HC Deb 24 May 1976 vol 912 cc18-9
12. Mr. Durant

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection by how much the food index has increased over the past 12 months to date inclusive of seasonal foods; and by how much it has increased over the past three months on the same basis.

Mr. Maclennan

The food index, which includes seasonal food, increased by 19–9 per cent. between 15th April 1975 and 13th April 1976 and by 5.7 per cent. between 13th January and 13th April 1976.

Mr. Durant

In spite of the banter across the Floor of the House, is the hon. Gentleman aware that the housewife is desperately worried about the increasing cost of food? Will he consider the price of potatoes, which has increased by 11p in the past three months? Will he have discussions with the Minister of Agriculture about the working of the Potato Marketing Board, which I do not think is doing a very good job?

Mr. Maclennan

There is a separate Question on potatoes, which I shall answer when we reach it. However, on the question of food prices generally, it would be very helpful if the Opposition would make clear whether they propose the immediate abandonment of food subsidies.

Mr. Ronald Atkins

Does my hon. Friend agree that the proportion of lower incomes spent on food is very much higher than it has been for many years? In fact, there has been a step back to the position in the early years of this century. Does not that strengthen the case for retaining food subsidies, which are opposed by the Conservative Party?

Mr. Maclennan

The less-well-off spend a larger proportion of their income on food, but some encouragement should be taken from the fact that the food index, less seasonal foods, shows that the rate of increase of 27.9 per cent. in April last year had fallen to 13.8 per cent. this year. If we include seasonal foods, which have been affected seriously by what has happened with potatoes, the fall is from 26.6 per cent. to 19.9 per cent. Therefore, some progress is discernible.