asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food by how much the price of all food sold by retail in Great Britain during the 15 months ended 31st March, 1970, or the latest convenient period, increased in aggregate, expressed in £ sterling, and what part of such increase, in £ sterling and ad valorem, he attributes to higher review commodity prices to British farmers in the period stated.
Between 1968 and 1969 household expenditure on food in the United Kingdom increased by nearly £315 million. This was partly attributable to increased prices and partly to increased population, changes in the level of purchases and changes in quality. No figures are available which would enable me to estimate what part of this increase is attributable to higher prices for review commodities.
Has not the right hon. Gentleman perceived that in recent months the retail price of food has been rising faster than ever before and, measured over 12 months, pro rata, is now rising at a rate three times as great as the Chancellor's tax reliefs yesterday? As Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, what will he do about this rip-roaring inflation in food prices?
There is no rip-roaring inflation, as the hon. Member suggests. I agree that there have been increases but, on the whole, through our early warning system and constant watch system we have maintained food prices at a relatively stable level. Principal causes of the increase have been the higher costs of raw materials and wages. The important thing to bear in mind is that whereas expenditure on food increased by 5·5 per cent. last year, earnings increased by 8·6 per cent.
Does the Minister consider that the normal increase, as he calls it, that has arisen under his Government would continue under a Conservative Government? Of course it would not. Does he admit that the increased cost of food over the last 12 months to the last available date is over 7 per cent.? If he does not call that rip-roaring inflation, what figure does he need before he calls it that?
The increase last year was 5·5 per cent. As for the first part of the question, the right hon. Gentleman's confidence in his party's policy is far greater than that of the country at large.
The most significant food price increases during 1969 were in meat, potatoes, other fresh vegetables, milk, fish and bread. So far in 1970 the most significant increases have been in tomatoes, bread, potatoes, and other fresh vegetables.
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that as the housewife's food bill goes up, so the farmers' income seems to come down? Is this not a clear indication of the need for a system providing increased farm incomes and support?
The hon. Gentleman had better make up his mind which way he wants to go. The complaint is always that the producers are not getting enough for the goods. These are the things which have gone up, together with the wages of those employed.