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Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I totally agree. These statistics on accidents are extremely fascinating; they prove that the British public can use practically anything in this world to hurt themselves with. It is understandable that there are an estimated 55 accidents a year from putty, while toothpaste accounts for 73. However, it is rather bizarre that 823 accidents are estimated to be the result of letters and envelopes. It is difficult to understand how they can be the cause of such serious plight. I agree with the noble Baroness that it would be helpful if people paid careful attention.
We aim to implement by the end of October this year the privacy and electronic communications directive. This includes requirements that unsolicited e-mails may be sent to individuals only for the purpose of direct marketing with their prior consent, except where there is existing customer relationship between the sender and the addressee. Consultation on the draft regulations started on 27th March and closes on 19th June.
Lord Mitchell: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that Answer. Unsolicited e-mails, known as "spam", now account for half of all e-mails in this country. In the United States, they account for 70 per cent. Spam, whether it is nuisance advertising or hardcore pornography is literally choking the Internet. Will the Minister expand on his Answer? Do the Government intend to follow the example of the United States Senate in introducing legislation specifically prohibiting unsolicited e-mails?
There is now a big movement to stop spam in the United States. Twenty-six states have legislated and, although I do not believe that any action has been taken at the federal level, there has been a recent forum from the Federal Trade Commission on the subject.
Lord Renton: My Lords, will the Minister explain how it is that an inedible tinned food that lasted for ever and was supplied to those on active service can become an unsolicited e-mail, bearing in mind that some of us wish to be protected from having an e-mail?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I am afraid that I have not been able to find out why the term "spam" is used, but that is the meaning it now has. It is a matter that should be taken very seriously because it not only clutters up computers but involves a great deal of very unpleasant advertising to do with easy credit, pornography and miracle diets. That is offensive to people, and we should try to reduce it.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I can help the Minister with the origin of the word. It comes from aficionados of Monty Python, and the famous song, "Spam, spam, spam, spam". It has been picked up by the Internet community and is used as a description of rubbish on the Internet.
More seriously, is the Minister aware that up to 85,000 pieces of unsolicited e-mail are received by the Parliamentary Communications Directorate each month? Will he join me in congratulating the directorate on its valiant efforts to filter out that menace, given that a high proportion of it is rubbish advertising from the United States and that some of it consists of profane material? The directorate is battling against a rising tide; the Government's assistance is needed in combating it.
Lord Razzall: My Lords, given the Government's concern about voter turnout in elections and their commitment to increasing the use of Internet voting and campaigning, does the Minister consider that further restrictions on unsolicited e-mails would be contrary to that objective?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, no, not at all. I cannot see that it helps anyone in any activity, including voting, to have their computers flooded with this often quite distasteful material. It takes up a large capacitysome 40 per cent of e-mails around the
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, do the Government have any plans to restrict unsolicited faxes? My fax paper is always being wasted by people who send me faxes I do not want. I do not know whether they could be called "corned beef" or something, but I have had enough of them.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, faxes are already covered, in exactly the same way, by the existing telecoms data protection directive. The essential nature of the privacy directive is to extend that into the question of e-mails.
Lord Haskel: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that modern fax machines are equipped to refuse faxes that have no return telephone number? In that way, many unsolicited faxes are filtered out. Is there any way in which the Internet system could operate similarly? For example, can the Internet service providers filter out e-mails that do not have a return address on them?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, there is a lot of action that Internet service providers can take to help customers to protect themselves. They can and indeed do offer spam filtering and blocking options. However, we do not want to specify what ISPs must do, because different people require different levels of protection. There is a strong commercial incentive to ISPs to offer a range of solutions, and they are keen to do so to cut costs.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government have recognised, since the Luxembourg European Council in 1997, that member states participating in the single currency will want to meet from time to time to discuss certain issues to do with sharing a currency, but it is important to remember that ECOFIN is the sole decision-making body on economic policy co-ordination. Whenever matters of common interest are discussed, all member states will
Lord Newby: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. However, would he accept that Britain is losing the opportunity to influence the development of a number of key economic and financial policies, not least the operations of the European Central Bank and the growth and stability pact, by not being a member of the Eurogroup? Although ECOFIN is technically the body that takes the decisions, in reality the Eurogroup, meeting on the day before ECOFIN, is where the real deals are hammered out. ECOFIN is increasingly becoming a rubber stamp.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, that is simply an assertion. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, has no evidence for it whatever. Decisions cannot be taken by the Eurogroup; they can be taken only by ECOFIN.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I have been in the Labour Party for more than 50 years, and I am well used to devices within the Labour Party to avoid democratic decision making. Fortunately, with the advent of one member one vote, nearly all those devices have become inoperative.
In the case that we are discussing, the reality is that no decisions can be taken other than by ECOFIN. If, for example, decisions have to be taken by qualified majority voting, they cannot be taken by the Eurogroup. They certainly will not be able to be taken by the Eurogroup after enlargement.
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