HC Deb 05 December 1977 vol 940 cc992-4
9. Mr. Adley

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what has been the percentage increase in food prices since February 1974, and how many of the eight other EEC countries have registered a greater increase during the same period.

Mr. Hattersley

By October, the retail food index had increased by 90.6 per cent. since February 1974. According to the best information at our disposal, over the period food prices in one other EEC country increased faster than in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Adley

I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman dislikes comparisons with other EEC countries and with the years of Conservative Government, but is he not aware that he is beginning to sound like the cantankerous old gentleman who, when asked how his wife was, said "Compared to what?" What would the right hon. Gentleman like us to ask Questions about—the rate of inflation in Uruguay?

Mr. Hattersley

I was very pleased to make the comparison between the most recent six months and the last six months of Conservative Government. To prove to the hon. Gentleman that I am not cantankerous, I shall now make a comparison between OECD inflation and British inflation. For the last six months prices increases have run at 4.6 per cent. in the OECD and at 3.4 per cent. in the United Kingdom. I hope, therefore, that we can all rejoice in that.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in making comparisons with other EEC countries, one has to take into account the effect of the common agricultural policy and the fact that we have now harmonised our prices with the high prices that were prevailing in the other EEC countries because they had already harmonised their prices?

Mr. Hattersley

There is no doubt that harmonisation has had a slight effect on the increase of food prices in the United Kingdom. I would not want to overstate the matter, and I have always tried to put the EEC food price increase effect into proportion. However, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. That has been one of the causes.

Mr. Marten

As we are about to end the transition period and, as a result, the intervention price of beef will increase by 4 per cent., wheat by 7 per cent., cheese by 6 per cent. and butter by 12.5 per cent., could the right hon. Gentleman somehow work it that the common agricultural policy is referred to the Price Commission?

Mr. Hattersley

That is something which will not be approved by Opposition Members, who do not think that the Price Commission ought to exist. None the less, I think that the hon. Gentleman makes a serious point. There are problems with the last stage of harmonisation. It is up to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to perform as he did last year on price fixing and make sure that the best deal possible is done for the British consumer.

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