HC Deb 18 November 1957 vol 578 cc23-5
40. Mr. Collins

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food his estimate of the total tonnage of potatoes from the 1957 crop.

Mr. Godber

The best estimate that can be made at present of the total quantity of potatoes grown in the United Kingdom on holdings of more than an acre is approximately 5,700,000 tons.

Mr. Collins

Is the Minister aware that in 1955 the crop was just over 6¼ million tons? The figure that he has now given is distinctly less, which is not surprising since there were 64,000 fewer acres under potatoes; and in 1955 there was a serious potato shortage. What steps is his right hon. Friend taking to ensure that even greater disaster and even higher prices do not come this year? It is very urgent.

Mr. Godber

My right hon. Friend is keeping this matter under the closest review. He is aware of the points which have been raised and although the price position has not reached such a state that he would wish to take action at the moment, that does not rule out that he might wish to do so at some future time.

Mr. Wiley

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that his right hon. Friend gave an undertaking to review the means of implementing the guarantee for potatoes. What progress has been made in devising a new price support system for potatoes?

Mr. Godber

That goes much further than the Question on the Paper.

Sir J. Duncan

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is bound to be a shortage? Would it not be better to announce now that import licences will be given when a certain price level for ware potatoes is reached, so that importers can look for the ware potatoes in Europe and other countries in time to avoid the awful muddle which took place a couple of years ago?

Mr. Godber

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend concerning the need to look at this matter. As I have said, my right hon. Friend is at present looking at it, but I am not in a position to make any statement yet.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I believe that there is another Question on this potato business later.

42. Mr. Lipton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he is taking to avoid a potato famine this winter.

Mr. Godber

My right hon. Friend and his colleagues are at present considering the supply position and, if we are satisfied, after the necessary consultations, that imports of potatoes are required, there will be no delay in arranging for them to be licensed.

Mr. Lipton

Why could the Parliamentary Secretary not say that a few minutes ago instead of playing around with the other Questions? Will he take note of the fact that the price of potatoes has gone up by about £4 a ton in the last month, that the price is 60 per cent. higher than it was last year, that the acreage is lower than ever since 1940, and that he really must show a little more energy in dealing with the matter?

Mr. Godber

The reason why I did not say it before was that I did not want to deprive the hon. Member of his right to an answer. In the second place, I accept some of the points he has made, although I do not think that the increase in price has been as much as he said. I assure him, however, that we are very well aware of this position and, as I have tried to indicate, we have it very much in mind.

Major Legge-Bourke

Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that in the consultations to which he referred in his original Answer, he will give a great deal of weight to the opinion of the Potato Marketing Board, which knows a good deal more about this subject than some of the questioners this afternoon?

Mr. Godber

I will gladly give my hon. and gallant Friend that assurance.