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Prices (Display)

Volume 961: debated on Monday 22 January 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection whether he intends to take further steps to require the display of prices as an aid to consumers.

Yes, Sir. My right hon. Friend intends to develop and extend the present programme of price display to cover other goods and services. I believe that both consumers and retailers benefit from clear and unambiguous price display. I am considering what sectors we should tackle when our present work on cafes and restaurants and misleading bargain offers is completed.

Does my hon. Friend appreciate that there are very strong feelings about this matter and that there is a need for the programme to be carried out as soon as possible, because people will then see that the Government have a resolve to get the matter sorted out?

The Government attach considerable importance to ending some of the misleading practices that have exacerbated housewives' irritation in the shops.

As the Minister mentioned misleading bargain offers, would he like to explain to the House why an undertaking given by the Director General of Fair Trading in respect of mail order catalogues has now been dishonoured by his right hon. Friend, or is there perhaps a kinder explanation?

In respect of my right hon. Friend's proposals on bargain offers, the Government are moving directly in line with the recommendations of the Director General of Fair Trading. So far as the order affects the mail order section of the trade, consultations have been held with that section. It is conceivable that some changes may be made in the published proposals, but the process of consultation is not yet complete.

Does my hon. Friend remember the time when we subsidised basic foodstuffs to an important extent for many people? We then required retail outlets clearly to exhibit maximum prices at which basic foods could be sold. Does my hon. Friend think that that is a good idea for establishing uniformity to prevent exploitation and making sure that people understand that their retailer is not receiving too high a price?

Certain foodstuffs are at present subject to the requirement that the maximum price be displayed. The principal reason for that requirement is to ensure that the subsidy voted by the House was passed on to the consumer. The Government have also introduced requirements that the prices of all foodstuffs shall be displayed when they are sold over the counter for consumption elsewhere. The Government's policy on the display of prices in cafes and restaurants will help to complete that circle.

With regard to my hon. Friend's suggestion that maximum prices should be more widely used than they are, there is a risk that maximum prices might be treated in some areas as minimum prices, and that would be most undesirable.