HC Deb 05 April 1950 vol 473 cc1194-6

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:

57. MR. HURD—To ask the Minister of Food if he is now able to state how the retail prices of food will be affected by removal of the feedingstuffs subsidy and the higher prices to be paid to farmers for milk and meat.

60. MR. TURTON—To ask the Minister of Food whether he is now able announce the alterations in the prices of food that he proposes to make consequent upon the decision made in the February price review.

63. MR. IVOR OWEN THOMAS—To ask the Minister of Food if he will now state his arrangements for the retail prices of food arising from the recent farm price review and his general estimates of buying costs.

72. MR. CHETWYND—To ask the Minister of Food what changes in the price of food he proposes as a result of the recent review; and what will be their effect on the cost-of-living index.

The Minister of Food (Mr. Maurice Webb)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I propose to make a statement in answer to these Questions.

The Government have now reviewed the position arising from the increase in the prices of certain agricultural products which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture announced on 23rd March. In considering the effect of these changes on retail food prices, the Government have also taken account of the changes in various subsidies announced in recent months, and my Department's estimates of changes in the volume and prices of essential foodstuffs that we shall be buying from outside sources during the next few months. In the light of these many factors it is, of course, necessary for us to make price adjustments from time to time if we are to keep within the ceiling of food subsidies.

I have accordingly decided to make the following increases in price to meet all these outstanding points, and I hope I shall not have to make any further increases at any rate for some time. Butter will be increased by 4d. a 1b. bringing the price to 1s. 10d. a 1b. compared to the economic price of 2s. 10d. a 1b. That is the subsidy will still amount to 1s. a 1b.

Bacon will be increased by 2d. a 1b. on the average, but not uniformly over the whole range of qualities. This will give an average price of 2s. 5d. a 1b. for bacon compared to the economic price of 3s. 7d. a 1b. That is to say the subsidy will still be 1s. 2d. a 1b. for bacon. These increases, which are the only increases we propose, will take effect in the case of butter from 23rd April, and in the case of bacon from 21st May. I think I can best make clear the effect of these changes on the individual consumer by pointing out that the cost per ration book will be about 1½d. a week, and that it will involve an increase in the cost-of-living index of just over half a point.

Mr. Hurd

Can the Minister say how much of the £36 million saved to the taxpayers by abolishing the foodstuffs subsidies is being carried by farmers, and how much is now to be passed on to consumers in one way or another?

Mr. Webb

I am not sure about the exact amount carried by the farmers, but under this arrangement we are proposing to give, in recoupment of higher prices to farmers, about £12 million in a full year.

Mr. Turton

Can the Minister say whether the fixed ceiling on food subsidies will remain the same as last year?

Mr. Webb

I think that the hon. Member had better await the Chancellor's Budget statement.

Mrs. Jean Mann

Would my right hon. Friend try to arrange for the placing of tickets on all bacon on sale in shops, because most housewives feel that they are being charged maximum prices all the time for what they probably ought to have to pay minimum prices?

Mr. Webb

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We are looking into a suggestion that in the case of subsidised foods we should make clear to the consumer how much the subsidy amounts to, and we are trying to work out that proposal.

Mr. Ivor Owen Thomas

My right hon. Friend said in his statement that the facts he gave were related to the ceiling figure which has been decided in relation to subsidies. Can he say what that ceiling figure is, in view of the fact that he seemed to imply that the arrangements which he has just announced have been fixed in relation to such a ceiling?

Mr. Webb

I am not responsible for the subsidy ceiling, and I would rather leave that point for the Chancellor to answer.

Sir W. Smithers

Will the Minister say whether in relation to the increases in prices which he has announced there will be a proportionate decrease in the food subsidies?

Mr. Webb

That is part of the question I have just answered.

Mr. Joynson-Hicks

Can the Minister say what will be the total increase to purchasers as a result of these price increases? What will be the global increase?

Mr. Webb

It amounts to 1½d. per ration book, or, in the case of a family of four, 6d. per week.