HC Deb 29 March 1983 vol 40 cc188-213 3.48 pm
Mr. John Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

I beg to move amendment No. 120, in page 2, line 39, at end insert `, except in relation to running cable systems'.

It was difficult for Opposition Members to speak in our debate yesterday because of the length of the speech that was made by the Minister of State, and because of the internal Conservative party battle that took place between 10 o'clock last evening and almost midnight, when the guillotine came down. Today I hope that Conservative Members will give the Opposition time in which to put their point of view.

In my opinion, it is sharp practice for a Government to introduce a guillotine to curtail discussion of a Bill which is of great importance not only to subscribers and the manufacturing industry but to the staff. The Government curtailed discussion, and then took the time of the House to conduct internal party battles.

People outside will note how the Government: have behaved over the Bill. In order to hand over telecommunications to their friends in private industry, so that private industry can make, in the words of Lord Weinstock, a quick buck, they have set out on the road of liberalisation and privatisation—not because that is in the interests of Britain or of tile telecommunications industry, but because even the oil revenues are inadequate to fund the unemployment that the Government have created. They need to sell off—often at cut prices—industries that have been created from public investment to obtain additional revenue with which to fund unemployment. That is the damnable situation that we face today.

The amendment is designed to ensure that responsibility for installing and developing the future cable system will rest with the publicly controlled British Telecom.

The Government's position on cabling is not clear. We were promised that before, Easter there would be a White Paper on the development of cable in Britain. Perhaps the Government do not use the same timetables, the same calendar or the same diaries as the Opposition use. I had thought that Good Friday was next Friday and that Easter Monday was next Monday, but there is still no sign of the White Paper dealing with the cabling of Britain.

All too often Ministers have promised us documents that are essential for the sensible discussion of telecommunications policy but have failed to keep their promises. I mentioned yesterday the promise of information on access fees, on the licence for British Telecom and on the memorandum about British Telecom, including specific statements about the role of British Telecom in the cabling of Britain. The Minister of State promised all that information, but we have not yet received it.

Despite the ill-fated report of the Information Technology Advisory Panel which was commissioned by the Department of Industry, and despite the timidity of the unsatisfactory Hunt report, we learnt in Committee that the Minister of State was moving towards the proposition that, in the long term, cable should be national, switched and broad band, and must integrate telecommunications, broadcasting and data transmission.

I think that even the Government now recognise that the development of cable must be under public control. That has led them to reject the shallowness of the ITAP report and to acknowledge that fibre optics must have a dominant role. I do not know whether the Minister is reading his holiday brochure, but it would be better if the doyen of information technology would take some interest in the debate on cable.

The Minister for Industry and Information Technology (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

It is not a holiday brochure. It is a brochure published today by my Department on the small engineering firms investment scheme which will provide £100 million in funding for British companies to buy the latest electronically controlled machine tools. Many of the companies that will benefit from the scheme—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I believe that the Minister is about to use the magic word "cable".

Mr. Baker

You anticipated my very words, Mr. Speaker. Under the scheme, many British companies will be able to buy machine tools to help to develop the technology for the cable revolution in Britain. That is why I recommend the brochure to all Members of the House.

Mr. Golding

The Minister makes my point for me. The doyen of information technology is more interested in reading about a bogus scheme that has entirely failed to impress the country, especially the west midlands, than in the legitimate argument about cable technology. I should have been more impressed if he had been reading the promised White Paper on cable, which has so far not appeared, rather than a glossy pamphlet on an entirely different subject. I suspect that the Minister is not listening to the argument, because whenever he has listened to us he has been persuaded and has had to try to knock some sense into the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, and in this context I think that that is beyond even the Minister's capacity.

The Government have had to reject the shallowness of the ITAP report and to acknowledge that fibre optics must play a dominant role. That report was an attempt to rescue just a couple of private cable relay firms. The Government have had to reject the ITAP view that there was no role for new technology in the development of cable and to acknowledge that fibre optics must be dominant and that the switched star system should be developed in this country. They have accepted the logic of that, but they are not taking sufficient action on it. Having rejected the ITAP report, they are inhibited by their own Hunt report which is dominated by the free market philosophy.

It is regrettable for broadcasting that the Government have failed to accept that there should be a separation between those who install and maintain the physical cable systems and those who use the systems for broadcasting and data trasmission. It would have been far better if the Government had created a common carrier system and separated the physical network from broadcasting and other uses of the system. It is regrettable from Britain's point of view that the Government accepted the Hunt recommendations.

4 pm

In Committee the Minister confessed that logic was on the side of the Opposition, and that the weight of argument was with the Post Office Engineering Union, the TUC and British private manufacturing industry. The Minister is faced not only by the POEU, which says that it wants a national system based on fibre optics, but by our major employers and manufacturers in the cable industry who say that the POEU is right and that the Government are wrong. Some of the Government's major supporters and closest advisers in manufacturing industry have been telling them that the future lies in the development of fibre optics.

The Minister knows that the Opposition are right. Reading between the lines of his speeches, the utterances that are delivered with confidence are those in support of fibre optics, but those that are delivered with hesitation tend to support copper coaxial cable. I think that the Minister has been persuaded, and that if he had total freedom, he would agree with the Opposition. However, he is not a free agent. His policy is determined by the Secretary of State, who is more concerned to keep happy those individuals who wish to provide cable and, in the words of Lord Weinstock, make a quick buck than to provide the best system for Britain.

The Government, the Minister and the Department of Industry are failing to support adequately the development of fibre optics. There is some force in their argument that in a cable system it is impossible to go over wholly to fibre optics at present. The logical conclusion of that argument is that more effort must be put into the development of fibre optics. After all, the Minister has acknowledged—I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven (Dr. Cunningham) will raise this matter later—that Britain is a world leader in this business. If the Japanese and the Americans were world leaders in a technology which would have important consequences for telecommunications, they would be giving more support to the development of that technology,

The Government are investing only £40 million in fibre optics, with a further £15 million for joint industry and university development. It ought to be much more. The Minister of State has been persuaded of the long-term validity of the argument that Britain should have a star system of cable rather than a tree-and-branch system. Instead of ensuring the maximum development from the start of the star configuration, the Minister has decided to ensure that new systems can be adapted to the star configuaration in the future. He recognises that the star configuration will hold the ring for the future. However, he has decided not to proceed immediately to that system but to ensure that the present systems are compatible in future.

That would be all right if there was an almighty rush to develop the cable system, but that is not the position. What the Minister of State is doing is harmful not only to the telecommunications system and to the development of the cable system in Britain but to British industry. If many tree-and-branch networks are installed in the United Kingdom, albeit with evolutionary potential, based heavily on coaxial cable, the economic dangers would be that the chance of boosting the United Kingdom's expertise and capacity in both switched systems and optical fibres would be diminished.

These are home-grown technologies in which the United Kingdom is among the leaders and where there is export potential. In addition, coaxial cable is obsolescent. When the time comes for replacing it, the United Kingdom's capacity in optic fibre cable will be correspondingly weaker and more vulnerable to imports. Because coaxial cable is an old technology and widely available, the United Kingdom will be manufacturing it for home demand and there will be no export spin-off.

I do not know whether there is another rebellion brewing on the Government Benches, but whenever I see the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) being listened to by the Minister I know that trouble is brewing. I know that the Minister is wondering whether he will have to summon the Leader of the House, as he did last night, the Government Chief Whip or even an ordinary Government Whip to deal with the hon. Gentleman. Opposition Members would appreciate it if these disputes in the Conservative party could, as is traditional, be conducted in private. It is disturbing, surrounded as I am by my colleagues in a party that is totally unified—

Dr. John Cunningham (Whitehaven)

As in Darlington.

Mr. Golding

As in the campaign document of which I have a rare copy. I find it distinctly off-putting to be faced with the continued controversy on the Government Benches, even though I understand it.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

What about Bermondsey?

Mr. Golding

When you were in charge, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in the Government Whips' Office, if a sedentary Government Whip had dared to utter an abusive comment from the Front Bench—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

Order. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I think that I should be left out of this.

Mr. Golding

It is a rule, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we cannot speak directly to Government Whips, so I must address the Whip through you. However, I think that you are better off, Mr. Deputy Speaker, out of the Government Whips' Office. You are better off not having to control the hon. Member for Grantham.

American cable television is based on tree-and-branch systems. The United States of America therefore specialises in all the related hardware, which its manufacturers are keen to export. British cable consortia that lay tree-and-branch systems are likely to import much of that hardware. Given those three factors, is it surprising that British manufacturers should tell the Conservative Government that their proposals for cable will be disastrous for British jobs in the cable manufacturing industry? Is it surprising that those who run STC and that those in charge of GEC should indict this Government on the charge that they will destroy jobs and profits in British industry? The Government are willing for those jobs and that profit to given to Japan, the far east, the United States of America or to anywhere but Britain.

One of the Opposition's constant themes is that Conservative Members do not seem to care a hoot about jobs being lost in Britain. It is on record that when the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills spoke about industry in his constituency he suddenly queried, as an afterthought, whether there was any left. The hon. Gentleman has been as concerned as any Opposition Member about the destruction of jobs. If there were a cable manufacturer in Aldridge-Brownhills, the hon. Gentleman would be conducting a rebellion—albeit unsuccessfully—on this issue, just as he tried to conduct a rebellion between 10 pm and midnight last night. The hon. Gentleman knew that these proposals would mean the loss of jobs in Britain.

Britain is in the lead and a British technical development will transform telecommunications. However, instead of making every effort to exploit that invention and to develop the work, the Government are creating an environment in which that development will not take place in Britain. Indeed, the Government are creating an environment in which the Americans will flourish in Britain. During the past two years, have become used to seeing the Government's telecommunications policy being conducted in the interests of the American firm IBM. It is apparent that IBM does more successful political lobbying in this country than any other company. I do not see why we should stand aside and let the Government export jobs and profitability overseas.

The Government's attitude to BT is also of concern. The Rediffusions of this world wanted BT to be kept out altogether. The Minister could not agree with that propositon and he said that it would be wrong to exclude BT altogether. However, BT can make an overwhelming case to be given the major role in cable installation and maintenance because of its resources, its present public accountability, its trained work force and its expertise in cable television, fibre optics, two-way services in communications and information technology gradually. According to the Minister, BT will compete freely for the provision of cable networks. Other things being equal, that would put BT in a very favourable position, because it has the men, the skills, the facilities and the expertise. However, I understand that the Government plan to cut BT's borrowing limit in the next financial year in addition to the constraints that have already been imposed. No such constraints will be imposed on BT's competitors.

The Government's announcement has increased the likelihood of undermining the publicly owned and integrated telecommunications network. It has opened the door to private cable consortia carrying non-voice telecommunications traffic. We must oppose that strongly. [Interuption.] Like my hon. Friends, I am often in difficulty because I am not sure whether my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) wants us to be brief or to speak for a long time. If my right hon. Friend wants me to speak at length, perhaps he will leave the Chamber now. If he wants me to be brief, perhaps he will stay.

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)

I will stay.

4.15 pm
Mr. Golding

That means that my right hon. Friend wants me to conclude fairly quickly. During the course of our proceedings, I have worried about the relationship that has developed between the Government Whips and my right hon. Friend.

However, it is important to the POEU that there should be no development that allows cable operators to carry telecommunications traffic. That is vital. If further traffic is taken away from BT, BT's financing would become more and more complex. If we lived in a world of perfect competition, my argument would be different, but does it make sense for the Government to say that further revenues can be taken from BT when it means that access fees elsewhere will have to be increased to fund the uneconomic services? The Government are getting into a tangle. It would be far better if they said that they would not allow private cable operators to carry telephone traffic, regardless of whether Mercury and BT are involved.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

By "telephone traffic", does the hon. Gentleman mean voice telephony or data transmission as well?

Mr. Golding

I was speaking specifically of voice traffic. I should like to reserve my position on data traffic because we would need to think that out, but certainly in terms of voice traffic it does not make sense further to deplete the revenues of BT, which then have to be replenished by access fees.

The Government are in great danger of creating such a complicated system of cross-subsidisation that it will be very difficult indeed to manage the entire system.

I end on this note, and I end only because my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West has decided to stay in the Chamber and wants me to end my contribution.

Mr. John Grant (Islington, Central)

I have listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has said and I agree with a great deal of it—not least what he said about jobs, because I think that the Government are trying to create the impression that there are many jobs in cable when in fact the reverse is probably the case.

The hon. Gentleman's amendment, on the face of it, is very sweeping. It talks about "running cable systems". What does the hon. Gentleman mean by that? Does he include a cable station? That is the way it reads to me.

Mr. Golding

It does not mean running the cable system. I have said—but I was speaking in shorthand at that point—that as a union we believe very strongly in the separation of the physical system and the use of that system. To us that is absolutely imperative. It would be disastrous if BT, Mercury or any other operator of a telecommunications system that started broadcasting became responsible for programmes.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

That is not what the amendment says.

Mr. Golding

The hon. Gentleman says that that is not what it says, but it is a peg. It is not possible, given our medieval system of parliamentary democracy—which I support—to discuss complicated technological matters with the rationality that we would wish. The amendment is a peg on which to take a vote in principle. It is essential that we in this country do not go along the path of the Government breaking up telecommunications, smashing telecommunications into little bits. We must develop an integrated national system of telecommunications which can carry not only telephony but broadcasting and data.

Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

The aim of this amendment is to retain a monopoly for British Telecom and its exclusive privileges in relation to the running of cable systems. What the word "running" means, both legally and in commercial practice, I do not really know; it is such a very vague word that I think on those grounds alone this amendment should be voted down by the House. It is far too vague, far too generalised, an amendment to make a serious contribution to the law regarding the future of British Telecom in a most serious and critical clause.

Let us not dwell on just the meaning of that one word when it is perfectly clear that the basic meaning and aim of this clause is to retain the monopoly of British Telecom at least for the cable industry—or we should probably call it more correctly the videotext industry.

I believe that monopoly is an abuse of Government power. It is part of the ethos, or the arrogance, of Socialism—the arrogance that says that the State knows better than the individual. I believe that it is very damaging because I see before our country the first and most essential challenge facing all of us. What we do in this House at all times basically comes down to the question, will we as a country retain our standard of living and our standard as a developed country by making it to the technological revolution? That is what this Bill is all about. It is one of the most important aspects of trying to achieve the technological revolution, which is absolutely fundamental to our standard of living and to our future.

I see Opposition Members shaking their heads, but if we look at the historical evolution of developed societies we must surely see that it is so. In the old days, if we were lucky and had a prince or a general who managed to beat neighbouring countries at war or in the sophisticated trickery of diplomacy, we gained. We were able to use their goods and services to build up our own wealth and therefore be able to afford a higher standard of living than other countries. That was very much a case-by-case difference between developed countries and underdeveloped countries in those days. What really started the major, almost irreversible trend of difference between the developed and the underdeveloped countries was the revolutionary process. First there were the agriculture revolutions, the first being the use of the enclosure system and the second the use of machines on the land. Then we had the industrial revolutions—first the heavy industry revolution and then the light industry revolution. Now we have the technological revolution. As each of these revolutions has taken place the difference between the developed and the underdeveloped countries has become wider.

I can think of only one country in history that has managed to move from being an underdeveloped nation to being a developed nation without following the normal trend, and that is Japan, but that was for very special reasons.

Mr. Stan Thorne (Preston, South)

I am interested in that line of argument, particularly from the hon. Gentleman, and I am wondering how, as a Christian, he squares the argument that he is developing about the differences between high technology countries and underdeveloped countries and how he will overcome the problem. Does he think that the Bill will help in any way the poor people of Ethiopia?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That might be a matter for another debate. Perhaps the hon. Member will confine himself to the amendment.

Mr. Browne

May I just answer that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in one sentence, or would that be out of order?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It would be out of order.

Mr. Browne

Then I must take the matter up outside the Chamber with the hon. Member, but I have ideas on that question as well.

The big thing is that we must remain a developed society and to do that we must embrace the technological revolution. If we do not we shall become an underdeveloped industrial country. Living in our climate, with upwards of 55 million people in a series of overcrowded islands, if we slip to becoming an underdeveloped society we shall find life extremely uncomfortable. Some of the advantages of our developed society are tap water that we can drink, a system of law and order, although under strain, a system of justice, organisation within our cities, food distribution and so on. All those facilities are at stake.

4.30 pm

As I have said, the arrogance of Socialism is typified in the attitude or apparent attitude of Socialists. Perhaps the right hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) will correct me, but it appears to those outside the Labour party that its attitude to the technological revolution is to say—"We cannot make it and we do not want a technological revolution in Britain, therefore we shall resist it." Labour Governments believe that they can isolate Great Britain from the rest of the world.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but will he relate his remarks to the running of cable systems, which is what the amendment is about?

Mr. Browne

I was trying to paint a picture to show how important it is that this monopoly is not retained. I am coming to cable, but if the monopoly is retained cable systems will be stultified and they are a major force in our achieving a technological revolution. I am trying to make the case as to why we should not allow that monopoly to be retained. Surely I should be allowed to paint the background to my case because this is an important issue.

I want to illustrate the way in which Socialists have tried to isolate us from the technological revolution, which has led to the monopolies that we are talking about now. I tried to trace the origin of those monopolies because they are so harmful, and to try to explain to the House why we must not allow this monopoly to continue, particularly in an area where we expect enterprise rather than stagnation.

Let me allude to what many would consider to be an abuse of trade union power in the past 50 years to see where trade unionists have used their power to pressure weak Governments and weak management to make wage awards that are out of proportion to the successful sales of companies. Those wage awards have resulted in investment in wages which should have gone on product design.

Mr. Orme

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are dealing with a specific amendment relating to cable systems. The hon. Gentleman has not been present in any of the debates. I do not know whether he is making a speech for his local paper, but it is certainly not directed to the Bill and I ask for the protection of the Chair.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have already interrupted the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) on two occasions. Interesting though his speech is, it is probably more relevant to the Third Reading debate than to this amendment. I ask him again if he will please relate his speech to amendment No. 120.

Mr. Browne

With all due respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the right hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme) says that I have not attended the debates but I did attend the Second Reading debate although I was not on the Committee that has sat for some 160 hours and which included one of the longest speeches, if not the longest speech, ever made in the House. I attended and spoke in the debates on cable systems and that is what this amendment is about. It is a critical element.

If this monopoly is allowed to exist in the cable industry it will have a devastating effect on the future potential of the cable or videotext industry. We are talking not merely about the cable industry but about the application of a monopoly to it. In building my case to persuade the House to do away with this amendment, surely I should be allowed a reference to the word "monopoly" in addition to the words "cable industry".

I want to trace the evolution of monopolies because then one realises how harmful they are to Britain and what enormous damage they have done to our industries. A monopoly will do enormous damage to the potential of the cable or videotext industry if it is allowed to continue. The right hon. Gentleman succeeded in quietening hiss hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding), but why should he be allowed to quieten me? Monopolies are a critical element in this argument. Clause 2 is about monopolies and the cable industry.

As funds were taken from product design, the building of proper quality products, prompt delivery and competitive after-sales service, our sales dropped away. British industry failed to sell its goods in the international markets so it dropped its prices and Governments assisted them by dropping the price of sterling. We ended up producing out-of-date goods that not only would not sell in the international market but would not sell at home either. One has only to look at the computer industry and our car parks to see how many foreign goods are selling in Britain compared to British goods.

The Socialist response to that fall in sales was first to help boost sales by giving Government orders. Thai was the first step on the slippery slope to monopoly and decay. The second step was to offer massive loans on uncommercial terms to those big industries and companies that were beginning to fail because they had paid too much in wages and were not designing good quality products, delivering on time or producing after-sales services.

Nationalisation was the next big con trick. All those industries were grouped together and were not lent, but were given, money in grants. The Government's legacy is to have to pump between £6,000 million and £8,000 million a year into those industries. That is the position that we have reached. Those industries are still failing. A Socialist Government created a monopoly to stop any form of competition in Britain. The result of such monopolies is, first, a complete absence of choice for the consumer. If one wants to buy gas in Britain—

Mr. Orme

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I ask for your guidance again. We are dealing with amendment No. 120, which says: at end insert `, except in relation to running cable systems'. I have listened to the hon. Gentleman with some patience and I urge you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to point out that he is not speaking to the amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I was also listening carefully. I have allowed the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) considerable latitude in giving the background to his speech on the amendment. However, I say to him again that his speech must be directed to clause 2 and to the words on the Amendment Paper. His speech is far more appropriate to a debate on Third Reading and, if I may advise the hon. Gentleman, that is when it should be made.

Mr. Browne

I accept that criticism. I shall content myself, therefore, with a brief paragraph on the evils of monopoly and then I shall come to the second part of my speech on cable. The absence of choice means that prices of the monopolies can rise and we can do nothing about it. People have to buy gas from somewhere.

Mr. Stan Thorne

On a point of order Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman clearly did not hear what you said and intends to persist in delaying a real discussion of the amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I thought I heard the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) mention the word "gas". I do not think that the Bill has anything to do with gas. I should like him now to confine himself wholly and exclusively to telecommunications.

Mr. Browne

Under duress, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I accept your ruling.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is not a question of being under duress. The hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to know that when we have these debates we must stick to the amendment that is on the Amendment Paper, otherwise the debate will become chaotic.

Mr. Browne

With all due respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is this not a clause that involves monopolies? It deals with cable but it is the monopoly in the cable business that I am speaking about. Anyway, I shall not dwell on that. I take your point that you do not wish me to discuss monopolies.

The Government are seeking to abolish the British Telecom monopoly in most areas of its operations but are making one exception, the cable business. Why should the cable industry be singled out from all the other activities of British Telecom to be left with this legacy around its neck? The cable or the videotext business is a new industry offering an avenue of advance for our country in the technological revolution. The success of the industry will depend on two vital facts. The first is risk-taking; huge amounts of capital must be invested. The second is innovation; if any industry is changing fast, it is the cable industry, with enormous technological changes and advances being made almost every day.

Will a monopoly, which I tried to describe, be the type of organisation that will take risks? It will have its prices already so there will be no incentive for it to take risks to make any more money. Will a monopoly innovate? The history of British Telecommunications shows a lack of innovation in comparison with its international competitors.

The main problem facing the fledgling cable industry is financial viability. The videotext business, by its very nature, is highly capital intensive. It is new and therefore high risk. The Government intend to use internal sources of finance and not Government sources to finance the industry. Therefore they must act with great sensitivity. They must ensure that for the success of the industry as few fetters as possible are put on it from the beginning. Therefore, there are no grounds whatsoever to allow a monopoly to exist, let alone to isolate just the cable industry out of all the activities of British Telecommunications and leave that alone to carry the burden of a monopoly.

May I list some important areas where I should like my hon. Friend to give clearer definitions? On the cable system, could he define more clearly what he means by a franchise? This will have a great bearing on whether or not a monopoly should exist. For how long will the franchises last? Will the present cable operators be given the special privileges they sought in the Hunt report? Can he also say precisely what he means by "interactive" when there is an obligation to provide interactive services? What band widths have the Government in mind that cable operators should budget for in laying the cables?

4.45 pm

I agree with the thrust of the Government's policy on things like the "must carry" services and non-exclusive events. The Government should reconsider their views on pay-per-view, on quotas, and on the system of hardware and software for British industry, which the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme mentioned in his eloquent speech. There is an important issue here, especially when we are talking about British Telecom, the hardware that is in the ground and what has to be laid. We have to strike a balance between past monopolies, which tended to go into the future and stultify innovation, and competition that encourages innovation. We must protect British industry to encourage it to compete in the new industry.

On British Telecom itself, I approve very much of the privatisation provision in the clause. I should like to place it on record that although I support privatisation we should not knock British Telecom or exclude it from the cable business. My only argument is that we should not grant British Telecom a monopoly. In the opinion of many of those who are interested in the telecommunication and videotext business, British Telecom is amongst the foremost in high technology in communications and particularly in fibre optics, which will play a critical role in the videotext business if my hon. Friend insists on an interactive system with a wide band width.

British Telecom is also environmentally acceptable. That is a great selling point. I agree with many right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches that we are all used to seeing British Telecom digging up the streets; we are accustomed to those yellow vans.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman seems to be under a mistaken belief that we are discussing the motion that the clause stand part. We are on a very narrow amendment concerned with the running of cable systems. The hon. Gentleman must now concentrate on that or bring his remarks to a conclusion.

Mr. Browne

Very well, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall do that. I get the point of your remarks.

I am trying to say that British Telecom is acceptable and has a significant role to play in the cable industry, but not as a monopoly. I am trying to show that it can play a constructive role. I question why it should have monopoly privileges. British Telecom should be allowed to participate in the growth of the video text business, but as a partner and not as a monopoly owner. That would ensure that innovation and risk-taking were key factors and that there was co-operation within the industry by cable operators, cable producers and cable layers.

British Telecom has a valuable role to play as a partner. In the initial stages of the take-off of the industry there might be a single organisation in which British Telecom was a partner but which would include the big cable layers and operators and the public as individual shareholders. Such a single organisation would ensure what Opposition Members want—a standardisation of technology within the different sections of the cable business.

I can understand hon. Gentlemen wanting a monopoly to ensure technological standards throughout the country, but why must it be done through one company? Why cannot we have a single organisation such as the Hudson Bay Company in the cable business? It would ensure that standards of technology were maintained.

I should like to hear the Minister's comments about the public owning some of the shares in a modern Hudson Bay type of company, which would ensure standards but at the same time introduce innovation and risk-taking. There never was and never will be successful and sustained risk-taking and innovation with a monopoly.

I believe that it would be wrong and discriminatory for British Telecom to retain a monopoly in the cable business. I believe that it would be against the national interest when competing in the technological revolution, and that there would be no likelihood of success in the cable business because there would be the minimum of risk-taking and innovation and the maximum amount of bureaucracy.

I urge the Minister to consider establishing a consortium including major and minor interests within the prospective industry and ordinary people in the street and in the corner shop who could invest in a consortium. I believe that would resolve many of the anxieties of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen about standardisation and so forth and also many of my right hon. and hon. Friends' worries about ensuring that the video text and cable business succeeds and contributes to our remaining a developed and high technology society.

Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)

I shall be brief, unfortunately, although I have a great deal to say about cable. I must declare an interest as a Member sponsored by the Post Office Engineering Union and also as a telephone engineer with some 20 years' experience. Cable is not an alien world to me. I have worked and dealt with it, and I am fairly familar with the economics of its provision and other aspects with which we should deal but are prevented from dealing with.

I am pleased to speak after the distinguished speech of the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne). It was distinguished by its irrelevance and lack of knowledge of what the Bill contains. He talked about a Hudson Bay type of company. The Bill creates a private company and the amendment does not affect that. The speech was based on a lack of knowledge not just of the computer and information technology industry in Great Britain but of the way in which the American Government pour billions and billions of dollars into their industry, which is what we must compete with.

Mr. Stan Thorne

When the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) was speaking, his speech sounded like a brief from IBM. Has IBM an interest in this?

Mr. McWilliam

My hon. Friend has probably hit the nail on the head, because the arguments adduced by the hon. Member for Winchester are the same as those adduced to me, and I believe other right hon. and hon. Members, by IBM.

Mr. Charles R. Morris (Manchester, Openshaw)

Can my hon. Friend confirm chat even IBM would not take responsibility for the hon. Gentleman's speech?

Mr. John Browne


Mr. McWilliam

I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman took far too long.

Mr. Browne


Mr. McWilliam

I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Member is not giving way.

Mr. McWilliam

It would be useful if we could return to the subject of cable. I do not wish to be irrelevant—

Mr. Browne

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Is it a point of order?

Mr. Browne

I believe that it is, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam) suggested that my speech had something to do with IBM, and that I had some connection with IBM when writing the speech.

Mr. Stan Thorne

My hon. friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam) did not say that; I did.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is not a point of order; it is a point of argument.

Mr. McWilliam

I refused to give way not because I did not wish the hon. Member for Winchester to have the right of reply—plainly he has just replied—but because of the lack of time. I want to make a couple of brief but I believe important points.

The reason for the amendment is simple. It is to achieve what the Minister is trying to achieve with the licensing policy that he has announced for all cable systems, which is a star-switched method of distribution as the ultimate aim and a star configuration of tree and branch as the intermediate aim for cable systems. The Minister has already provided an incentive for that by the licences that he is granting.

The Opposition argue a contrary point to that argued by the hon. Member for Winchester. Our argument is that any cable system is a monopoly for the people that it serves. I am talking about the physical system, which is what cable systems mean. The system is independent of the information that it carries, and the information it carries should be provided separately and not by British Telecom. Any individual cable system is a monopoly in the area it covers. The Opposition say that it is wasteful, uneconomic and silly to have the hardware of the cable system provided solely on the basis of pay-TV because the broad band aspects will give us the opportunity to develop the whole range of information technology services that we should like, not just pornographic movies which seem to be the basis of funding in the United States.

The only way in which the economics of the system will make sense is if it carries not just pay-television but also data transmission systems, information technology, telephone systems and other services such as fire and burglar alarms. We should like to see cable developed on that basis. The Opposition believe that that can be achieved only by British Telecom providing the cables. It will then be able to provide a network of a broad enough band width to meet all the demands. What is more—and the hon. Member for Winchester missed this—the basis of the system is fibre optics, in which there has been British innovation.

I reject the criticism of British Telecom by the hon. Member for Winchester because British Telecom developed the modern fibre optic cable systems. We should like to see that developed, and we believe that it is possible only if British Telecom retains the monopoly of providing the systems. However, we do not believe that British Telecom should provide any programmes on those systems. For that reason, I commend the amendment to the House.

Dr. John Cunningham

I believe that everyone has agreed on Second Reading, in Committee and until this afternoon that the prospects of developing cable systems in Great Britain and the opportunities and avenues that will be open for the development of optic fibre cable systems, in particular, present Great Britain with a major industrial opportunity in terms of communications and new services, and prospects for entertainment, leisure activities and the like.

We agree that those opportunities should be grasped by Britain as a nation, particularly in the industrial sense. We should press ahead to maximise the advantage of our world lead, at least in some aspects of optic fibre technology and the other equipment that goes with it.

5 pm

However, there, I regret, the agreement about the clause and the amendment that we are discussing ends. While we in the Opposition believe that a national strategy is required to maximise those potential benefits and the opportunities, the Government have been more concerned hitherto with a market force, private enterprise approach. That neatly fits in with their philosophy, as our view fits in with our philosophy. We believe not only that a framework to guide industrial policy is required but that proper controls over cable systems are needed for a variety of reasons.

Therefore, there are fundamental issues that divide us. Those differences in philosophy delineate the dispute between the Tories and the Labour party. That is why the Opposition support amendment No. 120, moved so effectively by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding).

This is not a new issue, contrary to what has been asserted by Conservative Members. Debate about cable systems, particularly about cable television and its future, has been going on for some time. We welcome the proposals to expand cable television, provided that they are carried out in a manner that preserves the existing high standards of public service broadcasting and facilitates the creation of one integrated communications system carrying both broadcasting and telecommunication services. That is our aim. The overriding priority is a national network and a national cable system from which private sector operators can benefit. Therefore, contrary to what the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) said, we are talking not about an all-pervading monopoly but about one national public network. That is where the hon. Gentleman was fundamentally in error in his argument. We believe that not only—

Mr. John Browne

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Cunningham

I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman made a long speech. I shall be much briefer than him. I know that the Minister wishes to reply at some length, so I am sorry, but I shall not give way.

We believe that public service broadcasting can be protected only if cable television is subject to an effective system of regulation that limits, for example, advertising and foreign programming. The technical integration of such a broadcasting and telecommunications system is most likely to come about by the deployment of the latest technologies, involving the provision of switched optical fibre systems.

There is a great deal of public concern, as I believe hon. Members throughout the House realise, about what many people see as a free-for-all in the development of cable television systems. Both the need for regulation and the arguments about technology would best be served by there being a strict separation between the trunk network provider—the operator of the system—and the operators of the networks that would feed from it—the cable television companies themselves. We want British Telecom to have the major role in the former aspect—the provision of cable systems. British Telecom would then lease most, if not all, the channel capacity on those systems to cable operators that were awarded franchises. It could use the remaining cable channels for its own broad band telecommunications needs.

We think that that is not only the neatest, simplest and most elegant way to provide the network that the country needs, but the best way to proceed in terms of cost benefit for the nation as a whole and the use of the nation's resources. An industrialist of impeccable market credentials, Lord Weinstock, criticised the Government's approach and said that they should avoid the temptation to go for the quick buck option, which was recommended to the Government in the Information Technology Advisory Panel report. We want that report to be rejected by the Government.

Unfortunately, so far the Government's response to the ITAP report has involved the setting up of the Hunt committee, which was simply an inquiry into the broadcasting implications of cable television. It failed to grasp the real scope of the opportunities that we have. It failed to address itself to the broad spectrum of the industrial and entertainment prospects that we should grasp. The committee was disappointing in its guidelines. We have missed the boat before it has even got going.

The best way to sum up both the ITAP and the Hunt reports is in the old adage: "If I were going to Dublin, I would not start from here."

Mr. Kenneth Baker


Dr. Cunningham

The Minister can have whichever Irish town or city he prefers.

The Government seem to have started from the wrong point to reach proper, adequate and sensible conclusions about Britain's future needs in this exciting area of cabling and recabling the country.

I stress that, given adequate safeguards not only for the public but for existing employees, cable expansion could bring enormous benefits to our economy. Handled properly, effectively and correctly, it could enhance the high reputation of British broadcasting, bring new jobs, boost our high technology industries and get us into export markets on a worldwide basis. However, whether any or all of that happens depends on decisions that the Government will take, we assume, in the near future. Again, it is disappointing at least and at worst a matter for concern that the Government have again failed to deliver their promise and come up with a White Paper in time for us to learn their thinking before the conclusion of the consideration of the Bill.

I regret very much the Government's handling of the consultative stage of the process. Many people regard it as inadequate. The TUC conveyed to the Hunt inquiry and the Prime Minister its criticism of the unrepresentativeness of both ITAP and the Hunt committee. Predictably, it fell on deaf ears. It criticised the inadequacy of the time scale to which Hunt was asked to work and, as I said earlier, the arbitrary and unjustified restriction of Hunt's remit to broadcasting implications alone. I am sorry that we have received no adequate response to these points which have been made time and again.

With regard to cable itself, there is every sign that the Government are on the brink of two further errors which could have serious consequences. The first concerns the principle of publicly regulated broadcasting. It is no accident that we have a high reputation in this area throughout the world. The underlying reason for that high reputation is public regulation and public accountability. The expansion of cable television represents a major extension of broadcasting into people's homes. The public are entitled to controls on cable television which are no less effective than those on other broadcasting. The Minister of State may not be aware of this, but even now I receive a regular flow of letters from constituents who are worried about obscenity, soft core pornography and excessive violence in the media, and do not want such material on tap—perhaps I should say on ITAP—in their houses. The Government have a serious responsibility in this matter.

As I have already said, there is also the danger that the Government will fall for the temptation of the "fast buck" solution which has been condemned widely, among others by Lord Weinstock, and opposed and questioned by members of the Confederation of British Industry and others. Cable expansion offers a good chance to show how the investment of the nation's wealth can bring real and extensive benefits to both the public and private sectors but it appears that the Government's approach, one guided more by dogma than any sense of an industrial strategy, will prevent Britain maximising the benefits that should accrue. The BBC, the IBA, the CBI, the TUC, and British Telecom and its unions have all expressed opposition to and concern about the Government's stance.

We believe that the amendment should be accepted because a national network controlled by British Telecom with leasing arrangements to operators would be the best guarantee of success in terms of industrial policy, a national strategy for telecommunicaions and cable, maximising the benefits of investment and job potential, taking the best advantage of our world lead in technology and decent standards and proper public control. So far, on all these tests, Government policy has failed. That is why we shall press the amendment to a vote.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

We have had an interesting debate on cable. We also had an interesting debate on cable in Committee. That debate was more extensive but that was the way that the Committee operated. We have had two other debates on cable on the Floor of the House. One took place in the late summer of last year and another, more substantive debate in which the House was given an opportunity to discuss the Hunt report, took place on 2 December.

5.15 pm

The amendment is technically defective since it refers to cable systems, which are in fact telecommunications systems, but I do not rest my opposition to the amendment on the fact that it is technically defective. I cannot accept the amendment because under clause 2 the exclusive privilege of BT is to be removed along with BT's power to license its competitors, which will mean licensing other telecommunications systems.

The House is familiar with our reasons for proposing this change in the structure of telecommunications. We believe that competition and diversity are desirable and, indeed, are necessary if the reasonable demands of the people of this country for telecommunications are to be met. Effective competition is not available under the present framework, as my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) pointed out on several occasions in his speech. My hon. Friend's speech was pertinent. I was rather surprised that so many Opposition Members objected to the way in which my hon. Friend developed his arguments. Opposition Members do not have a monopoly of the time for debate.

In Committee, they tried to monopolise the time for debate. I am glad that a Member who did not serve in Committee has seen fit to speak on Report because so often in our debates on Report that does not happen. The whole concept of Report stage is to bring the Bill back from the experts in Committee to the Floor of the House so that other Members who have not been privileged to serve—or cursed to serve—in Committee can participate. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Stott) used that privilege yesterday and, of course, he did not abuse it. Nor did my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester today. Every Member has a right to speak on Report.

My hon.. Friend the Member for Winchester attacked the concept of monopoly. It is because we believe that competition cannot be effective under the present framework that we intend to change that framework so that all future telecommunications services will be licensed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry and will be subject to one regulatory authority—the Office of Telecommunications. The benefits that we know come about when companies are free to respond to the needs of the market will be just as effective in the expansion of local cable networks as in the running of national telecommunications networks. It would be wholly inconsistent for us to remove the exclusive privilege of one area of BT's activity—that is, telecommunications network systems —only to reinforce it in another area—cable television systems. It would be especially damaging to retain BT's monopoly in a sector which shows great promise of future growth—growth which is likely to be infinitely faster—since monopoly is least satisfactory when it attempts to serve an expanding market. If a monopoly is controlling a static market or even one that is declining, it tends to operate unsatisfactorily, but it is more satisfactory in those circumstances than in an expanding market. The very nature of a monopoly means that it is not flexible enough, quick enough, fast-footed enough and fleet enough to pursue the opportunities that develop, arise and grow when a market is expanding.

The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) expressed concern about what would be BT's position when cable systems operate locally across the country. That concern is expressed not only by BT. Mercury has expressed the same concern because it, too, is a public telecommunications operator. It is worried about the effect that local cable networks could have on its operations. Therefore the Government have decided to give BT and Mercury the exclusive privilege of inter-city and inter-network linking of cable systems. If a cable system in Plymouth needs to be linked to one in Leeds, the linking across the country will be done either by BT or by Mercury. Moreover, we have agreed that only where BT and Mercury are involved in the operation of cable systems may a cable operator provide voice telephony services. If a cable operator in Leeds wished to provide voice telephony over its cable system—from the proposals I have seen from various cable consortia, they are not greatly interested in voice telephony as a service at this stage, but they might become so as the technology develops—it would have to incorporate either BT or Mercury into its consortium. If it did not want to do that, it would not have to incorporate either BT or Mercury in the cable consortia for Leeds, Plymouth, Winchester or wherever.

We do not believe that BT should act as the controlling body for the establishment and operation of cable. That is what the hon. Members for Newcastle-under-Lyme and Whitehaven (Dr. Cunningham) want. It is in the interests of the consumer and the cable providers and operators that such a task should be the responsibility of a new, independent statutory cable authority, as recommended in the Hunt report. The authority will exercise considerable influence through its responsibilities for considering applications and awarding franchises for cable operators. I emphasise that that will not be for cable provision. The House is familiar with the distinction between the two.

The Opposition want a firm distinction to be drawn between cable provision and cable operation because it is the most effective way to plead BT's case—that it should be the sole cable provider and layer of cable across the country and that there should be a separate function for cable operation, that being the transmission of interactive and entertainment services. We do not believe that there should be such a strict dichotomy. It is better for the market to decide whether a certain consortium should do one or the other, or straddle both activities. We have already announced that principle.

The Opposition are trying to preserve the privilege of a narrow interest group in attempting to preserve the monopoly for BT. The parties below the Gangway, if they support that view, should appreciate exactly what they are supporting. I do not know to what extent they can appreciate the technicalities. We do not expect them to do so, but they should at least understand the principles for which they are being asked to vote. They are being asked to extend a monopoly. That is not a liberal principle—

Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)


Mr. Baker

Ah, a Liberal spokesman.

Mr. Penhaligon

Will the Minister outline his qualifications for speaking in the House on technical matters?

Mr. Baker

I always look forward to any statement of policy from the Liberal party on any technological matter. I find it extraordinary that the Liberal party, on the most important technological Bill of the Session, did not see fit to ask a member of its party to serve on the Committee. That showed the Liberals' indifference to the whole area of technological activity—the fastest growing area in both our country and the western world. The Liberal party, through its absence, has shown that it has no policy or interest in the subject.

The hon. Gentleman's party is being invited to support the extension of the monopoly that BT currently enjoys. The Bill will end that monopoly. It will end the exclusive privilege of BT's workers to be the only workers in the country allowed to provide telecommunications services. I would have thought that the Liberal and SDP parties would have been only too keen to support the Bill.

The amendment seeks to extend that monopoly to the whole of cable television so that every town, village and city can be cabled up only by BT. Is that what the Liberal and SDP parties want? They have not given any thought to the matter. I know what the Labour party policy is because it published a document today. It, at least, contained 71 words about telecommunications-71 words about one of the fastest-growing and largest industries in the country. It stated: A national cable system will make possible a wide range of new telecommunications services, greater variety in the provision of television, and a major stimulus to British technology and industry. But it must be under firm public control.

Mr. John Grant


Mr. Baker

I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman must listen to all of the 71 words. He will vote for the amendment later. He voted for such a policy when he was a member of the Labour party. He will now vote for it today even though he is no longer a member of the Labour party. The document continued: A publicly-owned British Telecommunications will thus be given the sole responsibility to create a national, broadband network (including Mercury, the new privately-owned telecommunications system for business) That will also be swept up, nationalised, and pushed into the broad band cable network. Opposition parties below the Gangway will support that. The document continued: which integrates telecommunications broadcasts. We know what the Labour party wants. It is consistent. I hope to find out what the SDP wants.

Mr. John Grant

I find the Minister's statement extraordinary. I thought that we were debating the Bill, not Labour party policy. The SDP has made its position clear about the Bill. We shall not support the amendment, but we shall not support the Government either. Neither side of the House will have the opportunity to gang up. The Minister criticised Labour party policy, but we have not yet seen the Government's policy on paper. We are still waiting for the White Paper. When we see the whites of their eyes, we shall make our decision.

Mr. Baker

The attitude of SDP Members is clear. They do not like what the Labour party is saying because it is too clear, they do not like what the Conservative party is saying because that is too clear—both are too clear, so they want us to join them in the fog in the middle. Their policy is impenetrable.

A cartoon exhibition at the Royal Festival hall shows a cartoon of the SDP by Gerald Scarfe—it is a beautiful glass case with the letters "SDP" in it, and nothing else. That summarises the whole attitude of the parties below the Gangway.

The Government are opposed to the telecommunications monopoly. It is a black and white issue. One either wants BT to have a monopoly or one does not. Abstention cannot be justified on this amendment. There is a choice, and choices must be made, it is no good the SDP always saying that the two parties gang up on it—for example, that the electors of Darlington ganged up. It is an absurd proposition.

It will no doubt please the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme to know that I acknowledge that BT has much to offer, both in expertise and in its network of ducts. Since the introduction of competition, it has become a more commercially minded organisation. We believe that as many people as possible should be involved. The Hunt report recommended that we should not specify too closely the technology that should be used. There are two technologies for cable, the star system and the tree and branch system.

I shall not delay the House by speaking about those systems, although I should be delighted to expatiate at great length on their different characteristics. Suffice it to say that technological changes are happening so rapidly that the developments on tree and branch technology, which is the older technology invented in Britain, give it many of the characteristics of the star system.

As I said in the debate on 2 December, the eventual technological drift will be towards the star-switched system. We have devised a system to encourage that. At the same time, we do not wish to choke the possibility of certain cable consortia laying tree and branch systems that are capable of being upgraded to star systems. I am especially concerned that we should enhance British technology and industry.

One reason why I am such an enthusiast for cable television and broad band cable networks is that I look upon that as a tremendous opportunity for Britain that will create jobs for British workers. I have not been elected to create jobs in Detroit, Michigan or Chicago, I have been elected to try to promote jobs and activity in Britain. I assure the Opposition that one of the greatest areas of opportunity lies in building cable networks. That is agreed by everyone who has thought about it, but not by the Social Democrats. Neutrality and abstention do not involve commitment, but they are what we shall get from the two parties below the Gangway opposite today.

5.30 pm

The potential is vast. I want as many British firms as possible to be involved. There are great opportunities in the United Kingdom, not only in the development of equipment and the laying of systems, but in export potential. One of the reasons why I am so keen to press ahead quickly and strongly with cable is that we are now moving more rapidly than France, Germany or any other country on the continent. If we can build a technological base in cable in Britain in the next two to three years, we shall have an immense export potential. That is broadly agreed upon by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

The opportunities exist. That is why we commissioned the ITAP report, which was published just a year ago. I strongly reject any criticism of it. It provided the essential stimulus to ensure that the movement started rolling. I also strongly resent criticisms of the Hunt report. It is a distinguished and authoritative report, which will be seen in the history of the cable revolution as it develops as a significant report that set out the broad guidelines that will allow us to expand.

Although some people are sceptical about cable, investors in private industry are not. Consortia for the cabling of our major cities such as Birmingham, Liverpool and Glasgow are already forming. I emphasise that the technology is being developed in Britain. I am proud of that. Thorn EMI is adapting Teletext technology for encryption and addressability, which are two important parts of cable systems as they provide the ability to send a message to a subscriber and ensure that that message is secure. That is fundamental with electronic funds transfer, home banking or anything of that type.

Racal has already announced that it is tying up with Oak Industries of California for installation, running and peripheral technology for cable. The Quantel company, which is a world leader in certain types of television equipment and which employs many hundreds of people, is tying up with Cabletime of California and advancing proposals and technology for using the existing network of drains and sewers for cable provision. Many other companies are working up plans.

In the past month, I have spoken to all the major British companies in this business such as GEC, Plessey, Ferranti and those that I have mentioned, and asked them what they are doing. I assure the House that a great deal of research and development work is taking place in British industry. That would not have happened if we had sat on our hands a year ago and not published the ITAP report or pressed ahead and published the Hunt report.

I want the greatest possibilities for opportunity to exist:. We therefore strongly oppose the argument that the business should be left entirely in the hands of BT. We have said that if BT wants to be a member of a consortium to cable Plymouth, Leeds or Basingstoke, for example, it can but it will not be given a prescriptive right to do so. There will be choice. If a consortium to cable a town or city wants to involve BT it can do so, but such involvement will not be compulsory. BT brings a lot to the table in any negotiations on these matters. I am sure that that decision is correct.

Some people who are thinking about whether BT should be involved in cable consortia will be paying close attention to the attitude that is taken by the Post Office Engineering Union soon about interconnecting. If the main union in BT is rash enough not to interconnect Mercury, what guarantee will there be that it will not use the same practices and take the same attitudes when it is involved in cable consortia? No investors would want to go into any consortium with that threat overhanging them. I hope, therefore, that wiser counsels will prevail.

The Government are committed to helping all of that to happen and to creating the right regulatory climate for companies to grow. BT will be involved but we do not want to make an exclusive right. I am against exclusive rights and the vested privilege of some groups of workers to be the only ones who should provide such services. The White Paper will be published shortly after Easter. It will describe our further views on regulations and set out the Government's attitude to the various points that my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester has raised on such issues as franchises, pay-per-view and quotas.

Above all, we want to keep up the momentum that has been generated in the past 18 months. Our decision to introduce competition in, for example, cellular radio is likely to make us the first in Europe with a national network. That means opportunities for British industry. We want that type of opportunity to be seized with regard to cable. I am sure that it can be grasped much more effectively if there is choice and variety rather than a monopoly by BT.

Question put, That the amendment be made:

The House divided: Ayes 194, Noes 288.

Division No. 105] [5.36 pm
Abse, Leo Cowans, Harry
Adams, Allen Craigen, J. M. (G'gow, M'hill)
Allaun, Frank Crowther, Stan
Anderson, Donald Cryer, Bob
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Cunningham, Dr J. (W'h'n)
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Dalyell, Tam
Atkinson, U. (H'gey.) Davidson, Arthur
Bagier, Gordon AT. Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Davis, Terry (B'ham, Stechf'd)
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (H'wd) Deakins, Eric
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)
Bennett, Andrew (St'kp't N) Dewar, Donald
Bevan, David Gilroy Dixon, Donald
Bidwell, Sydney Dormand, Jack
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Douglas, Dick
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Dubs, Alfred
Bottomley, Rt Hon A.(M'b'ro) Duffy, A. E. P.
Brown, R. C. (N'castle W) Dunnett, Jack
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.
Buchan, Norman Eadie, Alex
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. Eastham, Ken
Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P) Ellis, R. (NE D'bysh're)
Campbell, Ian English, Michael
Campbell-Savours, Dale Evans, loan (Aberdare)
Canavan, Dennis Evans, John (Newton)
Cant, R. B. Faulds, Andrew
Carter-Jones, Lewis Field, Frank
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Fitt, Gerard
Clarke Thomas (C'to'dge, A'rie) Ford, Ben
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S) Forrester, John
Conlan, Bernard Foster, Derek
Cook, Robin F. Foulkes, George
Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd) Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald O'Brien, Oswald (Darlington)
Garrett, John (Norwich S) O'Halloran, Michael
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) O'Neill, Martin
George, Bruce Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Palmer, Arthur
Golding, John Park, George
Gourlay, Harry Parker, John
Graham, Ted Parry, Robert
Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife) Pavitt, Laurie
Hardy, Peter Pendry, Tom
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith Prescott, John
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Haynes, Frank Race, Reg
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Rees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S)
Heffer, Eric S. Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Hogg, N. (E Dunb't'nshire) Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Holland, S. (L'b'th, Vauxh'll) Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Home Robertson, John Rooker, J. W.
Homewood, William Rowlands, Ted
Hooley, Frank Sever, John
Hoyle, Douglas Sheerman, Barry
Huckfield, Les Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Hughes, Mark (Durham) Silverman, Julius
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Skinner, Dennis
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Smith, Rt Hon J. (N Lanark)
Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Snape, Peter
John, Brynmor Soley, Clive
Johnson, James (Hull West) Spearing, Nigel
Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Spriggs, Leslie
Jones, Barry (East Flint) Stallard, A. W.
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Kerr, Russell Stott, Roger
Kilfedder, James A. Strang, Gavin
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Straw, Jack
Lamond, James Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Leadbitter, Ted Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Leighton, Ronald Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Lestor, Miss Joan Thomas, Dr R.(Carmarthen)
Litherland, Robert Thome, Stan (Preston South)
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Tilley, John
Lyon, Alexander (York) Tinn, James
McCartney, Hugh Torney, Tom
McElhone, Mrs Helen Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
McGuire, Michael (Ince) Wainwright, E.(Dearne V)
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Warden, Gareth
McKelvey, William Weetch, Ken
MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Welsh, Michael
McNamara, Kevin White, Frank R.
McTaggart, Robert White, J. (G'gow Pollok)
McWilliam, John Whitehead, Phillip
Marks, Kenneth Whitlock, William
Marshall, D(G'gow S'ton) Wig ley, Dafydd
Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Williams, Rt Hon A,(S'sea W)
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Maynard, Miss Joan Wilson, Rt Hon Sir H.(H'ton)
Meacher, Michael Wilson, William (C'try SE)
Mikardo, Ian Winnick, David
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Woodall, Alec
Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby) Woolmer, Kenneth
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Young, David (Bolton E)
Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw)
Morton, George Tellers for the Ayes:
Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Mr. James Hamilton and
Newens, Stanley Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe.
Alexander, Richard Banks, Robert
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Beaumont-Dark, Anthony
Alton, David Beith, A. J.
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Bendall, Vivian
Ancram, Michael Benyon, Thomas (A'don)
Arnold, Tom Benyon, W. (Buckingham)
Aspinwall, Jack Berry, Hon Anthony
Atkins, Rt Hon H.(S'thorne) Best, Keith
Atkinson, David (B'm'th,E) Bevan, David Gilroy
Baker, Kenneth(St.M'bone,) Biffen, Rt Hon John
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Biggs-Davison, Sir John
Blackburn, John Grimond, Rt Hon J.
Blaker, Peter Grist, Ian
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Grylls, Michael
Boscawen, Hon Robert Hamilton, Hon A.
Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W) Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Bowden, Andrew Hampson, Dr Keith
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Hannam,John
Braine, Sir Bernard Haselhurst, Alan
Bright, Graham Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
Brinton, Tim Hawkins, Sir Paul
Brittan, Rt. Hon. Leon Hawksley, Warren
Brooke, Hon Peter Henderson, Barry
Brown, Michael(Brigg & Sc'n) Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Browne, John (Winchester) Hicks, Robert
Bryan, Sir Paul Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Buchanan-Smith, Rt. Hon. A. Hill, James
Buck, Antony Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Budgen, Nick Holland, Philip (Carlton)
Burden, Sir Frederick Hooson, Tom
Butcher, John Hordern, Peter
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldfd)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n) Howells, Geraint
Channon, Rt. Hon. Paul Hughes, Simon (Bermondsey)
Chapman, Sydney Hunt, David (Wirral)
Churchill, W. S. Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n) Irvine, RtHon Bryant Godman
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Clegg, Sir Walter Jessel, Toby
Cockeram, Eric Johnston, Russell (Inverness)
Colvin, Michael Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Cormack, Patrick Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Corrie, John Kaberry, Sir Donald
Costain, Sir Albert Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Critchley, Julian Kershaw, Sir Anthony
Crouch, David King, Rt Hon Tom
Dickens, Geoffrey Kitson, Sir Timothy
Dorrell, Stephen Knight, Mrs Jill
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Knox, David
Dover, Denshore Lang, Ian
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Langford-Holt, Sir John
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Latham, Michael
Durant, Tony Lee, John
Dykes, Hugh Le Merchant, Spencer
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke) Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Eggar, Tim Lester, Jim (Beeston)
Eyre, Reginald Lloyd, Ian (Havant & W'loo)
Fairbairn, Nicholas ' Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Fairgrieve, Sir Russell Loveridge, John
Faith, Mrs Sheila Luce, Richard
Farr, John Lyell, Nicholas
Fell, Sir Anthony Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Macfarlane, Neil
Finsberg, Geoffrey MacGregor, John
Fisher, Sir Nigel MacKay, John (Argyll)
Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'gh N) Macmillan, Rt Hon M.
Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)
Forman, Nigel McNair-Wilson, P. (New Fst)
Fox, Marcus McQuarrie, Albert
Fraser, Rt Hon Sir Hugh Madel, David
Fraser, Peter (South Angus) Major, John
Fry, Peter Marland, Paul
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Marlow, Antony
Gardner, Sir Edward Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Garel-Jones, Tristan Marten, Rt Hon Neil
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Mates, Michael
Glyn, Dr Alan Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus
Goodhart, Sir Philip Mawby, Ray
Goodhew, Sir Victor Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Goodlad, Alastair Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Gorst, John Mayhew, Patrick
Gow, Ian Mellor, David
Gower, Sir Raymond Meyer, Sir Anthony
Grant, Sir Anthony Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Gray, Rt Hon Hamish Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Greenway, Harry Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Grieve, Percy Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Griffiths, E. (B'ySt. Edm'ds) Moate, Roger
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Monro, Sir Hector
Montgomery, Fergus Speed, Keith
Moore, John Speller, Tony
Morris, M. (N'hampton S) Spence, John
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester) Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Mudd, David Sproat, Iain
Murphy, Christopher Squire, Robin
Myles, David Stainton, Keith
Neale, Gerrard Stanbrook, Ivor
Needham, Richard Stanley, John
Nelson, Anthony Steel, Rt Hon David
Neubert, Michael Steen, Anthony
Newton, Tony Stevens, Martin
Onslow, Cranley Stewart, A.(E Renfrewshire)
Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S. Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Osborn, John Stokes, John
Page, John (Harrow, West) Stradling Thomas, J.
Page, Richard (SW Herts) Tapsell, Peter
Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Patten, Christopher (Bath) Temple-Morris, Peter
Pattie, Geoffrey Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Pawsey, James Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Percival, Sir Ian Thompson, Donald
Peyton, Rt Hon John Thome, Neil (llford South)
Pink, R. Bonner Thornton, Malcolm
Pitt, William Henry Townend, John (Bridlington)
Pollock, Alexander Townsend, Cyril D, (B'hoath)
Porter, Barry van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Price, Sir David (Eastleigh) Viggers, Peter
Proctor, K. Harvey Waddington, David
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Wainwright, R.(Colne V)
Rathbone, Tim Waldegrave, Hon William
Rhodes James, Robert Walker, Rt Hon P.(Wcoster)
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Walker, B. (Perth)
Ridley, Hon Nicholas Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir D.
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Wall, Sir Patrick
Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey Waller, Gary
Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Walters, Dennis
Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Ward, John
Rossi, Hugh Warren, Kenneth
Rost, Peter Watson, John
Royle, Sir Anthony Wells, Bowen
Sainsbury, Hon Timothy Wells, John (Maidstone)
St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N. Wheeler, John
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Whitney, Raymond
Shelton, William (Streatham) Wiggin, Jerry
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Williams, D.(Montgomery)
Shepherd, Richard Wolfson, Mark
Silvester, Fred Young, Sir George (Acton)
Sims, Roger
Skeet, T. H. H. Tellers for the Noes:
Smith, Cyril (Rochdale) Mr. Carol Mather and
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Mr. John Cope.

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 3, line 14, leave out '46' and insert '47'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this is will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 3 and 4.

Mr. Baker

These three amendments are a consequence of the removal from the Bill in Committee of a clause which made it an offence for a person to affix advertisements or notices to the property of a public telecommunications operator. The Committee considered that such notices were often a help rather than a hindrance to the public, but also noted that there were provisions in the Town and Country Planning Act 1968 that could be used to control the fixing of notices. I agreed with the Committee that the retention of this criminal offence was undesirable.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 3, in page 3, line 22, leave out `and'.

No. 4, in page 3, line 23, at end insert 'and section 46 (prohibition of affixing placards etc. on British Telecommunications' property).'—[Mr. Kenneth Baker.]

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