§ 1. Mr. McAvoy
To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what representations he has received about the telecommunications duopoly.
§ The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Peter Lilley)
I have received more than 190 written responses to the consultative document on competition and choice in telecommunications. The vast majority firmly supported the document's main proposals.
§ Mr. McAvoy
Is the Secretary of State aware that the 14 January deadline for submissions on the Government's consultation document has caused great consternation in the industry? Is two months long enough for comments on a document which proposes such fundamental changes to one of our most important industries—changes which the Government have considered for seven years?
§ Mr. Lilley
The hon. Gentleman is right that everyone had seven years' notice of the consultation. Forty companies made representations before I even published the consultation document. Six of the 190 companies made representations after the 14 January deadline and we shall do our best to consider any late representations.
§ Dr. Hampson
Will my right hon. Friend think twice about proposals to allow British Telecom to deliver entertainment services to households? Those of us who want massive investment in cabling in Britain fear that that might be a threat by British Telecom to deter investment in the cable industry.
§ Mr. Lilley
I shall, of course, consider very carefully my hon. Friend's remarks and the other representations on that issue that I have received as a result of the consultation process. The considerations that my hon. Friend mentioned are those which originally led me to make the proposal in the consultative document.
§ Mr. Henderson
When will the Secretary of State be able to respond to the representations that he received in relation to the consultative paper? Does he agree with British Telecom that there can be no effective competition without firm regulation on matters such as the price of access of potential competitors to the BT network? Will the Secretary of State modify the proposals in his consultative paper to ensure that there is effective 304 regulation to protect the public interest and to protect a competitive environment, high technical standards, proper research and development and capital investment in the local loop?
§ Mr. Lilley
I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a firm date by which the conclusions will have been reached. I shall endeavour to do so as rapidly as is compatible with proper consideration of the representations. I do not want an unnecessarily long period of uncertainty. I agree that regulation is necessary, although competition is desirable. Under the previous arrangements for a nationalised industry with which the Labour Government were satisfied, there was no regulator. In the words of the Fabian Society, the nationalised industry was left to regulate itself. We prefer a privatised industry but a firrn regulatory authority and that is what we have.
§ Mr. Ian Bruce
Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that when he considers the representations he will give greater weight—or at least equal weight—to the representations of user gorups and individual customers than to those of the massive formerly nationalised industry, which now puts so much pressure on the Government to stop free competition? Will equal access be speeded up so that more people can get into the telecommunications market and therefore force prices down through competition?
§ Mr. Lilley
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The consumer interest must and will be paramount. We place great emphasis on competition because that is the best way of ensuring the consumer interest, although, in some areas, as I said, regulation is essential to reinforce it With regard to my hon. Friend's point about equal access, I shall consider the responses to the proposal that I made in the document.