HC Deb 31 May 1956 vol 553 cc418-21
17. Mr. Collins

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is aware that, although there are substantial stocks of potatoes in the country which are rapidly becoming unsaleable and importers have sustained losses totalling £4 million, the prices charged to housewives are still abnormally high; and if he will now reintroduce price control.

19. Mrs. L. Jeger

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he is aware that there is now no shortage of potatoes but that prices are still too high; and whether he will now institute price-control to protect housewives from profiteering.

Mr. Amory

Retail prices have fallen considerably in recent weeks, and I can see no justification for Government intervention.

Mr. Collins

As potatoes are being sold in the market at a 1d. or 2d. a pound, does the Minister think it right that they should still be sold at 5d. in the shop? If he will not agree to price control, will he say what he will do to ensure a reasonable relationship between the prices paid to producers and those paid by consumers? Further, can he say whether he has told his colleagues who are responsible for school canteens, Army canteens and meals in prisons that it is no longer necessary to curtail the consumption of potatoes?

Mr. Amory

In answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I can say that, from such information as I have, potatoes are readily available in the shops at present at prices of between 3d. or less and 5d. a pound. depending on quality. I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman. He seems to be as indignant now when prices are coming down as he was when they were going up.

Mrs. Jeger

Is the Minister aware that while I was doing my shopping this morning in central London it was impossible to find even the poorest quality oldcrop potatoes at less than 4d. a pound? Is he further aware that quite a number of housewives agreed. yet we find that the Chairman of the Importers Standing Commission of the National Federation of Fruit and Potato Trades has stated to the Press that housewives should be able to buy all the potatoes they need at prices of not more than 3d. a pound? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the housewives want to know what action he intends to take?

Mr. Amory

This is not the first time that I have had to complain that hon. Ladies opposite seem to me to be uncommonly poor shoppers. The information I have is that on 28th May, which is only three days ago, potatoes were available in more than half the shops visited by several people whom I asked to make a tour, at 3d. a pound or less. I really must ask the hon. Lady to devote more attention and skill to this business of shopping.

Dr. Summerskill

Is the Minister aware that my experience is precisely the same as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. L. Jeger)? Could he now state in what shop in St. Pancras, in which district my hon. Friend and I do our shopping, we could get potatoes at the price which he quotes?

Mr. Amory

What the right hon. Lady says reinforces what I said about right hon. and hon. Ladies opposite. It takes a bachelor like myself to find a real bargain.

Mr. Baldwin

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the "substantial stocks of potatoes" referred to in Question No. 17 are very largely Dutch imported stocks out of cold store which are practically uneatable? If the hon. Lady will be prepared to buy some of those she will be able to get them a great deal cheaper than at 10d. a pound.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. That is quite enough about potatoes. There is another potato Question to come.

18. Mr. Collins

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if, in view of the inadequate and inaccurate nature of the information furnished to him by the Potato Marketing Board regarding potato stocks and the consequences ensuing, he will now strengthen the board by the inclusion of representatives of distributors and consumers.

Mr. Amory

I do not accept the hon. Member's description of the information provided by the Potato Marketing Board, and I see no reason to pursue his suggestion for appointing additional members to represent particular interests.

Mr. Collins

If the Minister's information from the Potato Marketing. Board was not inaccurate, why did he create in this House, by his own statements in answer to Questions, an impression of a non-existent shortage? Is it not the case that he did not know what the stocks were? Is not recent potato history proof that we cannot depend on a producers' board to give a completely satisfactory service to consumers?

Mr. Amory

I have every reason to believe that the information provided to me by the Potato Marketing Board, and which I passed on to the House, was as accurate as it was possible to obtain at that time. The only action that the Government have taken in this matter was to permit imports from last December. When I gave that information, the price of potatoes was 6d. per pound, which indicated the facts of the situation, namely, that there was then a severe shortage. Since that time the high price has called forward additional supplies, and consumer resistance has led to consumption going down, with the result that there are plenty of potatoes available at the moment.

Mr. Wiley

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his mistaken action and failure to take the right action has had the extraordinary result of causing excessive prices to the consumer and serious losses to the trader? Will he institute an immediate inquiry to ensure that we do not have a repetition of this stupidity next year?

Mr. Amory

I am perfectly satisfied that what has happened has brought prices down more quickly than any other action would have done. While saying that, I am sorry for the traders concerned who, through misjudging the commercial situation, have incurred losses. It emphasises that the middleman, in the course of the service which he renders to the consumer, often has to take considerable financial risks.

Mr. Maude

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is no more certain method of ensuring another potato shortage next year than by following the Opposition's advice and introducing price control this year?

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