Food Prices

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Fisheries and Food – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th February 1972.

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Photo of Mr Joe Ashton Mr Joe Ashton , Bassetlaw 12:00 am, 29th February 1972

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what further estimates he has now made of the increase in food prices following Common Market entry.

Photo of Mr Roger Moate Mr Roger Moate , Faversham

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is his latest estimate of food price increases if Great Britain should join the European Economic Community.

Photo of Mr Eric Deakins Mr Eric Deakins , Walthamstow West

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if, in view of higher European Economic Community prices to farmers and lower world prices for some commodities, he will now reassess the effects of entry to the European Economic Community on the British consumer.

Photo of Mr Leslie Huckfield Mr Leslie Huckfield , Nuneaton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what forecasts and estimates of the effects of the common agricultural policy he has now published; and whether he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

The latest estimate of the effect on food prices of our entry to the E.E.C. is contained in paragraph 88 of the White Paper "The United Kingdom and the European Communities", Cmnd. 4715. I have undertaken to revise this estimate when farm prices for the corning year have been determined.

Photo of Mr Joe Ashton Mr Joe Ashton , Bassetlaw

Is it not a scandal that food prices rose by 15 per cent. last year and will rise further on our entry to the Common Market, yet the Agricultural Wages Board has had the audacity to say that £16 a week is enough for the average farm worker to live on? Is it not time to set up a Wilberforce court of inquiry into the reason why food prices are reaching astronomical heights while agricultural wages remain shockingly low?

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

This has very little relevance to the Question on the Order Paper. The agricultural workers had an increase only last month, and the hon. Gentleman should bear that in mind.

Photo of Mr Eric Deakins Mr Eric Deakins , Walthamstow West

Will any review such as the Minister specified in the E.E.C. White Paper take account of value-added tax and the higher distribution costs of food products which may result from it?

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

What the House has asked me for at the moment is a revised estimate of the gap which we shall have to bridge to join our prices to the Community's prices, and that will be altered by the increase in prices which the Community may give next month or some time soon. That is what my review will deal with.

Photo of Mr Thomas Peart Mr Thomas Peart , Workington

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) asked a supplementary question about farm workers, and my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) originally put down an Oral Question on this subject, which, for technical reasons is now to have a Written Answer, is it possible to answer that Question orally?

Photo of Mr John Wells Mr John Wells , Maidstone

On a point of order. Is it not bogus for a right hon. Member of the experience of the right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) to try to drag in a Question which has been demoted to a Written Question by the rule of the House?

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

Order. It would be better if matters of order were left to me.

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

The question of agricultural workers' wages is entirely a matter for the independent Agricultural Wages Board. Wages went up as recently as last month by amounts which, it is estimated, will raise earnings by 8 per cent. and the minimum weekly wage by 9½ per cent.

Photo of Mr John Pardoe Mr John Pardoe , North Cornwall

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the average rise in the cost of food to the consumer, and the average rise in the farm-gate price of food since June, 1970.

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

Agricultural prices—excluding prices for fruit and vegetables, for which figures are not yet available—rose by 6·4 per cent. between the harvest years 1969–70 and 1970–71. Over a broadly similar period, the National Food Survey figures for household expenditure on food rose by 7·3 per cent.

Photo of Mr John Pardoe Mr John Pardoe , North Cornwall

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for those figures. Do they not show that the rise in retail prices of food to the housewife cannot be blamed on the farmers and that to a large extent, bearing in mind the figures given in the Grocer last week, distributors, manufacturers and processers of food are getting away with murder? What steps does he intend to take to ensure that his competitive policy comes home to this industry and makes it charge a proper price for its products?

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says. One of the important factors in any increase in prices has been the effect of the cost of imported foods. World prices have risen enormously; another main factor has been the general level of wages. Agricultural output, in terms of increased price, is roughly in line with the increased cost to the consumer.

Photo of Mr John Wells Mr John Wells , Maidstone

Will my right hon. Friend say why the information in regard to the price of fruit and vegetables is not yet available? Is he aware that fruit and vegetables play a very important part in the diet of the average family? Will he confirm that the British horticulturist is in no way responsible for the increase in prices?

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

I could not definitely confirm the last part of my hon. Friend's remarks. They are not necessarily true, because there has been some increase in fruit and vegetable prices as well. The figures that I have given are based on the agricultural price index which is compiled by my Department and which runs from June to May each year. The figures for vegetables and fruit are not yet available.

Mr. Mark Hughes:

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was the increase in the prices of home-grown and imported foodstuffs, respectively, in the period from December, 1970, to December, 1971.

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

There is no clear-cut division in the food index between homegrown and imported foodstuffs. Details for certain sub-groups of the index, are, however, available, and I will, with permission, circulate those in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Hughes:

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that reply. Does he recall that 12 months ago he was in the habit of saying that much of the increase in food prices was consequential upon increasing world prices? Does not he agree that the impact of this Government's policies on reducing the rate of inflation may be rather less than is sometimes pretended by the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends?

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

I am not absolutely certain of the hon. Gentleman's point, but, as the figures show, the largest increase occurred in the sub-group covering those commodities imported mainly for direct consumption. But there has also been a considerable increase in those commodities at home.

Photo of Mr John Farr Mr John Farr , Harborough

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the marked increase in the prices of such imported commodities as butter has made it very difficult for him to control retail prices in the shops?

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

Yes. I can confirm that the price of dairy products has been a major problem in trying to keep down prices. I am glad to say that we now appear to be over the hump of increases in dairy produce. This is the best news that we have had for some while.

Photo of Mr John Mackie Mr John Mackie , Enfield East

Why is it that when right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are in office it is import prices which affect food prices, whereas when the last Government were in office the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends always blamed the Government?

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

Because that happens to be precisely true.

Following is the information:

Per cent.
Increase in the Index of Retail Food Prices between 15th December, 1970 and 14th December, 197113·0
of which:
(a) items the prices of which show significant seasonal variations*19·0
(b) others11·7
of which:
(i) items mainly home-produced for direct consumption15·0
(ii) items mainly imported for direct consumption16·6
(iii) items manufactured in the United Kingdom7·8
of which:
(1) manufactured primarily from home-produced raw materials9·0
(2) manufactured primarily from imported raw materials7·1
* Home-killed lamb, fresh and smoked fish, eggs, fresh vegetables and fresh fruit are the items the prices of which show significant seasonal variations.

Photo of Mr Michael O'Halloran Mr Michael O'Halloran , Islington North

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what complaints he has received about the continued increase in food prices in the Greater London area since Christmas 1971; and what reply he has sent.

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

I have received about 20 letters and have sent appropriate replies.

Photo of Mr Michael O'Halloran Mr Michael O'Halloran , Islington North

Irrespective of how many complaints or letters the Minister has received, is he aware that I have received hundreds of letters from people in Islington and throughout London, especially the elderly, who just cannot manage on their low pensions'? What is he doing about the situation?

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

The hon. Gentleman has probably just heard me say that we are reviewing old-age pensions every year. That is the best possible thing that could happen for old-age pensioners.

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

Is the Minister aware that people generally in London, like Members of Parliament, have got fed up with writing to him, because they cannot get any reply at all, let alone a satisfactory reply? Will he do something to bring down prices "at a stroke", as was promised by his right hon. Friends and himself?

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

If the hon. Gentleman has any evidence of having written a letter to me without getting a reply, perhaps he will let me know. I should also point out that he puts down more Questions to my Ministry than does any other Member, and that he gets more replies.

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

I get evasions, not answers.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what has been the increase in food prices between December, 1970, and December, 1971.

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

Between 15th December, 1970, and 14th December, 1971, the food index rose by 13 per cent.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

Is the Minister aware that he has told the House on frequent occasions recently that he has got food price increases under control? What kind of control is 13 per cent? Surely he will not tell us that it is due to the farm workers' wage increase, especially when we take into account the fact that productivity has risen by 6 per cent. Is it not time that the right hon. Gentleman brought prices under control and at the same time met the agricultural workers' leader, Reg Bertini, to agree a reasonable settlement for farm workers' wages?

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

On the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I hope that the Opposition will not try to take away from the Agricultural Wages Board a position which it held under the previous Government and with which it would be extremely dangerous for either side of the House to interfere. Regarding the level of prices, I know that the hon. Gentleman will be extremely pleased to hear that since July the increase in prices has been 3·4 per cent.

Photo of Mr Peter Mills Mr Peter Mills , Torrington

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that if it had not been for the tremendous efforts made by British agriculture these prices might have been considerably higher? Will he also bear in mind that it has been a tremendous effort to achieve this position after the barren, impotent years that agriculture suffered under the Socialist Government?

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

As my hon. Friend will expect, I agree with every word he said.

Photo of Mr Simon Mahon Mr Simon Mahon , Bootle

Is the Minister really aware of the difficulties with which many of my elderly constituents are having to contend because of food prices? It may not be to the point, but may I ask whether he is aware that people are now offering those of my constituents who are suffering financial hardship £300 for vacant possession of their houses?

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

I am aware of the great difficulties which inflation brings to all those who live on pensions and fixed incomes. That is why I sometimes get a little fed up with right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite trying to get increased wages for everyone else in the community, which is the main cause of increased prices.

Photo of Mr William Molloy Mr William Molloy , Ealing North

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will state the percentage food price increases for November and December, 1971.

Photo of Mr William Price Mr William Price , Rugby

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what was the percentage food price increase during November and December, 1971.

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

Between mid-October and mid-November, 1971, the food index rose by 1·3 per cent.; and between mid-November and mid-December it rose by 1·7 per cent.

Photo of Mr William Molloy Mr William Molloy , Ealing North

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that for 12 months now he has been announcing food prices week in, week out—or at least every other week in, and every other week out? As it is now transparently clear that these increases are not caused through any wage increase to agricultural workers, will he stop this competition in which he is indulging with his right hon. Friend from the Department of Employment, who seems set on increasing unemployment at the same time as the right hon. Gentleman seems set on increasing food prices for ordinary people?

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

I am not set on increasing food prices. In fact, in the last six months there has been a considerable improvement. If right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite will wait a little longer they will see how great that improvement has been.

Photo of Sir Gerald Nabarro Sir Gerald Nabarro , Worcestershire South

Will my right hon. Friend observe that the success of his policies in agriculture, which have led to such a large increase in home-produced food, have had the influence of stabilising food prices, which are now rising at a much less steep rate than in the preceding 12 months?

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

Yes Sir. These are two parts of our policy, and given the fact that we still have a large legacy to get over in both parts of that policy, I am certain that in a very few months now we shall be showing results.

Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Renfrewshire West

I do not know why the Minister should be pleased at this, since his whole policy as enunciated before was that he believed in high prices. Secondly, it is quite correct that we have to return to a figure for 12 months. There has been a 13 per cent. increase in food prices—

Photo of Mr Selwyn Lloyd Mr Selwyn Lloyd , Wirral

Order. Is the hon. Gentleman asking a question or seeking to impart information? if it is the latter, he is out of order.

Photo of Mr Norman Buchan Mr Norman Buchan , Renfrewshire West

Is the Minister aware that there has been an increase in food prices of 13 per cent. over the last 12 months and that this continual approach both by himself and his supporters, to give figures for the last, six months, when food prices are always low, is no excuse?

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman takes a poor view of the fact that in the last 12 months we have done much to keep prices under control.