Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the hardship which is caused by the recent increase in food prices, especially for old people and for housewives, in great cities such as Leicester? Will he indicate when the Government propose to redeem their election pledge to hold down food prices?
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that over 3,000 food prices have risen since 18th June, and that by abandoning the early warning system under the Prices and Incomes Act he is actually encouraging increases in prices?
There is another Question on the Order Paper about food prices which have risen in the past four months and I shall be answering that a little later on. As far as the early warning system is concerned, all I can say is that by shopping around—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—yes, and by using her good commonsense, the housewife can do much to bring down prices. I may also say that greater competition between traders and manufacturers can do more than all the outpourings of the Prices and Incomes Board.
The Minister must be aware that Members of Parliament are being inundated with complaints from constituents about rising food prices, but is he aware that there is evidence before his Ministry that in the new towns in Scotland, the new town of Livingston in particular, in my constituency, the increases of food prices are even worse than they are elsewhere?
In view of the fact that the Minister and the Government have completely abdicated all responsibility for these rising prices, will the Minister now appeal to his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to take away from his Ministry the whole responsibility for food, because he cannot serve two masters at the same time?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman had better try to understand one fact, and that is that average earnings are up this year by 12 per cent. and production is up by under 1 per cent., and that is a recipe for price increases and disaster if ever I knew one.
Would the Minister not agree that his reply to this Question was very unfavourable compared to his answer on Question 3, when he said that farmers have much more faith in this Government than the last? This is understandable. Would he not now agree that, having gained the housewives' votes, his policy has sold them down the river?
Is the Minister aware that his answers are really not good enough? Is he really telling the House that after the whole of 13 weeks of recess he has not taken a single step to implement the pledges solemnly made by his party's leader to the electorate in the last General Election, and is he saying that he has no greater concern than this for the people on limited incomes and with low incomes when Conservative leaders have constantly been protesting concern for them up and down the country?
We shall welcome every assistance from all parts of the House to make the British nation understand that if they go on paying themselves a lot more for the work they are doing then prices are bound to go up.
Does the Minister realise that he is giving a series of totally unsatisfactory replies? Is he saying that he has completely forgotten the promise made by himself and his right hon. Friends during the election that they would hold down the prices of food? Does he realise that the people have completely lost faith in the Government, that he has let the housewives down? He and his party won the election on a false prospectus. Will he now return to a system of scrutinising increases in food prices and, where necessary, referring those increases to the Prices and Incomes Board, which was the policy that was successful over a long period of time for investigation?
If the right hon. Gentleman really believes that his party's policy was successful I am surprised that they lost the election. In fact, prices of food and the cost of living index have been going up more rapidly in the last six years than at any time since 1951. Quite apart from that, in the last year alone the increase has been 7·1 per cent. and the right hon. Gentleman knows who was responsible for that.
Would my right hon. Friend make it abundantly clear that there cannot be any end to the increase in retail prices generally till the Government strike at the root of inflation, which is excessive public expenditure? Would he not agree that a switch to import levies will make a dynamic contribution to a reduction in public expenditure?
While having already achieved the blackest results in the shortest possible time by any Minister of Agriculture there has ever been, does the Minister really think that he and his Government can persuade the housewives by his "phoney" answers today that food prices have gone down?
Does not the right hon. Gentleman really think his party has deceived the public, not only by his feeble idea of getting the housewives to shop around, but by his policy which is aimed at putting food prices up?
I am well aware that food prices have fallen in the last four months. This is usual at this time of year for seasonal reasons. But, of course, the country has in the next few months got to face up to the very severe cost inflation of the last few months and last two years, and we have a very serious problem ahead of us. I do not underestimate this problem at all. On the question of my policy for agriculture, all I can say is that we shall be reducing Government expenditure, we shall be affording additional help to those who need it, and the rest can look forward to tax reductions in due course.
The Minister may be convinced but he has certainly not convinced my wife, or, I am sure, thousands of other people, that prices have come down. Will he say how he proposes to deal with what to many of us is one of the biggest rackets, and that is the hidden increases in food prices through short weight in cereals and biscuits, and so on? If he is not prepared to take any action about direct food prices will he do something about those hidden food prices?
No. There is absolutely no difference here from allowing the market to work. Cereal prices throughout the world are running at a much increased level compared with a year or two ago, and we have to put up with it.
Why does the right hon. Gentleman try to keep up the pretence that he is concerned about keeping food prices down when in the House he has asserted that the people of this country have been molleycoddled too long with cheap food and that prices should rise? It is precisely his own policy which is happening.