HC Deb 05 December 1974 vol 882 cc1914-7
2. Mr. Tim Renton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what assurances he has received that the 1.4 million tons of sugar required by Great Britain in 1975 will be forthcoming.

Mr. Peart

The developing exporting countries of the Commonwealth have expressed interest in continuing to supply quantities comparable with their quotas under the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement, although more in some cases and less in others. Firm assurances of supply, however, can hardly be expected before price and other details have been negotiated.

Mr. Renton

In reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), the Secretary of State referred to our being a member of the Community at the moment. Will he confirm that on the difficult question of sugar he has received notable help and support over the last few weeks from his friends in the EEC?

Mr. Peart

I have said that in reply to Questions in the House. We achieved a good deal on access. The question now is one solely of guaranteeing price and quantity, and talks will take place very soon.

Mr. Hardy

Will my right hon. Friend emphasise that more sugar has been distributed in this country during the last six months than was distributed in the same period last year? Does he agree that although some people are short of sugar many people have larder shelves which are groaning beneath the great weight of hoarded sugar, possibly in emulation of hon. Members opposite?

Mr. Peart

My hon. Friend has raised an important point. Hoarding has taken place. He is correct in what he says about the supply of sugar. In replying directly to the main Question, I am anxious that the developing countries— the Protocol 22 countries—should have satisfactory assurances, and I believe that they will get them through this long-term agreement.

Mr. Wiggin

When will the negotiations with the developing Commonwealth Sugar Agreement countries take place? We understood that they were to take place immediately and that there would be a result before Christmas. Does the right hon. Gentleman hope to complete the negotiations by Christmas?

Mr. Peart

No. The Community is negotiating with the countries concerned. Talks have already taken place and I hope to see some of the Ministers next week. I shall be in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday.

4. Mr. Spearing

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress he has made in obtaining the 1.7 million tons of raw sugar required to maintain full production at United Kingdom cane sugar refineries.

Mr. Peart

As I told the House in my statement on 21st November—[Vol. 881, c. 1535]—the decisions taken by the EEC Council of Ministers, in effect, give our refineries an assurance of supplies from the sugar producers of the developing Commonwealth. It is to be expected that additional supplies of raw sugar will be secured from the world market under the Community's import subsidy arrangements.

Mr. Spearing

Does my right hon. Friend realise that his answer to the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) gave no guarantee that the sugar, if obtained, will arrive by late February or early March, when it is required? Will he give us an assurance on that point?

Secondly, my right hon. Friend will note that the 1.7 million tons takes account of the 300,000 tons that we did not get from Australia. If the refineries are to keep going at their present rate, may I ask from where we shall get that amount?

Mr. Peart

I believe that what we have called the Lardinois proposals will get us the sugar. From the point of view of Commonwealth supplies, in negotiations that I have mentioned about long-term assurances, of course, price and quantity will have to be discussed. That is the whole purpose of having negotiations.

Mr. Marten

I recognise that the price and duration have not yet been fixed and therefore the 1.4 million tons is somewhat speculative. If the 1.4 million tons is not forthcoming, will the right hon. Gentleman honour the assurance given to me by the Prime Minister that he will go to Australia and get the missing sugar?

Mr. Peart

I assure the hon. Gentleman that it is not speculative. That was the decision, and it has been laid down in even better terms than in the old Commonwealth Sugar Agreement. This is an indefinite agreement. Under the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement we still had to negotiate quantity and price. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that. I believe that this was a good deal, and it has been welcomed by the Commonwealth producers.