HC Deb 12 February 1931 vol 248 cc593-6

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he can make any statement regarding the beet-sugar subsidy to be paid for the 1931 crop?


asked the Minister of Agriculture if he is now able to make any statement with regard to the future of the sugar-beet industry?

106. Mr. T. SMITH

asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he is now in a position to make a statement with regard to the dispute between the sugar-beet factories and the sugar-beet growers?


I would refer hon. Members to the statement which is being made by the Prime Minister this afternoon in reply to a Private Notice Question by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin).


On a point of Order. May I ask your Ruling, Sir, as to whether it is not the case that a question put upon the Paper takes precedence of any Private Notice Question? I ask in the interest of Members of the House.


Yes, certainly that is so. A question of which there is notice on the Paper usually takes precedence of any Private Notice Question, but it is not an unknown practice for Ministers to make statements at the end of Questions. That is usually found to be the best method of giving answers which would take up too much time at Question Time.

Lieut.-commander KENWORTHY

May I ask whether, in this case, the answer should not be given to the right hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Ormsby-Gore), whose question appears on the Paper?


Perhaps it would be best.


(by Private Notice) asked the Prime Minister whether he is yet in a position to make a statement with regard to the sugar-beet situation?


The Government have given careful consideration to the position of the beet sugar industry. In view of the general industrial situation, the Government have, naturally, been most reluctant to consider the grant of additional aid to an industry which is already subsidised. But the position which has resulted from the unprecedented fall in sugar values, to a figure far below pre-War values, in a year when the statutory rate of subsidy will be halved, is so exceptional that they have decided, subject to the approval of Parliament, to offer a special advance to the industry for one year only, the advance to be deducted, in the event of sugar prices rising substantially, from the normal subsidy which will be due in the last two years of the subsidy period. The amount of the special advance is to be limited to 1s. 3d. per cwt. of sugar, payable on 300,000 cwts. of sugar, exceeding 98 degrees polarisation, manufactured per factory in the 1931–32 campaign, and is to be payable on the follow-conditions:

  1. (i) A firm price to be offered by factories to farmers, which shall give them the full equivalent of the special advance and, generally speaking, shall require from factories in 1931–32 a maximum sacrifice of provision for depreciation and other capital charges, profit and additions to reserves.
  2. (ii) All beet contracts offered by farmers to be accepted by factories up to their throughput capacity as defined by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, and the whole of the contracts of each factory to be on the same terms as to price.
  3. (iii) The special advance to be contingent upon the price of sugar during the 1931–32 manufacturing campaign, that is to say, if the price of raw sugar (96 degrees polarisation) rises above 6s. 6d. per cwt. c.i.f. United Kingdom, the amount of special advance promised shall be abated by the amount of the rise in sugar prices.
About two-thirds of the factories have already accepted the Government's proposal and have decided, in consequence, to offer farmers a price of 43s. per ton for beet of 17½ per cent. sugar content. At the moment, I am unable to give the House any further information as to the results.


Will the right hon. Gentleman say, in order that details may be discussed by the House and the matter approved by Parliament, whether he will lay a supplementary Estimate, and if so, for how much; and what is the net cost of this further provision?


The arrangement has only just been made, and this reply has only just been put into my hands, but I can answer the last part of the right hon. Gentleman's question. I am informed that the cost will be somewhere under £300,000, to be repaid under the conditions which I have read out. I shall be glad if the right hon. Gentleman will be good enough to repeat the first part of his question.


May I ask the Minister of Agriculture how much the State has already paid in subsidies?


I must ask for notice of that question.


Does the right hon. Gentleman think that a time when there is a world glut of sugar is the most suitable time to subsidise additional sugar production?


Is it proposed that there shall be any stipulation on these agreements as to the conditions of labour and wages in the factories, and if any particular precautions are to he taken so as to secure that the pressure on the factories in regard to establishment and other charges is not counter-balanced by pressure on the factories in regard to conditions of wages and labour generally?


The hon. Member does not seem to be aware that that is done now.


Will the right hon. Gentleman inform me in what agreement or Act of Parliament I can find what he has stated?


It is in the Beet Sugar Subsidy Act, and it is also covered by the Agricultural Wages Act.


If the factories which have not already agreed to this proposal do not produce sugar, will the farmers have facilities for sending their beets to the factories which are working?


Perhaps the hon. Member will put down that question. I understand that negotiations are still going on.

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