To ask the Lord Privy Seal if he will consider the provision at public expense of the necessary equipment to enable hon. Members to make facsimile transmissions from the House direct to other facsimile machine users for use in connection with their parliamentary duties.
Hon. Members are already able to make transmissions, on a repayment basis, from the facsimile machine in the Central Lobby post office. Several hon. Members have also purchased machines for their own use from their office costs allowance.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the provision of facsimile services to hon. Members at public expense would be no more revolutionary than the provision of telephone services to hon. Members some years ago? Is he further aware that the service available in the Central Lobby is the Intelpost service, for which hon. Members are charged £2·50 per page to receive a message and £3·50 to deliver the message from the machine in Central Lobby to an hon. Member in his office in the House? Does he not agree that that is most unsatisfactory?
The present arrangements appeared to be satisfactory until fairly recently. However, I recognise hon. Members' increasing interest in such facilities and I shall ask the Services Committee to consider this matter again.
Is the Leader of the House aware that it is two and a half years since I asked the then Leader of the House to arrange for fascimile machines to be made available to hon. Members in various parts of the House? Is he aware that at that time it would probably have cost about £10,000 to do the whole House? Does he know that over the last one and a half years hundreds of thousands of pounds must have been spent by hon. Members on acquiring individual machines for their own offices, as indeed I did, and I spent £2,000 of taxpayers' money? Is it not a waste of money when a cheap route was available that would have been economic for the taxpayer and would have resolved the difficulties of hon. Members with offices in their constituencies hundreds of miles away?
The position up to now has seemed satisfactory to the majority of hon. Members. There is now an increasing demand and it is right that we should consider the matter again.
Is it not something of a paradox that, when Government and Parliament are always lecturing people outside on the need to innovate and keep up with the latest technology, we always seem to be the last when it comes to introducing new technology for our own benefit? People outside cannot understand it when they are told that they simply cannot pass messages here and that messages must be sent by motor bike dispatch riders. If one does that, the messages promptly get lost in the system. These facilities must be introduced soon.
We have to work by consent. Hon. Members have different views about the speed at which technology should be introduced in this place.