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Inflation Rate

Volume 461: debated on Thursday 14 June 2007

11. What the average retail prices index inflation rate was in the first quarter of (a) 1997 and (b) 2007; and if he will make a statement. (142574)

As I explained to the hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire), inflation has fallen in the past month. The consensus among independent forecasters is that it will be back on target by the end of the year.

Outside the retail prices index, energy inflation is hitting pensioners hard, especially those in Shropshire. What discussions has the Financial Secretary has with his colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry, and directly with the utility companies, about the speedy passing on of any reduction in wholesale prices so that retail customers, particularly pensioners, need not suffer?

We monitor such matters closely. We are obviously concerned about the position of pensioners, especially poorer pensioners. Pricing and price changes are the responsibility of Ofgem—the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets—the independent regulator that we established for the purpose.

Not only has inflation in the United Kingdom been lower and more stable under the present Government than under past Governments, it has been lower and more stable than inflation in other major economies during the period in question, despite difficulties caused by increases in world oil prices. This Government have an outstanding record on inflation and macro-economic management. That is why there are 1.8 million more homeowners and 2.6 million more jobs in the British economy than in 1997.

What I remember about the first quarter of 1997 is that there was no Monetary Policy Committee and the Chancellor at that time artificially held down interest rates in a desperate and fruitless attempt to win the 1997 election. Did that not distort the economy, and does it not make the comparison asked for in the question meaningless? Is not the only real comparison the fact that the Conservatives failed and we have had 10 years of success?

That is precisely the principal comparison. Under this Government we have had low and stable interest rates, low and stable inflation and historically high levels of employment, and that has led to greater wealth in this country.