Amendment 12

Part of Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords am 5:15 pm ar 11 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Ceidwadwyr 5:15, 11 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, I have four amendments in this group. Amendments 16 and 17 relate to the conduct requirements that the CMA can impose on designated undertakings, and Amendments 20 and 25 relate to countervailing benefits in relation to that conduct. I will come to that in a minute. Let me stick for a moment with Amendments 16 and 17.

Amendment 16 was helpfully introduced, to some extent, by what the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said about the activities in the run-up to the introduction of the Digital Markets Act in the European Union. There was a deadline of 7 March for that, and considerable attention has been paid to what Apple in particular has done in relation to that. The noble Lord made Apple’s position clear. It is saying, essentially, that we can either stay with our existing system, and it will charge 30% by way of fees for apps on the App Store, or we can go to this alternative which enables us to comply with the DMA, and Apple will offer an alternative but with a 17% fee for apps plus a 3% core technology fee, and, if you go beyond a million downloads, you will get a 50 cents processing charge per download. Those who fear that their app may go viral, with millions of downloads, are potentially facing enormous costs for processing them through the App Store. As far as all the potential users of the Apple App Store are concerned, this potentially restricts their opportunity for competition rather than enabling it.

My first point is to further reinforce that we have come together to design legislation in support of the Government that is more flexible than the Digital Markets Act. The DMA, in effect, puts the obligations into the originating Act. To change them will be considerably more difficult than would be the case for the Competition and Markets Authority in our regime to change the structure and the content of conduct requirements. Potentially, we have really good flexibility.

Amendment 16 is linked to whether the powers to impose conduct requirements enable the CMA to act in relation to the leveraging of market power in digital activities into other activities—the wider system of its business. Amendment 16 is absolutely about whether the conduct requirements that can be imposed under Clause 20 are sufficiently wide to enable the Competition and Markets Authority to structure them to limit activity which restricts competition in the way that these efforts are being pursued in relation to the Digital Markets Act. To that extent, Amendment 16 asks the Minister, if he would be kind enough to respond in this light, whether, if a designated undertaking were to behave in that sort of way, the CMA would have the power under the conduct requirements to respond and act, and to do so rapidly, to frustrate that kind of anti-competitive result.

Amendment 17 is slightly different, in that we discussed it in Committee. One of the European Union Digital Markets Act obligations is termed expressly to prevent others seeking to stop someone making a complaint to any public authority about non-compliance with the relevant obligations. I looked to see whether our conduct requirements, specified in Clause 20, cover a similar circumstance. In discussion in Committee, the Minister directed me to the “fair and reasonable terms” provision, which is very wide ranging but does not cover this, because these are not the terms of a contractual relationship between a designated undertaking and its users or potential users. It may not relate to that at all.

The Minister also directed me to the question of discrimination, but I do not think this is about discrimination between users; it is about preventing someone, who may be a user, a potential user or a potential competitor, from going to a public authority and saying, “This undertaking does not comply with its conduct requirements”. We know—I will not repeat the evidence that I gave in Committee—that there have, unhappily, been circumstances of intimidation of those who would complain to regulators about the conduct of organisations with significant market power. I return to this simply to say to the Minister that I am not yet convinced. Can he convince us that this kind of activity is covered by the conduct requirements? If it is not, will he undertake to ensure that the necessary changes are made to Clause 20, which the legislation would permit?

I will also speak to the amendments about counter-vailing benefits exemptions. Amendments 23 and 24 revert the Bill to its original wording, which would be better than where we are now. I have looked at Clause 29 from my point of view and I cannot find a good reason for it, so I thought it better to leave it out. If there is a conduct investigation and there are countervailing benefits, they should be presented to the CMA when it makes representations to a conduct investigation. Why would they be left to any other time or specified separately in the legislation?

I thought it better to amend Clause 27 such that, when making representations, the designated undertaking may give details of the benefits associated with its conduct to form part of that investigation. At that point, it should come forward if it is prepared to make commitments that the CMA could accept, without necessarily making a finding, to close that investigation.

All this should take place in Clause 27 on representations, because that is where the sequence lies. I do not understand why Clause 29 has been added at what appears to be a later stage in the sequence of the legislation. As it is a separate clause, it appears as though the benefits can be presented at an entirely separate point.

As I have also discussed with the Minister, there is an analogy with the exempt anti-competitive agreements under the Competition Act 1998. I was on the standing committee when that Bill was in Committee and this is a very different kettle of fish. The 1998 Act set out broad descriptions of agreements that would be deemed anti-competitive and therefore void, except if undertakings came to the Competition and Markets Authority; then the burden is on it to demonstrate that they have, in effect, countervailing benefits, such as to innovation, the consumer and the like, without an adverse effect on competition.

That is ex post regulation. That is agreements and obligations that are broad-ranging and apply across industry. Here, we are talking about conduct requirements that are optimised and designed in relation to that undertaking in the first place. This is ex ante regulation. You cannot compare ex post provisions in the Competition Act with ex ante regulation under this legislation. They are not the same kind of thing.

Therefore, again, I come back to the argument: let us not have exemptions. The use of “exemption” seems wholly inappropriate. We have here a very straightforward process. Conduct requirements require, in themselves, under Clause 24, for there to be a consultation. The undertaking should tell the CMA what the benefits associated with its conduct are at that stage.

There is a forward-looking process; the conduct requirement is supposed to look forward five years, but none the less, circumstances change. The CMA can review a conduct requirement, and the designated undertaking should come to the CMA if circumstances change and there are countervailing benefits and ask for the conduct requirement to be reviewed. Even if, under all these circumstances, a conduct investigation notice is issued, the undertaking should come forward and express what the benefits are at that point. Under none of these circumstances is there a requirement for the use of “exemption” or for an additional clause that offers countervailing benefits as such.

I dare say I will not press this, because there is probably more to be said for Amendment 23 and going back to the original wording, but it afforded me the opportunity, I hope, to explain why I think the whole proposition in Clause 29 seems misplaced.