THE Government is coming under pressure to clampdown on late-night nuisance calls by naming and shaming unscrupulous firms that use them.

North-East MPs are spearheading demands for action after thousands of people in the region received automated cold calls in the middle of the night.

They say there has been an explosion in the number of unsolicited telephone calls often a recorded voice, in the early hours.

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Now MPs say firms that use automated cold calling should know they could be publicly identified with the risk of a backlash from angry customers.

Householders in the North-East and North Yorkshire were woken in the early hours over several nights last week by an automated service offering solar panels, prompting calls for more to be done about companies who plague customers.

Helen Goodman, the Bishop Auckland MP, accused ministers of failing to act, saying: "This is a very serious problem, especially for vulnerable and elderly people."

That protest was echoed by North West Durham's Pat Glass, who called for companies who make nuisance calls to be named and shamed.

The Northern Echo: SELECTION JOY: Pat Glass

Pat Glass MP

She told the House of Commons: "My elderly constituents tell me it is the silent calls that cause them the greatest alarm.

"If people are living alone, such calls frighten them. I have received one or two silent calls myself and they are not pleasant."

During a Commons debate, the MPs urged ministers to:

* stop fighting European Union proposals to give people greater control over personal data loopholes exploited by marketing firms;

* introduce a time limit on any consent given for the release of data. The consumer rights group Which has suggested three months;

* require telephone companies to offer people free calling line identification (CLI) at a tiny cost to the likes of BT;

* stop firms flouting a limit of three percent on the proportion of abandoned calls or silent calls - they are allowed;

* name and shame the worst offenders to encourage the public to boycott those companies, in the way that tax-avoiding Starbucks was targeted;

* finally, introduce a long-delayed Communications Bill, to tackle the problem with new laws.

Ms Glass added: "We simply have to hit the companies hard in the pocket.

"We saw what happened to companies such as Starbucks when the public heard about their attitude to paying tax in this country - people simply walked past and bought their coffee somewhere else.

"Naming and shaming companies in a way that would have an impact on their profits might be how to deal with the problem."

The Northern Echo:

She added: "If I get a call after 10 o'clock, I am alarmed - I think, "Oh, what's wrong? It's my mother. It's the grandkids. That is how most of us feel."

And Ms Goodman said: "Marketing calls are a necessary means of reaching consumers in the modern world, but the number of nuisance calls has exploded.

One of the key underlying issues is the Governments failure to take seriously the privacy of individual citizens and the protection of personal data.

Darlington MP Jenny Chapman added: "I would agree with Pat Glass. Residents are getting increasingly frustrated with unsolicited calls and it is an irritation that is not necessary.

"I've had some complaints and it's a matter I'm keeping my eye on. It is an irritation and then it goes beyond irritation and becomes a nuisance."

In response, media minister Ed Vaizey pleased campaigners by promising stricter laws this year to make it easier for regulators to punish marketing firms.

Agreeing the threshold for what defined a nuisance call was too high, Mr Vaizey said a test of nuisance, annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety would replace substantial distress.

But he said: "It is important that we don't throw the baby out with the bath water - that we tackle the scourge of nuisance calls, whilst also recognising that next to that is a legitimate industry doing a legitimate job.

"Make no mistake, this Government does recognise that this is a scourge, it is a scourge where we need to make an impact and it needs to be tackled."

According to a survey by the consumers' association Which? more than eight in ten people have received an unsolicited call in the past month, with an astonishing eight per cent of those receiving 50 or more.