New Clause 1 — Independent advocacy: report

Part of Prohibition of Unpaid Internships – in the House of Commons at 2:05 pm on 13th May 2014.

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Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills) 2:05 pm, 13th May 2014

We come to the Report stage of the Consumer Rights Bill. I am minded of the words of the great English churchman Thomas Fuller, who said that our lot was to be born crying, live complaining and die disappointed. Of course, as true Brits, we know that that approach can be best encompassed in a “tut”, but we see the Bill as offering much more than a “tut” for people who have been ripped off. We see the potential of the Bill to free us of that particular malaise, and with that in mind we have tabled a number of amendments that we hope will receive the support of the House.

We believe that the Bill should be subject to the tests—that they should be performed with reasonable care and skill—that it sets for goods and services. At the moment, it is found wanting, and that is why today we are looking for a repeat performance and hope of speedy redress. The new clauses speak to that and in particular to the Opposition’s approach to consumer rights, which should not be only about dealing with problems when something has gone wrong, but, when done well, could avert problems. For that to happen, consumers need three things—more information, strong advocacy and speedy forms of redress.

In introducing the Bill, the Minister has opened a veritable Pandora’s box, given how some of its clauses will be perceived on the consumer landscape in the UK. We are mindful that hope lies at the bottom of Pandora’s box, and we hope with the new clauses to bring hope for how consumer rights legislation could work. Let me explain what I mean. I want to turn first to new clause 3 and new schedule 1, which new clause 3 brings into effect. The schedule refers to the first principle to which I referred—information. How do consumers get the information that they need to make the right choices for themselves the first time? We know that having access to more information is vital to empowering consumers.

The Government’s research, “Better Choices, Better Deals”, argues that if consumers were able to use price comparison sites more effectively, they could gain £150 million to £240 million a year. That is why the Opposition welcomed many of the ideas and intentions behind the midata project to give consumers more access to their information in a portable and accessible format. In Committee we expressed concern that, despite the project, four years on, it is not really working. There is a lack of information coming forward to consumers. The Minister defended the slow progress of the midata project, telling us that taking action now would prejudice the results of a review of the project that she has commissioned, and she did not think that that would be beneficial to the programme or, ultimately, to consumers. We have tabled the new clause and schedule because we fundamentally disagree. We want to go much further.

Currently the midata project covers four areas of consumer data, but we think that the power in the new schedule offers the potential for a framework for improving consumer and citizen access to data in a way that can transform outcomes and improve our consumer markets; that would be good for business and good for Britain.

We do not understand why the Government gave themselves the power, under the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013, to enact the midata project and yet have not done so. The first thing that new schedule 1 does, therefore, is put that power into effect to ensure that consumers get the information they need, in a portable and accessible format, about a key utility bill.

Every time we click, we create wealth—whether we are giving our contact details or browsing online, companies are harvesting information that drives their marketing and product development. Datasets such as store loyalty cards, medical records or tax affairs are an important and revealing resource for both the public and the private sector. Facebook is making more money than any of us can dream about from the content that we are creating. That stream of data should not be one-way. Citizens and consumers should have access to those data in a meaningful way, which allows them to start calling for the kind of products and services that they want.