HC Deb 24 May 1976 vol 912 cc21-2
19. Mr. Skinner

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what steps she is now taking to control the price of potatoes; and if she will make a statement.

Mr. Maclennan

As I have explained on a number of occasions, price controls cannot overcome the shortfall in potatoes. If we try to hold down prices artificially, we shall discourage the imports on which we must increasingly depend until the new home crop is lifted.

Mr. Skinner

Then what is all this "phoney" war between the two Front Benches? Is my hon. Friend aware that an old lady in Bolsover said to me when I was out canvassing that a Government who believed in planning should be able to do something about the price of potatoes? The sooner the Government Front Bench apply their minds to that very fact, the sooner we might start not losing elections but winning them.

Mr. Maclennan

If my hon. Friend's Question had been about a visit to Bolsover I might have been able to answer his point about his constituent. I can offer him some news which I think may be of encouragement to him. The National Federation of Fruit and Potato Trades last week reported retail prices to be about 13p a pound for old potatoes and from 16p upwards for new potatoes. which is about 4p below the peak levels at the beginning of the month.

Mr. Marten

As some families when they eat their potatoes on Sunday can now occasionally afford some beef with the potatoes, can the Minister answer the supplementary question asked earlier by his hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hooley (Mr. Heeley) on Question No. 14 about the racket in beef prices which has been disclosed—the selling of beef out of intervention at very high prices indeed?

Mr. Maclennan

The hon. Gentleman's attempt to mix beef and potatoes has created something of a hot-pot, and I do not propose to follow it.