§ 22. Mr. Gerrard
To ask the President of the Board of Trade what representations he has made to British Telecom on the level of its connection charges to residential customers.
§ Mr. Ian Taylor
None. Regulation of BT charges is a matter for the Office of Telecommunications. Connection charges have fallen by 17 per cent. in real terms since 1984.
§ Mr. Gerrard
Does the Minister not accept that the cost of installing a telephone in the UK is significantly higher than in most industrialised countries? It is four times higher than in Germany, three times higher than in France and double the cost in the United States. Is that not a real deterrent, particularly for people on low incomes and pensioners, who are among those who could 344 benefit most from having a telephone? Is it good enough for the Minister to say that he does not care and that it is not a matter for him?
§ Mr. Taylor
Far from not caring, I care deeply that the UK telecommunications industry reaches every part of the country and people who were not previously able to afford a telephone. The hon. Gentleman should not assume that this country's industry comprises only BT. It is interesting that cable companies offering telephone services are attracting subscribers who could not previously afford a telephone, because cable company entry terms are more attractive. That is the effect of market competition. Incidentally, by definition, such new subscribers live in urban areas, because that is where most cable companies operate at present. This country has a good overall record of universal telephone coverage. That will continue with new technology, such as use of the radio spectrum, particularly in outlying areas.
§ Mr. Sumberg
If we had listened to Labour, telecommunications would still be a nationalised state monopoly and imposing high charges. Instead, there is competition and the public benefit. UK telecommunications lead the world.
§ Mr. Taylor
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Certain countries represented on the European Union Telecoms Council still do not understand that the consumer can only benefit from liberalisation of services, and that only in that way will consumer costs decline. That is why it is a triumph for this country to have persuaded the rest of the EU to liberalise all services by 1 January 1998, to the great benefit of telephone companies of all sorts in this country, which will be able to offer their services and supplies throughout the European Union.