HC Deb 11 October 1976 vol 917 cc4-7
3. Mr. Rooker

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection if he will make a statement on the rate of price increases at the latest convenient date.

5. Mr. Mike Thomas

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what was the annual rate of inflation at the latest available date.

7. Mr. Durant

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what has been the increase on the Retail Price Index over the last 12 months.

10. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what is the latest monthly rise in the Retail Price Index; and if he will make a statement.

16. Mr. Tim Renton

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what is his current estimate of the increase in the Retail Price Index during 1976 to date.

The Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection (Mr. Roy Hattersley)

The monthly increase in the Retail Price Index to August 1976 was 1.4 per cent., giving an annual increase of 13.8 per cent., just over half the increase at August 1975, and 7.2 per cent. since January 1976.

Mr. Rooker

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and congratulate him on his appointment to the Cabinet, but will he say why, having given that figure which is still 13.8 over 12 months, the Government are proceeding with the abolition of food subsidies when their retention was a main plank in the election manifesto on which we came to power?

Mr. Hattersley

An essential element in the programme for economic recovery is, and must be, a reduction in some element of public expenditure, and the announcement that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made in July about food subsidies is part of that. I am sure that the people whom my hon. Friend and I represent have much to gain from the progress of economic recovery, and this is all part of the plan for bringing that about.

Mr. Durant

By how much does the right hon. Gentleman estimate that the lowering of the value of sterling will affect the RPI in future months, because we have not yet felt the full effects of this?

Mr. Hattersley

It is impossible, and were it possible it would be reckless, to make estimates which would be guesses about future movements, particularly if they were as specific as that. Perhaps our overwhelming obligation is to stabilise the relationship between the pound and the dollar. That is as important to people who buy their shopping and purchase goods and groceries every week as it is to every other section of the community, because it reflects in the RPI. I promise that later this afternoon my hon. Friend will hear a robust account of how we are carrying out policies that will defend the rate.

Mr. Thomas

Has my right hon. Friend seen the effect of this rise on the social contract and the development of pay policy?

Mr. Hattersley

The first thing to say about the figures I have given and pay policy is that the spectacular improvement in our inflationary situation—the reduction in the rate by 50 per cent. in a year—is almost entirely attributable to the sacrifices made by the trade union movement in signing the social contract. I believe that the trade union movement is wise enough to realise that, as long as the Government go on doing what they can to limit inflation, it has a duty to itself, its members and the nation to go on co-operating with the Government. I am sure that it is wise enough and public-spirited enough to go on doing that.

Mr. Renton

Will the right hon. Gentleman give my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant) a rather more specific answer? Is it not a fact that the Wholesale Price Index is beginning to rise again very rapidly with a recent increase to an annual rate of 17 per cent. and that this is reflecting the fall in sterling? Will he give us some guidance? For example, if the rate of exchange is one dollar to the pound by the end of the year, what will be the effect on the RPI?

Mr. Hattersley

I shall not hypothesise about a proposition as wildly improbable as that, but I am prepared to agree with the hon. Gentleman on the obvious point he has made already. The depreciation of sterling clearly affects the prices of imported raw materials and, therefore, has an adverse effect on the cost of living index. It is one of the reasons why we are doing all we can to stabilise it.

Mr. Canavan

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not good enough for the Labour Government to expect trade unionists to make all the sacrifices to defeat rising prices? Is it not about time we imposed stricter price controls on big business, especially in view of what we have learnt recently about the sharks in television rental businesses making excessive profits from working people and their families?

Mr. Hattersley

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is talking to the television rental companies this week, and I hope to make an announcement towards the end of this week or at the beginning of next week. I agree about how cooperative the trade unions are in responding to what we think to be the needs of the nation.

My hon. Friend made a wider point about the extent to which prices policy should cut into this matter. The present policy is only at its beginning. This evening I shall commend to the House the new Price Code, which has hardly begun. What follows is determined by a number of factors, including the progress of the economy and the response of private companies when it is put to them that they need to make a voluntary gesture in limiting their own profits and meeting the needs of the consumer.

Mrs. Sally Oppenheim

First, on a purely personal basis, may I congratulate the new Secretary of State on his appointment and, still on a purely personal basis, wish him well.

Having said that, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he was aware last week, when he was indulging in soggy euphemisms about being on course but the journey taking a little longer, that nobody believes anything that this Government say about inflation or anything else any more, and that for the Government journey's end is just around the corner?

Mr. Hattersley

I am personally very grateful for the hon. Lady's personal congratulations. I hope she will take it from me that if the occasion arises when she asks me questions with any content I shall do my best to answer them.

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