I do not claim any special privilege to speak in this debate. My only association has been with the co-operative movement, which was the workers' champion in days that have passed because it was their only means of saving. We all deplore the rise in the cost of living. When I was employed by British Railways, I was reminded of this almost every week by my wife. On returning from shopping on Fridays she would say, "Another 1d. on so and so and 2d. on so and so". The increases were persistent. That happened under the Conservative Government.
Today most people associate the cost of living with food. Perhaps our present cost of living index should be looked at again. I agree with the hon. Lady that the average housewife is probably more concerned than the average man about the cost of living. I want to examine the prices of some items of food since 15th October of last year when the Labour Government were elected.
Over the past ten years the official retail price index for all foods has climbed 30 per cent., and in the last four years of Tory rule the increase was 16 per cent. Increases in the price of food since last October are not in excess of the general rise over the past ten years, despite all the moaning and groanings of hon. and right hon. Members opposite. The basic commodities in the grocery trade such as sugar, butter, lard, cheese, bacon, tea and eggs, which together represent 20 per cent. to 25 per cent. of the total grocery trade, show, not an increase but an overall decrease in retail prices.
The details are as follows: sugar a decrease of about 15 per cent., butter a decrease of about 9 per cent., lard a slight increase of 1 per cent., cheese a slight increase of 2 per cent., bacon no change in the price, and likewise with tea. There has been a slight increase of about 2 per cent. in the price of eggs. All these figures average a decrease of 2·6 per cent. Even this figure, I would suggest, is somewhat deceptive since far more sugar is sold than cheese and the decrease in the sugar price is about 15 per cent.
Many price increases during the first few weeks of the Labour Government were obviously motivated by political considerations. I pay my respect and tribute to my right hon. Friend the First Secretary on his appeal to business people and manufacturers to hold their prices. Some readily responded but, unfortunately, others chose to raise prices. I saw a circular from a firm which makes drinking straws for children. This was issued during the first weeks of the Labour Government. There was an insinuation in it against the Government, because it accused them of having manipulated a financial crisis with the result that the firm had had to increase the price of drinking straws. In spite of the spate of increases, which we readily admit has occurred, in some instances prices have settled down and in some cases there have been decreases.
There has been an intensification of competition in the grocery trade, which I welcome. It has meant that many retailers have not passed increases on to their customers and some firms have co-operated in the appeals made to them. Therefore, I suppose that it can be said that increased competition means that the wise shopper can buy her groceries much more cheaply now than she could before October 1964. Coupled with this, a great many people have had wage increases, with which we all agree, and these increases are far in excess of the small increase in the cost-of-living.