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Sugar

Volume 886: debated on Thursday 20 February 1975

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5.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects to open negotiations on sugar supplies for the United Kingdom for 1976.

Negotiations between the Community and the ACP sugar-producing countries resulted in an agreement earlier this month, giving them indefinite access to EEC markets at guaranteed prices. There is no need for the terms of this agreement to be renegotiated for 1976. The Commission has undertaken to consult the ACP countries on the question of price in advance of making proposals to the Council of Ministers on agricultural prices for 1976–77.

Despite what the Minister said, does he not agree that if we withdraw from the Community, negotiations on prices need not take place? Does he not further agree that if we stay in the Community price negotiations will have to take place? The Minister will have to negotiate, and he will have to do so through the Commission.

My hon. Friend is speculating. I have to deal with the reality, which is, I believe, that the long-term access agreement we obtained was a very good deal for the developing countries—and they know it.

Will the Minister clear up an uncertainty which exists over the amount of sugar available in 1976 from home sources? Will he clear up the uncertainty that arose on Tuesday on the question whether the £16 a ton for sugar beet will include the transport and pulp allowance? Will he tell us what is his latest estimate of the number of acres of sugar beet which will be grown next year as a result of the price negotiations?

My hon. Friend must relate his supplementary question to the original answer, which dealt with the negotiations for sugar supplies for 1976. I believe that the increase in price which I negotiated in Brussels was a good deal for our own producers. They have accepted it.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say what contingency plans have been made by the Government to obtain sugar supplies if the United Kingdom leaves the Common Market?

That is an entirely different question. I said that I could not indulge in speculation.

Will the Minister say how much of the 1·4 million tons has been promised by the ACP countries? They have recently told Brussesls what to expect. Will he say, in view of the lessening of uncertainty for the cane refiners' future, what plans he has for reorganising the industry?

The reorganisation of the industry is another question. The previous Conservative administration considered it and did nothing about it. The supplies we negotiated will amount to 1·4 million tons. All the quotas are not yet in, but we have every reason to believe that they will reach that figure.

7.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his latest estimate of the total volume of sugar imports with the United Kingdom which will be subsidised by the EEC during the current year.

9.

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will give an up-to-date estimate of the total quantity of sugar carrying a subsidy from the EEC which will be imported into the United Kingdom in 1975.

The Council of Ministers agreed in January to continue the import subsidy scheme for a further 300,000 tons in addition to the 200,000 tons allocated in December and January. Up to mid-February, United Kingdom traders had obtained 164,680 tons out of a total of 218,200 tons receiving subsidy. It is difficult to estimate precisely what further quantities United Kingdom traders will secure under this or any future stage of the scheme.

Does the last answer mean that the Minister has denied Press reports that, after all the argument about guaranteed access to 1·4 million tons, we shall receive from our traditional suppliers less than 1·3 million tons? How will the price of EEC subsidised sugar to the housewife compare with the price the Minister has negotiated for the supplies this year from our traditional suppliers?

Press statements have been made by journalists concerning the long-term supply of 1·4 million tons. I do not accept those statements. I stand by the figure which we negotiated. The subsidised sugar from the Community represents a good deal for the housewife.

Has the attention of the Minister been drawn to two Written Answers from the Minister of State last week, which showed that, in spite of EEC subsidies, the cost of sugar to the United Kingdom confectionery manufacturers was a good deal higher than it was to their counterparts in the other EEC countries? In that case, how does the Minister explain that he is obliged to pay a substantial export levy? Will he take this matter up with his opposite number in the EEC and obtain justice?

I recognise that there is a problem for our industry which processes foodstuffs with a high sugar content. I am keeping a continual watch on this and I shall make the necessary representations.