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Moved by Lord Stevenson of Balmacara
6: Clause 1, page 5, line 26, at end insert—“( ) In exercising a Part 4A code right, an operator must, so far as reasonably practicable, select and install apparatus that allows the lessee later to use an electronic telecommunications service from an alternative operator.” Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment makes clear that when exercising a Part 4A code right, an operator must have regard to the interoperability of the equipment used, in order to prevent customers being locked into a single telecommunications supplier beyond the expiry of their initial service agreement.
My Lords, I am hopeful that we can be relatively brief with this, although I have noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, has his name on the agenda, and I am sure that he will want to say a little more on this than he did last time.
The amendment appeared originally in Committee, where it was discussed and received a positive response. I decided that, by and large, the issue had been dealt with. However, in subsequent conversations, both with officials and with the Minister, there was a suggestion that the amendment had perhaps more legs left in it than I thought. Therefore, I decided to bring it back.
The amendment makes a very straightforward suggestion that when one is dealing with telecoms operators, there should be no hangover between equipment that is sold by one operator and other operators that might wish to do so. This is about competition and supporting consumer rights. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, for bringing this amendment back. He put his finger exactly on the competition issue on which I would like to question my noble friend the Minister. As a hangover from when telecoms were a utility, and as we have seen with other privatised utilities, there is the recurring issue of what happens when somebody seeks to exercise their right to change equipment. What they find is often in no sense what they expected. We saw it at the beginning of the smart meters rollout, in respect of which there are still issues, and in a series of other areas, whether energy or telecoms. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that this amendment goes to the heart of enabling competition in this area of telecoms, and that it is necessary to make that clear in the Bill?
My Lords, this amendment addresses a real issue. We have seen in the past that control of the final few yards into a house or the ownership of a switch in a box on a street has prevented the smooth changing of vendors and complicated the lives of consumers. We should not be replicating this control as we go forward, so the amendment deserves a positive response from Her Majesty’s Government. I am sure that in future there will be examples where the cost of initial installation causes operators to want contracts in excess of 18 months, but that should always be covered by commercial concerns, not locked in by technology. So we on these Benches are interested to hear whether the Government have sympathy with the amendment and, if they do, how that sympathy will be manifested.
My Lords, Amendment 6 raises the important issue of competition, about which I think we are all in agreement. Of course the Government think that no operator should be able to prevent another from providing their own service to potential customers living inside a building. We believe that the Bill already ensures that no one is locked into services provided by a single provider. It allows for subsequent operators to apply for and make use of Part 4A orders in the same block of flats, and regulatory measures are already in place to ensure that operators, whenever they install their equipment, not just in this scenario, do not do so in an anti-competitive manner.
I direct noble Lords’ attention to paragraph 27E(4) of the Bill and the terms that will accompany a Part 4A order. These terms set out how Part 4A orders are to be exercised—for example, the time of day that operators can carry out works and that they conform to health and safety standards. We have set out in the Bill the areas that those regulations must include. It has always been our intention that the terms of an agreement impose by a Part 4A order would set out that the operator must not install their equipment in such a way as to physically prevent others from installing their own.
However, as the noble Lord, Lord Fox, put it very elegantly, we aim to simplify the lives of consumers. In response to his remarks and those of my noble friend Lord Holmes, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and of course the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, if it would reassure noble Lords then the Government would be willing to table an amendment to the Bill at Third Reading to that effect. We consider it fair to amend the Bill so that it is absolutely clear that these terms should include measures to ensure that an operator must not install their equipment in such an anti-competitive way. If the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, is content with that approach, I ask that he withdraw his amendment.