HC Deb 10 February 1975 vol 886 cc17-20
22. Mrs. Sally Oppenheim

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection by how much the items in the voluntary agreement taken both collectively and individually, have risen since the agreement was made.

Mr. Maclennan

The collective price of the goods in the voluntary agreement increased by 4.9 per cent. between May and December 1974, the latest month for which figures are available. This compares with a rise in the retail price index of 8.6 per cent. With permission, I will provide detailed information on individual commodities in the Official Report.

Mrs. Oppenheim

Will the Minister say how widespread is the departmental monitoring of these figures and why his answer conflicts so sharply with the evidence in the Grocer in January—namely, that promotional offers in relation to the items on the right hon. Lady's list of goods which may be on continuous offer at all times were curtailed by 30 per cent. and that 15 items advertised by the Co-op the day after the announcement of "Shirley's special price offers" were found to be on sale in a Co-op during the weekend at 28 per cent. more?

Mr. Maclennan

The hon. Lady should be satisfied that the voluntary agreement is being monitored most carefully by my Department. We are basing the matter on a calculation of price indices and the monitoring of the promotional material that is available to us. The hon. Lady should also realise that resources for the agreement were provided largely by the 10 per cent. cut in gross margin reference levels. While we are not endeavouring to seek price stability over the entire front, we are endeavouring to concentrate on cutting reference levels for items of particular importance. We believe that this is effectively being achieved.

Mr. Mike Thomas

Is the Minister aware that those of us who are involved in the co-operative movement condemn the sort of instance purported to be put forward by the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) as the true state of affairs? The hon. Lady cannot have the argument both ways. She cannot on the one hand claim that her friends in the distributive trades are maintaining the agreement and on the other hand attack the Government for the failure of the agreement.

Mr. Maclennan

It is curious that the Opposition have never given full-hearted support to the voluntary agreement—an agreement which the trade has been anxious to support.

Mr. Giles Shaw

Will the Minister agree that since there has been a 4.6 per cent. price increase through the voluntary agreement against an increase of 8.6 per cent. in the Price Code, the Government should abandon the Price Code and stick by the voluntary agreement?

Mr. Maclennan

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman can have put forward that view only in a spirit of levity. However, the voluntary agreement comes to an end at the end of March, and we shall be considering whether it is the most appropriate method of seeking to concentrate benefits on the shopping baskets of housewives. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If the Opposition have other methods in mind, I have no doubt that we shall consider them very carefully.

Mr. Michael Morris

Is the Minister honestly saying that the statement in the Grocer to which my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) drew attention was totally erroneous?

Mr. Maclennan

I made no such suggestion.

Mr. Gow

Is the Minister aware that no charge of levity could ever be raised against him?

Following is the information:


Pecenrage changes in Price Indices

Percentage increase May-Dec. 1974
Bread (per loaf) large white small white 0.5
Cheese (cheddar type) 10.1
Butter (NZ) 8.8
Milk-based infant food (full cream) (per 16 oz. tin) 14.8
Self-raising flour (per 3 lb.) -2.1
Apples (dessert) 7.4
Bananas 3.1
Oranges 17.4
Potatoes 0.1
Tomatoes 0.4
Cabbage -35.1
Cauliflower 4.0
Carrots 8.8
Onions -23.1
Beef (all cuts home and imported) -0.4
Lamb (cheap cuts home and imported) -10.1
Chicken* 9.6
Chicken portions* 10.5
Biscuits (sweet lower priced) 24.9
Electric light bulbs 3.8
Matches 16.5
Toilet soap 15.9
Toothpaste -9.4
INDEX ALL RETAILERS' ITEMS *Chickens—Frozen 3 lb. and fresh and chilled 4 lb. Chicken portions—using index for frozen 3 lb. chickens.
Percentage increase May-Dec. 1974
Sausages (pork and beef) 5.6
Cooking fat and lard (lard price only) 16.5
Margarine 30.8
Tea (lower and medium priced) (per ¼ lb.) -2.8
Breakfast cereals 20.5
Fish fingers -0.2
Frozen peas and beans 10.8
Instant coffee (per 4 oz.) 15.2
Baby (infant) foods (per jar) 30.0
Canned beans in tomato sauce 10.5
Canned soup 26.2