My Department does not collect the detailed information necessary to calculate an average price for seed potatoes over the season as a whole. Average prices for seed are very high at present, although many growers will have contracted for seed in the autumn at substantially lower prices. Without knowing what proportion of seed was marketed earlier in the season, I cannot give a firm estimate for the 1976 crop.
I am grateful for that reply. Is the Minister aware that all hon. Members are glad that the loss through bad weather in Scotland, where most seed potatoes are grown, was less marked than in England? We naturally expected that prices in Scotland would not be so bad. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that because of the inadequate award to growers last year, about 50,000 acres were grown under quota—
I agree that the situation in Scotland, owing to better weather conditions, was not as bad as it was in England and Wales. In his comments on the Annual Review award, the hon. Member seemed to be confused about the guaranteed price, which relates to potatoes sold for human consumption, not to seed potatoes. These factors will be taken into account in the review.
Will my hon. Friend prevail on the Government to introduce a form of price control of potatoes—indeed, the few potatoes that are now available? Will he also take steps to purchase potatoes from outside the Common Market and in so doing will he try to sweep aside Common Market controls?
No doubt my hon. Friend refers to the main crop ware potatoes, but the amount of seed potatoes sold by retail is only a small proportion of the total seed potato crop. The difficulty is that if one seeks to control the retail price, it is possible that there will be a diversion of seed supplies to elsewhere.
May I thank the Minister of Agriculture for his kind words about me when he replied to an earlier Question?
Is the Minister of State aware that prices for seed potatoes are now being talked of in terms of as much as £350 per ton? Will he take that factor fully into account in his review. Is he aware that before the prices for seed potatoes rose to this level the Potato Marketing Board said that the cost of producing a ton of potatoes in 1976 would be about £50 a ton? Will he ensure that the next review is at a realistic level?
I am unable to confirm those figures. There have been estimates of high cost in relation to both seed potatoes and main crop ware potatoes. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that all the facts of the situation will be considered in the review now under way.