HC Deb 14 July 1980 vol 988 cc1027-8
2. Mr. Wellbeloved

asked the Secretary of State for Trade if he will refer the price of milk to the Director General of Fair Trading under the Competition Act.

The Minister for Consumer Affairs (Mrs. Sally Oppenheim)

No, Sir. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food sets maximum wholesale and retail prices for milk, and he is currently reviewing the costings system on which maximum retail prices are based. A reference to the Director General of Fair Trading under section 13 of the Competition Act would not, therefore, be relevant.

Mr. Wellbeloved

Given the right hon. Lady's record of betraying housewives, is not that an entirely unsatisfactory action? When will she take some positive steps to protect housewives from the Government's actions?

Mrs. Oppenheim

The hon. Gentleman's interest in milk prices would be more convincing if it were not so recent. Milk prices have risen at an annual average rate of 19 per cent. under this Government, yet they rose by over 25 per cent. during the previous Labour Government's term of office. There is no evidence that the hon. Gentleman called for any investigation during that period.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

When the Minister compares prices, will she note that milk will soon cost more per gallon than petrol? Is it not true that petrol is imported from the Middle East and that it bears a heavy tax? I do not think that cows are getting 144p a gallon for milk.

Mrs. Oppenheim

As I have already pointed out, wholesale and retail prices are under review by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. I know that the hon. Gentleman is genuinely concerned about prices, but a combination of the Government's economic policies and vigorous competition is bringing down the rate of inflation. That will be of far more benefit to consumers than any amount of crocodile tears from the Labour Party.

Mr. John Fraser

If the right hon. Lady is concerned about the appalling rate of inflation, why is she so reluctant to use section 13 of the Competition Act and thus do something about prices and profits? Has she done anything about consumer prices since taking office?

Mrs. Oppenheim

If the Labour Party is so concerned about competition, why do Labour Members constantly call on the Government to follow policies that will send inflation much higher? Section 13 is not relevant to milk prices.

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