Amendment 12

Part of Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords am 5:00 pm ar 11 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Clement-Jones Lord Clement-Jones Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology) 5:00, 11 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 12 and support Amendments 14, 23, 34 and 60, which will no doubt be spoken to in more detail by their proponents.

Last week, several things took place. First, the European Commission issued Apple with a fine of €1.8 billion. The fine was increased due to Apple providing the Commission with misinformation during the investigation. Secondly, as many noble Lords have noted, the Digital Markets Act came into force in the EU. Thirdly, Apple took the decision last week to terminate Epic Games’s developer account, in retaliation for previous comments criticising Apple’s approach to managing the App Store.

Fourthly, Apple introduced a new core technology fee, which it announced in January. It proposes to charge any developer who takes advantage of the DMA’s benefits. In practice, it means that any developer wishing to list their app on an alternative store, or offer consumers an alternative payment method, is confronted with a new fee, despite not using any Apple service. This does not send a signal that Apple is ready to comply with new competition regulations. Such anti-competitive behaviour and the efforts of big tech to avoid meaningful regulation is exactly why the UK needs a strong digital markets regime, and a very good illustration of the tactics that some big tech operators are using.

The amendments being put forward today as regards digital markets are crucial to ensuring that the UK’s regulatory regime is fully equipped to meaningfully tackle big tech’s anti-competitive practices and prevent its circumvention and delaying tactics, and that, wittingly or unwittingly, we have not given it the ability to drive several coaches and horses through the CMA’s powers in the Bill. Equipping the CMA with a strong leveraging principle—which, thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, we must now call the whack-a-mole principle—is therefore critical to ensure that it keeps up with such attempts to move illegal practices and fees around its ecosystems. I am not quite sure whether my Amendment 12 is belt or braces to the amendment being put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, but it is designed to ensure that what is called the leveraging principle has full play in the CMA’s powers.

The noble Viscount, Lord Camrose, said in Committee:

“We agree with noble Lords that it is crucial that the CMA can deal with anti-competitive behaviour outside the designated activity where appropriate”— note the “where appropriate”. He went on:

“Our current drafting has sought to balance the need for proportionate intervention with clear regulatory perimeters. The regime is designed to address the issues that result from strategic market status and is therefore designed to address competition issues specifically in activities where competition concerns have already been identified. This recognises that SMS firms are likely to be active in a wide range of activities and will face healthy competition from other firms in many of them”.—[Official Report, 22/1/24; col. GC 164.]

However, the Government’s subsequent note on leveraging lays bare their limited approach to leveraging.

We need a much more comprehensive approach to the use of market power in non-designated activities, especially where activities are those such as operated by Google and Apple. For instance, Google runs Search, YouTube, its ad network, Ad Exchange and products such as Google Maps, Images, News and Shopping. All share operating systems and a browser, and fixed and common costs, and all operating system and browser costs are recovered from advertising. All search and browser and operating systems are integrated. All benefit from economies of scale, scope and network externalities. Apple, Amazon and Meta are all the same. They can account for everything as stand-alone businesses, but it is entirely their choice whether they do so; they can move costs around at will. Amendments are consequently needed to tighten up the provisions of Clauses 19 and 20—as particularly set out in Amendment 14 from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones—and ideally in Clause 29 as well.

I have signed amendments relating to countervailing benefits. Since the introduction of the Bill, we have been strongly of the view that Clause 29 could be a major loophole and that the long-term interests of the consumer could be ignored in favour of the short-term interests. On this basis, we strongly support returning to the form of the clauses as they were before Report in the Commons, as proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, in her amendments. I have sympathy with the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, too, and would support it if we felt there was sufficient support across the House.

Finally, I turn to Amendment 34 and the final offer mechanism, which is due to be spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Black. The aim must surely be to ensure that the final offer mechanism is a credible incentive to negotiate, so that designated undertakings are not able to frustrate the enforcement process over many months or even years. The final offer mechanism would remain a last resort, used only when good faith negotiations had completely broken down but made a more credible incentive.

In closing, I should say that, if the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, wishes to test the opinion of the House on her Amendments 14 and 23, we will support her.