HC Deb 08 February 1972 vol 830 cc1112-7
3. Mr. Skinner

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has to offset increased food prices as a result of the present review of common agricultural policy prices.

Mr. Prior

No decisions have yet been reached on the levels of agricultural prices in the Community for the coming year.

Mr. Skinner

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his answers to this Question and to the previous Question dealing with the effects of increased food prices on housewives make nonsense of the Government's wages policy—especially on a day such as today, when we are about to debate the miners' strike and the current 7.9 per cent. offer? Will he bear in mind that we do not want any more of these crocodile tears for old-age pensioners but that we want to see the scrapping of the C.A.P., of entry into the E.E.C. and of all that goes with it?

Mr. Prior

This question relates to E.E.C. prices, and as yet no new prices have been fixed.

Mr. Marten

In view of the Commission's proposals, if agreed by the Council of Ministers, and the fall in some world commodity food prices, what steps will the Government take to republish the section of the White Paper which dealt with the rise in food prices?

Mr. Prior

I do not believe that a further White Paper is necessary, but I can give my hon. Friend the undertaking that, as soon as the new E.E.C. prices have been agreed, I shall make arrangements for them to be made available to the House. I refer to the new computations of those prices and our assessment of what this means in terms of a gap between our prices and prices in the E.E.C. I would remind my hon. Friend that, although some prices will have widened, others in the meantime will have narrowed.

6. Mr. Carter

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food by how much the cost of food has now risen since June, 1970.

9. Mr. William Price

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food by what percentage food prices have now risen since 18th June, 1970.

Mr. Prior

Between 16th June, 1970, and 14th December, 1971, the latest date for which information is available, the Food Index rose by 15 per cent.

Mr. Carter

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that that is a scandalous rate of increase—coming, as it does, from a Government who promised to cut prices at a stroke? In view of the fact that staple items in an old-age pensioner's weekly food bill continue to increase in price at an alarming rate, would he now urge his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to extend the meals-on-wheels service, which is now possible because of the spare capacity in school canteens?

Mr. Prior

The second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. On the first part of the question, the index of non-seasonal foods, which accounts for over four-fifths of total foods, has increased by over 2.9 per cent. since July, compared with a rise of 4 per cent. during the same period last year. This shows that the present Government are getting prices under control, which is something that Opposition could never do.

Mr. McCrindle

Ever since June, 1971, it has been possible for my right hon. Friend to report a less rapid rise in food prices. Simultaneously, he will have noticed that the average level of wage settlements has dropped from about 12 per cent. to about 8 per cent. Does he see any connection between these two events?

Mr. Prior

Yes, Sir, there is certainly a connection between these two events—and the longer a Conservative Government remain in office, the better the position will get.

Mr. Price

Is it not apparent that, despite the gloss the Minister is trying to put on the matter, these answers are a shocking indictment of the Government's record and that the right hon. Gentleman should be thoroughly ashamed of his part in it? Is he aware that millions of people this winter are suffering real hardship and in future are not likely to believe a single word said by him or by the Prime Minister, particularly at election time?

Mr. Prior

One thing about old-age pensioners of which I and my party are extremely proud is that we are the Government who have made it possible to review pensions each year, which is more than the Opposition ever did.

Mr. Buchan

Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that this 15 per cent. increase is probably the most shocking of all the many shocking statements made by the present Government? Secondly, does he not recall that over 12,000 price increases have been registered by the Grocer since June, 1970? [An HON. MEMBER: "Which grocer?"] And since neither grocer promised this at the General Election, is it not time that the right hon. Gentleman resigned?

Mr. Prior

All this shows that during the first 18 months of Conservative Government we have had a difficult time and that we inherited these difficulties from the Labour Party. The fact that we are now getting things better should be a matter for rejoicing by the Opposition, instead of their bellyaching about the past.

12. Sir G. Nabarro

asked the Minister of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food what fall in the rate of increase in food prices has taken place during the six months ended 31st January, 1972, compared with the 12 months ended 31st July, 1971.

Mr. Prior

Between 22nd June, 1971, and 14th December, 1971, the latest date for which information is available, the Food Index rose by 2.7 per cent. Between 21st July, 1970, and 20th July, 1971, the Food Index rose by 11.5 per cent. It should be borne in mind, however, that comparisons of price movements in different periods of the year are considerably affected by seasonal factors.

Sir G. Nabarro

Discounting seasonal factors, will not my right hon. Friend agree that, in respect of the first period of 12 months of Tory rule to July, 1971, prices were rising four times as fast as they have been rising in the last six months—[An HON. MEMBER: "Whitewash."] It is not whitewash at all—[An HON. MEMBER: "Drivel."]—is not this a highly encouraging factor on which my right hon. Friend the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister should congratulate themselves warmly?

Mr. Prior

There is a very considerable improvement, and I know that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite will be pleased about it.

Mr. Ashton

Is the Minister aware that the British housewife is fed up with figure juggling, statistics, graphs and decimal points? Can he tell us any prices which have come down?

Mr. Peter Mills

Brussels sprouts.

Mr. Prior

Very, very few prices have come down, and I am the first to admit it. That is why we hope very much to do better in the next year or so than we did in our first year in office, which was after right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite had given up.

20. Mr. Meacher

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food by how much food prices have risen since the election up to the present time; and by how much the earnings of the lowest tenth of manual workers have risen over the same period, according to estimates available.

Mr. Prior

As to the first part of the Question, I would refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave earlier today to the hon. Members for Birmingham, North-field (Mr. Carter) and Rugby (Mr. William Price). As to the second part, earnings statistics of the type referred to are not available for a more recent date than April, 1971, but the index of basic weekly rates of wages of all manual workers increased by 18.9 per cent. between June, 1970, and December. 1971.

Mr. Meacher

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this is the first Government since the war who, after 18 months of rule, have allowed literally millions of low-paid workers to be poorer in real terms in purchasing power than before the election? Is he also aware that to regard the family income supplement as meeting this problem is like expecting to staunch a flood with a tea cup? Above all, will he tell us what he is doing to prevent the problem of family poverty getting worse if we enter the E.E.C.?

Mr. Prior

There is no evidence of this. Over the latest periods for which firm information is available, the lowest decile of earnings rose faster than both the food index and the all-items index

Mr. Evelyn King

Is it not historically true that reduced prices to farmers have never brought prosperity to any section of the community, and that in town and country prosperity has come when farmers have received reasonable prices?

Mr. Prior

I do not believe that we shall have a prosperous nation without a prosperous agricultural industry. That is what I am out to achieve.

Mr. Buchan

Is not the Minister talking a lot of nonsense? Even within his figures for the percentages, he knows that 15 per cent. derives from food prices alone. Does not this attitude make a vicious nonsense of the Government's policy towards lower-paid workers—for example, the miners?

Mr. Prior

The hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense, and he knows it. The increase in wages over the same period is 18.9 per cent., which is more than the all-items index or the food index.