devote a little time to the discussion of this type of ornithology, so that the House may judge that the powers for which the Government ask are needed, and do not go beyond what is needed. It is, however, necessary, once again, before going into this matter, to express my admiration for the way in which the great majority of traders carry out the law. It is for this very reason that it becomes the duty of the State to protect them from the twistings and evasions of the less honest, who are, at most, a very small part of the whole. I think it a very poor argument that because breaches of the law, and evasions which defeat its object, are few and unlikely to have any general effect, that they can safely be ignored. Burglary and arson are professions which are embraced by very few, but that is a poor argument for not giving the police wide enough powers to stop them. In legislation such as is now proposed I feel more concerned about the protection of the consumer and the honest trader than that the depredations of the dishonest might bring discredit upon the Government.
I will describe three main fields in which the unrighteous flourish—fields which we now propose to fence off and police. These three fields are the conditional sale, the composite sale and the 856 intermediate or unnecessary sale or sales. First, the conditional sale. I will give a typical instance. The permitted price of thermos flasks is 3s. 6d. each. On information we received, a shop was visited by a Board of Trade officer, who asked for a thermos flask. The shopkeeper said he could only sell it if at the same time the customer would take a bottle of Busman's Balsam. This, I understand, is, as its name implies, a powerful and astringent remedy for bronchial troubles, and is particularly suitable to the fine pectoral development usually associated with busmen. As, however, our officer was a young woman, not a busman, and had not got any bronchial trouble, she was easily able to draw the conclusion that the offer of this cordial was dictated more by a desire to defeat the law than by the healing instincts of the proprietor. That is the conditional sale.
It is unnecessary to look further than the thermos flask for the composite sale. The customer goes into a shop and asks for a thermos flask. The proprietor says that there are none in stock but that he is able to offer an A.R.P. set. This set probably consists of a box in which are an empty bottle, previously put to better uses probably, a sandwich case and a thermos flask. The customer by a simple calculation probably reaches the conclusion that, as the set is sold for 17s. 6d., he is being sold a thermos flask for about 14s. or 15s.
In the intermediate or unnecessary sale an article changes hands several times, each intermediary takes profits, and ultimately the consumer has to pay all these profits, and the ultimate price bears no relation to the cost of production. I am not saying that all intermediaries are unnecessary; but there can be no doubt whatever that here and there in the country a sort of Black Bourse has been established where these transactions take place and where the services of these brokers are entirely confined to getting profits for themselves, by inflating the prices without becoming liable to the penalties for profiteering.
I might mention, as an instance of this, the new and celebrated industry of the semi-military steel helmet. The history begins with squares of metal of about 23 ozs. in weight which might fairly be 857 described as costing about 4½d., with a penny added for cutting and carting, making 5½d. The squares are delivered to a company, which cuts them into ovals and spins them into shells for helmets. This elaborate industrial operation leads to an addition of 9d. to the cost. The shells are then returned to the original company, and 3d. is added to cover the very heavy overhead charges involved in taking delivery of them. So far the profits upon the transactions have hardly proved sufficient to justify the risks taken, and at this stage a further 6½d. is added, making a total cost of 2s. These shells are then delivered to another company, which does not appear to do any work at all upon them, but charges 1d. for carriage and packing, and adds a margin of 9d.,making the average price 2s. 10d., These increasingly valuable articles are then sold, as I have said, at 2s. 10d., and resold at 5s. 11½d. It is not clear what services other than inspection are performed at this stage of the industrial process. Our steel helmet is then passed on at 5s. 11½., and the lining, strap and buckle are added—apparently an extremely delicate operation, because the steel helmet then passes to the retailer at 14s. 6d. The retailers, with a restraint which has hardly been shown by the manufacturers, throw these valuable articles at the price of 17s. 6d. to the public. When I tell the House that the protective quality of the helmets has been described as strictly comparable to that of a bowler hat, and that they become severely dented on impact with an ordinary kitchen table, hon. Members will realise that this pyramid of prices could hardly be justified by the results.
I give this illustration as the worst that has come to my notice of intermediate sales, and I must again stress that these are very exceptional rackets, and must not be taken to reflect on the honesty of the trading community as a whole. I perhaps speak more feelingly than many would on this subject, as when I was in business the average profit made by my firm on its turnover was three-eighths of one percent. If I had had transactions of this kind for a few weeks I should not only have been able to give my shareholders their capital back, but I should have been able to retire into a luxurious, if not a glorious, ease. His Majesty's Government are determined to stop trans- 858 actions of this kind, and will prosecute anybody guilty of these malpractices, more, as I have said, from a desire to protect the vast majority of traders, who loyally obey the law at the expense of their own pockets, and whose trade, not only here but internationally, has been built up on a standard of honesty and fair dealing which is proverbial, than from the other obvious desire to protect the law and the Government from falling into disrepute. I need not, of course, say again that the main object is to protect the consumer and to put into his or her hands the range of more essential goods at reasonable prices.
I have now dealt not only with the general economic plan of which this Bill forms a part, but with the misdeeds and evasions which it will seek to control and prevent; and I must conclude by giving very shortly a description of the main Clauses of the Bill and how they will operate to this end. Clauses 1 and 2 give the Board of Trade power to fix, by order, maximum prices at any stage of production or distribution, and a similar provision for fixing maximum prices for services in relation to goods. Orders under these Clauses, as under other Clauses, can be made after consultation with the Central Price Regulation Committee. Clause 3 deals with the subject of secondhand goods. It is clear that the same measures which apply to the primary goods cannot be applied to second-hand goods. Therefore, we seek to control unjustified rises in price of second-hand goods by taking powers to forbid the sale of such goods except by businesses registered in accordance with an order. Clause 4 gives the necessary powers to deal with the unnecessary sales between intermediaries of which I have given an unusual, and perhaps highly-coloured, instance. Clauses 5, 6 and 7 contain amendments to the principle Act, and Clause 6, subject to an affirmative Resolution by both Houses of Parliament, gives the Board of Trade the right to amend the first Schedule to the Act so that the allowances for certain costs, for instance, overhead expenses, which I have already mentioned, can be controlled. Clauses 8, 9 and 10 are designed to prevent various forms of evasion of the Act. Clause 10, particularly, gives powers to prevent evasion by barter or by creating mort- 859 gages and pledges for the purpose of evasion.
Clause 12 provides for the appointment of inspectors. I can assure the House that their numbers will not be large, and that in administration we shall be careful that they cause as little disturbance and annoyance to the great bulk of the trade as is possible. Nevertheless, I am sure that we are right in asking for powers to appoint inspectors. The present Act relies too much upon complaints from the buyer; and under the present Bill we cannot fulfil our functions satisfactorily with out a certain number of inspectors to apprise us of that small number of cases in which traders are endeavouring dishonestly to evade the Bill. Under Clause 13, the Board of Trade may make orders which compel transactions to be covered by invoices. As the number of transactions which are undocumented is on the increase, and as that is one of the means used to evade the law, it is necessary to have the powers to call for the usual simple documents to be kept. Clause 14 completes the provisions of Clause 13 and gives the Board of Trade power to require books, accounts and records to be kept. There is no intention of imposing any new system: in the vast majority of cases it is not to alter any existing system of bookkeeping, but to require that some books should be kept in some cases, that this Clause is designed.
I would like to conclude, as I began, by saying that the objects at which this Bill aims are, I think, desired by everyone in the House, and indeed in the country. I suggest that the powers which we now seek are no wider than are necessary to fulfil those objects, and I have been in the House long enough, though not very long, to know that during the Committee stage the Government can count upon constructive collaboration to make the Measure a sensible and workable addition to the general economic policy which I have outlined.
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence (Edinburgh, East)
If the President of the Board of Trade will allow me to say so, we have listened with very great pleasure to a most interesting speech. We have not had many opportunities of hearing the president of the Board of Trade; and if he 860 had now been speaking here for the first time I should say that I hope we shall hear many more such speeches from him, because he has laid out the subject in an exemplary way, which allows the House, first, to know where this new policy fits in with the general policy of the Government; secondly, to know what the proposal is; and, thirdly, to show what it does. I am sure that the House is indebted for this, and we shall in the main deal with the Measure sympathetically; because, on the major principles of the Bill, we are, as the right hon. Gentleman said, all agreed. Although there may be criticisms, and perhaps Amendments, in Committee, there can be very little said on the Second Reading except by way of approbation of the Government's intention to proceed further than they have already done in regulating prices in this country. Clearly, it is impossible to allow individual traders to get away with some of the practices which he has indicated in the course of his speech. I agree with his view that the bulk of the traders are endeavouring to carry out the very difficult conditions under which trade is carried on to-day honestly and honourably, but that, as he said, is no reason why we should not stamp upon such malpractices as those to which he has referred.
There are only one or two other points that I would like to mention. I am very glad to see that steps are being taken to protect the shop assistants, for instance, and others in a similar position, from what would otherwise be a very embarrassing position. It is clear that the shop assistant is absolutely under orders from the authority above, and I am very glad that it is a defence to his position that he is acting under the instructions of persons who are controlling him. I rather gather that there might be some question arise as to whether that protection is adequate, but that is a point we shall no doubt be able to consider later on with regard to the Bill.
The other criticism that I have heard, not so much of this Measure, but of the actions which hitherto the Board of Trade have taken, is that they do not get on with the job as fast as the general public would wish them to do. And I would like to impress upon the President of the Board of Trade that, if when this Bill becomes law, he has the powers that he has thought necessary, he should have no 861 hesitation in using them, and not only in using them effectively but using them promptly, so that there is no delay in bringing home to the recalcitrant persons their misdemeanours in this respect. It is suggested to me, running through the Clauses of this Bill, that there are various provisions which may make for delay. I hope that, while the Bill is passing through, if any of these should be proved, the Government will not hesitate to cut them out so that the apparatus can work as quickly as possible—the whole apparatus, for instance, by which local price committees report to the Central Price Committee, and then the Central Price Committee comes to the Board of Trade, and sees whether some of these processes cannot be short-circuited. I would not like to go into the details now, but I know that there is an opinion that in some cases that might be done to the advantage of symmetry and prompt action. I am sure that the President will agree that, in the enforcement of a law of this kind, promptness is of the essence of the scheme. Something that can perhaps be brought home to a man a month or a year afterwards is like whipping a dog for something he did a week ago, which, everybody knows, is a useless and absurd proceeding.
There is one other matter to which my attention has been specially directed, and that is with regard to the procedure for prosecution. The President of the Board of Trade will pardon me if I deal with the Scottish procedure, because that is the one that has been brought to my notice. It has been put to me that at present, before a prosecution can be instituted in Scotland, the local committee has to recommend it. The Central Price Regulation Committee has to approve of the recommendation, and then the Board of Trade have to do the same, and the Board of Trade next communicate with the Lord Advocate, and, if he approves of a prosecution, he has to instruct the Procurator Fiscal concerned in the committee's district, and the latter then has to make inquiries in order to supplement the local committee's investigation. All that represents, quite definitely, delay. The President may say that it is necessary delay, but it has been suggested to me that he should get rid of some of that procedure. It is suggested that there is no reason why in Scotland, where all prosecutions are at the instance 862 of the Crown authorities, the local committee should not been titled to communicate direct to the Procurator Fiscal, who would report to the Lord Advocate's Department and the latter would then determine whether or not there ought to be a prosecution, as in all other cases. There may be difficulties in that, but at any rate perhaps the President of the Board of Trade—I do not know whether he is responsible for the Scottish procedure or whether he does that through another Minister—will consider that point and see whether there is anything in it. I imagine that some similar arrangement may apply to England, though, of course, the procedure is different, because public prosecutions are not conducted in quite the same way in England as they are in Scotland.
Another point of which I would like to ask consideration is this: Who is really going to control the inspectors? A somewhat difficult situation will arise if you have local committees which are dealing with the local situation and which are naturally concerned with what is happening in local trading establishments, and if at the same time the Board of Trade have inspectors who are dealing with special districts who are not in any way responsible to the local committee, but who are responsible directly to themselves. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will consider it and at a suitable stage in our proceedings will tell us what precise relationship the local inspector has to the local committee. It is evident that, if the local committee is to function satisfactorily, at any rate it should be in touch with the local inspector, even if it cannot be decided that the inspector should be the definite servant of the local committee.
These are just one or two points for the consideration of the President of the Board of Trade, and I can only repeat what I said at the beginning, that the whole House will give consideration to this Bill, and that it will do what the President of the Board of Trade says, and will make purely constructive criticism on the Committee stage in an endeavour to see that this proposal is brought into operation as early as possible, and we shall certainly back up the President of the Board of Trade in using his powers effectively and promptly in order to do away with the kind of evil to which he has referred in his speech
§ Mr. Doland (Balham and Tooting)
I cannot follow the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence), because he has confined himself primarily to the administrative side of this Measure. In speaking on this Bill, I must divulge that I am financially interested in the Measure, and 1 speak not from that personal side so much as I do from the fact that I am the President of the London and Suburban Traders' Federation and on the Board of Management of the National Chamber of Trade. I was very pleased to have been able to listen to the President of the Board of Trade—and I think that my fellow traders will be very pleased when they read it ultimately in the OFFICIAL REPORT —and hear him say that he considers that the average trader is honest. We have listened to a great deal on measures of this character that has been said on the side of the consumer, and the trader generally has been left a little out of the running. I think the President of the Board also said that admiration for traders generally during war-time liquidation is agreed. We are pleased, indeed, to know that, but this Measure has been justified to some extent by the President's giving some very glaring, and in my opinion extreme, examples of profiteering. Take, for instance, steel helmets. Nobody could justify the increased cost coming down from the raw material to the product that is handed over the counter. Again, of thermos flasks the same can be said. Nevertheless, I was sorry to hear the President stress these two examples to such an extent, because they are undoubtedly extreme.
At the same time I agree that the Measure before the House should be welcomed, not only by the trader, but the consumer, subject, of course, to certain safeguards about which I wish to confine my remarks. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say—I do not know if I did so correctly—that the suggested method to be adopted in regard to fixing maximum prices was consultation with the Central Price Regulation Committee. If that is to be done, I hope it will not lead to criticisms, alterations and new regulations because somebody has found that a certain position is not covered in the Bill. If I may take a leaf out of the President's book and give an extreme example, I would refer to the necessity for consulta- 864 tion in regard to what I would term bespoke orders and goods. For instance. if a retailer receives a parcel from a manufacturer, wraps it up and sells it to the consumer, it would be a comparatively easy matter to produce a bill for that particular article, as the regulation demands. But how would the President deal with the case of a dressmaker who in making a dress has, perhaps, to go to a large firm in Oxford Street to obtain a bill for a certain amount of material, go to another place to obtain a bill for frilling and to another to obtain an invoice for buttons? All these invoices must be put together, before they can be produced to the consumer. Then there is the question of labour and of the number of persons necessary in order to make a particular shirt or suit. How many will have to sign a chit to show that they have worked on a particular order?
I welcome this Bill, and I hope it will give due justice to the retailer, and that it will give him a modicum of profit, or, if he has no profit at all, will pay his expenses so that he is not completely-closed down. I am interested in Clauses 1, 6, 12 and 13. Clause 1 gives the Board of Trade power to fix by Order maximum prices for goods specified in the Order by reference to cost prices and margins of profit. I hope; the President will consult not only the bodies mentioned but the traders themselves. because they can be of assistance. We do not want. as we have seen in the last few days with the egg control scheme. to see these regulations having to be so altered that they are far from what is intended now. So I urge the Minister to take into consideration all the necessary opinions of traders, who recognise the necessity for certain measures of control. We are anxious that the President should obtain full knowledge of the conditions to be taken into account when apportioning cost prices of articles which may materially affect the margin of profit.
Cost and the margin of profit are two of the most important things in this Bill, which does not deal with Stock Exchange or banking transactions. Clause 6 contains, amendments to the principal Act, and I understand that the draft must be approved by Resolution of both Houses of Parliament. I take it that the draft would be some time after certain orders are made or would be during the Committee stage. 865 Clause 13, as I read it, is so far-reaching in its implications that for bespoke garments—boots, tailoring and dress-making —it will be well-nigh impossible to implement it. When a customer asked for invoices for every article which had been sold, it would take almost an army of accountants and clerks to comply with the request. I may be misreading the Clause, and, if so, I hope the President will reassure me on the point. There are many articles sold by a retailer for which it is easy to produce invoices from his file, but where so many things have to be taken into consideration in the making of a particular article it is impossible to collate the invoices to show the actual cost of the article.
Clause 14 should be all that is necessary; Clause 13 is not necessary. Clause 14 would, I believe, give ample opportunity for people to carry out the intentions of the President. However, I shall be given an opportunity of discussing this Bill at a later stage, so I will confine myself to these few remarks, with the hope that the President will be able to extend to the trader the due which is his in the selling of retail goods. I trust that we can make this Measure practical and that the persons engaged in the affected industries will be consulted— and when I say "consulted" I mean from not only one end of the trade. I hope each particular branch of industry will be given the opportunity of voicing its opinions to ensure that no mistakes are made after the Bill has passed into law.
§ Mrs. Hardie (Glasgow, Springburn)
I wish to say a few words to welcome the introduction of the Bill. I am pleased that the 1939 prices are not to be taken as the basis for the operation of the Bill. I believe it was wrong to take those prices as a basis, because evasion was easy. We know that in many cases, after the last Act was passed, when one went to buy certain brands of goods—for instance, stockings or gloves—one found that the manufacturers had changed the brands. Consequently, it was very difficult to keep a check on the increase in prices. Moreover, in some instances the prices were very high already, and this led to unfairness.
With regard to middlemen, I am glad that some restriction is to be placed on the number of hands through which goods pass. In the past, the manufacturers 866 supplied their goods through wholesalers, but latterly there has been a tendency for them to supply goods directly to the retailers. I hope this practice will be encouraged, because the fewer the hands through which the goods pass, the better. In checking the prices of food and other things, one finds that certain people make a profit out of the goods passing through their hands, and the Government seem to have the idea that this should be continued. I hope it will be discouraged, because the rationing and regulation of goods of various kinds makes it unnecessary for the bulk of them to pass through the wholesaler's hands. I hope that in fixing prices the Government will not be too tender towards those people who hitherto have made a profit out of the goods passing through their hands, and that prices will be fixed very largely on the basis of the manufacturer supplying the retailer directly, and thereby keeping down prices.
I want to say a word or two in sympathy with the retailers. For a long time I was in the retail trade, and therefore, I have an interest in the shopkeeping side of this matter, apart from the consumers. I realise that the retailers have a difficult task now. They have certain overhead charges; and although it docs not come within the scope of the Bill, I suggest that something ought to be done to revise the high rents which many retailers have to pay at the present time. If the retailers are to be given a sufficient profit to pay their overheads, particularly extortionate rents, and to retain a reasonable profit for themselves, it will come back on the consumers, because it will not be possible to fix reasonable prices. Consequently, I think the Government ought to do something to revise the rates of rent, in view of the restriction in supplies to retailers.
Those are the main points that I wan I to make on the Second Reading. Then-may be points of detail which I shall want to raise at another stage. We have been told about the difficulties of legal procedure in Scotland. I am not so concerned about the working of the penalties attached to the Bill; I believe that shopkeepers are a fairly law-abiding section of the community, and most of them will obey the law, whatever it may be. I am more concerned that prices should be fixed on a reasonable basis, that there 867 should not be too much allowance for the middlemen, and that the Board of Trade should raise with the appropriate Department the question of a revision of the rents which shopkeepers have to pay.
§ Mr. Moelwyn Hughes (Carmarthen)
I join with other hon. Members in congratulating the President of the Board of Trade on the introduction of this Bill, but I should like to ask him why we have had to wait so long for it. The defects of the existing Act have been manifest for many months. If I may, at this early stage of my remarks, disclose my personal interest in the matter, I will tell the House that I am the independent chairman of the accountants and experts committee of the voluntary control panel of the rubber industry. In that capacity I have had placed upon me the task of advising the industry how it should carry out the Act. I have prepared memoranda and conducted deputations, and I have had a great many transactions with the Central Price Regulation Committee. An example of avoiding the spirit of the Act did arise in the industry in connection with the sale of boots. Perhaps the matter has been brought to the right hon. Gentleman's notice. A quantity of boots was sold between three or four members of the same family, passing from one to the other, and in each case the retailer's profit in terms of money was added, and the boots were eventually offered to the public carrying three or four retailers' profits. The matter was brought to the attention of the Central Price Regulation Committee, and I went to see the chairman about it, and it was brought to the attention of the Board of Trade. We found ourselves completely helpless in the matter. It is only fair to say that this matter was brought to the attention of the authorities, not as a result of a complaint from the public, but by the manufacturer himself.
As a result of my experience of the working of the 1939 Act and my dealings with the Central Price Regulation Committee, I should like to add my commendation of the work done by that Committee. It is a representative body, it works assiduously, and, as far as I know, it has always done its work efficiently and courteously. I have always found the chairman and the staff ready to be helpful at all times to those who had to consult 868 them on matters arising from the Act. The Committee has done its work with a minimum of red tape, but I do not think the Board of Trade have treated it as generously as they might have done. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that the Committee needs a bigger staff in order to carry out its duties efficiently. I suggest also that the Board of Trade have not always been as helpful as they might have been in assisting the Committee to carry out its work. I do not think it is necessary to go into details, but surely it is unnecessary, when an efficient Committee has fully investigated matters, that the work should be done over again by the Board of Trade.
The question of the enforcement of the provisions over the country as a whole has already been touched upon, and questions have been asked about the exact position of the inspectors who are to be appointed under Clause 12. As the right hon. Gentleman said, we shall no longer depend upon private complaints to cause the Act to be carried out. The curious thing about these complaints is that certain articles seem to attract complaints more readily than others, and certain parts of the country seem to be more alive than others to their rights under the Act. That is noticeably the case north of the Tweed and west of the Severn. The position of the inspectors ought to be clearer, and, I submit for the President's consideration, these inspectors should be at the disposal and under the control of the Central Price Control Committee. The Act which this Bill seeks to improve provides:It shall be the duty of the Central Price Regulation Committee to exercise a general supervision over the enforcement of the provisions of this Act.We should be carrying out the spirit and intentions of the 1939 Act if the inspectorate was placed under the control of the Central Committee. One other matter arises under the Schedule of the 1939 Act. I wonder why the President of the Board of Trade has not thought it wise to put these provisions, or amended provisions, into this Bill. There is a number of difficulties, both in interpretation and in application, under several heads of the items of permitted increases in the First Schedule. I will refer to one only, and one which has been mentioned on more than one occasion during the course of this Debate—that is, the spreading of overhead expenses. This House ought 869 to have had an opportunity now, because it is urgent, of discussing how that question is to be tackled. It is the consumer who has to pay in the end, and we are entitled to be told now whether the intention is to prevent profiteering and inflation in the exercise of these powers giving a right to these increases, or whether it is the intention by allowing them to continue, to subsidise in a largely uncompetitive market a wasteful and uneconomic distributive system. However, the President of the Board of Trade has seen fit not to bring this to the House for consideration now, although it is urgent, but to have Clause 6 included in the Bill with its powers to amend the Schedule, subject to submission of the draft Order for the approval of both Houses. I do not suppose for one moment the President of the Board of Trade will dispute that this matter is urgent, but he has not seen fit to bring it into the Bill. Why does he not at least suggest that the procedure is one which will not involve another protracted delay? It is a well-recognised form of procedure to say that an Order shall be laid on the Table for a certain number of days before coming into effect, unless there is a Prayer against it. I ask the President to tell us why he does not put in the Bill, and recommend a proposal which guarantees a good deal less delay in an urgent matter?
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)
I desire unhesitatingly to welcome this Bill and to make a few observations upon it and upon the issues raised. I should like the President of the Board of Trade, between now and the Committee stage, to consider the advisability of publishing a White Paper, in order that the House may be better informed about the working and experience of the price regulation committees. I should like him to consider the need for setting out in this White Paper the number of complaints received, the number of prosecutions, the amount of the fines and other actions taken. I make the suggestion in order that the House, when it meets in Committee, can benefit from the experience of the administration of the present Act so that we can detect its weaknesses. It would enable hon. Members, such as the hon. Member who spoke from the point of view of the traders, and other people representing the various interests, to mould the present Bill into an Act of Parliament which will 870 deal with a situation of which some people are trying to take advantage. I hope that suggestion will be considered.
In addition, I hope the President of the Board of Trade will be good enough to consider the advisability of putting a few typical examples of the kind to which he referred in this White Paper. He dealt with certain kinds of thermos flasks, and instances could be given of other types of vacuum flask, showing the game that has been played. We have had actual experience of this kind of thing, and there are other examples which could be given. I heard that during a certain serious situation there was a great demand, in industrial centres in particular, for thermos flasks so that people could have a drink of tea without leaving their air-raid shelter. I understand that action was taken to prevent people exploiting that demand, but this is the way they got round it. Instead of selling thermos flasks or vacuum flasks as one item, they sold them in a container with one or two other things and so obtained an increased price. That kind of thing ought not to be encouraged and ought to be stopped, but I would point out that if this Bill, when it becomes an Act, has nothing more than a preventive value, it will be of considerable importance.
I have a fair knowledge of what has been taking place from the consumers' point of view, having had these matters reported to trades councils, and it is surprising the friction that has been aroused as a result of this sort of thing taking place. The President of the Board of Trade gave us only one or two examples but there are thousands of other examples which could be given, which, I hope, will be shown in the White Paper if it is decided to publish it. I have had my attention drawn already to large stores which have large stocks many of which suddenly become shop-soiled, and therefore are second-hand. Many of them have larger stores than ever of travellers' samples, which also become shop-soiled. Will Clause 7 deal with this kind of thing, and can the action be made retrospective? I have here a cutting from a large advertisement appearing in certain national newspapers asking purchasers to visit them and, if they have not sufficient coupons to purchase certain commodities, they will give credit. Those are concrete examples which show the need for a Bill 871 of this kind. In my view, it ought to be called an anti-profiteering Bill, and in a situation of this kind it is needed. I should like to ask what will be considered a reasonable margin of profit
. I also suggest that there is a need for recasting local price regulation committees. I think the National Price Regulation Committee has functioned as efficiently as could possibly be expected under the present Act, but the local price regulation committees, which are at present above the people, should be more organically of the people. The more you can associate the ordinary people with this machinery, the better as far as concerns the maintenance of confidence in the administration of an Act of this kind. I should like representatives of the Committee and inspectors to pay visits as often as possible to local organisations like chambers of commerce, trades councils and the Co-operative Women's Guild. They could see what is taking place in the localities, and it would give them an opportunity of asking questions and would go a long way towards eliminating suspicion. The burden of proof has been the difficulty. In my experience the best types of people hesitate to give others away. This shows the need for inspectors, and also for action in the way I have indicated. Could it not be made more definite that the burden of proof is to be put more and more upon the inspectors and other administrators rather than leaving it to individuals to report? There is reluctance among ordinary people to report things, because they have an idea that it is hardly playing the game and is hitting below the belt. While we know that it is not so, you will have to do a large amount of pioneering work before you eliminate that idea among ordinary people. Clause 11 deals with enforcement. I should like to ask whether the local machine is working satisfactorily and how often members of local committees attend. Could we have a reply to those questions in the White Paper? Under Clause 12 is it intended that the inspectors should attend the local committee when possible?
How is it intended to ascertain the basic price, and what allowances are to be made as far as contingencies are concerned? What are the overhead charges that are to 872 be allowed. because those who have experience of the effect of overhead charges know what can be done? Will advertising be allowed as an overhead charge? Is advertising considered necessary? I should like to know whether in the opinion of the Board of Trade advertising is necessary to the extent that some people are carrying it on. Is it necessary that advertising should be allowed to be carried on just for the preservation of goodwill? I have had instances brought to my knowledge where some concerns are still advertising in order to maintain their prestige. It is called prestige Advertising. One Government Department is seriously concerned about the amount of expenditure on the maintenance of prestige and goodwill by certain firms. The Government are giving out more and more orders. Is the Board of Trade watching that the overhead charges on Government orders are not being pushed up in order to keep down the overhead charges on civilian necessities?
I was pleased to hear the President refer to the responsibility of the wholesale trade in regard to increased prices. I have figures and official reports which prove beyond a shadow of doubt that it is the wholesale trade which has benefited, generally speaking, as the result of increased prices. In February Mr. Ebby Edwards, the General Secretary0f the Mineworkers' Federation. issued a report which shows the importance of the appeal which I am making. It shows the need for this Bill becoming law as soon as possible. It also shows the need for the publication of the White Paper in order that on the Committee stage all of us can pool our experiences so that we can detect the weaknesses in the Bill. The cash earnings per man-shift between 1939 and 1940 increased in South Wales by 14 per cent., in Lancashire by 20 per cent. and in North Staffordshire by 16 per cent., while the cost of living increased by 22 per cent. The point I want to drive home, especially from our point of view, is that the time-lag between wages and cost of living is not generally appreciated. The position is even worse in many industries. The miners have a cost of living agreement and they are, therefore, bound to be in a relatively better position in relation to the cost of living compared with those trades that have no agreement.
873 In a period of war or inflation wages never keep pace with increased prices, and the effect on the workers would be even more severe were it not for the action of the trade unions. At the present time the cost of living has increased 29 per cent., while wage rates have increased by only 18 per cent. I have here the latest publication of the Royal Economic Society issued this week, showing the change in the cost of living during the whole of the last war, the cost of living index and other comparisons. These prove beyond doubt that wages were not responsible for the inflation spiral, because they always lagged many points behind the cost of living and in percentage comparisons were even worse.
A Bill of this kind, therefore, is important in order to prevent a similar situation developing in this war. I have made an analysis of the family budgets compiled in the Ministry of Labour inquiry, and I calculate that this Bill will cover at least 17s. of the weekly expenditure of the average family. It is on the goods covered by this expenditure that the greatest increases have taken place. The President claimed that the Government had a comprehensive policy. He certainly did justice in his statement to-day to the Government's position. I said to a number of my hon. Friends, who regretted they could not hear his speech owing to their being called away, what I thought of it. I only wish that other speeches were made in the same clear way, for I am convinced that the understanding of the Government's policy would be better than it is if they were.
In my view, however, the policy is not comprehensive enough, and I would like to put forward one or two suggestions for the consideration of the Government. These suggestions are in line with the policy of organisations representing a big section of the community which is making a great contribution to the national effort. I urge that there should be no political interference with wage and salary arrangements, that prices should be pegged, that margins should be fixed on the lowest minimum consistent with people covering their costs, that a 6 per cent. limitation of dividends should be introduced, and that the policy of subsidies where required should be continued. This policy, I believe, would be a real contribution to the war effort. When this Bill becomes 874 an Act and the Board of Trade receives the power, it needs to be ruthlessly applied. The cost of living has now increased 29 per cent. since September, 1939, and in addition Government subsidies have amounted to £90,000,000. The increase in the main is due to the prices of goods dealt with by this Bill. Wage increases have lagged well behind and, therefore, the need for this Bill is well proved. I hope that between now and the Committee stage we shall all pool our experiences in order to make it as watertight as possible so that it will be a real contribution to the war effort.
§ Mr. Leslie (Sedgefield)
This Bill should be welcomed by the House, seeking as it does not only to protect the consumer, but to protect the honest trader against unscrupulous competitors. I believe that traders in general desire to do the right thing by the purchasing public, but there is no denying that there are certain doubtful characters who seek to evade whatever laws are passed. I am concerned about the position of the assistants under the Bill. What safeguards have employés who act on verbal instructions from their firms in defiance of the Bill and are prosecuted? When I was secretary of my trade union we often had cases where assistants were prosecuted for contravening some Act, and it was found that they had acted on verbal instructions from their employers and not written instructions, so that no evidence could be produced against the firm. The employé so prosecuted was removed to another branch or often dismissed in order to throw dust in the eyes of the purchasing public and to show the public that the employé had acted without the knowledge of the firm. The firm's reputation was thereby safeguarded, but the assistant's reputation was damned and he had small chance of securing a situation elsewhere. In all such cases the employer should be placed in the witness box and put on oath so that the court could make sure who was the real criminal in contravening the Act.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
I wish to ask the President one or two quetions affecting not so much a new industry, but a group associated with a particular craft which are looking forward to a measure of prosperity in the next month or two. They have already begun 875 in a manner which can be seen by anyone who cares to visit the shops. I refer to the renovation of suits and the turning of suits and ladies' costumes. We are all having to recognise the economies which we shall have to practice by reason of the Rationing Order. With the help of an efficient tailor a suit which has been worn for three or four years may be made to appear quite new. One Member of this House told me yesterday that the coat he was wearing was seven years old and that he was going to have it turned and hoped to wear it for another three or four years. But in recent weeks I have noticed a big change in the charges for these services. There can be no doubt that those in the trade are realising the possibilities of what I may call profiteering. They have already started what is now called a "racket." Prices have been increased by almost 100 per cent.
Then there is the group of invisible menders. They certainly perform a very useful service, but I warn the Minister that attention should be paid to their charges, and the public should be protected against exploitation. In the last day or two I have seen one or two ladies going stockingless; others are saying, "It does not matter now if we do have ladders in our stockings"; and yet others say they can get their laddered stockings repaired at shops which cater for that work. But these last-named are finding, much to their annoyance, that whereas a few months ago the charge for repairing a pair of stockings was 1s. or 1s. 6d. it has now gone up by 100 per cent. I hope particular attention will be paid to those businesses. The other group to which I should like to refer are laundries. I think the Minister said a few days ago that he intended to fix maximum prices for laundry work. I know that trade board rates operate in laundries and that generally speaking laundry employers act fairly and give a square deal to the general public, but there are some who cater for the repair as well as for the washing of garments, and I am afraid that a large measure of exploitation is taking place and that there will be ample scope for it in the future, because of the anxiety of people to make their clothes last much longer. I understand that inspectors are to be appointed to deal with this matter, and they will have plenty of scope for 876 their activities in the three groups of trades to which I have referred. I would ask the Minister to indicate his intentions respecting those groups.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)
I wish to utter only two or three sentences on this very desirable Bill. It is divided roughly into two parts, one part dealing with the fixing of maximum prices. I think it contains more penalties for those who offend against the law than probably any Bill which has been brought before Parliament. When the previous Measure on the same lines was before us in 1939 I raised a point with which I am glad to see the Government have now dealt. My point was that when a shop assistant or anybody employed by a shopkeeper contravenes this law at the suggestion of the employer, though not on his direct instructions, it is unfair to penalise the employé. In the middle of Clause 1 it states:It shall be a defence for a person charged with a contravention of the said sub-section to prove that, in relation to the matter in respect of which he is charged, he acted in the course of his employment as a servant or agent of another person on the instructions of his employer or of some other specified person.That is a very reasonable provision, and, of course, I welcome it, because I think it was inserted as a consequence, very largely, of our discussions on the Second Reading of the Bill of 1939. There is a similar provision in Clause 16, at the foot of page 12 of the Bill. I am pleased to see the Solicitor-General present. I do not like at any time to challenge his wide knowledge, and I would like him to tell us what is the position in the case where an employécontravenes this law in the course of his ordinary duties. Is not the employer in that case responsible for the acts of his employés? The words in Clause 16 to which I would call attention are:Where a person, not being a body corporate,".I suppose that a co-operative society would be a body corporate. There is no individual person in a co-operative society. It is a society made up of members employing assistants behind the counter who will in actual practice have to carry out this law. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman enlighten me as to what will be the position of a co-operative society employé who may violate this law? You cannot very well sue an indi- 877 vidual employer in a co-operative society. You have, I suppose, to prosecute the society as a whole, which in fact is an abstract thing.
Finally, I would say that I welcome this Bill because I do not think that Parliament has ever realised that more tricks can be resorted to in the distributive trades than in any other industry. The ramifications in the handling of goods between the producer, the wholesaler, the retailer and the customer are colossal. How large a number of people are employed in distribution in this country is not commonly known. I have said on several occasions, and I repeat it now, that including shop assistants and shopkeepers there are not less than 2,500,000 in this country earning their livelihood in distribution alone. As has been said, the vast majority of them are playing fair by their customers, but those who want to break the law find it very much easier to do so in the distributive trades than it would be on the manufacturing side of industry, and therefore I regard this Bill as a very necessary one. Finally, I would ask whether, in analysing the prosecutions which have already taken place it has been ascertained how many shop assistants have been prosecuted and whether in some or most of the cases the shop assistant has had to pay the fine, because in some cases it ought, in my view, to have fallen on the shopkeeper and not upon the assistant. Having said that, I welcome the Bill and trust that it will bring about the desired results.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Captain Waterhouse)
I should like to deal first with the speech made by the hon. Member for West-houghton (Mr. Rhys Davies). He raised a legal point and asked a direct question on which I have sought the best available guidance. It was very good guidance indeed. I am informed that the words "corporate body" would cover a Cooperative society. The hon. Member raised the same point that was raised by one of his hon. Friends about the position of shop assistants. It is our intention to prevent shop assistants from being penalised for offences which really ought to be brought on to the shoulders of the employer. I am informed that the words in the Bill are adequate for this purpose, but, if hon. Members want to amplify or amend them, any words they like to bring 878 forward for the Committee stage will be sympathetically considered. The hon. Member also asked whether we had analyses of prosecutions and other figures about the work of the price regulation committees. Those analyses have been made, but I cannot give them now. Between now and the Committee stage we will look up the points which the hon. Member raised. If a particular point calls for any Amendment and we can make it in an orderly manner, we shall not withhold any information about it from the hon. Gentleman.
The right hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) opened his speech with a word of commendation for the general principle of the Measure, which was most gratifying to my right hon. Friend. He said that he felt we had not got on with the job—or rather, that the job had not been got on with— under the Act of 1939. I do not feel that that is very fair criticism. The Act of 1939 has worked and has served a most useful purpose. It is true there have not been very many prosecutions under it. If I gave the figure of prosecutions, it might give the impression that nothing had been done. After all, the effect of the activities which have been carried on has been deterrent, and far more valuable than a series of prosecutions in individual cases. The right hon. Gentleman raised a point of Scottish law which I cannot deal with now. A note has been made, and the point will be dealt with in due course. He asked us who was to control the inspectors, and that point was raised also by the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Moelwyn Hughes). The inspectors will be, of course, officers of the Board of Trade. The Board must definitely be in control, but the inspectors will, equally definitely, work in with the local price regulation committees and, through them, with the Central Price Regulation Committee. There will in no way be a segregation of their particular services in this regard. Although they will not be members of the price regulation committees, they will be working very closely with them, and will be more or less at their beck and call in investigating specific complaints.
The hon. Lady the Member for Spring-burn (Mrs. Hardie) raised two points. The first was about middlemen. She felt there might be so many middlemen 879 whose profits would accumulate to the disadvantage of the consumer. That point has been understood and has been dealt with in this Measure. I think her point will be adequately met when the Bill becomes an Act. She raised a question also about the rent paid by the retailer and how hardly the rent might press upon him, such high rates being charged as to affect the price which he would have to charge for his goods. That point is rather outside the scope of the Bill, but it is very much inside the scope of the Committee which we set up a little time ago to consider the whole position of the retailer. No doubt that Committee. which now has a multiplicity of things to consider, will get on to this subject and will deal with it in any report which it may submit. Reverting to the subject of shop assistants, I can now say that in no case has there been a prosecution of any shop assistant.
Several points were raised by the hon. Member for Carmarthen. He said that price regulation committees needed larger staffs and that the Board have not always been very helpful. It is refreshing to find a Member of Parliament saying that a Government Department needs a larger staff. The usual criticism is very much in the other direction. If it is found desirable for a committee to have a larger staff. the chairman will not be denied any extra assistance he needs. As to the Board not being helpful, I am sure the hon. Member is under a complete misapprehension. The Board are most helpful in this matter. as in all other matters. He raised a point about the amendment of the Schedule to the principal Act. He asked, "Why could we not put our Amendments in now instead of leaving them to be laid on the Table of the House?" He made a rather novel point, the opposite of the point which is normally made in this House. As a rule, the House, justly and properly jealous of its own rights, is anxious to have a last say upon any alteration in a Statute or any Order which is made, and therefore welcomes the procedure of the affirmative Resolution. He made the point that the affirmative Resolution is apt to be a slow method of dealing with these questions, and is therefore objectionable. I do not think that that is so. If any Amendment to the Schedule is generally acceptable to 880 the House, an affirmative Resolution becomes a mere formality. If, on the other hand, it is controversial, hon. Members agree that it should be threshed out on the Floor of the House. The hon. Member says, "Why should you not put the alterations in now?" The reason is that we can put in what we know now, but our knowledge is increasing the whole time. We want to have the power to make alterations as they become necessary or desirable from time to time.
My hon. Friend the Member for Balham and Tooting (Mr. Doland) raised several points which were listened to with great attention, because the House is well aware that he is intimately connected with the trading section of industry. One of his main points was on Clause 13, and he seemed to think that the provisions of that Clause were going to put a very onerous burden on the retailer, who would have to supply a host of particulars to his customers. That is not so at all. These particular provisions deal entirely with transactions between wholesalers and retailers, between one trader and another; in that connection I think my hon. Friend will agree that it is not unreasonable to ask for much fuller details than would be appropriate between a retailer and his customers.
§ Mr. Doland
Before the hon. and gallant Gentleman concludes his explanation, may I refer him to the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, which quite clearly says:Under Clause 13 the Board of Trade may-make orders requiring the buyer of any description of price controlled goods to demand and the seller to deliver invoices showing such particulars as are necessary for facilitating enforcement of the Act.I take it that in the course of the Committee stage or otherwise the hon. and gallant Gentleman will make it quite clear that that does not apply to customers and retailers but to wholesalers and manufacturers.
§ Captain Waterhouse
That is clearly the intention of this Clause, and, if it is necessary to make it still clearer, words will be put in. These requirements are as between wholesaler and retailer, that is, between two traders, and not between retailer and public.
§ Sir Robert Tasker (Holborn)
Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman consider the question of discounts such as are 881 referred to in Clause 4, as they vary from 2½ per cent, to 27½ per cent.?
§ Captain Waterhouse
The opening words of the Clause are:The Board of Trade may by Order make provision …When the Board of Trade takes power of that sort, I can assure my hon. Friend that they can put into the Order very much what they like, and they will deal with that particular point if it becomes necessary. My hon. Friend the Member for Balham and Tooting asked for consultation with traders. Clearly, that will be done. We are only too anxious to collaborate with traders and get their help and advice on any relevant questions.
§ Mr. Doland
My point was that the co-operation of traders should be sought respecting their own individual trades and not, for instance, an ironmonger giving advice on tailoring.
§ Captain Waterhouse
As far as possible, that is already done, but I admit that when committees are being set up men may be put on them of excellent qualifications but whose experience is confined to one narrow field, thus making an opening for the sort of criticism my hon. Friend has in mind. My hon. Friend also raised several other points which I think might be dealt with on the Committee stage.
The hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith), in a most interesting and thoughtful contribution, asked that a White Paper should be issued on the activities of the price regulation committees. He wanted a good many details to be given, but he agreed as to the urgency of getting this Bill through. I am afraid those two things do not hang together very well. Were we to issue a White Paper giving all the details he asked for, it would delay the passing of this Bill by a very considerable period. Therefore, while we sympathise with his request, we must express our inability to comply with it. He asked also whether the provision dealing with second-hand goods would be retrospective. Certainly it is retrospective, in Clause 3 (2a) the Board may refuse to register any second-hand dealer who in the past has charged excessive prices. That gives them the retrospective authority for which the hon. Member asks. He then asked that the local price regulation committees might be recast. Clearly, that is not a matter for this Bill, and I hope he will forgive me for not 882 dealing with it now. He asked further that the burden of proof should be on the inspectors and not on the public. That is one of the main objects of this Bill, as my right hon. Friend pointed out. So far, the public have had to provide all the evidence, and it has been very difficult indeed. When these inspectors have been appointed, they will deal with breaches of the Act when they are found. I think I have dealt with the bulk of the points raised, although there have been several other minor Committee points which will be dealt with at their proper stage. I am grateful to the House for the reception given to this Bill, to which I hope a Second Reading will be given.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for the next Sitting Day. —[Mr. Whiteley.]