HC Deb 22 June 1988 vol 135 cc1223-44

10 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs (Mr. John Butcher)

I beg to move, That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 4634/88 on the development of the common market for telecommunications services and equipment; and supports the Government's intention to work for the early liberalisation of telecommunications markets in the European Community to the benefit of network operators, service providers, equipment manufacturers and users. This Community initiative has stimulated considerable interest worldwide. This consultative process originated in the Commission's Green Paper on telecommunications policy, issued at the end of June 1987, with the aim, as it says, of starting a common thinking process and of satisfying the requirement for a debate within the Community of common objectives and the means to reach them. Naturally, the Commission had its own ideas about what needed to be done in respect of telecommunications in the Community. It also had ideas about how its objectives were to be achieved. Since the guiding principle of these ideas is to increase competition and to open markets in a field hitherto characterised, except in the United Kingdom, by monopoly and protectionism, the debate within the Community has been a lively one in which the Government have taken a leading part.

The Government have had two main objectives in the course of these discussions: first, to support the Commission in pressing forward rapidly with market-opening and liberalising measures; and, secondly, to guard against the danger of over-regulation, which, instead of stimulating competition, could stultify it. Our objectives reflect the advantageous position which the United Kingdom has won for itself in telecommunications within the Community by being the first member state to adopt a liberalising pro-competitive policy in this sector.

The market-opening measures adopted in the United Kingdom have resulted in a more competitive and efficient market. They mean that United Kingdom equipment manufacturers and service providers have learnt to live in the bracing environment of open competition at home, hitherto without being able to compete freely in the telecommunications markets of the Community. It follows that we have consistently and enthusiastically supported proposals by the Commission that would have the effect of giving our manufacturers a fair opportunity to sell their goods overseas, especially in Community markets. At the same time, we have been alert to any tendencies towards levelling down, where the United Kingdom has already progressed further than the Community as a whole is prepared to venture. The most obvious example is the introduction of competition into the telecommunications network itself—a policy whose benefits we continue to urge upon our partners in the Community.

Where, then, has this long and intensive consideration of the Green Paper led? The first conclusion, reached unanimously by member states, is that the Commission put the Green Paper together with a great deal of skill and expertise. The Government wholeheartedly endorse the general view that it is a comprehensive, well-thought-out and well-researched document. No one—least of all the Government—dissents from the Green Paper's guiding principle that an efficient telecommunications sector is an essential factor in the Community's economy. No one questions the Commission's opinion that for the internal market to be fully complete it must include an open market in telecommunications. Nor is there any doubt about the overriding aim, which is to provide European users with a greater variety of telecommunication services, of better quality and at lower cost. But the most important conclusion to flow from the Green Paper debate is the acceptance by all member states of the principle, on which the Government have been conducting the United Kingdom's telecommunications policy, that the route to efficiency in the telecommunications market, as in most other markets, is the freeing of market forces through the introduction of competition.

Agreement in principle has also been reached on several specific objectives, which would create in the Community as a whole market conditions in telecommunications not dissimilar to those now existing in the United Kingdom.

It is that broad agreement at the political level throughout the Community, both as regards general economic aims in the telecommunications sector and particular action designed to achieve them, that has made it possible for the Commission to submit the document that we have before us.

The Commission has recognised that the 12 member states differ widely in the structure of their telecommunications industries, which have been growing up since the 19th century, and that changes need to be introduced step by step and in a manner that takes account of these differences, and it has identified targets for future action. In listing the most important targets I shall refer also to the United Kingdom's position. First, there is separation of the regulatory and operational functions of the telecommunications authorities. We have done that. Secondly, there is the opening of the terminal equipment market to competition. We have done that. Thirdly, there is the opening of the telecommunications value added services market to competition, and subsequently definition of detailed general conditions for open network provision, which are the conditions under which competitive service providers use the basic telecommunications network. We have done that. Fourthly, there is the opening of the market for receive-only satellite antennae, as long as they are not connected to the public network. We announced in February that we shall be implementing that.

Other areas for immediate action include progressive implementation of the general principle that telecommunications tariffs should follow the trends in costs. We have delivered the effect of that because that is the result that follows from competition. There is then the extension to the telecommunications sector of rules for fair and open public procurement. British Telecom and Mercury are free to procure network and terminal equipment from any source that they think fit.

To complete a long list, there is the establishment of a European Telecommunications Standards Institute, which is affectionately known as ETSI, and full mutual recognition of type approval for terminal equipment. Those two facilities have our full support. Indeed, the United Kingdom was instrumental in the establishment of a free-standing ETSI.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

The Minister has praised the freedom of BT to procure equipment from any source that it chooses. What effect does he think that freedom has had on thousands of our constituents—his and mine in Coventry—who heard seven weeks ago that their jobs would come to an end because of rationalisations at GEC/Plessey Telecommunications Ltd? One of the factors was the purchase by BT of Ericsson equipment from Sweden.

Mr. Butcher

For reasons that the hon. Gentleman will understand, I, too, am familiar with the arguments that surrounded the rationalisation programme. He said "one of the factors", and I hope he will agree that trends in the manufacturing of telecommunications equipment, especially switching equipment, worldwide show that there has been demanning across western Europe, North America and Japan. The labour-intensive aspects of that form of production for that sort of profit are being greatly reduced. I know that the trade unions prayed in aid the system Y procurement, but most countries in Europe have the principle of second-sourcing. If the company management were to connive at an argument that everything was down to second-sourcing, I believe that it would not be reflecting the true position. I do not believe that it would make such an assertion, but no doubt the hon. Gentleman will develop his arguments in his contribution later this evening.

Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)

On the logic of the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist), if the main function of an industry is to preserve jobs, one must surely conclude that GPT should still be assembling labour-intensive Strowger exchanges that no one wants to buy. There is surely no future for an industry in just preserving jobs for the sake of those jobs without considering what people want to buy.

Mr. Butcher

Later, I hope to develop the argument that having a communications policy that places the interests of the users first is a policy for job creation. I seek to demonstrate that telecommunications improvements in the United Kingdom add to our overall efficiency, and in so doing add to our propensity to generate jobs in an internationally competitive market. One of the sources that I shall be quoting is one of our most vehement competitors, who agrees with the statement that I have just made.

Mr. Nellist

He is probably a Tory, too.

Mr. Butcher

I doubt it.

Our already competing network operators, British Telecom and Mercury Communications, will be well placed to meet the challenges and opportunities presented by the internal market. It means also that it is wholly in our interest to assist the Commission and our partners in the Community—especially the Greek, Spanish and French presidencies, which will be in office over the next 18 months—to set the necessary Community legislation in place with the least possible delay.

A good start has been made. ETSI is in being and will produce at an increasing rate the common European standards that are the prerequisites of a truly open market. The question often asked is whether the British are involved in that process, and whether we fear that others will take advantage of it. I can tell the House that the United Kingdom chairs the institute's technical assembly, which will determine the programme and adopt the standards. I know that the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) is very interested in that point.

The Commission is on the point of submitting to the Council a directive for open public procurement by the network operators in the hitherto excluded sectors. Draft proposals have already been the subject of intensive work at official level. Another Commission target for 1988 is the submission of a draft directive on the full, mutual recognition of type approval for terminal equipment. That, coupled with the availability of European standards and the introduction of competition, will result in a truly open market for attachments of every kind.

As to the introduction of competition, action has already been taken by the Commission to implement one of the immediate action lines, through the directive addressed to member states on 19 May under article 90 of the treaty of Rome, to accomplish rapid liberalisation of the Community's terminal equipment market. The Government are wholly in favour of that directive's aim, because it will enable other United Kingdom manufacturers to compete on fair terms in the domestic markets of other member states.

Direct action by the Commission, using the powers conferred upon it to enforce treaty rules, is a relatively novel procedure that has the advantage, in suitable cases, of avoiding the lengthier procedures involved in Council measures. However, the use of article 90 in that way raises legal and practical issues that call for careful consideration. I shall be interested to hear the views of hon. Members on that point and will take account of them.

After some initial heart searching, our Community partners are now responding to the need for change. In the beginning, they watched with interest what I am sure was regarded in many quarters as the British experiment. They are now minded to taste and to assimilate what is seen as a British success.

I promised the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East that I would conclude with a quotation supporting my arguments. It is from M. Gérard Longuet, who has been a vigorous and perceptive French Telecommunications Minister. In his book "Telecoms: La Conquôte de nouveaux espaces"—and I assure the House that this is an accurate translation—he wrote: When Japanese enterprises are contemplating the establishment of a European base it is to London that they turn, certain of being able to benefit there from communications which offer the best performance at the least cost. Coming from a French Minister, that is praise indeed. The Japanese know, as a number of colleagues in Europe know, that there has been a transformation of telecommunications in the United Kingdom. A number of users, both domestic and business, now look on Britain's success with a great deal of envy.

10.14 pm
Mr. Roger Scott (Wigan)

I want to dwell later on the proposition that the Minister has advanced tonight that Britain's telecommunications industry has had some success. I should at this stage declare my interest. I am sponsored by the National Communications Union, and before I came to the House I was a telecommunications engineer. The Minister and I crossed swords on many occasions for many hours during debates on the Telecommunications Bill, to which I shall return later.

The Minister has pointed out that some time ago the Commission drew up a Green Paper on the proposition for a European telecommunications network for 1992. The Commission published its draft policy statement on the development of the common market for telecommunications services and equipment in June last year. Tonight the House is asked to take note of the update of the Commission's intentions and opinions on an open market for telecommunications for 1992.

I note that in the foreword of that document the Commission stated that its aim was to launch a debate on European telecommunications and to attract comment from a broad spectrum of opinion. In particular, the Commission was seeking views from the Council, the European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee, the telecommunications administrations—those bodies which are still in public ownership in Europe —the European telecommunications and data processing manufacturing industry, the users of communications services and the trade unions.

I acknowledge that the Commission has done that because I know that the Postal, Telegraph and Telephone International, the umbrella organisation for all those unions in posts and telecommunications, particularly the European committee, has been actively involved in the discussions and the negotiations with the Commission on its policy.

I am advised that there have been several meetings with Viscount Davignon, the Commissioner responsible for telecommunications, and, on 5 May this year, a delegation from the PTTI's European committee met Mr. Jacques Delors, the President of the Commission, and reaffirmed its view, which was set out in the document presented to the Commission, that telecommunications in Europe should, wherever possible, remain in public ownership.

The PTTI committee disagrees with the Commission's fundamental policy on a number of issues. I have no doubt that the Minister has seen the PTTI submission to the Commission in which it outlines some of its fundamental opposition to some of the stances that the Commission has taken.

I understand that some progress has been made on the PTTI's position. It, like me, was worried by the Green Paper's excessive reliance on competition as the force for the development of telecommunications services, the tendency to project private competition for telecommunications administrations with inadequate regard for the need to protect the financial viability of those administrations, and their right to compete on an equal footing with others in open competition.

The Minister mentioned competition. The Government's position is to eulogise competition in British Telecom as something that should be adopted in Europe and an example that the rest of the world should follow. If we examine that contention, we find that competition has not worked very well.

The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) will have imprinted on his mind for ever those wonderful speeches by John Golding, to name but one—

Mr. Oppenheim

A lengthy embarrassment.

Mr. Stott

It is not an embarrassment to me, and I shall make a further reference to Mr. Golding a little later.

During those debates on the Telecommunications Bill in the watches of the night, we talked of what would happen if competition was brought about in the way that the Government wanted it to be brought about. I know that the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills was not particularly keen on that idea; he wanted much more competition in the system. What happened—and the Which? report bore this out when evidence was being taken from the consumer last November—was the epitome of all that was wrong with British Telecom. I must say that there has been a considerable improvement since then.

Last November we told the Minister—not once, not twice, but several times—what would happen. What happened was that British Telecom devoted its resources, not only financial resources, but manpower resources, to trying to fight off the competition of Mercury. That meant that the business community tended to get a better service but the residential customer got a lousy service.

I am not the only one to say that; everyone who has used British Telecom services understands that is the case. I say that more in sorrow than in anger. Members of my union, who have to face public discontent about a service that they care about, knew that if note was taken of what was said by City analysts about reductions in manpower there would be a problem in the maintenance of public call boxes and the provision of what used to be a public service. The public service ethos of the provision of a telecommunications network would no longer be there if resources, financial and manpower, were diverted to the attempt to fight off competition.

If the Minister is saying that competition in British Telecom should be adopted throughout Europe, I must counsel grave caution, because it will not work. The residential subscriber—the ordinary punter with a telephone—will get a raw deal.

Mr. Michael Grylls (Surrey, North-West)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that competition ultimately means choice? We can argue about how efficient British Telecom is at any one time—and that is a perfectly fair argument —but at the end of the day, if the consumer is not satisfied with BT, he can switch to Mercury. That surely is to his advantage.

Mr. Stott

Mercury is limited to what it can provide, and I did not particularly welcome its being given the opportunity to get into the trunk network. It has not provided that network; it has done nothing over the years to provide investment or infrastructure for it. The resources to develop the trunk network have been provided by the British people: the consumer, the taxpayer, the residential telephone user. But here is Mercury being given an opportunity to do what it wants and to link with the trunk network.

The hon. Gentleman said that the consumer has the choice. I shall not stand up tonight—I never have, not even during the debates on the Telecommunications Bill—and be an apologist for the old Post Office. Much of what it did was wrong. It was unimaginative. It was wrong to tell the consumer that he could have any telephone so long as it was black. Many improvements were needed, and they took place. There were initiatives which I, the union that supports me and the people I came from originally welcomed.

Nevertheless, we seriously question whether it is right to rely too much on competition. In Britain it has resulted in what Which? predicted and what we already knew.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am sympathetic to some of his criticisms. The whole point is that we never had, and still do not have, competition. We had what was called a duopoly. I hope the hon. Gentleman remembers that the Mercury licence was limited to 3 per cent. of British Telecom's total revenues. The test of an efficient and competitive service was never there. The buying of mass lines and their retailing to the public, which would provide a test of commercial viability for Mercury and British Telecom, and which we could allow even now, would have been in the interests of the consumer, but we lost that opportunity. Indeed, was not the hon. Gentleman opposed to it?

Mr. Stott

I certainly was. I am always glad to see the hon. Gentleman participate in these debates; he tilts against conventional windmills. I know that he was angry with the Government for the puny way—in his view—in which they dealt with the privatisation of British Telecom. So was I, and so were my hon. Friends.

I never imagined that European Community economic policy would be preferable to that of the British Government, but that is certainly so in the case of telecommunications. The British Government and British Telecom may eulogise about competition in the network, but the Commission thinks that the aim must be to encourage one network in each country, joined as a European whole. It is prepared to make a concession to Britain, but sees us as the odd man out. Based on my discussions and negotiations with the people concerned, I do not believe the Commission wants anyone else to follow our example. The PTTI has been encouraged on that point during the talks that it has had over the past 12 months. It was pleased with the recent acknowledgement by the Commission that telecoms must provide not only a vital commercial service, but a public service.

Those of us who were brought up and worked in this industry felt a sense of the public service ethos. The hon. Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim) shakes his head, but I am proud to have worked in an industry with that ethos. I used to go to work in the morning and return in the evening feeling well satisfied that I had done something for the public good. I must tell the hon. Member for Amber Valley that those of my colleagues who remain in British Telecom do not feel that way any more. The general public has noticed that, too.

If we are to move to a common market telecommunications system by 1992—it exists in France, Germany and Italy, where there is still a semblance of public service—public service must be one of the fundamental planks in a European policy.

Mr. Oppenheim

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that unfortunately some of the engineers and old GPO employees were not quite as assiduous as he was in pursuit of their public duties? Much as one may criticise British Telecom—I am the first to criticise it for its shortcomings —it is at least possible to get a telephone installed within a month and to get jack plugs put in fairly quickly.

When I put to the hon. Gentleman in Committee the fact that to get a jack plug installed for a fax machine in the early 1980s one had to wait six months, and that some business men had been forced to bribe Telecom engineers to put such jacks in within a month, he threw up his arms in horror and said that that was a terrible accusation. A month later 15 British Telecom engineers were gaoled for accepting bribes.

Mr. Stott

I will not try to defend members of my union —if they were members—who participated in actions that were clearly illegal. The National Communications Union and the former Post Office Engineering Union would not take that view either. People ought to know their responsibilities. If the people that the hon. Gentleman mentioned did something that they should not have done, it is right that they should have to take the consequences of their actions.

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point about the difficulty of getting certain things done. I repeat the point that I made earlier. John Golding and I and my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam) were never apologists for the management structure of the Post Office or British Telecom. There was much wrong with it and there still is. I shall quote one brief example.

Contrary to common belief, there are many fields in Wigan. There are some near where I live in Wigan and I walk my dog there on most nights. A friend of mine is building a stone farmhouse and I have watched it grow from the footings to the roof. He has designed and built it in such a way that there is no surface wiring—he has gone to a great deal of expense—and I said that it would be a pity if telephone wires were showing. I suggested that he ring British Telecom and ask for the dry wiring to be done before the plasterers came in. He did that, but British Telecom did not want to know and the electrician working at the farmhouse has done it. Even today at certain levels British Telecom management does not have the commitment that such management used to have. That is a problem.

Earlier I talked about the public service ethos. In my view, and in the view of the PTTI, that means giving a telephone monopoly to the public administrations. The unions within Europe would prefer to see much more retained within the purview of the telecommunications administrations. They believe that that is essential for the massive investment that is required by the European telecommunications industry. In order to be profitable they believe that the industry, the system or network must remain within the purview of the telecommunications administrations.

Those unions would have preferred the Commission to declare for public ownership, but perhaps that is too much to ask. At least the Commission has remained neutral, and it is certainly not advocating privatisation. That is not surprising, because, if there is to be a massive increase in telecommunications and information, all the countries of Europe will have to join together to compete against the Americans and the Japanese.

John Golding, the former general secretary of the National Communications Union, to whom I pay full tribute, has worked most of his life in the industry and put a great deal into the NCU. On his suggestion, the Commission is now financing a study into the staffing consequences of the Commission's policies. British Telecom is faced with staff shortages because of daft advice from the City, but it will also face such shortages in future. These will have to be solved if the United Kingdom is to have an efficient service. I hope that the European study of the staffing consequences of the Commission's policies will assist British Telecom in its assessment.

There are disappointments in the recommendations. We do not believe in reducing business tariffs at the expense of the domestic consumer, and in that context I take the Minister's point. Yet, in the logic of the Community's policy of having prices following costs, those two principles seem irreconcilable.

In Committee we spoke at length about cross-subsidisation. I know that there is a theoretical and political difference between the Government and the Opposition on cross-subsidisation in telecommunications. If we are to set out on this European experiment, the Commission should examine cross-subsidisation as a means of providing adequate funds for socially desirable services, such as public call offices and emergency services, as well as lower prices for residential users who are financially or otherwise disadvantaged. I urge the Commission to take note of the social impact of the proposed policies and the need for training and retraining personnel. Without those additions, the Commission's recommendations would be incomplete.

We need a common analysis of the social impact of the conditions for a smooth transition. The Commission must recognise that. In the formulation of telecommunications policies and regulations, account must be taken of the impact on jobs, and measures must be introduced to ensure job security and the creation of new jobs to replace those that disappear. That can be done. There will be job losses because of changes in technology and the very nature of the telecommunications system. However, we can also have job creation. A recent example is to be found in British Telecom. For the first time in about 10 years BT is having to recruit people to meet the needs of residential customers. That may not pay a very good dividend on the share price, but at least BT is satisfying residential consumers by providing a better service to them.

Training and retraining personnel is an integral part of any comprehensive telecommunications programme. Adequate finance must be provided for those activities as well as for training for trade union representatives to enable them to participate efficiently in local and national discussions on the introduction of new technology, regulatory and structural changes and all the other effects of the huge changes proposed in European telecommunications.

This is a "take note" debate on a series of documents. I believe that the documents are very important. The Commission has moved a long way towards understanding and accepting some of the proposals put to it by the PTTI, particularly on competition and privatisation. If the Commission understands the problem that the PTTI has underlined in its document and if we get it right, the signs are that with this new and exciting technology Europe could be in a strong position to challenge the Americans and the Japanese, to provide a universal service to all consumers and to have as its priority a fundamental belief in the public service ethos. If we do that, we shall not have wasted our time this evening.

10.39 pm
Mr. Kenneth Warren (Hastings and Rye)

I declare an interest as the Chairman of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, which is at present examining the subject of information technology. My remarks tonight will be based on my personal opinion alone.

First, I warmly endorse the documents of which the Minister proposes we should take note. The liberalisation and privatisation procedures that have been promoted through the House have permitted the telecommunications explosion that we are fortunately now experiencing in this country. There can be no clearer evidence of that than the way in which London has been able to take up the open opportunity of Europe to become the centre of European financial affairs, in line with New York and Tokyo on the world scale. Without that liberalisation of communications and the parallel legislation on Big Bang from the House, London could not have taken that premier position in the European Community.

I welcome the document put forward by Commissioner Narjes, whom I had the pleasure of meeting recently. I advise my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State that it would be worth considering the time that it has taken us to get that document from Commissioner Narjes on to the Floor of the House. It has taken four months and a few days. I draw attention to that fact because the document itself, entitled "Towards a competitive Community-wide telecommunications market in 1992", gives the impression, on first reading, that there are four years within which the implementation can take place. However, as was pointed out in the 20th report of the Select Committee on European Legislation, and as is stated on page 17 of Commissioner Narjes' statement, things start buzzing on 31 December 1989—next year. In other words, we have taken four months to get on to the Floor of the House something that is only four months away.

I hope that on future occasions it will be possible for us not to lose that amount of time, because we have lost time here on something for which industry must be revved up. Industry must understand that the House, having taken note of the document, expects industry to respond to the opportunities that are there. I hope that, following those four lost months, we can now accelerate the process and that the Government will give the widest possible publicity to the opportunity. The House often talks about the problems presented by European legislation, but here is an opportunity for job creation.

I have every sympathy for the hon. Member for Coventry, South-West—

Mr. Butcher

I think that my hon. Friend means the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist).

Mr. Warren

Yes, I meant the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist). I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me, because I always have sympathy with him for having to promote such debates in the House.

I have every sympathy for the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East in the problems faced by his constituents, but I ask him to reflect on the fact that the job opportunities that his constituents have lost resulted, not from the liberalisation process that was passed through the House, but because of the long historic cosy relationship, which became self-destructive, between the British telecommunications industry in the Post Office, as it then was, and certain companies in this country—and more's the pity that that happened. However, that is the reality and I want British industry to respond to it because if there had been sufficient appreciation of what was to happen in industry there would have been no need for such a situation to arise. I am sure that the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East will address himself to that point when he has the opportunity to speak. I want to detain the House for only a few minutes.

I hope that industry will read what is said in the House tonight and see this as an opportunity and not as a problem. The newspapers of this country often publish all the bad news about the European Community, rather than see the opportunities that arise from this kind of legislation.

I turn now to three of my concerns about this document and the rival communications on the EEC internal market. The first is the question of equipment and the need of British companies to be able to respond to what is there. I notice that the 20th report from the Select Committee on European Legislation states that the Commission's proposed Directive … would have the effect of opening the market for telecommunications terminal equipment in other Member States of the Community as it is already open in the United Kingdom. I trust that that will be a two-way street and that British manufacturers will charge into Europe.

Two other areas particularly concern me. The first is that the Commission must go further than is intended in the document and endorse the reality of communications, because we are talking not only about equipment, but about networks. Networks must be trans-frontier and European Community networks not limited to within member states. Satellite communications, whether on a receiver basis or a transmit and receive basis, must be across member states to the whole Community, not indigenous national systems.

Whereas we keep talking about European standards, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will seek to promote world standards that are acceptable across export markets. The biggest market opportunities for British equipment manufacturers lie in world markets rather than in EEC markets. I hope that he will give our compliments to the commissioner and say, "Let there be world standards."

Much as I enjoyed the salutary quotation by my hon. Friend the Minister of a French Minister, whom I trust has been returned at a recent election—it would be difficult if he had not—I am reminded of the attitude of my dear wife, who was a logical mathematician from Cambridge. If one asked her "Will we get these chances which the Europeans say are presented?", she would say, "If that is so, show me". That is what we should say from the House tonight. I endorse what is proposed.

10.45 pm
Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Tonight's debate follows the issue of the European Green Paper last summer on the telecommunications industry. Those who support the Common Market hope to create a homogenous European market place in electronics and telecommunications. The failure to do so to date or, in the words of the document, the "slow pace" of that progress is said to have led to the weaknesses of Europe's telecommunications industry, particularly compared with its American and Japanese rivals, with their economies of scale.

This document is about the future deregulation and liberalisation of the telecommunications market. The Minister is one of the most enthusiastic champions of that, but he is strangely mute about the effects of deregulation and liberalisation, particularly when they strike his constituents. Eight weeks ago he was up in arms about 800 job losses at GPT in Coventry and promised all sorts of initiatives in the Coventry Evening Telegraph, but we have had seven weeks of silence.

Mr. Butcher

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way so early in his speech. It is not my intention to turn this into a constituency debate. If his memory is accurate, he will recall that when GPT made its announcement I said that I wanted to meet representatives, and indeed I did. At that meeting senior executives gave me the clear impression that they have high ambitions for the new company and are bringing new forms of work to Coventry.

Mr. Nellist

The Minister is right about the new forms of work. My figure of 800 redundancies is net—after the introduction of new work. It gives no satisfaction to the workers at Spon street, Raglan street, Ford street and Stoke that, having met those executives seven weeks ago, the Minister has still to meet the working people's representatives—the trade unions in GPT factories—and pass on those rosy predictions which he seems to have gained from the management.

The Minister is a prime exponent of the supposed benefits of deregulation. On 23 October he made a speech in Geneva as part of United Kingdom Day at Telecom 87, which is described in his press release as the world's premier international telecommunications exhibition and conference held every four years. He said: In the field of telecommunications, Britain has zoomed past virtually all the other European countries. We have two digital trunk networks, expanding to local level; two optical fibre systems; two national cellular radio operators", and so the list goes on. Two of everything is probably wasteful duplication. I will believe it when somebody proposes that we should have two Prime Ministers so that we can have proper competition there as well.

The Minister continued: We have liberalised our regime and ended the former BT monopoly in apparatus supply. We have ensured interconnection for our two competing networks—BT's and Mercury's —…resulting in falling prices, rising quality and more innovative products and services than ever before. The key words are rising quality and falling prices. That was said in October 1987.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) said, some four weeks later a survey was being done by Which? of some 600 subscribers to the British Telecom network. It came up with a different picture. In 1983, the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said on Second Reading of the Telecommunications Bill: We offer the millions of BT customers a newly enshrined set of rights and the benefits of competition and new technology."—[Official Report, 18 July 1983; Vol. 46, c. 38.] The Which?survey published this month said: Our research shows that so far the company has failed to achieve an overall improvement in its service after privatisation.…BT's record since privatisation has been a big disappointment". My hon. Friend has said that there has been some improvement since November. I will accept that because he has said it, but I am trying to compare like with like. The Minister said in Geneva that everything was perfect. The survey of exactly the same period showed something different.

Which? found that one in 36 calls did not get through, so there had been no improvement since 1983, that noisy and faint lines, making conversation difficult, were worse since 1983, that the average waiting time for a new line had improved since 1983 but that too many were still waiting a long time for connection, and that 40 per cent. of those surveyed said their phones had been out of order at least once in the previous 18 months; I can confirm that from personal experience. That was also up on 1983.

The survey also found that the state of repair of BT's call boxes was among the worst in Europe, and that the proportion of customers rating the overall service as efficient had dropped from eight out of 10 in 1983 to seven out of 10 in 1987. Although itemised bills were the most requested improvement, progress in introducing them more widely had been at a snail's pace. One quarter of people querying their bill had difficulty in getting BT to reply; that was nearly double the proportion who had trouble in getting BT to respond in 1983.

The Consumers Association criticism came less than a month after the Minister was praising competition and also after Oftel announced that the 24,186 complaints received in 1987 were almost double the 13,660 received in 1986. Over one third were about disputed bills.

In March of this year, the Telecommunications Managers Association, representing 30 per cent. of BT's business income, said: There is little evidence of any improvement since our surveys of 1985 and 1986 and indeed, in some areas, a marked deterioration has occurred. Yet after all that, on 9 June, BT announced profits of £2.29 billion, up 11 per cent. on last year, clearly showing that the profits and the dividends for shareholders were more important than the improvement of services for business or domestic consumers.

Incidentally, the city stockbroker firm, Wood Mackenzie, has estimated that, if BT is to keep its profit at the same level for the next four years, it will have to shed 70,000 jobs. I do not think that the comments from business sources, the stockbrokers or the Consumers Association bear out the remarks of the Minister in October about the "wonderful" benefits of deregulation and liberalisation.

Mr. Oppenheim

I do not think anyone could objectively claim that British Telecom's service is worse, or not significantly better, than it was in the 1970s, but to the extent that it is still unsatisfactory, which I think most hon. Members would accept, is that not partly due to the under-investment in the 1960s and the 1970s, which in turn was partly due to the cosy, almost incestuous, relationship which British Telecom had with its main suppliers, Plessey and GEC, who are the component parts of GPT, and indeed with STC, which led to overpriced equipment, late equipment, and equipment that was unexportable?

Does the hon. Member agree that it takes many years to make up for lack of investment? Against a background of many years of under-investment, British Telecom was faced with a massive increase in demand for lines, obviously in areas where the service was deteriorating. Now it is in the private sector, British Telecom is investing far more than in the bad old days when the GPO was in the public sector.

Mr. Nellist

I confess that I lost track of the hon. Member's question because of its length. However, I agree with him on one point. As a young trade unionist, I opposed the cartel of Plessey, STC and GEC which existed in the 1960s and 1970s in that cosy relationship with the Post Office, and called on my colleagues in the then Labour Government to end it by taking the three companies into public ownership, so that there could be some open planning of the producer systems as well as the user systems.

Today there is no excuse for lack of money for investment. If British Telecom can report profits of £2.3 billion, there is certainly scope for it to invest that money in ending standing charges for pensioners and those on low incomes, and providing a better service for the public services, hospitals and other domestic and business consumers.

We have to decide whether deregulation and liberalisation will produce the benefits that the Minister and Lord Young pray for. If they do, will they be for a few advanced capitalist countries in the centre of the Common Market, as opposed to what are called peripheral countries? What attitude do we take to the wild claims that have been made in the press and elsewhere about the supposed benefits to Britain of taking such a step?

On 8 April, The Times, under the headline, "Britain set for £55 bn communications harvest", stated: Britain is poised to capture the lion's share of Europe's £55 billion a year telecommunications industry if plans to create a European internal market by 1992 go ahead as scheduled, according to leading industry sources. Where is the evidence for that? In the 1960s, Britain's share in the world's trade in telecommunications manufactured goods was 20 per cent. It is now under 5 per cent. The balance of trade between the Common Market countries and Britain has gone from bad to worse in recent years. The British experience of liberalisation has given us L. M. Ericsson and system Y, but we have yet to see any major exports of system X from GEC or Plessey.

In 1984, British exports of telecommunications hardware to the European Community amounted to £156 million. In 1987, four years later, the latest available data show that that figure had climbed to £172 million. Imports from the same source in the same period had gone up from £147 million to £194 million, meaning that the United Kingdom's balance of trade with the Common Market in telecommunications hardware had changed from an £8.5 million positive balance in 1984 to a £21.2 million deficit in 1987. Those figures, rather than illustrating the benefits that will accrue from entering the Nirvana of an expanded, deregulated and liberated market, sound warning bells as to what will happen to the hardware manufacturing industry in Britain if the plan goes ahead.

Rather than gearing up for the promises of expanded sales and production that the Minister has said are available to British firms, seven weeks ago, GPT, which was formed earlier this year from GEC and Plessey and is the prime manufacturer of telecommunications equipment in Britain, announced 1,800 redundancies. GPT is contracting its work force. Of the 1,800 redundancies, 800 are in my constituency in Coventry, South-East, '700 arise from the complete closure of the Kirkcaldy factory in Scotland and the rest affect Liverpool, Beeston and Aycliffe.

One of the central arguments of workers in Coventry, many of whom have given their lives to raising GEC's profits to enable Arnold We instock, its chairman, to buy his legendary £500,000-a-time racehorses, is that it is clear that the redundancies in GPT are being done on the cheap. All but a handful of the 1,800 redundancies are at former GEC plants. The old Plessey firm had a redundancy agreement four times better than GEC. Whereas GEC offered one week's pay per year of service, Plessey offered four weeks. The overwhelming majority of redundancies have been at GEC plants.

As one Transport and General Workers Union convener at Coventry said: the cuts are being made at the cheapest point". That is in sharp contrast to yesterday's news in the Evening Standard that Sir John Clark, the chairman of Plessey, had awarded himself a £167,000 a year pay rise. You may have noticed, Madam Deputy Speaker, that 179 Labour Members have signed early-day motion 1135, which I have tabled. It supports the union's campaign of opposition to plant closures and redundancies. If this proposal becomes a reality by 1992, those redundancies will be only the beginning of job cuts in hardware manufacturing in Britain.

Despite the merger, GPT is a small fish in a big pond. It is unable to compete, especially on research and development, with firms such as Siemens in Europe or AT and T and NTT in America and Japan respectively. In my view, GPT is planning for a short-term future and for maximising its profits before 1992, when it will be exposed to the chiller winds of competition which this liberalisation will bring. GEC, the parent company, makes more profit from its cash assets of £1.5 million in its bank than it does from investing in research and development and jobs, and those profits will be enhanced by the increase in interest rates which was announced today. The future for jobs in GPT is grim for the next couple of years, as stockbrokers who have analysed it say. They predict the same number of redundancies in the next couple of years. In the longer term, the redivision of the world market in telecommunications will probably mean further mergers and rationalisations.

We have already witnessed the acquisition of ITT's European telecommunications equipment interests by Alcatel of France, the takeover of CGCT of France by Ericsson, and the merger of GEC and Plessey in the United Kingdom. During the next four or five years, if, as many columnists predict, there is a worldwide recession in the next year, the pressure will be on to make major economies of scale, so there will be further mergers and rationalisations, and job cuts will be inevitable.

My preference is not for deregulation but simply for renationalisation of BT. As I said in reply to the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim), it should not stop at BT. It should include GPT, STC and Thorn-Ericsson so that some rational planning can be brought into the production and use of telecommunications equipment. My preference for control would not be for the MacGregors, the Graham Days or the Edwardeses of the past, but for working people inside and outside those industries having the majority of seats on a board of control.

It is clear that, whereas BT used to support the research and development of manufacturing companies, which gave some stability, but was involved in what was called "the ring"—that cosy cartel relationship with GEC, Plessey and STC—deregulation will bring about wholesale competition. If BT begins to go for the cheapest tenders, it is inevitable that those who tender will begin to cut longer-term plans such as those for research and development—which often takes five or seven years before it shows any profits because of lead times—and for training and retraining. In the case of GPT, the unions have demanded retraining for those workers threatened with redundancy.

Over the past 12 months, BT has been looking for a 20 per cent. reduction in its engineering staff. Research and development and engineering staff are likely to be cut further as BT seeks to encourage the private manufacturers to do the installation and servicing of the systems it produces. Deregulation and liberalisation is losing jobs, both in the service and manufacturing industries. After 1992, our experiences in Britain will be translated throughout Europe.

For me, for the past 15 years, the Common Market has been simply a chimera. We have had over 15 years of promises of benefits and of more jobs, yet the deficit in manufacturing trade with Common Market countries is now £10.2 billion, according to an answer given by a Treasury Minister to my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) in column 277 of Hansard of 16 June. It has been said that we pay the best part of £2 million a day for membership of the Common Market club, yet we have the lowest pensions and supplementary benefits of almost any member state, and we certainly have the lowest unemployment benefit, as a percentage of former earnings, of any member state.

I well remember, during the 1975 referendum campaign, in which I participated in support of a vote against continued membership of the Common Market, huge posters in Coventry, with Lord Jenkins' face some 10 or 12 ft across on them and the headline "Jobs for the Boys". He might have done all right—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

Order. The hon. Gentleman is not relating his remarks to the "take note" motion on the Order Paper, and I should be obliged if he would now do so.

Mr. Nellist

It is not for me to differ, but we are being asked tonight to take note of a document to enhance the development of the Common Market—

Madam Deputy Speaker

To deal with telecommunications.

Mr. Nellist

—particularly in telecommunications. The Minister's promise at the Dispatch Box was that that would provide a range of benefits for working people in this country, in which he included jobs. I am trying to show that that has never been true, and I do not believe that it is true this evening. In 1975, promises were made to my constituents in Coventry that, if we remained in the Common Market and looked to a future of deregulation and harmonisation, including the telecommunications market, according to Lord Jenkins there would be jobs for the boys. In the preparations that GPT is making for that harmonisation programme in 1992, my constituents heard seven weeks ago the announcement of 800 redundancies. I believe that it is a perfectly legitimate point to make in the House.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. It is a perfectly legitimate point to make, but it is not legitimate to go back 10 years. The hon. Gentleman should relate that to what is happening at present.

Mr. Nellist

We entered the Common Market 16 years ago. Many of the documents that we are discussing tonight had their genesis in the 1970s, particularly those such as the Green Papers which refer to the harmonisation in industrial sectors that is due to take effect over the next 18 or 36 months, or by 1992. I contend that it is perfectly legitimate to talk about the history because, as Aneurin Bevan—the hero of both of us, Madam Deputy Speaker —once said, why should we look in the crystal ball when we can read the book? The book of the history of the Common Market has never given the citizens of Coventry any benefits from its membership, contrary to those offers that Lord Jenkins made during the referendum in 1975.

People argue that deregulation and harmonisation of the telecommunications market and the creation of a supranational market in telecommunications within Europe will benefit consumers or those who provide either the equipment or the service in Britain, but it will not provide the best service to working people, particularly because as capitalism in Britain, Europe and worldwide moves into the next downward cycle of its development, there will be even more pressure on nation states to protect their home markets and resist cross-border fertilisation, which has been put forward as one of the main benefits of the measures in this document. We have heard of American steel workers complaining about British Steel exports to America. American car workers have smashed Japanese cars, Italian and French farmers have argued about cross-border travel of agricultural products, and we shall see the same in the next three or four years in telecommunications, just as British workers complained when Ericsson Information Systems Ltd. got the contract for systemwide equipment from BT three or four years ago.

There will not be a united, unified common market in telecommunications or in any other industry. Those who describe the measures in this document as leading to that are not giving the British people the best advice they can get. If the document is noted by the House and adopted by the Common Market, employers and Governments will come together on a 12-country basis to harmonise and deregulate telecommunications, and it is for trade unions to do the same. They must harmonise their organisations across national boundaries and set up Euro shop stewards committees to protect the jobs and living standards of their members, just as those who are in favour of this deregulation—the gaffers and the employers in Europe —want to protect the profits of their shareholders.

11.11 pm
Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

The hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) has given a whole new meaning to the phrase "sending people to Coventry", and it is not inducing silence.

I have risen to speak because I am a member of the Select Committee on European Legislation, and I shall refer specifically to the powers on which my hon. Friend the Minister said he would be interested to hear comments by hon. Members. We are dealing with important prospective legislation on a matter that will have a dramatic and beneficial effect on the prospects for our telecommunications industry. With the liberalisation of terminal equipment in the value added services markets, and the separation of the regulatory and operational functions of posts, telegraphs and telecommunications administrations, the Commission proposes that the form of procedure used will effectively bypass other institutions within the Community, let alone the House. That is a serious matter.

By coincidence, I have written an article about this that will be appearing in The Times tomorrow. Those of us who are genuinely enthusiastic about the prospects of the EC cannot view with equanimity the use of such powers, which are bound to lead to a sense of remoteness and Byzantine complexity bypassing the elected representatives and against the express wishes of member states, as my hon. Friend could tell us, because the Government made representations to the Commission that the use of article 90(3) should not be allowed.

The Commission is persisting in this view, for reasons that have not been explained to the Select Committee, nor —I do not criticise my hon. Friend for this—by the Minister tonight. Also, if, as is proposed by the Government and other member states, the Commission proceeds by another procedure, it would be by the use of article 100A.

It is late at night and we are discussing a matter which is vital to the future of the telecommunications industry and to industry as a whole. We are in the telecommunications age. Some would argue that the future for industry and commerce generally will be increasingly affected by telecommunications, information technology and everything that goes with those developments. At 11.15 pm, in a virtually empty Chamber, we are discussing a critical issue and looking into the black hole, as it were, in considering whether the proposed liberalisation measures should pass through the Commission without any further reference—I refer to the explanatory memorandum from the Department of Trade and Industry—to the Council of Ministers itself or to consideration by the European Parliament or the Economic and Social Committee, but must be implemented by any Member States to which they are addressed There would be no further reference to the House, and that is inconceivable. In my judgment, no right-minded person should allow this procedure to continue without registering the strongest possible protest.

The problem does not end when article 100A is invoked. The Select Committee on European Legislation, in public session, is cross-examining the Treasury Solicitor in an attempt to elicit information on the misuse of article 100A, which, in simple langage, relates to the harmonisation programme for the whole of the internal market and the Single European Act.

Grave problems have been arising, and we have had evidence of the misuse of article 100A. I do not want to exaggerate, but increasingly legislation is being imposed upon the House and we are obliged to implement it under the European Communities Act 1972. I am prepared to accept that Act, because I am not an anti-European in the sense in which that term is used by many, but I ask whether it is right that the elected representatives of Britain should be bypassed on matters of direct concern to the industry, to commerce and to the prosperity of their constituents. That must be a matter of concern to us. I am saying not that it has no relevance to the European Parliament but it has a great deal of relevance to us. The issue that is before us will bypass the whole shooting match if what is proposed by the Commission goes ahead.

Under article 100A the majority procedure is used, and I shall not make a song and dance about the fact that that procedure has been introduced. I made my point when the Single European Act was passing through the House, in the course of which I said that there would be some difficulties. On the other hand, I can see some advantages in the majority procedure.

There is something called Russian roulette. I suggest that we are moving into a new world in which there is something called European roulette, in which there are 12-chamber guns. As we found in our deliberations this afternoon in the Select Committee on European Legislation, it is becoming increasingly difficult to determine how matters will turn out. With the best will in the world, we must get our scrutiny procedures right. It has been said that we have lost four months and that the scrutiny procedure is not working properly. I wish merely to say that we are moving into accelerated procedures under article 100A. Indeed, we are moving into a new world in which things will move faster than we would like. The Select Committee on European Legislation has received evidence that on occasions—these are somewhat more frequent than in the past—when it recommends that certain matters should be debated, which means that it applies a scrutiny reserve, an explanatory memorandum is issued by the Department which, in effect, states, "We are sorry, but things are moving too fast. We shall have to make the decision to adopt the proposal before the debate has taken place."

A number of questions seriously affect rulings and agreements as between the Select Committee on European Legislation and the formal channels in this House, which have recently been the subject of correspondence with the Leader of the House. I ask, in no spirit of criticism, that when important matters such as this pass through the House and through the European Community—to which I do not object in principle, because I am not anti-European—we should be fully involved in key decisions affecting our constituents.

The key word there is "involved", because we cannot leave such matters to the European Parliament alone. It is not designed for, or capable of, properly scrutinising such matters either now or in the indefinite future. The House concerns itself with scrutinising Bills line by line, yet it is prepared to pass legislation at this time of night without so much as a glance at the nuts and bolts of its content. We must consider this matter properly, not just for the sake of tradition but also to safeguard the role of the House. In a nutshell, we must represent our constituents effectively and efficiently to the best of our ability.

11.21 pm
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)

My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) concentrated his remarks on an issue that is dear to the heart of the House in relation to the proposal that is before it. I did not intend to speak, but I want to respond to a number of the issues raised by the hon. Members for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) and for Wigan (Mr. Stott).

Mention was made of British Telecom's role in Europe. My instinct is to acknowledge the extraordinary role played by Mr. John Golding in ensuring British Telecom's monopoly in the contemporary scene. I do not know a man who has fought more strongly, bravely and courageously for his union in defending—almost in partnership with Sir George Jefferson, whom I consider to be the eminence grise in that lamentable situation—the interests of his members as he perceived them, though I believe wrongly. "Hallelujah!" they should be singing, to the man who struggled and fought for British Telecom's lamentable—I would argue—monopoly. He argued on behalf of his members in a manner which I would acknowledge with statues and monuments, but that must be a judgment for others.

The House is united in the belief that the provision of a service to consumers is what should guide our interest in telecommunications. It is there that I take issue with some of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East. I ask him to reflect, on behalf of his constituents, on the situation if there were only one shoe shop, one shirtmaker and one food shop in Coventry. One would then be hijacked in terms of prices and the provision of service. If those suppliers decided to provide a service for only four hours daily, and at a price that was not affordable, people would have to go without.

The essence of the underlying argument is that one achieves the best provision of service by competition. The regret and anxiety in the Government's arguments this evening are that we constructed a system that was not designed to do that, but which institutionalised much of what had gone before, ensuring that the measured pace by which we arrived at its provision would place us ill in the worldwide race to provide a service.

I shall contrast that with a situation with which I know the hon. Member for Wigan will be very familiar concerning Northern Telecom. It came from nowhere. Its market was nationally limited—the Canadian market—and yet, despite the inhibitions of a small market place, it has grown into an undoubted world leader. The test of being vital and viable in a competitive market has taken it from nothing to something grand. The tragedy of British Telecom is that it started as something grand and is going somewhere that is not so grand. It is not an example that we can hold out to the world.

The provision of competitive tendering in equipment was essential. It was something about which the Government were anxious. The maintenance and continuity of the service were all arguments that we rehearsed in Committee. At the end of the day the House is about the provision of service. Opposition Members will get nowhere until they believe that unless the service is delivered to the consumer it cannot be argued that to maintain the jobs of three people today is the end of the matter. It is delivering the service to the consumer that leads to the creation of the jobs that the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East desperately and genuinely wants for his constituents. That is the route by which we believe that that can best be tackled.

I have tried to talk about technological gains. Many things inhibit the Government's objectives. We still have great opportunities ahead of us. The price restraint on BT comes to an end next year, as my hon. Friend the Minister will no doubt confirm. I genuinely do not believe that a monopoly that runs for 25 years is in our interests. We can still break up BT and that will become increasingly imperative in order to serve markets and compete in Europe and so take advantage of any directive that comes from there. If, as we look forward to the year 2000, we want to hold markets, create more jobs and take over the opportunities that Northern Telecom in a curious way pioneered for us all in order to beat the Americans or the Japanese, we must take away those restraints. My hon. Friend the Minister will well recall that in Committee we did not talk about competition. Throughout we referred to a duopoly. That is not consonant with competition.

11.26 pm
Mr. Butcher

To a certain extent, the debate has been a reunion of those who debated the competition policy issues in the Telecommunications Bill. I recall the eloquence of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) many years ago. He has shown tonight that his views are unshakeable and that his convictions on competition policy, as it applies to the telecommunications market, are as clear as ever.

May I share with him and the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) their view of the doughtiness of Mr. John Golding? I cannot agree with my hon. Friend's conclusions that the Golding-Jefferson axis has triumphed. I have tried to demonstrate tonight, and shall continue to do so in future, that competition across the piece is alive and kicking in the telecommunications services in the United Kingdom.

My hon. Friend is worried about whether the domestic user has a real choice. When there is competitiveness between the two service providers, I am sure he will agree that the final piece of the jigsaw will be in place.

I hope that my hon. Friend will be encouraged by the fact that, after making a massive investment, Mercury is now in a position to start advertising for customers from domestic subscribers outside the Greater London area. That surely is confirmation that it is serious about competing with BT in the last area in which BT has enjoyed a quasi-monopoly. Everywhere else, full-blown competition is raging.

Many points have been raised tonight, and there will not be enough time to respond to all of them. I was asked in a couple of contributions what objective the United Kingdom was seeking to achieve. Let me return to the words of the French Minister when he identified the Japanese propensity, indeed choice, to invest in the United Kingdom—often in London—because of the efficacy of our telecommunications services.

One of our objectives is to ensure that London becomes one of the three major information exchanges in the world. It is already one of the three major financial exchanges, and I believe that Tokyo, New York and London will be the three major information exchange centres. I hope the House will remember that there are now more than 3,000 value added data service and network service operators in London. Only four years ago, we did not have any that we could count.

It being half-past Eleven o'clock, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted Business).

Question agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of European Community Document No. 4634/88 on the development of the common market for telecommunications services and equipment., and supports the Government's intention to work for the early liberalisation of telecommunications markets in the European Community to the benefit of network operators, service providers, equipment manufacturers and users.