Exiting the European Union (Consumer Protection)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:23 pm on 2nd April 2019.

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Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay 3:23 pm, 2nd April 2019

I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me for turning my back on him while responding to his intervention. I need to address the House, rather than face him directly.

The English language is indeed one of our great tools. When we look at any regulations relating to online businesses, we should bear in mind that the base code of computers is effectively English, because of the history of computer developments between us and the United States. The first computer, as such, was of course developed here, following the amazing theoretical work done by Alan Turing, who, sadly, was treated abysmally by this nation after the second world war in connection with matters that were never a crime. He came up with the revolutionary 01, and set the philosophical basis that would result in the very trading systems that these regulations seek to address.

This is one of our key goals. It is important that we have an effective and competent system of law relating to online transactions, because if we do not we will lose one of our biggest opportunities. My hon. Friend touched on that. Many people go online and happily access information, services and opportunities. They are able to compare prices in a way that would not have been possible before the internet era, because English is pretty much common currency on many internet platforms—although, given that the regulations relate to online shopping opportunities, it is worth noting that people can now interact with the vast majority of online retailers in the language of their choice. There are also the well-known providers’ translation services that we can now use. I used to have a bit of fun when a former Wales Minister texted to ask if I was here: I would reply in Welsh, courtesy of Google Translate.

I will move on, because I know that other Members wish to speak, and that the debate is time-limited. Some other issues on which the Minister may wish to reflect when she sums up relate to Ireland. We have had a great many discussions about the backstop and how we can keep the Northern Ireland land border open, but in these unique circumstances, someone purchasing online in, for example, County Fermanagh can be only a couple of miles away from the online business—or the business behind the online entity—which is based in, for example, County Donegal. There would of course be a different boundary, particularly in the no-deal scenario for which this measure is intended, and I should like to know how we can ensure that some sort of interaction remains. I think it is safe to say that it would be rather controversial if we did not give clear access to Irish websites.

That, in fact, makes eminent sense. There are businesses, cultural links, and supply chains and delivery networks that work across the border. One road crosses the border 15 times in two miles. If something that I had ordered online was being delivered using that road, the farmhouse involved might be in the United Kingdom and the hay barn in the Irish Republic. We need regulations that could deal with the unique situation near the Irish land border.

The Minister rightly referred to the consent of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, but Northern Ireland is beset by the fact its Assembly is not up and running and doing what those elected by the people of Northern Ireland should be doing. Although it is right that we are moving to ensure that Northern Ireland’s statute book is in order for a no-deal Brexit, it would be interesting to know what thought has been given to this aspect, given that the Northern Ireland Assembly is not working and that, sadly, it is unlikely to be up and running in the next couple of months, when we may see a no-deal exit. What thought is being given at Westminster to ensuring that there is appropriate legislation to cover online shopping and, bluntly, to ensure that legislation requires fairness between websites and fairness in online shopping between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland?