HC Deb 02 November 1916 vol 86 cc1806-10
23. Captain DONELAN

asked the Vice-President of the Department of Agriculture (Ireland) whether he has received further information concerning the condition of the Irish potato crop; whether he proposes to take steps for the purpose of safeguarding the Irish people from a scarcity of potatoes during the winter and spring; and if he proposes to take action with a view to the provision of sound seed potatoes for next year's planting

Mr. T. W. RUSSELL (Vice-President of the Department of Agriculture, Ireland)

The Department of Agriculture is being supplied with regular and frequent reports from every district in the country on the subject, and is also in consultation with the Government, in order that, if action becomes necessary, it may be promptly taken. Owing to the recent bad weather, much of the potato crop remains in the ground. According to the best judgment the Department can form, the crop will be about two-thirds of normal, or perhaps a little less. After careful inquiry, the Department believes that the danger is not of such a serious nature as is apprehended by the hon. Member. When the crop has been lifted, and the full facts are known, any necessary action will be taken, and can, if the facts require it, include action with regard to the provision of sound seed potatoes.


Is the estimated shortage of potatoes for the present year greater than the quantity of potatoes exported from Ireland in a normal year?


The exports in the year 1915 amounted to about 250,000 tons, but 1915 was rather an abnormal year. I am not quite sure what the figures were for 1914.


Is that greater or less than the two-thirds estimated yield this year?


I should like notice of that.


Does the right hon. Gentleman consider it will be necessary to interfere with exports to Great Britain?


I do not think that question should be pressed. It is quite certain that with a large quantity of potatoes in the ground, which cannot be lifted in this weather, it would be extremely hazardous for the Department to give an answer to the question.


Is it not the fact that large quantities of potatoes are exported from the North of Ireland to America and some other places?


There are no potatoes exported to America, for the simple reason that the American Government stopped the export trade, but there is always export trade elsewhere.


In view of the imperfect state of the knowledge of the Department as to whether or not the crop will be sufficient for the needs of the people, will the right hon. Gentleman recommend the Government to stop at once any exportation of potatoes from Ireland?


I am not prepared to do that. The "imperfect knowledge of the Department" arises from the simple reason that the crop is largely underground, and it is impossible to say yet what it will be.




We cannot spend all our time discussing potatoes.

51. Mr. CROOKS

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether attention is being given to the increase in the price of potatoes; whether he is aware that the price has gone up 100 per cent, in many cases within a week, and that growers are holding up their stocks; and what action he proposes to take in the matter?


asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is aware that the farmers in Lancashire and other parts of the country are holding back potatoes for higher prices despite the prices they are offered; and will his Department put an end to this conduct by compelling such sales at fair prices, and prosecute those responsible for concealing stocks of potatoes or other foodstuff?


Before the right hon. Gentleman replies, may I ask whether, in view of' the interview my Wolverhampton colleague and I had with him yesterday with regard to the present high prices prevailing in the Wolverhampton district, he is prepared to make a statement on the general position and as to what course he intends to take?


Will the right hon. Gentleman also make a statement as to the powers possessed by the Government to prevent stocks of potatoes being unduly withheld from sale?

The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Runciman)

I am informed that the harvesting of the main crop potatoes has been delayed, so that the actual quantities available for us are not large, while fears that serious injury from disease will reduce the size of the crop and prevent the free marketing of these supplies. Until the quantity and quality of the crop are known with greater certainty, it is impossible to decide whether such holding back is beneficial or injurious to the community.

The present high price of potatoes is due partly to shortage of crop, but more particularly to shortage of labour and unsuitable weather for raising the main crop and putting it on the market. Farmers have, I believe, in the last few weeks been using every effort to get as much wheat sown as possible, and the raising of potatoes is behindhand in consequence. When main crop potatoes come on the market in greater abundance, as they should do within a few weeks, I expect to see prices steadying, and I am watching the question very closely in connection with the Board of Agriculture to see that no avoidable scarcity is produced. If there are farmers or merchants who are in a position to put potatoes on the market but who are unreasonably withholding them the Government have power to take action under existing statute, and will not hesitate to Use it if cases are brought to their notice.

I would appeal to all those who, as so many do, consume potatoes twice daily, more as a matter of habit than anything else, to economise in the use of potatoes and to substitute other foods for them, so that there may be a better supply for those who are not so well off and for whom a sufficient supply of potatoes at a reasonable price is a very important part of their daily food.


Will the right hon. Gentleman stop so many potatoes going to some of the large hotels?


Can the right hon. Gentleman say why the railways running north of London have been declining recently to carry potatoes to the London markets?


Have not very large quantities of potatoes been exported front this country this year to our Allies?


Can the right hon. Gentleman say why the same crop of potatoes has increased 100 per cent, in price in the course of a week?


We have had to use a certain amount of potatoes grown in this country for supplying the forces abroad. We have also been making every effort to obtain potatoes from other parts of the world in order to keep the Armies well fed. What we have here, of course, we are using to the best advantage; but I need hardly say that we do not regard the present price-of potatoes as the price that is likely to rule throughout this winter.


Is it not a fact that large quantities of potatoes are used for the purpose of producing alcohol for the Minister of Munitions?

53. Mr. LOUGH

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that the Midland and Great Northern Railways Joint Committee have refused transit facilities for truck No. 39,705, containing four tons of potatoes for human food, consigned to Acton Station from Long Sutton (Lincs), and whether he is also aware that the London and Northwestern Railway Company's goods agent stated that Acton was at that time open to receive such traffic; and whether, owing to the scarcity of potatoes in London, he will take the necessary steps to prevent such obstruction of traffic being repeated?


The Board of Trade have received a complaint to the effect stated in my right hon Friend's question, and I am sending him a copy of the reply which has been addressed to the complainants.

93. Captain C. BATHURST

asked whether, in view of the ravages of potato disease this season and the tendency consequent upon resulting high prices to rush the potato crop on to the market during the autumn and winter with the possible effect of rendering potatoes unobtainable next spring, the Board proposes to take steps, either to regulate their distribution during the next few months or, following the example of the Irish Department of Agriculture, to issue a public warning to farmers against feeding sound tubers to their stock?

94. Sir J. SPEAR

asked if, in view of the shortage of potatoes in this country through disease, he will take steps to secure all available outside supplies for consumption and also of healthy seed from. Scotland and America for spring planting?


I can only say that questions connected with this year's shortage of the potato crop are at present receiving the most earnest attention of the Board of Trade and the Board of Agriculture. I hardly think that farmers, if they have a chance of marketing their potatoes at anything like present prices, are likely to feed them to stock. The importance of securing a proper supply of seed is fully appreciated.