HC Deb 16 March 1978 vol 946 cc614-5
2. Mr. Hastings

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he is satisfied that the return to growers of vegetable crops for the last five years has proved economic.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Gavin Strang)

The increase in the area under vegetables over the last five years suggests that growers find returns from vegetable production satisfactory.

Mr. Hastings

Is the Minister aware that the price of potatoes this season has been wholly uneconomic, that the prices of summer vegetables and sprouts have been no more than the level of 1973–74, although since then wages have doubled and the prices of fertiliser and packaging materials have more than doubled? Is he further aware that crops are being ploughed in and men are being laid off? Will he assure the House that the serious losses in this sector of the horticulture industry will properly be taken into account at the next price review?

Mr. Strang

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should seek to make an issue of potato prices this year. Some potato producers, particularly those in the North, did exceptionally well during the last two years as a result of the abnormally high potato prices. The hon. Gentleman should appreciate that potato prices in the United Kingdom have been kept well above Continental levels as a result of our effective system of support.

Miss Maynard

In view of the comments made by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings), will my hon. Friend list the number of counties in which wages have doubled?

Mr. Strang

My hon. Friend has raised an interesting point. She has made this point time and again. I agree that there is no evidence that high farm prices lead farmers to pay higher wages to their workers. Higher wages will be achieved only by the efforts of the union of which my hon. Friend is a member.