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Volume 884: debated on Thursday 23 January 1975

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a further statement about sugar supplies.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what, in the light of recent statements by the Jamaican Trade Minister concerning the continuation of Commonwealth sugar supplies to Great Britain in the next few months, is his forecast of the likely shortfall of sugar supplies in the coming year.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement concerning future deliveries of raw cane sugar to the United Kingdom port sugar refineries.

Unfortunately it has not yet been possible to reach agreement with the developing Commonwealth countries on the price to be paid for their sugar in 1975. Meanwhile our requirements are being met from our domestic beet crop, imports from the Continent and imports from the world market under the EEC import subsidy arrangements. I am glad to say that the EEC Council of Agricultural Ministers has just agreed to extend this scheme to a further 300,000 tons.

May I press the Minister to tell us a little more about the apparent breakdown in his negotiations with Commonwealth suppliers? Will he say whether this has anything to do with the price he is prepared to offer? Will he also say whether there is any probability of Guyana offering her crop at the price he is apparently prepared to pay, and whether supplies for this country this year are in any sense guaranteed?

On the negotiations with ACP countries, which are fundamental to the hon. Gentleman's question, the talks have not broken down. We shall be pursuing talks with the ACP countries. I announced an offer of £250 cif. I believe that what we offered is reasonable. I hope we shall succeed in getting an agreement.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we had been able to conduct these negotiations a year ago the prospects for everyone might have been a great deal better? Will he also tell us something about the deliveries of raw sugar to port refineries from the beet factories? Does he agree that unless these can be continued as they have been in the past, the prospects for employment, irrespective of cane, will be difficult in those refineries, and that the answer given by my hon. Friend the Minister of State to a Written Question some time ago is not reassuring on this matter?

I hope that my hon. Friend will not be too pessimistic. After all, we renegotiated the ACP countries' long-term agreement with the Community, which is a very good agreement, very similar to the old Commonwealth Sugar Agreement, with guaranteed access for 1·4 million tons. All I am saying is that we are still negotiating. I do not want to prejudice negotiations, and I do not think that any hon. Member would want me to say anything which could harm negotiating stances. All I can say is that we are well aware of the problem of the refiners.

Does the Minister appreciate that whatever sugar supplies he may be able to obtain, and at whatever price, in rural communities sugar supplies de facto are not available since those who supply sugar cannot afford to take it to those who eat it, and those who eat it cannot afford to drive and get it from those who supply it?

That was an interesting conclusion to the hon. Member's speech. As the production Minister I am concerned to ensure that our talks with the ACP countries succeed.

Will the Minister say how much of the 300,000 tons is expected to come to the United Kingdom, and for how long that will secure our supplies? If the Minister had not been so dilatory last year we would not have the continuing uncertainty that we know today.

I am amazed at the right hon. Gentleman, especially in view of the great arguments about bankable assurances advanced by one of his colleagues. We have succeeded in negotiating a long-term agreement for the ACP countries. The Conservatives did not do that; we did. Perhaps I can give a specific example of the operation of the import subsidy scheme, which I agreed to and which was a good scheme, whereby we got subsidised sugar, with the subsidy provided by the Community. On the first tranche of 200,000 tons, 156,000 tons came to us. We have negotiated another tranche, but we are not the only deficit area. The other country concerned is Italy. I have every reason to believe that even the right hon. Gentleman will be satisfied with what I have secured.