HC Deb 21 November 1972 vol 846 cc1065-79
3. Mr. Golding

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what has been the increase in the price of meat and vegetables since 6th November.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Joseph Godber)

Retail meat prices were generally steady for the two weeks immediately following 6th November. But in the last few days there have been increases at the wholesale level which are now affecting retail prices. On average, the increases are of the order of 2p per lb. for home-killed beef and lamb and 1p per lb. for pork but there is naturally some variation, depending on such factors as quality and cut. The price of New Zealand Iamb is unchanged in most shops but some have special promotional reductions.

As far as vegetables are concerned, prices have generally been steady since 6th November, with movements reflecting changes in import prices or seasonal factors.

Mr. Golding

I congratulate the Minister on a most unsuccessful start. Is he aware that the price of beef increased by 2p a lb last week in my constituency, and that it is expected to rise again this week? Are the Government fighting a cod war so that my constituents can give their children fish fingers and chips for Sunday dinner instead of beef and two veg?

Mr. Godber

I am not aware of the exact position in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. I have given him the average for the country as a whole. It is entirely a matter of supply and demand, and world demand for beef is very high.

Mr. Peart

I also wish the Minister well. Is he aware that his predecessor failed to hold down food prices? We have just heard of one example of his failure. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is now supposed to be a freeze on prices? What will he do about it? Is it not a fact that lower income groups now face considerable hardship because of the high price of food under the present Administration?

Mr. Godber

I have given the right hon. Gentleman the facts about meat. He knows perfectly well that the freeze provisions do not apply to fresh food, and could not do so, nor did they under the Labour Government of which we was a member. There was no provision for fresh food in their freeze. There is a provision now about margins, and we are watching the situation very carefully.

8. Mr. Dormand

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the percentage increase in the retail prices of bread, butter, beef and beer since June, 1970.

Mr. Godber

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

Mr. Dormand

I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that they are considerable percentage increases on important basic commodities. Will not they demonstrate vividly more than anything else the utter failure of this Government to control the prices of such important basic commodities—the promise on which this Government were elected to power? Will not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the "dial-a-complaint" system is now a total failure, and will he abandon it in favour of Labour's policy where key prices such as those set out in the Question are controlled?

Mr. Godber

The answer on both counts is "No". Dealing with the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, the real truth behind these price rises is world conditions, as every right hon. and hon. Member present must know. It is world conditions and world shortages plus the higher wages in the industries processing foods.

As for the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, the arrangements that we have in my Department are working extremely well. The hon. Gentleman has no justification for making the comments that he has.

Mr. Kinsey

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in three of these instances there is a direct responsibility on the predecessor of my right hon. Friend's predecessor, in that butter and beef prices must be due to the shortage of cattle in this country and that beer prices were held up considerably by the National Board for Prices and Incomes before any increases were permitted?

Mr. Godber

Yes. My hon. Friend is right. It was only out of sympathy for the right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) that I did not myself make the point. I did not wish to embarrass the right hon. Gentleman more than I had done in my reply to an earlier Question.

Mr. Buchan

Will not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the freeze is a fraud, that both in terms of beef and bread there is to be no freeze on prices, and that the housewife has been "conned" by the right hon. Gentleman and his predecessor?

Mr. Godber

Emphatically no. I deplore what the hon. Gentleman has said. It is spelt out in the White Paper that fresh food is not affected. There is no question of "conning" anyone. More than half the food in this country is covered by these arrangements, which are working very well.

Following is the information: The following table shows the percentage increases in the average prices collected for the purposes of the Index of Retail Food Prices between June, 1970, and October, 1972, the latest date for which information is available. No comparable information is available for beer.

Percentage Increase in Average Price
White, 1¾ lb. wrapped and sliced loaf 15.6
White, 1¾ lb. unwrapped loaf 17.0
White, 14 oz. loaf 25.0
Brown, 14 oz. loaf 21.7
New Zealand41.7
Danish 26.5
Beef; Home-Killed
Chuck 36.5
Sirloin (without bone) 40.8
Silverside (without bone)* 33.9
Back ribs (with bone)* 40.3
Fore ribs (with bone) 38.6
Brisket (with bone) 48.4
Rump steak 37.4
Beef: Imported, chilled
Chuck 47.3
Silverside (without bone)* 37.6
Rump steak 29.0
* Or Scottish equivalent.

11. Mr. Deakins

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what rise in food prices he anticipates in 1973 as a result of Common Market entry and as a result of the lower rate of exchange for the £ sterling.

Mr. Godber

It is not possible to make a precise estimate at this stage because a number of decisions which have a bearing on the figure have still to be reached.

Mr. Deakins

Since we are likely to see an effective devaluation some time next year of between 10 and 12 per cent., does that not mean that there will be further food price rises on what we have already seen, in addition to the extra food price rises likely to come about as a result of the first year of entry into the Common Market?

Mr. Godber

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's estimate of what the position is likely to be. We must wait and see what provisions are made and what decision the Chancellor makes regarding parities. We will then see what the effect will be. However, it certainly will not be of the order that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. Many of the Common Market arrangements come into force at different periods from April to September, so none will be effective for some time.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the compensatory payments which he is negotiating will have a crucial bearing on the level of prices next year? Does he also agree that it is essential not to make these compensatory payments too high, even though in the short term there may be a gain, because of the enormous detriment to British farming if that happens?

Mr. Godber

My hon. Friend has rightly called attention to a difficult matter. We are currently engaged in discussions with the Community on all these matters. I will bear closely in mind what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. James Johnson

If the right hon. Gentleman does not accept the estimate of 12 to 14 per cent. suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Deakins), may I ask what his estimate is?

Mr. Godber

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman thinks that he will catch me with that question. I have not the slightest intention of giving an estimate at this time.

13. Mr. Lipton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to what extent food prices have risen since June, 1970.

14. Mr. William Price

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

22. Sir G. Nabarro

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food by how much retail food prices have risen in 28 months since 1st July, 1970.

25. Mr. Skinner

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what has been the percentage increase in food prices since June, 1970.

42. Mr. Carter

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what has been the percentage increase in the cost of food since 18th June, 1970.

Mr. Godber

Between 16th June, 1970, and 17th October, 1972, the latest date for which information is available, the food index rose by 22 per cent.

Mr. Lipton

Is not that reply a scandalous confession of ignominious and, indeed, dishonourable failure on the part of the Government, coming as it does from this new style of Government solemnly pledged to keeping prices down and, in the words of their manifesto, closing the gap between promise and performance? That gap is getting wider all the time.

Mr. Godber

No, Sir. In fact, as I have already said this afternoon, the majority of these price rises are clearly attributable to world conditions—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—which neither this nor any other Government could have influenced. The only way that world food shortages could have been prevented would have been if right hon. Gentleman opposite had stimulated more production in this country.

Mr. Price

Does not that disgraceful answer make the Minister wish that he had been chosen for some other Department? Is he aware that tomorrow thousands of elderly people will be demonstrating at this House because they believe—I think rightly—that they are being denied the basic requirements of life? Will the right hon. Gentleman come and explain Government policy to the people in my constituency?

Mr. Godber

People are entitled to demonstrate whenever they think it appropriate. Regarding old people, pensions now have a higher purchasing power—[HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] It is no use hon. Gentlemen opposite shouting "No." The facts are there. The purchasing power of the pension is substantially higher now than when right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite left office. If they think that this is disgraceful, I suggest that it was far more disgraceful then.

Sir G. Nabarro

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that this 22 per cent. increase in retail food prices is accompanied by a 17 per cent. increase in wages? What assurances are we to have that the measure that we finally passed last night will have some impact on this enormous rate of increase?

Mr. Godber

I am not sure that my hon. Friend's figure for wages is correct for the whole period. The figures which I have given clearly show that there have been rises in benefits to those who are in greatest need, and I understood that that was what the House was concerned about. In fact, pensions and other related benefits were raised by no less than 12½ per cent. at the beginning of this year. I have not got the precise figure for wage earners. Therefore, I cannot comment.

Mr. Skinner

Has not the Minister some vague idea how much of this 22 per cent. increase is due to the increase in wages of shop assistants and farm workers? Why is it that under the Bill which gives him some power food combines' profits will be safeguarded against the world uncontrollable factors about which he talks, whereas the housewife's purse and the husband's wage packet will be reduced in their purchasing power?

Mr. Godber

There is no question of "safeguarding" any section of the community. The standstill is designed to be as fair as possible between all sections of the community. We have had particular regard to profit margins on all food transactions.

Mr. Marten

Could I make it clear to my right hon. Friend, following the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro), that the 17.3 per cent. rise in wages was in the last 12 months, whereas the 22 per cent. rise was, of course, for the last 29 months?

Mr. Godber

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I thought that there must be some query when my hon. Friend gave the figure. This puts it in far better perspective.

Mr. Carter

Following the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), when the Government were devising the Counter-Inflation (Temporary Provisions) Bill they must have had in mind a figure within which they could contain price increases during the freeze. Therefore, precisely what is that figure for food prices?

Mr. Godber

I cannot give the hon. Member a precise figure in a matter of this kind. I have told him the position in regard to the standstill—the arrange- ments are clearly set out and they have been debated at length in the House in recent days.

Mr. Farr

Exactly what proportion of the increase in food prices was due to factors beyond my right hon. Friend's control, such as increases in the prices of imported foodstuffs?

Mr. Godber

As I have said, that is a substantial proportion of it. It is a factor which the Opposition, however much they resent it, must face. It is a factor which no Government in this country can control.

Mr. Peart

Is the Minister not aware that the Prime Minister gave specific promises? It is no good blaming world conditions. Does he not recognise that on the figures which he himself gave in reply to an unstarred Question in HANSARD for Monday, 13th November, throughout the monthly periods of this Government, there have been considerable increases—including 17 per cent., on one occasion, for the September figures over the previous year, and 14 per cent. for this September, already, which is the latest figure? He cannot blame his predecessors; we kept it much lower than that.

Mr. Godber

The point is that this is a question of the purchasing power of wages and pensions. Both wage earners and pensioners are better off under this Government than they were under the previous Government.

  1. Dutch Elm Disease 700 words
  2. cc1074-6
  3. Cereal Prices 434 words
  4. c1076
  5. Packaging and Tinning 221 words
  6. cc1076-8
  7. Whale Products (Substitutes) 369 words
  8. c1078
  9. Cost of Living (London) 129 words
  10. cc1078-9
  11. North Sea (Pollution) 195 words
  12. c1079
  13. Date Marking (Report) 173 words