HC Deb 16 December 1974 vol 883 cc1098-100
7. Mr. Adley

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what was the increase in the cost of living over the past three months.

12. Mr. Rost

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what is her latest estimate of the increase in the retail price index for the 12 months to November, and for the three months to November.

Mr. Alan Williams

The retail price index for November was 18.3 per cent. higher than the figure for 1973. The increase over the three months to November was 4.9 per cent.

Mr. Adley

Why is it that senior Ministers increasingly are ducking Questions and are not themselves answering obviously embarrassing Questions which are put to them? Will the hon. Gentleman tell the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection that we all admire her charm and skill but that neither her words nor those of her colleagues can possibly compensate pensioners and people on fixed incomes for the appalling and staggering increase in the cost of living? Will all the Ministers on the Government Front Bench get together and try to persuade their colleagues in the Cabinet to do something about introducing an effective incomes policy?

Mr. Williams

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely wrong if he thinks that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would duck a Question. The whole House knows the absurdity of that suggestion. As the hon. Gentleman will probably appreciate, and certainly as his hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench appreciate, in allocating the answering of Questions there must be a balance in numbers between Ministers and we must try to ensure that the same Ministers are not popping up and down in succession to answer Questions. The hon. Gentleman should put the Question about an incomes policy to another Minister.

Mr. John Garrett

Will my hon. Friend say what apparent effect food hoarding has had on the cost of living index in the last three months?

Mr. Williams

I am not sure that it has had much effect on the cost of living index. It seems to have had a considerable impact on the leadership prospects of certain politicians on the Opposition Front Bench.

Mr. Rost

As the Secretary of State told shoppers on 7th October during the election campaign that price rises were slowing down at a time when the Chancellor of the Exchequer was saying that the rate of inflation was 8.4 per cent., since when price rises have doubled, what does the Secretary of State say now?

Mr. Williams

Last month's price increase was still lower than that in January when the Conservative Party was in office. There were two important abnormal factors on the food side. One concerned milk. Conservative Members had been shouting and demanding in the House that the return on milk to the producer should be increased. The other factor concerned sugar. The world price of sugar has passed through into manufacturers' costs of biscuits, sweets and so on.

Mrs. Sally Oppenheim

As the now notorious three-monthly rate of inflation of 8.4 per cent. quoted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection in the election has in two months increased to a three-monthly rate of 21.3 per cent., can the hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend tell the House precisely which of the main factors which have contributed to this increase she was unaware of when she made that statement and when she said on radio that all she could say about inflation was that it was beginning to move downwards? Is she aware that the 9½month period of dreamland, fairy-story government is over and that it is becoming a waking nightmare for the people because it is now clear to everybody that the Government have no effective plans for tackling inflation, that they duped the electorate about the impending rate of inflation, duped them about the social contract and duped them about the economic situation?

Mr. Williams

I thought that the hon. Lady was going to blow a gasket. [AN HON. MEMBER : "It is not funny."] It is not funny. Frankly, it has been depressing week after week to listen to the Opposition knocking every action taken by the Government to try to contend with the prices situation but never coming forward with a positive suggestion themselves.