HC Deb 10 June 1976 vol 912 cc1661-2
16. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what are the prospects for the current crop of potatoes; and what steps he intends to take to ensure adequacy of supply next winter, while safeguarding the consumer from unjustified profiteering.

Mr. Bishop

It is still too early to make any firm estimate of production from the 1976 crop. Plantings should now be complete and the area planted by registered producers in Great Britain is estimated at 186,000 hectares, 6,000 hectares more than in 1975. Given normal yields, this should provide sufficient potatoes to meet our requirements. Until the level of production can be assessed, it is impossible to say whether any steps will need to be taken to supplement supplies, but we will continue to watch the situation closely and will take prompt action if necessary.

Mr. Hamilton

Is my hon. Friend aware that, notwithstanding the vagaries of the weather, the housewife now has the very strong impression that there has been a considerable amount of unjustified profiteering during the last 12 months? May we expect in the near future a statement on the investigations that the Government were conducting on the distribution of potatoes?

Mr. Bishop

I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern and the concern felt generally on this subject. I remind him that the report of the Price Commission found no evidence of excessive margins in the distribution of potatoes. Of course some producers have done well, but returns from agricultural crops inevitably vary from season to season and it is fundamental that the high prices are due to the very much lower yield. That has affected the profit returns to producers generally.