Orders of the Day — Ex-Servicemen (Retail Business Licences)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5 November 1945.

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Photo of Mr David Renton Mr David Renton , Huntingdonshire 12:00, 5 November 1945

I rise to support the plea which has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart), and in doing so I would attempt to give the House a very broad analysis of the types of restrictions with which ex-Servicemen are now faced. We may divide them, broadly into those restrictions which in any event existed before hostilities began, and the enormous number of restrictions which have been invented and imposed since the war started and which are still in existence. So far as those which were in existence before the war are concerned, they were mainly of two kinds and existed for two reasons. They were, first of all, those restrictions which ensured that people did not try to earn a living, unless they possessed a form of skill which in the public interest it was considered necessary they should have. The most obvious case is that of the doctor, and most professional men came under that heading. In the retail trades also, certain restrictions of that kind prevailed, as for instance, chemists.

The other kind of restriction which existed before the war arose from the need to protect the people engaging in a particular occupation from bankruptcy, or the need to prevent the public from having an inefficient service through too many people competing in that occupation. I need hardly remind hon. Members opposite, at any rate—because I think probably in those days they welcomed it more perhaps than we on this side of the House, and they are more likely to think it valuable than we do—that the Road and Rail Traffic Act, 1933, provides an example of that type of restriction.

People put up with some of these things even before the war. There was generally some justification for them. Parliament had considered the matter very carefully indeed, and they were working not too badly. The men then went away to the war, having left behind them a free society, with those limitations, and a society for which they were prepared to fight and lay down their lives. To what have they come back? They have come back to a form of society in which it is virtually impossible for a man to be his own master without the permission of the rubber stamp. That is the state of affairs which we have reached; and it occurs to me, from the experience which I have had, like that of my hon. Friend, that in order to engage in any form of wholesale or retail business, the permission of a local price regulation committee or some such body is necessary. It may well be that during the war this second category—the category of restrictions imposed by the war—was necessary to ensure that the fighting services and the munition factories had sufficient man power, to preserve transport, to ensure fair distribution and to save petrol. But surely, with things gradually returning to normal, the public have a right to expect that a review of those restrictions will take place, so that as things gradually return to normal the restrictions may be removed.

I would like to give an instance of the sort of thing I mean. I mentioned that we have now reached the stage when all forms of retail business have to be sanctioned by a local price regulation committee, and it surprises one to learn that that is extended beyond strictly retail business to the business of a hairdresser. There is a town in my constituency with approximately 6,000 inhabitants. Incidentally, it is a great shopping centre for a large rural population. It has one ladies' hairdresser's shop. There is an officer in the R.A.F. who is shortly to be demobilised and wishes with his wife, to start up as a hairdresser in that town. He has appealed, and I have also appealed for him, to the Price Regulation Committee, in order that the necessary licence may be obtained because it appears to be necessary. This is the reply that I have received: It is correct that there is only one ladies' hairdresser in Ramsey"— that is the town— but, in refusing a licence, the Committee have taken into account the fact that two other establishments have been closed down on account of the war. In one case the pro-prietress is serving in His Majesty's Forces and it is understood that she is paying rent on the premises and there is every likelihood that she will come back and the business will be reopened. The other shop is also likely to be opened."— No reasons are given— In those circumstances"— and those were the only circumstances justifying refusal ''the Committee consider that the interests of the former traders should not be prejudiced by the granting of a licence to Mr. Hyslop. The price regulation committee is proceeding on the assumption that this fair-sized town with its large rural area is going to exist on three hairdressing shops only. I would like to add, to the argument which has been put forward this afternoon, the general contention that, not only are these Regulations in themselves now unnecessary, out-of-date and oppressive, but also that they are being applied in an unpractical and oppressive manner.

Many cases can be put forward to justify a review of these restrictions and I am asking that the Minister shall undertake to review all of them carefully. They are very numerous indeed. If he will make such a review I would very greatly appreciate it, and so, I am sure, would very many other hon. Members, if he would consider at the same time the effect upon the ex-Serviceman of the old Regulations which existed before the war. I can give an example. A great many men were in the road haulage business before the war, and had one vehicle at any rate and possibly two, when they were called up. They surrendered their licences, and many of them surrendered their vehicles, sold them or had them requisitioned. If these men ever want to set up in the road haulage business again, they will be very severely handicapped when they come before the Traffic Commissioners for purely technical reasons which, if nothing is done, will prevent them from ever being in the road haulage business again. The law prevents any man from having a licence, unless he can prove the public need for it. In order to prove public need, it is necessary in 99 cases out of 100 for him to show that he had been continuously operating vehicles over the previous 12 months. I am talking of the practice in 1937–39. The Serviceman coming back to civil life will never be able to prove that. This therefore is an instance where the previous restrictions also will have to be considered very carefully when endeavouring to arrive at a solution which the ex-Serviceman will find just. It is surely to the advantage of the Government to consider this point of view: Ex-Servicemen will be seriously disillusioned about all their efforts of the last six years, if they find that they are up against the sort of brick-wall which this mass of restrictions creates.