HC Deb 08 July 1974 vol 876 cc934-6
17. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection if she will request the Price Commission to institute an inquiry into the price of beer and the profits of the industry.

Mr. Maclennan

Increases in the price of beer are firmly controlled by the Price Code, and the Price Commission has intervened in several instances to ensure that it is strictly applied. There have, however, been very large increases in the cost of producing a pint of beer. Brewery profits have been related to greatly increased turnovers, not only of beer. Clause 3 of the Prices Bill does of course give the Government certain further powers exceptionally to control price increases.

Mr. Hamilton

Does my hon. Friend accept that the profits of the top seven brewers between 1969 and 1973 went up from £136 million to £275 million? As beer is an important part of the diet of my constituents, will my hon. Friend realise the importance of keeping the price down, the profits down and the strength up? Will he look again at the Monopolies Commission's report on beer and remedy some of the abuses indicated in that report?

Mr. Maclennan

Brewery profits need to be looked at carefully. They relate to other products as well as to beer and sometimes include operations abroad. The total turnover has increased considerably. The full impact of increased costs has been felt since the last complete year. Those increased costs include an increase in the price of malt and barley of about 80 per cent. The later interim results we have seen have tended to show lower profits as a percentage of turnover, reflecting the operation of the Price Code.

Mr. Ancram

Will the hon. Gentleman show as much concern for milk as he appears to show for beer? Despite what he said to my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Morrison), the consumption of milk is going up while production is going down.

Mr. Maclennan

The hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that the price of milk has come down.

Mr. Lipton

Does my hon. Friend agree that the original Question is one of some gravity, and will he do something to ensure that the drinking public know what the gravity is?

Mr. Maclennan

I know that this is a matter of some controversy, but quality must be a subjective assessment. Gravity is an indication of strength and that is often taken to be synonymous with quality. The gravity of beer has not changed significantly over the past 20 years.

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