HC Deb 11 October 1976 vol 917 cc2-4
2. Mr. Sainsbury

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what has been the increase in the price of materials and fuel purchased by manufacturing industry over the past 12 months.

Mr. Maclennan

The Wholesale Price Index for materials and fuels purchased by manufacturing industry rose by 29.1 per cent. in the 12 months to September 1976.

Mr. Sainsbury

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is a rather alarming increase? Will he tell the House how much of it is attributable to the decline in the value of sterling, and therefore tell the consumer how much he is paying for the excessive Government expenditure that has contributed so much to this depreciation of sterling?

Mr. Maclennan

The decline in the value of sterling is certainly a major factor, and the unacceptable trend in the figure, in so far as one month's figure can be expressed in that way, is due largely to changes in the price of food.

Mr. Heffer

Will my hon. Friend also indicate to the House how much of this is due to our entry into the European Community? Secondly, will he indicate how much this has been the result of the floating of the pound, which was introduced by the Tory Government?

Mr. Maclennan

The further one gets from the date of entry into the Common Market, the more unrealistic it is to seek to quantify the impact of membership on food prices. The floating rate is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Mr. Norman Lamont

Why will not the Minister give my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) the facts for which he asked? Is it not the case that the Economist commodity indicator has risen by nearly 50 per cent. during the last 12 months in sterling terms but in dollar terms by less than 20 per cent., and that this gives a real picture of the lack of confidence in the Government?

Mr. Maclennan

It is true that during the past 12 months the exchange rate of sterling has gone down by about 17 per cent, and world commodity prices are up by 23 per cent., according to the dollar index of the Economist. Those are the facts, and they are a measure of the seriousness of the situation that the country faces.

Mr. Skinner

Would it not be sensible to tell the Opposition that one reason—not the only one—why this problem is with us is the intense speculation against sterling by their friends and, perhaps more importantly, the constant hoarding of commodities and the buying-in of commodities that has pushed up prices during the past nine months?

Mr. Maclennan

I have no evidence of the hoarding of commodities to which my hon. Friend refers. Questions about speculation against the value of sterling are more for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but my hon. Friend will have noted the words of the German Chancellor that the £ sterling is seriously undervalued.

Sir John Hall

Would the hon. Gentleman regard it as speculation if an investor withdrew his funds from a company in which he no longer had any confidence?

Mr. Maclennan

That is a hypothetical question and does not relate directly to the one that I have answered.

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