HC Deb 04 July 1974 vol 876 cc574-6
2. Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he will take to deal with the projected shortfall of sugar for domestic consumption early next year; and if he will make a statement.

23. Mr. Jim Spicer

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will take steps to ensure an adequate supply of sugar in the autumn and winter, following a partial failure of the sugar beet crop in the United Kingdom.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Fred Peart)

I see no reason to anticipate any shortage of supplies over the next six months, given the steps that have been and are being taken by the Government, the refining companies and users to make good from other sources shortfalls in normal supplies from the West Indies.

Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that an estimated shortfall of between 600,000 and 800,000 tons is likely next year? In the light of that information, will he say what negotiations he has had with the Australians to ensure the continued access of their product to this market? Will he also say whether, in view of this projected shortfall next year, he will reconsider bringing United Kingdom domestic prices into line with Community prices, to give domestic agricultural producers the confidence to increase their acreage in the next agricultural year?

Mr. Peart

The hon. Gentleman is quite right to estimate a shortfall next year. That is why I have had, and am having now, talks with the Caribbean signatories, and, indeed, all signatories, of the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement. I opened the conference yesterday and bilateral talks are continuing. I am also having bilateral talks with Australia. Naturally, we would look at the price question in relation to sugar beet if the situation changed.

Mr. Lipton

Will my right hon. Friend note the fact—which may or may not be unrelated to the possible shortfall in sugar supplies—that the cost of saccharin has substantially increased in the last few months?

Mr. Peart

That may well be so, but I am concerned with sugar, which I think is a better product.

Mr. Spicer

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an indication whether that shortfall might not be made up, particularly in terms of our sugar beet factories, by importation of sugar beet from within the Community?

Mr. Peart

The hon. Gentleman must agree that my predecessor and his Government gave a pledge to the Commonwealth countries in relation to 1.4 million tons. That is why we are now trying to have discussions to find out what can be achieved. I would rather leave it at that.

Mr. Spearing

Does my right hon. Friend agree that any increase of sugar beet from the Continent would prejudice the employment of people engaged in the cane sugar refining industry in this country? Will he say whether any arrange ments with Australia could, perhaps, assist other Commonwealth territories, in respect of a buffer arrangement, at least to reproduce in some measure some of the advantages of the old Commonwealth Sugar Agreement?

Mr. Peart

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning refineries. That is an important part of our industry and is related to cane sugar supplies. I have repeatedly stated my views about Australian sugar. I am anxious to have association and agreement with Australia.

Mr. Pym

In his original answer the right hon. Gentleman said there would be no shortfall in the next six months, but conceded, in answer to a supplementary question, that there would be a shortage next year. We are glad that he is having consultations with Commonwealth suppliers. How much of the quota does he expect to receive next year? Will he make a statement within the next few weeks that he will make the growing of beet in the United Kingdom a more profitable activity next year, so that farmers may plan in time and thus ensure a large crop?

Mr. Peart

I shall look sympathetically and carefully at the question of the home production of sugar beet. I can say no more than that. The matter is continually under review. We have had discussions with the unions on matters of this kind. On the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement, it is much too early to make a statement about what will happen as a result of the conference. The conference is proceeding and this afternoon I shall be meeting representatives of the various countries which have signed the agreement. Until I have had these talks I shall be unable to make an announcement.