Joint Committee on The Draft Communications Bill Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Consumer Communications for England (CCE)

  1.  Consumer Communications for England (CCE) is a statutory body established under section 54 of the Telecommunications Act 1984 to provide advice to the Director General of Telecommunications in relation to his functions. Members are appointed by the Secretary of State (SoS) at the DTI. CCE represents the interests of residential telecoms consumers in England, particularly those with least power in the market. The committee is one of six Advisory Committees on Telecommunications (ACTs).

  2.  CCE welcomes publication of the Draft Bill and associated documents, including the Regulatory Impact Statement (RIA). This submission focuses on some consumer issues in the Draft Bill, including the Consumer Panel, since CCE is eager to ensure that residential consumers are adequately protected by the new legislation.

  3.  We note the general duties of OFCOM in Clause 3. Although Clause 3(1) is not explicit, it appears that in carrying out its work OFCOM should have regard to such of its duties as appear relevant in the circumstances. But CCE believes that OFCOM should have an overriding duty to promote the interest of consumers, ie duty 3(1)(a) should take precedence.

  4.  However, the language used in duty 3(1)(a) gives cause for concern. OFCOM is to further the interests of "persons who are customers for the services and facilities in relation to which OFCOM have functions". We note that the term "consumer" appears to be used only in the Draft Bill's treatment of the Consumer Panel. This will be for reasons best known to the parliamentary draftsmen, but CCE would like to be convinced that the Bill will provide protection to all users and potential users of communications networks and services.

  5.  "Persons who are customers" is too narrow. It seems to imply only persons with a contract with a network or service provider and to exclude other users, eg members of households, children, visitors etc. Clause 96 refers to effective arrangements (including the Consumer Panel) for consulting "customers", this term is also narrow. Relevant "persons" and "customers" should be defined as widely as possible, ie everyone in society in their role as a buyer or potential buyer and user or potential user of communications services and facilities.

  6.  Rather than OFCOM, we believe that appointments to the Consumer Panel should be made by the relevant Secretary of State (SoS). This is essential to ensure a measure of independence from the regulator. The SoS should also takes decisions on removal of members, if the need should arise.

  7.  Clause 97 contains provisions for consumer representation for each of the four nations of the United Kingdom but does not prescribe how this should be put into practice. We believe that there should be specific provision on the face of the Bill that gives the Panel the power to establish and adequately resource sub-committees for the regions/nations/other interest groups that it considers necessary. We do not have a unanimous view about whether the Panel should set up country committees but we recognise that there may be a political necessity to mandate them.

  8.  The Consumer Panel is expected to advise OFCOM and "such other persons as the Panel think fit". CCE welcomes this wide brief. The ACTs' working relationship with OFTEL allows CCE to respond to DTI and other government consultations and to give views to other bodies, including the European Commission. We believe that this benefits consumers and aids OFTEL in its work.

  9.  We note that the new Telecoms Ombudsman will deal with disputes involving residential consumers and small businesses with up to five employees. There is no mention of small businesses in Clause 97, CCE believes that the Consumer Panel should have regard to the interests of small businesses with up to five employees.

  10.  We have not commented on the breadth of matters which will be dealt with by the Consumer Panel but will do so in our submission to the DTI/DCMS.

June 2002

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 5 August 2002