HC Deb 17 June 1999 vol 333 c544
3. Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

If he will make it his policy to take powers to enable him to reduce telephone charges for schools, volunteer organisations and residential users of the internet; and if he will make a statement. [86493]

The Minister for Small Firms, Trade and Industry (Mr. Michael Wills)

The Government's policy is to make fast and affordable internet access available as widely as possible, and competition is the best way to deliver that. It drives innovation, reduces prices and increases choice, and we are now seeing the beneficial results of that in the UK internet market.

We accept that we need to help ensure that the advantages of this liberating and empowering new technology are spread as widely as possible to those who might otherwise not be able to enjoy them. A number of initiatives have been taken. As my hon. Friend knows, Oftel is responsible for regulating the telecommunications industry. It has negotiated with the industry reduced tariff packages for schools. I understand from Oftel today that a number of operators have now agreed, in principle, to develop similar lower-priced service packages for public libraries, further education colleges, university for industry learning centres and citizens advice bureaux. Those new tariffs should be available from next year.

Mr. Mackinlay

I am almost lost for words, which is frustrating. I thank the Minister for that, but I hope that he will not put too much trust in competition to keep prices down. The rigorous and vigorous watching of cable and telecommunication providers should continue because, as more and more people seek to exploit the internet for recreational and learning purposes, it could be a licence to print money for those people unless there is intervention by the various agencies referred to and by government.

Mr. Wills

I thank my hon. Friend for such a useful question and such a useful contribution to the debate.