HC Deb 04 July 1984 vol 63 cc302-3
7. Mr. Phillip Oppenheim

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps he intends to take to ensure that British telecommunications equipment manufacturers are not discriminated against in countries whose own manufacturers are at present enjoying increased access to the British market.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

The Government have strongly backed the European Commission's initiative to establish a Community telecommunications policy, and in particular to develop harmonised standards for terminal equipment. British manufacturers are already showing a more competitive stance in a number of world markets as a result of our liberalisation policies.

Mr. Oppenheim

Has not the liberalisation of British Telecom been of the greatest benefit to consumers and to businesses, on which employment depends? However, my right hon. Friend will be aware that many British manufacturers are deeply worrid by the unreciprocated access that overseaas manufacturers have to the United Kingdom market. For example, BT currently distributes a Japanese key system, but British manufacturers have no reciprocal access to the Japanese market.

Mr. Baker

Of the 365 products that have been liberalised, the United Kingdom content is rather more than 70 per cent. We have tried to ensure that, when foreign equipment is approved, there are commitments to manufacture and develop that equipment in the United Kingdom. I remind my hon. Friend of what I said in my original answer. In Europe we must establish a common market in such equipment, otherwise our manufacturers will be at a disadvantage.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

What about Japan?

Mr. Baker

I was about to mention Japan. Very little Japanese telecommunications equipment is sold in the United Kingdom at the moment. For equipment which we have approved we have received undertakings that, if the market takes off, it will be manufactured in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Ashdown

Is the Minister aware that there is much talk about a link between BT and IBM? Is he aware that such a link would massively increase IBM's growing monopoly in the market place? Will the House have an opportunity to scrutinise any such link? What is the Government's attitude to it?

Mr. Baker

If there were such a link between BT and IBM in a network operation, it would require a separate licence and a consultative period during which views of the House and other interested parties would be taken. We are anxious about that type of development. That is why I took an initiative in Europe to establish what is called an open systems interconnect — a common standard into which a variety of manufacturers can link so that there is compatibility. The hon. Gentleman is on to an important point as regards the viability of European industry in the next 10 years.