HC Deb 02 December 1942 vol 385 cc1263-72

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Sir J. Edmondson.]

Mr. Granville (Eye)

I desire to raise on the Adjournment a question of which I gave notice yesterday. This House to-day has been discussing an Amendment dealing with reconstruction. I wish to raise a practical case of reconstruction which affects—

It being the hour appointed for the interruption of Business, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Pym.]

Mr. Granville

I wish to raise a practical case of reconstruction which affects the future of five young men in the Fighting Forces and the future of a small business after the war. If this were a case of a large combine, trust, or multiple shop undertaking, there would be many voices raised on behalf of it, but it happens to concern a small business, a village shop in Suffolk, and the release of an airman from the Royal Air Force to run it, or it may be forced to close down. I have tried through three Government Departments to get something done about this case, and I am left with no other recourse than to raise it on the Adjournment Motion. The business to which I refer is a grocer's shop in the village of Strad-broke, in my constituency in Suffolk. All five sons have volunteered for the Fighting Services. Three of them are in the Royal Air Force and two of them are in the Army, one having been at Dunkirk. The father of these men, who was left alone to carry on the business, tried from the beginning of the war to carry it on in spite of the fact that his doctors had warned him that if he continued to do so they could not be responsible for the result. But he was determined to keep the business going for his sons when they returned at the end of the war, with the result that he died from overstrain, and literally gave his life for his country. The mother of these young men is now left to carry on the business alone, with the result that it is now threatened with closure. The whole district, including the British Legion and everyone who knows the family, has petitioned for the release of the son who knows most about the running of the business.

The obvious solution would be the release of one of these sons on compassionate grounds from the Royal Air Force. For 2½ months I have been engaged, through the Air Ministry and Ministry of Food, in trying to get something done in this direction, with no result. The position is that the Air Ministry say they will not release this young man from the Royal Air Force unless the Ministry of Food are prepared to say that he is essential for the food distribution of that area. Last week, when I raised this matter in the House at Question time, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food said: I am well aware of the particular hardship in this case, where five sons have volunteered for service. It is not within the province of my Department to make an application of the nature to which my hon. Friend refers."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th November, 1942; col. 721, Vol. 385.] Yesterday, I put a Question to my right hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Air, and the answer which he gave me was: On the compassionate aspect of the, case as known to my Department, it is unlikely that an application for release, if made, would be approved. If an application is made on grounds of the national importance of the continuance of the grocery business of G. Rowell Ward, Stradbroke, Suffolk, this would have to be supported by the Ministry of Food before being considered by my Department. This aspect of the case was dealt with by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, in the reply given to my hon. Friend on 22nd October last. My right hon. and gallant Friend also said: This airman has not submitted any application for release from the R.A.F. Application was made for withdrawal from overseas draft and for posting to a station near to his home on compassionate grounds. Both these requests have been granted."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st December, 1942; col. 1010, Vol. 385.] In September a petition for the release of this young airman was sent to the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Food and, as I understand it, to his commanding officer. Copies were sent by the airman himself, by the British Legion and by the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville). The compassionate posting was a compromise made by the Air Ministry in reply to the petition and the application for release. What is wanted is that the Air Ministry and the Food Ministry should be brought together to agree to the release upon compassionate grounds. If that is not done, this business will go, whereas similar shops, where they are allowed to retain male assistants, shops which have already acquired new branches, will get the business of the locality and perhaps the future livelihood of these young men, and, when the war is over, they will have to come back and look for jobs, having lost their capital and the good will as well.

I intend to go on fighting until I get this airman's release, in order to safeguard the interests and rights of the family on a basis of justice. This can by no stretch of the imagination be called equality of sacrifice. It happened in the last war. One shopkeeper was called up and another remained, one making a good business while, after the war, the other had to look for a job. That must not happen in this war. Justice and fair play are some of the things for which these men are asked to fight. It is no good having a Beveridge Report and Ministerial speeches and grandiose plans unless we are prepared to take action to safeguard the rights of those who are fighting. What is required is a Minister of Co-ordination to cut the red tape. I appeal to the Under-Secretary to arrange for this young man's permanent release. I hear stories that his political chief may be off to India in the near future. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman may be left in charge of these cases. He was a young airman in the last war, and he, of course, knows some of the conditions which obtained afterwards. I appeal to him on the basis of justice and fair play to release this young man and enable him to go back to safeguard the position of himself and his brothers for the future.

Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)

I intervene to ask the Minister whether in this case it would not be better to seek the collaboration of the respective Government Departments in the area concerned. There must be many such cases, and in the next few months the position of many managers or heads of shops, particularly food shops, will be reviewed, and if they are managers of multiple firms it is more than likely that their calling up will be deferred as they are at present. Where sons are already in the Services and the person who owns or conducts a shop passes away the business is left without an efficient manager, if not derelict. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food said in reply to a Question a week ago that in similar circumstances such a case would be referred to the local committee, which is a sort of joint committee of the food trade and the Ministry of Labour.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Mr. Mabane)

The advice of the local food officers is always taken as to whether a business is necessary for the distribution of food. If it is deemed to be necessary, an application is made to the Man Power Board on that basis.

Mr. Walkden

There is, I believe, some consultation or collaboration in the local areas. I have such a case in my division, and I am satisfied with the progress that is being made with it. As a contrast to the experience of my hon. Friend is a letter dated 1st December from one of my constituents who is a licensed victualler. He says that the Ministry advised him to ask his employers to make application to the Ministry for a recommendation for his release and that if it was made he could be sure that it would be sympathetically considered having regard to the needs of the Army. That is the right kind of advice to give in such cases. I suggest that the Ministry of Food are not looking after their own business as they should be in cases of small retailers when misfortune comes to the family or to the business. I hope that the representations of my hon. Friend will cause the Ministry to reconsider cases where the breadwinner or the owner of the business falls by the wayside or something unfortunate happens to him.

Mr. Muff (Hull, East)

I will detain the House only for a minute in order to allow the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to reply. I am not, like my hon. Friend, au fait with what goes on in society circles and as to what has happened to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's chief. Nor do I present him with an ultimatum or a a warning. I should like to ask his advice. I do not like to put down Questions about a particular man, but I have had brought to my attention the case of one man. His father died only a few days ago. There are 3,500 customers registered in the butchery department. I want to ask him whether it would be possible to put the case before him with a view to the grant of compassionate deferment. In the present state of the war I feel that we should be chary in putting forward our demands and presenting our ultimatums to any Minister of the Forces, seeing there is such a shortage of manpower, but I would ask my hon. and gallant Friend whether if an application were made for deferment there is any chance of getting compassionate deferment.

Mr. Woolley (Spen Valley)

Before the right hon. and gallant Gentleman replies I would like to ask one question. Is it the policy of the Government to allow one business in a small village of this description to remain open while another business must close, when the second business has given to the service of the country five sons?

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Air (Captain Harold Balfour)

The hon. Member for East Hull (Mr. Muff) asked me just now a question about a hypothetical case.

Mr. Muff

I did not wish to put the name before the House in a question.

Captain Balfour

If the hon. Member will let me have the particulars, I will certainly deal with the matter to the best of my ability. I think the whole House acknowledges that the impact of war bears hardly upon all individuals and businesses in different ways. Every one of us could make out a good case in this House in favour of many of our constituents, but against that we have to weigh the needs of war and the man-power and woman-power position, and it is in that light that I would ask the hon. Gentleman who raised this matter and hon. Members who are here to judge the issues in this case when I have explained them. The hon. Member for the Eye Division (Mr. Gran-ville), who raised this matter, wielded a two-edged sword. He gave me a warning, and he made an appeal. The warning was that he intends to go on fighting this case; the appeal was to my tender heart to release this man at once. We have to look at this matter in the light of the facts. Firstly, I notice that he did not raise the point which I endeavoured to make to him in my reply yesterday, that the man himself has not yet made any application for release, and if he wants to get allies in this matter in this House and allies for those who signed the petition in the village, may I suggest that the most valuable ally would be the man himself?

I am glad that this case has been raised, because it raises the general issue of the representations made to Members by the men in the Forces on many matters. I should like to say a word on this general issue of men making applications to Members of Parliament and men making applications through official channels. This man has not fulfilled the laid down official procedure of making application, which he is free to do and is encouraged to do on any subject whatsoever, to his commanding officer. We have Regulations that commanding officers are directed to listen sympathetically and to endeavour to help men when they make such applications. That is the proper and recognised method throughout the Service—throughout all the Services.

It would be intolerable if the Service Departments were to accept the position of dealing with applications made by men other than through official channels. I do not dispute—it would be foolish to do so, and I acknowledge it freely—the rights of Members to receive representations from their serving constituents, but I am sure that the House will agree that the correct position must be that approach to a Member of Parliament should be in support of or in consequence of an application made by a man through the official Service channels, and not be in substitution of that application through the official channels.

Mr. Granville

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said in his reply, and has said again now, that the airman has not made an application to his commanding officer. I said in my speech, and my information is, that the airman has made an application, not only to his C.O. at the time, but to the C.O. in his present station. I have a letter in my hand which refers to the application which he made and a letter from the British Legion which supported his application. I hope that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is not going to ride off on that plea, and I hope that he will look into the matter and get this information.

Captain Balfour

Naturally, before this case came on, I checked and double-checked that this man had not made any application for permanent release from the Air Force. I am coming in a moment to such application as he has made. I understand that he does not intend to make an application. The hon. Gentleman referred to the petition, which has not been received by my Department. I understand that one has been received by the Ministry of Food. I cannot trace the receipt of any petition, but even if it had been received, and had been a petition by 400 or 600 good-intending citizens, I am afraid it would not make any difference unless the man himself had fulfilled the official procedure laid down. It is undesirable that a man should feel he can get something done through political channels which he cannot get done through official channels, or that he can get it done without giving the normal channels a chance to function.

Mr. Granville

The facts are wrong.

Captain Balfour

My own practice is always to do the best I can for any case which is put to me by hon. Members. I think hon. Members will testify that I have tried to set a high standard for my Department in that respect, but never do I take any action until I am assured that the individual has applied through the recognised Service channels.

Mr. Granville

I must ask my right hon. and gallant Friend this question: He made the statement that this petition had not been received by his Department. I must ask—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has not given way to the hon. Member.

Sir Henry Morris-Jones (Denbigh)

I do not know anything about this case at all, but am judging on the merits of it. Is the Minister trying to convey the impression that this young man has no desire at all to leave the Service?

Captain Balfour

I think if he had any desire to leave the Service he would apply.

Mr. Granville

He has applied.

Captain Balfour

The facts of the case are that this airman enlisted voluntarily on 10th June, 1940. The hon. Member who raises the case wrote to my Secretary of State on 22nd September, 1942, saying that because of family difficulties this airman should be released in order to run the family grocery business, which otherwise could not continue to function. Immediate investigations were put in hand, and, as a result, the airman was taken off overseas draft for which he was then under warning. On 8th October the hon. Member then again wrote to my Secretary of State stressing the difficulties of this case and saying that this was a question he was taking up with the Ministry of Food as regarded the grocery business. Nevertheless, in view of the strong feeling among his constituents, he asked for the airman's release on compassionate grounds. Investigations were again put in hand, and it was found that the airman had not applied even for temporary release, but had applied for a compassionate posting. This was granted on 24th October, 1942. On 25th November the hon. Member asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether the Ministry of Food would recommend to the appropriate Department, in this case mine, the Air Ministry, that this man should be allowed to go back from the Forces on the grounds that the business was essential to the distribution of food in the area.

Mr. Granville

Again on the advice of your Department.

Captain Balfour

Exactly. The Ministry of Food have not been willing to make representations to the Air Ministry. I do not comment on that decision. On the question of compassionate release, temporary or otherwise, I can say nothing further than what I stated in my reply yesterday, that the airman has not made any application for either temporary or permanent release.

Mr. Granville

Will the right hon. and gallant Gentleman consult the man's two commanding officers?

Captain Balfour

Certainly. I have been in touch already. If such application is made, I can only say that in the present circumstances as we know them—I do not want to prejudge the issue—I do not think it is likely, having regard to the high degree of compassion we find necessary for permanent release from the Service, that it would be granted. There might be a temporary release. But I say we will look into it sympathetically directly we receive an application. Commanding officers are allowed to give 14 days' compassionate leave, and on application to the air officer commanding can give as much longer as the case merits. If the man applies through the proper channels, there will be fair, sympathetic and swift investigation into the merits of the case, and I will give the hon. Member knowledge of the decision come to. Beyond that I cannot go, and I do not think the House would expect me to go.

Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.