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Column 389he will approach British Telecom to discuss the problem. If he has any difficulty about that, I hope that he will come to me.
Mr. Hood : I have raised the point with British Telecom, and we had a heated exchange. British Telecom more or less said, "Sorry, it is not our problem. It would cost us too much to change STD numbers." I was more or less told to go forth and multiply.
Mr. Forth : I hope that the heated exchanges will be limited to the House and will not spread to British Telecom, where they could be disastrous. I hope to answer the points that the hon. Gentleman has made.
Under the terms of the code of practice, ICSTIS has the right to visit the premises of operators without notice, to require that reasonable information and co-operation be provided, including written records in the case of one-to-one services and tape recordings in the case of chatlines, which must be retained for a period of six months.
Service providers are required to do everything practicable to prevent access to the services by those under 18 years of age. In saying that, I recognise the difficulties with that provision. Even now there is an argument about the sale of cigarettes to under-16s by tobacconists. There is a continuing argument about the sale of alcohol in pubs to under-18s. I emphasise the general point that the new provisions have been in place just over a month. We have not yet had time to see how effective the codes of practice, the compensation fund, and the other provisions that ICSTIS has in its power will be. I hope that all hon. Members and the public will take the fullest opportunity to use the mechanisms that are available to find out whether they are adequate to cover the requirements raised in the debate. I believe that they should be. Equally, I can see that they may not be. If so, we will have to consider the matter again. Oftel will, as will others. The reason why I resist further legislation is that I believe that the mechanisms that we have provided, which are much more flexible than anything provided under legislation, should be adequate. If they are not, it is to them that we should look.
Column 390I must hurry in the two minutes remaining to me to say a word about the content and advertising of the services--another matter raised in the debate. I understand the concern of hon. Members. I looked at some of the advertisements earlier this evening to check on their nature.
The codes of practice incorporate the British code of advertising practice and the British code of sales promotion practice, as well as other provisions requiring disclosure of the cost of the services, and details of the service provider and restrictions on aiming the services at young people. ICSTIS has written to the National Press Association and the Association of Free Newspapers informing them of the existence of the new codes of practice.
It has begun an investigation into the advertising and promotion of adult services, examining ways to improve the standards of advertising and restrict the placement of advertisements, particularly in publications readily accessible to children. The investigation will involve service providers, network operators, the Advertising Standards Authority and relevant newspaper publishers associations and European and international authorities. ICSTIS is also taking action to make the general public more aware of its role, to look into European experience with premium rate services and to see what more can be done.
I ask hon. Members to give the measures that we have put in place the fullest opportunity to work and to use the complaints services and the existing mechanisms. We will reconsider the matter when they have had a chance to operate to see whether they have had the effect that I expect and hope they will. If not, I will expect Oftel and the MMC to return to the matter, and I shall do so as well. I hope that over the next few weeks and months we will see a dramatic change and the improvements that all hon. Members have urged upon us. I expect that to be the case, but we will watch the position closely. The motion having been made Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Madam Deputy Speaker-- adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order. Adjourned at half-past Ten o'clock.
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