HC Deb 26 February 1973 vol 851 cc1056-8
22. Mr. Sydney Chapman

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will seek to make it a statutory requirement that any change in the costs of goods and services, as a result of the abolition of purchase tax and selective employment tax and the introduction of value added tax, should be marked on the price.

Mr. Emery

As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made clear, the Government will be taking steps to ensure that consumers are informed of the price change to be expected on a wide variety of items. But it is considered the particular suggestion made by my hon. Friend would not be practicable.

Mr. Chapman

Does my hon. Friend realise that that will be treated as a disappointing answer? Surely he is not saying that housewives and other members of the public will be expected to know the intimate details of the multiplicity of price changes, upwards and downwards, when value added tax comes in in five weeks' time. Will he look again at this practical and sensible suggestion, which would be easy to implement and would have the widespread approval of the public?

Mr. Emery

I at once accept the major problems involved in the introduction of value added tax. The Government propose to publish a shoppers' guide to give housewives guidance on a selected range of goods and services. This will be given widespread publicity, but the complicated pricing mechanism which my hon. Friend suggests might well be more confusing than helpful.

Mr. Benn

Is it not the case that after 1st April shoppers will find that almost every product has changed its price? The hon. Gentleman must know how much of that is due to the abolition of purchase tax or selective employment tax and how much is due to the imposition of value added tax and how much is simply hit and miss by the shopkeepers. Although the general guide will be a useful document to look at, it will not help the shopper to identify that certain prices have changed. Since the Counter-Inflation Bill, if it is enacted by the end of the month, gives the Government certain powers, would it not be more sensible to make available to the public the information they need to be able to shop around, as the Prime Minister says so regularly they should do?

Mr. Emery

I believe the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the consumer will want to know not changes from one shop to another—which may well vary—but what the overall movement of prices because of value added tax should be. It is in order to give that guidance precisely and definitively that the Government have decided on the policy I have enunciated.

Mr. Jessel

Is my hon. Friend aware that in my constituency Sketchley Dry Cleaners, which is part of a large chain, has put about a circular to its customers saying that its prices are to be put up by the whole extent of value added tax when the tax comes in and does not make any mention of the effects of the reduction of purchase tax or selective employment tax? Does not my hon. Friend agree that this is misleading the public, and are the Government able to take any action in cases of this kind?

Mr. Emery

I was not aware of that example. I believe that it would be misleading to do what my hon. Friend suggests has been done, and it is to combat that sort of thing that the Government have decided on the overall publication of a shoppers' guide.

Mrs. Castle

What are the Government doing to prevent unauthorised increases now? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that today I have received yet another complaint about Mothercare, this time about the Southend branch? A young mother went into the shop to buy a cot marked in the shop at £9.75. She was told that despite the freeze the price had gone up to £,10.91 and that another increase would take place when value added tax was introduced. Is not this making a mockery of the Government's policy? What remedy have these women got?

Mr. Emery

Perhaps the right hon. Lady will let me have the exact details of this, because it appears to be contrary to the assurances that have been given to my Department.