HC Deb 13 September 1939 vol 351 cc711-28
Mr. Stewart

I am perfectly ready to meet that point, but I want now to be allowed to go on with my speech, because I am trying to submit to the wish of the House. The point I wish to raise refers to the Government's scheme for the distribution of fish. Fish is one of our most important foodstuffs, and the system of distribution is a very delicate machine. On the outbreak of war that machine was suddenly stopped and another introduced in its place. I will not entertain the House with a long explanation of what happened, but I would remind the Minister of half-a-dozen results of that change. The first is that there is not a retailer in the country who has not had his supply of fish very seriously curtailed. Secondly, great numbers of fish merchants, salesmen, agents and others concerned with the transfer of fish from the boats to the retailers' shops, have been actually relieved of their occupations. They came to me last week-end and told me that they have no further job, that their work is at an end. Is that seriously intended? While there is a shortage of fish in the retail shops, I am informed that large quantities of fish have been wasted — left lying in the new depots which have been created under this scheme.

Under the old system, Aberdeen was the principal centre for fish in Scotland. A retailer in my part of the country, Fife, used to phone Aberdeen in the afternoon and receive the fish the next morning. Now he is told he has to go to Perth; and in other parts of the country they have to go to the other depots which have been created. These depots are not suitable for the public, because no arrangements were made in those places. There were no stalls and no sanitary arrangements. The supply of fish has almost stopped in many parts of the country.

I understand that an important conference took place yesterday and that certain amendments were agreed to by the Minister and his advisers in regard to England. I am told, for example, that Morpeth, which was the new depot taking fish from North Shields, has been abolished as a depot, and that North Shields will resume its former function. Has anything been done like that it Scotland? Is Perth a proper depot? My advice is that it is not suitable at all. Has my right hon. Friend considered the possibility of restoring the old system in Scotland whereby fish can rapidly and in good condition reach the retailers' establishments. I do not want to be supercritical, because it would not be fair at this moment, but it is the function of Parliament to call attention to the effect of Government Measures. I assure my right hon. Friend that I and every other representative of fishing interests have been overwhelmed by protests during the week-end from people in all walks of life affected by the drastic change in the distribution of fish. If my right hon. Friend cannot do so to-night, I beg that some time in the next two days, say, on Friday, he will make a full statement setting out what he is aiming at. Let him admit, as did the Lord Privy Seal, that mistakes have been made and that alterations will take place. We shall admire him all the more if he admits that mistakes have been made and tells the House that he will do his best to secure a distribution of fish, which is vital to the people.

7.8 p.m.

Mr. Loftus

I appeal to my right hon. Friend to realise that the home fishing industry to-day is in complete chaos because of this unworkable scheme, which is condemned by every branch, without exception, in the industry — owners, of boats, skippers, crews, Transport and General Workers' Union branches, retailers, fish merchants and fish buyers. There is no doubt about the existence of burning indignation against this, absurd and unworkable scheme. That is how it appears to the fish industry. I want my right hon. Friend to realise what happens. Up till recently, in a port like Lowestoft, fish was landed at six o'clock in the morning, sold at 8.30, bought at the market by the merchants, fish buyers and so on, as fresh fish, and the price was made up. The men knew on the same day exactly what they were to get, and so did the owners and skippers.

Under this scheme the fish is landed and taken to Norwich, 25 miles away. It was kept in one instance for several days until it was stale. It is sold at Norwich, and merchants and fish buyers have to go from Lowestoft to Norwich, wasting petrol, 25 miles there and 25 miles back. At Norwich, they have to form up in a long queue and take any fish, even fish that is several days old. Heretofore, they had been able to buy fish within an hour or two of its landing. Under this scheme, hundreds of tons of good fish have been wasted by being allowed to go so stale that it could not be sold for human food. I said that skippers, owners and men knew, under the old scheme, exactly the value of the catch that they landed and how much they were to get. Now they do not. The fish is sent to Norwich, and they have not the slightest idea whether it is sold as fine, fresh fish or as stale fish. They do not know the price they will get, and they do not know the remuneration the men will get — although I understand that there are 89 accountants at St. John's College, Oxford, to work out what the men should receive.

At the end of the last War we had in Lowestoft, I understand, three paid officials to deal with the fishing industry. Now, I understand that there are in Lowestoft 32 full-time paid officials, and, in addition, 46 other full-time paid officials living in Lowestoft who go to Norwich every day. That is a total of 78 paid officials living in Lowestoft whereas in the last War there were three. And last week we landed 32 tons of fish. There are many things that I would like to point out, but I will finish as soon as I can. The price at which herrings were sold during the last War was 6d. a pound — £ 9 16s. a cran. Under the present scheme, the price that the public pays is to be exactly the same, £ 16s. a cran; but the price that the catchers, the men who are going out and risking their lives, are to get is half what it was, the difference going in increased expenses. During the last War £6 6s. of this £ 16s. went to the fishers for best fish; and, for second quality fish, £4 18s. Now, the maximum price that goes to the fishers is £2 16s. a cran. This must mean that the administrative costs in the last War were £3 10s. a cran, and that they are now going to be £7 a cran; and the man who is going to bear the loss is the man who catches the fish, while these masses of officials swallow up the rest.

Fish deteriorates rapidly. Hitherto, the fish were caught and landed at Lowestoft or Yarmouth, and curing was started at once. Now, these perishable fish are sent to Norwich, where the curers have to go and queue up, in order to get the fish stale, and then bring it back to the curing houses at Lowestoft or Yarmouth. The proper scheme to work is that which was in operation in the concluding year of the last War. It may be said that there was profiteering then. If there was profiteering in fish — and I do not admit that there was — it was not during the War, but immediately after. In the latter part of the War there was good, cheap administration and a fair remuneration for the fishermen. It would be much better to scrap the whole of this fantastic, unworkable, grotesquely extravagant scheme and its personnel, and put in charge an official who knows his job. I suggest that the former Permanent Secretary of the Department of Fisheries or the present Secretary of the Department could do this job, and would be trusted by the fishing industry — which the present personnel is not — and that the work would then be done efficiently at an infinitely small fraction of the present cost.

7.15 p.m.

Sir Richard Acland

I want to go back to the subject with which we opened this Debate and to ask the Minister a question on a point which is very much puzzling me. What is a voluntary censorship? Does it mean that it is entirely within the discretion of editors whether or not they publish only the news which the Government ask them to publish? Do I understand that absolutely nothing whatever happens to any editor if he is not a gentleman and chooses to publish something which the Government advise him not to publish? If that is not the case, and if something were to happen to an editor who infringed, under what regulation or power would it happen? I ask that question because I believe that there have been regulations issued in relation to what the Press may or may not do. I would like to know under what powers these regulations were made, because we were given an assurance that regulations would not be made in relation to the Press under the Emergency Powers Act. It is my belief that some of these regulations are extremely far-reaching, such as, that editors are advised, in the framework of this gentlemen's agreement or under regulations for which they can be penalised, that they must not publish anything which would influence public opinion in a way detrimental to the carrying on of the war. That, of course, is a phrase which the Government can interpret in any way they like.

For example, I would like to know whether the editors in fishing ports will be advised to-night that it would be rather an ungentlemanly act to publish in full, with a large headline, the speech which we have just heard from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus)? Will that kind of information be sent to editors, and, if so, what will happen to any editor who makes use of the speech which we have just heard by putting headlines right across the paper and printing the speech in full? If anything happens to that editor, under what regulation will it happen? And if there is such a regulation, is that not a breach of the assurance which we were given that no regulations would be made in relation to the Press under the Emergency Powers Act, which the Opposition gave to the Government in about three or four hours a little while ago?

This point is important because it affects the moral of the country. In the last War there was a tremendous outburst of public opinion bitterly hostile to the Government because of the way they were conducting the War in relation to munitions, and unquestionably that outburst of public opinion achieved useful results in the prosecution of the War. What the public will want to know is whether, if they see in the newspaper no substantial criticism of the way in which the Government are carrying on, they are to take it that that means that those in the know are finding that there is nothing to criticise, or are they to interpret it as if a Government censorship is stifling criticism? The country is entitled to know exactly what this voluntary censorship really means. What are the powers of the Government over editors, and under what regulations have they those powers? In what way are those powers going to be used to suppress criticism of the way in which affairs are being handled by this Government?

7.20 p.m.

Mr. Marshall

I desire to return to the fish problem, more particularly with regard to the administration of the scheme. I speak on behalf of a city which is a victim of the scheme — the City of Sheffield. For some inscrutable reason, Sheffield has to get its fish now from Chesterfield. Why Chesterfield should be the fish centre for Sheffield, I do not know. It seems to me utterly absurd that an important city with 550,000 inhabitants should be placed in regard to its fish supply under Chesterfield, 16 miles away. I have been in touch with a number of the fish fryers in Sheffield, who number about 500. Let me give one illustration of a fish fryer who went to Chesterfield last week. He got up at 5 o'clock in the morning, paid 2s. for a return bus ticket to Chesterfield, he was at Chesterfield about five hours, and he had to come back without any fish. He had spent 2s., wasted five hours of valuable time, and did not get any fish. Why make Chesterfield the distributing fish centre for Sheffield? What is amiss with Sheffield? It has a fish market, and it is a large city. If it is a question of vulnerability and the disposition of distributing centres in a number of places, why not select Sheffield and by so doing allay a lot of discontent? Chesterfield is an altogether unsuitable place for this purpose, so far as Sheffield is concerned. The arrangement puts the fish fryers of Sheffield to all kinds of inconveniences. I trust the right hon. Gentleman will rectify it at the earliest opportunity.

7.22 p.m.

Mr. Salt

I regret that I must continue the Debate in regard to fish supply, and particularly to give details as to the position in Birmingham. It is no exaggeration to say that during the last few days there has been absolute chaos there. Last week, on Monday and Tuesday, no fish came into Birmingham at all, and very little came on the Wednesday, but on the Thursday 240 tons came in, as against the average supply of 100 tons per day. Consequently, there was enormous waste and many tons of good fish had to be thrown away. The fish supply in the City of Birmingham is different from that in London. The demand is of a different type. What is suitable for Birmingham is not suitable for London, and vice versa, but these facts seem to be quite ignored now that new men are employed. I would particularly stress the fact that due to the new management and the new control, staffs have been dismissed. It seems incredible to think that men who have been working on the railways, employed in the delivery of fish, have all been dismissed.

Merchants who have been in the fish business all their lives and have been distributing practically the whole of the 100 tons of fish per day have been very seriously affected. In one case a man with 42 employ é s has been reduced to three. A total of 170 people — fish salesmen, clerks and fish buyers have been dismissed. The fish is sent to the railway station instead of to the very adequate fish market in Birmingham, which has been responsible in the past for the delivery of fish within a radius of 20 miles of the city. Some 1,000 small retail fish shops are seriously affected. These shops are in the habit of taking small quantities, but in the first instance they were prohibited from taking anything but a quantity far in excess of what they wanted. Consequently, they could not purchase at all. The wholesale fish merchants, who would have broken up the fish into small parcels, were unable to say why this course was adopted. The Lord Mayor of Birmingham, whom I saw yesterday, had a long telephonic conversation lasting, I believe, 35 minutes, with the controller, and he was told that until he could be informed that Birmingham was all clear, he would not longer send fish to the city. It seems incredible that anyone could say such a thing to the Lord Mayor of Birmingham and to a city like Birmingham. I hope that the Minister will scrap the present system.

7.26 p.m.

Mr. Boulton

I want to refer to what the hon. Member for Brightside (Mr. Marshall) has said with regard to the distribution of fish in Sheffield. Sheffield has 550,000 inhabitants and the market has been put at Chesterfield, 16 miles away. Why, nobody can tell. I hope the Minister will realise the seriousness of this matter because there are not 500 fish friers in Sheffield but 700, and these fish friers will have to buy their fish at Chesterfield, going there at their own expense and sometimes coming back without fish. The scheme is impracticable, and I am advised that over a period you are going to run the risk of losing hundreds of tons of fish by this method. I suggest that there is no reason what- ever why fish should not be sent from Grimsby in bulk to Sheffield, each purchaser putting in what he wants and getting it sent with his own label direct from Grimsby to Sheffield. I hope that this serious matter will have the early attention of the Minister.

7.28 p.m.

Sir Joseph Nall

It is obvious from the speeches we have heard that this scheme is not doing what it was intended to do. I understand that the hon. Member for the Rusholme Division (Mr. Radford) saw the Minister last week and indicated the difficulties arising in Manchester. I did not know until now that the trouble was general. I knew that in Manchester and Birmingham the scheme had broken down, and it is the fact that all concerned in the trade in Manchester and in Birmingham reported that the scheme was not working. In this matter one must have regard to the diary of events, because I do not think we can blame the right hon. Gentleman, the present Minister, for the scheme or the appointment of the individual who does not understand how to administer it. The right hon. Gentleman has unfortunately fallen heir to this thing. His trouble is what is going to be done now; and that is why I intervene. I want to remind him that in Manchester the scheme broke down on the first day and has not worked on any day since. The controller is not sufficiently acquainted with the ramifications of the trade and has not the confidence of the people in the trade, and I think he should be relieved of his post. It comes to this, that really there was no need to impose the scheme at all. There was no shortage, and there was no difficulty in distribution.

These schemes of control, necessary as they are in many instances and will be in the case of most supplies at some stage, at least are not necessary in the case of fish at the present time. The unfortunate thing is that the scheme was put into force in a hurry when it really was not needed and before my right hon. Friend had time to look at the papers relating to it. In view of the fact that there is no trouble about supplies and no impediment to distribution through the ordinary channels, provided there is some safeguard against profiteering, I think he would have the support and acclamation of every one if he could see his way to scrap the scheme and get another drawn up to guard against imposition, if that becomes necessary. If he can do that, there is no doubt that the trade can look after the job in the meantime. There is no need for this cumbersome machinery, which is denying supplies to people who want them, which is sending species of fish to markets where they cannot sell them, which is putting thousands of fish workers out of work whilst other people who do not understand it are brought in. If my right hon. Friend can see his way to suspend the thing for the time being and wind it up whilst he evolves a workable scheme, that is the most equitable way to deal with it.

7.32 p.m.

Mr. Beechman

Reference has been made to the utterly chaotic conditions which those representing the ports have discovered to exist during the last few-days. I am, however, hopeful that the Minister will be able to tell us shortly that very unsatisfactory features of the scheme, or let us hope the scheme itself, will be scrapped. Therefore I will not speak with all the feeling with which I could have spoken, and still intended to speak after attending what can only be described as an indignation meeting at Newlyn last night. But there is one matter to which I must particularly refer because, unless it is dealt with speedily, not only will the fish supply in Cornwall break down but it will lead for certain—and I know what I am talking about—to a riot. The situation that I discovered was as follows. Our fishermen had ceased fishing, our salesmen had ceased selling, our buyers had ceased buying, local fish workers were off and in their place there had been brought down people from Grimsby who knew nothing about local conditions at all and who, I was told though it may only be rumour, were receiving salaries for doing what our people do every day for no extra emoluments. The result may be imagined. Not only was the fish supply in the district completely disorganised. It was non-existent, and feeling was such that I apprehended a riot. I know that the Minister has had his mind brought to bear on the matter and I am grateful for the speedy way in which he gave his attention to it when I brought it to his notice this morning. I hope we are going to have some news at once.

7.34 p.m.

Mr. Mander

As President of the Wolverhampton Fish and Chip Association, I wholeheartedly associate myself with the remarks which have been made on the subject of this scheme, which affects us as seriously as other parts of the country, and I hope serious attention will be given to it.

I want to say a few words on the subject of war aims, which is one of the most important questions that will arise in the successful prosecution of the war, which I, as much as anybody else, want to see carried to a successful conclusion. To-day the Prime Minister was asked a question on this subject, and he replied that certain statements on the subject had already been made by the Government and that further declarations would be made from time to time. I suggest that before those further declarations of war aims are made, consultations should take place with the Opposition parties with a view to seeing that when a full and final statement is made it will carry with it the full assent of all parties in the House.

As far as I could gather from the statement made by the Prime Minister to-day, he said that we are fighting for three things mainly—the carrying out of our pledge to Poland and the restoration of liberty to Poland, the restoration of liberty to Czecho-Slovakia, and the destruction of Hitlerism. I venture to think that if we are to rally the enthusiasm and idealism of many young people in this country to full support of the war, it will be necessary to go further than that, and to look beyond the war, to make it clear that we are fighting for the establishment of a system afterwards which will, as far as human beings can devise it, make it impossible for anything of this kind to take place again. If that can be secured, there will be some justification for the general sacrifices; but if this is to be just one episode in a long series, with a similar slaughter every 25 years, it will not make a very great appeal to the idealism of those who are asked to take part in the war.

Surely, what we come back to is this. During the last few years there have been questions of going into isolation and just linking up with one or two friends; but by the events of last March, surely we have been driven back, by the present policy of the Government, to the collective system. One may call it a collective system, one may call it a system of mutual aid, or general guarantees, but in fact, it is based on the principles of the League of Nations. I do not say that that body in its present form is exactly what we want to revive, but obviously that is the one living institution in the world which embodied in some manner, and for a time very successfully, the very ideals of the collective system of joint action against aggression for which we are fighting at the present time. I hope it will be made clear that, whatever changes may have to be made in the form of the League, something of that kind is one of the chief aims for which we are fighting. One other point also should be ambodied, and that is that, following the war, there must be a disarmament convention in which all countries will agree mutually to reduce their armaments to a proper level and that international inspection will take place to see that, in fact, they are carrying out the promises which they have given.

One other point which I wish to make with reference to this matter concerns a question that was put to the Prime Minister to-day about the forthcoming meeting of the Council and Assembly of the League of Nations which, in the ordinary course, would be taking place at the present time. The answer was to the effect that the French Government and His Majesty's Government had proposed to the Secretary-General of the League that the meetings of the Council and Assembly should be postponed because in present circumstances it would be impossible for their delegations to reach Geneva. We understand the difficulties of the present moment in that regard, but I should have thought that for a day or a couple of days one Minister, perhaps the Secretary of State for the Dominions, might have been spared to go by air to Geneva to the meeting of the Assembly and there make a statement of the British case.

If it is the case that Geneva is inaccessible at present, I hope the Government will give careful consideration to holding the meeting of the Assembly in either Paris or London. I am sure there would be no international objections. While it may be difficult in present circumstances and having regard to the way in which the League has been treated in the past, to invoke the Covenant and to make use of the various clauses that ought now to be functioning as part of the ordinary method of meeting the situation, there is no reason at all why a leading Minister, who is noted for his interest in League principles, should not go to the Assembly, and, without necessarily involving any division or putting any resolution, make a full statement of the British case and make clear to the world the exact reasons, from the League point of view, why we have entered into this war. If we did that, even with the League in its present condition, we could rely on a tremendous volume of moral support from nations in every part of the world that would be a real assistance to us, together with the many other steps which we are taking, to see that the great cause of liberty and democracy for which we are fighting triumphs in the end and as soon as possible.

7.43 p.m.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. W. S. Morrison)

The lion. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) will forgive me if I do not follow him in the points of high policy which he has raised, and if I deal with the humbler though very important question of fish which has been so prominently before me for the last few days. The representations which we have heard this evening from hon. Members on this subject, and representations made to me by other hon. Members who have not spoken in the Debate—one being the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) —and the evidence which reaches me, make it obvious that this scheme is not working well. When one considers the magnitude of the transaction as a whole, the changing over the food trades from peace-time to war-time conditions, I think I am fortunate in being able to report that this fish business is the only major difficulty, though there have been minor points to adjust, which we have so far encountered

May I first say a word on the scheme itself and its objects? I have been urged by hon. Members and in many representations from outside to consider this matter in the light of our experience at the end of the last War. The suggestion underlying that argument is that conditions now are much the same. I would point out at once that when this scheme was framed, the contingency of heavy sustained air attack in the early part of the war had to be provided against and in all these plans for dealing with food in war-time the principle of decentralisation, as far as it could reasonably be adopted, has been made a feature. While in normal peace-time trading, it is possible to have one great depot where exchange takes place, or a few great central depots, such concentration in a vulnerable area under war conditions might be a source of danger and dislocation. So Billingsgate market was moved and its activities transferred to a less vulnerable area. Similarly in other markets where it was thought the distribution of fish might otherwise be impeded unduly, a system of decentralisation of depots was carried out. The facts of the situation are that up to date we have not had to contend with the dangers against which that provision was made, and consequently that provision bears a meaningless appearance to people in the light of actual circumstances, but it was done as a precaution against an unforeseeable future which we had to contemplate and prepare for.

Another feature that we have to bear in mind about the fish industry in time of war is this, that you must be prepared to contemplate a reduced intake of fish, at the beginning of the war in particular, because trawlers are commandeered—that has happened in these last few days—and many other causes of a Defence nature do prevent the normal intake of fish from being available. In these circumstances I am sure the House will agree that we ought to do what we can to ensure that if you have a reduced intake of fish from the ocean, that intake should be distributed as equitably as possible over the whole country, so that as far as practicable, each centre gets its due share of what is going. Another feature which I am sure the House will agree to is that we must do our best to make sure that there is no such rise in the price of fish as a result of the war as would deny to the poorer sections of the people their due share of this important food. These are the things which the scheme sets out to do.

Now let me say a word or two about what has been said. I am aware that this scheme framed for conditions which, we are thankful to say, were different from what they are to-day, may have been misconceived to that degree. It may be that in the light of certain circumstances a less interruption of normal channels of trade would have worked, but the position that we have now to face is that we have to make such amendments to and adjustments in this scheme as it exists to-day as will secure its smooth working in the light of experience, and will assure the points on which I have laid stress, namely, an equitable distribution of our food, control of its price, and making it available to all sections of the people. And we must remember that the community will not grudge to these men, who go out to sea, especially now, when conditions are more perilous than usual, their proper remuneration. All this is complicated by the facts that fish is a very perishable commodity and that the trade itself is an exceedingly complicated one, requiring a great deal of knowledge of detail to administer properly. These are the features which characterise our problem.

I am not going at this stage—and I am sure the House would not expect me to do so—to make a complete statement as to what is proposed, because the Ministry of Food has only been in existence a few days, and those days have been occupied with trying to grasp this very complicated problem of fish, along with a lot of other very necessary things that have had to be done. But I can assure the House, in the first place, that I am not at all satisfied with the state of affairs that exists at the present moment, and that I intend to do what I can, and as speedily as I can, to put these matters right. Already in some cases we have been able to make minor adjustments which have brought considerable relief, and I can assure the House that the pressure to achieve the ends that we have in view will be unremitting on our part and that we shall do what we can to evolve a workable scheme. At the same time, I ask the House to remember, in fairness to the framers of the scheme, that they did draw it up contemplating a state of affairs that might easily have followed and that it was their duty to contemplate. With that, I would ask the House to accept my assurance that we are doing our best to put the matter right.

Mr. A. V. Alexander

May I ask the Minister whether we can have some better assurance as to the date of the changes? I do not think it would be reasonable to ask for details of the changes, but we realty must not be put off with the suggestion that this matter is only two days old in its grasping by the Department. The Ministry of Food came into operation only two days ago, but it took over the Food Defence (Plans) Department, and our complaints about this fish matter have been with the Department for many days. We have been severely handicapped by this being the first Department to clear out of London and in not beingable to get at the directors of it. We have urged for a week or two that until the new scheme was ready the trade should be assisted through ordinary trade channels, and that could be done to-morrow morning.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

Can my right hon. Friend give an immediate assurance that at a very early date he will fix maximum prices? In my part of the world the price of fish has multiplied three times, and that is a scandal which cannot be justified.

Mr. Garro Jones

I was disturbed about the reference which the Minister made to the reduction of size, but in spite of that there is not plenty of fish. There are 300 trawlers in my constituency and at one time there were only five at sea. As far as I can see, the ban on fishing over considerable areas of fishing grounds has not been removed. What plans has the Minister in being to maintain the production of fish, either by setting up the mechanism for landing the fish in less vulnerable parts, or by equipping vessels to fish in less vulnerable grounds? Unlesswe deal with the production side it is little use trying to deal with the distribution side.

Mr. W. S. Morrison

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) asked me to name a date when I shall be able to announce what is necessary. The announcement he would like me to make is, as other hon. Members have suggested, that this scheme should be put in abeyance or abolished and that the trade should be left in the meantime to make its own provision for supplies. I ask the House not to expect me to say that now, because there is this point to remember among others. The defence considerations involved must not be ignored and must be kept fairly before our eyes, and trading under war-time conditions in this commodity must necessarily differ from that in peace-time. If one goes back to private enterprise after having started the scheme, there may be great difficulties in getting back to a proper system of control. Although I feel acutely the disadvantages which the public in some cases are suffering as the result of the operation of this scheme, I feel very reluctant—and I ask the House to be with me in this—to abandon control of this important commodity for fear of the consequences of profiteering that may take place for a short time, for once we got enhanced profits being made it would be as difficult as getting butter out of a dog's mouth to make a change. I can assure the House that there is no avoidable delay in my Department.

In reply to the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones), it is a fact that there is a curtailed supply of fish. Trawlers have been requisitioned and there have been limitations of the sort which he mentioned and which must take place. There was also wastage of fish during the heat-wave of last week, but most of the short supply does come from short landings. We have to take every step we can to make sure, first, in conjunction with the Admiralty, that fishing can be extended as soon as it is safe, and also that all measures are taken for the encouragement of distribution in the fish trade. I should like the House to believe that I have the production side before me, because the most elaborate machinery of distribution would be o f no avail if there were no fish.

7.56 p.m.

Mr. R. J. Taylor

I wish to say a word about the fish position, because it is causing serious alarm in my part of the world. Particularly I would refer to what the Minister said about the reduced intake of fish, because to my mind the scheme which is operating at the moment is not making the most of the reduced supply which does come to hand, and I am sure that is contrary to what the Minister would desire. The Minister reminded us, also, that fish is very perishable, and there is a point in connection with that to which I would draw his attention. I received this week-end a deputation of inshore fishermen and line fishermen, and they pointed out how there may be a very grave waste of the fish which they are catching. North Shields has been a very important fishing centre for the north-east coast—perhaps the greatest port in England for inshore fishing and line fishing. That centre has been removed to Morpeth, and it has led to a grievance in regard to shell fish in particular. In the past shell fish has been taken alive to Shields in the early morning, but it is pointed out that as a result of the new arrangements these shell fish are collected in the afternoon and that probably the greater part of them are dead when the buyers get them. Anyone with experience of sending this produce to market will have a fair idea of what the rejects amount to when the man get from the market his account showing how the fish has been disposed of, and that position will now be accentuated, because as the fish have been collected in the afternoon and then have to go to some other place the wastage will be very high.

In regard to white fish, in the past they have been collected by the wholesaler and consumed on the day they were caught. Under this scheme they too are collected in the afternoon, and are not in the market until next morning, and I cannot think that that arrangement makes the most of the fish caught locally. In regard to control I hope it will be possible to work out a system of control. The right hon. Gentleman said that this is working Socialism. There is no reason why we should not work Socialism intelligently. In the last War there were several attempts at Socialism but the capitalists were working it all the time with the intention that the industries should go back to private enterprise. We found that happening in the coal mines. Then it was said "Look what you had when there was national control." The right hon. Member does not want profiteering. I am just inclined to think—can I have the Tight hon. Gentleman's attention, because this is rather important? I think I have a right to his attention, because if I have riot I am going to know the reason why.

Mr. W. S. Morrison

I had no intention of being discourteous.

Mr. Taylor

I am not blaming the right hon. Gentleman; I am blaming the hon. Member behind him. I know that the right hon. Gentleman would not be discourteous. I have always found him one of the most courteous Members in the House. The right hon. Gentleman is very anxious that things should not get out of control and lead to profiteering. I am inclined to think that the right hon. Gentleman will produce an effect of profiteering, even with his control. The expenses of working this ill-digested scheme are such as to raise the price now. In addition to that you cannot get the fish. There are your two obstacles.

In my area is a man who has built up a business during the last 20 years and has given the greatest possible satisfaction, supplying, I should say. 40,000 people. He had his own wagons and he has been taking the fish from Shields. Everything was working quite smoothly until this scheme was introduced. It has wiped him out of business. One result is that the porterage of the fish has increased to such an extent that what would have cost £20 per week in that man's business now costs £50. That kind of increase will reflect itself in the price of fish. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman had better look into this matter, because, although he wishes to stop profiteering, the price of the fish will make people think that profiteering is rampant. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has given us a very good assurance. It would have been better to leave things as they were until you have worked out a scheme to work more or less smoothly., and under which people would know that they would get their share of even a limited quantity of fish. Fish fryers in my district told me this week-end that they might as well shut up their shops, because they were selling practically nothing but potatoes. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that he will be able to put this industry back upon something like an even keel.