HC Deb 24 May 1976 vol 912 cc22-4
21. Mr. Gow

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protecton how many letters she has received suggesting the abolition of the Price Commission.

Mr. Maclennan

None in recent months.

Mr. Gow

If the cost of the Price Commission in the current year is £6.6 million, does not the Minister think that it would be in the public interest for this monstrosity to be abandoned forthwith?

Mr. Maclennan

The hon. Gentleman's view may be shared by Tory members, but it is not shared by those who are seeking to make our counter-inflation policy work. The CBI, the Retail Consortium and the TUC are united in agreeing that there must be a continuation of the pricing policy during the next period of extremely stringent wage inflation.

Mr. Mike Thomas

Is my hon. Friend aware that during the period of potato shortage the price of rice appears by some coincidence to have risen very rapidly? What has the Price Commission been doing about that?

Mr. Maclennan

The Price Commission monitors fresh food prices regularly. If my hon. Friend will table a specific Question, I have no doubt that I shall be able to answer it.

Mr. Giles Shaw

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that for category 1 companies it is estimated that about £35 million is spent in administering the Price Code? Is not this an indication that the Price Code should be abolished?

Mr. Maclennan

The Price Commission does a very important job in monitoring and controlling allowable cost increases, and it would be wholly wrong at this time to depart from the existing technique of price control. If the hon. Member is advocating that on behalf of the Opposition, I hope that he will make it plain that that is what he is doing. The Price Commission fulfils other purposes and was established in perpetuity by the Act, for which the Tory Government were responsible, to enable pricing policy to be examined.

Mrs. Sally Oppenheim

Will the Minister now say exactly what effect the abolition of the Price Code would have upon the Retail Price Index?

Mr. Maclennan

My right hon. Friend has already explained the precise elements involved.

Mrs. Oppenheim


Mr. Maclennan

Yes. If the hon. Lady refers to Hansard, she will see a full answer on this question.

Mr. Cryer

Will my hon. Friend give the House some information about investigations by the Price Commission into the price of potatoes? Is he aware that ordinary small and large retailers, greengrocers and people such as fish-and-chip merchants are getting tired of having to explain the steep increases and that there is increasing suspicion on the part of the public that farmers and wholesalers have been making a killing? If the Price Commission investigates these matters, the public will be assured that the blame lies fairly.

Mr. Maclennan

The Price Commission investigates distributors' margins, and two such reports are in the House of Commons Library. A third report will be available shortly. They make it plain that distributors are not profiteering on the shortage of potatoes. It is true that farmers have done rather well out of the potato shortage, by and large, even though there are variations. It is true also that farmers' profits vary from season to season and from commodity to commodity. Any further questions on farmers' profits would be better addressed to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Back to
Forward to