The House of Lords has thrown its weight behind a Bill which could bring the UK in line with Germany, where companies are banned from making outbound telemarketing calls unless consumers have opted in to receive them.
The Unsolicited Telephone Communications Bill, presented by Conservative peer Lord Selsdon, was passed late last week and will now be put forward for a second reading.
Introducing the Bill, Lord Selsdon claimed unsolicited calls were an “invasion of privacy” and caused “considerable distress”.
Maintaining that the current opt-out simply was not working, he said consumers who want to receive such calls should instead be allowed to opt-in. Under his plan, Ofcom, which currently oversees the Telephone Preference Service, will have to to keep a register of those who had opted-in.
For the Government, Lord Gardiner of Kimble said unsolicited marketing nuisance calls did cause “great annoyance and inconvenience” to consumers and ministers were determined to take action.
But he said resolving the issue was more complex than might first appear, requiring collaboration between industry, the Government and consumers to achieve success.
He added: “Unsolicited texts and calls are a problem but we have to be careful that in dealing with this issue we do not harm the direct marketing industry, which is a legitimate industry that provides employment and opportunities. An opt-in register as proposed will severely constrain such activities.”
Without Government support, the Bill is unlikely to reach the statute book but it will pile extra pressure on ministers to act.
Lord Gardiner said the Government was actively seeking a solution to the problem – including lowering the threshold of how many calls constituted a “nuisance”, as well as overhauling the TPS – and ministers were considering other proposals for further reform.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Nuisance Calls, chaired by Scottish Liberal Democrat MP Mike Crockart, has already made 16 recommendations, including demands that telecoms companies should pilot new ways of blocking specific phone numbers and for caller identification to be provided to consumers free of charge on all marketing calls. Meanwhile, the Department of Culture, Media & Sport is due to release its report into the issue. Last month, the TPS unveiled a new accreditation scheme as its response to the current furore.
Lord Gardiner concluded: “Tackling nuisance calls would be better addressed by focusing on improving enforcement rather than changing the nature of the register.”
German law was changed in April 2010, meaning consumers have to opt in to receive calls, negating the need for a TPS-style service. It also states caller IDs must be displayed. Non-compliance can trigger fines of up to €50,000.
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