HC Deb 16 December 1974 vol 883 cc1110-2
23. Mr. Neubert

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what is the latest estimate of the total cost of food subsidies for the current financial year.

Mr. Maclennan

About £503 million.

Mr. Neubert

Does not the hon. Gentleman now accept that he cannot single-handed, by open-ended subsidies, stem both the causes and the effects of inflation? With price increases running at an annual rate of 18 per cent. and wage increases running since July at an average of 24 per cent., is it not high time that the Minister made representations to the Secretary of State for Employment, that custodian of the social contract, reports of the existence of which are greatly exaggerated, that he should fulfil his part of the bargain?

Mr. Maclennan

The hon. Gentleman misrepresents the situation in speaking of the open-ended nature of subsidies. The financial limits to the subsidy programme have been made clear. The subsidies offer a valuable contribution to holding the rise in the retail price index. They are saving over one and a half points on that index and six points on the food index.

Mr. Tomlinson

Does my hon. Friend agree that people who are concerned about the public borrowing requirement can find alternatives to scrapping the subsidy programme, and that those alternatives will be found when my right hon. Friend the Chanccellor of the Exchequer introduces the wealth tax and so raises the revenue for subsidies by taxation?

Mr. Maclennan

Almost every hon. Member has his own views on how best to limit the borrowing requirement. The Government's priorities are different from those of the Opposition.

Mr. Cormack

Will not the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that his Government are stoking the fires of inflation by this prodigal waste of public money? Will he come clean, realise that the election is over and discard the most expensive camouflage for which the public have ever had to pay?

Mr. Maclennan

The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends refuse to recognise that the least-well-off members of our community must be the first charge upon the Government in their attempt to protect them from the rise in the cost of living. The subsidy programme is an important contribution to that, and we shall maintain it for that reason.

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