HC Deb 20 May 1974 vol 874 cc8-11
8. Mr. Tim Renton

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what representations she has received from the milling and baking industries for a further subsidy on the price of bread.

Mr. Alan Williams

I have received no such representations.

Mr. Renton

Is a further request for an increase in the price of bread likely as a result of the cost of wheat supplies now in the pipeline and already purchased? Will the hon. Gentleman tell us what limit he has put on the amount of subsidy which he is prepared to give to keep bread prices at their present level?

Mr. Williams

It is impossible for me to predict what the future of the commodity market will bring. At the moment there are no submissions with us for further price increases.

Mr. Fell

But is it not a fact that a number of medium-size bakeries have had to close down because of the lack of return which they have been able to get in the market? What will the hon. Gentleman do to stop all small bakeries from closing down for exactly that reason?

Mr. Williams

If the hon. Gentleman's proposition is correct, as far as I know that happened during the period when his own Government were in office and I am surprised that they did nothing about it.

Mr. Fell

Is not the hon. Gentleman interested?

Mr. Williams

If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned about this subsidy, he should bear in mind that it applies to bakeries at all levels——

Mr. Fell rose


Mr. Williams

I wish that the hon. Gentleman would allow me to complete my answer. The subsidy is based on the return which bakers would have had if the price increases had gone ahead.

Mr. Graham

As people on lower incomes spend most of their income on food, and bread features in their purchases even more largely, is not bread a goods means of subsidising food, especially bearing in mind its present inelasticity of demand?

Mr. Williams

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If there is one thing which comes over clearly from all the questions from the Opposition, it is that if they had been returned to office bread prices would now have been 2p a loaf higher.

Mr. Channon

Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that what he says is simply not true? What features to a far greater extent in the budget of pensioners —his own official statistics show it—are electricity, coal and cigarettes, and the present Government have allowed price increases to go on in respect of electricity and coal and have actually put up the price of cigarettes.

Mr. Williams

I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman has the gall to say that in the light of the deficits which his Government deliberately concealed but which they knew quite well they would have to make up in prices after the election. That was utter humbug from the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Wigley

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in many rural areas, such as South Caernarvon, the 15p loaf came many months before it arrived generally in metropolitan areas? Will he ensure that any subsidy to keep down prices will help the rural areas as well as metropolitan areas?

Mr. Williams

One recognises the inefficiencies of the Conservative Government. The hon. Gentleman was unfortunate that the effect came earlier to his community than it did elsewhere.

21 . Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what representations she has received from the Master Bakers' Federation concerning food subsidies; and what reply she has sent.

28. Mr. Ridsdale

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what representation she has had from small bakers about the subsidising of bread.

Mr. Maclennan

The National Association of Master Bakers, Confectioners and Caterers, which represents the interests of the small bakers, has played a full part in my right hon. Friend's recent discussions with the industry about the bread subsidy.

Mr. Finsberg

I thank the Minister for that reply but I suggest that it does not answer my Question. Will he say what representations have been received from the federation? That was the Question I asked.

Mr. Maclennan

None directly, but the Master Bakers Federation has made some representations about its special problems, which we are considering. Officials in my Department are arranging to meet the association in the near future to discuss its problems.

Mr. Ridsdale

Am I to understand that the Minister is also considering the problem of the small bakers and that he will meet them too? Because of increased rates and increased oil costs, in addition to the cost of flour, there is concern that some small bakers will be forced out of business very quickly if we are not careful.

Mr. Maclennan

We are aware of some of the difficulties to which the hon. Gentleman has referred but, as he will acknowledge, they are not due to the introduction of subsidy.

Mrs. Renée Short

Will my hon. Friend tell the House whether he intends to get any quid pro quo from the Master Bakers Federation the next time he has discussions with it about the quality of the loaf that is consumed? Is he aware that most of the bread consumed in this country is rather like undigested cotton wool and is not really fit to eat or fit to subsidise?

Mr. Maclennan

I think that some of the problems of small bakers stem from the fact that they are unable to use as much soft wheat in their loaves as are the larger bakers.

Mr. Aitken

Will the Minister explain why he is discriminating so unfairly between large and small bakers when he desists from discriminating—fairly, as be calls it—between those with small and large incomes as regards food subsidies?

Mr. Maclennan

I must rebut what the hon. Gentleman says about discriminating against small bakers. That is not so. We have taken account of the representations which small bakers have made about the small loaf of less than 14 oz. in our most recent arrangements.

Mr. Anthony Stodart

May I ask the Minister to be a little more explicit? It is possible that I misheard him. I thought he said in his answer that he had received no representations, yet in reply to a supplementary question he said that he had received some representations. Which of the two is it?

Mr. Maclennan

We have not received any specific representations but we are aware of the difficulties.

Mr. Finsberg

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply I intend to raise the matter at the earliest possible opportunity on the Adjournment.

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