HC Deb 10 April 1952 vol 498 cc2972-4
39. Mr. Baker White

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is aware that the quota of broccoli imports authorised by his Department for the period ended 31st March was exceeded by a substantial margin; and what steps he proposes to take, in view of the ample home crop, to ensure that the quota for the period commencing 1st April is not exceeded.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

Yes, Sir. I would, however, like to remind my hon. Friend that it is our practice on the one hand to allow these import quotas to be exceeded when we are advised that home supplies will not be sufficient to meet the needs of the home consumer, and on the other hand to suspend imports when we are advised that home supplies are sufficient.

The announced quota for the period 1st April-30th June, 1952, was 2,500 tons, subject to review in the light of supplies available from home production. As home supplies are satisfactory, I have again taken steps to suspend imports after consultation with my right hon. Friends the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Minister of Food. I am also examining with them how the present arrangements for operating these quotas can be improved.

Mr. Baker White

While thanking my right hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask if he is aware that in the last quota period the quota was exceeded by 2,500 tons, and that when that excess was coming in both Kent and Cornish broccoli was available in large quantities but was unsaleable in the markets? May I suggest to my right hon. Friend that the way to arrange the quota is not by means of a lump figure for a long period but by so much per month?

Mr. Thorneycroft

While I appreciate the point raised by my hon. Friend, I think he will at least find my answer satisfactory to the extent that the quota has been suspended altogether for the period to which I referred.

Mr. David Renton

Is it still the policy of the Government to give home broccoli growers first place in the home market?

Mr. Thorneycroft

If my hon. Friend studies the answer I have given, he will see that it is the position of the home grower which determines in our minds the amount of the quota which we allow.

Mr. George Brown

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the price of broccoli is still extremely high? What steps are being taken by the Minister or by his right hon. Friends in shutting out imports, to hold the prices down or to get them down lower?

Mr. Thorneycroft

That is a Question which should properly be addressed to my right hon. Friends.

Mr. G. Brown

Surely, that must have been part of the consideration which the right hon. Gentleman gave to the question. He cannot decide to shut out imports without considering the price which is ruling in the shops. He told us that he consulted his right hon. Friends the Ministers of Agriculture and Food. At those consultations, what steps did they decide to take in order to deal with the price question?

Mr. Thorneycroft

There are two sides to this question. There are those who want to support the growers of the home broccoli and those who, on the other hand, want adequate supplies of broccoli so that the price may be quite reasonable. Those interests are to some extent conflicting. What we do is, in consultation with my right hon. Friends, to try to hold the balance fairly and evenly between them.

Mr. Awbery

Is the Minister satisfied that 2s. or 2s. 6d. for a broccoli is a reasonable price in view of the fact that the quota has been exceeded and that there are ample home supplies?

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

In view of what is happening to other food prices, is not the consideration advanced by my right hon. Friend very important, and ought not the Minister to consider again the prohibition of imports in order to ensure that the price is not too high?

Mr. Thorneycroft

All these matters are considered in weighing the amount of quota which should be allowed for any particular period.

Mr. Baker White

Is my right hon. Friend aware that broccoli in the shops in London today are on an average 3d. or 4d. cheaper than this time a year ago, when the other party were in power?