Clause 217 - Prohibition of unfair commercial practices

Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 4 July 2023.

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Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade) 9:25, 4 July 2023

I beg to move amendment 71, in clause 217, page 146, line 5, leave out second “trader” and insert “person”.

This amendment ensures that the definition of “commercial practice” for the purposes of Chapter 1 of Part 4 of the Bill includes an act or omission by a trader relating to the promotion or supply of a consumer’s product to another consumer.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Clause stand part.

Clauses 218 to 222 stand part.

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

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr McCabe.

Clause 217 sets out the unfair commercial practices that are prohibited. Those include misleading actions, misleading omissions, aggressive practices, contravention of the requirements of professional diligence, the omission of material information from an invitation to purchase, and the practices listed in schedule 18.

The clause also defines important terms for the purpose of this chapter, including “commercial practice”, “consumer” and “trader”. Commercial practice is defined as any act or omission by a trader relating to the promotion or supply of any trader’s product to a consumer or of a consumer’s product to another person. As such, a business providing a platform on which products are promoted or supplied may fall within the scope of this chapter.

Government amendment 71 is a technical amendment to clause 217. It ensures that the Bill reflects acts or omissions by traders that are currently covered by the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, or the CPRs for short. It ensures that traders that enable private individuals to sell products to each other are within the scope of this chapter, reflecting the scope of current law.

Clause 218 defines and prohibits commercial practices that are misleading actions and restates the equivalent provisions from the CPRs. It protects consumers from traders who deceive through the provision of false and misleading information.

Clause 219 defines and prohibits commercial practices that are misleading omissions. It requires traders to provide consumers with the information they need in an up front, clear and timely manner to make an informed transactional decision.

Clause 220 defines and prohibits commercial practices that are aggressive and restates the equivalent provisions from the CPRs.

Clause 221 defines and prohibits commercial practices that contravene the requirements of professional diligence and restates the equivalent provisions from the CPRs. It requires that traders do not engage in practices that fall below the standard of skill and care they may be reasonably expected to have provided.

Clause 222 lists what information must be provided to consumers when a commercial practice is an invitation to purchase. The information is deemed material.

I hope hon. Members will support Government amendment 71, and I propose that clauses 217 to 222 stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

I thought you were indicating. This is what happens when you are drafted in at the last moment, isn’t it? I will eventually wake up; do not worry.

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

Thank you, Mr McCabe. It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair.

In speaking to the amendments, may I thank the organisations that have contributed? There is a whole range of them, but I would particularly like to thank the British Toy and Hobby Association and Electrical Safety First, not least because they are based in the best constituency in the country: Bermondsey and Old Southwark. The other organisations include Which? and trading standards bodies. There is a range of amendments in my name covering a range of issues. They have at their core the need to protect British consumers, British businesses and British standards. I want to air a lot of issues. I hope I will not need to force votes and I am keen to hear what the Minister has to say in response.

Amendment 118 would make a person marketing goods online a trader for the purposes of the Act. Amendment 119 would make it an unfair commercial practice to sell goods online unless the specified safety requirements have been complied with. Amendment 123 should be self—

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

Order. Mr Coyle, we seem to have got out of sync. You are currently speaking to your amendments, but we have not quite got to them,

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

Are we not there yet, Mr McCabe? It looks like it is me who needs to wake up.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

It has been an early start for all of us. Why not just pause there and we can return to you later?

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

Regard it as a dress rehearsal. I call Seema Malhotra.

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

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr McCabe.

Before we turn to the group led by amendment 118, I will make some brief remarks on clause 217 stand part and speak to Government amendment 71. Clause 217 sets out a general prohibition on unfair commercial practices. As the Minister has outlined, it defines commercial practice as

“any act or omission by a trader relating to the promotion or supply of— the trader’s product to a consumer another trader’s product to a consumer, or, a consumer’s product to the trader or another trader”.

Subsection (4) introduces provisions outlining what constitutes an unfair commercial practice, which may include a misleading action, a misleading omission or an aggressive practice, and those are dealt with in the following clauses. In addition, the subsection states that a commercial practice is unfair if it is listed in schedule 18, which we will debate in detail shortly.

We welcome the clause as a necessary provision in prohibiting unfair commercial practice, and I reiterate that we look forward to working with the Minister, including in today’s debate. If there are ways in which we can improve the Bill, we are very happy to work collaboratively so that it is as robust as possible. The amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark in the light of our discussions with stakeholders will play an important part in those deliberations.

Amendment 71 ensures that the definition of commercial practice for the purposes of chapter 1 of part 4 of the Bill includes an act or omission by a trader relating to the promotion or supply of a consumer’s product to another consumer. We welcome this amendment, which importantly ensures that the actions of rogue traders still fall under the definition of commercial practice and supports the integrity of the regime.

Clause 218 introduces provisions defining commercial practices that are misleading actions. We welcome the clause, which provides a necessary definition of a misleading action, and support its inclusion in the Bill.

Clause 219 introduces a definition of commercial practices that count as misleading omissions. Under the clause, a misleading omission would constitute the omission of material information and information that the trader is required by another enactment to provide. As with clause 218, it is a common-sense, straightforward clause and we support it.

Clause 220 sets out how an aggressive practice could constitute harassment, coercion or undue influence. That can involve behaviour before a contract or purchase is made, but it can also occur after a transaction has taken place. We support the definition’s inclusion in the Bill, but I ask for clarification. I draw the Minister’s attention to subsection (3)(a), where the Bill states that

“‘coercion’ includes the use or threat of physical force”.

Does the Minister intend that coercion includes many other threats, be they financial or personal blackmail, to suggest just a couple? Is there a wider definition or guidance on interpretation that would be helpful in providing clarification for the consumer as well as for those making a decision under the clause? I would welcome clarity from the Minister on that.

Clause 221 defines commercial practices that contravene the requirements of professional diligence. That includes practices that fall short of the standard of skill and care that a trader may reasonably be expected to exercise towards consumers and that is commensurate in the trader’s field with honest market practice or the general principle of good faith. That is important for rooting out rogue traders who may not be qualified for their profession, whether they are builders, electricians or other experts. We welcome the definition.

Clause 222 sets out where a commercial practice would be considered to have omitted material information. Subsection (2) lists what would constitute an omission, including the main characteristics of a product, the business address and the delivery price, among other things. Although we support the list of omissions and welcome its inclusion in the Bill, elements of the clause could go further to provide more protection to consumers, as reflected in amendment 127, tabled by Opposition Front Benchers, and amendment 126, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, which we will come to.

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

I think there is just one key point that the hon. Lady asked me to address, which is about other types of coercion. Looking at the definition with regard to practices, clause 220 talks about “coercion or undue influence”. Under subsection (3),

“‘undue influence’ means exploiting a position of power in relation to consumers so as to apply pressure in any way”.

I think that covers the definition, as she requested.

Amendment 71 agreed to.

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

I beg to move amendment 118, in clause 217, page 146, line 11, at end insert—

“(c) a person marketing P’s goods for sale online.”

This amendment makes a person marketing goods online a trader, for the purposes of this Act.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 119, in clause 217, page 146, line 22, after “222),” insert—

“(ba) a product is sold online, and the operator of the online marketplace has not taken reasonable steps, as defined by regulations made under section 234 of this Act, to ensure that the goods offered for sale in the online marketplace comply with—

(i) the General Product Safety Regulations 2005 (SI 2005 No 1803) (‘the 2005 Regulations’), and

(ii) such other safety requirements as the Secretary of State may specify.”

This amendment makes it an unfair commercial practice to sell goods online unless the specified safety requirements have been complied with.

Amendment 123, in schedule 18, page 343, line 2, at end insert—

“32 Marketing online products that are either—

(a) counterfeit; or

(b) dangerous.”

Amendment 120, in clause 218, page 147, line 9, at end insert—

“(e) an operator of an online marketplace failing to take reasonable steps, as defined by regulations made under section 234 of this Act, to ensure that no goods offered for sale in the marketplace have been the subject of a notification to an enforcement authority under regulation 9 of the 2005 Regulations.”

This amendment makes it a misleading action to sell goods online without taking reasonable steps to ensure that those goods have not been subject to a recall.

Amendment 124, in clause 223, page 150, line 27, at end insert—

“(4A) Where a commercial practice has been found to be unfair under paragraph 32 of Schedule 18 of this Act, the authorities under this section have the power to require the removal of the relevant online marketing from the internet.”

Amendment 121, in clause 234, page 158, line 4, at end insert—

“(4A) The Secretary of State must by regulations define ‘reasonable steps’ for the purposes of sections 217 and 218 of this Act.”

This amendment requires the Secretary of State to make regulations to define “reasonable steps” for the purposes of clauses 217 and 218 of this Act.

Amendment 122, in clause 241, page 160, line 14, at end insert—

“‘online marketplace’ means a service using software, including a website, part of a website or an application, operated by or on behalf of a trader, which allows consumers to conclude distance contracts with other traders or consumers;

‘safety requirement’ includes—

(a) any relevant enactment governing the safety of products or of a specific type of products,

(b) any voluntary national standard of the United Kingdom, and

(c) any standard adopted by an international standardising body.”

This amendment defines the terms “Online Marketplace”, and “Safety Requirements”.

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

It will surprise no one that I wish to speak to these amendments; I am sorry for being rusty. Having been on Bill Committees previously and managed to get amendments through, or at least poached by the Government, I feel embarrassed to have slipped up on this one.

I went through the amendments previously, so I hope Members can copy and paste from previous debates. Amendment 123 is self-explanatory. Amendment 120 would make it a misleading action to sell goods online without taking reasonable steps to ensure that the goods have not been subject to a recall. Amendment 124 would create the takedown power—the power to remove dangerous or counterfeit goods from online sales. Amendment 121 defines reasonable steps. Amendment 122 defines an online marketplace and safety requirements, in line with the bodies who have contributed who are still concerned about where things are at in the Bill.

I think the Government’s original aim was to publish a draft Bill; this Bill took some organisations by surprise, and I think a lot are playing catch-up, hoping that issues will be aired here and that Ministers will be meeting with them soon, ahead of the Lords stages. They hope to see a bit more progress on some measures in the Bill. Most accept the need for this legislation, but very few seem convinced that the Bill does the complete job.

Mr McCabe, you were not in the Chair for our evidence sessions, where we had all the “wild west” references. The Minister suggested a Clint Eastwood in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” character to help take action. For those not familiar with the genre, that is the third film of Sergio Leone’s trilogy, and Clint played an antihero. He takes Tuco in to claim the reward, and then shoots him down from the noose, in order to claim further, higher rewards down the line—so that is an intriguing analogy from the Minister.

The first film in the trilogy was “A Fistful of Dollars”. I am here with “For a Few Dollars More”—the second in the trilogy—to offer a better system, with some improvements to what the Government have put forward, to try to do a better job. For those who are familiar with “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, there are only two kinds of people in this world—those who have seen the film, and those who have not.

The main amendment that I wish to speak to is amendment 124, and the takedown power to require the removal from online trade of counterfeit or dangerous products. This would deliver, in part, what the Minister, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton, said on Second Reading of the Online Sale of Goods (Safety) Bill, in response to my hon. Friend Ian Mearns, when pressed about taking items offline. He said that,

“we should go further than that and require marketplaces to ensure that such products are not on their sites at all, ever, and that they check to ensure that they do not appear and, indeed, remove retailers who have transgressed.”—[Official Report, 20 January 2023; Vol. 726, c. 715.]

This group of amendments, and particularly amendment 124, help deliver what the Minister said he would like to achieve, and what I hope the Bill will achieve by the point it completes its progress through both Houses.

Fundamentally, it comes back to what customers believe. My constituents, and customers, believe whether they are shopping at Argos on the Old Kent Road or on Amazon online that the goods they are buying will meet the required UK standards. That is simply not what is happening.

Some 90% of toy sales online are through Amazon, eBay and AliExpress. I have referred to Amazon previously, and I do not want to pick on Amazon, but it is one of the big three. It has done some work to try to address the concerns of organisations and trade bodies, but it is simply not enough. In its US annual report a couple of years ago, Amazon acknowledged that it was, in its own words,

“unable to prevent sellers in our stores or through other stores from selling unlawful, counterfeit, pirated or stolen goods”.

I use Amazon to represent online marketplaces more generally, because of the familiarity of customers. They believe it is a reputable organisation and trust that it meets standards, but that is not the case.

Of course, Amazon also has an ongoing battle with the GMB on recognition, which it should have resolved some time ago. Ministers should have been supportive on that issue: they say they want a high-skills, high-wage economy, and that is what trade unions set about to deliver, and that is certainly what the GMB is seeking, in partnership with the Amazon workforce.

Frankly, it is a bit shocking that some of these amendments are necessary, but they are. The British Toy and Hobby Association survey “Don’t Toy with Children’s Safety” highlights some significant concerns. The toy industry is worth £3.2 billion to the UK economy—it is a massive sector. The survey showed that, in 2021, 60% of the toys tested were unsafe for a child to play with, and 86% of the toys freely available online were illegal to sell in the UK. That is appalling for lots of reasons, including because some of it is counterfeit.

We touched on this point in previous debates. British companies trade legitimately in goods that they are licensed to provide and make. They hold a trademark. It is insulting for them to have others trading on profitable sites such as Amazon and others with contempt for UK law, in a way that would be tackled if it was happening in a physical shop or even down a market. The truth is that Del Boy’s products would meet higher standards than some of those sold online. Platforms have been accommodating counterfeit, hooky, shoddy and dangerous goods for far too long.

The comparison with shops is important because the Government have said time and again that they want to protect the high street. Here is one means of doing so in a way that is faster and stronger than the current proposals would deliver. Physical shops pay their staff and meet standards, but are undermined in this wild west.

The British Toy & Hobby Association and Make UK tell us their version of events—they invest millions in research and development in this country to improve toys and goods and developing technology, and then they get ripped off by hooky goods that are flogged online. That undermines all their good work.

BTHA said that some of these goods are illegal because they are counterfeit, some because they do not meet labelling standards, some because they have not been tested for fire safety and even the most basic security issues and some because they do not meet other standards and are unsafe for sale in the UK. Again, it would not be possible to sell them in a shop, but they are sold freely online. At the extreme end, some of the items were identified as being illegal because they have what are termed “chemical restriction failures”, which I hope is reasonably clear. Some are illegal because of their packaging, because they contain small parts that could cause choking or because they come with a high risk of suffocation. I hope hon. Members get the point.

As the report states, marketplaces have been told about these products, but they have not tackled them sufficiently. Organisations such as BTHA are concerned that the Bill does not go far enough to tackle some of these issues, and does not tackle them quickly enough.

In the report’s appendix, there is a story about a crocodile toy—I’ll make it snappy. In July 2018, a sample of this crocodile toy was purchased and assessed by BTHA. The product included a zip opening, which gave access to stuffing that failed toy safety standard EN71-1. There was no labelling with CE marks or address details, which is problematic. At the end of the test, BTHA reported the product to Amazon in September 2018. It took two months for Amazon even to bother replying. It confirmed that the product’s Amazon standard identification number, or ASIN, had been taken down and that it would not be sold. However, in November 2018, Amazon was still advertising the product.

In December, the crocodile toy was sent for full independent testing, but was still being sold freely online. In January 2019, the BTHA bought more of these products. They were exactly the same and were simply on sale with different ASINs and from different sellers. They failed all further tests. That was reported to Amazon, which took no further action. In fact, the crocodile took a prime place by becoming the platform’s “choice” of purchase, and was marketed as different kinds of toys, including a pillow for children, which had the same problems and was illegal, despite the attempt of National Trading Standards to intervene to take it down.

The next steps saw a new label appear that read:

“Not suitable for children under 36 months”,

which is illegal in itself. It also had incorrect marking and a care label that said:

“Not suitable for children under 6 years old it contains widgets. So please keep your children not putting it in the mouth”.

That was the limit of the safety precautions taken at Amazon’s request by the supplier. In November 2019, there was still concern about this product, which is just one example of many. It was revealed that 277 pages of identical products were on sale across the site, representing about 1,600 products that were likely to be illegal and unsafe. All were reported to the platform, but no action was taken. Even at this point, the fire and furnishings testing was done and the Office for Product Safety and Standards tried to have the product recalled, but it was still on sale. By this point, it was back on sale from the original vendor, which Amazon said had been removed from the site. This simply should not happen. It is unsafe and dangerous for children.. There were multiple opportunities for the platform to remove the seller and products. There were multiple agencies involved to try to get it taken down, including fire safety agencies and Trading Standards, but the platform refused to act and became part of the problem. The fear is that platforms will play cat and mouse with the current proposal unless there is a clearer power to have dangerous or counterfeit goods removed. The rapid removal power in amendment 124 provides the means to do that.

Another example is from a Which? report in 2022, which was the outcome of an Electrical Safety First investigation. The cost of living crisis and rising energy costs meant that many people were looking at how to save money on energy bills, and energy saving devices were being plugged online. The devices plug into the mains and claim to work by “smoothing” household voltages, which then “optimises” the performance of appliances such as fridges, saving on energy costs.

Sadly, research from the Which? specialist lab found no evidence that any of the products work. There was no evidence that they were saving energy or that there was any benefit to the customer, which was the primary purpose they were sold for. On top of that failure, Which? found that the boxes were dangerous, as they did not comply with electrical safety standards. Some also had faulty components; one had clay inside the plug.

The OPSS issued four separate recall notices, including one to eBay, due to a

“serious risk of fire and electric shock”.

Despite the involvement of the OPSS, 90 products are still for sale on Amazon and 20 on eBay. Which? believes that

“the measures marketplaces have in place to control the sale of unsafe products are clearly insufficient, and that far more needs to be done to prevent ineffective and potentially dangerous products from being listed.”

Both Amazon and eBay say that they have removed energy-saving boxes from their sites, but near-identical or identical products are reappearing online shortly afterwards.

It should not take Which? reports and further studies to get to these amendments. Lives are at stake if this is done wrong. ESF has reported fires in Darlington and east London caused by faulty battery packs bought on online marketplaces. It has also investigated e-bikes, for which there is huge demand to cut transport costs and save energy. There was a fire in Shepherd’s Bush in June 2022 caused by charging an e-bike. Amendment 124 is a direct means of delivering for customers by getting such products taken offline.

Platforms have had a long time to adjust and improve, but they have been too slow. The Government approach has been to ignore the issue, pretend that other legislation will address it, or pretend that a product safety review is required. [Interruption.] The Minister says “nonsense”. These products are online today, despite his previous promises to take action. In the Bill, there is the pretence that courts are in some way a solution when the backlog is criminal—pun intended—and the costs are prohibitive. Frankly, if someone has bought an item for a tenner on Amazon, they are not going to spend 10 months and £10,000 going to court to try to resolve the problem.

I thank the Minister for his letter, which he promised to write last Thursday. He said that using the courts would be an infrequent outcome of this legislation. However, I wonder where people are likely to go to try to get redress for these issues without the takedown power that I am advocating. It is not just me saying that the Government have not done enough. In November, the OPSS chief exec said that there is

“too much evidence of non-compliant products being sold by third party sellers”

on online marketplaces. The National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee have said the same. It is time to close the loopholes and act. We must give regulators sufficient powers, including a takedown power.

Returning to the wild west analogy, I hope that the Government are listening and are seeking a new sheriff/marshal with the right armoury. Just to give a gentle nudge, the Government did not do sufficient analysis over the Rwanda plans, and we have seen the mess that that has caused. The costs to the public are running into hundreds of millions of pounds for absolutely no outcome.

In the economic impact assessment for this Bill, we do not see how the Government intend to deliver on promises made by the Under-Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam, who promised to write last Tuesday about the resources that will be allocated to Citizens Advice, but he did not. The Government are saying that in order to get redress from this legislation, Citizens Advice will be able to provide consumer advocacy. There is no resource attached to supporting Citizens Advice to do that, although Citizens Advice has said that it is under the biggest pressure it has experienced in its 80-year history. It simply does not have the capacity to take on an additional task that the Government say it can and will do without resourcing any impact assessment.

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

Maybe it is still in the internal post. I thank the Minister for the letter; it would be nice to know what it says. The point is that the Bill does not make clear how customers will secure redress. It presents a convoluted route of multiple agencies and potential court action that people simply will not want to take.

My amendment does not go as far as some have suggested. It is a moderate suggestion. There have been suggestions that there is full and shared liability for platforms for any product sold and that some of the measures should be retrospectively implemented so that there should be penalties on those who have sold goods that they know to be counterfeit or dangerous going back for years. I hope that amendment 121 in particular, but also other amendments in this group, are useful to the Government in delivering their aims and defending customers and businesses.

The wording of amendment 124 is crucial; I hope that the Minister will come back to this when he responds to the debate. It would “require the removal”. It is not a request to remove a product; it is a requirement to remove a product. It could be put in the hands of all the bodies in clause 143, with penalties and timely action to prevent a fatality if this is not done quickly enough. The use of the word “require” is deliberate, because the power to request is in other legislation. For example, the police can request the removal of video footage from YouTube that is incitement to violence or hatred, is homophobic or is incitement to violence between gangs. One meeting I had with the Met revealed that more than 300 requests to take down videos had been ignored by YouTube. They included calling for revenge and the murder of specific individuals in revenge attacks between gangs in London. The police should have a stronger power than that, but as with this legislation, the power to request that something is removed is insufficient; it must be the power to compel the removal, similar to—for those familiar with local authority powers—a cease and desist order by a planning body. That would be a comparable power if the Government are keen to have something stronger than that offered in the current legislation.

I hope that amendment 124 helps British businesses, jobs, standards and customers and helps the Government —that is why I am here today. Ministers claim that they want to make the UK the “safest” place in the world to be online, and here are the means to deliver that laudable aim.

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

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his tour de force in going through his amendments and the reasons for tabling them. We can all agree that as a package, the amendments move us further forward in ensuring that there is adequate regulation of products sold in online marketplaces. My hon. Friend also made reference to the work of Electrical Safety First and its research. Having met the organisation, spoken at its event in Parliament and seen the important work it does through the all-party parliamentary group on online and home electrical safety, I think I can say that we all recognise that we must ensure the steps taken in the Bill will be adequate to deal with the challenges we know consumers face and which can put families, lives and businesses at risk.

My hon. Friend spoke to his amendments. Amendment 118 makes someone marketing goods online a trader. Amendment 119 makes it an unfair commercial practice to sell goods online unless the specified safety requirements have been complied with. Amendment 124 provides for a takedown power, about which the Minister has made some positive comments. We believe very strongly that that is needed, and I hope that he will give a commitment today about how we can take it forward, and whether the Government will accept the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, which we support, or introduce their own during the course of the Bill.

We welcome the amendments and the clarity that they call for. I will not speak too much, but I will make one comment to illustrate the point that my hon. Friend made. In a series of investigations, Electrical Safety First found 60 unsafe e-bike and e-scooter chargers for sale across four online marketplaces, including eBay, Amazon, AliExpress and That is particularly concerning, given the increase in fires caused by unsafe e-bike and e-scooter batteries and chargers. Younger people might have access to some of those newer products, and they may not be so aware of what warning signs to look for. That is a risk of danger that we cannot take lightly.

Now is probably a good time to raise the Government’s long-promised, shortly-to-come product safety review, which was first promised for publication over a year ago, in spring 2022, by Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist during the Report stage of the Building Safety Bill in the other place. It is interesting that both she and the Minister have been in position over that time, as have others. The promise has outlived a number of Ministers. In all seriousness, if we understood what “shortly” meant, that would be very helpful for the Committee. Perhaps there is an issue in the Department that the Minister wants to share; we would certainly do all that we could to help. A year has passed and the product safety review has still not been published. He will know as well as I do that it is one of the things that groups such as Electrical Safety First have called for repeatedly. How can they do their work as effectively as we need them to if the Government are not doing the work that we need them to do?

I hope that we will hear something more concrete about when the product safety review will be published. The Minister will know that, as long as Ministers delay action on product safety in online marketplaces, and delay assistance to all stakeholders involved in keeping our consumers safe, their work is made harder. They need the strategy, and the direction that it will bring. The amendments, while not expediting the necessary Government action, would nevertheless provide extra safeguards in the meantime against unsafe products being sold on online marketplaces. It is important that the Government respond to the amendments, either today or during the course of the Bill, and particularly to the takedown power, which is very much needed.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade) 10:00, 4 July 2023

I appreciate the continued spaghetti western analogies. In my case, “Pale Rider” might be a more apt example, as obviously my demographics mean that I am pale, stale and male, but we are keen to ensure that we have a proper shoot-out with the people the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark describes. I am totally onside with the vast majority of what he says. He knows we need to make sure we take the right kind of action in this area, and his amendments would add provisions related to product safety to regulate the sale of dangerous and counterfeit goods in online marketplaces. Existing UK product law is clear: all products must be safe, including those sold online. However, we recognise the challenge the growth of online marketplaces has created for how we deliver product safety in a global economy. I gently say to the hon. Gentleman: these are not just UK-based problems: this is a global problem. As he knows, marketplaces operate around the globe and other jurisdictions are also seeking to tackle the issue.

I hosted a roundtable with major online marketplaces in April and was clear that, in addition to their current duties, they must do much more to keep unsafe products off their sites, including removing third-party sellers who supply unsafe goods. That point was mentioned on Second Reading of the Online Sale of Goods (Safety) Bill, as the hon. Gentleman referenced just now. The Office for Product Safety and Standards, which I visited in Teddington, is following up with a programme of test purchases. There I saw at first hand some of the potential products sold online, such as toy magnets that do not comply with UK product standards. My hon. Friend Jo Gideon has done fantastic campaigning in that area on button batteries. There is much we need to do. This is not just a consumer safety problem: it is about creating a fair and level playing field for UK retailers. The hon. Gentleman mentioned Argos and Amazon, but I would add our local high-street electrical stores, which have also been disadvantaged by online marketplaces being able to operate in the way they do.

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

I do not remember any western in which a sheriff held a roundtable. In terms of the outcome, what is the pace at which counterfeit or dangerous goods will be removed? That is the concern for consumers. Even if I buy something, discover that it is shoddy and report it through the process in the Bill, there is still a significant gap in time before something is taken off. The takedown power is crucial to prevent further hundreds, thousands or millions of that product being sold or marketed to people when it is known to be dangerous or faulty and could put lives at risk.

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

I entirely agree. We do not think the marketplaces are going far enough. It is a key phrase that the likes of Amazon, Wish and so on just see themselves as marketplaces rather than distributors. Our point is that they are distributors. The key thing is making sure that is properly defined in law. The hon. Gentleman is right to point out some of the percentages. That is the work done by the OPSS, defining that between 60% and 80% of the products it sampled were unsafe. That is clearly and completely wrong.

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

There is no answer in that as to the timespan.

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

The Minister is coming to it, but the takedown power is the crucial bit to do that and it is what the OPSS, which he refers to, says it wants.

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

Perhaps if the hon. Gentleman allows me to go through my speech, I might be able to give some answers to his points. We are on exactly the same page on this and we have to get this right. He talks about getting the analysis right and raised a different analogy of where he considers we may have got that wrong in the past. It is important we get this right. From our perspective, the product safety route is the right way to do this. The whole product safety framework will be reformed, including online sales, and that holistic review of product safety, taking existing obligations into account—we believe there are distributor obligations—is the most appropriate vehicle for meeting concerns about unsafe goods sold online.

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

The shadow Minister also asked when the product safety review will take place.

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

Very shortly. I just answered the shadow Minister; there is no prolonging this issue from my perspective. We are keen to get on with this but want to make sure the review is in the right place and the right shape when it happens. We want it to happen very soon.

The forthcoming consultation will include proposals to ensure that shopping online is as safe as on the high street and that there is a fairer playing field for law-abiding businesses. We anticipate publishing these proposals soon and look forward to continuing engagement with our stakeholders to inform and shape our proposals.

Amendment 124 would give powers to the Competition and Markets Authority and trading standards to require the removal of marketing material for counterfeit and dangerous products online. We believe, however, that extensive enforcement powers are already available. For example, when a trader markets misleading or faulty goods online, enforcers including the CMA and trading standards can apply to the court for an enforcement order to stop and prohibit the marketing and sale of the offending goods under part 3 of the Bill. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman will let me get to the point where I think he wants me to get to, that will be the point made in the letter.

Part 3 of the Bill gives the CMA the power to impose an online interface order against the infringer or a third party. That type of order or notice may require the removal or alteration of online content on a website that gives access to or promotes the offending goods. The hon. Gentleman’s point was about similar powers for other enforcement bodies such as trading standards. As I said to him, however, in a letter that I think he received yesterday, that is something I am keen to explore, and will do so over the summer. I will give him a final chance to intervene, if he wants, and then I will conclude.

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

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way and for his reassurance that this will be looked at over the summer. As things stand, the Government are saying—the Minister has just said—that a product could cause a fire and potentially a fatality, but still the process would be to report it through a particular agency and possibly take court action, rather than what the regulators want to do and customers want to see, which is the take-down of the item to prevent any further dangerous incident or potential fatalities. I hope that the Minister gets to a point where that immediate power will be available.

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

I totally understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, which is why I will look at it over the summer. It is not provided for in the Bill, but he makes a good point and I am keen to explore the options. We will come back to the House at some point to report what we will do in this space. I therefore very much hope that he will withdraw his amendments.

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

With that reassurance of looking at this further over the summer and to improve on where things stand, I will take the Minister at his word. The idea that we can support everything in a product safety review that will start we know not when feels a bit like missing the bus—or missing the stagecoach, to stick with the analogy. The powers need to be in the Bill to ensure that when the product safety review is done, the vehicle is already available to enable dangerous or counterfeit goods to be removed, but given his reassurance, I beg to ask to leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 217, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.