§ 5 and 6. Mrs. Mann
asked the Minister of Labour (1) if he is aware that a wide range of articles in daily use, sold in packets, boxes and tubes, bear no specified weight and are subject to fluctuations which lessen the quantity and thereby conceal a price increase; and how such variations in value are computed for the cost-of-living index figure;
(2) if he is aware of the reductions which take place in household goods sold in boxes, particularly starch, nails, bird food, and matches, and of the practice of enlarging boxes whilst decreasing the quantity of the contents; and how he ascertains fluctuations in value to the consumer, for the index figure of the cost of living.
§ Mr. Iain Macleod
For the purpose of the Retail Prices Index, information is usually obtained from the manufacturers regarding the weight or volume of goods sold in containers which do not specify these details. I am not aware of any general tendency to reduce the quantities in such containers, but, as the hon. Member was informed on a previous occasion, any reduction in quantity is treated as equivalent to a rise in price for the purpose of the index.
§ Mrs. Mann
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the contents of packets can be reduced without notice—the same applies to quantities in boxes and bottles—merely by enlarging the container or thickening the bottle? The housewife buying from one day to another does not know that the contents are fluctuating. Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that this has a very serious effect on the cost of living?
§ Mr. Macleod
As to the effect on the Retail Prices Index, to which the hon. Lady refers, we do not collect prices of starch, nails or birdseed for the purposes of the index. However, we check that the quantity and quality are the same as in previous months. Therefore, any alteration in the size of the container or the weight of its contents would not affect the validity of the index.
§ 7. Mrs. Mann
asked the Minister of Labour if he is aware of the prevailing practice of reducing the contents of bottled wines, canned or bottled beer, and household sauces by indenting sides and glass from bottom upwards, and that spirituous liquors are sold by measures, such as nips, which have a different meaning in different parts of Britain; and how these fluctuations are accurately assessed in computing the cost of living index figure.
§ Mr. Iain Macleod
I am aware that many different styles and shapes of bottles 739 are used as containers, but I have no evidence of any general tendency in recent periods to alter these in such a way as to reduce the contents. Similarly, I have no evidence of general reductions in the size of the nip. As I have just explained in answer to a previous Question, full allowance is made for any known changes in quantity when prices at different dates are compared for the purpose of the retail prices index.
§ Mr. Macleod
I am not quite sure what the nip has to do with the plateau. The nip is not a standard measure; it is quite true that it varies from area to area. But as we take the same basis each month for the Retail Prices Index it is the percentage change which is measured by the index, and that is accurately shown.