back to article Ofcom asks ISPs nicely to stop mis-selling broadband on speed

Ofcom has today published a new voluntary code of practice aimed at rebuilding consumer trust in the ISP industry damaged by misleading speed claims. The code doesn't cover marketing, so don't necessarily expect an end to the "UNLIMITED* SUPERFAST** 8MEG*** BROADBAND!!!" adverts that leave so many feeling cheated. Instead, 32 …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Simply change what they can quote

    Rather than allowing them to quote the theoretical maximum, the should only be allowed to sell on the average speed that a consumer in a given area can expect to get. So rather than "GET (upto) 8 MEG BROADBAND!!!!!!!!!!!" we'd see "Get and average 1.2 meg connection today."

    If an advert covers many areas (e.g. TV) then they shouldn't quote speeds.

    Won't happen, of course.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    "Regulators plan to monitor compliance with the voluntary rules"

    Translates to:

    "Regulators will shake their head and tut loudly at non-compliant ISPs, but won't move to enforce the rules"

  3. This post has been deleted by its author

  4. steve hayes

    I Welcomed the report

    But... All I want Ofcom to do now is investigate the illegalities that appear to have gone on by BT and Phorm (121Media) during the older (soon to be renamed) 'WebWise' trials. These also affected customer speeds as well as being an illegal interception.

  5. Steven
    Thumb Up

    Well it's a start...

    Glad SOMETHING is finally being done about the problem.

    Now just to get rid of the dreaded "up to" and we're half way there.

  6. Nick Pettefar

    Money Grabbing Bastards!

    They should be publicly flogged. Snake oil salesmen, shysters, charlatans, mountebanks the lot of them. I thought fraud was illegal?

    My ISP ( sell me slower broadband than I actually get and give me a fixed IP and a support department that remembers my name and is actually technical.

    Mind you, I do have to actually pay for it.

    Thank (the AI?) God we have strong and moral OfCom on our side... (Office of Comedy?)

  7. Anonymous Coward

    More holes than a colander

    Hmmm, so ISPs have to be truthful about line speed. Trouble is, it isn't the line speed that's the problem, its the throughput. I have "Up to 8MB broadband" from BT*. They predicted 5.5 MBps, and that's what I get on the local loop and what BT's speed checker tells me I'm getting.

    The problem's start when you try to make any real use of that bandwidth and start hitting contention problems and upstream bottlenecks. Speeds drop to under 200KBps most evenings, which is really sucky.

    * Will shortly be ditching BT for a WiMax service. Don't know if it will be better or worse than BT's crap ADSL, but at least I will be free of BT and their spyware pushing partner, Phorm. Supposedly I get 2 phone lines, free calls to 01,02 and 03 24/7 and 'true' 8MB broadband all for £30 a month....

  8. Jeff Rowse

    Beeb News website

    Beeb News Website had a "download speedtest" thingy running recently; according to that, I was getting between 1.9 and 3.2 Mb/s downloads.

    Which doesn't explain why Oolite* add-on files of about 200-300kb were showing trasnfer rates of 10-27kb/s on download, and why aftermarket add-on aircraft and scenery files for FS2004 come down at a similar rate...

    *Oolite is an OpenSource version of the old classic Elite game - if you haven't found it yet and you loved Elite, go take a look!

  9. Anonymous Coward

    Got to love it!

    While anything like this is welcome, it all sounds so toothless as to be almost funny.

    Re: "It doesn't apply to advertising" - So the ISPs can still basically lie then?

    Re: "Signatories ... can therefore continue to advertise something they physically cannot provide" (ie - lie) - Why isn't this covered by normal false-advertising law??? Correction - Why isn't the false-advertising law that DOES cover this, being used?

    ...and they have 6 months (!!!) to stop lying and falsely advertising! Why? A couple of days is ample time to remove lies from their websites and (say) 4 months for paper advertising that's already out to publishers to filter out of the system.

    Yet another toothless, flaccid scheme that aims to achieves the absolute minimum it can get away with and still pretend to be on the side of the consumer.

  10. Anonymously Deflowered

    I don't understand

    "Signatories to the code can therefore continue to advertise something they physically cannot provide, so long as their sales staff mention that fact when people ring up."

    Wouldn't they then fall foul of trading standards for false advertising?

  11. Anonymous Coward

    Why not make it COMPULSORY?

    Simple answer: Prohibit phrases like "up to" and insist they quote only a GUARANTEED MINIMUM speed.

    Prohibit them saying what you MIGHT get and make them say something which, if measured and discovered to be false, is grounds for Breach of Contract.

    Insist that any termination fees be waived if a buyer wants to move and an ISP has failed to provide service above the guaranteed minimum (including total service failure) for a total of more than 24 hours in the previous month.

  12. Sir Runcible Spoon

    lies, damned lies, and ISP's

    regarding the fair-usage, I found out I had a bandwidth limit when they [BT]sent me a letter saying that I had exceeded it. Mind you, they did say they wouldn't charge me extra this time, but next time they would.

    Still, all a thing of the past now, hello Zen :)

    Wouldn't trading standards have something to say about marketting something they knew they couldn't deliver?

  13. James Bassett

    Seems fair enough

    This seems fair enough to me. If people are being given an estimate up front and then given the option to switch/cancel if the actual speed is significantly below the esitimate then I can't see the problem.

    Your comments regarding advertising seem a little unfair. How would The Register advertise a service which is so variable?

    "Broadband: £15 per month for upto 8MB although quite possibly as low as 2MB depending on how far you are from your local exchange, the quality of your internal wiring and how many people near you also have broadband"? We'd need advertising hoardings the size of the titanic and you'd have crashed your car by the time you've read it.

    Ferarri are allowed to advertise a car with a "top speed" of 180mph because it's assumed anyone interested in a Ferarri would have enough common sense to realise that those speeds can only be acheived under special circumstances.

    I don't see the problem in making similar assumptions about broadband speeds AS LONG AS the information is made freely available and in a clearly understandable form - and this proposal seems a pretty good move towards that.

  14. Paul Charters

    So, in other words....

    ....Ofcom have done nothing useful, and ISPs will do whatever they want to make money from gullible customers....

    ....or in other words....

    ....Today, nothing changed.

  15. Chris

    Went to the supermarket earlier...

    Bottle of wine - Contents, 'up to' 70cl

    'Nearly' a kg of carrots

    'Up to' a litre of milk

    'About' 20 cigarettes

    'Up to' 100gm instant coffee

    A bag of 'About' 5 oranges

    The bill? 'About' £15

    Tanked up with petrol on the way home, £1.08 per 'Up to' a litre

    When I got home there was a bill on the mat for 'up to' 428 kw of electricity

    This latest from Ofcon is total crap. No real surprise there really.

    Nothing like this is tolerated with any product I buy. And nothing will change until the law is changed to cover the situation.

    Certainly nothing like the 'softly, softly' approach of the pussycats at Ofcon is going to alter the resent and completely unacceptable situation to any noticeable extent.

    Another smoke and mirrors exercise by a toothless Government 'regulator'. The only thing Ofcon 'regulates' is the flow of money into ISP's and BT Wholesale's pockets!

  16. Andy ORourke

    Probably not the first.......

    but they should really be clamping down on this "unlimited" bollocks. I had to smile the other night, saw an advert on TV for an ISP (Can't remember which) which offered "Superfast, Unlimited" broadband and then had a banner at the bottom saying "subject to fair useage policy"

    Whats the point in advertising something as unlimited when there are clearly limits on it? Do any other advertisers get away with such blatantly false advertising?

  17. dervheid


    this sad old watchdog was taken round to the back of the barn and introduced to the sharp end of a large shovel.

    No Bite.

    No Bark.

    A waste of 'Watchdog Food', otherwise known as public money.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    What is speed anyway?

    Data rate from my machine to their first router?

    Chances are they don't have the back haul to provide anything like the speeds they suggest, unless everyone else decides to disappear for the day.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    not all isp's are bad....

    yeah, most of the big isp's need to sort themselves out. if a ISP has a FUP is it not fair to actually publish the policy? and i mean publish it... not describe it, actually post bandwith limits....

    there is a ISP out there that as far as i am concerned is totaly transparent, take a look at ADSL24. when you sign up, you are told exactly what the limits are. they do not packet shape or block any ports, and for 20 quid, you get up to 8Mbit, a 30Gb peak time bandwith limit and a 300Gb off peak limit. go over and yeah, you are charged, but they provide you with a tool where you can see exactly how much bandwith you have used, how much you have left, the expected amount you will have used if you carry on at the rates you have been. it also gives details of the central pipe you are connected to and its current capacity. it also tells you how much you will be billed for the current period.

    Customer service is exelent and they do the best they can to sort out any line problems you may have. they dont fob you off with a standard "its BT that need to fix the problem, we cant do anything about it", if its broke it gets fixed. plus its a geograpical number to call, not one of those 0845 numbers.... plus you will find on a daily basis the MD browsing the support forums and offering help where possible. a big hats off to James and JamesL...

    Some of you may think i am just pluging a advert for adls24, but no, i am not even a customer of adsl24 anymore. I jumped ship to join BE for the 24Mbit package. and do not get any bungs to plug the ISP... I just belive that if you are looking for a no nonsense ISP, you cant go far wrong. Plus, they do not tie you in to a 12 month contract....its a month by month contract.

  20. Anonymous Coward

    FUP Alerts

    ""Fair use" limits will come under welcome new scrutiny. Compliant ISPs will be required to email customers when a fair use limit is breached, and be clear what the consequences are in terms of line speed or additional costs. They should "consider" warning users who approach the limit."

    Wow, wouldn't that mean the likes of Virgin media could potentially have to email a large swath of their customer base 4 times a day? Once for each cap approach and once for each cap... I can't see it happening, that would mean they wouldn't be able to rip off their customers by deception... how will they survive??????

  21. Ruairi Newman

    Is it really the fault of OfCom...

    ... if they are not given sufficient authority to go in heavyhanded and crack down on the offenders?

  22. Liam

    some good news....

    im a 2mb virgin media customer... conenction has been a bit shite lately so i called them to have a moan. for an extra £4 month i have gone from 2mb to 4mb, which is being upgraded to 10mb next wek for free :) BONUS!

    ofcom suck... im so sick of companies being able to outright lie and get away with this type of thing. yet i smoke some lethal weed and im a menace to society and should get 3 years lol...

    is it me or has labour seemingly allowed business to run a mock (zero accountability / tiny fines), where we all seem to have no civil liberties any more?

  23. Mark

    Re: Speed?

    I suspect that the simplest action is to take the chokepoint and see if it's oversubscribed.

    They can't give money back to individual users who have been choked hardest, so you'll have to share your compensation with others, but they can definitely see whether their network is overused and therefore must be choking their subscribers.

    I still think that VM et al ought to traffic shape and post a guarantee about how much bandwidth they will sell you and tell you that you may get more. It used to be done like that in other venues: where do you think "a bakers dozen" came from?

  24. Shinobi87

    re:Went to the supermarket earlier...

    if you pay 1.08p per litre you are a lucky bugger! anyway yes its a scam scrap this fair usasage shit. just give a limit or no limit. ie: "new X broadband a thearetical maximum of 8mb/s and a max download of 40gb a month. for more information and to see what speed you can get please contact us."

  25. Frank Bough

    Virgin Media

    Every time one of these stories tips up on the Reg, I feel duty bound to explain what MY broadband experience is like, as it clearly diverges massively from most of those who post comments here. I get home from work, boot my old Mac G4 - iTunes launches, Activity Monitor launches and iTunes grabs my latest podcasts which merrily download at 1.22MB/sec - pretty much exactly the 10Mb downstream bandwidth that I pay my £24.99pcm wedge to Virgin Media for.

    What - exactly - is the problem? Pay for 10Mbit DS, get 10Mbit DS.

    If you're not getting what you pay for, switch ISPs or take it up with a regulatory body, but DO NOT assume that your experience is the norm.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    ISP's marketing is all bollocks anyway..

    If I claimed that a double-decker bus is 'faster' than a Porche 911 because the bus can get 60 people from A to B in less time than the Porche can I'd be called an idiot.

    Yet the ISP's do this all the time. The Mbps figures they quote are volume, not speed.

    Quoting theoretical rather than achieveable maximum volume and omitting the much smaller upload volumes is just the icing on the turd.

    ADSL improves volume at the cost of speed - that's fine if you are doing something that requires a lot of data to be delivered in a 'reasonable' time (web browsing, watching videos and so on) but not if you want a little data delivered and returned really, really quickly (SSH or RDP sessions, VoIP, online gaming etc).

    Those looking for the former are going to be a bit pissed-off that the ISP exagerrated their claims of the volume acheivable (they got a single-decker bus when paying for a double-decker) but those looking for the latter are going to be livid (they got a single-decker bus when they were expecting a souped-up sports car).

    Still, the government has a target of getting X% of the population on broadband by year Y and I guess a little blatently fraudulent advertising helping them towards that goal can be overlooked.

    Yes, Ofcom can ask people to tell the truth until they are blue in the face but while they remain such a toothless agency they will still fail to do anything but suck.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    One would hope..

    One would hope that it is OFCOM's aim to bring the code in now, and let it bed down before it becomes a requirement.

    As mentioned in the article (which I must go back and rate), I do hope OFCOM take the following steps when they review these 'volantary' codes.

    1. Independant Speed Tests.

    2. Uptime Tests.

    3. Strong Limitations on advertisment, so you can not call your offering 'unlimited 24/7 broadband at upto 10Mbits for only £12.00/month' if you do not get 98% uptime, 75% of the bandwith on average, no speed throteling or additional charges.

    4. Make a clear statment of what 'fair use' means. I belive if you mention a limit on DL's or what throteling there is upfront, then if you user excceds or meets these they have reached the limit of fair use.

    5. Give BT a kick in the teeth and remove the damm monopoly from them. And change the new companys name from BT what ever to somthing else.

    6. Give strong 'phorm' type guidance, i.e. you must mention things like it upfront, and make them opt-in only. (unless you take the offer of cheap BB by signing away your privacy, so long as there clear I am ok with this i.e. they do not change your contract 1/2 way though).

    I don't know about other readers opinions but I am fed up with weak supervisor only bodys that can do, or do nowt. They alwas seem to listen to the industry and support there calls though.

    -a huffy person.

    NB: please forgive any spelling guffs, I was in a rush when writting this.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    conention vs line sync

    In some cases if you are paying for a 8Mbs connection but can only sync at 2 and you are sharing this with 10 others at the same time you only get 0.2 Mbps rather than the anticipated 0.8 Mbps.

  29. Red Bren

    @James Bassett

    "This seems fair enough to me."

    You might be in a minority round here then.

    "If people are being given an estimate up front and then given the option to switch/cancel if the actual speed is significantly below the esitimate..."

    I would also add that customers should be charged pro-rata for the service delivered against the level stated in the contract/advertising.

    "How would The Register advertise a service which is so variable?"

    By advertising the guaranteed minimum service level, rather than an unobtainable theoretical maximum, perhaps? Like offering "Sci/Tech news for the world" rather than "Sci/Tech news for the universe" but actually delivering "Sci/Tech news for Slough"

    "Ferarri are allowed to advertise a car with a "top speed" of 180mph"

    If you're a skilled driver and you take your ferrari to a track, you may well be able to reach the top speed. You would soon be complaining if the car never went above 50mph and automatically slowed to 20mph if you did more than 100 miles in a day.

    "I don't see the problem in making similar assumptions about broadband speeds AS LONG AS the information is made freely available and in a clearly understandable form - and this proposal seems a pretty good move towards that."

    I would define "clearly understandable" as being completely unambiguous, i.e. unlimited meaning unlimited, 8Mb meaning 8Mb and no contradictory small print.

    That would be fair enough - the current proposal is far too timid.

  30. Ceilidhman


    I pay for a 24Mb downstream, 1.3Mb upstream connection. Yeah, right. Using Speedtest, I really get 3.5Mb and 700K respectively. Apparently the (BT) copper to my house only supports up to 4Mb

    So WTF!? How come this is legal?

    Mine's the one that's been broken by lies, deceipt and greed of the ISPs

  31. Thomas
    Thumb Up

    Huzzah for half-assed ineffectual public bodies!

    @A Baird

    I have a 3G modem from Vodafone - I'm just waiting to hear from them why my latency is 2569ms on HSPDA connection speed and 800ms on 2G.

    Should make for good reading ^^

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Worked with a guy

    who had 24meg broadband and found he was rarely getting more than 8meg. So he dropped his contract to 8meg and found he never got more than 6.

    RE: the blokey with the 10Meg Virgin Media connection--> but you have to pay money to Virgin Media. I would rather put red hot needles in my eyes whilst listening to a CD of "words of wisdom" by Jade Goody than pay VM anything, anything at all.

  33. Dave Bell

    It's the lies that matter.

    I'm not bothered by the speed dropping in the evening, when everyone else is using their broadband. They don't bother to explain contention, and I don't recall an advert which mentions it.

    But they were comepletely shutting down access to some protocols, such as NNTP, even to their own server. And their helpdesk system promised to find out what was happening--the rest is silence.

    Why do we need Ofcom to deal with the liars?

  34. Dick Emery
    Thumb Down


    Also buyouts of ISP's should have some regulation on affecting customer service. I am about to jump ship back to BT then Be, because Bulldog is being screwed with by Tiscali who are (I think) being bought out by Vodaphone. Bulldog was itself a buyout of another company but it is becoming ever clearer that we the customer base are being used as a football for interested parties.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    You didn't believe the old "Were upgrading the 2mb to 4mb and the 4mb to 10mb for FREE!" line did you? They've been spouting that for years!

    Over all VM isn't *cough* that bad! Speed is generally what it claims to be and I've never, ever had to call VM about anything!!! But VMs FUPs are a load of bo**ocks! I mainly work at night so only get to use my connection in the day... How is restricting my perfectly legitimate internet usage during the day when I (very, very) occasionally want/need to go over their "Fair Use" limits... my connections doing f**k all for the rest of the time!! Fair Use Policy my hairy arse!!!!!

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Ferarri are allowed to advertise a car with a "top speed" of 180mph "

    But if you could demonstrate that the particular car you bought could NOT achieve 180mph, that would be grounds for a full refund and compensation for any other losses you may occur.

    Likewise, if ADSL is advertised as "up to 8MPH", then the telco should be required to demonstrate that each and every ADSL installation really can handle 8MPH at all times, and if they fail, they too should be required to cancel with a full refund and give compensation for losses too.

  37. William Bronze badge


    Haven't they recently changed the law to tighten up sales calls. I think ISP's should be forced, the same way Tarot Card readers have been, to include "FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY" in large flashing letters underneath their "Superfast, 90MB Unlimited Broadband"

    Seems only fair

  38. William Bronze badge
    Thumb Up

    Start an Airline.

    And claim you will fly people anywhere they want to go in the world up to the speed of light as many times as they want.

    And then in small print.

    * physics applies - speed of light only applies if you have the mass of a photon, actual speed may vary dependent on mass

    * you can only travel clockwise around the world twice in one year. Any extra flights after this will be subject to a surcharge or we just throw you off the plane in mid air.

    Seems like anything is game....

    All you can eat anyone?

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    What gets my goat....

    What gets my goat every bloody advert says that a service is unlimited and then promptly make a disclamer that there is a download limit.

  40. Anonymous Coward


    Well one rule will Do:

    For ISP to be honest.

    Each ISP should force by law to details:

    1. The speed

    2. the bandwidth allowance

    Alos any kind of content filtering should be banned and punishable with extended prison time.

  41. Anonymous Coward

    ofcom who

    These guys have been toothless for years, the whole regulatory body situation in the UK is based on passing it to someone else. "We dont cover advertising".. all BS.

    Forget the watchdogs, the only way to get the message to these people is to vote with your feet. I stopped BE because i was getting 2mb on a 24 mb connection, it wasn't their fault, the BT engineer who came and fitted my line told me there was problems in this area with broadband due to mixed copper and aluminum lines to the exchange, and BT were not planning on changing them anytime soon as they only had a duty to provide voice calls, so since they could screw broadband customers for more speed than they get, why not eh.

    Yes the BT engineer who was more savvy than i would have expected told me to get the cheapest broadband i could at 2mb as thats all i'd ever get.

    If you are still unhappy then leach your broadband, this is a tech website afterall, its not hard to get free wifi ..... really folks.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Actual rate vs advertised price

    Is it really beyond the whit of OFCOM to insist that ISPs proportion their charge to their delivered speed?

    Advertising......"Up to 8MBps for £10 pcm"

    If punter gets only 4MBps average, he pays only £5pcm!

  43. Frederick Karno
    Paris Hilton

    This has to be a joke

    This is a positive move by Ofcom which will reduce consumers' over reliance on crude and unreliable speed tests, which do not take into consideration issues such as traffic management policies."

    I will translate " this is a cop out and the isp's concerned can do as they like "

    but until customers vote with their feet and leave the traffic shaping isp's there will be no change.

    Paris because she wants a fast reliable service

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    OFCOM: They were a joke, are a joke, will always be a joke.

    Half ass measures to do something about the terrible mess they oversee.

    Time ofcom hung up it's zimmer frame and tootled off to the hospice...

  45. Adam Clarke
    Thumb Down

    Proper Pants

    They are all a bunch of nobends. Claiming to provide a service and then saying. "Well we dont actually give it you, We just say we do and then slap you in the face for believing us." in the small print. Something needs to be done. I have Gigs and gigs of "linux distros" to download and giving me a shitty speed is not helping! is their a provider that actually gives you what they say they do? I am on virgin media. And with the talk now of capping you during the day. makes me wonder. What am I actually paying for?

  46. Frank Bough

    @ Lee

    I can understand your feelings toward Virgin Media, but my own bete noir is BT and it'll be a cold day in hell before I give them ANY more of my money. What's more, I refuse to do business with O2 because they used to be part of that life-sapping syndrome. So I open my Virgin Media bill every month gleefully, even though it's always for the wrong amount and their customer service team apparently couldn't break out of a wet paper bag - as long as my DD is for £24.99 and I get my 10Mbit with no outages I'm prepared to not only tolerate but RECOMMEND Virgin Media broadband.

  47. This post has been deleted by its author

  48. Gordon Grant

    Guess we'll wait and see........

    Yeah this should be fun, OFCOM finds it's teeth - no wait they don't..

    I'm with Orange formally Wanadoo formally Freeserve.

    What I pay I now consider too much but I do have a good 2mbit connection see torrents hit 220Kbit/s, rarely have to phone tech support, it's only once went down and that was due to a BT line fault, totally uncapped as I was basically first in the queue for the service so to speak..

    I know I'll get me coat, the one with the long arms and ship myself back to the "funny farm"

  49. mike kiely

    There is more information on a loaf of bread .

    The oftcom voluntary code is a start, we should push for complete labelling. I've had a go here. Suggestions on further improvements are welcome.

  50. Slaine

    Maybe we should pay "up to" £15 per month.

    In the old days the penalty for "short selling" was hideous and brutal. Bakers found themselves with a bit of a dilemma in that they could not be absolutely sure that every single bun was sufficiently "large" to conform to the very strict rules applied to purveyors of bread products. Hense the 13th roll in a "baker's dozen".

    By the same logic, an ISP "selling" a 4meg connection should provide 6 or 8meg, just to be safe. The internet stazi, rather than wasting time and money persecuting low paid individual people for sharing the odd file, really ought to be out there with "at least" 6inch nails, crucifying directors of companies who constantly "fail to deliver" even half of the service that they are charging for, those who are deliberately hiding behind this "legal-spin". The alternative is we all start getting used to buying loaves with "up to" 15 slices and fishes with "more than" no bones. The wine will be "less than" 16 proof.

    How popular would I be the next morning if I bragged about having "less than" £20million and "up to 18 inches"?

  51. Jason Crowley

    Ofcom Petition

    I was going to have a rant about how Ofcom have failed to enforce the previous codes of practice, but 50 other people have beaten me to it.

    Codes of Practice are only enforceable by the regulator, unfortunately thats Ofcom so nothing happens. The consumer cannot take legal action when the ISPs breach this code, so effectively it is worthless. Even more so as this one is voluntary.

    Anyway please sign this 10 Downingstreet Petition to scrap these unenforceable codes

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