HC Deb 30 May 1968 vol 765 cc2122-3
33. Mr. Bryan

asked the Postmaster-General by what criteria and by what grade of official it will be decided whether or not a charge is to be made for a directory enquiry call.

Mr. Mason

Only when the caller is unable to give reasonably adequate information on the wanted number to be traced and requires the operator to go to quite special lengths would a fee of 1s. become chargeable. The decision whether this special search should be made and the fee charged will rest with the customer.

Mr. Bryan

Will the caller be told if he is going to be charged? If he disagrees with the decision, what happens?

Mr. Mason

First, nearly 50 per cent. of the directory inquiries are made by people who have got the information in their own directories at the time. Secondly, 17 per cent. of directory inquiries are vague, which necessitates a search, and this constitutes 40 per cent. of the operator's work. It will be up to the customer. The operator will let him know that a search is required and that It will take time. He will ask him whether he wants the search to go on, pointing out that if he does he will be charged for the time.

Mr. Ogden

Will my right hon. Friend offer the thanks and congratulations of many hon. Members to those who operate the inquiry service and who seem to have better detection facilities than many police forces?

Mr. Mason

I am obliged to my hon. Friend. They will be pleased to hear that compliment.

Dr. Winstanley

Directory inquiries cost not only money but labour. Will not the number of such calls depend on the satisfactory nature or otherwise of the directories issued to subscribers?

Mr. Mason

Directory inquiries cost nearly £7 million a year and we would like to encourage people to use their directories to the full instead of ringing the operator. Nearly 50 per cent. of the subscribers have the information they want in their own directories.

Mr. Dobson

Will my right hon. Friend look at this matter again? Breaching the old-established principle of not charging for directory inquiries means that he must be sure that the time an operator spends on a call of this kind is properly equated. If he is going past this barrier, he should look at how long an operator may spend talking to the customer about the chance of finding the information.

Mr. Mason

I am obliged for those comments. I remind the House that nearly all those who are to use directory inquiries will still be able to use the service free.