HL Deb 31 July 1981 vol 423 cc881-2

11.12 a.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington

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 when they propose to allot wave band channels to British Telecom to enable it to meet demands for car telephone installations within the Greater London area.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, the Government recognise the force of British Telecom's case for further radio channels with which to satisfy the demand for radiotelephones in the Greater London area, but it will be some time before an additional allocation is possible. The radio spectrum required is not available. As from next year there will, under the relevant international regulations, be a new band allocated to the mobile service generally, though it will remain allocated also to its present users. British Telecom is not the only would-be new user of a necessarily limited resource, and the needs of all mobile radio users are under study.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that all the equipments are available for this service to be put into immediate operation? The terminal equipments are available and the mobile instruments themselves are available. Only the wavelength allocation appears to be the problem. Is the noble Lord further aware that at the existing rate of progress it will be between four and six years before the existing waiting lists can even be significantly approached? Does he think this a really satisfactory position? Can he undertake that a further and urgent review will be given of the existing allocations with a view to ensuring that the utmost priority is given to those waveband allocations that are most urgently required by British industry and by British commerce at this time?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the problem which lies at the heart of the noble Lord's Question is that there is a radio frequency constraint; but I do not think that the picture is quite so dark as it is painted by the noble Lord in his supplementary question because there is scope for more intensive use of the existing radio allocation for this purpose. Since the beginning of the radiotelephone service the standard adopted has been 25 kilohertz channel spacing giving 55 channels which have accommodated some 3,600 subscribers in the London area. I know that British Telecom is now going to reduce the band width to 12½ kilohertz channel spacing, and this should substantially ease the backlog of applications.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, bearing in mind that civilisation and business activity do not stop at Watford, could my noble friend say what the position is further afield, in places like Birmingham and other important centres?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the problem which the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, is raising is in fact to be found in London only. In the seven other areas where British Telecom's service is available there is the ability to meet demand, and I am referring there not only to British Telecom but also to the various private operators who are licensed to produce this service.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, will the noble Lord at least give the House the assurance that a further immediate and urgent review will be made of the existing users, to make quite sure that the priorities are correctly evaluated? Is he further aware that even though the 12½ kilohertz band is adopted by British Telecom, it will go nowhere near to satisfying the demand and it will not substantially reduce the delay?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I hope that it will substantially reduce the delay, and indeed I think it is right that British Telecom should be doing this. They will be making the same use of their frequencies as is being made, and has been made over past years, by commercial operators. However, the noble Lord asked me a perfectly fair question about the future, and may I respond in this way: a band around 900 megahertz is next year going to become available for allocation to the mobile service, including radiotelephones, though it will remain allocated at the same time to the existing users who are in fact Ministry of Defence installations. I know that the Mobile Radio Committee established by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary will be looking very carefully not only at an allocation, within that wave band, but also for the mobile radio services generally for the rest of this century.