HC Deb 24 November 1953 vol 521 cc302-5

Subsection (1) of section three of the Emergency Laws (Transitional Provisions) Act, 1946 (which, as amended by section four of the Emergency Laws (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1947, extends certain provisions of the Agriculture (Miscellaneous War Provisions) Act, 1940, relating to wheat and land drainage).

Section six of the said Act of 1946 (which extends the Sugar Industry Act, 1942).

This is the third Motion in my name, and the counterpart, in respect of the emergency enactments specified in the Schedule, to the Motion just approved by the House in regard to certain Defence Regulations. One of the three entries in last year's Schedule has disappeared, consequent upon the passing of the Emergency Laws (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1953. The enactments now proposed to be continued for a further year are those dealing with wheat, land drainage and sugar, on all of which subjects it seems likely that legislation will be necessary before the wartime suspension of the permanent Acts can be brought to an end.

I am not in a position today to be more precise, but the House will be aware from the White Paper on Decontrol of Food and Marketing of Agricultural Produce of the consideration given to the problems of wheat and sugar by the Minister of Food. Land drainage legislation will be required in due course, when the far-reaching recommendations in the report of the sub-committee of the Central Advisory Water Committee have been fully discussed with the interests concerned by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries. I do not think we are leaving these matters in the air, although I cannot give a more definite account today.

9.3 p.m.

Mr. Willey

Now that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has the assistance of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture I appeal to him to say a little more about the continuation of the Sugar Industry Act, 1942. But for the preposterous conduct of the Leader of the House when we discussed these Motions last year these matters would have been discussed. As my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has said, we reached a stage where we had to forgo our discussion in order to save Private Members' business on the following day. We then gave notice that we intended to raise this matter, but for those reasons we were unable to do so.

It is clear that we cannot go on continuing the Sugar Industry Act indefinitely. The last Government prepared legislation on the matter. The next Socialist Government will certainly bring the British Sugar Corporation under full public control. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be well aware, in that excellent statement "Challenge to Britain" we made it quite clear that this corporation will be brought under full public ownership, but that is no reflection upon the British Sugar Corporation. They have been doing excellent work, and we wish to strengthen them in the work they are doing. But I think we are entitled to know a little more than the right hon. and learned Gentleman has told us. The Government ought really to have some ideas about this.

Sugar has been decontrolled, and we are told in the White Paper that there will be consultations with the National Farmers' Union and with the British Sugar Corporation with a view to ensuring continuity of policy. Have those consultations begun? Have any steps been taken to put them in train? Do the Government recognise, from their experience of the 1942 Act, that the pre-war provisions were inadequate?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman indicated that there would be an opportunity to discuss these matters during the present Session, but I think we are entitled to know at this stage—after all, these essential steps about sugar supplies have already been taken—what the Government have in mind regarding the British Sugar Corporation.

9.6 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Dr. Charles Hill)

If I may accept the invitation of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), he will recall that the Sugar Industry Act transferred the general responsibility in relation to the British Sugar Corporation from the Ministry of Agriculture to the Ministry of Food, and suspended the provisions of the 1936 Act in relation to the financial assistance given to the Corporation.

The 1942 Act cannot be allowed to lapse until we have reached the stage of new legislation with which to replace it. The hon. Gentleman will recall the reference to sugar beet and to the consultations about which he asked in the recently published White Paper. If my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Food relinquished his control to the Sugar Corporation—and that would follow the return to the 1936 Act—it would be given the task of fixing the acreage and fixing the price of beet.

The 1947 Act clearly places elsewhere the responsibility for implementing the guarantees, and it would be a chaotic situation if, in fact, the function of implementing those guarantees were passed to the Sugar Corporation. There would be similar difficulties in relation to the financial arrangement.

I recognise the point made by the hon. Gentleman that there is need for the preparation of new legislation. That new legislation will, of course, need to follow the determination of the policy for the future, an indication of which is given in the White Paper published a few weeks ago.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved: That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty under section seven of the Emergency Laws (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1947, praying that the enactments specified in the Schedule hereto, which would otherwise expire on the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-three, be continued in force for a further period of one year until the tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and fifty-four.

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