HC Deb 01 May 1973 vol 855 cc985-7
Q3. Mr. Strang

asked the Prime Minister if the public speech made by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food at the diamond jubilee convention of the Food Manufacturers' Federation on 2nd April 1973 represented Government policy.

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Strang

Is the Prime Minister aware that on that occasion the Minister refused to comment on the prediction by the president of the federation that the prices of a number of basic foods would rise between 10 and 30 per cent. over the next year? Does not the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that today's protest against the Government's policies has as much to do with food prices as it has to do with wages? Will the Prime Minister at least concede that the massive increases in food prices which have taken place have nothing to do with increases in wages, and will he assure the House that the Government will look again at the possibility of subsidising key foods as part of their strategy against inflation?

The Prime Minister

As the present estimate is that 85 per cent. of all trade unionists are at work today and that out of a work force of 23 million all but 1.5 million are at work today, the hon. Gentleman's allegation hardly seems to be substantiated.

Mr. William Hamilton

Instead of making squalid party political points, will the Prime Minister address himself to the very serious matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) about food prices? Does not the right hon. Gentleman recognise that Lord Watkinson, who was an undistinguished member of a previous Tory Government—

Dame Irene Ward


Mr. Hamilton

—nevertheless has indicated that it might be advisable for the Government to consider threshold agreements with the trade unions as part of phase 3 of their prices and incomes policy? Will the Prime Minister give the matter serious thought?

The Prime Minister

Not only have we given it serious thought but in the first Chequers proposals put to the TUC and the CBI, and published, threshold agreements were a specific offer to both. The proposal was £2 across the board leading to £2.60 on earnings plus threshold agreements at 6 per cent. It is fair to say that neither the TUC nor the CBI showed any great interest in threshold agreements. But we are perfectly prepared to discuss them with both sides in stage 3. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not realise that it is not a party interest but a national interest that the great majority of workers today have failed to follow the Opposition's advice to come out on a political strike.

Mr. Marten

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) suggested that we might subsidise food. Is that possible without rationing?

The Prime Minister

In certain strictly controlled ways, such as those that we used during the past year in the case of sugar and potatoes, it has been possible to help in this respect. If it is suggested that it is possible to do it in the case of items like meat or cereals where there are world shortages at the moment, obviously the consequences of rationing would be likely to ensue.