HC Deb 31 January 1949 vol 460 cc1385-8
The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Harold Wilson)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I am now able to inform the House of the decisions I have reached after consultation with my two Advisory Committees for the next period of clothes rationing. I am not yet in a position to abolish it altogether. As a result of increased production, supplies of clothing have improved but public buying has increased also. Some though not all those with knowledge of the trade predict that this increased buying is seasonal and that demand will fall off. It may be so, but I am not prepared to gamble on it. Textile production is rising but exports are rising too, at a more rapid rate, and in some important types of cloth the diversion to export has meant that supplies for the home market have been considerably lower than a year ago. To maintain and increase exports must remain the first objective of our policy.

At the same time, while some serious shortages remain, there are certain sections of the trade where supplies are more abundant. I propose, therefore, to make a major relaxation. Broadly speaking, wool cloth is in good supply, and I have decided to remove from the ration all woven wool cloth (except gaberdines and certain utility cloths for infants' wear, both of which are scarce), and all garments made from such cloths. Knitting wool and knitted garments, however, will stay on the ration. Thus the articles removed include practically all suits, jackets, trousers, overcoats, costumes and woven wool dresses. Special arrangements will be made for clothing manufacturers to get their linings for these garments coupon-free. Secondly, fur garments, which have not been selling so well lately, will be downpointed to about half their present level.

In addition I am making two minor changes. The first allows some additional cloths to be used for making the low-pointed industrial overalls, which will do a little to relieve the shortage there. The second takes off the ration some old stocks of utility linen sheets, no longer being made, which are not selling.

These changes come into force tomorrow and the necessary Orders will be laid this afternoon.

I do not propose to make any further changes for the present, but I shall be including certain technical adjustments in a new Order consolidating the various Consumer Rationing Orders, which will be made later this month.

The changes I have just announced, together with the removal of footwear and the other changes made last year, mean that we have now got rid of rationing over about half the field in the past few months. I propose, therefore, that the number of coupons to be issued on 1st March next will be 17—that is all the coupons left in the existing clothing ration book. This compares with 24 for the current period, but with the narrowing of the field of rationing the value of this issue and of the balance of coupons in the hands of the public is increased; the coupon purchasing power in the hands of the public will be bigger than in the present and previous periods. Meanwhile I shall, with the help of my two Advisory Committees, continue to keep the situation closely under review. It is, of course, the Government's policy to remove clothes rationing as soon as it is safe to do so, but I am satisfied that that position has not yet been reached. In the meantime I am sure that the relaxations I have announced today will considerably help the public and traders, and that they mark one more dividend from the nation's increased production.

Captain Crookshank

While it is rather difficult rapidly to appreciate the full extent of all these changes, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he can hold out any further hopes at all soon about relaxing the rationing system for household and domestic articles and goods? All he referred to was certain kinds of sheets which were no longer being made and could not be sold anyhow. That does not seem very much of a concession to the housewife in that field. Can he give any indication that there will be an improvement soon?

Mr. Wilson

There is no single part of the rationing field from which I would have been more glad to remove rationing than household textiles. I am sure that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will realise that of all the goods which are in short supply at the present time, the sheets, together with the shirtings and certain other cotton goods, are those which are giving us most anxiety, but I can assure him that we shall keep the whole situation, not only as regards household textiles but all the other items in the rationing field, under very close review, and as soon as it is possible to make any further relaxations, we shall certainly do so.

Mr. Butcher

While not minimising the importance of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, may I ask him whether he will endeavour to remove as speedily as possible the rationing system for the clothing of children under the age of, say, 14?

Mr. Wilson

Yes, Sir. I examined very carefully—and took the advice of my Advisory Committees—the question whether, if a big field were to be removed from the rationing system, that could be done, but there were insuperable objections to doing it that way, and I have therefore taken the whole of the woollen cloth field out of the system.

Mr. Chetwynd

While I welcome the extensive concessions which my right hon. Friend has announced, will he ensure that rationing by price will not replace rationing by coupons?

Mr. Wilson

I am well aware—we all are—that the prices of clothing and household textiles at present are extremely high and are, for a very large section of the public, imposing their own rationing. That is, of course, entirely due to the extremely high cost of the imported raw materials.

Captain Crookshank

And the Purchase Tax.

Mr. Drayson

Do I understand that woollen socks and stockings are not included in the relaxation, and, if so, will the right hon. Gentleman look at that matter again very closely because it is important, especially in winter time, when people want to make increased purchases?

Mr. Wilson

If the hon. Gentleman can find any socks and stockings made of woven woollen cloth, he will get them free. of coupons. However, he is quite right. Garments made of knitted wool are not being taken off the ration because the position of knitting wool and woollen yarn still gives some anxiety.

Mr. Drayson

Surely the first part of the Minister's reply does not apply?

Air-Commodore Harvey

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the orders on hand of the silk manufacturers are becoming steadily less, and will he say what his intentions are as far as this matter is concerned?

Mr. Wilson

I will watch the position in regard to silk very carefully in common with all the other items.

Mrs. Middleton

Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that in those classes of goods which are to be derationed, he will retain the utility ranges for the people who cannot afford the high prices for non-utility garments?

Mr. Wilson

Yes, Sir. As my hon. Friend knows, I am at present trying to make available from the trade, increased proportions of utility garments.

Squadron-Leader Fleming

In view of the fact that all woollen textiles with the exception of gaberdines have been removed from rationing, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether mixtures of wool and cotton or cotton and rayon in the textile field are affected?

Mr. Wilson

We looked into that matter carefully but we had to confine the relaxation to wool.