HC Deb 26 February 1962 vol 654 cc1087-91

10.45 p.m.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, for the purposes of any Act of this Session to make final provision as to the operation of the law in consequence of the Union of South Africa having become a republic outside the Commonwealth, it is expedient to authorise any increase in—

  1. (a) the rate of any surcharge payable to the Sugar Board by virtue of section seven of the Sugar Act, 1956; or
  2. (b) the amount of any distribution repayment so payable by virtue of section fifteen of the said Act of 1956,
being an increase attributable to provisions of the said Act of this Session relating to sugar exported or to be exported from the territories of the Republic of South Africa.—[Sir E. Boyle.]

Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)

Surely, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will give us some explanation of this Ways and Means Resolution. It is not good enough for the hon. Gentleman just to nod his head; that does not give us much information. He could at least give us an indication of how much we are voting. He could tell us, for instance, how much we are voting under paragraph (a), which concerns the rate of… surcharge payable to the Sugar Board by virtue of section seven of the Sugar Act". I am sure that my hon. Friends would like to know the amount for which we are liable under paragraph (b), which refers to the amount of any distribution repayment so payable by virtue of section fifteen". These are important matters. Before we pass the Resolution, we ought to have them explained. Then, if we cannot understand the explanation or we are not fully informed, we can proceed to discuss them.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Sir Edward Boyle)

This Ways and Means Resolution covers a very narrow point. The fact that the Bill will authorise the Sugar Board to adjust the sugar surcharge so as to cover the loss on South African sugar means that the surcharge will be theoretically higher than it would have been if the Bill did not give the Board this power, although it will not be higher than it would have been if South Africa had not left the Commonwealth. It is purely for that reason that this Ways and Means Resolution is technically necessary.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

Does this—[Laughter.] This is an important point. We have not been given any indication about how much this is theoretically higher. We do not usually get Ways and Means Resolutions merely to satisfy theorems. This is a matter of hard cash with which we are concerned. Whereas the last Money Resolution could be discussed only for a limited period, so important is this Ways and Means Resolution that we could debate it all night if we wished, until such time as the Government could summon a hundred Members to enable them to move the Closure upon us. I assure hon. Members opposite that this is not a laughing matter. It is serious. We should not allow a Ways and Means Resolution to be treated lightly.

I should be grateful if we could have briefly from the Financial Secretary a more adequate explanation, particularly concerning paragraphs (a) and (b). He should at least tell us how much it is envisaged that the surcharge will be theoretically higher. If he has had time to look over his brief and find the appropriate part, I will be glad to give way and allow him to carry on with the next part of his explanation.

Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)

There is another aspect which I find interesting. I understand that we are paying much more than the world price for our sugar. I further understand that the bulk of the sugar being sold in this country is sold through an organisation known largely as Tate and Lyle. This organisation makes a very handsome profit out of sugar, which is subsidised by the taxpayer. Can the Financial Secretary tell us how it operates? How is the taxpayer subsidising Tate and Lyle?

The Chairman

Order. The hon Member is going beyond what is on the Order Paper.

Mr. Lawson

It may seem a little wide, but there is the very definite connection that the sugar which comes into the country is being subsidised by the taxpayer, but it is not the taxpayer's organisation which sells the sugar. The sugar is being sold by Tate and Lyle, and I am interested to know what loss we are making on the sugar and what profit Tate and Lyle makes. There is a direct relationship—

The Chairman

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member again, but he goes too far when he brings in the name of an individual firm.

Mr. Lawson

I could say that the sale of the sugar in this country is undertaken by virtually one firm. If I put it in that way, perhaps I shall keep within the rules of order. I have no wish to publicise the firm, but I have a strong desire to know what disadvantage the nation is labouring under because of the arrangements which operate here. Perhaps the Financial Secretary will tell us something about this.

The Chairman

I do not think that the arrangements for sugar purchases in general are in order in this discussion. This is dealing purely with the repercussions of the South Africa Bill which the House has been debating.

Mr. Lawson

Is it not the case that we as a nation are purchasing the sugar and are making the money available for the purchase of the sugar? This is what I am concerned with. We purchase the sugar at a price which is substantially above world price. The conditions under which sugar is sold in this country seem to me to require some explanation. This is what I am asking for.

The Chairman

In so far as that relates to the Bill the House has been discussing, well and good, but a general debate upon the sugar claim would be out of order.

Mr. Jeremy Thorpe (Devon, North)

I ask the Financial Secretary to help on this point. As I see it, pursuant to Section 7 of the Sugar Act, 1956, there is a power to authorise an increase in the rate of surcharge payable to the Sugar Board. That is then distributed repayment. It is in respect of that sum that we are being asked to give a blank cheque. What control, if any, has the House of Commons over any surcharge so made or increase in surcharge? What right have we to question the adequacy of that surcharge? Are we to take it that the total possible amount which could rank for distribution repayment as set out in paragraph (b) is likely to be equal to £2.7 million, which is the sum mentioned in the part of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum headed "Financial Effects"? In short, what is the machinery, and what Parliamentary control is there over this exercise?

Mr. Willis

I am sorry that we cannot discuss the activities of Mr. Cube, otherwise we might have learned something about the Tory Party and how much it costs the Tory Party to subsidise Mr. Cube and how much of it was paid under the Sugar Act, 1956. As that is not in order, I want to refer to the first two questions I asked, namely, the amount under paragraph (a), which is the rate of surcharge payable, and the amount under paragraph (b), which is the amount of any distribution repayment. I seek information. I do not know, but I should have thought that they were two different matters. As they are different matters, perhaps the Financial Secretary can enlighten us as to how much we are liable to pay under these two paragraphs.

Sir E. Boyle

I told the Committee that under paragraph (a) in this Ways and Means Resolution the amount could be as much as £2½ million, but I think that it is relevant to point out that in practice the total financial commitment of the Board will, if anything, be reduced as compared with 1961, because the price we pay for South African sugar is lower than the Commonwealth price. In answer to the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), I would say that if the surcharge were to be increased the Minister would have to lay a fresh Order.

Mr. Willis

But what about paragraph (b)? I am sorry to be rather pertinacious about this, but we are entitled to have the information. The hon. Gentleman is in charge of this item, and one would have thought that he would have informed himself of its implications before asking us to pass it. If the Minister does not understand it, how can be expect us to understand it, before passing it? How much?

Sir E. Boyle

With respect, I think that it is the hon. Gentleman who has not quite understood. The point of paragraph (b) is that distribution payments are payments by the Sugar Board when it makes a profit; that is to say, when the world price is higher than the Commonwealth sugar price, but one cannot, at this stage, forecast precisely what the position will be.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolution to be reported.

Report to be received Tomorrow;

Committee to sit again Tomorrow.