HL Deb 14 February 1945 vol 134 cc1054-8

4.37 P.m.


asked whether His Majesty's Government have any information as to the circumstances under which an ex-Service man, Mr. J. Newman, has been refused a licence for a butcher's shop at Slough. The noble Lord said: My Lords, If I may say one word in explanation of my question, some months ago I introduced into your Lordships' House a Bill designed to secure fair play for ex-Service men wishing to establish or to reestablish themselves in business, and the noble Lord, Lord Templemore, replied to me on that occasion. I believe the noble Lord has some connexion with the Yeomen of the Guard, who are more commonly known as the Beefeaters. I think, therefore, he should take some interest in my question which relates to an ex-Service man trying to set up a butcher's shop. When I introduced that Bill the Government were unable to give me facilities for it, but in the course of the debate I felt there was considerable sympathy for the object I was seeking to further and I think that this matter to which my question draws attention is a direct illustration of the necessity for some Bill such as the one I introduced.

So far as I know, the facts of the case are not in dispute, or are not in substantial dispute. Mr. Newman, an ex-Service man, made a written application for a licence to set up a butcher's shop in certain premises in Slough. A multiple shop firm made written application at a later date. The matter came before the council and the council decided in favour of the multiple shop firm. I believe it has been suggested that the firm had made a previous verbal application, but I imagine we should all agree that in a matter of this sort it is written applications which count. I have also seen a statement in the Press attributed to an official of the Ministry of Food saying that in such cases it is the general practice of the Ministry to give preference to ex-Service men, but as that is a Press and not an official statement I do not of course emphasize it in any way. I think it is right to say that so far as I know Mr. Newman has made no complaint in this matter, and may I make it clear on my part that I am not seeking to create or to foment any grievance of any sort whatsoever? Nor am I taking sides in any dispute which may have arisen in any quarter about this matter. But in the interest of ex-Service men and in fact in the interests of all concerned in this matter, I feel it would be helpful if a clear statement were made setting forth the actual facts of the matter, for this might terminate a certain amount of discussion on questions that seem to be in dispute. It is in that spirit, and in that spirit alone, that I put my question. I am bound to say, however, that if the facts are as I- have stated them, then I think many ex-Service men will feel considerable anxiety about their future as regards establishing themselves in business when they have returned from service with the Armed Forces. I beg to ask the question which stands in my name.

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Lord. I am afraid that I shall have to ask your patience, if you will be good enough to give it to me, because this case has excited a good deal of Press comment. The Minister has had representations from the Council of Retail Distributors, from the British Legion and from the National Federation of Meat Traders' Associations, and on his, behalf I want to make quite clear what is the process involved and what the facts are regarding this case. I am sure your Lordships will bear with me while I read the brief that has been given me. The position is that applications for licences to open retail food shops are con- sidered in the first instance by the local Food Control Committee for the area. Each of these Committees consists of five trade members, one trade (employee) member and not less than ten, nor more than twelve, consumer members. One of the trade members is a co-operative member who is appointed after consultation with the retail co-operative society operating within the area. If the Food Control Committee recommend that a licence should be granted to an applicant the licence is normally issued by the Food Executive Officer without reference to higher authority. The Food Executive Officer may, however, if he considers that the Committee's recommendation is in conflict with the Ministry's general policy, refer the case to the Divisional Food Officer. If the Committee recommend that a licence should not be granted to an applicant, the applicant has a right of appeal to the Divisional Food Officer.

The principles which Committees apply to the consideration of applications for licences are as follows:—If the application is made by an ex-trader who has closed his business as a result of circumstances attributable to the war and who has been discharged from one of the Fighting Services, or from the Merchant Navy, or from a Civil Defence Force or from work of national importance, the application is considered without reference to the consumer need of the district. Normally, therefore, such an applicant receives his licence as a matter of right. In other cases the Committee consider whether the new business is required in order to relieve hardship to consumers arising from a lack of distribution points. Those are the principles.

On January 23, 1945, two applications were considered in respect of the same premises in Glentworth Parade, Bath Road, Slough, for licences to open a butcher's shop as a new business. One application was from the Slough and District Co-operative Society and the other from Mr. Joseph Newman, a discharged ex-Service man. The premises in question had been used as a butcher's shop for about a year in 1938–39, since when they have stood empty. Mr. Newman was formerly employed in this shop. He was not a trader, he was an employee. He is therefore not qualified under the Ministry's regulations as a "priority" applicant. Mr. Newman's application was made in August, 1944, and was first con- sidered at the meeting of the Food Control Committee prior to that held on January 23, 1945, but was deferred in order to enable the Committee to make further inquiries with regard to consumer need. No ex-trader having been involved the issue was one of consumer need. The Co-operative Society's application was first made in October, 1944. The manager of the society had, however, approached the Food Executive Officer six months previously and the Food Executive Officer had, at that time, informed the manager that he did not consider consumer need to exist. The society then proceeded to obtain signatures to a petition and with its application in October presented such a petition bearing 269 signatures.

The Food Control Committee on January 23 first considered the question of consumer need and decided by eight votes to two that there was a consumer need for the additional butcher's shop. The Committee then considered the two applications together and recommended by six votes to four that the licence should be granted to the Co-operative Society. It would appear that the case for the society depended upon its having made the earlier approach—approach, not a signed application—to the Food Office in this matter, and the evidence of consumer need shown by the petition submitted in support of the society's application. Mr. Wilkinson, the manager of the society, who is the co-operative member on the Food Control Committee, was present at the meeting but did not speak except in reply to questions put by other members, nor did he vote on the proposal that the licence be granted to the society. It has been said in the Press that of the six members who voted in favour of the society five were themselves members of the society. All I can say is that it has been ascertained that none of these five is an employee of the society or a member of the committee of management.

No licence has vet been issued but Mr. Newman has been informed that if he is aggrieved by the decision he has a right of appeal to the Divisional Food Officer. He has not so far exercised his right of appeal. The Minister took steps, as soon as the case was brought to his attention, to suspend the issue of the licence to the Co-operative Society so as to give Mr. Newman adequate time to exercise his right of appeal. That is how the matter at present stands and I hope that the steps that the Minister of Food has taken will satisfy your Lordships, and in particular will satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Winster, that ex-Service men can, with considerable confidence, rely upon proper protection from His Majesty's Government.

4.46 p.m.


My Lords, let meat once thank the noble Lord for the perfectly clear and very full statement he has given which shows that the action of the Minister and the Ministry's officials has been perfectly correct throughout. But the fact which emerges is that an ex-Service man makes an application for a licence, a powerful and wealthy multiple shop firm also makes an application, and it is the firm which gets the licence and the ex-Service man is turned down. I am afraid that some people will think that there is rather a smack of Naboth's vineyard about that. That may be the effect on the minds of ex-Service men. However, I thank the noble Lord for his full and courteous reply.


Can the noble Lord tell us who was the freeholder or the previous tenant of the premises?


I am sorry I do not know.