Lib Dems' knuckles are rapped over Clegg's 250,000 cold calls

Nick Clegg's 250,000 automatic "cold calls" to voters after his party conference speech broke privacy laws, the information commissioner has ruled.

The commissioner said the calls, featuring a recorded message from Mr Clegg highlighting themes in his party conference speech last week, were "direct marketing" and could not be targeted at anyone who did not give consent. The information commissioner's office said it had received "a number" of complaints about the calls. The party said it would not appeal.

The calls were made to people in 50 marginal constituencies targeted by the Liberal Democrats, but hit immediate controversy after it emerged the party had previously complained about automated calls from the Scottish National Party. People receiving the early evening calls heard the disembodied voice of Mr Clegg outlining the themes of his speech before being asked questions about their attitudes to Liberal Democrat policy. The calls lasted about four minutes, although party officials admitted that around half of those telephoned in tests featuring the former leader Paddy Ashdown, put the phone down.

David Smith, the deputy information commissioner, said: "Many people find unsolicited automated calls particularly intrusive and annoying, so it is important that any organisation making such calls ensures that individuals have given their consent."

Tricia Marwick, of the SNP, said: "The hypocrisy of the Lib Dems in making these calls knows no bounds. Having reported other parties for making similar calls and having run a campaign against unwanted telesales calls themselves the Lib Dems were well aware of their actions."