Update - 29 March 2006

Parliament debates the increase to the maximum penalty for making Silent Calls

Hear sound clips from the debate

The DTI order to increase the maximum penalty available for use in connection with the persistent misuse powers had to be approved by both houses of parliament.

Having contributed to the DTI consultation, I also had the opportunity to brief members of the Commons Standing Committee established to debate a motion to grant the order. I attended a most entertaining debate, which took place on 28 March 2006.

The Hansard record of this debate is found on two pages starting at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmstand/deleg5/st060328/60328s01.htm

Despite my briefing, much of the debate was ill-informed and missed the relevant points. The minister, Alun Michael (who was returned to the back-benches in the subsequent government re-shuffle), had clearly been poorly briefed in two important respects.

- He continually refers to the original level of penalty having been set as if it related to activities that were never covered by the persistent misuse powers. All the activities he lists are covered by the criminal offence, under s127 of the Communications Act, of "Improper use of public electronic communications network". This is a quite different issue. Making Silent Calls by use of predictive diallers was identified as being one of the issues covered by the persistent misuse powers from the time when the Act was originally passed.

- He appears to believe that Ofcom is able to directly enforce the requirements published in its 1 March news release. This is untrue.

Ofcom's past failure to use its existing powers is referred to throughout the debate. In summing up the views of all four parties represented on the committee (Old Labour, New Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat) Mr Michael is however able to make a point that I continue to repeat as expressing Ofcom's duty to parliament:

"We expect you to use your powers to eradicate the nuisance of Silent Calls".

As these powers can only be used in particular cases, this is a reasonable expectation, that Ofcom has previously failed to fulfil. When using the powers previously Ofcom has invariably allowed the making of Silent Calls to continue.

The committee's approval of the motion was reported to parliament on 29 March and parliamentary approval of the Order was granted.

Sound Clips

The following clips are taken from the official broadcast of the debate:

Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood) acknowledging my briefing

Lorely Burt (Solihull) acknowledging my briefing

Mr. Eric Forth, the now deceased noted parliamentarian, bringing the committee to order in his role as Chairman

Alun Michael (Minister for Industry and the Regions) summing-up the message from parliament to Ofcom

My contact details

You can contact me for advice, information or anything else at:

Silent {dot} Calls @ ntlworld {dot} com

David Hickson

(this update was actually prepared on 9/7/06)