asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food whether he is aware that there has been a decided increase in the price of soft fruit during the past week and that prices prevailing during the past 10 days have been more than 50 per cent. above those of last year; whether he can offer any explanation for the increase; in particular, whether such increase has any relation to the release of sugar for jam-making; and what steps he proposes to take to safeguard the public from exploitation when the plum crop becomes available?
I am aware of the increase in prices to which both Questions refer, but have been unable to obtain any evidence that it is due to the extra provision of sugar for household jam-making. The main cause of the increase is the shortage of supplies, due to the exceptionally prolonged period of almost unbroken dry weather, and a contributory cause has been the reduction of fruit imports as compared with the corresponding period of previous years, with the result that supplies have been considerably below normal. Such information as has come to my notice does not indicate that there has been any unfair exploitation of these difficulties by the wholesale or retail trades. Hon. Members may rest assured that appropriate action will be taken to safeguard the public from exploitation in the case of the plum crop.
From the practical point of view, it is almost impossible to control the price of a fluctuating crop such as soft fruits, the supplies of which vary from day to day. It is not considered practicable to control the price of soft fruit crops.
Mr. De la Bère:
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (1) whether, in connection with the plum crop and any surplus there may be after meeting the requirements of the canning and jam-making firms, he will make some arrangements with the manufacturers of chocolates and sweets to enable these manufacturers to use a percentage of plum syrup for manufacturing their sweetmeats, to counteract the shortage of sugar which they may be experiencing in this connection;
(2) whether he can make some statement in connection with the arrangements which have been made by the Ministry of Food with the National Federation of Women's Institutes regarding his utilisation of surplus plum crop for the manufacture of pulp; and whether he can state the number of centres that have been established for this purpose?
I hope to be able to make a full statement on this subject next week, when perhaps my hon. Friend will be good enough to put down a further Question.
Will the hon. Gentleman also take note of the severe terms in which he has condemned those who profiteer in eggs and his apparent indifference to those who profiteer in soft fruits?