HC Deb 27 January 1944 vol 396 cc830-2
5. Mr. Butcher

asked the Minister of Labour why the owners of small businesses are called for National Service and compelled to cease to trade although firms like Woolworths and Marks and Spencer have several thousand full-time employees.

Mr. Bevin

Under the arrangements for the withdrawal of men and women from the retail distributive trades no preferential treatment is given to large firms. It is further open to any person, including the working owner of a business, who is due to be withdrawn under these arrangements to apply for his case to be considered on grounds of exceptional business hardship.

Mr. Butcher

While thanking my right hon. Friend for the consideration shown by officers of his Department, may I ask whether he is aware that these large firms are securing an unfair advantage over their smaller competitors; and is he prepared to acquiesce in that position?

Mr. Rhys Davies

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that his Department has called up owners of one-man businesses, with the result that those businesses are closed; and that although several persons employed by large firms are called up, those large firms are able to continue in business at the expense of the small men?

Mr. Bevin

A complaint is often made to me about the treatment I have given to the co-operative societies, about which my hon. Friend is very keen. It is not true.

Mr. Davies

I have sent cases to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Bevin

That complaint has been made about co-operative societies and multiple shops, but I assure my hon. Friend that the matter is dealt with equitably.

Mr. Hannah

Do the Government realise that a large number of cases at Bilston are giving great dissatisfaction, because small traders are forced out of business by being called up?

Mr. Shinwell

Can we be assured that there is no unfair discrimination between owners of small businesses and multiple firms, because it appears that a large number of small businesses are being closed down owing to shortage of labour, whereas large firms are able to carry on?

Mr. Bevin

I can assure my hon. Friend that the scales are being held fairly. If there is any complaint at all, it has rather been of the favouritism shown for small businesses. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It is all very well for hon. Members to shout "No," but the war has to be fought and inconvenience is suffered by a lot of people, and I cannot keep every small shop going because it is a small shop. I have to find the man power and to provide a ratio as between one class and another.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore

Cannot my right hon. Friend give special instructions to hardship tribunals to show extra sympathy to the small man as against the big business, because they both serve the public in the same way?

Mr. Bevin

I cannot start issuing special instructions to statutory bodies. It would turn them into a complete farce. I might as well abolish them and do the work myself.

Mr. Butcher

In view of the importance of this matter and the unsatisfactory nature of the Minister's reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter at an early date.