HC Deb 09 February 1978 vol 943 cc638-9W
Mr. James Lamond

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what has been the outcome of his Department's discussions with the Price Commission on the standing reference to the commission of fresh food prices; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Maclennan

My Department, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Price Commission have been reviewing the collection and presentation of information on prices and distributors' margins for fresh food with a view to providing more comprehensive, regular and up-to-date information. The first of the Commission's new-style monthly reports on fresh food prices has now been received and copies have been placed in the Library of each House.

For fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and eggs the reports will give up-to-date information not only about retail prices of individual items, but also about movements and trends in first-hand and retail prices. This will enable a watch to be kept on the relationship between firsthand and retail prices and give an early guide to the possible need for closer scrutiny of a particular area. The reports will also look at the aggregate value of distributors' gross margins in relation to the overall turnover of a particular sector. This information will not indicate a trade's actual net profitability, since distributors' overheads and other costs have to be met out of their gross margins, but it will help to put the information about first-hand and retail prices of individual classes of products into a fairer perspective.

The collection and presentation of information on similar lines for carcase meat, poultry and bacon presents considerable methodological problems which require further study by the Commission. For the present, therefore, the reports will be confined to providing detailed information about retail prices and price trends for these commodities.

Reports containing the information set out above will in future be produced every month and copies will be placed in the Library of each House as soon as they are available. Our aim is to ensure in this way that the latest information about what is happening to fresh food prices is readily accessible to all concerned.

The new arrangements for work under the Commission's standing reference will provide an up-to-date picture of the situation. The reports should also provide an essential background of information on trends in prices and margins over recent years against which to study the short-term movements revealed by the Commission's monitoring.

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