HC Deb 05 February 1968 vol 758 cc31-3
52. Mr. Lomas

asked the Minister of Technology if he has now decided to refer to the National Board for Prices and Incomes the recently announced increase in the price of Mallory mercury hearing aid batteries—RM 675 H2014;1.4 volts—from 11s. to 16s. 6d. for six; and if he will make a statement.

53. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Minister of Technology what action he will take over the recent increase in price of hearing aid batteries from Is. 10d. to 2s. 9d.

57. Sir J. Vaughan-Morgan

asked the Minister of Technology whether he will now refer to the National Board for Prices and Incomes the recent increase in price for the Mallory R.M. 675 H 14 volt batteries for hearing aids as sold by chemists and others.

58. Dr. John Dunwoody

asked the Minister of Technology what action he intends to take as a result of the recent increase in the price of batteries for hearing aids.

Mr. Benn

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs and I have decided to refer the question of these increased prices to the National Board for Prices and Incomes for examination, and the reference will be made shortly.

Mr. Lomas

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply, but can he also explain why it has taken the Department so long to reach this decision? In view of this outrageous increase in these prices, what action is he taking to ensure that the old prices are still maintained till the Prices and Incomes Board has had an opportunity to consider this matter?

Mr. Benn

I am sorry if my hon. Friend thinks it has taken so long a time to make this reference, but these references are not made lightly, and I think it is right that we should have thought about it very carefully. As to the second point, I am not able to answer offhand how this will operate. I think it is covered by the arrangements with the Board itself.

Mr. Allaun

But pending the Board's report, will the Government countermand the existing price increases, particularly as some of us believe that the Board, while strong against wages, is as weak as dishwater about prices?

Mr. Benn

I will look at the point my hon. Friend has raised about the present price, but I would not accept that we have been slow to refer prices to the Board. Indeed, I myself have referred quite a number of cases, including the recent case of Television Rentals.

Dr. Dunwoody

If my right hon. Friend is not able to freeze the prices of these batteries till the Board has reported, will he at least consult his colleagues at the Ministry of Social Security to see that additional social security benefits are given, to old folk in particular, to cover the increase of the cost of these batteries which they will have to pay in the weeks ahead?

Mr. Benn

I have promised to look at the point raised by my hon. Friend, but, as my hon. Friend knows, these batteries are not used in the Medresco National Health Service hearing aid.

Mr. Frederic Harris

Has the Minister come to an understanding with the Chairman of the Prices and Incomes Board as to when a decision may be taken as this increase hits hard so many people who can ill afford it?

Mr. Benn

I think the Board is very well aware, in this as in other cases, of the desirability of producing a report as quickly as possible. I have not in this instance met the Chairman. I think that he and the Board must look at the matter independently and report as soon as possible.

Mr. James Davidson

Will the Minister consult the Minister of Health to see if possible, that prescriptions for these batteries can be obtained by those suffering from chronic deafness?

Mr. Benn

That would not be a question for me but since the hon. Gentleman has raised it, I will draw it to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. J. T. Price

Is my right hon. Friend aware that only three days after devaluation was announced I was supplied with a copy of an invoice which was issued by a large firm of merchants for a piece of apparatus supplied to a London hospital for biological research and which carried with it a surcharge for devaluation—printed on the invoice—of 17½ per cent.? Is my right hon. Friend further aware that I handed that document to the Treasury, and that, so far as I am aware, nothing has been done about it up to now?

Mr. Benn

That is a separate question, but if the Treasury did overlook it my hon. Friend's question today will draw attention to it.

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