asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he is aware that since the Zoning Scheme came into operation several fish fryers' shops in Fife have had only three nights' supplies of fish and some only two nights'; that fried fish forms an important part of the diet of miners in this area; that the shortage is causing concern; and what steps he is taking in the matter?
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether his attention has been called to the prolonged and serious shortage of fish and the total absence of any white fish at Portsmouth; and whether he will take steps to see that this town is supplied on a proportionate basis with such towns as Bournemouth and Brighton?
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether, in view of the difficulties in obtaining supplies of fish which have been encountered by the fried fish trade in the London area since the inception of the zoning scheme on 17th October, he will now review the present arrangements so as to facilitate deliveries to individual fried fish traders in this area?
Mr. Arthur Duckworth:
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether the initial difficulties which arose in connection with the Zoning Scheme for the distribution of fish, have now been overcome; and whether fried-fish merchants are now receiving sufficient supplies for carrying on their business?
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he has considered the representations which have been made to him that since the introduction of the Fish Rationing Scheme the supply position in Cheltenham has become most unsatisfactory; and will he consult with representatives of the local fish merchants with a view to bringing about an improvement?
The Fish Zoning Scheme was introduced by my Department to secure essential economies in the use of internal transport. The inception of the scheme coincided with the period when landings are low as a result of seasonal conditions, and supplies will continue to be at a low level until February or March. This reduction in supplies is in no way a consequence of the Zoning Scheme and the total landings of fish since 17th October are approximately equal to the landings in the same period last year. All fish landed is being distributed. The initial difficulties being encountered are due partly to the inadequacy of the information received by my Department from the trade as to the channels of distribution during the datum period on which the present scheme is founded and partly to the time necessarily required to adapt the normal practice of the trade to the provisions of a new scheme. Nevertheless, the scheme shows promise of securing in due course a more equitable distribution of the supplies available and it will undoubtedly secure a substantial saving in transport at a time when such a saving is of great importance to the military effort. While fluctuations in landings at the ports mean that on any one day the quantities available will differ in different areas, these differences will be smoothed out over a period.
My Department is making minor adjustments within the scheme especially in regard to the allocation of supplies from the smaller ports where necessary and fish merchants have been advised to state their case to the Area and Port Fish Distribution Officers whenever they consider that they are not receiving the quantities of fish to which they are entitled under the provisions of the scheme. Arrangements have been made for emergency supplies to be sent to Portsmouth to relieve the present shortage there. As regards Birmingham, I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for the Deritend Division (Sir Smedley Crooke) yesterday. As regards supplies to particular areas and to fish fryers generally, my Department has no reason to believe that any difficulties which may have been experienced by retailers in the Cheltenham, Hull and Huddersfield areas or by fish fryers in the London area or in Fife will not be resolved as the initial difficulties to which I have referred are overcome, and, as I have also indicated, current difficulties are not primarily due to the Zoning Scheme. Perhaps the House will allow me to say that the Fish Zoning Scheme represents an important and difficult effort, and I feel sure hon. Members will wish to allow adequate time for the effort to reach full fruition.
In view of the importance of this food product and the widespread dissatisfaction concerning its distribution, as is evidenced by the number of Questions, will the Minister be prepared to make another statement to the House, say, in a month's time, telling us exactly what has happened in the meantime?
I do not think London would quite agree with my hon. Friend's statement. The reason why there was some difficulty in Birmingham was that Birmingham is attached to two ports, and that some of the retailers were drawing supplies from one port and others from the other port. It has now been arranged that all shall draw from both ports, and this should ease the situation. It should be recognised that landings at the various ports are very uneven, and unfortunately they were particularly uneven in the week immediately after the inception of the scheme.
When the Minister said, in the early part of his reply, that all fish landed is being distributed, does he mean distributed for human consumption, and does this, therefore, represent an alteration in the Ministry's decision that larger fish than usual have to be put back into the sea?
I think the hon. Member is referring to the Immature Sea Fish Order. That is a different matter, and if he will put down a Question on it, I shall be glad to give an answer.