HC Deb 06 March 1978 vol 945 cc949-50
2. Mr. Hooley

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection if he will refer to the Price Commission the level of discounts required by supermarket chain stores from food manufacturers and the effect of these on the profitability of (a) the supermarkets and (b) the manufacturers.

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

The Government have considered for some time that information is required about the extent and effects of granting special discounts to some retailers only, including discounts of the kind mentioned in my hon. Friend's Question. It was for this reason that a reference on this subject was made to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission in July of last year. The Commission will be glad to receive any evidence that may be relevant to its inquiries.

Mr. Hooley

I welcome that statement but hope that the investigation will proceed with some speed. Is this discount policy designed to boost the profits of supermarkets or to benefit the consumer? Will the Department intervene if supermarkets adopt a policy of buying from abroad rather than from British manufacturers?

Mr. Maclennan

One of the purposes of the inquiry is to determine whether discounts are being offered to enlarge the market share of particular companies or to reflect genuine cost reductions. On the latter point, if my hon. Friend has any evidence of that practice being pursued, I know that the Monopolies and Mergers Commission will be glad to consider it.

Mr. Adley

In view of growing concern about alcoholism, will the Undersecretary look seriously at the increasing practice of supermarkets not only to sell wines and spirits but to sell them unregulated and in accordance with magistrates' rules which vary considerably in different parts of the country? Does he agree that this practice not only increases the danger of alcoholism, particularly among housewives, but is unfair to small shops and off licences which are required stringently to observe the rules and regulations?

Mr. Maclennan

The practice to which the hon. Gentleman has referred is certainly increasing competition, and perhaps to that extent he will welcome it. The other points that he made do not arise on this Question, which is about the level of discounts.