§ 3. Mr. Skinner
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what the increase has been in the level of food prices from 18th June, 1970, to the latest available date.
§ 4. Mr. Carter
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food by how much food has risen in cost since June, 1970.
§ The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. James Prior)
Between 16th June, 1970, and 19th October, 1971, the latest date for which information is available, the Food Index rose by 11.6 per cent.
§ Mr. Skinner
Is the Minister aware that these figures are nothing short of a total disgrace and that, unlike Ministers and Members of Parliament, whose percentage increases can be calculated in thousands of pounds, the percentage increases of millions of pensioners and working-class people on low incomes are calculated in shillings? How can they afford to pay for this massive price increase?
§ Mr. Carter
Would the right hon. Gentleman consider future price increase arising out of the point which I have put to him before—namely, metrication? Is he aware that, according to the Metrication Board, metrication in the food-producing industry is likely to be completed by 1975, yet in his last answer to me he said that it was a long way off? In view of what happened over decimalisation, does he not think that closer controls are necessary?
§ 5. Sir G. Nabarro
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what increase in retail food prices has occurred during the 17 months from July, 1970, to November, 1971, inclusive, or the nearest convenient dates; and whether the levelling out of food prices from July to September is continuing.
§ Mr. Prior
Between 21st July, 1970, and 19th October, 1971, the latest date for which information is available, the Food Index rose by 11.2 per cent. Short-term trends are considerably affected by the incidence of seasonal factors but, between 20th July, 1971, and 19th October, 1971, the Food Index fell by 0.3 per cent.
§ Sir G. Nabarro
But do not all these figures confirm my suggestion to my right hon. Friend a few weeks ago—since his last answer was 11.6 per cent., his answer to Question No. 3 today was also 11.6 per cent. and this answer is 11.2 per cent.—that we are entering a period of relative stability in retail food prices, compared with the disastrous hangover from Labour?
§ Mr. Barnes
Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the levelling out of food prices due to seasonal factors between June and October of this year was similar to that which occurred during the same period of last year, but that that was followed by sharp increases in the rest of the year? By how much does he hope to see the rate of increase in food prices reduced in the period June, 1971, to June, 1972, compared with the 12 per cent. by which food prices rose in the previous 12 months?
§ Mr. Prior
I do not intend to forecast the future and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to do so. Seasonal food prices have not dropped as much this year as they did last year by quite a considerable amount, and non-seasonal food prices have not been rising at anything like the rate of rise of recent months. There is also the factor that between July and October the index of food items mainly manufactured in the United Kingdom, which is over 40 per cent. of the total in the general index, rose by only 0.6 per cent.
§ Mr. Peter Mills
By how much per pound has butter gone up recently? Does my right hon. Friend agree that probably the main factor for this rise has been the drought in Australia and New Zealand, which shows how unwise it is to rely too much on overseas supplies and the need to produce more of these products at home?
§ Mr. Prior
I certainly agree that we should be producing more of these products at home, and the sooner we can get our milk production up the better I shall like it. The price of butter has risen since June, 1970, by about 80 per cent., and that has been due entirely to factors beyond our control, such as drought in the Southern Hemisphere and the shortage of supplies in the rest of the world. Of the total increase in the index of food prices since the General Election in 1970, about one-fifth of it has been due to increases in the prices of dairy products.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the observations of his hon. Friend the Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro), observations which make him the biggest Walter Mitty of the year? There can be no question of prices levelling off when one is talking in terms of increases of 11.6 per cent., which the right hon. Gentleman gave in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). What is likely to be the subsequent price rises when we have to take into account value-added tax, import levies and entry into the E.E.C.?
§ 6. Mr. William Price
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food by what percentage food prices have risen in the last full 12-month period for which figures are available.
§ 14. Mr. Alfred Morris
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on movements in food prices during the past year.
§ Mr. Morris
is the right hon. Gentleman aware that what angers the housewife is not only the swingeing increase in food prices but the widespread impression that the Minister does not care? Has he seen the highly specific Press reports that there will be a further increase of 7 per cent. next year? Would he care to comment on those reports?
§ Mr. Charles Morrison
Has the C.B.I. initiative on prices had any effect on manufactured food prices?
§ Mr. Prior
I think that since the C.B.I. initiative in July we have been seeing a considerable improvement. Manufactured food prices are up by only 1.4 per cent. over that period, and, as I told the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Barnes), mainly manufactured items are up by only 0.6 per cent.
§ Mr. Morris
On a point of order. In view of the totally unsatisfactory nature of all the Minister's replies on this subject, I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment.
§ 20. Mr. McCrindle
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what changes occurred in the cost of food 1102 between 15th June, 1971, and the most recent available date.
§ Mr. McCrindle
Has my right hon. Friend had his attention drawn to a feature in a group of Essex newspapers in which the same food has been purchased week by week since June, 1971? Is he aware that the average weekly shopping bill shows a drop of 6p in six months? Would he agree that both from the point of view of official statistics and by this practical example at least we can see that the trend is now in the right direction?
§ Mr. Lamond
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the statement by the Chairman of the Decimalisation Board that decimalisation made no difference to prices?
§ 21. Mr. Dalyell
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the estimated rise in the price of foodstuffs between November, 1970, and November, 1971.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Since we have had a good many categories this afternoon, could the Minister give the figures for non-manufactured, non-seasonal food, which is the basis of any shopping basket?
§ Mr. Kaufman
How can the Minister be so complacent about the whole question of cost-of-living increases when the International Monetary Fund said yesterday that the increase in the cost of living in this country remains higher than in any other industrial country in the world?