Amendment 68

Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 13 March 2024.

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Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle:

Moved by Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle

68: Clause 148, page 94, line 33, at end insert—“(c) the collective interests of consumers includes avoiding any detriment that might be incurred by consumers as a result of advertising products and services which will have a significant impact on the United Kingdom's ability to reach a level of net zero carbon emissions by the year specified in section 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment seeks to amend the definition of the ‘collective interests of consumers’ to include the detriment caused by advertising and promotion of high carbon products and services.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 68, but it is not my intention to speak to any of the other amendments in this diverse and large group, in the interests of proceeding in a timely manner.

Noble Lords will see that this amendment seeks to amend the definition of the collective interests of consumers to include

“the detriment caused by the advertising and promotion of high carbon products and services”.

For noble Lords who were not in Committee, I will tell the story of the origins of this, which was Amendment 109 from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. Her amendment basically set out that there would be controls to avoid detriment for any action that would prevent us reaching net zero by 2050. I pointed out to the noble Baroness that, given that at that time the Climate Change Committee was saying that we were well off track for meeting that 2050 net-zero target, the amendment, in effect, would have stopped all advertising of any product producing carbon, which I do not think was the noble Baroness’s intention.

I therefore find myself in the unusual situation of tabling on Report a more moderate amendment than we were discussing in Committee in terms of reducing carbon emissions and looking to reduce the detriment for consumers. That is why my amendment focuses on high-carbon products. As I said in Committee, high-carbon products obviously include fossil fuels, flights, SUVs and plastics, but also fast fashion, meat and dairy, and banks that are funding the likes of BP and Shell. It is worth noting, going back to when the Government first started promoting this Bill, that we were promised a huge amount of action; one of the purposes of the Bill was to provide protections from greenwashing. We have gone a long way backwards from that. My amendment is an attempt to reinstate, in a small way, what was stated to be an original intention of the Bill.

I promise that this was not co-ordinated, but I note that I speak to this amendment just a few hours after—we are very timely—another Member of your Lordships’ House, the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, has published an article on Business Green pointing out how the UK is not in any way on track to meet the needs of climate adaptation. She talks about us

“sleepwalking into an energy system” that cannot be implemented and achieved, while we face flooding, extreme heat and water scarcity that will cost lives.

Therefore, this is an amendment to take us in a direction that we surely need to go. There is no right to advertise. We can decide what sort of advertising all our consumers are subjected to, particularly in the digital space, where people are bombarded, every second, with more and more adverts, and we know how advertising tracks us: once we have shown an interest in one topic, we are subject to bombardment. We do not have to say that it is open slather and you can do whatever you like in terms of advertising and promotion. Cigarette advertising is an obvious area where we have already taken quite tight action, and I note that Transport for London now restricts advertising of a range of products, including junk food, and there is talk of banning gambling promotion. France and Amsterdam are also looking at a ban similar to the one that this amendment would point us towards, banning high-carbon adverts.

It is not my intention to put this to a vote. There are so many areas of government action in which the Greens start saying something and, 10 years later, it gets delivered and becomes government policy, but we really cannot wait on climate action, as the independent Climate Change Committee says; that, of course, features Members of your Lordships’ House. We really need to act now, and if we are not going to see this from the Government in this Bill, there will be opportunities forthcoming. The Media Bill comes to mind, and we will see where we can continue to push for action in this area. I beg to move.

Photo of The Earl of Lindsay The Earl of Lindsay Conservative

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 99 to 101 and I declare an interest as president of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute. I am pleased that also sponsoring these amendments are my predecessor as president of the institute, the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, a former leader of Somerset County Council.

Before speaking to these amendments, I thank my noble friend for using the Bill to extend online interface order provisions to trading standards, an issue we raised in Committee in amendments moved very ably by the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Bassam of Brighton. I thank my noble friend also for the correspondence and discussion with him and his officials since Committee about the ongoing concerns that have prompted our amendments in this group and the next.

Amendments 99 and 100 would enable local authority trading standards officers to exercise their powers throughout the United Kingdom. Currently, the legislation implies that officers in England and Wales can exercise powers only in England and Wales but not in Scotland, and vice versa, but rogue traders operate across our internal borders and the legislation and powers that underpin trading standards and consumer protection should recognise this cold, hard reality. We fully respect the different legal jurisdictions involved. The current restriction, however, relates to the exercise of powers, not to the ability to take legal proceedings, and the legislation applies equally in the devolved nations. The restriction makes enforcement more challenging if, for example, a trader based in Scotland commits an offence in England, as trading standards officers can face legal challenges if they request documents they would be entitled to were it not for this anomaly. I should add that trading standards officers across Scotland, England and Wales support this amendment, as it would allow them to conduct investigations throughout the United Kingdom in a more efficient and cost-effective manner.

Amendment 101 would enable trading standards to access information by letter, rather than being restricted to having to exercise a power of entry to access that same information. As the Bill is currently drafted, trading standards need to visit the business in person to obtain paperwork to use as evidence in criminal proceedings. This amendment would ease the pressure on businesses, as they will then have time to gather and send any documents requested, and to seek legal advice, rather than face a trading standards officer just turning up at their business address without notice and seizing documents.

This proposal is therefore in the interests of both businesses and enforcers, and we believe that it does not breach the individual’s human rights or cause any greater risk of self-incrimination. It also reflects the financial difficulties that local authorities are facing, not least those that have declared bankruptcy. There are clear cost implications if an enforcement officer is required to drive half way across the country to obtain documents. Cases can be dropped if there is insufficient council budget for such travel. The documents I am referring to are those that the officer has the right to request and seize when on the business premises, and in those circumstances a trader would have to provide them immediately.

We believe that the ability to make a written request for documents that are held by the business and are required as evidence would substantially reduce costs to the local authority, reduce pressure on businesses and allow those breaching the legislation to be brought to justice more efficiently and cost effectively.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Labour

My Lords, I support the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, and I wish to speak briefly to Amendments 99 to 101 in his name, mine and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. In doing so, I apologise for not being able to speak at Second Reading or in Committee. I sincerely thank my noble friend on the Front Bench and the noble Lords on the Lib Dem Front Bench for promoting and supporting our amendments in our absence. I also thank the Minister for being so very generous with his time in meeting us between Committee and Report, and for listening so intently to trading standards officers who do this work on the ground, day after day.

The effect of Amendments 99 and 100 would be to give new powers to trading standards officers to operate across national borders when necessary. Current legislation does not make it clear that trading standards officers in England and Wales can exercise their powers across the border with Scotland, even though this is an area of reserved powers. In fact, the current legislation implies that this cross-border enforcement activity is not permitted. It would be helpful if the Minister, in his reply, could make clear the exercise of powers across borders, so that it is at least on the record for trading standards professionals.

At a post-Brexit time when the UK is building up its new internal market in goods and services, and needs corresponding consumer protection, this current questionable restriction on pursuing officers makes it very difficult to enforce legislation where a rogue trader offends across a national border. I am sure the Minister will agree that, for the success of the new internal market, trading standards officers should be able to pursue and enforce right across the United Kingdom.

Amendment 101, to which I have also added my name, would be an opportunity to finally update trading standards officers’ powers of entry, as the noble Earl said. At present, trading standards officers are required to exercise physical powers of entry to premises before information access or the seizing of documents, which may well be needed in criminal proceedings. The amendment, which we support, would have the effect of changing their information-gathering powers to enable documents to be requested in writing and without the need for physical entry, and for those documents to still be used in criminal proceedings.

This would be a lot less hassle for legitimate businesses and traders, and would give them more time to source the required documents. For the small, overstretched band of trading standards officers, the requirement to exercise physical powers of entry across the country, in order to seize documents that they may need to use in criminal proceedings, is not cost effective for their cash-strapped local authorities. Rogue traders are not constrained by local authority boundaries, and trading standards officers may have to travel long distances to obtain documents physically. Their local authorities may not be able to finance such activity, and the case would therefore be dropped. I ask the Minister to think again on this matter, to sustain consumer confidence in the consumer enforcement powers of a UK-wide trading standards profession.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 5:15, 13 March 2024

My Lords, I wish to speak briefly to support Amendments 99 to 101 in this group, to which I have added my name. The noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, and the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, have very clearly set out the arguments and the rationale for our amendments, so I will not go into the same detail.

I thank the Minister for his time and that of his officials in meeting with those of us who have signed these amendments, and for his letters clarifying the position. We are grateful for the Government’s movement on several of the issues we raised in Committee. They were not actually raised by us—because of other circumstances, none of us was able to be here—but they were ably covered by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, and my colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones.

Amendments 99 and 100 raise the issue of how trading standards operate across borders throughout the country. This is causing them considerable concern, and I will not repeat what has already been said, except to say that trading standards are a vital local authority service, but not one that attracts the same level of support as children’s services or disability services. I declare my interest as a vice-president of the LGA.

Local authority budgets are stretched beyond what is needed to make many vital services safe for the consumer. On Amendment 101, trading standards needs support in order to operate as effectively and efficiently as it can to protect the public. Requesting documents by post is more cost effective than going to the trouble of crossing the country to fetch documents. Trading standards needs to be able to operate effectively across the whole UK, and I support this amendment.

Photo of Lord Clement-Jones Lord Clement-Jones Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology)

My Lords, it is very good to see the full team back on the trading standards amendments. I congratulate all three noble Lords on their championing of trading standards. They need the powers that are being argued for in these amendments; they are the unsung champions of the consumer, and we should support them.

My main purpose in rising is to speak to Amendments 69, 91, 92 and 152. As regards Amendment 69, on misleadingly similar parasitic packaging, it was encouraging to hear the Minister confirm in Committee that the prohibition of misleading actions in Clause 224 and the banned practice in paragraph 14 of Schedule 19 will address the long-standing unaddressed practice of misleadingly similar packaging.

However, those provisions matter little if they are not enforced. During consultations and the debate on the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, the then Government stressed that public enforcement would be effective and efficient. This has not proved to be the case, with just one enforcement action by trading standards in 2008—albeit a successful one. If shoppers are to be protected from this misleading practice, there must be a realistic expectation that the Bill’s provisions will be enforced.

Historically, the Government have placed the duty on public enforcers. That is unrealistic, as trading standards face diminishing resources. The CMA stated clearly that misleadingly similar packaging is a consumer protection, not an IP, issue, following its investigation of the groceries market in 2008. Yet is has undertaken no hard or soft enforcement and did not include it in its recent scrutiny of the grocery sector; there is no sign that it will take a different approach in the future. There are no other realistic public enforcement options available. For the Bill to make a difference, it is essential that affected branded companies are granted powers to bring civil cases using the Bill’s provisions on the specific practice of misleadingly similar packaging alone. It has been ignored by public enforcers for the last 15 years, despite the many examples that appear year on year. Granting affected brand owners such powers would mean that shoppers would have the protection envisaged by the Bill, and affected brand owners would have more effective redress at no cost to the taxpayer.

Amendments 91 and 92 concern an area of concern for the retail industry, expressed by its representative body, the British Retail Consortium, in which I was an active participant more years ago than I care to remember. The well-established and well-used primary authority system enables a business to request assured advice from a primary authority that it has appointed. Provided that the business follows the advice, it cannot be prosecuted by any local authority for its actions. Under the Bill, the CMA will receive additional powers on consumer protection, whereby it will move to administrative fines that are potentially very high. I am informed that the CMA currently refuses either to provide assured advice of its own or to accept primary authority advice. It says that it may not agree with the advice and that it would be too costly, ignoring the fact that it is at a cost to the business. That undermines the primary authority system and will do so even further when the CMA receives its new fining powers because businesses will feel unable to rely totally on primary authority advice for what they are doing in the overlapping areas.

The amendments attempt to deal with that, either by requiring the CMA to provide assured advice itself, as set out in Amendment 91, or, perhaps more practically, by accepting primary authority advice as binding up to the point that it may be repealed if it is shown to be inaccurate, as set out in Amendment 92. That would mean that a business could rely on it for anything it does up to any repeal. It should also be remembered that the CMA can, if it wishes, act as a supporting regulator, whereby it can be called on to provide its view to a primary authority when that authority is looking at providing advice in an area of relevance and overlap to the CMA.

Finally, it should be noted that the CMA has decided to provide what is, in effect, assured advice on competition matters in the sustainability area; namely, it has agreed not to prosecute a business that seeks its advice and follows it in a small area on the competition side. This means that, in principle, the CMA does not seem to be opposed to such an approach. Green claims on the consumer side are a key area of uncertainty for business, an area where assured advice would in fact be most useful.

I turn to my final amendment, Amendment 152. As I explained in Committee, standard essential patents are patents that are necessary to implement an industry standard, such as wifi or 5G. Because the market is locked into a standard, and to prevent abuse of the market power that this situation conveys, SEP owners are required to license their SEPs on fair terms. Unfortunately, there is widespread abuse of this monopoly power by SEP holders. The principal issue raised with me by the Fair Standards Alliance is the threat of injunctions; the costs to many businesses can be ruinous. This tactic not only threatens innovation by UK businesses but represents a strategic risk for UK priorities, such as 5G infrastructure diversification and smart energy network security, by limiting the competing players. The availability of injunctions for SEPs gives foreign SEP holders the ability to prevent others in the UK from entering, succeeding and innovating in those markets.

The Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Offord, gave a somewhat encouraging response in Committee—I keep using the word “encouraging” about his responses, although I keep hoping for better—to the effect that the Government would set out their thinking in the very near future, and that that would include the question of injunctions.

After many months of consultation, the IPO has published its 2024 forward look on this issue. It has reported its findings to Ministers and has agreed key objectives concerning SEPs. Those are

“helping implementers, especially SMEs, navigate and better understand the SEPs ecosystem and Fair Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) licensing … improving transparency in the ecosystem, both pricing and essentiality; and … achieving greater efficiency in respect of dispute resolution, including arbitration and mediation”.

Although the IPO has confirmed that SMEs are especially disadvantaged by the current SEP regulations, it states, disappointingly, on injunctions that

“we have concluded that we will not be consulting on making legislative changes to narrow the use of injunctions in SEPs disputes”, with very limited justification for the decision, saying simply that it was taken after

“careful consideration of the evidence, operation of relevant legal frameworks and international obligations”.

The Coalition for App Fairness has pointed out to me that a day after the IPO announcement, the European Parliament voted by a large majority to approve its own SEP regulation. The EU framework will include the creation of an SEP register, database and essentiality checks; a defined maximum total royalty for an SEP; and an independent, expert-led conciliation process to establish the fair price for SEPs, which, crucially, will block the use of injunctions while the process is taking place. That seems entirely appropriate. The EU has proved that such a regulatory regime can be delivered; why cannot the UK Government, with all the freedom of Brexit? What is the basis for the IPO decision? What evidence, legal frameworks and international obligations prevent it from dealing with and legislating on injunctions? Why cannot the IPO likewise establish a truly fair SEP licensing ecosystem?

The least the Government can do is give more detail to the many SMEs affected by this decision. The forward look states, rather lamely:

“The IPO will continue engagement with relevant industry and institutions to continue to inform our ongoing policy development and implementation of those actions set out above”.

What on earth does that entail? That is pretty mealy-mouthed. What benefit will there be from that?

Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Shadow Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology)

My Lords, this is a wide-ranging group; there is good news hidden in the middle of it, and bad news—we will have to wait for the Minister to respond to get a full picture. Others have spoken in some depth and so I will not try to repeat what has been said. I certainly will not try to follow the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, whose expertise exceeds the combination of everybody’s in the Chamber at present. On SEPs, I can only stand back in amazement that he has been able to understand what is being recommended by the IPO, let alone to have come forward with a plan that might take us a bit further down the track that we clearly ought to have gone down.

I turn first to the questions the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, raised, which cut to the heart of what, is in some senses, the purpose of the Bill. I am afraid that she rather weakened her case at the end by saying that it was a much broader basis for debate and discussion than could be encompassed within this Bill; I think she saw it primarily as a way of continuing a much larger battle, and I wish her well with that. In that sense, we do not need to take this forward. However, I hope that the Government are taking note of the impacts that some of the provisions in the Bill are having, in the sense that it is not achieving the aims and objectives, which I think we all share, of making sure that we reduce carbon and try to meet targets which have been set for us in the long term on this. Therefore, greenwashing will continue, but we hope that it will be better in scope and that the focus will be more across the range of government activity.

On imitation packaging, as the noble Lord, Lord Clement- Jones, said, we have also been discussing this for a number of years in various Bills as they have come forward, and it is good that the assertion now is that in Clause 224 and Schedule 19, there will be help. However, the question is, of course, enforcement. I would be grateful if, when the Minister comes to respond, he could give us a bit more information about how that might happen in practice.

The questions raised by the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, and supported by “the team”, as it was described, are a continuation of debates and discussions we have been having in this House for as long as I have been here—and I certainly have participated in them. It is good to see the government amendments in as far as they go, but the three remaining questions, as raised in Amendments 99, 100 and 101, need answers. I hope the Minister will expand on where the Government have taken us so far and give us some assurances.

If it is really the case that we are requiring a limited number and badly resourced group of trading standards officers to have a physical presence in order to exercise their duties, there must be a better way of doing it. If it is difficult for them to cross boundaries, surely we could use this debate to, at the very least, make it clear from the Dispatch Box that the issues are in two parts, as has been said, and the part that can be effected—the ability to pursue across a boundary—is not constrained by the existing law. That would be helpful.

The longer-term question is around resources for TSOs. They are the unsung, underpaid and under- resourced champions of consumers. How can we resolve this? Every time this comes up, we make the same plea that we must make sure that they are properly resourced, for some time, through local government, but that should not mean that their funding and resources need to be as constrained as the rest of local government services. They do such an important job; surely we can get some movement on that.

On the narrow question raised by Amendments 91 and 92 of how to make sure that businesses get assured advice, the case has been well made by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. However, a clear statement from the Dispatch Box, or at least a letter consequent to the debate, would help make sure there was progress.

The question of the IPO’s report and the licensing of standard essential patents has been a continuous problem. The noble Lord has made a number of proposals, which I think are absolutely appropriate and something about which the Government could do more. There is an unhappy balance between the CMA’s powers and where the IPO’s responsibilities and background impact more generally on intellectual property, but no action ever seems to emerge from that. When can we see this happen?

Photo of Lord Offord of Garvel Lord Offord of Garvel Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade) 5:30, 13 March 2024

I thank noble Lords for their amendments, contributions and questions. I turn first to Amendment 68, proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. This amendment would provide that consumers’ collective interests included avoiding any detrimental effects resulting from the advertising of high-carbon products and services. The Bill already protects consumers during the transition to net zero. Enforcers can take action to tackle misleading green claims. Moreover, helping to accelerate the UK’s transition to net zero is one of the priorities in the CMA’s new annual plan. I hope that this reassures the noble Baroness.

Amendment 69, from the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, would prohibit the use of packaging that is similar to that of other products. The promotion of imitation packaging is already a banned commercial practice, as listed in Schedule 19. Part 3 strengthens the civil enforcement regime, ensuring that enforcers can tackle misleading replica goods. I hope the noble Lord will therefore not press his amendment.

Photo of Lord Clement-Jones Lord Clement-Jones Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology)

My Lords, that is a bit terse, even by the Minister’s standards. I think we need to hear a little more about the form of enforcement, because the amendment is about the unsatisfactory nature of current enforcement. I referred to there having been only one enforcement since 2008, despite the fact that it was successful. What guarantee do the welcome recipients of the provisions in paragraph 14 of Schedule 19 have that there will be an effective enforcement regime?

Photo of Lord Offord of Garvel Lord Offord of Garvel Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade)

The view of the Government in this legislation is that the banned commercial practice is banned already, as set out in Schedule 19, and that a strict civil enforcement regime is already in place, strengthened by Part 3. It is down to enforcers to tackle these misleading replica goods; our view is that it is up to the enforcement regimes to enforce under the current law.

Photo of Lord Clement-Jones Lord Clement-Jones Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology)

My Lords, I am not sure that the Minister has a full brief about the nature of the available enforcement. Will he write to me to provide a few more particulars and give more assurance in this respect?

Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Shadow Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology)

My Lords, it is important that we unpick the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, which I think was touched on but not addressed by the Minister. If we rely on civil remedies, we are not really addressing the problem that there is, in effect, an opportunity, for those who wish to, to exercise criminality; this surely cannot be left to the civil courts.

Photo of Lord Offord of Garvel Lord Offord of Garvel Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade)

As some clarification is required, I am happy to write further on the matter.

Amendments 70, 71 and 93 to 98 are technical government amendments. The Bill empowers the courts to impose monetary penalties for a breach of consumer law and procedures. To accommodate the different processes by which court orders are served or enforced in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the amendments provide that prescribed penalty information may accompany an order in a separate notice, as well as being contained within it.

On government Amendments 72 to 90, on online interface and the powers of consumer law enforcers to tackle illegal content, I thank noble Lords who have contributed on this important issue. I am pleased to bring forward government Amendments 72 to 90 to give all public designated enforcers take-down powers to tackle infringing online content. The amendments enact the commitment made by the Government in their recent consultation response.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for Amendments 91 and 92. Amendment 91 would require the CMA to provide advice on a business’s compliance with consumer law on request. It would also prevent enforcement action by any enforcer if the advice were complied with. The CMA already provides general guidance and advice on compliance. It is businesses’ responsibility to comply with the law, referring to guidance and seeking independent legal advice where necessary. It would not be appropriate to transform the CMA into a bespoke legal advice service. The amendment would also drain CMA resources from much-needed enforcement activity. Moreover, Amendment 92 compels the CMA to accept primary authority advice received by a business where that advice has been complied with. It is common practice for the CMA to consult the primary authority before taking action; this strikes the right balance and avoids binding the CMA to such advice, thus inappropriately neutering its discretion. I hope the noble Lord will agree that the purpose of a direct enforcement regime is for the CMA to enforce faster and more frequently; these amendments would diminish this objective and remove the deterrent effects of the regime.

Photo of Lord Clement-Jones Lord Clement-Jones Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology)

My Lords, does the noble Lord understand the need for certainty of advice when it is given by a primary authority and that the primary authority must feel, when it gives that advice, that it has the full backing of the CMA? There seems to be no assurance that this is under consideration or even a matter of concern.

Photo of Lord Offord of Garvel Lord Offord of Garvel Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade)

We are clear that the CMA provides general guidance and advice, but it is the responsibility of businesses to comply with the law. If the CMA is transformed into a bespoke legal advice service, it will not be doing the work it is meant to do, which is focusing on enforcement. Therefore, we believe the balance is right in the mechanism put forward.

Turning to trading standards and Amendments 99, 100 and 101, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lindsay and the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Crawley, for their continued advocacy for trading standards departments and for meeting with me on these issues. I very much enjoyed meeting the case officers in this place. Amendment 101 would end the prohibition on enforcers using information that a person has been compelled to provide under broad information notice powers in criminal proceedings against that person. This prohibition safeguards a person’s right not to self-incriminate—a long-established right protected by the common law and the Human Rights Act. The courts have held that material which exists independently of the will of the suspect, such as pre-existing data obtained during a search of the suspect’s premises, may be admissible in a criminal trial against them. By contrast, to comply with an information notice, a person will likely be required to generate documents. Legislation already permits trading standards departments to exercise their investigatory powers outside their local authority boundaries, including by carrying out in-person inspections of business premises. We have been informed that trading standards departments have used these on-site powers to secure documents from traders suspected of an offence and then relied successfully upon such documents in prosecutions against them.

Amendments 99 and 100 would permit any trading standards department based in Great Britain to carry out investigations across national borders. As I committed to my noble friends in writing, I have asked government officials to work further with trading standards to identify practical measures supporting greater cross-border co-ordination. To clarify, if an infringer is based in Scotland and the offence has caused harm in England, the English enforcer can pursue a prosecution through the English courts and vice versa—the procurator fiscal can prosecute a case where a trader is based in England but the infringement was committed in Scotland. All court orders in respect of consumer protection breaches have effect in all parts of the United Kingdom, regardless of where they have been made. We are open to exploring a variety of options, for example, exploring how best to facilitate local authorities across the country to exercise investigatory powers on behalf of each other. I have asked them to consult with trading standards when developing guidance on this legislation to ensure clarity on what it provides for. Once again, I thank my noble friend and the noble Baronesses for their engagement on this issue.

Government Amendments 102 and 103 make further consequential amendments to the Estate Agents Act 1979. They achieve consistency in how the Act applies to non-compliance with obligations under the court-based and the CMA direct enforcement regime.

Turning to standard essential patents, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, through Amendment 152, I can confirm that the Government have now published their key objectives on SEPs and a forward look at work to be conducted in 2024. This follows input received in 2023 from key stakeholders from industry. The Government will first take forward non-regulatory interventions where action can be taken now. Later in 2024, the Government will launch a technical consultation on other potential interventions. On the question of injunctions, the Government believe that other measures, such as guidance, information on SEP licensing and how to respond to SEP disputes, is a proportionate government response at this stage. A resource hub will provide guidance that will enable businesses to better understand the SEP licensing system and the UK courts’ approach to the remedies available for patent infringement and existing services available for dispute resolution. The IPO will also continue engagement with relevant industry and institutions to continue to inform our ongoing policy development and interventions. My noble friend Lord Camrose has confirmed that his department will be making steps in what the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, has described as a very complicated area.

I hope that this will—

Photo of Lord Clement-Jones Lord Clement-Jones Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology)

I am sorry to intervene again. The Minister is really confirming what the IPO has advised in its forward look. The Minister is saying, “Yes, this is important, but we are not going to do anything about injunctions”. Does he recognise the asymmetry in all this? This is why SMEs need enforcement to be looked at much more carefully in terms of the amendment that I have tabled. What is the essential objection to going forward with some kind of change, given that the rest of the proposals from the IPO seem to be pretty satisfactory?

Photo of Lord Offord of Garvel Lord Offord of Garvel Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade) 5:45, 13 March 2024

On the basis that my noble friend Lord Camrose has responsibility for the IPO, he has kindly offered to write to the noble Lord on this matter and give further clarification.

This has been a varied and valuable debate. I thank noble Lords again for their engagement. I hope the assurances that I have provided will therefore give noble Lords confidence not to press their amendments.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response, though I am not sure “confidence” is quite the right word for the emotion I am feeling at the moment.

I said that I would comment only on my Amendment 68, but I must make brief reference to commend the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, for doing what many think your Lordships’ House should be restricted to—providing modest improvements and ways to help the Government make the system work better. I do not think it should be restricted to that, but it is certainly important that it does it. Reflecting on the trading standards issues, it was not mentioned but is worth noting that the Chartered Trading Standards Institute noted last year that, in the last decade, the number of trading standards officers in local authorities has halved, so they need anything that makes their work easier. The Government would, I am sure, say that they believe in efficiency and government productivity, and the suggestion from the noble Baroness seemed to be designed for that purpose. None the less, those are very technical areas, so I will park them there, as I will park the government amendments.

Regarding my Amendment 68, we will be watching closely what the CMA does in terms of action on green- washing. There is a general belief that the Bill simply does not have the teeth, or strength, that it needs. The overall issue—that we are way beyond our current targets on climate emissions—was not addressed by the Minister. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, for the comments and strength he brought to the intention to see more action in this area. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 68 withdrawn.

Clause 150: The specified prohibition condition

Amendment 69 not moved.

Clause 158: Enforcement orders: requirement to pay monetary penalty