HC Deb 14 December 1983 vol 50 cc983-4
9. Mr. Hardy

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will refer to the Director General of Fair Trading the question of unfair price discounting to large multiple retailers.

Mr. Trippier

It is for the Director General of Fair Trading to decide whether to initiate an investigation. Since the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report was published in 1981 he has looked closely at all cases of discounting brought to his attention but so far has found no evidence to justify either a formal investigation by his office or a reference to the commission. The Director General of Fair Trading continues to keep market conditions under review.

Mr. Hardy

Will the Minister accept that the position has deteriorated since the 1981 report, and will he consider the implications not merely for the retention of adequate retail arrangements but for the maintenance of adequate consumer choice and the long-term viability of the food processing and producing industries? Will he therefore consider whether the voluntary code of practice should be reconsidered?

Mr. Trippier

Existing discretionary legislation offers an effective means of investigating individual cases, taking action where appropriate. The MMC's investigation took four years and was published only three years ago and I am at this stage satisfied with the present arrangements.

Mr. Grylls

Will my hon. Friend think again and recognise that it is dangerous to shrug off the rather undesirable concentration of economic power held by the very large retailers? Will he look at this matter again, because it is difficult for the smaller retailers to compete if they pay much higher prices? How can they compete?

Mr. Trippier

It is clear that independent retailers are at a price disadvantage when providing many goods, but they have a marked competitive advantage in a number of ways, including personal service, direct contact with customers and flexibility.

Mr. Gould

Is it not time that the Government took some action on this important issue? Are we to assume that the Government's so-called competition policy is nothing more than an ad hoc series of decisions whose main purpose is to allow the Government's friends to pursue and exploit a market advantage to the maximum degree, irrespective of public or any other interest?

Mr. Trippier

The Director General has considered the possibility of a code of practice for industry, as I said in answer to the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), but he has doubts about its effectiveness and is concerned that such a code might lead to collective price-fixing arrangements.