§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Drewe.]
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Miss Ward (Wallsend)
I am not at all satisfied with what appears to be the machinery set up by the Government to ensure that ex-Servicemen including disabled men are treated fairly in their re-establishment in civilian life. I am sure that it is the desire of all of us that at the end of the war, and during the period before victory comes, ex-Servicemen returning to civilian life shall be protected against putting their capital, or any gratuities that they may receive, into businesses which do not provide for them a profitable livelihood, and there must be certain safeguards for old established businesses, which will also have a right 2160 to carry on in the post-war world. I should like to tell a story to illustrate my point that, at the moment at any rate, the machinery established by the Government is quite inadequate and that it must be thoroughly well examined in order that justice may be done. An air gunner who had his spine broken in two places and will have to spend the rest of his life in a steel jacket has set up a garage. Under the arrangements entered into between the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Fuel and Power the following provisions have been agreed between the Departments:A petrol allowance is granted by the Ministry of Fuel and Power to any disabled ex-Serviceman where the Ministry of Labour and National Service recommend that work as the owner-driver of a hire car offers the best possibility of his satisfactory resettlement in civil life. In such cases allowances are granted irrespective of whether the existing hire-car facilities are sufficient to meet the essential transport needs of the neighbourhood. In the case of all other classes of applicant, petrol allowances for the starting of new hire-car businesses or for the extension of existing businesses are only granted when, after inquiry, it appears clear that the essential transport needs of the locality are not being met by the existing hire-car businesses.That on the face of it sounds a very satisfactory arrangement, but under it ex-Servicemen are put down into the very lowest category. It may be that throughout the country there will be established a large number of one-man car hire businesses, but when the basic petrol ration is re-introduced, and when civilian life gets back to some form of normality at the end of the war, these ex-Servicemen, who will have spent their pitiful little capital in buying cars or taxis, may find themselves unable to make a livelihood. I absolutely refuse to accept that it is fair and just to ex-Servicemen that they should be automatically put into the lowest category. I cannot understand how my right hon. Friend could come to accept such a position. On my raising this point, the Minister of Fuel and Power wrote:There are thousands of one-car owner-driver hire-car businesses up and down the country and the petrol allowance granted to these businesses is found sufficient to give their proprietors a reasonable livelihood.I would like to know whether the Minister has made an investigation into that statement. All my experience and all the evidence I can get from well established taxi-cab owners shows that it is impos- 2161 sible for a one-car owner-driver to make a reasonable livelihood on the amount of petrol allocated to him for the purpose of his business. In any event there may be thousands of one-car owner-drivers throughout the country. But there are thousands of innkeepers who can make a livelihood out of giving 5s. meals. In their case, however, we have provided in legislation for war-time purposes that where a restaurant has certain overhead charges which cannot be met by providing 5s. meals they can make a house charge in addition. I re-emphasise that it is not right that an arrangement should be made which automatically places an ex-Serviceman into the lowest category.
When an ex-Serviceman has petrol for one car, and he wants to go further and have more than one car, he is transferred from the responsibility of the Minister of Labour to that of the Minister of Fuel and Power. I submit that the Minister of Fuel and Power has no responsibility departmentally for protecting the interests of ex-Servicemen. In the case I am raising he takes refuge in the fact that the decision rests on the Newcastle Watch Committee. That Committee has certain responsibilities, but it has not the responsibility for protecting the interests of ex-Servicemen or disabled men returning to civilian life. It is the responsibility of His Majesty's Government as a whole, and that responsibility has, for administrative purposes, been accepted by the Minister of Labour. This system of handing the baby from one Government department to another is vexatious and monstrous.
To get back to my story. My ex-air gunner buys a garage on mortgage and as his finances stand with his petrol allowance for one car he is making a weekly loss of between £2 and £4—I forget the exact figure. He gets his second car, and he applies to the Ministry of Fuel and Power for petrol to run an additional car. The Ministry refuses to grant it, stating that he has received petrol for one car as agreed between the Ministry of Fuel and Power and the Ministry of Labour. When a protest is raised that this man, having incurred considerable overhead charges, could not possibly make a livelihood with one car, this is the letter that he gets from the petroleum officer. I should say, in fairness, before I read it, that I received an apology from the Minister of Fuel and 2162 Power. I agree that the human machine sometimes fails, but I am not going to accept an apology from a Department which writes a letter of this type. It is-from the petroleum officer of the Northern Region, and says:I acknowledge receipt of correspondence referring to Mr. J. Muris of Heaton. I would point out that it is contrary to the general policy of this Ministry to grant new hire-car allowances, but in view of the fact that the applicant was a disabled ex-Serviceman, sympathetic treatment was given to his case and an allowance granted for hire work. Application has been made for fuel for an additional vehicle, and refused, as I consider that Mr. Muris has already had generous treatment.Who on earth is a petroleum officer to say whether an ex-Service disabled man has had generous treatment or not? It is monstrous that anyone could put that record on paper about a man who has served his country and who is the responsibility of the Ministry of Labour. He does not even go on to tell the man that he has the right, if the Newcastle Watch Committee will back his application, to obtain additional petrol. We have had a lot of trouble up my way with regard to petrol for taxi-cab owners. I had a letter from the Minister of Fuel and Power saying that if the Newcastle Watch Committee liked to make a recommendation that extra petrol was necessary for taxicab owners the petrol would be released. The Newcastle Watch Committee, through the town clerk, has written a letter saying that it is not within the power of the Newcastle Watch Committee to do anything about it, so that apparently they are unaware of the responsibility which the Minister of Fuel and Power says is theirs.
We have this position of a disabled ex-Serviceman coming back from the Air Force, putting everything that he has into a business, and yet there is not one Government Department that will stand by him arid give him a chance of really making a livelihood. That is my case. I have been on this case for about five weeks and have had to write a considerable number of letters to Ministers about it. If it is going to take a Government Department five weeks to discuss one case, and it then gives an adverse decision, all I can say is that it is a pretty poor outlook for the future and it does not give me any confidence that the Government are really going to do their job by the men who are returning from the various theatres of war. I have put it very strongly because I think it is a matter 2163 which needs putting strongly. There may be all sorts of arguments about Mr. Muris. It may be that there are sufficient taxicabs in the district to do the work. I would not know, and certainly neither the Minister of Labour nor the Minister of Fuel and Power would know. But somebody has to accept the responsibility. While this man has been waiting for me to raise the case in the House he has been losing, week by week, a substantial sum, and nobody will accept any responsibility or do anything about it.
I am not prepared to say that the responsibilty for looking after ex-Servicemen and protecting their interests has to be left in the hands of a Department unless that Department is really going to take effective action. Up to the moment the Ministry of Labour have tried to put it on to the Ministry of Fuel and Power, who have tried to put it on to the Newcastle Watch Committee, and they have repudiated responsibility. The Minister of Fuel and Power refuses the additional petrol, and nothing is going to move him from that position, because he is not concerned with protecting the interests of ex-Servicemen but only with looking after the allocation of petrol. It does not matter to the Minister of Fuel and Power whether this ex-Serviceman "goes down the drain" or whether he does not. According to the letter which we had from the petroleum officer it looks as though he, too, is in the same position, because he refers to this man having been treated generously. What he imagines generous treatment of ex-Servicemen to be I really do not know.
I come back to my point, which is, What are we going to do to establish adequate machinery for the future? I have just come back from a pretty wide look at Servicemen in various theatres of war all over the world, and I am absolutely certain that we civilians here at home have to accept the responsibility of seeing that, when they come back, whether they are physically all right or not, they are re-established satisfactorily in civilian life. It will not be a very easy job and if, at the very first moment, before the ordinary men start to come back, we have a case of this kind, all I can say is that the machinery is extremely bad. I am really raising this to know how we are to protect the interests of ex-Servicemen in the future.
2164 I think I have said all that I need, but unless the Government can do something to meet this particular kind of case—and this case will be a test case—it will be known all over the Northern area in what an ineffective way ex-Servicemen's interests are protected. I believe that the Government are all out to do everything they possibly can, but it is so ingrained in Departments to take the attitude "Passed to you, please," that it seems impossible for them to get out of it. I should very much like to know conclusively how the machine is to work in the future and what redress a man of this kind is to get, and also whether we are to set up in the regions a committee, preferably of responsible people, to look after the interests of ex-Servicemen. Such a committee would not have allowed the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Fuel and Power and the Newcastle Watch Committee to get into this difficulty. I shall be very grateful indeed if the Minister will tell me what sort of machine he proposes to set up to cover the kind of case I have raised.
§ 4.9 P.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor (Morpeth)
I am very interested in this case because I have one which is similar to it, and I want to know what is to happen. It is the case of an ex-Serviceman making application for petrol to start a taxi business, who finds that he is up against the Regulations that have been quoted by the hon. Lady. Petrol may be granted to him as a car-owner if it is deemed that there is a reasonable prospect of success. They are not literally the words that were used, but they give the effect. This man has been looking ahead and he has three cars. As a matter of fact, two men propose to commence a business in a place where no provision exists for taxi services. I would like clarification on one point. When the Ministry of Labour have decided whether this man is entitled to a certificate under the Regulations and in the particular circumstances, will the man be restricted to petrol as a driver and car-owner in respect of one car only? If so, that will be very limiting to the business which he hopes to build up. Can I have some assurance that this severe limitation will not be imposed upon his chance of a livelihood? After the certificate has been received, we wish to proceed to the regional petroleum officer in the North. I take it that if the Ministry of Labour grant 2165 a certificate the Ministry of Fuel and Power will not then be sticky about allowing a reasonable amount of petrol for this man to build up a business in a locality which lends itself splendidly to the purpose.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. McCorquodale)
The hon. Lady has raised this matter in very general terms. She herself defined it, I think, as wishing to ensure that ex-Servicemen, and disabled men in particular, are treated fairly in their re-establishment in civil life. That, of course, is a principle which has the full agreement, sympathy and determination of everyone in the country. I myself have on more than one occasion, and in this House, expressed the view that on the way we treat our disabled ex-Servicemen coming back into civilian life our generation may be judged by the generation's following. Therefore, the Government have been very much concerned all through the war with the problem which was likely to face them towards the end of the war about persons disabled through war service. The House will be well aware that disabled persons, whether ex-Service or civilian, are dealt with during the war under the special arrangements started three years ago, on the introduction of our interim scheme. These include special interviews by our officers while the disabled person is still in hospital or under treatment, and then interviews at the employment exchanges by a specialist officer—we term him the disablement rehabilitation officer—whose study is this question of the rehabilitation of a disabled person, in order that we can determine the most suitable employment, considering the disability of the person concerned and his personal wishes.
We have made special provision too, as the hon. Lady knows, for training—industrial rehabilitation courses—and these are being extended and developed as much as is possible and necessary at the present time. Experience of the scheme shows that the very great majority of disabled men and women, both ex-Service and otherwise, are capable of employment under ordinary working conditions if they have had proper treatment, proper study of their case, proper rehabilitation courses, and the proper entry into in- 2166 dustry. In general, I may say confidently, we have up to now had very little difficulty in finding these disabled men work. That is, of course, under war conditions, and we recognise that in the postwar world it may not be so easy in the normal way, to find employment in the ordinary forms for these disabled persons. It was for that reason, as the House knows, that our Disabled Persons Bill was introduced, and became an Act of Parliament, and now there is a specific obligation on employers of more than 20 persons to take a recognised quota of disabled persons on to their books before they are allowed to recruit any additional labour.
In that way we shall be able, with a flexible machine, to make sure that all disabled persons, ex-Service or otherwise, who are able and desirous of entering the civilian employment field, shall have the right to enter that field in preference to those who are fully able bodied. In that way there should be no difficulty after the war in providing employment for all those who are able to take it. In addition to that, as the hon. Lady knows, for those who are so severely disabled that they cannot really do a competitive day's work, we have under the Act special facilities for setting up non-profit making organisations to employ these people.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
What about the rehabilitating staff? Where do the personnel to rehabilitate these men come from? Has the hon. Gentleman's Department discussed this matter with the War Office?
§ Mr. McCorquodale
Indeed yes, and all the arrangements are being made. If the hon. Member would like to put down a Question 1 will give him a full answer.
§ Mr. Bevan
I am not trying to be tricky, but a short time ago I had an interview with the Ministry of Labour, the War Office and the Ministry of Health about this matter of training physiotherapists, and the War Office were so helpful that they insisted that physiotherapists should occupy a status subordinate to that which they have in any part of the British Dominions!
§ Mr. McCorquodale
The hon. Member has raised a question quite different from that raised by the hon. Lady. If he had given me notice I would have dealt with it, but I have no knowledge of the meet- 2167 ing to which he refers. The specific case to which the hon. Lady addressed her-self, and on which she hung her indictment of the Government, was one of a disabled ex-airman who wished to enter the car-hire business. Where it is thought, on discussion with the men by our rehabilitation officer, that work on their own account might be desirable and they express a wish that way, we have made arrangements with the Departments most intimately concerned; and who have the data at their disposal, to see the ex-Service disabled man gets into a one-man business on preferential terms. For example, with regard to applications from disabled ex-Servicemen to enter retail non-food trades, there was a very full answer given by the President of the Board of Trade on 26th September, 1944, in which he said:I have decided that in future a disabled ex-Serviceman, who was formerly a retailer, shall be granted a licence to open a shop in any area or line of business, provided that the grant of a licence in an area, other than that in which he wed to trade, would not prejudice the interests of others on the Board of Trade register. Disabled ex-Servicemen, who were not formerly retailers, will be treated in the same way, except that the licensing Committees will consider, with the advice of the Ministry of Labour, whether, in each individual case, retail trade affords good prospects for the applicant. I have also invited the British Legion to nominate a representative…."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th September, 1944; Vol. 403, c. 9.]And so on. We have discussed the matter with regard to food retail distribution with the Minister of Food, who has very special knowledge of this subject. He gave an answer as recently as 11th October, in regard to the same question. He said:I made arrangements some time ago for putting ex-retail food traders discharged from the Services into the priority class as regards the issue of licences to re-open their former businesses. As regards disabled ex-Service persons who were not previously retail food traders; I am at present engaged in making arrangements to enable suitable applicants to be given a preference in the granting of licences."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th October, 1044; Vol. 403, c. 1756.]The position, therefore, is not as the hon. Lady suggested, that they are put in the lowest possible grade. These disabled ex-Service men are given exceptional privileges to enter those fields which are not open to any other persons.
§ Miss Ward
May I intervene for one moment? Is it not a fact that as between the Ministries of Labour and of Fuel and Power the arrangement is for the ex-Service disabled man to go in only as an owner of one car, which surely is the very lowest grade? Taking the taxi-cab industry as a whole, they are only allowed to go in on the very lowest level.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
The hon. Lady, if I may say so, is rather impatient. I was endeavouring to explain what we do in the case of disabled ex-Servicemen. I have not got to the Ministry of Fuel and Power yet. She has made one speech, and if she will allow me to make my speech she can come back at me if she wishes, but it will be better if she allows me to make my own speech first. Our advice to the Ministry of Food, the Board of Trade, or the Ministry of Fuel and Power, takes the form of giving information with regard to the disability of the men, the prospects of finding employment, and of expressing our rehabilitation officer's opinion on whether it is desirable, in view of the man's inclinations and his prospects, that he should be given a chance to enter this line of business on his own account. But we cannot do more than express an opinion, and we cannot possibly guarantee that a man will make a success in any business which he undertakes, and we cannot possibly protect completely any man or woman in this country from putting his money into any business.
We can set up, and we wish to set up, as full and complete a service of advice as possible; but, human nature being what it is, we cannot make sure that our advice is followed. Therefore, the hon. Lady, who says that she wishes to make sure that the disabled ex-Serviceman is protected from putting his money into a "dud" business, is asking something that we cannot do and that is beyond the power of anybody. We can offer the best advice if he will come to us and ask for it. Because of that, as the hon. Lady knows, we are setting up these re-settlement advice bureaux all over the country, with a trained staff, and inviting ex-Servicemen and women, disabled or otherwise, to come and get all the skilled advice that can be provided, on the prospects of trade and industry, on the person's business, and so on. I have here an advance copy of the booklet 2169 which we hope to issue—it is not quite complete yet. We wish people to come along and consult our advice service, where they will get the best possible advice that we can obtain for them, not only with regard to matters which concern Government Departments but with regard to matters on which voluntary societies might help them, although the Government could not. We are trying to meet, to the best of our ability, the point that the hon. Lady made, and to prevent the men and women putting their gratuities into "dud" businesses.
§ Mr. A. Bevan
If the Government are now going to give advice about how people are to invest their money, are they going to limit it to ex-Servicemen? Some of us might like advice.
§ Mr. McCorquodale
I imagine that the advice would be more of a negative than of a positive character. I cannot imagine anybody telling a man categorically to invest his money in a business. A man must make up his mind himself on that. But it is right that the ex-Serviceman should receive all the advice that is available. I am glad that the hon. Lady has raised this matter, because it emphasises that the final responsibility for investing his money or for choosing his job must rest with the disabled person. If he invests his money unwisely and it is lost, no Government Department can be held responsible.
What happened in the case of the ex-airman to whom the hon. Lady referred? This is a sad tale of a very gallant airman, a man whom we would wish to assist to the very best of our ability. The normal rule followed by the Ministry of Fuel and Power is to allow new car-hire businesses to be set up only where there is "a proved transport need," but they have arranged to modify that rule, and to authorise the issue of petrol coupons for a car-hire business in favour of a disabled ex-Serviceman where the Ministry of Labour have recommended that that type of work would offer prospects of resettlement. We did so advise in the case to which the hon. Lady has referred; and, in the light of that advice, petrol coupons, not on the lowest scale but on the highest scale—the highest number issued for any car in that horse-power category—were issued to that man. But we did not recommend, and I do not think that the Ministry of Fuel and Power contemplated, 2170 this man buying at very great expense, on mortgage, a garage, which, I understand, was subsequently requisitioned, which, anyway, he was not going to use until the end of the war, and on which the mortgage was so heavy that he could not meet it and, running a private-hire car, make a living. It seems to me, on reading the papers, that the tragedy is due to whoever persuaded this man to buy on mortgage, for a very large sum, a garage which was not essential for this one car which was recommended by us. I am not going into questions of whether the petroleum officer at the Ministry was wise or unwise in writing a letter. The hon. Lady has now, I believe, received an apology; and I should think that the question might be left there.
But because this man has bought a garage the Government cannot be blamed. All we can do is to beg and beseech a disabled ex-Serviceman not to rush in and buy a garage because someone tries to put it up to him. Everyone knows of tragedies of that sort happening in the last war. I do not believe that the Ministry of Fuel and Power or the Ministry of Labour can be blamed in this case. We recommended this man as suitable to drive a private-hire car. The Ministry of Fuel and Power gave him petrol, exceptionally, to the very highest limit. We are continually trying to see how we can improve the quality of the advice that we can offer these ex-Servicemen and women, and especially disabled ones; and also what assistance we can give them in starting life again, in business or in some other way. Our plans are laid, but we can by no means say that they are the last word. Active discussion is going on at present with regard to starting people in business; and we will, of course, look at all cases that come up where a tragedy has occurred or is likely to occur, to see what Went wrong and whether it could have been prevented, and whether any alteration or extension of our plans could help the ex-Serviceman. On the special point which my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) put to me, he does not expect me to reply, and I do not know the answer. But if he wishes to press it, my right hon. Friend will give him a reply.
§ Miss Ward
Is my hon. Friend quite right in saying that petrol was granted at the maximum, and not at the 2171 minimum? The agreement between his Department and the Ministry of Fuel and Power was that petrol could be granted for only one car. That running of one car is not granting petrol on the maximum: the maximum would be perhaps 50 cars or 100 cars. The point is that the Ministry of Fuel and Power limited the ex-Serviceman's right, on the recommendation of the Ministry of Labour, to one car. Therefore, is my hon. Friend not misleading the House? There is another point. What is going to be done in this specific case to get over the difficult position in which this man finds himself?
§ Mr. McCorquodale
To answer the second part of the hon. Lady's question first, there is no way in which the Ministry of Labour can advise the ex-Serviceman about his garage which he has unfortunately obtained on mortgage. That is beyond our capabilities, but it is apparently the difficulty which he is under at the present time. With regard to the general question, we naturally advise that an ex-Serviceman in this position who would be suited to drive a private-hire car should, if he wishes to set up on his own, have his own car; but to set up as the head of a large company, employing other labour to drive cars, is entirely a different matter, and surely not one on which we should advise.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor
If we are going to help ex-Servicemen, and if there is to be a very narrow ruling on owner-drivers, I do not think we are going to help them as we expected to help them. The case I raised is that of a man who wants to start a taxi business. He is not going to make much out of it if he has only one car and has to drive it himself. Is the ruling always on the narrow point that he is only allowed petrol for one car?
§ 4.37 P.m.
§ The Minister of Fuel and Power (Major Lloyd George)
May I deal with that point? As my hon. Friend pointed out, there are two methods of approach. The first is where a disabled ex-Serviceman—as in the case under discussion at the moment—wants either a car for hire purposes, or indeed to buy an existing concern with two or three. The only test is that of the transport needs of the locality, not, as the hon. Lady put it, whether the transport facilities are adequate, because, in war time, circumstances are different. What one would like would be complete transport facilities, and I do not have to explain that, in war circumstances, that is not possible. The other point is where a disabled man, under an arrangement made between the Ministry of Labour and my Ministry and others, becomes a special case in which the Ministry of Labour certifies that the most suitable way for him to enter civil life is for him to have a hired car. In these exceptional cases, a licence is given. In this particular case, the maximum petrol given to a hire car is given to this man. If he then enters the pool of hire car drivers in that district, and if, in due course, application is made for further hire cars, by him or anybody else, the application is examined on its merits. Once he comes into the pool, the matter is examined on its merits. In the case referred by the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor), the question there is whether, in that district, and in the existing circumstances, the transport facilities are inadequate, and I can assure my hon. Friend that if they are regarded as inadequate, the most sympathetic consideration is given.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty Minutes before Five o'Clock, till Tuesday next, pursuant to Resolution of the House this day.