HC Deb 19 October 1916 vol 86 cc719-21
31. Captain DONELAN

asked the Vice-President of the Department of Agriculture (Ireland) whether a large proportion of this year's potato crop in Ireland is diseased and unfit for food; and whether, in view of the scarcity of other articles of food and the prospect of a still greater scarcity in the spring, he will recommend that immediate steps be taken to prohibit the exportation of potatoes from Ireland?


The condition of the potato crop in Ireland, whilst giving rise to anxiety, does not appear to warrant the use of the term "failure" in the question. The mid-October reports show that, generally speaking, the yield is poor and disappointing. On some soils where disease-resisting varieties were planted, and where also spraying was effectively done, the crop is described as satisfactory. But it cannot be overlooked that the broken weather of September and its low temperature, as well as the excessive rainfall since October set in, must have an injurious effect upon the final crop return. The period of lifting the potatoes has now arrived, and until that process has gone further it is impossible to say with anything like accuracy what the outlook really is. In regard to export, I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that the Department have no power to prohibit the export of sound potatoes, and that, after all, with a yield last year of 3,710,463 tons, there was only a balance of 250,000 tons available for export without restricting supplies for human consumption and stock-feeding. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to be satisfied with the assurance that the Department are fully aware of the grave importance of the matter and that the position is being carefully watched and reported upon in every district of the country.


Will the right hon. Gentleman give us the names of the different varieties of potatoes that he says are disease-resisting?


I should like to have notice of that question, but I can give the hon. Member one that does not resist—"Up-to-dates" have given way all over Ireland.


In view of the fact that potatoes are the staple food of the Irish people, would the right hon. Gentleman recommend that the exportation of potatoes from Ireland shall at least be suspended pending further investigation as to the extent of the disease? It is really a very serious matter.


I have endeavoured to convey that the Department fully realise the seriousness of the matter; indeed, I used the word "gravity," but we cannot proceed without the fullest information. We are daily at work getting that information. The potatoes are now being lifted. I am in communication with the Chief Secretary on the matter. He was consulted this morning, before this answer was drafted, and I think it meets the case at present.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the price of potatoes in the local markets in Ireland is twice what it was this time last year?


I am aware of that.


Has the right hon. Gentleman personal knowledge that sulphate of copper, the principal ingredient used in spraying potatoes, was so scarce in the summer that the farmers could not get it?


Yes; but I am also aware that in the poorest part of Ireland, the West, the spraying was exceedingly well done.