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ITEC Stocks: 3G Sector

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: The Government do not believe that the recent difficulties of the 3G sector can be ascribed to a single cause or that the difficulties in this sector are single-handedly responsible for the worldwide downturn in information technology and electronic communications (ITEC) stocks. The Government have every confidence that 3G will be rolled out successfully. More widely, given the central role of telecommunications in modern life, it is hard to see how the whole sector could be "heading for bankruptcy".

Broadband Services

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

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Lord Sainsbury of Turville: The European Competitive Telecommunications (ECTA) report considers progress on local loop unbundling in the European Union. It includes a scorecard which shows figures relating to local loop unbundling and provision of ADSL as at 15 January 2001. For the UK the number of exchanges where the "incumbent" is offering DSL is given as 54 when the figure for BT should be 619, and the number of "incumbent" DSL lines is given as 15,000 whereas BT had installed 30,000 ADSL lines. At 15 January nearly 700 local exchanges were included in the bow wave process for handling orders for local loop unbundling although loops had been unbundled at only two exchanges. These errors are indicative of the inaccurate basis on which the report draws its conclusions on the progress of local loop unbundling. I am pleased to say that BT is now able to accept orders for colocation of other operators' equipment at any of its exchanges.

Electronic Communications: EU Regulatory Proposals

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    To what extent the European Commission will have powers over Oftel, and subsequently Ofcom, in the event that the European Commission's new framework for regulating electronic communications networks and services, as embodied in recently published directives, becomes law.[HL1076]

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: The proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on a common regulatory framework for electronic communications networks and services, adopted by the European Commission on 12 July 2000, contains provisions in Article 6 (consultation and transparency mechanism) that would permit the Commission to require a national regulatory authority (e.g. Oftel and, subsequently, Ofcom) to amend or withdraw a draft measure under the new framework if the Commission had serious doubts as to the compatibility of the draft measure with Community law and, in particular, Article 7 (policy objectives and regulatory objectives) of the proposed directive.

The Government do not believe that it would be appropriate for the Commission to assume the role of arbiter of Community law in this area, nor do they believe that the Commission would be better able to judge measures proposed by national regulatory authorities without the local knowledge that those authorities possess. National and European courts would, in any event, be able to consider appeals against measures proposed by national regulatory

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authorities under Article 4 (right of appeal) of the proposed directive. Infraction proceedings against member states would continue to serve as the primary means for the Commission to address inadequate implementation of the new regulatory framework. The Commission's powers in this regard will be aided substantially by the establishment of clear objectives for national regulatory authorities and increased legal certainty about their tasks.

Nevertheless, the Government support the Commission's aim of ensuring that national regulatory authorities act similarly in similar circumstances, in the interests of the single market. The Council is now considering a different requirement in Article 6 for national regulatory authorities to include the Commission among the interested parties whom they consult on proposed measures for which consultation is appropriate. The Commission would be able to delay adoption of measures that it believed incompatible with Community law and to publish critical opinions. The Government believe that this would act as a powerful incentive to national regulatory authorities to act appropriately.

Internet: EU e-commerce Proposals

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majsty's Government:

    Whether the forthcoming European Union green paper Rome II relating to consumer rights on the Internet is consistent with the European Union's e-commerce directive which is due to be enforced in January 2002.[HL1106]

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: The Government understand that the European Commission will shortly issue a Communication initiating a debate on the designation of the law applicable to non-contractual obligations (for example product liability, or defamation). This consultation is likely to address the interests not only of consumers, but also those of enterprises and others, and offline as well as online activies.

As a result of the e-commerce directive, which must be implemented by member states by 16 January 2002, an EU provider of online services and his services will be subject only to the requirements of the law of the member state in which he is established (subject to certain exceptions including contractual obligations concerning consumer contracts). The application of the rules for the designation of applicable law may be affected by this principle in certain cases, because the directive has the effect of disapplying the legal requirements of another member state if they are less advantageous to the online service provider than those of the member state in which he is established.

The Government look forward to the Commission's Communication and will give careful consideration to the issues it raises. The clarity, certainty and consistency of the EU's legal framework for e-commerce are important objectives of both the

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UK Online strategy for e-commerce and the EU's e-Europe Action Plan 2002 for the strategic development of the information society in Europe.

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the forthcoming European Union green paper Rome II proposes legislation that would entitle dissatisfied Internet customers to seek redress under the laws of their own countries irrespective of where the relevant website may be hosted; and whether they have made any representations about the possibility that this will affect small and medium-sized enterprises disproportionately.[HL1107]

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: The Government understand that the European Commission will shortly issue a Communication initiating a debate on the designation of the law applicable to non-contractual obligations (for example product liability, or defamation).

The choice of applicable law may involve the identification of the country where an act occurs or where its effects are felt. This raises a number of potentially difficult issues in the case of activities involving websites, which may be accessed from any location. The Government believe that it will be important for the Commission's consultation to take account of the implications of the growing use of the Internet in Europe's increasingly knowledge based society and economy.

The Government are conscious that some users of the Internet, particularly individuals and small and medium-sized enterprises, may face cost and other disadvantages as a result of legal uncertainty, and have therefore emphasised in discussions with the Commission and in the Council and in other fora that any legislation at the EU or national level must provide a coherent and positive environment for the confident use of the Internet for e-commerce and other purposes.

Employee Information and Consultation: Proposed Directive

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Further to the Written Answer by Lord Sainsbury of Turville on 5 March (WA 14), whether they will either veto any proposals for the enforcement of the proposed directive to establish a general framework for informing and consulting employees in the European Community or decline to implement it because of its conflict with the doctrine of subsidiarity.[HL1196]

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: I set out in my previous Answer the Government's view of the proposed directive, which is subject to agreement by qualified majority vote. The directive has not been agreed so there is no requirement to implement it in the UK.

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Autism

Baroness Uddin asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will allocate the required funds to the National Autistic Society to assist in the Autism Awareness Year in 2002.[HL1116]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): There is an Autism Awareness week every year, currently held in May, promoted by the National Autistic Society (NAS). It is a matter for the NAS, along with others in the autism community, to decide whether they think holding an Autism Awareness Year in 2002 would be the best way forward.


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