HC Deb 06 August 1941 vol 373 cc1948-50
49. Mr. Lipson

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he is now in a position to make a statement respecting the licensing of food traders?

52 and 53. Major Lyons

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (1) whether any decision has now been reached with regard to the licensing of dealers in foodstuffs and the prohibition of trading therein without licence;

(2) what action has been taken on the representations made and forwarded some two months ago by the London Chamber of Commerce, seeking machinery to prevent rising costs of foodstuffs through the intervention of persons not previously engaged in business in the distribution of food?

Major Lloyd George

Traders in all the principal foodstuffs have been required from the outbreak of war to be licensed by a food control committee before they may sell by retail. This policy is being continued, and will be extended where necessary to any foodstuff of which the price is or may become controlled by Order. It has also been the policy of the Ministry since the beginning of the war to require traders to obtain a licence to trade by wholesale, whenever it appeared that this course was desirable in order to secure adequate control over distribution of any foodstuff. It has now been decided that in the absence of special circumstances this procedure shall be applied to all foodstuffs of which the prices are or may become controlled by Order.

As a general rule, licences to deal in any commodity, whether retail or wholesale, have been granted only to traders who dealt in that particular commodity before the war, and, save in exceptional circumstances, it is intended to continue this policy. It would not, however, be practicable to make this an absolute rule. There are cases in which, in the interests of consumers, exceptions are desirable. Since the outbreak of war it has not been the practice to revoke to any considerable extent licences which have been issued to traders in foodstuffs. It has, however, now been decided that further steps must be taken to ensure that the provisions of maximum price and rationing Orders are obeyed. Practically all important foodstuffs, with the exception of certain perishable and luxury articles, are the subject of price control and, with a view to ensuring that the provisions of all Orders will be carried out, my Noble Friend has decided that in future the licence shall be withdrawn from any trader, whether wholesaler or retailer, who is guilty of conduct which renders him an unsuitable link in the chain of distribution. This will come into operation as from 15th August.

Mr. Lipson

While thanking my right hon. and gallant Friend for his answer and for the very big advance which his Department has made, may I ask whether he can give us an assurance that only legitimate traders in foodstuffs will be licensed?

Major Lloyd George

Yes, Sir, certainly, but, as I pointed out in my answer, sometimes there are cases in which the interests of the consumer cut across such distinctions; but this will be the only exception.

Major Lyons

In view of the fact that unchecked gate-crashing in the food markets has been responsible for much rise in prices, may I ask my right hon. and gallant Friend, while assuring him that we all welcome the advance, whether he will give more consideration in future to representations that are made in these matters, and will bear in mind that these suggestions have been made to his Department for 12 months?

Major Lloyd George

My hon. and gallant Friend is not always well informed on these matters. We have always taken a very serious view of recommendations sent forward to us. I am sure that if he will go back over the past 12 months during which he says nothing has been done, he will find steady progress.

Major Lyons

On a point of Order. Arising out of the Minister's remarks, in which he said I am not well informed—

Hon. Members

That is not a point of Order.

Mr. Speaker rose

Mr. Evelyn Walkden

In the terms of the new Order, will the Minister impose the penalties to which he referred upon a retailer who by-passes the market, and upon any wholesaler or retailer who commits offences such as were mentioned?