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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, September 21, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 21 September 2017

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, National Eye Health Week 2017 (Diabetic Retinopathy), Urgent Question, Nuisance Calls, Edinburgh Bakers’ Widows’ Fund Bill: Preliminary Stage, Contract (Third Party Rights) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Decision Time


Contents


Nuisance Calls

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-07631, in the name of James Dornan, on congratulating the Which? campaign to call time on nuisance calls in Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion moved,

That the Parliament congratulates Which? on its continuing campaign against nuisance calls; considers that, while these calls are primarily just a source of annoyance for many, they can also cause a great deal of anxiety for some of the most vulnerable people in society, including in Glasgow Cathcart, resulting in a loss of savings, security and dignity; notes calls on Ofcom to seriously consider adopting the Canadian licensing system where all telecommunication providers must supply a call blocking system if they wish to operate in Canada and, if it is unwilling to adopt this regulatory framework, to explain its reasons to the Parliament; further notes calls on the UK Government to bring forward what is considered overdue legislation to make company directors legally accountable for their firms making such phone calls, and congratulates the Scottish Government on allocating £50,000 into the nuisance call fund, which it considers will help to offer protection to the most vulnerable in Scotland's communities.

14:53  

James Dornan (Glasgow Cathcart) (SNP)

I start by congratulating Which? on its continuing campaign to end the scourge of nuisance calls. Over the past two years, my office—much like those of other members, I suspect—has received a disturbing number of complaints from constituents regarding the volume, timing and intimidating nature of such calls. I, too, have been plagued with nuisance calls: I had not realised that my memory was getting so bad and that I kept forgetting all the accidents that I had been involved in.

The calls are a nuisance for me, but for many of our most vulnerable citizens, such calls have led to scams that have deprived them of their savings, security and dignity. It is a vile practice and it is completely unacceptable. I can give a number of examples of the results of such calls. One woman from Scotland was done out of £6,000 for solar panels; once she had handed over the money, she never heard from the people again. There are a number of other cases in which people have been distressed or otherwise severely affected financially and psychologically.

Which? has highlighted that 81 per cent of Scots have received a nuisance call in the past month, and 41 per cent of respondents cited feeling intimidated. It also reported that 79 per cent of people support greater accountability for the actions of the companies that are responsible for the calls.

As a Glasgow MSP, I am delighted that I have been able to raise the issue because, unfortunately, Glasgow holds the title for having the most nuisance calls—some 52 per cent of calls in Glasgow are nuisance calls, which needs to be dealt with seriously.

I am delighted that Keith Brown, the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, has announced a £50,000 fund to install call-blocking technology for those who are most at risk from nuisance calls, which is an important step forward. I think that the whole Parliament would agree that we abhor the practice—I have no doubt that we all do—and that we would all welcome the Scottish Government’s funding to introduce new measures. However, I forgot about Mike Rumbles: it appears that his tactic these days is to wait for a Scottish Government announcement, claim that it was his idea and then criticise the Scottish Government for not doing enough. My mum used to tell me that if I could not say anything nice, I should not say anything at all. I give that advice to Mr Rumbles.

The Which? campaign and its taskforce highlighted a number of issues that are a shared responsibility across businesses, the industry, regulatory bodies and, of course, Government. It is clear that businesses should improve their direct-marketing practices and ensure that compliance with laws surrounding consumer consent to direct marketing are treated as a board-level issue under corporate risk and consumer trust. Active consideration should be given to joining accreditation schemes. Boards should also commit to implementing the Information Commissioner’s Office’s guidance on collecting and buying data; ensure that opt outs are adhered to; respect a six-month time limit on third-party consent; and recognise that third-party consent is insufficient to override telephone preference service registration. Businesses must therefore ensure that all telephone numbers that are purchased are screened in advance. Finally, businesses should also record standard information as proof of consent.

Industry bodies have their role to perform, too. Codes of conduct should place an onus on members of industry bodies to follow good practice and guidance on purchasing, recording and sharing personal consent. Any member that is found to be in breach of such practice should be accountable and face sanctions.

The Competition and Markets Authority should identify systemic harm to consumer protection and work closely with the ICO and fellow regulators to gain an understanding of the problems and identify future action. The ICO has an opportunity to build on existing marketing guidance to develop a model for firms to provide consumers with information on opting in and out, third-party consent and controlling and revoking consent. That new model should be produced in tandem with other stakeholders including chambers of commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses and voluntary sector organisations including the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and Glasgow Council for the Voluntary Sector.

In my view, Ofcom should assess what level consumer awareness of the TPS has reached, for land line and mobile phone users, consider whether there is a need for increased awareness and be at the forefront of any future campaigns. Of course, all those bodies and organisations should closely collaborate closely in order to dovetail their efforts to reduce the problems that stem from nuisance calls.

Of course, there is a role for Governments across the UK to play in the future in helping to bring to an end the abuses of the current system. First, directors or board-level executives should be made legally accountable for abuses in their firm’s telecommunications marketing operations. At the moment, the company is fined for transgressions; however, companies can be dissolved then reformed under new names with the same directors and the same addresses, selling the same product—a practice that is known as phoenixing. Directors and other responsible named individuals within firms might be more mindful if fines were imposed on their personal finances instead of on a firm that can be closed the next day.

Governments should participate in cross-sector business awareness campaigns with the ICO, Ofcom and others in order to encourage the adoption of accreditation schemes. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport should review the nuisance calls action plan to assess recommendations and consider new recommendations. Governments should adopt an anti-nuisance-call policy in executing their procurement process for call centres.

Finally, I draw to Parliament’s attention Canada’s national do not call list, which is designed to reduce the number of unwanted telemarketing calls. All telemarketers must register, free of charge, with the national DNCL. Consumers must register to have their mobile and home phone numbers included. Their details are added within 24 hours of registration and companies have 31 days to update their calling lists. Registration is permanent, but consumers can have their details removed on request. Regular telemarketers include companies that make calls to sell or promote a product or service or to request donations. A subscription must be purchased for the area codes that are intended for use, and numbers must be downloaded from the national DNCL, then deleted from active calling lists that firms must maintain, and never called. If a consumer asks not to be contacted, their name and number must be added to the internal do-not-call list within 14 days. Those numbers must never be called. The DNCL downloads that are used must be no older than 31 days. A firm must identify itself and ensure that its number is on display. Firms can call between 9 am and 9:30 pm on weekdays and only between 10 am and 6 pm on weekends. The guidance must be complied with at all times.

I am sure that we all have constituents who have been irritated, or suffered worse, from nuisance calls. Which? has clearly demonstrated the public feeling on the matter and has provided positive and realistic recommendations for business, industry bodies, regulators and Governments to implement and show leadership on. I call on everyone, especially the Westminster Government, whose locus the matter mainly is, to play their part in ending the scourge.

The Presiding Officer

Normally, members’ business debates are at the end of the day when there is plenty of time, but today we are quite restricted, so I ask members to keep their speeches to four minutes or less.

15:01  

Graeme Dey (Angus South) (SNP)

I whole-heartedly congratulate my friend and colleague James Dornan on securing the debate, even though I have a depressing feeling of déjà vu in contributing to it. It is the third such debate in which I have taken part—the previous occasions being in 2012 and then almost two years ago to the day.

Let us acknowledge that we are making progress on nuisance calls. However, the fact that we still have cause to consider the issue in Parliament shows that there is a considerable way left to go. It is a hugely important issue that is deserving of all possible action by government at all levels.

Back at the beginning of 2016, I hosted an event for Which? to inform members about its nuisance calls campaign. Ahead of that, I was interviewed on “Good Morning Scotland”. Trailing the interview, BBC Scotland ran a package in which members of the public took great delight in recalling how they had dealt with such calls. Some had hurled abuse or wound up the callers, and others blew whistles down the phone.

I have never found the matter remotely amusing. It is all very well and good for those of us who can to wind up nuisance callers or deal with them abruptly, but many people do not feel able to put the phone down, let alone to send the callers packing—that is, if there is anyone on the other end. For them, such calls are an absolute intrusion—perhaps even worse, if the person is in any way vulnerable. It is, to be frank, unacceptable that such folk reach the stage of being unwilling to answer their phones.

One contribution from the previous debates that we have had on the subject has stuck with me. It was made by Liam McArthur, who revealed that he had an elderly constituent who had been persuaded over the phone to purchase an internet security package even though she did not own a computer. For me, that sums up the risk that is associated with nuisance calling, and illustrates exactly why, as I noted earlier, government at all levels must take every possible action to deal with it.

I welcome the Scottish Government’s recently published action plan. Powers over the matter largely remain at Westminster, but there has been limited devolution, so it is important that we seize the opportunity that it provides. Of course, the Scottish Government was innocently caught up in the issue a couple of years ago when rogue companies were cold calling, claiming to be doing so on behalf of the Scottish Government, to inform people that they had to replace their central heating boilers. A number of constituents got in touch with me and my staff had to reassure them that the Scottish Government was demanding no such thing.

People should be confident that a call that purports to be from, or on behalf of the Scottish Government, is legitimate. Therefore, I welcome the measures that have been announced in the action plan in relation to that, as I welcome the provision of call-blocking technology for vulnerable people and awareness raising about protection options.

I also note the call for a simpler reporting system. James Dornan referred to the situation in Canada. I will not rehearse the detail: suffice it to say that, although introducing such measures here might not reduce people’s annoyance about calls, it would certainly afford people an opportunity to determine whether the source of a call is a number that they recognise, or to get the details to report the call, if they so wish.

The problem is not going away. If anything, it is growing in scale and annoyance value. Which? data from September last year shows that 39 per cent of calls that people received were nuisance calls. As the Scottish Government notes, the research also shows that it is more of an issue in Scotland.

The voluntary steps that the Scottish Government can encourage businesses to take are welcome and serve to highlight the firms that do not act in that way. Unfortunately, there will always be companies that do not want to comply with what many of us see as minimal best practice, so there needs to be a will across the Government to drive those cowboys out of business.

The Which? campaign is called calling time on nuisance calls and texts. I sincerely hope that in this parliamentary session we will manage to persuade Westminster to act more decisively on the issue than it has until now, so that we can call time on nuisance calls.

15:05  

Maurice Corry (West Scotland) (Con)

I thank James Dornan for bringing the important and widespread issue of nuisance calls to the chamber.

As members know, Which? has conducted a great campaign to raise awareness of the issue, which affects many people throughout the country. According to its figures, nine out of 10 Scots received some form of nuisance call in the month prior to the launch of its petition. Indeed, the majority of members will also have been on the receiving end of such calls.

Whether calls are regarding personal payment insurance—PPI—or the possibility of having been in a car accident that was not one’s fault, they are not always without their merits. For example, some of my constituents have received PPI compensation to which they were entitled that was highlighted as a result of receiving a relevant phone call. Of course, there is a point at which the calls become a nuisance, but there are far more sinister phone calls that have varying effects on different groups within our society. It is the most vulnerable of those groups whom we need to ensure that we protect.

Last year, more than 1.8 million cases of financial fraud were reported in the UK, resulting in a total loss of £768 million, and a large percentage of those cases were as a result of unsolicited calls. Recently, in my region, or, more specifically, in West Dunbartonshire, there was a sophisticated telephone scam that involved constituents being contacted regarding a contaminated water supply by an organisation that claimed to be Scottish Water. People were informed that they should visit a specified website for more information, but its purpose was to obtain their personal information. Many other members will have heard similar stories from their constituents.

One point that is raised in the Which? petition is the importance of protecting the most vulnerable groups in our society and ensuring that they are aware of ways to prevent nuisance calls. For example, BT now provides CallGuardian on its phones, which enables the home owner to save phone numbers and to block unwanted calls. It is important that the people who would benefit from the device are made aware of its benefits and availability.

Given the scale of the problem in Scotland, and the fact that the number of nuisance calls is ever on the rise, we must be more robust in our approach to preventing them. When the Scottish Government is looking at the matter, it could perhaps consider creating more awareness of and bringing attention to what constitutes a breach of the law in order to help businesses to stay within the regulations, as well as considering cracking down on businesses that break the law on nuisance phone calls and holding the relevant business executives personally to account when it occurs.

It is vital that, as a Parliament, we do not create policies that encourage, directly or indirectly, an increase in unwanted telephone calls. Instead, we must protect vulnerable groups and not add to the number of general nuisance calls that the vast majority of us experience in our lifetime.

It appears that genuine issues such as PPI that affect a large number of individuals could be dealt with in less direct and intrusive ways—for example, through television or radio campaigns that provide awareness to the public without causing nuisance or, as calls do in some cases, alarm to people. We should protect people and their right to privacy and peace in their own homes, and we should do everything we can to prevent nuisance calls in the future.

The Presiding Officer

That was admirable timekeeping, Mr Corry.

15:08  

James Kelly (Glasgow) (Lab)

I congratulate James Dornan on securing today’s debate. It is a very important issue on which Mr Dornan has a consistent campaigning record. Every member will not only have personal experience of the issue, but will have been approached by constituents expressing concern and anxiety about it. From that point of view, we should congratulate Which? on the work that it has consistently done to raise awareness and to prompt action from Governments and businesses. The scale of the problem is such that 81 per cent of people have received a nuisance call in the past month.

It is not just about the numbers, however. As Graeme Dey said in his speech—I remember his excellent speech on the issue in the debate that I led two years ago—this is about the impact of the problem on vulnerable people—in particular, pensioners. Not everyone can just dismiss a phone call that comes down the line; some pensioners have difficulty in putting the phone down and sometimes, they believe that the calls are genuine.

It is really despicable that many companies are up to scams and are out to elicit people’s bank details so that they can participate in fraudulent activities and take money off people through unjust means. That is the nub of the issue—that is what causes real concern and alarm.

As for how nuisance calls should be combated, a number of things can be done. First, there is information awareness, and Which? has been active on that. I recently had a meeting with a local CAB, Rutherglen and Cambuslang Citizens Advice Bureau. Sharon Hampson and the team there have been very effective in getting the Which? packs out over the course of the campaign. Such initiatives make people aware of the activities of nuisance callers and help to combat them.

On a practical level it is, as a number of members have highlighted, important to support the introduction of call-blocking technology, which can cut off a lot of calls at source and ensure that they do not get through to people.

There has to be more responsibility on the part of companies. Some that participate in telephone activities do so legitimately, but there must be an onus on the companies concerned to ensure that their activities do not interfere with people’s personal freedoms. From that point of view, the Which? campaign proposes that companies have a director who is responsible for telephone calls. Their having someone like that at director level would ensure that they took on more responsibility.

Action across all Governments is essential. From that point of view, I welcome the Scottish Government’s action plan.

James Dornan has led an excellent debate on a subject that affects many people. There is an onus on us all—MSPs, Governments, companies and information campaigns—to provide leadership in order to combat nuisance calls.

15:12  

Bruce Crawford (Stirling) (SNP)

Like others, I thank James Dornan for bringing this very important matter to the chamber.

Nuisance callers, sometimes on an hourly basis, continue to harass and abuse a great many people in my constituency, and I know that it is the same across the country. I will use my time today to focus on the effect of nuisance callers on vulnerable older people and those who might be suffering from dementia or a similar debilitating illness who are at home alone.

I am aware of a harrowing case in my constituency, involving an older person who reached out for advice after being contacted by someone claiming to be from HM Revenue and Customs. It was a particularly aggressive form of fraudulent nuisance call, which attempted to persuade my constituent to pay tax that the caller claimed she was liable for. The caller suggested that she should do so by purchasing iTunes vouchers and then passing on the relevant codes, and they threatened her with court action if she did not comply. Thankfully, although she was highly distressed by the situation, my constituent questioned the validity of the caller’s claims and eventually contacted Police Scotland to report the incident. Others will not have had such a fortunate end story.

That particular case demonstrates just one of the more sinister attempts to victimise vulnerable older people. It is clear how such methods cause alarm and distress among those who are on the receiving end of them. The problem is huge. According to research conducted by Age UK, telephone scams affect more than 10 per cent of people aged over 65, meaning that more than 100,000 older people in Scotland have been targeted. Of those who have been contacted, 12 per cent have responded to scams but, in the over-75 age group, that figure rose to 16 per cent. It is therefore clear that the older and more vulnerable the person is, the more profitable they are seen to be by these predatory companies and individuals who would seek to exploit them.

The figures demonstrate the sickening reality in our society of vulnerable people being used—perhaps the more appropriate term is “abused”—and losing what are, for them, vast sums of money to opportunistic and vile sharks who relentlessly deploy scare tactics against them. Almost two thirds of people who have been scammed did not report it. Many stated that they were too embarrassed to even tell their close family or their friends.

One thing should ring out loud and clear from this debate today: no one should ever be afraid or embarrassed when it comes to nuisance calls. These sleekit—to use a descriptive Scots word—callers are good at what they do and can be very persuasive, but that does not mean that they cannot be stopped. People should report cases to the police, speak to their friends and families and let those around them know that people are being targeted in this way.

I welcome the Scottish Government’s investment in call-blocking technology for the most vulnerable people; it will bring some peace of mind to many older people. However, there is still a lot of work to do to stamp out this activity by raising awareness, and I hope that the debate that James Dornan has brought to the chamber today achieves just that, because that is probably the biggest thing that we can do, although the motion also draws our attention to further action that can be taken to improve matters. I thank James Dornan for bringing the debate to the chamber today.

15:16  

Jamie Halcro Johnston (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I refer members to my entry in the register of interests in relation to the business of J Halcro Johnston and Sons, which I will refer to in my speech. I also congratulate James Dornan on bringing the debate.

I welcome the opportunity to debate an important issue for my constituents in the Highlands and Islands; one which is causing increasing frustration and, in many cases, alarm. Other members have spoken of the extent of the problem of nuisance calls in Scotland, but in addition to the wide level of irritation that surveys show, Which? research showed that 40 per cent of people surveyed were also intimidated by the calls, and Ofcom’s research showed that around one in 10 people found the calls distressing. Those cases are naturally of most serious concern.

For many of us, these calls are a nuisance, but I ask members to consider the following scenario, which is likely to be played out across the Highlands and Islands. An older person lives in a remote location. They live alone. It is the middle of the night and the phone rings. They have no idea who it is but they answer. There is no one at the other end of the line. They do not know if it is just another nuisance call. They do not know if it is a family member or a friend in need of urgent help. They do not know if it is something more sinister. Therefore, let us be very clear that nuisance calls are not just a nuisance; for many, particularly the elderly and vulnerable, they can feel like an intrusion into their home.

Some people are being forced to make themselves almost uncontactable by friends and relatives simply to get peace from persistent callers or the volume of calls from separate organisations. I would like to touch on the experience of some in the Highlands and Islands, including a personal experience.

Our farming business and our domestic numbers constantly receive nuisance calls. We get calls from overseas call centres that almost immediately hang up the minute they are questioned. There are calls that ring but there is no one on the other end when they are answered. Recently, and most frustratingly, we have had calls from companies that claim—with justification in some cases—to be partnered or working with the very providers that have a role in providing services and which should be working to combat nuisance calls.

Only a few weeks ago at our farm, we received a call from an organisation claiming that our BT contract was coming to an end, needed to be renewed and a deal was available. That was done and new sign-up confirmations were sent by email from BT. However, when I rang BT, it clarified that our contract still had well over a year to run. It also admitted that the company that had contacted us was authorised by BT to sign up customers on its behalf. Therefore, we had been contacted by an organisation that appears to have a relationship with BT but which is cold-calling BT customers and, perhaps, customers from other providers to sell them services that they simply do not need, and BT has done nothing to question the new and unnecessary contract, despite its being on the record.

I am sure that we have all heard of utilities providers providing details to partner organisations that they then use for what are essentially cold-call sales. That certainly seems to be what happened in my example and I will be writing to BT to highlight our case and to ascertain what protections apply to data-sharing arrangements. However, it is not just the utilities. In 2014, Highland trading standards even reported scam calls from organisations representing themselves as being able to prevent nuisance calls.

Not necessarily to keep James Dornan happy—although I hope that it will—I welcome the action taken by the Scottish Government in relation to nuisance calls, including the increase in the provision of call-blocking technology as part of the UK-wide work that has taken place following the March 2015 budget.

Which? has been working closely with the UK regulators to signpost nuisance calls and tackle them under the current legislation. That has paid off, with a £350,000 fine issued to a PPI sales company in September for an incredible 146 million unsolicited calls.

There is also an important role for service providers to play, whether that is in identifying and cutting off the offending companies at source or in providing better systems or equipment that prevent the calls from reaching the home or business that is being targeted. Combating these calls requires Government, regulators, businesses and public bodies to work together.

I want to conclude with another example of the real impact that these calls can have—

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

You do not have time for another example. You must conclude, please.

Jamie Halcro Johnston

These calls are not nuisance calls, and they are certainly not victimless.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you. I wanted to make space for Liam McArthur.

15:22  

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

I thank James Dornan for bringing this debate and assure him that I will take him off the mailing list for Mike Rumbles’s press releases in future.

I join others in thanking Which? for its tireless campaigning on this issue. As Graeme Dey said, there has been progress and Which? deserves much of the credit for it. As everyone has pointed out, however, there is a considerable amount still to do.

The calls are not simply a nuisance. A number of colleagues have highlighted the scams and the financial loss, particularly for some of our most vulnerable people in the communities that we represent. Graeme Dey quite rightly drew attention to the most egregious example, which I outlined in a previous debate.

These calls are also distressing and isolating. I was sent an email earlier this week from a constituent who works in the care sector. She said:

“I work with the elderly in their homes and many will have several calls a day claiming to be government boiler schemes, etc. They try to get to the phone too fast and put themselves at risk physically.”

She goes on to highlight the particular problems for dementia sufferers and how distressing they can find it.

Boiler schemes do appear to be the source of many of the problems at the moment. I welcome the Scottish Government’s action programme and the commitment from the cabinet secretary’s colleague, Kevin Stewart, who confirmed that the Scottish Government do not use this method of calling for any of their schemes. In the correspondence that I have had with the UK Government, it has not been able to offer a similar commitment. That is an area in which further work needs to be done.

I thank James Dornan again for bringing the debate and allowing Parliament once more to send a strong and unambiguous message about this Parliament’s attitude to nuisance calls and our commitment to eradicate them. I also thank Which? again for its tireless efforts.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call on Keith Brown to close for the Government. Cabinet secretary, you have seven—or rather, six—minutes or thereabouts.

15:23  

The Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work (Keith Brown)

I, too, congratulate James Dornan on securing this debate and commend the work of my colleague Patricia Gibson MP in the House of Commons for the work that she has done, which has led to some of the developments in the penalties that are now being proposed.

I chaired the nuisance calls commission and very recently published an action plan highlighting what the Scottish Government will do to reduce the impact of these calls, given the powers that we have.

As the motion says, Which? has been pretty relentless in bringing attention to this issue, and quite rightly—I mean relentless in the most positive sense. We have worked very closely with Which? and I am grateful for its work, not only to help consumers to protect themselves, but also to highlight the particular scale of the problem in Scotland.

With research showing that three Scottish cities were receiving the highest percentages of nuisance calls in the UK, as has been mentioned, it is clear that we must do what we can in the Scottish Government, although regulation lies with the UK Government.

We know that the rise of what are called nuisance calls harms individuals. For most, such calls are, as Graeme Dey said, a recurring annoyance, interrupting dinner or family time and sometimes unforgivably—I am sure that James Dornan can relate to this—arriving just as Champions’ League coverage starts. However, for some people whose circumstances make them particularly vulnerable, the consequences can be much worse. They can be a source of anxiety, distress or even financial hardship. We all know the stories, some of which we have heard today, about people being conned out of savings or being frightened every time they answer the phone. They do not want to just stop using their phone, because they want to be available to family members, but they fear the worst every time the phone rings, only—as Liam McArthur mentioned—to be offered a boiler deal that they are not interested in having.

The example that Bruce Crawford highlighted is one that I, too, have experienced. It seems so random and odd for someone to pretend to be from HM Revenue and Customs and to ask a person to purchase iTunes vouchers, but it is actually a very common situation. A constituent of mine—an older woman—was told to go to Tesco immediately to buy vouchers and not to tell anyone else about the call, but she was stopped from leaving her home by someone else whom she took into her confidence. Having to pay tax that she was not liable for would have had a substantial impact on that woman, but the concern and anxiety that were caused were unforgivable, too. These things can be much more than nuisance calls.

The seriousness of the issue was certainly brought home to those who sat on the nuisance calls commission. In that light, I think that Mike Rumbles’s press release is puerile, miserable and ill informed and does not treat the issue as seriously as it should be treated. A councillor in Angus, I think, has also used the issue to have a go at the Scottish Government without having informed themselves about the powers that we have or do not have.

It is very important to realise where the power lies in relation to some of the regulatory aspects of this matter. We can do some things; indeed, that is why we launched a fund to supply call-blocking technology to some of our most vulnerable citizens. Trading Standards Scotland has worked very closely with third sector organisations to ensure that those call blockers go where they are most needed and almost all units have been allocated. Some local authorities have done a great deal of work on this, especially in those areas with intensities in the number of vulnerable people, and we are pleased with the take-up. However, that is yet another indicator of the number of people who are affected by these calls.

That leads me on to the suggestion that Ofcom follow the Canadian model that James Dornan also mentioned of requiring telecoms providers to provide technological solutions. Only a solution that blocks calls on a dramatic scale can really change the pattern of nuisance calls, and telecoms providers are best placed to make that happen. However, as Ofcom explained to our commission, Canada is further behind the UK system, which explains why its regulator has imposed such a duty. As a result, Ofcom’s position remains that imposing the same duty here would have little tangible impact.

Some positive steps are being taken. BT—despite what has been quite rightly said—and Vodafone offer their customers free services that put them in control of who can contact them. Nonetheless, even those who subscribe to the telephone preference system are not immune to receiving these calls, and we would like telecom providers to do more to follow the lead of BT and Vodafone. I have also written to the UK Government to urge further action if the market does not provide solutions. I believe that the Government should act; indeed, in the same letter, I urged swift action on both director accountability, which is being taken forward, and a ban on cold calling specifically with regard to pensions. The potential harm to those who are most at risk is too great for this to be delayed much longer.

That I had to write the letter in the first place highlights that we are very constrained in the actions that we can take. There has been some criticism that the commission did not achieve or go far enough, but I do not accept that. To anyone here who has a suggestion for action that the Scottish Government can take and which we have not yet considered and proposed with regard to awareness raising of call-blocking technology, I say that they had their chance to write in and tell us about it and they did not do so. However, even now I am willing to accept further suggestions if they can help to reduce this plague on people’s lives.

That said, I want to end on a more positive note and highlight the progress that the commission has made, even with its limited powers. I have mentioned the call-blocking fund, but the action plan sets out a number of other steps, including a commitment to building a wider scams strategy so that vulnerable people are protected from all kinds of unscrupulous practices; amending the business pledge to include support and protection for vulnerable customers; and ensuring that Scottish Government schemes, such as home energy efficiency initiatives, are developed in a way that minimises the opportunities for rogue companies to hijack them and use them to prey on vulnerable people.

The launch of the action plan marked the beginning of a consumer awareness week on nuisance calls that we worked on with Which?, and James Dornan and one or two other members appeared at Glasgow central station to lend their support to the campaign. Moreover, as James Kelly pointed out, Citizens Advice Scotland, which, among many others, was involved in the commission, has been instrumental in leading work to raise awareness, so that consumers can better protect themselves and their loved ones. That collaborative working underpins the actions in the plan and is the only way to solve this problem.

I encourage all my colleagues in Parliament to join me in continuing to press for more UK Government action where necessary and to find our own solutions where possible.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That concludes the debate.