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Secretary Of State For Prices And Consumer Protection

Volume 887: debated on Tuesday 25 February 1975

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asked the Prime Minister whether he will dismiss the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave him on 18th February.

How much longer will the right hon. Lady be allowed to spend £550 million of taxpayers' money to advantage the average person with food subsidies of 22½p a week?

The hon. Gentleman seems to have misunderstood the facts and how much bigger last year's rapid increase in food prices would have been but for the food subsidies. The hon. Gentleman, who presumably was elected last October, will realise that he fought the last election, as did his Front Bench, on the pledge to maintain food subsidies.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that while the food subsidy programme is excellent and useful for the poor, it will be of little avail if the increases in electricity and gas prices remove their capacity to spend enough on food? Like most hon. Members, I am anxious that that should not be the case and that the subsidy principles being applied to food should also be applied to provide help for the poor in paying the charges of the nationalised industry sector.

I understand my hon. Friend's concern, which we all share. I heard my hon. Friend speak on the subject in a meeting upstairs last week. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced in the Budget—this cannot be criticised by the Conservatives, because they said that they would do it more than a year ago, and never did—that we believed it right to have realistic pricing in the publicly-owned industries. No one is pressing this point more than the trade unions in those industries, because they believe that it is demoralising to have in the pricing of the publicly-owned industries the kind of situation we have had in the past. Furthermore, as I am always having party conference decisions brought to my attention—as though I did not already know them by heart—there was a decision at our last party conference in October 1973, and that resolution, which was passed unanimously, called for just what we are doing in relation to the prices of nationalised industries.