Nuisance Calls

Oral Answers to Questions — Culture, Media and Sport – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 5th September 2013.

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Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 9:30 am, 5th September 2013

What steps she is taking to reduce the number of nuisance calls.

Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

We have introduced and increased penalties for companies that breach the regulations, we have encouraged greater co-operation between regulators and we have improved guidance for consumers. In our strategy paper, published at the end of July, we made proposals to enable the regulators to share their information better.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

The most insidious calls start with the words, “Don’t worry, this is not a sales and marketing call.” If a person answers the survey, they are told that someone will call them about their needs and a veritable barrage of unwanted sales calls follows. What action will the regulator take to combat this insidious action, and if the regulators will not act what will my hon. Friend do?

Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

I would have thought that the most insidious call started with the words, “I am calling from the Labour party”, but in any event we are going to take action. That includes lowering the threshold at which enforcement action can be taken. We have introduced higher fines and technology will play an important part in enabling better calling line identification.

Photo of Tracey Crouch Tracey Crouch Conservative, Chatham and Aylesford

A constituent of mine was receiving nuisance silent calls. He rang his ISP, which said that it could not help. He rang the Telephone Preference Service, which said that it does not police silent calls. He then rang Ofcom, which told him that it could not do anything and that he should change his number. Is the problem not that no single authority is responsible for dealing with nuisance calls?

Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

It is certainly problematic that two regulators deal with the issue, given the nature of the regulations, but one thing that I have tried to do—I think this is working effectively—is to ensure that the Information Commissioner’s Office and Ofcom work together more closely. We want to ensure that they can share data, and they have published a joint strategy paper.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Residents in the borough of Kettering are plagued by nuisance calls and they tell me that, despite registering with the Telephone Preference Service, the calls still get through. What can the Minister or Ofcom—or anyone—do, especially about companies that phone from other countries and jurisdictions?

Photo of Ed Vaizey Ed Vaizey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

Two important points arise from my hon. Friend’s question, the first of which is that we have to examine carefully consumers’ consent, because we need much more clarity about when a consumer gives consent for a direct marketing call. On calls from abroad, we need to change the technology, but I was pleased by BT’s evidence that we will begin to be able to identify such calls.