HC Deb 19 November 1947 vol 444 cc1146-8
59. Mrs. Manning

asked the Minister of Food if the committee controlling the distribution of fruit and vegetables is yet operating; and what steps it is taking to control the price of root vegetables now that potatoes are rationed.

Mr. Strachey

As I informed my hon. Friend on 27th October the new Fruit and Vegetable Organisation is already at work. Potato rationing has, so far, had a marked effect on the prices of root vegetables in London and Birmingham alone. In a number of other markets swedes for instance are still selling at or below the old controlled price; this is also true of cabbage in a number of areas. However, vegetable prices are a matter of constant concern to us and we shall take any steps which seem to us calculated to increase the total supply of vegetables which can actually be bought by the people.

Mrs. Manning

May I have an answer to my Question which was not what would be the effect of potato rationing on the price of root vegetables, but the effect of this new control board on the price of root vegetables?

Mr. Strachey

It is the function of the Ministry of Food to effect price control, not that of the board. The function of the board, as described very carefully in its terms of reference, is to improve methods of distribution and marketing.

Mrs. Castle

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the greatest stringency in the question of potatoes has not yet been felt, partly because people have some supplies still in hand, but as they run out of these supplies the need for other fillers at a low price will be essential? Will the Minister please take steps now to see that the price of root vegetables does not move beyond the purses of ordinary people?

Mr. Strachey

My hon. Friend may rest assured that this is recognised as a matter of the utmost importance, but if root vegetable or other vegetable prices are held too low, it will restrict the supply and we have to take that into consideration as well.

Mrs. Middleton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the price of all vegetables has, in some districts, gone up steeply since the Potato Rationing Order, and in view of this, will he take some emergency steps in order to control this phenomenon?

Mr. Strachey

My hon. Friend should not exaggerate the change in prices. In swedes, for example, the old controlled price was 1¾d. per lb. and in some markets they are selling at 2d., and in Northern industrial areas at 2½d. It is only in London that they are up to 3d. per lb. In most markets there is only a ¼d. difference, so it has not had a very great effect at present.

Mrs. Middleton

Is the Minister aware that in some areas brussels sprouts are 1s. to 1s. 3d. a pound?

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the price of swedes today has risen to £15, and will soon be £20 a ton, and that consequently farmers are tempted to dispose of the sheep and cattle to which the swedes would otherwise be fed, and this will have a deleterious effect on meat and milk supplies next year—all in consequence of potato rationing?

Mr. Strachey

Yes, but it is important, in view of our supplies of potatoes, that some supplies of swedes should be withdrawn from consumption by animals for the purpose of consumption by human beings. That is necessary, and that is one of the effects of the increase in price.

Mr. Collins

Is my right hon. Friend aware that although it is true that all root and green vegetables are at the same or lower prices compared with two weeks ago, there will inevitably be a shortage in the comparatively near future, and will he not, therefore, consider imposing reasonable maximum prices now before the matter gets out of hand, as it certainly will?

Sir W. Smithers

When will the Minister of Food realise that the more he increases controls, the more he increases shortages?

Mr. Speaker

These hypothetical questions are matters of opinion and argument and are hardly in Order. I have recommended the hon. Member once or twice to study page 336 of Erskine May.

Sir W. Smithers

Without breaking the Rules, may I ask the Minister of Food when he will realise that the remedy of controls is worse than the disease?