HC Deb 02 November 1966 vol 735 cc89-91W
55. Mr. Shinwell

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will state the average cost of foodstuffs in the United Kingdom at the last available date; and how it compares with the average costs in France, Belgium, Holland and Federal Germany.

Mr. Peart

It is hard to make a precise comparison for each country. I can however assure my right hon. Friend that many of the main foodstuffs cost more. The most striking example is butter which costs up to twice as much. I am looking at this question further and will write to my right hon. Friend.

57. Mr. Gwilym Roberts

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will examine what proportion of food prices can be attributed to middle men's profits; and if he will seek power to reduce the number of middlemen involved to a minimum.

Mr. Peart

In the close watch which my Department is maintaining on movements in food prices, all the main factors are being kept under examination. My aim is always to ensure the most efficient means of production and distribution.

58. Mr. Brooks

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether, in the light of the deteriorating world food situation revealed by a recent Food and Agriculture Organisation Report, Her Majesty's Government will seek to safe guard this country's future requirements by planning a major increase in the proportion of home-produced food.

Mr. Peart

The world food situation emphasises the importance of our programme of selective expansion which calls on home agriculture to meet a major part of our increasing demand for temperate foodstuffs. This programme takes account of the technical limitations on expansion and also of our international commercial relations and of the need to secure the most effective use of all our resources. But the ultimate solution to the world food problem lies in increasing the agricultural production of the developing countries.

Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the machinery available in his Department to ascertain whether food price increases are justified or not.

Mr. Peart

Arrangements have now been made with the food and drink industries—to whose co-operation I would like to pay tribute—with the aim of ensuring that any price increases are consistent with the principles of the White Paper "Prices and incomes Policy" (Cmnd. 3073). The main features are as follows:—

(a) Early Warning Arrangements These have been negotiated to apply to a wide range of manufactured foodstuffs and differ in detail according to the circumstances of each individual commodity. In each case they require a proposal to increase prices to be supported by full information on the reasons for the increase including details of cost increases and of the extent to which these have been or will be absorbed by the firm and not passed to the consumer. The normal period for prior notification of proposed price increases is 28 days although in a very few cases where the circumstances of the commodity make this unavoidable, a shorter period has been agreed.

(b) Constant Watch Arrangements The prices of certain foodstuffs are subject to short term market fluctuation caused by varying supply and demand, which make it impossible to give early warning of price changes. My Ministry keeps a constant watch on the charges of supplies and prices for these commodities. In addition. I have established liaison committees for the main commodities. These committees meet at regular intervals to keep the Ministry informed of likely supply and price movements, and enable questions relating to prices to be raised by either side.

(c) Wholesale and Retail Prices It is impossible to require prior notification of wholesale and retail price changes. Nevertheless, wholesalers and retailers are expected to act in accordance with the Government's prices and incomes policy. I have therefore had arrangements made to increase the information available on wholesale and retail food price trends, and the reasons for them.

(d) Enquiries from the public Letters from the public about price increases are followed up with those concerned, to find out the reasons for the increases and to ensure that they are consistent with the policy set out in the White Paper.