§ 27. Mr. Hayman
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food why representatives of the Cornish potato growers were not consulted before the extension of the closing dates for French new potatoes from 15th to 30th June was granted.
§ Mr. Soames
I would refer the hon. Member to the reply given to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) on 4th July.
§ Mr. Hayman
I have read the reply to which the Minister has referred, but I have in my hand a letter from a leading Cornish farmer, who is respected by everybody in the farming world in Cornwall, who states thatThe extension of the French date was done without the…growers' representatives being consulted.Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the early potato crop in Cornwall, particularly in my constituency, was planted long before this decision was reached and that following a winter which was so cold that the broccoli crop was almost irretrievably lost, considerable losses have been caused to small farmers? Will the Minister ensure that in future the growers' representatives are consulted before such a disastrous decision is taken?
§ Mr. Soames
If the hon. Gentleman has read the Answer to which I referred—as he says hehas—he will have seen that this is purely a matter of plant health. Potatoes can be kept out only if there is a risk of plant health disease being brought in. The protection which early-potato growers enjoy in this country is in the month of June and they are protected by a tariff to the tune of £9 and some shillings a ton. Over and above this there is plant health protection. This year, according to the advice I received from experts, there was no plant health risk in bringing in potatoes from France, but there was a plant health risk in bringing them from Italy, or a large area of Italy. But there was no risk in those coming from France and I had no alternative under the regulations.
§ Mr. Wilkins
This technical explanation is all very well, but is the right hon. Gentleman aware that small farmers lost £400 in a fortnight in respect of these 1043 import licences and that it was a pretty serious business for a farmer with 100 acres?
§ Mr. Soames
The principal cause was not the imports, which did not amount to a great quantity from France during the latter half of June, but it was the concertina-ing of the crops. This crop is normally cleared some weeks ago, but only 80 per cent. of it has been cleared, and this is what caused low prices, not imports, but even if that had not been so I had no alternative but to allow these potatoes in provided there was no plant health risk.