Mr. R. C. Mitchell:
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what proportion of a retired married couple's pension was usually spent on food at the latest date for which figures are available; and what proportion was so spent in the last quarter of 1969.
The Family Expenditure Survey data are based on the total expenditure of the household. On this basis, food represented 34·5 per cent. of the total expenditure by retired pensioner couples' households in the last quarter of 1969 when pensions were increased. The latest available survey results relate to the third quarter of 1971, at the end of which pensions were increased, and the proportion was then 33·9 per cent. The increase in the week beginning 20th September, 1971, brought the real value of pensions to the highest level ever.
Is the Minister aware that, due to the complete failure of this Government to control the prices of basic foodstuffs, many pensioners find it extremely difficult to afford a sensible and balanced diet?
Certainly. Apart from that, the very fact we are reviewing pensions every year is a point about which the whole country should know and which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite should applaud.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the real seriousness of the problem is the very high proportion of the pension which has to be spent on food, and that the fact that it has not been increased beyond 33·9 per cent. is because pensioners have had to cut back on expenditure on food? Since the right hon. Gentleman is devoted to the principle of high food costs and has objected to the people of this country being mollycoddled with cheap food, will he say whether he extends the concept of mollycoddling to pensioners?
I have always believed that there is a sensible moderate price for food which people should be prepared to pay. I have to look at both sides of the picture. One is to give agriculturists a decent return—and that includes agricultural workers. It is important to increase food production in this country. The other side is to try to keep down imports and at the same time help the consumer.