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Optical Appliances: Competition

Volume 413: debated on Monday 6 October 1980

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2.56 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is the decision, which on 30th January they expected "within three months", of the Director General of Fair Trading on whether lack of competition in the marketing of optical appliances including spectacles should be referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

My Lords, I understand that the Director General of Fair Trading has now completed his examination of competition in the marketing of optical appliances, and is giving serious consideration to making a reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission of the supply of reading lenses and spectacle frames in relation to restrictions on advertising. He has, however, decided that it would be sensible to defer a final decision on a reference to await the outcome of a review by the General Optical Council of its rules and guidance for the optical profession, which is expected later this year.

My Lords, I am greatly obliged to the noble Lord. But, as there have been deputations to the Government and continuous debates here and in another place about this matter, can he make a statement of Government policy on this matter? Do the Government agree that it is high time that some form of price competition should be allowed in this country in the retailing of spectacle frames? Secondly, do the Government believe that there is a strong case, or at any rate a case, for a free market in the sale of simple magnifying spectacles of varying strengths? If the noble Lord could say that the Government agree on both those points, I am sure that we should be giving sonic guidance to the industry on how to approach these problems.

My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord on both those points. We certainly believe that the present situation in the marketing of spectacles and their associated appliances is unsatisfactory, particularly with regard to the advertising provisions, to which I referred. We very much hope that the General Optical Council will see fit to change its rules.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the whole history of this shows that there are delaying tactics?—and the sooner the Government are prepared to deal with those delaying tactics the better.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. The situation is unsatisfactory and has gone on for too long. This matter first came to public attention in 1976 and the time is long overdue for a change.