HC Deb 04 August 1976 vol 916 cc778-80W
Mr. Parry

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what discussions have taken place with the cane sugar refiners about the prospects for their industry; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Peart

I have received a submission by Tate and Lyle and Manbre and Garton of their joint analysis of the prospects for the cane sugar refining industry and their suggestion of possible rationalisation of the industry to EEC conditions. Since receiving this submission I and my officials have had discussions with the interests concerned. Both companies have recognised that the problem of rationalisation which is before them involves not only difficult commercial questions but also important issues of economic, employment and regional policy. It was for this reason that they rightly approached the Government before attempting to take any decisions themselves about the future organisation of their industry.

The Government's general approach is to seek a solution which satisfies two basic conditions. First, it should produce an efficient and well-organised industry which is well adapted to serve the needs of United Kingdom sugar users and consumers and is thus able to thrive in the highly competitive conditions of the enlarged Community market to the benefit of all who work within the industry.

Secondly, since much of the refinery capacity lies in areas of high unemployment, the Government are most concerned to see a solution found which pays due regard to the need to sustain employment.

It is against this background that the Government have examined the specific ideas for reorganisation submitted by the refiners, and the refinery workers. Consideration is being given to finding the most acceptable solution, and the Government believe that such a solution must be based on the provision of viable alternative employment opportunities to replace so far as possible jobs lost in cane refining. Both companies agree that they have a duty to their employees to pursue this possibility energetically in order to reduce to the absolute minimum the adverse consequences for employment of contraction of refining capacity. Detailed discussions on all aspects of this, including the possibility of providing Exchequer assistance under the Industry Acts, have taken place and will continue.

The Government have indicated that the unification of the cane sugar refining industry could be a useful means of facilitating an acceptable solution to the problem of rationalisation. The current bid by Tate and Lyle to acquire the whole equity of Manbre and Garton involves interests other than cane sugar and this will need consideration by the Government. I am not, therefore, in a position to say more about this today.

Meanwhile the companies have reviewed their timetable and have indicated that in current circumstances they do not now contemplate any action resulting in loss of jobs before March next year.

As I have made clear in the past, the Government will take no decisions on the reorganisation of the industry without there being a full opportunity for representatives of the employees, and other interested parties, to state their views and for these to be taken into account.