HC Deb 01 December 1977 vol 940 cc703-4
9. Mr. Newens

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the future of the Potato Marketing Board.

20. Mr. Spence

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the position concerning the development of a potato régime within the common agricultural policy.

Mr. Bishop

Proposals for an EEC régime for potatoes have been under discussion in Brussels since early in 1976. Our objective is to achieve a cost-effective solution satisfactory to both producers and consumers. The producer interests have recently published proposals for price stabilisation arrangements which we regard, in principle, as providing a satisfactory basis for the United Kingdom in the longer term, subject to further consideration of their financial implications. These proposals envisage a continuing need for a central marketing authority such as the Potato Marketing Board in Great Britain and we hope they can be accommodated within an acceptable EEC régime.

Mr. Newens

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the disappearance of the Potato Marketing Board, like other marketing boards, would be an unmitigated disaster for both producers and consumers and that it would be one of the most unpleasant consequences of going into the EEC? Will he assure the House that if these proposals go ahead the Government will make sufficient funds available to ensure that they do not founder for lack of cash?

Mr. Bishop

I remind my hon. Friend that we said that the guarantee for this this year would continue. The long-term future of the Potato Marketing Board will depend on the part that it will play in an effective EEC régime. It is important to maintain the essential functions of the Board to protect both the producer and the consumer.

Sir David Renton

Is the Minister aware that farmers generally aim to make their cropping arrangements for the following season by the end of November in respect of the purchase of seed potatoes, fertilisers and the setting of acreages, and that the uncertainty that prevails at the moment is bad from the point of view of next season's potato production? When will that uncertainty be ended?

Mr. Bishop

There is uncertainty in a number of commodities in agriculture, as we all know. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, in all fair-mindedness, will recognise that my right hon. Friends did not play any part in the make-up of the transitional arrangements that are responsible for this situation.

Mr. Spence

Notwithstanding the negotiations and the last answer, will the Minister take steps to ensure that prices are given to our farmers in good time for next season's planting? Does he realise that otherwise there could be a shortfall due to this considerable uncertainty?

Mr. Bishop

We certainly understand the difficulties, and we shall do our best to help farmers. These matters will feature in the price review which is now under way.