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Food Prices

Volume 523: debated on Monday 1 February 1954

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5.

asked the Minister of Food if he is now able to give an estimate of the amount by which the price of rationed foods will rise when these are derationed and decontrolled later in the year.

I cannot add to the reply which I gave the hon. Member on 9th November last.

:That was no reply at all, neither is that which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has just given. Are we to understand that the Minister has no idea just how high these prices will rise? Are we to take it that old age pensioners and those with low incomes are to be deprived of their rations when prices rise astronomically, as has been prophesied? May I have an answer?

23.

asked the Minister of Food if he is aware that, compared with November, 1951, in November, 1953, the price of bacon was up 1s. 1½d. per lb., bread up 3d. on a 3½-lb. loaf, meat up 4d. per lb., milk up 2d. a quart, butter up 10d. per lb., cheese 1s., margarine and cooking fat, 4d. per lb., and, since November, 1953, tea has risen in price, coffee has risen by 1s. 10d. per lb. and sugar by 2½d. per lb.; and whether he will reintroduce price control and take such further action which will ensure the restoration of these food prices to their November, 1951, level.

As I said in the House on 9th November last, Her Majesty's Government believe that decontrol will enable efficient private trading and effective competition to serve the best interests of all consumers in respect of quantity, quality and price. I would draw the attention of the hon. Member to the stability of the Food Section of the Retail Price Index during the past year as compared with the year 1951.

:Is the Minister aware that the prices of basic foodstuffs are continually rising and that the index to which he refers takes account of items which are bought only very occasionally? If these prices have risen by these amounts, are we to take it that when the remaining commodities are derationed they will rise in price by the same amount?

As I must repeat, there is only one possible method of judging food prices, and that is the index. I notice that the hon. Member does not disregard the index because he has a Question down to the Chairman of the Kitchen Committee, No. 47, in which he accepts the cost-of-living index. The only figures we can possibly give are those from the Food Section of the cost-of-living index, which is common both to the previous Administration and to this Administration. The fact is that it has remained steady for the whole of this year and has dropped four points since last June.

:Is it not a fact that in the case of bacon and cheese, 10d. of this rise should have been imposed before the General Election but that hon. Members opposite did not put it on because of the Election?

:As my hon. and gallant Friend has said, there should have been an increase of 10d. on cheese and 10d. on bacon, but it was not convenient at the time to impose it.

:In addition to looking at the Retail Price Index, has the right hon. and gallant Gentleman ever looked at a grocery order book of a housewife in order to check up the price increases which have taken place?

:It is very simple, as more than one hon. Member has discovered, to select any item which has increased in price. For instance, cheese is such an item. But when we are considering the cost of living, proper weight is given in the index to necessary foods. This system was devised by hon. Members opposite. All we have done is to adopt what I assume they found to be a good thing. The figures which I am giving to the House, and which I will continue to give, are on a comparable basis; and, on a comparable basis, they have remained steady this year and they have dropped four points since last June.

Is my right hon. and gallant Friend aware that exaggeration of the cost of living is now practically the only thing left in the Labour Party's armoury?

:Would the right hon. and gallant Gentieman say specifically, yes or no, whether the price increases set out one by one in the Question are correctly or incorrectly set out?

:I have not worked through them all, although I am prepared to accept them, but it has nothing whatever to do with what I am saying. I assume that hon. Members opposite took some interest in the lower paid working-class when they were in office, and I assume, therefore, that they would not have introduced an index which did not fairly reflect the cost of living. Having done so then, they cannot now complain because I follow the same practice.

26.

asked the Minister of Food if he can give an estimate of the probable increase or decrease in the price of basic foodstuffs during the next 3, 6 and 12 months, respectively; and to what extent his anticipation a year ago of the then prospective price of basic foodstuffs has been fulfilled.

I am not prepared to speculate on future price movements, but I have no reason to think that they will all be in one direction.

As regards the second part of the Question I do not know to what anticipation of mine the hon. Member refers, but the Food section of the Retail Price Index rose by only a fraction of one point during 1953, which reflects a very satisfactory degree of price stability as compared with any period since the end of the war.

:While that may be so, are we to take it that the Minister has in his Department no estimates of possible fluctuations in prices in forthcoming months? Do I understand that a year ago there were no such assumptions as to the future?

:We have to be careful about these assumptions, because I remember assumptions from hon. Members opposite about a 10d. egg which have hardly been sustained.

:That has nothing to do with my question. I asked whether the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has any information such as that which I sought. Will he be kind enough to answer the Question?

I have answered the Question. I am not prepared to speculate on future price movements because so much depends on the cost of raw materials—on whether the price of raw materials goes up or down. Some prices may go up, other prices may come down, which is what has happened in the last year.