§ 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 1370 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?
§ 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. Hamilton
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for that Answer. 1371 What effect is his policy of competition having on price increases in the food sector?
§ 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 1372 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: