HL Deb 02 February 1967 vol 279 cc1053-8

3.26 p.m.

THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, BOARD OF TRADE (LORD WALSTON) moved, That the Draft Sugar Beet (Research and Education) (Increase of Contributions) Order 1967, laid before the House on January 17, 1967, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this Order is to provide for the increased income which is now needed to finance the programme of research and education which the sugar beet industry (that is, the growers of beet and the British Sugar Corporation) wants to see carried out. Under Section 18(1) of the Sugar Act 1956, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for Scotland make an Order each year approving a programme of expenditure on research and education for home-grown sugar beet. They are required by the Act to consult the industry, and the established practice is to do this through the Sugar Beet Research and Education Committee on which are represented the National Farmers' Unions of England and Wales and of Scotland and the Corporation, and also agricultural scientists.

The income for the programme comes under the authority of Section 18(3) of the 1956 Act by contributions from the industry; in other words, from the growers and from the Corporation. These are paid into a Sugar Beet Research and Education Fund under the charge of the Minister. This system of contributions has been in force for thirty years—ever since the regulation of the sugar industry brought in by the Sugar Industry (Re-organisation) Act 1936. I think all those connected in any way with the sugar beet industry will agree when I say that it has worked well. The 1956 Act specified that the maximum contribution should be 3d. per ton each from the growers and the Corporation for each ton of home-grown beet delivered to the Corporation's factories. Over the years research and education in sugar beet have expanded greatly and when I have dealt with a few details of this Order I should like to refer to some of the benefits which have come as a result of this research and education.

The position has now been reached when the proceeds of the 3d. levy are insufficient to finance an appropriate programme in the interests of the industry as a whole. The estimated cost of the programme in 1967–68 is £165,000, and on an average crop the income with a 3d. levy would be £142,000. It is clear therefore that expectations are that the present levy is insufficient to finance an appropriate research programme. The industry does not wish to see any curtailment in the research programme already largely planned, and it is agreed that the authority of Parliament should be sought to an increase in the maximum contribution. Such an increase requires an Affirmative Resolution of each House of Parliament.

The specific proposal embodied in the Order now before your Lordships is that the maximum of the contribution should be raised to 4d. per ton from both the grower and the Corporation, for a period of three years. The Sugar Beet Research and Education Committee has been looking ahead to various forms of worthwhile research in the next few years. They do not contemplate any major developments, and have been concerned in present circumstances to keep a close scrutiny on all proposals for expenditure. My right honourable friends are satisfied both that the programme which the Committee have in view is reasonable, and that to meet the cost it is not necessary to increase the maximum by more than 1d. per ton. They do not feel that it would be wise to look further ahead than three years at the present moment.

If I may, my Lords, I will say a few words about the research which is supported by the sugar beet contributions. Those who pay them naturally want to see value for their money, and both in my present capacity and as a grower of sugar beet, I am confident that they need it. I do not think that there is any need to remind your Lordships of the contributions which research and technique have made over past years to the general increase of efficiency in agricultural production throughout the country and to the increase in productivity. As a result, agriculture to-day is one of our most progressive industries. One has only to look at the new varieties of cereal, the new methods of pest and weed control, the advances in animal genetics, health and nutrition, the mechanisation and the new seed varieties, to see what has been achieved and to see also the scope that lies before us in the future.

The research into sugar beet, which is an important crop in the country's economy, has followed the same course. I can safely say that the finance of the Sugar Beet Research and Education Fund, has been applied wisely to the support of investigation at leading research institutions and universities, including Rothamsted Plant Breeding Institute, the National Institute of Agricultural Botany and the Norfolk Agricultural Station at Sprowston. This is not only good in itself; it is also well co-ordinated with all other forms of research, and there is no risk of it going off on a tack of its own regardless of discoveries made in other lines of agricultural research.

I do not think that your Lordships would wish me to go in great detail into the numerous lines of inquiry which have been followed in past years, but I would remind your Lordships that a great deal of research has been put into seed beds, optimum nutrient requirements, new varieties, the control of virus yellows—a most devastating pest to the grower of sugar beet—precision drilling, the use of herbicides, and in many other ways. All these have been coupled with a general improvement in farming standards, and together they have yielded remarkable dividends.

As an example of this progress, in the years 1941 to 1945 the average yield per acre of sugar beet was 9.2 tons. Twenty years later, in the years 1961 to 1965, it had risen to 14 tons per acre—an increase of very nearly 50 per cent. I think your Lordships will agree that this is good and worthwhile progress, and that the sugar beet industry, the scientists and the farmers who help towards this, deserve the congratulations of your Lordships and of this country. I think that we should also pay tribute, and I am happy to do so, to the Sugar Beet Research and Education Committee, under the chairmanship of Sir Peter Greenwell, for their careful oversight of this programme.

I commend this draft Order to your Lordships as a means of assisting the industry to continue on its successful road, and as a means of assisting the country in its economic progress.

Moved, That the Draft Sugar Beet (Research and Education) (Increase of Contributions) Order 1967, laid before the House on the 17th January, 1967, be approved.—(Lord Walston.)


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Walston, for explaining this Order to your Lordships. If it would not be an impertinence, I should like to welcome the noble Lord back to the field of agriculture, in which he used to play such a prominent part when on this side of the House. Our only sorrow is that the cause of his coming back should be a re-shuffle which unseated his predecessor, who was so kind and courteous on matters agricultural. But we are glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Walston, back and we know that he is on ground with which he is wholly familiar.

This Order is entirely non-controversial. At first sight, it might appear that the noble Lord is asking for rather a great deal when he says that it would mean an extra 33⅓ per cent. on the levy, but when one looks a little further into it, and with the simple mathematics that I have been able to do, it would seem to indicate that farmers will be paying only 5s. an acre for sugar beet research, which in all conscience is a surprisingly modest sum to ask them to pay.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Earl to make this clear? As the noble Earl knows, it is 5s. an acre—I accept his mathematics—for every acre of sugar beet grown, and not for every acre of the farm.


My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. I had intended to convey that, and I am sorry if I did not. The noble Lord referred to the fast strides that had been made in sugar beet production. They have made fast strides, and they anticipate continuing to do so in the next few years, with the advent and wider use of monogerm seeds, spraying and mechanical thinning. Indeed, it is hoped to do away with all forms of thinning and they anticipate continuing to do so in the next few years, with the advent and wider use of. This is a remarkably cheap price to pay for this research, and I wish the Order well.


My Lords, it is a long time since I had anything to do with sugar beet, but I should like to ask the noble Lord, especially as he says that he grows sugar beet, this question. Does not this levy amount to between 2d. and 3d. a pound of sugar?


No, my Lords, it certainly does not. I am afraid that my mental arithmetic is not fast enough for this, but if the price of sugar beet of 16 per cent. content as delivered to the factory is in the neighbourhood of 127s. per ton, the noble Lord can make his own calculation. A levy of 3d. or 4d. per ton is only an insignificant, almost invisible amount on the price of a packet of sugar sold in the shops.


My Lords, it depends on the amount of sugar got out of a ton of sugar beet, which is around 6 per cent.


No, my Lords; it is 16 per cent.

On Question, Motion agreed to.