§ 3.16 p.m.
§ Lord ELTON
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government what has been the total cost to date of Government support of price comparison schemes as outlined in Circular No. 4/75 of the Department of Prices and Consumer Protection; and what steps, beyond giving the advice contained within that circular, they have taken to see that only like items are compared with each other.
My Lords, the Government grant commitment is up to £1,000 per annum for each approved scheme and so far 253 schemes have been approved. Payments of grant to date total £10,945. The Department of Prices and Consumer Protection maintains close contact with participating authorities and provides further advice and guidance where necessary. Once a survey is in operation, the weekly results are sent to the Department where they are carefully examined.
§ Lord ELTON
My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for his reply, may I ask him this question? How is it that on a number of occasions we find shops in a town which stock two qualities of one line but others which stock only one quality? The more expensive quality in the first shop is compared with the cheaper quality in the others. Is the noble Lord aware that it is usually the small shopkeeper, with the specialist shop, who stocks a multiplicity of lines and again this militates against the survival of the small shop?
My Lords, the first point raised by the noble Lord is probably due to the treatment of branded goods, and their treatment is dealt with at considerable length in the circular to which the noble Lord's Question refers. Probably it arises because one shop has its own branded commodity whereas the other shop does not. On the question of the small shops, it is recognised that their service is a different type of service. They cannot in all cases compete in price; but they compete in other ways such as 362 convenience and personal service. Therefore, to subject them to a strict price comparison would not be fair to them, or indeed to other traders. They are in a different line of business.
§ Lord ELTON
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that I am referring specifically to comparisons of sugar—between a fine grade and an ordinary grade—with regard to which there is no question of branding? Would the noble Lord agree that his reply to my question implies that the elaborate pro forma replies issued in the circular to which he referred are not being used? Further, will the noble Lord tell us whether the review of the scheme promised for the end of last year in Clause 21 of the circular has yet been made, and, if so, what was the result of it?
My Lords, the advice in the circular is that the lowest prices in each case should be shown. It may be that in certain cases this has not been followed through. If the noble Lord has cases that he would care to let me see, then of course I shall have them examined. The review to which he referred is being undertaken. Of course, it is early days yet for this scheme, and the experience so far is now being assessed.