HC Deb 17 December 2003 vol 415 cc940-1W
Lynne Jones

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on progress on setting up a dedicated non-emergency telephone line; and if he will assess 888 as a possibility for the numerical sequence. [142982]

Ms Blears

In our consultation paper, "Policing: Building Safer Communities Together", which was published on 4 November, the Home Office sought views on the introduction of a single, three-digit, non-emergency number for accessing local services. This built upon a previous proposal to introduce a single non-emergency number for the police. The closing date for contributions to the consultation is 27 January 2004. Work has begun to look at the possible scope of such a system. There are a number of models worldwide, including the American 311 system. We shall develop the proposal following the consultation feedback and the scoping work.

Ofcom (Oftel until 29 December 2003), which administers the UK's National Numbering Scheme, has advised us that it may be possible to allocate a three digit number for this service. That will be subject to a public consultation, run by Ofcom, to establish whether the service, which it is intended should be available through all networks and service providers, is objectively justifiable and whether the change required is proportionate to the benefit. That consultation will commence once we are clearer about the scope of the service.

Due to the availability of local dialling within a code area, Ofcom has also advised that the allocation of "888" is not possible without re-numbering all subscribers whose telephone number, minus area code, begins with "8" or "88". It is likely that the three digit number allocated for use in non-emergency cases will begin with the digit "1". We have yet to make a decision about the three digit number.