HC Deb 21 July 1975 vol 896 cc24-7
15. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection whether she will now take further measures to control the price of food.

26. Mr. Thorne

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection whether she will now introduce proposals to freeze all prices of food and other essentials.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

The White Paper " The Attack on Inflation " made it clear that the present price control already ensures that a lower rate of increase in pay is reflected in a lower rate of price increase, and that the Government do not intend to push price control to the point where it would endanger employment and investment. Further action will be taken as soon as it is clear that the new pay limit is being effectively observed.

Mr. Canavan

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that traders do not take advantage of temporary abnormal shortages of certain foods by imposing permanent price increases on the consumer? In particular, will she ensure that potato merchants and chip shops, for example, lower their prices now that the temporary shortage of potatoes has been alleviated? In some areas of Scotland people are still having to pay up to 15p for a pound of potatoes, up to 35p for a fish supper and, possibly worst of all for a Scotsman, up to 25p for a haggis supper?

Mrs. Shirley Williams

I should not like to prevent my hon. Friend's constituents enjoying one of their favourite suppers. I assure him that I have already asked the Prime Commission to look closely at any fall in raw material prices, which would include fresh foods like potatoes, and to make sure that the benefit goes through to the consumer.

Mr. Ridley

The right hon. Lady said that she did not want to push price control to the point where it would endanger inflation and investment. Has she not already passed that point? Will she describe at what level of return on capital she thinks that point is reached?

Mrs. Shirley Williams

There has been a decline in profits in home markets amounting to nearly half the figure which was ruling at the time of the introduction of the Price Code, and that has meant a very sharp decline in margins. I believe that the hon. Gentleman gave himself away when he said that I did not want to push price control to the point where it endangered inflation. It is my intention to press it to the point where it endangers inflation, without pressing it to the point where it endangers employment.

24. Mr. Adley

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection if she will publish in the Official Report, from international sources available to her, a list of those Western countries which have a higher rate of increase of food prices than that presently pertaining in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Alan Williams

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Adley

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that that is the sort of unhelpful answer which we might have expected? Could it have anything to do with the fact that the figures will presumably show that this country has a much higher rate of increase in food prices than have its industrial competitors? Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that that is so? If it is, does he agree that now that the Government have shown the first glimmer of sanity in recognising that we have a problem called inflation, they would help to control it and bring down the rate of increase in food prices if they scrapped a whole range of their other policies which are doing much damage to the economy?

Mr. Alan Williams

It was a good reply. It answered precisely the point about which the hon. Gentleman chose to ask. I apologise; I did not realise that the hon. Gentleman wanted equivocation. The hon. Gentleman suggested that there is a glimmer of the Government's recognising certain measures that the hon. Gentleman finds appropriate. Therefore, I trust that he will reflect that glimmer by marching into the Division Lobbies in support of it, unlike his other fence-sitting colleagues, when the House is asked to vote on the Government's measures.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Whatever may or may not be the cause of higher food prices, is my hon. Friend aware that today the agricultural workers will get an increase in their wages but that they will still be receiving less, in real terms, than they did 10 years ago? Therefore, it can hardly be suggested that the increase in the cost of food is the fault of the agricultural workers, can it?

Mr. Alan Williams

I do not recollect that I accused the agricultural workers of any responsibility in this respect. However, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, who is avidly listening to what is being said, will no doubt bear in mind my hon. Friend's point.

The information is as follows:

November 1974 February 1975 May 1975
Iceland* + 51.2 + 56.9 + 39.2
Ireland* + 20.2 + 22'7 + 28.0
Portugal + 37.0 + 28.8 Not available
* Quarterly indices.