Debates between Lord Faulks and Viscount Camrose during the 2019 Parliament

Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill

Debate between Lord Faulks and Viscount Camrose
Viscount Camrose Portrait Viscount Camrose (Con)
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It goes only so far as its application to the Bill now. I am not aware of any further measures to take it into other Bills and would not expect to see any.

Lord Faulks Portrait Lord Faulks (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister’s response on that issue. I asked him the same question that I have asked throughout these proceedings—it is the same question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick—and there does not seem, with great respect, to be an answer to it. The Minister has mostly allowed, to use a cricketing metaphor, the matter to go past the off stump without playing a shot. What really seems to be the position is that he says that proportionality will apply, even if the Human Rights Act or a convention right is not involved. But I think that, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, the Minister is saying, “But only in the case of this Bill”. What that means is that big tech is getting a special privilege not afforded to any other litigant in any other context. I ask noble Lords, “Is that a good look?” I do not think that it is.

The Commons reason for preferring “proportionate” to “appropriate” reads as follows:

“Because it is appropriate for the CMA to be required to act proportionately in relation to conduct requirements and pro-competition interventions”.


I do not know whether that was supposed to be a joke, but it is profoundly unsatisfactory. The Government have missed a trick—or rather, they have succumbed to considerable pressure. I welcome the Bill because there is a great deal about it which is good. Having thought very carefully, and with considerable reluctance, I propose to withdraw my amendment.

Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill

Debate between Lord Faulks and Viscount Camrose
Viscount Camrose Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (Viscount Camrose) (Con)
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My Lords, I am delighted that we have made it to Report and look forward to today’s debate. Before we get under way, I express my sincere thanks to all noble Lords who took part in Committee and to those with whom I have had the pleasure of discussing a number of issues that have arisen since then. I am extremely grateful for the constructive, collaborative nature of those discussions. It is clear to me that the broad support for this Bill across the House and the desire to see it pass swiftly remain undiminished, which is great to see.

The Government have tabled a number of amendments to improve the clarity and accountability of the regime. I turn first to the amendment to the Henry VIII power in Clause 6. This clause would originally have given the Secretary of State the power to amend by regulations the position of strategic significance conditions in the Bill, to allow them to be updated to account for future changes to digital markets. The Government recognise that Henry VIII powers should be used only where absolutely necessary. I noted the strength of feeling on this issue in Committee and the concerns that the power could be used to introduce broad changes to the framework of the regime. The DPRRC also noted this point in its report on the Bill, for which my noble friend Lord Offord and I were very grateful. Reflecting that strategic significance criteria have been designed to be suitably broad and technology agnostic, we are content to remove this power. Amendment 1 will do that, so I hope that noble Lords will support it.

Amendment 42 ensures that non-commercial organisations acting in a non-commercial capacity will be subject to fines with the same fixed statutory maximum amounts and/or maximum daily amounts as individuals. We expect it to be extremely rare that the CMA would ever need to fine these organisations, but the Bill should provide for all circumstances. These organisations could be subject to financial penalties for investigative breaches—for example, providing false or misleading information to the CMA.

Amendment 40 clarifies that all individuals—including, for example, sole proprietors—will be subject to penalties with fixed statutory maximum amounts and/or maximum daily amounts. Amendment 41 removes a superfluous subsection in the same clause. I hope noble Lords will support these amendments.

Amendment 48 will ensure that private actions relating to the digital markets regime can be transferred between the Competition Appeal Tribunal and the relevant court. This will reflect current practice for competition cases. Effective co-operation and information sharing between regulators is vital to ensuring efficient and coherent interventions under the digital markets regime.

Amendments 160 and 161, under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 and the Postal Services Act 2011 respectively, will allow Ofcom to share information it holds with the CMA where it is necessary for the CMA to discharge its digital markets functions. Ofcom is likely to hold relevant information under these Acts that would be valuable to support work relating to, for example, mobile ecosystems and e-commerce. The amendments will also help prevent unnecessary and duplicative information requests by the CMA. The Government have also put forward Amendments 50, 53 and 159 to improve the Bill’s clarity.

Amendment 58 will ensure that the existing provision in Clause 116—which prevents information the CMA holds as part of an investigation being subject to a disclosure order—cannot be circumvented by instead seeking disclosure from another party that holds the same information.

I hope that, for the reasons I have set out, noble Lords will support the government amendments. I beg to move.

Lord Faulks Portrait Lord Faulks (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, Amendments 13 and 35 are in my name and those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Stowell and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones.

The Bill has been welcomed across the House and it represents a crucial step forward in regulating the digital market. I pay tribute to the level of engagement that has taken place with Ministers and officials. We have had some excellent and well-informed debates in Grand Committee. However, good though this Bill is, it is capable of improvement. I refer to my interests in the register. I am not a competition lawyer, but I do have experience of judicial review and of the operation of the Human Rights Act. I was also chair of the Independent Review of Administrative Law, which reported a few years ago.

My Amendment 13 is concerned with the use in the Bill of the word “proportionate”. Despite some heavy lobbying of the Government by big tech, the right to appeal against an intervention by the CMA will engage the judicial review test, rather than a merits test, except as to penalty. Later amendments will probe the appeal test further.

The original adjective in the Bill was “appropriate”. The word “proportionate” replaced it at a late stage of the Bill’s progress through the Commons. Why? I am afraid I have yet to receive a satisfactory answer. In Grand Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, referred to a letter from the Minister about the change. However, it did nothing to allay concerns that the change was a response to lobbying by big tech.

According to one view, it is an innocuous change; indeed, one would expect an intervention to be proportionate. The word also has a reasonable legal pedigree: for example, you can defend yourself against attack providing your response is proportionate to the attack. Whether your response is proportionate will be a question of fact, or for a jury to decide.

Judicial review, however, is not primarily concerned with the facts of a decision but with the process whereby the decision is made. Classically, the courts got involved only if a decision was so unreasonable that no reasonable public body could have reached it. The scope of judicial review has expanded to include challenges based on, for example, irrationality or failure to take into account relevant considerations. There are other grounds, but all are concerned with how the decision is reached rather than whether the court agrees with the factual findings.

Since the enactment of the Human Rights Act, the concept of proportionality has entered the law in relation to judicial review, but only in limited circumstances. I will quote the most recent addition of De Smith’s Judicial Review, as I did in Committee, which is generally regarded as the leading textbook in this area:

“Domestic courts are required to review the proportionality of decisions and enactments in two main categories of case: cases involving prima facie infringements of Convention rights and cases involving EU law”.


There are those who think that proportionality should be the test in all cases of judicial review, but that is not the law.

I cannot immediately see why an appeal in the context of the Bill should involve a convention right, but they have a habit of appearing in all sorts of places. If convention rights are engaged, proportionality comes into the analysis anyway. I understand that the Government consider that an appeal may well involve A1P1—Article 1 of the first protocol of the ECHR—which is concerned with the arbitrary inference with property rights.

To speak of human rights in the context of enormous companies such as Google, Apple or Meta is certainly counterintuitive; I do not think that that is what the framers of the European convention had in mind after the Second World War. Last week, Apple was fined €1.8 billion under the European Union’s regulation on market abuse, and there is an appeal. That perhaps gives us an idea of the context of human rights in this area.

If—and this is a big “if”—the courts consider that the convention is engaged, there will be considerations of proportionality. Amendment 35, which I believe is consequential to Amendment 13, raises precisely the same point in a further context. In choosing to put the word “proportionality” into the legislation, a court might well conclude that Parliament had deliberately used the word to widen the scope of judicial review challenge, even when no convention right is engaged. For my part, that is a risk that I do not think should be taken. Your Lordships’ House is well aware of the expensive and time-consuming nature of appeals, which of course favour larger organisations with a large legal spend. The noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, spoke at Second Reading of long and expensive battles and death by lever arch files—although he did not quite put it that way. Large companies have the resources.

A proportionality test is far closer to an appeal on the facts than one based on conventional judicial review principles. The issue as to whether an intervention is proportionate or not gives the court much greater scope for looking at those facts at greater length and greater expense and with a more uncertain outcome. I would therefore much prefer to revert to the word “appropriate”, as was originally in the Bill, which does not carry the same legal charge and does not risk expanding the basis of appeal.

In the Media Bill, criticism has been made of the use of the word “appropriate”, but, as many judges have said before, context is everything, and here it is the right word. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response and explanation behind the change in wording.

Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill

Debate between Lord Faulks and Viscount Camrose
Viscount Camrose Portrait Viscount Camrose (Con)
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I hope very much that I have a point. I think it would be best for me to write to my noble friend and the members of the Committee to clarify that.

Lord Faulks Portrait Lord Faulks (Non-Afl)
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I am listening very carefully to what the Minister says. It would be helpful if he would give an idea of the sort of arguments that would be open to somebody who is challenging a decision as to the fine and the merits. Will they be circumscribed simply by saying, “Well, it was too much”, or will they be able to look in some detail at the whole process and the interventions that ultimately resulted in the fine? How will those two things be kept separate from each other?

Viscount Camrose Portrait Viscount Camrose (Con)
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As the noble Lord says, the intent is to keep those two separate. During and on the merits appeal for the penalty, the penalised firm could argue that the value of the penalty exceeded the crime, or that the breach took place inadvertently or by accident. It could not argue, however, that no breach took place; the fact that a breach took place is the premise against which the rest of the penalty appeal takes place. If the firm then wants to appeal that no breach took place, that would be done under JR, not on the merits.

The boundaries of the merits appeal process are explained in the Explanatory Notes for Clause 89. If those can be made any clearer, I am happy to engage on that. We will continue to listen to any concerns that noble Lords have on this important point.

I turn now to Amendments 72A and 72B from the noble Lord, Lord Tyrie. I thank him for his amendments, which raise an important question about the appeal standard across the wider digital markets regime. These amendments would align the appeal standard of all regulatory decisions in the regime with appeals carried out against Ofcom’s decisions taken under the Communications Act 2003. I am sure that many noble Lords are aware that the appeal standard in the Communications Act regime is often referred to as judicial review-plus. Although Parliament amended the Act in 2017 so that these appeals are to be decided on judicial review principles, the CAT has ruled that, due to retained EU law, it must also

“ensure that the merits of the case are duly taken into account”.

To turn back to this Bill, the Government heard the strong views expressed by your Lordships on the Select Committee, among others, on the importance of retaining judicial review. The changes made by the Government in the other place sought to uphold the use of the well-known judicial review principles for appeals in the new regime, except for those about penalties, as I have already discussed. Judicial review principles balance robust scrutiny of the CMA’s decisions with the need for the CMA to use its expertise to act quickly and iteratively to resolve issues.

As we discussed on the second day in Committee, the Government have made an explicit requirement for the CMA to consider proportionality when imposing conduct requirements and PCIs. As I set out during that discussion, it is right that interventions should be proportionate, but we are clear that any appeals of these matters should be heard under standard judicial review principles.

Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill

Debate between Lord Faulks and Viscount Camrose
Viscount Camrose Portrait Viscount Camrose (Con)
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I will go on to speak more about this. The intention of the Government in “reinforcing” is to bring clarity, particularly since, as I say, A1P1 is not universally applicable to these cases. It brings clarity, and therefore I hope that the effect will be as much closing the door as anything else.

Lord Faulks Portrait Lord Faulks (Non-Afl)
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The Minister has talked about A1P1 and the right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions. That may come into the analysis or it may not, but he has taken the view that it may not. If it does, then it is covered by the normal doctrines of judicial review, which include proportionality. If it does not, and he says it may not, why have proportionality in at all?

Viscount Camrose Portrait Viscount Camrose (Con)
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I believe that, in most cases, A1P1 rights would be invoked, but there are cases where A1P1 would not necessarily be invoked, rare as those cases are. The intention of the Government is to treat all those cases in the same way. As I say, it is important that we also consider the safeguards around the new powers. Having an explicit requirement for proportionality, rather than just the implicit link to A1P1, sets a framework for the CMA as to how it must design and implement significant remedies. A proportionate approach to regulation supports a pro-innovation regulatory environment and investor confidence. I am also aware, of course, that later we are due to debate concerns noble Lords may have about the accountability of the CMA. Without pre-empting that debate, it is worth pointing out that setting out the requirement for proportionality explicitly will help ensure that the CMA uses its powers responsibly.