HC Deb 06 July 1971 vol 820 cc1119-21
23. Mr. Arthur Davidson

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will now make regular Ministerial broadcasts to explain the significance of the monthly unemployment, trade, and price index statistics.

Mr. Barber

No, Sir.

Mr. Davidson

Does the right hon. Gentleman feel that he has a duty to explain to the British public in simple and non-technical language exactly why it is that month after month the unemployment figures have become more alarming while month after month the price increases have become more scandalous? If he cannot explain it, can he at least explain why he does not have a guilt complex about "conning" the British public?

Mr. Barber

We have only recently had a debate on the economy, when these various matters were discussed. The state of the economy is discussed regularly, both inside the House and in Ministerial speeches, and in addition, the Treasury publishes a monthly economic assessment in which the current economic situation is reviewed.

Sir J. Langford-Holt

Has my right hon. Friend seen the statement by Mr. Reeves-Smith of the National Grocers' Federation in which he says that statements that the reduction of S.E.T. will significantly affect prices are totally misleading? Has he any comment to make on that?

Mr. Barber

I thought when I saw that comment that it would be interesting to see what the same Mr. Reeves-Smith said in 1966 when S.E.T. was first introduced to yield an amount approximately equal to the cut that I have made. He then made this observation: The average British housewife spends about £5 to £6 a week at the grocers. The tax could put 3s. 7d. a week on her bill. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) would be the first to appreciate the significance of that.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us on how many occasions he quoted The Grocer with approval in the years to 18th June, 1970?

Mr. Barber

A quotation from the same Mr. Reeves-Smith is highly relevant, and I think again that the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate it because, after his Budget in 1968, the same Mr. Reeves-Smith said: The Chancellor, by increasing S.E.T. and vehicle and petrol duties, has effectively determined that retail prices of food will rise dramatically. He might have added "at a stroke".

Mr. Harold Wilson

If the right hon. Gentleman will not answer my right hon. Friend's Question, will he ask the grocer to answer it himself?

Mr. Barber

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that Mr. Reeves-Smith has made a number of statements which would be equally unpalatable to the right hon. Gentleman. I was particularly taking care not to refer to The Grocer.