§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 1.10 p.m.
§ Sir MURDOCH McKENZIE WOOD
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I invite the House to turn for a moment to another and very different question. We have heard a great deal lately about the depression in the fishing industry. This Bill is intended to do a little to help that depressed industry. It is not a party Measure, although it may seem so from the names upon the back. I had the kind permission of quite a number of hon. Members of different parties who were prepared to back the Bill, but by an accident I was too late to get their names put down. I hope that the House will not look upon the Measure as in any sense a party one. It is based upon the recommendations of two important bodies, the Food Council of 1927 and the Committee on the Fishing Industry which was set up by the last Government and which reported to the present Government. Most of the fish that is caught around this country passes eventually to the great inland markets. It is sent sometimes by the fishermen themselves, but usually by wholesale merchants who buy fish from the fishermen. The usual procedure is for the fish to be sent to these markets to be sold——
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being present—
§ Sir M. WOOD
Fish differs from other commodities in that it is highly perishable, and it must be dealt with quickly. Fish is usually sent to inland markets to be sold on commission for whatever prices it will fetch.
It very often happens that the senders of the fish are largely at the mercy of the 2281 salesmen. There is solid evidence for the grievance of the senders of fish, and I cannot do better than read two or three sentences which appear in the Report of the Food Council, and which give the whole basis of justification for the Bill. The Report says, in paragraph 9:The fact that salesmen in the inland markets act both as merchants buying and selling fish on their awn account and as commission salesmen on behalf of port wholesalers has given rise to complaint. Some witnesses representing Associations of port wholesalers stated that the salesmen at inland markets, when acting on a commission basis on behalf of a sender at the port, do not always conduct genuine sales but if it suits them sell the fish at a low price on commission to themselves, later on reselling it and taking a merchant's profit as well as the commission. A further complaint is that the commission salesman does not return to the sender the actual prices received for the individual consignments, but either the price which ho considers fair, this price being, in fact, lower than the average market price ….That, shortly, is the justification for this Bill. I do not wish, of course, to make any general accusation against fish salesmen. Many of them declare that a number of the things done by them which may seem irregular are really done in the interests of the senders themselves, and I agree that there is something in that, but nevertheless I think it is quite clear that, in the words of the Report of the Committee on the Fishing Industry two years ago,there is evidence that the present system can be and sometimes is abused.It is highly desirable that there should be a system which should not only be fair but should be believed and considered to be fair, because the senders of fish must have confidence in the procedure that is being adopted in selling their fish; and the Bill which I am putting forward is designed to achieve that end. The proposal is not new; I have simply adapted a Bill which was passed in 1926 to deal with horticultural products. It would have been quite easy for me, by a very much shorter Bill than this, to have proceeded by the method of legislation by reference, but that would have been obscure, and the House would have complained that they did not know what they were being asked to do. Therefore, I have taken the course of setting out the proposal in extended form.
The Bill is not difficult to understand; it is quite straightforward. Clause 1 2282 obliges the salesman to keep full records of the sales that he carries out, particularly the name of the purchaser, and to send some of those particulars—not the name of the purchaser, but most of the other particulars—to the sender when he returns to him the money which his fish has produced. Clause 2 gives the owner the right to require that these records should be produced, not to himself, but to a qualified accountant. Obviously the reason for making it necessary to produce them only to an accountant is to prevent a fish salesman from getting access to information belonging to a rival in business. I would draw special attention to Sub-section (2) of Clause 1, which says:If on any such sale as aforesaid any fish is bought by the salesman or by any person on his behalf the fact shall be stated in the account.A very great grievance, about which there has been much complaint, is that salesmen often buy and sell at the same time, that is to say, they are selling for someone else and buying for themselves. There is no doubt that this practice involves great danger of a conflict of interests, and it has been recommended that it should be prohibited. At one time I thought of taking that drastic action, and trying to prohibit it altogether, but the House will note that that has not been done, and that I have contented myself with merely saying that, in a case where a salesman does act in this dual capacity, and sells the fish, say, to himself, he shall make the fact known to the sender of the fish.
That is practically all that the Bill does. The fact that it has been called for by the sellers of fish and recommended by the two authorities I have mentioned will, I hope, persuade the House that it is a good Measure. Recently, by the Sea-Fishing Industry Act, there was set up a Sea Fish Commission, which is supposed to go over the whole field of the fishing industry. It took six months after the Act had been passed to set up that Commission, and it is obvious that it will be a very considerable time before anything emanates from the Commission. I hope that the Government will not place any obstacles in the way of this Bill on the ground that there may be further legislation as a result of recommendations of the Commission. This is something which has been called for for many years; 2283 it is clamantly necessary; and I do not think it would be fair to ask the fishing industry to wait for subsequent legislation which we might have reason to expect. I hope, therefore, that the House will approve of the Bill and give it a Second Reading.
§ 1.23 p.m.
§ Sir ROBERT HAMILTON
I beg to second the Motion.
My hon. Friend has explained very lucidly the objects of the Bill. As he has stated, the Bill has been recommended for a number of years past, and it has always been a matter of regret to me that some step was not taken earlier to place a Bill of this nature on the Statute Book. It covers, of course, all sales of fish, whether by important and powerful companies or by small people; but the important and powerful companies are very well able to look after themselves; the people who most need the protection that will be given by the Bill are the smaller consignors of fish. Instances have been brought to my notice in my own constituency where consignments, of lobsters particularly, have been sent from the North to the London market, and the return made to the consignor has been derisory. Whether that return was a justified one or not, it has left in the mind of the fisherman an impression that he was not being fairly dealt with. If this Bill is passed, an impression such as that cannot be left, supposing that the action of the salesman has been aboveboard, because it will be within the competence of the consignor to find out exactly how the account sales has been arrived at, what the actual selling price was, to whom the consignment was sold, and what were the commission charges, the market charges, and all the other charges that have to be deducted before the net amount due is returned.
We had considered various methods by which the object of the Bill might be achieved, and we came very clearly to the conclusion that the method adopted, being a similar one to that adopted by the Government in regard to horticultural produce, was undoubtedly the best, because it does not cut into any vested interest. It does not lay any great difficulty upon the salesman. It only requires him to keep books which can be consulted if the 2284 occasion arises. Of course, if the salesman commits an offence, he is liable to a penalty, but that penalty would not be placed upon any salesman who conducted his business in a proper manner.
With regard to the suggestion that perhaps this question is going to come before the Sea Fish Commission—as a matter of fact, it is one of the matters that have been referred to the Commission—and for that reason the Bill should be delayed, it may possibly be a very considerable time before any legislation proposed by the Sea Fish Commission will be able to take its place on the Statute Book. This is a very small Bill, and there is no reason, as far as I can see, why it should not be placed on the Statute Book in the meantime as a stop gap. I cannot suppose for a moment that the Government can possibly take any objection to the principle of the Bill, but, should they suggest that it would be more desirable that matters of this sort should be dealt with in a general and a comprehensive manner after a report by the Sea Fish Commission, I would still urge that there is no reason why this step in the right direction should not be taken now.
§ 1.33 p.m.
§ Mr. BURNETT
The ground has been so fully covered that there is not very much to be added, but I feel that individual Members representing the different centres connected with the fish trade ought to express an opinion as to local sentiment about the matter, and, if that is done generally, it will be possible to form some idea as to whether this Bill meets the defects in fish marketing which undoubtedly exist. Quotations have been made from certain reports which indicate that a reform is required. The Food Council in particular was mentioned. As far back as 1927 it strongly recommended that something should be done in this direction. There is no doubt that complaints have been made that the commission salesman does not return the actual prices received for individual consignments. Later on, in the tenth section, the Report says:We are assured, however, that several Billingsgate firms do business as commission agents pure and simple and return actual sale prices to senders, and this statement is supported by the accounts which one such firm has submitted. We think that the London Fish Trade Association and the 2285 other associations of inland market salesmen should so revise their rules as to make it clear that their members are expected to return actual sale prices when they are selling on commission, since there is evidence that the present system can be, and sometimes is, abused.That is a very strong recommendation in favour of doing something in the matter. The Committee on the Fishing Industry mentions two special heads of complaints brought before them as to the wasteful conditions of sale at Billingsgate which concern the Bill:(a) That the seller of fish on commission does not always return to the sender the actual price at which the fish is sold and (b) that the Billingsgate daily prices do not reflect with sufficient accuracy the actual prices at which the fish is sold.It recommends:As the Food Council pointed out, the root of the complaint lies in the fact that salesmen act both as merchants buying and selling fish on their own account and as commission salesmen on behalf of port wholesale merchants. Such a state of affairs inevitably leads to abuses.This Measure, as far as I can find out from local inquiries, seems to meet with general support in its main principles. A loose system prevails at present under which everyone is expected simply to trust his neighbour. It would be all right if people always did their duty towards their neighbour and could always rely on their neighbour doing his duty towards them, but that does not always occur, and, while undoubtedly salesmen on commission are as a rule honest, there is no doubt that when a consignor sends an amount of fish away and hears in the end that there has been a glut in the market and prices have gone down to zero, and he receives a remittance which represents only a very small proportion of the feight charges, naturally he wants chapter and verse for it. That is only to be expected. The wonder is that the matter has not been brought up earlier.
With regard to the system in Aberdeen, large numbers of fish are consigned to markets in the South, but there is comparatively little fish actually consigned to Aberdeen. There is a certain amount from Orkney and Shetland and the Moray Firth ports and a certain amount is consigned from the East Coast fishing towns, but the whole amount put together is very insignificant. When we come to the amount sent from Aberdeen 2286 to the South, say, Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham, Billingsgate and inland places, it is very large. Seventy per cent. of the trawled fish landed in Scotland is landed at Aberdeen. A great deal of it is sent away for sale on commission in the South. The commission is usually 5 per cent. but is sometimes as high as 7 per cent. The charges are taken off the remittance sent to the consignor. The trawlers arrive in the early morning in considerable numbers. The fish is landed and put out on the floor of the market. From 8 to 10 o'clock an auction takes place at which usually the mate of the trawler is present. Some of the fish is brought by wholesale salesmen, some by fish curers and some by retail merchants in the City. It is the part that is bought by the wholesale merchants and sent to the south that we are concerned with here. They inquire, by telephone usually, at the various markets in the south what the prices are, whether there is a glut, or whether perhaps in a particular place the supply is scanty, and they direct their fish according to the replies they receive. The practice is that they get from the commission salesman a bare remittance and receive no details as a rule as to the prices or anything else. I think that it is generally agreed everywhere that the system is a thoroughly bad one. The matter is dealt with in Clause I, Sub-section (1, a) of the Bill which provides that the statement should have containedthe actual price paid or agreed to be paid for the fish, and where there is any variation in price, the number, weight or quantity sold, or agreed to be sold, at each price.That, I think, meets the recommendation both of the Fishing Industry Committee and also of the Food Report.
I wish to say a few words on Sub-section (1, b) which says:The commission or other charge made by the salesman for selling the fish, together with details of any charges made for services in connection with the sale.It has been the practice in the past, besides the commission to the salesman, to charge porterage. It is an old custom which arose a long time ago of paying 6d. to the porter for each package which he has handled. When the amount of fish was fairly small as it was at the time it seemed to be a fair agreement, but when trawling came in and supplies 2287 of fish multiplied the result was that perhaps a hundred packages might be handled by one porter in a day, and the practice was not to give the porter £2 10s. but a fraction of that amount, say 7s. 6d. or 10s. At the same time, in certain of the markets, it is the custom to put down for porterage £2 10s. though that amount is not really received by the porter. There is a reference to that in Section 10 of the Food Report. It says:We think that these complaints from port wholesalers are traceable to the fact that the sources of profit of the fish commission salesman are so different from those of ordinary commission agents. The extent of this difference became apparent from a perusal of the trading accounts of a firm of salesmen which claimed that its business related almost exclusively to commission sales. These accounts showed a gross profit on sales greatly in excess of 5 per cent., the rate of commission ruling in the market. A representative of the firm attributed the excess to profits arising from special bargains with senders and from porterage and he agreed that the term 'Commission' was not used by his firm in the generally accepted commercial sense.I think it is wrong that there should be a charge of this kind unless the money is actually paid out. There is another charge which is made in certain markets in connection with boxes supplied. Boxes are supplied to hold 6 stones of fish. In many cases the consignors do not want these boxes. They send the fish down already boxed to the commission salesman, but still the commission salesman charges 1s. for the use of the boxes although the boxes are not actually used. The commission charged should be put upon a satisfactory inclusive basis, and, if any further money is paid out, the actual amount paid should be put down. These sort of shadow charges put down are wrong in principle, and should be abolished. I think the Bill will do a good deal to improve the marketing of fish. We want something definite, and desire to know the prices which the salesman on commission has actually got for the fish he has sold. We want it in writing. There is another point to which I wish to refer. It is in connection with Clause 1, Sub-section (4) of the Bill, which says:The provisions of this Act shall not apply to the sale of fish unless the owner or consignor sends to the salesman before the sale an advice note.I should like to know exactly what an advice note is to be. Does an advice 2288 note mean merely sending by post or is it a telegram or a telephone message? We know that telegrams containing figures sometimes go wrong, or are sometimes delayed, and I think a little definition on the point would be advisable. In the main, I think the Bill is one which is supported by the industry, and which might well be considered, either now or later when the Fishing Commission is undertaking its deliberations.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. Skelton)
Would my hon. Friend help the House by saying a word on the present system of the commission salesman in buying a surplus which he cannot sell on commission? Has he any evidence from his constituents on that point?
§ Mr. BURNETT
I am afraid that I have no evidence from my constituents dealing with that point. As far as the details of the commission sale is concerned, the knowledge of my constituents is fairly limited, because the commission selling takes place at Billingsgate, Glasgow or elsewhere. There is very little commission selling done actually in Aberdeen.
§ 1.41 p.m.
§ Commander COCHRANE
I wish to give my general support to this Bill, but there are two or three points of which I am in some doubt, in spite of the fact that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Banff (Sir M. Wood), as he has said, has set out entirely what he intends to do. He has not attempted to legislate by reference—I am very grateful that he has not done so—and it would be unworthy on my part to suggest that the Bill to which he referred was passed by a Tory Government. There are, broadly speaking, two types of transactions to which this Bill would apply. The first is the case of the sale of large consignments of fish at Billingsgate or at some other large market. I do not think that there will be any difficulty of operation there. As the hon. Member said, the people concerned on both sides are very well able to look after themselves. Then we come to the question of the fish sold in small quantities. It is to this type of sale that I understand the Bill is intended to refer, and, particularly, it is intended to benefit the fisherman when he has to sell fish in small quantities, not at 2289 Billingsgate but very likely at one of the outlying ports. Clause 1, Sub-section (1, a), states that in the information to be given by the purchaser must be included,the actual price paid or agreed to be paid for the fish, and where there is any variation in price, the number, weight or quantity sold, or agreed to be sold, at each price.I agree that that is information you would wish to have to protect the fisherman if he is in the unfortunate position of dealing with a salesman who is not entirely honest in these transactions. The difficulty is as to whether, if you insist that the purchaser shall give this information, you will not tend to make it more difficult for the fisherman to sell his fish at all. It seems to me that it will become a case where a salesman, quite willing to buy in small quantities if it does not entail any extra clerical work and expense upon him to do so, may be unwilling to do it if he finds in practice that, owing to the provisions of this Bill, he has to give a considerable amount of detailed information which is irksome and in fact involves him in further cost. That is one of the points which inevitably arises when you try to regulate any commercial transaction which has to be taken part in by people dealing in large quantities and those dealing in small quantities. The hon. Members who Moved and Seconded the Bill referred to the fact that they have not sought in Clause 1 (2) to prohibit the salesman from selling to himself. They were wise in abandoning that suggestion, because I do not believe that it would be practicable.
§ Commander COCHRANE
The hon. Member will recollect a more recent case where in a Bill he tried to do something similar, but in its passage through the House a great many of the restrictions were removed. I do not believe in putting into legislation restrictions which are not necessary and cannot be enforced. A man may be carrying on hundreds of transactions during the day with people in different parts of the country. To say that he is not to sell to somebody who is himself buying in another capacity, is to say that the law shall do something which it cannot do. You might just as well tell the salesman that if he is lucky enough to have a few pennies in his right 2290 hand pocket he must not transfer them to the left pocket. It cannot be done by legislation. The important point is to ensure that if such a dummy sale takes place the full facts shall be known and shall be open to the fisherman who sells the fish.
That brings me to another point in regard to Clause 2, namely, the inspection of the accounts by an accountant in case of dispute. It would be unreasonable to say that the salesman should throw open his books to inspection by all and sundry. If there is a case of a fisherman who is aggrieved by his account, perhaps a comparatively small account, the question is, what will it cost him to engage an accountant to look at the books of the salesman?
§ Commander COCHRANE
But there is comparison in all things. While I admit the difficulty that the books could not be thrown open to all and sundry, it would be desirable if the man concerned had also the right to investigate, which I do not think he gets as the Bill stands. Both hon. Members referred to the inquiry into the fishing industry which is at present going on and, to my surprise, both expressed fear lest the Government should hold up this Bill on account of that inquiry. I can see no reason for that, because I presume that so far as that inquiry deals with the sale of fish it will be concerned in the main with the broad question of why there should be such a difference in price between that received by the fisherman and what the consumer has to pay. I do not see that this Bill can in any way affect that matter and I should have thought that it might very well go on to the Statute Book without interfering with any legislation or form of regulation which might appear desirable from any report of the Committee now sitting. For these reasons, I am glad to have an opportunity of supporting a Bill which will be of benefit to people who sell their fish, by force of circumstances, very often, in very comparatively small quantities. I hope the hon. and gallant Member who moved the Second Reading will do me the kindness of looking into the questions which I have raised, otherwise I fear that the full purpose of the Bill may not be carried out.
§ 1.50 p.m.
§ Mr. LYONS
I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will forgive me if I say that I do not agree with what he said at the end of his speech. In dealing with any matter affecting the fishing industry it would have been very much better to wait for the report of the Sea Fish Commission which was set up a few months ago and is now very busily engaged reviewing this problem from every angle, instead of trying by piecemeal legislation to deal with one of the matters which that Commission may think it wise to take into account in their deliberations, and which may be embodied in their report. For that reason alone, it would have been a good thing of the Bill had not come forward. It is premature.
The Bill relates to foodstuffs. Any Measure having a direct application to foodstuffs is a matter which ought to be probed by those who represent industrial constituencies, just as much as by those hon. Members who represent Divisions which are concerned with the fishing industry. We know that the fishing industry is a very important one and that it is in a very unsatisfactory position. Having viewed the Bill as carefully as I can I hope that I shall be forgiven by the hon. Member if I say that it does not go into any of the cardinal points of dissatisfaction which we all recognise as existing in the industry. Above all, I can see no provision which aims at reducing the tremendous gap which exists between the price obtained by the vendor on the dockside and the price paid by the consumer in the shop.
What is to be the object of all the additional control which the Bill seeks to put upon the man who sells fish on commission? Let me say, in parenthesis, that fish is not the only commodity that is commonly sold on commission. There are many articles of merchandise and foodstuffs which are sold on commission, and if it is right to control sale on commission in regard to fish it will be necessary and logical to put a similar onus upon those who sell other articles of merchandise and foodstuffs on commission.
The principal point of the Bill is the necessity imposed by Clause 1 on the salesman of making records of sales:Where in the case of any fish consigned for sale on commission the salesman makes a charge by way of commission or otherwise, 2292 he shall enter in a book kept by him for the purpose the names of the owner or consignor of the fish and of every purchaser, and the price paid or agreed to be paid by each purchaser, and shall as soon as practicable after the sale send by post or deliver to the owner or consignor an account containing the following particulars:That restriction in itself may be sufficient to interfere with the small businesses of fish salesmen on the dockside. The conditions that follow as to giving the particulars that are to be recorded the these:
What is the meaning of the word "services" in that connection? Later in the Bill there is a penalty Clause, which provides that any person who has omitted fulfilling any one of the requirements is liable to be convicted, unless he can show that he is not to blame. In other words, in the penalty Clause there is another departure from the ordinary principle, whereby the onus of proof is put on the prosecution. Here there is an exemption given to a person to show he is not to be convicted but when the offence is an omission to supply particulars of "service" the term seems extremely vague.
- "(a) the actual price paid or agreed to be paid for the fish, and where there is any variation in price, the number, weight or quantity sold, or agreed to be sold, at each price; and
- (b) the commission or other charge made by the salesman for selling the fish, together with details of any charges made for services in connection with sale."
I am sorry to see that a matter of this nature is discussed in the House when so few members are present. I do not know how it is thought that the particulars demanded here would in any way help either the man who males his living in the fishing industry and sees his fish sold on the dockside at a calamitous price, or how it will help the man who desires to buy fish for consumption by his family. The Bill does nothing at all to bridge the big gap between those two prices. For these reasons I hope the House will not proceed with a Bill which deals from one angle only with a big question, the whole of which is now receiving the consideration of the Fish Commission which I hope, will report very soon.
§ 1.57 p.m.
§ Mr. J. REID
As the hon. and learned Member for East Leicester (Mr. Lyons) has said a great deal of what I had pro- 2293 posed to say, I shall not delay the House long; but the matter raised in the Bill is one of very great importance not only to the producers of fish and equally to the consumers. The Bill touches only the very fringes of the problem. There are two things that we all want to see rectified. We want to see a better price paid to the fishermen and a lower price charged in the retail shops. I do not regard the disparity between those two prices as accounted for by robbery or undue profits or anything of that sort on the part of the middleman. It is accounted for because the system of distribution at present is obsolete; it has not kept pace with modern requirements. We have a feeling that the right way to deal with this problem is by means of a comprehensive marketing scheme, and not in the least in this piecemeal manner. I am afraid that the real explanation why we have such a piecemeal Bill is that those who sit on the Liberal benches have not yet been converted to the advantages of comprehensive regulation of industry, and apparently this little Measure is the best that they can produce within the four corners of their economic dogma. But I hope that those of us who have moved a little more with the times will be able to improve the Bill very materially.
There is a greater disparity at present between the price paid to the producer and the price paid by the ultimate consumer in the case of fish than there is in the case of any other commodity on the market. I know that the difficulties are many. But the problem must be looked at as a whole, and the part that more urgently requires attention is the organisation of the distribution and retail side of the business. I see that the other side cannot be left out of account. I shall not oppose the Bill because it may do some good. But may it not do a certain amount of harm at the same time? May it not complicate rather than simplify methods of business as between the producer and the Commission agents?
I hope the Under-Secretary of State will assure us that if the Bill is passed it will not make more difficult the production of a marketing scheme on the lines of those which are at present being put into operation. If the House thought that the passing of the Bill would in any way make it more difficult to frame a comprehensive marketing scheme, they 2294 would hesitate before passing it. If on the other hand we can get an assurance from the Under-Secretary that the passing of this Bill will not make the task of the Government more difficult, when they come to tackle the real problem, I think we may allow the Bill through for what it is worth. It seems to me, however, that Clause 1 will put a very big burden on those who deal in this commodity in the markets. We had a very similar Bill from the Liberal benches last year, dealing with another variety of fish, namely trout, with somewhat similar and extremely elaborate, and as it turned out quite unnecessary, restrictions on their sale. I fear a little that the restrictions in this Bill are subject to very much the same kind of criticism as killed the restrictions in the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton).
§ Mr. REID
I regard it as a restriction on sale that you require a purchaser to go through all this elaborate bookkeeping. Is it certain that every commission agent now keeps all these numerous details separate in his books? I doubt it. Obviously he would have to increase his bookkeeping enormously in order to cover all these requirements. What I fear more than anything else is that this proposal, while it may be all right where you have a large consignment, does not assist the small man in any possible way, and when you come to the sale of a relatively small consignment of fish, is not the Bill a top-heavy structure, and is not all this bookkeeping out of place in connection with a small sale? Will it not encourage the commission agent to deal only with the larger men and to seek as few transactions as possible? Would he not prefer three or four large sales to a dozen or two dozen small sales? He is called upon to make out a dozen or 20 notes about each set of transactions, and has to put in full details of all these things. He will have 20 rather elaborate accounts in respect of one consignment of fish which may be worth only a few pounds. Is that not going too far?
It is true that in any industry you have a number of people who are capable of sharp practice, and you may have to put 2295 a certain amount of burden upon the shoulders of the straightforward people in order to have the material for checking the abuses of the others. I am sure that in the fish trade as in every other trade the vast majority of dealers are honest and do not require any of these checks. Are we not putting too large a burden on the honest man in order, in a very few cases, to check abuses by those whose practices are not so straightforward?
§ Mr. REID
I think it is the case that the Council took that view but it is for this House to consider the matter from a broader point of view. Here we are doing something which may provide a precedent for other and similar types of businesses and I suggest that to impose such elaborate requirements on this industry is going beyond anything that exists in the case of other industries.
§ Sir M. WOOD
The hon. Member cannot have been in the House during the whole of the Debate because I explained that this Bill was modelled exactly on an Act passed in 1926 to deal with horticultural produce.
§ Mr. REID
I arm afraid I missed the point that this Bill was on exactly the same lines as a previous Measure. I thought the restrictions proposed here were rather more severe than any which now exist. But just as the Act dealing with horticultural produce has been used as a precedent for this Bill, so other industries will use this Measure as a precedent for something else and we shall be involved in a tangle of restrictions 2296 before we know where we are. I do not wish to urge objections to the Measure with too great force. If the industry wants it, I suppose they are entitled to self determination in the matter, but let us make it plain that this House will only pass restrictions of this kind in peculiar circumstances and where the industry itself is unanimously in favour of them and that we do not pass them because of any liking for the restrictions in themselves. I hope that this Bill if it is passed will not be regarded as any encouragement for tying unnecessary restrictions around the necks of other industries.
§ 2.10 p.m.
§ Mr. SKELTON
The hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading of this Bill is quite right in drawing the attention of the House first to the fact that similar provisions have been passed by Parliament in regard to horticulture and secondly to the recommendation made by the Food Council. The Addison Scott Committee, if I remember rightly, recommended very drastic action and I must congratulate the hon. Member on exhibiting in this department that power of steering between Scylla and Charybdis which is now so characteristic of the party which he adorns. This Bill, with the foundation of an existing Act of Parliament and the recommendation of the Food Council, is not one which, in principle, the Government would be inclined or prepared to oppose, and there is, therefore, no question of that. But as the Debate has proceeded powerful considerations have been advanced for caution at this moment, on this subject.
When the Food Council reported and when the Addison Scott Committee reported, Parliament had not gone so far as we have gone to-day in developing the system of marketing, nor had the marketing system become so familiar to the country and to industry. I think it is worth our while to keep in close view the consideration adduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Reid), that the Sea Fish Commission presided over by Sir Andrew Duncan, part of whose reference is to consider the marketing of white fish, may formulate a scheme which would embrace the merchants and others covered by this Bill. Bearing that possibility in 2297 mind, we must remember that this Bill would put certain new burdens or impose certain new liabilities and duties upon those who come within its scope and thus might in the end make them less disposed to consider favourably any marketing scheme which included them. That is a real consideration and one which was not perhaps fully appreciated until my hon. Friend brought it to the attention of the House.
I do not propose to deal with the merits of the proposals in the Bill. The main proposition which the Bill advances has been supported by the Committee referred to and by the Food Council. It is clear that the present system is open to abuse. Nobody at this day denies that, and if there were not the further consideration and, as I think, the wider consideration which this Debate has revealed, the way of the House would be very simple, namely, to apply itself to the remedying of this abuse. For my own part, and speaking for the Government, I think it is worth the while of the House to consider whether it would not be more in consonance with the legislation which Parliament has already passed and the existence of the Sea Fish Commission which has been set up to deal with modern and current views on these matters, to postpone this individual piece of legislation until the Sea Fish Commission has dealt with the subject as a whole. My hon. Friend, with all the pride of parentage, of course finds it difficult to accept that proposition, and I am not surprised, but it is a consideration which I think should be put before the House, because anything that was seriously detrimental to the carrying into operation of wide and useful proposals made by the Sea Fish Commission would in the end of the day not help the industry.
§ Sir M. WOOD
How can the hon. Member suggest that it can be detrimental, in view of the fact that those two authoritative bodies have approved of it, and that the London Fish Trade Association, dealing with the Report of the Food Council, said that the recommendations were regarded as fair to all concerned?
§ Mr. SKELTON
I will not repeat my argument, but my point is that those views were expressed really in a different situation, that now that there is this 2298 widespread interest in marketing and the legislation which has been passed by Parliament on the subject of marketing, and a Commission provided by Parliament launching a scheme which may very well embrace these particular persons, I was only suggesting that it may well be that a new situation has arisen which ought to be considered before the House passes this Bill. I venture to give that word of caution, but, in view of the recommendations of the Council and of the Addison-Scott Committee, and in view of the moderate terms in which this Bill has been framed and the obvious care which the hon. Gentleman has taken in its framing, I do not propose that the Government should oppose the Bill.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.