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Volume 487: debated on Monday 9 February 2009

To ask the Minister of State, Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform if he will direct the Office of Fair Trading to investigate supermarket chains with a view to directing them to divest themselves of stores they have acquired through takeovers. (253906)

[holding answer 3 February 2009]: Merger control functions in the UK are carried out by the UK's independent competition authorities. Cases are considered on grounds of their impact on competition in the relevant markets. This provides the primary method of protecting the interests of UK consumers and promoting economic growth.

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has a duty to make a reference to the Competition Commission (CC) if it believes that the merger may be expected to result in a substantial lessening of competition within any market or markets in the United Kingdom for goods or services. Under section 73 of the Enterprise Act 2002 the OFT may, instead of making a reference to the CC, accept appropriate undertakings to take such action as it considers appropriate.

One recent example is the acquisition by Co-operative Group Limited (Co-op) of Somerfield Limited. Under the terms of the undertakings accepted by the OFT on 15 January, the Co-op will divest stores in 133 areas across the UK to resolve competition concerns raised by the merger.