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Mr. Blizzard: All that I asked for was some justice for the people who had already been victims. I fully acknowledge the tremendous work that my right hon. Friend has done to try to set the system straight, but if we cannot catch the fraudsters and hold them responsible, what is to be done for the victims of the
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fraud, who only had a contract with BT or some other provider? Can the Government not do something for those victims?

Alun Michael: As I said at the beginning, if my hon. Friend had raised that issue with some clarity I could have said more.

In the cases that my hon. Friend mentioned, BT is the provider of a line. The equipment that is placed on the line and its vulnerability to being used are matters of individual responsibility. They are not the responsibility of BT, which provided the computer whose technology and software were not protected against the possibility of a scam.

As I said, this is a complex area. During 2003 initially but primarily during 2004, there was an explosion of activity involving a scam that had not been anticipated. Many people recognise the need for proper protection for their software and equipment, but do not realise until something goes seriously wrong how important that is, and that it is their responsibility and not that of the provider.

If there is a problem on the road, that has nothing to do with the car that is driven over it. Responsibility for the vehicle and its safety is governed by legislation. It must have passed its MOT, and it must be safe. That is entirely different from the provision of the highway. I think that my hon. Friend has confused and conflated a number of issues.

BT discovered within a day that there was a problem from an analysis of charges that were building up, and notified the person whose equipment was allowing that to happen. It was therefore possible to close it down, and indeed to close the access to overseas numbers. There are numerous such examples.

People have been able to perpetrate a scam and disappear with the money. When that happens, there is no one left to blame, although there are victims. The service provider is a victim, the individuals are victims, but there is no one to blame. We have created a system that will hold money for up to 30 days. I was examining a case with officials and experts today. The fact that the equipment was allowing the criminal—the scammer—to programme it to make the calls was identified within 24 hours. Within 48 hours, the number had been blocked, so the scam could no longer continue. The 30-day delay means that money can be retained within the system and there is a possibility of recompense or, if the equipment has not been properly put in place, of fining. I had hoped to explain some of the wider context: there may not be enough time left, but I shall attempt to do so for my hon. Friend.

We are talking about an industry that is rapidly developing. It provides a variety of services that are used on a daily basis. It is an immensely powerful tool, but my hon. Friend will know that every time one connects to the internet, a warning appears asking whether the user really wants to proceed. The point is to illustrate for users that, along with the power of the system, there are also vulnerabilities.
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What has happened as a result of identifying the problems? Rather than coming in quickly with heavy legislation, we have come in quickly to provide the industry with means of enabling future scams to be prevented and to create an increasingly sophisticated system of scam prevention, which allows us to take the value out—

Mr. Blizzard: I congratulate my right hon. Friend on all that he has done to rectify the system, but the fact remains that the people who were ripped off in 2004 operated the internet in the customary way. They were akin to people who do not have burglar alarms. If we want to stop burglars, there are burglar alarms, but many people do not own them and we do not say to victims of burglary who do not possess one, "Tough, you didn't have an alarm". Will he now address the situation of the victims, rather than the future?

Alun Michael: My hon. Friend misses the point again. We certainly do not blame people who do not possess burglar alarms for the fact that their house has been burgled. We blame the burglar and the criminal. We do not ask the police to recompense residents who have been burgled. One hopes that they will have insurance. If not, we do not then say, "Let the police or someone else recompense them".

I believe that it was right that a variety of providers, including BT, which my hon. Friend specifically mentioned by name, wrote off considerable sums of money that would have gone straight on to the scammer under the previous system. In that context, BT or any other provider such as NTL would have lost money as a result of the scam. The blame falls on the scam. We should do what we have been doing—create conditions that take the value out of a scam so that the scammers cannot take the money and scarper after a short while. They cannot then reappear and repeat the activity. It is important to understand the steps that we have put in place to ensure that that happens.

As regards specific bills, I suggest that my hon. Friend speak to the service provider that dealt with the cases in his constituency. It is not for the Government to say, "You"—whether referring to BT, NTL or whatever—"have been a victim of a scam and you should recompense the customer for everything that they repaid." Such a generous response to the fact that individuals have been placed in a position of loss by large industrial organisations may well be a virtue, but it is not appropriate for the Government to require it. That is what I said to my hon. Friend at the beginning. If he had explained the precise target that he was after, I could have been more helpful, perhaps in advance of tonight's debate, about ways of dealing with the problems of his constituents.

What I want to ensure for the future is that the regulator—in the case of ICSTIS, the delegated regulator, which effectively has authority devolved to it from Ofcom—the Government and the industry can address the issues in such a way as to deal much faster with any scam that appears. We want to be able to seize
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it, get a grip on it and prevent it from happening. I think that everyone involved would acknowledge that it took some time for people to realise just how costly the scam could be for customers and some time to get up to speed in responding to it. That, however, has now been achieved and I would remind my hon. Friend and the House that—
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The motion having been made after Ten o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. Speaker adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

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