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White Fish Industry (Government Proposals)

Volume 320: debated on Monday 22 February 1937

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24.

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he has now considered the second report of the Sea Fish Commission dealing with white fish; and whether he has any statement to make as to the Government's intentions with regard to it?

The Government have now given full consideration to the second report of the Sea Fish Commission—of which Sir Andrew Duncan was chairman—dealing with the white fish industry.

The Commission summed up the present circumstances of the industry in the following terms:
"It is clear that, on the whole, there is not in this important food product a remunerative return to the producer, or a satisfactory result in quality and price to the consumer; and that, while those engaged, in the distributive sections are not gaining undue profits, intermediate marketing expenses are, in total, a heavy burden."
From its survey of the facts, the Commission drew the conclusion that considerably improved organisation, distributive as well as productive, was an indispensable condition for the prosperity of the industry, and that such improved organisation could not be achieved without legislative sanction and they made recommendations with that end in view. These recommendations have been discussed with representatives of the main body of producers and of various sections of distributors, including wholesale fish merchants, fishmongers, and fish friers. The distributors have expressed general approval of the recommendations. The producers, through the British Trawlers' Federation, have represented that their case is too urgent to await the issue of the necessarily lengthy process of organising the distributive trades. They have, accordingly, submitted to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and myself a scheme for the regulation of production and marketing which is based on the principles embodied in the Agricultural Marketing Acts, and have asked for the necessary powers to give effect to it.

The Government regard this as reasonable and propose to introduce legislation which will enable such a scheme to be brought forward as early as possible. This scheme would, however, be only the first step towards an effort at reorganisation of the whole industry. The legislation will, therefore, provide for the constitution of an impartial body analagous to the Commission recommended by the Sea Fish Commission. It would be the duty of the Commission to assist in the organisation of the distributors, to consider and recommend to the Ministers schemes for the improvement of distribution, to supervise the operation of such schemes as well as of the producers' scheme, and generally to promote co-operation among all sections of the industry. Provision will also be made for the constitution of a representative Central Board or Joint Council, somewhat similar to that recommended by the Sea Fish Commission, to consider matters of common interest to the industry and trade as a whole. The Government's proposals, as will be seen, are based on the same general principles as those underlying the recommendations of the Sea Fish Commission, and the discussions we have had with representatives of the various sections of the industry lead us to believe they will be generally acceptable to them.

The recommendations of the Sea Fish Commission included important proposals regarding the inspection and safety of fishing vessels and the conditions of service of the crews of trawlers, with special reference to methods of payment. The first of these two points is being dealt with by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, partly by administrative action, and partly by legislation at present before the House. The second point we propose to deal with in the Bill which we are now preparing. We shall submit the Bill to the House as soon as possible.

Will the hon. Gentleman assure the House that the producer's scheme will not be presented as a whole to take or to leave, but that it will be susceptible of such Amendments as commend themselves to the House as a whole?

The producer's scheme will follow, as I am at present advised, the same method of presentation to the House as was embodied in the Agricultural Marketing Act.

May we have an assurance that we shall not find ourselves offered a scheme to take or to leave in its original form, but that the Minister will be empowered to accept any Amendments which commend themselves to the House?

The hon. Member had better wait until the Bill comes forward. I will bear all these points in mind. There will have to be a great deal of consultation before the Bill reaches its final form.

In preparing the Measure, will the hon. Gentleman endeavour to do as my hon. Friend suggests and produce a scheme that is susceptible of Amendment, especially since apparently some independent Commission is going to help to prepare it?

I will bear all these considerations in mind, but I would rather not give an assurance at present.