Business, Innovation and Skills - Minutes of EvidenceHC 697

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee

on Tuesday 22 October 2013

Members present:

Mr Adrian Bailey (Chair)

Mr Brian Binley

Paul Blomfield

Mike Crockart

Rebecca Dinenage

Rebecca Harris

Ann McKechin

Mr Robin Walker

Nadhim Zahawi


Examination of Witness

Witness: Jo Swinson MP, Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, gave evidence.

Q131 Chair: Good morning, Minister, and welcome. Had I realised what phenomenal pulling power you had, I might have charged to get some financial benefit from the session. Welcome, and thank you for agreeing to address the Committee. We know very well who you are, but just for voice transcription purposes, could you introduce yourself?

Jo Swinson: I am Jo Swinson. I am Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. In this capacity, it is the consumer affairs part of the brief that is particularly relevant for the Draft Consumer Bill of Rights.

Chair: Thanks. I note that you have the Bill team behind you. They are becoming regular visitors. I feel quite sorry for them attending so many of our sessions.

Jo Swinson: I am sure they have been loving it.

Q132 Chair: I am going to start with the 30-day issue. A number of business representatives have told us that statutory exemptions to this 30-day time limit for an early right to reject were unnecessary, because traders would make their own exemptions as a matter of customer service and competitive positioning. Do you intend to produce any guidance to indicate in what circumstances exemptions could be made?

Jo Swinson: I want to say, first of all, thank you to the Committee for undertaking this pre-legislative scrutiny. It is really important, and, as you are aware, the Bill is wide ranging and covers a lot of important issues. We are trying to do a lot of simplification here, to take eight current pieces of primary legislation and make them much more coherent, so that people can understand them and be clearer about what consumer rights are for businesses and consumers. The pre-legislative process is really important; I welcome the interest the Committee has been taking and look very much forward to your response.

On the changes that we are making to improve clarity, so that people know, if they have bought something that is faulty, they absolutely have the right to take that back and get a full refund within 30 days, there is a set of exemptions for perishable goods, which I am sure people understand would be necessary, because not all goods that you buy would be expected to last for 30 days. Some have argued that there should be exemptions to this-for example, if you are buying something for somebody’s birthday present or at Christmas time, when you may have a period that is longer than 30 days between buying the product and being able to discover a fault. Although we understand the reasons behind those calls, the main benefit of creating a 30-day period is to have that very certainty for consumers and for business. That is something that is very much welcomed by the business community, who will know that very clearly.

We are approaching the Christmas rush at the moment, and I confess I think December is going to be quite busy from my point of view, so I have started buying a few Christmas presents already. As people will know, if you buy a Christmas present in November, very often many retailers will proactively offer, if something is not right, to provide a refund or exchange in a period much longer than 30 days-after Christmas. Given that many retailers do that, it is best if we retain the certainty of 30 days in the Bill.

There could well be a rule in the accompanying guidance pointing out some of the best practice that already exists. Clearly, you would not want a situation where retailers effectively had such a provision abused, but many of them, where there is a genuine reason, are very happy to accept a request for a refund beyond that 30-day period, where there is a good reason and the goods are unused.

Q133 Chair: Is that a yes or a no?

Jo Swinson: I am very happy to look at guidance, yes.

Q134 Chair: Thank you. Moving on to the deduction-for-use issue, the Law Commission has said that getting one that is workable is "virtually impossible and rarely used by businesses", and the consensus view was that it should not be legislated for. What evidence do you have to support the inclusion of a deduction-for-use clause in the Bill, contrary to the Law Commission’s advice?

Jo Swinson: We have a situation where, if something is faulty within the first 30 days, you have the right to a full refund. In most cases, up to six months, that will also be the case. There are some circumstances beyond that where you could be offered a repair or a replacement. Then if that does not work, you would be offered a full refund within six months. Exceptions might apply for very complex purchases, for example, a car, where if the windscreen wipers and the CD player had a slight fault, you might not be expect to be offered the full refund price for your car after five months.

The deduction for use is basically to reflect what most reasonable people would expect. If you have been using something for a significant amount of time and you have, therefore, had some use and benefit out of that product, instead of being offered a full refund, you would be offered, after that six-month period, a partial refund with some deduction made for how much use you made of it. For example, if you buy a pair of shoes and something goes wrong-the heel breaks or falls off after seven months-you might reasonably think that is the sign of a fault. However, it may well be that you do not expect to have the full money back because you have also had seven months of use out of the pair of shoes.

Q135 Chair: The OFT has said that, if the 30-day early right to reject was not balanced by a final right to reject without deduction for use, the Bill would "significantly reduce consumer rights". Do you not think the inclusion of a deduction-for-use approach undermines consumer protection?

Jo Swinson: I do not think it does. I think it reflects what most ordinary, reasonable people would expect in the contract they enter into when they buy something. If you buy something that does not work, you are entitled to a refund. However, if you have been using that particular product and getting some benefit from it for several months already, that full refund does not necessarily apply. That is not to say that it could not be a full refund after six months. If, for example, the goods that you bought have not been used, you could still receive a full refund after that point. However, most people would reasonably expect that, when they have had some use out of something, it is fair that they get a reduction in price rather than necessarily a full refund after that point.

Q136 Chair: The methodology has also been questioned. If this is to be included, the value of use should be based on the expected lifespan of the goods rather than the second-hand market value. Do you think that the methodology on which this approach is based is fair to the consumer?

Jo Swinson: In most circumstances, it will be something that is ultimately agreed between the trader and the consumer, so it is much more likely to be about what is reasonable. It depends, for example, on how much you paid in the first place. If you buy a coat that you expected to last a few years and something goes wrong with it after eight months, then you might come to an agreement with the trader about how much that should be reduced by. You would not necessarily, in that case, be calling for a second-hand market to determine what the price would be.

The second-hand market is useful for particular circumstances-I gave the example of the motor industry, which I think is the main example-where because we are limiting the repairs and replacement option after you have a fault in your goods to one repair or replacement, there is a concern from the manufacturers and the retailers of some very complex goods that that could be incredibly onerous for their business model, because if you have something that is a very complex product, it is not necessarily that uncommon for two things to go wrong. It may not be very standard, but in some cases, it will happen. If you take the example of a car, as soon as it is driven off the forecourt new, it is much reduced in value already. We have put in place this particular protection for industries like that, so we can make sure we have strong consumer protection across the board. In those examples, there is a strong second-hand market that can be independently verified. In terms of cars, you have Glass’s Guide, for example, which really is very robust in being able to properly assess what the second-hand value of that car would be. In that case, the consumer would not expect to get a full refund, but one based on the second-hand value of the car.

Q137 Mr Binley: We all recognise the need for consolidation. That is an important part of what you are attempting to do and is generally very welcome. The area where there is difficulty is digital products. I want to press you on this, because there are three points of great concern and I am not sure we have got it right. The first point is related to the fact that many of the provisions are bring-forwards, particularly with regard to flaws in goods. I am not sure that we can treat in the same way the digital market, which is, in my lifetime anyway-perhaps not quite your lifetime-a relatively new market. It does need a rethink in that direction. Would you be prepared to rethink for digital? I can see us running into a great deal of trouble and I want to help you not do that.

Jo Swinson: Thank you very much for your question. The digital content part of the Bill is one of its most important parts. It is also, if I am very honest, one of the most difficult bits to get right. This is because, as you alluded to in your question, we do not have decades of experience selling digital content, as we do with selling goods and services. We have worked very hard with industry experts on these issues to try to get it right and also provide definitions that are as future-proof as possible. We will very much be interested in the response of the Select Committee.

It is really important that we do provide proper protections on digital content. This is an industry where £187 billion was spent in the UK in the last year for which we have figures available. In 2011, 16 million consumers reported that they had had at least one problem with digital content. I am sure there are people around the table today who have experienced that themselves at some point. Therefore, whether or not it is treated like goods is an interesting question. We are not treating it exactly the same. However, for most consumers, when they buy a piece of music from a shop or they buy it online or download it from iTunes, they are seeing the product very much as if they are buying goods. Therefore, in general terms, aligning the protections makes sense.

We have made some amendments to that, recognising the unique nature of digital content. One of the things, for example, that is very common with digital content is that you will receive updates. If you are buying software or downloading a game, it will often be in evolution and in development. If you buy a top in a shop to wear, you would not expect that, when the new colours came out in the next fashion season, you would automatically receive an update of your top in whatever colour is the new black, whereas, if you buy a piece of software, you might well expect that you would receive an update when the software itself was updated.

What is important for consumers is that with that update you are not reducing the quality of the goods. In that circumstance, we have provided the right to get some money back. Say there is a piece of functionality on a bit of software and, when they produce the next version, they decide that not very many of the customers were using that particular bit of functionality and they remove it. You want to make sure the consumer is protected from that happening to them automatically or, indeed, compensated if that is the case.

Therefore, there are some differences between digital content and goods, but it is the best starting point to base the protections on and then tweak accordingly. Similarly, people are often much more accepting in digital content of minor bugs that might need to be fixed. The definitions that we have of satisfactory quality are flexible enough to take into account the context in which the customer bought the product. If a reasonable person would expect that there would be some slight updates as the software evolved, that would not necessarily suggest that it had not been of satisfactory quality in the first place.

Q138 Mr Binley: I admire immensely your ability to conjoin software with personal wear, but I do not think it is a fair comparison, quite frankly. You know the industry is very concerned about clause 36 and minor defects. You also know that Britain has a very important digital sector that we need to protect and enhance. I am fearful that I see the heavy hand of bureaucracy in simply translating one piece of old legislation and incorporating it into a new piece of legislation for a new industry. The business of eliminating minor bugs can hardly be related to a new jumper you might buy for your good self. I wonder whether we could go back and look at this again. I recognise that you have made some minor changes yourself, but I do not think that bringing forward the minor defects clause covers digital in a happy way at all or helps our digital market. Would you be prepared to go back and look at that again?

Jo Swinson: Let me try first to reassure the Committee on this point. In terms of the freedom from minor defects, that is in the context of what a reasonable person, bearing in mind the price that has been paid for the product, would expect. There are types of digital content where it would be reasonable to expect that the product would be free from minor defects. If you are buying an eBook and downloading it to your eReader, for example, you would not expect some of the pages to be garbled any more than you would expect printing errors if you were buying a paper copy. However, if you were buying a piece of software that evolves, it may well be that it is much more expected that there might be the odd minor defect that they would issue an update to fix. Customers are already well accustomed to that. The test of it being in the context of what a reasonable person would expect helps to deal with that concern about minor defects.

It would not be helpful to suggest that digital content purchased should never be free from minor defects, because there are plenty of examples of digital content where people would expect it to be free from minor defects. Therefore, that protection is important, although I think the test is flexible enough to deal with the concern that you have raised.

Q139 Mr Binley: I am particularly concerned about businesses and business applications. They sit on layer upon layer of other programs and interact with them, and you never quite know how they interact with a given program. I think we have to give a little more leeway than clause 36 gives. I look at your Bill team behind you with pleading eyes, because I can see considerable difficulty if we do not fine-tune this particular matter more clearly. I leave that with you, and we will come back to that in the Bill itself.

The final point I want to make relates to the Bill not being compatible with the European Consumer Rights Directive.

Chair: You are going into Mike’s question.

Mr Binley: Am I?

Chair: Yes.

Mr Binley: Then I will stop instantly, but I might want a supplementary, Chairman.

Q140 Nadhim Zahawi: Digital payment engines-PayPal and others-currently do not intervene when there is a dispute regarding a digital product, whereas they do for a physical product. That is part of their terms and conditions. They very clearly say that, if there is a physical product that someone has bought and you report it to them, they will withhold the money and attempt to resolve it. If they think, for whatever reason, the supplier has been unreasonable, they will refund. They do not do the same for digital. Will the Bill cover the payment engines and their behaviour towards consumers?

Jo Swinson: It is a really interesting question, and the first thing I would say is I am not certain whether they are withholding payment on the basis of legislative requirements, in terms of physical products, or whether they are doing that as a matter of policy. I would be very happy to go away and look at that in more detail to understand whether that is a legal or a policy thing that they are doing, and, if there is any relevant gap, to seek to fill it. However, I am not certain that is something they are legally required to do. If it is acceptable to the Committee, I will write with further information on that specific point, which is an interesting one.

Q141 Mike Crockart: Before we move on to the European Consumer Rights Directive, as the former systems developer on the Committee I want to reinforce the need for this subject to be looked at very closely because, having produced many programs and many lines of code, I cannot put my hand up and say that there were not minor defects included within them. It is difficult for any software developer to make that claim. The iterative way in which software is developed means that, if we were trying to use your analogy of a piece of clothing, it is more like a jacket being introduced in the summer and not having the functionality of being waterproof because there is the feeling that it is not needed until October. If the person who buys that jacket is drenched in June, they have a fairly good case that it was not particularly good use. It is that type of analogy that needs to be looked at very closely. Can I reinforce the points that I have already made-that this is a very different area?

Jo Swinson: If I can also reinforce what I said earlier, we are very keen to make sure we get this right. We will look very carefully at what the Committee recommends on this. To remove protections entirely would be unfortunate for consumers, not least from a business perspective, because we want people to have the confidence to buy online. That is good for business and it is good for the British economy and, indeed, it is an area in which we are very much leading in terms of the rest of the world. I know we are going to come on to Europe in a second but, equally, we need to make sure we get the detail right, so we will be interested to see what the Committee says.

Q142 Mike Crockart: On the European Consumer Rights Directive, the British Software Association has given evidence and told us that the draft Bill’s provisions on digital content, in actual fact, are more of a gold plating of the European Consumer Rights Directive. Do you agree with that view?

Jo Swinson: We are trying to do a variety of different things here. We have the Consumer Rights Directive, which has come from Europe, which we are implementing and we intend to do so through secondary legislation. That has to be in place by June of next year. The Consumer Bill of Rights that is the draft Bill we have in front of us today is not the vehicle to implement the Consumer Rights Directive. It is a much wider and ambitious objective that we are seeking, which is about the clarity and coherence of taking those eight current pieces of primary legislation and putting them into one. Also, it is about recognising that the marketplace is different from what it was when all of these initial pieces of legislation were drafted, when digital content did not exist. I do not think that it is a case of gold plating, because it is not about the Consumer Rights Directive. It is definitely a case of recognising there is a gap and that we should take a lead in creating legislation that gives consumers the confidence to buy digital content online. I hope that this will be an area in which Britain can lead the way and, indeed, other European countries may well follow.

Chair: Have you any more on this? I know Brian has a distinct perspective on European practice.

Q143 Mike Crockart: One quick question: coming back on the answer that you have just given, British business will look at that answer and pick out the words that we should be ambitious and that we should take the lead. They will see that as being an added burden on British business that is not going to be there for Europe more widely. How can we justify that, given the circumstances that we are in at the moment?

Jo Swinson: First of all, if you look at the impact assessments of the Bill, in fact it is something that is of benefit to business. We expect there to be £4 billion of benefits for the British economy over 10 years, but even in terms of the regulatory measures within the Bill, in that more restricted way of looking at it, it is something overall that is helpful for business, because they are getting certainty on things like the dates of the right to return faulty goods and so on. Therefore, it is something that it is positive for business, and confident consumers are good for business. That encourages new businesses to start up, because people feel that they can buy something from a new retailer that has, perhaps, not got the same track record and that they have not been dealing with for the past four or five years; they know they are going to have rights that are going to be able to be enforced if necessary. That is something that is very positive for the economy. I think this Bill is good for business. We have worked very closely with many business groups, and many of the measures in it are warmly welcomed by business as well.

Mike Crockart: I sense that Brian will be champing at the bit to get in.

Q144 Mr Binley: Yes, you are very kind, Mike, and I am very grateful, because I think the incompatibility of this Bill with the European situation is a major concern for business. It adds to cost and creates confusion. British business will have to approach a two-tier legal requirement in respect of the digital area. I do not see how that could possibly help business. It simply confuses them to be dealing with Europe on one level and your new Bill on another level. We have got to find ways of eradicating that incompatibility. Can we do that?

Jo Swinson: I am not really certain what you mean by incompatibility, because the rights contained within the Consumer Rights Directive are very much about pre-contractual information and making sure that consumers have information up front and in advance of making a purchase. The rights in the Consumer Rights Directive do not directly refer to the quality of what you are buying. For example, to take an extreme case, if we did not have any consumer law except for the European Consumer Rights Directive, which you could argue is clearer, that would also mean consumers did not have any rights in terms of the quality of what they were buying. I do not think any of us would want to be in that situation, whether in terms of goods or services, or in terms of digital content.

Mr Binley: Admittedly I am, or have been, only a user in business of digital products, but the business association of the digital market tells us that the two are incompatible. If they are incompatible, that means they have to look to two codes in terms of content and battle on two fronts. In a market like the British digital market, I find that to be an encumbrance and not an aid. We will be reporting on this, but I do ask you to look at it again, because I do believe what the Association tells me.

Q145 Chair: I am trying to get my head around the implications of what you have said. You have implied the European Consumer Rights Directive is about transparency, advice, rights of consumers and so on. However, what is proposed in the Bill is about quality standards and content. It would appear that on the basis of this, it will be possible to sell programs and so on in this country at a higher standard than those that would sell in the rest of Europe. Have you fully worked through the implications of that in terms of the impact on business? I could see it from two perspectives. I could understand that if you had higher quality products in this country, it may well enhance their saleability in Europe. On the other hand, if in order to achieve that you are imposing on software manufacturers in this country burdens that do not exist in Europe, it might impair their capacity to deliver there. What are your views on that?

Jo Swinson: The former, in my view: if we create a situation where people know that, if they buy from a British company, they have much more guarantee of quality, that can be a real selling point for the business. Indeed, this is true in goods as well. Very often something that is made in Britain will become synonymous with something that is very much quality in its construction.

This is also about protecting British consumers. Again, if you have a company selling in the UK, even if it is foreign based but selling and marketing itself through UK websites and you are buying your products in sterling, the same rights will have to apply. It is helpful to British business but it is also helpful to British consumers. The Government also has to be very much aware of the rights of our consumers paying out money for products. We do not want them to end up in a situation where they have paid out good money for something that does not work and they find themselves unable to seek any redress.

Mr Binley: It is not just better, Chairman; it is different content.

Chair: We may well have taken this as far as we can at this moment, but we may well want to pose further questions to the industry and come back to you on that.

Q146 Caroline Dinenage: My concern is that digital content and programming can be done from a very small location and it does not have to be done in the UK. Therefore, how do you inform consumers about where they are buying the content from? It is not usually very evident.

Jo Swinson: There is a genuine issue here. Certainly, within the usual provisions that apply across the EU, if you are selling something within the UK and if you are buying your product in sterling, even if you are based in another EU country, the protections of UK law do apply.

You are right that there are examples-I have had it as a constituency MP and I am sure others will have-where there has been a rogue website based outside the EU, where there is not any jurisdiction and consumers do get ripped off. That can be very distressing for individuals. Redress is not very easy to deal with in those cases, as with many things on the internet, where things are outside British borders. However, I do not think that is a reason not to try to make sure that, when people buy from UK companies or from our EU partners within the UK, they have protection. That means that they are more likely to do so with confidence and, therefore, gives an advantage: people know if they are buying through a British company or website, they are protected. That is something, particularly coupled with consumer awareness, that can help to give our companies a real advantage.

Q147 Chair: Given the fact that you are going to have the European Consumer Rights Directive and this Bill as well, how are the two going to relate? How is monitoring and enforcement of the two different sets of regulation going to work?

Jo Swinson: First of all, it will be a lot simpler than the current situation, where we have eight different pieces of primary legislation and 60 pieces of secondary legislation. We are moving to a situation where we will have one piece of primary legislation and two pieces of secondary legislation, one of which will be to implement the Consumer Rights Directive and the second will be about misleading and aggressive practices. There are some particular issues that are able to be introduced through secondary legislation, and that can sometimes be a more appropriate location. However, that is a real simplification of the landscape, and there are no rights in those different pieces of legislation that in any way conflict with each other. They are very much all in the same vein of creating much more simplicity, clarity and transparency for consumers so they can be confident buying from businesses, which can then reap those economic benefits.

Chair: We may well want to explore it further, but we will get back to you. Can I bring in Mike Crockart now? He has a different question.

Q148 Mike Crockart: I will move on now to the different tests applying between goods and services. The draft Bill retains the existing statutory standard of reasonable care and skill for services, rather than applying the more objective satisfactory quality standard used for goods and digital. Which? are represented in the room, and they did a survey of British consumers in the last 12 months, so they have good quality data. They found that 40% of them had complained about a service, and, of those complaints, 40% were not resolved by the service provider. That does not paint a very good picture of the current situation with the current test. Should the draft Bill not try to raise that standard to an equal level rather than leaving it at a level that is patently not working at present?

Jo Swinson: You are right to recognise that there is an issue with services and sometimes people not feeling that they are able to get proper redress. I do not think that is necessarily an issue about the specific test that is applied. I think it is about how businesses feel they have to respond. We are making it very clear that whatever is agreed between the service provider and the customer is something they have to live up to or, if they do not, provide redress or remedy. That will be something that ultimately enforcers such as trading standards would be able to require. That puts the customer in a much stronger position when they are challenging the painter who has not properly dealt with the decoration within their house that they have paid them to do.

There is a superficial attractiveness of suggesting that there should be the same reasonable quality test for services. To be honest, given the survey and the groups that have called for this, it is something that I have looked at very carefully. I held a roundtable with those from consumer groups but also people from business to try to get to the bottom of this issue, to really understand whether a satisfactory quality test would add anything to the existing tests and make customers better protected. I did look at that evidence and I know the Committee has also received strong evidence on this from both sides.

What was missing from my perspective in looking at that was any really clear benefit that would accrue to consumers from changing that test. One of the examples given was where somebody came to tile your bathroom and used different packets of tiles that had slight colour differentials, and they tiled the bathroom but did not check that the colours all matched. I do not think that has to have a satisfactory quality test. If somebody has not done that basic checking, the test of reasonable care and skill already covers that. The examples that were given did not seem to be of consumer detriment that would be covered by satisfactory quality, not by reasonable care and skill, and, therefore, that there would be a big benefit to consumers.

What we did receive evidence of, though, was that there would be significant additional costs to businesses of making that change. In looking at the cost–benefit analysis, there was not a lot of benefit but there was quite a lot of extra significant cost for business, particularly uncertainty. In terms of consumers, the other worry that I had when looking at that was that you would end up with so much extra paperwork, and disclaimer after disclaimer on any arrangement or agreement between the service provider and the consumer, that that in itself would be confusing for consumers too. We did look at this very carefully, and I do understand the initial attraction of such a scenario. However, on looking at the evidence, it did not seem like it was the best way to proceed when you looked at the costs and the benefits of introducing that additional test.

Q149 Mike Crockart: Can I ask you to just go a little bit further on the argument that you are making that introducing the test of standard quality would mean lots of disclaimers and such like up front? Are you suggesting that people would try to pin down what "sufficient" actually meant?

Jo Swinson: When you are providing a service, it is much more difficult to specify the outcome, because it can be dependent on many different things. When you are producing a good, you are much more in charge of all of the different parts of the process in your manufacturing environment. You can do the quality check at the end, whether or not that is able to be sold.

If you are teaching somebody French, for example, you may be able to teach them French with reasonable care and skill, but there are also other elements in that about how much they are keen to learn and how much they do homework. You would not be able to guarantee that the person learning French would pass an exam at the end of a particular French course. You can go to the hairdresser and request a particular style-when I was a teenager, it was all the Rachel cut-but whether or not that would be possible would very much depend on the hair that somebody had to start with. The challenge would be that service providers in the kinds of business that many of them are, where it depends on a wide range of different factors, would feel the need to add lots and lots of different disclaimers within any contract that they were entering into, and that in itself could be confusing.

Q150 Mike Crockart: I am not sure I entirely agree that looking at an outcome would necessarily disqualify it from being satisfactory quality. It may not be exactly what you expected but it could still be of satisfactory quality. You have laid it out pretty comprehensively. I get the impression from what you are saying that the outcome of the roundtable is pretty clear in your head, and that there will not be further discussions going on to look at this again. Is that correct?

Jo Swinson: From the evidence that I looked at, those were the conclusions that I drew and that is why the draft Bill is as it is. If there were to be new evidence that suddenly came forward, the Government would always look at that. We do need to be careful and cognisant of some of the questions that we have just been discussing around the impact on business as well. We need to find the right balance that is not burdensome for business but gives consumers good protection. Where we already have good protection in this reasonable care and skill test, particularly enhanced by making sure that traders have to stick to what they agree with the consumer-and that is a new provision being clarified, with the backup of that being able to be properly enforced-I think that means that consumers are in a better position. That is also something that is fair for business.

Q151 Chair: Can I just finish on this? Whilst it is not necessarily covered by legislation, I am interested in your views. My concern is that you have an old lady who perhaps has a plumbing job that was not done satisfactorily. You have improved her rights and the transparency and so on and so forth, but how are you going to convey to her not just her rights but how she should go about getting redress if that plumber refuses to make the necessary repairs or do the job again?

Jo Swinson: This is a really important question about the whole Bill. We can simplify the rights, but we also need to make sure people are aware of them, because people having that confidence is part of what we are trying to achieve. We are working with groups from across industry and consumer groups on an implementation plan that will include significant communications activity, which I think is absolutely essential. We have also streamlined the consumer advocacy and education sphere, with Citizens Advice taking on that responsibility as the key place to go for that advice. Obviously, there are other consumer groups out there that I know many people hugely value as well, such as Which? However, in terms of what the Government helps to fund and provide, Citizens Advice is now the key place to go. That is an organisation that we will all know from our own constituencies many people are already familiar with. They can provide the kind of support that the lady within your example would be looking for. We are very aware of the need to ensure that is well communicated throughout the process of this Bill going through and coming into law.

Q152 Paul Blomfield: Minister, with this Bill you are trying not only to consolidate but at least maintain, and where possible improve, consumer rights. That is an aim that we would all share. However, the Law Commission has expressed a concern that clause 71(2) is a retrograde step, and the OFT have said that there are potential unintended consequences. This relates to the requirement in the Bill for especially onerous or unusual terms to be drawn to a consumer’s attention. Their concern is that, in practice, it modifies the fairness test. Could I ask you whether clauses 71(2) and (3) mean that, where an onerous or unusual term is drawn particularly to a consumer’s attention, it is enforceable against the consumer?

Jo Swinson: It is important to separate out the different tests. The unfair contract terms in Part two of the Bill is an area of law that is currently quite a nightmare to deal with in terms of its complexity; I am not a lawyer, but lawyers I speak to say it is. We are looking to make sure that terms have to be fair-obviously, unfair contract terms are really key to that- have to be transparent, and that, in cases of terms that are onerous or particularly unusual, they should also be prominently drawn to the consumer’s attention. That does not mean that if an onerous term is drawn to the consumer’s attention, that you cannot then assess whether or not it is fair or unfair. It could be drawn to the consumer’s attention but still be an unfair term, which I think helps to answer the specific question.

It is worth bearing in mind that, when people have problems with contracts, four out of five times the particular term of the contract was a surprise. Studies have shown that only one in 10 people read all the terms and conditions in a contract. I do not know who that one person is in the Committee. Perhaps it is everybody and this is a very unrepresentative sample. We all know that when things are buried in the small print, people will not necessarily have a look at them. Where that is something that is particularly unusual or onerous, in terms of the kind of penalty that somebody might have to pay to cancel a contract, for example, that is something that should really be brought to someone’s attention at a much earlier stage.

Having to do so may well dissuade some companies from putting in such onerous terms in the first place, which would be up to them if that is their response. I am not sure whether that would necessarily be a bad thing. It is not about saying that, if something is brought to someone’s attention, it is automatically fair, because if it is onerous and if it conforms to some of the different terms that are already listed in the grey list, for example, it can still be assessed as unfair.

Q153 Paul Blomfield: We all accept the good intention of drawing out particularly onerous terms, and that is admirable. The point, though, is the unintended consequences that the OFT refer to. That is what I am trying to probe, and so I go back to the question-recognising that you are not a lawyer and nor am I. Does this clause mean that, if an onerous or unusual term is drawn to people’s attention, it is enforceable against the consumer? Your answer then leads us to another area of inquiry.

Jo Swinson: It depends on whether that is a fair or unfair term, but drawing it to the attention of the consumer does not automatically mean that it can be enforced against the consumer. It may well be, if it is onerous but it is also deemed to be a fair term, that it can be enforced against the consumer. If it is onerous and is deemed to be an unfair term, then it cannot be enforced against the consumer.

Q154 Paul Blomfield: There seems to be a level of greyness in your answer, which is not necessarily going to be helpful to the consumer. Would you, going from the OFT’s concern, recognise that there might be some need to modify the fairness test in clause 65?

Jo Swinson: The fairness test is important and, in my view, is clearly set out. We are publishing this Bill in draft so that we can do pre-legislative scrutiny, so of course we will look at what the Committee and other stakeholders say.

In a sense, you are right to highlight that whether or not something is fair or unfair, and therefore can be enforced, is in itself a complicated area. That is why we have the whole unfair terms legislation and the grey list of terms that can be assessed as to whether or not they are fair. Something being onerous does not make it automatically unfair. However, our view is that it should be brought to the consumer’s attention because they should be aware of what they are signing up to.

Also, most people would assume the small print contains the standard things that are in there, rather than things that are really unusual and that they will find out about when they come to challenge the contract because of some problem that arises down the line. Suddenly there is this bizarre disclaimer or term in there that they had no idea was there. I know that you said you can see why bringing an onerous term to a customer’s attention seems to be a sensible way forward. We will look at what the Committee decides, but in terms of giving more clarity over whether something is fair or unfair, I think the whole piece of legislation on unfair contract terms is what does that, rather than saying that purely anything onerous is automatically unfair. I do not think we can give that level of certainty.

Q155 Paul Blomfield: Thank you, and I take from your answer that you will be looking at this point again and the concerns raised by the Law Commission and the OFT. You mentioned the grey list; I wondered whether I could come on to that. Which? have argued that there is an additional term needed in the grey list to clarify that price and subject matter cannot be unilaterally altered by traders during minimum or fixed-term contracts, or in circumstances where the consumer is not free to dissolve the contract without being disadvantaged. They cite the example of the Bank of Ireland case, with which I guess you are familiar. Without the amendment that Which? are proposing, how does the draft Bill protect consumers in that situation?

Jo Swinson: It is an interesting case. Within the grey list, we have terms that suggest you cannot leave a fixed-term contract even if the prices change or the main terms of the contract change. We already have the protection in there that such contracts could be assessed as unfair because they are on the grey list. In that scenario, where you are in that relationship as a customer with a provider and they change things, if they have a clause that says, "You cannot leave this contract," then that is something that could be deemed to be unfair.

As to the stronger test that has been proposed – to say that the consumer should not only be able to leave, but to leave and get a better deal elsewhere. The trader would have to know that the consumer could get a better deal elsewhere-that starts to create a huge amount of uncertainty, because they would then have to go and check in the market to see if there are similar deals available elsewhere. There could be an unintended consequence of putting a test like that on the grey list: you might find that companies would be less liable to offer good deals in the first place if it meant that they would only be able to get out of those deals in extreme circumstances if there was already a similar deal available elsewhere. We need to look very carefully at whether that unintended consequence would be of much more detriment to consumers. I would welcome the Committee’s deliberation on this issue, but I think that it is not necessarily clear cut in one way or the other, because that is the potential downside of including such a term in the grey list.

Q156 Paul Blomfield: I think that the test you describe is not necessarily the one Which? are proposing, but I wondered if you would therefore look again at the basic issue behind it, using the Bank of Ireland case. People bought into a tracker mortgage product that fundamentally changed with no opportunity to get out of it.

Jo Swinson: That is covered in the grey list. The test of being able to leave that contract is covered in the grey list. What is not covered is the test of being able to leave the contract to the same deal or a deal equivalent to that which you were already on. That is the bit that I think could have the unintended consequences.

Q157 Paul Blomfield: Do you not think that is also a bit that needs significant attention? People bought into-contracted to-for a long period of time something that turned out not to be what they were paying their money into.

Jo Swinson: I understand the argument but, equally, a company might offer a particular deal but circumstances beyond their control might change hugely and mean it has to change the terms of that deal. They would not be able to do so unless the consumer is able to get the same deal elsewhere. That bit of information-for the business to be able to understand whether or not the consumer can get the same deal elsewhere-is potentially very onerous. What that might lead to is that company not offering a good deal at all in the first place-these kinds of deals that could hugely benefit consumers. That is what we need to guard against.

The consumers should be able to leave a deal if the terms of that deal significantly change compared with what they signed up to. It is whether or not they will necessarily be able to leave it and get an equivalent deal elsewhere. If a market change has precipitated that particularly good deal changing, it may well be that they cannot find an equivalently good deal at other providers at that same point.

Q158 Paul Blomfield: It does seem to be a reasonable point that deals should only be offered on the understanding that they are going to be delivered.

Jo Swinson: Indeed. These are talking about exceptional circumstances, though. It is normally a clause within a contract that says, "If there are exceptional circumstances, then this needs to be changed." That gives the consumer the get-out. Ultimately, the terms would be able to be assessed if they did not let the consumer get out of the contract.

Q159 Paul Blomfield: As I understand it, the proposal from Which? excludes changes that are outside the trader’s control. Does that not address the point you are raising?

Jo Swinson: I will happily look at the particular issue. We need to look at it in the context of whether there would be the unintended consequence that fewer good deals would be offered to consumers in the first place.

Paul Blomfield: Okay. So you will look at it again.

Chair: Thank you. Again, I think this is an issue we want to examine in more detail. Can I bring in Ann McKechin on enforcement now?

Q160 Ann McKechin: You have decided to restrict the right of entry by trading standards officers. Could you advise the committee of the evidentiary base for making that restriction?

Jo Swinson: We know from speaking to various business groups that there can be a significant cost to business from unannounced inspections. Sometimes unannounced inspections are absolutely necessary where, if you gave prior notice of an inspection or a visit, perhaps there would be evidence that would be changed or got rid of.

Q161 Ann McKechin: Can I stop you there? They said there can be a cost, but did they actually show real evidence that there was a cost?

Jo Swinson: Our impact assessment shows the business benefits of making this change so that more of the appointments or visits that trading standards makes are actually advised in advance.

Q162 Ann McKechin: In most local authorities there are very few trading standards officers. In many local authorities there may only be one or two. Do we have a case of rogue trading standards officers running into properties five times every month and actual examples of abuse of powers? Have there been any examples provided to your department that trading standards officers have abused their existing powers?

Jo Swinson: I do not think this is an argument about abuse of powers.

Q163 Ann McKechin: What is the argument? Someone makes a contention that it is bureaucratic, but they have not provided you with any specific and reasoned evidence that that has, in fact, caused a problem to business resulting in a real loss. It is a hypothetical question that I put to you, rather than one based on reality.

Jo Swinson: We know from speaking to local authorities that trading standards officers will already give notice in some cases, and that ranges from something between one in 10 cases to one in five cases, depending on the authority. In fact, it can vary significantly. Many trading standards officers we have spoken to said that it is quite possible, in many circumstances, for them to be able to make an arrangement. If we were removing the ability to make unannounced inspections, there would be, rightly, significant need for concern. We are not removing that right.

Q164 Ann McKechin: I would accept that there may be a need for guidelines. My concern is about introducing this into primary legislation. Let us think of an example that is quite close to both our respective constituencies. In a city where trading standards officers, at the most unscrupulous level of trade, are dealing with people with direct links to organised crime, I do not want to see them unduly restricted in their ability to crack down on this. They are the ones that have to think about the exemptions and how they impose them, and how they are going to defend it in a court of law. However, if you issue guidelines saying that we would expect in most circumstances trading standards officers to give advance notice, I would have thought that trading standards officers, as a reasonable group of public servants, would abide by any guidelines that you might issue to them. Would that not be the preferred route?

Jo Swinson: At the moment, trading standards officers have greater powers of entry than the police. The restriction that we are placing is not one that is particularly onerous-to say that in most cases it would be expected that they would make an arrangement with whatever the business is that they would be coming to, whether it is to have an inspection or a discussion about a particular aspect of their business. What that does for business is gives them a bit of certainty. It also means that, if there is a relevant quality manager within their organisation that would need to be there for that discussion, they could organise that and be there, rather than having to deal with it on an unannounced basis, which can be particularly onerous for small businesses.

Q165 Ann McKechin: I am sure that is good practice, but I think the issue is about good practice and not having enforcement officers stuck in a court, in a criminal case, trying to argue the toss about whether or not their right of entry was proper and correct at the time. The fact is that you have created potentially a double test and uncertainty, because this particular clause is a different clause from the one that we are used to seeing defined. It is capable of people saying that a double test has been imposed on an enforcement officer

Jo Swinson: It is a single test. It is whether or not providing notice would defeat the purpose of the visit. An example is given in terms of whether there is cause for suspicion, but that is not the only circumstance where that would be the case, and so it is a single test. It is about whether or not giving notice would defeat the purpose of the visit. That in itself is quite a wide test, and for people who think that trading standards need to be able to make unannounced visits-and I agree that they need to be able to make unannounced visits-it is right to have a test that is drawn in that fairly wide way. Basically, if it is necessary for the public purposes of the visit for it to be unannounced, it can be.

Q166 Ann McKechin: I think the concern was over "because the officer has reasonable cause to suspect that evidence may be lost or destroyed", because it is quite unusual in legislation to include an example in the primary text. You might put it in guidelines but not in the primary text. In fact, by doing that and not stopping at the words "would defeat the purpose of inspection", you are giving a second test that they then have to meet, which might be a stricter interpretation. I just wonder whether, perhaps, your Department may want to reflect on whether or not that is essential, given that it is not normal for examples to be included in the primary legislation text.

Jo Swinson: We will happily reflect on whatever the Committee decides to put in its final response. I think it is important to have on the record that it is a single test. It is a test that is designed to make sure that trading standards can still do their important job and will still, ultimately, after this, have very significant powers of entry, which are drawn even more widely than the police.

Q167 Ann McKechin: Institutional reforms will see trading standards take on a new national-enforcement role while experiencing very significant cuts. We have had one example in Worcestershire County Council, which is proposing to cut 80% of its funding for trading standards. At the same time, there is no national minimum competency standard for trading standards officers. Is it not now really essential that there is at least a minimum standard of the fitness of staff to be able to properly carry out what is a very difficult and highly technically complex job?

Jo Swinson: You are right that it is a job that we absolutely need to have well qualified people doing. I think there is a danger of setting out in primary legislation what the specific qualifications have to be. There is one exception to that, which is about weights and measures and a very specific qualification. It is, however, also an area where I think there is a need for flexibility, because there may well be, in different aspects of trading standards, different types of skills and experience that are welcome. Ultimately, local authorities employ their trading standards officers, and I think they can be trusted to employ people who are competent. They must be trusted to do so and, indeed, the LGA has said very clearly that they think that is, rightly, an issue for local authorities. I do not see that adding a particular competency test would add anything in particular. Local authorities, perhaps by definition, should not be employing people to be trading standards officers who are incompetent, but I do not think that local authorities need to be told that either.

Q168 Ann McKechin: If some are cutting their staff by 80%, I think there have to be questions about the standards of the staff. I know the standards of professional staff has been a hot political issue over the weekend, but if public money is being spent and a national duty of enforcement is being applied upon them, is there not now an utterly compelling case that there at least has to be a minimum level? We do not want someone who has no real, substantive knowledge being taken from a clerical job or from a technical department and employed in a one- or two-member team in a local authority’s trading standards office.

Jo Swinson: I think that the general competence standard, which was mooted at one point, would not necessarily add anything other than the fact that, effectively, local authorities already have a duty, when they are using public money, to be spending that wisely. Trading standards is an incredibly important function, and local authorities have been finding the current economic circumstances very challenging. There is an important case to be made for how essential trading standards are to the day-to-day frontline lives of some of the most vulnerable people within all our constituencies. Rather than it being seen as some kind of bureaucratic administrative function, it is one that affects people’s everyday lives in terms of whether or not they get ripped off and the impact that has on them. That is a case that needs to be made.

It is good to have the additional national co-operation and co-ordination on a range of different issues, and there has already been great success, whether on illegal money-lending or on scams, some of which was started under the previous Government and which has very much been continued under this Government. I also think that we need to give local authorities the ultimate responsibility to make sure that the people they employ are fit to do their jobs, and that goes for trading standards as well as the other positions that they have to recruit for.

Q169 Mr Walker: Minister, the draft Bill wants to bring in these enhanced consumer measures, which add an element of flexibility to the approach that trading standards can take, which I think is welcome. At the same time, we are seeing trading standards being cut, as has just been mentioned, and there are going to be fewer inspections in the future. There are a number of bodies that, under the Enterprise Act, already have powers in this area and powers to investigate. Why does the Bill not extend the enhanced consumer measures to private as well as public bodies?

Jo Swinson: We are making quite an extensive expansion of the powers that public bodies have, so that they are able not only to get a trader or service provider who is not doing the right thing to stop whatever it is that they are doing, but also to go further and get redress for consumers or, indeed, order other action-perhaps about providing more information, or being more specific about what they need to do in order to put things right. That is a very helpful expansion of powers and, of course, not only trading standards but also others, like sector regulators, will be able to use such powers. Because that is quite a big expansion in powers, it seems that having public bodies being able to use those is something that is perhaps most appropriate. There have been concerns raised about whether that expansion into private bodies too could raise some issues, such as conflict of interest, and might be too much expansion. I will be interested to know what the Committee’s views are on this.

Q170 Mr Walker: We have heard some evidence from groups that, given the type of private bodies we are talking about-organisations like Which? for instance-are surprised that they are not being given these enhanced powers. Given the nature of the powers that we are talking about, there is greater flexibility to do good in the consumer’s interest. It is not an intrusive power to interfere with people’s businesses. Certainly, we have heard some evidence that this is something that should at least be considered. Would one way of addressing that without necessarily extending powers too far be to include a delegated power to allow appropriate private enforcers to use enhanced consumer measures in the future?

Jo Swinson: As I say, I will look at what the Committee says with interest. It is worth noting, I think, that the powers that exist for some organisations have not been particularly used, so it is definitely worth looking at evidence of whether that would be the case in the future. What we have is a good landscape of additional confidence for consumers to be able to resolve disputes. Through the existing bodies-whether that is Citizens Advice in terms of providing further information and education to consumers or, indeed, the enforcers, such as trading standards-there is a lot more scope for these consumer difficulties to be resolved. I hear what you say in the question, and I understand the argument on the other side of that as well.

Q171 Mr Walker: You mentioned, quite rightly-and we have heard evidence along these lines as well-that some of those private consumer bodies are not necessarily using all the powers that they have. It is also the case that 90% of the formal actions that trading standards currently bring are criminal proceedings, even though they have the power to bring civil proceedings. We have heard some evidence that there is concern that the test that they will have to run-the cost–benefit analysis-before using enhanced consumer measures may just mean that, again, with the pressures and the resource difficulties they face, they may just choose to stick to the criminal side of things rather than the civil. Are you aware of those concerns?

Jo Swinson: In the analysis that we have done, there are nearly 2,000 cases a year for breaches of consumer law, the majority of which, as you say, are criminal rather than civil. We estimate that about 300 or 400 extra prosecutions a year would be able to be moved from the criminal process to the civil process. Of course, the ability to order redress is particularly important within that; it could get an extra £12 million for consumers in terms of redress. The additional flexibility will be welcomed. In some cases, it may well be that criminal proceedings are still the right way to go ahead, and we also need to let the professionals do their analysis rather than second-guessing all of their decisions. Greater flexibility in the powers they have at their disposal, in particular being able to make sure that consumers who have been ripped off get some redress, will make the civil route very attractive in many cases. As I say, we are expecting perhaps 300 or 400 more a year to be done through the civil process, which, given that they are currently only 106 out of the 1,972 cases, is a significant increase that would be within the civil rather than criminal process.

Mr Walker: That would be a significant increase. I guess the concern is that the requirement to do a detailed cost–benefit analysis may put people off starting that movement rather than encourage them to go forward with it, but I understand where you are coming from.

Q172 Caroline Dinenage: I would like to talk about private actions in competition law. Minister, law firms will not be permitted to be representative bodies for the purposes of opt-out actions. Given that the Bill prohibits the use of damages-based agreements in such actions, why is this restriction necessary?

Jo Swinson: First of all, being able to bring private actions in competition law is something that has been welcomed not just by individuals but also by many small business groups. Robust competition is important because it is very positive for the UK economy. It is equally a move that has met with concern from some parts of industry, and perhaps from particularly larger business as well. As you say, however, there are particular safeguards in there that are especially reassuring regarding some of those concerns.

Part of those safeguards is about who is able to bring cases. Consumer organisations such as Which? or trade bodies are in a fairly independent position to be able to assess where there is a challenge with competition and bring an opt-out action. It also has the safeguard that the Competition Appeal Tribunal needs to be of the view that it is an appropriate case to be brought in that way. It is really about making an important change but recognising that there are some concerns about it, and so having those safeguards in place, one of which is about what organisations can just bring forward a case: rather than any particular law firm, it has to be particular organisations, which provides additional reassurance.

Q173 Nadhim Zahawi: We have heard that, due to the information asymmetry between cartelists and representatives of claimants, a representative cannot know if the terms of the collective settlement proposed by the defendant are fair and reasonable. The representative is incentivised to accept the offer anyway, because of the risk that the offer may turn out to be fair, which would increase the liability for costs. Should the draft Bill not require the party that is making the offer to prove that it is fair and reasonable, rather than it being on a joint basis?

Jo Swinson: Clearly, there will be circumstances where there is information asymmetry, but, at the same time, this is an extension of powers that, as I say, there has already been some concern over. The organisations that will be bringing such claims, particularly if there are significant numbers of individuals or businesses that have been affected, will have some degree of evidence base of information at their disposal to be able to make that assessment. At the moment, the test in going forward with this seems to be an appropriate one. There is nothing to stop us looking at how this works in practice and seeing whether, in fact, this is ultimately restricting the ability of some to bring a case or leading to unintended consequences. However, we have consulted very closely with those within the legal profession and those who are involved in competition as a daily business of what they do, and we think the tests that we have in the Bill are the right ones. Again, we are willing to look at what others and the Committee, in pre-legislative scrutiny, put forward.

Chair: I now come to Rebecca. I earlier poached her questions, quite inadvertently; however, I believe she has others that she wishes to follow up on.

Q174 Rebecca Harris: Thank you, Chair. I apologise for the glare I sent you earlier.

Given how important this is to the success of this Bill, and that the whole purpose of it is greater clarity and greater consumer confidence, the education part, as you acknowledged earlier, is absolutely pivotal to this and is not addressed in the Bill itself, as such. What have people done in the way of an additional budget for trading standards or for Citizens Advice in terms of making sure that we are educating both traders and the public? There was a specific suggestion by Which? that there should be some information about basic rights at the point of sale, or perhaps it could be pointing you to your new consumer rights from traders, which would make sure that we were embedding this. Given that no one has really been quite sure what their consumer rights were previously, we will miss the whole benefit of this without having confidence that it is going to be rolled out.

Jo Swinson: You are absolutely right that we need the information side to reap the full benefits of the Bill. I am not a lawyer, so I am always perhaps slightly frustrated that Bills have to be written in very legalistic language, although I do accept that that is the case in order to be able to provide some legal certainty. I absolutely think that it needs to be accompanied by very simple, plain English material that can get across people’s basic rights in a very simplistic and straightforward way, with the ability for people to seek clarification from Citizens Advice and their online guides, and any other consumer organisations, for anything that is a slightly more complicated situation, if they wish to.

In terms of budget, we are at the draft Bill stage at the moment and hoping to bring the Bill in, so we are not talking about increasing budgets in this particular financial year, but I do hope that we will be able to look at whether or not, even with difficult resources, Government is able to commit to funding some education initiatives. I cannot, however, give promises to the Committee on that particular issue today. It is something that should be above my pay grade. I am, however, absolutely determined to work with those who are campaigning in the consumer space, as well as industry, to make sure that, first of all, business is really aware of what their rights are.

Resolving a lot of the disputes in a conversation between the particular business and the consumer is the best way to deal with this and to avoid things escalating into a very stressful complaint or a legalistic process. It is important that businesses are really clear about what their responsibilities are, making it easy for them to train their staff. Whomever you are speaking to, in whatever branch of whatever shop that has many outlets across the country, they should also be able to know that you are entitled to your money back in that circumstance. It is also important to make sure that some materials are produced. As to whether that is point-of-sale stuff, I am very happy to look at that.

Personally, I like the idea of being able to produce something the size of a credit card with five key bullet points on it, which people could stick in their purse so that they could check when they are out shopping. There are ways in which we can do that. Online is another way in which we can make sure that more detailed information is available for those who then need to go and find out slightly more complicated answers. There is already a lot of excellent information out there in terms of things like template letters for when consumers have not had good service, which are produced by Which?, Citizens Advice or others. Making sure that they are drawn to people’s attention is vital.

Q175 Chair: That concludes our formal questioning. Arising from what you have given to us in evidence today, we may well want to test some of these with the various bodies that have an interest and have given evidence previously, and come back to you, Minister. We will conduct that particular process, particularly on one or two issues, because I do agree that there are areas here that are a very fine matter of judgment, which requires a lot of exploration. That concludes our formal questions. Could you give us some idea of the timetabling of the Bill?

Jo Swinson: We will be, first of all, awaiting your report in terms of pre-legislative scrutiny.

Q176 Chair: Are you saying the ball is in our court?

Jo Swinson: I absolutely accept that you wish to probe some areas further with various different bodies, but the sooner that could be completed, the sooner we could respond to that.

Q177 Chair: You can rest assured that we are very anxious to complete the report.

Jo Swinson: Fantastic. At the moment, the Bill is intended to be a carryover bill, so we would very much hope to start it in this parliamentary session and be able to complete it as quickly as possible within the next, allowing for the proper timetables of parliamentary scrutiny, which I am sure will be something that will be very positive for the Bill, both in this House and, indeed, in the other place.

Chair: Thank you very much. I once again thank you for your evidence, and we will look forward to this Bill appearing on the floor of the House. I thank you and your Bill team.

Prepared 20th December 2013