I beg to move,
That the White Fish Authority Publicity Scheme Confirmatory Order 1970, a draft of which was laid before this House on 5th February, be approved.
Hon. Members who are interested in the fishing industry are well aware of the general background to this scheme; white fish consumption at just over 16 lbs. per head per annum is far from buoyant; in addition, there are fluctuations in supply which cause problems for all sectors of the industry. All this means that, even when first-hand prices recover—as they are doing at the moment—there are still doubts about investment in new vessels or in new techniques of handling or marketing fish.
In these circumstances, the White Fish Authority published—over a year ago—notice of the scheme which is before the House tonight and which was approved in another place last week. It proposes the collection of a small levy to be spent on sales promotion, which will thereby benefit the whole industry; the machinery of collection will be the same as has been used for the authority's general levy, which in the major ports is collected by the trawler owners' associations acting as agents of the authority; the amount will be ¾d. a stone, and it will apply without discrimination to British landings and to imports, including direct landings by foreign vessels.
The yield is estimated at about £400,000 a year, which is, of course, much larger than the sums that the authority has been able to devote to publicity in the past, but is not excessive for a scheme which one of the trade newspapers has called the authority's first adult publicity scheme. I shall be coming in a moment to the unsatisfied critics of the scheme, but I think that in fishery debates in this House the positive aspects sometimes go by default, and I want to get them on the record.
The strategy of the campaign will be worked out by the authority in full consultation with the industry, and the scheme provides for a publicity advisory committee. Planning has already taken place involving catchers, processors, friers, inland wholesalers and fishmongers. Some of these are, of course, more enthusiastic than others, but they all recognise that they are involved in a collective effort by the authority on behalf of, and in the name of, the whole industry. They also recognise that success in marketing is not achieved by publicity campaigns alone, but calls for hard work and a high quality product. The scheme can, however, create a climate in which the marketing efforts of the industry have a much improved chance of success.
I said that I would come to the objections. These come mainly from the port wholesalers, and, indeed, they put their case to me personally before my right hon. Friends decided that it was right to confirm the scheme. I listened very carefully to their views, but concluded that their case was not proven. Tonight, therefore, I would strongly urge the port wholesalers to cease their boycott of the advisory committee, and, instead, to see how far their arguments carry conviction with other sectors of the industry. I fail to understand how they can boycott this committee and at the same time tell hon. Members that coastal wholesalers are not being allowed to play an advisory rôle.
My right hon. Friends have taken far more seriously another contention of the port wholesalers: namely, that a scheme of statutory control of quality should have had higher priority than the publicity scheme. I have some sympathy with this view, but, in fact, work is already being done by the authority and by the catching side of the industry to encourage the proper handling and storage of fish. However, this work can succeed only if there is a strong and sustained market for high quality fish to recompense those who invest in providing it.
In conclusion, it would perhaps be surprising if after all these years when no White Fish Authority scheme has reached this stage, the first to do so proved welcome to every sector of the industry. The present scheme, however, is supported by a majority in the industry, and will provide a substantial service for all sectors in return for a very modest levy. I invite the House to approve it.
As the Minister has said, this scheme provides for a levy of 0·75 pence per stone for a publicity scheme costing £400,000. This is at the same time as the increase in the general levy from one penny to 1·2 pence per stone. So the total increase asked by the White Fish Authority is 1·95 pence. This seems a rather extraordinary figure. I wonder what will happen when we take to decimalisation.
The scheme does not apply to shellfish. The levy is returned on exports and it is repaid on fishmeal or fish used for canning, animal foods, and so on. I asked the Minister the other day whether this was not rather a clumsy idea, first taking the levy and then returning it. Paragraph 7 of the scheme makes provision for the collection, and I should like to know how much this will cost.
This is the third in the Government's trilogy—first the publicity scheme, second the increase in the general levy and third the minimum price for Scotland, which is needed to strengthen the market. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) who had asked what objections there had been to
the scheme, the Secretary of State for Scotland said on 19th February:
These objections, briefly, were that the prerequisites of an advertising campaign were a United Kingdom statutory minimum prices scheme, quality control of fish to be marketed and limitation of imports."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th February, 1970; Vol. 796, c. 191.]
We on this side would largely agree with that suggestion. The minimum price scheme for Scotland has been approved by the Government in an announcement on 26th February, and we wonder what they have in mind for England and as regards the other two prerequisites.
I turn now to the White Fish Authority's view of the scheme. In the brief sent to many hon. Members, they say that this scheme was proposed 18 months ago, when there were rising catches and falling prices. Now the situation is exactly the opposite. They say that this has necessitated a redesign of the scheme and that its object now is
To persuade housewives principally and other consumers secondarily to pay higher prices for fish; a food which people tend to look upon with a feeling of apathy and boredom; and about which many housewives lack confidence when preparing.
They say that there had been certain important developments—first, the growth of prepacked fish, second, the decline in the number of fishmongers, third, the increased relative importance of the fish friers, and, fourth, the decline in the number of catchers, particularly in the distant water section of the fleet.
We must now be concerned basically with changing attitudes to, and increasing awareness of, fish rather than primarily increasing consumption to eliminate a substantial surplus of fish landings.
In other words, we want to educate the housewife to the fact that she must pay a reasonable price for her fish and not try necessarily to increase consumption. They intend to use the media of women's magazines, cinema and television to do this. They also say that the scheme has been agreed by the Publicity Liaison Committee of the White Fish Authority, except by the representatives of the wholesale fish merchants, who boycotted the meeting.
This view of the White Fish Authority was strongly endorsed in a leading article in the Fishing News of 20th February. It referred to an important conference in Canada, which said—this is the universal view now—that the trend is away from cheap fish and that attention must therefore be paid to marketing and advertising to the public that, although catches go down, that is no reason for relaxing advertising efforts and that the industry should try to turn housewives to new species of fish and that this may mean more expenditure than this levy, which is raising some £400,000.
The article concluded:
This scheme would be a base from which to direct sales publicity to species which may still lack a market. It may also be used to tell people why they are having to pay more for their fish, and to encourage them to keep on buying. There is an opportunity here to raise the food status of fish, and to set the industry on a new level where all its members are adequately rewarded for their effort in catching and distributing it.
The House will agree that that is a strong endorsement of the scheme as proposed.
I want to examine the four recent developments mentioned by the White Fish Authority. First, the question of prepackaging. It seems to many of my hon. Friends that large firms such as Bird's Eye and Ross do their own advertising and that, though the scheme will help, it may be of marginal help only. Second, the fishmongers, the National Federation of Fishmongers, wrote to me saying:
… so far as the retail fishmonger is concerned this is a scheme for which the trade has been pressing for upwards of ten years and the sooner it can be got going the better".
The federation also said that it hopes that it can be given a say in the running of the scheme and in regard to the content of advertisements. The friers take broadly the same view.
As for the catchers, the British Trawlers' Federation Ltd. is fairly neutral. It believes that the scheme might be of some help in taking up surplus stock and might well promote better prices. The Scottish Trawler Federation, I understand, takes much the same view.
As for the inshore men, I quote from a letter I have received from the Fisheries Organisation Society:
All our fishermen's societies were consulted about the Authority's proposed publicity scheme. The most vehement objections came from those fishermen engaged in shell fishing. Their views were duly passed on to the White Fish Authority with the result that the latter
agreed to exclude shell fish from the levy, thus removing the shell fishermen's objections.
For the rest the fishermen who mainly depend on white fish raised no objections and some welcomed the idea of a scheme to boost the sale of fish.
Broadly speaking, it can be said that it is a position of neutrality or of qualified approval, except for the fishmongers who are greatly in favour of the scheme.
The other side of the story are the views of the port wholesalers, who strongly oppose the scheme. They, too, have sent a brief to many hon. Members on both sides. The brief is a long one. I shall summarise five of their most important objections. They say, first, that the earlier publicity campaigns conducted by the White Fish Authority have not been very effective and certainly did not dispose of gluts of fish. They say that magazine advertising was tried before and failed; why try it again? They say that there has been little consultation with them and that, when objections were raised when the scheme was put to various merchants' organisations at the ports, their views were disregarded and that probably the total sum to be raised is too small to be effective. They say that in other parallel schemes—for example, for milk and eggs—the producer pays the levy, whereas in this scheme the middlemen is to pay the levy. They say that a quality control scheme would probably be of more use. They go on to say categorically that, if the House in its wisdom approves this scheme, they will not pay the levy.
I want briefly to examine these views. First, the allegation about the failure to remove a glut is answered by a comment in the Fish Trades Gazette of 28th February. I quote from two paragraphs from that publication:
It is not a promotion scheme aimed to stimulate sales at times of glut, but one that will try and make the very mention of fish one that conjures up thoughts of a good meal rather than a repulsive smelly stop-gap snack…Therefore, if we are to sell fish at all it is important to convince the consumer that it is a luxury product and a food to be sought after.
That should answer the first of the criticisms.
Then it is said that in this case that middleman is to pay, whereas the producer pays the other levies. I imagine that the cost of the levy will be passed on to the consumer; therefore, it is as broad as it is long. After all, the object of the scheme is to persuade the housewife that it is worth while to pay a higher price for fish.
Then there is the contention about lack of consultation. There was a failure of communication, it would seem, but I am not accusing the White Fish Authority or the merchants. Obviously, they have got very much at cross purposes. I hope that, if the scheme goes through, the wholesalers will not boycott it and will not refuse to pay the levy, which would be illegal, anyway. I hope that tact will be used on both sides and that there will be more co-operation, for the common good of the industry.
The final objection—that it is too small a sum to be effective and that quality control is needed before such a scheme is introduced—seems valid, certainly with regard to quality control. The Minister seemed to go some way towards this view. My hon. Friends and I suggest that the priority should be for quality control, that there should be a minimum price scheme for the United Kingdom and that some steps should, if possible, be taken for import control.
Incidentally these are all recommendations which were made by the fishery sub-committee of the Select Committee on Agriculture.
We therefore have doubts about the wisdom and timing of the scheme. We believe that the priority is wrong, that good fish does not necessarily need more advertising—indeed, if the scheme is concentrated on cod it could possibly have the opposite effect to that intended—and we believe that big firms which are the main users of cod already have their own schemes. The W.F.A. scheme may be of marginal assistance, but why sting the wholesaler on top of an increase in the general levy?
We are being asked to approve a levy which will raise £400,000, which is nearly as much as the W.F.A. spends on research and development, which I believe to be its most important function. Is this a justified measure or is it just a stop-gap to give the W.F.A. something more to do? We should bear in mind that the administrative expenses of the W.F.A. are already over £¼ million out of a total expenditure of about £1½ million. Would it not be better to consider the whole future of the W.F.A., as the Select Committee suggested?
Unfortunately that Select Committee was abolished before that could be done.
If the House approves the Order, the Minister should consider whether there should be a three-year limit on the scheme. Some of my hon. Friends may feel that expenditure of about £1½ million—£400,000 or more for three years—is too much for this purpose. I will listen to their views with interest, and some of my hon. Friends may have stronger views that I have expressed and may, therefore, wish to oppose the Order in the Lobby. We must wait and see what is said on both sides of the House.
I was interested to hear the Minister say, and it is a nice euphemism, that the scheme had been received with more enthusiasm in certain quarters than in others. One thing seems clear; that there is a striking lack of agreement about the worth of this venture.
There has been a lack of harmony over this matter which I find alarming. While it is true, as we have been told on a number of occasions, that the port wholsale fish merchants are opposed to the scheme—one might say that they are bitterly opposed to it—opposition is not confined to that side of the trade.
The hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) was rather cautious when he described, for example, the Scottish Trawler Federation as taking up a position of neutrality. I have received some strong representations on the subject. Perhaps unlike the B.T.F., the members of the S.T.F. object absolutely to the scheme and join with the wholesalers in their general attitude towards it. I have no doubt that hon. Gentlemen opposite will say that Scottish inshore white fish producers are in exactly the same position. It is clear that in Scotland opposition to this proposal runs deep and wide and cuts right across the entire fishing industry.
There appear to be a number of reasons for this. There is, for example, a general scepticism about the possibility of the scheme being successful. Reference has been made to the amount that is likely to be collected and whether it will be an adequate basis for launching a project of this sort. I am advised that there have been successful generic product campaigns—that for milk is an example—but there are some who believe that after an initial spurt in demand there is in the long-term little to be gained from an advertising campaign of this sort.
There is an underlying lack of confidence in the White Fish Authority, an organisation which enjoys a measure of disrespect in certain quarters which I find disquieting. There is, I believe, a future for the Authority, but I endorse the need for a look at its standing in the industry and the scale of its future operations.
That was what is optimistically described as a passing reference which will not be pursued.
It has been explained to us that the idea of the scheme is to tempt the housewife to spend more on quality fish and not necessarily to increase the amount of fish bought in Britain—or at least not in the first place. This is all very well, but the trouble is that the supply of good quality fish is not necessarily elastic and if one stimulates a great deal of demand one may find that one cannot meet it. The housewife who goes in and asks for quality fish and finds her request not immediately met is faced with alternatives. Either she can say "Goodbye" and go round the corner and buy lamb chops, which is presumably a defeat for the promoters of the scheme, or she can buy lower quality fish in the same shop. This may be of help to the industry as a whole but is possibly not the effect which is wanted by the inshore producers or the fresh fish fleet which have to help foot the bill. Further imports might be stimulated if demand exceeded supply, housewives buying fish of a quality below that praised in the advertisements may suffer a reaction against fish. The effect could be the opposite of that intended.
I have sympathy with those who have argued that the priorities are wrong. We are grateful that the Minimum Price Scheme has now been ratified for Scotland and Northern Ireland, but many of us are sorry that that is not a United Kingdom scheme, and feel that if one goes in for the campaign to promote quality fish then quality control is the essential background against which such a scheme can operate efficiently.
Looking at the White Fish Authority report on fish in school meals, I find that they pointed out exactly the effect of trying to project fish as a quality dish and then not providing a product of the necessary standard. When they did trials with fish of varying degrees of freshness and took fillets which had been on the ice for some time, even the children rebelled. The phrase used was "a mass of adverse comment", which is doubtless a polite way of describing what the children said, and "plate wastage"—to use the technical term—"escalated dramatically". If one sells on quality and does not ensure that the quality of the fish is maintained, one may expect the same "adverse comment" and that the scheme will become thoroughly self-defeating.
I hope that the Minister will think hard about the scheme and the framework in which it will operate so that we do not have it out of phase, trying to promote a product which the industry, through no fault of its own, is not in a position to produce in the necessary quantities. We all sympathise with the idea of trying to improve the image of fish and recognise it is important, but I am not happy about a situation in which there is so much organised and widespread opposition to the scheme. If it is to get off the ground and the Advisory Committee is to be a useful and effective group, much remains to be done.
I am told that the Aberdeen Wholesalers Fish Merchants' Association has circularised its 200 members on this scheme and received 154 replies. Of the 154 who have bothered to reply, a fairly high proportion of them, more than 140, allege they will not pay the publicity levy even if it goes through the House. This may be an unreasonable attitude in the eyes of the Minister, but it seems to be a real and fiercely held view, and it does not augur well for the success of the launching of this venture.
In view of the opposition, and in many ways the reasonable objections put forward in principle in terms of the priorities and the machinery which is available to allow the industry to benefit from the money collected, I hope that the Minister will look again at this matter and not rush it through.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Dewar) on his excellent speech. I do not think that he overstated the position at all, and I join him in many of his remarks. When one comes to the subject of schools being supplied with fish, one knows that they are supplied on the basis of contract. Quality never comes into it. The schools have the cheapest fish that they can get, and it is no wonder that the children do not like it.
I thought that the Minister bent over backwards to try to make out that the scheme was opposed by only a very small section of the industry. In fact, he went so far as to say that he had come to the conclusion that the objections to the scheme were "not proven". I understand from one of my hon. Friends that in Scottish law "not proven" means that someone is guilty, but it cannot be proved. I think that that just about sums up the scheme.
The Minister went on to say that he did not consider that £400,000 was excessive, and that this had been recognised as the first adult publicity scheme which the White Fish Authority had introduced. If by adult he means that it has grown up from £80,000 to £400,000, he is probably right, but I do not think that in many other senses it can be described as adult.
I cannot think of anything more nebulous than the Publicity Advisory Committee if we are to get agreement in the fishing industry on what is the right method of publicising the fish. If someone believes that this is the best way to do it, he will believe anything. I am not criticising the firm which has done the research and produced the scheme, Charles Barker & Sons Ltd. No one in the Conservative Party would criticise its scheme. After all, it was the man who until a year ago was the chief publicity officer of the Conservative Party who organised this scheme, and I am full of praise for the way that he has put across an extraordinarily bad case.
First he had to convince the White Fish Authority. Having convinced the Authority, he has convinced the Government. I have no hesitation in saying that he made a much better job of publicity for the Conservative Party than he is ever likely to do for the authority or the industry. But he is an excellent man, and I think that this is about the only wise step that the authority has taken.
I do not like the authority at all. I think that it is a useless organisation. The extraordinary thing about the authority is that one cannot find anyone to say a good word about it. No section of the industry will go out of its way to support the authority. In agriculture, which has similar authorities, one can at least find some support for the new Fatstock Authority or for the old Pig Industry Development Authority, but for the White Fish Authority, which has been going for 18 years, one can find hardly a single supporter.
I see that you are getting agitated, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the White Fish Authority is to spend £400,000 on this project. It has a levy at the moment of £500,000 and it is to add to that by collecting another £400,000 for publicity. The administrative costs of the authority at the moment come to about £260,000, which is half the cost of the levy that it is collecting currently. No one can say that an organisation which is spending half its total receipts from the industry on administration is a well run authority.
Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot pursue that theme on this Order. The principles are established by the Sea Fish Industry Act, 1951, and only the scheme can be discussed on the Order.
Then I will not pursue the matter. I have plenty to say about the publicity scheme itself. But before getting on to that, I would refer again to the right hon. Gentleman's speech.
Some of us have been circulated by the National Association of Frozen Food Producers, the members of which spend far more money on publicity than the authority can ever hope to spend. They are very annoyed that they have not been properly consulted. The right hon. Gentleman said that all sections of the industry had been consulted. Why were not the frozen food producers consulted? They buy 29 per cent. of the fish of the whole industry, yet they have not seen a Minister throughout these consultations. They are spending £1,282,000 on publicity, yet the right hon. Gentleman did not think it worth while to see them before accepting the scheme. Why, I fail to understand.
I am told that generic advertising, as it is called, has been a great success for eggs, milk and tea, to mention only three items. But eggs are eggs, milk, up to a point, is milk, and tea, up to a point, is tea. Fish, however, can be everything. It is a lot of different things to a lot of different people. To think that one can put eggs, milk, tea and fish into the same category seems to be stretching the imagination rather too far.
The Milk Marketing Board spent £3,830,000 on advertising milk last year; the Egg Marketing Board, up to a year or so ago, spent £1,200,000 on advertising eggs; the breakfast cereal food industry, which had a turnover of £44 million last year, spent £4,600,000 on advertising. How on earth the White Fish Authority thinks that it is going to make any impact by spending £400,000, I do not know. It has a much smaller proportion of the turnover of the industry and I do not think it will perform any useful job.
I rather suspect that the White Fish Authority will come back and say that it has failed to promote fish in the way it wanted to with £400,000 and it must have a further levy and put it up to £800,000. In a way, if one supports this idea, it would be more sensible to go for £800,000 or £1 million rather than £400,000, but the authority knows that it could not go for more than £400,000 because the Government would not approve it. So the authority goes for £400,000 because it thinks it can get away with that, although I and many others think it can do nothing with that sum.
As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, the authority has no control over the quality of the product and very often it is not the product which the customer wants. At least in the frozen food industry, which is taking 30 per cent. of the fish of the country, people can go into a shop and get a branded article and know exactly the quality of what they get. I believe the White Fish Authority is building on sand. It is imposing on an unwilling and disorganised marketing system an advertising campaign which it does not want.
The real trouble is that the authority has failed over a number of years to provide the industry with any form of leadership. I do not blame it for that because, looking back over the years, I do not think it is the right sort of authority and I do not think it is the job of this kind of organisation to provide leadership. It is now trying to impose on the industry an advertising campaign which it hopes will put right some of its former inadequacies. To use an agricultural metaphor, instead of getting to the roots of the problem—which are better organisation in the docks and fish markets and better organisation in getting fish to the consumer—it is giving a top dressing. It leaves everything as it is and then adds a top dressing of publicity. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member knew anything about agriculture, he would know that that was a very stupid remark.
I know a great deal more about the industry than does the hon. Member, but that would not be difficult.
It is not good enough to spend £400,000 on a scheme of this nature. The problem—and it raises a very serious issue—is whether this country can go on affording to have authorities and to run schemes of this kind. We toyed with these schemes and authorities for a number of years after the war and we hoped that they would be successful, but the experience of the last few years has shown that these things just do not work. The publicity schemes have failed. The authority has failed. It would be much more sensible of the Government if they recognised the facts and gave up support of the White Fish Authority, disbanded it, and allowed the very capable people who are members of it to do other jobs and to serve the country to greater advantage.
I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) with amazement, if only because of his comments about my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Public Building and Works.
I am at a loss to understand exactly what the Opposition line is. The hon. Gentleman stated that we are not raising enough money to have a viable scheme, but his hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) criticised the amount of money being raised as too much of an imposition. We would like to know whether they prefer the balance that has been struck, to have no scheme, or to have a scheme that is more highly financed.
What some of my hon. Friends think to be one of the drawbacks of the firm promoting the scheme seems to me on reflection to be something of an advantage because, if what the hon. Member for Lowestoft said about its success in selling the Conservative Party is right, then when they have a good product like quality fish it should be able to do very well.
We have had a series of niggling comments about the White Fish Authority. Such statements are very damaging to the authority's morale and to the industry as a whole. Until recently the fishing industry was one of the most disorganised industries in the country in terms of its production, distribution and marketing. It has been chaotic. The only common factor that seemed to link the various aspects of the industry was the White Fish Authority. It is a highly individualistic industry, the members of which are quick to complain and blame everybody but themselves for every sort of situation. The authority, under a series of distinguished leaders, and with many devoted servants, has done a very good job for the industry, which we should recognise. I say this as one who has not always felt perfectly in tune with all the ideas of the authority. If we accept that one of our principal aims for the fishing industry is a recognition that we have a product which we want to sell and sell to a more discriminating market, we must have a scheme of this nature. It is very sad that whenever anything new is suggested the Jeremiahs within the industry throw up their hands saying, "We cannot afford it. It will not work. We have always got on well enough in the past." In fact, the industry has only just maintained roughly the same sale of fish. It has not been able to increase its market. It has not been able to capture people's attention in the way that many would wish.
We have said in the past when we have discussed the problems facing the industry that one of the things it seemed to lack was a vigorous and aggressive advertising campaign and attitude towards the public and the market. I think that the scheme will both support private schemes by firms within the industry and help create an image of fish that will give us a market that will enable us to expand, to pay the wages of the men in the industry, to give a fair return to the producers and the wholesalers, and to give the consumers a very good and well-priced product.
One of the main arguments is that quality fish of itself will sell. If that was correct, every time we have a glut it would sell, because in a glut we have the quality fish. But that is not the case. But when the port wholesalers tell us that it is the federation's opinion that the best method of selling fish is to have the highest quality in the shop and then it will sell itself, this is rather a remarkable performance for something that has been dead for a considerable time. I should have thought that there was need to bring to the attention of the consumer the fact that this high quality product exists.
This is all that the scheme seeks to do, something that many of us have asked for to be done for the industry for a long time. I urge my hon. Friends to support it.
All of us would be united in trying to do anything to help the fishing industry to sell more fish.
My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) quoted the reply that I had from the Secretary of State for Scotland. I think I could quote the situation colloquially by saying that the people who are interested feel that putting forward this scheme has got the thing arse over tit. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Perhaps "the cart before the horse" would be a more parliamentary way of putting it. But this is what the people who are interested in selling fish feel about it; and when one gets this sort of answer to a Question it makes one wonder whether the facts have been properly weighed up.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Dewar) put his finger fairly and squarely on it when he asked, "Is it really the object of the exercise to sell more quality fish?" The answer came from my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), who said that 29 per cent. of the fish is advertised at over £1 million. I could not help feeling that one has to spend all this money to sell the fish at all.
Those of us who are interested in inshore fishing in Scotland have to decide where the money that is to be collected is to be spent—on promoting quality fish or on trying to get rid of fish that would not be sold unless this money was produced—and whether the £400,000 will sell this fish. From the figures that the hon. Member for Lowestoft produced, obviously £400,000 will not sell the fish.
We want to know the object behind the scheme. It is easy to take a broad outlook, and everyone who is interested in the fishing industry is delighted if more fish can be sold. But this is not enough. We have to know on what section of the product that is put on the market the money is to be spent. I hope we shall be told where the money will be spent. If we do not know, I do not see how we can possibly approve the Order.
The debate seems to have taken a queer turn. Since just after eleven o'clock, the other side of the House has taken up a new posture. Hon. Members opposite seem to take it upon themselves to pursue in an almost sinister fashion, if not a hunt, almost a vendetta against the White Fish Authority. I wonder what lies behind this.
The hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) and I were on the Select Committee, and we questioned the chief executive, Mr. Meek, about the functions of the Authority, and the advertising campaign came into it, and he agreed—I do not think I am betraying anything—that the authority should perhaps think of ceasing its existence. That is what we are getting all the time across the Floor of the House in this vendetta. It has been suggested that the authority might consider that its existence could be justified only if it was given more money to do the job that it wished to do.
This is what is happening tonight. The authority is getting the thick end of £500,000 to do a job of advertising. This means giving to the housewife, to schools, to the general public, a fuller and deeper appreciation of what is the best fish. This is a laudable exercise. I am not going into the mechanics of it, or its function as opposed to the Civil Service. I am puzzled to know what lies behind the sly comments which are knocking this buffer organisation. I would have thought that the Opposition would accept that it has done a first-class job.
The Minister gave us a lucid explanation—
Sometimes Ministers can speak for too long, and then there is moaning on the benches opposite. Now we have this lucid, compact, clear, concise and intelligent exposition, and hon. Gentleman opposite are still moaning.
I am not a lecturer in social science. It is stupid to talk about an authority and try to divorce from it the people in it who do the work. Let us be helpful, not obscurantists sheltering behind semantics. I was at the last meeting when the Minister saw the fish merchants. I said in the House at Question Time that I thought that there had been some plain speaking—there always is from people who come off fish docks—but that it was an amicable meeting.
I appeal to people such as Mr. Jack Allison, President of the Port Merchants, to attempt to meet the Minister and the White Fish Authority and to pay the levy. They should not boycott it in this way; wiser counsels should prevail. I will do what I can in Hull. This lying back is a dead end.
The National Association of Frozen Food Producers said recently that the situation in the fishing industry had changed greatly in the 18 months since the scheme was launched. There is an article in Fishing News entitled "The Time to Advertise." The position has changed completely. The North-East Atlantic has been over-fished. Catches are falling and prices are rising. It is the worst time we have had since August/September, 1968. I foresee that fish will be in demand and will become a dear food. With fewer fish to be caught in the North-East Atlantic, I foresee the desire of small nations like Iceland to extend their fishing limits. I do not wish to be a Jeremiah, but this may lead to a quota for international fishing. In the same way as the number of seals and whales has diminished, so has the number of cod.
I have here a hand-out from the White Fish Authority, which says that the principal aim of the advertising campaign must now be:
To persuade housewives … and other consumers … to pay higher prices for fish; a food which people tend to look upon with a feeling of apathy and boredom.
I do not agree with this. I think that fish is a popular food, and I do not understand the hysteria about fish on the benches opposite. The conclusion of the advertising consultants is:
We must now be concerned basically with changing attitudes to, and increasing awareness of fish, rather than primarily increasing consumption to eliminate a substantial surplus of fish landings.
What does this mean? It is a very fine distinction—a distinction without a difference.
The purpose of advertising is to sell more of a given article. Fish is an article which will be in demand, and yet we are embarkintg on this expensive campaign to try to persuade people to buy more fish when there will not be enough fish to meet the demand.
The only fish that I feel will be in reasonable supply in the future will be cod, and possibly coley. The White Fish Authority talks about selective advertising. The feeling is that we should think not only about such fish as cod and haddock and the like but about other types of fish. But it would take a lot of money and some very clever advertising to get the British housewife to think like the German housewives in terms of such fish as red fish, which we chuck back into the sea. It will be a difficult job to persuade our housewives to regard other sorts of fish as being as palatable as haddock and hake.
I wish the authority success and, unlike hon. Gentlemen opposite, I am not being cynical about this matter. I am a little sceptical about what will happen at the end of the day, but I wish its advertising campaign success. I hope that our fish merchants in the ports will come in on this scheme and will cease the boycott which up to the moment they have observed.
I had some difficulty in following the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson), who said that he was not cynical about the scheme but sceptical, and then said that we should pass the Order.
I have had contacts with the fishing industry in Fleetwood for some years and I have never known the fish merchants there as angry as they are now. They are law-abiding citizens, and but, like the fish merchants in Hull, in Aberdeen and in Grimsby, they are now refusing to pay the levy. If the Order is passed, then they should pay it, but hon. Members must realise the anger that lies behind these events. I will mention some of the causes of the anger.
First, there was the matter of consultation. At the beginning neither the fishmongers nor the fish merchants were consulted. They were consulted by the White Fish Authority and by the Ministry of Labour, but they were not consulted as a body before the scheme was produced by the consultants. They represent the main distributors of fish within the United Kingdom, and yet it was not thought fit to see them. I wonder on whose advice that was done. It seems clear from the report that, for fear of starting rumours, the consultants were told not to go near the fishmongers or fish merchants. It may be that there was some direction to them not to be consulted. I have the evidence with me if the Parliamentary Secretary wishes to see it.
The consultants interviewed all sorts of people, including a sales psychologist, and they also took an opinion poll about people's habits with fish. They came to some remarkable conclusions. One earth-shaking conclusion they reached was
Fish is of course well known. Ninety-two per cent. of adults eat it.
Why do people aged 35 and over eat fish?
The answer came like a thunderclap:
Because they like it.
A geat deal of money was spent in achieving these epoch-making discoveries.
A further conclusion they reached later in the report was as follows:
Another retail outlet for fish is the fryer selling fried fish and chips. But fish and chips is seen as something quite apart from fish.
One might as well part fish and chips as part Laurel and Hardy.
I emphasise that the fish fryers were not consulted about the scheme by the consultants. They were not even asked about it. The consultants went around the country to get a great deal of information which they could have got straight from the horse's mouth. There is therefore a deep grievance about consultation. They have felt all along that they were being presented with a fait accompli, and their views have been completely disregarded. They have been to the Minister and to the White Fish Authority, but they have not been able to get their point of view over.
The right hon. Gentleman has the virtue of always wanting to do what he considers best for the industry. However, there is a real clash of opinion about this advertising scheme. Those who have asked whether £400,000 will be enough have a point. What the consultants suggest and are trying to do is to change the eating habits of the nation. That will prove to be an extremely difficult and costly exercise. The comparative expenditures on commodities like milk and others which have been mentioned show what a tremendous amount of money is needed to change the nation's eating habits. They are extremely complex. One part of the country likes one sort of fish. Another part of the country likes a different sort. I do not believe that the £400,000 will be well spent on this purpose.
I take the point that quality control is needed, above all else, especially in the wet fish section. This money would be better spent on that, or on improving the landing facilities at Hull, Fleetwood, Grimsby and other ports than on the sort of advertising which is contemplated.
Since the consultants made their first report, there has been a complete change. In those days, we had falling prices and increasing catches. Now we have rising prices and falling catches. What differences are there between the scheme that was to fit the old situation and the scheme which is to fit the new one? I suspect that there is not much change, but perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can tell us something about it.
The merchants, the frozen food people and a great many other people are angry.
The right hon. Gentleman should take this Order back and look at it again.
As I said when I intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson), this is a sheer waste of money. The hon. Gentleman compared it with the publicity scheme for apples which I favour, but, in doing so, he has failed to see that the two are not parallel. Here are a falling supply of fish and increasing prices. The apple market is entirely different, with a Western European surplus and falling prices.
I want to raise with the right hon. Gentleman the letter of my constituent, Mr. Thomas, which I sent him on 2nd February, to which he replied on 25th February. Against the background of my constituent's experience of the general attitudes and complete incompetence of the White Fish Authority in its spending of public money, we should be loth to see any increase in levy powers given to it.
In the Explanatory Memorandum it is pointed out that, though the levy will be payable on fish meal, it will be repaid in due course. But that does not apply to the levy on fish meal in the recent general levy. The White Fish Authority is seeking to raise this levy in many directions, and not only for this direct publicity purpose. It is scrounging money from all sorts of people for all sorts of purposes, and I believe that we should curb its activities. It has been a bad spender of public money in the past, as have so many of these levy-based bodies. The whole issue should be re-examined, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to take his Order away and reconsider it.
I oppose the levy for this scheme at present, and I do so in the most moderate language.
I do not doubt the good intentions of the W.F.A. in desiring to promote sales of fish, and advertising cannot but be of great help towards achieving such an enterprise. But I notice that it has taken the authority 19 years to come to this conclusion, so it obviously is not a matter which has ever struck anybody as being of tremendous urgency.
I believe that the British people are fed up with Government bodies promoting their business out of the proceeds of an arbitrary levy on that business. We on this side should keep a very careful eye indeed on any extension of that practice, particularly so tonight. The parliamentary ink is hardly dry on an Order proposing an increase in the levy to that body, and nobody is feeling very rich in Britain anyway. Five years of squeeze—[Interruption.]
It was merely a passing reference.
To say that because fishing is doing well it is all right to put 0·75d. on the 0·2d. which has already gone on is unwise. Not long ago the fishing industry of this country was facing a tremendously serious crisis. We have heard it suggested that we may be facing another quite soon, and there are many indications overseas of serious crises in fishing industries in other countries.
I am not opposed to advertising as the means of promoting a market, provided that the control of that advertising is in the hands of those who depend upon the market. We all know of examples where advertisers have decided to cut down on their advertising budgets. They pay careful attention to the cost benefit of those budgets. But what attention will the fishing industry in the north of Scotland be able to pay to the cost benefit of this advertising campaign? What will it be able to do about it if it is not satisfied? I do not believe that it will be able to do anything. That is one reason why I make this protest.
The fishing industry in the north of Scotland produces and sells a quality product. If the amount of fish eaten in the schools or elsewhere in the rest of Great Britain today was anything like that consumed in the north of Scotland we would not need an advertising campaign.
Now fish is to be lumped together, from wherever it comes and whatever it is like. Fish, as has repeatedly been pointed out in the debate, is not one commodity; it is a mass of highly individual commodities, some of which sell traditionally well in some parts of the country and some in others. But generic advertising is no selling point for an advertising campaign on fish.
Some hon. Members suggested the example of eggs and others the example of milk. We know what happened to the egg with the lion that was advertised and what happened to the board which advertised it. If anybody profited from the campaign to sell eggs, it was the people who sold eggs privately.
Fish does not respond to a blanket type of treatment, even when trying to teach the housewife how to cook it or how to have a different attitude towards it.
Only last week, Sir John Hamilton, director of the Institute of Marketing, was reported to be telling Aberdeen:
Competition by the processed and frozen fish industries would operate effectively only if the marketing concept were fully understood and practised by top management in the fishing industry.
He also told the Aberdeen members to look at their unique selling assets. He asked what steps had been taken to encourage the world to buy fish from Aberdeen as opposed to a frozen packet from a department store. I am sure that Sir John Hamilton knows a lot about marketing, and that message is very different from the one from the W.F.A. which we are considering tonight.
Certainly it is possible to fault the fishing industry on its marketing and advertising and almost anything to do with it, but how different it is to say how to do it and provide advice and help to individuals, who respond and want to do a better job, instead of merely saying, as I fear we now will, that we will do it for them and produce this blanket scheme to which everyone has to contribute willy-nilly. That is a totally wrong approach to a fine, individual and independent industry, and one which will not work.
There are other solid reasons why this will not help. It may relieve glut—apparently, glut will not be with us for a bit, but it will come again, since feast and famine always has in the fishing industry regardless of the price or the state of the market—but that glut will only reappear in a larger and more invincible form. If, as we expect, in the immediate future there will not be a glut anyway but a shortage, whatever the sentences which have been quoted by the consultants for the scheme may say, advertising will merely put up the price without selling more fish. If it does sell one more fish, that fish will inevitably have come from abroad. What is the good of that to us?
No, I will not give way. I have listened patiently to every word in this debate and I am entitled to say why I thought that the hon. Gentleman took a selfish point of view. What he was saying was, "In my part of the world, we sell good fish and do not need any help. Why should we help other people?" That is no argument at all, and that is why I say that he has a selfish outlook. In any sector of industry, I would hope that the economically prosperous would be willing to help the less prosperous.
The Parliamentary Secretary will do me the justice of accepting that my quarrel was with the method proposed to deal with that problem. I am all in favour of the W.F.A., or anyone who wants to take leadership in the industry, suggesting to those concerned ways in which they can do better—advertising, for one—but a blanket scheme is wrong.
That hon. Gentleman is now changing his ground. He argued earlier that, because his part of the country was doing so well, it should not be expected to contribute to the wellbeing of other areas. This is what he meant by a blanket contribution.
The hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) put the case for and against very fairly. When he spoke about those in support of the scheme, he was talking about not only the catching side but about the fishmongers and the fish friers; anybody who knows anything about the fishing industry knows that the section of the community that is responsible for purchasing a very large proportion of the catch is the fish friers. As these people support the scheme, it is difficult to understand why a much smaller section should have received so much publicity tonight. I do not say that because they are unimportant—every section of the industry is important—but if there is an important consuming section it is the fish frying section and some respect should have been paid to its views.
It is said that we did not consult everybody concerned. We went out of our way to consult every section of the industry. When the port wholesalers asked if they could come and see me, I was only too willing to meet them. Not only did I meet them—
But I spent a considerable time with them. I could not agree with their point of view, but there is not a single representative who was at that meeting who would deny that they received a fair hearing and that they had ample time in which to put their point of view. I promised to take their point of view into consideration.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Dewar) referred to the objections to the levy put forward by the Scottish interests. He will know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland met representatives of the associations to hear their objections at first hand. My right hon. Friends have given very careful and sympathetic considerations to these and other objections. They felt bound to conclude, however, that the objections were outweighed by the benefits that the industry as a whole could derive from the publicity campaign the authority had in mind, and they therefore confirmed the scheme.
Indeed, in putting forward their objections, the Scottish organisations stressed the need, as they saw it, for the establishment of three conditions before embarking upon a publicity campaign for fish. These were quality control, the introduction of a United Kingdom minimum price scheme, and limitation of imports.
Developments over the past few months have gone some way at least in this direction. First, agreement was reached some time ago with our Scandinavian E.F.T.A. partners on the introduction of minimum export price arrangements governing the prices at which frozen fish fillets from these countries will be landed here as a step towards securing greater market stability for all suppliers. That step was welcomed by every section of the House; the hon. Member for Haltemprice welcomed it, saying that he thought that it was a considerable step forward, and there was not one hon. Member opposite who objected to it.
Second, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland announced some days ago, Ministers have approved the White Fish Authority's scheme for the introduction of statutory minimum price arrangements for white fish sold at first hand in Scotland and in Northern Ireland. This is, therefore, a step forward, and I was surprised that hon. Members did not pay attention to it.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite will be aware that, despite our best endeavours to get agreement on this issue, considerable sections of the industry objected. However, the minimum price scheme, introduced with the full agreement of the Scottish catchers' organisations, could be a forerunner of similar developments for the United Kingdom, as a whole, should the industry decide to move in that direc-
The hon. Member for Haltemprice referred to quality control. The industry has recently paid much attention to this aspect, and there has been a considerable development of boxing at sea. I understand that this has met with the approval of those interested in the industry, and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Stodart) will agree that this has been operative for a long time in the part of the world which we represent.
When I read a speech which was made in another place about the depressed state of the industry, I felt that I had to remind the House that the provisional figures show that the landings of all varieties of sea fish by British vessels in 1969 were worth £66 million, compared with £62·1 million in 1968. This represents a higher first-hand return than in any previous year.
|Division No. 78.]||AYES||[12.20 a.m.|
|Alldritt, Walter||Brown, Bob(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.)||Dunn, James A.|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Buchan, Norman||Dunnett, Jack|
|Ashton, Joe (Bassetlaw)||Carmichael, Neil||Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)|
|Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)||Concannon, J. D.||Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Dalyell, Tam||Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)|
|Binns, John||Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)||Evans, Ioan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley)|
|Bishop, E. S.||Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Fernyhough, E.|
|Blackburn, F.||Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Fitch, Alan (Wigan)|
|Boston, Terence||Dobson, Ray||Foley, Maurice|
|Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)||Doig, Peter||Ford, Ben|
|Fowler, Gerry||McElhone, Frank||Rees, Merlyn|
|Galpern, Sir Myer||McGuire, Michael||Richard, Ivor|
|Garrett, W. E.||Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)||Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy|
|Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside)||Mackie, John||Rodgers, William (Stockton)|
|Hamling, William||Mackintosh, John P.||Rose, Paul|
|Harper, Joseph||Maclennan, Robert||Ross, Rt. Hn. William|
|Harrison, Waiter (Wakefield)||McNamara, J. Kevin||Rowlands, E.|
|Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith||Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)||Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Hazell, Bert||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)||Silverman, Julius|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Mallalieu, J.P.W.(Huddersfield, E.)||Slater, Joseph|
|Hilton, W. S.||Marks, Kenneth||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Hooley, Frank||Marquand, David||Thomas, Rt. Hn. George|
|Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert||Thomson, Rt. Hn. George|
|Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Millan, Bruce||Tinn, James|
|Hoy, Rt. Hn. James||Milne, Edward (Blyth)||Urwin, T. W.|
|Hunter, Adam||Molloy, William||Varley, Eric G.|
|Hynd, John||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Watkins, David (Consett)|
|Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West)||Ogden, Eric||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Judd, Frank||O'Halloran, Michael||Whitlock, William|
|Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)||Oswald, Thomas||Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Palmer, Arthur||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Lestor, Miss Joan||Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)||Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.|
|Loughlin, Charles||Pavitt, Laurence||Woof, Robert|
|McCann, John||Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.|
|MacColl, James||Pentland, Norman||Mr. James Hamilton and|
|MacDermot, Niall||Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)||Mr. Neil McBride.|
|Macdonald, A. H.||Probert, Arthur|
|Bruce-Gardyne, J.||Kitson, Timothy||Winstanley, Dr. M. P.|
|Carlisle, Mark||Monro, Hector||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Clegg, Walter||Osborn, John (Hallam)||Younger, Hn. George|
|Davidson, James(Aberdeenshire, W.)||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Emery, Peter||Pardoe, John||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.)||Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch||Mr James Prior and|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Wells, John (Maidstone)||Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith.|