Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 216 - 219)

WEDNESDAY 23 FEBRUARY 2000

MS ANNA RUSSELL AND MS FELICITY USSHER

Chairman

  216. Good afternoon. My apologies for not starting your section on time. I hope you found the last witness enjoyable. There is a link as well. If I may start, first of all, with Ms Russell. I am coming back to the subject of to regulate or not to regulate, which we were pressing Professor Norton on earlier. We are tending to get polarised positions being expressed by people very much against regulation in many ways or alternatively they are saying there is a pressing need for new regulation. In the paper you submitted to us what comes through fairly strongly is you have some negative views about the Government's and EU's intervention. I was wondering whether you could give us some concrete examples where you believe regulation or positive regulation, which may come, could be harmful?

  (Ms Russell) It really does depend on the type of regulation you are talking about and the kind of regulatory issues that you are most interested in exploring.

  217. It is general.
  (Ms Russell) I was probably being overly negative in the written evidence. There is certainly a case for regulation in terms of things like data protection, from a financial point of view, and also regulation to ensure harmonisation across Europe and communication. That is utterly essential, particularly with regard to enabling the infrastructure to allow e-commerce to flourish, and e-commerce in its wider sense to flourish. Certainly there is, I think, a need for more interventionist regulation on the part of regulatory organisations like OFTEL. Generally the feedback which we have as a new service from the community of users—who are made up of business decision makers and IT professionals, who are expert in this area—is that OFTEL are much too lax in their regulation of British Telecom. British Telecom need to unbundle as quickly as possible and also to stop. An example of this is ADSL, which will enable high-speed Internet access to both consumers and businesses. This is the feedback we have had from actual users of the service, both consumers and businesses, they are basically building into ADSL and they are pricing it much more highly than they were and also artificially inflating the price of baseline access. They are totally benefiting from the situation and behaving in an anti-competitive manner. That is one concrete example.

  218. It is not just the Government then, is it?
  (Ms Russell) No. In terms of other concrete examples of anti-regulation. Can I read something from one of our users in answer to one of your original questions, "Will codes of conduct and code regulations provide sufficient protection?" This is a guy who is the managing director of a business-to-business development company in the United Kingdom, "Anyone who has worked in or with a self-regulating body will know that it does not work to the advantage of the victim. Codes of conduct are mandatory and Government can help with these but at the end of the day there is still a body, unfortunately, who must impose itself. This may have the effect of stifling initiative and creativity if not implemented in a sensible way. However, we know that there is a huge opportunity for the public e-commerce to mercilessly", it does not make sense, "be exploited (through sharp practices and sharp programming). Multi-national efforts have to be made by Her Majesty's Government, the EU and the World Trade Organisation to ensure that e-commerce does not suffer from bad press that it will inevitably attract when the first public catastrophe occurs." The general feeling of working in an e-commerce environment amongst my peers is that from a negative point of view about regulation is that it hinders progress. It is also a lack of access to information about regulation, being able to ensure that you comply with good practice, for instance, like complying with the Data Protection Act. It is difficult if you ring up the Data Protection Registrar and ask them questions about the new act they say, "Do not worry about it for the moment", which is quite concerning, so it is either being seen as obstructive or just generally unhelpful.

  219. Could I just pick you up on data protection and pursue it a little further. We were with some Americans earlier in the week and they do not have any such Act.
  (Ms Russell) Exactly.


 
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