HC Deb 16 February 1956 vol 548 cc2501-2
4. Miss Burton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he is aware that the Interim Index of Retail Prices rose by 4½ per cent. between September, 1954, and September, 1955; that about two-thirds of this total rise was due to changes in the price of food; and if, therefore, he will consider the general desirability for the holding of inquiries into the whole of the costings of certain selected foods from the primary producer to the retailer.

Mr. Amory

Yes, Sir. I am aware that during that period both prices and wages rose. In the case of food, a special factor affecting prices last year was the very dry summer. While I am willing to consider the desirability of having an inquiry when particular circumstances justify it, as in the case of horticulture, I see no justification at the present time for a general series of inquiries on food costs and prices.

Miss Burton

Is the Minister aware that last year 229 companies in the food industry alone made an increase in their gross trading profits of£22 million? Is he further aware that every time we ask for a reduction in prices, we are told that the costs of distribution are too high? Why do the Government protect these vested interests time and again?

Mr. Amory

The Government are certainly not doing that. I would say to the hon. Lady that although food prices have risen, and I am far from complacent about that, they have risen very much less during the last four years, and only little more than half as much as during the last four years of the Labour Government. The country is feeding much better today.

Mr. Willey

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is considerable concern at the apparent increase in trading margins? Does not he think that that would be a profitable source of inquiry, and that there is a burden on the right hon. Gentleman to satisfy himself that the present margins are not unduly contributing to the increased cost of food?

Mr. Amory

I shall be glad at any time to consider any evidence which hon. Members can send to me, but I believe that the best answer is the active encouragement of competition.

Mr. T. Williams

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the prices for the last four years and the previous four years. Will he say what were the import prices for the four years preceding the advent of this Government and the four years since they took office?

Mr. Amory

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, import prices are only part of the story.

Mr. Nabarro

Is not the Question on the Order Paper an invitation to reintroduce price control, and therefore rationing?