Exiting the European Union (Consumer Protection)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:53 pm on 2nd April 2019.

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Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 3:53 pm, 2nd April 2019

My hon. Friend is right that that is the only way out of the hole being dug by the infighting in the Tory party, which is trying to settle a dispute that has lasted decades. This ham-fisted approach has left us in this guddle of Brexit and has put people in their homes at risk of losing out, of paying more and of being ripped off because we are losing these protections.

The regulations, as they stand, ban the blocking of access to websites and ban rerouting without a user’s consent, and they end payment discrimination through the revised payment services directive. People across the nations of the UK use online marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon on a daily basis. I would be surprised if there is a Member in this Chamber who has not received a parcel from one of those companies, and certainly all our constituents, bar a very few, will have received something from these online marketplaces. Both third party traders and the marketplace itself are subject to these regulations. That means loopholes will now open that allow people to exploit consumers across the nations of the UK. These regulations are about treating customers in the same way across the EU, and the regulations are enforced so that people are not affected in that way.

The Minister said in her opening remarks that the regulations cannot be replicated. She said very directly that the regulations are impossible to replicate or replace, but is not the truth of the matter that there is no interest in doing so? The Government are hellbent on trying to persuade their own Members and the rest of the House to support a deal that nobody wants to support, and they are avoiding responsibility for doing anything that would protect the people who will be affected by this nonsensical situation.

That abdication is leaving loopholes all over the place. Citizens are losing their rights and, as my hon. Friend David Linden said, any promises to make that up are about as good as a Brexit handout or what is written on the side of a bus. There is nothing here that will give comfort to any of our consumers or small and medium-sized enterprises—the ones who are most likely to be directly affected by the removal of this legislation.

Based on these regulations, from 2019 the Commission will publish certain tariffs for parcel delivery services on a website so that consumers and e-retailers can easily compare domestic and cross-border tariffs between member states and between providers. The website will highlight the highest tariffs to encourage consumers and small e-retailers to look for a better deal, and national regulatory authorities will be required to assess certain tariffs that seem unreasonably high. Regulatory oversight of the growing number of parcel delivery service providers will also be increased.

I mention that because Scotland already suffers from geo-blocking under this Westminster system. I have lost count of the number of times I and other Members with rural communities have brought up the postcode discrimination in both online and distance-selling deliveries to Scotland. Some £33 million a year of unfair surcharges are paid in Scotland for deliveries. Citizens Advice Scotland says this particularly affects consumers in Scotland, with 1 million Scottish residents paying, on average, an extra £19 for deliveries. Some 72% of the extra charges for deliveries directly affect Scotland. This is a long-standing discrimination, and the removal of these regulations, which protect people, can only make matters worse, particularly for people living in rural communities.

When I say “rural communities,” believe it or not, I am talking about cities in Scotland. I am talking about areas of high population density because, as I say, we suffer postcode discrimination. For example, a constituent of mine was asked to pay an extra £90 to have a mobile phone delivered to Nairn. These protections are not being delivered by the UK Government now, so what hope do we have with this regulation disappearing? I have another good example of where the EU has been able to protect internally. A crash helmet can be delivered from London to Inverness for a £29 charge. The same item could be delivered from London to Croatia or Estonia for £9.99.

I fear that others across the nations of the UK will begin to experience some of the discrimination that we in Scotland have seen over a number of years, and not just in the highlands and islands but in the borders and across large parts of mainland Scotland, because they too will now be subject to these inequities, as other Members have admitted today in their contributions. It is a reprehensible situation.

This statutory instrument brings forward no replacement protections. It does not even address the issue. It is predicated solely on getting through the Prime Minister’s dodgy, duff, dead-duck deal. That is the sole reason for bringing this through without any attention to detail. More rights are being sacrificed on the altar of Brexit. This Government must now put this and the postcode injustices right, especially for Scotland but also to protect others across the nations of the UK who will now be affected. They should do the sensible thing and agree that it is a disaster, as the removal of this regulation shows that there is no good no-deal Brexit; it is just a calamity that should be ruled out. They should then revoke article 50 until we get an opportunity to take this back to the public and give them the choice of whether to remain in the EU, with all the protections they currently enjoy, before those are sacrificed for this wonky ambition of the infighting in the Tory party.

Of course, there is one absolutely guaranteed way for the people of Scotland to enjoy these vital European protections so that we will no longer suffer from geo-blocking, and that is for Scotland to take its place as a fully independent country in the European Union.