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Volume 885: debated on Thursday 6 February 1975

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asked the Prime Minister whether he intends to visit Monkseaton before Easter.

Is the Prime Minister aware that if he visited Monkseaton he would find a very large number of self-employed people who are very worried about attacks on their living standards under this Government? Is he aware, further, that they feel that many of these attacks are the direct result of Government policy? Does the Prime Minister regard it as fair and right to maintain the standards of the self-employed, and will he instruct the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Ministers to amend their policies accordingly?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is sincere in what he says, but if he sincerely wants me to go to his constituency so that his dissatisfied constituents can make representations to me, it can only mean that they have a total lack of confidence in their elected representative in Parliament.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a far more serious problem affecting the people of Monkseaton and others on Tyneside and in the rest of the country is the way in which inflation is hitting at the living standards of the poor? Will he take action to ensure that whilst his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection is subsidising food his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy is not putting up fuel prices, bearing in mind that fuel is equally essential to the poor?

My hon. Friend will know that I hope to visit Tyneside within two or three weeks, though I am not sure that my visit extends to Monkseaton. I have no doubt that all the manifest anxieties of the area which have arisen under successive Governments will be expressed to me. My hon. Friend will be aware that it is the policy of the Government, rightly, to subsidise food, and that is supported by the Conservative Party, according to the second of its two manifestos last year. But as regards publicly-owned industry, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made it clear that, with the continuing increase in costs in these labour-intensive industries, it is not in the interest of the country that we should continue to increase subsidies. In his Budget speech, he said that over a period of time it would be necessary to raise prices to a more economic level.

Will the Prime Minister say why it is right for the Government to subsidise food but not to subsidise fuel? Is it the Government's policy to subsidise fuel or food, or both?

Under successive Governments, fuel and other products of publicly-owned industries which are labour-intensive have been subsidised for a considerable time. The hon. Gentleman will not be unaware—his party pressed seriously on this—that there is also a problem of energy conservation which is not furthered by uneconomic prices. But because food is, like energy, and like housing, a basic necessity, especially for pensioners, lower-paid workers and others, we believed that since we were the victim of world prices it was the duty of the Government to provide some easement for the hardest-hit families by way of food subsidies. I thought that the hon. Gentleman and his party supported that policy. I must have been wrong.

I infer from what the Prime Minister said earlier that he would like permission now to answer Question Q6. Mr. Adley.