HC Deb 07 November 1944 vol 404 cc1303-6

12.41 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Mr. Mabane)

I beg to move, That the Fish Sales (Charges) (No. 2) Order, 1944, dated 13th October, 1944, made by the Treasury under Section 2 of the Emer- gency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, a copy of which Order was presented on 19th October, be approved. I think that by this time the House is accustomed to the recurrence of this Fish Sales (Charges) Order and is fairly well aware that the purpose for which the levy is imposed by this Order is to provide a fund out of which the Ministry pays carriage on fish in order to secure the widest possible distribution. This Order replaces the Fish Sales (Charges) Order, 1944, which has been in operation since 13th May, and was approved by the House on 8th June. The present Order came into force on 21st October and, on the same date, the Fish (Maximum Prices) (No. 2) Order, 1944, came into force increasing producers' prices for the winter months. The purpose of the present Order is to make corresponding reductions in the rate of charge in respect of first-hand sales of white fish. The Maximum Prices Order to which I referred increases producers' maximum selling prices of white fish by 11d. a stone, thus affording them some encouragement to fish during the difficult winter months. The charge payable by the first buyer is therefore reduced by the same amount, that is 11d., from 1s. per stone to 1d. per stone, so that there is no increase in the total buying cost or in the maximum price to the consumer. It has been our objective to have a uniform maximum price throughout the year. The rate of levy in respect of herring, pilchards and mackerel remains unchanged at 9d. a stone. These rates are the same as operated last winter. We did not change the levy on pelagic fish for reasons which have been explained to the House, and the reason for imposing different rates in summer and winter is to achieve the dual ends of seasonable prices to the producer and a stable price to the consumer.

12.43 p.m.

Mr. Boothby (Aberdeen and Kincardine, Eastern)

I am in full agreement with the purposes of this Order, but there is one point which I would like to put to my right hon. Friend. It says at the end of paragraph 2: Provided that, if fish is bought on first hand sale through a licensed wholesale merchant selling on commission at or from premises situate elsewhere than at the port of landing, the said charge shall be paid by the licensed wholesale merchant who shall be entitled to recover the amount of the charge paid in respect of fish so bought from the buyer thereof. This is a point purely of administration. In the past there has been considerable delay in recovering these payments, and I want my right hon. Friend—I do not ask him for an answer now—to look into the point and see whether it will be possible to make the necessary reduction at the beginning, instead of having to transmit all the money South and then have it repaid back, perhaps two or three months later, and whether it would not be an easier bookkeeping transaction and prevent unnecessary delays and some inconvenience to certain sections of the trade if the whole thing could be got through, as it were, in one mouthful. I have had some complaints on that matter and I am wondering whether my right hon. Friend would give an undertaking to look into the administration.

12.45 p.m.

Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)

I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised that point, because I hope that at some future date my right hon. Friend may be able to give us an answer to it. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend would be willing, on this occasion, to say a word or two about the way in which the distribution of fish under the Ministry of Food is being performed now. As he explained, the purpose of the levy is to create a fund to enable the Minister of Food to pay the cost of carriage. I think it would be in Order, and it would certainly be of great interest to the whole country, if we were informed now how that scheme of wider distribution of fish is proceeding. We have had Debates here indicating that distribution was by no means satisfactory to all. I think it is better now than it was, but it still remains true, as I think all here would agree, that there are places where one can get fish and other places where one cannot get fish, and it is with the greatest difficulty that one attempts to persuade one's housewife friends that it is all being done for the best. I do not want to ask something which my right hon. Friend is not prepared to answer now, but it would be very interesting if he could say something on that point.

12.46 p.m.

Mr. Alexander Walkden (Bristol, South)

My hon. Friends and myself support this extension of the variation of the Order and we are not aware of any serious complaints against its operation. I want to say, also, that in the transport world we find it is a very great convenience, since it focuses all the charges into a common payment, and the operation of cartage is a great help to the railways where staff is short and traffic has enormously increased owing to war circumstances, and everyone is under a very great strain. Therefore, the arrangement with the Government is most excellent, and I would like to commend it and to say that we would like to see the necessary modifications for the winter season brought into operation.

12.47 p.m.

Mr. Mabane

I am glad to give the undertaking asked for by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) to look into a point of detail. I should, however, feel that I was completely out of Order if I were to enter into an explanation of the character suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart), and so I will not incur your displeasure, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, by setting out on that perilous course. I was so glad to hear the words of my hon. Friend the Member for South Bristol (Mr. A. Walkden), because certainly there is considerable advantage both to the Ministry of Food and to the railway companies in the saving of clerical labour effected by the operation of this Order and the consequential effects of the Order.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved: That the Fish Sales (Charges) (No. 2) Order 1944, dated 13th October, 1944, made by the Treasury under Section 2 of the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act, 1939, a copy of which Order was presented on 19th October, be approved.