HC Deb 02 March 1971 vol 812 cc1369-72
4. Mr. Evelyn King

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what estimate he has made of the percentage effect of shop assistants wage increases, raw material costs and food manufacturers' costs, respectively, in relation to the total increase in food prices between 1964 and 1970.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James Prior)

The available figures do not enable this breakdown to be made.

Mr. King

Put another way, by how much has consumer expenditure on food increased compared with farmers' incomes? Will not those figures show that whilst almost everyone else—the shopkeeper, the wholesaler, the taxman and the transport man—has had his hand in the till, the farmer has had an extraordinarily small share?

Mr. Prior

What the figures show is that consumer expenditure over that period rose by £1,376 million. Over roughly the same period the value of farm sales rose by £345 million, and net farm income by £58 million. So the figures show conclusively that the farmers' share of the increase in consumer expenditure was very small.

Mr. James Hamilton

Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that consumers are prepared to pay reasonable prices to give shop assistants a living wage? Does he also recognise that the consumers object to the fact that they were advised that there would be a cut in prices "at a stroke" and that this has not happened?

Mr. Prior

What the hon. Gentleman is asking me to do is to recognise that the shop assistants should have a reasonable wage, and, of course, that means again increases in wages and increases in prices.

25. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what has been the percentage increase in the price of food, as measured by the retail prices index in the seven months 1st July, 1970, to 31st January, 1971; and what were the comparable figures for each of the previous six years.

Mr. Prior

The Food Index increased by 3.8 per cent. between 16th June, 1970, and 19th January, 1971. In the same period of the previous year there was an increase of 1.1 per cent. I shall, with permission, circulate the figures for the five earlier years in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Hamilton

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for that Answer. What effect is his policy of competition having on price increases in the food sector?

Mr. Prior

The policy of competition is working as well as can be expected[Laughter.]at a time of rampant inflation. As the hon. Gentleman may have heard before, one man's wage increase is another man's price increase, and the whole nation suffers from a price increase.

Mr. Kinsey

Will my right hon. Friend make a comparison with the first six months of the year under the Labour Administration, when the food index prices went up 5.1 per cent.? Will he continue to press his right hon. Friends to reduce taxation which was loaded on to food prices by the Labour Government?

Mr. Prior

There is no doubt that increased taxes of one sort or another, whether in the form of selective employment tax or the effects of the Transport Act, during the period of office of the Labour Government did much to increase prices and this has been carried forward into our term of office. However, I am certain that over a period of years we shall do better than the record of the former Administration, when prices rose by over 25 per cent. in five years.

Mr. Barnes

Is the Minister aware that non-seasonal foods, which form the bulk of most people's purchases, went up 6.6 per cent. since June and went up by a full 1 per cent. from mid-December to mid-January? Since the food index is not yet picking up the impact of decimalisation, nor the further increases which the Minister warned us were coming, does he not feel that if he continues to fail to intervene the increases in retail food prices at the end of the first year of this Government will be unparalleled?

Mr. Prior

It is extraordinary that hon. Gentlemen opposite can still call for intervention, in view of their abject failure to control prices during their period of office. When the hon. Gentleman says That we have not yet felt the effect of decimalisation, how does he know? On the whole, our evidence is that decimalisation has gone extremely quietly and that very few price increases have resulted from it. As for the last part of the question, some of the increases in recent months were those to which I was referring on 19th January when I said that some increases were still to come.

Following is the information: The changes in the Food Index between mid-June and mid-January were:
Per cent.
June, 1964–January, 1965 +1.1
June, 1965–January, 1966 +0.4
June, 1966–January, 1967 -0.7
June, 1967–January, 1968 -0.6
June, 1968–January, 1969 +1.6