HC Deb 08 July 1974 vol 876 cc933-4
14. Mr. Giles Shaw

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what recent discussions she has held with representatives of food retailers.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

I have recently held discussions with representatives of the food retailers on the voluntary agreement to hold the prices of essential goods.

Mr. Shaw

I thank the right hon. Lady for that reply, but is she aware of the increasing pressure on the margins of food retailers? May I draw her attention to the article which was published on 3rd July in The Times which suggested that since the Government came into office the pressure on margins had been extremely severe? May I quote from the article—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The one thing the hon. Member may not do is to quote.

Mr. Shaw

May I, therefore, not quote but merely mention to the right hon. Lady that the margins on food retailing prices have fallen to 1.6 per cent.? What does she propose to do about it in view of the loss of confidence in investment in that sector?

Mrs. Williams

The hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw) and the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) might get together and decide whether they want higher profits or lower prices. There are conflicts between the two. As I have made clear to the trade on more than one occasion, in a period of serious inflationary pressure—I have never doubted that that has been the position of the country for the last 18 months—and in a period when the net take-home pay of most of our people has actually fallen after tax, it is right and proper that retailers and the trade should themselves make a sacrifice in respect of lower margins.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Does my right hon. Friend realise that there is a great deal of appreciation of the fact that she has succeeded in obtaining the co-operation of the Retail Consortium? Will she reject utterly the claims being made by the Opposition that the consortium is not cooperating in the voluntary agreement?

Mrs. Williams

In thanking my hon. Friend, I say right away that the Retail Consortium knows that my view is that action will have to be taken under the Prices Bill when it becomes an Act if the voluntary agreement does not operate. I am satisfied that the consortium is doing its best to operate the agreement. In trying to suggest that it is not and that I cannot count on its word, the Opposition are doing nothing but bringing nearer the very statutory controls which they do not want.

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