HC Deb 18 May 1976 vol 911 cc1363-79

10.26 p.m.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant God-man Irvine)

Mr. Fraser.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I draw your attention, for the record, to the fact that, following the proceedings earlier this evening, there can be no doubt that there has been a breach of Standing Order 145 concerning Private Business.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We are now dealing with the Price Code, and therefore this has nothing to do with the debate before the House. Mr. Fraser.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. There is no point of order. Mr. Fraser.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I started to raise with Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Is this a matter relating to the Price Code?

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

It is a matter which I started to raise with Mr. Speaker, but he motioned to me to put my point of order as soon as the Division was over as he was bound at that moment to put the Question. Therefore, I am following the advice of Mr. Speaker in putting it to you now, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Standing Order 145 is absolutely clear, and it comprises only three lines. It says: The minutes of the proceedings of a committee on a private bill shall be brought up and laid on the Table of the House with the report of the bill. That could not be more clear. It is also a fact that there has been no such copy on the Table of the House during the proceedings.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. This cannot be part of the present debate. Mr. Fraser.

Mr. John Peyton (Yeovil)

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like very much to understand your ruling at a rather difficult stage of our proceedings. Are you in fact saying that no point of order could possibly arise which was not directly concerned with the business which the House is now to embark upon? If you are, this would seem to me, with great respect, to be a very novel ruling indeed.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is taking time out of the debate. I am bound by the Standing Order which was passed by the House concerning when debates are to take place. The debate on which this matter is relevant concluded at 10 o'clock under the Standing Order of the House. I am the servant of the House, and I must now move on to the next debate. If there is a matter which can arise out of what happened, it should not arise now but should be taken at some other time.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The normal procedure is for a matter to be raised with the Chair on the first possible occasion. Mr. Speaker did not want to entertain this point at the moment when I raised it, because he was in process of putting the Question, and he indicated that I should raise the point of order when the proceedings on which he was engaged, and on which you replaced him in the process, had finished. I rose immediately so to do.

This is the first occasion on which it is possible to raise with you the fact that Standing Order 145 on Private Business has been breached by the absence from the Table of the minutes of the proceedings of the Committee. I want to put on record without any doubt that the earlier proceedings were in breach of Standing Order 145 and were, therefore, invalid.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We are on a debate dealing with the Price Code. I counsel the hon. Gentleman to raise this matter after Question Time tomorrow, which will be the first suitable occasion. Mr. Fraser.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmonds): On a point of order

, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like further guidance on your interpretation of the rules of order of the House. I understand you to have said that the immediate business, which we have not embarked upon but which we are about to embark upon, shall take precedence over any matters of order of this House. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) said, this is certainly a novel ruling, because I had always understood that matters concerning the proper procedure and order of the House took precedence over any particular timetable or business with which we might be dealing. I put it to you that we must first get clear the proper management of the business of the House and only then come to the matter that is to be debated. I should he obliged for your ruling on that matter.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

We are now on a debate on the Counter-Inflation (Price Code) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order. I have called Mr. Fraser, and in a moment I shall call him again. The right time to raise this matter would be after Question Time tomorrow.

Mr. Peyton

On that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. First, I think we would be glad to accept your advice that the proper time to raise the matter would be after Question Time tomorrow. At the same time, I suggest that it is open to doubt whether the time taken on this short discussion of a matter which arose from what Mr. Speaker said should be taken from the time for the debate on the Price Code Order which is to follow. With respect I hope that you will reconsider the ruling you have just given at a difficult moment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The duration of this debate started from the moment when I called the first speaker, Mr. Fraser, who has not made much progress so far. Therefore, perhaps he may start now.

10.34 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Prices and Consumer Protection (Mr. John Fraser)

I beg to move, That the Counter-Inflation (Price Code) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 1976 (S.I., 1976, No. 630), a copy of which was laid before this House on 23rd April, be approved. This is a small and, I hope, uncontentious Order. Its effect is to amend the Price Code provisions which back up the voluntary Price Check Scheme so that they take account of the recent Budget tax changes. If I may summarise it in a sentence, it means that the Budget tax changes will not be counted when one calculates whether Price Check prices have been kept within the agreed limits of 5 per cent. There are technical reasons why this is essential for the firms concerned which I shall try to explain. The Price Check Scheme is entirely voluntary and I thank all those manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers who have agreed to come into it. The essence of the scheme is that for those goods and services within it there should be no price rise beyond 5 per cent. between February and August this year. All the indications we have are that price increases for goods in the scheme will be well within that margin.

The battle against inflation is being won, and the scheme is a visible demonstration of this. It covers 15 to 20 per cent. of consumers' expenditure, and what has been heartening is the extent to which some retailers have been willing to bring extra items from their own ranges into the scheme. When the scheme was launched, there was a safeguard allowing items to be withdrawn if there were significant unexpected costs increases which made it absolutely impossible for them to keep within the scheme.

In his Budget speech, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a number of changes in indirect tax rates last month, which could not have been anticipated in February. These changes included reductions and increases. The higher rate of VAT was cut from 25 per cent. to 12½ per cent., which means substantial price reductions on such items as electric kettles, washing machines and television sets. For the rest, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said: the yield of income tax rises with rising earnings while the yield of the specific duties is not linked to the inflation rate. In addition, increased revenue in these areas will help make room for the socially desirable expenditure I shall be describing. Dealing with income tax reliefs, my hon. Friend went on to say: The revenue from the increased duties on alcoholic drink, tobacco and petrol will broadly cover the cost of the unconditional £370 million which is concentrated on the old and children. I believe that the House will feel that this reflects the right social priorities."— [Official Report, 6th April 1976; Vol. 909, c. 258–77.] The new tax rates on drink and petrol became effective almost immediately. The new rates on tobacco came into effect on 10th May. Beer went up by around a penny a pint immediately after the Budget. As for petrol, the price effects of the new hydrocarbon oil duty combined with the VAT reduction have been variable because of the intensely competitive situation in the petrol retail market at present and because of the withdrawal by the big oil companies of their special schemes of dealer support.

With the increases in specific duty which have led to decreases and reliefs elsewhere, it is important that any additional price increases which may come on top of these tax-based increases should be kept to the absolute minimum. Price restraint on the part of the manufacturers remains just as important as it was when the Price Check Scheme was launched. The brewers and the tobacco manufacturers told the Department immediately after the Budget that they were prepared to stay in the Price Check Scheme despite the increases in excise duty, and we very much welcome that decision.

Although it is an entirely voluntary arrangement, the scheme is backed up in the Price Code, so that firms which can do so are allowed to make up for restraint on Price Check goods by averaging out prices and taking rather more on something else. I emphasise "can" because it is only an ability to do this. The number of firms that have actually applied to the Price Commission to use this facility is very small. All that the Order does is allow scheme members to disregard the Budget duty increases in calculating whether they have kept within the 5 per cent. limit. The effect of the Order is to preserve their right to recoup costs on other items.

The Price Check Scheme was criticised at the beginning and was knocked to some extent, but it is going well. It has been operating since February and it has another three months to go. The Price Commission has been monitoring the effects, and the first indication we have received from it as a result of its monitoring is that the scheme is working successfully. The Order will facilitate continued compliance by manufacturers who are affected by the Budget tax changes.

I hope that with this explanation the House will be pleased to approve the Order.

10.41 p.m.

Mr. Norman Lamont (Kingston-upon-Thames)

The purpose of the Order, as the Minister has said, is to allow the tax changes consequential upon the Budget not to be included in the price increases that go through to the consumer under the Price Check Scheme.

Before I turn to my main point, I shall put a detailed question to the Minister. As I understand him, the increases in excise duties and indirect taxes are not to be counted as part of the price increase for the purposes of the Price Check Scheme, but I am a little puzzled as to what will happen about the cost of financing payments of duty allowed under the Price Code.

As the Minister will be aware, wholesalers have to make payments of duty in advance when stock—for example, spirits—comes out of bonding. My information is that no part of the cost of financing the payment of duties—and the payment has to be made in advance—is allowable under the Price Code in respect of gross and net profit margins. The Minister emphasised that cross-subsidisation was to continue under the Order despite the increase in taxes. That is what one would expect.

But the point should be made that cross-subsidisation is forbidden under the Price Code. That fact that it was allowed under the Price Check Scheme is something that I have regarded with a certain amount of suspicion, as it appears a little like the beginning of cartelisation. It appeared that the Price Code was being dismembered up to a point in favour of a few producers whom the Government favoured.

The Minister's main point is a simple one—namely, that where taxes have increased, that will not count towards the 5 per cent., which is the limitation that the Price Check Scheme has imposed on the retail price so as to protect the consumer. I imagine that many consumers, including, perhaps, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have forgotten what the Price Check Scheme is. That is hardly surprising as we have heard so little of it and as it has had such little effect.

When the scheme was first put forward we were criticised for calling it a cosmetic. We called it that because we strongly suspected—this had been borne out by the discussions we had had with individuals involved in the negotiations with the Government—that many of the goods that the Government had selected to put in the scheme would not have gone up by 5 per cent. anyway.

But it has now been revealed that the scheme is not even a cosmetic. When we referred to it in those terms it never occurred to us that the Government would come along and drive a coach and horses through the scheme. We could not have realised that the Government would increase the prices of goods in the shops that were meant to be restricted to a limitation of 5 per cent. over six months.

The first step was to increase the duty on cigarettes. That represented on average an increase of over 6 per cent. That seemes to be outside the 5 per cent.limitation imposed by the scheme. Then we had the increase on beer. That put up the price by very nearly 5 per cent. and we all know that rounding up is allowed under the Price Code.

Then we had the increase on cider. I notice that the Minister did not mention that, and it does not seem to have been mentioned in any of the handouts. Excise duty, for the first time, has been extended to cider, and 3p is the sort of price increase that has been put on a pint of cider, as compared with 1p on a pint of beer. That puts up the price of cider by about 20 per cent.

Those, therefore, are the increases that the Government have brought about themselves—about 5 per cent. on beer, over 6 per cent. in cigarettes, and 20 per cent. on cider. That increase is quite separate from and additional to the 5 per cent. increase that might just occur through the normal increase in costs for which the Government had provided and expected and allowed for under the scheme, so one could easily say that under the scheme the price of beer might rise by 10 per cent., cigarettes by 11 per cent. or 12 per cent., and cider by 25 per cent.

That all adds up to a very considerable amount, and it means that a considerable part of the scheme has now been invalidated. When one takes account of other increases that have occurred, one sees. for example, that there has been an increase in the price of bread. We have seen the cost of the standard loaf rise from 17p to 18p.

For some reason that I have never been able to understand, the Department of Prices and Consumer Protection keeps saying that this is not an increase that goes outside the scheme and that rounding up is allowed. I cannot understand the Department's arithmetic. Perhaps the Minister will explain it to me. By my method of arithmetic, simple as it is, 1p on a 17p loaf is an increase of 5.88 per cent. That is more than 5 per cent., and allowing for rounding up, is 6 per cent. Therefore, I do not see how the Government can maintain that the price of bread and the way in which this increase comes about can be within the scheme.

Mr. John Fraser

It is within the scheme because the scheme is precisely defined as allowing for that kind of increase. If the hon. Gentleman wants to check it, the best thing to do is to read the Order amending the Price Code which set up the Price Check Scheme. He will see that it comes exactly within the wording of the Order.

Mr. Lamont

I always thought that the object of the exercise was to restrain price rises to 5 per cent. over a six-month period. I had not expected that there was a whole lot of small print. Neither do I believe that that is what was understood by people who saw advertisements on television and in newspapers, and who are paying the bill of £1 million over six months. Taking bread, cigarettes, beer and cider, this adds up to half the expenditure covered under the price restraint scheme.

Of course, we know that the scheme that has been actually produced is a very small mouse. Originally it was thought that there might be 80 different product categories, and that it might cover a substantial part of consumer expenditure. However, in the end the Government had to settle for something between 15 per cent. and 20 per cent. of consumer expenditure.

The fact remains, however, that of that part of consumer expenditure that theoretically is meant to be covered by the scheme, bread, cigarettes, beer and cider account for about half, so half of the value of the scheme has already gone.

Given that this is expensive and that we have to pay for these advertisements, would it not be better if we ditched the whole thing now that it has proved so useless?

The Minister says that if one studies the matter carefully one will see that this was all allowed for. He did not explain precisely what he meant by that. However, if it was really intended that tax increases should be allowed for in addition to the 5 per cent. price increases, why was that not specified in the advertisements on television and in newspapers? The advertisements did not say "A 5 per cent. increase is the maximum that you will have to pay in the next six months on top of Government-caused increases".

If it was expected that what we are now having to put up with was a likely possibility, why was the Price Code not amended in the first place? Why does the Minister have to come to the House after the Budget to amend the Price Code? I am firmly convinced that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had no idea that the Price Check Scheme existed. It did not enter his head. He did not know that it played any part in the counter-inflation strategy.

I would remind the Minister of State of what the Chancellor said in the Budget debate. If there is any doubt, he can send for the Hansard containing the speech. I remember clearly what the Chancellor said when he announced the increase on cigarettes. He said he had few regrets about putting up the tax on cigarettes because there were substantial social and health reasons for making them more expensive.

That may be so, but if he thought that there were sound reasons for putting up the price, what was the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection doing trying to keep them down? Did not the Chancellor talk to her? Did she not publish advertisements saying their prices were to be kept down and price increases on them restricted to 5 per cent? That is why I do not believe that this Order is other than a document got together in haste, scrambled together because the Chancellor overruled the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection and is oblivious of what she was trying to do.

From the beginning we have made clear that we regard the scheme as an entirely worthless exercise, although expensive for the public. The fact that the Minister has to come without a rational explanation shows how right we were.

10.52 p.m.

Mr. Richard Body (Holland with Boston)

I support every word spoken by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Lamont) but I seek to raise a further matter.

I do not know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether you have read the document we are meant to be discussing, but it may be that you turned to the back page and read the explanatory note, hoping to understand it straight away and to grasp sufficient of the meaning not to make it necessary to probe the document itself. If you did, you can be sure you could not understand it, any more than I or anyone else could. I protest to the Minister of State about the way the document has been phrased. He must know that there are broadly two categories of people who have to read these documents and appreciate them.

They are large companies which are able to employ solicitors and perhaps accountants. They are able to digest this kind of jargon and are sufficiently familiar with previous Orders and the jargon of White Papers and the rest to understand what it is about. These companies can have the advantage of their advice and will act accordingly.

The Minister must know as well as I do, and, indeed, he knows better than I, that thousands of retailers and small business men on their own may have copies of this document and have to try to understand it. If they turn to the explanatory note they will not understand it.

Mr. Mike Thomas (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)

Will the hon. Member forgive me for inquiring whether he or his hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Lamont) is suggesting that these firms, which in good faith entered into an understanding with the Government about the 5 per cent. increase, should be expected to bear the increase of cost to take them above 5 per cent., or that the allowance should be given? I should have thought that hon. Members opposite would be glad that the Government were allowing this flexibility and allowing the hon. Member's friends to enjoy this flexibility, rather than croaking and screaming about it. It is perfectly reasonable and rational and hon. Members are wasting our time.

Mr. Body

The hon. Member is canvassing a view which is alien to my theme. I thought he would have sympathy with small business men. How many could understand this Order? Can he hazard a guess? Is it fair to expect his constituents or mine to try to understand this kind of language? If we are to have these schemes, half-baked though they may be, at least those trying to comply with the law and to fit in with them ought to be treated with some consideration, if not courtesy.

Mr. Mike Thomas

I could not count the number of small shopkeepers in my constituency, with many of whom I am in regular contact, but I know that if the Government had not decided to make this amendment to the Price Code, they would all have contacted me asking why they should have to bear the brunt of the tax increases in the Budget and why the Price Code should not be amended.

Mr. Body

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will make his own speech in due course. If he does, we shall listen to his defence of this nonsense with interest. Meanwhile, I throw out a challenge to him. Perhaps he would care to take a handful of these Orders to show to his constituents with whom he is in such close contact and invite them to say whether they understand the language.

If we are to have these schemes, those trying to comply with them and to support the Government should at least be given a document which they can understand —[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman giggles. I do not think that his shopkeeper constituents would giggle if he invited them to say whether they understand this explanatory note. Perhaps he has not yet read it—

Mr. Mike Thomas

I was touched by the hon. Gentleman's desire to support the Government. I find that endearing.

Mr. Body

Far be it from me to support any price and incomes policy. I can well remember opposing the policy of the previous Government, and I think as ill of the present one. Indeed, this is an even bigger nonsense than the previous one

This explanatory note is an insult to the retailers and others who have to digest it and try to comply with it. I hope that, hence forth, those entrusted with the task of drafting similar documents will have more consideration for those who have to read them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames used robust words to describe the way that this matter had been handled, and he urged the Government to ditch the whole scheme. That is admirable advice. I hope that the Minister will heed it and ditch the scheme before it collapses. He must realise that it will collapse and that, with its collapse, there will be a great deal of odium.

10.59 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Dodsworth (Hertfordshire, South-West)

I wish to support the comments of my hon. Friends on the ramshackle form of this price control mechanism—this inadequate piece of legislation which has to be added to on an ad hoc basis from time to time.

It seems to me that the state of our economy reflects our position in the world. We are on the side of world events. As a nation which imports a vast proportion of our requirements, especially those commodities affected by the Price Code, we are the victims of world trade events. The mechanism which the Government utilise merely seeks to represent to the public at large that they are actively doing something about something they cannot control. They hope to take the credit, at some future unforeseen time, for any reductions which result from actions in which they have had no part at all.

That, I believe, is what was referred to as "cosmetic". However, I would regard it as "phoney". It is misleading the public to suggest that this Government have taken any realistic action at all. I would go further than that.

It seems to me that the Price Check Scheme is positively misleading in the representation it makes to the public. The public have not had the benefit or had the opportunity of reading the detailed Orders, the amendment Orders or the fine print, on the back pages, as have my hon. Friends. The public believe that all the goods contained in the shop with the Price Check Scheme symbol on the door have some sort of control or check on them. They do not realise that the Government operate their method of knowing what is best for us and it is they who decide which goods shall be protected.

The public are under the mistaken apprehension that all the goods on sale are likely to be under some form of the Price Check Scheme. That is the interpretation which logically follows from seeing that symbol at the entrance to a particular store.

So, on two counts, this is a phoney scheme. It is phoney in its actual strategy and because it only responds to events and controls not at all. Secondly, it is positively misleading. For these reasons I support my hon. Friends.

11.3 p.m.

Mr. John Fraser

I shall first attempt to answer some of the specific points put to me by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Lamont). He asked me about the cost of financing duty payments made in advance. For Price Check Scheme purposes, I am told, firms will not be able to offset financing charges against the 5 per cent. voluntary limit on price increases. This Order deals only with the cash amount of duty. Under the Price Code generally direct financing costs, for instance, interest on duty paid, may be taken into account in the allowable costs for profit margin calculations.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman mentioned the price of bread. Perhaps I may draw his attention to the debate on an Order, in which he took part earlier this year, dealing with the increases relating to a part of a penny. That Order said: Where an increase to be made in any price under this head is less than a whole number of pence the increased price may be rounded up to the nearest halfpenny. The increase to the nearest 5 per cent. would have involved bread going up by 0.7p or 0.8p and it is simply not possible to raise bread prices by that amount. Therefore, the increase was rounded up to the nearest penny, which took it marginally above the 5 per cent., but it was always expected that that sort of rounding up would take place. I do not think the hon. Gentleman can take any great credit for trying to devalue the Price Check Scheme with that sort of carping criticism.

When the hon. Gentleman mentioned cider he excelled himself. I must advise him that the price increases do not come into effect until the autumn, so there has been no increase as a consequence of the Budget. For cider firms, this Order is unnecessary.

The hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) criticised the explanatory note. I have always been extremely careful that explanatory notes should be as clear and comprehensible as possible. Every Government owe it, not only to hon. Members, but to the public, to keep their explanatory notes simple while giving a fairly clear and easy explanation to a member of the public. The hon. Member underrates his shopkeepers and the public. I have looked again at the explanatory note. I find it reasonably easy to understand and I am sure that most other people will do so.

I have dealt with the specific points raised. On the general comments on the Price Check Scheme, when I hear hon. Members castigating it in words like "Ditch the whole thing as useless" and "It is a worthless exercise", I am reminded of the saying of Rochefoucauld, that the misfortunes of others are never entirely unpleasant. Any change in the code or any difficulty with the Price Check Scheme, if one can describe those as misfortunes, is never entirely unpleasant to Conservative Members. Some people—not all—appear to have been investing a good deal of capital in the failure of anti-inflation policies. They will be pleased to attack the policy and to demonstrate that something is not working.

Mr. Dodsworth

Would the Minister specify exactly who "some people" are and the matters he refers to, rather than resort to generalities?

Mr. Fraser

I gave two quotations. The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames said, "The Government want to ditch the whole thing as useless". He then went on to describe it as "a useless exercise". It is in the recollection of the House that the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Dodsworth) himself castigated the scheme in similar terms.

I think that the country as a whole is bent on beating the scourge of inflation. It welcomes a scheme like the Price Check Scheme, which plays an important part in keeping down the cost of what is 15 to 20 per cent. —

Mrs. Sally Oppenheim (Gloucester)

It is not.

Mr. Fraser

Does the hon. Lady wish to intervene?

Mrs. Sally Oppenheim

I had not intended to intervene, but the Minister provokes me. How can he say that 15 to 20 per cent. of family expenditure is involved, when, for whatever reason—be it Excise duty or anything else—goods comprising half that 15 to 20 per cent. of family expenditure have gone up by more than 5 per cent.?

Mr. Fraser

The point is that one is asking retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers to remain within a scheme in which they restrain price increases on account of manufacturing and distribution costs within the 5 per cent. limit

It is a curious thing, but if the original Price Code had been drafted a little more widely, this Order would not have been necessary. Paragraph 28(4) of the 1974 code said: VAT is not regarded as part of the price for calculating prices and price increases for manufacturing and service enterprises, and this paragraph does not affect the treatment of VAT for this purpose. If the definition of VAT had been extended to include Budget duty increases, the Order would not have been necessary.

The Price Check Scheme covers 15 to 20 per cent. of expenditure. It is true that some items in that scheme have been increased by Budget duty and that some have been reduced by the lowering of the top VAT rate from 25 to 12½ per cent.

Mr. Norman Lamont

The Minister has explained the position of cider and the fact that the duty will not become effective until the autumn, but does he think that it is honest to advertise cider as being restrained to an increase of 5 per cent. for six months and then a month or two months later to put up the the price by 20 per cent.? What is the price restraint in that? Second, even if the scheme applies, as he said, to 15 to 20 per cent. of consumer expenditure, is it not true that the increases in the price of bread, beer and cigarettes account for half of the amount covered by the scheme already and that they are rising by roughly 5 per cent.?

Mr. Fraser

With the duty, the increase in the price of beer, cigarettes and bread is in the range of 5 per cent.

I was asked whether it was dishonest to advertise these products as being within the Price Check Scheme, but they are within the scheme. The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames must try to see certain Budget duty increases within the context of the total battle against inflation. The Budget increases have been made to pay for income tax reliefs for old people and children. They are part of the rounded package to deal with inflation. That battle is being won and the Price Check Scheme is a contribution to winning that battle.

The general range of increases, apart from rising duty, have been far less than 5 per cent. The number of applications made to the Price Commission for cross-subsidies have been small and the scheme is therefore successful. Opposition Members might give credit to the Government—and not just the Government which perhaps should not claim the credit—but the manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, tobacco manufacturers and brewers who wish to remain inside the scheme to demonstrate their desire, with other sections of the community, to restrain prices and control inflation.

Question put and agreed to

Resolved, That the Counter-Inflation (Price Code) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 1976 (S. I., 1976, No. 630), a copy of which was laid before this House on 23rd April, be approved.