Parliament

Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill (Twelfth sitting)

Published date : 04 July, 2023
I beg to move amendment 68, in schedule 18, page 343, line 2, at end insert—

“32 Making claims about—

(a) the environmental benefits, or

(b) the sustainability (as defined by section 234(1C)) of a product or service which are not based on evidence which can be verified by a court.”

This amendment seeks to ban the practice of “greenwashing”. It would include the making of unsubstantiated claims about the sustainability of products and services an unfair commercial practice.

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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. With your indulgence, if it is appropriate, I will also speak to amendment 69 and am happy to speak to amendments 115 and 116.

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Thank you for your guidance, Mr McCabe.

I have not yet spoken in Committee, and the reason for that is simple. As I said on Second Reading, from a Scottish National party perspective, we think that the Bill is generally speaking a good Bill. Our concern is primarily with the bits that we feel are missing, so the amendments that I will speak to this morning and afternoon are with a view to fill in some of the potholes that we see in the road for the Bill.

Amendments 68 and 69 would tackle the phenomenon of greenwashing. By that, I mean the practice by which companies use advertising and/or public messaging to appear more eco-friendly, whether in the generality or with regard to specific products, than is actually the case. The amendments would compel the Secretary of State to consult on a definition of sustainability for these purposes that is in line with international standards and then to amend the relevant chapter to add that definition to the Bill, and to add greenwashing to the schedule 18 list of practices which are in all circumstances considered unfair.

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I thank the Minister for that sideswipe, but it would be a great deal easier for the Scottish Government to comply with an English-designed scheme if that scheme was actually in existence for us to emulate. Absent our deposit return scheme, we are stuck with the recycling schemes that we have, and I wonder whether the Minister will get to the point.

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I am sorry to disappoint the Minister, but this is an issue of fundamental importance, and if I withdrew the amendment, it would be an opportunity missed. Of course, we could go through any number of proposed amendments to the Bill and say that there is already legislation in place that in some way tackles that issue. Of course it is true that there are measures on this issue, but there is still a proliferation of claims out there that have not been tackled by existing legislation. I know the Minister is a keen advocate for ensuring that markets work as effectively as they can, and for allowing markets to reach conclusions. The amendment is simply a tool that would allow Ministers to act in the interests of consumers. It would be a missed opportunity not to push it to a vote, and not to include it in the Bill.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

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I very much support amendment 116, to the extent that I withdrew my attempt at an amendment that would have countered fake reviews. It is clear that fake reviews are a matter of real concern, not just for reputable companies, but for consumers, who like to rely on customer feedback before making some of their most important financial choices. Schedule 18 defines and sets out unfair practices, and it is only right that fake reviews be added to them. We again come back to the fundamental principle that if a market is to work effectively and efficiently, people need access to timely and accurate information. That goal of having accurate information in the marketplace is subverted considerably when fake information and misinformation are allowed to abound.

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I beg to move amendment 67, in clause 225, page 152, line 30, at end insert—

“(4A) The Secretary of State must by regulations make any further provision necessary to ensure that the rights of redress available under this Chapter are equivalent to, and not lesser than, those available under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (S.I. 2008/1277).”

This amendment seeks to ensure that the “Consumer Rights to Redress” that will be set out through secondary legislation cannot offer a reduced level of the protection than the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

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As the explanatory statement sets out, amendment 67 seeks to ensure that the consumer rights to redress introduced through secondary legislation by Ministers cannot offer less protection than the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. That statutory instrument was effectively the successor to the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 and was designed to implement the unfair commercial practices directive as part of a common set of European minimum standards for consumer protection. Consumers, not just in Europe but throughout the UK, have benefited immensely from those protections. It is important as a point of principle that as legislation is repealed or evolves, there should be no inadvertent reduction in baseline consumer protections. There should be a reduction in consumer protections only where the Government deliberately choose to do so and we have an open debate.

The amendment is very much about ensuring that nothing slips down the drain inadvertently in terms of consumer protection. If the Government are not minded to accept it, what existing protections will they unwittingly let fall by the wayside? The amendment would capture the baseline level of protection through future secondary legislation. I look forward to the Minister’s remarks.

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With regret, I am not minded to withdraw amendment 67. I hear what the Minister says about how the Government may wish to go beyond existing levels of consumer protection. That is welcome where appropriate, but I do not see anything in the amendment that would prevent Ministers from doing that. The key element in the amendment is to capture a baseline level of protection, equivalent to what was in the 2008 regulations, to ensure that there is nothing that dips below that without a conscious decision to do so having been taken and debated. On the basis that there is nothing that would prevent the Government from enhancing the levels of protection at any time, I am keen to divide the Committee.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

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