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Price Commission (Investigations)

Volume 972: debated on Monday 22 October 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade what were the price increases under investigation by the Price Commission in May of the current year.

When this Government took office, the Price Commission was investigating price increases proposed for petrol, beer, water, bread, gas and electricity.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but is she aware that some of us have noticed that many of these highly emotive prices were frozen just before or during the election? Will she tell the House what has happened in each case since then?

A number of people have noticed the coincidence to which my hon. Friend referred. During the investigations the Commission allowed the full increase in petrol prices, recommended higher increases in gas and electricity prices than those asked for by the industry, sanctioned a 12 per cent. increase in water charges and an increase in the price of bread of 1p for a large loaf and ½p for a small loaf. On beer prices, the brewers concerned independently volunteered to me that they would be holding their prices for a good deal longer than the Commission requested. From that it can be seen that the only function of the Price Commission was to disguise inflation in the short term.

Order. I appeal to right hon. and hon. Members to ensure that we have short questions and answers on our first day back.

Does the Minister accept that the brewers are one of the largest paymasters of the Tory Party? Is that one of the reasons why they are being allowed to increase the price of the working man's pint by 2p or 3p?

For the hon. Gentleman's information, the largest paymasters of the Tory Party are the people who work in the constituencies to raise money. The two brewers concerned in the Price Commission investigation announced that they would not be increasing prices until January.

Half of the industries reviewed by the Price Commission in May were nationalised. Can my right hon. Friend therefore confirm that nationalising an industry does not protect the consumer against price rises?

My hon. Friend has drawn attention to an important point. It is in areas where the nationalised industries are involved that prices have risen most quickly through lack of competition.