Sugar Beet (Contracts)

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Fisheries and Food – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th May 1976.

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Photo of Mr John MacGregor Mr John MacGregor , South Norfolk 12:00 am, 6th May 1976

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the present uptake of beet contracts for the 1976–77 season.

Photo of Mr Edward Bishop Mr Edward Bishop , Newark

At 24th April 510,360 acres of sugar beet had been sown. This represents 99·80 per cent. of the contracted acreage for 1976.

Photo of Mr John MacGregor Mr John MacGregor , South Norfolk

Is the Minister aware of the growing concern among unions and employees in the British Sugar Corporation that uneconomic and un-commercial decisions will be forced on it in its expansion programmes, because of political pressures, with consequences for employment in the areas in which its factories are situated, with higher sugar prices for the housewife and a heavier cost to the balance of payments? Will the hon. Gentleman stand firmly behind his own Government's beet targets for the farming industry to 1980, and the corporate plans of the corporation?

Photo of Mr Edward Bishop Mr Edward Bishop , Newark

The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the targets set out in the White Paper "Food From Our Own Resources". Speaking from memory, I believe that we aim to be 50 per cent. Self-sufficient by the 1980s. This shows that there is a strong economic case for expanding domestic beet production, but I do not think that this will necessarily harm cane refineries. In the £100 million expansion plan of the British Sugar Corporation, only about £6 million is for additional white refining capacity.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons for the expansion that the Government now want is the reduced import of cane sugar consequent upon our joining the Common Market? Therefore, is there not an obligation on the Government to see that those who may have to lose their jobs as a result are given some support, and that, for example, beet raws are sent to the cane sugar refineries so that redundancies there can be minimised?

Photo of Mr Edward Bishop Mr Edward Bishop , Newark

We did quite well in the sugar negotiations with the Community a year or so ago. Apart from other things, there was a special sugar import subsidy worth about £36 million.

The main reason for growing more sugar in this country is to improve our balance of payments and increase self-sufficiency. We are taking into account the views of the trade unions, expressed in the discussions that are taking place with Tate and Lyle and Manbre and Garton, to see that there is a balance between the use of cane and beet sugar.

Photo of Mr Neil Marten Mr Neil Marten , Banbury

Why is Parliament being kept in the dark about the failure of the current negotiations between the Common Market and the developing sugar producing countries?

Photo of Mr Edward Bishop Mr Edward Bishop , Newark

The hon. Gentleman is being unduly and unjustifiably pessimistic about the situation. There is no failure. The talks have been adjourned, and their resumption will be discussed when the Council of Agriculture Ministers meets on 17th–18th May. I ask the hon. Gentleman not to prejudge the outcome, which we must await.