§ Queen's Recommendation having been signified.
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Telecommunications Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any expenses incurred by the Secretary of State in providing a radio interference service or in defraying or contribution towards the expenses of advisory bodies.—[Mr. Sainsbury.]
§ Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)
There is a reference in the money resolution to which I should like an explanation. It refers to the Secretary of State providing a radio interference service. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will know that I have asked him no fewer than five questions over a fairly long period of time about the future of the radio interference service. It was provided by British Telecom on the instructions of the Home Office. It was a Home Office policing responsibility, and it did a good job. It was of assistance to the whole community, partly in chasing up the people who, by operating some of these strange radio systems, were causing interference to the televisions of other people. It was also a valuable aid to the community in checking on radio and television interference.
If the money resolution is passed, who will provide the service, and what will happen to the employees who currently work for British Telecom in the radio interference service? I assure my right hon. Friend the Minister, on the basis of the letter I sent to him, and the questions that I have asked of him, that for approximately one and a half years there has been great uncertainty among those working for the radio interference service. They have been constantly been asking me, just as I have been asking the Minister, what the future is for employees in that excellent Department.
I should like briefly to ask my right hon. Friend three specific questions. First, who will be the employers of those in the radio interference service if the money resolution is passed, bearing in mind that they were formerly employees of British Telecom, which did the job for the Home Office? Secondly, what will be the security of employment for those who change from one employer to another? Thirdly, what will be the conditions of employment of those who are changing again from one employer to another? I should be interested to know my right hon. Friend's views on that. Will the size, scope and responsibilities of the radio interference service be the same as they were before, bearing in mind that it did a very good job for the whole community?
§ Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)
I shall not detain the House for long, but I should like my right hon. Friend the Minister to explain the meaning of the phrasedefraying or contributing towards the expenses of advisory bodies.Those words appear in the money resolution, and the House should know what advisory bodies and expenses we are talking about before it votes on that resolution.
§ The Minister for Information Technology (Mr. Kenneth Baker)
My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) asked about the advisory bodies. The money resolution is needed in view of changes made in the other place. In amendments that we shall come to later, the other place asked that two additional advisory bodies be set up: one to advise the Director General on small businesses, and one to advise the Director General on the disabled. They will be, as it were, consumer advisory bodies for those interests. A s the expenses of those bodies, and the travelling and subsistence expenses of those who serve on them have to be met, that phrase has been used in the resolution. We expect expenditure covering those two advisory bodies to be small, and certainly less than £10,000 a year.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) mentioned the radio interference service. I entirely agree that its work is very valuable and important, and I know that he has taken an interest in it for some time. For many years there has been a radio interference service to deal with complaints about interference in broadcast reception and other radio services. The service originated with the Post Office, when the latter had responsibility for radio regulatory matters, and there it stayed until the creation of BT in 1981, when it passed to that body. Over the years, however, it has had several masters—as my hon. Friend rightly pointed out—as responsibility for radio regulation has shifted from one Department to another, from the Post Office to the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, to the Home Office and now to the Department of Trade and Industry. Throughout that time the service has been funded by Parliament.
Currently, the service's costs are split between the Home Office, which pays for the investigation of complaints in sound and television broadcasting and recoups the money from the television licence fee revenue, and the Department of Trade and Industry, under our Vote, Class IV. There has, however, never been any express statutory provision for that expenditure. The Government are therefore taking this opportunity to make such provision, and the provision makes clear the Secretary of State's authority to pay for the radio interference service.
I was asked about the future of the service, and I should say that the service is important and will have to continue. BT has expressed a wish to cease providing the radio interference service once it becomes a private company, and hon. Members may feel that it would be appropriate for it to do so, because it will be competing, and the role of the radio interference service is to act as a watchdog or policeman.
In the light of that, we have been considering urgently the future form of the service, and I hope to make an announcement very shortly. However, I shall, of course, take into consideration the points made about the employees' contracts and their terms and conditions of employment and see whether, for a time, BT could undertake the service under contract. That may be a way out. However, I assure the House that the service will continue.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Telecommunications Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any expenses incurred by the Secretary of State in providing a radio interference service or in defraying or contributing towards the expenses of advisory bodies.