HC Deb 08 March 1976 vol 907 cc16-8
6. Sir George Young

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what is the most recent year-on-year rate of inflation.

14. Mr. Sainsbury

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection by what percentage the Retail Price Index has increased since February 1974.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

Over the 12 months to 13th January 1976 the General Index of Retail Prices increased by 23.4 per cent. This represents an overall increase of 45.4 per cent. since 19th February 1974.

Sir G. Young

Is the right hon. Lady's ambition to reduce the rate of inflation to 10 per cent. by the end of the year compatible with the Treasury's policy of allowing the pound to sink without trace?

Mrs. Shirley Williams

I do not accept that description of the Treasury's policy. In the past six months the all-items index, omitting seasonal items which can distort the index in either direction, has been running at 6.6 per cent. That is an annual rate of 13.6 per cent. The hon. Gentleman will notice that the Government are rapidly approaching the target that they set themselves.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Does my right hon. Friend note that the Opposition have stopped asking for the month-on-month figures now that they are becoming better, and that they now ask for the year-on-year figures? Will my right hon. Friend call upon the mass media to give greater publicity to the month-on-month figures that she has just given?

Mrs. Shirley Williams

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I suggest that he and my other hon. Friends keep tabling Questions about the month-on-month figures. On all occasions I shall answer by giving the month-on-month and the year-on-year figures, leaving the House to make its own judgment.

Mr. Sainsbury

Does the right hon. Lady agree that congratulations about a supposed approach towards targets might be premature when the most important matter remains the present weakness of the pound, a weakness reflecting that our rate of inflation is still twice that of our major competitors?

Mrs. Shirley Williams

No, the hon. Gentleman is out of date. Our rate of inflation is not twice that of our competitors. That is shown by the six-monthly rate that I have given to the House. However, it is still somewhat above that of most of our competitors, and we need to reduce it nearer to those rates. I am not congratulating myself or my Department. I believe that congratulations are owed to the citizens of this country. They have shown a great deal of restraint in their wage demands and in accepting the £6 limit.

Mrs. Sally Oppenheim

Is the right hon. Lady aware that few congratulations can be offered when after two years of Labour Government prices have risen by over 45 per cent. and when by the end of this summer they will have risen by over 50 per cent.? Is she aware that, whatever happens now, nothing can be done to eradicate that damaging performance and the consequences in hardship and damage to the country? The right hon. Lady will go down in history as having presided over two years of the highest inflation that we have ever known. Is she aware that she is responsible for the consequences and the hardship that will ensue?

Mrs. Shirley Williams

It was the hon. Lady's more generous hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), who spoke of congratulations, not I, Hansard will show from where the congratulations stemmed. Rather surprisingly, they came from the Opposition.

Inflation does not suddenly happen. There are many circumstances that lead to inflation. The hon. Lady cannot pretend that her own Government's acceptance of the threshold system, and her own Government presiding over a massive rate of inflation, which showed every sign of increasing month by month, had nothing to do with the situation we now have to face. I am bound to say that the country still has a serious target to meet. It will not be met if any of us pretend that we have no responsibility for inflation. The Conservative Administration bears a considerable share of the responsibility.

Mr. Madden

Does my right hon. Friend agree that considerable damage is being done to our economy by imports? Does she further agree that the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) and many of her colleagues would do a great deal to improve the situation if they stopped driving foreign-made cars?

Mrs. Shirley Williams

I must leave the latter part of my hon. Friend's question for hon. Members' consciences. It would help the country in its present difficulties if people chose home-produced goods, when available, as far as possible.

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