Motion

Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill - Third Reading – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 26 March 2024.

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Lord Offord of Garvel:

Moved by Lord Offord of Garvel

That the Bill do now pass.

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

My Lords, I add my thanks to all noble Lords who have been involved in the diligent scrutiny we have given the Bill in recent months. The Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill will drive innovation and deliver better outcomes for consumers by addressing barriers to competition in digital markets and tackling consumer rip-offs. I am very grateful to noble Lords for the dedication, attention and time that they have given to the Bill before your Lordships’ House.

I want to express my particular appreciation to Members on the Front Benches, including the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, Lord Bassam of Brighton, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Fox, for the courteous and constructive manner in which they have engaged with me on the Bill. I wish to extend my sincere thanks to my noble friends Lady Stowell and Lady Harding of Winscombe, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, for their invaluable contributions and clarity of views both during the debate and outside it. I emphasise my gratitude to the noble Lords, Lord Faulks, Lord Tyrie, Lord Kamall, Lord Holmes of Richmond, Lord Lansley, Lord Vaizey of Didcot, and the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, for their detailed consideration of Part 1 of the Bill. I am very grateful to them all; they have asked important questions and given much time and energy to the Bill, and it is a better Bill for that.

My noble friend Lord Lindsay and the noble Baronesses, Lady Crawley, Lady Bakewell and Lady Hayman, have championed consumer issues, for which I am most grateful. I also pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for raising the important issue of net zero.

On Report, the Government made a number of amendments to the Bill with regards to subscription contracts. I thank my noble friends Lord Black of Brentwood and Lord Lucas for their engagement and collaboration on these issues. I am also most grateful to my noble friend Lord Mendoza for his work in highlighting the Bill’s impact on the ability of charities to claim gift aid.

On the issue of foreign states acquiring UK news organisations, to which my noble friend Lord Parkinson has spoken, I again thank my noble friend Lady Stowell of Beeston and the noble Lords, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean and Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, who so passionately highlighted the principle of freedom of the press.

I conclude by recording my gratitude for the invaluable support and assistance of my noble friend Lord Camrose. I put on the record my thanks to the Bill team, my private office, and all the officials and lawyers in the Department for Business and Trade, the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, and the Competition and Markets Authority, who have provided such thorough support and expertise. I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Chair, Communications and Digital Committee, Chair, Communications and Digital Committee

I hesitate to rise, because I realise I am probably testing the patience of the House, having already spoken in Third Reading. I just wanted to say a couple of things.

I thank my noble friends Lord Camrose and Lord Offord on the Front Bench for their work on this Bill. As they will know, this is legislation for which the Communications and Digital Committee has been calling for several years—it started under the chairmanship of my predecessor, my noble friend Lord Gilbert. It is something that I have been pleased to take a very active involvement in, and I am very pleased to support it passing.

As we think about what this Bill is trying to achieve and why, it is worth also remembering why we in the UK are forging a different path from the ones that Europe and the US are on. In the last few days, we have seen the US DoJ launch a major anti-trust lawsuit against Apple. In the EU, the Commission is taking serious measures against some of the big tech firms to make them comply with the spirit and letter of its new Digital Markets Act. Both situations have an ominous sense of being exactly the kind of lengthy legal battles that favour big tech, which we are trying to avoid.

The House has rightly voted on a number of measures to try to ensure that our regulation can work as it is meant to, in a timely, proportionate and less confrontational manner. That is what the Government are seeking to do with this legislation.

As the Bill leaves here and enters its final stage, I emphasise two measures from among the amendments passed by this House. First, the deadline for the Secretary of State to approve CMA guidance is key in keeping things on track and avoiding concerning delays. Secondly, if the Government and the Commons cannot accept the amendments to revert the appeals process on fines back to JR standard, I hope that my noble friends within government will consider putting a clarification in the Bill that the appeals process on fines cannot be changed in ways that undermine the JR standard or open up avenues for more expansive and protracted legal challenge.

That aside, I am grateful to the Government for bringing forward this important legislation. It will mark out our regulatory regime as different from those in other parts of the world that are having such a big impact—and not necessarily in good ways.

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

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell. I agree with a huge amount of what she said.

I reiterate the welcome that we on these Benches gave to the Bill at Second Reading. We believe it is vital to tackle the dominance of big tech and to enhance the powers of our competition regulators to tackle it, in particular through the new flexible pro-competition powers and the ability to act ex ante and on an interim basis.

We were of the view, and still are, that the Bill needs strengthening in a number of respects. We have been particularly concerned about the countervailing benefits exemption under Clause 29. This must not be used by big tech as a major loophole to avoid regulatory action. A number of other aspects were inserted into the Bill on Report in the Commons about appeals standards and proportionality. During the passage of the Bill, we added a fourth amendment to ensure that the Secretary of State’s power to approve CMA guidance will not unduly delay the regime coming into effect.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, said, we are already seeing big tech take an aggressive approach to the EU Digital Markets Act. We therefore believe the Bill needs to be more robust in this respect. In this light, it is essential to retain the four key amendments passed on Report and that they are not reversed through ping-pong when the Bill returns to the Commons.

I thank both Ministers and the Bill team. They have shown great flexibility in a number of other areas, such as online trading standards powers, fake reviews, drip pricing, litigation, funding, cooling-off periods, subscriptions and, above all, press ownership, as we have seen today. They have been assiduous in their correspondence throughout the passage of the Bill, and I thank them very much for that, but in the crucial area of digital markets we have seen no signs of movement. This is regrettable and gives the impression that the Government are unwilling to move because of pressure from big tech. If the Government want to dispel that impression, they should agree with these amendments, which passed with such strong cross-party support on Report.

In closing, I thank a number of outside organisations that have been so helpful during the passage of the Bill—in particular, the Coalition for App Fairness, the Public Interest News Foundation, Which?, Preiskel & Co, Foxglove, the Open Markets Institute and the News Media Association. I also thank Sarah Pughe and Mohamed-Ali Souidi in our own Whips’ Office. Last, but certainly not least, I thank my noble friend Lord Fox for his support and—how shall I put it?—his interoperability.

Given the coalition of interest that has been steadily building across the House during the debates on the Online Safety Bill and now this Bill, I thank all noble Lords on other Benches who have made common cause and, consequently, had such a positive impact on the passage of this Bill. As with the Online Safety Act, this has been a real collaborative effort in a very complex area.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology)

My Lords, before the Bill passes, I put on record my thanks to the Ministers—the noble Viscount, Lord Camrose, and the noble Lord, Lord Offord—as well as the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, who made a guest appearance. I also put on record my huge appreciation for the Bill team for their timely letters and briefings, and their immense good humour when we asked for even more information.

The whole experience has been a good illustration that, when we fully engage in discussion on a Bill, we can deliver genuine improvements that have broad support. I hope that our colleagues in the Commons appreciate the careful thought and hard work that is behind these changes. I hope that we do not have to be here again on this Bill, but I reiterate that our door is always open if further discussions would help. For now, I hope that the Bill will soon be on the statute book and I look forward to its progress.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.