HC Deb 16 May 1972 vol 837 cc220-2
7. Mr. Duffy

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food by what percentage the prices of home-killed beef and butter have risen between 18th June, 1970 and 30th April, 1972.

8. Mr. Greville Janner

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, by what percentage the price of butter has increased since June, 1970.

Mr. Prior

As the reply contains a number of figures, I will with permission circulate the information in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Duffy

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the last time he circulated such figures they were more than 20 per cent. for home-killed beef and more than 50 per cent. for butter? Does he appreciate the gravity of these figures and now understand why railway men must press for a measure of protection against them? Is he aware that historically price inflation has always had its origins in escalating food prices, and does he now see that it is his failure to stabilise food prices that is giving inflation its first vicious spiral?

Mr. Prior

If they believe that the last part of what the hon. Gentleman said is true, and as food prices are considerably better than they were a few months ago, perhaps Labour Members will now join in helping to beat wage inflation.

Mr. Farr

Is it mainly imported foods or home-produced foods that are causing the biggest increase in prices?

Mr. Prior

Butter is 85 per cent. imported, and the increase in its price is largely because of drought in other parts of the world. We have come under pressure as a result, but I am glad to be able to say that the butter situation is now easing. We are producing at least 15,000 tons more butter ourselves this year. Beef prices are high, partly because of the very strong demand for beef, but we are producing in this country 50,000 tons more this year than last year.

Mr. Janner

How much has home-produced butter risen in price of late? Does not the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that the increases in prices of that sort of basic food hit hardest those who can afford them least?

Mr. Prior

The price of home-produced butter has, of course, gone up by just about the same percentage as that of imported butter, which in the case of New Zealand butter was 78 per cent. and in the case of Danish 56.5 per cent. These are factors which are completely out of our control. But, for all that, I am glad to be able to tell the House that I think we are now over the worst in butter prices and that there should be some decline.

Sir R. Cary

In view of what my right hon. Friend said, is our own production of beef and butter in this country going up?

Mr. Prior

Our production of both those commodities is going up fast, which is more than it ever did under the Labour Government.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

Since the cost of imported milk products rose by £50 million last year, is it the Minister's policy now to allow unrestricted importation of milk products, or does he intend to introduce quotas and to stabilise butter supplies in this country?

Mr. Prior

We took off quotas last year in order to bring in all the supplies we could from any country which had a surplus. The situation is now stabilising, and what we do over the next few months will depend very much on the price of these commodities.

Following is the information:

Beef: home-killed Per cent.
Chuck 23.9
Sirloin (without bone) 23.9
Silverside (without bone) 22.4
Back ribs (with bone) 26.2
Fore ribs (with bone) 24.3
Brisket (with bone) 28.6
Rump steak 21.7
New Zealand 78.0
Danish 56.5

Source: Average prices collected for the purposes of Index of Retail Food Prices.