§ 15. Mr. Collins
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is aware that, according to variety, wholesale prices of potatoes are now from £28 to £38 per ton and retail prices as high as 5½d. per lb.; and what steps he is taking to ensure that there is sufficient importation of potatoes, in augmentation of home supplies, to permit a reduction in prices to the consumer.
§ Mr. John Hare
Yes, Sir, potato prices have risen steeply during the past three weeks, but the higher prices are attracting increasing quantities of imports which will help the position. Full consultations have been held with representatives of producers' organisations and the distributive trades, and I am satisfied that they will do all they can to supply the needs of the market. I shall welcome imports from all sources of supply which are acceptable under the plant health regulations.
§ Mr. Collins
Is the Minister not aware that prices are currently double what they were this time last year and have, indeed, reached the high levels of 1956? Does he not feel that this situation is very bad not only for housewives but, in the long run, for home producers? Can he not, having accepted the advice tendered by the Opposition last year to admit imports, now find other means to supplement the supply of potatoes or, alternatively, find other means of holding prices down?
§ Mr. Hare
Last year was a very bad year. Imports are coining in, however, and I am able to give the hon. Member the figures for the last few weeks. In the week ended 8th March, 6,500 tons came in; in the week ended 15th March, 14,900, and 22nd March, 21,200. I think the supply position is adjusting itself.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that what puzzles the housewives is that these imports do not seem to have any positive action in reducing prices? Why are we having to pay such scandalously high prices for old potatoes which are now almost as dear as new potatoes?