Clause 91 - Destroying or falsifying information

Part of Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 27 June 2023.

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Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology) 9:25, 27 June 2023

Let me cover the criminal offences in the regime, which largely mirror existing powers that the Competition and Markets Authority has in the Competition Act 1998. Criminal liability is important for deterring serious acts of misconduct in the context of information gathering and compliance monitoring, and will help to ensure that the digital markets unit can access relevant information.

Clause 91 makes it a criminal offence for an individual or firm to intentionally or recklessly destroy information, conceal information, provide false information, or cause or permit any of those actions. Those offences apply in relation to any of the powers provided for in chapter 6, which concerns information gathering and compliance reports.

Clause 92 makes it a criminal offence for a person to knowingly or recklessly give false or misleading information to the DMU in connection with any of its digital markets functions. It is also an offence for a person to knowingly or recklessly give false or misleading information to another person, knowing that it will be used by the DMU.

Clause 93 makes it a criminal offence for an individual to intentionally obstruct an officer of the DMU when lawfully entering a premises with or without a warrant.

Government amendment 34 seeks to clarify that named senior managers for information requests and nominated officers cannot be held criminally liable for not fulfilling their duties in those roles. As drafted, clause 94(2) broadens the definition of an officer of a body corporate. That would mean that individuals assigned to those roles could risk facing criminal proceedings on the basis of their assignment to the role. It has always been the policy intention that a named senior manager or nominated officer should face a civil penalty only where a firm with strategic market status has failed to comply with a relevant information request or compliance report and where the named individual failed, without reasonable excuse, to prevent that failure from occurring. The amendment would not prevent a senior manager or a nominated officer from facing criminal proceedings if they happen to also qualify as an officer of a body corporate under clause 94. I therefore hope that the Committee will support the amendment.

Clause 94 sets out that, in certain circumstances, where a body corporate commits a criminal offence, an officer of the body corporate can also be held criminally responsible. An officer of a body corporate can be, but is not limited to, a director, manager or secretary. An officer can be held criminally liable where the body corporate commits a criminal offence and the offence is attributable to that officer’s consent, connivance or neglect on their part. That will help to encourage officers in firms to take personal responsibility for their actions and will ensure that they are held accountable for any serious information offences.

Clause 95 limits the extraterritorial application of certain offences in the Bill, and I will set out our wider approach to extraterritoriality when we debate clause 110. Specifically, clause 95 states that a person cannot commit any of the part 1 criminal offences unless they have a UK connection, which is established when the person is a UK national, is habitually resident in the UK, or is a body incorporated under UK law. We have carefully considered the options and implications of restricting the extraterritorial application of criminal offences in this way. Although it is crucial that the CMA may apply its powers extraterritorially, they must be used only when strictly necessary and when a sufficient connection exists with the UK. In circumstances in which the person does not have a sufficient connection with the UK for the purpose of committing an offence, the CMA will still be able to enforce breaches of information requirements using civil penalties. That approach will ensure that, in exercising its powers, the CMA is respectful of the territorial jurisdiction of other nations.

Finally, clause 96 sets out the punishments that can be imposed by the relevant courts on conviction of a criminal offence under clauses 91 to 93. Any person found guilty of one of those offences is liable on summary conviction to a fine. In England and Wales, that will be of an unlimited amount, and in Scotland or Northern Ireland it will be up to the statutory maximum. On conviction on indictment, a person is liable to imprisonment for up to two years, a fine or both.