Consumer Affairs minister Melanie Johnson today took a tough stance with retailers over misleading pricing, promising better protection for shoppers.

Johnson has set out a series of guidelines for retailers over exactly what information must be included in adverts and exactly how prices must be displayed, extending existing laws to online shopping.

"Protecting consumers as effectively as possible means we must keep up to date with changes in shopping habits and trading practices," said Johnson. "These proposals are designed to make sure the advice we give to traders is clear and straightforward so they don't provide misleading information on prices to consumers."

Earlier this week new rules governing the sale of goods gave consumers extended powers when returning faulty goods, primarily shifting the burden of proof to the retailer for the first six months.

But today's proposals seem to simply clarify existing rules rather than give consumers any extended powers on how to handle such 'rogue traders'.

"These rules are about setting things out for traders so they know exactly where they stand. Consumers will still have to go through their local trading standards department and use the same remedies as have always been in place," said a Trading Standards spokesman.

Under the proposals, retailers may only display price comparisons if they can show that both prices are accurate, valid and the 'previous' price shown is within a reasonable time period. All comparisons must be against exact product matches that is, PCs of the same spec or cameras with the same functionalities.

Free Offers must be stated clearly. No unnecessary small print may be included and retailers must make consumers clear on exactly what they must buy to get which product free.

Consumers are protected against misleading prices under the Consumer Protection Act 1987, enforcement of which comes down to trading Standards Officers.