HC Deb 02 November 2000 vol 355 cc824-5
5. Mr. Andrew George (St. Ives)

What assessment he has made of the impact of the regulatory framework upon the operation of fibre optic cable companies. [133891]

The Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs (Dr. Kim Howells)

The Government believe that the current overall regulatory framework provides a sound basis for protecting the environment while safeguarding the legitimate interests of public utilities.

We will continue to promote a high level of investment in the telecommunications department. That is essential for the future of UK business. We are also encouraging the industry to do more to minimise disruption during the laying of cables.

Mr. George

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Does he recognise that the majority of transatlantic fibre optic cables have landed in my constituency, with all the associated infrastructure, and that local people see virtually no protection from the Telecommunications Act 1984, which enables the giving of 25-year licences to wave after wave of companies whose cables cross through the area? Does the hon. Gentleman accept that people's lives and livelihoods have been blighted and that the planning system and the landscape have been compromised? Does he accept that there is an urgent need to review regulations that have not kept pace with technological development and commercial exploitation?

Dr. Howells

I readily acknowledge that the hon. Gentleman's constituents have suffered greatly during the process. The Government fully acknowledge the real concerns about the localised but significant disruption that has taken place. We are pressing the industry voluntarily to improve its performance. There are various initiatives within the street works community, including those to encourage best practice and co-ordination within the industry. We shall back those initiatives with greater powers to enable action to be taken where the industry's response is inadequate, particularly by putting in place a charging system for utilities that take too long to carry out street works by implementing section 74 of the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

The Minister will know that the change in regulations to the telecommunications industry were taken out of the Utilities Bill when the Government halved their proposals during the Session. A White Paper is coming forward, which has been promised for many years. When will it be published, and when does the hon. Gentleman expect the Government to bring forward legislation to introduce a new regulatory framework for the telecommunications and multi-media industry?

Dr. Howells

That White Paper will be published before Christmas, and we will introduce legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.

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