HL Deb 07 May 1968 vol 291 cc1328-9

2.52 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government in which countries of Western Europe charges are levied for directory inquiries for telephone numbers; and what is the amount of such charges.]


My Lords, there has not been time to complete enquiries about all the current arrangements, but we understand that a majority of countries in Western Europe charge for directory inquiries for telephone numbers. Practice varies: some countries have a fixed charge, usually equivalent to the cost of a local call; others charge if the required number is published in the current telephone directory issued to the customer. Some countries charge at the appropriate trunk call rate if the inquiry is answered by reference to a distant centre. The United Kingdom is one of the few countries where no charge is made. This will continue to be the practice in all cases where the details provided by the caller are sufficient for the number to be readily found.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Baroness for that Answer, may I ask whether it is not a fact that the leading countries in Western Europe—and I am thinking of France in particular—make no charge? That is certainly the case in regard to the United States of America which, as we all know, has the most efficient telephone service in the world—incidentally under private enterprise. May I also ask the noble Baroness whether the proposal to make a charge of one shilling for inquiring about a number in the telephone directory is not a direct result of the bad administration of our telephone service?


My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot accept the second part of the noble Lord's question. I have stated that the shilling charge would be made in cases where a special search had to be made, and the caller would be informed that this would be the charge before the operator continued the search. The point is that this type of search accounts for a great deal of time and is, of course, costly, and therefore is to be discouraged. As to France, that country is in fact one of the countries which make a standard charge. Countries making no charge are the United Kingdom, the Irish Republic, the Netherlands and Switzerland.


My Lords, if this high extra charge is to be imposed, is it not possible to organise the service so that the reply to anyone seeking information will be more prompt, particularly at weekends?


My Lords, I think all noble Lords will agree that the directory-inquiry service is highly efficient. With regard to the question of the promptness of reply, I think that on balance we can feel quite proud of our Telephone Service.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that it is extremely desirable that people should be able to ascertain the correct number in the simplest possible way? Is she aware that I answered the telephone this morning, only to be asked whether I was Victor Value?


I should be interested to hear the noble Lord's reply.