Skip to main content

Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill

Volume 835: debated on Monday 22 January 2024

Committee (1st Day)

Clause 1 agreed.

Clause 2: Designation of undertaking

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Clause 2, page 2, line 25, after “Chapter” insert “, taking account of analysis undertaken by the CMA on similar issues that have been the subject of public consultation.”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment aims to ensure that the CMA are able to draw on previous analysis on issues relevant to the regulatory regime.

My Lords, we have also added our names to Amendment 7. At the outset, I should say that we are in broad agreement with all the amendments in this group.

Before I explain the detail of our amendment, and without wishing to rerun the Second Reading debate, I would just like to say that we believe that the essence of the Bill is important and necessary. Our concerns, where we have them, are about some of the details in the Bill and we will give them proper challenge and scrutiny. However, it is not in the interests of consumers or businesses for the Bill to be unduly delayed and we hope to get it on the statute book in an improved form and in a timely manner.

Part 1 of necessity gives the CMA considerable new powers. We support the model that is being proposed, with priority being given to identifying the big tech players that have strategic market status. However, it is important that those new powers are carried out with clarity and with transparency and a number of our amendments in this and other groups address this issue. Our Amendment 1 is a simple but important amendment. It would enable the CMA to draw on its analysis and consultations that have taken place before the passing of the Bill.

Those of us who attended the briefings with the CMA last week will have heard the amount of detailed preparation that it has carried out in anticipation of the Bill being passed. We believe that it is important that it can draw on this wealth of knowledge without starting from scratch and having to do it all again. This will strengthen its effectiveness going forward, as it can reflect on the lessons learned and the outcomes of the various consultations that have already been undertaken.

When this issue came up in the Commons, the Minister, Paul Scully, said:

“I strongly support the point that the CMA should not have to repeat work that it has already done. It is for the DMU to decide what is and is not relevant analysis to its investigations, and it should be able to draw on insight from previous analysis or consultations when carrying out an SMS investigation where it is appropriate and lawful to do so. I am happy to confirm that the Bill does not prevent the DMU from doing that”.—[Official Report, Commons, Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill Committee, 20/6/23; col. 116.]

However, this is our concern. The Bill as it currently stands is silent on the issue. It does not make it clear either way and, specifically, it does not make it clear that this retrospection is within the powers of the CMA. We want to put this clarity in the Bill to avoid the potential for any legal challenges about the way the CMA is going about its investigation. Noble Lords will be familiar with this argument, as it will be a running theme during our scrutiny of the Bill. We want the rules to be watertight and we want to close any legal loopholes from those who stand to lose if the CMA rules against them. Therefore, we believe that this amendment is important in shoring up the CMA’s powers to act and I beg to move.

My Lords, at the opening of this Committee stage, I want to repeat, rather in the same way as the noble Baroness, Lady, Jones, what I said on Second Reading: we broadly welcome this Bill. In fact, since the Furman report was set up five years ago, we have been rather impatient for competition law in the digital space to be reformed and for the DMU to be created.

At the outset, I also want to thank a number of organisations—largely because I cannot reference them every time I quote them—for their help in preparing for the digital markets aspects of the Bill: the Coalition for App Fairness, the Public Interest News Foundation, Which?, Preiskel & Co, Foxglove, the Open Markets Institute and the News Media Association. They have all inputted helpfully into the consideration of the Bill.

The ability to impose conduct requirements and pro-competition interventions on undertakings designated as having strategic market status is just about the most powerful feature of the Bill. One of the Bill’s main strengths is its flexible approach, whereby once a platform is designated as having SMS, the CMA is able to tailor regulatory measures to its individual business model in the form of conduct requirements and pro-competition interventions, including through remedies not exhaustively defined in the Bill.

However, a forward-looking assessment of strategic market status makes the process vulnerable to being gamed by dominant platforms. The current five-year period does not account for dynamic digital markets that will not have evidence of the position in the market in five years’ time. It enables challengers to rebut the enforcer’s claim that they enjoy substantial and entrenched market power, even where their dominance has yet to be meaningfully threatened. Clause 5 of the Bill needs to be amended so that substantial and entrenched market power is based on past data rather than a forward-looking assessment. There should also be greater rights to consultation of businesses that are not of SMS under the Bill. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said, this will be discussed later, under another group of amendments.

The provisions of Clause 5, as it is currently worded, risk causing problems for the CMA in practice. Part of the problem is the need for evidence to support a decision by the CMA of a market position over the entire five-year period. The five-year period requires current evidence of the position in the market in five years’ time. In dynamic digital markets such as these, no such evidence is likely to exist today. The CMA needs evidence to underpin its administrative findings. Where no such evidence exists, it cannot designate an SMS firm.

The CMA will have evidence that exists up to the date of the decision—evidence of the current entrenched position, market shares, barriers to entry, intellectual property rights and so on. In that respect, we support the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, with her Amendment 1, because it should of course include earlier investigations by the CMA. All that evidence exists today in 2024, but what the position will be in 2028 will need to be found and it has to be credible evidence to support a CMA decision under Clause 5. Particularly in fast-moving technology markets, the prediction of future trends is not a simple matter, so lack of sufficient evidence of the entrenched nature of a player at year 5 or over the entire period would prevent a rational decision-maker from being able to make a decision that the player will have SMS over the five-year period, as demanded by the Bill. Every designation and subsequent requirement or investigation imposed on the designated undertaking risks being subject to challenge on the basis of insufficient evidence.

As the Open Markets Institute says,

“the inevitably speculative nature of a forward-looking assessment makes the process vulnerable to being gamed by dominant platforms. For example, such firms may use the emergence—and even hypothetical emergence—of potential challengers to rebut the enforcer’s claim that they enjoy substantial and entrenched market power, even where their dominance has yet to be meaningfully threatened by those challengers”.

It gives the example of the rise of TikTok, which Meta has used in arguments to push back against anti-trust scrutiny:

“Yet while experiencing rapid growth in terms of user numbers, TikTok has so far failed to seriously challenge the economic dominance of Meta in online advertising (the basis of Meta’s market power), generating less”


“a tenth of the latter’s global revenues. Dominant platforms will also use emerging technologies—such as generative AI—to claim that their dominance is transitory, claims that will be difficult for the CMA to rebut given future uncertainty”.

Our Amendments 3, 4, 5 and 6—here I thank the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, for his support for them, and sympathise with him because I gather that his presence here today has been delayed by Storm Isha—suggest that the number of years should be removed and the provision clarified so that the assessment is made based on current evidence and facts. If the market position changes, the CMA has the power to revoke such designation in any event, on application from the SMS business, as provided for by Clause 16.

That is the argument for Amendments 3, 4, 5 and 6 in Clause 5. I look forward to hearing what the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, has to say on Amendment 7, which we very much support as well.

My Lords, I have put down Amendment 7 to Clause 6 and, in later groups, amendments relating to Clauses 20 and 114. I will come to them later in Committee, but all of them have the aim of limiting the wide powers given to the Secretary of State in the Bill to intervene in the setting up of the processes for dealing with anti-competitive behaviour by the big tech companies. Amendment 7 would prevent the Secretary of State having broad powers in revising the criteria for establishing the designation of the SMS investigative process. My particular concern is about the power that the Minister might have to alter the criteria for the process in order to de-designate a company following heavy lobbying.

As this is my first intervention at this stage of the Bill, I join other noble Lords in saying that I too very much welcome it and the Government’s approach to dealing with anti-competitive behaviour by the big tech companies. In fact, I welcome it so much that I want to ensure that it is implemented as quickly and effectively as possible, to safeguard our digital start-ups and smaller digital companies.

The independence of the CMA is central to the effectiveness of the processes set out in Part 1. However, the huge powers given to the Minister in these chapters should worry noble Lords. They are proposing great powers of oversight and direction for the Secretary of State. I fear that these will undermine the independence of the CMA and dilute its ability to take on the monopolistic behaviour of the big tech companies. I hope that these amendments will go some way to safeguard the independence of the regulator.

I support the collaborative approach set out in the SMS and conduct requirement processes; it seems to be preferable to the EU’s Digital Markets Act, which is so much more broad-brush, with a much wider investigation into designated companies’ business activities. The Bill sets out a greater focus on a company’s particular activity and ensures that the CMA and the DMU work closely with stakeholders, including the tech companies which are going to be under investigation. However, despite this collaboration, it can only be expected that the companies involved in the process will want to give themselves the best possible chance of maintaining their monopolistic position. Clause 6 is central to the start of the process—after all, it sets out when a company can be considered to be under DMU oversight.

Designation as an SMS player means only that the company is subject to the jurisdiction or potential oversight of the DMU; it does not mean that it has done anything wrong. The deliberate aim of the Bill is to ensure that only large players are to be included in the SMS status. These criteria will not dictate how the investigation will go, so the criteria for designation as an SMS player does not need to be changed if the market changes. However, Clause 6(2) and (3) will give Ministers power to take criteria away from this section. This will mean that powerful tech players could fall outside the jurisdiction of the DMU and will not be open to SMS designation as a result. If the clause allowed only new criteria to be added, so that a wider scope of companies could be included, that would not be so bad. However, the ability to reduce the scope of the DMU’s potential designation should alarm noble Lords. These subsections give the tech companies huge powers to lobby the Secretary of State to ensure that there is not the possibility to designate them. Effectively, this would be a de-designation of these companies, which would defeat the purpose of the CR process before it has even got off the ground.

I am also concerned that the Secretary of State’s powers in this clause go against the law’s need to be normative: as a basic principle, it must apply to all the companies, without discrimination. The DMCC Bill is a law that applies only to those who qualify, but it is, in principle, generally applicable. Chapter 2 of Part 1 sets out a set of criteria that apply to all companies, but only a few will satisfy the criteria. The criteria for being an SMS requires enduring market power and a collection of other criteria. It is likely, as a result, that these will cover Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook; each has enduring market power and qualifies for designation under the criteria in Clause 6. However, if that law can be varied by a Secretary of State to take away criteria, as it currently can, then the law can be made to apply to only a few companies. At the extreme, it could be altered to apply to only one or two. I am advised by lawyers that this is likely to be discriminatory.

Imagine if the law were varied so it applied only to a business that provides both a digital platform and home deliveries. This would mean it would apply only to Amazon, and the company would go to town lobbying against the change in criteria as discriminatory. Noble Lords must continually remind themselves that the Bill is taking aim at the biggest, most powerful companies in the world. I ask them to consider just how far these companies would go to put pressure on politicians and Ministers to safeguard their position, and how effective that pressure can be in changing their minds.

As part of my research for these amendments, I have spoken to people who have worked closely with American politicians and experienced first-hand the power of companies to lobby Congress and change the minds of politicians. There have been two big attempts in recent years to get competition law through the US Congress. The American Innovation and Choice Online Bill would have prevented the tech giants in the US using their platforms to disadvantage competitors. The Open App Markets Bill would have pushed back Apple and Google’s dominant control over app stores. Both had massive support from the Senate Judiciary Committee, one of the most bipartisan institutions in American politics, which has the power to confirm Supreme Court justices. The Open App Markets Bill was voted through the Judiciary Committee with an unheard of 20:2 majority. The votes galvanised the tech companies to launch a lobbying campaign worth hundreds of millions of dollars against the Bills. This included adverts at airports on a Thursday afternoon, aimed at Members of Congress flying back to their constituencies. The lobbying was successful. Both Bills reached the Floor of the Senate but were not included in legalisation, when both majority and minority leaders of the Senate having agreed to drop them. Your Lordships might not be surprised to hear that the leadership of both sides in the Senate received massive campaign financing from both Apple and Google.

It must be the role of Parliament to ensure that this legislation does not give overmighty powers to Ministers and the Government over the SMS and conduct requirement processes. They would be susceptible to the massive lobbying that I have just described. I hope that noble Lords agree that the ability of companies to apply massive pressure on our own politicians should be thwarted wherever possible. These companies are in this position because of their massive power of persuasion. I am sure that many other noble Lords do not want the Part 1 processes to be undermined. If the Minister could come up with a suggestion for how to stop these criteria being taken out of the Bill at a future date, I would feel much happier and secure in the prospect of this Bill succeeding in its much-needed goals.

My Lords, as we start this phase of the Bill, I declare my interests, in particular my husband’s close involvement with the Bill in the other place as the Member of Parliament for Weston-super-Mare. We rarely get involved in the same issues at the same time, but in this case we are.

Like other noble Lords, I am keen to see this Bill reach the statute book, but also keen to ensure that we minimise the degree of legal ambiguity. I thank the many companies that have given us briefings in advance of Committee, but note how many of them have felt incredibly uncomfortable in doing so and have sworn us all to secrecy about having even been talking to us in private, for fear that their commercial relationships will be prejudiced. We must recognise the enormous commercial power that the companies that this Bill aims to regulate already exert. Making sure that the Bill is clear, and that we are not inadvertently creating legal loopholes, is probably the most important thing that we will do in this House as we give it the degree of scrutiny that we like to give here.

Loopholes do not need to be permanent. If you have already got large market power, loopholes just need to slow the process down. When I ran a challenger business competing against a very large incumbent in telecoms, BT, we used to say all the time that BT’s regulatory strategy was to walk backwards slowly—I think that was even said in public, about 20 years ago. That was its strategy.

This is exactly what the big technology companies are doing worldwide. They know that regulation is coming to this sector but are walking backwards as slowly as they can. We see this very clearly with the EU’s Digital Markets Act where, so far, every potential SMS-equivalent firm has challenged its designation through every stage of the courts that it can. We should go into this Committee with our eyes wide open that that is exactly what will happen with this legislation as well. Giving clarity wherever possible will therefore be essential.

With that in mind, I support Amendments 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 in their endeavour to give clarity on two important issues: first, whether the CMA can use work that it has already done; and, secondly, that it is impossible to have clarity about what will happen in technology markets over the next five years. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that it is important that the Bill gives clarity on those two issues? If the amendments as currently drafted do not achieve that, what can we do to ensure that we do not look with horror in a few years’ time when each SMS designation is in a JR, with technology companies challenging the CMA’s ability to use historic work or its lack of crystal ball-gazing, which will inevitably have come about?

I also have considerable sympathy with Amendment 7 from the noble Viscount, Lord Colville. We will come to the question of the Secretary of State’s powers in a number of parts of this Bill. In this case, I can see why we should be worried about the ability of individual companies—this is only from the media—with regulatory lobbying budgets of at least $1 billion to influence a single person because, however moral and upstanding they are, it is likely to be quite great. I have some sympathy with the amendment, but the requirement for a Secretary of State decision via the affirmative process is the strongest parliamentary scrutiny available to us. Does my noble friend acknowledge that this is a potential risk? If it is, what additional safeguards would he suggest if he does not like the removal of this power? I recognise that it is possible that we have not captured all the reasons why you might not want to designate a firm as having strategic market status.

We will come back to these issues again and again in our many days together in this Room, because this is really about giving clarity of intent. Will my noble friend confirm that he shares the intent of these amendments?

My Lords, I am pleased to speak on this first day of Committee and thank all noble Lords for their continued and valued engagement on the DMCC Bill, which, as many noble Lords have observed, will drive innovation, grow the economy and deliver better outcomes for consumers. I am grateful for noble Lords’ continued scrutiny and am confident that we will enjoy a productive debate.

I start by briefly speaking to government Amendments 11 and 12, which I hope noble Lords will support. They make the strategic market status notice provisions consistent by obliging the Competition and Markets Authority to provide reasons for its decision not to designate a firm following an initial SMS investigation.

I turn to Amendment 1, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. The amendment seeks to ensure that the CMA will be able to use, in its SMS investigations, previous analysis undertaken in related contexts. I agree entirely that the CMA should not have to repeat work that it has already done and should be able to draw on insights from previous analysis when carrying out an SMS investigation, when it is appropriate and lawful to do so.

I offer some reassurance to the noble Baroness that the Bill as drafted permits the CMA to rely on evidence that it has gathered in the past, so long as it is appropriate and lawful to do so. As she highlighted, a strength of the regime is the flexibility for the CMA to consider different harms in digital markets. I suspect that this is a theme that we will return to often in our deliberations, but being prescriptive about what information the CMA can rely on risks constraining the broad discretion that we have built into the legislation.

Amendments 3, 4, 5 and 6, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, would make it explicit that the CMA must consider currently available evidence of expected or foreseeable developments when assessing whether a firm holds substantial and entrenched market power in a digital activity. Amendment 3 would remove the duty for the CMA to consider such developments over a five-year period. The regime will apply regulation to firms for a five-year period; it is therefore appropriate that the CMA takes a forward look over that period to assess whether a firm’s market power is substantial and entrenched, taking account of expected or foreseeable developments that might naturally reduce the firm’s market power, if it were not designated.

Without an appropriate forward look, there is a risk that designation results in firms facing disproportionate or unnecessary regulation that harms innovation and consumers. However, the CMA will not be required to prove that a firm will definitely have substantial and entrenched market powers for the next five years—indeed, that would be impossible. The CMA will have to give reasons for its decisions to designate firms and support any determination with evidence. As a public body, it will also be subject to public law principles, which require it to act reasonably and take into account relevant considerations. Therefore, in our view, these amendments are not necessary.

Amendment 7, tabled by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, seeks to remove the power for the Secretary of State to amend by regulations subject to the affirmative procedure the conditions to be met for the CMA to establish a position of strategic significance. I recognise, first, that Henry VIII powers should be used in legislation only when necessary. To the point raised by my noble friend Lady Harding, I also recognise the importance of limiting the scope for too much disputation around this and for too many appeals. In this case, however, the power helps to ensure that the regime can adapt to digital markets that evolve quickly and unpredictably.

Changes in digital markets can result from developments in technology, business models, or a combination of both. The rapid pace of evolution in digital markets, to which many have referred, means that the CMA’s current understanding of power in these markets has changed over the past decade. The concept of strategic significance may therefore also need to evolve in future, and the conditions to be updated quickly, so that the regime remains effective in addressing harms to competition and consumers effectively. The affirmative resolution procedure will give Parliament the opportunity to scrutinise potential changes. It will provide a parliamentary safeguard to ensure that the criteria are not watered down, and should address the noble Lord’s concerns regarding lobbying. For these reasons, I believe that it is important to retain this power.

To look at Clause 6 and the four conditions laid down there, they appear pretty generic, in terms of size; the number of undertakings; the position in respect of digital activity, which would allow an extension of market power; and the ability to influence the ways in which other undertakings conduct themselves. They are generic conditions, so can the Minister give us a bit more of a taste of the kind of thing that just might crop up? I know that he does not have a crystal ball, but could he tell us what might crop up that would require these Henry VIII powers to be used?

I would struggle to name a particular one, but if we were to look back over the last five to 10 years we might reflect that there have been a number of developments in markets that have been largely unpredictable and that technology changes might drive further developments. The point is to create a balance between predictable and durable legislation and the ability to adapt to changes in business practice and technology as they emerge. As a thought experiment, if we were to flip it round and say, “No, we have to stick with only these four things for the duration of the eventual Act”, many of us would be concerned about an ongoing inability to adapt to change in what is a fast-moving marketplace that is likely to see an accelerating pace of change, rather than anything else.

That said, I hope my words provide the noble Baroness and noble Lords with sufficient assurance not to press their amendments.

My Lords, the Minister rather glossed over the importance of Clause 5. In Clause 2(2), the SMS conditions are that

“the undertaking has—

(a) substantial and entrenched market power (see section 5), and

(b) a position of strategic significance”.

The conditions in Clause 6 are rather formulaic, in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Knight, talked about, but the determination, examination and assessment in Clause 5 as to whether an undertaking has substantial and entrenched market power is really important. The Minister glossed over this and said that it is not necessary to have a determination based on current evidence and that this forward-looking element must be in there.

Can the Minister confirm that he has taken advice within the department from competition lawyers who deal with this kind of potential challenge on a daily basis? He seems extraordinarily complacent about the fact that big tech will look at that assessment and say, “The evidence is not there. It’s all speculation for the next five years. You haven’t based it on the actual conduct in our market currently, or indeed an adjacent market”. No doubt we will come to that later in another group. This is absolutely at the core of the Bill, and all the advice that I get, whether from the Open Markets Institute or others, is that this is a real failing in the Bill that could open up a litigation problem for the CMA in due course.

I certainly do not intend to gloss over any of these issues. I can confirm that the department receives extensive advice on these matters, as have those working on the Bill, not only from competition lawyers but from other stakeholders in the market of all different sizes and types, and indeed from the CMA itself. To turn around the noble Lord’s position, if we make a designation that is designed to last for five years, it is crucial that we take into account existing evidence and what is foreseeable today when determining whether to make that designation. Nobody is being asked to be overly speculative, but it is possible to identify existing trends and available information that can form part of the analysis, and use that to make the determination, particularly as the CMA will then have a duty to explain in detail the rationale behind its decision to designate a firm with SMS, or indeed not to do so.

Apologies; I had not intended to intervene on this group, but I am confused and I wonder if my noble friend might be able to help me. We have the word “entrenched”. Obviously, we are talking about “substantial and entrenched”, but “substantial” is not really in debate since, if it has strategic significance, it is likely to be substantial; the issue is with “entrenched”.

A theme that I might develop later on other aspects is to look at our legislation in the context of what has been done by the European Union in its Digital Markets Act. We are doing things differently—and better, I hope—but my point is that the European Union looks at the question of what it describes as an “entrenched and durable position”. That seems to have two aspects to it: the first, “entrenched”, is that it exists and has existed for some time; and the second, “durable”, relates to it being foreseeable that it will continue to exist in future. We have lost the word “durable” and retained “entrenched”, but we are applying it in relation only to what is foreseeable—forward-looking assessment. I am confused about why it is only a forward-looking assessment. The relevant regulation from the European Commission looks back three years to establish whether it is entrenched, and looks forward to see whether it is durable or whether there are foreseeable developments that would give rise to such an entrenched, significant market status. I am looking for both and, at the moment, I cannot see both; I see only the forward-looking part.

Indeed. I am afraid that the use of the word “durable” in this context is new to me. I will very happily take that forward and consider whether it might be a valuable addition to the guidance here. To focus on the outcomes that we want here, we want a reasonably derivable position that the existing entrenched power of the potentially SMS-designated firm is likely to last for the five-year period. We want to ensure that any evidence or analysis supporting that position is presented as part of the report that details why the decision is taken. I will take forward the use of the word “durable”.

Would it be fair to say that the contention in this legislation is that the determination that there is a position of strategic significance also satisfies the argument of whether such substantial market power exists? This further assessment is really about whether it is likely to be entrenched and durable over the five-year period, since the designation extends for five years. This is looking forward over those five years. I think it is perhaps not absolutely clear how these two clauses are intended to be considered together for this purpose.

I take note of my noble friend’s point. There may be many areas on which all of us in this Committee end up disagreeing, but one that I doubt we will disagree on is the need for absolute clarity in all these measures. I am very happy to commit to taking that away and seeing whether there is an appropriate form of words that can deliver the clarity that noble Lords are seeking.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. I very much echo the thanks expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, to all the companies and business that have given evidence and come forward to speak to us. It is true that, for a number of them, they have taken risks to do that. It is a sad fact of life now that their very survival could be at stake if some of their concerns become public. That is why we are here today, I suppose. That is where the market has left us and there is a need to address that.

To pick up on the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, about the CMA’s assessment, I think that we have had a useful discussion with the Minister around all that. I certainly want to look at Hansard and at the reassurances that the Minister has tried to give on this. I very much take the point, incidentally—as mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, in moving his amendment—that SMS status does not mean that they have done anything wrong, so I do not want to get too hung up about giving that status in the first instance. What is important is how we follow that up and look at their behaviour going forward. As the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, spelled out, there is a danger that, if we are not careful, those who are given that category will game the system. That is what we are all anxious about.

I am not sure that the wording achieves what the Minister wants. I think that we are all genuinely clear on the outcomes that we want, as the Minister said, but the current wording does not achieve that. The five-year forward plan is playing into the hands of the wrong people, and we will not come out with the outcomes that we want if we stick with the current wording, so I very much welcome the chance to have further discussion about that.

Before the noble Baroness leaves that point, I strongly endorse what she says. I make the point that we are here debating a set of powers that we would, in most contexts, otherwise consider extremely draconian, because there has already been abuse and market power has already been exercised in ways that we all consider unacceptable. That is why we need clarity on this point. We do not need to look into the crystal ball—we can read the book.

I thank the noble Lord very much for that insight. He is absolutely right, of course. We all understand his wealth of experience; it is very helpful to have his support on that issue.

I pick up on the amendment tabled by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, to which the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and I have added our names. He rightly raised that the significant powers given to the Secretary of State to vary the conditions would lead to tech companies being considered to have strategic market status. As my noble friend Lord Knight said, the list in Clause 6 is quite generic. In a sense, that should be enough for us. None of the things in Clause 6 is time limited, so it should be enough for the CMA and the DMU to do their work.

There is concern, therefore, about how the Bill is currently worded, as it does not give any constraints to the Secretary of State to change the conditions, apart from the affirmative SI—and we can all rehearse the arguments about what that means for parliamentary accountability. The Minister might say that it is necessary to add new conditions if new anti-competitive practices come to light, but I feel that the current wording—and I think that the noble Viscount feels this, too—allows not just for new anti-competitive practices but for the current conditions to be watered down. That is our real concern. The noble Viscount gave an example about specifying particular forms of market practice, such as online sales and delivery, which would then apply to only one or two companies and not the ones that, as I think we all understand, should be in the frame. I was not absolutely convinced by what the Minister said on this issue. It is a bit of a running theme and, as several noble Lords said, we will come back to the issue of parliamentary scrutiny. Perhaps we can look at that in the round at a future point.

The Minister will be pleased to know that I support the government amendments. They make good sense and give clarification in the Bill, which we always like.

We continue to believe that Amendment 1 is necessary to enable the CMA to proceed with speed once the Bill is on the statute book. Nothing the Minister has said so far has persuaded me that the silence in the Bill on this issue is sufficiently reassuring. I hope that we can find a form of words—if not ours then a different form of words—that will allow the CMA to look backwards, giving it absolute reassurance that it can do so and that it will not have to repeat any of its activities. This is all about tightening up the wording. We will reflect on what the Minister said, and I hope that we can talk about this some more. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Clause 2 agreed.

Clause 3 agreed.

Clause 4: Link to the United Kingdom

Amendment 2

Moved by

2: Clause 4, page 3, line 19, at end insert—

“(d) the digital activity or the way in which the undertaking carries on the digital activity is likely to have a substantial impact on the creation, displacement, quality or conditions of work or work environments in the United Kingdom.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment would ensure key definitions such as ‘digital activity’ take into account impacts on UK work and workers in determining whether there is a sufficient link to the UK.

My Lords, I was looking forward to hearing the noble Lord, Lord Knight, introduce these amendments but, owing to a glitch in timing when tabling the amendments, I am unfortunately in the hot seat this afternoon. As well as moving Amendment 2, I will speak to Amendments 18, 23, 56 and 61.

These amendments, developed by the Institute for the Future of Work, are aimed in particular at highlighting the direct and indirect impacts on job creation, displacement and conditions and on the work environment in the UK, which are important considerations that are relevant to competition and should be kept closely under review. I look forward to hearing what the noble Lord, Lord Knight, says, as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Future of Work, which helped the Institute for the Future of Work to develop the amendments.

Digital markets and competition are shaping models for work, the distribution of work, access to work and the conditions and quality of work for several different reasons. Digital connected worker and labour platforms are used across the economy, not just for online or gig work. There is concentration in digital markets, with the emergence of a few dominant actors such as Amazon and Uber, which impacts the number and nature of local jobs created or lost. There are specific anti-competitive practices, such as wage and price fixing, which is currently subject to litigation in the US, and there are secondary and spillover impacts from all the above, including the driving of new models of business that may constrain wages, terms and work quality, directly or indirectly.

A good example is cloud-based connected worker platforms, which use behavioural and predictive algorithms to nudge and predict performance, match and allocate work and set standards. There is also increased market dominance in cloud computing, on which a growing number of UK businesses depend. For example, Amazon Web Services leads four companies in control of 67% of world cloud infrastructure and over 30% of the market.

Other examples are algorithmic hiring, job matching and task-allocation systems, which are trained on data that represents past practices and, as a result, can exclude or restrict groups from labour market opportunities. Social, environmental and well-being risks and impacts, including on work conditions and environments, are under increasing scrutiny from both the consumer and the corporate sustainability perspective—seen, for instance, in the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2024, and the EU’s new corporate sustainability due diligence directive, due to be formally approved this year, which obliges firms to integrate their human rights and environmental impact into their management systems.

This suggests that consumer interests can extend to local and supply-chain impacts, and informed decision-making will need better information on work impacts. For a start, key definitions such as “digital activity” in Clause 4 need to take into account impacts on UK work and workers in determining whether there is a sufficient link to the UK. Amendment 2 is designed to do this. Secondly, the CMA’s power to impose conduct requirements in Chapter 3 of the Bill should make sure that a designated undertaking can be asked to carry out and share an assessment on work impacts. Similarly, the power in Chapter 4, Clause 46, to make pro-competition interventions, which hinges on having an adverse effect, should be amended to include certain adverse impacts on work. Amendments 18, 23 and 56 are designed to do this.

Thirdly, information and understanding about work impacts should be improved and monitored on an ongoing basis. For example, the CMA should also be able to require an organisation to undertake an assessment to ascertain impacts on work and workers as part of a new power to seek information in Clause 69. This would help investigations carried out to ascertain relevant impacts and decide whether to exercise powers and functions in the Bill.

Evidence is emerging of vertical price fixing at a platform level, which might directly impact the pay of UK workers, including payment of the minimum wage and, therefore, compliance with labour law, as well as customer costs. Such anti-competitive practices via digital platforms are not limited to wages, or gig, remote or office work. Ongoing research on the gigification of work includes connected worker platforms, which tend to be based on the cloud. This is indicative of tight and increasing control, and the retention of scale advantages as these platforms capture information from the workplace to set standards, penalise or incentivise certain types of behaviour, and even advise on business models, such as moving to more flexible and less secure contracts. At the more extreme end, wages are driven so low that workers have no choice but to engage in game-like compensation packages that offer premiums for completion of a high number of tasks in short or unsociable periods of time, engage in risk behaviours or limit mobility.

The Institute for the Future of Work has developed a model which could serve as a basis for this assessment: the good work algorithmic impact assessment. The UK Information Commissioner’s Office grants programme supports it and it is published on the DSIT website. The assessment covers the 10 dimensions of the Good Work Charter, which serves as a checklist of workplace impacts in the context of the digitisation of work: work that promotes dignity, autonomy and equality; work that has fair pay and conditions; work where people are properly supported to develop their talents and have a sense of community. The proposed good work AIA is designed to help employers and engineers to involve workers and their representatives in the design, development and deployment of algorithmic systems, with a procedure for ongoing monitoring.

In summary, these amendments would give the CMA an overarching duty to monitor and consider all these impacts as part of monitoring adverse effects on competition and/or a relevant public interest. We should incorporate this important aspect of digital competition into the Bill. I beg to move.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, on the way he occupied the hot seat and introduced his amendments. I had hoped to add my name to them but other things prevented me doing so. As he said, I co-chair the All-Party Group on the Future of Work with Matt Warman in the other place. I am grateful to the Institute for the Future of Work, and to Anna Thomas in particular for her help in putting these amendments together.

I start with a reflection on industrialisation, which in its own way created a massive explosion in economic activity and wealth, and the availability of goods and opportunities. There was innovation and it was good for consumers, but it also created considerable harms to the environment and to workers. The trade union movement grew up as a result of that.

In many ways, the technological revolution that we are going through, which this legislation seeks to address and, in part, regulate, is no different. As the Minister said a few moments ago, we see new opportunities with the digital tools and products that are being produced as part of this revolution, more jobs, more small and medium-sized enterprises able to grow, more innovation and more opportunities for consumers. These are all positive benefits that we should celebrate when we think about and support the Bill, as we do on all sides of the Committee.

However, the risks for workers, and the other social and environmental risks, are too often ignored. The risks to workers were totally ignored in the AI summit that was held by the Government last year. That is a mistake. During the Industrial Revolution, it took Parliament quite a while to get to the Factory Acts, and to the legislation needed to provide the protection for society and the environment. We might be making the same mistake again, at a time when people are being hired by algorithm and, as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, pointed out, managed by algorithm, particularly at the lower end of the labour market and in more insecure employment.

The Institute for the Future of Work’s report, The Amazonian Era, focused on the logistics sector. If you were ever wondering why your Amazon delivery arrives with a knock on the door but there is nobody there when you open it to say hello and check that the parcel has been delivered, it is because the worker does not have time to stop and check that someone is alive on the other side of the door—they have to get on. They are being managed by machine to achieve a certain level of productivity. They are wearing personalised devices that monitor how long their loo breaks are if they are working in the big warehouses. There is a huge amount of technological, algorithmic management of workers that is dehumanising and something which we should all be concerned about.

In turn, having been hired and managed by algorithms, people may well be being fired by algorithm as well. We have seen examples—for example, Amazon resisting trade union recognition in a dispute with the GMB, as the trade union movement also tries to catch up with this and do something about it. Recently, we saw strikes in the creative sector, with writers and artists concerned about the impact on their work of algorithms being used to create and that deskilling them rapidly. I have been contacted by people in the education world who are exam markers—again, they are being managed algorithmically on the throughput of the exams that they have to mark, despite this being an intensive, knowledge-based, reflective activity of looking at people’s scripts.

In this legislation we have a “user”, “consumer”, “worker” problem, in that all of them might be the same person. We are concerned here about users and consumers, but fail to recognise that the same person may also be a worker, now being sold, as part of an integrated service, with the technology, and at the wrong end of an information asymmetry. We have lots of data that is consumer-centric, and lots of understanding about the impacts on consumers, but very little data on the impact of their function as a worker.

In the United States, we have seen the Algorithmic Accountability Act. Last month, the Council of Europe published its recommendations on AI. Both are shifting the responsibility towards the companies, giving them a burden of proof to ensure that they are meeting reasonable standards around worker rights and conditions, environmental protection and so on. These amendments seek to do something similar. They want impacts on work, and on workers in particular, to be taken into account in SMS designation, competition decisions, position of conduct requirements and compliance reports. It may be that, if the Government had delivered on their promise of many years now to deliver an employment Bill, we could have dealt with some of these things in that way. But we do not have that opportunity and will not have it for some time.

As I have said, the collective bargaining option for workers is extremely limited; the digital economy has had very limited penetration of trade union membership. It is incumbent on your Lordships’ House to use the opportunities of digital legislation to see whether we can do something to put in place a floor of minimum standards for the way in which vulnerable workers across the economy, not just in specific digital companies, are subject to algorithmic decision-making that is to their disadvantage. We need to do something about it.

My Lords, I too faced a glitch, having wanted to add my name to these amendments. Since we are at a new stage of the Bill, I declare my interests as set out in the register, particularly as an adviser to the Institute for Ethics in AI at Oxford and to the Digital Futures centre at the LSE and as chair of the 5Rights Foundation. I support the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, who has, with this group of amendments, highlighted that job creation or displacement and the quality of work are all relevant considerations for the CMA. I think it is worth saying that, when we talk about the existential threat of AI, we always have three areas of concern. The first is the veracity and provenance of information; the second is losing control of automated weapons; and the third, importantly in this case, is the many millions of jobs that will be lost, leaving human beings without ways to earn money or, perhaps, a reason for being.

There are two prevailing views on this. One is that of Elon Musk, who, without telling us how we might put food on the table, pronounced to the Prime Minister

“There will come a point where no job is needed – you can have a job if you want one for personal satisfaction but AI will do everything”.

The other, more optimistic view is that boring or repetitive work will go, which is, in part, beautifully illustrated by David Runciman’s recent book, The Handover, where he details the fate of sports officials. In 2021, Australian and US line judges were replaced by computers, while Wimbledon chose to keep them—largely for aesthetic reasons, because of the lovely Ralph Lauren white against the green grass. Meanwhile, Carl Frey and Michael Osborne, in their much-publicised 2017 study assessing the susceptibility of 702 different jobs to computerisation, suggested that sports officials had a 98% probability of being computerised.

In fact, since 2017, automation has come to all kinds of sports but, as Runciman says,

“Cricket matches, which traditionally featured just two umpires, currently have three to manage the complex demands of the technology, plus a referee to monitor the players’ behaviour”.

Soccer has five, plus large teams of screen watchers needed to interpret—very often badly—replays provided by VAR. The NBA Replay Center in Secaucus employs 25 people in a NASA-like control room, along with a rota of regular match officials.

It would be a fool who would bet that Elon Musk is entirely wrong, but nor should we rely on the fact that all sectors will employ humans to watch over the machines, or even that human beings will find that being the supervisor of a machine, or simply making an aesthetic contribution rather than being a decision-maker, is a good result. It is more likely that the noble Lord, Lord Knight, is correct that the algorithm will indeed be supervising the human beings.

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and his co-author, the noble Lord, Lord Knight, may well prove to be very prescient in introducing this group of amendments that thoughtfully suggest at every stage of the Bill that the CMA should take the future of work and the impact of work into account in coming to a decision. As the noble Lord made clear in setting out each amendment, digital work is no longer simply gig work and the concentration in digital markets of behemoth companies has had and will continue to have huge consequences for jobs across supply lines, as well as wages within markets and, most particularly, on terms of employment and access to work.

AI is, without question, the next disruptor. Those companies that own the technology will be dominant across multiple markets, if not every market, and for the CMA to have a mandate to consider the impact on the workforce is more than sensible, more than foresightful; it is in fact a new reality. I note that the Minister, in responding to the last group, mentioned the importance of foreseeable and existing trends: here we have one.

My Lords, I am sure the noble Viscount has more important things to say than I have, but it falls to me to make a few comments from the Opposition Benches on this. While listening to my noble friend Lord Knight, I was reflecting that we might be the last profession ever to be dismissed or appointed by algorithm and wondering whether that is a good or a bad thing. I leave that for the Minister to ponder while I make my observations.

The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, introduced these amendments with his customary skill and guile. No doubt, like the rest of us, he has been extremely well briefed by the Institute for the Future of Work; I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Knight for his work in that regard. This group of amendments is extremely important. We know that, with algorithms, new digital technology and thinking, just as the history lesson from my noble friend showed, it is really important when technological revolutions happen that we grasp the moment to think about their wider social and economic impact—with this, in particular, the impact on the world of work.

On the face of it, these amendments would provide a valuable extension of the CMA’s remit and role and could lead to protection of consumers and workers from the adverse impacts brought about by the activities of digital companies that operate in a dominant position in the marketplace. As the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said, the near-monopoly position of some companies means that wage and price fixing are a real concern. The ability of the CMA to monitor, comment and have an impact on conduct could have a wider and beneficial impact on ensuring that the market works not only well but fairly and with equity. It is the case that social, environmental and well-being risks and impacts, including work conditions and the environment are under increasing scrutiny from consumer and corporate sustainability perspectives.

The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, referenced the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report and the EU’s new corporate sustainability due diligence directive 2023, to be introduced later this year. They exemplify the importance and salience of the issue. As he said, this all suggests that consumer interests can extend to local supply chains, so, as a consequence, informed decision-making will need to have better information on work impacts in the future. Consumers are, as has been said, both consumers and workers, and they are bound to take much greater interest in digital workplaces. From these Benches, we therefore support, in general terms, better monitoring, intervention and information sharing by the CMA; if these amendments achieve that objective, they are certainly worthy of our support. The Minister will have to persuade us otherwise, or explain that the CMA will have the scope to use its powers to satisfy the objectives behind the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones.

I was intrigued by the reference by the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, to sports officials being put out of a job. I am a big football fan, as many colleagues will know. It just seems to me that VAR is a great example of how you can generate even more activity and interest by the digitisation of assessments and the use of algorithms to judge whether something is or is not offside. We are happy to support these amendments; we think they potentially touch on a vital aspect of the CMA’s work and we look forward to what the Minister has to say about them.

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, for jumping the gun before his interesting words. I reflect that the algorithm that puts exactly this combination of people in this Room would be fairly complex—but a good one.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for using several amendments to raise the important issue of the impact of technologies, such as artificial intelligence, on workers and the nature of work. I also thank the noble Lords, Lord Knight and Lord Bassam, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, for their contributions to what is an important part of our deliberations.

The Government of course recognise that new technologies can create challenges and risks, as well as opportunities and benefits. I agree with noble Lords that the impact of technology on work and workers deserves attention, and I will respond to each amendment in turn. However, I also hope that noble Lords agree that it is of paramount importance that this regime is effective and focused on promoting competition for the benefit of consumers, which is the CMA’s area of expertise. I know that future amendments propose that the CMA’s focus should go beyond that, so perhaps the bulk of that can be left for that debate.

The CMA has been considering future issues in the space of competition, and indeed recently published its first horizon-scanning report on 10 trends in digital markets and how they may develop over the next five years and beyond. However, the Government feel that wider issues around the impact of digital technologies on work and workers—those that do not impinge directly on competition for the benefit of consumers—are better dealt with elsewhere.

Amendment 2 would allow the CMA to establish that there is a link to the UK for the purposes of designating a firm with SMS when a digital activity is likely to have a substantial impact on work or work environments in the United Kingdom. The CMA’s objective is, as I say, to promote competition for the benefit of consumers, and it is important that the digital markets regime is focused on competition.

The current criteria to establish a link to the UK ensure that the regime is targeted and proportionate, and draw on similar approaches in other legislation, including Chapter 1 of the Competition Act 1998. However, this amendment would allow the CMA to link a digital activity to the UK on the basis of impacts that are explicitly unrelated to competition. It would therefore detract from the aims of the regime, which are competition focused. It would also be inappropriate for the CMA to assess impacts unrelated to competition, which is its area of expertise and jurisdiction.

Amendments 18 and 23 would ensure that the CMA can require the SMS firm, through conduct requirements, to carry out and share an assessment on wider social impacts. I agree with noble Lords that it is of crucial importance that users are given the information necessary to make informed decisions about the services they use. The current objectives and list of permitted types of conduct requirements have been carefully drafted to ensure that the regime can protect consumers and businesses that rely on SMS firms via targeted and tailored rules. Conduct requirements can be imposed for the purposes of the trust and transparency objective, to ensure that those who use or seek to use the relevant digital activity have the information they need to understand the terms on which the activity is provided. This amendment would go beyond the scope and competition remit of the CMA, potentially creating new burdens and additional complexities, which could slow down effective enforcement.

Amendment 56 would expand the concept of an adverse effect on competition to include the displacement or alteration of work conditions or environments within the United Kingdom. Pro-competition interventions are designed specifically to address the root causes of the substantial and entrenched market power which gives rise to strategic market status. Where adverse working conditions intersect with or create a substantial negative impact on the competition within a particular market or industry, it may be relevant for the CMA to consider these. However, explicitly amending the definition of adverse effects on competition to include workplace conditions would skew the focus of the regulator away from competition and shift PCIs away from the established precedent of the markets’ regime. During a PCI investigation, the CMA may identify actions that other regulators or public bodies would be better placed to act upon. This may include the DMU referring issues such as workplace conditions to a relevant regulator, better placed to deal with these key issues.

Which regulators is the Minister thinking of? I am interested in Clauses 107 and 108, which are about regulatory co-ordination and information sharing, and whether there is something we should do there with those regulators. If he could give us a hint as to which regulators he is thinking of, that would be really helpful.

I refer to the digital regulators themselves—the ICO or the FCA and Ofcom—or indeed regulators with oversight of employment law.

Amendment 61 would enable the CMA to require algorithmic impact assessments, to assess the impact of algorithms on society and the environment, including working conditions, if it considered such information relevant to its digital markets functions. I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Lord about the importance of understanding the impact of algorithmic systems on society, the environment and working conditions in the UK.

Yes, I think that I am saying that. The CMA, over the course of its investigations, can come across information beyond its own competitive remit but relevant for other regulators, and then could and should choose to advise those other regulators of a possible path for action.

In that sense, could the CMA ask for an impact assessment on the algorithmic harm that might be carried out? Would that be in the power and remit of the CMA?

The CMA does have power and remit to request an algorithmic impact assessment. I will take advice on this, because I believe that the algorithmic assessment that it undertakes must be in the direction of understanding anti-competitive behaviours, rather than a broader purpose. I will happily take advice on that.

As the Bill stands, the CMA will already have sufficient investigatory powers to understand the impact of complex algorithms on competition and consumers. The suggested expansion of this power would fall outside the role and remit of the CMA. Moreover, the CMA would not have appropriate tools to address such issues, if it did identify them. The Government will continue to actively look at whether new regulatory approaches are needed in response to developments in AI, and will provide an update on their approach through the forthcoming AI regulation White Paper response.

I thank the noble Lord once again for raising these important issues and hope that he feels able to withdraw the amendment.

I thank the Minister for his considered reply, and thank all those who have taken part in this extremely important and interesting debate, particularly the amplification by a number of noble Lords of some of the issues.

I was very much taken by what the noble Lord, Lord Knight, had to say about the risks for workers—hired, managed, fired. He used the word “dehumanising”, which was very powerful. The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, referred back to some of the really interesting papers about automation from Osborne and Frey and others over the years, telling us that it is not just Elon Musk but, perhaps I might say, other more serious people who are warning us about the dangers of automation.

At the end of the day, I think the question is how relevant this is to competition. Those of us putting forward and supporting these amendments believe that monopoly, concentration and the power of big tech have the ability to determine working conditions. The Minister talks about this detracting from the CMA’s duties, saying that it is beyond its competition remit and so on. We think it is mainstream; we do not think that it is just an add-on to the CMA’s duties. There is a very strong argument for a wider focus by the CMA.

It feels rather like the Minister is passing the parcel to another regulator. It was instructive that we had to scrabble around at the back end of Clause 107 to see what other regulator might be available to deal with this, but there is nobody to pass this parcel to: this is a direct consequence of concentration and monopoly power. We should include these considerations in what the CMA does. It should have the power to insist on an algorithmic impact assessment.

I think the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, used the word prescient. We need to be prescient and think forward to the future and the power of the algorithm, artificial intelligence and big tech. Our working population are extremely vulnerable in these circumstances. I do not get the feeling that the Government are really taking their duties to protect them seriously. I am sure that we will have further debates on this. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 2.

Amendment 2 withdrawn.

Clause 4 agreed.

Clause 5: Substantial and entrenched market power

Amendments 3 to 6 not moved.

Clause 5 agreed.

Clause 6: Position of strategic significance

Amendment 7 not moved.

Clause 6 agreed.

Clauses 7 to 10 agreed.

Clause 11: Procedure relating to SMS investigations

Amendment 8

Moved by

8: Clause 11, page 6, line 36, at end insert “, and

(c) give a copy of the statement to those undertakings that have not been designated as having SMS that are most directly affected.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is one of a series that would ensure that challenger firms are able to access information about the regulatory framework on an equal basis to designated firms.

My Lords, in moving Amendment 8, I will also speak to my Amendments 9, 10, 13, 35, 37, 42, 45, 46, 57 and 58. I thank my noble friend Lady Ritchie, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, for adding their names. The noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Tyrie, have some other amendments in this group to which I will respond at the end of this debate. However, I can confirm that we support the thrust of the noble Lords’ amendments and look forward to hearing their more detailed arguments in due course.

As I made clear at the outset, our concerns with this Bill are mainly about the detail, in particular the changes made by the Government at the very last minute on Report in the Commons. We support the model that is being proposed, although we share some of the concerns that will come up in this debate and in later ones about the extent of the widespread powers that have been given to the CMA and the DMU in respect of the big tech players, in particular their application to those being given strategic market status. The corollary to the decision to introduce this new approach is that the new power should be set out clearly in statute, which is the point that we have made, and that when it is used the DMU will need to be open and transparent to all those who have a legitimate interest.

There must be no question that the smaller challenger firms which—for various understandable reasons—may not be fully informed about discussions and negotiations between the DMU and potential SMS firms need to be able to access information about the regulatory framework and potential changes to it on an equal basis as the firms being considered for SMS status. How else will we achieve the balance that we are all aiming for in this Bill? Our amendments in this and other groups address this issue.

When this came up in the Commons, Minister Saqib Bhatti said:

“the Government agree that it is important that the DMU’s regulatory decisions are transparent and that the right information is available to the public”. —[Official Report, Commons, 20/11/23; col. 74.]

We agree with that. With respect, however, the DMU publishing summaries of decisions reached completely misses the point we are trying to make. The DMU must ensure that it has all the information it needs, including all the information held by challenger firms, before it makes decisions about SMS status and related matters. Challenger firms may have a different view of what SMS means to their businesses and consumers and it is unlikely that they will have perfect information about the DMU’s thinking. They will, however, certainly want to be engaged in the issues if they are made aware of them at the right time.

Many of us attended a helpful meeting with the CMA last week, where this issue was raised. It became clear that it already has good relations with a number of the bigger challenger firms. However, given that it is investigating anti-competitive behaviour, it is also clear that there will be many smaller start-up companies that will never be given a chance to get established because of the behaviour of the big players. We have a real concern about how we can make their voices heard too. We run the danger that the DMU will contact only the people it already knows about and will not hear from those who are perhaps most squeezed out of the process being investigated.

Our suggestion is that the DMU should have a statutory duty to send decision notices to third parties that it assesses are likely to be most affected by such a decision. To us, this does not seem to be unduly burdensome to the DMU. One could argue that a failure to know which challenger firms are likely to be affected could be very injurious to consumers and the economy at large. In the Commons, the Minister said he thought there would be “limited benefits” to introducing this requirement. I do not think the Government have made the case on this point and I hope they will think again. I also hope that they and the Minister will listen carefully to the points made in this debate.

In the last few weeks, we have met and received submissions from many challenger firms concerned about the Government’s position on the issue. They support the Bill but worry about the imbalance, as they fear it will have a deleterious effect on the regime. They have all made it clear that they support our amendments. I hope the Minister will be able to agree with our arguments. We think there is a strong case for involving the challenger firms at an earlier stage and giving them far more information. I would like to hear how and when the Government intend to do that. I beg to move.

I declare a number of general interests with respect to this Bill. I am on the advisory board of BSV, a consumer class action being taken against crypto exchanges; I act as a consultant to DLA Piper; I have also had contact with many companies, several platforms and their advisors and many consumer groups about the Bill. As a former chairman of the CMA, I had a significant hand in constructing large parts of it. It is important that others bear in mind that anything I say on this is from the perspective of having been there for enough time to have taken too many of its ideas to heart. In fact, I have been lobbied in all directions on this Bill and for so long that I am losing count of which direction the lobbies all come from.

My initial amendment to the Bill is very modest. Clause 15 as currently drafted requires the CMA only to provide a firm with a summary of its supporting evidence prior to taking a decision to designate a firm. It is not required to supply all the evidence. The main reason for that is that the CMA may have received commercially confidential information from third parties, whose interests could be prejudiced if that information were available to the designated firm. There is merit in protecting the CMA’s sources, as it clearly wants to do. The problem is that the SMS-designated firm will have to trust that the CMA has done a good and thorough job of the summary.

My amendment is very simple. It will enable a firm to require the CMA to appoint an independent reviewer of the evidence. I am happy for the independent reviewer to be appointed by the CMA itself. This will give the CMA a strong incentive to carry out a full, fair and robust process. In practice, it means that there is a risk to the CMA that it will have its homework marked by an independent reviewer. By doing so, it will provide some comfort to a firm that it is obtaining all the information that can reasonably be made available given the confidentiality constraint that I referred to earlier.

Therefore, my amendment’s main effect will be that the CMA will summarise the documents accurately. It certainly will not want to be challenged by an independent reviewer and found wanting, and it does not want to be caught playing fast and loose with it. However, the fact of that is likely to decrease the risk that a review would be needed in the first place. The CMA will want to do a good job and the firm will know that that is the case. There is a second benefit, which is that it is a simple trust-building measure to introduce an independent reviewer. It will build confidence in the SMS designation system itself with firms and in the digital marketplace. There will be considerable benefits from building trust, for domestic and inward investment.

I have noticed over many years here and in the other place that whenever amendments like this are tabled, everybody looks for a precedent. Well, there are no exact precedents here and the reason is obvious: the new digital framework and the SMS designation framework are unprecedented. However, there are a large number of long-standing analogous arrangements designed to ensure that a second pair of eyes can look at all or part of decision-making by powerful regulators. I will mention four that have some relevance.

First, there is the panel review system in phase 2 of merger control, in the Enterprise Act 2002. Of course, the panel is primarily looking at the substance of the issue but it also ensures fair process by looking at what documentation is made available. Internally, the CMA has a procedural officer, an independent legal professional who can review complaints, as the name suggests. I am in a sense suggesting some slight extension of that role to cover CMA activities with respect to designation.

Ofgem has an enforcement decision panel, and the FCA is obliged to involve a fresh decision-maker before providing a decision for a statutory notice. The FCA parallel is particularly relevant because designation has some of the characteristics of the licensing system in the financial sector. We have not called it licensing but it has some of those characteristics and is a major change to the way in which we have tried to regulate businesses in the UK in the past. I strongly support it—naturally, since I was so closely involved in thinking through parts of it. However, I recognise that we are in uncharted territory in many ways and we need to provide balance—a point I will expand on in a moment.

I said I would provide four examples but I have provided only three. The European competition policy regime uses a hearing officer, who performs exactly—or very nearly—this function: to check that procedure has been properly followed by the competition commission.

The noble Baroness, Lady Harding, raised one drawback: a firm may decide to try to gain time—to walk slowly backwards, as she put it. As a consumer, I have had personal experience of BT walking backwards slowly; it was a terrible experience. I will not ask all those who have had similar experience to put up their hands up, as I am sure it is against parliamentary procedure, but I cannot help feeling that quite a few hands might go up. However, firms are unlikely to be able to use this tool extensively, partly because designation itself becomes such a powerful weapon in the hands of the CMA. Firms know that, once they have been designated, they are going to have to collaborate with the CMA. Trench warfare they are likely to lose, so they will not want to put the CMA’s back up unless they have some reason for thinking that the papers in front of them fall short of what is required. In any case, I am suggesting a three-month limit to the conduct of the review. That could be expedited down to one month, but it is up to the Government to think this through. I hope that they will do some thinking on it. I have also suggested in Amendment 13A a duty of expedition for this specific function.

It has been put to me by various parties that there is a case for some kind of independent review mechanism of this type for all major decisions of the CMA that involve conduct requirements or other pro-competition interventions by the CMA in the digital field, but I am not arguing for that. In any case, it could gradually take us back to a full-merits review by the back door, with which I would disagree. I hope the Government will look carefully at what I propose.

I end with a point that might be slightly counterintuitive but which I would like colleagues to bear in mind in looking at the Bill from all its angles. Of course, only the Minister can provide balance, and it is important to bear in mind that, looking at it from the point of view of the CMA and officials, they know that they have vastly superior technical expertise than a Minister can bring to this subject and, therefore, it is relatively straightforward for them to take a road that might lead them towards a comfort zone. We need to bear in mind that the CMA itself is a vested interest in framing this legislation. It is packed with high-quality economists and lawyers, many of whom I worked with, but it is a vested interest, and it has an interest in developing the Bill in a way which will expedite business as it sees fit, which may not always coincide with what a wider interest would perceive it to be. We can and should put checks into that risk, and I propose one such check here. Complete dependence of firms on CMA summaries is probably a small bridge too far, but it is a bridge that we need not cross.

My Lords, I support Amendments 8, 9, 10, 13, 35, 37, 42, 44, 45, 46, 57 and 58 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, to which I have added my name. I list them all because the very fact that there are so many amendments to make what is actually quite a simple point shows the scale of the inequality of arms between the potential strategic market status firms and the firms that are detrimentally affected by them.

From looking at the detail it is clear that there are opportunities in the Bill for an SMS firm to comment at the outset and throughout an SMS designation investigation, at the drafting of a conduct requirement, in a conduct investigation and in a PCI investigation. Those affected can comment only at the latter public consultation stage. There is a real risk that the CMA will take decisions without the involvement, insight and information of non-SMS firms.

Like other noble Lords, I attended the very helpful briefing with the Minister and the CMA last week. When challenged on this, the CMA representatives told us that they agreed that there was an inequality of arms, that it was really important to do everything possible to balance it, and that they, with the best intent, intended to do that. They also acknowledged some commercial issues, where there may well be information that the SMS firms share that they should not share with commercial counterparties. Essentially, the CMA leadership—I say this without any judgment on them—told us to rely on the “good chap” theory of government and to trust their best intentions. That is really quite dangerous, given the sheer gulf in that inequality of arms.

So we might not have got the right wording in this long list of amendments, but this is a really important principle. I have deep respect for all the officials in the CMA, as my noble friend Lord Tyrie has just said, but this is a very hard balancing act that we will be asking them to undertake. Having played this game on the other side, I say that we should have no illusions: all companies spend a lot of time trying to influence the regulator that regulates them. If we do not ensure that there is an equality of arms in that process, we will be setting the CMA up to fail.

My Lords, I support these amendments as well. This is a terrifying prospect; I hate taking part in Bill Committees, because it is so hard to navigate where the amendments are, but I feel more courage following my noble friend Lord Tyrie, with his practical suggestions, and my noble friend Lady Harding, with her overview and common-sense approach to these amendments. In effect, she said exactly what I want to say. Trying to amend different clauses to get the effect we want is a slightly artificial process. As we know, these amendments in Committee are, in effect, devices to get across the fundamental point.

Some kind words were used about potential SMS companies and the platforms, but we all know that what we are debating is an attempt to bring about equality in the arms race when it comes to levelling the playing field as far as competition is concerned. When my noble friend Lady Harding spoke to earlier amendments, she talked about companies being afraid to put their names to concerns. That really shone a spotlight on the situation that currently prevails, which is, in effect, a duopoly of two platforms that can decide whether start-ups and apps live or die—or, indeed, how much profit they potentially make.

I support the principle of these amendments. How one gets from A to B is potentially a very difficult route, but I hope that the Minister will say in his reply that he understands the mood of the Committee. Can we find a way to extricate ourselves from the current process whereby, understandably, the SMS company is presented with the case against it and goes off to answer it? To a certain extent, it is kept within a relatively closed circle, in a very legalistic way, when the accused is in the dock. Can one broaden that out to allow the challenger companies that may have prompted the investigation to know exactly what the CMA thinks are substantial points that it wants to take forward, which could potentially be points that they wish to take action on? That might also encourage other challenger companies that may not be aware of the investigation or, indeed, the details of the investigation to come through with their own material evidence.

As my noble friend Lady Harding pointed out, at every stage of the investigation, the SMS companies will have an opportunity to respond, and the challenger companies will not have the same opportunity to put their case to the CMA. It is absolutely the case—and to a certain extent I may here be slightly parting company with my noble friend Lord Tyrie—that the SMS companies will not play ball with the CMA in any shape or form. One difficulty or risk in amending this Bill in any shape or form is the opportunity that it will give to litigate on definitions in the Bill, even before a case is potentially brought, which I gather is what is happening in Brussels already with the DMA. You can be sure as eggs is eggs that every dot and comma of this Bill, when it becomes an Act, will be litigated, and every dot and comma of any case brought by the CMA against an SMS company will be litigated.

I simply make the point to the Minister that, if the Government have the opportunity to think between Committee and Report how they might find a way to level the playing field and amend the legislation accordingly, it would be welcomed across all sides of the House.

My Lords, I do not actually have much to add to the excellent case that has already been made, but I, too, was at the meeting that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, mentioned, and noticed the CMA’s existing relationships.

Quite a lot has been said already, on the first group and just now, about lobbying—not lobbying only in a nasty sense but perhaps about the development of relationships that are simply human. I want to make it very clear that those words do not apply to the CMA specifically—but I have worked with many regulators, both here and abroad, and it starts with a feeling that the regulated, not the regulator, holds the information. It goes on to a feeling that the regulated, not the regulator, has the profound understanding of the limits of what is possible. It then progresses to a working relationship in which the regulator, with its limited resources, starts to weigh up what it can win, rather than what it should demand. That results in communities that have actually won legal protections remaining unprotected. It is a sort of triangulation of purpose, in which the regulator’s primary relationship ends up being geared towards government and industry, rather than towards the community that it is constituted to serve.

In that picture, I feel that the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, make it clear, individually and collectively, that at every stage maximum transparency must be observed, and that the incumbents should be prevented from holding all the cards—including by hiding information from the regulator or from other stakeholders who might benefit from it.

I suggest that the amendments do not solve the problem of lobbying or obfuscation, but they incentivise providing information and they give challengers a little bit more of a chance. I am sure we are going to say again and again in Committee that information is power. It is innovation power, political power and market power. I feel passionately that these are technical, housekeeping amendments rather than ones that require any change of government policy.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, whose speech segues straight into my Amendments 14 and 63. This is all about the asymmetry of information. On the one hand, the amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, which I strongly support and have signed, are about giving information to challengers, whereas my amendments are about extracting information from SMS undertakings.

Failure to respond to a request for information allows SMS players to benefit from the information asymmetry that exists in all technology markets. Frankly, incumbents know much more about how things work than the regulators. They can delay, obfuscate, claim compliance while not fully complying and so on. By contrast, if they cannot proceed unless they have supplied full information, their incentives are changed. They have an incentive to fully inform, if they get a benefit from doing so. That is why merger control works so well and quickly, as the merger is suspended pending provision of full information and competition authority oversight. We saw that with the Activision Blizzard case, where I was extremely supportive of what the CMA did—in many ways, it played a blinder, as was subsequently shown.

We on these Benches consider that a duty to fully inform is needed in the Bill, which is the reason for our Amendments 14 and 63. They insert a new clause in Chapter 2, which provides for a duty to disclose to the CMA

“a relevant digital activity that may give rise to actual or likely detrimental impact on competition in advance of such digital activity’s implementation or effect”

and a related duty in Chapter 6 ensuring that that undertaking

“has an overriding duty to ensure that all information provided to the CMA is full, accurate and complete”.

Under Amendment 14, any SMS undertaking wishing to rely on it must be required to both fully inform and pre-notify the CMA of any conduct that risks breaching one of the Bill’s objectives in Clause 19. This is similar to the tried-and-tested pre-notification process for mergers and avoids the reality that the SMS player may otherwise simply implement changes and ignore the CMA’s requests. A narrow pre-notification system such as this avoids the risks.

We fully support and have signed the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. As techUK says, one of the benefits that wider market participants see from the UK’s pro-competition regime is that the CMA will initiate and design remedies based on the evidence it gathers from SMS firms in the wider market. This is one of the main advantages of the UK’s pro-competition regime over the EU DMA. To achieve this, we need to make consultation rights equal for all parties. Under the Bill currently, firms with SMS status, as the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, said, will have far greater consultation rights than those that are detrimentally affected by their anti-competitive behaviour. As she and the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, said, there are opportunities for SMS firms to comment at the outset but none for challenger firms, which can comment only at a later public consultation stage.

It is very important that there are clear consultation and evidence-gathering requirements for the CMA, which must ensure that it works fairly with SMS firms, challengers, smaller firms and consumers throughout the process, ensuring that the design of conduct requirements applies to SMS firms and pro-competition interventions consider evidence from all sides, allowing interventions to be targeted and capable of delivering effective outcomes. This kind of engagement will be vital to ensuring that the regime can meet its objectives.

We do not believe that addressing this risk requires removing the flexibility given by the Bill. Instead, we believe that it is essential that third parties are given a high degree of transparency and input on deliberation between the CMA and SMS firms. The CMA must also—and I think this touches on something referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones—allow evidence to be submitted in confidence, as well as engage in wider public consultations where appropriate. We very strongly support the amendments.

On the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Tyrie, it is a bit of a curate’s egg. I support Amendments 12A and 12B because I can see the sense in them. I do not see that we need to have another way of marking the CMA’s homework, however. I am a great believer that we need greater oversight, and we have amendments later in the Bill for proposals to increase parliamentary oversight of what the CMA is doing. However, marking the CMA’s homework at that stage is only going to be an impediment. It will be for the benefit of the SMS undertakings and not necessarily for those who wish to challenge the power of those undertakings. I am only 50% with the noble Lord, rather than the whole hog.

I thank both noble Lords for speaking and for their thoughtful contributions. I will start by considering the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, relating to information and transparency.

It is important to state from the outset that the Government agree it is vital that the Digital Markets Unit’s decisions are transparent and that the right information is available publicly. Currently, the DMU would be required to publish the key information related to its investigations in the summaries of its decisions. The amendments in this group, beginning with Amendment 8 and ending with Amendment 58, tabled by the noble Baroness, would create a new requirement for the DMU to send decision notices to firms that it assesses to be the most affected by decisions.

We agree it is vital that the DMU's decisions are transparent, and the appropriate information is accessible publicly. That is why the DMU is required to consult publicly before it imposes obligations such as conduct requirements or pro-competition orders. This gives third parties the opportunity to make representations on the design of interventions. While the precise nature of the consultation process is at the DMU’s discretion, we are aware of the imbalances in resources between different firms, as noble Lords have raised.

In its recently published overview, the CMA highlighted that engaging with a wide range of stakeholders will be a core principle of their approach. We therefore expect the DMU to put appropriate mechanisms in place for third parties to feed in. The consultation requirements are minimum requirements. As the CMA set out earlier this month, the DMU will undertake fair, inclusive and transparent engagement with third parties when designing its interventions. The participative approach will ensure that obligations are effective and appropriate, while minimising undue burdens and avoiding unintended consequences for both SMS firms and third parties.

However, requiring the DMU to identify appropriate third parties and send notices for each decision would introduce a significant burden on the DMU for minimal benefit. I think this will be a theme as we go through Committee: the burdens created by some of the proposed amendments are greater than they initially seem. For example, it could mean sending notices to potentially thousands of interested third parties in the case of app developers in the activity of app stores. Given this and the fact that the CMA will publish key information related to its decisions, we feel the burden would outweigh the benefit.

Amendment 14, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, would require SMS firms to inform the CMA before launching a digital activity that may give rise to competition issues. The Government agree that it is important that the CMA has access to information on potential competition issues in digital markets as they emerge. However, the CMA already has robust information-gathering powers under Part 1, supported by appropriate penalties for non-compliance. This amendment would create new burdens on the CMA, which could potentially be inundated with information. As a result, rather than focusing on priorities, the regulator would have to expend resources sifting the information provided. Further, it could introduce undue burdens on SMS firms looking to introduce innovative new products and services in areas that have healthy competition. It is important that obligations within the regime do not dissuade firms from developing innovations that are beneficial to consumers. I hope that sets out the position to the noble Lord.

I am interested in my noble friend’s point about the idea that allowing challenger firms to put in evidence to the CMA would overwhelm it with too much information that it could not cope with. Two points spring to mind. First, when you bring a case against an SMS the workload is unbelievable anyway—it is enormous—and these cases go on for years, so it strikes me that additional information from challenger firms would not unduly add to the CMA’s burden. Secondly, if my noble friend will forgive me, it seems a relatively casual phrase. I do not know whether there has been any analysis of the kind of information the CMA would expect to receive, but surely information that it received from challenger firms would simply allow it to present a much more robust case, rather than it being overwhelmed by paperwork.

My Lords, so that the Minister does not have to stand up a second time, I will just add the other side of the coin to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey. The Minister seems very concerned about the workload within an SMS, but they are an SMS for a reason.

I thank noble Lords for raising those points. My response to them both is that the key is that we are trying to set a balance between the workloads—the work that has to be performed by the regulator—and the benefit of that work for competition. We can certainly come up with examples. I shared the example of how many app developers there are and how many of them would have to exchange information with the regulator, but perhaps it would be more helpful to the Committee if I committed to giving a slightly deeper analysis of what the CMA estimates would be the time consumed on such activities and why we are concerned that it would have the potential to detract from the core basis of its mission.

The challenger app developers are, in essence, the customers here, so I am quite worried that I think I am hearing that the regulator cannot cope with customer feedback, whereas that is probably the most important feedback in its process. We are looking for a way of enshrining that in the legislation that does not create some overwhelming burden. To say that customers will overwhelm the regulator with feedback is back to front: they are the people that the competition regulator should most want to hear from.

In that example, I would cast the app developers as participants in the ecosystem and the customers as the users of the app, but that is perhaps an ontological problem. Perhaps the most straightforward thing, to satisfy the Committee’s concerns that we are not idly throwing out the possibility of an overworked regulator, would be to provide the Committee with a greater analysis of why we believe we have to be careful with what information we ask them to exchange with interested parties to avoid the situation in which the paperwork exceeds the value work.

My Lords, would the Minister also agree to add the whole question about the overworked SMS in his response?

Yes. The point is that we are very happy for these firms to keep delivering innovative new products in competitive markets; we are less happy about them spending their time frustrating the will of the regulator. It is more difficult for me to comment on SMS workloads but I am very happy to comment on the regulators’ workloads.

My Lords, the foundation of the Minister’s argument is SMS workload. The issue is exactly the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, made about information being power. The SMS companies will know what they are developing. They have huge teams of developers and marketeers, and they have huge amounts of information. This is a question of the CMA trying to keep abreast of what is happening in markets which are dominated by SMS companies, so it is important that there is a proactive duty on the SMS undertaking to give information to the CMA. Maybe the Minister could, as part of this letter, explain how many people there are whose job it is to gather information from the SMS companies—maybe that is the right way around—so we can judge whether it is right to require an SMS proactively to deliver information to the CMA.

Indeed. I am happy to include such analysis in my letter. However, I observe that were I to put myself in the SMS’s shoes and I had a desire to frustrate the will of the regulator, my approach would be to provide far more information than was necessary and create a significant burden on the regulator to sift that information. Any such request or any such standing order about the information coming from the SMS to the regulator must itself be quite carefully balanced.

I am losing track of the conversation because I thought we were asking for more information for the challenger companies. rather than this debate between the SMS and the regulator. Both of them are, I hope, well resourced, but the challenger companies have somehow been left out of this equation and I feel that we are trying to get them into the equation in an appropriate way.

That is not incompatible. These are two sides of the same coin, which is why they are in this group. I suppose we could have degrouped it.

Indeed, and I apologise for getting slightly sidetracked on the issue. I think the outcomes we want are that challenger tech firms should be duly informed about the information they need, whether to rebut claims set out by an SMS or to understand the implications and contribute to the process of determining what interventions the regulator should need to make. In the Bill, we are trying to develop the machinery that balances both sides of that equation most effectively, and I remain concerned that we need to manage the workload requirements of the regulator so that it is optimally focused on delivering the right outcomes based on the right information.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. We have had an excellent debate. I very much respect the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Tyrie, on this issue. I agree that there is a challenge for us in building trust in the new regime. It is a leap in the dark and, undoubtedly, we are giving the CMA/DMU considerable new powers, so it must prove its worth and prove that our faith in it is justified. I agree that there is a danger of getting that balance wrong. During the passage of the Bill, we will look at other ways of getting parliamentary and other oversight of its activities, to ensure that we get the balance in check.

I also agree that it is important that we maintain commercial confidentiality. This is an issue about sharing information, which we were just talking about. However much information is shared, we must ensure that those who are sharing it—sometimes it is very much core to their business model—respect it and do not put it in the public domain. All that must underpin our debate.

I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, that the proposals from the noble Lord, Lord Tyrie, were a curate’s egg; I was not sure either about the independent case reviewer. I worry that it would be another loophole, or hurdle, that would allow the lawyers a field day. The noble Lord, Lord Tyrie, put it there with the very best intentions, and I am happy that we talk about it, but I am not sure about it. It worries me that we are being too prescriptive by setting it out in so much detail in the Bill, but let us get that right because there will, I hope, be other opportunities to debate this.

I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Harding and Lady Kidron, and the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, for their support on my amendments. The noble Baroness, Lady Harding, said it very well: the amendments illustrate the inequality of arms between the SMS and the challenger firm. There will be a wealth of evidence that the CMA needs to consider. That will be a whole lot of major anti-competitive practices, a lot of which it already knows about, but there will also be some of the more minor inconveniences that are put upon some of the challenger firms. We have met with a lot of the stakeholders; sometimes what is so annoying is the irritating, almost vindictive little actions, because you have the temerity to put your hand up and say that you do not agree with the major companies. We must ensure that we capture all of that in the round, and that it is not just the major known knowns that the CMA considers.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, made the point very well: there is a danger that, based on what it knows, the CMA will make assumptions about what it can win, rather than getting under the skin of what is really going on and what is right for the consumer in all this. To get under the skin, the CMA will need a lot of information, so we must ensure that it gets the right information, at the right time, from the right people. The noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, made the point that, as it is set out at the moment, the incumbents have all the cards. We need transparency of information to rebalance the scales in all this.

I have listened carefully to the Minister’s response. He said that the DMU is required to consult publicly before decisions are implemented, but that is probably too late to influence the outcome. By the time that it is consulting publicly, it has already made its mind up. I am not sure that that is the right point at which that major flow of new information needs to take place. The Minister argued that the burden of sending notices to thousands of parties, et cetera, would outweigh the benefit. That is exactly the information that it needs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, made that point. If we have to bite that bullet, let us bite that bullet. If that is what it takes to rebalance the scales then we need to do that.

I fully admit that we might not have got the wording right to achieve that, but I think the principle is right and I am prepared to dig in on that principle. I hope we can have a further discussion on it. I think we know what we want to do. Nobody wants the SMS companies to flood the CMA with so much information that everybody drowns. We have to get it right so that it gets the right information. I do not think we have the balance right at this time, but let us talk about it some more. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 8 withdrawn.

Clause 11 agreed.

Clause 12: Closing an initial SMS investigation without a decision

Amendment 9 not moved.

Clause 12 agreed.

Clause 13 agreed.

Clause 14: Outcome of SMS investigations

Amendment 10 not moved.

Clause 14 agreed.

Clause 15: Notice requirements: decisions to designate

Amendments 11 and 12

Moved by

11: Clause 15, page 8, line 12, at end insert—

“(A1) Where the CMA decides as a result of an initial SMS investigation not to designate the undertaking to which the investigation relates as having SMS in respect of a digital activity to which the investigation relates, the SMS decision notice must include the CMA’s reasons for its decision.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment provides that the CMA must give reasons when it decides not to designate an undertaking following an initial SMS investigation.

12: Clause 15, page 8, line 13, leave out “This section applies” and insert “Subsections (2) to (5) apply”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on my first amendment to Clause 15.

Amendments 11 and 12 agreed.

Amendments 12A to 13 not moved.

Clause 15, as amended, agreed.

Amendment 13A not moved.

Clauses 16 to 18 agreed.

Amendment 14 not moved.

Before I call Amendment 15, I should tell your Lordships that if Amendment 15 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments 16 to 18 for reasons of pre-emption.

Clause 19: Power to impose conduct requirements

Amendment 15

Moved by

15: Clause 19, page 11, line 1, leave out subsections (5) to (8)

My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in this first day of Committee on the Bill. As it is my first time speaking in Committee, I declare my technology interests as set out in the register, not least as an adviser to Boston Limited. In moving Amendment 15, I will also speak to Amendment 24, and I am very interested in the other amendments in this group.

Much of the discussions so far rest on the most important point of all when it comes to legislating. It reminds me of many of the discussions that we had in this very Room last year on the Financial Services and Markets Bill, as it was then, about accountability, the role of the Secretary of State and the role of the regulators. Much of this Bill as drafted, if not a pendulum, simultaneously swings significant powers to the regulator, and indeed to the Secretary of State. But the question that needs continually to come up in our deliberations in Committee and beyond is where Parliament is in this process. We hear every day how the physical building itself is crumbling, in need of desperate repair and in need of a decant, but, when it comes to this Bill, Parliament has already disappeared.

There is a massive need for accountability in many of the Bill’s clauses. Clause 19 is just one example, which is why my Amendment 15 seeks to take out a chunk of it to help in this process. Later in Committee, we will hear other amendments on parliamentary accountability. It is not only essential but, as has already been mentioned, goes to the heart of a trend that is happening across legislation, in different spheres, where huge powers are being given to our economic regulators without the right level of accountability.

What we saw as one of the major outputs of FSMA 2023, as it now is, was a new parliamentary committee: the financial services and markets committee. In many ways, you can see this as a process that may happen repetitively, but positively so, across a number of areas if this approach to legislation is perpetuated across those areas when it comes to competition. I look forward to my noble friend the Minister’s response to my Amendment 15 on that issue.

I move on to Amendment 24, which concerns a very different but critical area. It seeks to amend Clause 20, which makes brief mention of the accessibility of the information pertaining to these digital activities but is silent on the accessibility of the digital activities themselves. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that we need more on the face of the Bill when it comes to accessibility? With more services—critical parts of our lives—moving on to these digital platforms, it is essential that they are accessible to all users.

I use the term “user” deliberately because, as we have heard in previous debates, there is a great need for clarity around this legislation. “User” is used—indeed, peppered—throughout the legislation. This is right in that “user” is a term of art that would be understood across the country; however, it does not appear in the title of the Bill, which is at least interesting. We must ensure that all users or consumers are able to access all these digital platforms and services fully. Let us take banking as an example. It is far more difficult to get face-to-face banking services and access to cash, so much more is moved online. However, if those services are not accessible, what use are they to people who have been physically excluded and are now being financially and digitally excluded in the digital space?

When it comes to sporting events, mention has been made of sport in our debates on earlier amendments. I think everyone in the Committee would agree that VAR has not demonstrated technology at its brightest and best in the sporting context. I wonder whether, if we completely turned referees into bots, there would be questions about the visual acuity of the bot on the decisions that it similarly made when it went against our team. If we are to have so many ticketing services for sporting, musical and cultural events available largely, if not exclusively, online—and if, at the front end of that process, there is the all-too-familiar CAPTCHA, which we must go through to prove that we are not yet a bot—what will happen if that is not accessible? We will not get tickets.

I put it to my noble friend the Minister that there needs to be more in Clause 20 and other parts of the Bill around the accessibility of those digital services, activities and platforms. If we could fully embrace the concept of “inclusive by design”, this would evaporate as an issue. I beg to move.

My Lords, this is quite a group of amendments. Clearly, it will take a bit of time to work our way through all of them. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, who is so knowledgeable about digital aspects—I thought that he would slip stuff about the digital aspects of sport into his introduction.

I am in curate’s egg country, as far as the two amendments in the name of the noble Lord are concerned. I am not quite sure about Amendment 15, but I look forward to the Minister’s response. I think Amendment 24 is absolutely spot on and really important. I hope that the noble Lord succeeds in putting it into the Bill, eventually.

I will start by speaking to Amendments 21, 28 and 55 on interoperability, Amendment 30 on copyright and Amendment 20 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. I will refer to Amendment 32 in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, but I will not speak on it for too long, because I do not want to steal his thunder. If possible, I will also speak to the amendments in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, on leveraging. They are crucial if the Bill is to be truly effective.

Interoperability is the means by which websites interoperate, as part of the fundamental web architecture. Current problems arise when SMS players make browser changers and interfere with open web data, such as header bidding, which is used for interoperability among websites. Quality of service and experience can be misused for the benefit of the platforms; they can degrade the interoperability of different systems or make video or audio quality either higher or lower for the benefit of their own apps and products.

At Second Reading, my noble friend Lord Fox reminded us that Professor Furman, in evidence in Committee in the Commons, said that intervention on interoperability is a vital remedy. My noble friend went on to say that interfering with interoperability in all its forms should be policed by the CMA, which should be

“proactive with respect to promoting international standards and aiming to create that interoperability: for a start, by focusing on open access and operational transparency, working for standards that allow unrestricted participation and favouring the technologies and protocols that prevent a single person or group amending or reversing transactions executed and recorded”.—[Official Report, 5/12/23; col. 1396.]

At my noble friend’s request, the Minister, the noble Viscount, Lord Camrose, followed up with a letter on the subject on 7 December. He said:

“Standards are crucial to building the UK’s economic prosperity, safeguarding the UK’s national security, and protecting the UK’s norms and values. The Government strongly supports a multi-stakeholder approach to the development of technical standards, and it will be important that the CMA engages with this process where appropriate. The UK’s Plan for Digital Regulation, published in 2021, confirms the importance of considering standards as a complement or alternative to traditional regulation”.

It is good to see the Minister’s approach, but it is clear that there should be a stronger and more explicit reference to the promotion of interoperability in digital markets. The Bill introduces an interoperability requirement under Clause 20(3)(e) but, as it stands, this is very vague. Interoperability should be defined and the purpose of the requirement should be outlined; namely, to promote competition and innovation, so that content creators can provide their services across the world without interference and avoid platform dependency.

I move to Amendment 30. Breach of copyright online is a widespread problem. The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, referred to the whole IP issue, which is increasing in the digital world, but the current conduct requirements are not wide enough. There should be a simple obligation on those using others’ copyright to request the use of that material. As the NMA says, the opacity of large language models is a major stumbling block when it comes to enforcing rights and ensuring consumer safety. AI developers should be compelled to make information about systems more readily available and accessible. Generative outputs should include clear and prominent attributions, which flag the original sources of the output. This is notable in the EU’s proposed AI Act.

This would allow citizens to understand whether the outputs are based on reliable information, apart from anything else.

If publishers are not fairly compensated for the use of the content by generative AI systems in particular—I look towards the noble Lord, Lord Black, at this point—and lose audiences to them, it will harm publisher sustainability and see less money invested in quality journalism. In turn, less trusted content will be available to train and update AI systems, harming innovation and increasing the chance that these systems produce unreliable results.

The NMA has pointed out that this represents an immediate threat to our democracy, and I agree. News media publishers such as the Guardian have found that ChatGPT has fabricated articles purporting to be published by trusted journalists. Experts have warned that this year’s UK general election—unless we go for the full marathon to 2025—could be susceptible to manipulation by personalised disinformation produced on an industrial scale. We all know how many elections are taking place across the world; I think there will be some 2 billion people voting this year.

Proof of infringement is hard, as the evidence of what has happened is either held by the infringer or transitory, or both. Making those who want to use copyright ask permission first makes enforcement simpler; if no request has been made for use, it would be a first step in establishing breach, if only of the obligation to ask permission. This would protect UK SMEs of many types; copyright is vital for technology and software developers, publishers, media and multimedia content suppliers. It would be very odd for the UK not to act to help protect copyright law, which is the basis and future of the digital economy. On that basis, too, I very much support and have signed Amendment 20 from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, which imposes an interoperability requirement, which he will speak to later.

I strongly support Amendment 32 from the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, but I will not speak to that; I look forward to hearing what he has to say. I also very much support the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, in their amendments; I will not go into great detail, but the leveraging principle is a really important aspect of the Bill. It is critical to the success of the pro-competition regime; without it, the CMA could find itself unable to address harmful conduct, because it technically occurs outside the SMS designated activity, even if it is closely related to the SMS firm’s activity. I very much look forward to their introduction to their amendments.

Finally, regarding Amendment 19 in my name, transparency will be essential if this legislation is to fulfil the goals set out by the Bill. As it stands, it is not clear whether and how far relevant data will be shared with the regulator, third parties and the public. Shrouding all commercial agreements struck under the shadow of the new regulatory framework in secrecy will leave small, resource-strapped independent publishers at a disadvantage compared with their large, corporate counterparts.

We have heard about the asymmetry potentially within this Bill if we do not get the information sharing right. This would create yet another competitive imbalance in the legislation that is designed to remedy an anti-competitive market. The provisions in this legislation must be available to the smallest player in the market as well as the largest. Amendment 19 would not compromise confidentiality of individual transactions or reveal identifying information about any SMS firms or third parties, because of the requirement that the CMA anonymise and aggregate any data it publishes. The amendment would also allow policymakers, academics, civil society and journalists to monitor the effectiveness of the new regime.

My Lords, this is a substantial group of amendments. I have two amendments in the group to which I wish to speak: Amendments 20 and 29. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for signing them. I will also discuss a number of other amendments later.

We are dealing with the structure of Clauses 19 and 20. Clause 19 has a set of objectives that conduct requirements are intended to achieve. My noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond’s Amendment 15 effectively asks us to examine what the purpose of the objectives are. It is quite an interesting question. The objectives are not translated directly into the conduct requirements; the conduct requirements are intended to achieve the objectives. Setting out the broad range of objectives might be regarded as a way of enabling the Competition and Markets Authority to have a broader scope when setting its conduct requirements. Equally, there is a risk that if the scope of the conduct requirements is not specified in Clause 20 and they rely on Clause 19 and the broad-ranging objectives, they will be opened up to challenge as to the meaning of them. We need to be careful.

I come at this from the standpoint that the Digital Markets Act in the European Union does not set objectives in quite that way. It sets not broad objectives but a large number of detailed obligations on what it calls gatekeepers—effectively the same as our designated undertakings for these purposes. We are going down the different route of setting broad objectives and a broader description of conduct requirements. The Competition and Markets Authority will then go on to specify in detail what those conduct requirements look like in relation to any particular designated undertaking to achieve the objectives. That is a better way of doing things.

My two amendments—I will comment on one or two other amendments to the same effect—are asking whether Clause 20 gives the Competition and Markets Authority the necessary scope of powers to achieve what it wants to achieve by setting conduct requirements. Clause 20 is divided into two parts: the things that are positively required to be done by designated undertakings and the things that designated undertakings should be prevented doing. It is important to have those two bits in mind.

I have to confess that I have used the mechanism of looking at our own legislation through the scope of other legislation before, and Amendment 20 to Clause 20 is no different. I looked at the Digital Markets Act and it sets out a lot of detailed obligations. I then asked myself: to what extent do I feel comfortable that what is in Clause 20 gives the CMA the power to do this thing if it wishes to do it?

People are not likely to argue about the fact that data itself is central to this process. When it sets obligations for gatekeepers, Article 5 of the Digital Markets Act starts with a set of obligations related to the ways in which the personal data of users of services can be taken and used. Article 6 talks about the circumstances in which data may be portable and the portability of data between and among gatekeepers and users. Article 6(11) sets out the circumstances under which gatekeepers may or may not access third-party data provided to them as a consequence of users of their undertakings. Article 7 consists entirely of obligations on gatekeepers in relation to the interoperability of number-independent interpersonal communication services.

These are all detailed obligations relating to data access. Whose data can they access and how can they use it? How can they port data between different users and themselves? They are also about the interoperability between and among the users of their services.

I have looked at Clause 20, and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, was right: there is a provision which restricts interoperability. It is in that bit which prevents undertakings doing things that they should not do. It says that they should not restrict interoperability, but there is no corresponding positive conduct requirement which says that they should be promoting interoperability. This is where the noble Lord and I are coming from, in relation to our Amendments 20 and 21, if I remember correctly.

The point is to secure data access, interoperability and data portability. My amendment is designed to put into that first, positive set of conduct requirements that those should all be things where the CMA has the ability to make what are, effectively, positive conduct requirements upon undertakings to ensure that they enable the market to function more competitively and more efficiently. That is Amendment 20.

Why do I not rely in Amendment 20 or Amendment 21 on the other reference to data, which is in Clause 20(3)(g)? That provision means that requirements may be

“for the purpose of preventing a designated undertaking from … using data unfairly”.

This is very dangerous. We have reached the point where data is a central issue, yet Clause 20 hardly specifies the various ways in which data should be at the core of these conduct requirements. The only reference that we are really relying on for many of these issues is that it should not be used “unfairly”. That is not enough. I am not taking that out, but let us leave in “using data unfairly” and add to it.

Where we add to it is not least in Amendment 29, which, after saying that they should not use data unfairly, would insert

“or using data that is not publicly available which is generated or provided by users of the relevant digital activity in the context of their use of the relevant digital activity”.

I use that language because it is a shorter version of what is in Article 6.2 of the EU regulations, which says that a gatekeeper should not use

“in competition with business users, any data that is not publicly available that is generated or provided by those business users in the context of their use of the relevant core platform services”.

It seemed to me that there was a particular extension of this question of the unfair use of data, which is where they take data from their platform users and use it for themselves. That is what we are trying to restrict and, broadly speaking, what the Digital Markets Act tries to restrict. These two amendments, from my point of view, are about putting data firmly into the conduct requirements, specifying how data is important and where positive requirements may be put, and being specific about the unfair use of data, when data that other users put on the platform is taken for their own use.

On other amendments, briefly, Amendments 22 and 32 would give the CMA the power to vary the scope of conduct requirements in future, rather than relying on the Secretary of State to do so—but of course with parliamentary approval. There is an argument which says, “At least we have an opportunity to examine any change in the scope of conduct requirements if we leave that in”, so I am afraid I do not support that.

The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, made an interesting set of points about copyright. That is very important and it is quite hard to see where it lies in here, unless it were under trade on fair and reasonable terms. However, it will require the CMA to look and ask, “Do fair and reasonable terms lead us to set conduct requirements for designated undertakings relating to, for example, copyright terms?”. It might perhaps be worth us exploring whether it should.

There are one or two other things. I support Amendment 34, which raises a valuable question about taking account of the impact of conduct requirements before making pro-competitive interventions. Otherwise, I just make the general point that I hope, through Amendments 20 and 29, we might put the importance of data firmly into the structure of conduct requirements for designated undertakings.

My Lords, I tabled Amendment 32 in my name, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for adding their names. I also thank the organisations that helped me work on these amendments. Amendment 32 to Clause 20 would stop the Secretary of State from revising the criteria for the conduct requirement process. These criteria are already very broad, but subsections (4) and (5) give the Minister huge scope to alter the types of behaviour expected from the SMS as part of the CR process.

Amendment 22, in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, aims to respond to government concerns about removing Clause 20(4) and (5), which are that it will prevent the Minister future-proofing the CR criteria by allowing the CMA leeway to alter criteria in Clause 19, which will open the way for the imposition of conduct requirements.

I also support attempts to encourage interoperability between user and digital activity in any way possible, so I support Amendment 20, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and Amendment 21, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones.

On my Amendment 32 in Clause 20, the conduct requirements for the process will be hard-fought by the tech companies. The collaborative nature of the Bill will mean that the SMS will be very involved in setting up the regime, but it will also be following every possible avenue to ensure that the requirements are not burdensome to its businesses. However, subsection (4) gives the Secretary of State broad and unlimited time to be subject to lobbying and to change the nature of the contact requirements.

I have already given an example in my speech on Amendment 7 to show the lengths to which tech companies will go to affect the decisions of politicians in establishing an SMS designation. This amendment will have a similar effect of thwarting their attempts to interfere in the CR process. Over the last decade, a number of cases have been brought against the big tech companies by the EU anti-competitive regimes. As part of that process to rectify the anti-competitive behaviour, the regulators have laid out behaviour for the companies under investigation. These are sets of rules aimed to force the companies to change their conduct and reduce their dominance in the market.

The process is very complicated, and small tweaks can make the difference between success and failure of the rules and their ability to control anti-competitive behaviour. Implementation takes time. Consultation on the rules between the DMU, the SMS and other stakeholders can mean it takes up to six months to put into action, then it takes another several months before the market study on how the new conduct regime criteria are working can be assessed. In the meantime, the SMS continues to make huge profits, while the smaller competitors continue to suffer the loss of market activity.

My concern about the clause is that, even if the CMA comes across a new type of harm and can see clearly what remedy would apply, it cannot create its own remedy under the clause. This is most unusual for a regulatory body. Usually, the breach of law is investigated, and the remedy tailored by that body to proportionately fit the harm identified. The regulator is usually granted the power to craft the remedy itself.

The Government are keen to build a system which is speedy and effective, and so there is the list of tools that can be used as remedies in Clause 20, which is useful, but, instead of a speedy, sensible mechanism which would be in the hands of the expert regulator of digital markets, an additional step has been put in place. That additional step—going back to the Secretary of State to create regulations—is a slower and more complicated way to craft this remedy. The DMU must be left to use its professional expertise to set these rules.

At a later stage, we will be talking about the suggestion of the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, to have some parliamentary committee involvement. I wonder why on earth we cannot have parliamentary committee involvement when looking at these particular Secretary of State powers and the way that the DMU would use them.

To deal with the concerns that the Minister might have about the lack of future-proofing, I also tabled Amendment 22. Its aim is to respond to claims by the Government that the removal of Secretary of State powers in Clause 20 will stop the future-proofing. Noble Lords know that, in the fast-changing digital world, even the most comprehensive list of criteria might not include all possible eventualities; my amendment deals with those concerns. It stems from the powers of the CMA to look at the objectives of the conduct requirements in Clause 19(5), which are comprehensive: they cover “fair dealing”, “open choices” and “trust and transparency”. Only conduct requirements of the permitted type in Clause 19(5) can be imposed under Clause 20 on the CR regime.

Clause 20 is currently a permitted list for the regime; in future, the CMA may want to change the criteria needed to achieve the objectives of Clause 19(5) as markets inevitably change. I suggest to noble Lords that Amendment 22 will achieve that. I have argued that the fear of the Secretary of State succumbing to the lobbying powers of the big tech companies is something to worry about. This small amendment will solve that problem and give flexibility to the CR process, without the danger of political interference.

My Lords, as this is the first time I have spoken in Committee, I declare that I chair the Communications and Digital Select Committee—but I am speaking in a personal capacity. This is quite an eclectic group of topics; it makes me wonder what will be in the group labelled “miscellaneous”.

I will talk about the leveraging principle, but before doing so, I acknowledge what has already been said about parliamentary accountability and the fact that I have an amendment in a later group. To pick up a point that the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, just made about his amendment to Clause 20, if we were to have a new Select Committee, there is no reason why, in the course of its business, it would not look at regulations being brought forward. I would expect there to be that sort of role for a Select Committee, but it would not replace the role of the Secretary of State in this context. We will come back to that when we get to the specific amendment.

The amendment on copyright is very interesting to me, not least because the Communications and Digital Committee is currently carrying out an inquiry on large language models. We are in the final stages of that inquiry and will publish our report very soon. We will have, I hope, some interesting things to say about copyright at that time.

I turn to my point on the leveraging principle; in particular, I will pick up on Amendments 26 and 27 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. When the Communications and Digital Committee carried out our scrutiny of the Bill and held hearings in the summer, we looked at the leveraging principle and concluded that what was in the Bill was adequate; we did not propose any further changes being necessary. Noble Lords may remember that, at Second Reading, I raised concerns about how the Government had diluted various bits of the Bill that we, as a committee, had said, “Do not do that”. As I understand it, they have not diluted the leveraging principle. However, I am a great believer in judging people by their actions rather than by what they say. Over the last few weeks, I have been very interested in the various representations that have been made to me and others from the different challenger firms and industry bodies in this area. I see and am sympathetic to their concerns on this topic.

Only today, I was interested to read the Bloomberg daily newsletter on tech matters, which refers to the recent case in the US in which Apple has been forced to make some changes to its 30% fee policy. It has already started introducing things that make that almost meaningless to those who might benefit from it. The newsletter explains what people have to do to use a different payment system from Apple’s and avoid the 30% fee. It says:

“In order for developers to include a website link in their apps to an outside payment system, they’ll first need to submit a request form to Apple. If approved, the link can only be displayed once within the app. It must look like a text URL—meaning it can’t be a candy-colored button that says ‘Use PayPal’—and the text itself must match one of seven templates”.

It continues:

“When clicked, the link will surface a warning from Apple about the risks of transacting with third-party websites, with ‘continue’ or ‘cancel’ buttons. The website has to open in the device browser, rather than from a pop-up within the app, where, depending on the type of service, a user can sign in or register for a new account”;

in other words, you will not bother by the time you have got through all that.

That was a long-winded way to say that I am minded to support what the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, is seeking to do with the leveraging principle here. A safeguard is necessary, but, as I said at the beginning, I am speaking in my own personal capacity.

My Lords, I will slip in here quickly, since I have Amendment 25 in this group. I follow my noble friend Lady Stowell in supporting tightening up the leveraging principle as much as possible. We would have a lot more fun in this Committee if we stopped referring to the leveraging principle and started referring to the whack-a-mole principle, which is the same thing. From now on, that is what I will do.

As my noble friend said, it is absolutely critical to the success of the pro-competition regime. We all know how it works and may have used it in our own commercial lives. After years of litigation, you concede a point to the competition authority and reduce the headline prices you are charging for the app to appear on your platform, and then you slip in a new way of charging, as was so ably set out by my noble friend Lady Stowell. You find a different way to charge in order to generate exactly the same revenue.

I tabled Amendment 25 simply to strengthen the anti-whack-a-mole conduct requirement so that designated undertakings cannot shift their anti-competitive behaviour to non-designated activities, even if their ability to do so is directly linked to their strategic market status in a designated activity. Without this change, there is a danger in the current drafting of the CMA having to constantly designate new activities and play catch-up with the SMSs—or it may not be able to combat anti-competitive behaviour in any way at all.

The key point here is that Clause 20 allows the CMA to intervene only when an SMS firm’s conduct

“is likely to materially increase the undertaking’s market power”.

It is too narrow, and it gives these SMS firms broad opportunities to avoid compliance. For example, if Apple News was not designated, as things currently stand, Apple could impose unfair terms on news publishers via contracts, circumventing the terms where it holds the market power, where the action has been taken which would be in the App Store. To appear in Apple News, you would go one step behind, in terms of the contracts with the news publishers, and therefore avoid any remedy.

My amendment seeks simply to close potential loopholes. As I said, my noble friend Lady Stowell has ably set out what the whack-a-mole principle is all about: generating exactly the same revenues but being very creative in how you do so as you play this game with the competition regulator.

My Lords, I support Amendment 25; but for the glitch that others have experienced, I would have put my name to it. I shall also speak to Amendments 26 and 27. As this is the first time I have spoken in Committee, I must declare my interest as deputy chairman of the Telegraph Media Group and note my other interests.

In short order, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, got it right: in many ways, these anti-leveraging provisions, the whack-a-mole provisions, go to the heart of the Bill, because if we do not get this right then it will fail. As my noble friend Lord Vaizey said, at the moment Clause 20 is far too narrow and will give the SMS firms remarkable opportunities to avoid any form of compliance. In fact, it runs a coach and horses through the Bill, which is why we need to rectify it. The example of Apple that he gave could be replicated across all sorts of SMS platforms, which is why we absolutely need to close the loophole. My noble friend’s amendment is probably the cleanest and easiest way to do that, but I would also support Amendments 26 and 27, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, which would effectively address the same concerns. I look forward to hearing from the Minister on these points, which are crucial to the future of the Bill.

On a point of order, I am incredibly embarrassed that I fail to declare my interests each time I speak because I am so nervous in this Committee. I declare my interests, particularly as a presenter of Times Radio, which links me to News UK, and as an adviser to a mobile games company, Pixel United.

My Lords, I shall also discuss the leveraging or whack-a-mole provisions. Perhaps Conservative Peers today are London buses: this is the fourth London bus to make the same point. I too would have added my name to my noble friend Lord Vaizey’s amendment had I been organised enough.

I shall make a couple of points. The noble Lord, Lord Tyrie, said earlier that we are all here on the Bill because harm has already been done. If noble Lords will forgive me, I will tell a little story. In 2012, I went on a customer trip to Mountain View, Google’s headquarters in California, as the chief executive of TalkTalk. We were in the early days of digital advertising and TalkTalk was one of its biggest customers. A whole group of customers went on what people now call a digital safari to visit California and see these tech companies in action.

I will never forget that the sales director left us for a bit for a demo from some engineers from head office in Mountain View, from Google, who demoed a new functionality they were working on to enable you to easily access price comparisons for flights. It was an interesting demo because some of the other big customers of Google search at the time were independent flight search websites, whose chief executives had been flown out by Google to see all the new innovation. The blood drained from their faces as this very well-meaning engineer described and demoed the new functionality and explained how, because Google controlled the page, it would be able to promote its flight search functionality to the top of the page and demote the companies represented in the room. When the sales director returned, it was, shall we say, quite interesting,

I tell that tale because there are many examples of these platforms leveraging the power of their platform to enter adjacent markets. As my noble friend has said, that gets to the core of the Bill and how important it is that the CMA is able to impose conduct requirements without needing to go through the whole SMS designation process all over again.

I know that the tech firms’ counterargument to this is that it is important that they have the freedom to innovate, and that for a number of them this would somehow create “a regulatory requirement to seek permission to innovate”. I want to counter that: we want all companies in this space to have the freedom to innovate, but they should not have the freedom to prioritise their innovation on their monopoly platform over other people’s innovation. That is why we have to get a definition of the leveraging principle, or the whack-a-mole principle, right. As with almost all the amendments we have discussed today, I am not particularly wedded to the specific wording, but I do not think that the Bill as it is currently drafted captures this clearly enough, and Amendments 25, 26, and 27 get us much closer to where we need to be.

I, too, add my voice in support my noble friend Lord Lansley’s amendments. I must apologise for not having studied them properly in advance of today, but my noble friend introduced them so eloquently that it is very clear that we need to put data clearly in the Bill.

Finally, as a member of my noble friend’s Communications and Digital Committee, I, too, listened very carefully to the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, about copyright. I feel this is a very big issue. Whether this is the right place to address it, I do not know, but I am sure he is right that we need to address it somehow.

My Lords, I am sorry to break the Conservative bus pattern but I, too, will speak to Amendments 26 and 27, to which I have added my name, and to Amendment 30. Before I do, I was very taken by the amendments spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and I support them. I feel somewhat sheepish that I had not seen the relationship between data and the Bill, having spent most of the past few months with my head in the data Bill. That connection is hugely important, and I am very grateful to the noble Lord for making such a clear case. In supporting Amendments 26 and 27, I recognise the value of Amendment 25, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, and put on record my support for the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, on Amendment 24. So much has been said that we have managed to change the name of the leveraging principle to the whack-a-mole principle and everything that has been said has been said very well.

The only point I want to make on these two amendments, apart from to echo the profound importance that other noble Lords have already spoken of, is that the ingenuity of the sector has always struck me as being equally divided between its incredible creativity in creating new products and things for us to do and services that it can provide, and an equal ingenuity in avoiding regulation of all kinds in all parts of the world. Without having not only the designated activity but the activities the sector controls that are adjacent to the activity, we do not have the core purpose of the Bill. At one point I thought it might help the Minister to see that the argument he made in relation to Clause 6(2) and (3), which was in defence of some flexibility for the Secretary of State, might equally be made on behalf of the regulator in this case.

Turning briefly to Amendment 30 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, I first have to make a slightly unusual declaration in that my husband was one of the Hollywood writers who went on strike and won a historic settlement to be a human being in charge of their AI rather than at the behest of the AI. Not only in the creative industries but in academia, I have seen first-hand the impact of scraping information. Not only is the life’s work of an academic taken without permission, but then regurgitating it as an inaccurate mere guess undermines the very purpose of academic distinctions. There is clearly a copyright issue that requires an ability both to opt out and correct, and to share in the upside, as the noble Lord pointed out.

I suggest that the LLMs and general AI firms have taken the axiom “it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission” to unbelievable new heights. Our role during the passage of this Bill may be to turn that around and say that it is better to ask permission than forgiveness.

My Lords, we have had a wonderfully eclectic debate. I am sorry if we gave some of the amendments more attention than others, because we have a number of very important issues here. Even in my response I may not be giving some colleagues due deference for their hard work and the good arguments they have put forward.

As noble Lords have commented, Amendments 26, 27 and 34 are in my name. As we have discussed, Amendments 26 and 27 would ensure that the CMA can tackle anti-competitive conduct in non-designated activity, provided that this conduct is related to designated activity. This would ensure, for example, that a designated company facing conduct requirements could not simply shift the resources of its business into another similar business venture, which would have a similar outcome of anti-competitive behaviour.

I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, for her support. The example she gave of Apple resonates with all of us and has obviously been in the news. It was one of the behaviours I described as rather vindictive in the last debate. I am not sure how much extra money Apple is going to make from it, but it is a question of rubbing someone’s nose in it because you do not like the decision that has been made. I feel that we need to address this issue.

The noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, in his Amendment 25, made a very similar point about the leveraging principle. We have all signed up to “the whack-a-mole principle”; I think we will call it that from now on. As the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, made clear, this is about addressing the leveraging of SMS markets to enter adjoining markets. She gave the example of travel price comparison. I feel that is a lazy innovation; if you get so big, you stop innovating—you copy the competing firms and taking their best ideas without innovating any more. It is in all our interests to get a grip on this, so that these companies that have great resources and great capacity for innovation innovate in a creative way rather than just copying other people’s ideas.

Amendment 34, which is also in our names, would enable the CMA to keep conduct requirements under review and take account of whether those requirements are having their intended effects or if further steps of pro-competition intervention is necessary. It would provide a clearer link between the measures available to the CMA. As the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and others have said, it underpins the importance of interoperability in CMA decisions. We believe that the amendments help to clarify and reinforce the powers available to the CMA.

I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, who, as ever, provided enormous insight into the tech world and the consequences of the legislation. We share his objective of getting the powers of the CMA in the right balance. His amendment challenges the Government to explain why the CMA can only impose a conduct requirement to achieve the fair dealing, open choice or trust and transparency objectives—which seems to be overly restrictive and open to legal challenge. We look forward to hearing the Minister’s explanation of why those restrictions were felt necessary. The noble Lord, Lord Holmes, also raised an important point in his Amendment 24, which we have not given sufficient weight to, about the need for those conduct requirements to deliver proper accessibility in line with previous legislation. We absolutely support him in that quest.

The amendments from the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Lansley, raise important points about transparency and improved data. They stress the importance of portability and interoperability and put data firmly into the conduct requirements. We support those arguments and look forward to the Minister’s response to what we feel are common-sense proposals.

Amendment 30 from the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, raises the issue of copyright material. He is tugging at all our hearts on this crucial issue. We know all the arguments about it. Is this the right amendment in the right place? I do not know, but if we can all get behind a similar amendment that begins to take on that issue, we would all be on the same page with him. I hope that, before the Bill leaves this House, we can agree a form of words that will deliver that long-overdue copyright protection that we all seek.

Finally, I have added my name to Amendment 32 in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, which is similar in intent to previous amendments we have debated about the right of the Secretary of State to modify the permitted types of conduct requirement that the CMA can lay down. I share his suspicion that these Henry VIII powers risk not being used for any benign purpose but instead to weaken the legislation in the face of concerted lobbying by those who have most to lose.

We look forward to the Minister’s response and hope we will hear from him that he has some sympathy with the points that have been raised today and that we can work with him to improve the Bill on these issues.

I start by thanking all noble Lords who spoke so compellingly. It was a great pleasure to listen. I must say my head is slightly spinning, it is such an eclectic group of amendments, but I will do my best to respond properly to all the points raised.

I start with the discussion on the imposition and use of conduct requirements by the regulator. I thank my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond for tabling Amendment 15, which would remove the conduct requirement objectives—fair dealing, open choices and trust and transparency—and instead allow the CMA to impose conduct requirements for any purpose, so long as they fall within the list of permitted types. I intend to cover only the impacts of this amendment on the conduct requirement objectives, not its impacts on the proportionality requirement, as we shall be turning to that in detail later. Both the objectives and the permitted types of conduct requirement reflect extensive and expert evidence and analysis on types of harms in digital markets. These have been set out in legislation to provide clarity up front about the types of rules that designated firms could be subject to. It is right that the powers given to the CMA have clear and defined limits, and the objectives provide an appropriate framework for them to operate within. The Government feel that this clarity of objective is essential to the success of the regime, ensuring that it remains targeted and proportionate.

Amendment 19, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, would allow the CMA to gather and publish information relating to commercial deals. I sympathise with the sentiment behind his amendment and believe this regime will provide a crucial means to address the imbalance that exists between the most powerful tech firms and other parties. The CMA will already, as part of investigatory requirements, conduct requirements and the final offer mechanism process, be able to gather relevant information about payment terms and deals, and require SMS firms to share information with third parties. The CMA will also, where appropriate, be able to publish aggregated and anonymised information. As such, we do not believe that this amendment provides the CMA with any necessary additional powers.

Amendment 30 proposes that conduct requirements on unfair use of data be amended to allow the CMA to also prevent SMS firms using copyright material without permission. I absolutely agree, needless to say, with the sentiment that properly functioning, competitive markets that respect intellectual property rights have a vital role to play in stimulating growth and encouraging innovation.

I assure the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, that the CMA is well equipped to address competition issues in a range of contexts, including where these issues intersect with intellectual property rights. When making interventions, the CMA will consider a range of factors, which can include the fairness of terms in issues related to copyright, where they are relevant, on a case-by-case basis. Existing permitted types of conduct requirements already allow the CMA to set requirements for unfair and unreasonable terms, which can include payment terms.

I am sorry to interrupt the Minister but that is very general. We have heard around the Room that people are really concerned. As we go forward, so many areas of intellectual property—the ingestion of copyright material, the issues with synthesisation of performances—are being affected by artificial intelligence. The kind of language the Minister is using sounds far too generic. It needs to be much more focused if we are to be convinced that the CMA really has a role in all of this. He is the Minister for both AI and IP, so he is right at the apex of this issue; maybe he is right on the point of the whole thing. He has the ability in his ministerial role to start trying to resolve some of these issues. We have the IPO coming up with a code of conduct—

This is a long intervention, I agree. I would just ask the Minister to focus on the fact that this is not just any old fairness of terms but something that should be explicitly stated in the Bill.

There is a much broader set of work looking at issues of copyright, intellectual property and artificial intelligence together—a hugely complex piece of work with many stakeholders pulling in a range of different directions. The goal of this Bill is to address that in so far as it affects competitive markets. We may debate this, but the design of the Bill is such that, in so far as competition is affected by the misuse of intellectual property or intellectual property infringements, the CMA is empowered to intervene to drive greater competition or address issues that limit competition. It is targeted only at addressing competitive issues but, in so far as they affect competitive issues, it is empowered to address IP infringement issues, as set out here.

Existing permitted types of conduct requirements already allow the CMA to set requirements for unfair and unreasonable terms, which can include payment terms. The Government are committed to our world-leading IP regime. Copyright legislation already provides a robust framework for rights holders to enforce against copyright infringement. We will take a balanced approach to the use of AI across the press sector and departments across government are working together closely to consider the impact of AI, ensuring that AI innovators and our world-leading creators can continue to flourish.

I turn to Amendments 26, 27 and 25. I thank noble Lords for their thoughtful and considered contributions on these amendments. Amendments 26 and 27 are intended to expand the ability of the CMA to intervene outside the designated digital activity. Amendment 25 also seeks to expand this power specifically in relation to self-preferencing behaviour that takes place outside the designated activity. We agree with noble Lords that it is crucial that the CMA can deal with anti-competitive behaviour outside the designated activity where appropriate. My noble friend Lord Offord and I have had a number of representations giving further examples of this kind of behaviour and we are committed to finding the right means of addressing it.

Our current drafting has sought to balance the need for proportionate intervention with clear regulatory perimeters. The regime is designed to address the issues that result from strategic market status and is therefore designed to address competition issues specifically in activities where competition concerns have already been identified. This recognises that SMS firms are likely to be active in a wide range of activities and will face healthy competition from other firms in many of them.

I assure noble Lords that the power to prevent self-preferencing is already sufficiently broad. It can apply where an SMS firm is using its power in the designated activity inappropriately to treat its own products more favourably, but without a need for those products to be linked to the designated activity. In addition, the existing power outlined in Clause 20(3)(c) to intervene in non-designated activities, which noble Lords are referring to as the whack-a-mole principle, has been carefully calibrated. It is available only where the conduct has a material impact on the strategic market status in respect of the designated activity.

The same conduct in respect of a different activity may not have the same impact on the market. It will not always be anti-competitive and may instead form a part of normal business practice in a more contestable market. The DMU will therefore take a targeted, evidence-based approach when considering intervention. The DMU can intervene via conduct requirements outside the designated activity to prevent leveraging into the designated activity or via PCIs to address an adverse effect on competition in a designated activity. Therefore, the Government’s view is that broadening the CMA’s powers would risk over-intervention, creating uncertainty for businesses and risks to innovation and investment.

Before the Minister moves on, do I understand from the beginning of that contribution that he is still looking at the wording—in other words, that he not wedded to the wording and is there some scope for either the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, or our amendment, or to work with him to see if we can achieve what we are trying to achieve through this or other means?

Throughout this group, I am convinced that we are trying to achieve the same thing. I remain concerned that we have to design safeguards against regulatory overreach to enter into markets that are currently healthy, but beyond that I am very happy to explore the right form of wording or design that achieves the end that all sides are keen to establish.

Amendment 24 is intended to clarify the meaning of information being accessible. I thank my noble friend Lord Holmes for the amendment, and for the rigour and passion he demonstrated when making his points. I agree that the question of online accessibility is of great importance. All kinds of technology should be for everyone. I can provide assurance that the CMA can already consider the concept of accessibility in the broadest sense, and in a way that includes—but is not limited to—compatibility with assistive technology. I agree that it is crucial that all members of our society have the right to accessible information. The Bill as drafted provides for this and can encompass, for example, a requirement to have terms and conditions that are easily accessible on a website, in easy-to-understand language, and compatible with assistive technology.

Amendments 32 and 22 would remove the power that enables the Secretary of State to update the list of permitted types of conduct requirement and replace it with an additional open-ended type of conduct requirement. I thank noble Lords for their amendments and agree that digital markets are fast-moving and unpredictable. Future innovations are hard to foresee and will likely give rise to a range of new behaviours and ensuing harms. Although the Government have endeavoured to make the list of permitted types of conduct requirements fully comprehensive, it could become out of date in the future. The noble Viscount’s proposal to add an open-ended type of conduct requirement would, we feel, grant too wide a power to the CMA and undermine the safeguards we have set by creating a clear framework for the CMA to operate within.

It is right that both government and Parliament have appropriate oversight and scrutiny over the significant powers being granted to the CMA. Therefore, the delegated power to allow the Secretary of State, subject to parliamentary scrutiny, to update the legislation provides the most appropriate way to future-proof the regime, ensuring that it can intervene effectively and promptly on the right issues. In addition, I note that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has not queried the need for this power.

I turn to a series of amendments on data and interoperability. I very much thank noble Lords for their contributions on these important issues, which are vital in promoting competition in digital markets. Amendments 20, 21, 28, 29 and 55 all seek to strengthen the provisions relating to data access, portability and interoperability. I agree with the noble Lords that these topics represent key issues in digital markets. The most powerful tech firms hold the largest amounts of data, which can help entrench their market position. Closed ecosystems and a lack of interoperability can reinforce these strategic positions and make it hard for new competitors and innovators to enter the market.

Both conduct requirements and PCIs can be used to promote interoperability and data access and to facilitate data portability for the purposes of addressing competition issues. These issues are already provided for in the Bill. We consider that “interoperability” is a commonly understood technical term, so we have not defined it in the Bill. In fact, defining it could actually risk narrowing it. These robust and comprehensive powers relating to interoperability and data access will enable swift and comprehensive action.

My noble friend Lord Lansley talks about the two types of conduct requirement. To be clear, subsection (2) refers to the requirements for the purpose of “obliging” conduct, and subsection (3) refers to the requirements for the purpose of “preventing” conduct. The specific conduct requirements imposed by the CMA may be framed as either obligations or restrictions, regardless of whether they fall within types of requirements under subsections (2) or (3). This means that the CMA can already promote interoperability in the way that my noble friend rightly wants. PCIs could also include remedies, such as mandated interoperability, data sharing and consumer choice screens.

My Lords, we are getting on in the Committee, but I was really interested in the Minister’s interpretation point, because quite a lot hangs on that. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, illustrated extremely well the difference between promoting and not restricting, so to speak—that is a crucial distinction. The Minister prayed in aid Clause 20(2) versus (3), but could he write on that in due course?

I am very happy to do so. As I say, anything that ensures the clarity of the Bill is valuable and important.

On the reference to international technical standards, these can be an important tool in supporting good regulatory outcomes, and we expect the CMA to pay due regard to these, along with other relevant considerations.

Finally, Amendment 34 would place a duty on the DMU to consider opening a PCI investigation when reviewing the effectiveness of, and an SMS firm’s compliance with, conduct requirements. Conduct requirements are tailored rules to manage the effects of an SMS firm’s market power and prevent harms before they occur. PCIs will tackle the sources of SMS firms’ market power, which can arise from both structural features of a market and SMS firms’ conduct. These are different but complementary tools, and the CMA will need to carefully decide when it is appropriate to use each tool, depending on the specific competition issue at hand. This amendment risks narrowing and reframing PCIs as a tool of last resort for non-compliance with conduct requirements.

I hope noble Lords feel assured that the issues they have raised have been carefully considered and reflected throughout the Bill, and I hope that the noble Lord will be able to withdraw his amendment.

I thought I would wait, just in case the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, wanted to come in before the Minister sat down.

It has been an excellent debate, covering a wide range of connected issues, and I thank all noble Lords who have spoken and the Minister for his response. All the issues are connected by so many of the fundamentals that underpin not just this Bill, but the entirety of this digital project that we are all on: accessibility, interoperability, inclusion and intellectual property. I do not think we should ever stop mentioning copyright and intellectual property in these discussions; it is absolutely critical and is being decimated in so many ways right this very day.

Data, as was so eloquently set out by my noble friend Lord Lansley, is part of the critical underpinning. What is any of this without data? I certainly think that what we do not want to do with the Bill, as the Minister set out, is to come up with a definition of interoperability that is not interoperable—that would be an unfortunate slip of the pen. All these issues need to be at the forefront of all our deliberations; it unites all the amendments in this group and should unite all of our thoughts. They are the key threads that will not only make a success of this Bill but make a success of everything that we are trying to achieve with this digital project.

I know we are going to return to a number of these issues as we progress through Committee and into Report, but at this point—beating the Division Bell, still—I beg to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 15 withdrawn.

Committee adjourned at 7.22 pm.