HC Deb 20 March 1991 vol 188 cc279-80
14. Mr. Andrew Mitchell

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment he has made of the effects of Her Majesty's Government's telecommunications policies since 1987.

Mr. Lilley

Since 1987, the effect of the Government's telecommunications policies has been to boost competition, give customers greater choice, encourage innovation and cut prices. That has given us a dynamic telecommunications market which is the envy of the world. The recommendations in the recent White Paper will build on those successes.

Mr. Mitchell

Will my right hon. Friend mark the enormous contrast between the privatised BT of today, which is reducing the cost of call charges in real terms and has ensured that 96 per cent. of its coin boxes work, with the appalling state of affairs when the industry was nationalised? Then, it took an enormously long time to get any work done if, for example, one wanted a phone installed, charges were doubled in one year and a quarter of all coin boxes did not work. Will my hon. Friend condemn the decision of the Opposition, who have announced that they will renationalise BT after the next general election? Will he note that when those matters were discussed last Thursday during the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill, only one Labour Member attended to defend the Labour party's policy, presumably because Labour Members generally were embarrassed by what Opposition Front-Bench Members were saying?

Mr. Lilley

Indeed. I read the report of the debate to which my hon. Friend refers, including the interesting contribution that he made to it. It is significant that Opposition Members did not turn up for it. Perhaps even more significant was their loud applause today for the notion of nationalisation. That is very much on their agenda. I am happy to say that given the opposition of the 1.5 million shareholders and of the many, many more millions of customers, the Labour party will not get a chance to renationalise BT.

Mr. George Howarth

Will the Secretary of State reconsider his position on the development of the broad-band network? In particular, will he consider allowing British Telecom and Mercury to carry entertainment in such a way that would create 3,000 jobs in my constituency at the BICC factory and 30,000 jobs nationally? That is the way forward with telecommunications, not by way of the bland statements that the Secretary of State made today.

Mr. Lilley

The House will recall that BT applied for and was allowed franchises for cable television. It has chosen to withdraw from them. Other cable companies are, happily, going ahead with cable television and cabling. BT has introduced on trunk networks about 1.1 million km of optic fibre compared with only 13,000 km before privatisation.