Retail Trade Licensing (Discontinuance)

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Commerce – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th December 1945.

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Photo of Sir Malcolm Stoddart-Scott Sir Malcolm Stoddart-Scott , Pudsey and Otley 12:00 am, 17th December 1945

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is yet able to make a statement on the future of the retail shop licensing system.

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

Yes, Sir. With your permission and that of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, I will make a statement on this matter at the end of Questions.

Later

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

After careful consideration, I have decided to bring the Location of Retail Businesses Order to an end and to close the Register of Withdrawn Traders on 31st December next.

The House will remember that my right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he was at the Board of Trade, announced in December, 1943, that this licensing would be continued for a time after the end of the war in Europe and that, so long as it was continued, it would be used to facilitate the re-entry into retail trade of persons on the Register of Withdrawn Traders and the resettlement in civil life of selected disabled persons. It has not, I think, been fully appreciated by hon. Members that this policy was designed to help ex-traders as a class, and the war-disabled, and not ex-Servicemen as such. According to my information a minority only of these ex-traders are in the Forces, many are civilians transferred to other work, while there are a number of branches of large businesses. On the other hand, there are many ex-Servicemen whose interests we all desire to regard, who have been prevented by the policy laid down from setting up in retail trade because they are neither ex-traders nor war-disabled.

Ex-traders as a class will have had six months in which to come forward in person or by proxy to take up their former businesses, and I consider that it would not be justifiable to hold the field for them any longer to the exclusion of ex-Service-men who desire to enter retail trade. Special steps will, however, be taken during the first three months of next year to continue to help the present priority class—ex-traders- and war-disabled persons. In particular, we shall do what we can to assist them to get building licences where these are necessary for the minimum repairs and alterations to fit their premises for the business proposed. We will also issue coupon floats to the war-disabled, in suitable cases, and to ex-traders who used to sell consumer goods which are now rationed and who desire to re-start their businesses in the sale of rationed goods. For these purposes, I am asking the local licensing committees to consider any such applications for building licences and to make recommendations upon them to the Ministry of Works and also to advise the appropriate Department of the Board of Trade on the issue of coupon floats. I must emphasise, however, that, while everything possible will be done to help the priority classes to get their shops sufficiently repaired to enable them to open their businesses during this period, there can be no absolute guarantee that labour and materials to carry out the actual work will be available in the period in any particular district. The grant of licences must be contingent upon other urgent demands for building labour in the area. During the operation of the Order, my Department have obtained the co-operation of supplies in assisting war-disabled new entrants to get supplies. I take this opportunity to thank those who have thus helped and to express the hope that they will continue to give such assistance as lies in their power to war-disabled persons who set up in the retail trade.

While after 31st December it will thus be open to anyone to enter retail trade without a licence, it is right that I should warn ex-Servicemen and others to consider, before putting their money into a shop for the first time, that supplies will still be difficult for a considerable time to come, particularly for those with no former trade connections, and that they cannot rely, while labour and material shortages continue, on getting premises repaired, adapted or furnished, or on the grant of coupon floats to establish a trade in rationed goods.

I wish to take this opportunity to express my thanks on behalf of the Government to the men and women of the local licensing committees who have voluntarily spent so much of their time and energies in the administration of this Order. The burden has been an ever-increasing one and the work, involving, as it has, decisions affecting the livelihood of their fellow men, has been of a particularly arduous character. I am sure that all sides of the House will join me in thanking the committees for their work

and in expressing our sense of obligation for the very fair and conscientious way in which they have administered the policy laid down for them. Finally, I desire to make it clear that what I have said refers only to businesses covered by the L.R.B.O. and does not cover either food shops or catering establishments.

Photo of Mr David Gammans Mr David Gammans , Hornsey

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggest that Service traders who are now out in the Far East have had a fair chance to reopen their businesses, and will he amplify what he means when he suggests that these men should be given some, special facilities within the next three months?

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

I think that, on balance— and, in all these matters, it must be a balance of justice—the balance of justice now falls in the direction of ending the Order. They have had six months, either themselves or by proxy, to make application. So far as the second part of the question is concerned, the facilities which, for the next three months, we are giving to this priority class, arc that we will assist them to get the necessary licences to adapt their premises and we will give them coupon floats, if necessary, to start their businesses.

Photo of Sir Malcolm Stoddart-Scott Sir Malcolm Stoddart-Scott , Pudsey and Otley

While thanking the Minister for that reply, which, I am quite sure, will bring great satisfaction to many people in this country—not only those who wish to open shops, but also those who wish to be customers—I would like to ask him whether it means that a man who has been a greengrocer or who had a food shop before the war, or a man who has been wounded in the war, cannot now open a shop?

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

It does not mean that. I do not deal with food shops; the Minister of Food is responsible for them.

Photo of Mr John Leslie Mr John Leslie , Sedgefield

May I ask the President if he is aware of what happened after the last war, when many ex-Servicemen were cajoled into buying businesses of which they had no experience, with the result that they kept open for seven days a week but lost their all, and that we do not want that to happen again?

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

I quite agree with the hon. Member, and I hope all ex-Service-men will inquire very carefully before they embark upon such businesses.

Lieut.-Colonel Dower:

As the grant of a licence by the Ministry of Works unfortunately does not mean that repairs can be done by anybody, will the Minister consult with the Minister of Works to see that these licences will have no time limit so that the men will be sure that, when labour and materials are available, they will be done?

Photo of Mr Ian Mikardo Mr Ian Mikardo , Reading

Is the Minister aware that this statement will give universal satisfaction throughout the country and throughout this House, except to some hon. Gentlemen opposite—who looked to him with a morbid hope that he would exercise control for the sake of control?

Photo of Mr Campbell Stephen Mr Campbell Stephen , Glasgow Camlachie

Can the Minister say whether he has consulted the Minister of Food to see whether similar action will be taken by him?

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

I have consulted with the Minister of Food to see whether he had any objection to the action I was taking, but I have not ventured to suggest to him what he should do about his own responsibility.

Photo of Mr Joseph Reeves Mr Joseph Reeves , Greenwich

Does the President's reply mean that traders who commenced trading during the period of the war will now have an allocation with respect to goods that are rationed, which they have been denied up to now?

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

No, this is only dealing with the question of opening new shops.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel John White Lieut-Colonel John White , Canterbury

asked the President of the Board of Trade if his attention has been called to the case of an ex-Serviceman, Mr. P. E. Jackson, whose application to sell plants and seeds at 14a, Lower Bridge Street, Canterbury, was rejected, without any explanation, by the local Price Control Committee, Tunbridge Wells, on 27th November; if he will state the reason for this rejection, and if he will cause the case to be reconsidered.

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

Under the existing policy, licences under the Location of Retail Businesses Order to open new businesses are granted in the main to two classes of persons, war-disabled and ex-traders who are eligible for inclusion in the Board's Register of Withdrawn Traders. Mr. Jackson did not, I understand, claim to be in either of these classes. The Local Licensing Committee therefore acted rightly in rejecting his application.

With regard to the last part of the Question, I would refer the hon. Member to the statement which I am making at the end of Question time today, in reply to Question No. 9.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel John White Lieut-Colonel John White , Canterbury

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman bear in mind that there have been a great number of these cases of ex-Servicemen trying to get back into work and of his Department being rather difficult about it?

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman will await the statement which I shall make after Questions.