HC Deb 16 December 1974 vol 883 cc1096-8
5. Mr. McCrindle

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection if she can estimate the average percentage of the retail prices of those commodities carrying a Government subsidy which relates to the cost of packaging.

Mr. Maclennan

I regret that no statistics are available on which to base an estimate of packaging costs for the subsidised foods. However, we are aware that packaging can account for a significant proportion of total costs, and we are considering what action may be necessary in this field.

Mr. McCrindle

Does not the Minister think it somewhat contradictory to subsidise foods only to find their cost increased by the cost of packaging? Will he engage in discussions with the manufacturers with a view to giving people a choice—either to pay the additional cost of fancy packaging and wrapping or to accept the goods rather less extensively packaged but at a price closer to their true cost?

Mr. MacLennan

I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's view that subsidised foods in particular are fancily packaged. I think there is no evidence of that. The references to the cost of packaging made recently by the Price Commission were not references to the impact on subsidised foods.

Mr. Giles Shaw

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that many food companies already offer a wide variety of goods, some of which do not carry a packaging premium? Does he also agree that, with a delivery cost of 4½p for first-class letters as against 5p for a pint of milk, the consumer has reason to doubt whether in the Government's view the cost of packaging or the content is more important?

Mr. Maclennan

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point in that it is impossible to reduce the cost of packaging of milk. The bottle would seem to be the necessary minimum.

19. Mrs. Sally Oppenheim

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what steps she is taking to investigate the inflationary effects of excessive packaging of consumer goods.

Mr. Maclennan

I am anxious to ensure that packaging does not unnecessarily lead to increased prices for the consumer and I am considering the matter urgently.

Mrs. Oppenheim

I am grateful for that reply, but would not the hon. Gentleman agree that whereas it is necessary to ensure that packaging protects and preserves foods and other goods adequately and hygienically, it not only adds to costs but often misleads consumers and creates an environmental problem? Does not the hon. Gentleman further agree that whereas it is not desirable that there should be statutory restrictions on packaging, it would be very useful if an independent inquiry could be set up by the hon. Gentleman's Department into the extent and cost of packaging, to assist the Director General of Fair Trading to arrive at an agreement with the trade on a voluntary code on packaging?

Mr. Maclennan

The hon. Lady mentions a number of factors which we are looking at carefully. She will be aware that the Government published a Green Paper on waste and that we are setting up the Waste Management Advisory Council which doubtless will look into some of the factors she has mentioned. The hon. Lady particularly addressed me on the cost aspect, and I am considering this myself.

Mr. Cormack

Will the hon. Gentleman undertake to ensure that the somewhat quaintly named Waste Management Advisory Council is asked to devise an economic packaging standard along the lines of the "kite" system?

Mr. Maclennan

That must be a matter for the Waste Management Advisory Council to consider for itself and to come up with recommendations to the Government.