§ 12. Mr. Carter
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food by how much the food bill of both a single retirement pensioner and a married retirement pensioner couple has increased over the past six months.
§ Mr. Carter
That hardly answers the Question. Does not the Minister accept that, translated into real pounds, shillings 235 and pence, this means a tremendous increase in the cost of living for old-age pensioners—a higher increase than in recent years? Coupled with the announcements made by the Minister in his review last week, this will amount in total to a drastic falling off in the living standards of old-age pensioners. Will he, therefore, urge his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to increase dramatically the old-age pension in his coming Budget?
§ Sir G. Nabarro
Would not my right hon. Friend admit at once that the increases that he has just denoted for food prices for old-age pensioners represent less than 2p in the pound, and are about one quarter of the advances which have taken place in nationalised industries? In view of all the increases put together, will he step along the corridor to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and ask for a 10s. increase for the single old-age pensioner and 15s. for the two pensioner household to take effect at the earliest moment?
§ 13. Mr. Barnes
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what movement there was in the retail price of food items other than those which show significant seasonal variations from the middle of December, 1970, to the latest available date, according to the Index of Retail Prices.
§ Mr. Barnes
Is the Minister aware that it does not give us any pleasure to go on about these figures every time he answers Questions, but the figures are bad news for the housewife? The figure which he has just mentioned means that non-seasonal foods will have gone up 7 per cent. since June. Will he clarify the words of the Prime Minister last June? I will not quote them, because I am not trying to make a party political point. Were the people of this country wrong to interpret those words as meaning that there would be Government action to reduce the rate of price increases?
§ Mr. Prior
The whole time there is Government action to reduce the rate of increase. I will respond to the hon. Gentleman who does not want to make a party point by saying that in two out of the last three years of Labour Government the increase in non-seasonal food prices between December and February was greater than it has been this year.
§ Mr. Peter Mills
Will my right hon. Friend convey to the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes) that this country still has the cheapest food in Europe, that a weak agricultural industry would mean that we were at the mercy of imported food and that the real reason for the increase in the cost of food is the legislation introduced by the Labour Government?
§ Mr. Cant
May I help the right hon. Gentleman by asking him whether he is aware, on the basis of evidence in respectable newspapers, that there appears to be a serious racket in the prices of retail bacon and pork'? Will he reduce the cost of living, especially for poorer people, by investigating this? For old people, and others, there is nothing tastier than a bit of nice cheap bacon for breakfast.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes
Is the Minister aware that the way in which at Question Time after Question Time he blusters through his Questions is not appreciated by the country as a whole? Has he estimated the likely increase in food prices during 1971? Is he aware that some experts say that the increase may be as high as 10 per cent.? Whilst the House realises that there are some factors beyond his control for which he cannot be blamed, there are other matters which are well within his control. Will he now do something about it? Will he, for example, call a meeting of the Food Manufacturers Federation to discuss whether the manufacturers can absorb some of their costs in their profits and so stabilise the price of food?
§ 14. Mr. Barnes
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what movement there has been in the price of the 100 faster-selling branded foods covered by his Department's survey of retail prices between the last survey before decimalisation day and the latest available survey.
§ Mr. Prior
In the four weeks between 9th February and 9th March about 92 per cent. of the price quotations for the faster-selling branded foods covered by this survey were unchanged or correctly converted to the decimal equivalents of their former £.s.d. prices. Of the remainder, just over 4 per cent, were dearer and over 3 per cent. were cheaper. These changes mainly reflected movements in manufacturers' prices, wholesale market prices or the incidence of special promotions.
§ Mr. Barnes
I agree that the changeover to decimal currency went fairly satisfactorily, except, perhaps, in the greengrocery trade where there is, I think, some evidence of rounding up, but is the Minis- 238 ter aware that the Financial Times grocery index indicates that the upward trend, which was very marked between December and January, is still continuing between February and March? To come back to the point which I put previously, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that the Government's incomes policy, such as it is, would have a much better response if the action which the Minister says the Government are taking over food prices were more evident?
§ Mr. Prior
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman now says that the situation as regards decimalisation was comparatively satisfactory, and I hope that his hon. Friends will support him in that, since it was not what they said on the last occasion when we answered Questions on the matter.
The Government's incomes policy is now seen to be having results, and this, in the end, is the best indication that price rises will stabilise.
§ 15. Mr. Skinner
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what has been the percentage increase in the price of food as measured by the retail price index for the nine months between 18th June and 18th March.
§ Mr. Skinner
Is the Minister aware that, bad as those figures are, the housewife is in for a much heftier increase as a result of the Price Review last week, and will he now publish, out of the thousands of prices which go into the compilation of the retail price index, a list of the prices which have been cut at a stroke since 18th June, and also a list of the shops at which the housewife can buy those goods?
§ Mr. Prior
What the hon. Gentleman presents as facts are not true. The increase resulting from the Price Review determination last week consists of an increase in the price of milk which is equivalent to ¾ per cent. on the cost of food index, and once the levy schemes start to operate, there will be an additional ½ per cent. over the following 12 months. That is the sum total of the increase stemming from the Price Review.
§ Mr. Wiggin
Could my right hon. Friend say what relation the retail food price index bears to the total cost of living index?
§ Mr. Frank Allaun
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that greengrocers throughout the country have just raised the price of cauliflowers by 10 old pence, an increase of 50 per cent., following the Government's levy just imposed? What will he do to restore the former prices?
§ 20. Mr. Kinsey
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his estimate of the effect the Farm Price Review will have on prices in the shops.
§ 23. Mr. Deakins
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his estimate of the effect on retail food prices of the recent Price Review determinations.
§ Mr. Kinsey
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. The housewife is interested in the effect on her overall family budget. How do the determinations affect the direct price to the customer and the taxation price to the customer?
§ Mr. Prior
Far from being the soak-the-housewife price review that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes) talked about, the last Price Review compares very 240 well with some of those conducted when the Opposition were in power. The housewife will bear 44 per cent. of the increase this year, compared with 48 per cent. in the right hon. Gentleman's last Price Review and an average of nearly 50 per cent. over the past six years.
§ Mr. Deakins
Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that, in addition to the £60 million-£70 million extra will fall on the housewife as a direct result of this year's Price Review determinations, there will almost certainly be extra costs as a result of the introduction of import levies on meat, and that in the event of world cereal prices falling in the coming year, which is extremely likely, the raised minimum import prices for cereals will also lead to higher prices for bread and flour-based products than would have been the case?
§ 21. Mr. William Hamilton
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will publish a White Paper showing the effect of the policy of encouraging competition in the stabilisation of food prices during the last nine months.
§ Mr. Hamilton
That answer is not surprising, because the White Paper would be a blank sheet. Can the right hon. Gentleman comment on the Grocer's estimate that since the General Election there have been 5,856 price increases? If he is not prepared to publish a White Paper on price reductions at a stroke, will he consider publishing the items to which the Grocer refers?
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
Will my right hon. Friend publish a White Paper showing the difference between the rise in the retail prices of groceries during the six years when the Opposition were in Government, when they went up astronomically, and the price increases since 241 then, which have largely been due to the Opposition's mismanagement?
§ Mr. Barnes
Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the change-over to decimalisation in so far as it affected the greengrocery trade, which was a specific point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) and not answered by the right hon. Gentleman?
§ Mr. Prior
There were reports in the Financial Times article, which I think is the one the hon. Gentleman saw, that greengrocers had tended to even up rather than to pull down. This I regret, but I think that on the whole decimalisation went extremely smoothly and was a great credit to customers and shopkeepers alike.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg
Whilst I agree with my right hon. Friend, does he not agree that it could have gone still more smoothly if traders had made more use of the new half pence and had made use of the old sixpence?