HC Deb 04 June 1956 vol 553 cc696-7
25. Mr. Lewis

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he is aware that as a result of increased supplies the apparent shortage of potatoes is really artificial but prices are rather higher than usual; and whether, in view of this, he will now take steps to control the price of this basic commodity.

27. Mr. Mellish

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is aware that 8,500tons of potatoes imported from Holland eight weeks ago to wharves in Tooley Street, Bermondsey, have been allowed to rot and that 400 tons have been sent back to Holland as pig food, but that in spite of such surpluses prices to the consumer remain high; and if he will therefore reimpose price control.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)

With permission, I will answer this Question and Question No. 27 together.

My right hon. Friend is aware that merchants imported very large quantities of potatoes in April, that some have been returned and that others remain unsold. We are also aware that wholesale and retail prices have fallen substantially in recent weeks and can see no reason for Government intervention.

Mr. Lewis

Wholesale prices may have fallen substantially, but is the hon. Gentleman not aware of the fact that potatoes are being sold retail at anything from 4d. or 5d. or 6d. 1b.? In view of the fact that at this time of the year they are usually from ld. lb. to 3d. 1b., will the hon. Gentleman see to it that something is done to put these potatoes on the market at a reasonable price?

Mr. Nugent

I think the hon. Member has a rather pessimistic view of the retail price of potatoes. On a recent survey that we made on 28th May over about 300 retail premises in various parts of the country, in Cardiff, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, and London, we found that in over half of the shops the retail price was 3d. or under.

Mr. Willey

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that he would greatly aid housewives if he specified those shops? However, can he tell the House what the maximum retail price was under price control, when circumstances were often much more difficult than we face this year?

Mr. Nugent

The maximum retail controlled price of potatoes this time last year was 2½d. or 3d. 1b., very similar to what it is now.

Mr. Collins

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that thousands of tons of potatoes have been imported and have rotted and have had to be destroyed because the Minister had no reliable information as to stock and disclosed no reliable information to the House? Is he aware that this situation arises out of the deplorable policy of his Department, which conveys no information as to quantities here and makes no attempt to organise distribution?

Mr. Nugent

I am afraid I cannot agree with the hon. Member's deductions. The result of our policy was a bigger supply of potatoes, and now a lower price.

Mr. Lewis

On a point of order. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary said that, with permission, he would answer these two Questions together. In view of the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) is not here and obviously has another engagement, and as the hon. Gentleman has asked for permission to answer my hon. Friend's Question but has not in fact done so, can you say, Mr. Speaker, what remedy we have if an hon. Member would like to ask a supplementary question on the matter contained in my hon. Friend's Question?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member cannot act as a substitute for the hon. Member for Bermondsey.