HL Deb 31 October 1995 vol 566 cc1349-50

3.4 p.m.

The Earl of Bradford asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have plans to make it compulsory for cable companies to connect all potential commercial and private customers within their franchise area that wish to join the cable network.

Lord Chesham

My Lords, cable operators who were awarded their franchises under the Cable and Broadcasting Act 1984 are required to cable past a specified number of premises each year. The final total is intended to represent the total number of homes in the franchise area. Operators who have been awarded local delivery franchises under the Broadcasting Act 1990 and who are permitted to provide services using radio are required to serve a minimum number of homes within the franchise area each year.

The Earl of Bradford

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I believe that he is a country dweller, as I am. Does he therefore share the concern of those living in the countryside that we shall once again be disadvantaged, that we shall be pushed to the bottom of the list, that the cost could be unacceptably high and that we shall not be able to share in the cable revolution?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, there is no cost premium for living in the countryside as regards cable television. But my noble friend will have to be patient as to when services are available. Cable companies may not differentiate in their charging structure between rural users within a franchise area and conurbation users.

Lord Peston

My Lords, as someone who has a satellite channel, I find it difficult to be worried about the problem. All we seem to get these days are 40 channels on which nothing is worth watching. Therefore, I am not convinced that country dwellers miss that much. Do I understand the Minister's Answer to be that in the country as well as in the towns there is a definite target for numbers of connections that must be made per year once a company has been given the franchise and that the ultimate target must be 100 per cent? Were those the two central parts of his reply or did I misunderstand him?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, they were absolutely the central part where there are franchised areas. About two-thirds of the country is covered by franchised areas. It is obviously not possible to expect a commercial cable company to cover remote rural areas.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, while the obligations in companies' areas should be observed, can anything be done to reduce the effects of cable-laying roadworks which lead to traffic disruption by taking out at least one lane and sometimes half the road?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, the benefits of cable are substantial. Streets must be dug up, but it is vital for such disruption to be kept to a minimum. Cable operators are keen to avoid unnecessary disturbance. All cable companies are committed to best practice and the practice is improving.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, can something be done to protect the trees? Many trees have been destroyed in London by the operators' carelessness.

Lord Chesham

My Lords, the Government and the cable industry are committed to protecting trees and there are guidelines in place. For example, hand digging is required around trees now rather than mechanical digging. That should certainly help to protect the roots.

Lord Shepherd

My Lords, regarding the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, the House passed legislation which required roadworks to be completed within a particular time. If companies failed to do so, they were to pay a penalty. Can the noble Lord assure me that that part of the legislation has been implemented by regulation?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I cannot answer that question at the moment. I shall write to the noble Lord.

Lord Shepherd

My Lords, I suspect that although it was passed three years ago that part of the legislation has not yet been implemented.