HC Deb 15 March 1973 vol 852 cc1460-2
7. Mr. Deakins

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what benefit he estimates the British consumer will obtain from the surplus butter stocks in the EEC.

Mrs. Fenner

Surplus butter is currently available at low prices from intervention stocks for a number of purposes. The main one of interest to British consumers provides for such butter to be used in the production of cakes, biscuits and ice cream. I would hope that manufacturers of these products would take up this opportunity and pass any savings on to consumers.

Mr. Deakins

Will the hon. Lady confirm that under the absurd restrictionist rules of the common agricultural policy we will not be able to have the general consumer subsidy on butter to dispose of the surplus butter stocks?

Mrs. Fenner

I have referred to one way in which the EEC regulates these butter stocks. There are other ways.

Mr. Body

May I ask my hon. Friend the same question I put to my right hon. Friend? Is she aware that the last time there was a butter mountain the French and others were feeding it back to the cows? We do not know whether they are doing it again with this present butter mountain.

Mrs. Fenner

The EEC countries have made a number of regulations for disposing of surplus butter, to one of which I have referred. Another refers to butter for charitable institutions, and another provides for butter to be melted down and supplied to African and Asian States.

Mr. English

Will the hon. Lady confirm that in his previous answer her right hon. Friend did not mention that the maximum subsidy that we can give to butter will increase during the transitional period, probably starting in April? Will she also confirm that her right hon. Friend has now instituted a system whereby his Department is informed of Community decisions on this butter problem?

Mrs. Fenner

In answer to the first question, the subsidy will increase to some extent.

8. Mr. Moate

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the size of the beet sugar surplus of production over consumption within each of the six original members of the European Community.

Mr. Godber

The estimated beet sugar surplus in the current crop year, expressed in terms of white sugar, is about 920,000 tons in France, 260,000 tons in Belgium and Luxembourg taken together, and 100,000 tons in the Netherlands. A deficit of some 400,000 tons is expected in Italy and 50,000 tons in Germany.

Mr. Moate

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a Community obligation to provide a continuing market for sugar, particularly from the developing countries of the Commonwealth? Does he further agree that any increase in these already serious surpluses would run counter to that obligation particularly with regard to France?

Mr. Godber

I entirely agree that there is an obligation, which has been accepted, relating to Community sugar. This is spelled out in Protocol 17 of the Treaty of Accession for the period up to the end of 1974 and in Protocol 22 for the period thereafter. There is a definite undertaking there. I remind my hon. Friend that a substantial proportion of these surpluses are quota C sugar, which the country concerned has to export outside the Community.

Mr. David Clark

Will the right hon. Gentleman give us a further assurance that the Government will not support any action which would result in the cutting back of the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement and lead to the collapse of the International Sugar Agreement?

Mr. Godber

I am happy to give that assurance. This is a matter of great concern to the Government. We are anxious to maintain the position for the developing Commonwealth countries. Queensland production is in a different category, and has always been accepted as such. We accept the position. Earlier this week, in talking informally with the Agricultural Commissioner in Brussels I reminded him of the importance of this matter. This is something about which both sides of the House agree.

Sir D. Renton

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that this surplus on the Continent will not deprive our own farmers of the opportunity to produce sugar beet when they can increase production?

Mr. Godber

I entirely agree, representing as I do—like my right hon. and learned Friend—a constituency in which much of this sugar is produced. I am well aware of the need to produce sugar most efficiently, and this is something which we do.

Mr. Stonehouse

What representations is the right hon. Gentleman proposing to make to EEC countries, particularly France, asking them to reduce beet production in view of our commitments to places such as Mauritius and Fiji?

Mr. Godber

We have a definite undertaking from the Community about Commonwealth sugar and we will look to the Community to honour that. Later this month we will be having discussions with Commonwealth countries about the future. Community production is a matter closely linked with the quotas and prices. We will be talking about prices at the next meeting of the Council of Agricultural Ministers, when I shall have this point very much in mind.