Amendment 12

Part of Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords am 5:30 pm ar 11 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Fox Lord Fox Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Business) 5:30, 11 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, Amendment 60 is in my name. I was expecting to be ploughing a rather lonely furrow on this amendment, so I welcome the enthusiasm of the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, particularly as it is based on such relevant experience and came with such authority. I thank her for that.

The Minister has been very open in our discussions on these issues, which focus on two areas: interoperability and standards, which are, of course, inextricably linked. One critical area to be clarified is the importance of vertical and horizontal interoperability and the fact that each requires different responses. Clause 20 covers vertical interoperability; for example, the promotion of the use of platforms as neutral distribution channels to market for all kinds of apps. The Bill does not explicitly include interoperability between an app and a platform that operates as a distributor and, in a network sense, among websites that compete with each other and with the platforms. This is horizontal interoperability.

The department’s view is that Clause 12 is wide enough to catch all of this. The Minister said in Committee that it is the department’s contention that defining interoperability is unnecessary because it considers it to be a “commonly understood technical term”. That is welcome, but it relies on a level of interpretation and inference by the DMU because the department’s interpretation is not clear by the letter of the Bill. As such, it would be helpful if the Minister could confirm the explicit inclusion of horizontal interoperability between websites in promoting competition. Will he please confirm that Clause 20(3)(e) will not limit conduct requirements to promote interoperability with a platform only, and set out how the Bill permits the DMU to consider requirements relating to interoperability in a range of contexts, including web browsers, apps, operating systems and websites?

As far as standards are concerned, I think we agree that there is a need for open and non-discriminatory international standards to support interoperability and promote the competition at which the Bill is so firmly targeted. That this is important is illustrated by the fact that Apple recently publicly threatened to block access to the open web from its devices. For there to be competition, the open web needs to interoperate with Apple and Google browsers. This is quite a serious point. This activity is controlled via W3C standards.

The amendment I have tabled is designed to be helpful. It ensures simply that the DMU understands its role in seeking to ensure that international standards bodies are promoting interoperability, both vertically and horizontally, and hence promoting competition. Given the central importance of standards to competition, my aim is to emphasise that this is not an add-on for the DMU but a core activity. I thought the Minister might be able to accept this amendment, but if he feels unwilling to do so, I feel sure that if he could put on record this important role for the DMU, it will be an important step forward, and I look forward to his response.