The prime minister said the government “should” be looking at legislation to clamp down on black marketeers clearing shop stocks and then attempting to sell the goods on for vastly inflated prices, often online.
The coronavirus crisis has sparked panic buying in the UK as the country has moved into a lockdown over the last 10 days.
But Tory MP Alexander Stafford has seen evidence of black market profiteering, insisting that products like baby milk, toilet roll, hand sanitiser and other items can often be found for sale online at vastly inflated prices.
He has written to the PM asking for a simple amendment to competition law to stop profiteering, comparing the situation to Second World War “spivs” who operated in the black market in response to rationing.
At prime minister’s questions, he urged Johnson to “stamp out the disgusting scourge of black market profiteering”.
The PM replied: “Profiteering is something we should be looking at from a legislative point of view in this house as has happened before in this country.
“The supermarkets do have adequate supplies. Our supply chains, as well my friend knows, are very good.
“We’ve relaxed delivery hours, but it is very, very important that everybody in their shopping acts reasonably, and considerably for other people.”
Speaking after PMQs, Johnson’s official spokesman said shops which artificially inflate prices will face action from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the most severe of which is an unlimited fine.
But he did not say whether the government would bring forward new legislation to combat individual or other black marketeers.
The spokesman told reporters: “We are facing what is a health emergency and nobody should be seeking to profiteer from it.
“During this crisis we have seen tremendous examples of public kindness and altruism, those are the examples which people should be following - not seeking to exploit this for financial gain.”
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Stafford himself has attempted to buy a £15 baby thermometer but found it had sold out at almost all major online stores, including Boots, Argos, John Lewis, Superdrug, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Lloyds Pharmacy and Asda.
The only product he could find was available on eBay for £130, he told HuffPost UK.
The Rother Valley MP is proposing an amendment to the Competition Act 1998 to make clear that it will be illegal for “individuals” to directly or indirectly impose unfair purchase or selling prices or other unfair trading conditions.
Johnson did not reveal details of what action the government could take.
It came as Liberal Democrat leadership candidate Layla Moran called for what party sources called a “Sports Direct clause” to deter businesses from behaving badly during the crisis.
She called for all Covid-19 grants and loans to contain a clawback mechanism to withdraw support if firms ignore advice or treat staff badly.
The MP has also called for HM Revenue and Customs to set up a hotline to allow their staff to whistleblow their business for not complying with government rules during the pandemic.
Her call came after Sports Direct attempted to remain open despite Johnson ordering a lockdown, and Wetherspoons boss Tim Marti told 40,000 employees he would not pay them until the government fulfils its promise to cover 80% of affected workers.
“I am today calling for a package of measures to make sure that businesses cannot take government support and then treat their staff badly, such as by forcing them to work or withholding pay,” Moran said outside the Commons.