§ Colonel Thornton-Kemsley
asked the Minister of Food if he is able to make a statement regarding the future of the retail licensing system as it applies to food shops and catering establishments.
§ Sir B. Smith
Yes Sir. My right hon. Friend, the President of the Board of Trade, in the statement which he made on Monday last, referred to the announcement which had been made in December, 1943, that licensing would be continued for a time after the end of the war in Europe, and that, for so long as it was continued, it would be used to facilitate the re-entry into trade of persons on the register of withdrawing traders. That announcement was made on behalf of my Department as well as the Board of Trade.
In April, 1944, my predecessor introduced the priority classes. These classes have been progressively extended, and since July of this year, they have included all former owners of retail food shops and 1694W catering establishments who desire to reopen in their original areas businesses which they were obliged to close because of the war. Licences are granted to properly qualified priority applicants as a matter of right.
The announcement made in December, 1943, also indicated that arrangements would be made to enable licences to be granted in suitable cases to disabled persons selected in co-operation with my right hon. Friend, the Minister of Labour. This object has been achieved by the establishment of preferred classes which consist of former owners of food shops and catering establishments who desire to re-open businesses similar to those they carried on but in a new area, and disabled persons who have been engaged on some form of national service and who are considered suitable for resettlement in the food trades.In any area where there is consumer need for a new business, a preference in the granting of a licence is given to applicants in these preferred classes.
These are the steps that have been taken to fulfil the undertaking which has been given to the House.
I regret that owing to the shortage of supplies of many kinds of food, it would not yet be advisable to bring the licensing system for food businesses to an end. So long as the quantity of food which is available for distribution is strictly limited, it is essential that as many openings as possible in the retail food and catering trades should be reserved for those ex-traders who have yet to be discharged either from the Services or from industry, and for suitable disabled persons. For the time being, therefore, I have decided to maintain the priority and preferred classes for qualified applicants, and, in their interest, to refuse licences to other, applicants except where the refusal would involve a high degree of public hardship. It is my intention, however, to bring about a progressive relaxation in the administration of the licensing system as the supply of food increases.
In the near future I shall be inviting the national organisations representing retail food and catering trades to submit to me their views about the continuation of licensing for their respective trades in order that I may consider these carefully before coming to a decision about the termination of the licensing system.