HC Deb 03 February 1942 vol 377 cc1120-4
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Major Lloyd George)

I beg to move, That the Fish Sales (Charges) Order, 1942, dated 7th January, 1942, made by the Treasury under Section 2 of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, a copy of which was presented to this House on 20th January, be approved. On 11th November last the House approved an Order entitled the Fish Sales (Charges) Order, 1941, imposing a levy of 6d. per stone on white fish landed in the United Kingdom. They have approved the Order on the undertaking given by myself that the charge would be transferred from the sellers and catchers of fish to the first-hand buyers and merchants, and this Order implements that undertaking.

Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)

I am sure the House will welcome the change which has been referred to by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. They will recognise, as he has already stated, that the Order only regularises the new procedure which was deemed to be necessary some months ago and that it transfers the charge of distributive costs from the seller to the first-hand buyer of the fish. Quite frankly, I think there will be unanimity on the proposal, but I also feel that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would have liked to have found himself in a stronger position today so that he could have announced to the House what we would have liked to have said to the country—that there will be more fish in the shops and in fish restaurants. I do not wish to enter into the question of supplies, but I suggest that this is a footling Measure. It is only playing with the subject. We had a promise a year ago that further supplies were just round the corner. Well, I hope the corner is not very far away, because five months ago we were told the same sort of thing. I hope that before long the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give us an assurance that a comprehensive scheme will be introduced into the House which will at last give some kind of guarantee that more adequate supplies of fish will be available to housewives. This would reduce Members' postbags, which are now full of complaints against the Ministry on this subject.

Mr. Kirkwood (Dumbarton Burghs)

I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he can give us any guarantee that the fish supplied in the fish and potato shops will be good fish. At the moment, they do not know whether they will get fresh fish or not, whether it will be Iceland fish which, if they had seen it as I have seen it coming into Aberdeen Harbour, where you can smell it half a mile away—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown

I am afraid that kind of fish does not come under the Order.

Mr. Kirkwood

It may suit Englishmen, but it will not suit us.

Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)

I want to emphasise what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walkden) about the fish and chip shops. I believe that at the present time they do not get their quota although they require, if it is at all possible, more than their quota, compared with what the London hotels get. Many people in Yorkshire and Lancashire depend upon fish and chips for their mid-day meal. In the factory districts the fish and chip shops are closed now more often than the public houses.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

This Order merely deals with a date. The original Order was discussed and passed by the House, and we cannot return to it now and re-discuss it.

Mr. Kirkwood

Further to that point of Order. Is it not possible for us to protest at this point regarding the quality of the fish that is supplied?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

No, not on this Order. This Order merely deals with the date. Hon. Members may discuss whether the date is too soon or too late. That is all.

Mr. Griffiths

I am glad you have put me right about the date, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. These fish and chip shops have no dates at all. They do not know when they will get fish, and when they get some, they do not know when the next lot will come. The point I want to make is that the people in those districts are producing munitions, and before the war they were producing other things, on fish and chips. When the wife and husband are in factories, there is no one at home to cook for them; the fish and chip shops do the cooking for these people. The fish and chip shops want to do the cooking again. The people in those districts need the fish and chips more than do the people in London or provincial hotels. I know that the Parliamentary Secretary has a listening ear and an attentive mind; I know he has a sympathetic heart towards the working class. Knowing these things, I make an appeal to him. If he has got to rob Peter to pay Paul, rob the hotels up Piccadilly way and on the Strand if he likes, but see that the people in Lancashire and Yorkshire and other parts who need the fish and chips for their mid-day meals get them.

Major Lloyd George

I do not want hon. Members who have spoken briefly on this matter to run away with the idea that this Order is the beginning and end of the Ministry's plans with regard to fish. This Order is merely what it says it is. One of the proposals we had in mind last year was for the purpose of overcoming a very real difficulty, namely, that in view of the very serious shortage of fish landed in this country, the tendency was for the fish to be distributed near to the ports of landing and not to be scattered throughout the country. To overcome that difficulty we equalised the transport charges and this levy is imposed on the trade in order to make it possible for the charge to be met. I do not want hon. Members to run away with the idea that this is the end of our plans. We are perfectly well aware of the very serious shortages which are encountered in a very important branch of the catering establishment of this country, the fried fish shops. There are proposals under discussion now which will go further towards remedying this difficulty. But let hon. Members be under no misapprehension as to the difficulties. The proportion of fish taken by hotels and restaurants is so small that, even if it were completely stopped, it would have no effect on the fried fish shops. I can give hon. Members an assurance that we are determined to provide that the fried fish shops will get an absolutely fair share in any scheme which we bring forward. I cannot give figures for the country as a whole, but I want hon. Members to realise what is the fish position. Let me quote an advertisement from the Fish Trades Gazette: In January, 1939, the last January before the war, they— the firm in question— handled 87,000 stone of fish; in January, 1942, they handled 2,000. If one goes to a port in another part of the country, one finds that they landed in May, June, July, and August, 1942, 20 per cent. of their pre-war supplies. Recently, however, owing to adverse weather and fishing conditions the position worsened considerably, and, as compared with the pre-war position, in September they handled only 17 per cent. and in October 13 per cent. In one week they were actually down to 3½ per cent. of the pre-war landings. The weight of fresh fish landed in one four-weeks' period was 4½ per cent. of the average for 1938.

I do not want anybody to get the idea that anything which the Ministry can do will re-establish the supply position with regard to fish. But I can give an assurance that the arrangements to which this Order refers are only one part of our proposals and that we are at this moment engaged on drawing up proposals—I hope they will very shortly be out—which will at any rate ensure that, however small the catch is, it will be equitably distributed throughout the country.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Fish Sales (Charges) Order, 1942, dated 7th January, 1942, made by the Treasury under Section 2 of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, a copy of which was presented to this House on 20th January, be approved.