HC Deb 19 November 1979 vol 974 cc3-5
3. Miss Richardson

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what is the present annual rate of inflation.

5. Mr. Heffer

asked the Secretary of State for Trade by how much the rate of inflation has risen since May.

The Minister for Consumer Affairs (Mrs. Sally Oppenheim)

The retail price index increased by 17.2 per cent. over the 12 months to October and by 9.1. per cent. between May and October.

Miss Richardson

Will the right hon. Lady explain how the Government intend to protect the 7½ million people in this country who are below, on, or within, 10 per cent. of the official poverty line from this appalling increase in the cost of living?

Mrs. Oppenheim

The hon. Lady will know that social security benefits are to increase in cash terms by the greatest amount ever. If the previous Government had not tried to borrow, print, tax and bribe their way out of every economic crisis, and if those policies had not failed, consumers would not be having to pay such high prices today.

Mr. Michael Brown

Can my right hon. Friend give the House an indication of what proportion of the increase in the rate of inflation can be attributed to decisions taken by the previous Government?

Mr. William Hamilton

Not the VAT increase.

Mrs. Oppenheim

Practically everything in the present inflation figure, with the exception of the Budget measures, can be attributed to the previous Government.

Mr. Skinner

Since the Minister is making quite a play of the fact that the increase in pensions equates roughly to the present rate of inflation but not the prospective rate of inflation, which would be much more, will she pass on to other Ministers, in the Treasury and elsewhere, the message that the same should at least apply to wages?

Mrs. Oppenheim

My hon. Friends in the Treasury are perfectly aware of this. They are also aware that, if we do not get sensible wage settlements, and if productivity does not rise, inflation will be very much worse.

Mr. Mike Thomas

Is it the right hon. Lady or some other member of the Government who is in charge of finding a fifth man in order to deflect the attention of the public from the next rise in minimum lending rate and the outrageous RPI figures announced on Friday?

Mr. John Smith

Is not the right hon. Lady ashamed of the figures that she has given to the House today? We now have an inflation rate of 17½ per cent. per year and are running into steep increases in gas, electricity, rents, mortgages and nearly every other charge that one can think of? When will the Government admit that their smart-alec Budget was a great mistake, and when will they bring the inflation rate down to the level which obtained under the previous Labour Government?

Mrs. Oppenheim

Of course I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that price inflation is far too high, but he and his hon. Friends cannot have it both ways. If we were to embark on the levels of expenditure that they are calling for, we would have hyperinflation, hypertaxation and a drastically devalued pound as we had under the previous Government.