The Campaign for Cheaper CDs: MPs ready to demand cut in price of CDs

THE MUSIC industry is to be denounced by an all-party committee of MPs over the price of compact discs. Following a year-long campaign by the Independent on Sunday, members of the Commons Select Committee on National Heritage have accepted that prices are too high.

The committee, chaired by Gerald Kaufman, is still hearing evidence but is in no doubt that music lovers are getting a raw deal. 'It is pretty evident that somebody is ripping off the customer,' Mr Kaufman said. 'We just have to find out who.'

The inquiry has now heard evidence from the Consumers' Association, artist managers and retailers. All have blamed record companies for high CD prices, and called on them to cut wholesale prices by pounds 2. Bosses of the record companies PolyGram and EMI will give evidence on Thursday. They can expect a rough ride. 'All the members think prices are too high,' said a source close to the committee.

Members of the committee travelled to the United States to compare prices. They found that in spite of the weak pound, identical chart CDs are still 30 to 50 per cent cheaper than in Britain, where they cost pounds 12-pounds 15.

'Is that a satisfactory situation?' Mr Kaufman asked Brian McLaughlin, managing director of the 92 shops in the HMV chain. 'No,' he conceded.

Independent retailers, who often charge less than the high street stores, welcomed the proposal for a pounds 2 cut but thought chain stores could do more.

Nigel Griffiths, Labour's Consumer Affairs spokesman, said: 'The power of the committee is to expose high prices to public scrutiny, and they've done that very successfully. I also firmly believe that if it had not been for the Independent on Sunday, the National Heritage Committee would not have begun this inquiry.'

The record companies, however, have still to be convinced. Virgin Records informed shops last week that the wholesale price on CDs by best-selling acts such as Phil Collins and UB40 will rise from pounds 7.57 to pounds 8.13. 'I am incensed,' said an independent retailer on the South coast. 'People are already not buying the stuff because it's so expensive.'

The committee will complete its research on Thursday and Mr Kaufman said it would produce its report 'pretty rapidly'.

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