HC Deb 28 January 1971 vol 810 cc801-2
17. Mr. Strang

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will introduce a new retail food prices index, the weights of which relate to food consumption patterns in households which have a total income of less than £20 a week.

Mr. David Howell

Households with weekly incomes of less than £20 vary to such an extent in size and pattern of food consumption that no reliable index could be established.

Mr. Strang

Is the Minister aware that that is a most unsatisfactory reply? Is he further aware that the Government are not only deliberately forcing up food prices but are also trying to hold down the wages of lower-paid workers? It is not true, as his right hon. Friend implied, that the Government are offering the workers a choice between more wages and a higher level of unemployment. The Government are forcing them to accept both.

Mr. Howell

I do not accept that string of assertions. The Cost of Living Advisory Committee looked into this in 1968 and found that it simply did not make sense, because of the great variety in the patterns of households, except in the case of the one-person or two-person households.

Mr. Peter Mills

Does not my hon. Friend agree that one reason for the slight rise in food prices is the tremendous increase in the sale of "convenient" foods? If people want "convenient" foods they will have to pay the correct price for them.

Mr. Howell

This is a question about food price indices rather than about food prices. Nevertheless, I agree that my hon. Friend has talked a lot of sense.

Mr. Rose

Does not the fact that the rise in the price of food has been faster since 18th June than it was before, and that food prices are expected to go up 10 per cent. in the next year, reinforce the argument against the Government's selective incomes policy which is being forced upon the public sector, which is already behind the private sector and it is therefore not surprising that we now have the highest level of strikes since 1957, when a Tory Government were last in power?

Mr. Howell

As I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's premise, I do not accept the arguments which follow from it. As I say, this question is about indices and not about food prices.