HC Deb 17 April 1975 vol 890 cc142-4W
Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what plans she has to make more use of the advisory functions of the Price Commission.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

I have decided to develop the commission's rôle in the investigation of particular pricing questions. Under Part II of the Counter-Inflation Act 1973 the Price Commission has the specific duty of enforcing the Price Code, but in addition, under the provisions of paragraph 2 of Schedule 1 to that Act, I can invite the commission to report on any question about prices. The power to make references to the Price Commission has already been used on a limited scale, and I now propose to introduce a new programme of references under the provisions of paragraph 2(i) of Schedule 1 to the Counter-Inflation Act 1973. My purpose wil be to invite reports on individual pricing problems of interest or concern, so that the facts of the situation can be established and explained to the public, and remedies sought for any abuses that may be revealed. I hope that the firms concerned will give the Price Commission their co-operation in this task.

I have today referred the following questions to the Price Commission for examination and report under these arrangements:

  1. (a) The costs and prices of wholesalers and retailers of coal and manufactured solid smokeless fuels for domestic consumption and in particular how gross and net margins are arrived at, what are the current levels of these margins and the effect on these margins and on retail prices of increases in producers' prices.
  2. (b) The prices of sanitary towels and tampons and, in particular, the reasons for recent increases in their prices, with special reference to movements in raw material prices and to any other matters appearing to the commission to be relevant.
  3. (c) The price of commonly purchased special diabetic foods and, in particular, the reasons for any differences between the rate of recent price increases in and the general level of

£ million at 1974 Survey prices
Programme proposed reduction in—(a)
Cmnd Current expenditure on goods and services Capital Other Transfer payments Total reductions
5879 (b) (c) (d)
Defence 3818 110(e) 110
Overseas services 741 2 10(f) 12
Agriculture, fisheries and forestry 853 1 1 150 152
Trade, industry and employment 1421 3 3
Nationalised industries 2394 100 100
Roads and transport 1781 7 74 10 91
Housing 3583 50 65 115
Other environmental services 1558 11 74 85
Law, order and protective services 1156 12 15 27
Education and libraries, science and arts 4753 52 34 86
Health and personal social services 4093 14 61 75
Social security 7625
Other public services 507 17(g) 17
Common services 563 2 10 12
Northern Ireland 1019 5 11 16
TOTAL 35,865 236 430 235 901
(a) in some cases the allocation of the reductions is provisional and subject to adjustment between programmes or categories of expenditure.
(b) including current grants to private bodies.
(c) includes gross domestic fixed capital formation, capital grants to private sector persons and non-profit making bodies, and net lending to private sector.
(d) excluding transfers included under (b) and (c).
(e) reduction in defence budget (£3,800 million in 1976–77).
(f) reduction in overseas aid: a further £10 million will be saved in 1975–76.
(g) includes cancellation of 1976 Census.
Note: This table does not take account of those proposed additional expenditures mentioned in the Budget Statement.

retail prices of such foods and comparable foods.

I shall also be asking the Price Commission to examine the price of food in outlying areas of the country. I am currently considering the terms of this reference.

I shall refer further questions to the commission as these reports are completed.