My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry announced on 20 May that he had decided to refer to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission proposed acquisitions of S. and W. Berisford by Hillsdown Holdings and Tate and Lyle in accordance with the recommendation of the Director General of Fair Trading. The commission's investigations will include consideration of the likely effect on British sugar beet growers.
While welcoming the fact that the proposed acquisition has been referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, may I ask whether the Minister agrees that the sugar industry is far too important to be the subject of such a takeover? Would it not be in the best interests of the industry if it rescued itself, and also for a management buy-out to be considered as the best possible solution for sugar beet growers and those who work in the industry?
I do not think that the series of parts in the hon. Gentleman's supplementary hang together. It is necessary that we look at the effect of any purchase in the context of the interests of the country as a whole, and especially those concerned in the sugar industry. That is what we are doing.
I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. The narrowness of the refining margin causes considerable concern, because without a proper refining capacity in this country the ACOP countries would find it impossible to obtain a market for their cane, which would be a disaster. That is why we have been pressing the European Commission to hold a full investigation, and we are pleased that it will now do so.
Is it not true that a Monopolies Commission investigation could reveal that, given proper safeguards for monopolies, this acquisition could provide an opportunity for all the interests of beet producers and refiners as well as cane producers in the Commonwealth and cane workers in this country to be combined to provide a stable, domestically-owned sugar industry that would provide employment and markets for all concerned?
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that takeovers usually mean unemployment for workers in the company taken over? Will he therefore consider making representations to try to ensure that workers do not lose jobs, especially in view of the tremendous workless total in this country?
In the first place, I do not think that is truthful. One must look for security of employment in an industry, and that security is sometimes advanced by takeovers and sometimes not. The hon. Gentleman must not let his political dogma get in the way of the facts. We must adopt the best possible solution across the board, and that is why we have established an impartial. investigation. The hon. Gentleman wants to prejudge the impartial investigation, which is a typical Socialist attitude.