HC Deb 11 May 1971 vol 817 cc188-90
17. Mr. Ashley

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will list the Acts which give him power to influence food prices.

Mr. Prior

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) on 20th April. I prescribe milk prices under the Emergency Laws (Re-enactments and Repeals) Act 1964.—[Vol. 815, c. 364–5,]

Mr. Ashley

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I appreciate his embarrasment and his failure to prevent food prices from rocketing? Therefore, does he feel that his party were wise to make such extravagant promises when they knew that they had no power to prevent such rises? Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to take power to prevent prices rising, or does he intend to continue with his chief alibi about housewives shopping around?

Mr. Prior

As I explained to the House yesterday, I do not believe that prices can be controlled in the way the hon. Gentleman suggests, but the important point is to bring down the level of wage increases which lie at the root of our problems.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

In view of the fact that the Motion proposed yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Wallace) was agreed to by the House, will the Minister say when he will set up the organisation for consumer protection of which this House has approved?

Mr. Prior

Although the House did not divide on the Motion, I listened carefully to the points raised in what was, after all, a Private Member's Motion.

Mr. Barnes

Is the Minister aware that there is still some confusion after yesterday's debate about the different reasons which he gives for the difficulty in bringing down food prices? Which of these is the most important: to bring down wages increases, to have more competition, or to have a stronger British agriculture? The Minister has given all these reasons at different times, and it is not clear on which he is relying most.

Mr. Prior

They are three parts of a very good policy.

Dr. Summerskill

What advice does the right hon. Gentleman give to the housewife who has children, or who works outside the home, or who is disabled or retired—what can she do about shopping around?

Mr. Prior

She can use all her influence on her husband and on the rest of the community to see that wage increases are not granted for no more work.

22. Mr. Peter Mills

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what were the respective contributions to the rise in the cost of food for the year 1970–71 of recent transport legislation, the cost of selective employment tax, the cost of increased fuel taxation, and increased wages.

Mr. Prior

It is not possible to give precise figures but it is clear that wages were the largest single cause of the rise in the cost of food in 1970–71 over the previous year. Higher costs arising from recent transport legislation and from the 1969 increase in selective employment tax also contributed to the rise. Fuel costs have also risen but the last change in fuel taxation was in April, 1969.

Mr. Mills

Does this not clearly show that the Labour Party is utterly condemned over the past four years, on the legislation it brought in and the increase in the cost of living? Would my right hon. Friend look carefully at the legislation to see what can be pruned and stop all of this Socialist nonsense that is no good for farming?

Mr. Prior

I agree that a lot of the legislation passed by the previous Government and much of the taxation introduced by them added to the increases which we are now experiencing. That is why the Government have made a start in reducing it.

Mr. Barnes


Mr. Speaker

Order. I think there is a tendency to move on from peaches to speeches.

Mr. John Morris

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether the Government intend to strengthen their powers over prices in the private sector?

Mr. Prior

No, we believe that competition is the right way.

Mr. Barnes

Would the right hon. Gentleman agree that the reduction in food prices that will be possible by halving S.E.T. is less than half a new penny in the£?

Mr. Prior

Naturally it is a small reduction which can be made in this way, but I am confident that at least it will stop some prices from going up.