HC Deb 10 December 1969 vol 793 cc414-8
12. Mr. Leslie Huckfield

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many food price increases have been referred to his Department this year; and how many have been approved.

Mr. Hoy

So far this year 164 proposals for food price increases have been notified to the Department under the early warning arrangements. Of these 111 have been accepted as notified and a further 16 after modification. The remainder have either been withdrawn or are still under consideration.

Mr. Huckfield

I can assure my right hon. Friend that I shall continue to send to his right hon. Friend any complaints about increases that are referred to me. Would not my hon. Friend agree that the whole machinery might be rather more meaningful if more price increases were refused?

Mr. Hoy

I can only reply that the procedure is that of the early warning system. The proposals come before my Department, and I can assure my hon. Friend that they are most carefully examined before we permit the increases to take place. We should not think that this represents the whole record, because the very fact that it is known that this procedure exists very frequently keeps people from making applications.

Sir G. Nabarro

Is it not the fact that nearly all of these applications for increased food prices arise from the incidence of the selective employment tax in the food retail and wholesale distributive trades; and that were this tax removed, with it would go nearly all the demands for increased food prices?

Mr. Hoy

I wish that were true. There are many reasons for increased costs—wages, materials, and so on. Very frequently we are dependent on supplies from abroad for what we require, and unless we pay the price we do not get it.

Mr. Fernyhough

Can my right hon. Friend say whether in respect of one of the most recent increases—the 2d. on a pint of beer—he has been assured by the brewers—

Mr. Speaker

Order. There is a Question on beer later in the Order Paper.

Mr. Fernyhough

But this, Mr. Speaker, is one of the increases that the Minister says he has already approved. The Minister has given a number of increases he has approved, and this is one of them.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Further to your point of order, Mr. Speaker—if I may call it that, with respect. Can we be assured that beer is food?

Mr. Speaker

I would not rule on such an esoteric question. Mr. Fernyhough.

Mr. Fernyhough

What I was seeking to obtain from my right hon. Friend was an assurance that none of the increased profits which would accrue to the brewers—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Question No. 35 relates to beer. The hon. Gentleman cannot anticipate another hon. Member's question.

33. Mr. Dempsey

asked the Minister at Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what action he has now taken to halt the rising prices in basic foodstuffs and other necessities; what results he has obtained; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

I am continuing my arrangements for price surveillance. I am satisfied that no unjustified increases have occurred. Throughout the last five years average earnings have been rising faster than the price of food.

Mr. Dempsey

Is my right hon. Friend aware that if he shops around during the weekend he may change his mind? Does he realise that half pound tins of imported food are going up in price by 4d. and 6d. overnight? Is there not some effective action that we could take to stop these price increases?

Mr. Hughes

I have indicated what the situation is. Food prices have been kept stable below the general increase in prices and earnings. I can assure my hon. Friend that I do shop around at weekends. Certainly I agree that any food price increase is unwelcome, but, on the whole, the early warning system has worked very well indeed, and I pay tribute to the food industry for the co-operation that it has given us.

Mr. Godber

Since the Minister is taking credit for what he calls the steadiness of food prices, will he not acknowledge that they have risen twice as fast in the last five years compared with are five years before and that they have been averaging 4 per cent. or 5 per cent. higher?

Mr. Hughes

That is not the case. The increase in the price of food in the last five years compares favourably with the situation during the 13 years of Conservative Government. If the hon. Gentleman would like to put down a Question asking for details, I shall be glad to look into the matter.

Mr. Manuel

With regard to this hullaballoo on the other side of the House about prices, are we to understand that before prices can be reduced we have to increase farming subsidies? Is that what hon. Members opposite are after?

Mr. Hughes

The Annual Price Review and subsidies have a part to play, and they help to hold down food prices. But it is fair to say that this money does not go into the farmers' pockets. Nevertheless it is helpful in the maintenance of food prices.

Mr. Biffen

Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he is currently examining an application for an increase in the price of bread, and will he say when he expects to conclude his examination? In addition, will he on this occasion tell the House before the Press is informed?

Mr. Hughes

I can make no statement on bread at present.

43. Mr. Arthur Lewis

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food why he has agreed to allow manufacturers of sausages and meat pies to increase their prices by 2d. per 1b.; why, under the early warning system, these increases have been approved; to what extent the reduction of the Common Market's import levy of 5d. per 1b. on pork encouraging the export of pigs has had an effect on the rise in the prices of these articles; and whether he will make a statement.

Mr. Hoy

Recent price increases by leading manufacturers of sausages and meat pies were accepted as justified under the early warning arrangements by my Department. The prices of these products are affected by many factors.

It is not possible to quantify as a separate element the effect on price levels of exports of pigs since the reduction of the Common Market levy.

Mr. Lewis

Is my hon. Friend surprised to learn that there are 250 price increases prophesied in the New Year in addition to these? Does he realise that every time that these people prophesy an increase they automatically get it? Is this because the Ministry works hand in glove with them?

Mr. Hoy

I rather resent the last part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question. Any manufacturer who wants to increase the price of his goods has to send the application to my Department, where it is examined very carefully. It is misleading, as our predecessors found, to accept some figures from The Grocers' Gazette. It can be misleading to the general public.