Coronavirus: Boris Johnson hints at new laws to crack down on profiteering from pandemic

PM challenged to end 'disgusting scourge of black market profiteering' by Tory MP

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 25 March 2020 16:02 GMT
Boris Johnson hints at legislation to stamp out profiteering

Boris Johnson has said the government could bring in new laws to crack down on profiteering to prevent unscrupulous traders cashing in on the coronavirus outbreak.

The prime minister said MPs may have to look at legislation to ban people from ramping up prices amid reports of sky-high price tags on vital goods such a toilet roll, hand sanitiser and baby milk.

Tory MPAlexander Stafford challenged Mr Johnson to bring an end to the "disgusting scourge of black market profiteering" at prime minister's questions.

He said: "Can the prime minister assure me that he's in regular contact with supermarkets and suppliers to ensure that goods are getting to the shelves where they are needed and will he join me in calling on people to only take what they need, not to stockpile and to stamp out the disgusting scourge of black market profiteering?"

In response, the prime minister said profiteering was "something that we should be looking at from a legislative point of view in this house as has happened before in this country".

He added: "But I can tell him that the supermarkets do have adequate supplies, our supply chains as he knows are very good.

"We've relaxed delivery hours, but it is very, very important everybody in their shopping acts reasonably and considerably for other people."

Downing Street said a new taskforce had been set up by the competition watchdog to end exploitation, which had the power to hand out "significant fines".

The prime minister's spokesperson told a Westminster briefing: "The prime minister is clear that we don't want to see profiteering of any kind and traders must stop any excessive price increases.

"The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has created a specific Covid 19 taskforce to address and remedy concerns that some businesses are exploiting consumers through harmful sales and pricing practices.

"We would urge anybody who has any concerns to report those to the CMA. The CMA can use a range of competition and consumer powers to tackle bad behaviour including significant fines."

The government will also look at "further action" if necessary, the spokesperson added.

It comes as online retail giants such as Ebay and Amazon were urged to stamp out price gouging, as some sellers reported products being sold at 10 times their ordinary prices.

Consumer watchdog Which? found price hikes for disinfectant, hand sanitiser, tampons and baby formula, with one case where digital thermometers – which usually cost around £40 – being sold for £300 on eBay and almost £150 on Amazon.

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