HC Deb 12 April 1973 vol 854 cc1481-3
4. Mr. John

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received from the National Farmers Union on sugar production and prices; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Joseph Godber)

We are in constant touch with the NFU both during the annual review and at other times of the year in regard to sugar as well as other commodities.

Mr. John

Has the Minister seen the statement reported in the Farmer and Stockbreeder on 31st March on behalf of the NFU criticising the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement and looking forward to higher profits for the growing of beet sugar? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm, first, that he is not prepared to ditch the Commonwealth sugar producers or neglect our duty to those countries and, secondly, that he will not sacrifice the consumer further in the pursuit of higher farm profits? Will he sweeten the Tory pill of rising prices at least to that extent?

Mr. Godber

I am puzzled by the hon. Member's question. On the one hand he begins by talking of criticism of the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement by producers and then he asks me to confirm that we shall be looking after Commonwealth sugar producers. The Commonwealth Sugar Agreement will continue on the present basis until the end of 1974 under protocol 17 of the Treaty of Accession. Arrangements for the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement thereafter will be based on protocol 22 of the treaty, which will be a matter for negotiation by the Commonwealth producers. This is a matter on which we had recent discussion with the Commonwealth producers.

As for the home producers, their position, based on the 900,000 tons a year which was the whole allocation under Quota A, is negotiated under the Treaty of Accession.

Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the United Kingdom consumption of sugar will increase beyond 1975 and that in these circumstances, assuming the same rate of sugar imports from the Commonwealth, British beet producers will be able to look forward to supplying at least the same but probably an increasing tonnage?

Mr. Godber

I certainly hope and expect to negotiate a position in which they will be supplying a greater tonnage than at present. I am sure that is the wish of the British producers. The position after 1974 has not yet been discussed, but the present Commonwealth quota has been about 1,700,000 tons. The Australian part of that quota, which represents about 300,000 tons, will not be continuing and therefore there should be room, without any increase in consumption, for a substantial increase in home production.

Mr. Spearing

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the sugar situation in Europe is not very different from that relating to butter and that a few years ago 1 million tons of sugar were sold at world prices, subsidised by the taxpayers of Europe? Is the Minister now saying that British farmers should grow more sugar so that it can be exported at low prices, in the same way as butter has been exported to the Soviet Union?

Mr. Godber

I am not saying that. The present world price of sugar is high, and there is a world shortage. Since the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement was signed there have been arrangements for the purchase of sugar by this country from overseas, as well as arrangements for home-produced sugar which in many cases have been at prices substantially above world prices in order to help the producers in this country. I would wish to continue that arrangement.