Food (Expenditure)

Oral Answers to Questions — National Finance – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th July 1959.

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Photo of Mr Joseph Sparks Mr Joseph Sparks , Acton 12:00 am, 16th July 1959

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer how much was spent upon food in 1951 and 1958; and how much of the latter figure is due to increased retail prices.

Mr. Enroll:

Consumers' expenditure on food is estimated at £2,949 million in 1951 and £4,672 million in 1958. It is not possible to isolate the effect of price movements with any precision because of changes in the pattern of consumption, but comparison of these figures with the corresponding estimates re-valued at average 1954 prices suggests that roughly a quarter of total expenditure on food in 1958 was attributable to increases in prices since 1951.

Photo of Mr Joseph Sparks Mr Joseph Sparks , Acton

Why have retail food prices risen so high, and why have the Government taken no step to keep them down?

Photo of Mr Frederick Erroll Mr Frederick Erroll , Altrincham and Sale

Retail prices during this period have risen less than those in other countries.

Mr. H. Wilson:

That statement is quite incorrect and, in any case, does not relate to import prices. The supplementary question I wish to put is not controversial. Will the hon. Gentleman clear up something which was not clear from his Answer? Did he say that a quarter of the 1958 expenditure on food—it sounded like this—was due to increased prices or was a quarter of the increase between 1951 and 1958?

Photo of Mr Frederick Erroll Mr Frederick Erroll , Altrincham and Sale

In order to avoid any error I will read that part of my Answer again: but comparison of these figures"— namely, the figures I gave in the earlier part of my Answer— with the corresponding estimates re-valued at average 1954 prices suggests that roughly a quarter of total expenditure on food in 1958 was attributable to increases in prices since 1951.

Mr. H. Wilson:

That is a meaningless figure. Will the hon. Gentleman, therefore, say what proportion of the increase in food consumption as between 1951 and 1958 was attributable to increased prices and increased consumption respectively?

Photo of Mr Frederick Erroll Mr Frederick Erroll , Altrincham and Sale

I shall have to see that question on the Order Paper.

Photo of Mr Douglas Jay Mr Douglas Jay , Battersea North

Are we to assume that, so far as the Economic Secretary knows, the whole increase in apparent consumption may have been due to higher prices?

Photo of Mr Frederick Erroll Mr Frederick Erroll , Altrincham and Sale

Very much the reverse. This Question is a difficult one to which to give a complete and accurate Answer, as it involves making certain estimates and calculations. We have done our best to provide an accurate comparison, but it would be quite misleading and incorrect to draw the deduction which the right hon. Gentleman has drawn.

Photo of Mr Tufton Beamish Mr Tufton Beamish , Lewes

Are we to assume also that, so long as the Conservatives remain in power, there will be no return to a weekly meat ration the size of a matchbox?

Mr. H. Wilson:

Although the Economic Secretary wants to see the question on the Order Paper, does it not follow from what he has said that a quarter of the 1958 figure would represent about £1,150 million? Since the total increase is only £1,700 million, would we not be justified in saying that £1,150 million of the £1,700 million increase was due to increased prices?

Photo of Mr Frederick Erroll Mr Frederick Erroll , Altrincham and Sale

The right hon. Gentleman is playing with percentages and aggregates in a way which is only too familiar.