HC Deb 01 December 1955 vol 546 cc2487-90
11. Mr. Dodds

asked the Minister of Labour if he is aware at the concern at the recent increase of two points in the cost-of-living index; and what caused this increase.

Sir W. Monckton

The rise in the Index of Retail Prices between September and October was due mainly to increases in the prices of various items of food including tomatoes, butter, cheese, eggs, pork and bacon. There were also some increases in the prices of furniture and newspapers, and in some areas there were increases in rents and rates and in the charges for gas.

Mr. Dodds

Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman think it is regrettable that the cost-of-living index should rise faster than ever it did when solemn promises were made in 1951?

Sir W. Monckton

I certainly regret the rise in the cost of living but I am not guilty of any promises, and I will not answer for anyone else.

Mr. Ede

Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman draw it to the attention of his right hon. colleagues in the Government who are responsible for this?

Mr. Strachey

The Minister of Labour has just said that he regrets this rise in the cost of living. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us that to increase the cost of living is the best way to combat inflation. How are we to reconcile those two answers?

Sir W. Monckton

If the right hon. Gentleman has so understood the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I must have misunderstood him. I certainly answer for myself.

13. Dame Irene Ward

asked the Minister of Labour why, when an increase in the cost of living is attributed mainly to a seasonal rise in certain foodstuffs, when there is a seasonal fall there is not a corresponding reduction in the cost of living; and to what extent he estimates that the index will in the future reflect this trend.

Sir W. Monckton

During each of the last four years the Interim Index of Retail Prices declined by one point between July and August, owing mainly to seasonal reductions in certain food prices. I have no reason to suppose that the index will not continue to reflect accurately movements in these and other prices.

Dame Irene Ward

When my right hon. and learned Friend read the last report on the cost-of-living index was his attention riveted by the fact that this rise was due to a rise in seasonal foods? Is he aware—perhaps I did not hear him quite correctly, because he does not seem to have replied to all the points I made in my Question? Are we to have a drop in the cost of living when seasonal foods decline?

Sir W. Monckton

I pointed out to my hon. Friend that four times in the last four years, where there has been a seasonal change, there has been a drop of a point in the cost of living. From time to time the reductions in particular items are outweighed by increases in other items. My task is to see that the cost of living is accurately recorded here, and I try to do it.

Mr. Lee

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman explain the phenomenon that the seasons in which the cost of living advances so far exceed the ones in which it is reduced, and that from October, 1951, the cost of living has advanced from 129 points to 152?

Sir W. Monckton

I am entitled to say that the same phenomenon seems to have taken place during the time of the Labour Government.

16. Miss Burton

asked the Minister of Labour which six items, taken proportionately, in the cost-of-living index have increased most during the past twelve months.

Sir W. Monckton

The six items included in the Retail Prices Index which showed the largest percentage increase in price between mid-October, 1954, and mid-October, 1955, were potatoes brussels sprouts, cauliflower, pork dried currants and canned salmon.

Miss Burton

Is the Minister aware that, for a great many people, the cost of living has increased because the prices received by the producers and those paid by the consumers in the shops bear no relation to each other? Is he further aware that this wide gap results from the profits of the middleman, and will he use his influence with the Government to cause an inquiry to be made?

Sir W. Monckton

I am not sure that that is a matter for my Department.

19. Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

asked the Minister of Labour whether the promised revision of the cost-of-living index will now be completed by the end of the year.

Sir W. Monckton

The Cost of Living Advisory Committee is at present preparing proposals for a further revision of the Retail Prices Index. The Committee has not yet reported, but I hope that it will be possible to carry out this further revision very shortly.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

Having admitted the need to revise the index, which for many people—especially pensioners—deceptively underestimates the effect of recent price increases, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman try to keep to the assurance given to me by his Parliamentary Secretary last July by getting out an accurate, up-to-date, and truthful index at the earliest possible moment?

Sir W. Monckton

I understand that the Committee is making good progress on what is a complicated task, and hopes to make recommendations to me in the next month or two.

Mr. Lee

Will the basis of the new index make possible a continuance of a correlation with the present index, so that we can see general trends of prices, and so on?

Sir W. Monckton

Yes, Sir. That is an important feature.