HC Deb 12 April 1973 vol 854 cc1486-91
8. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what has been the increase in the average price of beef, in pence per lb. in the period July 1972 to March 1973; and what was the comparable figure from July 1969 to March 1971.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mrs. Peggy Fenner)

From July 1972 to February 1973, the latest available date, the retail price of home-killed and imported beef increased by between 7p and 12p a lb. according to cut, and from July 1969 to March 1971, for home-killed beef only, by between 4p and 7p a lb., according to cut. Retail prices for imported beef are not available for July 1969.

Mr. Hamilton

Is the hon. Lady talking about new pence in both cases? Is she aware that according to the official figures the price of chuck steak went up 72.6p in the pound from the General Election to February of this year, and that the price of brisket, one of the cheapest cuts, went up in the same period by 96.7p in the pound? Is that what the Prime Minister promised when he said that he would reduce prices at a stroke? Has not a scandalous confidence trick been played on the gullible public? Does the hon. Lady realise that the answer to my questions will be forthcoming in today's elections?

Mrs. Fenner

I shall have to check the hon. Gentleman's figures, which go back to 1970. His Question relates to entirely different periods. I have noticed, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman has, the action that has been taken by housewives in America—a meat-importing country —and the action taken by housewives in Australia—a meat-exporting country. He must know that we cannot be insulated against world conditions which produce fluctuations at each end of the scale.

Mr. Body

Is not the answer to the hon. Gentleman that the cause of the increases arises from what he has advocated, namely, our entry into the Common Market? Does not my hon. Friend agree that if we were still in the world market for meat, as are Greece and Japan, we would find the retail price slightly lower?

Mrs. Fenner

I am afraid that my hon. Friend's comment is not accurate.

Mr. Torney

Is the hon. Lady aware that the tremendous slaughter of French cattle in 1970—which is allied to the present butter fiasco, because the slaughter of cattle was meant to diminish the butter surplus—is partly the cause of the present shortage of beef? Is she aware that the French were paying £100 a head extra for the slaughter of cattle? That resulted in the present shortage. Coupled with that, until quite recently we exported beef to France and other Common Market countries. Does not the hon. Lady agree that if that had not been done there would have been an easement of the position?

Mrs. Fenner

I am sure that would have had only a marginal effect. Clearly, the fact that we are expanding our beef production by 10 per cent. and at the same time expanding our dairy production by only 3 per cent. indicates that beef production can be increased without a corresponding increase of dairy production.

15. Mr. Ewing

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what has been the percentage increase in food prices in the first quarter of 1973.

Mr. Godber

Between 12th December 1972 and 20th February 1973, the latest date for which information is available, the food index rose by 3.8 per cent. The March results will be published on 21st April.

Mr. Ewing

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that this is a scathing indictment of the Government's freeze policy? Does he realise that we are talking about a period during which wages, pensions and allowances were not allowed to rise? Yet the Government sit idly back and allow food prices to rise, further depressing the living standards of the people. Can the right hon. Gentleman possibly defend such a Conservative Government?

Mr. Godber

I could defend a Conservative Government in the same way as, presumably, the hon. Member defended his own Government when they had a standstill and food prices were also allowed to rise. The position is comparable, but there is one important difference between then and now, namely, that world prices have risen and world shortages have occurred. This has led to prices rising here substantially. Since the hon. Member has brought in the question of earnings, let me remind him that earnings have risen substantially more than prices during the period since we have been in office.

Mr. Raison

Is it not a fact that the last Labour Government introduced a tax on food—SET—and also increased purchase tax? Can my right hon. Friend say what effect the abolition of these two taxes has had on food prices?

Mr. Godber

The removal of these taxes, which were imposed or increased by the then Labour Government, will take £120 million from the housewives' shopping bill for food. All food is now free of tax as a result of the actions of this Government.

Mr. Bidwell

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the effect upon old-age pensioners of these rises in food prices? Will he persuade members of the Government to stop boasting about the miserable £1 which they will attach to old-age pensions in the autumn, because that increase will rapidly be overtaken? Is he further aware that old people are very much affected by increases in the cost of food?

Mr. Godber

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I am as concerned as he is about the condition of old-age pensioners. I recognise the problems affecting them. The Government have increased pensions more rapidly and by greater amounts than any previous Government. At present, the pension purchases substantially more than it did when we came into office. We have already announced a further increase for October. These are the facts, as shown by the official statistics. Having said that, I do not deny for a moment that there are great problems for pensioners, which we have done our best to mitigate.

24. Mr. Buchanan

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was the price per pound of beef at the latest available date compared with the same day 12 months ago.

Mrs. Fenner

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

Mr. Buchanan

While I await the figures being published in the OFFICIAL REPORT, I suppose that I can take it for granted that the price of beef has risen considerably. Does the Minister realise that the Government have taken beef off the tables of millions of people in Britain?

Mrs. Fenner

Between February 1972 and February 1973 the retail price of home-killed and imported beef increased by between 11p and 19p according to cut. That was up until February 1973. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has noticed a great easing in beef prices over the last month. He can, in fact, buy topside at 54p a pound from one major butchery chain.

Mr. Molloy

When the hon. Lady was appointed to her post there were clarion calls that she would be the watchdog on prices. All the women thought that this time the Government might be speaking the truth. But the hon. Lady has done nothing. Will she explain what she has been trying to do, give us the reason for her failure and then resign?

Mrs. Fenner

The hon. Gentleman may not have noticed that I have not been appointed watchdog of the interests of the American housewives, who find their beef prices rising, or of the Australian housewives, who are boycotting beef on 17th April.

Following is the information:
February 1972 (p per lb.) February 1973 (p per lb.)
beef (home-killed)
Chuck 38.9 54.9
Sirloin (without bone) 54.9 74.0
Silverside (without bone) 50.6 65.4
Back ribs (with bone) 35.3 49.5
Fore ribs (with bone) 34.5 48.4
Brisket (with bone) 23.4 35.8
Rump steak 69.1 87.7
Beef (imported chilled)
Chuck 35.1 47.5
Silverside (without bone) 43.1 56.5
Rump steak 57.4 68.2
Or Scottish equivalent.

Source: General Index of Retail Prices.

Department of Employment

26. Mr. David Clark

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what has been the percentage increase in the price of fresh food, and in fresh fruit and vegetables, respectively, since the beginning of the freeze.

25. Mr. Meacher

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food by how much fresh food prices have risen since the freeze began on 6th November.

Mr. Godber

There is no retail price index for fresh foods as such. However, I will, with permission, circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT the percentage increase in the main sub-groups of the food index between 14th November 1972 and 20th February 1973, the latest date for which information is available.

Mr. Clark

Will the Minister confirm that there has been a fantastic increase in the price of fresh foods? How can he reconcile that increase with the freeze of workers' wages? Will he tell me what advice I can give to my constituents when they ask, "What can we do when we see tomatoes at 50p a pound?"

Mr. Godber

The hon. Gentleman should give them the advice he gave them in 1968 and 1969, when the price of seasonal foods rose at a similar rate. I suggest that he should also remind his constituents that the rise in the annual rate is nothing like so large as he and his hon. Friends pretend.

Mr. John Fraser

If the price of food continues to rise for reasons beyond the Government's control, will the Minister approach the Chancellor of the Exchequer for a bridging grant to housewives to meet the cost?

Mr. Godber

We have explained to the House again and again the position in regard to food. I have also reminded the House again and again that earnings have continued to rise substantially more than prices throughout our period in office. That remains the position and, therefore, there is no justification for the hon. Gentleman's comment.

Following is the information:
Per cent.
Increase in the Index of Retail Food Prices between 14th November 1972 and 20th February 1973 of which 5.4
(a) items the prices of which show significant seasonal variations 12.4
(b) others of which 4.0
(i) items mainly home-produced for direct consumption 9.1
(ii) items mainly imported for direct consumption 4.7
(iii) items manufactured in the United Kingdom 1.0


(a) The items the prices of which show significant seasonal variations include home-killed lamb, fresh and smoked fish, eggs, fresh vegetables and fresh fruit.

(b)(i) The items mainly home-produced for direct consumption include home-killed beef, pork, ox liver, chicken and fresh milk.

(b)(ii) The items mainly imported for direct consumption include imported beef and lamb, calves liver, bacon, ham, canned meat and fish, butter, lard, cheese, tea, dried fruit and canned fruit (other than fruit salad).