Amendment 12

Part of Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords am 5:45 pm ar 11 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Viscount Camrose Viscount Camrose Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Science, Innovation and Technology) 5:45, 11 Mawrth 2024

As ever, I start by thanking all noble Lords who have spoken so well and clearly in this very interesting debate. I will start with Amendment 12 from the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and Amendments 14 and 15 from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, which would expand the ability of the CMA to intervene outside the designated digital activity.

As outlined in Committee, this regime is specifically designed to address competition concerns in digital activities in respect of which firms have been designated as SMS. I agree with noble Lords that the CMA must be able to deal with anti-competitive behaviour outside the designated activity where appropriate, to prevent firms leveraging power unfairly or seeking to circumvent and undermine regulation. Under current drafting, the CMA will already have broad powers to prevent and address issues of an SMS firm seeking to avoid or circumvent the regime or unfairly leverage its market power.

I hope I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Leong, by listing these. First, there are three types of conduct requirement that can address different types of leveraging. In addition to the leveraging principle in Clause 20(3)(c), the CMA can prevent leveraging by imposing requirements to address self-preferencing under Clause 20(3)(b) and tying and bundling under Clause 20(3)(d). Additionally, PCIs can be imposed anywhere in an SMS firm’s business to address an adverse effect on competition related to a designated activity, such as a firm seeking to circumvent regulation.

Finally, the CMA will have discretion to set the parameters of an SMS designation and to define a digital activity in a broad way. This will limit the risk of harmful activity falling outside the scope of a designation in the first place. This regime has been designed to give the CMA powerful tools to address competition issues. I hope noble Lords feel reassured that, where the CMA should be able to intervene, the powers already in the Bill allow it to do so.

Amendment 60, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, would require the DMU to consider interoperability and global web standards when carrying out its duty to promote competition under the digital markets regime and to liaise with international authorities when doing so.

The CMA engages already with global digital standards where it is appropriate to do so; for example, with the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C, the web standards development organisation. We expect that the DMU will also pay due regard to global technical standards, along with other relevant considerations, when operating the digital markets regime. As outlined in Committee, a lack of interoperability in digital markets can reinforce entrenched market positions and harm competition.

SMS designation is the gateway into the regime. The Bill allows the DMU to define digital activity for designation purposes. In defining the digital activity, the DMU will be able to capture the various ways in which the firm provides digital content or internet services as part of that. The DMU would have discretion to impose obligations on that firm, including for interoperability in relation to that digital activity.

The Bill gives the DMU comprehensive and flexible powers relating to interoperability to promote competition in digital markets, including conduct requirements that can be tailored to a firm’s specific business model and behaviour. So I would like to reassure the noble Lord that the regime’s tools can apply to both interoperability between platforms and between and among apps and platforms and other digital services.

Depending on the scope of the designation, the DMU can set conduct requirements under Clause 20(3)(e) to promote interoperability, not only with a platform but in a range of contexts, including web browsers, apps, operating systems and websites.

Other types of conduct requirement can also be used to ensure interoperability, such as requirements for

“trade on fair and reasonable terms” under Clause 20(2)(a) or requirements to prevent restrictions on the use of other products under Clause 20(3)(h). The Government agree that promoting interoperability and having regard to global standards can be important for promoting competition in digital markets.

Amendments 16 and 17 from my noble friend Lord Lansley would add two additional permitted types of conduct requirement to tackle specific types of behaviour by SMS firms. Amendment 16 seeks to prevent SMS firms charging fees which are unjustified or could restrict access to the relevant digital activity. Under the current framework, the CMA will be able to effectively tackle this issue. The CMA could likely use its powers under Clause 20(2)(a)—the requirement to trade on fair and reasonable terms—and subsections (3)(a), (b), (c) and (d) prohibiting discriminatory treatment, self-preferencing, leveraging, and tying and bundling.

Amendment 17 would add a new permitted type of conduct requirement to deal with SMS firms attempting to stop third parties raising possible non-compliance with the CMA. Again, I can reassure my noble friend that Clause 20(3)(a) permits a conduct requirement that could prohibit an SMS firm imposing discriminatory terms. This could address retaliation by an SMS firm, including where an SMS firm has singled out a user for adverse treatment in retaliation.

I will now address the amendments relating to the countervailing benefits exemption. As set out in Committee,

“the exemption will not act as a loophole for firms to avoid conduct requirements”.—[GC 231.]">Official Report, 24/1/24; col. GC 231.]

It is an important safeguard that reflects similar practice in the competition landscape. Under Amendments 25 and 20, my noble friend Lord Lansley proposes to remove the clause and replace it with a discretionary power to consider consumer benefits under Clause 27.

My noble friend is right to say the CMA should be able to consider consumer benefits identified by representations. Regarding the sequencing of these clauses, I reassure him that any representations that the countervailing benefits exemption should apply to would be considered among the representations under Clause 27. Clause 29 does not therefore constitute an additional step; rather, it explains how the CMA must act in relation to a specific type of representation. It would not delay or extend the conduct requirement breach investigation process. Making it discretionary for the CMA to act on a demonstrable instance of consumer benefits outweighing the harm to competition, while removing the criteria in Clause 29, would create uncertainty for both SMS firms and for third parties as to how the CMA will conduct its processes.

I turn next to Amendments 23 and 24 from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, which would revert the wording of the countervailing benefits exemption to the text as introduced in the Commons. I stress that the current wording maintains the same high threshold. However, I will not repeat the arguments, given the extensive debate we shared on this in Committee.