A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

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What the public understands by” exemption”

To those charged with operating shopping legislation, exemptions is the thorniest of all subjects. The object of these exemptions is simple; it is to enable the public to purchase certain specified commodities after normal closing hours. The range of exempted commodities is nominally restricted to goods for which the public has a special need in the evenings. There are two aspects of exemption, which seem to cause difficulties. The first lies in the fact that exemptions are granted in respect of commodities and not in respect of shops; this means that only certain counters at a shop can remain open for service, while other counters must close, and it is easy to see how difficult it must be to enforce this rule consistently. The second is a problem of definition; the individual may have a very good idea of what a certain commodity is but when it comes to defining a commodity in statutory from so that it becomes exempted from shop closing provisions the process is quite complex. Thus when the issue of exemptions was put to the general public it had to be phrased in very simple terms. Shoppers were asked “would at suit you to be able to buy any of the following goods after the normal closing hours from ordinary shops?”. They were not asked what they had in need for sweets or newly cooked provisions and they were, in answering, were merely expressing a desire to be able to buy certain general categories of goods after hours. This does not mean that shoppers automatically favour exemptions as a general principle; the shoppers' interest in exemption is inevitably conditioned by his experience of closing hours. The earlier shops close the greater the need for exemptions, the later ordinary shops close the smaller that need becomes. In his replies to the questions on exemptions in this survey then the shopper is being influenced by actual evening closing hours. If the prevailing hours acquire the permanent force of law, shoppers’ answers to these questions may indicate the types of exemptions that should be made; if, however, closing hours are consolidated at a later time in the evening, then naturally the case for exemptions becomes weaker and the validity of these answers less strong. Another important qualification concerns the actual wording of the exemption questions. The questions were all phrased in the form “Would it suit you” not “Do you need” or "Must you have”. Exemptions were thus likely to be supported by many informants whose interest in the whole problem was not very strong. The resulting figures, then, express the extreme limits for the desire for exemptions. It is, however, worth noting that the exemption questions were put to a wide sample i.e. to all shoppers - “main”, “helpers” and “personal”. In consequence many shoppers who never buy the commodity concerned were questioned; if the questions had been put only to those groups who bought certain exempted commodities, it is likely that there would have been somewhat higher percentages favouring exemptions.

Exemptions in Shops

This covers the most important sector in the field of exemptions. It applies to the straightforward exemptions of certain commodities from normal shop closing legislation; it follows that the exempted article can be bought in a shop. Thus no exemption is required to buy a newspaper at a street corner, but an exemption is required to buy a newspaper after normal closing hours in a shop. Although the subject of exemptions is complex there was no evidence during the survey for thinking that informants did not understand what an exemption was; indeed on the preliminary enquiry many commodities were suggested by informants as suitable subjects for exemption.

Table 34 - Would it suit you to be able to buy any of the following after the normal closing hourse for ordinary shops?

( Percentages saying ‘yes’ only )

Commodity Total
Sweets 44 41 47
Tobacco 54 68 45
Mineral water 30 30 29
Newly cooked provisions 59 56 61
Newspapers 26 33 21
Ice-cream 30 26 33
Medicines 69 67 71
Summary of those in favour of exempting any one of the seven articles 87 88 87
Total Shoppers (100%) 1939 775 1164

The table sets out shoppers' attitudes to each commodity separately. Thus 44% of shoppers favour the exemption of sweets in shops from normal closing hours; the percentage of women favouring the exemption is higher than the percentage of men and may be explained by the fact that women buy sweets on behalf of their families as well as on behalf of themselves. This was confirmed in a report by the Wartime Social Survey, New Series, Regional H.3 of 1942. The report showed that 88% of a sample of housewives spent their own sweet coupons and that 57% spent other people's coupons.

In contrast 54% of the public favour the exemption of tobacco and it is among men, who are undoubtedly the main smokers, that the greatest degree of support, 68%, exists. The fact that men are keener on smoking than women was brought out in an earlier report of the Wartime Social Survey, New Series, Regional G.2 of 1942. This report showed that some 80% of adult men smoked against only 39% of adult women.

Minerals, ice cream and newspapers evoke considerably less interest; the percentage favouring their exemption range from 30% to 28%. Perhaps it is worth commenting that 33% of men and 33% of women favour exemptions for news papers and ice cream respectively, figures above the general average for these commodities. Doubtless the newspaper item is affected by the views of men who return later from work, while the ice cream item may again be affected b the preferences of women with family commitments. It should be remembered that as the survey was carried out in midsummer the percentages recorded for ice cream are peak percentages. The exemptions for which there would appear to be the greatest interest are medicines 69% and newly cooked provisions 59%. In both cases the percentages of women interested is greater, largely because the commodities are of interest to the whole family as much as to single individuals. Summing up then, although the numbers favouring different exemptions may vary, there is a considerable body of opinion that favours the exemption of at least one commodity - 87% of shoppers in all.

A detailed occupational breakdown of the public attitude to exemptions reveals some interesting features. In particular the percentages of miners approving of an exemption is higher than that found in any other occupation. Similarly the percentages of approval for exemptions is high among factory workers, building, transport and clerical workers. In fact it seems that greatest interest in exemptions is shown by those groups that are also most favourable to later evening closing.

An age analysis of all shoppers was undertaken to show which type of informant was particularly interested in exemptions.

The age reaction to exemptions is quite remarkably consistent. In almost all commodities there is a switch from relatively strong support for an exemption in the 18-24 age group to a relatively weak support in the over 65 age group. This switch is perhaps most marked in the cases of sweets and ice cream, but it exists in all commodities even in a necessity such as medicine. Newspapers is the only item for which a majority of the youngest age group do not require an exemption, but even here the percentage of preferences is higher than that of any other age group for that commodity. It would not be safe on the basis of this data to state that old people are not interested in purchasing certain commodities,

It would, however, be quite reasonable to assume that late shopping tends to be an interest of the young rather than the old. Indeed it has already been noticed that young people tend to be more energetic in their shopping habits and visit the remote shopping centres more readily than elder people.

Exemptions in licensed premises

This section covers the special type of exemption which allows the public to buy sweets and tobacco in public houses and off licences. Since the closing hour for these types of premises is substantially later than that prevailing in ordinary shops the concession is a considerable one. Naturally this type of survey cannot be expected to adjudicate on questions of equity and fairness. The inquiry was restricted to the convenience of exemptions in licensed premises only and could not take into account opinions on whether it was fair to retailers for the public to be able to buy commodities in licensed premises, when they could no longer be bought in shops.

Table 35 - Does it suit you to be able to buy sweets and/or tobacco at Public Houses or Off Licenses after ordinary shops have shut?

( Analysed according to sex )

Commodity Sex
All Shoppers
Sweets only 1 1 0
Tobacco only 17 35 6
Both 26 31 22
Neither 53 32 68
Don’t know 3 1 4
No answer 0 0 0
Sweets (Total) 27 32 22
Tobacco (Total) 43 66 28
Total Shoppers (100%) 1939 775 1164

It seems that though large numbers of shoppers favour exemptions in licensed premises the proportions recorded are not as high as those favouring exemptions in ordinary shops. This immediately suggests that this sort of exemption is of specialized interest only and appeals to the more limited public who patronise licensed premises.

Sex differences are marked. Whereas 47% of women shoppers favoured the exemption of sweets in shops against 41% of men shoppers, 22% of women shoppers favoured the exemptions of sweets in licensed premises against 31% of men shoppers. It is not unreasonable to conclude that men patronise licensed premises more readily and are therefore more affected by this question.

It is interesting to note from the diagram below that age reactions to this type of exemption differ in pattern to age reactions to ordinary exemptions in shops.

Thus the two age groups between 25 - 44 appear to show a greater interest in these exemptions than the older or younger age groups. There is certainly an age difference in the demand for tobacco. The following table from a report by the Wartime Social Survey on Smoking, New Series, Regional G.2 of 1942 contains some age data on the smoking habits of a random sample of the adult population.

Table 36 -
% Smoking

( Age Analysis )

Under 20
30-45% 45-65
Over 65
Yes 50 60 62 55 45
No 50 40 38 45 55
Sample (100%) 191 384 677 547 255

It will be seen that the age pattern for this data is similar to that on the demand for the exemption of tobacco in licensed premises. In both samples interest is highest with the central age groups, falling off somewhat with the younger and older age group. Another influence that must be allowed for is the fact that the central age groups contain not only the higher proportions of tobacco users, but also probably the highest proportion of users of licensed premises. Unfortunately there is no available information to substantiate this view. It is likely, however, that attitudes to exemptions are conditioned as much by the occasions on which exemptions are available, as by the actual exemption itself.

Exemptions in places of entertainment

This provision allows the public to buy sweets, tobacco and ice cream in places of entertainment after normal shop closing hours. Shoppers were asked “Does it suit you to be able to buy sweets, tobacco or ice cream in cinemas and theatres after ordinary shops have shut”?

Table 37 - Does it suit you to be able to buy sweets or ice cream in places of entertainment?

Analysed according to Sex of Shopper and Type of District

Commodity All Shoppers
Sex Type of District
Sweets 62 55 67 64 56
Tobacco 60 63 59 63 52
Ice Cream 58 49 64 60 51
All people buying 69 65 70 70 61
Sweets, Tobacco or Ice cream None 27 31 25 26 33
Don’ t know 4 4 4 4 6
No answer 0 0 1 0 0
All Shoppers (100%) 1939 775 1164 1562 377

Quite high percentages favour the exemption of all three commodities inquired into in places of entertainment. 62% of shoppers favour the exemption of sweets, 60% of tobacco and 58% of ice cream. It is interesting that demand for the exemption of sweets and ice cream is higher among women, demand for the exemption of tobacco is higher among men, These figures confirm what has been already learnt with exemptions in shops, that sweets and ice cream are probably of greater interest to women while tobacco is certainly of greater interest to men. Regional differences, however, bring out another lesson. Thus there is no change in the order of preferences as between urban and rural areas for different commodities, but the preferences are much more strongly supported in urban than in rural areas. Obviously cinema and theatre going are much more regular occurrences in urban than in rural areas, and as a result interest in exemptions for this purpose is somewhat lower in rural than in urban areas.

This view is confirmed by reference to Table 10 of the Wartime Social Survey’s report on The Cinema Audience of 1943 (New Series No.37); out of a representative sample of the population 74% of urban dwellers went to the a cinema against 26,% who did not, while only 51% of dwellers in rural areas went to the cinema - 49% did not go.

The age analysis illustrates the accustomed shift in the popularity of an exemption from the younger to the older age groups - the young preferring these exemptions in far greater proportions to the old. The fall over age is a very sharp one; 93% of the 18-24 age group wanting the exemption of sweets in places of entertainment against 23% of the over 65 age group holding a similar view. There is no doubt that this result indicates not only the interest of young people in the commodity but also their greater interest in entertainments.

Table 38 - Attitude to Exemptions

Favouring: Ordinary Exemptions in shops
Exemptions in Licensed Premises
Exemptions in places Of Entertainment
Sweets 44 27 62
Tobacco 54 43 60
Total Shoppers (100%) 1939 1939 1939

It seems that of exemptions in places of entertainment are most popular, exemptions in licensed premises least popular. Tobacco is the more popular commodity in shops and in licensed promises; in places of entertainment the demand for the exemption of sweets is greater. Considerable bodies of opinion favour the retention of these exemptions. If later closing hours are introduced the attitude to exemptions in shops may change, it is less likely, however, that attitudes to exemptions in licensed premises and places of entertainment will alter. Thus the introduction of later shop closing hours would lead many working shoppers, who now went to shop after work, not to feel so strongly on exemptions. However the public that wants exemptions in places of entertainment and licensed premises, is largely a public that anyway visits these places irrespective of the exemption. It is not likely that later closing hours would alter their views one way or another.


The case for exemptions was treated on a commodity basis. All shoppers were asked a question in the form “Would it suit you to be able to buy etc.” Since informants did not have to express a real need for the exemption, it follows that the published figures give the maximum percentage of shoppers favouring any particular exemption. The highest percentages favouring exemptions were for medicines 69%, newly cooked provisions 59%, tobacco 54%; 44% of shoppers wanted sweets exempted but support for ice cream, newspapers and mineral water was considerably lower. In the ease of all commodities exemptions were more popular with the younger than with the older age groups indicating the greater interest of the young in late shopping. Although these figures show considerable demand for exemptions, informants were naturally influenced by existing closing hours. If closing hours remain at their present level then demand for exemptions is not likely to alter much; if later closing hours came into force the pressure for exemptions would decrease. Support for the exemption of sweets and tobacco in licensed premises is weaker, only 27% and 43% for each commodity respectively. These figures are influenced by the fact that such exemptions only appeal to a more limited public, i.e. users of licensed premises. Support for the exemption of sweets, tobacco and ice cream in places of entertainment is strong, around 60% for all three commodities.

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