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Price Fixing

Volume 982: debated on Monday 31 March 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade when he expects the Director General of Fair Trading to come to a decision on alleged resale price maintenance referred to in Questions to the Minister of State, Official Report, 28 January, column 526.

This is a matter for the Director General of Fair Trading, who will no doubt be reaching a view in due course.

Will the right hon. Lady accept that the matter is most urgent in view of the evidence that I provided her with, which showed that people were paying far too high a price for a wide range of consumer goods, as retailers were not allowed to offer discounts?

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern. However, he will be aware that I cannot comment on specific cases which may be sub judice. In the cases described to me in the hon. Gentleman's letters, it may be appropriate for the Director General to use the powers under the Resale Prices Act. The new powers under the Competition Bill will make it much easier for the Director General to investigate cases where a supplier may refuse to supply because a retailer sought to undercut the minimum prices that he is imposing. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the new powers in the Competition Bill, which will act in the interests of consumers and traders.

Does the right hon. Lady accept that there is clear evidence that major manufacturing and importing distributors, particularly of hi-fi and electronics equipment, are abusing their market position? Is the Minister aware that the other day Tesco allegedly made an application to the Office of Fair Trading for an investigation of certain companies, including Thorn Electrical Industries, on the basis that they were demanding excessively high prices for their products on the home market? Is the right hon. Lady further aware that Argos has also complained that four companies, including National Panasonic and Hitachi, have failed to deliver goods2, and have given spurious reasons for that failure? Can the right hon. Lady—

Order. The hon. Gentleman's question has become unreasonably long. Hon. Members must try to keep supplementary questions brief and hope for brief replies.

As I said previously, I cannot comment on specific cases that may be sub judice. The Director General has received a number of complaints alleging such practices. It is up to him to decide which legislation is the most appropriate to use if he decides to take action.