HC Deb 12 June 1974 vol 874 cc1627-67

No order made under section 2, 4 or 5 of this Act (except an order relating exclusively to food subsidised under section 1 of this Act) shall apply to independently owned retail food shops having a turnover of less than £25,000 per annum.—[Mrs. Sally Oppenheim.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.57 p.m.

Mrs. Sally Oppenheim (Gloucester)

I beg to move, That the clause be now read a Second time.

I know that those hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee recognise that we have drastically modified the amendment on this topic which we moved in Standing Committee in the hope that it may find favour with the Government in its present moderate form.

A good many hon. Members will have read in today's Daily Mail an article indicating that the number of small shopkeepers by 1980 may well be reduce to 80,000. I am sure that nobody wishes to see this happen at all, let alone ahead of time, as a result of particularly difficult regulations which are being imposed on them as a result of the provisions of the Prices Bill.

We all appreciate—and the point is brought out in the article to which I referred—that the world does not owe the small shopkeeper a living. Nevertheless, I hope it will be agreed that many small shops provide an extremely useful service to consumers, and in many ways a unique service. Comments were made in Committee about the variation in profit levels on turnover in regard to the nature of the shop involved. We believe that by reducing the amount involved, we shall reduce the variation, although there will be some exceptions.

A great many small shops are run by pensioners who have sunk their life savings into the venture so that they may conclude their remaining years with some measure of independence by operating that small business. There is, of course, a need to protect consumers as widely as possible and in every way. In trying to exclude businesses with a turnover of up to £25,000, we in no way wish to operate against the interests of the consumer.

There are many ways in which consumers are protected in their dealings with small shopkeepers—ways in which they are not protected perhaps in a supermarket, where the staff are more anonymous and cannot give the same service and attention as is given in the small shop. I am not criticising the service in the supermarket, but the attention there cannot be as great as that given in the small local shop. There is in a small business an element of personal service which helps to protect consumers. For example, they may return quite easily to exchange goods which they feel are not fresh or which they believe may be underweight. A small shopkeeper's business depends on local good will, and it is more than his business is worth to upset the consumer—and, if he does he, will soon go out of business.

I recently spoke to a pensioner constituent who has been widowed and who himself is partially disabled. When his wife died he had to employ an assistant to run his small shop. He pointed out that if he had to display the price range notices required under Clause 5 he would have to ask for supplementary benefit in order to get someone to paint the signs for him. I am sure that this is not an anomaly which the Government would like to see as a result of this Bill. The turnover of this pensioner is about £10,000 a year, and I am sure that the Minister will be aware of the small profit that represents.

4.0 p.m

In Committee it was argued that it would be impossible to exclude small shopkeepers because of the problems of definition and also because they were not represented by anyone. I am sure that this House would not like to use the fact that persons or bodies may not be represented as an excuse for imposing upon them regulations, orders or any other measures which may be extremely onerous. In other words, this is not an excuse which is acceptable.

Although it is a combination of circumstances which tends to drive small traders out of the retail business altogether, I am sure that the three provisions to which we refer in the clause could be the last straw for many of them. I am certain that the Government do not wish to contribute to their demise in any way. I hope that they will see their way to accepting this very much modified clause.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

I do not wish to detain the House for very long because we had a fairly extensive debate on this matter in Committee. In fact, the Minister attempted to placate the Committee in some detail, and, in winding up the debate on the Question "That the clause stand part of the Bill", the right hon. Lady said that the Government would do all that they could to arrive at some sort of satisfactory exemption for the small retailer.

I hope that the Minister's researches in the intervening weeks have led to a satisfactory solution. Whether the criterion be £25,000 or some other figure is not all that relevant. What is at stake is the future of the village shop or the corner shop up and down the land.

In Committee there was a broad measure of agreement across party lines on this issue. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Jones) in his place because he voted "with reluctance", as he put it, to sustain the Government when we pushed what was admittedly an unsatisfactory amendment merely because we felt that it was essential to have a safeguard.

Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)

That is perfectly true, but I never agreed that £25,000 per annum was necessarily related to a small shopkeeper.

Mr. Cormack

At the time we were talking about £50,000. But these figures do not matter all that much. What matters is safeguarding the future of the small shop—the corner shop in a constituency such as the hon. Member for Burley's and the village shop in a constituency such as my own—often kept by elderly people, many of whom receive far less than the average national wage and provide an essential community service in the process.

Although no one suggests that this measure in itself would put such traders out of business, it could, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) said, represent the last straw. I hope that the Government have come up with a satisfactory solution, though I should have thought that this was an acceptable clause.

These shops must be safeguarded. The real dangers against which the Secretary of State is rightly concerned to protect people occur in the supermarkets much more than in the small shops, where there is a degree of personal knowledge, personal contact and friendship which is lacking even in the most efficient supermarkets with a vast range of attendants, and so on.

As I say, I hope that this clause will be accepted. If it is not, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester will not withdraw it.

Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)

The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) is right in saying that we trotted this course amicably in Committee. There was broad understanding and sympathy for the problems of small traders. I hope that the tone is not injected into this debate that one side of this House is for the small trader and that the other side is against him. The greatest blow to the small trader in the past decade was dealt 10 years ago by the previous Conservative administration with the abolition of resale price maintenance. It was the small trader who bore the brunt of that.

We are told that the small trader is sturdy, independent and capable of earning a living. But apparently he also requires exclusions from a Bill which, if it is to be effective from the point of view of the consumer, needs to be all-embracing.

The latest statistics indicate that, in 1973, 39 per cent. of the total sales of groceries were effected in independent stores. However, half of that was done in symbol or voluntary chain organisations, and it is difficult to know where they come in the semantics of what is "independent". If a small, sturdy grocer is part of a chain, he is giving up some of his independence. He is part of a larger co-operative organisation. If we exclude shops with turnovers of less than £25,000 a year, we must not forget that many of the larger organisations will have small units with turnovers of that kind.

I was interested to hear that the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) apparently reads the Daily Mail. She referred to an interesting article which appeared in it quite recently. However, it was the headline which caught my eye. It ran: How they are killing off the butcher, the baker and the corner shop taker. I read the article expecting to find a tirade against the provisions of this Bill. However, there was only one reference to it. The greater part of it dealt with the need to extend the hours of shopping. It made a plea for Sunday trading, for longer hours and for the small shopkeeper to be able to trade for 60 hours or more. All those matters are outside the provisions of the Bill. In my view, if a trader has to resort to working such long hours in a one-man shop, he should look seriously at the nature of his business.

Mr. Cormack

But I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that many small shops are open during what most people would consider unsocial hours simply because they provide this extra personal service.

Mr. Graham

I do not want to be drawn into saying anything which denigrates the service of the small shopkeeper. But the greatest threat to the small shopkeeper is the big shopkeeper. It is not the Government. The greatest threat to the small shopkeeper is the natural competitive element to which the Opposition pay so much attention, and the competition comes from the big shopkeeper and from other small shopkeepers.

Only this week in my own locality 1 noticed that my newsagent had spent a great deal of money improving his shop. The reason was that another newsagent about 200 yards away had done the same. The competition in the area may very well drive one of those shops out of existence, but it will not be the result of Government legislation.

Mr. J. Bruce-Gardyne (South Angus)

I am sure that we all agree that the greatest threat to the small shopkeeper is the big shopkeeper, but the matter that requires our attention is the manner in which the Government are stepping in to oblige the big shopkeeper to behave in a way that he would not otherwise do. It is a way which is bound to increase the threat to the existence of the small shopkeeper. Will the hon. Gentleman address himself to that?

Mr. Graham

By all means. I should have thought that the greatest threat to the small shopkeeper was the need to conform to the legislation about a 10 per cent. reduction in gross margins. Every shopkeeper below not £50,000 but £250,000 turnover is exempt. Any group of traders would vote to opt out of that requirement if they had the choice, and that has to a large extent been allowed. Under the Bill, the Minister has the power in certain circumstances to exempt. She can deal with the difficulties of small shopkeepers.

The day of the small shopkeeper could be numbered not because of Government legislation but because of changes in social habits. Most of us live in large towns in which areas have been obliterated and 30 small shops have been replaced with five. These shops cannot survive on a weekly trade of £500. They need much nearer £5,000.

The small efficient shopkeeper may be irked by these provisions more than the large shopkeeper, but I cannot believe that the small man who wants to remain in existence will find the Bill irksome. I am on the side of consumers, like old-age pensioners and so on, who need a small shop as much as the shopper on the large estate. Therefore, I hope that the clause will be resisted.

Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)

I support the clause. The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) uttered a truism when he said that the small shopkeeper's biggest enemy was the large shop. But orders made under the Bill will bear much more hardly on the small shop. I do not accept that the days of the small shop are numbered. In the United States, where the processes that he described took place long before they did here, and large supermarkets developed on the outskirts of cities, one of the notable developments of the last five years has been the springing back into existence of the small corner shop.

Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)

Would the hon. and learned Gentleman not agree that every large shop was once a small shop, that new small shops are coming up all the time, and that that is part of private enterprise?

Mr. Hooson

I do not think that that statement is absolutely correct. My experience is that many shops are large from the start and are supported by large capital formation.

In a sparse rural area like mine the small shop matters. People can choose between that and the supermarket, between cheapness and service. In almost every housing estate in my constituency there is pressure from the inhabitants for a corner shop, which they prefer to a supermarket. We may be on the verge of the process which is already obvious in the United States. Therefore, whether one agrees with the Bill or not, there is no need for the right hon. Lady to resist the clause.

4.15 p.m.

Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

I am in a dilemma whether to support the new clause or not. I believe that the figure is wrong. Instead of the turnover being £25,000 a year, it would be much better if it were £25,000 million. The Bill should, for better sense, apply to no shops, no retail outlets, at all. If my hon. Friend would accept a manuscript amendment to that effect, I would give the clause my wholehearted support.

This is a mad clause in a crazy Bill, based on a total misunderstanding of how the retail system works. I was astonished that in her statement earlier today the Secretary of State should have said that we had made a mistake in causing the nationalised industries' prices to be held down and that the Government had to put the matter right. At least that can be put right from taxpayers' funds, but if one holds down grocers' prices, whether they are large or small shops, it is not so easy to put the damage right from taxpayers' subsidies. The results of this sort of ham-fisted control might be grossly to distort the pattern of retail distribution.

Prices are controlled by competition, a fact to which the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) paid tribute when he said that the enemy of the small shop was the big shop. He went on for some time to say that what controlled the number of small shops and their viability was the force of competition. He is right. The retail distribution pattern in this country is a marvelous example of efficiency.

Where there is a large population, supermarkets can provide goods at a very cheap margin because of the throughput of customers and the high turnover, which means that they can spread their overheads thinly over what they sell. But in a small village such as the one in which I live in my constituency, with a population of 280 and one small shop, the prices are between 5 and 10 per cent. higher on most standard goods. The shop could not survive on the lower prices, it could not pay the rates or taxes or justify the wages or the income of the proprietor unless its trading was spread over a much wider sale of goods than can be achieved in such a small community. But people patronize it because it costs them money to travel into the local town to shop. It is right that there should be a small shop in my village and it is wrong that there should be a small family shop between two supermarkets in a big town, because that is not economical.

The point of trying to control prices of food in large or small shops beats me. I am referring now not to Clauses 4 and 5 but to Clause 2 and the power to regulate food prices. In her statement today the Secretary of State assured us that the voluntary agreement meant that firms with turnovers over £250,000 would follow the diktats of the bureaucracy. That does not interest me, because we are being asked to pass legislation which will be the law of the land. I see no reference in the Bill to £250,000 or £25,000 or any other level of turnover. The Government are asking us to give the bureaucracy power to fix the prices at which any of the specified foods can be sold in any shop, large or small. This to me is totally unacceptable. Therefore, after much consideration, I shall probably come down on the side of supporting the clause, in spite of the fact that I think it is woefully inadequate.

I wish my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) would be bolder. I wish that her clause contained the figure of £25,000 million, because, she knows as well as I do how the competitive system works in the retail industry. She knows that it is not only the small shops that are threatened by this Bill; the large shops also are threatened.

The hon. Member for Edmonton said that the enemy of the small shop was the big shop. He was right in saying that before this Bill was brought to the House, but he will not be right if the Bill becomes law, because it will be the Government who will be the enemy of the big shops and of the small shops with this inflexible price control. I believe that it is undesirable to put small shopkeepers into a position in which, because of the competitive forces at work, the big shops will be able to increase their prices, which they will dare charge because of their competitive situation controlled by the prices in the supermarkets. The small shopkeepers will at the same time be subjected to swingeing increases in taxation. The rates of many shops in my constituency have increased by 60 or 70 per cent. in the last rate increase. They will be subject to every sort of impost, and they will effectively have their margins controlled by reference to the big shops in a competitive situation.

This spells the demise of many small shops, not because of competition from the large shops but because of the ridiculous short-sighted short-term action of a Government bent on trying to maximise their short-term advantage at the expense of the long term, a Government who are determined to see nothing but the next election—and they will probably lose that.

This country is in an economic mess, and it will not get out of that mess by mortgaging the short term or by doing silly things like introducing this Bill, by driving small shopkeepers out of business, by depressing the margins of the large shopkeepers and interfering with the price mechanism to the long-term detriment of everybody in this country.

Mr. Giles Shaw (Pudsey)

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). I should like to refer to several points which concerned us in Committee. It was the additional services which the small shopkeeper provided for the community which we reckoned should have a part to play in assessing his liability for sanctions under this Bill. We recognised that it was the pensioner and the family with young children who are unable to move into the city centers where the small shopkeeper has a particularly strong role to play.

When discussing the small shop against the large shop I would remind the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) that there is provision in the Bill for the display of prices, a range of prices, indicating subsidised foods, and a scale to which there is a top end and a bottom end. I suggest that it is verging on an unfair trading practice that the Government should take the power to force a small shopkeeper, whose costs require a certain selling-out price for the maintenance of a miserable margin, to advertise the fact that prices in other shops indicate that they have a smaller margin and a larger turnover.

Mr. Graham

I accept that most people who patronise small shops recognise that because of the convenience and other factors they will invariably pay more than at the big shop. Why should the small shopkeeper be upset if his customers see in front of them the evidence of that which they already know?

Mr. Shaw

Because he is obliged to disclose the range of prices of any given commodity, which at present is not available in shops. I accept that people understand that if they go into city centers they will have to pay different prices, but when they go to a small shop they see goods on display which represent reasonable value in relation to the circumstances of that shopkeeper. To advertise a range of prices is an indication of the fact that we are approaching the day when the small shopkeeper may lose a semblance of the credibility in the community which he serves, to say nothing of the advantages of credit which are offered by small shopkeepers.

That is why we on this side of the House recognise that the Bill should include some provision which exempts the smaller trader. There can be argument about the scale which would be exempted, but it is the principle of wishing to exempt the lower end of the scale which demands some fresh provision in this legislation.

On the general terms and conditions of trade, we recognise that competition between smaller and larger shopkeepers is becoming more intense. Reference has been made to rates and the costs of service. But it is incumbent upon us to protect the variety of outlet to be offered. Not only is there variety of convenience but variety of product to be considered. It is the small shopkeeper who provides the small weights and packages and the single item as opposed to bulk purchases, and that is the kind of item which the pensioner wishes to buy.

We need some exceptional treatment for a sector of our retail trade which has been under increasing pressure, and the exemption that we are seeking in this clause is but a reasonable attempt to indicate that we in this House believe that we should protect a very important section of our community.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), I am not sure whether to enthuse over the new clause, but for a rather different reason. The purpose of the clause is to improve the working of the scheme, and I do not see any improvement in the working of the scheme. Any improvements which might reduce the chance of its being laughed out of court must be viewed with a certain amount of circumspection. Furthermore, it is important to recognise that if the clause were accepted its beneficial consequences would be very limited.

The right hon. Lady the Secretary of State touched upon this point in the debate on the Counter-Inflation (Price and Pay Code) (Amendment) Order, when she said: … we are not unaware"— I am always thrilled to find that the right hon. Lady is not unaware— that there will be some effect on the small trader as a result of competition."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th May 1974; Vol. 873, c. 1346.] This, of course, is the nub of the difficulty. Even if we exclude the small trader—the £25,000 a year man whom we are discussing in the clause—from the application of Clauses 2, 4 and 5 we shall not enable him to escape the impact of those clauses. He has to live, as the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) recognises, in an environment which is dominated by the large multiples which will be caught in the full vicious-ness of those clauses.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury, I depend very heavily on the services of a typical village store which serves the small community and is an essential element in convenience shopping, providing an enormous range of goods, the Under-Secretary of State will be amazed to hear, going beyond the list of goodies contained in his right hon. Friend's shopping basket, announced this afternoon. Of course, the prices which such a store charges are substantially higher than those I would have to pay in a supermarket in the local town. Nevertheless, there is a relationship between the two, and if the supermarket in the local town is obliged by the minions of the Secretary of State, beavering away at all the nonsenses that her Department perpetrates day in and day out, to act in a manner in which the dictates of competition would not oblige it to act, the impact is direct on the future of the sort of village store to which I have referred.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. James Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie)

I was interested in the hon. Member's reference to the degree of competition that these small shopkeepers face in their towns. Does the hon. Member not agree that there are many small shops in areas throughout Scotland, and no doubt England and Wales, where there is virtually no competition?

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

I do not think that I would agree. It is true that the store I am thinking of, which is invaluable to my family, serves a scattered community, the centre of which consists of about two houses, and it is the only shop in that community. But, of course, it is not out with the competition circle because of that. People have cars and could drive to the local supermarket five miles away. They could go into Dundee, for example, and find a wider range of supermarkets. It is nonsense to think that the small shopkeepers do not face competition. That competition will be rendered artificially acute by the malign activities of the Secretary of State and her Department under the Bill.

If we persuade the Government to accept the amendment we should realise it will have only a limited nugatory effect for the small shopkeeper. One reason why, on balance, I should be inclined to support my hon. Friend's clause is that it is an intolerable addition of insult to injury to demand that the small shopkeeper should display a notice telling his customers that if they go to a supermarket down the road they will get cheaper prices. For that reason alone I find it in my heart to welcome the clause while recognising that the impact of its acceptance would be small, and bearing in mind that we should do nothing to render the proposal before us less absurd than it otherwise would have been.

Mr. John Biffen (Oswestry)

My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) and my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) were being a little less than chivalrous in giving such qualified support to the clause moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim). I think that the clause is admirable. Of course, it may not coincide with the degree of ideological purity which must be enshrined for my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus, but it is an attempt to introduce a degree of reality into the legislation.

The direction from which I should like to approach the clause is to consider how all this legislation is to be enforced. The Secretary of State has engaged in a very transparent pre-election exercise to increase the maximum public expectation that there is being put into effect decisive Government action, with minimum commitment either to good law or to Government resources.

Mr. Fred Silvester (Manchester, Withington)

I wonder whether my hon. Friend is aware that at least 400 people might be obtained to enforce the law from the Labour Women's Conference at Swansea, since the Secretary of State said that it was her objective to mobilise these ladies and back them with the force of law.

Mr. Biffen

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) underlines very effectively the argument I was making, but, of course, the proselytising activities will not be confined to 400 Labour women. I do not doubt that this very evening the Secretary of State will be interviewed on television; doubtless the subject will be carried in the "Today" programme tomorrow morning when she will explain that she hopes she will have the vigilant support of housewives all over the country to see that sausages and baked beans, fish fingers and instant coffee and Lamb (one cut) or One weight range of chicken (up to 4 lbs.) or chicken portions or electric bulbs or toilet soap are being priced consistent with the agreement which has been concluded with the Retail Consortium and which was announced earlier this afternoon. Hon. Members from both sides will begin to have in their postbags a gathering volume of correspondence complaining about prices in the shops. I had a letter which was complaining about rates which has as a postscript a message of generous character to the Secretary of State elaborating on the price of baked beans in the township of Wem.

Mrs. Sally Oppenheim

I am sure that my hon. Friend does not wish to mislead the House. He realises that the list from which he was reading refers to only one brand of baked beans and not to all baked beans. It is a rotational list so that the items will not always be on offer.

Mr. Graham

Would the hon. Member for Oswestry (Mr. Biffen) care to say how his postbag on prices now compares with his postbag on prices six or nine months ago?

Mr. Biffen

My postbag on prices, including the price of rates, is significantly higher today than it was six or nine months ago.

As for the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester, of course I could not answer the letter and I did not add to the burdens of the Secretary of State by forwarding it. It seems to me, broadly speaking, that the competitive factors referred to by the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) are likely to be as effective upon the price of baked beans as any other factors I can consider, but to give a proper and considered answer to that letter would require an elaboration of all the factors that my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester has mentioned.

What will happen? There will be a widespread assumption that there is an enforcing agency to put into effect the vigilance that will be mounted by the conference of Labour women or by any other housewife vigilantes. Under the Bill the Secretary of State may, by order, regulate the price of food and also, in Clause 2(1)(b), require persons selling by retail food or other goods in relation to which an order under paragraph (a) above is in force to display such information with respect to the effect of the order as may be so specified. That is the point at which the enforcement begins to have reality, for in order that the orders shall be complied with there must be an agency, more than just housewives shopping around, which ensures that the shops are complying with what the law says, if it is the Minister's decision to issue the orders.

The agency will not be the unpaid legions of Labour women or the 160 people referred to in the Explanatory Memorandum as the extension of public sector manpower. It will be the weights and measures inspectorate of local authorities. If the Bill means what it says, and if it is not amended in the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester seeks to amend it, we are opening up for ourselves the prospect of loading on to local authorities more and more activities which can be requited only by an increase in rates. It is all very well for us to deplore in our constituencies the never-ending rise in rates, when all too often in a thoughtless way we pass legislation placing upon local authorities an enforcement responsibility which they can discharge properly only by increasing their staff and subsequently increasing rates.

There is an expectation that the Bill is to be enforced. The whole tenor of the Secretary of State's approach is that Labour is doing something—

Mr. Dempsey

Hear, hear.

Mr. Biffen

—ably supported by the hon. Member for Coat bridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey), who I am sure will eventually rise to take part in the debate.

Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)

The hon. Gentleman is one of four hon. Members on the Government benches.

Mr. Biffen

The hon. Gentleman will doubtless tell us whether he wants the legislation to proceed without any order being made to regulate prices, without any order being made to require the display of prices. That is the question he must answer.

If the Government's argument is "We know that we are taking powers to make orders, but we shall not make any, so the whole problem of the expenses to which you refer will not arise", let that be said and understood now, and let the hon. Gentleman make his contribution to the debate. But if orders are to be made, and if we are to save ourselves from an extraordinary extension of bureaucracy, there must be a cut-off point somewhere, and that point has been suggested in the amendment.

Many of my hon. Friends have made valid cases about the impact the Bill will have on small shopkeepers. I shall probably carry with me even members of the Scottish National Party—and I begin to understand why the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) was so inept last night, because one must follow these proceedings with a degree of closeness—

Mrs. Winifred Ewing (Moray and Nairn)

If the hon. Gentleman would come to a point, I could follow what he is saying, but he has been waffling so much.

4.45 p.m.

Mr. Biffen

I accept the correction. I invite the hon. Lady to support the proposition that if this part of the Bill goes through unamended in this way, and if the Secretary of State invokes the powers to regulate prices and require price lists to be published in every shop where the subsidised foods are being sold, an enforcement agency will be required to investigate from Harrods to the mobile shop in the Scots village, and the burden will fall upon the rates. [Interruption.] I am glad the hon. Lady understood the point I was making but was merely so entranced by it that she wanted it repeated.

The amendment contains a point of real substance, because it touches on the practicablity of legislation. People living in the more remote parts of the United Kingdom, such as Scotland, often wonder whether we know what goes on in the real world once we get to Westminster. It is a view that has often been expressed to me by Scots.

We have a responsibility to ask whether the Bill means what it says. If it does, it will involve us in an enormous extension of bureaucratic enforcement, with the burden falling on the local rates. If we believe that that is out of all proportion to any likely consequential benefit, we must try to limit that prospect. Such a limit is provided by the amendment, and, therefore, I strongly commend it to the House.

Mr. Dempsey

I was not a member of the Committee that considered the Bill, and I am at a loss to understand why the Opposition have become so hot and bothered about the provisions in question. In many respects they are not new. I have worked in one of the so-called small shops, and I recall seeing a list of prices hanging up in the shop when we had price control. We did not need an enforcement agency. If a customer challenged the price of anything one showed him the price in the book, and there was no need for any dispute. Only a fool would try to sell an article at a price in excess of what was shown to the customer on the list which was on public display in the shop.

Mr. Cormack

The hon. Gentleman has completely missed the point. In the shop in which he no doubt served with great distinction he did not have to put up a placard announcing that down the road certain articles were 7p cheaper.

Mr. Dempsey

The hon. Gentleman sadly underestimates the prowess of the housewife. She knows perfectly well where goods are dearer and where they are cheaper. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] In addition, she is guided not merely by price but by quality, and she is influenced by service. That is what my fellow-Scot seems to underestimate when he refers to the small shopkeeper in competition with a monopoly, because a small shopkeeper can give a service which a monopoly cannot give.

There is nothing I like better, for example, than to enter the small shop and have my cheddar cheese cut fresh rather than have it pre-packed. Many housewives would prefer their Belfast bacon, their boiled ham and their corned beef fresh rather than pre-packed and refrigerated. Small shopkeepers can offer that type of personal service and attract custom in a way which the monopoly cannot.

In some ways it is surprising that the small shopkeepers congregate at the peripheries of our townships. It is often overlooked by Conservative hon. Members and some small shop proprietors that many small shopkeepers are keen on having a shop next to a supermarket. There is a shopkeeper in my constituency who is anxious to have one or two small shops next door or as near as possible to undertakings such as supermarkets or private monopolies because of the attraction that small shops have to people in the area. People are tempted to enter such shops, and thereby their sales increase.

My experience and the experience of my wife leads me to believe that when overcharging takes place it normally happens in small shops. That is where protection is necessary. The small shopkeepers are often in an advantageous position as they have no competition on the peripheries of our townships. The hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) talks about getting the car out, but he did not mention that it costs 10 bob a gallon to put petrol into the car so as to be able to purchase from supermarkets in the townships. Nor did he mention the high cost of bus fares over past years and the non-availability of bus services to reach town centers.

To some extent such difficulties put small shopkeepers in a position in which they can afford to operate the policy of sometimes overcharging. I had a complaint only recently which involved a tin that had been labeled with four different prices within a short time. The complaint came from the customer of a small shopkeeper.

We have heard about the pensioners and those on low or fixed incomes. They must pay for their goods on limited incomes. It is clear that pensioners and other consumers in a similar position are entitled to protection from being overcharged in smaller shops as they are in supermarkets. That must be so if we are to be consistent in our effort to protect the consumer. We are, of course, entitled to consider the consumer.

I have heard a great deal of wailing about proprietors of small shops—for example, the one-man shop. Labour costs, which bear heavily on other types of shop, are not involved in the running of a one-man shop. I have heard many appeals on behalf of the proprietors of small shops, but what about the consumers? What about some protection and some consideration for the consumers? Surely those who pay the piper are entitled to call the tune. That is a good Scottish's, and it is worth while reminding the Opposition of it.

It is clear that there are many small shopkeepers and that they continue to survive. Many give a first-class service and they make a fair profit. They get a decent standard of living from the small shop. I see no reason to suppose that that standard will in any way diminish by approving the Bill as it is presented.

Mr. Michael Latham

I take diametrically the opposing attiude to that which the hon. Member for Coat bridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) has expressed about small shopkeepers and the burdens placed upon them. He referred to sole proprietors and said that they faced no labour costs. I suppose that that is true, but he did not mention that they have substantial rate overheads. The rates in my constituency have gone up by 80 per cent. and more. That has happened for reasons which it would not be appropriate to discuss at this stage.

Mr. Dempsey

It is an income tax expense?

Mr. Latham

The hon. Gentleman refers to income tax expense, but there are all sorts of overheads which bear upon small traders in various ways. The one thing from which the House cannot escape is that they have an important role to play within the community.

The hon. Gentleman has said that people are overcharged in small shops. That is the impression that he gave. The answer is simple. If people do not like shopping with the small trader they can shop elsewhere. When overcharging takes place that is what happens, and that is what this debate is all about.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) moved the clause in a moderate way, and on the whole she carried me with her. My general sympathies are in accord with those of my hon. Friends the Members for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) and Oswestry (Mr. Biffen), who made such a brilliant speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury wanted to add six noughts to the figure which is now in the clause. An amendment which I would have preferred to make would have been to put a full stop after "apply". I feel that the powers which are contained in Clauses 2, 4 and 5 are unacceptable. I do not want to see such orders being made. However, that is by the way and we are concerned with the clause as it stands.

I shall support the clause with the reservation that I would have preferred to see it go further. I shall support it because of the reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry. It represents an important easement for an important section of the community who perform a vital service in rural areas. They will have a vital and increasing role to perform.

I interrupted the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) and pointed out that large shopkeepers had once been small shopkeepers. He pulled me up by rightly suggesting that some had started large. That I concede. In my own industry, the building trade, by and large people start small. They sometimes get bigger and sometimes they get smaller. I see the Minister of State, Department of Industry smiling as I say that.

I believe that we are creating many bureaucratic monoliths and that we shall regret making certain decisions at a later stage. If I am lucky enough to catch the eye of the Chair as the debate continues I shall want to make a few comments about monoliths which are likely to be created under the cheese subsidy provisions. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester will continue with her clause. I consider that it is reasonable but I wish that the figure had been higher.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

The Bill basically does two things. First, it authorises the expenditure of up to £700 million on subsidies, and, secondly, it confers upon the Secretary of State wide powers to control prices. It is with the second aspect that we are concerned and to which the clause relates. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), I should like to see the clause amended. I should like it to read "No order shall be made under this Bill." That would be the most sensible clause to introduce. To that extent I am sorry that my hon. Friend did not introduce such an amendment.

The clause raises the general philosophy of whether it is possible by the Secretary of State making orders to have any long-term effect upon the prices in the shops. The hon. Member for Coat bridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) made a valid point. He said that the consumer pays attention to quality, service and prices. I have never been able to understand the objection of hon. Members opposite and of some of my hon. Friends to the proposition that in the shops there are bound to be different prices. If some prices are higher, by the same token some are lower than others. The only sure way of obtaining the best value for the consumer is by maximising competition, and no amount of orders by the Secretary of State will get over that basic economic law.

New Clause 1 goes to the heart of the whole philosophy of how one is to control inflation. We are entitled to consider how the Bill came to be introduced. It was introduced into the House on 3rd April, so the right hon. Lady gave birth to it only five weeks after it had been conceived.

Mr. Gwilym Roberts (Cannock)

Hon. Members opposite have said that they are supporting new Clause 1, yet they are advocating competition. Surely the whole purpose of new Clause 1 is to produce a barrier, to differentiate, and, therefore, to reduce the element of competition. I do not see how hon. Members opposite can possibly support new Clause 1 if they believe in competition. They cannot have it both ways.

Mr. Gow

The purpose of new Clause 1 is to exempt at least some traders from the operation of any order made by the Secretary of State.

Mr. Graham

If the hon. Gentleman reads the Bill carefully enough he will note that Clause 1(7)(b) gives the Secretary of State power to … make different provision in relation to different circumstances ". Such circumstances could, in the light of experience, be those enjoyed—if that is the word—by traders in this position. Would it not be better for the Secretary of State to have these powers than to specify the exemptions proposed, later on other exemptions, and so on?

Mr. Gow

I understand the point, but the effect of new Clause 1 is to restrict the discretion of the Secretary of State so that she would be able to make orders only in respect of those whose turnover was in excess of £25,000 per annum. To that limited extent I support new Clause 1, subject to the reservations I made at the beginning of my speech.

I was coming to the philosophy behind the Bill, which is central to new Clause 1. I do not believe that hon. Members opposite really accept the proposition that it is possible in anything but the shortest term to control inflation by order of the Secretary of State. Indeed, it is difficult to understand how the right hon. Lady, who has given birth to the Bill, really believes it either. Who is the father of the Bill? It is not the Prime Minister. It is certainly not the Leader of the House. It is certainly not the Under-Secretary of State.

Mr. Dan Jones

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely it is not right for an hon. Member to discuss the entire Bill when we are considering new Clause 1.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)

We are getting towards the end of this debate—at least I hope so. It is rather wide, but I hope that the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) will now get away from parentage, because we are all embarrassed.

Mr. Gow

I had almost concluded, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was going to say that, in so far as the Bill has a father, it has been fathered by a combination—the Secretary of State for Employment and, I suspect, the 38 members of the General Council of the TUC.

Mr. Gorst

I want to make the shortest contribution in recommending this desperate, gloomy and defeatist new clause to the House.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North-West)

Who is the father?

Mr. Gorst

It has been conceived not as a measure to improve the Bill so much as a desperate attempt to give a lease of life—not a new lease of life—to small traders. Without it, many small traders must go to the wall, because there is no fair competition that will enable small traders to remain in existence once the Secretary of State gets her way and unleashes herself on the enormous number of inconsistencies and contradictions which will emerge as a result of the operation of these provisions.

The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. John Fraser)

This debate is mainly about the problems of the small shopkeeper. I want to make it clear that the Government have no intention of driving the small shopkeeper into insolvency. They have no intention of sending him the same way as the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board and Rolls-Royce. The intention is to try to look after him as much as anyone else.

The hon. Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) referred to an article in the Daily Mail. It contained only one sentence which had anything to do with prices policy. The great pity is that the Daily Mail got it wrong. It said: Many thousands of small shops face a … threat—the new compulsory cut in profit margins … It is a sign of the Government's genuine desire to look after the small shopkeepers that the cut in profit margins did not apply to those with a turnover of under £250,000 a year. Already, by an amendment to the Price Code, action has been taken with a view to giving a balance in favour of those in a small way of trade.

Mr. Ridley

Please do not let the hon. Gentleman accuse me of defending the Price Code. But if the Government fix the margin of large retailers, it will have the effect of fixing retail prices of certain lines and altering the amounts which small shopkeepers can charge. The hon. Gentleman is wrong. The effect of the cuts on the big stores will be marginal, but not so in the case of small shopkeepers, because their competitive position depends on certain factors—how far away they are from large shops, and so on—which dictate how much they can charge.

Mr. Fraser

If I understand the burden of the hon. Gentleman's intervention, it is that lowering of prices in large shops and the competition between large shops and small shops will harm the small shops. It is inevitable that competition will have some effect upon trade as between different outlets, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) observed. The threat to the small shopkeeper is the large shopkeeper.

What emerges clearly from the debate is that we are all aware that shoppers, housewives and consumers are concerned about the cost of living. We all know that from going on the doorsteps during our election campaigns. What is significant about today's contributions by both Conservatives and Liberals is that not one of them has had any constructive contribution to make towards bringing down the cost of living, except to talk about competition. I will come to that in a moment. I must make it clear that we are mindful of the needs of small shopkeepers We are equally mindful of the needs of the consumer. In using this legislation we intend to achieve a fair balance between these needs.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

The hon. Gentleman complains that there have been no constructive suggestions from the Conservative Party about how we might make a contribution towards keeping down the cost of living. He must appreciate that many of us have, for a long time, urged not only upon this Government but upon the previous Government that the way to bring inflation under control is to tackle the real causes and not to tamper around with the symptoms. That carries the matter very much wider than the discussion we can have under the Bill, which is dealing totally with symptoms.

Mr. Fraser

It carries the matter so much wider that I do not think that I will enter into it. We have to try to achieve a balance between the genuine interests of shopkeepers and the interests of the consumers. Acceptance of this clause would represent a considerable incursion upon the rights of consumers and the information given to them. A total of 25 per cent. of all food shops have an annual turnover of less than £25,000 per annum.

If the clause were accepted, one in four of all food shops would be exempted from the provisions relating to price marking and the display of price notices. The Opposition concede that there ought to be price regulation under Clause 2 in respect of subsidised food, because there is no exemption there.

Mr. Biffen

Is the Minister sure that that figure of one in four is a reliable statistic? Does it take into account the fact that there is the reference to the independently-owned retail food shops? I would have thought that a rather larger number of shops would have been excluded by this clause than has been suggested.

Mr. Fraser

I do not have firm statistics about this. I would have thought that the area of the small food shops corresponded with that of the independent small food shops. I do not think that the word "independent" makes any difference.

Mr. Gorst

Do we understand that the Minister is resting his case not on the number of shops involved but on the principle?

Mr. Fraser

I am not resting my case because I have hardly had a chance to start it. Perhaps I can make a little progress.

Mr. Ian Lloyd (Havant and Waterloo)

The hon. Gentleman has rather suggested that that figure of one in four implies 25 per cent. of the total food turnover in the country. Surely the figure is much smaller than that. There may be one in four shops with a turnover of less than £25,000, but the percentage of the food turnover in the country which that 25 per cent. distributes is probably nearer 5 per cent.

Mr. Fraser

I did not say what the hon. Gentleman implied. What he has said is pretty obvious. All I did was to make a short factual statement to the effect that about one in four food shops have a turnover of less than £25,000 per annum. It follows that if the clause were accepted about one in four food shops, although not 25 per cent. of food sales, would be exempt from the provisions dealing with price regulation and non-subsidised food, price marking and the display of price range notices. That is a fairly considerable incursion into the protection afforded for the consumer in the Bill.

5.15 p.m.

Outside large towns it is probable that a much larger proportion of food shops are small food shops with a turnover below £25,000. The distribution of small shops is not even throughout the country. There may be less densely populated areas where the lack of information in terms of price marking may work to the consumer's disadvantage, although I hope to show that the provisions concerning price and unit marking do not necessarily work to the disadvantage of the small trader but may well give him a competitive advantage over the supermarkets.

In large towns—I know this from my own observations—many of the shops selling essential items of food which appear regularly in the household budget are small shops. The price range notices and price marking orders will not apply to thousands of food items. Two candidates may well be fruit and vegetables. It is fairly obvious to those of us who go shopping that a good many butchers' shops and greengrocers' shops in large towns are still independently operated and might be exempted if the clause were carried. In that event the rights and the protection afforded to the consumer would be reduced.

Time and again the Government have been urged to bear in mind that small shops are used by the elderly, the infirm and those on low incomes. What is the argument? Is it that the elderly and infirm are to be denied information about prices?

Mrs. Sally Oppenheim

Will the hon. Gentleman also take the point that many of these shops are operated by the elderly and infirm who have very low incomes?

Mr. Fraser

I ought to declare an interest which I used to have and another interest which I still have. As a solicitor I used to do a great deal of buying and selling of small shops. A large proportion of my clientele did not consist of the elderly or the infirm. My current interest, although it is not a financial one, is that I am president of my local chamber of commerce. I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite do not take chambers of commerce lightly and sneer at them. They are collections of small shopkeepers who make representations to their Members of Parliament. I do not observe, when I go to their dinners or meetings, that they fall into either of the categories mentioned by the hon. Lady.

Mr. Cormack rose

Mr. Fraser

I must try to finish one paragraph.

It seems to be quite unfair that the provision of information about prices should be denied to those who are probably among the most vulnerable in our society.

Mr. Cormack

The hon. Gentleman talks about the elderly and infirm patronising these shops. Is he aware that such shops perform a service to these people, and if the shops are put out of business they will not be able to do so?

Mr. Fraser

The hon. Gentleman paints an extraordinary picture of the elderly, infirm shopkeeper serving the elderly, infirm customer. They are apparently supposed to operate on a basis of mutual ignorance. What he suggests is that when the elderly, infirm customer goes into the shop run by the elderly, infirm independent shopkeeper there should be as little information as possible in the shop about the price of the goods being sold. That is the logical conclusion to the hon. Gentleman's premise. I do not accept that premise. I am trying to demonstrate that there is a wide range of independent, small shopkeepers who do not suffer from the disadvantages which hon. Gentlemen have suggested They are a fairly representative range of intelligent and able people and it demeans their reputation too much to suggest that they are incapable of complying with some of the provisions of the Bill.

Mr. Gwilym Roberts

Does not my hon. Friend agree that one effect of the new clause, particularly in cases of the village shop, which may be the only shop in the village, is that all the customers in the village, being faced with a monopoly position and having no choice, would be denied knowledge on prices and on what is available outside the village? The effect of the clause would be to deny to villagers in such a situation any information as to what was going on concerning prices.

Mr. Fraser

There is always a danger in taking matters to their logical conclusion. If it is suggested that small shop- keepers do not display prices, that does them a disservice. I do not think that they behave in this peculiar manner or that they try to keep their customers in ignorance, and I do not believe that they are incapable of, or will be unduly burdened by, observing, for instance, provisions on price marking or unit pricing. Indeed, this may well work to their advantage. To give an example, one candidate for unit prices, if we are to have the powers in the Bill, would be vegetables. The man with his barrow in the market and the small greengrocer generally display on goods the prices per pound of potatoes, oranges or apples. However, it is often found in the competing supermarket that there are vegetables or fruit packed in trays, under polythene covers, with the prices stamped on them. I advise hon. Gentlemen who doubt my word to go into a supermarket, pick up one of these trays and ask for it to be weighed, and then work out the unit price of the three apples in a cardboard tray with the polythene cover, or whatever the particular item might be. It will often be the case that those goods when sold by the small independent shopkeeper will be rather less in price that those displayed in the supermarket.

Therefore, it does not follow that price marking and the use of powers under Clause 4 would put the small shopkeeper at a grave disadvantage in relation to his other competitors.

Mr. Timothy Sainsbury (Hove) rose

Mr. Fraser

The House will become impatient if I give way much more.

The new clause proposes to exempt the small shopkeeper from, first, the power on price regulation, under Clause 2. I have made clear in Committee that there are advantages to the small trader in the exemption from the profit margin reductions that have already been made. I remind the House of the words of my right hon. Friend in making her statement this afternoon, when she said: I have informed the retail trade that, as long as this agreement is working satisfactorily— that is the agreement she announced— it will not be my intention to operate the powers of Clause 2 of the Prices Bill, except in relation to subsidised foodstuffs …". The Opposition do not quarrel with the proposition that one ought to have price regulation powers for subsidised foodstuffs. On the basis of the statement by my right hon. Friend this afternoon there is little likelihood, as long as the voluntary arrangement works, that the regulation powers under Clause 2 will be used at all. That is a matter which my right hon. Friend dealt with in her statement and in the questions which were put to her, and so there is little risk there.

The hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) completely misunderstood what the matter was about. He made a speech as if the whole of the powers in Clauses 4 and 5 were price restriction powers, but, of course, they are not. They are, as the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce Gardyne) rightly observed, powers which relate to competition. I was extremely surprised at his remark—I hope I am recollecting it correctly—that these powers made competition unduly acute. That seems to be a strange allegation from an hon. Gentleman whose only answer to the consumer is that there ought to be more competition—

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

What I was saying, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman will see when he reads the report of my remarks, was that the Government were seeking to impose on the larger retailers a more severe pricing system than would result from the pressures from competition—in other words, adding an element of artificiality to the pressures of competition. I do not object to pressures of competition, but not when they are dictated and mucked around with by the right hon. Lady and her Department.

Mr. Fraser

If the hon. Gentleman was addressing himself to price regulation matters and the operating of the code, I have already passed that point in my speech. I am now talking about Clauses 4 and 5, which enable the Secretary of State to require certain goods to be price marked—not to regulate prices, but to require price marking.

I know that there is a division in the Opposition on this, but with regard to that part of the Opposition who believe in the operation of a free market—I understand that one of the indispensable elements of the operation of a free market is the maximum amount of information on prices—I would have thought that those Members would have rejoiced at the amount of information made available so that people could make a free and independent choice between one shop and another, assess for themselves the advantages of personal service and, for instance, of not having to pay a bus fare into town. People would have information about their prices, and this would help competition to operate more freely than at present.

Mr. Ridley

I addressed my remarks to Clause 2, the price control clause. I agree with Clause 4; there is a lot of sense in it. Clause 5 deals with the notification of the general range of prices. If we take, for instance, the Isle of Lundy, where goods might have to be twice what they would be in a London supermarket because of transport and other expenses as well as there being a smaller turnover, would it help shoppers in Lundy to be told that bacon, biscuits or bread in London were half the price of what they were in Lundy? It is totally irrelevant and rather mischievous to try to suggest that this can be achieved. Does the hon. Gentleman get the point?

Mr. Fraser

I get the point; it was dealt with in Committee, but we must now leave detailed discussion on it until later in the proceedings.

My first argument for not accepting the clause is that it would remove the fair balance between the shopkeeper and the consumer. The second objection is a technical one. I do not like to go into technical matters, but I must point out some of the defects in the clause. There is a difficulty over definition. The Institute of Trading Standards Administration is strongly opposed to this kind of exemption, which would make enforcement of price provisions much more difficult.

The phrase "independently owned" in the clause is not defined. There would be difficulties, I suspect, in distinguishing between the solely owned shop and the shop taken under a franchise, and in distinguishing between shops where the freehold was owned and shops held on lease or on licence. The weights and measures inspector would often have to investigate title before he could get on with the rest of his job—

Mr. Arthur Lewis

My hon. Friend will be aware that probably one of the largest independently owned concerns until recently was the firm of Sainsbury, and that there are many similar, though not so large, independently owned concerns? There is one in my constituency which independently owns five shops. Where do we draw the line?

Mr. Fraser

At the risk of being accused of doing a commercial for Sainsbury, I point out that its turnover is more than £25,000.

5.30 p.m.

The third difficulty is the definition of a food shop. Some hardware shops sell food as a second line. There are mixed trades, and it would be difficult to know exactly what was meant by a "food shop" for definition purposes.

The next technical difficulty concerns turnover. The Price Code gave a very detailed basis for assessment of turnover, profits margin, and so on. It would be extremely difficult to mount a prosecution simply on the basis of the words "£25,000 per annum" without any reference period. It would be difficult to know until the end of the year whether the £25,000 turnover had been achieved. I hope that I am not denigrating the small trader, but it is not unknown—hon. Members who are accountants will know this—for accounts to be prepared some little time after the end of the financial year.

I assure the House that my right hon. Friend has the needs and difficulties of small traders in mind. That is why under Clauses 2, 4 and 5 we can make different provisions in different circumstances. That is why my right hon. Friend will introduce Government amendments to those three clauses which provide for consultation. It is legitimate to talk about the difficulties of small shopkeepers in unit pricing all of his perhaps large range of goods. We have no intention of requiring by order comprehensive and across-the-board price markings or unit pricing. We intend to restrict the powers to a comparatively small number of goods for which it is shown there is a particular and important consumer need.

The new provisions on consultation are evidence that we accept the need for consultation. We intend that the consultation should include representatives of the small shopkeepers as well as representatives of the multiple retailers. There is no single organisation which can speak for small shopkeepers, but we have written proposing discussions to the National Union of Small Shopkeepers and to the Retail Food Confederation and the Retail Consortium, both of which include representatives of small retailers. The symbol groups are represented in the CBI, which we have also consulted. In this way we shall seek to ensure that the problems of the small shopkeeper are fully taken into account.

With that review of the difficulties of the new clause, and with the assurance that we shall keep the needs of the small shopkeepers in mind and will have adequate and full consultation with their representatives, I hope that the Opposition will see fit not to press the clause to a Division.

Mr. Cormack

One of the difficulties is that there is no representative body for the small shopkeeper which can be consulted. How will the hon. Gentleman deal with that problem?

Mrs. Sally Oppenheim

We have had an extremely wide-ranging debate on a narrow new clause. I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friends who have highlighted what they thought to be the excessive moderation of the clause. The motivation for this moderation is realism, and I still cling to the idea that perhaps moderation and realism go hand in hand.

However, we have probably been proved right in our moderate approach. In similar amendments in Committee we referred to a turnover of £50,000, and we were told that that would apply to nine out of 10 shops. We reduced it to £25,000, and have been told that that figure applies to 25 per cent. of the shops, which is a tremendous reduction which I should have thought would have commended itself to the Government as being extremely acceptable, particularly as the Under-Secretary of State admitted that it probably represented 5 per cent. of food sales.

Mr. John Fraser

I did not admit that it was 5 per cent. I said that it might be less than 25 per cent. I did not give an estimate of the proportion of trade.

Mrs. Oppenheim

I accept the judgment of my hon. Friend who said that it is likely to be 5 per cent. of food sales. We are therefore underlining the modesty of the new clause.

The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham), recreating the atmosphere in Standing Committee, said that resale price maintenance had harmed the small shopkeepers more than anything else.

Mr. Graham

Its abolition had harmed them.

Mrs. Oppenheim

Yes. In the next breath he said that he was on the side of the consumer. I hope that he did not mean to imply that the abolition of resale price maintenance was not in the interests of the consumer.

Having expressed the hope that the Opposition were not trying to imply that they were the ones interested in the welfare of small shopkeepers whereas the Government were not, the hon. Gentleman went on to say that he was on the side of the consumer. I am on the side of the consumer, and the consumer wants to be able to use small shops. The consumer is extremely well served in them. They provide personal service and perhaps are less notable for consumer malpractices than the bigger chain stores. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the list of prosecutions for breaches of consumer legislation, he will find that the prosecution of small shopkeepers is rarer than the prosecution of larger stores.

Mr. Graham

1 accept the spirit in which the point is made, but is it not a regrettable fact that, faced with a choke between maintaining the number of small shops—and the only way in which that can be done is with one's feet, by going through the doors and being served- and going further a field, aided and abetted by the motor car, to perhaps bigger shops, most consumers choose the bigger shops?

Mrs. Oppenheim

The consumer, aided and abetted by the motor car, would have to be able to afford the increased petrol prices imposed as a result of Government policy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) made the point extremely well when he said that the small shops have their own viability niche in society and that it would take a great deal in the way of consumer choice to undermine it but not much in the way of legislation of this sort to undermine it. He and the Minister referred to the article in the Daily Mail. I did not imply that the article was about this Bill. I merely said that it mentioned that there would be only 80,000 small shops by 1980. Obviously the writer of the article was largely misinformed on a number of items.

If the Under-Secretary had bothered to inform himself, he would have known how dangerous Clauses 2, 4 and 5 are for the small shopkeeper. The hon. Gentleman said that the powers in the new clause would irk small shopkeepers. It is not the irksomeness of the clauses but the cost to the shopkeeper of the Government's measures which worries us. It was the cost of unit pricing which led to the small shopkeepers in the United States being exempted. The hon. Gentleman rather mischievously implied all sorts of motives, such as the desire to withhold information, even between friends. There is no question of that.

First, the question is whether shopkeepers will be able to afford to provide the information and then whether they will be able to obtain it quickly enough in order to provide it in a way which is meaningful to the consumer. We do not believe that the information to be provided on the price range in shops is necessarily beneficial to consumers. We are not acting against the consumers' interests in wishing to exempt small shopkeepers from having to obey the legislation.

The Under-Secretary of State repeated the claim made over and again in Standing Committee that the flexibility in the Bill gave the Government the opportunity to exempt the people we wish to exempt by the new clause. He says that our clause does not define them. If it is impossible to define them, how will they be exempted, even with the widest possible powers—unless the hon. Gentleman is thinking of tabling a new clause in another place? We shall be interested to hear whether that is so.

The purpose of the amendment is to protect small traders. It is also to protect consumers, who benefit largely from the type of personal service that is given. As my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) said, it is often almost akin to a social service. It is in the corner shop that it is often learnt that a pensioner who lives alone has not been seen for several days. Anyone who does not have the benefit of shopping in a corner shop in his own neighborhood may have observed from programmes such as "Coronation Street" that such shops are repositories of information, perhaps not about price ranges, but about practically everything else that goes on in the neighborhood.

If it is only to the drafting of the clause that the Government object—apparently our definitions are not sufficiently precise—I ask them to give a positive assurance that they will table a new clause or an amendment in another place. If they are unable to give that assurance, nothing they have said in the debate has convinced us that the clause is not necessary, and I shall have to ask my hon. Friends to press it to a Division.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House proceeded to a Division

Mr. Graham Page(seated and covered) (Crosby)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would you please check the time at which the doors were locked? Many of us were precluded from entering the door.

Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)

That is no excuse.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have already made some inquiries because I saw that a large number of Members had failed to get to the Lobby in time. However, the mechanical device on which we depend indicated that it was time, and I understand that it was the usual time.

Mr. Graham Page (seated and covered)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if the mechanics

were right, it means that none of us with rooms on the upper corridor can ever get into the Division Lobby. I came straight down from my room.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I used to have a room upstairs, but I may have moved more quickly than the right hon. Gentleman moves. However, unless the House feels strongly about the matter because so many Members were left out, I think the decision should stand. I went by the indicator, which said that it was the usual time.

Mr. Norman Tebbit(seated and covered) (Chingford)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I make it plain that we have no doubt whatever that you correctly interpreted what you describe as a "mechanical device". The doubt in our minds is whether, in view of the large number of Members locked out, the mechanical device is working correctly. I feel most strongly about this matter, because unless you, Sir, can check in some way whether the clocks are working correctly, surely it is common sense that the system cannot be correct since so many hon. Members were locked out of the Lobby.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

We shall find out greater details about the clock. This House runs on common sense. If there is a sense of injustice, there is no difficulty in having the vote taken a second time.

Mr. Dan Jones

If everybody plays the game.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Everybody does play the game in this place.

The Committee having divided:

Ayes 251, Noes 273.

Division No. 37.] AYES [5.41 p.m.
Adley, Robert Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.) Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher
Aitken, Jonathan Body, Richard Churchill, W. S.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Boscawen, Hon. Robert Clark, William (Croydon, S.)
Ancram, M. Bowden, Andrew (Brighton, Kemptown) Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth) Boyson, Dr. Rhodes (Brent, N.) Clegg, Walter
Atkins, Rt. Hn. Humphrey (Spelthorne) Braine, Sir Bernard Cocksfoot, John
Awdry, Daniel Brittan, Leon Cope, John
Baker, Kenneth Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Cormack, Patrick
Banks, Robert Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Corrie, John
Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony Bruce-Gardyne, J. Costain, A. P.
Beith, A. J. Bryan, Sir Paul Critchley, Julian
Bell, Ronald Buchanan-Smith, Alick Crouch, David
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Buck, Antony Crowder, F. P.
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Fare ham) Bulmer, Esmond Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford)
Benyon, W. Burden, F. A. Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.)
Berry, Hon. Anthony Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Dixon, Piers
Biffen, John Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert Dodsworth, Geoffrey
Biggs-Davison, John Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Drayson, Burnaby
du Cann. Rt. Hn. Edward Kershaw, Anthony Rees-Davies, W. R.
Durant, Tony Kimball, Marcus Renton, Rt.Hn.SirDavid(H't'gd'ns're)
Eden. Rt. Hn. Sir John King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Renton, R. T. (Mid-Sussex)
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) King, Tom (Bridgewater) Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Elliott, Sir William Kittson, Sir Timothy Rifklnd, Malcolm
Emery, Peter Knight, Mrs. Jill Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey
Eyre. Reginald Knox, David Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.-W.)
Fairgrieve, Russell Lamont, Norman Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Farr, John Lane, David Rodgers, Sir John (Seven oaks)
Fell Anthony Langford-Holt, Sir John Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Fcnner, Mrs. Peggy Latham, Michael (Melton) Royle, Sir Anthony
Fisher, Sir Nigel Lawrence, Ivan Sainsbury, Tim
Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh, N.) Lawson, Nigel (Blaby) St. John-Stevas, Norman
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Le Marchant, Spencer Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Fookes, Miss Janet Lester, Jim (Beeston) Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Fowler, Norman (Sutton Cold field) Lloyd, Ian (Havant & Waterloo) Shersby, Michael
Freud, Clement Loveridge, John Silvester, Fred
Fry, Peter Luce, Richard Sims, Roger
Galbraith, Hn. T. G. D. McAdden, Sir Stephen Sinclair, Sir George
Gardiner, George (Reigate&Banstead) MacArthur, Ian Skeet, T. H. H.
Gardner, Edward (S. Fylde) McCrlndle, R. A. Smith, Cyril (Rockdale)
Gibson-Watt, David Macfarlane, Neil Spence, John
Gilmour.Rt.Hn.lanfCh'sh'SAmsh'm) MacGregor. John Spicer, Jim (Dorset, W.)
Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) McLaren, Martin Spicer, Michael (Worcestershire, S.)
Glyn, Dr. Alan Macmillan, Rt Hn. M. (Farnham) Sproat, lain
Good hart, Philip McNair Wilson, Michael (Newbury) Stan brook, Ivor
Goodhew, Victor Madel, David Stanley, John
Good lad, A. Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Steel, David
Gorst, John Marten, Neil Steen, Anthony (L'pool, Waver tree)
Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Maher, Carol Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)
Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Maude, Angus Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.) Mawby, Ray Stokes, John
Gray, Hamish Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Straddling Thomas, John
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Mayhew. Patrick (RoyalT' bridge Wells) Tap sell, Peter
Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Meyer, Sir Anthony Taylor, Edward M. (Glgow, C'cart)
Grist, Ian Miller, Hal (B'grove & R'ditch) Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)
Gurden, Harold Mills, Peter Temple-Morris, Peter
Hall, Sir John Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Margaret
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Moate, Roger Thomas, Rt. Hn. P. (B'net.H'dn S.)
Hampson, Dr. Keith Money, Ernie Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Hannam, John Monro, Hector Trotter, Neville
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Moore, J. E. M. (Croydon, C.) Tugendhat, Christopher
Harvie Anderson, Miss More, Jasper (Ludlow) Tyler, Paul
Hastings, Stephen Morgan, Geraint van Straubenzee, W. R-
Havers, Sir Michael Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm. Vaughan, Dr. Gerard
Hawkins, Paul Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Viggers, Peter
Hay hoe, Barney Morrison, Peter (City of Chester) Waddington, David
Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward Mudd, David Wainwrlght, Richard (Colne Valley)
Henderson, Barry (Dunbartonshire, E.) Neave, Airey Wakeham, John
Heseltine, Michael Neubert, Michael Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Hooson, Emlyn Newton, Tony (Braintree) Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)
Hordern. Peter Nlcholls, Sir Harmar Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Howe, Rt.Hn. Sir Geoffrey(Surrey,E.) Nott, John Wall, Patrick
Howell, David (Guildford) Onslow, Cranley Walters, Dennis
Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, North) Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally Weatherill, Bernard
Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Pardoe, John Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Hutchison, Michael Clark Parkinson, Cecil (Hertfordshire, S.) Winstanley, Dr. Michael
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Pattle, Geoffrey Winterton, Nicholas
James, David Perclval, Ian Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Jenkin.Rt.Hn.P. (R'dgeW'std&W'fd) Pink, R. Bonner Woodhouse, Hn. Chrlstonher
Jessel, Toby Price, David (East Leigh) Worsley, Sir Marcus
Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grin stead) Prior, Rt. Hn. James Young, Sir George (Ealing, Acton)
Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis Younger, Hn. George
Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Quenelle, Miss J. M.
Joplin, Michael Rathbone, Tim TELLERS FOR THE AYES
Kaberry, Sir Donald Redmond, Robert Mr. Marcus Fox and
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal) Mr. A. F. G. Hall-Davis
Abse, Leo Booth, Albert Cant, R. B.
Allaun, Frank Boothroyd, Miss Betty Carmichael, Neil
Archer, Peter (Warley, West) Bottomed, Rt. Hn. Arthur Carter, Ray
Ashton, Joe Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland) Carter-Jones, Lewis
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Bradley, Tom Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara
Baggier, Gordon A. T. Broughton, Sir Alfred Cremation, Ivor
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Brown,Bob(Newcastle upon Tyne.W.) Cocks, Michael
Barnett, Joel (Heywood & Royton) Brown, Hugh D. (Glasgow, Provan) Cohen, Stanley
Bates, Alf Brown, Ronald (H'kney,S.& Sh'ditch) Colquhoun, Mrs. M. N.
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Buchan, Norman Concannon, J. D.
Bennett, Andrew F. (Stockport, N.) Buchanan, Richard (G'gow.Sprlngbrn) Conlan, Bernard
Bishop, E. S. Butler, Mrs. Joyce (H'gey,WoodGreen) Cook, Robert F. (Edinburgh, C.)
Blenkinsop, Arthur Callaghar, Rt.Hn. James (Cardiff, S.E.) Cox, Thomas
Boardman, H. (Leigh) Campbell, Ian Craigen, J. M. (G'gow, Maryhill)
Craws haw, Richard Jackson, Colin Phipps, Dr. Colin
Cronin, John Janner, Grevllle Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg
Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Prescott, John
Cryer, G. R. Jeger, Mrs. Lena Price, Christopher (Lewisham, W.)
Cunningham,G.(Islington,S&F'sb'ry) Jenkins, Hugh (W'worth, Putney) Price, William (Rugby)
Cunningham, Dr. John A. (Whitehaven) Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (B'ham, St'fd) Radice, Giles
Dalyell, Tam John, Brynmor Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)
Davidson, Arthur Johnson, James (K'stonuponHull,W.) Richardson, Miss Jo
Davies, Bryan (Enfield, N.) Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) Jones, Barry (Flint, E.) Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Jones, Oan (Burnley) Robertson, John (Paisley)
Davis, Clinton, (Hackney, C.) Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen) Roderick, Caerwyn E.
Deakins, Eric Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Dean, Joseph (Leeds, VV.) Judd, Frank Rodgers, William (Teesside.St'ckton)
de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey Kaufman, Gerald Rooker, J. W.
Delargy, Hugh Kelley, Richard Roper, John
Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund Kerr, Russell Rose, Paul B.
Dempsey, James Kilroy-Silk, Robert Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
Doig, Peter Kinnock, Neil Rowlands, Edward
Dormand. J. D. Lambie, David Sedge more, Bryan
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Lamborn, Harry Selby, Harry
Duffy, A. E. P. Lamont, James Shaw, Arnold (Red bridge, Lyford, S.)
Dunn James A. Latham, Arthur(CityofW'minsterP'ton) Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)
Dennett, Jack Lawson, George (MotherwellSWIshaw) Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter(S'pney&P'plar)
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth Lead bitter, Ted Short, Rt. Hn. E. (N'ctle-u-Tyne)
Eadie, Alex Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (L'sham.D'ford)
Edelman, Maurice Lever, Rt. Hn. Harold Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Sharks, Dulwich)
Edge, Geoff Lewis, Arthur (Newham, N.) Sillars, James
Edwards, Robert (W'hampton, S.E.) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Silverman, Julius
Ellis, John (Brlgg & Scunthorpe) Llpton, Marcus Skinner, Dennis
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Loughlin, Charles Smith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)
English, Michael Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Snape, Peter
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Lyons, Edward (Bradford, W.) Spearing, Nigel
Evans loan (Aberdare) Mabon, Dr J. Dickson Spriggs, Leslie
Evans, John (Newton) McCartney, Hugh Stewart, Rt. Hn. M. (H'sth.Fulh'm)
Ewing, Harry (St'llng.F'kirk&G'm'th) McElhone, Frank Stoddart, David (Swindon)
Faulds, Andrew MacFarquhar, Roderick Stott, Roger
Ferny Hough, Rt. Hn. E. Mackenzie, Gregor Strang, Gavin
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) McLennan, Robert Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Flannery, Martin McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) McNamara, Kevin Swain, Thomas
Foot, Rt. Hn. Michael Madden, M. O. F. Taverne, Dick
Ford, Ben Magee, Bryan Thomas, D. E. (Marionette)
Forrester, John Mahon, Simon Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Fowler, Gerry (The Wrekin) Mallalleu, J. P. W. Tierney, Sydney
Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood) Marks, Kenneth Tinn, James
Freeson, Reginald Marquand, David Tomlinson, John
Galpern, Sir Myer Marshall, Dr. Edmund (Goole) Tomney, Frank
Garrett, John (Norwich, S.) Mayhew,Christopher (G'wh.W'wch.E) Torney, Tom
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Meacher, Michael Tuck, Raphael
George, Bruce Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Urwln, T. W.
Gilbert, Dr. John Mendel son, John Varley, Rt. Hn. Eric G.
Ginsburg, David Mikado, Ian Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Golding, John Millan, Bruce Walden, Brian (B'm'ham, Lady wood)
Gourlay, Harry Miller, Dr. M. S. (E. Kilbride) Walker, Harold (Don caster)
Graham, Ted Milne, Edward Walker, Terry (Kingwood)
Giant, George (Morpeth) Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, lichen) Watkins, David
Grant, John (Islington, C.) Molloy, William Weitzman, David
Griffiths, Eddie (Sheffield, Brightside) Morris, Charles R. (Opens haw) Well beloved, James
Hamilton, James (Bothell) Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon) White, James
Hamilton, William (Fife, C.) Moyle, Roland Whitehead, Phillip
Hamlin, William Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick Whitlock, William
Hardy, Peter Murray, Ronald King Wigley, Defied (Caernarvon)
Harper, Joseph Newens, Stanley (Harlow) Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Oakes, Gordon Williams, Alan Lee (Hvrng, Hchurch)
Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith O'Halloran, Michael Williams, A. L. (Hovering, H'church)
Hattersley, Roy O'Malley, Brian Williams,Rt.Hn. Shirley(H'f'd&st'ge)
Hatton, Frank Or Bach, Maurice Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Heffer, Eric S. Ovenden, John Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Hooley, Frank Owen, Dr. David Wise, Mrs. Audrey
Horam, John Padley, Walter Woodall, Alec
Howell, Denis (B'ham, Small Heath) Palmer, Arthur Woof, Robert
Huckfield, Leslie Park, George (Coventry, N.E.) Wriggles worth, Ian
Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey) Parker, John (Dagenham) Young, David (Bolton, E.)
Hughes, Mark (Durham) Parry, Robert
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, North) Pavitt, Laurie TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred Mr. Donald Coleman and
Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir A. (L'p'I.EdgeHill) Pendry, Tom Mr. Ernest G. Perry.
Irving, Rt. Hn. Sydney (Dartford)

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Tebbit

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that from the result of the Division, and from your observations, it is clear that a large number of Members were locked out of the Lobby. Since it is an unusual occurrence in this House for such a large number to be locked out, there is a case in common sense for taking the Division again.

Mr. Cormack

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Could we at least have your assurance that if the clock is tried and found wanting we shall have an immediate recall of the Division?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I think the wisest thing to do is to take the course that when my inquiries are complete we can look at the matter again. In the meantime, since I have announced the result of the Division, I suggest that we let it stand. I shall let the House know if I find that we have in any way been let down by the clock. It has always hitherto worked normally, and there is no reason to believe that it should not work normally now.

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