HC Deb 02 November 1966 vol 735 cc437-9
7. Mr. Corfield

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the trend of charges in catering establishments since 20th July.

48. Mr. Hamling

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what inquiries he has made into rising prices in catering establishments; and whether he will make a statement.

49. Mr. McNamara

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is satisfied that all increases in prices in the hotel and catering industry do not infringe the conditions of the prices and incomes policy; and if he will publish the names of those establishments where the increases are excessive.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James Hoy)

Since the introduction of S.E.T., some caterers have put up prices on selected items; others have introduced a surcharge. We have urged firms to absorb as much as they can, but we recognise that some increases are unavoidable. We investigate any that appear excessive.

Mr. Corfield

Cannot the hon. Gentleman give some indication of the percentage increase due to the Selective Employment Tax? Would he bear in mind that the Chief Secretary, during the proceedings on the Finance Bill, gave some highly optimistic estimates of somewhere about 1 per cent. or 2 per cent.? Would he not agree that those estimates were entirely misleading?

Mr. Hoy

I cannot remember offhand, but I think it was said that the figure would not exceed 3 per cent. The Caterers Association of Great Britain has been co-operative in this respect and, indeed, it has told all its members that, if any changes have to be made, they ought to be made in line with the White Paper and they should not claim more.

Mr. Hamling

Will my hon. Friend, if he discovers where excessive increases are being made, take the same action as was taken with the laundries?

Mr. Hoy

It is a little more difficult in the catering industry, where there is a wider range of different types of hotels and establishments, but I can assure my hon. Friend that when we get cases of this kind we take the matter up directly with the people concerned.

Mr. McNamara

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in some cases the increase has been as much as 18 per cent. and that the Selective Employment Tax has been blamed for this? Would he not do the Government service, as well as consumers, if he were to publish the names of those establishments that are so blatantly defeating the policy?

Mr. Hoy

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for sending me some of the cases involved. If he sends me details, I will examine them. In some instances we have had an immediate response by writing to firms.

Mr. Goodhew

Under what authority does the Minister write to these caterers asking about the prices they charge?

Mr. Hoy

In a friendly way, and in the interests—[Interruption.]—indeed, in a very friendly way. Surely hon. Members opposite are not suggesting that we should not take action to protect the consumers of this country.

Mr. Shinwell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that British Transport Hotels are charging, because of the S.E.T.—although that might be only a pretext—an extra 2s. for every meal? Is not this an exorbitant charge, and is my right hon. Friend aware that I complained to the Ministry of Transport and received a very dusty answer?

Mr. Hoy

My right hon. Friend is aware that I cannot be held responsible for answers coming from another Department, but whenever we are approached regarding prices we take up the matter with the Department concerned or, as I have told the House, we communicate direct with the people concerned.

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