HC Deb 30 June 1971 vol 820 cc379-81
17. Mr. Gorst

asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications what progress he has made in his review of the Post Office's monopoly in the field of telecommunications; and when he expects to be able to make a statement.

18. Mr. Golding

asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications what recent discussions he has had with the Post Office about the future of the telecommunications services.

Mr. Chataway

I have been discussing with the Post Office measures to liberalise the supply of customer apparatus. I hope it will soon be possible for private enterprise to supply 10 types of large private branch exchanges instead of two as in the recent past.

The Post Office is exploring with the telephone industry the joint marketing of special designs of telephones for customers who want to pay for them. Restrictions are being withdrawn on the supply and attachment of equipment like certain answering machines which were formerly obtainable only from the Post Office. Over 400 types of apparatus can now be attached to telephone lines, and private firms are being encouraged to market and maintain apparatus such as recording machines and burglar alarms which are considered not to be an integral part of the network.

I propose to keep the situation under review.

Mr. Gorst

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the liberalisation which he has just announced. Will he bear in mind that, so long as the wide monopoly powers of the Post Office exist in areas which have not yet been technically developed or commercially exploited, there is a dampener on the development of new projects by private enterprise firms which might otherwise, were the monopoly not so tight, be interested in exploiting these possibilities?

Mr. Chataway

I will certainly bear in mind my hon. Friend's point, which is a fair one. As he knows, it is necessary for the Post Office to safeguard the main network system, and there are difficulties, therefore, in allowing the free attachment of any apparatus direct to the network.

Mr. Golding

Will the Minister tell the House how much revenue the Post Office has lost in the last year and how much it will lose in the next year because the private equipment manufacturers, to whom more work is being given, have failed to deliver equipment on the dates promised?

Mr. Chataway

It would not be possible to make a calculation on that basis, because it would be wrong to assume that all delays are due solely to the manufacturers. Certainly there is blame attaching to some of the manufacturers for some of the delays that have been experienced in the delivery of exchange equipment but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, a good part of this delay is due to development difficulties for which there is a share of responsibility between both parties.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

My right hon. Friend referred to some 400 items which have been freed from restriction. Would it be possible for this lengthy list to be included in the OFFICIAL REPORT?

Mr. Chataway

I think that it would be too lengthy a list to be included in the OFFICIAL REPORT, but full details can, of course, be made available to my hon. Friend.

Mr. William Hamilton

Reverting to the supplementary question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding), does the right hon. Gentleman recollect the strictures made a few years ago by the Public Accounts Committee on the ring that operated then—and which probably operates still—in the provision of telecommunications equipment? Will he give a firm assurance that that ring has been broken or will be broken at the earliest opportunity?

Mr. Chataway

The ring does not operate today, and the Post Office is well aware of the advantages of encouraging the maximum amount of competition between manufacturers which is consistent with the Post Office securing the orders it needs.

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