Food Prices

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Fisheries and Food – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th July 1964.

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Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North 12:00 am, 13th July 1964

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food by how much in the £ sterling food prices have increased since October, 1951, until June, 1964; and what has been the increase for each quarter from October, 1951, until the latest convenient quarterly date.

Photo of Mr Christopher Soames Mr Christopher Soames , Bedford

By about 10s. 4d. in the £ up to May, 1964, which is the latest date for which the Index of Retail Prices is available. The fifty figures needed to answer the second part of the Question are all available from published material in the Ministry of Labour "Gazette" and the "Monthly Digest of Statistics". Some two-thirds of this increase of course took place during the period when food subsidies were being removed.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

The Minister's last remark seems to indicate that he admits that the reason for the fantastic rise is that the Tory Government did away with food subsidies and that the responsibility is theirs. As the Government promised faithfully that they would not abolish food subsidies, as they promised faithfully that they would reduce the price of food, and as they have been in office for thirteen years, will he tell us when food prices will be reduced? I have been waiting patiently for thirteen years. So have my constituents. I should like to know whether it is likely to happen before the election?

Photo of Mr Christopher Soames Mr Christopher Soames , Bedford

It is rather agreeable to think that the hon. Gentleman has been waiting patiently. A free market and food subsidies cannot both be operated at the same time. The difference between the order of increase likely to come about in a free market, on the one hand, and in a State-run market on the other, is very considerable. The hon. Gentleman might appreciate that between 1957 and 1963 the rise in the cost of food was of the order of 9 per cent., or Is. 10d. in the £, whereas between 1946 and 1952, even with food subsidies, the rise was 58 per cent., or 11s. 7d. in the £.

Photo of Miss Edith Pitt Miss Edith Pitt , Birmingham, Edgbaston

How do increased food prices in this country compare with increases in other European countries?

Photo of Mr Christopher Soames Mr Christopher Soames , Bedford

I have one or two figures. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] This is a very reasonable comparison to make under different agricultural support systems. In France, under a different agricultural support system, food prices have risen in the same period by 45 per cent. In Sweden, where there has been a Labour Government for fifteen years, they have risen by 54 per cent.

Photo of Mr George Lawson Mr George Lawson , Motherwell

On a point of order. Although it may be in order to plant an initial Question, is it in order to plant supplementary questions?

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

That kind of gardening is not my concern.

Mrs. Slater:

Does not the Minister realise that we are not concerned with the record of Governments in other countries, but with the record of this Government? Ten shillings and four pence in the £ is a considerable item to a person living on a small income, a sick person, or an old-age pensioner. Do not the Government now realise that they must get another slogan for the next election different in theme from those they have had over the three previous elections—"Mend a Hole in Your Purse" and "Keep the Cost of Living Down"? What sort of promises are they prepared to give to the electorate in October of this year?

Photo of Mr Christopher Soames Mr Christopher Soames , Bedford

The hon. Lady has referred to old-age pensioners. The retirement pension increased by over 100 per cent. over the same period, compared with the increase in the cost of food of about 33 per cent. I ask her to contrast this with what happened before then under the Labour Government, with their State control of food, when food prices rose infinitely faster than did old-age pensions. If she makes this comparison, she will see the difference.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will publish in HANSARD a detailed list of the actions he has taken since 1951 to reduce the price of food to the consumer.

Photo of Mr Christopher Soames Mr Christopher Soames , Bedford

The consumer can best be helped by the satisfactory development of food production at home, by providing reasonable access for overseas suppliers to our market, and by improvements in the marketing of foodstuffs. The system of deficiency payments which we have developed enables food to be bought more cheaply than under any other system of support suitable to a free market. Since 1951 the Government have taken many measures to help the agricultural industry bring about a remarkable advance in productivity and efficiency. The benefit to consumers is shown by the fact that, over this period, wages and retirement pensions have risen much faster than the price of food.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

After that lengthy and detailed reply, will the Minister now answer the Question and say to what extent all those things that he has done have reduced food prices, in view of the figures he gave in answer to the previous Question? We are not a bit interested in all these things which are alleged to have brought down food prices, unless the Minister can give us one actual example where over the whole period of thirteen years food prices have fallen? Will he give us one actual example and not speak about rent and rates?

Photo of Mr Christopher Soames Mr Christopher Soames , Bedford

What this shows—this is undoubtedly true—is that this system of agricultural support, coupled with a free market, has kept down the price of food notably at home compared with what has happened under other support systems.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Would my right hon. Friend agree that, as the average wage has risen by 78 per cent. and the old-age pension by over 100 per cent., in real terms the price of food has actually come down? Would he further agree that both these categories of people—wage earners and pensioners—are eating a great deal more?

Photo of Mr Christopher Soames Mr Christopher Soames , Bedford

The consumption pattern has changed very notably, both in regard to pensioners and others. The consumption of carcase meat among pensioners has risen by about 55 per cent. over this period, whereas there has been a notable reduction, as would be expected in a prosperous society, in the consumption of bread and potatoes.

Photo of Mr George Darling Mr George Darling , Sheffield, Hillsborough

Would the Minister agree that the policy he has just stated was the policy embodied in the 1947 Act? I am sure that the Government are grateful for the basic Measure on which they are working. When did the Minister come to the conclusion that a subsidy system, including price deficiency payments, could not be worked in a free market?

Photo of Mr Christopher Soames Mr Christopher Soames , Bedford

Because, if the price of food is to be controlled, it must be done all the way down the line. The 1947 Act did not envisage deficiency payments, which came in later, after the controls had been abolished.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, if lucky I hope to raise the matter on the Adjournment.