HC Deb 04 April 1957 vol 568 cc561-4
25 and 26. Mr. Osborne

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (1) if he is aware that, since the demand for potatoes as cattle food will taper off by the end of March, there are large supplies of surplus potatoes; and if he will give instructions for the more rapid processing of potatoes in order to prevent them from rotting and being a complete loss to the taxpayer;

(2) how many tons of potatoes have been offered to the Potato Marketing Board this year which, so far, the Board have been unable to dispose of; and if he will make a statement on the position.

Mr. Amory

Up to 27th March, approximately 1,500,000 tons of potatoes have been offered to the Potato Marketing Board. Of these just over 1 million tons have already been put under contract, and 300,000 tons have been disposed of by the Board. The surplus for the year as a whole is likely to be about 750,000 tons. Sales of surplus potatoes for stockfeed are expected to be well maintained for a month or two after the end of March. Substantial sales have been made for export for processing for purposes other than human consumption. Similar processing of surplus potatoes is being carried out in this country on the largest practicable scale.

Mr. Osborne

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many farmers would like to get the potatoes moved from their farms so that they can use the space, especially those farmers with premises full of them? Can he do anything to help from that angle? Secondly, is he using all the beet-sugar factories which could be used, or is it true that some are still closed which might be used? Can he do anything about that?

Mr. Amory

A very large quantity of potatoes were declared during March. After they have been offered, they have to be inspected, and that is taking a little time, but I am sure that the Potato Marketing Board will do everything it can to see that they are moved as soon as possible. All the accommodation that the British Sugar Corporation can offer for this purpose is being used, or is to be used. If the British Sugar Corporation can make additional resources available, I am sure that it will.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

In view of the very heavy losses sustained by the farmers in the West of Scotland as a result of Government policy last year, and as the Minister wishes to be really helpful, will he consider making a definite statement that he will do everything possible to prevent Ayrshire farmers from suffering similar losses this year?

Mr. Amory

This is the second time today that the hon. Member has called my attention to this problem. I think I will give him a general assurance that it is my wish to be as helpful as I can possibly be to farmers in South Ayrshire, as to farmers in the rest of the country.

Major Legge-Bourke

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the situation which he described in his original answer makes it all the more important that his Department and the Board should keep in the closest possible touch over the import situation, and make quite certain that on no account will any great import decision be taken without prior consultation with the Board?

Mr. Amory

Yes, I think that I can give my hon. and gallant Friend that assurance, most certainly. But, of course, I do not think that there are any imports of potatoes at present, other than new potatoes.

Mr. Wade

As regards the surplus potatoes which are exported, is the taxpayer having to meet the difference between the price paid by the Potato Marketing Board and the price received?

Mr. Amory

Yes, that is broadly the case.

34. Mr. Willey

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food why the subsidy for potatoes for 1957–58 is estimated to be £6,540,000 more than was estimated for the previous year.

Mr. Amory

Payments from the Exchequer arising from guarantees of the potato crop in Great Britain in any year are made mainly in the following financial year. The estimate to which the hon. Member refers is thus in respect of the 1956 crop, which has thrown up a heavy surplus. There was no such surplus from the 1955 crop.

Mr. Willey

I fully appreciate the difficulties with regard to potatoes, but will the right hon. Gentleman review the position generally, because it is very upsetting to have these violent fluctuations in the amount and prices?

Mr. Osborne

We cannot control the weather.

Mr. Amory

In respect of potatoes, I think that fluctuations are almost inevitable in the nature of the crop and its dependence upon the weather. Secondly, they are, to a lesser extent, perhaps, inevitable with a price support system as against a deficiency payments system.

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