asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what has been the average price received by potato growers in Scotland in each of the last three seasons; how these compare with the present season; and by how much these prices have been above or below the guarantee price.
The estimated average grower's price per ton in Scotland for the last three seasons has been as follows: 1961–62, £17 13s. 10d.; 1962–63, £17 5s. 7d.; 1963–64£15 6s. 3d. In each of these seasons the guaranteed price was exceeded, the respective amounts being £4 8s. 10d., £4 0s. 7d. and £1 1ls. 3d. Comparable figures are not yet available for the present season, although some reduction on the last three years' figures is expected.
Is it not a fact that up to the end of February the figures showed that for the first time ever the return to Scottish potato growers has been below the guaranteed price? Is this not due to the dilatory lack of action on the part of the Secretary of State and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in initiating the support buying programmes in time? Will the Minister of State confirm that this is the first time that this has happened in recent years?
I understand that by 3rd April the estimated average growers' price was £12 14s. 9d. This figure was expected to rise gradually, as it usually does, between now and the end of the year, but there are some doubts as to whether it will reach the guaranteed price. I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's criticism of the activities of my two right hon. Friends.
Is my hon. Friend aware that for the last 12 years I have been receiving regular letters from farmers in my constituency strongly attacking the previous Government because they were letting in Cyprus potatoes and so ruining the Tory farmers of Ayrshire? Will my hon. Friend try to do something to help in this respect?
Is the Minister aware that a very influencing factor here is the reduction in the market for Scottish seed potatoes owing to the discovery in the south of how to treat various diseases? Is he aware that this is resulting in a reduction of returns to Scottish potato growers and will he bear this in mind in considering possibly a new system of operating the guarantees?
We recognise that there is something in that, but the hon. Gentleman knows quite well that this is not the only factor operating here. Indeed, the whole system is at present being reviewed by Ministers along with the Farmers' Union.