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Food Prices

Volume 891: debated on Monday 28 April 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what has been the change in the last three months in the price of imported foodstuffs; and what has been the change in the same period in the retail price of food in British shops.

Between December 1974 and March 1975 the unit value of imported food and feeding stuffs rose by 7 per cent. Over the same period the retail food index rose by 10·1 per cent.

Do not those figures show that the myth that inflation of food prices is caused either by overseas suppliers or by the Common Market can now be totally discarded and that indeed our inflation is entirely caused by the Government's own domestic economic policies and nobody else is to blame?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has recognised the minimal effect of the Common Market upon the direction of prices in this country. If what he is referring to is his traditional preoccupation with the money supply as a contributory factor to inflation, I would simply point out that on either definition the money supply is growing more slowly than the national income in money terms.

Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied with the sources of his statistics on retail prices? Is he aware that in my constituency of Romford a weekly shopping survey based on the local branch of the London Co-op and published in a local newspaper has shown that in the last three months a sample basket of 33 standard items has increased in price at an annual rate in excess of 50 per cent.?

I recognise that there are some variations, and it is partly with this in mind that my right hon. Friend has recently made a special reference to the Price Commission. Our own calculations are based upon figures provided by the Department of Employment which, I think, are highly reliable and are a better guide than selective localised information.

Has my hon. Friend seen the comments by Robin Pooley, the Vice-President of the EEC Beef Consultative Committee, that the cost of keeping the beef mountain is likely to be the

"biggest financial scandal of the century"?
If we want to try to keep down import prices, why cannot we do something about the ½million tons of beef which are now stored in the Common Market and are deteriorating rapidly?

My hon. Friend will know that one of the major successes by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the renegotiations was in respect of the departure from the old system of intervention support to the new variable premium system. This is a most important return to the deficiency payment system which this country has operated effectively and which should preclude the likelihood of similar beef mountains being accumulated in the future. It is important to stress that the stocktaking of the common agricultural policy emphasises the Commission's view that these stockpiles in the future must be disposed of by means of selling in the Community and. if necessary, at subsidised prices for the benefit of consumers.