HC Deb 20 May 1974 vol 874 cc16-8
15. Mr. Adley

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what representations she has received about the working of her prices policy: and what replies she has sent.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

The representations and my replies are too numerous to detail. Since my appointment I have had frequent talks with representatives of trade, industry and consumers about all aspects of prices policy.

Mr. Adley

That is not surprising. Many people will consider that the Government's present plans for prices, for which the right hon. Lady is the Minister responsible, are a charade. Is she aware that the price of subsidising Harry Hyams' bread is driving farmers into bankruptcy, with inevitable effects on the consumer within a comparatively few weeks? Is she also aware—as Minister responsible for prices she should be—that many people are worried to death about the forthcoming increase in electricity prices, particularly for night storage heaters? And is she aware that hundreds of thousands of ratepayers are being driven to near-militancy and that even though she is the Minister responsible she refuses to answer questions on rates because apparently they are not part of prices?

Mrs. Williams

First, I think it extraordinary that the hon. Gentleman, coming from an administration which did not take action on food prices, should make the charges he has made. It is always easier to attack a constructive policy than to attack no policy. Secondly, it amazes me, in the light of what the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer said specifically about nationalised industry prices as long ago as last December, which his right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) confirmed as recently as five weeks ago, that the hon. Gentleman should still pretend that nationalised industry price increases are wholly the decision of this Government. Thirdly, the hon. Gentleman is presumably aware that rates are a matter which is dealt with and decided upon by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, who will be only too pleased to review any allegations made by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Madden

Despite the unusual vitality of Opposition Members this afternoon, which one can only assume is a direct response to the exhortations over the weekend of the hon. Member for Petersfield (Miss Quennell), does not my right hon. Friend agree that many of the letters she receives are from people who are very grateful that the present Government are following a positive prices policy compared to the last Government who apparently had no policy at all?

Mrs. Williams

I am pleased to confirm that we have many letters saying how grateful people are for subsidies.

Mrs. Sally Oppenheim

Is the Minister aware that despite the lack of activity on the Government benches this afternoon the largest monthly figure for this year was recorded in the Financial Times grocery index today and that this represents an annual rate of increase bigger than any annual increase over the past three years? Is she aware that the people of this country, who are struggling against the increasing rate of inflation, which has continued under this Government, now regard her policy as nothing more than a piece of elaborate "kid-ology"?

Mrs. Williams

I do not know where the hon. Lady gets her figures from. In each month since we have been in office the year-on-year increase in the food index has dropped. I would point out that, as I made clear in answer to an earlier Question, during the last 10 weeks in which the hon. Lady's Government were in office the number of price increases was about 200 greater than in the present Government's first 10 weeks in office.