HC Deb 02 July 1962 vol 662 cc17-9
16. Mr. Donnelly

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement about the Pembrokeshire early potato crop.

Mr. Soames

Because of weather conditions the harvesting of Pembrokeshire first early potatoes this year was delayed by about three weeks as compared with last year, but most of the crop has now been lifted. The acreage planted was higher than last year; yields were low at first but have been improving considerably. The quality of the crop is generally good, and indeed better than in previous seasons.

Mr. Donnelly

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, arising from his policy, my constituents are very well pleased with the profits which they have made, so well pleased in fact that they are contemplating erecting a statue to him at Haverfordwest? The one difficulty is the inscription. They are wondering whether they should use the form of a famous figure of the 1930s and call it "Captain Potato Soames", or whether he would prefer the Welsh traditional description of "Soames the Potato".

Mr. Soames

I have a sneaking feeling that the hon. Gentleman thought up that supplementary question before he heard my Answer.

17. Lady Tweedsmuir

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many representations he has received from the National Federation of Fish Fryers concerning the shortage of potatoes.

Mr. Soames

Since the end of last September, I have received three letters from the Federation urging that imports of main crop potatoes should be allowed. Two of these came in 1961 when the development of any serious shortage could not be foreseen, and one in March a few days before imports were in fact permitted.

Lady Tweedsmuir

Can my right hon. Friend say how it was that the Potato Marketing Board was so completely inaccurate in its forecast that there would he no shortage of potatoes? What action is my right hon. Friend taking, not only to try to ensure that a shortage on this scale does not recur, but also to improve the quality of home-grown potatoes?

Mr. Soames

Concerning the estimate for this year and the quantity of potatoes that would be forthcoming, it was not until the March census was taken by the Potato Marketing Board that it was seen what a heavy toll the severe weather in the late winter had had upon the potatoes that were in clamps. The yield gathered out of the ground from the acreage planted was almost exactly the quantity that the country consumes, but the weather took its toll in the late winter. As to the future, this is not a quota year, as my hon. Friend will appreciate, and it was up to farmers to plant what they wished, which is well in excess of anything we are likely to need. There was, however, a shortage of seed, which will reflect itself in the acreage planted. The quality of potatoes is something which the Potato Marketing Board is trying constantly to improve.