New Clause 1 — Independent advocacy: report

Part of Prohibition of Unpaid Internships – in the House of Commons at 2:05 pm on 13th May 2014.

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Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills) 2:05 pm, 13th May 2014

I absolutely agree. We all want to see an empowered citizenry. We believe that would be positive for our public services by encouraging feedback on how services work for the public. But the risk with the Bill as it stands is that those with sharp elbows will do well and those without will simply be left behind. I think that is why both Citizens Advice and Unison, which after all has considerable expertise in some of these relationships, support the amendments and say that they want to see further debate and scrutiny on how we ensure that we do not have a two-tier system, with only those services that have a direct relationship getting better service responsiveness because of such legal rights, and only those people who can access services and complain getting those rights.

Trading standards has told us how it often refers people to what it calls the “sausage machine” of local council complaint services. Under this new legislation, it is not clear whether trading standards would then be able to pick up issues. That could lead to real inequalities in both the public and private sectors without advocacy and clearer information rights, which is why we have tabled the amendments.

I also want to draw colleagues’ attention to paragraph 5 of new schedule 1, which we also believe will tackle nuisance calls. We recognise that the misuse of data is as important as the analysis of data and that there is a need to put in place a proper framework on that. Many of us will have had constituents complain about nuisance calls and texts. Indeed, only this afternoon, while waiting for this debate, I received a text telling me that I could get compensation for an accident that I have not had—perhaps it came from the Government Whips.

However, we know that there is a gap at the moment where it is hard for the Information Commissioner to prove that there has been a lack of consent, where companies themselves will not be clear about whether they have the consent of the person they have bombarded with text messages and phone calls. In one six-month period alone, 71% of landline customers said that they have received a live marketing call and 63% said that they had received a marketing message. We also know that the Information Commissioner receives about 2,500 complaints a month about unsolicited text messages. We want to close that loophole. The all-party group on nuisance calls also recommended tightening the rules on consent, and Ofcom has said that it agrees. Indeed, the Government’s own report on the nuisance calls action plan said that we should do more on consent.

Paragraph 5 of new schedule 1 would enable fines to be imposed for those people who do not show that they have the explicit consent of consumers to send them that kind of marketing measure. We think that is entirely proportionate and hope that Government Members, even if they are scrabbling to understand quite what the Bill would do in the public sector, will recognise the issue of nuisance calls and act accordingly to address it. I would also encourage those among us who speak up for taxpayers—perhaps Gary Barlow should take note—to support new schedule 1.