Sainsbury’s has confirmed that there are no planned store closures as a result of the merger. The proposed merger of Sainsbury’s and Asda remains conditional on clearance by the Competition and Markets Authority. I wrote to the CMA on the issue in May, and the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst) and I had a meeting with the chief executive of Sainsbury’s yesterday.
It is right that the concerns of the workers are heard during the Asda-Sainsbury’s merger, so does the Secretary of State agree that there is a pressing need for the Competition and Markets Authority to hear the worker’s voice and take into account the impact of any merger or takeover on the workforce, not just on the competition?
It is true that the directors of the company have an obligation to have regard to the workforce. The CMA is independent of the Government, as the hon. Gentleman knows. It will make its report and assessment, and I am sure that it will look at all the companies’ responsibilities.
In taking forward this merger, will the Secretary of State urge Sainsbury’s to reaffirm its commitment to local suburban high streets, not least in New Barnet, where Sainsbury’s is a key store?
I will indeed. Our supermarkets make an important contribution to our high streets, as do independent stores, and we want that to continue in the future. Sainsbury’s plays an important role on the high street.
The Competition and Markets Authority says that it will not let the merger go ahead if any concerns that it has around higher prices or worse quality of service for shoppers are not fully dealt with. What assurances will the Secretary of State give that the same rigorous tests are being applied regarding the employment rights of employees at both companies, and will he commit to a meeting with the recognised trade unions?
I am always very happy to meet the trade unions. As I have said, I met the chief executive of Sainsbury’s yesterday. The company intends to run the Asda and Sainsbury’s businesses separately. It does not propose store closures or changes to the terms and conditions of the separate employees.
In the town of Kettering there is a large Sainsbury’s and a large Asda, but local shoppers and supermarket employees are asking what guarantee there is that both supermarkets will still exist in two or three years’ time.
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. That is why the CMA is conducting its investigation, and it has powers to prevent the loss of competition if it is in prospect.
Will the Minister further outline what effect this merger will have on my constituents, who may see higher prices and less competition as a result of further limitation of the already smaller choice of supermarkets than that on the mainland? Has the Department fully taken the likes of Northern Ireland and rural areas into consideration?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important question. The essence of the CMA investigation is to see whether there could be—not just nationally, but in particular places—any diminution of competition. If the CMA thinks that that is in prospect, it has the powers to block the merger or to place conditions on it, such as requiring the sale of businesses to a competitor.