HC Deb 05 August 1976 vol 916 cc2110-2
15. Mr. Spearing

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he intends to make a statement on the future organisation of the cane sugar refining industry.

9. Mr. John Evans

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he intends to make a statement on the future of the cane sugar refining industry.

Mr. Peart

I would refer my hon. Friends to the reply which I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Scotland Exchange (Mr. Parry) yesterday.

Mr. Spearing

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people will be relieved that no redundancies will occur until at least after next March? In view, however, of the fact that sugar beet production is sure to be down this year on last year because of the 30 per cent. reduction, and since additional cane supplies are expected to rise by over 1.2 million tons, does not my right hon. Friend agree that if we cannot obtain a permanent increase we should at least seek a short-term increase in terms of the EEC allotment, which would have the effect of reducing unemployment following the rationalisation plans shortly to be announced?

Mr. Peart

It is too early yet to forecast the state of our own sugar beet crop, and I appreciate that there are weather problems. The results from the samples taken by the British Sugar Corporation will not be known until later in the month and, therefore, one cannot be specific. The subject of supplies from elsewhere is not an easy matter. Nevertheless we signed the Lomé Convention, and supplies are guaranteed from our traditional suppliers into our market. We are carefully watching the situation.

Mr. Wiggin

The House will know that yesterday the Minister referred to the takeover of Manbre and Garton, and two matters of substantial interest now arise. After such a merger, it is true to say that 57 per cent. of sweeteners in the industry will be in single hands. Therefore, will the right hon. Gentleman refer the matter to the Monopolies Commission, and will he consider what proposals should be put forward for the re-employment of workers and say whether these proposals are likely to be delayed?

Mr. Peart

We are well aware of the problem of unemployment. I have received representations from the trade unions, many of whose members I have met. The Government are anxious to protect the workers as far as we can. It would be wrong for me to comment on the merger, but discussions are now taking place. There is a dispute between the two firms, and they have made representations to me. I have seen both sides, but it would be wrong for me to speculate about the outcome.

Mr. Ogden

I should like to thank you, Mr. Speaker, for calling me. You have a generous and forgiving nature. Is my right hon. Friend aware that no Minister has been more accessible to hon. Members interested in these matters than he has? Will he confirm that yesterday's statement confers six months' job security on workers? Will he try to make an interim statement as early as possible and allow time for a debate on his recent statement?

Mr. Peart

I made my statement in reply to a Written Question. It was a long statement which I thought would assist hon. Members. We are in close contact with employers and employees, and when necessary I shall inform the House of the situation.

Mr. Pym

In his answer yesterday the Minister referred to unification and rationalisation. Does that imply that there can be other grounds? If so, what are they? Secondly, on the current bid, will he expand on what he said? Is he referring to the organisation of the industry following a successful bid? When will he make a further statement?

Mr. Peart

I cannot say when I shall make a statement. I shall do so as soon as possible. I must judge what will be in the interests of those concerned. I have no other proposals to make. We must see how the matter goes.