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Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill

Volume 835: debated on Monday 5 February 2024

Committee (5th Day)

Relevant document: 3rd Report from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Northern Ireland legislative consent sought.

Clause 149: The specified prohibition condition

Amendment 110

Moved by

110: Clause 149, page 94, line 4, at end insert—

“(1A) A commercial practice also meets the specified prohibition condition if the commercial practice targets consumers with marketing material for products intended to be used by that person to take their own life.”

My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak here this afternoon. I apologise to the Committee for not being able to speak at Second Reading. I declare my interest as the founder and trustee of a mental health charity in Leicestershire, the Loughborough Wellbeing Centre.

It will not surprise my noble friend the Minister, I suspect, to know that this is a probing amendment. However, given that we are debating in this part of the Bill the enforcement of consumer protection, the matter that I raise relates directly to the greatest harm that a consumer can suffer: their death.

In June 2022, I asked my noble friend Lord Parkinson the following Oral Question: what plans do

“Her Majesty’s Government … have to address online retailers’ algorithmic recommendations for products that can be used for the purposes of suicide”?

At the time, the most obvious Bill to address this matter was the Online Safety Bill, which, as we know, focused on harmful content in particular. In my follow-up question, I said:

“When a particular well-known suicide manual is searched for on Amazon, the site’s algorithmic recommendations then specifically suggest material that can be used, or easily assembled, into a device intended to take one’s own life. If this is not to be regulated as harmful content under the Online Safety Bill, how can this sort of harm be regulated?”—[Official Report, 27/6/22; col. 434.]

This amendment is particularly close to my heart because, sadly, when I was a Member of Parliament, a constituent bought a manual on Amazon then completed suicide. The amendment would amend Clause 149 by expanding the specified prohibition condition definition by adding a commercial practice that

“targets consumers with marketing material for products intended to be used by that person to take their own life.”

I am grateful to the Mental Health Foundation for its support with this amendment.

Even today, Amazon continues to algorithmically recommend products that can be used to take one’s own life to users viewing suicide manuals online. To be specific, users searching for a suicide manual will be recommended specific materials that are touted as being highly effective and painless ways to take one’s own life. Amazon facilitates users purchasing the key items that they need, from instructions to materials, in a few clicks. I would like to think that this is not intentional.

In the overwhelming majority of cases, such automatic recommendation will be harmless and will help consumers to find products that might interest them. However, in this instance, a usually harmless algorithm is functioning to provide people with material that they may use to end their own lives. This risk is not just theoretical. Amazon is recommending products that there have been concerted public health efforts to address in this country and which are known to have caused deaths. So as not to make them better known, I will not name them.

It is particularly important that Amazon ceases to highlight novel suicide methods, as its recommendation algorithm currently does by recommending products to users. There is clear evidence that, when a particular suicide method becomes better known, the effect is not simply that suicidal people switch from one intended method to the novel one but that suicide occurs in people who would not otherwise have taken their own lives. This probing amendment is intended to draw the Government’s attention to this concerning issue. I have spoken about Amazon today given its position in the market and its known bad practice in this area, but the principle of course goes beyond Amazon. New retailers may well emerge in the future and a principle should be established that this type of behaviour is not acceptable.

While I suspect that my noble friend the Minister is going to tell me that the Bill is not the right place for this amendment, I hope that he will agree that a crackdown on these harmful algorithmic recommendations to protect consumers—it was the word “consumers” that meant that it was not suitable for the Online Safety Bill—is needed, in the spirit of consumer protection sought in the Bill. I hope that, at the very least, he will agree to meet me to discuss this further and to help me to raise it with the relevant department, if it is not his. I beg to move Amendment 110.

My Lords, I have one amendment in this group, Amendment 110A, which will be echoed in subsequent groups as part of a general concern about making sure that trading standards are an effective body in the UK and are able to do what they are supposed to do to look after consumers.

As the Minister will know, because we were part of the same conversation, the CMA is concerned that trading standards may have been reduced to the point where they are not as effective as they ought to be. Looking at some of the local cuts—in Enfield, for instance, four officers have been cut down to one—and listening to various people involved in trading standards, there is a general concern that, as they are set up and funded at the moment, they are not able to perform the role that they should be. Given the importance that enforcers have in the structure that the Government are putting together, I am asking in this amendment that the Government review that effectiveness, take a serious look at the structures that they have created and their capability of performing as they would wish under the Bill and report within a reasonable period.

My Lords, I entirely support what the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, had to say in her probing amendment. It takes us back to the Online Safety Bill debate. The final question that she asked is crucial: if not here, where? We must have a means of being able to prevent the sale of these products. She has highlighted it and I hope that the Minister has a satisfactory reply, so that, in short order, we can make sure that these products are not for sale in these online marketplaces.

I also entirely support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. It will become clearer and clearer as we move through the groups that adequate resources are required for trading standards. We impose a large number of duties on them, yet we appear not to give them the resources. In fact, their resources have dwindled over the years, as I know that the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, and my noble friend Lady Bakewell would have outlined if they had been present. In respect of their amendments, which I will come on to later, I am the understudy’s understudy, because the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, cannot be here today, I gather, nor can my noble friend Lady Bakewell. It falls to me to make a fist of talking to Amendments 112 all the way through to 127, which I will attempt. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, will be making an even better attempt in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, as I understand. Hopefully, the Minister will take on board what we have to say when the time comes.

Very briefly, I want to speak to Amendments 111 and 122, which relate to increasing the scope of the monetary penalties under the Bill. Amendment 111 applies this to Clause 157 for court enforcement orders when the public designated enforcer, such as the CMA, considers that a person is engaged or is likely to engage in a commercial practice that constitutes a relevant infringement and the court makes such an enforcement order on the public designated enforcer’s application. Amendment 222 applies this to CMA final infringement notices under Clause 181, for when the CMA imposes an infringement notice after an investigation into suspected infringements.

Current drafting limits the penalties to

“£300,000 or, if higher, 10% of the total value of the turnover (if any) of the respondent”.

However, a respondent may have made a huge profit as a result of infringements. Fines of a mere £300,000 are unlikely to incentivise good behaviour. In circumstances where 10% of the total value of the turnover is higher, our legal advice is that the UK would typically follow current EU practice, unless something in UK legislation specifically allowed it not to do so, such as we propose in these amendments. In the EU, the fine has to relate to the turnover of the activity in issue and its duration, which, in practice, makes it a much smaller number. To get to group worldwide turnover requires evidence of head office involvement. It should be made clear that to calculate the penalty amount the CMA and the court are able to take into account the profit made by the respondent.

Penalties are supposed to provide an incentive not to break the law, which raises the real question: why are fines related to turnover at all? To ensure good behaviour, they should strip the lawbreaker of the profits gained from lawbreaking. Where a platform can harm millions and only a few take it to task if it pays off the fee, breaking the law pays back handsomely. Authorities could be given the power to directly award exemplary damages of this type in these circumstances. In practice, fines are a fraction of turnover and profits. The largest fine to date was the €4.3 billion imposed on Google in respect of its Android device restriction, which is a long way ahead of other recent fines, but Google makes something of the order of $70 billion a quarter in turnover.

This amendment would also focus on the abusive practice, not the abuse only in relation to effects in one market. For example, Google changed its algorithm in 2007 to promote its own products at the top of its search results. It does so for news, maps, images, shopping and things such as flight booking. That pushes more relevant and better businesses down the rankings so that they get less business and competition is distorted. The practice is governed by an algorithm called universal search. The EU Commission had the resource only to investigate shopping; the fine was €204 billion. Google carries on discriminating in all areas but shopping. A fine could and should be calculated in relation to the abusive practice, of which shopping is an example; otherwise, breaking the law pays and behaviour does not change. Seeing the fine in relation to the profit gained from the practice would be fair. It would deprive the wrongdoer of the gains from breaking the law and is likely to change behaviour. An account of profits could easily be done.

I turn to Amendments 112 to 120 in the names of the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, my noble friend Lady Bakewell and the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley. As I said, unfortunately none of those proposers is able to be present today, but all their amendments relate to widening the scope of how appropriate court action can take place and they all come under the banner of consumer protection and enforcement, especially for a level playing field to operate in the current marketplace.

Amendments 112, 113 and 114 are about consumer protection orders and undertakings under Clause 159 and cover applications to the appropriate court for an online interface order or an interim online interface order. Clause 159 extends the court’s online interface powers to the enactments, obligations and rules of law categorised as domestic infringements and it is to be welcomed. The Explanatory Notes to the Bill give examples of where online interface orders could be useful, especially in the area of underage sales products. This has been thrown into sharp relief by the Government’s proposals on banning the selling of vapes to underage children and young people. In relation to weights and measures, it is possible that, in order to avoid local inspection systems in the UK, an online supply of short-weight goods would need urgent follow-up with an application for an online interface order against the third-party overseas website where rogue traders are mis-selling to UK consumers.

However, these amendments raise the important issue that as the Bill currently stands, while the CMA can apply to the court for these vital orders, local authority-based trading standards officers cannot. The amendments call on the Government to agree that, wherever the CMA is mentioned in Clause 159, those same powers of application to the court should be given to trading standards, represented in the amendment by

“any local weights and measures authority in Great Britain”.

It is important for trading standards officers, as well as the CMA, to have the power in law to apply to the courts for online interface orders. Trading standards are not exactly the Cinderella service of local government, although they are certainly not funded to the same level as many other local government services, yet trading standards investigations involve traders who are advertising, promoting or selling online, often to children. That power to remove infringing content would allow trading standards to perform their highly stretched functions far more effectively in the interests of consumers.

In Clause 160, Amendments 115, 116 and 117 follow the same theme: wherever online interface orders are defined and where the CMA is mentioned in exercising powers under those orders, the local weights and measures authorities would also be included in those powers. In Clause 161, which covers interim online interface orders, Amendments 118, 119 and 120 also call for local trading standards to sit alongside the CMA when it comes to exercising powers on behalf of the consumer. Extending these powers—to apply to the courts to take down online content—to trading standards would also remove enforcement pressure on the CMA. The CMA is not as involved in online investigations as are trading standards.

The consumer would be surprised to find that in 2024 trading standards have no direct powers to remove concerning content such as that relating to illegal slimming pills targeted at young people. Beyond asking for it to happen, they have no powers—maybe this is one of the answers to the issued raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan. On behalf of those across the Committee who have signed these amendments, I ask the Minister to look seriously at accepting them. This is an issue that many feel needs to be pursued further if the Government are unsympathetic at this stage.

My Lords, I was initially going to say that this is a disparate group of amendments but, as I have heard the arguments adduced, I have realised that it has more coherence to it.

The Committee should pass a vote of thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, for tabling her amendment. This is an incredibly sensitive issue and one that in spirit we completely support—why wouldn’t you? If I were in the noble Baroness’s position, having dealt with cases of the sort that she has, I, too, would probably be mounting a campaign on this. We should be grateful to the Mental Health Foundation for the support that it has given. It cannot be right that usually harmless algorithms are used for another purpose like this and it would be helpful if we could get some clarity to the law.

This issue raises highly sensitive issues about online purchases. It is hard to envisage that any commercial undertaking, whether online or trading on our high streets, would deliberately market a product knowing that it was likely to be used for acts of self-harm and far worse. I will listen carefully to what the Minister has to say on this. If there is something that can usefully be done in legislation and there is an opportunity to do it here, we should take that opportunity.

I turn to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, which initially I thought put the cart before the horse, but I do not think so any more. It is a neat amendment that is usefully placed. The noble Lord is looking at how the effectiveness of trading standards is measured and looking at their resource and support.

About 20 or 30 years ago, I was a trading standards national officer. I was not a trading standards officer, but I used to lobby government for resources on behalf of trading standards, which always used to say they did not have enough resource. The answer from the Government at the time was pretty much the same as I am expecting the answer to be this afternoon: that the Government are resourcing trading standards well and that they do a very good job. However, there is a good case for reviewing their effectiveness, particularly in the light of the other amendments in this group.

I will come back to Amendment 111 in a moment, but Amendments 112 to 120 relate very neatly to the scope and jurisdiction of weights and measures—ie, trading standards. They would significantly broaden the responsibilities of trading standards officers, who presumably would take on investigatory and enforcement responsibilities on a shared basis with the CMA. We have sympathy with these amendments because there is a strong case for local enforcement. I understand that people living in a locality might want to go to their local authority trading standards officers for advice, support and encouragement in seeking enforcement against rogue online traders. If we embark on this route there will need to be protocols in place so that duplication does not occur and so that there is good advice and information from officers locally working in tandem with CMA officials, and of course there would be a question of resource and support for local trading standards officers. Ministers and the Government may think that this is a valuable route, but the relationship between central and local enforcement needs to be explored. These amendments valuably focus light on that, because people in any community anywhere in the country will want to know how they can access their rights as consumers dealing as much online as in the high street and offline. We have a lot of sympathy for the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lady Crawley, the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell.

I will go back to Amendment 111. As the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, argued, it is really about the detail of the enforcement of penalties and their range and scope. In general terms, we support the notion that penalties should take account of the profitability of the company which is in breach of enforcement orders—breaking the law. Again, it will be interesting to hear the Minister set out the Government’s policy in this field and explain to us how it is going to work. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to noble Lords for their amendments in this group and for their valuable contributions on these important issues. I will start by discussing Amendment 110. moved by my noble friend Lady Morgan, whose continued leadership on this very serious and hugely important topic is commendable. Amendment 110 would make the marketing of products intended to be used to take one’s own life a specified prohibition, which would therefore be enforceable under Part 3. Like everyone who spoke, I—and the Government—recognise the tragic consequences of suicide and how so many lives and families have been devastated by it. The Government do not underestimate the gravity of this issue, and that is reflected by the measures already in place around suicide prevention and, indeed, the steps we have taken to clamp down on the advertising and supply of pro-suicide materials.

First, we have strong, well-defined laws in relation to complicity in another person’s suicide, such as the Suicide Act 1961. Building on that, where content on the internet reaches the threshold for a criminal offence under the Suicide Act 1961, the Online Safety Act will place new duties on all in-scope user-to-user services proactively to tackle it.

Under the Online Safety Act, search services have targeted duties that focus on minimising the presentation of illegal search results to users, and protecting children from such search content. These duties will play a key role in reducing traffic directed to websites with content that encourages or assists suicide, reducing the likelihood of users encountering this content. The Act also places duties on providers to protect children from harmful content that encourages, promotes or provides instructions for suicide but that does not meet the criminal threshold. Separately, the independent Advertising Standards Authority bans adverts that may cause harm or serious or widespread offence, including adverts containing references to suicide.

These approaches are supported by the Government’s suicide prevention strategy for England. As part of that, the Department of Health and Social Care leads a cross-government and cross-sector group established to rapidly identify and proactively tackle emerging methods of suicide. Through this group’s close working, there are currently over 30 live actions and interventions to reduce public access to, and limit awareness of, emerging methods, with further commitments made in the strategy. These include seeking to tackle at source the suppliers of harmful substances for the purposes of suicide, and the development of a new national process that both captures intelligence and subsequently issues alerts to relevant parts of the health, care, education and justice systems on any emerging methods or risks to be aware of.

Amendment 110 is set against this background. Its laudable intent does not fit with the purpose of Clause 149 and, by extension, Part 3. This amendment would use Part 3, which is merely an enforcement vehicle for existing duties, prohibitions or restrictions, to define and impose on traders a substantive legal prohibition. Once again, I am extremely grateful for my noble friend’s amendment. I applaud her passionate sponsorship of this vital issue and would be delighted to meet, as requested. However, at this moment, I hope she feels reassured enough by existing measures to withdraw the amendment.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lucas for Amendment 110A. The Government fully agree with him that, as with any statute, Part 3 needs to be kept under review to ensure that it achieves its intended real-world impacts. However, it is important to note that the court-based consumer enforcement regime under Chapter 3 of Part 3 is not new. In general, it updates and simplifies the current court-based enforcement regime in Part 8 of the Enterprise Act 2002. There are therefore existing mechanisms for reviewing the effectiveness of consumer enforcement, which we believe to be sufficient.

First, public designated enforcers already review and report on the enforcement interventions they undertake. For example, since 2019, the Association of Chief Trading Standards Officers has produced annual impacts and outcomes reports that show the impact of local authority trading standards services in England and Wales. Both the Chartered Trading Standards Institute and the Society of Chief Officers of Trading Standards in Scotland conduct workforce surveys and publish reports that cover issues such as staffing and enforcement actions. Regulators such as the CMA, the Financial Conduct Authority and Ofcom provide transparent statements about their enforcement work and publish annual reports that evaluate their past year’s performance. These regulators are accountable to Parliament and subject to scrutiny by parliamentary Select Committees.

This ongoing reporting is complemented by dialogue with government about enforcement priorities and capability. For example, the CMA, which has a central co-ordination role in the network of public designated enforcers, already has a statutory role to provide advice to government on matters relating to its functions, including consumer enforcement. The Government may therefore request the CMA to provide information or advice on any gaps in enforcers’ powers or capabilities. The Government have committed to respond publicly to such advice within 90 days, clearly indicating the steps we will take in response.

We have also considered additional and proportionate monitoring provisions in relation to Part 3 of the Bill. For example, Clause 162 imposes record-keeping requirements on public designated enforcers in relation to undertakings that they accept and reviews of the effectiveness of these undertakings. This reflects the fact that the Bill enhances the enforceability of undertakings by introducing penalties for their breaches. We consider that these mechanisms are sufficient to ensure that enforcement outcomes are appropriately monitored and that steps will be taken to maintain the capability of public designated enforcers.

Amendment 110A also raises the question of funding of public designated enforcers. Funding models vary among public designated enforcers. For example, local trading standards funding decisions are a local matter. Funding is not ring-fenced, so local authorities can make the best decisions for their local needs.

I therefore once again thank my noble friend for highlighting the importance of keeping the consumer enforcement regime under review and I hope that my remarks have reassured him.

Before the Minister moves on, would he be so kind as to point out which bit of the Long Title prevents the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, from being incorporated into the Bill? This is an important issue and he gave us no real comfort about what other powers might be available to remedy the kind of situation that the noble Baroness talked about. Secondly—I sound like a taxi driver—Amendment 110A talks about resources for trading standards but, as the Minister well knows, local authorities are in dire straits. It is not just a question of saying that their funding is not ring-fenced; it is also about the Government making sure that trading standards are adequately resourced for consumer protection. How are they going to ensure that?

I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. As I said on my noble friend Lady Morgan’s Amendment 110, we are dealing with a serious issue. I took great pains to run through the various layers of protection currently on the statute book and outlined why the Government believe that this is covered elsewhere and is not within the scope of the Bill. I have also said that I will meet my noble friend and look at this in more detail to see whether we need to look further at the Long Title, to which the noble Lord referred.

We are saying that there is extensive protection built up around this sensitive issue and that there should not be further legislation made within the scope of the Bill, but that, if we need to look at it further, we can do so before Report.

Every local authority always wants more money. It is a feature of UK public life and it is up to local authorities to decide how to spend their money appropriately. As we all know, some are better run than others. Funding is not ring-fenced and it is up to local authorities to make sure that standards are maintained in their area.

Amendments 111 and 122, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, pertain to profits from infringements and the calculation of penalties. They would ensure that profits made from engaging in an infringing commercial practice can be expressly reflected in the calculation of a monetary penalty imposed through an enforcement order made by the court or a final infringement notice given by the CMA. I thank the noble Lord for his amendments and I absolutely agree with the intent behind them. In fact, work is under way to produce a comprehensive set of regulations, which could be made under Clause 203, to set out the amounts that are to be treated as comprising a person’s turnover when calculating the maximum penalty that can be levied.

Our intention is that any profits accruing from the relevant infringement will be captured by this methodology, but we consider that this maximum penalty calculation will be a technical exercise that needs to be supported by robust and detailed methodology, which is therefore better suited to secondary legislation. I hope that the noble Lord is sufficiently reassured that this important issue will be addressed.

My Lords, I am sorry to keep interrupting the Minister, but this is quite an important factor. Is he saying that secondary legislation can expand the way that the primary legislation is interpreted? I was talking in my amendment about trying to get hold of the profits of abuse, so that the penalties should include a profit-based penalty, but the Minister seems to be saying, “Yes, we can do that with secondary legislation”. Is that really what he is saying?

Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. In order to get a profit, one has to start with turnover. A detailed mechanism is required to look at how these P&Ls work and, rather than being in the Bill, this needs to be examined as a technical exercise. There needs to be a methodology put together for it; we will therefore do that in secondary legislation.

Amendments 112 to 120 relate to online content take-down powers and were tabled by my noble friend Lord Lindsay but presented by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. These amendments would give trading standards departments in Great Britain the power to apply to a court for online interface orders and interim online interface orders to modify, restrict or take down illegal content displayed online.

We welcome the spirit of my noble friend’s amendments. Indeed, the Government have published their consultation response on proposals to empower additional enforcers, besides the CMA, to apply to a court for online interface orders. We have committed to give this additional power to public designated enforcers. These enforcers include, but go beyond, trading standards departments—for example, sector regulators such as Ofcom, which already have consumer enforcement powers under Part 3 of the Bill. We would be pleased to discuss with noble Lords how best to enact these important changes to ensure that the use of this power is governed by adequate procedures.

Is it therefore envisaged that the Government will give extra support to local trading standards officers, so that they will have these take-down powers? That seems to be the implication of what the Minister is saying—that it is not just Ofcom or the CMA but that there will be local enforcement as well, so there will be that combination.

Just to add to that question, is the Minister saying, “It’s going to happen but we just need to get the procedures right and add them”? Is that really all we are waiting for?

I thank the noble Lords. That is indeed the spirit of what we are saying. We are, in the Bill, giving a power to the courts that will contain the online interface orders. The Government have published a consultation to enable additional enforcers, including the CMA, to apply to a court for these online orders. We are saying that, within the current architecture, we believe that we have the power to do what is required, but that we can make changes after the fact to ensure that the power is governed by adequate procedures.

My Lords, that is slightly eliding the situation. The Minister was talking about the CMA but, earlier, I understood him to be talking about trading standards. Are trading standards going to get those powers and is it just a question of ensuring that we get the procedures sorted out?

I thank the noble Lord. There is obviously a little confusion about this, so we will need to set it out, which we will do between Committee and Report, to ensure that we know precisely the order of events here.

That is important, because the Minister was talking about the actions in the court while the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and I were concerned not just with that but with where the enforcement law is going to come from. In the Minister’s letter to us, it would be most helpful if he could set out who will have those enforcement powers and how the mechanisms will work, given the interface between the different enforcing agencies. That would give consumers a degree of comfort.

I am happy to do that. We will look at that in a bit more detail and write accordingly.

We come to some minor technical government amendments, Amendments 121, 123, 124 and 128, which in the main are minor and consequential. They are intended to provide clarity on how the relevant provisions function and on continuity between the current consumer enforcement regime and the reformed regime under Part 3. I hope these government amendments will be supported. I thank noble Lords once again for their amendments and for their considered remarks on this group.

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I wonder if he will take another look at Clause 157(5) regarding the amount of monetary penalty that can be imposed. The limitations seem to be there in black and white, yet the Minister is saying that secondary legislation can change that subsection in due course. If he cannot give me an answer now, would he be able to write to all of us? This is an important point.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for his response, which I will come back to in a moment.

I thank the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Bassam, for their support for my amendment. It is small but, I hope, would be highly effective if it were accepted. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and I spent a long time debating the Online Safety Act last year. It is clear that online marketplaces are not covered. My noble friend the Minister mentioned user-to-user sites and search engines. They are obviously online marketplaces and highly significant businesses—I have mentioned Amazon but there are others—and I do not think the Department for Business and Trade should be agnostic about harmful materials sold on these sites.

I thank the noble Lords who have spoken on Amendment 110 for the sensitivity that they have shown on this difficult topic. I am grateful to my noble friend for the offer of a meeting to look at the scope of the Bill before Report. I will of course withdraw Amendment 110 at this stage, but I look forward to that meeting and further discussions on this important topic.

Amendment 110 withdrawn.

Clause 149 agreed.

Schedules 14 and 15 agreed.

Clause 150 agreed.

Amendment 110A not moved.

Clauses 151 to 156 agreed.

Clause 157: Enforcement orders: requirement to pay monetary penalty

Amendment 111 not moved.

Clause 157 agreed.

Clause 158 agreed.

Clause 159: Applications

Amendments 112 to 114 not moved.

Clause 159 agreed.

Clause 160: Online interface orders

Amendments 115 to 117 not moved.

Clause 160 agreed.

Clause 161: Interim online interface orders

Amendments 118 to 120 not moved.

Clause 161 agreed.

Clauses 162 to 166 agreed.

Clause 167: Monetary penalties under sections 165 and 166: amount

Amendment 121

Moved by

121: Clause 167, page 110, line 29, after “daily rate,” insert “for each day,”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment would clarify that references in this Clause to maximum amounts of daily penalties are maximums per day, not in total.

Amendment 121 agreed.

Clause 167, as amended, agreed.

Clauses 168 to 180 agreed.

Clause 181: Final infringement notice

Amendment 122 not moved.

Clause 181 agreed.

Clauses 182 to 188 agreed.

Clause 189: Monetary penalties under section 188: amount

Amendment 123

Moved by

123: Clause 189, page 126, line 31, after “daily rate,” insert “for each day”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment would clarify that references in this Clause to maximum amounts of daily penalties are maximums per day, not in total.

Amendment 123 agreed.

Clause 189, as amended, agreed.

Clauses 190 and 191 agreed.

Clause 192: Monetary penalties under section 191: amount

Amendment 124

Moved by

124: Clause 192, page 129, line 4, after “daily rate,” insert “for each day”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment would clarify that references in this Clause to maximum amounts of daily penalties are maximums per day, not in total.

Amendment 124 agreed.

Clause 192, as amended, agreed.

Clauses 193 to 207 agreed.

Schedule 16: Investigatory powers

Amendment 124A

Moved by

124A: Schedule 16, page 347, line 40, at end insert—

“4A In paragraph 28(1), after “goods” insert “or articles””Member's explanatory statement

This amendment would seek to allow evidential articles to be taken at the same time as goods under paragraph 28 of Schedule 5 to the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 124A and to speak to Amendments 124B and 124C. These are all small amendments aimed at making trading standards a bit more effective in practice. Amendment 124A would allow trading standards to seize, as well as the suspected counterfeit goods, articles—for instance, clothing used by the trader that puts them at the scene of the crime. At the moment, trading standards do not have the right to seize such articles of evidential value and they would very much like to have it, since it would make it easier to convict rogues.

As for Amendment 124B, at the moment, trading standards are not allowed to open a vehicle if that is where the goods are being stored, because it does not fall within the definition currently used in the Bill—or at least they believe that is the case. They would like, should all the goods concerned be in a van, to be able to open the van.

As for Amendment 124C, sometimes these can be big crimes of hundreds of thousands of pounds. Level 3 just does not meet the case; it is just a bit off the profit. They would like to see the judge able to set the level of the fine to accord to the crime—Gilbert and Sullivan would have approved.

My Lords, once again, with the indulgence of the Committee, I will speak on behalf of my noble friend Lady Bakewell to Amendments 125, 126 and 127.

Before doing so, I say that I support the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, which strike me as extremely practical. It must be extremely frustrating when faced with some of the restrictions. This point about vehicles seems to me a particular irritant for trading standards officers—a vehicle being defined as premises. What era are we living in?

We need to bring the powers of trading standards officers up to the 21st century, which is very much the spirit in which Amendments 125, 126 and 127 have been tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, my noble friend Lady Bakewell and the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley. Amendment 125 would delete paragraph 17 of Schedule 5 to the Consumer Rights Act, which at present requires trading standards officers to exercise physical powers of entry to premises—this is in the digital age—before accessing information and the seizing of documents that may be needed in criminal proceedings. Accepting this amendment would be an opportunity to finally update the powers of trading standards in this respect. It would have the effect of changing their information-gathering powers to enable documents requested in writing without the need for physical entry to be used in criminal proceedings. This means also relieving the undue burdens placed on businesses and trading standards officers.

For legitimate businesses there is presently the burden of having to interrupt their normal business to provide the requested documents there and then, whereas, under what is proposed in this amendment, if the request is made in writing rather than physically, they will have more time to source the required documents and even seek legal advice should they wish to. For the small band of trading standards officers, the requirement to exercise physical powers of entry across the country to seize documents they may need to use in criminal proceedings is not cost-effective for their cash-strapped local authorities. If a local authority in, say, my noble friend’s Somerset had to deal with a case in Cumbria, it would simply not be viable for this to happen. The criminal activity could go unpunished and the public and consumer would still be at risk from rogue-trader activity.

In the impact assessment for the Bill, it is accepted that:

“Consumer rights must keep pace with market innovations, so that consumers remain confident engaging with businesses offering new products and services”.

That is a good statement, but for this sort of consumer confidence to become more robust, the enforcement powers of trading standards need to be seriously updated and not inhibited by the present inflexibility.

Amendments 126 and 127 propose to substitute the words “England or Wales” and “Scotland” for the words “United Kingdom” in paragraph 44(3) and 44(2) of Schedule 5 to the Consumer Rights Act. The effect of these amendments would be to add a new paragraph to Schedule 16 to the Bill, which would give new powers to trading standards officers to operate across UK national borders where necessary. Cross-border activities should be included in the Bill; current legislation does not make it clear that trading standards officers in England and Wales can exercise their powers across the border with Scotland, or vice versa, even though consumer protection is a reserved power. In fact, the current legislation implies that this cross-border enforcement activity is not permitted, and we are told that, currently, trading standards officers err on the side of caution. Who can blame them in the circumstances? For the success of these new powers and the Bill to take root, trading standards officers should be able to pursue and enforce across the whole of the United Kingdom.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and my noble friend Lady Crawley for bringing forward this group of amendments relating to Schedule 16, which is introduced by Chapter 6, Clause 207. They seek to amend Schedule 5 to the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

Amendments 124A and 124B appear to add clarity without altering the intention of the Bill as written. Having said that, we would be interested to hear from the Minister whether there is any reason these changes should not be enacted.

Amendment 124C would make a more substantial change to financial penalties. The current level 3 is no deterrent or obstruction. A mere £1,000 is just petty cash for most businesses, whereas level 5, which is an unlimited fine, would serve as a deterrent and perhaps support some co-operation in investigation. We would like to hear from the Minister whether there has been any assessment of the suitability of obstruction being a level 3 fine since the Consumer Rights Act came into law in 2015. We also seek clarification on whether this is the right place to make such a change, given that its impact would be much wider.

Amendments 125, 126 and 127, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, with the support of my noble friend Lady Crawley and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, make a lot of sense in pursuing investigations in all parts of the United Kingdom, not just England and Wales. That was succinctly explained by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, so I shall not repeat the point. This would obviously be a matter for the Scottish Government. If the Government agree on the merits, is this something they have discussed with their Scottish counterparts?

The amendments in this group are sensible and designed to be helpful. They should be supported. We look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their amendments and their considered contributions regarding Schedule 5 to the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which details the investigatory powers available to consumer law enforcers. As many noble Lords have noted, building a case against rogue traders and rectifying bad business practices not only starts with but depends on enforcers having the right powers to investigate suspected breaches. This is important for all enforcers, but especially so for local authority trading standards departments that typically exercise the full range of Schedule 5 powers. The Government are committed to ensuring that trading standards and other consumer enforcers have the requisite powers to carry out their important work, so we value the perspectives shared by noble Lords today.

Amendment 124A, moved by my noble friend Lord Lucas, would allow “articles” that fall outside the definition of “goods” to be seized and detained by enforcers when exercising their seizure power under paragraph 28 of Schedule 5. I thank my noble friend for this amendment and hasten to reassure him that its intent is, in our view, comprehensively achieved by the statute as it stands. The definition of “goods” under Schedule 5 already encompasses any tangible moveable items. It is not restricted to the goods sold by the trader to consumers. Further, other provisions in Schedule 5, such as the power under paragraph 29 to seize documents where an enforcer reasonably suspects they may be required as evidence in proceedings, can be relied on should there be any doubt as to whether such items are seizable. For these reasons, I hope my noble friend will agree to withdraw his amendment.

On Amendment 124B, on breaking open a vehicle, I again thank my noble friend Lord Lucas for tabling it. This relates to the power under paragraph 31 that allows enforcers either to require a person to break open a container or to open a container themselves in order to seize and detain goods, among other things. It is indeed important that investigators are not frustrated by arguments about what constitutes a “container” and therefore the current definition is broad and means anything in which goods may be stored. Therefore, the definition is capable of including a vehicle that is storing, or may be being used to store, goods which may disclose a breach of legislation.

However, enforcers must consider what exercise of investigatory powers is appropriate in the circumstances. For example, an enforcer may inspect products under paragraph 25 of Schedule 5 for the purposes of checking the compliance of those products with relevant legislation. If the product in question is a vehicle, an enforcer cannot break open the vehicle as that is allowed only for certain purposes, which do not include product inspection. Therefore, I hope my noble friend is reassured that the statute is already sufficiently permissive in the appropriate circumstances and will not press his amendment.

My Lords, the Minister seems to have said two directly conflicting things—that you cannot do something, but that he hopes that his noble friend is convinced that the powers are wide enough. Did we mishear him?

I hope that the noble Lord did not misunderstand me. I think we said that this is already covered in legislation. The definition is capable of including a vehicle that is or may be being used to store goods that may disclose a breach of legislation. We are being clear that the definition of “goods” is sufficiently broad to include goods or vehicles. I was coming on to say that an enforcer may inspect products under paragraph 25 of Schedule 5 for the purposes of checking the compliance of those products with relevant legislation, so we are tying this back to the relevant legislation. We believe that the definitions are already sufficiently wide and therefore there is no need to further legislate.

That is beginning to be helpful, but the Minister will be aware that different local authorities are receiving different legal advice. Some are comfortable with the definition that he has given and others are uncomfortable with it. At some point, possibly during Report, a Pepper v Hart definition that solidly allows legal officers in local authorities to make the decision that a car is a container in particular circumstances would, at the very least, be helpful. Perhaps adopting the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, would be even more so.

I was not aware that there are different definitions in different local authorities. That seems a valid point to address, so we will look at it before Report.

Amendment 124C is on fines for obstructing enforcement officers, for which I again thank my noble friend Lord Lucas. This addresses the question of the appropriate level of fines for the offence of obstructing an enforcement officer, under paragraph 36 of Schedule 5. Currently, the fine must not exceed level 3 on the standard scale, which is £1,000. Amendment 124C would increase that to level 5—an unlimited amount. I fully agree with my noble friend that any sort of obstruction, whether intentionally failing to comply with instructions or knowingly giving misleading information, is a serious matter that must be subject to criminal enforcement.

The current level of the fines was subject to previous government consultation ahead of the introduction of the Consumer Rights Act 2015. It was set to reflect the deterrent purpose of the offence, proportionately and consistently with comparable criminal offences. For example, the penalty for obstructing a police officer or an officer of His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is set at a maximum of £1,000, which is level 3. We consider that the current level of these fines continues to be proportionate to the offence, consistent with comparable regimes. I once again thank my noble friend for his consideration of this issue and hope that my explanation persuades him not to press his amendment.

I thank my noble friend Lord Lindsay and the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Crawley, for tabling Amendment 125, which was presented by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. It would end the prohibition on enforcers to use information provided by a person in response to a written information notice in criminal proceedings against that person. Prohibitions of this sort apply throughout the UK legal system and serve to help protect a person from self-incrimination when enforcement authorities are given broad powers to send information notices to compel the production of information.

The Government have listened carefully to trading standards departments, which consider that removing this prohibition would enable them to gather evidence needed for consumer prosecutions more easily. We have been told that using other information-gathering powers comes with operational challenges, such as having to resource travel outside the local area to carry out investigations. We are keen to work with enforcers to address these challenges. However, this prohibition is an important protection. It safeguards a right that is recognised under English common law and the Human Rights Act.

In summary, Amendment 125 stems from an operational issue that does not justify rolling back well-established legal protections. I therefore hope the noble Lord will feel able not to move this amendment.

Are the Government really saying, more or less, that they do not recognise that the world has gone digital? Will the Minister spell out the principles of common law that prohibit them from allowing trading standards officers to do what we set out in the amendments?

This says that the Government have the overarching legislative position, but the trading standards departments operate locally, and it is important that central government listens to local government. That consultation listened carefully to the trading standards departments and has come back saying that they believe that removing this prohibition would enable them to gather evidence better and more easily for consumer protection. We follow the local authorities in their requirements.

I turn to the use of investigatory powers across the UK. Amendments 126 and 127, again tabled by my noble friend Lord Lindsay and presented by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, would permit any trading standards department based anywhere in Great Britain to carry out investigations anywhere in the UK. Current law already allows English and Welsh trading standards departments to use their investigatory powers in parts of England and Wales outside that department’s local area. The same is true for trading standards departments in Scotland, which can already use their investigatory powers anywhere in Scotland.

Extending the powers to investigate across the UK fails to recognise that Scotland has its own legal jurisdiction separate from the single legal jurisdiction of England and Wales. I draw noble Lords’ attention to the fact that consumer protection is a transferred matter in Northern Ireland, where trading standards are a central government function, in contrast to Great Britain’s local authority model. These differences across the UK’s nations provide examples that I hope will persuade the noble Lord not to move Amendments 126 and 127.

I want to tempt the noble Lord to give us a bit more explanation on this. If I understood what he said rightly, it is quite in order for trading standards officers to begin an investigation in their local authority areas and, because it is clearly a broader issue and a company they are looking at operates nationally, it is okay for them to go after it elsewhere. But, when an English trading standards authority wishes to pursue someone in Scotland, is the Minister really saying that, because the Scottish law is different and so on, they could not mount an investigation that had to take place partly in Scotland because that is where the company is operating or trading from? That seems a bit of a gap in provision if it is the case and, if it is not, I would have thought that there needs to be some form of understanding and set of protocols between and across the authorities operating on each side of the border. I am thinking particularly of border authorities in Northumbria and Cumbria working with trading standards authorities in the lowlands. This must be an issue there quite regularly.

What we are referring to here is that, within these legal jurisdictions, there are differences, not least of all the way prosecutions are conducted in England and Wales versus Scotland and Northern Ireland. Each of those jurisdictions can operate holistically within these jurisdictions. I will write to clarify, but I am pretty sure that the UK remains a united kingdom and, if there is a requirement for someone in England to speak to someone in Scotland, that can still happen. I will find out exactly how it does.

When the Minister writes that letter, perhaps he could extend it to include the United Kingdom Internal Market Act because that seems not to have been taken into consideration. Some of us here today—at least two of us—participated in the lengthy discussions about differing standards across borders and how they might be enforced, and this seems to fall well into that territory. What consideration has been made of that Act in drawing up the terms of the Bill? It would be helpful if the letter set out the various positions within the internal market Act and how they have been represented in the Bill.

I thank the noble Lord. I share his interest in this matter, and that was exactly what I was intending to examine. The United Kingdom Internal Market Act is a fundamental new piece of architecture that, on us exiting the EU, allows us to trade as one single nation, and I will always be promoting that.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his answers to my amendments, particularly for his offer of a continuing dialogue between Committee and Report. It seems clear to me that there is some different understanding out there regarding the ambit of the powers. I am content with the answers that he has given but would like to make sure that not only is that understood but that that understanding can have effect without something being added to the Bill. However, that is a conversation that we can conveniently have not now, so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 124A withdrawn.

Amendments 124B to 127 not moved.

Schedule 16 agreed.

Clauses 208 to 213 agreed.

Schedule 17: Part 3: minor and consequential amendments

Amendment 128

Moved by

128: Schedule 17, page 348, line 13, at end insert—

“Estate Agents Act 1979

A1 In section 3 of the Estate Agents Act 1979 (orders prohibiting unfit persons from doing estate agency work), in subsection (1)—(a) in paragraph (ba) for “section 217, 218 or 219 of the Enterprise Act 2002” substitute “section 155, 158 or 162 of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Act 2024”; (b) in paragraph (bb) for “section 217 of the Enterprise Act 2002” substitute “section 155 of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Act 2024”.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment makes a consequential amendment to the Estate Agents Act 1979 as a result of the repeal by the Bill of Part 8 of the Enterprise Act 2002.

Amendment 128 agreed.

Schedule 17, as amended, agreed.

Clause 214 agreed.

Schedule 18 agreed.

Clauses 215 to 221 agreed.

Amendment 128ZA not moved.

Clause 222: Overview

Amendment 128A not moved.

Clause 222 agreed.

Clause 223: Prohibition of unfair commercial practices

Amendment 129 not moved.

Clause 223 agreed.

Schedule 19: Commercial practices which are in all circumstances considered unfair

Amendment 130

Moved by

130: Schedule 19, page 360, line 41, at end insert “or in a manner that is likely to mislead the consumer into believing that the product has the same specifications or has characteristics that are the equivalent of a product made by a particular manufacturer when it does not.”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment seeks to prevent confusion amongst consumers about packaging that is designed to mimic a well-known brand.

My Lords, in moving Amendment 130 I will speak also to Amendment 135, which is another amendment in the names of the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, my noble friend Lady Bakewell and the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley. This is an opportunity to remedy the long-standing, unaddressed market practice of misleadingly similar packaging of consumer products—that is, packaging which mimics that of familiar branded products. Amendment 130 would introduce a strengthened brand practice in Schedule 19.

Misleadingly similar parasitic packaging, otherwise known as copycats or lookalikes, adopts the distinctive features of familiar branded products to dupe shoppers into believing that it has the same qualities, reputation and/or origin as the brand when it does not. Shoppers buy the copy based on these mistaken assumptions and can pay more than they would were the product distinctively packaged. Such packaging is extremely prevalent in the grocery market. It inflates consumer prices and prevent shoppers making informed, accurate decisions.

The evidence I have seen is convincing that packaging mimicry misleads consumers in substantial numbers and distorts buying decisions. The similar packaging plays on shoppers, exploiting the fact that they self-select products from the shelf. Stores stock so many products that decision-making must be, and is, fast—typically around two seconds per choice. Labels are not studied closely. Colour and shape are more powerful stimuli than words and prompt shoppers to buy a product that they did not intend to buy, to pay more and to believe that products have similarities. I have a whole string of assessments here from research such as a UK IPO study, neuroscience research and a 2023 study called The Psychology of Lookalikes.

In 2008, the Competition Commission considered such packaging an issue for consumer protection. During consultations and the debate on the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, the then Government stressed that public enforcement would be effective. This has not proved to be the case. There has been only one successful enforcement action by trading standards in the past 15 years—in 2008 itself—and no enforcement by the CMA.

IP rights are insufficient. Copiers tend to design around registered IP rights, such as trademarks, designs and copyright, to avoid infringement. A passing-off action is impractical, as proving consumer confusion to a court’s satisfaction is complex, particularly when a copier argues that the use of a different product name avoids misrepresentation. The evidence that IP rights are ineffective can be seen in the persistent prevalence of such copies on the market, with two large retailers adopting it as a business strategy largely unchallenged. Affected branded businesses are unprotected, as there is a gap in IP protection. The original copied brand is no longer distinctive; it is devalued, sales are lost and costs increase. Overall, return on investment in innovation, reputation and quality is reduced. Other products in the same category may lose sales if shoppers switch to the copy, assuming leading brand quality at a lower price, potentially leading to delisting.

For the unlawful copier, sales are boosted as shoppers buy their products by mistake or trust them unduly. They can also charge higher prices; the evidence shows that this could be by as much as 10%. The ultimate solution, of course, is not for offending products to be removed from the market, just that they be repackaged distinctively. This would preserve shopper choice, strengthen competition and reduce prices. Amendment 130, as proposed, would benefit many thousands of shoppers and branded companies of all sizes, particularly SMEs, wherever in the UK they are based.

I now turn to Amendment 135 and should say that the next group contains an amendment, Amendment 137, that is also on fake reviews, so this is a bit of a foretaste of what is coming down the track in the next group. Amendment 135 would add two more practices to the list in Schedule 19 of 31 commercial practices that are in all circumstances considered unfair and bad practice. The two additions are, first, a new paragraph 32:

“Stating or otherwise creating the impression that reviews of a product are submitted by consumers who have actually used or purchased the product without taking reasonable and proportionate steps to check that they originate from such consumers”;

and, secondly, a new paragraph 33:

“Submitting, or commissioning another legal or natural person to submit, false consumer reviews or endorsements, or misrepresenting consumer reviews or social endorsements, in order to promote products”.

How often do we all look to see what people have said about a product or service or, indeed, a bed and breakfast before we commit to buying? I suspect that young people are particularly vulnerable to wanting to participate in something that has a good review and appears to be popular.

The Government propose adding fake reviews to the list of practices in the future, but there is no logical reason why they should not be included now. Adding fake reviews to this important list would make them both criminal and civil breaches, as we understand it. Trading standards see the widespread practice of giving fake reviews as clearly fraudulent in nature, and therefore it should be a criminal offence. Fake reviews appear to be particularly prevalent for health supplements, where a single course of some miracle ingredient will cure your arthritis for ever—that resonates with me. Large sums of money can be invested by those suffering constant pain in an effort to get some relief, only to find that they have wasted their money.

I understand that there is a proposal. The Smarter Regulation response was quite clear that there is considerable demand for this. That response contains a great deal of other material as well and is very useful. I think the latest version is dated 24 January this year, so it is hot off the press, essentially. There is this proposal to add fake reviews in the future via a separate statutory instrument, but why should they not be included in the Bill at this stage? The language has been proposed by the Government. This is a growing distortion of the online marketplace. It is unfair to legitimate businesses and completely deceives consumers who may rely on accurate information to validate their choices. I very much hope that the Minister will say that on Report it will be perfectly viable to include language on fake reviews in the Bill. I beg to move.

My Lords, I have Amendment 131 in this group. It is my understanding, and of course the Minister may correct me, that the investment that a student makes in their university course comes under the Bill—that the relationship is one between consumer and provider. Indeed, since this is the largest purchase that a student will make before they buy a house, it seems entirely appropriate that the sort of safeguards in this Bill should apply to university courses. If that is the case, then paragraph 29 on page 362 forbids universities marketing their courses to children, and that does not seem quite right. I would like to understand how the Government see the confluence of those two factors.

My Lords, I rise to speak briefly on Amendment 133 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, and I have attached our names. I express support in passing to the attempts to restrict fake reviews, which are clearly an absolute plague online and a cause for considerable concern. I, like many other consumers, very much rely on reviews these days. I am also interested in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. I very much oppose the whole structure by which students are regarded as consumers. The Green Party’s position is that education is a public good, which should be provided for free, but his point raises some interesting questions, on which I would be interested in the Minister’s answers.

Amendment 133 is about so-called drip pricing. I found various government surveys producing different figures on the cost of this to consumers, ranging from £1.6 billion to £2.2 billion each year. We are all familiar with this, unsurprisingly, given that more than half of entertainment providers, transport providers and communications businesses use this as a regular practice: “Get this bargain price. Get in now. Click here: it will cost you only £10”. Mysteriously, as you go through the process, the price keeps going up and up. People fill in all the steps in the forms, fill in their names, tick to say that they have read the terms and conditions—even though they have not—and spend all that time and energy, but suddenly the price is three times what it started as. They feel as though they have spent all that time, so it is worth going hunting around again? Do they have that time?

What we are seeing is very much a change in what might have been considered service businesses; consumers are instead servicing them, with their time, energy and efforts. This is an important area, on which people need transparency. In the cost of living crisis, it is worth noting that so-called budget airlines are particular offenders. Most people think, particularly for a long-distance journey, that luggage is not an optional extra, not to mention that a family travelling should not have to pay extra for seats together. Amendment 133 is a particularly important amendment and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, my noble friend has added her name to that of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, on his Amendment 130. We share his concern that online marketing should not be used to promote products or services by mimicking particular brands. In some ways, it is much easier to fool consumers online into thinking that a particular product has the same characteristics and spec as a branded product. As the noble Lord argued very well, we are all familiar with how cheaper and sometimes inferior products on the shelves are designed to mislead the purchaser. This simple amendment is worth supporting for that reason alone.

I was thinking back to an incident not that long ago, when I was misled into buying a product like Lemsip, simply because the colour of the packaging was almost identical. It was so simple and easy to take the thing off the shelf and put it into the basket but, when I got home, the product was inferior. This is about not just price but quality. This amendment is well worth our support.

Amendment 131 from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, asks an important question. It is a niche issue for this legislation, but I am nevertheless looking forward to hearing the Minister clearly explain that universities can or cannot continue to market themselves to pupils and parents. All parents, along with their children, want to receive accurate information that is easily accessible and, more importantly, verifiable so that informed choices can be made. As the noble Lord argued, this is one of the more expensive areas of parents’ expenditure on their child’s education and it is only right that we set high standards for the content of the material that is made available to those making applications, and that it is verifiable.

I now turn to Amendments 132, 133 and 144 in the name of my noble friend Lady Jones. Amendments 132 and 144 should be taken together. They would insert into Schedule 19, which deals with commercial practices, the circumstances considered where there is an unfair reference to the marketing of a counterfeit or dangerous good and would empower enforcement officers to require the removal of relevant listings from the internet. We think that this is a fairly self-explanatory process, which should provide protection for consumers from shoddy goods. If the Minister insists that this is not the place for these amendments, perhaps he can explain how else consumers are to be protected and how else this false marketing is to be tackled.

We are particularly concerned that products are being promoted where the marketing suggests that there is a direct environmental benefit from use of the product. It is common practice for companies to say that a product is natural, is from a sustainable source or is organic in the full knowledge that consumers now expect high environmental standards. This form of greenwashing is prevalent across many commonly used products. We need to have verifiable standards for household products and informative packaging that assists users rather than confusing them. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, made a good point about the nanosecond of assessment that people often exercise in making a judgment. That being the case—those who promote products know and understand this—we have to be certain that product information is of a good standard.

Our Amendment 133 seeks to insert into the same schedule a reference to the practice of drip pricing. As we all understand, this is commonly used to deceive customers from the real price of a product, where the real cost to the consumer is only revealed later in the buying process. I am conscious that the Government recently announced that they intend to take legislative steps on this issue. We would welcome an early sight of the Government’s amendments but, as a sort of down payment on progress, perhaps the Minister this afternoon might like to accept this modest amendment to Schedule 19, which would make sure that drip pricing is seen as an unfair commercial practice.

We also support Amendment 135 in this group, in the names of the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Crawley and Lady Bakewell. It aims to tackle fake reviews, a commonplace practice both online and offline. We are conscious of endorsements in advertising. Most of us take them at less than face value—we have an inbuilt scepticism—but they are obviously impactful, otherwise companies would have stopped using them many years ago. We are all very much in the hands of those who review a product, place, holiday, package or whatever it might be. Given that reviews now form an important part of people’s judgment in making an assessment on whether they want to acquire something, we should definitely clamp down on fake reviews. I know that this prefigures a debate to be had at large in later amendments, but it has a place in this group as well.

I actually have a story about the Balmacara Hotel in Scotland, where I think I was the victim of a fake review. If it was not a fake review, it was certainly a review done less than accurately—but the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, is not here to hear the full story. I beg to move.

I thank noble Lords for the amendments in this third group, concerning banned practices. I will take them not necessarily in numerical order.

I start with Amendment 132, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. It would ban in all circumstances the marketing of counterfeit and dangerous products online. Misleading claims in marketing are already offences under consumer protection law and, for unsafe products, product safety law. The Bill makes it clear that online marketplaces, which can facilitate the sale of these products, must act with professional diligence. This can include taking appropriate steps to ensure that counterfeit and dangerous products are not sold or promoted in a marketplace.

The Government recently consulted on strengthening the public understanding of those duties. Our response to that consultation committed us to undertake further work with stakeholders, including platforms, other business stakeholders and consumer groups, in order to identify the scope and content of further guidance in this area and how that work should best be communicated and set out; I would welcome the noble Baroness’s input into that work. Further, the product safety review includes proposals specifically aimed at tackling the sale of unsafe goods online. The Government will publish a response to that consultation in due course; again, I look forward to being able to share that with the noble Baroness and to discussing next steps.

Ultimately, online platforms have brought huge consumer benefits, including by vastly increasing the range of products available to consumers. The Government are committed to ensuring that platforms bear appropriate responsibility for ensuring that unsafe or counterfeit products do not reach consumers, but we seek to do so thoughtfully and in consultation with the public and industry to ensure that any new regulation does not jeopardise those consumer benefits or harm economic growth. I hope that the noble Baroness, having heard this, will feel able not to move her amendment.

Amendment 144, also in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, would give public enforcers a tailored power to require that the marketing of fake or counterfeit products was removed from the internet. The Government consultation response that I just mentioned also includes a commitment to empower additional enforcers to apply to court for interim and final online interface orders under Chapter 3 of Part 3 of the Bill. These orders facilitate the removal of online content that breaches consumer law. In that context, I assure the noble Baroness that we welcome and intend to honour the spirit of the amendment. I look forward to further discussion on this matter with noble Lords. I hope that, with this reassurance, the noble Baroness will not move Amendment -144.

I thank my noble friend Lord Lindsay for Amendment 135 and his input on this matter of fake reviews. Amendment 135 would add commercial practices related to fake reviews to the list of banned practices in Schedule 19. The Government agree that the law against fake reviews should be strengthened. Following our recent consultation on proposals to tackle fake reviews, and recognising the strong parliamentary interest in this issue, the Government have set out in their response our intention to add the relevant practices to Schedule 19 to the Bill.

It is important to get the details right. I would like to work with your Lordships to ensure that the new rules meet our shared aims of reducing the number of fake reviews that customers encounter online and being clear to businesses on what their duties are when publishing reviews. I would be delighted if noble Lords would meet me to discuss this further. I hope that what I have just set out will mean that my noble friend Lord Lindsay feels comfortable not to move his amendment.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for Amendment 133. It would add drip pricing to the list of banned practices in Schedule 19 to prevent traders adding mandatory fees to the price of a product during the purchasing process. Likewise, the Government agree that the law should be strengthened to protect consumers from hidden fees that can cause them to pay more than they have been led to expect. As we set out in our response to the consultation on improving price transparency, published on 24 January, it is the Government’s intention expressly to prohibit the drip pricing of mandatory fees in this Bill. I would be delighted to discuss this with noble Lords. I hope this means that the noble Baroness will feel comfortable not to move her amendment.

My Lords, all these messages about being prepared to talk further are very welcome; I am sure that we will take the Minister up on them.

Part of the issue about drip pricing and the Government’s response to it is the distinction that they have now made between mandatory extra charges and optional ones. I have a horrible feeling that most of the examples we can think of, such as the airline example, will be classified as optional extra charges, which will not be covered by Schedule 19. Can the Minister say more about that?

I think we are all on the same page but a lot of optional charges are misleading in the sense that they are really charges; the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, talked about families sitting together or your luggage going on a long-haul flight. I am sorry that we keep quoting flights, because there are many other areas where this applies, but it seems to me that the Government have made a false distinction here between things that you have to pay, which are mandatory and which the Minister is saying will go under Schedule 19, and the rest, which are most people’s experience of drip pricing; as the Minister was explaining, that will not be covered—but I might have misunderstood what he was saying.

I thank the noble Baroness for that. A distinction has been made as per that wording. As the consultation has come back, there has been a view on the distinction between those two areas, but the whole point of consulting noble Lords between Committee and Report is to allow further investigation, discussion and/or justification of that.

I want to persist a bit more on that. We are now almost at the end of Committee, and Report is probably two or three weeks away. That is not a lengthy period in which to get the drafting right and for us to have that discussion, so I ask that we get a really early draft of these amendments. The wording is important and that will help my noble friend Lady Jones to form a view about whether it covers what we are after here.

This is of great concern to many consumer groups, so it is important to publish and make it publicly available so that people are able to examine, think about and get legal advice on it. It is not just the people in this Committee but broader society that really needs to have the chance to input into this crucial issue.

I thank both noble Lords for those interventions. I am happy to get this to noble Lords as quickly as possible. The whole point of the consultation is to allow consumer groups, which are very vocal on this issue, to be heard, and they have already fed into the process, but I take the point about expedition.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for his Amendment 130 on product packaging. It seeks to legislate against traders potentially copying packaging or other reference material in order to mislead consumers into thinking that the product in question is from the original manufacturer or mislead them about the specifications or characteristics of the product. I thank the noble Lord for giving us a number of examples, which we can all recognise. I agree with him about the importance of ensuring that consumers are not misled.

However, we believe the concerns underpinning this amendment are already addressed through the prohibition on misleading actions in Clause 224 and the banned practice in paragraph 14 of Schedule 19 to the Bill. These prohibit promotions that mislead consumers into thinking that they are purchasing a product or service from a particular manufacturer when they are not. The provision in Schedule 19 achieves what this amendment seeks to do and applies equally to all products and services. Should a trader try to copy another well-known product’s packaging, this would be deliberately misleading to the consumer looking to purchase a product, as currently set out in the banned practice in paragraph 14 of the Schedule and Clause 224.

The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, referred to previous CMA work on this issue. I am pleased to say that there is currently an in-depth CMA study of the grocery section, which has already spurred government action on price labelling rules. The study continues and I would expect it to pick up poor practices of the sort he highlighted. The noble Lord also made an important point about the importance of effectiveness. The additional powers given to the CMA and the courts under Part 3 aim to achieve just that. I hope he will feel comfortable in withdrawing his amendment.

I thank my noble friend Lord Lucas for his Amendment 131, which seeks to exclude universities from the currently banned practice of advertising that includes a direct appeal to children to buy products or to persuade their parents or other adults to buy products for them. This schedule replicates the banned practice in paragraph 28 of Schedule 1 to the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

There is no evidence that these regulations, which have stood since then, have prevented universities or similar institutions from providing information on themselves or the courses they offer. The banned practice in question is unlikely to stop universities or other providers advertising their courses. However, to ensure that there is no misunderstanding, further information on application can be clarified in a non-statutory way, such as through the guidance that will be issued for the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, also pointed out the importance of universities providing accurate information. This is an area where there has previously been enforcement action, which highlights the importance of it being within the scope of consumer law. I hope that my noble friend Lord Lucas will feel comfortable not moving his amendment.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that almost totally positive response. There is quite a lot to take away from it. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, for his supportive remarks on Amendment 130 and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for signing it.

That was a useful walkthrough of the Government’s response on smarter regulation. What we all want to see is it translated into the Bill at the earliest possible opportunity. Earlier in our discussion, we talked about the need for speed, but we have here the ideal opportunity to enshrine in Schedule 19 the provisions on both drip pricing and fake reviews in the way we have talked about. Indeed, I am pleased that the Minister talked about further discussions between Committee and Report on some of the other aspects in amendments put forward here by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. The Ministers seem to be beckoning us through an open door; I hope that that is the case and that we do not find it slammed suddenly when we come to Report. Honing the wording between Committee and Report could produce a good result. I am pleased that the Minister was so positive in almost all respects. In one case, he said that it could already be covered, but this Bill is the ideal vehicle to get these things, which were promised in the consultation response, absolutely enshrined.

The one really interesting area—it struck me immediately when I saw the Government’s response—concerns the difference between “obligatory” and “optional” in terms of the drip pricing arguments. We need to get to grips with this because we do not want to see, by a technicality, companies such as airlines—we have talked about airlines before in Committee—escape liability because we have not got the wording quite right. The noble Baroness was absolutely right to raise this issue because the language that the Government used in their response was a bit ominous in that respect.

I look forward to those discussions. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 130 withdrawn.

Amendments 131 to 136 not moved.

Amendment 137

Moved by

137: Schedule 19, page 362, line 18, at end insert—

“32 Submitting a fake review, or commissioning or incentivising any person to write or submit a fake review of products or traders.33 Offering or advertising to submit, commission or facilitate a fake review, or hosting offers or advertisements for fake reviews without taking reasonable and proportionate steps to remove them.34 Publishing or providing access to reviews of products or traders without taking reasonable and proportionate steps to prevent consumers from encountering fake reviews.35 Presenting reviews or information about reviews in ways which will mislead average consumers about the reviews that a product or trader has received.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would introduce measures to protect consumers from fake reviews.

My Lords, the Committee may get a slight feeling of déjà vu when it comes to my Amendment 137 but we were assured that it covers a different topic and it is therefore perfectly legitimate to have it in a different group. However, there are other aspects—in particular Amendment 143, which I want to speak to in moving Amendment 137. I will be brief.

As we have heard, the Minister is positive about discussions on how we will enshrine fake reviews. As we know, the Government’s response was designed to improve consumer price transparency and product information for consumers. We very much share that intent. They have highlighted how legislation will tackle fake reviews. Any lack of criminal enforcement would be a major concern so I hope that that will be part of the subject we will discuss.

Of course, we know the impact of fake reviews. Amendment 137 is a different way of dealing with the issues. Fake reviews have been identified by the Federation of Small Businesses as one of the three primary problems experienced by smaller firms when trading on digital marketplaces, so preventing the proliferation of fake reviews will support both consumers and businesses; that is a point we should make. This should be added to the Bill.

The one question I have is this: have the Government had discussions with Trustpilot? It would like to see the Government’s proposed wording extended, particularly to the hosting issue. I do not know whether the Minister has a brief on that. I was quite impressed by the Trustpilot briefing and the evidence it gave. It has concerns about other parts of the wording but, for me, the most powerful aspect is making sure that those who host fake reviews are penalised. I hope that the Minister has an answer to that.

Amendment 143 is where I am again the sorcerer’s apprentice. This is an amendment to Clause 288. It seeks further to protect consumers from rogue traders and their unfair practices. It is something that I know the Chartered Trading Standards Institute is keen to see put into practice. It is a breach of Clause 225 of the Bill for a trader to engage in a commercial practice that is a misleading omission, meaning the practice omits material information. That is defined as

“information that the average consumer needs in order to take an informed transactional decision”.

There is much discussion in the consumer field about what information is needed by a consumer and what is merely desired. For instance, there is no specific requirement for a trader to give his or her name and address. Clause 228 adds an additional breach of omitting material information from an invitation to purchase; it states that there are a number of specific matters that are considered to be material and where it could be an offence if the information is not provided to the consumer, so surely things can only get better. However, an invitation to purchase is currently defined in the Bill as

“a commercial practice involving the provision of information to a consumer … which indicates the characteristics of a product and its price, and … which enables, or purports to enable, the consumer to decide whether to purchase the product or take another transactional decision in relation to the product”.

The point that the Chartered Trading Standards Institute and trading standards officers are making in this context is that, in their day-to-day experience, many rogue traders targeting vulnerable consumers, often in their own homes, do not give a price when offering to do work. If they do not give a price, they will not come under this new obligation in the legislation and will get away with their shoddy work or criminal activity, hence the opportunity in this amendment to remove price from the definition of an invitation to purchase. It would automatically mean that the practice is not an invitation to purchase and, therefore, that the information listed in Clause 228 is not considered material information.

To sum up, removal of price in the definition of invitation to purchase would increase consumer protection, as it would automatically make such things as price, the identity of the trader and his or her address become material information. It would therefore be a breach to provide this information to the consumer. I look forward to what the Minister has to say in respect of those two amendments.

My Lords, I have a clutch of amendments in this group. Amendment 138A continues the series of improvements to trading standards regulations. Before we came under EU regulation, we had considerable freedom to deal with pricing abuses. As one of the many advantages from Brexit, I do not see why we should not go back to the situation we used to have.

Amendment 138B looks at the rights that consumers have and what happens when a business ignores them. At the moment, if a business is denying or ignoring rights, trading standards has to take action under the Enterprise Act 2002 by way of a court injunction. It is slow and expensive, so I cannot see why that should not be dealt with under the scope of this Bill.

I hope that Amendment 140 will draw out from the Government an understanding of what information ought not to be omitted. If, for instance, a trader knows that a particular product has a series of adverse and well-informed reviews or has resulted in poor consumer experience, do they have to share that information? If they have it, they will probably be disinclined to be open with it, but do they have to provide it? How far should a trader go to share information of which they are aware and which they know exists but which they would not normally include in marketing their product? Some elucidation of the limits of this would be much appreciated.

Amendment 145B comes back to trading standards. At the moment, the time limit in the Bill is one year. Trading standards operates an intelligence-led approach: it lets information build up for a while before it takes action to make sure that it is acting in cases of consistent abuse rather than one-off problems. Time is then taken to investigate and it takes more time to get to court, so it is very easy to exceed that one-year time limit—particularly in relation to the earlier offences in a group of offences. Two years would be a better expression of the practical length of time that it takes trading standards to bring cases to court.

Amendments 146A, B, C and D all look at the definition of the average consumer. This is a problem which is seemingly addressed by Clause 244(4), but I cannot see that it solves the problem because if one judges the average consumer as being an avid consumer of that product, and it is a product that is aimed at people who are, in one way or another, vulnerable, then you are lowering the level of consumer protection in the specific case of those who need it most. It seems to me that it would be better to phrase this as being an informed consumer, not a reasonably informed consumer, or, as I have suggested in Amendment 146A and others, a properly informed consumer. I cannot see how Clause 244, as it is at the moment, protects the most vulnerable.

Amendment 219A looks at law which has moved from an EU regime to the new UK regime. It seems to me that under those circumstances, with some very large changes in the way that the law works, it would be really helpful—when we are dealing with consumers and a lot of average people having to work with this—if the way the new system worked was explained as an integral part of the regulations. I know this has been done elsewhere on other occasions, but in case it requires a specific power to do so, I have put down this amendment.

My Lords, I rise briefly to speak to Amendment 140 in my name to add some more fuel to this already well-stoked fire and to set out exactly what we mean in the Bill when we talk about good faith and indeed the lack thereof where a trader does not take into account the interests of the consumer in terms of product design or information about the product or seeks to exploit the consumer because of their biases or particular views to induce a purchase or a desire for a particular product. Amendment 140 merely adds to the excellent amendment, as already set out. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I am pleased to have added my name to Amendment 137 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, which deals with the issue of submitting or creating fake reviews by adding it to the list in Schedule 19 of commercial practices which would always be considered unfair. This is the issue that we touched on in the earlier debate. I am pleased that we have the chance to raise this today because it has been an issue of concern for some time. It is good to get the chance to debate and pursue this, and it is good to hear that the Government are also keen to do that.

We argue that this is not just about the effect fake reviews have on consumers; they affect businesses as well. They damage the livelihoods of many small traders—restaurants and hotels, for example—when their business is deliberately targeted by damaging reviews, or the local competition down the road receives glowing fake reviews which take trade away from the legitimate trader, so this has a business element as well as a consumer element. At the same time, Which? reports that the proliferation of fake reviews for online product sales results in consumers being more than twice as likely to choose poor quality products. We heard a little bit about how that works in the earlier debate.

Urgent action is undoubtedly needed to bring quality standards back into online sales and marketing so that people are not duped. As we have heard, since the amendment was tabled, the Government have produced their response to the consultation on improving price transparency and product information for consumers. It proposes that the Government will add fake reviews to the list of banned practices in Schedule 19. I am grateful to the Minister for hosting a meeting last week where we had a chance to discuss this. It is good to hear that the Government have finally decided to act on it.

However, there are still some outstanding concerns. Concerns have been raised by Trustpilot and others that the fact that the proposed wording lacks clarity. The Government saying that they will work with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to clarify the wording is a sign that they have not yet got this quite right. Can the Minister clarify the timescale for that additional work? When will we see the outcome of it?

Concern has also been raised that the Government’s proposals do not address the role played by internet service providers and social media in promoting fake reviews. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, raised this issue. What action will we take against those who host and reproduce these fake reviews, often knowingly?

Concern has been expressed that the penalty for promoting fake reviews is subject only to civil, not criminal, enforcement. Can the Minister explain a bit more about why that decision was taken? In the meantime, we argue that our Amendment 137 addresses those concerns. We look forward to further talks along the lines that the Minister has proposed, and we hope that he will agree to work with us and the Committee to produce a government amendment that is both clear and comprehensive.

The noble Lords, Lord Lucas and Lord Holmes, helpfully sought greater clarity on consumer rights to prevent consumers being misled or manipulated. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, rightly mentioned the additional measures needed to protect us from rogue traders. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for asking a series of small but important questions around his almost probing amendments. It is important to have clarification on the record, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give it.

The noble Lord, Lord Holmes, helpfully raised the issue of good faith and asked how we can bring some standards back into trading and the exchange of information. Again, I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify that.

We have had a positive discussion on these important points. It is good to hear that there will be further discussion. In the meantime, I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

My Lords, I turn now to the fourth group of amendments, which concern unfair commercial practices.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for Amendment 137, which would add commercial practices related to fake reviews to the list of banned practices in Schedule 19. The Government agree that the law against fake reviews should be strengthened. Following our recent consultation on proposals to tackle fake reviews and recognising the parliamentary interest in this topic, the Government have set out their intention to add the relevant practices to Schedule 19. It is important that we get the details right.

The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, mentioned the concerns raised by Trustpilot around the hosting of fake reviews as well as the hosting and facilitation of fake review training. The Government are sympathetic to these issues. My ministerial colleagues have previously met Trustpilot to discuss such matters. I assure both noble Lords that the hosting of fake reviews is already addressed by our proposals; that said, I would be happy to meet them to discuss this topic further. For the time being, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, will feel comfortable to withdraw his amendment.

I again thank my noble friend Lord Lucas for his amendments. Amendment 138A specifically references “pricing” when considering whether a trader is misleading the average consumer. Clause 224 already states that

“an overall presentation which is likely to deceive the average consumer”

is a misleading action. Price clearly forms a part of this overall presentation. I understand the importance of the regulations being robust and clear and I greatly appreciate my noble friend’s close scrutiny of these clauses, which was very much apparent in his remarks. We believe, however, that such a point is better reflected in the accompanying guidance to the Bill. I will ensure that my noble friend’s point is reflected as such.

Amendment 138B specifically seeks to add ignoring or denying consumer rights to the definition of a misleading action. Should a trader make a false or misleading claim about the rights that the consumer has, with a view to denying, ignoring or misinforming them, the existing wording in Clause 224(1)(a), which prohibits the provision of “misleading information” on a

“matter relevant to a transactional decision”,

would apply.

Amendment 140 on misleading omissions would in effect require information that is relevant to a decision about the purchase of a good or service to be provided to the consumer. I believe that the current Clause 225 is an appropriate requirement for information that a consumer needs to be provided. As this requirement is well established in law, it gives traders and consumers certainty on what the information requirements are. The amendment could also give rise to uncertainty in the legislation, which may place additional burdens on traders, such as the potential costs of gathering such information. Although I understand and appreciate what my noble friend is trying to achieve with this amendment, I believe that the Bill as drafted strikes the right balance between consumer protection and not overburdening traders.

Amendment 142 would add examples of where a trader is not acting in good faith to the definition of professional diligence in this chapter. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Holmes for raising these issues. Misleading consumers in any way that may cause them to take a different transactional decision is already prohibited. Furthermore, there are specific provisions that protect consumers against undue influence and prohibit exploiting vulnerabilities. Clause 226, for example, protects consumers against aggressive practices that exploit any vulnerability. Given the nature of these exploitative practices, we consider that they would be better explained in guidance accompanying the Bill. I would be happy to discuss this with my noble friend ahead of that new guidance being prepared.

I thank my noble friend Lord Lindsay for tabling Amendment 143 to change what constitutes an invitation to purchase. Actions that are considered an invitation to purchase attract specific consumer rights. For example, traders making an invitation to purchase must provide the individual with the information listed in Clause 228. The Government believe that the changes proposed by this amendment would expand the definition too far; it therefore has the possibility of bringing with it unintended consequences. We are of course committed to protecting consumers. Provisions in Chapter 1 of this part of the Bill already achieve a similar aim to this amendment, prohibiting traders from making misleading statements or omissions in respect of all commercial practices.

Amendment 145B, tabled by my noble friend Lord Lucas, seeks to extend the discovery period of an offence under Chapter 1 of Part 4 of the Bill from one year to two years. Again, I understand his rationale for this. It can often take time for trading standards to gather the evidence to pursue a prosecution against a trader who is breaking the law. However, it is also a key principle of our justice system that investigations should be carried out efficiently and in a timely manner. This is important in protecting the rights of both consumers and those accused of criminal offences. We believe that one year to bring criminal proceedings following discovery is the right balance between expedience and giving authorities the time that they need to carry out investigations.

I will take Amendments 146A to 146D, from my noble friend Lord Lucas, together. They seek to change the definition of an average consumer from someone who is “reasonably” well informed, observant and circumspect to someone who is “properly” informed, observant and circumspect. The description of the average consumer as someone who is reasonably well informed is a long-established part of consumer law. This amendment could reduce consumer protection, as “properly” could imply that consumers should know more than they do about a product or service. The wording in the Bill strikes the right balance between consumers taking responsibility for their transactional decisions, while recognising the information asymmetry between traders and consumers, and not overestimating the knowledge that consumers should be expected to have.

On Amendment 146D, Clause 244(4) ensures that those who are vulnerable are afforded a higher level of protection in legislation via Clause 245. It sets out that due regard should be given to those classed as vulnerable and provides how “average consumer” is interpreted regarding vulnerable persons. I agree with my noble friend that ensuring that they are protected is important. That is what subsection (4) of this clause intends to achieve. Its removal would mean that the factors listed, which make consumers vulnerable, are not considered when applying these regulations.

I turn to the interpretation of regulations. Amendment 219A calls for the creation of an interpretive section for any new regulations created in Chapter 1 of Part 4. I agree with this aim. Information on how to interpret new regulations is ordinarily, and will continue to be, published in relevant Explanatory Memoranda to that statutory instrument, as well as in guidance issued for the Bill. That will certainly be the case for this Bill and any regulations.

I am grateful for the remarks made and questions posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. On timings, our aim is to commence Part 3 and Chapter 2 of Part 4 of the Bill, as soon as possible, recognising that we also require time to table necessary regulations and for the CMA to develop and consult on guidance.

On the noble Baroness’s second question, the new banned practice relating to fake reviews will be subject to civil liability only. The Government consider this proportionate to achieve effective enforcement and deterrence. This judgment was also made in the light of the Bill’s proposal to give the CMA enhanced powers to tackle bad business practices. I hope I have reassured noble Lords and noble Baronesses that we are taking the right steps on consumer protections.

I am grateful to my noble friend for his answers, by and large, but I do not understand how Clause 245 is supposed to work. I cannot see how, in its wording, it provides protection for vulnerable persons. I look specifically at Clause 245(2), which states:

“References … to the average consumer … are to be read as references to an average member of the group mentioned in subsection (1)”,

which refers to a vulnerable consumer. So the wording of the Bill is reducing the level of comprehension required and therefore the level of information being provided for the comprehension of that vulnerable group. It therefore makes vulnerable groups open to exploitation. What am I misunderstanding here? In what way does Clause 245 provide additional protection for vulnerable groups? How does it raise the standards that traders have to meet when they are faced with a vulnerable group?

I thank my noble friend for that question. The intention of Clause 244, combined with Clause 245, is to afford a higher level of protection in legislation to those who are vulnerable. It sets out how the “average consumer” should be interpreted regarding vulnerable persons. Therefore, if there is some confusion about their rights having been diminished in some way when in fact the Bill is intended to enhance those rights, I think we should get clarification, so I will write to my noble friend on that matter.

I thank the Minister for his reply to this disparate group of amendments. I thought the discussion about information raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was crucial because this is so important to the consumer, particularly the vulnerable consumer. I look forward to seeing the Minister’s letter of clarification, or whatever it is that he will come up with, in due course.

I thank the Minister for his response to Amendment 137, which was, in a sense, rehearsed in the previous group. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for her support. She raised some important aspects about timescale and criminal offences. I am assuming that how the whole fake review aspect is dealt with predicates whether we can also have criminal liability. If it is added to Schedule 19, it gets criminal liability, but if it is dealt with in another way, it may not. Clarification of this is important because only two areas, I think, in Schedule 19 are excluded from criminal liability. All the rest get criminal liability. Therefore, it is important that the Minister can give that assurance when we have these discussions that that will be the case.

On the guidance that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, talked about, I hope the Minister’s reply was that that will be part of what we deliver. The unfair practices guidance will be really important. Just today, the Minister clarified, for example, the brands issue, saying that it is covered by paragraph 14, or whatever it was, of Schedule 19, and that it is not necessary to add that wording. This is all part of important guidance, I suspect, in the end. Expecting people to read the Minister’s words in Committee in the House of Lords might be slightly unreasonable, so I hope that the guidance will nail down the interpretation of some of these aspects of Schedule 19, which will clearly be important legislation.

I think there will be great disappointment about the response to Amendment 143. There was a kind of circular argument that it is going too far—but going too far in what respect? The classic “unintended consequences” were raised as well. There is a set of buzz phrases that one can produce in these circumstances, and “unintended consequences” is one of them, but I did not hear a convincing reason why pricing should not be excluded from an offer to purchase. It strikes me that trading standards officers are correct that this could be a potential loophole. There was perhaps a bit of “not invented here” as well, particularly regarding the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, on “properly inform”, which I thought were rather good compared to the existing wording. However, we will, no doubt, continue these discussions. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 137 withdrawn.

Schedule 19 agreed.

Amendment 138

Moved by

138: After Schedule 19, insert the following new Schedule—

“ScheduleChapter 1 of Part 4: consequential amendmentsAdministration of Justice Act 1970 (c. 31)

1 In section 40(3A) of the Administration of Justice Act 1970 (punishment for unlawful harassment of debtors), for “the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008” substitute “Chapter 1 of Part 4 of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Act 2024”.Trade Descriptions Act 1968 (c. 29)

2 In section 12(3) of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 (false representations as to royal approval or award, etc.) for the words from “and” to “2008” substitute “has the same meaning as in Chapter 1 of Part 4 of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Act 2024 and, for the purposes of this section, a commercial practice is unfair if it would be unfair for the purposes of that Chapter”.Hallmarking Act 1973 (c. 43)

3 In section 1 of the Hallmarking Act 1973 (prohibited descriptions of unhallmarked articles)—(a) in subsection (4C) for “the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008” substitute “Chapter 1 of Part 4 of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Act 2024”;(b) in subsection (4D) for the words from “satisfying” to “action)” substitute “an unfair commercial practice involving a misleading action for the purposes of that Chapter”.Prescription and Limitation (Scotland) Act 1973 (c. 52)

4 In paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the Prescription and Limitation (Scotland) Act 1973 for paragraph (af) substitute—“(af) to any obligation arising by virtue of rights of redress under Chapter 1 of Part 4 of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Act 2024;”.Companies Act 1985 (c. 6)

5 In paragraph 17 of Schedule 15D to the Companies Act 1985 (disclosures), omit sub-paragraph (k).Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (c. 48)

6 (1) The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 is amended as follows.(2) In section 114A(2)(bb) (forfeiture of infringing copies, etc.: England and Wales or Northern Ireland) for “the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008” substitute “Chapter 1 of Part 4 of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Act 2024”.(3) In section 114B(15) (forfeiture of infringing copies, etc.: Scotland), in paragraph (d) in the definition of “relevant offence”, for “the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008” substitute “Chapter 1 of Part 4 of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Act 2024”.(4) In section 204A(2)(bb) (forfeiture of illicit recordings: England and Wales or Northern Ireland), for “the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008” substitute “Chapter 1 of Part 4 of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Act 2024”.(5) In section 204B(15) (forfeiture of illicit recordings: Scotland), in paragraph (d) in the definition of “relevant offence” for “the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008” substitute “Chapter 1 of Part 4 of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Act 2024”.(6) In section 297C(2)(bb) (forfeiture of unauthorised decoders: England and Wales or Northern Ireland) for “the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008” substitute “Chapter 1 of Part 4 of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Act 2024”.(7) In section 297D(15) (forfeiture of unauthorised decoders: Scotland), in paragraph (d) in the definition of “relevant offence” for “the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008” substitute “Chapter 1 of Part 4 of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Act 2024”.Trade Marks Act 1994 (c. 26)

7 (1) The Trade Marks Act 1994 is amended as follows.(2) In section 91 (power of commissioners for revenue and customs to disclose information), for paragraph (d) substitute—“(d) Chapter 1 of Part 4 of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Act 2024.”(3) In section 97(8)(d) (forfeiture; England and Wales or Northern Ireland) for “the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008” substitute “Chapter 1 of Part 4 of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Act 2024”.(4) In section 98(14) (forfeiture; Scotland), in paragraph (d) in the definition of “relevant offence” for “the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008” substitute “Chapter 1 of Part 4 of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Act 2024”.Enterprise Act 2002 (c. 40)

8 In EA 2002—(a) in Schedule 14 (provisions about disclosure of information) at the appropriate place insert— “Chapter 1 of Part 4 of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Act 2024.”;(b) in Schedule 15 (enactments conferring functions) at the appropriate place insert—“Chapter 1 of Part 4 of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Act 2024.”Licensing Act 2003 (c. 17)

9 -In paragraph 23 of Schedule 4 to the Licensing Act 2003 (personal licence: relevant offences), for the words from “regulation” to “2008” substitute “Chapter 1 of Part 4 of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Act 2024”.Companies Act 2006 (c. 46)

11 In paragraph 25 of Schedule 2 to the Companies Act 2006 (specified persons, descriptions of disclosures etc for the purposes of section 948), omit paragraph (j).Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008

12 In Schedule 3 to the Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Act 2008, at the appropriate place insert—“Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Act 2024, Chapter 1 of Part 4.”Consumer Rights Act 2015 (c. 15)

13 (1) Schedule 5 to the CRA 2015 (investigatory powers: enforcer’s legislation) is amended as follows.(2) In paragraph 10—(a) omit “regulation 19(1) or (1A) of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (SI 2008/1277);”;(b) at the appropriate place insert—“section 229(1), (2) or (3) of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Act 2024.”(3) In paragraph 18(b) for “the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (SI 2008/1277)” substitute “Chapter 1 of Part 4 of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Act 2024”.Online Safety Act 2023 (c. 50)

14 (1) The Online Safety Act 2023 is amended as follows.(2) In section 59(6) (“illegal content” etc) for “the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (SI 2008/1277)” substitute “Chapter 1 of Part 4 of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Act 2024”.(3) In section 218(3)(b) (power to amend section 40) for “the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (SI 2008/1277)” substitute “Chapter 1 of Part 4 of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Act 2024”.(4) In section 222(6)(b) (power to amend Schedule 7) for “the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (SI 2008/1277)” substitute “Chapter 1 of Part 4 of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Act 2024”.”Member’s explanatory statement

This Schedule makes amendments that are consequential on the revocation of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and the commencement of Chapter 1 of Part 4 of the Bill.

Amendment 138 agreed.

Clause 224: Misleading actions

Amendments 138A to 139 not moved.

Clause 224 agreed.

Clause 225: Misleading omissions

Amendment 140 not moved.

Clause 225 agreed.

Clause 226: Aggressive practices

Amendment 141 not moved.

Clause 226 agreed.

Clause 227: Contravention of the requirements of professional diligence

Amendment 142 not moved.

Clause 227 agreed.

Clause 228: Omission of material information from invitation to purchase

Amendment 143 not moved.

Clause 228 agreed.

Clause 229: Public enforcement

Amendment 144 not moved.

Clause 229 agreed.

Clause 230: Rights of redress

Amendment 145 not moved.

Clause 230 agreed.

Clauses 231 to 233 agreed.

Amendment 145A not moved.

Clauses 234 to 238 agreed.

Clause 239: Time limit for prosecution

Amendment 145B not moved.

Clause 239 agreed.

Clauses 240 to 242 agreed.

Clause 243: Meaning of “transactional decision”

Amendment 146 not moved.

Clause 243 agreed.

Clause 244: Meaning of “average consumer”: general

Amendments 146A to 146D not moved.

Clause 244 agreed.

Clauses 245 to 248 agreed.

Clause 249: Consequential amendments etc relating to this Chapter

Amendment 147

Moved by

147: Clause 249, page 164, line 20, leave out subsection (2) to (6) and insert—

“(2) Schedule (Chapter 1 of Part 4: consequential amendments) contains further consequential amendments relating to this Chapter.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment moves the consequential amendments to primary legislation that were previously in clause 249 into a new Schedule (see my amendment to insert a new Schedule after Schedule 19). The new Schedule contains the moved consequential amendments and additional ones.

Amendment 147 agreed.

Clause 249, as amended, agreed.

Clauses 250 and 251 agreed.

Clause 252: Meaning of “subscription contract”

Amendment 148

Moved by

148: Clause 252, page 166, line 28, leave out paragraph (c)

Member’s explanatory statement

The purpose of this amendment is to focus discussion on the effects of paragraph (c).

My Lords, we now move on to subscription contracts. I would very much like to understand the reason for Clause 252(2)(c). The Government seem to contemplate that, if a consumer enters into a contract providing for the recurring supply of goods, is liable to pay for each supply and has no right to bring the contract to an end, the consumer deserves no protection under this Bill. What are these contracts? I am delighted to say that I have failed to enter into such a contract in my life. I did not know that such a contract, where there is no right for the consumer to cancel under these circumstances, existed or was common. What is Clause 252(2)(c) aimed at in terms of practice out in the real world? Given these contracts, whatever they are, why does the consumer not deserve protection from them? I beg to move.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in this fifth day of Committee. I will speak to Amendments 148A and 148B, which pertain to an exclusion to the subscriptions chapter. Subscription contracts are becoming increasingly popular in our society. I support the Government’s ambition to ensure that consumers are given strengthened protections in these contracts. However, I wish to ensure that we target the right kinds of contracts and businesses with the new subscription requirements.

Schedule 20 has an exclusion for foodstuffs delivered by an unincorporated trader; to my reading, this appears to target certain micro-businesses. To qualify for this exclusion, a trader must deliver foodstuffs on its own behalf and must not be a body corporate. I support the need for a narrow, targeted exclusion for micro-businesses providing local goods and services, but I worry that the requirement not to be a body corporate will unfairly impact on incorporated micro-businesses that have similar characteristics to unincorporated ones.

For example, businesses such as a farm shop or corner shop providing local food subscriptions, or a vineyard providing locally produced wine on subscription, will be caught by the subscriptions chapter if they are incorporated, but not if they are unincorporated. To me, this appears to be an unfair technicality impacting these businesses; many small micro-businesses may fall through the cracks of the exclusion. That is why Amendments 148A and 148B in my name would change the requirement for a business not to be a body corporate to a requirement for a business to be a micro-business, as defined by Section 33 of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015.

These amendments would ensure that micro-businesses delivering foodstuffs locally benefit from the exclusion even if they are incorporated. They would retain all the other requirements so that the exclusion rightly remains targeted on only the smallest businesses. I hope that the Government understand the need for tweaks to this exclusion and are therefore minded to support these amendments.

My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 150 and 151 and Amendments 153 to 167. This is a rather voluminous set of amendments, but they are all designed to try to bring the pre-contract information requirement for subscription contracts back to some of the language of the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013. The theme for these provisions is: if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

These amendments seek to maintain the flexibility for traders currently provided by those regulations by taking account of the limited time and space available for providing pre-contract information for certain formats and connected devices, and by recognising that certain key pre-contract information may be apparent from the context. The new clauses—Clauses 254 and 255—together with Schedule 21 are designed to replace the pre-contract information requirements for subscription contracts set out in the regulations. The clauses establish two sets of pre-contract information: a long set of full pre-contract information that must be given or made available to consumers before they sign a contract and a shorter set of key pre-contract information that must be given to the consumer all together, separately to any other information. The latter set must be displayed in such a way that it does not require the consumer to take any steps, such as clicking a link, and it must be displayed prior to the consumer entering into the contract.

But the Bill does not provide for the limited time and space allowances established by Regulation 13(4) of the CCR, which are necessary for certain formats and connected devices. In addition, the Bill does not reflect the flexibility provided by the CCR in terms of recognising key pre-contract information that is apparent from the context. This one-size-fits-all approach is not appropriate, given the many different types of subscription contract and consumer journey that the Bill is intended to cover, and given the varying screen sizes that consumers may use to enter into a contract, particularly on mobile devices.

These amendments are designed to amend Clauses 254 and 255 and Schedule 21 to provide more flexibility for the presentation of pre-contract information. They would import a standard of reasonableness to a trader’s assessment of whether information is apparent from the context. They would distinguish between the timing of pre-contract information and full pre-contract information, in line with the current approach of the CCR. They would enable traders to choose the most appropriate techniques to bring the pre-contract information to the attention of the consumer. They would add a new clause to reflect the limited time and space allowances provided by Regulation 13(4) of the CCR—this is necessary for certain screen formats and connected devices. They would enable traders to choose how best to present pre-contract information in a clear and comprehensible manner, on the basis that providing information all at once will not always be the most effective or transparent approach. They would simplify information about cancellation and avoid duplication. They would remove the pro-rated monthly price from the key information about a subscription, as this may confuse consumers, and they would make clear that certain information should be presented only if applicable.

In summary, it is not clear why we are going so much further than the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations, which, in the view of many, have worked quite well. Of course, we will deal with the difference in the cooling-off requirements—also covered by the CCR—when we debate the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Black, in a few groups’ time. In the meantime, I very much hope that the Government will adopt a rather more flexible approach than they seem to have in the Bill as it stands.

My Lords, I will speak briefly on this group because I am very aware that we will have a more substantive debate on subscriptions in the coming groups, so forgive me if I am very brief on some of the issues raised.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for his amendment. We have consistently argued for clarity, and he is right to hold our feet to the fire over the meaning of the consumer bringing the contract to the end. I am grateful for him probing a little more on what that actually means, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s clarification on this.

I was concerned when I first read the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, that they seemed to be an unnecessary watering down of the rights of consumers under the consumer contracts regulations and introduced some ambiguity where there had previously been clarity. He has gone some way to clarifying what he meant by this. It is very unusual for me to be at odds with him. He might know far more about the subject than I did, because I was just going on what I was reading. I would be happy to talk to him more about it.

I of course understand that some mobile devices are too small to display complex pre-contract information. I am sure that we have all been guilty of ticking the box to say that we accept the terms and conditions when we have not actually read them. However, there should be a responsibility on traders to publish the pre-contract details in a simpler form, using better digital design, rather than being given more legal flexibility about how that information is communicated, which rather lets them off the hook. Maybe this is a discussion that we could carry on outside this debate.

Meanwhile, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mott, for raising the question of microbusinesses and what conditions should apply before the subscription contract regime kicks in. He raised a very interesting question which I have some sympathy with, about very local traders in a locality such as a farmer’s vineyard. I would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say on this, because we need to protect against the unintended consequences of what he is saying. We need to double check that we are not encouraging rogue businesses to re-describe themselves to get through the loophole, but I am sure that he will address that point when he replies.

As noble Lords can see, I am sitting on the fence on most of these amendments, and I am happy to stay there for the time being. I look forward to hearing what the Minister says, which might persuade me either way.

I thank noble Lords for their contribution to the group of amendments, which is concerned with subscription contracts. I again thank my noble friend Lord Lucas for introducing this topic and for his amendment. Amendment 148 would alter the definition of a subscription contract, meaning that contracts where a consumer does not have the right to bring a contract to an end would be brought within the scope of the chapter.

If we were to expand the definition in this way, many parts of the chapter would serve no purpose. For example, if a consumer were to enter a one-year contract for a service which had fixed payments spaced throughout the year, but the contract expires automatically at the end of the year and no further payment would be taken, the consumer would not need regular reminder notices about their contract as they would not have the right to end that contract before it expires. If, however, the contract automatically renews at the end of the year, rolling over into to another year-long contract, then the consumer has an opportunity to bring a contract to an end and therefore would benefit from being reminded that they can end their contract before it auto-renews.

I will give another example, as my noble friend requested, which may illustrate the point more clearly. If a consumer were to enter a contract with a builder for house renovations and pays in instalments, the consumer would rightly not have a right to cancel the contract before the payment period ends. The provision in the Bill would therefore not apply. Of course, where contracts do not contain a right to be brought to an end, they will continue to be regulated by the existing consumer contracts regulations 2013, where applicable. I hope that my noble friend finds this explanation satisfactory, and that he will therefore feel comfortable withdrawing his amendment.

I turn now to the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for which I am grateful. There are a great many of them; I will endeavour to respond as fully as I can. These amendments aim to align more closely the requirements on traders to provide pre-contract information to consumers with the requirements in the existing consumer contracts regulations 2013. Although the regulations provide a strong foundation, they do not go far enough to address the specific risks associated with subscription contracts. Liability for ongoing payment is one of those risks, as well as the risk of traders obscuring important contract information in lengthy terms and conditions that are hard to find. Without stronger, clearer pre-contract information, consumers may find they are liable for long-term auto-renewing contracts that they did not realise they were agreeing to and did not want.

Amendments 150 and 153 to 158 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones would alter the way in which key pre-contract information is given. The pre-contract information requirements are designed to provide consumers with the most important information about their contract, such as the minimum number of payments they are liable for and the frequency of these payments, before they enter into the contract. This ensures that consumers know what they are signing up to and allows them to make an informed choice.

It is therefore important that this information is provided to a consumer separately from all other information, to ensure that the consumer engages with it and to avoid the possibility of it being buried out of view. It is also important this information is given together as, without this requirement, there would be a significant risk of the consumer receiving important pre-contract information in a piecemeal fashion and in a way that is unclear.

Amendments 151, 152 and 159 relate to the fuller list of pre-contract information that traders must give to or make available to consumers before they enter into a subscription contract. It is appropriate that consumers are given all the information listed in Parts 1 and 2 of Schedule 21 in one document or place before the contract has been entered into. This ensures that consumers can easily refer to their contract terms to understand their obligations. The Bill provides for flexibility around how this information is provided. For example, the information need not be given directly to a consumer; it may instead be made available via a link, provided that the consumer knows how to access it and is able to do so. In addition, information that forms part of this fuller list must be given or made available only so far as it is applicable under the contract or where it is not already apparent from the context.

Amendments 172 and 172A seek to clarify and remove some of the obligations on traders for contracts entered into online. Entering into a subscription contract online is an increasingly popular way to enter into such a contract, which is why the Bill makes specific provisions to ensure that a consumer understands important matters relating to the delivery of the product and payments when subscription contracts are entered into online. Amending these requirements would undermine the objective of this chapter, which is to ensure that consumers fully understand the terms of their subscription before signing up to it.

Amendments 161 to 167 relate to Schedule 21, which contains the detail of the pre-contract information itself. The requirements set out in Schedule 21 have been specifically designed to ensure that consumers understand their liability for payment. This includes enabling consumers to compare prices across different subscription contracts with different contract renewal terms and making clear what steps they must take to end their contract. For the same reasons as those I have outlined already, we believe that these requirements provide important protections for consumers and cannot be done away with. With that said, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, that the Secretary of State will have the power to amend or remove the information set out in Schedule 21 should it be deemed necessary in future.

On Amendment 160, I share the noble Lord’s ambition to ensure that these new requirements are practicable for traders, especially given modern purchasing habits, where things are often facilitated through ever-smaller devices and screens. However, Clause 275 already grants the Secretary of State powers to dictate how pre-contract information must be given. We will work with businesses to develop regulations that suitably reflect the practical considerations of implementing these requirements. We will also set out best practice examples in government guidance. I thank the noble Lord again for his considered amendments, and I hope he is reassured by my remarks.

I thank the Minister for the way he has set that out. Will he explain how much consultation there was and the nature of it over the introduction of Schedule 21?

I think I should write to the noble Lord to give that in detail.

I turn to the exclusion for microbusinesses. Amendments 148A and 148B, tabled by my noble friend Lord Mott, would replace the requirement for a business to be unincorporated in order to benefit from the delivery of foodstuffs exclusion, with the requirement to be a microbusiness as per Section 33 of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015. The purpose of the unincorporated aspect of the exclusion is to safeguard against larger businesses restructuring in such a way as to benefit from the exclusion, ensuring that only microbusinesses benefit and that there is greater consumer protection in the food subscriptions market.

My noble friend has raised an interesting point about the application of this chapter to certain incorporated microbusinesses, such as local farm shops, that I am keen to explore. However, the amendment as drafted may not work as intended. That is because Section 33 of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act sets out only broad criteria by which microbusinesses should be defined and defers much of the detail to regulations that have yet to be made. With that said, I am happy to work with my noble friend further to understand his concerns and to ensure that the exclusion captures the right businesses. I therefore hope he is suitably reassured.

In her remarks, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, raised the important point about ensuring that the exclusion for microbusinesses remains narrow and well-targeted to ensure maximum consumer protection. I wholeheartedly agree with her on this matter, and I assure her that that is the Government’s intention. I thank noble Lords once again for their amendments and for their valuable contributions to this debate.

I am grateful to my noble friend for his response to my amendment, which I will read with care when I have Hansard in front of me. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 148 withdrawn.

Clause 252 agreed.

Clause 253 agreed.

Schedule 20: Excluded contracts

Amendments 148A and 148B not moved.

Amendment 149

Moved by

149: Schedule 20, page 369, line 38, at end insert—

“14 Membership subscriptions which qualify as gifts to charity in accordance with the provisions of the Income Tax Act 2007, Part 8, Chapter 2 (gift aid).”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment would list charity membership subscriptions which qualify for Gift Aid as an excluded contract pursuant to Clause 253 and Schedule 20 (Excluded Contracts) of the Bill.

My Lords, in moving Amendment 149, I declare my interest as the chairman of Historic England, which also has oversight of English Heritage, which looks after our national heritage collection.

The subject of this amendment was raised by many noble Lords—probably at least a dozen—at Second Reading: the treatment of automatically-renewing membership subscriptions for charities. These subscriptions are vital and a brilliant example of how commercial many of our charities, both large and small, have become in the way they augment their operating models with a regular membership subscription, which can be paid by direct debit monthly or annually. I know that we have all received all sorts of advice from large charities such as the National Trust, Kew, Tate, English Heritage, the Royal Horticultural Society, the RSPB, the Royal British Legion and so on. We can tell how important it is to them.

These membership subscriptions are treated as donations, but they come with membership benefits such as magazines, newsletters and free parking. I have just looked at the Natural History Museum, where you get free or discounted entry into its silent discos. All sorts of things are provided but, as noble Lords know, under the Income Tax Act the subscriptions are treated by HMRC as donations. They are eligible for gift aid—this is the key thing—provided that the payment is not subject to any condition as to repayment. That is what you would expect; if you give £100 to a charity, you do not expect to be able to ask for it back again next month. If it is a donation it is clearly not refundable, but noble Lords can see that there is a lack of clarity here.

I mentioned some of the numbers at Second Reading because they are significant. The National Trust is getting on for somewhere between 5.5 million and 6 million members—I cannot get a precise number. That is not that far short of the membership of the TUC, to give noble Lords some idea of the scale and extraordinary success of that organisation. Its membership subscription income is nearly £230 million, of which £47 million relates to the gift aid rebate. Similarly, English Heritage, the organisation that looks after the national heritage collection, as I said, has an income of £130 million, and membership subscription is its largest source of revenue at £48 million. Other organisations are similar. Tate, which I have just looked up, has £16 million in membership subscription income. The RSPB has £46 million in subscription income.

This amendment tries to place this kind of specific membership subscription income, which is narrowly defined as

“gifts to charity in accordance with … the Income Tax Act”,

to try to get them included in Schedule 20, on page 369 of the Bill ,as a category of excluded contract. I know that my noble friend’s department has done a lot of work on this with Treasury and HMRC officials, so I look forward to hearing whether there is any further update on how they might deal with this situation. The Minister has also expressed his assurance that there is certainly no desire in the Bill to somehow limit the application of gift aid to these charitable subscriptions, so it will be important to do this. The proposed amendment is simple and clear, but I will wait to hear what he says.

We must remember that these charities operate mostly on a break-even budget and their budgets are very hard to balance. They try to balance it across their operating model, looking at not just these membership subscriptions but admissions, fundraising and commercial ventures. They would find it very hard to withstand a sudden withdrawal of the ability to claim back these significant amounts of contribution through the gift aid process, so I look forward to some reassurance from my noble friend.

My Lords, first, I should apologise to the Committee that this is my first involvement in the Bill. Secondly, I declare my interest as chair of the Fundraising Regulator, which overseas and regulates charitable fundraising. I want to say how important the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Mendoza, is. The number of charities that are potentially affected by this is enormous.

I am quite clear that this is an accidental consequence of what the Government are trying to do in the Bill. It was never aimed at undermining the financial position of charities but the reality is that, because of the rules that exist on the way in which gift aid operates, it would have that effect. It would mean that you would be entitled, as a consumer, to change your mind suddenly. Okay, I believe that people can change their mind, but most people who enter into subscriptions do so on the basis that they have made that decision and want to give money to the charity concerned.

The problem arising is that the HMRC rules would not allow gift aid to be paid on any contribution where there was such an opportunity to return in that way. The whole purpose of a charitable donation is that you have given it to the charity concerned not because you are looking to get a series of benefits back but because you are making a donation. That is why gift aid is allowed. This was an unintentional consequence of what is otherwise a series of sensible protections for consumers. I hope that, when he responds, the Minister will make it clear either that he can accept his noble friend Lord Mendoza’s amendment or that this loophole will be closed.

My Lords, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Mendoza, as well and declare my interest as a trustee of Tate. Everything that has been said is absolutely accurate. This is one of those situations where we are all on the same page, in the sense that I think the Government recognise that this is an issue that needs some clarity. It is certainly not their intention at all to put charities in a position where they will lose access to gift aid based on subscriptions or donations that are given to them on a regular basis by the people who support them.

The noble Lord, Lord Mendoza, indicated that many charities depend on membership subscriptions; that is the vernacular used when you join an organisation such as the National Trust or take out a membership with Tate. Certainly, by my now being poacher turned gamekeeper, as it were, and being on the board of a large museum, I see at first hand just how important subscriptions are to Tate. They are a really important revenue generator; we are very successful in securing memberships. They are a way forward for a lot of our national charities to engage a wide community who may not be able physically to visit the museum or organisation. People who live abroad can also potentially become members, although I appreciate that they would not necessarily be able to give gift aid in that respect. This is a huge way forward and it would be a retrograde step if charities found themselves in a difficult situation.

I gather that the Government have made it absolutely clear that, if you take out a subscription and receive nothing in return, that will to all intents and purposes be an annual or monthly donation on which gift aid can be claimed. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Mendoza, indicated, a lot of ancillary benefits now come with membership as a way of attracting people to take it. Obviously, in the case of museums, that might be free entry to their paid exhibitions and a regular magazine. I was unaware until the noble Lord rose that silent discos are now part of the mix—although I gather that the Natural History Museum calls them dino discos, which makes them even more attractive and means that I will leave this Committee and immediately take out a subscription.

The reason that the amendment has been put forward is to provide clarity in the simplest way. Charities are exempt from VAT and can claim gift aid. This does not provide a Trojan horse, where a private company says “Okay, the way to get around the welcome consumer protections that the Government are bringing in is to claim that we are a charity”. Charities have to go through a lot of hoops to become a charity, so exempting them from Schedule 20 would provide exactly the clarity that is needed.

As I say, we are here to listen to the Government because we know that they recognise that this is—I was going to say “a problem”—an issue. The Government are therefore in a great position to tell us what their thinking is as this is a discussion between those of us who have concerns and the Government who recognise those concerns and want to allay them with either their own amendment or clarity from the Minister.

My Lords, I regret my inability to be present at Second Reading. I support Amendment 149 from the perspective of having been chief executive of two membership charities—the RSPB and Diabetes UK—and my current experience as chair of the Woodland Trust. All three of these charities, and many others about which noble Lords have heard tonight, rely significantly on membership subscriptions and the associated gift aid for their important works. There are big numbers of people involved. As noble Lords heard, the RSPB has more than 1 million members and the Woodland Trust is hotly pursuing it and increasing its membership.

However, I take a slightly different perspective from that of the noble Lord, Lord Mendoza, because it is important to understand that the relationship of membership charities with their members is not transactional. It is not about saying, “You give us this money and we will give you these services”. It is not like that at all. There are ancillary things that members get, but I would not have thought that there are many cases of people giving money to these charities simply in return for the services that they might receive. It is more of a relationship of trust, in which members become part of the charity’s family. The membership donation is unconditional and unrestricted. The member says, “I trust you, as an organisation, to continue to do good things with my money, as you have demonstrated in the past”.

As noble Lords have heard, eligibility for gift aid means that membership subscriptions cannot be cancelled, although they might not be renewed if members fall out with the organisation. The risk is that that very different non-transactional relationship is swept up with the idea of subscription contracts and that, somewhere along the line, these charities lose their valuable gift aid. I am sure that the Minister will assure the Committee that that is not intended but, as much as I trust his assurances, it would be safer if Amendment 149 were agreed and added to Schedule 20 to the Bill.

My Lords, I fear that sometimes it is not enough that everything on an issue has been said; we have to make sure that everyone has said everything that needs to be said. I will be extremely brief but, as I raised this at Second Reading, I lend my voice in support of my noble friend Lord Mendoza’s amendment.

Can the Minister straightforwardly assure us that it is not the Government’s intention to prevent charities being able to access gift aid on membership subscriptions? If he can make that assurance, I expect him, as does the noble Lord, Lord Harris, either to accept this amendment or explain to us the Government’s alternative cunning plan to achieve the goal that I hope everyone in the Committee has.

My Lords, I cannot think of a better introduction to an amendment than the different speeches we have heard. I belong to many of the organisations that have been mentioned. We all have a personal interest in so many of the organisations that depend on subscriptions.

The noble Lord, Lord Mendoza, talked about the impact of the possible loss of gift aid; the noble Lord, Lord Harris, on the issue of why gift aid could be lost; the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, about the importance of subscriptions going forward; and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, about the different kinds of relationship this represents. To round it off, the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, started to hold the Minister’s feet to the fire with the questions that need asking. This amendment has been comprehensively and extremely well spoken to.

We have all had the NCVO briefing, which has a galaxy of different organisations all making the point that the Government really need to create an exemption. This is a very elegant solution that I hope the Government will adopt but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, said, the Government need to reassure us that this was not intended as part of the new subscription regime. I very much hope that, at this moment, the Minister and the department are cooking up a solution as good as the one that the noble Lord, Lord Mendoza, has put forward, or that they are simply going to accept this. In terms of the arguments made, this has been a slam dunk. I would have thought that accepting the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Mendoza, is a total no-brainer, otherwise I can see Report stage being carnage.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Mendoza, for scripting such a simple and clear amendment. We are acting as co-signatories, and it seeks, very simply, to exempt third sector charities from the effective limitations on subscription contracts in the Bill.

I appreciate that there have already been several attempts to find a solution to this conundrum, including amendments in the Commons. I understood that Ministers were not particularly attracted to this solution, which seeks to list charity membership subscriptions which qualify for gift aid as an excluded contract pursuant to Clause 253. We were a bit reassured by the letter that Kevin Hollinrake, the Minister in another place, wrote to the National Trust, setting out the Government’s position. He said that it was not their intention to create uncertainty about how different legislation might apply. His letter, dated 23 November, also said that cross-departmental work was being undertaken to consider whether clarification would be beneficial. Having listened to everybody this evening, it is pretty clear that it would be beneficial.

If this approach does not meet the happiness threshold for Ministers, this debate is the opportunity for the Minister to explain where the Government’s internal departmental thinking has got to and what other solutions might be available. The Minister argued in his letter to the National Trust that Chapter 3 of Part 4 is unlikely to apply because there is no contract to be deemed a subscription contract. Given the net value of gift aid to charities—for the National Trust it is £47 million, English Heritage is £100 million et cetera—we think there needs to be clarity. We cannot leave a degree of uncertainty. It certainly does not appeal to us to do that at this stage, given the law of unintended consequences. We cannot rely on an assurance that it is deemed unlikely that the legislation would have the effect that many of the charities that we have been talking to have said it would. The charities need certainty and clarity as well.

If it is not this amendment, what amendment will be brought forward? As the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said, carnage could definitely occur on Report if we do not get a ready-made solution. It needs to be put right and put right now.

I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Mendoza for moving this amendment and for his compelling speech. I also thank other noble Lords who spoke so passionately on this issue.

Amendment 149 would exclude charity membership subscription contracts eligible for gift aid from the scope of the Bill’s subscription contracts chapter. Many of us have heard strong representations from stakeholders on this matter and it has been valuable to hear the contributions from noble Lords today. It is clear that a number of charitable organisations have concerns about the interaction between the Bill, the existing gift aid rules and the potential implications for their operating models.

Like everyone who spoke, I fully understand the valuable additional income that gift aid provides to charities; as my noble friend Lord Vaizey put it, we are absolutely on the same page as far as that is concerned. Moreover, I assure your Lordships that it is absolutely not the Government’s intention to undermine this critical income for charities.

Since this matter was discussed at Second Reading, we have been working at pace across government to examine it further. To be clear, we will ensure that charities can continue to access gift aid. However, we do not consider that the exclusion proposed by Amendment 149 is the best way to achieve that. This is because there are no exclusions in key consumer protection measures that exempt charities solely on the basis of their charitable status. For example, charities are not excluded from the consumer contracts regulations or from Parts 1 and 2 of the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

Specifically, our objective is that charities can access gift aid and comply with the consumer protections in the subscriptions chapter, when they apply to them. Last week, I met the Exchequer Secretary and my noble friend Lord Parkinson, the Minister for Arts and Heritage, to discuss how that can be achieved. We are making good progress. Having met the Secretary of State earlier this afternoon, my noble friend will appreciate that we are working determinedly to ensure that we arrive at the right solution.

I will provide a further update on Report on any legislative or other policy changes that we propose. In the meantime, I would be happy to meet my noble friend should he wish to discuss this issue further ahead of Report, as I know it is of keen interest to him.

I want to clarify what the Minister just said. Does he plan to come back with a solution on Report? Otherwise there is going to be jeopardy. If the Bill goes through and the Government anticipate doing something after that, charities are going to be in a really difficult position. Presumably the Minister is pledging to come back with a full solution on Report.

Before the Minister replies to that point, what is it about the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Mendoza, that is so objectionable? I heard the Minister say that charities are not usually excluded from the effects of legislation in the way that the amendment suggests, but I do not see why they could not be made exempt for this particular purpose.

I thank both noble Lords for their interventions. To take the latter point first, it is absolutely the case that charities are required to live within the statute book generally and are not given exclusions. To take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, I accept that there are commercial elements to these donations. That may not be the primary purpose but they are commercial none the less, and there are examples where benefits are given to donors in return for donations.

That is the exact opposite of what I was trying to get across, so obviously I was not being very clear. The point is that the vast majority of donors give donations to an organisation for the good work that it carries out, rather than because it is a subscription to a particular service. It is therefore not a transactional relationship. It is not, “I will pay you to get this delivered”; it is, “I will pay you because you do really good stuff and I want you to keep doing it”. It is a non-transactional relationship, while subscription contracts are a very transactional relationship. That is the point I was trying to get across.

I have another point that the Minister might like to think about. Interestingly, the noble Lord, Lord Mott, was arguing for an exemption for micro-businesses. The Minister said earlier that he would be interested to discuss ways in which that might be practicable. Why can we not have a similar discussion on the point about an exemption for charities?

On that point, if the Minister is saying that charities should not be exempt from the law, of course we all agree. If an employee of a charity is treated badly, they are perfectly entitled to take the charity to court and get compensation. The key point here is that membership subscriptions have been able to have gift aid claimed on them and HMRC has made it clear that gift aid is claimable. Now that charity subscriptions are being brought actively within the scope of the Bill by not being exempted, gift aid will be removed by HMRC as a result.

It would be different if we were starting from a position where charities had never been able to claim gift aid and had, in effect, been offering commercial subscriptions. In the same way, when you go into a shop at Tate and buy something that is defective, you have all the consumer protections available to you. You are not giving a gift aid donation when you buy a mug at Tate; you are buying a mug and if it falls on your cat’s head when you get home, you will be able to sue Tate. That is fine, but subscriptions are clearly gift-aidable donations which are now being actively brought within the scope of this Bill.

My Lords, the Minister said that he would come back on Report, but it would be helpful if he would come back before Report so that all noble Lords can consider how he does so and table amendments accordingly.

I thank noble Lords for their contributions. I can confirm that we will come back before Report. The objective is to get a solution for this issue and to have a satisfactory outcome, so that we avoid carnage in the other place.

My Lords, I am so grateful for the support of noble Lords. The range of experience and advice we have had in this Room is admirable. It is incredible and so helpful that we have the chairman of the Fundraising Regulator right here. I am grateful for the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and the interjection of my noble friend Lord Vaizey. I had the same thought.

On a point of information, every time I make a speech where I am sycophantic about noble Lords, I end up in Private Eye. I hope my noble friend is aware of that.

I hope that results. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for her intervention. Of course, she is right: people contribute to charities because they care deeply about the charity’s mission. Although, as she said, there is no transactional element, if you go on the website of the Natural History Museum or the Tate and to “Buy a membership”, they will clearly list all the benefits that you get, so there is an element of transaction to it. I wanted to bring that out, so that it is clear to the Treasury and HMRC when they concoct whatever regulations they are concocting that we make sure that gift aid is still claimable and that these membership subscriptions still count as a donation to support the charity’s mission. It may be that some charities describe their membership differently from others. I have not checked the Woodland Trust’s website; it may well be completely different from that of a museum or the National Trust.

I am grateful for the support of my noble friend Lady Harding, who could not have been clearer in her request to my noble friend the Minister. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for supporting this amendment and contributing his remarks.

To add to the last point that was made about the simplicity of our amendment, we are trying to exclude charities not completely but just from this narrow point of gift aid, which was carefully defined at great length in the Income Tax Act 2007. We are trying to exclude just this one thing. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister will be able to go back to HMRC or the Treasury to see whether they can find some way of supporting this amendment. It seems clear and simple, without introducing a whole set of other complexities.

I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for giving me the opportunity to talk with the Secretary of State today. I certainly received reassurances from her and, as I say, that should bring some comfort to the Room. I am grateful to noble Lords for this debate. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 149 withdrawn.

Schedule 20 agreed.

Clause 254: Pre-contract information

Amendments 150 to 160 not moved.

Clause 254 agreed.

Schedule 21: Pre-contract information and reminder notices

Amendments 161 to 167 not moved.

Committee adjourned at 7.11 pm.