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Competition And Restriction Of Charges

Volume 961: debated on Monday 22 January 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection if he is satisfied that the need to safeguard the interests of users of goods and services by promoting competition between suppliers or, where competition must be restricted or cannot be promoted (either because certain suppliers control a substantial share of the relevant market or for any other reason), by restricting prices and charges is being taken into due account by the Price Commission.

But is the Minister sure that the consumer is sufficiently safeguarded against price rises in the public monopoly sector? For example, can consumers face with equanimity the miners' pay claim of a 40 per cent. increase or must they resign themselves to sharp rises in electricity prices?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the powers of the Price Commission relate to the public sector just as to the private sector. To the extent that the Commission is able to intervene to prevent unjustified price increases in the private sector, similar considerations apply in the public sector. It did so notably in the case of British Rail's application most recently, and in a previous case it particularly recommended that the fact that competition was lacking in the South-East in respect to commuters' fares should be taken into account in the next proposed fare increase. That recommendation by the Commission in the public sector was borne in mind by British Rail in making its proposals recently.

On the question of the interests of users, what is the Government's view on the EEC product liability proposals?