Thursday, 5 May 2011
Question 12: To ask the Minister for Enterprise; Trade and Innovation if he has received the report by a person (details supplied) on a code of practice for the grocery goods sector; when he expects to receive and publish this report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10016/11]
I expect shortly to receive the report of the facilitator appointed to engage with the various stakeholders to explore the possibilities of agreeing a voluntary code of practice to regulate relationships and practices in the grocery goods sector. As soon as I have considered the report, a decision will be made on publication of the report and on the detail of any legislation that might be introduced.
As the Deputy is aware, the programme for Government contains a specific commitment to enact the fair trade legislation which will ban a number of unfair trading practices in the retail sector such as so-called hello money which suppliers have to pay to secure a place for their goods on supermarket shelves. It is my intention to give effect to this commitment by including a specific enabling provision in legislation.
The Government is strongly committed to ensuring Ireland continues to have vibrant agrifood and retail sectors, especially given the importance of these sectors to the national economy. The Government considers it important, therefore, that there is balance in the relationship between the various players in the grocery goods sector. The introduction of a code of practice, as provided for in the programme for Government, is intended to achieve such a balance taking into account the interests of all stakeholders in the grocery goods sector, including the interests of the consumer and the need to ensure there is no impediment to passing on lower prices to consumers.
Will there be a mechanism that will allow some of the stakeholders in these areas to help drive the direction of these policies? I am not simply referring to the grocery sector but to the entire business sector. We need these people with experience to have an opportunity to give the Minister the benefit of their experience.
We regularly meet representatives of various sectors. There is a possibility of engaging directly with the sector to agree a voluntary code, but it appears unlikely that will happen. I believe the likelihood is that there will be legislation. Of course there is already legislation and if people came forward with evidence, activities such as demanding hello money would in theory be in conflict with competition legislation. The difficulty is getting evidence to take a prosecution, which is why we need to get a code of practice and get more material published as routine in order that there would be the basis for checking whether there is compliance with the principles. That, unfortunately, appears to be the way to go. I have no great enthusiasm for this because it is another source of regulatory burden, but there needs to be fairness in the balance between the players in the sector. If a voluntary agreement cannot be reached, we will need to take legislative action. The enforcement of that would be down to the competition and consumer authorities. I will probably try to introduce any such legislative proposals in conjunction with the legislation which is due before the House soon.