HC Deb 24 November 1993 vol 233 cc443-4
10. Mr. Ian Bruce

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what proportion of homes now possess a telephone; and what was the proportion in 1979.

Mr. McLoughlin

In 1979, 67 per cent. of households were connected to a telephone. The latest figures show that 89 per cent. of households are now connected, which represents a 33 per cent. increase.

Mr. Bruce

I wonder whether in his busy day my hon. Friend might have a chance to read the Second and Third Reading debates and the speeches made by Opposition Members when we were discussing the Telecommunications Bill. He may well find that the predictions that were made by the Opposition about privatisation have all been proved to be totally untrue. I should like to encourage my hon. Friend to continue the Government's policy of extending the number of people getting into the telecommunications market so that we can not only continue to have a successful industry but also provide the services that consumers clearly want.

Mr. McLoughlin

I am not sure that it would do much good if I re-read those speeches, but I recommend that Opposition Members do so because they ought to see the way in which their forecasts have so miserably failed to come to fruition. The facts are that to have a telephone installed in 1979, at today's prices, cost £188. Today, that connection cost is £99.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell

Many of my constituents have telephones and they keep calling me and telling me about the rotten Government and what they are doing. When will the Minister take a hand to British Telecom and ask it to cut the price for the installation of telephones for pensioners? The cost is enormous—it costs almost £200 for pensioners to have a telephone installed. Is not it about time that the Minister did something about that?

Mr. McLoughlin

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not seem to have been able to pick up the telephone to BT. The figure that he has just given—and which I gave in my last answer—shows how much he is out of touch. As I have said, to install a telephone in 1979 would have cost £188 at today's prices. BT has just reduced the connection charge to £99. I hope that you, Madam Speaker, will now give the hon. Gentleman a chance to get up and welcome that and the privatisation of British Telecom.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth

Will my hon. Friend confirm that there has also been a substantial increase in the number of payphones in the past 10 years? Does he agree that the telecommunications industry provides a classic example of exactly what deregulation can achieve?

Mr. McLoughlin

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That was another scare being touted by the Opposition at the time of privatisation—that somehow all rural phones and mobile phones would cease to exist. The fact is that public phone boxes are working.

Mr. Cousins

Does the Minister not know that there are fewer telephone lines in British homes than in most European countries? The Minister talked about installation charges. Is he not aware of the extortionate installation deposits which are levied in addition to installation charges, particularly in some of the tough inner-city areas? What is he doing about the antique pricing structures and the rank overcharging which mean that British telephone lines are used a third less than telephone lines in the United States? What is he doing to create a mass market in telephones which link the screen to the telephone rather than confining it to yuppies?

Mr. McLoughlin

I honestly do not know where to start in answering the hon. Gentleman's question. When we were privatising BT, the Opposition predicted that prices would go up. In fact, they have fallen by 27 per cent. so far as BT is concerned. There has been a greater increase in competition, with cable companies investing massive amounts of money in this country because they see that as an opportunity to develop their industry. They are providing telephone services, too. It is amazing that the Opposition spokesman can find nothing on which to attack the Government but the leading companies in this country.