The programme for the future of subsidies has been set out in the Public Expenditure White Paper with a carefully-considered timeable for their reduction.
Would not my hon. Friend agree that it is now widely recognised on this side of the House that the food subsidies have had an important redistributive effect in helping the lower-paid sections of society? In those circumstances, would he ask our right hon. Friend to use her now much greater weight within the Cabinet to ensure some change in any policy which is aimed at cutting out these subsidies?
My hon. Friend is right to stress the redistributive benefit of food subsidies, although it is true that in the long run, if one wishes to achieve that end, it may be better to act directly through taxation and the social security system. But I am sympathetic to his view of the importance which should be attached to the future of the food subsidy programme. The proposals for the future represent, I believe, the fastest possible rundown.
With reference to subsidised bread, does not the increase of lp on a standard 17p loaf mean that the price of bread has increased by 6 per cent. and that not even a subsidy has enabled it to remain within the Price Check Scheme? It is now outside.
The increase in the price of bread is due simply to a straight increase in the price of flour. The increase is not, however, 6 per cent., as the hon. Gentleman said. The Price Check Scheme permits a rounding up to the nearest coin in common use.
The Government's view is that it is appropriate to adhere to the general policy of relying increasingly upon social security benefits to meet the cost of inflation. My hon. Friend will be aware that last week the Secretary of State for Social Services announced the fourth such increase in the two years since this Government took office.
Further to the suggestion by the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts), would the hon. Gentleman confirm or deny that it is this Government's policy to use food subsidies for the purpose of redistributing wealth?