HL Deb 08 November 1999 vol 606 cc1147-8

2.42 p.m.

Lord Jacobs

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What measures they have taken to ensure that Government departments are taking advantage of the low prices available in the United Kingdom for internal and overseas telephone calls.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)

My Lords, each government department is responsible for ensuring that it achieves best value for money from all the goods and services which it procures, including telephone services. Advice and services to departments on achieving best value across the range of information technology and telephony services are available from CCTA—the Government's Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency.

Lord Jacobs

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. As the Government are leading a crusade for lower prices in Britain, will they insist that government departments, such as the Foreign Office, use an alternative supplier to British Telecom for overseas calls, thereby saving the taxpayer 60 per cent off the lowest BT prices? Furthermore, will the Minister inquire why, in the House, noble Lords pay the standard BT rate of 20p per minute for calls to the USA rather than 4p per minute, which is the rate offered by alternative suppliers?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, as I said in my Answer, it is at present for each individual department to try to obtain the best deals available. The advice given by CCTA to the departments states that, The increased competitiveness of the UK telecommunications market offers the opportunity to drive down telecommunications costs by taking advantage of the various discount schemes offered. However, departments also need to be more creative in the way they negotiate with suppliers, challenging them to provide innovative solutions to the delivery and charging of the telecom service". In July this year we announced the setting up of the Office of Government Commerce, which is designed to have a central buying agency role for all of government. The CCTA will be transferred to that office on 1st April. Therefore, we are doing everything possible to try to ensure that the Government obtain the best value. The cost of telephone calls from this House is a matter for the authorities of this House rather than for the Government.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, have the Government investigated the use of Internet telephony, which would save the Foreign Office even more money than my noble friend's suggestion?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, as I said, the advice given by CCTA to government departments is that they should investigate innovative solutions to the delivery and charging of those kinds of services.