HC Deb 15 March 1973 vol 852 cc1453-60
4. Mr. Farr

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what has been the rise in the food price index since June 1970.

5. Mr. Boscawen

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the rise in the food price index since June 1970.

6. Mr. Kimball

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the rise in the food price index since June 1970.

16. Mr. Skinner

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what have been the increases in food prices since June 1970.

19. Mr. Charles Morrison

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food by what amount the food price index has risen since June 1970.

22. Mr. Carter

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

43. Mr. Alfred Morris

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will state the percentage increase in food prices between June 1970 and the latest date for which figures are available.

49. Mr. Kilfedder

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the rise in the food price index since June 1970.

53. Mr. William Price

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

54. Mr. Stonehouse

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what has been the rise in the food price index since June 1970.

Mr. Godber

As stated in reply to the hon. Member for Rugy (Mr. William Price) on 8th March, the figure is 27.4 per cent.—[Vol. 852, c. 174.]

Mr. Farr

Can my right hon. Friend say how this will compare with the rise in the retirement pension when the new rates come into effect in October?

Mr. Godber

The pension has risen 35 per cent. over the period. When the new proposals come into effect on 1st October it will have risen 55 per cent. since we came into office.

Mr. Skinner

Can the Minister tell us what food prices the Government have controlled? Eggs, bacon, butter, sugar, processed foods, meat, all fresh foods—none is controlled. What is there left?

Mr. Godber

I am happy to explain to the hon. Gentleman that we made it perfectly clear that fresh food was not included in the standstill arrangement. The reasons have been explained countless times in the House. A restriction was placed on processed foods and increases have been allowed only for unavoidable increased costs. Since the standstill, up to the latest available date the rise in food prices has amounted to 3.5 per cent.

Mr. Boscawen

We are all concerned about the rise in food prices, but will my right hon. Friend say how much average weekly earnings in some industries, for example, motor manufacturing, have risen during the same period?

Mr. Godber

It is possible to choose different categories. I understand that in the motor manufacturing industry the rise in earnings has been around 30.3 per cent. The general rise in earnings has been about 34 per cent. This is the true comparison, overall, with the food price rise of 27.4 per cent.

Mr. Carter

Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that it is an absolute disgrace, after two-and-a-half years of showing no concern whatsoever, that his hon. Friends on the back benches should suddenly start littering the Order Paper with Questions? May I direct his mind to the rising cost of eggs? We are promised that the price of eggs will rise to 50p a dozen. Is it not likely that if they continue rising in price along with other food, the slogan of the Egg Marketing Board will be changed from "Go to work on an egg" to "Last the week out on an egg"?

Mr. Godber

I do not see any reason why the hon. Gentleman should feel that he and his hon. Friends have priority in tabling Questions about food prices. It is quite normal for my hon. Friends to wish to ask such questions. It is true that eggs have risen in price recently but I do not accept the forecast of the extent to which the price will rise.

Mr. Morrison

Will my right hon. Friend say what evaluation he has made of the effect of the concessions announced by the Chancellor last week with regard to VAT? Referring to the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Boscawen), will my right hon. Friend say how much earnings have increased in the electricity supply industry?

Mr. Godber

The avoidance of VAT on foods which had previously been subject to purchase tax will reduce the tax on food by over £100 million in a full year. This represents 1.2 per cent. on the food index. I believe that the earnings of electricity supply workers have risen by about 40 per cent.

Mr. Price

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that some of the "regulars" among Opposition Members welcome the interest of his hon. Friends over the vexed question of food prices, even if they did take some persuasion? Will he answer one straightforward question? At the present rate of progress, is it not likely that by the end of this Parliament the Government will have increased food prices by well over 50 per cent.?

Mr. Godber

I do not propose to forecast what the position will be at the end of this Parliament. What I do say is that earnings and pensions have risen substantially more than food prices and at present the purchasing power of every section of the community is better than it was when the hon. Gentleman's Government left office.

Mr. Kilfedder

My right hon. Friend has said that earnings have risen considerably. Will he say how much the earnings of coalminers have risen during this period? Will he consider the situation in Northern Ireland, where earnings have not risen at the same rate? Will he contemplate publishing a separate food price index for Northern Ireland? Is he aware that farmers in Northern Ireland are producing eggs extremely cheaply which ought to be available equally cheaply to customers?

Mr. Godber

We all recognise the special problems of Northern Ireland. I could not undertake to produce a separate price index for Northern Ireland. We all sympathise with the problems experienced by the people in the Province. To deal with my hon. Friend's other question, I believe that the increase in coalminers' earnings has been substantially more than the increase in the cost of food. I think the increase for them has been between 30 per cent. and 40 per cent.

Mr. Stonehouse

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that certain basic foodstuffs are absolutely vital in the housekeeping budgets of lower-paid families, and that this applies particularly to bread? Will he say how long he expects to hold the price of bread, in the light of the increased price of wheat in world markets?

Mr. Godber

I recognise that bread is a matter of particular concern. I and some of my colleagues had discussions with some of the leading bakers yesterday, as the right hon. Gentleman will have seen in the Press. We expressed to them our great concern about the need to keep prices down. I cannot say for how long this will be possible, because the increased costs have been substantial. It will be for the present anyway.

Mr. Buchan

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the figures he has quoted are those which we have heard about three times over? Is it not time that the Ministry gave us some up-to-date figures? Does he not agree that the increase in fresh food prices up to this week, from the beginning of the freeze, has been about 15 per cent.—a rate of increase of about 45 per cent. per annum? By how much have farm workers' wages risen since the beginning of the freeze?

Mr. Godber

I do not understand how the hon. Gentleman arrives at his percentage figures. They bear no relation to reality. I have told him that since the beginning of the freeze food prices have risen by 3.5 per cent. The hon. Gentleman knows that this is the January figure. The February figure will be published at the normal time, and fresh food will show some further rises. I have never tried to hide that from the House. As for farm workers' wages—

Mr. Kaufman

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I give notice that I intend to raise a point of order about these answers at the end of Question Time.

Mr. Godber

I am not sure whether I am permitted to complete the answer. I understand that farm workers' wages have risen by 24.2 per cent.

9. Mr. Edward Taylor

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on butter prices.

Mrs. Fenner

Average retail prices of New Zealand and Danish butter are about 23p and 25p per lb, respectively. Retail butter prices generally are over 20 per cent. lower than a year ago.

Mr. Edward Taylor

Will my hon. Friend say what increase in butter prices will apply over the next two years because of the EEC regulations? Does she agree that although the housewife will accept the logic of paying more for meat because of a shortage it will be difficult to persuade her that she should pay more for butter when there is a glut?

Mrs. Fenner

The first move towards alignment of United Kingdom-Community intervention prices of butter is expected to take place on 1st May, but because we negotiated relatively low initial intervention prices, this is the first step, which should have relatively little effect on prices in the shops. Over the transitional period our intervention price will move to that of the Community and market prices will respond accordingly.

Mr. Deakins

Will British housewives be able to continue to benefit from lower world butter prices throughout the transitional period and thereafter?

Mrs. Fenner

No, Sir. The hon. Gentleman knows that over the transitional period our price will go up by degrees to the market price in the Community.

23. Sir Robin Turton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was the retail price of a dozen standard eggs in February 1963 and February 1973, respectively.

Mrs. Fenner

The average retail price of standard eggs was about 24½p per dozen both in February 1963 and in February 1973.

Sir Robin Turton

Was not the reason for this surprising result the fact that the Community was subsidising exports of eggs to this country? Is there not a lesson to be drawn—namely, that if one takes away profitability from the home producer by dumping one is likely to find that the glut is followed by scarcity, with rising prices?

Mrs. Fenner

The Community has not had the effect to which my right hon. Friend referred.

Mr. Kaufman

Can the Minister assure the House that since the soaring prices of beef, fish and cheese are causing proteins to be priced out of the diet of my constituents, there will not be a 1s. egg, and that my constituents will be able to go on enjoying eggs at the price in which the Minister now rejoices?

Mrs. Fenner

I do not believe that the hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman) has been buying beef over the last few weeks, because the price of it has been falling. The prognosticational clairvoyance on the 1s. egg has been made annually for many years.

Mr. Atkinson

Go to strike on an egg!

26. Mr. Thomas Cox

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what survey is undertaken by his Department on the prices that are paid at vegetable and fruit auction markets in this country.

The Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Anthony Stodart)

My Department's price survey arrangements do not extend to auction markets for fruit and vegetables, which handle only a small proportion of our supplies.

Mr. Cox

Is the Minister aware of the vast amount of profit that is being made out of prices that are paid in auction markets and therefore out of the prices that the housewife must pay eventually in the shops? Surely a survey would soon indicate the vast amount of money that the same racketeers who are cashing in on every price increase are making on home-produced vegetables and fruit? Is it not time that the Minister gave housewives some indication that he will act where he possibly can? He can act in this matter, because it is happening in this country.

Mr. Stodart

We survey prices from nine major markets, and they are reported weekly. Those markets have fairly substantial throughputs. As I have explained, we do not survey auction markets. As for what the hon. Member said about prices, there is, as he knows, no standstill on fresh produce which is going into the markets but there is upon distributors' margins.

Mr. Buchanan

Will the Minister indicate what these prices are? My figures—which the Minister usually challenges—which apply up to last weekend show that since the beginning of the freeze there has been an increase in fruit prices of just over 50 per cent. [An HON. MEMBER: "Wrong again."] I should like to be proved wrong. The Minister's figures are three months behind the times. I hope that he can show me where I am wrong in my figures. In the same period, what increase has been put upon farm workers' wages—that is, from the beginning of November last year?

Mr. Stodart

The hon. Member must put down a Question if he wants me to answer it.