HC Deb 25 February 1999 vol 326 cc534-5
7. Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test)

If he will assess the impact of home shopping upon the competitiveness of UK retailing. [71602]

The Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs (Dr. Kim Howells)

The retail sector is a dynamic one. I have placed in the Library of the House, for the information of hon. Members, a copy of a recent paper prepared by my Department on the performance of the retail sector, which I hope will be useful. However, it would be very difficult to make the specific assessment requested by my hon. Friend, not least because of the difficulty of obtaining information on the value of electronic trading, which is an increasing and important element of home shopping. I have commissioned research to help to assess the impact of electronic commerce on retailing, and I intend to publish the results before the summer recess.

Dr. Whitehead

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. My particular concern is with home grocery and household shopping. I have spoken to a number of major retailers with stores in my constituency, and it is apparent that such developments could be either a boon to elderly people in particular or a disaster for all my constituents. Is my hon. Friend aware that various routes to home shopping have been trailed by the major retailers? Is he further aware that the mode that eventually prevails will have profound consequences for competition and customer protection? Is my hon. Friend undertaking activity to ensure that consumers and competition are protected as such developments take place?

Dr. Howells

I welcome the question, because we will all be affected greatly by e-commerce and shopping on the internet in future. It could change social habits; I may not be able to bump into the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) in shops in the future, as we have done in the past—usually in a panic just before Christmas. Currently, home shopping sales stand at about £9 billion or about 6 per cent. of total retail sales, of which e-commerce comprises only about £100 million. That is calculated to grow by 2002 to about £700 million a year. That will still account for a small percentage of total retail sales, but it is an indication of the way in which the sector will explode in the future. It is right and proper that we should talk to retailers, customers, cities and towns about the implications for the future of shopping in this country.