HC Deb 26 January 1948 vol 446 cc641-5
15. Colonel Gomme-Duncan

asked the Minister of Food why a shortage of potatoes occurred in London and the South during the Christmas and New Year periods; and in what respect the Potato Rationing Order was thereby found to be defective.

Mr. Strachey

The general potato shortage at Christmas and the New Year was due to the usual reduction in loadings over the holidays and the low reserve of stocks in traders' hands. The Control Order limiting the supply which could be sold to each consumer could not be the cause. The cause was the shortage of potatoes due to last year's bad crop.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

Could not this perfectly natural factor have been foreseen, and was not that the object of potato rationing originally?

Mr. Strachey

The natural factor of a bad crop was taken into account in preparing the rationing or allocation scheme.

Mr. J. S. C. Reid

Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that, after rationing was introduced, on 24th November he said: We shall make sufficient potatoes available through the chain of distribution to meet the allowance. I am perfectly well able to give that assurance."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th November, 1947; Vol. 444, c. 1747.] Does he now say that those potatoes were or were not made available?

Mr. Strachey

From other statements which I have made, the right hon. and learned Gentleman will have seen that I was careful to say that this was not an entitlement, but an allocation, and that there were, especially in London, certain difficulties in maintaining that allocation, but that that was unavoidable.

Mr. Beswick

Could my right hon. Friend say whether there is any truth in the suggestion that growers occasionally hold back supplies in expectation of an increased price?

Mr. Strachey

Just before one of the seasonal increases, there may be some inducement to do that.

Mr. Reid

May I take it that the assurance given by the Minister in this House has not been honoured?

Mr. Strachey

Certainly not.

16. Colonel Gomme-Duncan

asked the Minister of Food why the price of seed potatoes was raised by £1 per ton after Scots producers had, at the express desire of his Ministry, sold the great bulk of their stocks.

Mr. Strachey

The price of seed potatoes was raised in order to provide extra supplies for planting next season's larger acreage. The price increase which was necessary to cover the costs of such a supply was given to seed potatoes grown in all parts of the United Kingdom, including about one-half of the quantity expected from Scotland.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Scottish farmers, having had no opportunity of selling at the increased price, now have to buy at that price, and are thereby doubly penalised?

Mr. Strachey

No, Sir. At least one half of the Scottish suppliers will receive the increased price.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

Is the Minister aware that that is not in accordance with the information received in Scotland?

22. Mr. Walter Fletcher

asked the Minister of Food if he will make an early statement on the date for ending the restrictions on potato allocations to fish and chip merchants and other catering establishments, in order to give such bodies an opportunity to assess the state of their businesses and make provision for the future.

Mr. Strachey

The whole potato distribution scheme will be withdrawn when supplies of next season's new crop potatoes are sufficient in volume to make its retention unnecessary. The exact date cannot be forecast.

23. Mr. W. Fletcher

asked the Minister of Food whether he will receive a deputation of fish and chip merchants from industrial areas asking for the rectification of the disproportionate potato allowances to canteens and others as against fish shops.

Mr. Strachey

I have had a further memorandum from the National Federation of Fish Friers, dated 21st January. When I have considered it, I will see if any useful purpose is to be served by my seeing a deputation.

Mr. Fletcher

Is not the Minister aware that he could not fail to learn at firsthand from such a deputation the great and important part that fish and chip shops play in industrial areas? They are a means of helping women in industry, and he should receive the deputation to learn about this matter at firsthand.

Mr. Strachey

Yes, certainly, but I must point out that canteens are also of great importance.

Mrs. Castle

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that such shops, which play such an important part in the diet of the people in these areas, have a prior claim to potatoes to that of the ordinary restaurants, which can, if necessary, serve a couple of other vegetables instead of potatoes?

Mr. Strachey

I think there is a case for priority as against the ordinary restaurants, especially of the more expensive type, but, as regards canteens and the cheaper establishments, I think we must keep a balance.

Mr. John E. Haire

Will my right hon. Friend also bear in mind the claims of the rural districts in this matter?

Mr. Strachey

Yes, Sir.

27. Mr. Sparks

asked the Minister of Food if he will arrange for an emergency stock of potatoes to be held in London for use on occasions when shortages arise in Greater London through the temporary breakdown of normal distributive arrangements.

Mr. Strachey

I have already arranged for part of the farm reserve to be moved to depots in London.

35. Mr. Bowden

asked the Minister of Food if his attention has been drawn to the high percentage of stones, earth and rubbish contained in sacks of potatoes supplied to retailers; if he is aware that shopkeepers have to suffer this loss; and if he will consult with the suppliers in this matter.

Mr. Strachey

Yes, Sir; I have recently had details of one very bad delivery. Retailers need not accept sub-standard potatoes, and I will certainly take up with the suppliers any infringements brought to my notice.

Miss Bacon

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that seven lb. per cwt. allowed to retailers is sufficient, now that potatoes have to be weighed out in small quantities?

Mr. Strachey

I appreciate the difficulty which my hon. Friend has mentioned, but I think that is sufficient.

40. Mr. Skinnard

asked the Minister at Food whether his attention has been drawn to heavy buying by housewives of seed potatoes at 7 lb. for 2s. from the seed counters of chain stores; and how he proposes to assist persons to secure adequate supplies for sowing in allotments and gardens.

Mr. J. Strachey

Any store may only sell seed potatoes to people who certify that the seed will be planted. The price of seed is substantially higher than the price of ware. All further measures have been taken to make more seed available for planters.

Mr. Skinnard

Will the Minister take special precautions to ensure that the conditions of sale are strictly observed in the popular chain stores?

Mr. Strachey

Certainly, Sir.

Mr. Somerville Hastings

Could not signatures be obtained from people buying such potatoes in order to certify that they will be used only for seed?

Mr. Strachey

I would like notice of that question, but I will note my hon. Friend's suggestion.

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