HC Deb 23 June 1942 vol 380 cc1817-8
Sir Waldron Smithers (by Private Notice)

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether his attention has been called to the disastrous position of the strawberry growers in the North-West Kent area, owing to the sudden commandeering of their crop at 7½d. a pound; and, in view of the fact that the growers were only aware of the fixed price two or three days ago and that it came into force on 22nd June, what immediate action he proposes to take?

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

The provisions of the Soft Fruit (Maximum Prices) Order, 1942, were fully discussed, before the Order was made, with representatives of the National Farmers' Union, and the growers' prices for strawberries were the amounts suggested by the growers' representatives. I will, however, gladly give consideration to the views expressed by my hon. Friend, and will communicate a decision to him as soon as possible.

Sir W. Smithers

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the present position is chaotic; that, whatever recommendations were given to the Ministry, many of the growers, under the present price, are faced with serious loss, and some with ruin; that there are tons of strawberries waiting to be picked; and that some decision must be made to-day? Otherwise, much of the crop will be lost. If growers sell their crops, they may be breaking the law, without knowing it.

Mr. E. Walkden

When making statements concerning prices to be paid to growers, will the hon. Gentleman give the country information as to how the prices compare with those for a similar period in, say, 1938? The price paid to growers in 1938, at a similar period of the year, was never 7½d. a lb. We want to be fair to all sides.

Mr. Mabane

It will be recognised that it is not possible to have two different prices for strawberries from Kent and for strawberries from other parts of the country. That would encourage black marketing. My hon. Friend's representations will be taken into account, and any decision that is made will be communicated to him as soon as possible.

Mr. De la Bère

There must be immediate action, to-day; it is no good waiting any longer. The thing is an absolute scandal.

Sir W. Smithers

Is my hon. Friend aware that since the date mentioned by the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. E. Walkden) prices of production, including wages, manure, and everything else, have all gone up? Strawberries cannot be produced at less than 1s. a lb.

Mr. Stokes

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, even though a price of 7½d. may have been fixed for the growers, strawberries are being retailed in the West Country at 2s. 4d.? How does he explain the difference?

Mr. Mabane

I referred to the price for the growers. There are different prices for the growers', the wholesalers and the retailers—7½d. is the basic growers price.

Major Lyons

Is my hon. Friend aware that on every occasion, for every commodity, the same kind of muddle is made? Will he take steps to think of these things before the time arises, rather than have the chaos which now exists? The same thing happened in connection with tomatoes.

Mr. De la Bère

And with gooseberries.