HC Deb 02 March 1944 vol 397 cc1547-9
2. Mr. A. Edwards

asked the Minister of Labour whether he has considered the recently published survey of family budgets, compiled by the Oxford Institute of Statistics, a copy of which has been sent to him, according to which the food price index of the Oxford Institute of Statistics increased between May, 1940, and June, 1943, by 35 per cent., due to an increase in the cost of unrationed and point-rationed food, whilst the food price index of his Department rose by only 6 per cent.; and what steps he proposes to take to adjust this discrepancy.

Mr. Bevin

As is stated in the Bulletin this increase of 35 per cent. occurred in the average expenditure on food among the sample of households concerned, and was due to higher expenditure on unrationed or point-rationed foods, and to more liberal purchases of the more expensive kinds of vegetables and fruit, as funds were available. It has, therefore, no relevance to the cost-of-living index of my Department, which is designed to indicate the change in prices between two dates of items which are, as nearly as possible, identical in quality and amount at both dates. In short, the figure in the Bulletin shows the increase in the amount actually spent and not the increase in the cost of the same things at the two dates.

Mr. Edwards

Does the Minister not think that these official figures give rather a false picture, and that the other figures are nearer the actual cost of living for the normal life that one has a right to expect for working-class people; and will he not consider bringing his figures more into line?

Mr. Bevin

No, Sir; the figures I have to issue relate to the change in prices. They do not deal with the standard of living or the cost of living but only the change in prices of the items which are taken into account.

Mr. W. J. Brown

In view of the fact that the Ministry of Labour index is widely quoted as a measurement of what is a basis for wages and so on, if the Minister cannot alter that index can he give us another index which does indicate the real increase in the cost of living?

Mr. Bevin

I think it would be a most unfortunate thing in the middle of a war. We had some of that in the last war. I prefer to wait until things reach their post-war value in money and then take up again the inquiries which were going on when the war broke out.

Sir Herbert Williams

Is it not a fact that the right hon. Gentleman's figures are accurate for those who abstain from the black market?

Mr. Shinwell

Is it not the case that for 20 years this House has tried to get more accurate figures?

Mr. Bevin

Yes, they have suggested that the figures ought to be more accurate, but no one has ever suggested a better method of estimating the change of prices than this index. I have had a good deal of experience with it, and I do not want confusion between measuring the standard of living and measuring the change in prices. They are two entirely different things.

Mr. G. Strauss

As the official figures do not include fruit and vegetables, in which the greatest increases in price have taken place, is it not a fact that these statistics give a more accurate picture than the official figures?

Mr. Bevin

There is a positive danger if we follow the policy of trying to bring down the working class to a fodder basis which I detest. I think that a progressive standard of living is a matter for negotiation, a matter for the trade unions to press on with from year to year.