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Food Prices (Scotland)

Volume 974: debated on Monday 19 November 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade what action he proposes to take to eradicate the differentials which presently make Scottish food prices higher than elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

Government action as suggested by the hon. Member would not be feasible. To the extent that price differentials may be due to monopolies or anti-competitive practices, these would be subject to the existing powers in the Fair Trading Act, and the new powers conferred by the Competition Bill.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that after considerable urging the previous Government agreed to instruct the Price Commission to hold an inquiry into high food prices in Scotland? Does she further realise that consumers in Scotland, who have to pay these high food prices, will not be convinced by the answer that she has given and that they want action taken above and beyond action to deal with the general rise in inflation?

I am sure that consumers in Scotland will be comforted by the fact that under the new Competition Bill it will be possible for the first time to look at the abuse of market dominance in local situations. This is a new step. If it proves that there is abuse of market dominance, it will allow the Director General of Fair Trading to act in this area for the first time. If the hon. Gentleman knows of any specific cases, he will no doubt bring them to the attention of the Director General.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is the practical experience of those of us who have lived on both sides of the border that the quality and choice of food available in Scotland is consistently extremely high?

Does the Minister agree with the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) that the Labour Government tried to do something through the Price Commission to minimise the differentiation between Scottish prices and English prices? Does she find it as incomprehensible as we do that the hon. Gentleman and his party sought to get the previous Government out?

The previous Labour Government were always trying to do things through the Price Commission, and they always failed.

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that whatever special problems Scotland may have, to which the Government are rightly giving special attentions, those problems would be made infinitely worse if Scotland were ever subjected to the socialist and separatist policies of the Scottish National Party?

Scottish consumers, through their consumer council, asked for a reference on prices in remote areas. Why did the right hon. Lady turn them down?

I am aware that that request was made. We believe that consumers in Scotland can best be helped through the strengthened competition policy which is aimed particularly at the abuse of local monopolies. We believe that, if competition is limited in areas such as the Western Isles, we must look at ways of increasing that competition.