§ 1. Miss Burton
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is aware that consumers do not benefit from fluctuation of food prices because of profits made by middlemen; and if, in an effort to reduce the cost-of-living index, he will appoint a committee of inquiry to investigate this aspect with a view to legislative action in controlling the profits.
§ The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Heathcoat Amory)
No, Sir. I know of no evidence that distributors' profits generally are unduly high. If the Government attempted to control them by legislation, this would almost certainly entail the control of prices and allocation of supplies. The most effective means of ensuring that distributors' profits are reasonable is by free competition, which it is the Government's object to promote, and which I believe to be generally effective in the food trades.
§ Miss Burton
Is the Minister aware that in the recent trouble over the cost of potatoes, the farmers have been very vehement in saying that they do not receive the high prices charged in the shops? Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that there is little relation 794 between the prices received by the producers and those charged to the consumers? If the Minister will not legislate, will he at least set up a committee to inquire into the methods used by distributors?
I agree with the hon. Lady that it is most important to be sure that the difference between the price which the producer receives and the price which the consumer has to pay is reasonable. I am not at all against having an inquiry when the circumstances justify it, as illustrated in the case of horticulture, where I have recently appointed a committee of inquiry, but I do not think that an inquiry covering the whole wide field would produce useful results.