HC Deb 13 December 1939 vol 355 cc1207-9
Mr. Boothby

(by Private Notice) asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster whether he is now in a position to announce the policy of the Government with regard to potatoes?

Mr. W. S. Morrison

The Government have given careful consideration to the question of ensuring to farmers in the United Kingdom reasonable prices for Ware potatoes of the 1939 crop. At present the trade in Ware potatoes is subject only to the Orders of the Ministry of Food prescribing maximum prices. It is proposed in the near future after consultation with the interests concerned, to fix minimum prices for the remainder of the season. Maximum prices will also be fixed to enable account to be taken of variations in value due to special quality or proximity to markets. The Government have taken over the regulatory powers of the Potato Marketing Board and propose to watch the situation closely and to exercise those powers as and when required. It is proposed by means of a tonnage levy payable by the first buyers, to create an insurance fund which, after the deduction of a small percentage towards the cost of the scheme will be used to ensure to farmers a reasonable return for any surplus crop remaining at the end of the season. No deduction will be made from the growers' price in respect of this levy, which will be added by the first buyer to his price on re-sale. It is not anticipated that the retail price will be appreciably affected. The details of arrangements on these lines are now being discussed with the interests concerned.

As regards the 1940 crop, the Government have already announced that it is desired, as part of the home food production campaign, to secure a substantial in- crease in the acreage planted to potatoes next spring. Minimum prices for that crop will be fixed on the basis of the new 1939 minimum prices with such adjustment as may be necessary to take account of increased costs of production and in relation to yield. As regards the proposed adjustment in relation to yield, it will be appreciated that, if the yield of the crop generally is above normal, farmers should not expect the same tonnage return as if the yield were normal. Similarly, if yield is abnormally low, it would be right to adjust the price per ton upwards. In the event of a surplus, whether resulting from an expansion of acreage, or exceptional yields, the Ministry of Food will make the necessary arrangements for ensuring that growers will be enabled to obtain a remunerative return on their potato crop as a whole. The assurances I have given will apply in respect of all potatoes of the 194o crop marketed after 1st September.

Mr. Boothby

May we take it that the Government have for the period of the war completely taken over the functions hitherto discharged by the Potato Marketing Board?

Mr. Morrison

Yes, Sir. The Ministry of Food have taken over the functions of the Potato Marketing Board.

Mr. T. Williams

Are we to understand that the producer in future will be guaranteed by the Food Minister a minimum price for potatoes taken off his farm?

Mr. Morrison

Yes, Sir. As regards the 1939 crop, it is proposed, by means of this levy, to provide an insurance fund to ensure that any surplus potatoes will be sold at a price which will be remunerative to the producer. As regards the 1940 crop, the arrangements with regard to the minimum price will be designed to secure a remunerative and fair return to the growers.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir William Allen

Does that statement apply to Northern Ireland?

Mr. Morrison

Yes, Sir; this applies to Northern Ireland. I am in communication with the Minister of Agriculture in Northern Ireland.

Sir Joseph Lamb

In view of the fact that the consumer is being charged more than £9 a ton and that the farmer is getting only £3 10s. a ton, does my right hon. Friend realise the urgency of the matter?

Mr. Morrison

Yes, Sir, I realise that this matter must be pressed on with the least possible delay. I cannot give a date, but here will be no delay.

Mr. J. Morgan

Is the right hon. Gentleman providing any facilities for seeing that the surplus expected this season shall be put to good uses as feeding-stuffs?

Mr. Morrison

Yes, Sir; that is being very carefully and exhaustively considered.

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