Examination of Witnesses

Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:04 pm on 13 June 2023.

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Noyona Chundur, Peter Eisenegger and Tracey Reilly gave evidence.

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow 2:45, 13 June 2023

We will now hear from our next panel of witnesses. We have Noyona Chundur, chief executive of the Consumer Council; Peter Eisenegger, board member, National Consumer Federation; and, via Zoom, Tracey Reilly, head of policy and markets, Consumer Scotland. May I ask you to introduce yourselves for the record?

Noyona Chundur:

I am the chief executive of the Consumer Council.

Peter Eisenegger:

I am the director of the National Consumer Federation with responsibility for the digital perspective in the consumer world. From the nature of our response, you will see that we have also commented a lot on the standards world, so I think it is appropriate that I indicate my background there: I have participated in digital standardisation in the UK through the British Standards Institution, in Europe through CEN and CENELEC, and internationally through the International Organisation for Standardisation. We do our best to represent the consumer voice in those arenas.

Tracey Reilly:

I am head of policy and markets at Consumer Scotland.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Q Thank you for coming to give evidence. Perhaps I could start with you, Ms Chundur, and then others may wish to come in. Do you think that this Bill will adequately address consumer detriment in digital markets? Are there areas where the legislation could go further?

Noyona Chundur:

Thank you for the great question. Perhaps I can start with a little bit of context. We believe that confident consumers will drive competitive markets. There is a lot that the Bill does really well. It is great progress, and I commend the work of colleagues in the Department, as well as partners in the CMA and Tracey from Consumer Scotland for their input in getting us to this point. There are eight areas that could be strengthened or clarified. There is building consumer confidence. There is the potential risk of only the CMA having direct enforcement powers. It is around the supervision of enforceable standards, practice and conduct of businesses. It is the ability to add and remove—

Noyona Chundur:

Sorry, would you like me to step through each one? Would that be easier?

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

You are going through them quite well, but could you go you through them slightly more slowly, because colleagues will want to write them down?

Noyona Chundur:

The first thing for us is building consumer confidence as a priority, because prioritising consumer protection to build the foundations that create confidence in competitive markets will benefit both the consumer and the economy. We are looking at this through the prism of the cost of living crisis and through the heightened prism of vulnerability. In the packs that we provided, you can see that vulnerability has certainly increased in the last 12 months. The Consumer Council has dealt with over 33,000 consumers, and they are showing increasingly more complex and multifaceted needs. Income in Northern Ireland has—

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Q Sorry: your list of eight things was quite useful, so would you be able to go through those—as you were before, but just a bit slower?

Noyona Chundur:

Understood. Did I get to adding to or removing from the list of banned practices in the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

I wrote down the first one.

Noyona Chundur:

Okay. Building consumer confidence is a key priority for us. The second thing is the potential risk of only the CMA having direct enforcement powers. The third is perhaps expanding the Bill in some way to include the supervision of enforceable, standards, practice and conduct. The fourth is adding to or removing from the CPR list of banned practices.

Next is establishing enforceable minimum standards to alternative dispute resolution schemes. We welcome the mandatory accreditation as part of the Bill, but we would like to take it a step further. Then there is a question around better regulation of firms that exploit behavioural bias or nudge techniques for negative effect. Finally, we recommend going further on subscription traps with opt-in clauses after the trial or end-of-contract period.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Q Thank you—that was very helpful. On subscription traps, you will have evidence for recommending opt-in rather than opt-out. Could you talk us through the impact of the opt-out?

Noyona Chundur:

The key thing for us comes from research that the Government have published. I think the Department for Business and Trade estimated that 81% of UK households signed up to at least one subscription last year, and consumers are spending £1.6 billion per year on subscriptions that they do not want. That is a huge amount of money that a lot of consumers do not have in the current cost of living crisis. Our own research highlights the lived experience. In the online detriment research that we carried out, one consumer told us that they signed up for a 30-day trial but it took them six months to get the subscription cancelled. In the light of that, I think that it is appropriate for us to recommend that legislating for opt-in clauses after the initial trial or end-of-contract period is reasonable. I also believe that that may deliver the most immediate and material benefit to consumers in the short term, given the vast quantities involved.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Q Mr Eisenegger, are there any gaps that you would argue for, and what is your view on fake reviews and whether they are being sufficiently addressed in the legislation?

Peter Eisenegger:

Our overall approach here, at the more strategic level, is that the Bill contains lots of good stuff. It is a significant step forward. What we do not want is, as has happened with the Online Safety Bill, for it to hang around forever and not enter law. Our view is that we can talk about improvements in some areas. You mentioned one—the way that fake reviews are handled. To delve into that detail, however, would just prolong the process of getting it into law. We recommend that the Bill gets enacted as soon as possible, that we recognise it as a step forward, and that the CMA and this Committee look at areas of improvement beyond it. There is something that would relate to online reviews in terms of whether the information being provided is accurate, but it is good enough. Let us press on and get it done.

That said, I have not heard a discussion about the role of standards and supporting regulation. We are in the digital world, and an awful lot of regulation is supported by standards. You will find that General Data Protection Regulation is leaning very heavily on work in Europe to adapt and put some final European tweaks on the work that has gone on at the ISO level, and similarly with AI. If you want to be a leading player in this area, particularly an innovative one, from our perspective—we play in international, European and UK standards—you have to be very well aware of, and participating in, all those arenas.

To make an innovation comment—having spent two thirds of my career in product management and innovation, I am now doffing the consumer cap and putting the real-life innovation one on—good innovation practice is to look at what other people are doing and pinch as many legitimate ideas as you can from them. Quite honestly, the fact that the EU has the same sort of intent but a slightly different approach is great. Just keep an eye on its members to see whether there is good stuff. To be fair, I will say the same to them, because I am participating in the AI standardisation at the moment.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Q In the interests of time, I will move on to Ms Reilly. What is your view of how this will affect/benefit consumers in Scotland? Are there any other specific issues that we should consider in relation to Scotland?

Tracey Reilly:

Broadly speaking, we welcome the Bill. As your previous panellists said, it has lots of good stuff in it. It should provide the CMA with more flexible powers, which can be used in a more responsive and timely way to prevent detriment. On how the Bill will affect individual consumers, we hope that it will lead to consumers experiencing lower levels of detriment and being less subject to unfair, misleading or aggressive trade practices so that if and when such practices occur, they can be stamped out more quickly and easily, and it is easier for consumers to seek redress through ADR systems that are appropriately regulated and standardised.

In terms of how the Bill will affect Scottish interests, in many ways the level of detriment experienced by consumers across the UK is similar. The consumer protection survey is UK-wide and the patterns of detriment for Scottish consumers are generally not hugely different from those experienced in the rest of the UK. That said, there are obviously differences between the two nations in the regulatory enforcement and judicial landscapes, and it is important that we understand and pay attention to them. Equally, I understand that the Department has been engaging with Scottish stakeholders. We welcome that and would obviously like that to continue through the implementation process.

Some markets operate differently in Scotland, either because they are entirely devolved because there are fewer providers and therefore lower levels of competition, or because consumers access services differently, for example, due to geography. It is important that, within the overall UK framework, the system can respond to those regional differences or local issues. We hope that the additional levels of flexibility granted to the CMA under the Bill will allow for a more flexible and targeted response, particularly if any local practices cause detriment. We look forward to liaising with the CMA on that. Noyona may wish to make additional comments, given that she is in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade)

Q Noyona, you mentioned that you felt that the CMA should not be the only enforcement body that oversees the legislation. Who else do you think has the experience and expertise to perform some of those significant obligations?

Noyona Chundur:

There is a heightened risk, Minister, if the new direct enforcement powers sit only with the CMA. Ultimately, the purpose of those powers is to be much more agile, flexible and responsive to consumer detriment in the market. Is there a heightened risk that enforcement will default to the CMA because perhaps it may deliver a solution that is much more agile and responsive and much more in keeping with the pace of detriment in the marketplace compared with a courts-based system? The sector regulators and trading standards could therefore have the same or similar powers. The question is about agility and responsiveness to detriment, which is exploding in the marketplace. We see it increasingly, particularly in digital markets, which evolve so quickly. That is our perspective.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

The Bill aims to protect consumers and challenge unfair competition online, but one significant disadvantage for British companies and consumers is counterfeit goods sold on platforms such as Amazon. For example, the British company that holds a licence to make Peppa Pig toys has the trademark and the patent, and meets the standards, including safety standards, but counterfeit goods, particularly those imported from other countries such as China, are dangerous and do not meet safety conditions. Will the Bill help end that situation for consumers and companies here? Is it an opportunity to do so or, if not, is it amendable to achieve that?Q

Peter Eisenegger:

The Bill has clauses that allow us to address that in terms of, “Has the information put before the consumer been complete and accurate?” If something does not comply with safety standards, that has been omitted. It is a question of interpretation that we would have to nail down and make clear.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

Q Would the Bill allow for a company here to say that? Amazon’s excuse is that that is for the producer in China, for example, to do that, rather than for Amazon. Does the Bill address that gap or not?

Peter Eisenegger:

This is an area where I have had a lot of conversation with Electrical Safety First, which is very concerned about it. We have started to outline, at a very preliminary stage, what constitutes an online market set of functionality for which people should be held responsible and—what do you know—Amazon fits that. We find that online retailers do not perform all the functions, but they perform enough to be reasonably interpreted as having a retailing responsibility in the traditional physical world. But they have to do the heavy lifting of getting stuck into the detail and mapping it out.

I am afraid I come back to the standards world, which tends to be set up to provide that level of detail for the regulation to lean on. There are standards for complaints handling, for alternative dispute resolution, for dealing with vulnerable consumers and for online reviews—all issues that touch on what we have said. They are there, and mainly my UK consumer colleagues in British Standards either instituted them or were very influential in getting them taken forward.

A personal expert view? Yes, I think it can be interpreted that people like Amazon have a retail responsibility. To provide the evidence and analysis to support that position, however, is work that we have started with Electrical Safety First, but we are a bit busy and neither of us has had the time to finish it off.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

Q Thank you for your work. Perhaps the Government will pick up on some of that. Noyona, I think you were going to come in.

Noyona Chundur:

May I add something? Electrical standards are not my area of expertise, unlike consumer expectations around standards generally, so I will make a comment about that. Consumers expect minimum standards, particularly in new markets. It is worth saying that when we are talking about new digital markets, everyone is vulnerable, so there is no “vulnerable consumer” per se.

An interesting point to make is that we did a joint project with the Utility Regulator for Northern Ireland on what consumer expectations might be of future regulation and decarbonisation. Consumers were very clear that, in addition to trusted accessible information and concerns about costs or financial health, they wanted absolute protection from safety fraud, obsolescence or mis-selling, but they also wanted clear and robust standards on certification, registration and standards for installers, and protection against damage and disruption during installation. That is moving away from something that is perhaps more price-led and economic to where we need to have a minimum enforceable standard that works for everyone, so that we bolster the safety net and create confidence in markets. The more that we do that, the more consumer spending we have in the economy, which is good for everyone.

Peter Eisenegger:

May I make a comment about enforcement? A backstop is in action at the moment: the class actions that our law now allows for the consumer world. My colleague Arnold Pindar, the chair of the NCF, is part of an advisory group that is taking on Mastercard at the moment. Another colleague, Julie Hunter, is fronting the case against Amazon about the way it presents its own products unfairly in its online marketplace. These names are in the public domain; I would not mention them otherwise. To a certain extent, the powers being provided to the CMA to be a bit more responsive and active make sense where we have class actions, which really is a major “after the horse has bolted” situation. We hope that the CMA will prevent more horses from escaping. Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

Q Could you give us examples of where the industry has set standards in the digital space that have helped to address particular holes? You have given us a list of standards for online reviews and alternative dispute resolution, but can you give us a way to explain to our constituents why these industry-led standards help to underline good behaviour in this market, and why it is important that they are set in an international sphere for these players?

Peter Eisenegger:

Okay. The industry-led—

Peter Eisenegger:

You only get good standards when you have proper stakeholder engagement—that is a comment that we address in our supporting paper. You need standardisation bodies that actually work hard at getting their stakeholders involved. BSI is good at that, and the European system is pretty good. In the digital area, because there are so few of us with the right background and expertise, you find that the consumer voice is not getting through. I have two consumer colleagues who are on the BSI mirror committee for AI; they feel that the international standard is not reflecting what they are trying to input, because we do not really have anyone effective at the international level on the consumer side.

You need very careful insight into where there is decent stakeholder engagement and where there is not. Where there is, you are quite right: I have worked on a number of committees where the good guys and gals from industry have just been saying the right thing, and you end up just tweaking a little of what they already understand in their industry is good practice. There is no problem with working with the good people in industry, but—particularly in the digital space—you do get the big players coming in and influencing things, whereas the small and medium-sized enterprise stakeholders are not as fully represented. When a standard is put forward, careful understanding is needed of who the people are who are really contributing to it.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

Q I think you said that you sometimes see the standardisation process in the digital world being used by larger players to put barriers in the way of smaller players getting involved.

Peter Eisenegger:

Exactly.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

Q Can you give an example where you have seen that?

Peter Eisenegger:

Yes, I can. It was a consumer-initiated standard on complaints handling. If you want the number, I can blind you with it: it was ISO 10002. It was initiated by the consumer side of ISO. It is clearly written for the big company: it has lots of good practice where you divide all the responsibilities, the analysis of the complaints and things like that. There is an annex for SMEs. I have been through the main part of the document and counted the number of requirements: there are more than 250. For the SMEs, there are eight.

Where you look at the consumer and it is your small local trader, you go, “That’s fine,” because they know you personally—you know where they live, basically, and that changes the whole local relationship. But you do not really see that many standards where the practicalities for the smaller company are reflected. I am quite pleased that the consumer world did a decent job for the SMEs there, because they are very important to us in terms of local service and providing competition to the big guys.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Q I want to come back to some areas that we have picked up on in previous evidence sessions. Schedule 18 to the Bill sets out a list of commercial practices that are to be considered unfair, but a number of arguably unfair commercial practices are not included. Examples might be drip pricing or misleading green advertising, which is an increasing consumer concern. Do you consider those omissions to be something that needs more attention during the passage of the Bill so we do not miss this opportunity?

Peter Eisenegger:

Do as much as you feel you can make time for, while getting the Bill implemented as quickly as possible. I come back to the key clauses that relate to the appropriateness of the information provided. Is it complete? Is it misleading? As a charity, we have looked at how heat pumps are being advertised at the moment. About 80% of the online information did not provide the right contextual information for your heat pump decision; some did not even mention it at all, and a few hid it away behind several layers of interaction with the website before you found it out. That would fall under the incompleteness clause, but again, you are going to come back. The CMA would be able to apply an interpretation, which would probably go through some sort of intense dialogue with the industry people concerned, but if you do not have time to cover all those other aspects as explicitly as you would wish in the Bill, I think there is a clause that gives the CMA some capability for addressing it.

Noyona Chundur:

Maybe I can add to that. This talks to the point in the earlier session on how quickly or whether fake reviews should be automatically added to the list of bad practices, or should we go through full consultation. In all these things, we need to have appropriate consultation and the appropriate due diligence carried out. It needs to be done as quickly and thoroughly as possible so there is no doubt. I am completely supportive of what was said earlier today that there is a lot of detriment as a result of fake reviews, and the sooner that is resolved, the better. None the less, we need to be careful about setting the right precedents. We need to have consistency in procedural application. For all those things—I believe we are all in agreement that drip pricing is of huge concern, as are misleading green claims—we need to follow the right process and get through it as quickly as possible.

Tracey Reilly:

I simply want to endorse much of what Noyona said. There are issues around fake reviews, drip pricing and greenwashing that we all want to see addressed, and for that to happen as soon as possible. However, there is also a need to ensure that the definitions are right and the provisions are effective. We would hugely support the Secretary of State having the power, which is in the Bill, to amend the schedule by regulation. I realise that is a Henry VIII clause, which is not always popular, but in this case I think it is an acceptable use of that power, and it comes with appropriate safeguards in terms of the affirmative statutory instrument procedure and the requirement to consult first.

Touching briefly on greenwashing in particular, we acknowledge that existing regulators have powers to tackle that and that there are existing programmes of both education and enforcement. However, greenwashing claims are hugely prevalent and there is a lot of work to be done. It is an issue that, for us, has real risks associated with the net zero transition, because we are going to get consumers to make quite different choices around what they eat, what clothes they buy, how they heat their houses and what vehicles they drive. Some of those are quite big-ticket items in terms of cost, so there is a real risk for consumers and a real need for them to be able to trust the information they are given, which links back to the points my colleague Noyona was making about consumer confidence.

Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

In relation to support for consumer organisations, how do you think the CMA and the Government can better support consumer organisations that are supporting consumers on the frontline?Q

Tracey Reilly:

Just a couple of quick points. There is a need to produce very clear guidance on the new plans and have very clear referral processes to the CMA for the use of those plans, so that advocacy and advice bodies have almost a direct line, if you like, into the points of contact. Essentially, it is about pathways and signposting, and ensuring that the routes from an individual consumer experiencing detriment to those who are able to take action on it are as quick and flexible as possible.

Noyona Chundur:

From my perspective, I would ask for two things. The first is greater connectivity across the ecosystem. We all have a lot of data; we all have a lot of intelligence; we all have a lot of on-the-ground insights that should be shared and published in a more connected and co-ordinated way. Ultimately, that is more holistic, but it gives the level of granularity we need on a four nations basis. The other is greater focus on the broader issues of online behavioural bias and the exploitation of behavioural bias—you know, nudge techniques—to negative effect. To my mind, the Bill does not adequately cover that, so I believe this is an area of potential development.

As has been touched on already, vulnerability is not just about personal characteristics or social circumstances; the behaviour of organisations can cause harm and put you in a vulnerable position. That is a key area that we would love to see explored in more detail as the Bill passes through scrutiny.

Peter Eisenegger:

In terms of support, having mentioned standards, there is a Government mechanism for providing the consumer arm of BSI with money to support its experts. Keep a careful eye on that, and work with BSI and its consumer arm to ensure that that is suitable for the level of really important issues we need to address.

There is another area of the consumer world, which is about the smaller, really voluntary charities, such as ourselves and the Child Accident Prevention Trust, which have no regular income and live hand to mouth. We have been on the brink of extinction every now and then, and although we have managed to haul ourselves back, it is a very precarious position. When we and others in a similar position contribute to this sort of arena or talk to regulators, our voice is valued and has something to offer, but we are very precarious. If Parliament looks at the people who really represent the grassroots and different perspectives and are without a regular income, and if something can be done, that would be extremely useful. Some of these voices drop out.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

Q I want to come back to schedule 18 and ensure that I absolutely understood what Tracey said. This morning, I think Which? said that they thought fake reviews should now be put in schedule 18. I have had constituents who have suffered from fake reviews for services they have given, and the fake review has been very damaging to their business. We all know about fake reviews on books, which can be very damaging. Are you saying, Tracey, that we need to ensure we get the wording of how it goes into schedule 18 right—have the consultation and get the wording right—but let the Government introduce it through Henry VIII powers later, rather risk delaying the Bill by trying and maybe not getting the exact wording right now?

Tracey Reilly:

I think that is a very difficult question. Without remotely passing the buck, I think that ultimately it is a judgment for your Committee to take as to whether it considers there is sufficient clarity in the definitions proposed during the amending stages to allow for those decisions to be made now. If the Committee is confident that there is sufficient clarity, and the soundings you are receiving from stakeholders indicate that they are content, it is a matter for the Committee to decide. Ultimately, our position is that we want to see it as soon as possible, but we also want to see it done correctly, because as we all know it is very difficult to amend primary legislation once that is in place.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

Q So “get it clear” is what you are saying to us.

Tracey Reilly:

It is a very complicated area, not just in terms of how you define fake reviews but in terms of the precise powers that regulators need in order to determine where, how and when fake reviews are occurring. AI will make that an even more complicated picture, so it is important to get that right.

Photo of Jerome Mayhew Jerome Mayhew Conservative, Broadland

Q Ms Chundur, you gave a very interesting stat earlier: £1.6 billion per year is spent on subscriptions that people do not want. One of your eight areas of concern is an opt-in clause for the subscription trap issue. You are in good company, because Citizens Advice came up with the same recommendation in this morning’s evidence session. However, we will hear later today from the News Media Association, which expressed exactly the opposite view in its written evidence: that the current wording of clause 252(1), which is essentially that you should be able to unsubscribe with one click without any unreasonable additional steps to go through,

“may hinder the provision of improved subscription offers that are in the best interest of the consumer”.

Can you comment on that? I will test the NMA if no one else does regarding what exactly it meant by that, and ask for examples of how it might hinder improved consumer engagement, but if the NMA can substantiate that, would you accept that it has a point?

Noyona Chundur:

Perhaps, but I agree with what Citizens Advice said this morning: if your product is good enough and consumers want it, they will seek it out. Another point made this morning was that the consumer journey sits across multiple markets and is quite complex. That is where we are coming from. We are looking at the end-to-end consumer journey. In that context, consumers also want minimum standards. If you do not have minimum standards—if the default position is that you are just rolled on to another contract, and there is no opportunity to review whether that contract is the best for you, has the best price, is the best product or suits your particular circumstances—I am afraid that that does not necessarily give the consumer the best deal from a price or quality perspective.

Photo of Jerome Mayhew Jerome Mayhew Conservative, Broadland

Q Do you also recognise that there are people like me out there who signed up for a contract, and to be asked every single time, “Do you want to renew it?” when it is a core level of services that I benefit from, year in, year out, would be less constructive for my wellbeing? That is poor English, but you know what I am trying to say.

Noyona Chundur:

Respectfully, I would say that most people will want the reassurance that the deal that they are getting every year is the best deal possible, is coming at the best price, is being delivered with the best service in mind and meets their needs, rather than the assumption that an algorithm or someone else has made that decision for them. Certainly the consumers we speak to want transparency, accessible communication and more choice. This is one way of giving them exactly what they want. I echo the sentiment of what was said this morning: if the product or service is good enough, people will sign up to it. It is nothing to fear, but it will raise standards and make for better competition and a more sustainable economy. Those are all good things, because they are being viewed through the prism of consumer accessibility and affordability.

Photo of Andy Carter Andy Carter Conservative, Warrington South

Q Tracey, you mentioned in your opening statement that a number of markets operate differently in Scotland. I wonder whether I could ask you to expand on that a little. What particularly were you referring to, and where does the Bill need to be amended to accommodate those markets operating differently?

Tracey Reilly:

I probably had two or three examples in mind. One would be legal services, which are entirely devolved, so they are regulated entirely differently. Key parts of that market around complaints are regulated differently. Another would be one that we share in common with Northern Irish colleagues: the prevalence of off-grid heating systems. There may be ones where how you access services is simply different according to where you live; for example, there is the perennial issue of postal delivery in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Those were the types of thing that I had in mind.

We have regular and very constructive dialogue with the CMA about local issues, and about regional and sub-national issues. We hope that the Bill’s provisions will enable the CMA to deal flexibly and responsibly with those concerns. The framework that they operate, as with any body that has limited resources, makes prioritisation decisions on a UK-wide basis. We would like to ensure that regional and national differences, and differences for specific communities within the nations, can be dealt with as part of that. I think Noyona would probably welcome coming in on that point.

Photo of Andy Carter Andy Carter Conservative, Warrington South

Q Do you want to pick up on that from a Northern Ireland perspective?

Noyona Chundur:

Absolutely. A key regional difference, both for Tracey and for me, is the microbusiness economy. In Northern Ireland, 89% of our businesses employ 10 people or fewer. We are absolutely a microbusiness economy. We know that the experiences of many consumers and of many small businesses and microbusinesses mirror each other in multiple markets. Tracey’s point is about ensuring that the prioritisation principles, or the applications of how the Bill is operationalised on the ground, need to be mindful of the diverse experiences that can happen among the four nations.

Photo of Andy Carter Andy Carter Conservative, Warrington South

Q I have one further question. You touched on nudge techniques. Can you expand on that and on what action you think needs to be taken?

Noyona Chundur:

It is when you are pressurised into purchasing a product or service without even knowing that it is being served up to you because of an algorithm.

Photo of Andy Carter Andy Carter Conservative, Warrington South

Q Can you give me an example of where that is happening?

Noyona Chundur:

It can happen in retail; it can happen in any digital market; it can happen in telecoms. It is a technique that is growing, and there needs to be further investigation and exploration of what that means for regulation. That is not just the job of the CMA; it will need sector regulators to play a part. It needs the whole ecosystem to coalesce, but also trading standards and trading standards in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Andy Carter Andy Carter Conservative, Warrington South

Q Sorry to pressure you on this, but I want to understand what you mean by a nudge technique. If I go on to a website and then I get an email afterwards, is that a nudge technique? What do you mean?

Noyona Chundur:

That is probably an algorithm. A nudge technique is perhaps a little bit more sinister than that: it is where you are being prompted to purchase products and services that you never thought you might need, based on your previous purchasing patterns and purchasing decisions. That may not come at the best cost or the best specification, and it certainly may not be the best offer to use.

Photo of Andy Carter Andy Carter Conservative, Warrington South

That is really helpful. Thank you.

Photo of Dean Russell Dean Russell Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

Q I have two, but they are really quick. First, will the consumer be expected to do anything in order to see benefits from the Bill, in your view? Will they benefit from all the wonderful things we have talked about, or will a communications campaign be needed alongside the Bill to tell them what their new rights are so that they can report back and make complaints, as it were?

Noyona Chundur:

A communications campaign is fundamental. The language that is used, how the messaging is framed and how it is targeted to the various consumer groups will be key, as will consistency of messaging across the regions, not just from a UK perspective. It needs to be mindful of how consumers absorb information and who they engage with, as well as being mindful of communities. Consumers want clear, transparent information in plain English, so we need to make it simple for them. We need to be careful not to just push the onus on consumers to make decisions. The job of the Bill, and of Government, is to make lives better, so that is what we want to do.

Photo of Dean Russell Dean Russell Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

I will leave my second question, because I am conscious of time.

Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow

Thank you.

That brings us to the end of the time allocated for this witness panel. On behalf of the Committee, thank you all very much for taking the time to give evidence.

Peter Eisenegger:

Thank you for listening.