The Queen’s speech
The UK has been very busy drafting and passing some new consumer and competition bills. The UK’s Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill (ERR Bill) received Royal Assent on 25 April 2013 and a new Draft Consumer Right Bill (DCR Bill) was announced in the Queen’s speech on 8 May 2013.
As blogged about previously, the ERR Bill amends the current UK competition regime. The now Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 (EER Act) “will put in place fairer systems for directors’ pay, create a world-class competition regime, support the Green Investment Bank and improve [the UK’s] employment system” said Business Minister Jo Swinson. The EER Act, which is expected to come fully into force by April next year, proceeded with very little changed from the original proposal. Two notable amendments are:
- the Secretary of State has been given new powers to remove the competition functions of the sectoral regulators if they considers that it is appropriate to do so for the purpose of promoting competition; and
- the addition of new defences for individuals to cartel offences. (No such cartel-specific defences exist under Australian competition laws.)
The DCR Bill, which is aimed at “establishing a simple set of consumer rights to promote competitive markets and growth”, will effect the following changes to the current consumer laws in the UK:
- consolidation of eight pieces of legislation relating to consumer rights, covering goods, services, digital content and unfair contract terms;
- providing clarity in areas where the law has not kept up with technological advances. For example, setting out clearer consumer rights for the quality of digital content like e-books and software;
- easier access to compensation where there have been breaches of consumer or competition law;
- measures which would deregulate and reduce costs to business;
- measures which would enhance protection for consumers; and
- more powers for Trading Standards and other enforcement authorities to require traders, through the courts, to compensate consumers where they have breached consumer law.
These two bills are part of a larger agenda, described thus by Her Royal Highness:
My Government’s first priority is to strengthen Britain’s economic competitiveness. To this end, it will support the growth of the private sector and the creation of more jobs and opportunities.
Lest we forget, this is strikingly similar to the purpose of the Competition and Consumer Act in Australia, being to protect the welfare of Australians through the promotion of competition and fair trading terms and provision for consumer welfare. As the Australian government stated when the object of the Act was inserted in 1995, “ultimately, the ability of the economy to grow, to provide jobs and an improved standard of living, depends upon how well the productive potential of the economy is employed and advanced”.