HC Deb 21 July 1997 vol 298 cc678-9
7. Mr. Fabricant

To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport when he next plans to meet cable television operators to discuss their future expansion plans. [7503]

Mr. Fisher

My right hon. Friend has already met the Cable Communications Association and had a wide-ranging discussion on broadcasting policy issues.

Mr. Fabricant

Will the Minister join me in congratulating the cable companies on their multi-hundred million pound investment in cabling up Britain? I include in that ComTel, which is cabling up Lichfield. Does the Minister think that cable companies—which provide not only television but telephony services—would have made that investment if they had thought that British Telecom would be able to compete with them, given that BT already has a network in the UK? When will the Government be in a position to say whether BT will be competing with the cable companies, which currently have great doubts about continuing their investment?

Mr. Fisher

I agree that the cable companies have done well. They have invested £7 billion so far and are on their way to a projected investment of £12 billion. They have installed more than 2 million telephone lines, which has sharpened competition with BT. The Government are committed to lifting the broadcasting restrictions on BT and to treating BT and the cable companies on a fair and equitable basis. There are many issues to be considered, and I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a firm date on which any such decision will be made.

Mr. Maxton

Does my hon. Friend agree that the customers are more important than the cable companies and that we should ensure that customers get the maximum benefits of cable television as quickly as possible? Does he understand, therefore, that his failure to give BT a much earlier right to broadcast has disappointed some of his hon. Friends?

Mr. Fisher

My hon. Friend will know that these things are under discussion with BT. As he says, the television and telephony services to the public are crucial. The hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) should take up with the cable companies why they are not making greater penetration into television and broadcasting, as fewer than a quarter of the houses they pass are taking up the opportunity of television services. We want high-quality television services and more opportunity for telephony services in the interests of the consumer.