HC Deb 02 December 1982 vol 33 cc389-90
13. Mr. Michael Brown

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to what degree the United Kingdom is likely to be self-sufficient for ware potatoes in the current crop year.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

We expect that supply and demand will be broadly in balance this season.

Mr. Brown

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will he assure the House that the support arrangements for the home potato industry will ensure self-sufficiency, thereby retaining the confidence of potato producers? Will he also assure the House that greater steps will be taken by the Potato Marketing Board to assist farmers to market their potato crops in a better way than they have in the past few years, so that we do not have the massive potato imports that we sometimes have at the end of the season?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The Potato Marketing Board, particularly with its contract scheme, has been successful in evening out some of the market problems. I hope that we can continue to be self-sufficient in potatoes, although that crop is perhaps more subject than others to changes in the weather and other conditions.

My hon. Friend will be encouraged to know that the current price is above the guaranteed price. However, we must look ahead-and I am delighted that both the National Farmers Union and the Potato Marketing Board have prepared proposals. I have had preliminary discussions with them and I look forward to carrying those discussions further.

Mr. Freud

As the Potato Marketing Board is grower-financed, and therefore grower-oriented, does the Minister agree that it has a vested interest in keeping up the price of potatoes? Might it not be more helpful to have a Potato Marketing Board which collates correct and unbiased information, as does the United States Department of Agriculture?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

If the Potato Marketing Board fails to fulfil its statutory responsibilities it is subject to questioning and control. In recent years the board has shown proper concern for outlets for potatoes other than those going direct for human consumption, such as through potato processors. It has also shown particular concern for the consumer. I encourage the board to follow that policy.