The Government has finally bowed to mounting pressure over the scourge of nuisance calls and texts by agreeing to bring forward legislation later this year to make it easier for the regulators to fine rogue firms.
Culture minister Ed Vaizey confirmed the move yesterday to a virtually empty House of Commons – just a dozen out of a possible 650 MPs attended the debate – following claims that there were more than a billion nuisance calls a year.
The direct marketing industry has been demanding action for years, sparked by fears that rogue operators are bringing the whole telemarketing sector down.
The Backbench Business Committee-led debate was spearheaded by Liberal Democrat MP Mike Crockart, who told the Commons the scale of the problem, exacerbated by the recent High Court ruling which overturned a huge fine for Tetrus Telecoms.
Vaizey said the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) already had powers to issue large fines to firms that broke the rules but had to prove calls would result in ‘substantial’ damage or ‘substantial’ distress.
He added: “The ICO has argued that this threshold should be addressed and they have suggested a test of ‘nuisance, annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety’.
“To make it clear, I agree with the ICO on this point. There should be a lower threshold to generate more effective enforcement and we are keen to legislate this year.”
John Whittingdale, the Conservative MP who chairs the Commons Culture Select Committee, said nuisance calls were a real issue but warned against a total ban on cold calling, which he said could be used by charities and other bodies for “legitimate reasons”.
He gave the example of the National Autistic Society, which had urged MPs not to recommend an outright ban of cold calls because it was one of its most effective fundraising methods.
Mr Vaizey added: “It is important that we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water – that we tackle the scourge of nuisance calls, whilst also recognising that next to that is a legitimate industry doing a legitimate job.”
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