§ 10.35 p.m.
§ The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Harold Wilson)
I beg to move,That the Draft Furniture Industry Development Council Order, 1948, a copy of which was presented on 9th November, be approved.This order is presented for approval in accordance with the requirements of the Industrial Organisation and Development Act, 1947, and it is the second order to be made under that Act. Its purpose is to provide for the establishment of a development council for the domestic furniture industry. In form, it follows closely the order relating to the Cotton industry, under which the present Cotton Board was set up early this year.
The House will recall that the Furniture Working Party some time ago recommended that the Board of Trade should appoint a tripartite National Furniture Council, with an independent chairman, to fulfil a number of functions. 1017 The first of these functions was to deal with the other recommendations of the Working Party; the second was to set up a central institution for the industry, such as the Furniture Research Association; the third was to report on and suggest action to remedy developments in the trade considered to be contrary to the general interest; and the fourth was to act in a general advisory capacity to the industry and the Government.
The Working Party felt that something of this kind was essential, because it pointed out that in normal times there was an intense degree of competition in this industry which might lead to depressed working conditions or to a lowering in the quality of the products of the industry. The Working Party said that it felt the need for some form of permanent machinery to ensure that any future development in the industry should be examined from the standpoint of whether it was in the interest of the industry.
This is an industry which is remarkable for the large number of small firms engaged in it. In 1938, it was estimated that there were 3,000 firms employing fewer than 10 people, and only 1,000 employing more than 10 people, and of that number only 37 employed more than 300. This meant intense competition, with all its advantages and some of its disadvantages. It certainly meant great variations in quality—a high degree of craftsmanship at one end and some pretty awful junk at the other. The war took many firms from making furniture into aircraft work and other war work, and in this the industry made great achievements and advances. During the war certain sections of the industry increased to a considerable extent the degree of mechanisation of production.
Since the war, the utility furniture scheme, although hampered by shortage of timber, has helped in this process by concentrating much of the production on to standard models and, generally speaking, maintaining pretty steady market conditions. The Board of Trade conditions kept quality to a very good general standard. The industry is now on its way back to normal conditions. Timber is certainly not plentiful, but the utility scheme, since the end of the war, has broken the back of the piled up emergency demand. Rationing restrictions 1018 have been relaxed during the last few months and, as I announced this afternoon, we are now relaxing the very close control we have had on furniture production and have introduced freedom for manufacturers to make their own designs, although still within the conditions of the general quality of production specifications.
I am quite sure the House will agree that the utility scheme in furniture has been a great success, and hon. Members will join with me in paying tribute to all those on both sides of the industry, and indeed outside it, who have given so much time, ingenuity and craftsmanship to making the utility furniture what it has become, one of our great industrial assets, because in furniture, as in other fields, "utility" has become synonymous with high standards of design, reliability, quality and craftsmanship. The time for bad jokes about utility furniture is long past, or ought to be long past.
§ Mr. Wilson
I never heard of them. I am tired of newspaper, music hall and, for that matter, B.B.C. jokes about tea-chest utility furniture, based on a recent court case, which referred to furniture before the utility era. There was great play made of that case in the Opposition Press, but little attention was paid to the subsequent correction. It is utility furniture which has purged the industry of that kind of thing, and under the free-design utility scheme, I have every confidence that the utility tradition will be maintained. The loosening up which will follow this afternoon's announcement means that the industry will now be able to get back to normal conditions and will be facing again the problems of its normal structure.
This Development Council order is, I submit to the House, extremely timely, as a strong central tripartite body will have authority and experience to help the industry to solve the problem of how competition may be revived without the former bad effects on quality and conditions; how good cheap furniture from mechanised production can be obtained in quantity without losing the distinctive English traditions of design and craftsmanship; how smaller units are found a proper place in the industry; and gene- 1019 rally how the structure of the industry may be responsive to changing conditions.
The war and post-war periods have seen real advances in relations between both sides of the industry. The Joint Industrial Council is one of those developments, and the co-operation which has come through the work of the Joint Industrial Council has helped in the discussions which have taken place about the establishment of this Development Council and have made it possible for me to introduce this order as an agreed measure between the two sides of the industry. I look forward to seeing many more of these agreements between both sides in other industries. We cannot go on in industry when there is a complete lack of agreement between the two sides, and I hope other industries will follow the furniture industry in this respect.
Dealing now with the order, I can inform the House that in drawing it up the Board of Trade have fully carried out both the letter and the spirit of the Industrial Organisation and Development Act, 1947. In accordance with Section 1 (3) we have consulted the appropriate trade associations and trade unions in the industry to which it relates. I am sure the House will remember that, on the Report stage of the Bill in the House, my hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions, then the Paymaster-General, promised that when an order was presented to the House the Minister in charge would give an outline of the sort of discussion which had taken place. Perhaps the House will bear with me for a moment while I carry out that promise, which was asked for by hon. Members opposite.
In this particular case consultation began with the consideration of the Furniture Working Party Report. The British Furniture Manufacturers' Federated Association and the National Union of Furniture Trade Operatives, which are the two principal representative organisations in the domestic section of the furniture industry, accepted in principle the recommendation for the establishment of a central tripartite body. They agreed that this should take the form of a Development Council, under the provisions of the Industrial Organisation and Development Act. A draft agreement was drawn up, and this was published in August as a non-Parlia- 1020 mentary publication, so that those bodies, and any other body or person interested in the operation of the agreement, might comment on the text before the final version came before the House. Comments were made by the British furniture manufacturers and others, including the N.U.F.T.O., and, as a result, we have made a number of modifications.
First, we have deleted from the scope of the agreement the manufacture of metal furniture and divans, and there was a proposed function for co-operative organisations for supplying materials and equipment for marketing and distributing products, which, in accordance with the general desire of those concerned with the order, has been omitted. The exercise of the powers of the Council to obtain information compulsorily has been made subject to an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the Council, and the quorum has been fixed at 12. It has been agreed that a decision can be made only if two-thirds of the members of the Council are present.
The only request which has not been granted is that which ruled that there should be three distributors in the Council instead of the one proposed at present; this was a request of the Federation of Retail Furniture Trade Associations. The employers were strongly opposed to the inclusion of more than one distributor, while the unions remain unhappy about the category as a whole. We felt, however, that while one expert on the distribution side can make a real contribution to the Council's work, it was not advisable to increase the number, for the primary business of a Development Council is to get to grips with problems directly affecting production, and only incidentally to deal with those of distribution. Any practical difficulties which may arise through having only a single distributor can readily be met by common-sense working arrangements which the Council can devise for itself.
To come to the terms of the order, the constitution is laid down in the second paragraph and the third schedule. The Council will consist of 18 members, of whom seven will be chosen as capable of representing the interests of workers; three will be independent persons, with no financial or industrial interest in the industry, and one of these will be the chairman; one will be chosen as having 1021 special knowledge of the marketing and distribution of furniture. This is a larger body than was contemplated by the Working Party, which suggested a membership of 12, made up of three employers, three workers, and four independent members. The increase in numbers was made following the strong representations from the British Furniture Manufacturers' Association, who felt that such a wide variety of activities and interests were comprised in the industry that they could not adequately be represented by so few as three persons. The addition of a person having knowledge of distribution was thought to be advisable in view of the great importance of questions of distribution in this particular industry.
In accordance with the Act, all the members of the Council will be appointed by the Board of Trade. The choice of the employers' and workers' members will not only be made after consultation with their representative organisations, as Section 2 (6) requires, but will actually be from lists of nominations provided by those bodies, and applications will shortly be asked for. Sir David Waley has consented to become the first chairman of the Council, and in regard to the other two independents, we hope to secure a man having business and some engineering experience in another field, and a woman. It is for the Council to appoint its own Secretary and any other staff it will require. So far as salaries are concerned, we make no provision in the order for the payment of salaries to any member, except the chairman, though there is provision for the payment of expenses.
Coming to the powers and functions of the Council, all persons carrying on business in the section of the furniture industry to which the order relates, that is, the manufacture of domestic and similar furniture, apart from metal furniture, have to apply to the Council for registration. The Council must enter in a register to be kept for the purpose the name, including business name if any, of each person who applies, together with a description of his business. The Council has no power to refuse registration, to restrict entry under the scheme, or in any way to restrict new persons coming into industry.
1022 The register is designed to secure a comprehensive guide to the firms in the industry and make certain the collection of the levy. The Council's register is open for inspection and copies of entries can be taken, but these will be restricted to the name and address and a bare description of the business. The Council will derive its income from a levy on all persons carrying on the business of manufacture of domestic furniture. This levy will take the form of a percentage levy on the turnover. The rate of the levy is to be determined by the Council and it is subject to the approval of the Board of Trade. It is required that it will be calculated in such a way and on such a level as to give an annual yield which does not exceed £25,000.
With regard to information, the Working Party reported that in its view better statistics of production and distribution should be available, and in particular that monthly figures of sales should be collected by the central body. The Council is authorised to obtain from persons carrying on business in the industry information about their activities as domestic furniture manufacturers, excluding information about costs and stocks. If firms are partly engaged in the production of domestic furniture and partly in the production of other goods, the Council has no power to require them to furnish information about the latter. The exercise of these powers by the Council is subject to certain powers set out in the order, requiring an affirmative vote by at least 12 members and requiring Board of Trade approval as to the form of information required. Provision is also made to protect secrecy of trade processes in collecting information and to prevent disclosure of information relating to individual firms.
I do not propose to go through the list of functions in the Second Schedule. It does not correspond exactly with the list in the First Schedule to the Act, and some have been omitted and some modified at the request of the industry. Should it become apparent when the Council is working that it is hampered by these limitations, it will always be possible to consider amending the order so as to broaden the functions, though of course to amend the order would require Parliamentary approval. We consider that the items put in the list of functions give the Council plenty of material to work 1023 on for the time being, and they authorise it to concern itself with all the ground which the Working Party thought the central body should cover.
The main specific problems to which the Working Party drew attention and which are covered in the order are the need to devise means of encouraging and maintaining a high quality of production in the industry. This is a matter which the Board of Trade had much at heart in the utility scheme, which we believe has laid a useful foundation for subsequent work on the subject. We have high hopes that the Council will develop satisfactory methods of safeguarding quality against the time when the utility scheme comes to an end. Item (4) gives full powers for dealing with minimum standards.
Secondly, the Working Party thought that an urgent need of the industry was power to have a proper research association to carry out research and to coordinate and publicise to the industry any related work done by other research bodies, such as the Forest Products Research Station, and that power is covered by item (1) of the schedule. Thirdly, there was need for the provision of proper training of designers and general education in design for other executives and item (3) in the schedule gives powers for "promoting measures for the improvement of design," though it does not mean that the Council has any powers of enforcing standardisation of design on individual managements and firms. The fourth thing was the need to review facilities for technical education, which is covered in paragraph (7). The need for marketing research and publicity abroad was reported on and is covered in item (13).
§ Mr. Shepherd
Would the right hon. Gentleman say whether any item covered by the schedule is capable of being enforced on the industry by any powers of his Ministry?
§ Mr. Wilson
With regard to powers conferred in the schedule, the answer is "No." The powers capable of enforcement are powers to register, to collect the levy, and statistics. I was not quite sure what the hon. Member meant when he asked whether we have powers to enforce them on the industry. If he means 1024 powers to enforce the results of the Council's work on individual firms and managements, the answer is "No." There are no powers in the Act or in this order for any form of control over individual firms in the industry. In fact, the Council has no authority to interfere in the management of individual firms. It may not engage in trading operations and it is limited, in the matter of wages, hours, and working conditions, by the fact that these are already covered by the Joint Industrial Council.
There are one or two points of detail to which I would like to draw the attention of the House. The definition of the industry, which is a very difficult one to delineate, is contained in the first schedule. The House will have noticed that, as far as duration is concerned, the order comes into force on 1st January, 1949, and in accordance with Section 8 of the principal Act the Board of Trade in consultation with the representative organisations of employers and workers in the industry, will review the position before 1st January, 1952, to decide whether the Council should continue in being and, if so, whether any changes have been shown by experience to be desirable.
I am very confident that the House will give its approval to this order. It is an agreed order and a very valuable scheme. I am quite sure that under the guidance of this Council, the setting up of which I am asking the House to approve, we can look forward to a period of prosperity in the industry and to the industry carrying out more and more services for the consumers, both in this country and abroad.
§ 10.58 p.m.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Bucklow)
The President of the Board of Trade has given us a very exhaustive survey of this order. I think it is proper that such a survey should have been given because this is really the first order under the Act, in the sense that the previous one on cotton merely reconstituted an existing body. The Minister is probably right in claiming some credit for having got agreement on this order within the industry. It is proper that we should have a clear idea of what this order in fact means and, what is more important, what it does not mean, because I find that many indus- 1025 trialists and workers express views which indicate that they have no idea of the real limitation of the order.
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the representation of retailers. I think there is ground for real criticism in the decision which has been taken by the right hon. Gentleman so far as retailers are concerned. The contention that this is an order dealing primarily with production and that it does not really refer to distribution is one which may, of course, easily be upheld, but I suggest that there are special considerations which apply to this industry and to the distribution side of it which would have justified the right hon. Gentleman in giving the retailer much more representation than has been given.
The first point is that these retailers are concerned with the production element in an intimate way. Very often a producer of furniture will produce for two or three retailers and for nobody else. Moreover, an important point which I think the right hon. Gentleman has overlooked is that in the main these retailers sell the products of no other industry but the furniture industry. They are in a different position from that of the average retailer. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman has made a mistake in confining the representation in this case to only one representative. He should have compromised by having two. I am aware that manufacturers did not want two retailers on the Council. Why did they not want two retailers on it? Because they thought that if they had two or three retailers, the retailers would object to restriction of design. That is the reason manufacturers did not want two or three retailers on the Council.
§ Mr. H. Wilson
Will the hon. Member say where in this order there will be any restriction of design? What powers are there for that?
§ Mr. Shepherd
I am not saying there are powers in the order to restrict design. I am merely giving the reasons why the manufacturers did not desire to have two or three retailers on this Council. That is a point of real substance—a substantial argument which the House should consider in relation to the whole idea, because what we are getting, in an awful 1026 lot of legislation, is a "ganging up" of the workers and the employers against the consumers. I suggest that, in a mild form, and not in a drastic form, that is what has happened in connection with this order. The retailer has an important interest in the industry. He is interested in design, in restrictions, in quality. Yet what does the right hon. Gentleman do? He refuses to have even two retailers on the Council. We all know that with one retailer it may well be that on an important occasion the one representative may be ill, which means that the retailers will have no representative at all.
This procedure emphasises the inadequacy of the Affirmative Resolution, and supports the view which we held about this matter when the Act itself was going through the House. The assurances of the right hon. Gentleman that we shall avoid duplication are all very well, but shall we in fact avoid duplication? I can well see that firms will be asked by the Council for precisely the same information as that which they have supplied in the census of production. I should like to know what steps the right hon. Gentleman is taking to see that there is no duplication between the two. I should be surprised if effective means of avoiding this duplication have, in fact, been found.
One of the most extraordinary features of this order is that it is littered with penalties. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that there are four separate sets of penalties, including imprisonment for two years, in an order as short as this. This is apt to frighten people and it may well cause people who are anxious to co-operate to draw back.
There is another matter to which I want to refer, and that is the avoiding of duplication of functions. About this the President of the Board of Trade has said little. We were most anxious, during the passage of the Measure through the House, to get assurances about avoiding duplication, because there already exist in the industry organisations fulfilling many of the functions set out in the schedule. What has the President done to ensure that there is no duplication? For example, the Timber Trades Development Association, a very important body, has to my knowledge not been consulted in any way about this Development Council. That association is running 1027 educational schemes in 60 technical colleges, it runs a research department, it has started timber engineering, and it has a reference library. Yet it has not been consulted, although it is quite possible that the services this organisation is giving the industry will be duplicated by something which is set up to spend this £25,000.
The right hon. Gentleman has got agreement on this order, and I want to help him by suggesting how he can get agreement on more orders. He can do that if he will give a guarantee to the industries concerned that the Government have no intention of nationalising them.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will bear that in mind. We are not intending to divide against this order, because it is an agreed measure which has been obtained from the industry. We subscribe very largely to the principle behind it. We realise that this is an industry to which such an order is applicable, with its many thousands of small manufacturers who need some co-operation. We believe there are many things which can be done to their advantage, and we hope that on both sides of the industry there will be the spirit that will make the order a reality. Any of these orders can become an important factor or a dead letter in an industry. The difference lies in the spirit, and we hope that all those concerned in this industry will unite to make this order a useful measure.
§ 11.8 p.m.
§ Mr. John E. Haire (Wycombe)
This is the second opportunity I have had today to congratulate my right hon. Friend on action he has taken in connection with the furniture industry. This afternoon he made a welcome announcement on the relaxation of certain controls. If at that time he tolled the bell on the passing of the old utility scheme, he did right tonight to express his appreciation, as we on this side of the House do, of the useful purpose it has served during the war, and during these post-war years of scarcity. Some of us who have been pressing the Chancellor of the Exchequer for weeks past welcome the announce- 1028 ment the President made with regard to the reduction of the Purchase Tax on non-utility furniture and I feel sure that will be well received in the industry. I want to add my welcome to the order, and my further congratulations to the President, and to say that it comes as a very worthy result of months of work by both sides of the industry. It is an agreed measure, and I feel sure that we can give it our Parliamentary blessing tonight.
At the same time, there are a number of questions that we should ask. I want to direct my questions to the second schedule, which deals with the functions of the Development Council. With regard to function (I), would the Council itself undertake research in given circumstances, and will it be active in its encouragement to the industry to use existing organisations — for example, the Forestry Products Research Laboratories at Princes Risborough, hitherto largely neglected by the industry?
With regard to functions (2) and (4), I welcome them most wholeheartedly. I hope that they will be used rigorously to clean up large sections of the industry which, particularly before the war, were guilty of much shoddy production of furniture. When the Council comes to promote modern methods of production and rationalisation, larger units of production, use of the conveyor belt system, longer lines, I hesitate to say whether those small firms in the industry, to which my right hon. Friend referred would be in a position to afford them. What I must ask him is whether, in fact, there is going to be financial assistance made available to these small firms in order to carry out the useful recommendations which may be put forward by the Council.
With regard to the promotion of design, including the establishment or operation of a design centre, this probably is the most important function of the Council. The hon. Member for Bucklow (Mr. W. Shepherd) mentioned that that was possibly the reason why retailers were excluded except in one instance from the membership of the Council. Cannot he cast his mind back to the days before the war when a great deal of poor and shoddy design was introduced because of the demands of the retailers?
1029 I hope that small firms who cannot afford designers will be given the benefit of this design centre. It was well known before the war how craftsmen were pressed into designing. They saw the ideas of designers of the bigger firms and by the addition of an ornament or two they considered a new design had been originated. The great advantage of the utility scheme was that it took design in the industry out of the Victorian period with its over-ornate ornamentation, and gave furniture sensible line and form. What we ask for here is that the industry should go forward in design and not backward, that we shall achieve well designed furniture, pleasing to the eye, pleasant to live with, and in conformity with the new design of modern housing. Will the President say what protection will be given to the public against poor design? What powers will the Council have to encourage the use of designs that in fact may be evolved in its design centre?
I am particularly happy to notice function (7) which gives us hope once again that the Council by their encouragement may bring back craftsmanship into the industry. Craftsmanship is dying in this industry and if the Council can, by its technical and artistic education, bring back some of our craftsmanship, then it will have done a most excellent thing. Even if it only brings back youth to the industry, it will have achieved success. The average age among the workers in this industry has increased enormously since the war, and in my own constituency not one per cent. of the youths leaving school enter the industry. What shape in practice will that encouragement take? Does it mean scholarships for apprentices, time off to attend technical classes, grants to technical colleges, or even a chair at a University?
With regard to functions (8) and (9) which deal with the promotion of better conditions in the industry, I think very much more is needed to improve conditions for furniture workers in our furniture workshops. I certainly know in my own experience some very old, badly ventilated, badly-lit workshops where it is extremely difficult to understand how good furniture can be produced at all. Under these functions, will it be permissible for the furniture trade to set up joint production committees, or works 1030 councils, to keep both sides of the industry together, and to stimulate joint participation in handling management and production problems?
Under function (13), with regard to developing export trade, I think it is recognised that the furniture industry is one of our worst exporters. We seem to have neglected that aspect of the sales side of the industry and today, as most people know, the industry mainly exports, antique furniture and reproductions. In-my travels abroad, I have often felt that there was a very big export market for our better British furniture, outside the antique range. Will the Development Council set up some sort of joint export marketing board, with foreign agents and publicity to encourage some of our smaller firms to market their products abroad?
With regard to function (14), the promotion of arrangements for better acquainting the public with the goods supplied by the industry, does that mean that the Development Council will have annual exhibitions? If they do, may I suggest that they be not confined mainly to London and the big cities. Can we not have exhibitions which go on tour and bring our best modern furniture round our smaller towns and villages. In High Wycombe we had an excellent furniture exhibition this year which did a very great deal to acquaint our local public with the latest developments in design and production.
That is all I have to say with regard to the functions of the Development Council. May I refer back for a moment to paragraph 2, which deals with representation? I would suggest to my right hon. Friend that he exercise the most extreme care in the choice of independent members. It is often likely that theirs will be the casting vote between employers and employees. I welcome his suggestion in his speech tonight that he is going to appoint a woman and an engineer to the Council. I feel it is only in this section of the membership of the Council that consumers' interests can be represented. I myself feel we must continually stress the interests of the public in the future development of the industry. I am wondering whether the cost, of £75,000 over a period of three years, which is to be levied on the industry, is really going to be sufficient to deal with the 1031 many functions the Council is undertaking. It is an extremely small sum—£25,000 a year. What other powers have the Council to raise money? I ask my right hon. Friend whether this House will have an annual report from the Council in order to indicate how it is spending the money it is allowed to raise?
In conclusion, I most heartily welcome this Development Council. I believe it will make the furniture industry, once the Cinderella of our national industry, one of the most advanced industries in the country. If I am not out of Order, I would say I do not believe this is the first step towards nationalisation. I think It is the first step away from nationalisation. It may well establish a new pattern for industry organised in the public interest. This Development Council has a very big job to do, and I feel sure that it undertakes it with the best wishes of all sides of this House.
§ 11.18 p.m.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
I am afraid I cannot follow the hon. Member for Bucklow (Mr. W. Shepherd) and the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Haire) in welcoming this order. I am struck by the singular fact that here is an arrangement by which 18 persons, none of whom are consumers, are allowed to levy the sum of £25,000 a year on the furniture trade. That strikes me as being a great departure from the furniture trade conditions which we have known in years gone by. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Bucklow that the consumers' interests ought to be much more adequately represented. One must bear in mind that even those 18 persons are all the nominees of the right hon. Gentleman. They are not independent persons. They are persons who have proved themselves to be smooth, facile, agreeable persons, suitable for his purposes.
The Board of Trade are practically invading the industry, contemptuous of what the consumer may desire, and appointing 18 persons to levy £25,000 a year, which is, roughly speaking, £8 to £10 on every employer in the industry, in order to secure this result. I think it is an unnecessary and unwise departure from the previous voluntary arrangements which have covered the industries of this country. The furniture of this country is 1032 world famous; but that furniture, as the hon. Member for Wycombe has said, is not the product of the Board of Trade's utility designs, but the product of the craftsmen of bygone ages—Chippendale, Adam, Hepplewhite—and the products of the Victorian era. The public at large do not want these designs which are now trumpeted as being, apparently, the pattern upon which British furniture production is to be organised.
The actual details of the order have other objectionable features. I protest that the compulsory registration imposed upon those in the trade is objectionable. Because I enter the trade I am compelled to register myself, and if I fail to do so I have to pay £5 a day until I do so. That is a very serious handicap. I may not believe that I can be successful in the furniture business and may go through months of experimentation before I consider that I am good enough to manufacture furniture and put it on the market; but once I enter the industry of making furniture, no matter whether I fail to get customers, I have to register, and if I fail to do so I am fined £5 a day until I carry out this simple duty.
There are further objections. Borrowing from the bank strikes me as a very ominous thing in the schedule. I do not remember any Statutory Order—and I have seen many—which has suggested this extraordinary recourse. Item 7 says:The Council may for the purpose of defraying any of their expenses borrow money temporarily from bankers or otherwise.On what security is this to be done? Who is going to guarantee the account? Is the Board of Trade going to guarantee this extension of financial responsibility? Like the hon. Member for Bucklow, though he is better pleased with the order than I am, I do not like the way the order is bespattered with penalties. Such penalties as fines of £50 and the like appear in these pages with increasing frequency. If this order is the will of the Working Party and of all sections of the trade, and even has the blessing of the President of the Board of Trade, why these penalties? It is odd that this, which is the common wish of the industry as a whole, should have to be spurred and enforced by these penalties.
In the schedule hon. Members will observe that the making of metal furniture is excluded. I take it that the President 1033 of the Board of Trade has considered the very considerable development of this trade and its exclusion from the Council. If this exclusion is continued, will it not give an impetus and stimulus to the metal furniture trade? As metal is in shorter supply than wood, is it desirable to give this section of the trade such stimulus? Hon. Members are aware of enterprises like "Pel," which have entered this industry in competition with the products of High Wycombe and other places. Is it desirable to make this exclusion of this section of the industry? Does the President of the Board of Trade tell the young married couple that wooden beds have his approval but that metal beds are to be discouraged?
I approach this matter with great prejudice. I have known of the building up in the last 200 years of a voluntary organisation of trading in this country. The chamber of commerce movement is some 200 years old—older than the trade unions—and under these voluntary arrangements which have the common support of men and women, of manufacturers, workers and consumers, we have built up no inconsiderable industry. His Majesty's Government have decided to change that pattern. I suggest to them that the voluntary pattern is in accordance with the English tradition, and it is in that pattern that we have raised ourselves to be one of the leading manufacturing countries in the world. Are His Majesty's Government wise in throwing aside what has been a distinctive quality of our industry? I myself, with some experience of the good sense of voluntary organisation, do not give my wholehearted approval to a scheme which is sprinkled with penalties and charged with compulsion, because I believe there are other and better ways for organising industry than that set forth in this order.
§ 11.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Collins (Taunton)
The hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) has given his individual opinion on a matter on which he has obviously very little knowledge. As a furniture manufacturer and one, therefore, who has a declared interest in this matter and who might be liable to the costs of registration and might even be liable to the pains and penalties of which the hon. Member spoke, I should like to say that the whole of the industry on both sides welcomes 1034 this order wholeheartedly. It has been discussed for a very long time. The hon. Member always mistakes what he regards as individual liberty for real freedom. We had that kind of freedom in the furniture industry prior to the war, and in the space of 20 years I saw promising developments in the furniture industry completely ruined by the kind of liberty to which he advocates a return.
There is no reasonable person in that industry, be he manufacturer or workman, who would not utterly deplore the breaking down of this suggested arrangement, and who would not equally regret any possibility of a return to the former state of affairs. It would create unemployment in the industry; it would bring us back to standards which would be completely deplored; and it would bring the working class people back to the condition where they would have the shoddiest and rottenest type of furniture thrust upon them by devious means—things which we in the furniture industry do not wish to tolerate again. Therefore, we welcome this order. The hon. Member, as we all know, is a person of the highest personal integrity, but if we had other individualists coming into the industry determined to exercise that principle of individual liberty which he so warmly supports, we should again find that with those conditions the industry would be ruined.
I want to deal with one point which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Bucklow (Mr. Shepherd) with regard to representation of retailers on this Council. I should like the President of the Board of Trade to consider this matter again. The view put forward by the hon. Member for Bucklow was, in my opinion, utterly fallacious. Manufacturers want to do as wide a range of business as possible. They take pride in what their Federation produces, and, while I do not think we want a hopeless multiplicity of designs, I do think we want the greatest number of designs characteristic of our own firms. If anyone attended a recent luncheon of retail furniture distributors, I think he would agree that one of the main reasons why the manufacturers objected to the inclusion of retailers was that they had to listen to the speeches on that occasion, some of which lasted for three-quarters of an hour, and were somewhat vituperative; if they had retailers on the Council, they may fear 1035 that they would get no work done at all.
But there are disadvantages in having only one member of the Council with a special knowledge of distribution. The matters in the second schedule are not such that they are not of special interest to retailers. Paragraph (4) deals with promoting the production of products conforming to minimum standards of quality; surely, in this connection, retailers are more in touch with the consuming public than the manufacturers? Paragraph (5) refers to promoting the better definition of trade descriptions and, in this, retailers could give valuable advice. Paragraph (12) reads:Promoting or undertaking research into matters relating to the consumption or use of goods and services supplied by the industry for which the Council is established.On that particular item, retailers can co-operate with a great deal of knowledge. Paragraph (14) in the second schedule is another item where the retailers can undertake the job better than anybody else. So, for the reasons which I have given, I think the retailers should have at least two members on this Council. There is apparently no intention of setting up a retailers' development council, and I think it might well be wholly unnecessary; but in this industry there is a sense of grievance about the matter and a little common sense should remove the grievance by adding another member, thus making for better co-operation between the whole industry.
I congratulate the Minister on having brought forward this order tonight and thank him for it. I regret that this is only the second order made under the provisions of the 1947 Act. Roughly a year ago when that Act was before the House, I expressed the fear that it would not be particularly effective, and that anticipation appears to have been justified, but I hope that this order may be the forerunner of many more. I have views about this particular order, which I have expressed, but it is a great step forward. In his earlier announcement at Question time today, the President of the Board of Trade spoke of freeing the industry from certain controls.
The President of the Board of Trade said some time ago that he hoped to increase supplies of timber. If that happens, we may get to the stage that, 1036 unless the Development Council has put in useful work, there will be the kind of situation which the hon. Member for South Edinburgh desires. It may arise in spite of the Development Council. What I am afraid of is that the last vestige of the utility scheme shall go before the Development Council can get to work. That would be disastrous.
What is really needed is for the Development Council to devise means of maintaining those standards which have been achieved during the last few years. I am not talking of the highest possible standards of craftsmanship, but of the lower and medium ranges where the standard of quality is much higher than it was before. That is what we do not wish to lose. Therefore in welcoming this order and wishing it every success, I hope that the Development Council and the Minister will pay particular attention to this vital matter of quality, and see that the position which has been gained does not slip away, in order that the industry may develop and play its full part in the national economy.
§ 11.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Niall Macpherson (Dumfries)
As one who, like the hon. Member for Bucklow (Mr. W. Shepherd) and other Members sat through the various stages of the Debates on the Industrial Organisation and Development Act last year, I naturally regard with special interest the first fruits of the Act. The interest was quickened with sympathy when we were told that this order meets with the general approval of both sides of the industry. As has already been mentioned, the real reason why an order of this description comes before the House at all, apart from the fact that it is statutorily necessary, is for the protection of the consumer. I should like to ask the President of the Board of Trade one or two questions on how this order is to be made effective, in regard to the production of products conforming to the minimum standards of quality and the certification of products. May I ask what sanction, if any, the Development Council is going to have in order that a product, once certified, maintains its standard? How is the Development Council to ensure that?
There are other matters where one wishes to ensure that the consumer's interest is protected, but I am not quite sure 1037 whether the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Haire) was on the right lines when asking for the protection of the consumer in the matter of design. Surely that is up to the consumer himself. I am much more interested that the furniture should conform with specification, and that we should make certain that goods do conform to specification rather than that they conform with certain designs which are more or less uniform. If one goes into a showroom today, one cannot but notice, for example, that sideboards are exactly the same height, breadth and length.
§ Mr. Macpherson
I am aware there are many designs, but the hon. Member knows as well as I do that designs become obsolete, and if he goes into a showroom he will find that sideboards have a tendency to be very much the same height, length and breadth.
§ Mr. Macpherson
They are all sideboards. That is not an observation I should have expected from one with so much knowledge of the subject as the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins).
The other subject to which I should like to refer has been referred to by almost every hon. Member who has spoken, and it is the question of retailers' representation. On that matter I should have thought that one view that could be expressed is that there should be no representation at all because, in fact, it would be possible for the Development Council to be in relation with the retailers' organisations and get a very wide view from them. That is one view.
The other view is that there should be representation, and in that case it must be adequate representation. I think hon. Members who have special experience of this trade would agree with the view expressed to me that in different parts of the country tastes vary. It may be that the one member who happened to be nominated to this Council would not be able to speak for the whole of the 1038 country. One might, for example, want one member to represent the South of England, another for Manchester, and another for Scotland, where, as I know, design tends to be very different. I do not see that it is possible to defend the retention of only one member in this way. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to say what happens supposing this one member is unable to attend meetings. Is there an alternative?
§ Mr. Macpherson
That is not in the order, but we are glad to know it. Finally, I fully agree that the main function of this representative should be to be in a position to say what the consumer actually requires. There may be a considerable divergence of opinion among retailers' representatives on this matter, and I should have thought it would always be desirable to have more than one opinion on the matter. I think it would be extremely desirable in cases where there is doubt, to be able to call in a given number of advisers. I should also like to see to what extent this is going to be possible. In the main, I think it is essential that there should be either no representation at all or if, on the other hand, the two sides of the industry are opposed to this greater representation on the grounds that it would over-weight the voting one way or the other, surely it would be possible to include more representatives without voting power?
That the Draft Furniture Industry Development Council Order, 1948, a copy of which was presented on 9th November, be approved.