HC Deb 10 July 1950 vol 477 cc947-9
66. Mrs. Castle

asked the Minister of Food whether he has any further statement to make on the progress of the sugar talks with the West Indian delegation.

Mr. Webb

The House will have seen the joint statement issued on Friday by the United Kingdom Government and the British West Indies and British Guiana sugar delegation. I am circulating a copy in the OFFICIAL REPORT. Although we have not been able to change the basic figures of the offer we made last winter, since these were part of a negotiated agreement with all the Commonwealth sugar producing countries, we have been able to give the delegation assurances that the whole position will be reviewed in 1953 and that if, when we are able to de-ration sugar, consumption proves to be above present estimates, we shall be prepared to take more sugar from Commonwealth suppliers under the guarantee. The delegation will now recommend acceptance by their Governments of our original offer supplemented in this way.

I feel confident that we shall now be able to complete the whole series of agreements with Commonwealth producers and that not only will these agreements, in due course, provide a remedy for our sugar shortage, but that they will do so on terms which will place Commonwealth sugar producers in a position of security such as they have never had before.

I should like to take this opportunity of correcting the reply I gave to a supplementary question on 28th June, when I said that the West Indies were not providing the sugar that they had contracted to deliver. There is, of course, as yet no contract, and what I intended to say was that the sugar we were getting this year from all Commonwealth sources together was, unfortunately, below the estimates which had been made of what we might expect from them under the 1948 guarantee.

Mr. Peter Smithers

May we take it that the Minister also withdraws what he said at Bradford, which was, I believe, to the same effect—that the West Indies had failed to fulfil their contract?

Mr. Webb

This is an attempt to correct the same mistake.

Mr. Assheton

When does the right hon. Gentleman expect to be able to de-ration sugar altogether?

Mr. De la Bère

That is what I want to know.

Following is the statement:

The Secretary of State for the Colonies, the Minister of State for Colonial Affairs and the Minister of Food have had a number of meetings with the Delegation from the Governments of the British West Indies and British Guiana which has been in this country for the last few weeks. The Delegation asked that out of total West Indian sugar exports of 900,000 tons, the United Kingdom Government should increase from 640,000 tons to 725,000 tons the quantity which, as part of a general agreement with Commonwealth producers, the Ministry of Food had offered to buy from their countries each year from 1953 to 1957 at prices which would assure reasonable remuneration to efficient producers. The Ministers explained why the United Kingdom Government were unable to meet the Delegation's wishes on this point and various other alternatives were explored without success. They have, however, been able to agree to the following arrangements.

During the winter negotiations the United Kingdom Government stated that the quantities of sugar covered by the long-term agreement offered to Commonwealth producers could be revised upwards if circumstances permitted, while undertaking that there would be no question of revising them downwards during the period up to the end of 1957. They now agree that they will make a special examination of the position during 1953, the first year in which all the provisions of the proposed agreement will operate. The examination will be made in the light of all the circumstances then obtaining, including the levels of export performance achieved by all parties to the agreement, and consumption trends. The review will embrace all the quantities of sugar covered by the proposed agreement. If consumption levels in the United Kingdom prove higher than has been estimated, the United Kingdom Government will offer to increase the quantities to be purchased under guarantee. The increase will be at least in proportion to the amount by which actual consumption proves to exceed the present estimate. For example, if consumption proved to be 5 per cent. above the estimate, the offer would be to increase the guaranteed quantities by at least 5 per cent.

All the negotiations in the winter were based on the assumption that the unrestricted requirements of the United Kingdom market would be 2,550,000 tons. It is not possible at present to say when sugar rationing will end and until it comes to an end the full unrestricted consumption of the United Kingdom will not be known with any certainty. The intention is, however, that after rationing terminates a period of six months shall be allowed for consumption to settle down and that the review of the Commonwealth guaranteed quantities shall be based upon consumption in the second six months. Having agreed upon these arrangements, the Delegation are returning home and will recommend to their Governments that the British West Indies Sugar Association be advised to accept the offer made by the United Kingdom Government. If the offer is accepted, the United Kingdom Government hope then to be able to complete the whole series of Commonwealth sugar agreements.