§ 42. Mr. Oram
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the financial results of the operations of the Sugar Board in the months of January and February, 1957, in relation to his duties under Section 13 (1) of the Sugar Act, 1956.
I am unable to anticipate the presentation to Parliament of the audited accounts of the Sugar Board as provided in Section 6 (5) of the Sugar Act, 1956.
§ Mr. Oram
Is it not a fact that the world price of sugar has been higher than it was estimated when the surcharge became necessary, and does not that mean that the Board has already made a considerable surplus? Does not he think that he ought to take steps to end the surcharge, as he has power to do under the Section quoted in the Question; and that that can be done in a period shorter than the year which he is suggesting we should wait before getting the figures?
The hon. Gentleman is quite right. The world price has fluctuated considerably. I have powers under the Act to terminate the surcharge and to direct that a distribution payment should be made. I shall certainly consider the appropriateness of such action at the right moment. I certainly do not want the hon. Gentleman to think that I believe it necessary to wait a year before taking that action, if the circumstances justify it.
§ 44. Mr. Willey
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will now suspend the operation of the surcharge on sugar.
I prefer to leave the question of suspending the surcharge, which at the present rate does not materially affect the retail price of sugar, until I am in a position to decide whether and, if so, when distribution payments can be introduced.
But surely the Minister will agree that, as Russia is importing sugar, there is no possibility of the world 796 price breaking. Why not take the opportunity to reduce the cost of living by reducing the retail price of sugar by taking off this ridiculous surcharge?
To get the matter into perspective, the hon. Gentleman will agree that the surcharge at the present rate amounts to only one-eighth of a penny per 1b. He will also remember that under the Sugar Act I have to be satisfied that the finances of the Sugar Board, looking ahead six months, will be sufficient to enable that step to be taken. I can assure him once again that, at the right moment, I shall consider this question and shall not hesitate to take action in removing the surcharge and causing a distribution payment to be made. But I must wait until I am satisfied that the circumstances warrant such a course.
No. It would be quite wrong for me to do that. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Sugar Board, as regards trading, is a separate entity, and it would not be either in the public interest or fair to that body if I were to disclose, at any particular moment, what its trading position was.