Column for 23 May

Column for 23 May

Published date : 23 May, 2023

Last week, I responded on behalf of my Parliamentary Group to a debate on the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill.  Despite the - perhaps in the view of some - rather dull subject matter, the more work I have done on the Bill, the more I recognise the importance of this legislation and some of what it is trying to achieve.   

To give you an example, research carried out by Action Fraud has revealed that elderly people in the UK lose £1 million per day through online scams.  That is a staggering amount of money which, day and daily, is coming out of the purses and wallets of people who are either having to make ends meet with their pension or have saved towards their retirement only to see it pauchled by scammers and fraudsters.   

Respected consumer organisation Which? estimates that one third of people in the UK experience at least one problem with a product or service each year, at an estimated cost of £54 billion, which is a tremendous drag on the economy.  It prevents that money from being spent more productively in the economy, reduces confidence and, in many ways, it reduces the competition that we would all like to see.    

It is important to ensure that when people engage in the online market space they can do so with confidence, and we must recognise the role that the state has to play in that.  No amount of competition between online businesses can ever compensate for what government needs to do to uphold consumer rights where necessary.   

While I welcome what the Bill sets out to achieve, there are things which could and should be included which would strengthen the protections available to consumers and the vulnerable.    

For example, the Bill falls short in that it does not explicitly include an equivalent to the ‘right to redress’ enjoyed by citizens in the EU, which would allows consumers to receive damages when misled by traders.  That right to redress is an important consumer protection and we certainly do not want to be in a position where our consumers have less leverage in that sense than their European counterparts.   

Another area the Bill should address is ‘Greenwashing’, where goods and services are marketed under misleading pretences when it comes to their environmental credentials.  The Bill simply does not set out standards and practices that should be adhered to when making environmental claims.     

To give an example, in February, the Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor found that many companies were involved in making misleading claims about their plans to tackle global warming and climate change. When sustainability concerns are increasingly important for consumers in choosing where to spend their money—particularly for younger consumers—it is vital that measures are put in place to ensure that people can have confidence in the claims being made for products, rather than being misled, deliberately or otherwise.    

No-one has a monopoly on common sense and there were a number of good-natured exchanges across the chamber on how the Bill can be improved.  On this at least, we can all agree that protecting consumers from scams and protecting reputable businesses from the sharp practices of a minority of unscrupulous competitors, is something which needs to be strengthened.   

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