HC Deb 21 July 1980 vol 989 cc26-8
36. Mr. Arthur Lewis

asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will take steps to restore the House of Commons telephone service to the efficiency experienced by hon. Members during the past 35 years.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

By pressing on with the creation of a combined communications centre at the earliest possible moment, the Services Committee is seeking to ensure that the telephone service will regain the standards of efficiency provided in very different circumstances 35 years ago.

Mr. Lewis

Is the Leader of the House aware that 35 years ago, with the old equipment, telephonists could take three or four messages for each of three or four Members? Now we are told that they can take only one message for one Member. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if the chief executive of my local authority asks for the same message to be given to the three Newham Members he is told that he must make three separate calls? Is that saving Government expenditure?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The best way to save local authority expenditure would be to make fewer calls. It is impossible for the switchboard operators, with the present equipment, to give the sort of service that we should like them to give. The combined communications centre will have 24 operating positions able to deal with message-taking, inquiry and connecting functions. I hope that the centre will be ready for service in the first half of 1983. Meanwhile, I ask the hon. Gentleman to exercise a little patience in the matter.