To ask the Lord President of the Council if he will make a further statement on the extension of official telephone and postal facilities to hon. Members for contacts with the institutions of the European Community in Brussels and elsewhere, pursuant to his answer of 25 March, Official Report, column 607.
I am pleased to inform my hon. Friend that the House of Commons Commission has now approved arrangements to enable hon. Members to make free official telephone calls to institutions of the European Community and to certain other European organisations. A notice setting out the short direct dialling codes of the respective exchanges has already been sent to Members. Arrangements have also been approved to enable Members to send official mail free of charge to countries of the European Community. It is hoped that the service will be brought into use immediately after the spring recess.
May I thank my right hon. Friend most warmly for his speed in handling those matters once he assumed his present office? At present, hon. Members can telphone Europe from their own offices. Will he ensure that we can use specific dial handsets in other parts of the Palace of Westminster as quickly as possible?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The initial list of the extensions that may be dialled direct reflects the present capacity of the telephone exchange to accept such calls. However, the system will be upgraded within the next 12 months and that will provide increased capacity for further direct dialling to Europe. I am not sure whether that will make my hon. Friend's suggestion irrelevant, but I shall consider his suggestion. It is probably preferable to stick to the arrangements that we have already made.