HC Deb 08 December 1971 vol 827 cc1272-4
5. Mr. Pardoe

asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications if he will estimate how many telephones per 1,000 population there will be in the United Kingdom by 1980; the increased capital investment required to achieve this figure; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Chataway

The Post Office has estimated that about two-thirds of all homes will have telephones by 1980. For forecasts of Post Office investment, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the recent White Paper on Public Expenditure to 1975–76.

Mr. Pardoe

Is the Minister aware that, even if we reach the figure of two-thirds, it will be substantially below the American-Canadian-Swedish pattern? Why is he suggesting that we shall be substantially below this figure? Is he further aware that the attitude of the Post Office to anyone demanding a telephone today tends to be, "Oh, Lord, Another customer"? Will he take action to ensure that the Post Office will not try to limit demand artificially by excessive prices?

Mr. Chataway

Certainly. It is no part of the Government's belief that the Post Office should limit demand artificially. At present the capacity of the system as a whole does not enable the Post Office to supply all those who want telephones. In the investment plans to which we have given agreement it is the Post Office's intention and the Government's intention that the full demand should be met. It is true that at present Britain has lower figures than the countries which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, but we have higher figures than any of the Common Market countries.

Mr. Cormack

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I have an elderly constituent who has been told that she must wait for nearly two years for the installation of a telephone? Is not that absolutely scandalous?

Mr. Chataway

It is true that in some areas the waiting list is a very serious matter. The capacity of the system as a whole is limited by investment decisions taken four or five years previously. We are anxious to ensure that the investment decisions taken now will lead in due course to the elimination of that waiting list.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright

Does the Minister realise that there is a tremendous waiting list for telephones? Therefore, will he increase the capital investment? Will he bear in mind, too, that nowadays many people are compelled to share a telephone against their wish?

Mr. Chataway

I accept all that. The investment in telecommunications is running 50 per cent. higher than the investment of five years ago which determines the present capacity of the telephone system.

11. Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications whether he will give a direction to the Post Office to discontinue forcing subscribers to share a telephone line at the Post Office's request.

Mr. Chataway

No, Sir. I understand sharing is still necessary to enable as many people as possible to have telephone service.

Mr. Finsberg

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there are people who are being asked to share telephones after having been subscribers for 10 years? Does he not think that the Post Office should now plan so that it can withdraw this iniquitous restriction on people's freedom at least within the next decade?

Mr. Chataway

I accept that that would be a reasonable objective, and it is indeed in line with the thinking of the Post Office.

Mr. Golding

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that far from being short of investment funds, in the last 12 months the Post Office was unable to spend all the money allocated to it because the equipment manufacturers could not deliver orders on time? Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that it is because of the failure of the private equipment manufacturers to meet their contracts that there are waiting lists and that people have to share a service?

Mr. Chataway

I am aware that the hon. Gentleman knows much more about the matter than his question would suggest. There is a whole variety of causes of the present difficulties, the greatest of which is under-estimating the level of demand in the past. As to delays in meeting contracts, the number of delays has been reduced from 80 per cent. in March, 1970, to 45 per cent. in March, 1971.

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