I beg to move,
That the Fish Sales (Charges) (No. 2) Order, 1942, dated 30th September, 1942, made by the Treasury under Section 2 of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, a copy of which was presented to this House on 6th October, be approved.
The House may wish me to indicate the reasons why this Order has been presented for approval. When the price control scheme was introduced in June, 1941, the equalisation of carriage charges was an integral part of that scheme. It was clearly desirable and necessary that fish should be distributed as nearly as possible equally over the country. In the ordinary way, if the producers or merchants of fish had themselves had to bear the charges for carriage, they would naturally have been inclined to sell their fish in those markets to which the carriage charges would be lowest, and the restriction on the distribution of fish would have been considerable. Therefore, it was decided to introduce an Order which had the effect of equalising carriage charges by requiring a levy to be paid on all fish in order that the proceeds of that levy might be devoted to the payment of carriage charges. As a consequence of that, it was no longer an advantage for merchants to sell near the ports. It was equally to the advantage of a merchant to sell at a distance if his market was there. The proceeds of that levy, which was then at the rate of 6d. per stone on demersal fish, were expected, together with certain profits made by the Fish Division, to equal the carriage charges that had to be paid. It was estimated that the total amount produced by that levy would be about £1,400,000 in the full year. We had a matter of £2,300,000 to meet. We had certain profits on the Icelandic fish scheme and the Hellyer voluntary scheme which have now ceased and it is necessary to meet the difference between £1,400,000 and £2,300,000 in another way.
Therefore this Order proposes to vary the levy and to step it up from 6d. a stone in the case of demersal fish to 9d., and in the case of pelagic fish to introduce a levy at the rate of 6d., whereas there was no levy before. It has been possible to make this proposal without at the same time increasing the cost of fish to the consumer because our examination of costs shows that there is sufficient leeway to allow this levy in the one case to be increased and in the other case to be imposed without increasing the price of fish to the ultimate consumer. The levy is of course borne in the last resort by the consumer, who naturally, in the past, bore this carriage charge in the price which he paid for the fish he consumed. This Order really is a matter of machinery, a matter of adjusting the bookkeeping in the Fish Division. I hope that the House will approve it.
I do not propose to detain the House more than a very few moments, because the explanation of this Order seems satisfactory except on one point. The zoning scheme, with which I think everybody agrees in principle, is now about to come into operation. I should have thought the main object of that scheme was to reduce the distances which fish have to be hauled in order to reach the public. It does therefore seem an odd moment for the Ministry of Food to come to the House and ask for an increase in carriage charges in the case of all white fish—I prefer to stick to the old name—and in the case of herring—which I certainly prefer to the word "pelagic"—it seems odd for the Ministry, when they are making reduction in haulage charges, to come and increase the price to the public, because it is on the consumer that the charge will fall.
Yes, I agree; but it seems to me that if the zoning scheme is a success—and, after all, the Ministry are only balancing their books—they might recapture a sufficient amount on the white fish to enable them to carry on without putting a new charge on herring. I do not want these few remarks of mine to lead anybody to the conclusion that I am against the zoning scheme as such. I think there are certain difficulties which it may take time to work out; but they will be rectified I hope, and it is disappointing that the Minister should now come and ask the House to increase the charges for carriage on all fish.
There is only one other point I wish to raise. I think the handling of Icelandic herring ought not to be confided entirely to the English white fish trade interests, who never before the war touched a barrel of herring. The British Herring Trade Association ought to be allowed not only to purchase there herring, but also to arrange for their distribution. This is an important point, and there is considerable feeling in the North-East of Scotland that the English white fish people should not be allowed to take over this trade just because they are an important part of the Fish Division of the Ministry. There is a strong feeling that this business ought to be given to the people who have been conducting the business for 50 years and more, and who, owing to the complete closing of European markets, are now suffering very considerably.
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for raising the matter of the economies that are likely to result from zoning. We do hope there will be considerable economies. They will be used in the first place to meet the deficit in the current year, and after that we hope they may be passed on to those who deserve the reward. On the matter of handling the Icelandic herring, I will undertake to look into the matter, and I hope I may be able to satisfy my hon. Friend.