HC Deb 05 December 1950 vol 482 cc171-4
1. Mr. Ellis Smith

asked the Minister of Labour if he is aware of the growing concern as to the accuracy of the index for recording the changes in the cost of living; if it is intended to bring the index up to date; or what other action is proposed.

2. Mr. Osborne

asked the Minister of Labour, in view of the fact that conditions were not regarded as sufficiently stable whilst the wage and dividend freeze was in operation to carry out a family budget inquiry as the basis of a new cost-of-living index, what conditions he has laid down as requisite before such an inquiry can be made and a new and more reliable cost-of-living index be established.

The Minister of Labour (Mr. Isaacs)

The present index is compiled in accordance with the recommendations of the Cost of Living Advisory Committee, which I appointed in August, 1946, to advise me on the revision of the old cost-of-living index. That Committee recommended the use of the results of the full-scale budget inquiry held in 1937–38 as a basis for weighting the present index, on the grounds that household expenditure for some time after the end of the war would be abnormal and therefore misleading if used as a basis for weighting an index. I have had constantly under review the question whether conditions of spending could now be considered to be sufficiently stable to justify the holding of a new full-scale budget inquiry. I have now decided to call the Advisory Committee together again and to ask them to consider whether, in their opinion, this is now the case. An inquiry of this kind on a scale sufficiently comprehensive to provide information covering different seasons of the year cannot, of course, be completed in a short time.

Mr. Ellis Smith

In view of that reply, does my right hon. Friend consider the time has arrived for the restoration of confidence in this standard of measurements and, if so, can he give the constitution of the Committee, the personnel and their experience in dealing with matters of this kind?

Mr. Isaacs

On the first part of my hon. Friend's question, whatever may be the rights or the wrongs of the case, it is necessary that there should be confidence in this index. With reference to the Committee, I am unable to give the names because there has been a change since 1946. Representation covers the British Employers' Confederation, the Trades Union Congress, the Co-operative Movement, the retail distributive trades, the Women's Institutes and statisticians appointed by the universities and various Departments—the Board of Trade, and so on.

Mr. Osborne

Since the Minister has not replied to the last part of my Question, may I ask what are the conditions that have to be stable today before this new index can be made? In view of the fact that prices have been fairly stable in the last two years, when nothing has been done, and they are going to rocket in the next few months, for what extra condition has the Minister been waiting?

Mr. Isaacs

If the hon. Member reads my answer, he will find that I tried to cover his points.

Mr. Tom Brown

Arising out of the reply, is my right hon. Friend aware that the hocus-pocus method adopted by the Department in tabulating the cost-of-living index is creating great disquiet among working people, and particularly among old age pensioners? Will he see that an honest approach is made to this question, which determines the destiny of so many people?

Mr. Isaacs

An honest approach was made. The examination was made by people of very high reputation, and the result was accepted by this House. It is a little unfair for my hon. Friend to say that there is anything which is not honest about this.

Sir Ian Fraser

What is the Minister doing about having on the Committee a representative of the British Legion or some other person who might be said to represent ex-Service men and women?

Mr. Isaacs

I think I can say that these organisations represent ex-Service men, since pretty well everybody today is an ex-Service man. I know that the House is to discuss this matter on Friday, and we shall look carefully at any proposal made in the debate which might help us further in this matter.

5. Mr. Osborne

asked the Minister of Labour what items are included in the interim cost-of-living index; what weight is given to each item; and how much these items differ from those contained in the original cost-of-living index in 1947.

Mr. Isaacs

A list of the items included in the interim index of retail prices and of the weights assigned, are given in the published description of the index entitled "Interim Index of Retail Prices: Method of Construction and Calculation." A comparison of the items included in this index and those included in the former cost-of-living index is given in the pamphlet issued in 1947 entitled "Interim Index of Retail Prices—A Short Explanatory Note." I am sending copies of these two publications to the hon. Member.

Mr. Osborne

Since this matter is of the greatest possible interest, will the Minister have the most important figures published in the OFFICIAL REPORT?

Mr. Isaacs indicated dissent.

15. Sir I. Fraser

asked the Minister of Labour if he will publish an expert analysis of the old cost-of-living index and the present retail price index, so that a comparative study of the two can be made.

Mr. Isaacs

I have written to the hon. Member following his previous Question of 21st November.

Sir I. Fraser

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the letter, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he cannot help the House and the country in this matter by giving some guidance, because there are two to three million trade unionists and three-quarters of a million ex-Service men who have certain undertakings or promises related to the old index, and they cannot judge whether they have any rights now without some bridge being made between the old index and the new.

Mr. Isaacs

It is rather strange that, although I have been in touch with trade unionists, I have heard nothing of that complaint on behalf of the two to three million to whom the hon. Gentleman refers. The statement which I made and the answer I gave to the first Question this afternoon is an indication that we are progressing towards removing that misunderstanding.