Penrose Review: UK Competition and Consumer Policy — [Clive Efford in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:41 pm on 8th March 2022.

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Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Minister of State (London) 3:41 pm, 8th March 2022

Indeed. My hon. Friend is right to have used the near anniversary of his report as an opportunity to discuss the issue. Unfortunately, he has slightly missed the target of the consultation response, which we hope to bring forward very shortly. To answer my hon. Friend Cherilyn Mackrory, the Penrose report did not need Her Majesty to give a notification that it was coming forward. Unfortunately, I cannot pre-empt what Her Majesty will say in the Queen’s Speech about future legislation.

A central recommendation of the Penrose report, which my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare has repeated today, is that the Government should take steps to ensure that the enforcement of competition and consumer law speeds up to keep pace with the modern digitising economy. We agree and propose a range of measures to make enforcement more efficient. For instance, we propose that the CMA should have stronger powers to penalise businesses that obstruct or slow down investigation. The Government have also proposed new ways for businesses and the CMA to reach agreements on the actions needed to resolve competition issues in market-wide investigations and merger reviews. Both those changes were recommended by my hon. Friend in his report.

He also recognised the need for UK competition regulators to work in partnership with regulators overseas, to help address competition and consumer issues that span borders. We agree that effective international co-operation is an important part of the UK’s competition and consumer regime. Promoting that co-operation is a key objective in our free trade agreements, and we have successfully secured text on that in the UK’s recent agreements with Australia and New Zealand. We have consulted on legislative proposals to ensure that the CMA and consumer authorities can work as effectively as possible with their international counterparts.

My hon. Friend’s report also emphasised the role of consumer protection law in empowering consumers and driving effective competition. We agree that our already strong consumer rights framework must continue to support consumers into the future, allowing them to benefit from new technology and business models and to feel empowered to make the best decisions available to them. We have consulted on measures to tackle subscription traps, where a consumer enters into a subscription for a product or service but has difficulty leaving. We have also consulted on measures to tackle fake reviews, as mentioned by Yvonne Fovargue, which undermine competition and give unfair advantage to traders who are willing to use them.

In taking steps to strengthen the protections for consumers, the Government are aware of the need to consider any new burdens on businesses. We want to ensure that consumers get that fair deal and that businesses are not overburdened by regulatory barriers. My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare is absolutely right to talk about better regulation, and I will speak a little more about that, if I have time.

My hon. Friend talked about how we can have better dispute resolution, because when consumers enforce their rights, poorly performing firms face more pressure, and consumers know they can trust the system to be on their side if they need it. That is what we need.