Clause 68 - Use of alternative dispute resolution

Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:30 pm ar 17 Mawrth 2022.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Llafur, Blackley and Broughton

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause 69 stand part.

Photo of Julia Lopez Julia Lopez Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office), Minister of State

I will now speak to clauses 68 and 69, which introduce measures on alternative dispute resolution and complaints relating to the conduct of operators. The purpose is to encourage more collaborative discussions between landowners and telecoms operators, and to ensure that litigation is used only as a last resort where an agreement cannot be reached.

Clause 68 sets out two new requirements for operators and one new requirement for courts. Together, they will encourage the greater use of alternative dispute resolution processes. The requirements are as follows. First, when a request notice is sent for access to land or other rights under the electronic communications code, all operators must inform the landowner of the availability of ADR processes if the landowner is unhappy with the offer made. Secondly, in cases where an agreement cannot be reached operators must consider using ADR processes before applying to the courts. If the matter relates to modification of an expired agreement, either party must consider ADR before applying to the court. Finally, when awarding costs, the courts will be required to take into account any unreasonable refusal to engage in ADR by either party.

Some landowners and their representatives have told us that they find negotiations for code rights difficult. In some cases, landowners have felt pressured to accept any terms offered, to avoid the risk of being taken to court—this relates to the David and Goliath situation that we discussed earlier in the week. The measures in clause 68 address this issue by encouraging the use of ADR in order to minimise the risk of landowners feeling such pressure, and to facilitate co-operative discussions between landowners and telecoms.

Clause 69 inserts new subsection (ca) into paragraph 103 of the electronic communications code, which lists the issues that Ofcom’s code of practice must deal with. Subsection (ca) adds to the list

“the handling by operators of complaints relating to the failure of operators to comply with the code of practice”.

Landowners and their representatives have reported to the Government that, in some cases, they are reluctant to enter into code agreements because they are concerned about how the operator or their contractors will behave when they access the relevant land. The clause works to address the issue by requiring Ofcom to prepare guidance, following consultation, regarding operators’ handling of conduct. To complement that, we will bring forward secondary legislation to introduce a new statutory requirement for operators to have a complaints process for code matters, enforced by Ofcom.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 68 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 69 ordered to stand part of the Bill.