HC Deb 20 May 1974 vol 874 cc27-8
29. Mr. Mikardo

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what has been the average increase in the wholesale and retail price of rice in the 12 months ending at the most recent date for which she has figures.

Mr. Maclennan

On the basis of information collected for the purposes of the relevant indices, the wholesale and retail prices of rice rose by about 115 per cent. in the 12 months ended March 1974.

Mr. Mikardo

While to my hon. Friend, to me and to most other hon. Members rice is merely the basis of a pudding after Sunday lunch, perhaps once or twice a month, to more than a million people of this country it is the equivalent of bread, and most of them are on relatively low incomes. While recognising the difficulties, I ask my hon. Friend to consider doing something about it.

Mr. Maclennan

I assure my hon. Friend that I am sympathetic to the position he has described. Increasing demand coincided with a drop in production in 1972–73 following bad weather in the rice-growing areas of South-East Asia, and as a result the amount of rice entering world trade in 1973 was 23 per cent. below the amount in 1972 and 38 per cent. below the 1971 figure. I am currently engaged in discussions with the trade with the aim of achieving a voluntary agreement to hold down the prices of key foods to low income groups. Rice is among the foodstuffs which I hope will be included in categories under regular promotional offer.

Mr. Ridley

In view of the immense importance of rice to underdeveloped people, will the hon. Gentleman say whether it is the Government's policy to try to hold down its price, thus hurting the Third World, or whether they intend to allow prices to rise, in contradiction to what the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) suggests?

Mr. Maclennan

The hon. Gentleman's reference to underdeveloped people was somewhat distasteful. I have already described the measures my right hon. Friend proposes to take.