§ 1 Mrs. Joyce Butler
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what further measures he proposes to take to prevent further increases in the prices of basic family foods such as meat and bread.
§ The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James Prior)
I am well aware of the difficulties that price increases bring about, particularly for those in the low income groups. It is for this reason that the Government took the action over milk, sugar and potatoes which made an important contribution to the improvement now evident in the Food Index. The increase in the index has declined from an annual rate of 11.1 per cent. in March, 1972, to 6.4 per cent. in May, 1972. I shall continue to take full account of the interests of consumers in reaching all decisions which may affect food prices.
§ Mrs. Butler
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware how concerned housewives are not only about the current "penny-farthing" increase in bread prices but also about the bakers' forecast of a 40 per cent. increase under the common agricultural policy? What does the right hon. Gentleman intend to do to prevent this and to protect British families from hardship if such a self-raising increase in flour and bread prices results from our Common Market entry?
§ Mr. Charles Morrison
Does not the rate of increase in food prices in the last six months show a marked improvement on the previous year and a very considerable improvement on the period immediately before the last election?
§ Mr. Peart
Will the Minister refute the charge that workers' wage increases are responsible for the rise in food—especially meat—prices? Will the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, who always blame the workers for inflationary prices, now recognise that their propaganda has been false and wrong?
§ 5. Mr. Meacher
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food by how much the retail index of food prices had risen since November, 1969.
§ Mr. Meacher
Since the food price index has risen by 26 per cent. and the pension by only 20 per cent. since November, 1969, is the Minister aware that pensioners today have 6 per cent. less money in real terms with which to buy food than they had 2½ years ago? Is he further aware that by October 20p of the Government's proposed 75p rise will have been eroded before the pensioners receive it, yet in the Community food costs are expected to rise by 60p per week per pensioner? How can he justify so shamelessly selling the past for pensioners?
§ Mr. Prior
I cannot suggest how the hon. Gentleman can justify such a remark when he must appreciate that the figures cover at least part of the time when the Labour Government were in office. By next October the pension will have increased by 35 per cent. since November, 1969, which is a far higher in- 212 crease than the increase in the cost of food or the cost of living during that period. It will more than restore the pension to the purchasing power of November, 1969.
§ Mr. Evelyn King
Is it not a fact that that last supplementary question was an outstanding example of bogus statistical nonsense since it was based, first, on a wrong percentage increase in pension and, secondly, on the supposition that pensioners spend the whole of their money on food, which is another piece of nonsense? Such bogus questions should not be asked.
§ Mr. Pardoe
Does the Minister agree that within this overall increase in food prices the price of bread during six years of Labour Government went up by three pence on an average loaf and that under the Conservative Government it has increased by four pence? How does he explain this growth rate and his part in it? Has he investigated how far monopolies and competition have affected the position and will he say what percentage of all bread sold here comes from the top three bakery combines?
§ Mr. Prior
To deal with the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question, the answer is that between 75 and 80 percent. is sold by the three combines. As for the way the increase has come about, it has been partly as a result of increased wheat prices, some of which has been due to the operation of the levy system, I freely admit. But most of the increase has come about because of increases in wages and other costs in the baking industry. I think we should do well to recognise that.
§ 6. Mr. Leslie Huckfield
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what use of computers his Department intends to make in its calculation of future trends in food prices.
§ Mr. Huckfield
Is it not a fact that though price increases have taken place at such a fantastic rate, and because the Minister continues to give such jovial and rosy answers, matters have reached the stage where the only possible excuse that the right hon. Gentleman can use is an error of some kind in a computer programme? He cannot possibly maintain that he is personally making these calculations.
§ Mr. Prior
I had the feeling that the hon. Gentleman's Question might not be directed entirely to the use of computers and that there might be another meaning behind it. I am able to tell him that computers are used to try to forecast trends. Unfortunately the success of such a process depends very much on the information fed into computers, since that affects what comes out of them.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a computer is not necessary to demonstrate that the three-shilling loaf that the Prime Minister predicted under a Labour Government will be achieved under his own?
§ 10. Mr. William Price
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food by what percentage food prices have risen since June, 1970.
§ 31. Sir G. Nabarro
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, during the 23 months ended May, 1972, by how much percentage retail food prices have increased.
§ Mr. Price
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that as a direct result of his policies millions of people are denied the basic commodities of life? Does not the right 214 hon. Gentleman understand that, on the basis of his own recent statements, many of them regard him as probably the finest comic since Groucho Marx? Why does not the right hon. Gentleman pop along to the Prime Minister this afternoon to resign and thereby get off the backs of all of us?
§ Sir G. Nabarro
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the curve of price increases has flattened out a great deal during this year? Will my right hon. Friend give us a direct comparison between the rate of increase in prices during the six months ended May, 1972, with the six months ended May, 1970, which is the proper comparison in this context?
§ Mr. Buchan
Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Financial Times index for this month shows something like a 6.6 per cent. increase? The right hon. Gentleman should stop accusing hon. Members on this side of the House of using strong language when referring to basic prices when the right hon. Gentleman alone is responsible for the increase in the three basics of beef, bread and beer in the last month—or was that merely a "prior" commitment that we got before the election?