HC Deb 17 July 1973 vol 860 cc254-60
Q4. Mr. Ashton

asked the Prime Minister whether he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech on prices at Sidcup on 29th June.

Q8. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech on the reasons for food price increases at Sidcup on 29th June.

Q9. Mr. David Clark

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the House of Commons Library a copy of his public speech on food prices to his constituents at Sidcup on Friday 29th June.

Q10. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of the public speech on food prices which he made in Sidcup on 29th June.

Q12. Mr. Kaufman

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of the public speech he delivered on prices at Sidcup on 29th June.

Q13. Mr. Carter

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech on prices made at Sidcup on 29th June.

Q14. Mr. Molloy

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech on prices made at Sidcup on Friday 29th June.

Q19. Mr. Norman Lamont

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech in Sidcup on the economy on Friday 29th June.

Q20. Mr. Skinner

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech on 29th June at Sidcup on economic matters.

Q25. Mr. Edwin Wainwright

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech on food prices delivered at Sidcup on 29th June.

Q27. Mr. Meacher

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his speech at Sidcup on 29th June on food prices.

The Prime Minister

With permission, I will answer these Questions together. I did so on 2nd July, Sir.

Mr. Ashton

In that speech the Prime Minister trotted out the tired excuse that the increase in food prices is due to increases in the cost of raw materials from abroad. Will he turn up some of the recent issues of the Financial Times where he will see that the profits of Tesco, Sainsbury, Associated British Foods and such firms went up last year by as much as 30 per cent.? Will he also note from those reports that the profits of FMC, Britain's largest meat wholesaler, doubled last year? In view of the fact that the wages of trade union members are being kept down to 4 per cent., will he take action to freeze some of the profits being made by these firms and in that way keep down prices?

The Prime Minister

While the present Government have been in office the costs of raw materials and fuel used for food manufacture have risen by 44 per cent. In the six years of Labour Government the figure went up by 13 per cent., due to world factors entirely outside the control of the Labour Government. [Interruption.] Perhaps the Leader of the Opposition will go on cheering at that. So far as profits are concerned, these are under the control of the Price Commission. The regulations are clearly set out in the code. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will also recognise, as do the leaders of the TUC, that if there is to be public investment in this country there must be a level of profit to sustain it.

Mr. Lamont

Is not the reason why retail food prices have risen much less than imported food prices contained in the quarterly report of the Price Commission? Does not that show that two-thirds of the applications have been refused, that increases granted have been much less than claimed, and that the rate of inflation in a period which has seen the biggest rise in commodity prices since the Korean War is much less than it would have been without the intervention of the Price Commission? Is it not clear from that report that the system is operating fairly and effectively and is compatible with a rate of growth that should be supported by the Opposition?

The Prime Minister

That is undoubtedly true. The figures given by the Price Commission in terms of the rejection of price increases show the control that is being exercised. So far as the manufactured foodstuffs are concerned, over the six months from the beginning of the standstill last November to May, the latest month for which the index is available, the price of manufactured foodstuffs in the shops and the index as a whole fell marginally by 0.2 per cent.

Mrs. Short

Does the Prime Minister recall in his speech in Sidcup making the extraordinary claim that he had "come clean" to the British people, and that when discussing entry into the Common Market he said there would be some gradual limited increases in some food prices, whereas in fact they have not been gradual or limited or in respect of only some food prices but have been right across the board? What does he intend to do about the situation?

The Prime Minister

If the hon. Lady reads the whole speech, she will see that I also gave the comparative figures taking world prices and the intervention price of the Community, which is the level to which we have to rise. If we take cereals, soft wheat which we have to buy for our bread is costing £30 a ton at the intervention price within the Community and £50 a ton in world markets. A similar situation exists in meat. Therefore, it is nonsense to say that this is a result of our entry into the Community.

Sir Gilbert Longden

Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity to point out how very much worse the situation would be without the Government's policy of prices and incomes and with the Labour Party's policy of no control over prices, more nationalisation and food subsidies without rationing?

The Prime Minister

Even more surprising is that the Labour Party would have had no arrangements in terms of wages but would have had a wages free-for-all which would boost inflation.

Mr. Clark

Does the Prime Minister recollect in his Sidcup speech bragging about how he had acted directly to bring down the price of sugar? Is he forgetting that in the few weeks before that speech he deliberately acted to take away the £15 per ton subsidy on sugar, thereby putting up the price of a 2–1b. bag of sugar by 1½p?

The Prime Minister

In that speech I was referring to what had happened in the previous year, in which we had acted not only on sugar but on potatoes and milk.

Mr. Gorst

Can my right hon. Friend say which of the solutions proposed by the Opposition for reducing or stabilising prices would be practicable and acceptable to the people?

The Prime Minister

I do not think any of them would be.

Mr. Hamilton

Why did not the Prime Minister refer in that speech to his promise in 1970 that he would reduce the rate of increase in prices "at a stroke" and say how far he thought he had implemented that promise? Why did he not dissociate himself from the remarks of his party officials when they met a group of irate housewives in the Midlands a few weeks ago and referred to them as "this bloody crowd" because they were calling the right hon. Gentleman the biggest Judas of the twentieth century—[An HON. MEMBER: "And worse"]—and worse, and some of his best friends are calling him that now—because of his deliberate deception of the housewife in 1970?

The Prime Minister

The reason was that, at the same time as the event of which the hon. Gentleman is giving a very distorted impression, I was myself having a very enjoyable tour in my own constituency.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Quite apart from the effect of world prices on the cost of food, is it not still true to say today that one man's wage increase is another man's price increase?

The Prime Minister

It is absolutely true, and I hope that the Leader of the Opposition remembers.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. There is a debate to follow to which the Opposition attach great importance, and there is only a very limited time for it. Mr. Prior—Business Motion.

Mr. Skinner

What is going on?

Mr. Speaker

The Question is—

Mr. Skinner

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I heard the Prime Minister say distinctly that he would answer a number of Questions, including Q20. For some reason or other, several of those Questions have not been dealt with. Notwithstanding the fact that there is, as you say, a very important debate to take place following Questions, will you bear in mind that all I want to say to the Prime Minister is—

Mr. Speaker

No. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has raised a fair point of order. However, I am acting directly in accordance with the Report of the Select Committee on Parliamentary Questions which said that: … it would improve the effectiveness of this period of Parliamentary business if Mr. Speaker made it clear that he would not necessarily call for a supplementary Question every Member who had placed an identical Question on the Order Paper.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I put two matters to you? In the first place, my own Question was tabled at ten o'clock in the morning and has come out as No. Q25. Secondly, in your judgment, rightly or wrongly, you called Government back benchers who had not even tabled Questions.

Mr. Speaker

I have to try to keep a balance, and that is a proposition which helps both sides of the House from time to time. I have to try to keep a balance. However, the luck of the draw is a different matter, and I do not think that it is a matter for me today. In any event, let us get on. Mr. Prior.

Mr. Healey

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is a well-known convention in the House that Front Bench spokesmen do not rise to put supplementary questions until those back-bench hon. Members who have put down Questions have been called. I was deliberately waiting, for that reason. Is it in order to gag the Opposition Front Bench on a matter of major national importance simply in subservience to the rule which you have quoted?

Mr. Skinner

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May we have some guarantee—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) tempts me. If he would really like to ask a supplementary question, 1 shall allow him to do so.

Mr. Healey

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, although I apologise to those of my hon. Friends who have been denied the right to ask supplementary questions to their own Questions—

Hon. Members

Sit down.

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is all coming out of the time of the Opposition for this short debate. I doubted whether I would shorten matters by allowing the right hon. Member for Leeds, East to ask a supplementary question, but I will allow him to do so.

Mr. Skinner

And some back benchers as well?

Mr. Healey

My supplementary question is this: in the light of the appalling rise in prices, which the Prime Minister has to admit has taken place, does he still maintain that he is prepared to carry out the promise made by the Chief Secretary in March, namely, in phase 3 of the incomes policy to allow real earnings to increase not significantly less than the increase in national production—in other words, 5 per cent.?

The Prime Minister

That is one of the major matters to be discussed with the TUC and the CBI.

Mr. Skinner


Mr. Atkinson


Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. Prior.