HC Deb 13 April 1994 vol 241 cc203-4
18. Ms Hoey

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what support he is giving to the British telecommunications industry.

Mr. McLoughlin

The Government's policies of liberalisation and encouraging competition have created a world-class telecommunications sector and we have seen a 30 per cent. reduction in British Telecom's charges to the consumer in real terms since privatisation. My Department is working closely with all parts of the United Kingdom telecommunications industry, including the manufacturing sector.

Ms Hoey

Does the Minister understand that his obsession with competition is undermining British Telecom's ability to compete as one of the big four or five international telecommunications companies? Why is he not doing something to allow British Telecom to get into the American market instead of giving favoured treatment to cable operators and other international telecommunications companies to enable them to operate here, without having reciprocal agreements for BT?

Mr. McLoughlin

That was—I Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. Do I understand that there is a disturbance in the House? [HoN. MEMBERS: "Yes.") Then let us end it.

Mr. McLoughlin

That was an extraordinary outburst from the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Ms Hoey). Competition in telecommunications has resulted in a reduction in costs to the consumer. More people have telephones in their homes now than before privatisation. We are keen for British Telecom and the other telecommunications operators to become world-class companies and, by freeing them from the state sector, we have allowed them to do so.

Mr. Dykes

Is the Department fully encouraging the exciting new development of telephones in aeroplanes?

Mr. McLoughlin

I am always interested in any new developments. My hon. Friend, who spends some time on aeroplanes, may take advantage of that service.

Mr. Cousins

Does the Minister know of another exciting experiment—sending video down telephone wires? At long last that is starting in Britain, but the technology comes from France, Canada and the United States. What is he going to do about it?

Mr. McLoughlin

It is being exploited by British Telecom.

Mr. John Marshall

Will my hon. Friend confirm that not only do we have the most liberalised telecommunications market in Europe, but that that liberalisation has led to a dramatic improvement in the quality of service since the industry was privatised and to a massive increase in investment and productivity, all of which the Opposition choose to ignore?

Mr. McLoughlin

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The quality of services has improved, prices have been reduced and both domestic and business consumers have benefited, as have the taxpayer and the economy.

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