HC Deb 10 May 1973 vol 856 cc737-41
11. Mr. Ewing

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what has been the percentage increase in food prices during stage 1 of the Government's anti-inflation policy.

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

Between 14th November 1972 and 20th March 1973, the latest date for which information is available, the food index rose by 7.3 per cent., but the sub-group of the index measuring the movement of prices of food items mainly manufactured in the United Kingdom rose by only 1.4 per cent. during the same period.

Mr. Ewing

In view of that answer, which indicates that food prices increased by nearly 8 per cent. during phase 1 of the Government's incomes policy, I congratulate the hon. Lady and her right hon. Friend on their outstanding courage in coming to the House today at all. In view of the campaign presently being waged by the Conservative Party to convince the housewife that the only reason she cannot pay the prices in the shops is that her husband does not give her a sufficient proportion of his wage increase, how much of his wage increase during phase 1 would he have had to give her to meet that 8 per cent. increase?

Mrs. Fenner

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has not missed the fact that her husband's wage increase, up to the period of the freeze, measured 35.4 per cent., which left him a good deal of room in which to contribute to his wife's household expenditure.

Mr. John Wells

What further steps is my hon. Friend's Department taking to improve the production of food at home? That is the finest way in which her Department can combat the inflationary spiral. If we can achieve greater home production of food, her Department will be tackling the problem root and branch.

Mrs. Fenner

My right hon. Friend has already referred to the marked increase in beef production. There has also been an increase in other production. My hon. Friend will know that we have just been over the highest seasonal peak period of prices.

Mr. Jay

If all these rises in food prices have nothing whatever to do with Government policy, why did the Minister make a speech to farmers at Kettering last weekend saying that the Government were engaged in raising food prices to EEC levels?

Mrs. Fenner

The right hon. Gentleman knows that we have always said that our commitment on joining the EEC would involve us in increases of an average of 2p per pound over the six-year transitional period—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Wolverhampton North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) must learn to understand what proportion of food price increases is related to world market increases and what proportion is consequent on our joining the EEC.

Mr. Evelyn King

In the context of increased food prices, does my hon. Friend agree that agricultural workers in my constituency in Dorset and elsewhere are still drawing a wage little more than half the wage drawn in urban centres? Does she know whether the policy of the Labour Party is that the wages of agricultural workers should be screwed down to the lowest level possible, or whether the Labour Party takes the more humane view that agricultural wages should find their own socially acceptable level and that civilised people will bear the consequences?

Mrs. Fenner

I trust that hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition benches will have noted that question. In a recent debate the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) said when the Labour Government came to office agricultural wages were very low and when they left they were still low.

12. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what has been the annual percentage rate of increase in the food price index from November 1972 to the latest date for which figures are available.

Mrs. Fenner

As short-term movements in the index are significantly affected by seasonal factors, it would be inappropriate to make this calculation.

Mr. Hamilton

If it is inappropriate for the Minister to do it, let me do it. The increase was more than 12 per cent. in the six months from November to the end of April. That means an annual increase of 24 per cent. Which does the Minister think will come first, in old money terms, the one-bob egg or the three-bob loaf? Last week I paid over a bob for one banana.

Mrs. Fenner

The hon. Gentleman would have found it extremely embarrassing if the seasonal factor increase during the last two winters when the Labour Government were in power had been extrapolated over the full year.

Mr. McLaren

Will my hon. Friend confirm that since the Labour Government went out of office earnings and pensions have risen at a higher rate than has the cost of living, leaving people materially better off?

Mrs. Fenner

Yes, there can be absolutely no doubt that there has been an increase in the real standard of living of the people of this country.

Mr. Buchan

Will the hon. Lady accept that that is not true of the period of the freeze? There has been a dramatic fall in the standard of living since the beginning of the freeze in November. Does she agree that she is, regretfully, beginning to join in the conspiracy of Ministers to conceal the real facts? Are we not running at an annual rate of increase of between 24 per cent. and 25 per cent.? Does she also agree that that is not due to seasonal factors, because during the freeze prices have been increasing at nine times the rate at which they increased during the same six months last year? Will the Government resign if they cannot do something about it?

Mrs. Fenner

Those are not correct figures. As I explained to the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton), the seasonal increases which occurred during the last two winters in which the Labour Government were in power, if extrapolated over 12 months, would have shown a ridiculous increase in prices.

Mr. Ralph Howell

Is my hon. Friend aware that since 1970 spending on food has risen by 16.5 per cent., on alcohol by 27 per cent., on gambling by 28 per cent., on the purchase of electrical goods —[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."]

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Howell

—on the purchase of electrical goods—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member must be allowed to ask his question— comparatively briefly, I hope.

Mr. Howell

—on the purchase of electrical goods by 44 per cent. and on the purchase of cars and motor cycles by 81 per cent.?

Mrs. Fenner

I know that all those figures are absolutely accurate. We should remember that expenditure on food represents less than one-quarter of an average family's income, although I am well aware that it represents a high proportion of the average housewife's income, which is a different thing.