Clause 21 - Content of notice imposing a conduct requirement

Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 20 June 2023.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

With this it will be convenient to discuss clauses 22 to 25 stand part.

Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology)

Clauses 21 to 25 set out the procedural aspects in relation to conduct requirements, because it is really important that SMS firms, and the people and businesses who rely on them, understand what obligations are being imposed and why. The DMU is required to give notice to the SMS firm and then publish the notice online as soon as is reasonably practicable. Clause 21 sets out the information that must appear in the notice.

Given the rapid pace of change across businesses and digital markets, it is important that the DMU can adapt conduct requirements to ensure that they remain targeted and proportionate, so clause 22 will establish the DMU’s power to revoke a conduct requirement, helping to ensure that conduct requirements remain targeted and proportionate as markets and firms change.

Clause 23 will allow the DMU to facilitate the smooth transition into or out of a conduct requirement. Without the clause, there is a risk of disruption or harm to businesses and consumers where a conduct requirement comes into force or ceases to have effect without a sufficient transition period.

The conduct requirements in clause 24 will impose tailored, enforceable obligations on SMS firms. It is only right that consumers and businesses, including the SMS firms themselves, have a chance to share their perspective on those obligations, so clause 24 requires the DMU to carry out a public consultation on its proposed decision before it can impose, vary or revoke a conduct requirement.

Clause 25 requires the DMU to keep conduct requirements under review, ensuring that requirements remain effective, targeted and proportionate. It also ensures that the DMU monitors where breaches may have taken place.

Photo of Alex Davies-Jones Alex Davies-Jones Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Minister (Tech, Gambling and the Digital Economy)

Clause 21 sets out the information that the CMA is required to publish as part of the notice imposing or varying a conduct requirement. Labour supports the clause, which we feel is important for clarifying the details around the content of potential conduct requirements. Again, I am keen to understand exactly who will have access to such information. As ever, I would appreciate the Minister’s thoughts on that point. That aside, we see the clause as integral to the Bill, so we have not sought to amend it at this stage.

As with clause 21, we support clause 22 and its intentions in full. The only point that I feel is worth raising with the Minister is the slight ambiguity around the timeframes. It will be helpful for all involved if the regime is not only flexible, but rapid and able to evolve for changing markets. Can the Minister assure us that the clause will support this in practice?

Clause 23 is important and serves a vital function in establishing the transitional provisions related to conduct requirements. An example would be if a conduct requirement were imposed from a particular date, but some allowances were made in relation to certain aspects of that conduct requirement so that they had effect from a later date to smooth the transition for the benefit of a designated undertaking. That speaks to the nature of the regime: we all want to see it as flexible and fair, but it is therefore only right that the CMA be given appropriate statutory powers to vary its conduct requirements where required. We also welcome subsection (2), the details of which will enable and empower the CMA to investigate and enforce against historical breaches. That is vital, as we seek to establish a regime that will be sufficiently agile for breaches both past and present.

Clause 24 is also incredibly welcome. It imposes a duty on the CMA to consult publicly before imposing, varying or revoking a conduct requirement. The consultation must be brought to the attention of such persons as the CMA considers appropriate. We have already discussed who is an appropriate person, but sadly the transparency and commitment to consultation is not mirrored elsewhere in the Bill, which is frustrating. Given the broadly collegiate nature of our debate thus far, I hope that the Minister can consider some adjustments, and I look forward to hearing from him shortly. By and large, though, Labour welcomes the provisions in subsection (3), which provide that the CMA will be allowed to carry out a consultation on proposed conduct requirements before making a decision on designation. As we know, that makes it possible for the CMA to impose conduct requirements at the same time as issuing a decision on designation, or very shortly afterwards. We consider that to be a sensible approach, and we therefore support the clause.

Again, there is no need to repeat myself. Labour supports clause 25, which places a duty on the CMA to consider, on an ongoing basis, the effectiveness of any conduct requirements in place and how far the designated undertaking is complying with them. The CMA will also need to consider, on an ongoing basis, whether to impose, vary or revoke a conduct requirement, and whether it would be appropriate to take action against a breach of any conduct requirement. It would be helpful for us all to have an idea of how regularly the reviews will happen. It cannot and should not be the case that one SMS firm has its conduct requirements reviewed more regularly than any other, so I am keen to hear the Minister’s assessment of how that will work fairly and equitably in practice.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 21 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Mike Wood.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.