HC Deb 30 June 1964 vol 697 cc1125-7
16. Mr. A. Lewis

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is aware that the cost of living has now risen to the highest level yet recorded; what was the reason for the latest rise; and on how many occasions since October, 1951, it has fallen below the highest figure recorded in that year.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

Yes, Sir. The Retail Price Index has not, since October, 1951, fallen below the highest figure recorded in that year; but, since October, 1951, the rise has been progressively less rapid, being just over 2 per cent. for the year up to April, 1964. The recent rise of 1 per cent. was due to the increase in drink and tobacco duties.

Mr. Lewis

Did the hon. Gentleman hear his right hon. Friend a moment ago say that Governments kept their promises? Can we know when the promises to "mend that hole in the purse", "make the £ worth something", "decrease the cost of living", "increase the purchasing value of the £", are to be implemented? Can we be assured that those promises will be implemented before the Government go out of office in October?

Mr. Macmillan

I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware that the increase in prices over the period of the Tory Government is approximately something under 50 per cent. and that in money terms the increase in average earnings is something more than 100 per cent., the increase in pensions something more than 120 per cent., and that the purchasing power of average earnings has therefore gone up by about 35 per cent. and the purchasing power of pensions between 45 and 50 per cent. in the twelve years of Tory Government.

Mr. W. Clark

Would not my hon. Friend agree that between 1945 and 1951 prices rose much faster than incomes and that since 1951 incomes have risen much higher and faster than prices? Would he also say how the cost of living in this country compares with that of our overseas competitors, particularly in Europe?

Mr. Macmillan

Yes, Sir. During the 6¼ years of the Labour Administration, the average rise in prices was 6½ per cent. per year. In the first 6¼ years of Conservative Government, the average rise was 4½ per cent. per year. In the second 6¼ years of Conservative Government the average rise was 2½ per cent. a year. In the last year, food prices in this country have gone up by some 1 per cent. while prices in general and food prices in particular in France, Italy and Holland, for example, countries whose performances right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have compared favourably with the economic performance of this country, have gone up five times as fast as in the United Kingdom. In Sweden, with the advantages of a long period of Labour Government, prices have risen nearly 10 times as fast as in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Callaghan

As he was not in the House at the time, I do not suppose the Economic Secretary remembers that the Conservative Government of 1951 were returned on the basis that they would stop inflation. Are we to take it from the complacent replies which we have just had that they have given up any thought of stopping inflation and that, provided average earnings exceed the cost of living, they are ready to tolerate inflation, irrespective of the damage which it does to pensioners and all those on fixed incomes?

Mr. Macmillan

The hon. Gentleman has ignored the fact that pensions have increased in value in real terms. Secondly, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer have made it perfectly clear that the fight against inflation is a major part of the Government's policy. It is also clear that the prices of goods which are very largely produced by mass production methods, such as cars, television and radio sets, washing machines and household equipment, have been steady, but that prices have gone up where the cost of production includes a large labour cost element, which emphasises the importance of an incomes policy, as my right hon. Friend has so often stressed.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

I am anxious to make progress.

Mr. Hirshhorn (Art Collection)

17. Mr. W. T. Rodgers

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what are the terms upon which Mr. Joseph Hirshhorn has offered his art collection to Her Majesty's Government; what obstacles exist to its acceptance; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I have had informal discussions with Mr. Hirshhorn about the possibility of his making his art collection available for permanent exhibition in London on the basis that he would transfer the collection to a foundation created for the purpose under English law and that Her Majesty's Government would provide a site and building and would meet the running costs of the foundation. Mr. Hirshhorn has not yet reached a decision on the matter.

Mr. Rodgers

Would the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is the view of all experts that this is a very distinguished collection which we would be very proud to have in this country? Will he assure the House that he will actively pursue the possibility of bringing it here and not simply wait until Mr. Hirshhorn may make alternative arrangements?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I agree that this is the finest collection of modern sculpture in private hands in the world and that there is also a very distinguished collection of modern American and European pictures. The decision, of course, is for Mr. Hirshhorn, for whom it is obviously a decision of great importance as this collection represents his life's work. However, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are very anxious that the collection should come here and we are endeavouring to meet a number of suggestions which Mr. Hirshhorn has made. The decision, of course, lies with him.