asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he is satisfied that farmers are not hoarding potatoes in anticipation of further price increases; and whether he is yet able to announce his decision upon the permitted importation of potatoes.
In answer to the first part of the hon. Member's Question, I have no reason to think that farmers are hoarding potatoes. As to the second part, after considering all the circumstances and after consulting the representatives of producers and the distributive trades, the Government have reached the conclusion that home-produced supplies of potatoes are not likely to be sufficient to meet all requirements at reasonable prices until the 1958 early potato crop becomes available.
There should be no shortage of potatoes so soon after the harvest period, but in view of the current level of prices, the Government consider that both growers and traders should be put in a position to make plans to meet the needs of the market as and when they arise. Imports of main crop potatoes will, therefore, be allowed as soon as possible; and licensing arrangements will be announced by the Board of Trade within the next few days.
Supplies and prices will be kept under constant review, and so long as the need continues, imports will be permitted, subject to balance of payments considerations, and to regulations essential for the maintenance of the health of the potato crop in the United Kingdom. It is not intended that imports should continue for longer than is necessary to help maintain adequate supplies in the shops at reasonable prices.
I thank the hon. Member for that answer, which some of us think should have been given a week or two ago. Is he aware that it is only by this action that he can help the farmers who as much as anybody else, want stability both in supplies and prices? The action the Government have now taken will help in that direction.
Is it not most undesirable that the allegation that farmers are hoarding potatoes should be made in a Question without being substantiated, which will do a great deal to undermine that confidence between producer and consumer which is most desirable?