30/09/2018 15:32 BST | Updated 30/09/2018 17:45 BST

Business Secretary Warns Airlines Over Deliberately Separating Families On Flights

Greg Clark says exploitation of data 'damaging' consumer confidence.

Business Secretary Greg Clark has warned airlines they should not be deliberately separating families on planes in order to force people to pay more to sit together.

Speaking on the fringes of the Conservative Party conference on Sunday at an event hosted by HuffPost UK, Clark also said mobile phone companies and broadband providers should not exploit customer data to unfairly drive up prices. 

He said this would be “damaging” to consumers and he wanted the UK to be a “beacon in the world” when it came to “good regulatory practice”.

Clark also indicated the government would soon announce measures to crack down on restaurants takings tips away from waiters and waitresses and giving the money to kitchen staff instead of increasing their basic pay.

“I do share the concerns that what is given to a waiter or waitress doesn’t go to to the person - even though the person leaving the tip think it has,” he said.

Clark noted the Civil Aviation Authority was conducting an inquiry into whether airlines deliberately separate people and if this was “reasonable”.

He suggested it was not “fair for an algorithm to detect” people with the same surname and sit them apart “so they are essentially nudged to pay more to sit together”.

“It’s possible, not for some individual evil genius, but for an algorithm, for a computer program, to know so much about your individual behaviour and your propensity to withstand any price increases that you could have pricing that is generated that really can squeeze many people for whom I think it wouldn’t be fair to be treated in such a way,” Clark said.

Ryanair, one of the airlines accused of the practise by customers, has denied it deliberately separates people and insists seats are “randomly allocated” by its system.

The business secretary’s comments come as a BMG poll for HuffPost UK showed voters want a cap placed on the cost of mobile phone bills (61%), broadband charges (65%), groceries (58%) and rail fares (70%).

The survey also showed 50% of those asked wanted a cap on the cost of buying a house and 55% also wanted one on mortgage costs.

According to the poll, Labour appears to have had a conference bounce and now has a 5% lead over the Tories following the party’s gathering in Liverpool last week.