asked the Minister of Food what consultations he had with the representatives of the British fruit and vegetable growers and the Channel Island producers before signing the 1949 fruit and vegetable imports agreement with the Netherlands.
On these matters I receive advice from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture who has, I understand, been in touch with British horticultural interests.
Is the Minister aware that there were only very general consultations at an early stage of the proceedings, and that no notice at all was taken of the advice given by the British horticultural industry? Is he aware that the agreement has given rise to despondency and anger throughout that industry?
If we always took in full all the advice given by the British horticultural industry, I am afraid that the price of vegetables would be very high indeed.
Is the Minister aware that, particularly in onions, losses in East Anglia have been very considerable, and that the new agreement which has been signed for the coming year extends the number of countries from which there will be competition? Can nothing be done, at least to regulate the period of the year, by way of timing these imports so that they harm our people to a much less extent?
Of course, it would be possible to exclude these foreign vegetables, but only at the price of dearer vegetables for the consumers in this country.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that only the other day I had to pay 10d. for a very small and pathetic-looking lettuce? Will he undertake to see that greenstuffs in this country are within the reach of the humblest housewife?
Is the Minister aware, taking the one crop that I have mentioned, that the price of Spanish onions has been twice as much as that for which British onions could have sold, if they had been allowed to find their way into the shops?
Surely that question can only mean that if Spanish onions were dearer, they were not interfering with the price of British onions. I should think that even the hon. Gentleman could see that.
Can the Minister say whether he consulted not only the Minister of Agriculture but the Secretary of State for Scotland, and whether the National Farmers' Union of Scotland were consulted, in particular in regard to soft fruits?
My Department consults the Agricultural Department. It is their business to make further consultations.