HC Deb 03 July 1991 vol 194 cc314-5
16. Mr. Hain

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what estimate has been made of the United Kingdom's share of the European and world telecommunications markets and of the prospects until the end of the decade.

Mr. Lilley

In 1989, the United Kingdom's share of the western European and world markets for telecommunications equipment was approximately 13 per cent. and 3 per cent. respectively. No specific projections are available for the rest of the decade, but United Kingdom exports have more than doubled over the past five years. That trend should continue.

Mr. Hain

I am not surprised that the Secretary of State is unable to give any forecasts, because he has effectively given a blank cheque to American-dominated cable television companies to compete on the local loop of the telecommunications network, while denying British Telecom and other United Kingdom telecommunications operators equivalent access to the American network. Why is he not insisting on reciprocity, or is he willing to perpetuate that discrimination and allow Britain to fall from the first to the second division of the world telecommunications market?


I have pressed the American authorities vigorously for complete liberalisation, to allow our companies to bring their skills and expertise to the benefit of the American telecommunications network. Meanwhile, I am not prepared to cut off our nose to spite our face by shutting the door on investment from overseas.

The hon. Member may be referring to today's announcement by Sir Bryan Carsberg, which I fully support, that he seeks to ensure that new providers of local telephone services will not be impeded by the access deficit contribution, and that the terms of British Telecom's licence will be changed to enable new companies to come in and provide local services—with the extra competition, newer services and lower prices which that has always meant. We entirely reject the Labour party's policy of renationalisation.

Mr. Wells

After that welcome announcement, can my right hon. Friend tell me how an increase in competition will result from what the Director General of Oftel has told us today?

Mr. Lilley

Yes. Sir Bryan has said that he will seek a change in BT's licences so that he will have the right to waive the contribution that might otherwise be required from companies competing in the introduction of new telephone services, such as local calls, cable television services, PCN—personal communication network—services, and other mobile services. That will enable companies to build up in the early stages without the adverse effect that the charge might have had. When companies are fully established they will have to pay the charge and the contribution to the existing BT network. This will be widely welcomed by all those who value competition, who want to see choice and who welcome lower prices.