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Telecommunications Supervision

Volume 129: debated on Wednesday 9 March 1988

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4.

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what discussions he has had with the Director General of Oftel on the implications for the system of telecommunications supervision of British Telecom's decision to ban its Talkabout telephone service.

Since British Telecom's decision to suspend Talkabout no further discussions have taken place, although the Director General of Telecommunications has kept my hon. and noble Friend in touch with developments. The matters involved are for the Director General who has demonstrated that he can and does act effectively.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that that shows the effect that Oftel can have? The decision temporarily to ban Talkabout is welcome, and one hopes that Talkabout will never be reproduced.

It has demonstrated just that. A growing number of people now recognise the value of Oftel and the conspicuous and important role played by its current director general, who I think now has the respect of most sections of the telecommunications community, including Members of the House.

It is clear that my presence has been noted, Mr. Speaker.

May I be one of the first to add my support to the Director General of Oftel, particularly for his role in banning Talkabout? However, I warn the Minister against complacency. I do that specifically because of the chat lines which exist over the telephone. Such lines are still in operation today under licence from the Department of Trade and Industry. The Director General of Oftel has referred those lines in the same way as he referred British Telecom's Talkabout. I expect the Minister and the DTI to exert all the influence possible in this matter in order to ban those private chat lines as well.

The hon. Gentleman's presence on this whole issue has been significant and I congratulate him on the way in which he has pursued his campaign.

The question is whether the chat line services that are not sponsored by BT should equally be held up to examination. This is an important issue. It is open to the Director General, if he so wishes, to seek modifications to the licences of the public telecommunications operators, including BT, or—this goes some way towards meeting the point of the hon. Member for Worsley (Mr. Lewis)—he can seek changes to the class licences under which many of those services are provided.

When my hon. Friend next meets the Director General of Oftel will he discuss with him Sunday Sport magazine, which portrays itself as Britain's fastest growing family newspaper? It is full of hundreds of advertisements for telephone lines giving pornographic messages, which bring discredit on the telephone service.

Under section 43 of the Telecommunications Act 1984 we have already made it a criminal offence to send messages which are grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing. I assume that under that section and under other aspects of the law my hon. Friend's point could be examined. I take seriously what has been said and I will see that my hon. Friend's message finds the appropriate home.