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Food Prices

Volume 958: debated on Monday 20 November 1978

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5.

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what has been the percentage increase in food prices since February 1974.

The Under-Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection
(Mr. Robert Maclennan)

The food price index in mid-October had increased by 103·8 per cent. since February 1974. However, in the 12 months to October 1978 food prices rose by only 6·9 per cent. The level of the index has now remained virtually unchanged for the past five months.

Reverting to that part of the Minister's answer which was relevant to the Question on the Order Paper, may I ask whether he has read in The Guardian this morning a column entitled "Checking Labour's record"? Apparently Labour Weekly produces, with great fanfares, compliments to the Labour Party about its manifesto commitments being carried out. Will he explain —I am sure that it is a mere oversight—why little things such as jobs, the cost of living and food prices are not even mentioned by Labour Weekly? Could it be that the only carrying out to be done will be of pensioners and people living on fixed incomes, feet first, if we have much more Labour government?

I think that it was relevant to the hon. Member's Question to explain to him—and it sometimes takes time to explain these things to him—that the trend in food prices has been very encouraging in the past five months, and that indeed over a period of 12 months the increase in food prices in this country has been below that of France, the United States and Canada.

Is it not true that our present position within the EEC means that there is a fourfold engine of increase? First, we have lost control over our own price mechanism in relation to food. Secondly, there are the annual increases of the EEC. Thirdly, there is the removal of the transitional cushioning that we have had. Fourthly, there are increases in food prices in the form of taxation, which we are now paying in greater and greater quantities to finance the EEC.

My hon. Friend is right to emphasise that there are aspects of the common agricultural policy which the Government find wholly unacceptable and are seeking to renegotiate. No doubt he will take encouragement from the steps that were taken at the Bremen council in the summer, and which we hope will be followed up at the European Council in December, to give some substance to these proposals.