§ 24. Lieut.-Colonel Lipton
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what further action he has taken to prevent a shortage and higher prices of potatoes in the next month or two.
The whole of Europe is suffering from a shortage of potatoes and consequent high prices as the result of light crops in 1955 and the recent severe weather. We shall need to continue to import main-crop potatoes from all available sources which do not involve risk of introducing disease or pests. Substantial quantities are at present coming in.
I can hold out no hope of an early easing of the position, because there are not enough old-crop potatoes here or available abroad to satisfy the normal requirements of the market for the next two months. I must therefore urge on everyone, consumer, grower and merchant, the need for strict economy and restraint and the use of alternative foods until the new crop comes forward.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Lipton
Whilst everybody will regret the somewhat alarming statement which the Minister has made, may I ask whether, for the protection of housewives, he will see whether the really disgusting price of 6d. a lb. for old-crop potatoes, now being charged, is really justified?
If I did that, it would have the reverse effect to that which the hon. and gallant Gentleman wants, and it would drive supplies under the counter. The result of the present high prices is that we can rely upon all potatoes available here or in any of the countries from which we can import them, which are fit for human consumption, coming into the market.
§ Mr. Willey
Is the Minister aware that in this case it is widely believed that the consumer is being exploited? Will he assure the House that he will immediately meet the wholesalers and put the case to them?
The most important thing at the moment is to ensure that all available supplies come into the market. That is how the consumer will be best served.
§ Mr. D. Marshall
Is my right hon. Friend aware that from 15th May the potato crop will be available from Cornwall? Will he see that after that date the country is not flooded with potatoes from abroad, to the detriment of our producers?
§ Mr. Willey
In view of the allegations which have been widely made, does the Minister not agree that he should meet the wholesalers? Why does he not answer my specific request that he should meet them as soon as possible and discuss the matter?
I should certainly do that if I thought that my intervention at this stage would have any useful result whatsoever.
§ Mrs. Braddock
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in Liverpool last week some of my constituents had to pay 1d. each for small potatoes? Is he aware that I have quite a number of Irish constituents who believe that the "spud" is one of the fundamental items of food? Is he aware that in view of the fact that the price of bread has increased as well, these constituents are having a very thin time? What is the Minister prepared to do?