10 key issues for the new Parliament: from hacked fridges to Hacked Off

The House of Commons Library has impressed the team here at Comet this week.

Not because of its knowledge of the Dewey Decimal System (anybody remember that?), nor because of its ability to remain calm in the face of a typical request (How To Be An MP is the most borrowed book in Parliament).

No, we're impressed because of the frankly superb briefing which it has compiled and published for MPs, new and old, on the key issues for the 2015-2020 Parliament.

If you have time, check out the 116-page PDF.

If you haven't (more likely), in this post is a summary for commercial lawyers of the most salient issues.

https://twitter.com/commonslibrary/status/600688597218533376

Changes to the consumer landscape:

The researchers discuss the new Consumer Rights Act regime and, to be fair, don't have much to add.

After all, the hard work reviewing, dismantling and rebuilding consumer law has now been done. For now. They do, however, note that:

The success of this new regime will ultimately depend on how well consumers and traders understand their rights and responsibilities.

Indeed.

However, the report doesn't mention recent European initiatives such as proposed online sales laws (see our recent post: Online sales law: out with the old, in with the … ?) which may throw a spanner in the works of the new consumer landscape.  How big that spanner is at the moment is open to question.

So, on to more contentious matters:

Retail financial services and the treatment of consumers:

The House of Commons Library has a bit more to say about the various scandals which have engulfed the industry in recent years, from PPI to irresponsible pay-day lending.

It bemoans the 'low levels of financial accountability' among consumers, questions the appropriate level of fines and whether more individuals being sanctioned by the regulators will change the behaviour of others.

It concludes with perhaps the biggest questions of all:

Financial capability has become still more important now that people aged 55 and over have greater freedom about when and how to draw their defined contribution pension savings. They have the choice not only to purchase Lamborghinis and world cruises, but also an array of potentially complex financial products, many of which may be unsuitable for their needs. The options for newly-retired individuals with inappropriate pension arrangements are neither obvious nor pain-free.

Will we get this enormous transfer of responsibility wrong or right? Will regulation in the consumer credit market and retail banking improve consumer outcomes over the next five years? Or will the Financial Ombudsman Service still be the busiest office in town?

All bets are off on this one—talking of which:

Fixed odds betting terminals:

The researchers set out some of the choices for the new cohort of MPs:

The policy options range from lighter touch measures, such as providing gamblers with more information about their session, including accumulated losses, through to reducing the maximum stake on FOBTs, or the maximum number of FOBTs in betting shops, or even banning them completely. There are also proposals to give local authorities more power to reject applications for new betting shops.

That said, the challenge of FOBTs is minuscule in comparison with the game-changing:

Internet of things:

What happens when every conceivable device seems to be connected to the Internet?

Who does [the data] belong to? And how should it be protected against unauthorised access?

Simply, put: how is privacy to be protected? What's more,

If a system malfunctions, who is to blame? Is it the user, the manufacturer, or the person who installs the system?

The parliamentary scholars note that this is just one example of an area 'where the Internet of Things is likely to create new regulatory challenges'—including in the murky area of online crime:

Risky business: cyber crime and cyber security:

The perils of connectivity seem only to be growing as the ‘internet of things’ brings more devices online. Already, it has been shown that hackers can assume control of car steering wheels, insulin pumps, baby monitors, toilets and central heating systems, raising the prospect of all sorts of cyber malfeasance.

Even this week, there have been claims in the news that a hacker took over an airplane's systems via its in-flight entertainment systems and moved it sideways whilst in flight.

Sadly, even fridges are not immune: Hacked by your fridge? When the Internet of Things bites back.

Scary stuff! (But, on the flip side, what a great name for a new film.)

The Commons' team ask whether companies should:

release products and programmes with fewer security flaws in the first place, rather than reacting to vulnerabilities as they emerge with software updates.

The experts suggest that companies and the government (including the security services) should perhaps work closer together 'to improve understanding of the nature and source of threats' in order to 'help scarce resources to be better directed'.

All this cyber-crime malarkey is enough to drive you to drink—if you'll be able to afford it:

Alcohol minimum pricing:

… alcohol charities and public health groups, as well as some academics and parliamentarians, continue to argue for the introduction of a minimum unit price. Alcohol Concern is campaigning for a minimum unit price of at least 50p, a policy supported by 20 senior health professionals in a January 2015 letter to the Telegraph. Whether the Government decides to heed these calls in the new Parliament may depend in part on the outcome of the legal challenge to minimum unit pricing in Scotland.

And you risk, of course, spilling your drink if you are fumbling around in the dark for it:

Keeping the lights on:

Failure to invest sufficiently in renewables could affect security of energy supply and jeopardise the UK’s ability to meet domestic and EU targets. The new Government will face a delicate balancing act between ensuring adequate investment and keeping consumer bills in check.

And what should the light shine on when it works? Some say:

The intelligence services and the Snowden revelations:

As evidence to the Intelligence and Security Committee has shown, there is a fundamental clash between those who believe that the bulk collection of communications data represents an unacceptable intrusion, and those who are content for this to happen so long as there are suitable safeguards on how it can be searched and the content of communications accessed

I'm sure that this one will be the subject of a few blog posts in due course.  As will:

Reform and renegotiation: the UK’s membership of the EU:

This is clearly a 'biggy':

The themes of “reform” and “renegotiation” have, for the moment, united a broad church, from those who want to see incremental improvements to the way the EU operates, to those who wish to pare back its frontiers and fundamentally change its objectives. While efforts by the UK Government to renegotiate or reform will almost certainly effect some change, it is unlikely that everyone will be satisfied.

The most important measure of success, for many, will be whether “renegotiation” pushes back the tide of Euroscepticism among the public; indeed, with a referendum on the UK’s membership set to go ahead, it will be the only relevant measure of success. Opinion polls show that the idea of reforming the EU, or renegotiating the terms of the UK’s membership, has public support; but it is not clear from these polls what precisely the public expects from this process. As the Balance of Competences Review showed, the EU is a complex institution, and presenting the fruits of any “renegotiation” in a way that most of the public fully understand, let alone accept, may be challenging.

And to finish? Let's complete the pun shall we (ie 'hacked fridges to Hacked Off')?:

Press regulation after Leveson:

Pressure groups such as Hacked Off are still pushing for implementation of the Leveson proposals. Yesterday, an alternative press regulator to the industry-backed IPSO, the ‘Impress Project’ entered the fray:

https://twitter.com/PRPanel/status/600983954380959744

The Library notes that in November this year a provision will come into force which will allow a court to award exemplary damages against a publication which is not a member of a recognised regulator:

Will this threat persuade the press to sign up to a system many of them see as tainted? Will there even be a recognised regulator by then?

So there you go.

There's certainly plenty to be getting on with.

Don't forget that some of this is also set out in the timelines which we published earlier this year. We also have produced a summary of the new government's priorities in our post: The new government: what does this mean for commercial lawyers?

So what do you think? Do let us have your thoughts below.

https://twitter.com/UKHouseofLords/status/599157914113351683

https://twitter.com/UKHouseofLords/status/596688970500694016

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