rose to move, That this House take note of the Report of the Science and Technology Committee on Information Society: Agenda for Action in the UK (5th Report, Session 1995-96, HL Paper 77), and of the Government's response (Cm. 3450).
The noble Lord said: My Lords, before I turn to my main task of inviting the House to take note of the Report of the Science and Technology Select Committee on the Information Society: Agenda for Action in the UK and the Government response contained in Command Paper 3450, I trust that your Lordships will forgive me for first paying tribute to my friend Lord Sheffield, whose recent death has saddened us all. Lord Sheffield was one of the prime movers behind the establishment
of the Select Committee on Science and Technology and for this, and in many other ways, we owe him a great deal. For me it is a particular sadness that he cannot be in his place today to take part in this debate.
The Select Committee study was launched almost exactly a year ago under the title, "The Information Superhighway: Applications in Society". A wide-ranging call for evidence was issued and, in accordance with a tightly-defined timetable, written submissions were received from 97 individuals and organisations, 27 of whom gave oral evidence at 16 formal sessions in Westminster. To all of these witnesses the committee is most grateful. In addition members of the committee visited a number of leading organisations in the UK, including British Telecommunications plc Laboratories at Martlesham Heath; Nortel Technology Laboratories at Harlow, and Acorn Online Media, together with St. Matthew's Primary School and Netherhall School in Cambridge. It is a pleasant duty for me to record the committee's thanks to the staff of all those organisations for the trouble they took in showing and explaining to us their work and the many new opportunities that are arising.
In addition to these visits in the UK, some members of the committee also made an intensive visit to three centres in the United States: Boston, Washington DC and Raleigh, North Carolina, where we benefited greatly from the revealing accounts of current policies and developments given by many American witnesses. On those visits we were much helped by UK officials stationed in the US, particularly Mr. Poston, HM Consul General in Boston and his staff, and Dr. Don Rolt, Counsellor for Science, Technology, Energy and the Environment at the British Embassy in Washington.
As a relative newcomer to this House and to membership of the Select Committee I must also make it quite clear that the study could not have been carried out without the unflagging interest and enthusiasm of the members of the committee, who included two co-opted members, the noble Lords, Lord Butterworth and Lord Hollick. I am personally most grateful to all of them, but I should make special mention of my noble and gallant friend, Lord Craig of Radley, who undertook to take my place as chairman if I was for any reason unable to act, and did indeed most ably chair one session of the committee that I was prevented from attending by ill health.
I must also acknowledge most warmly the assistance of our specialist adviser, Professor Charles Oppenheim of De Montfort University and the help of Dr. Bradshaw, the committee's specialist assistant, who accompanied the delegation to the USA and made many other contributions to our work. Above all, however, I must offer the committee's thanks to our Clerk, Dr. Phillipa Tudor. The report was published last July in the traditional form on printed paper and was at the same time published electronically on the world wide web—as seems most appropriate given the subject of the report. This was the first report of a parliamentary Select Committee to be published in this way and the public reaction, which can be monitored by noting the number of times the report was examined on the web, was most satisfactory. More than 6,000 people in three continents accessed the report during the first two weeks after publication and a high level of interest was maintained for the following month, a clear indication that publication on the web reaches places that the traditional method does not reach. Happily the Government's response has also been published on the web, in accordance with the expanding use of this medium under the "Open Government" programme and I understand that this will become the standard procedure for making such reports and responses available to a wide public in the future.
Your Lordships will be well aware that the Select Committee addressed a complex, wide-ranging and rapidly evolving subject and I must admit that our report, long and complicated though it may seem, does not cover all aspects of the subject in adequate detail. In particular, we have not provided a full guide to the advanced technologies that are now available and coming into use. For those of your Lordships who would like to study the subject in more detail I commend to you the excellent POST report, Information 'Superhighways': the UK National Information Infrastructure that was published in May 1995. For later developments the weekly supplements published by major national newspapers illustrate vividly the rapid pace of advance—both technical and commercial—that continuously introduces new ideas into the debate. For example, the introduction of the world wide web in 1990, led to a rapid and enormous increase in the number of computers connected to the Internet and only in the last year has prompted the development of a new programming language, JAVA, that is consistent with all the major operating systems now in use and has given rise to the concept of the network computer in which relatively inexpensive workstations, with limited local facilities, are linked to powerful servers and networks. The full implications of a shift to this system have yet to be worked out, but there will be major implications for the design of installations in schools, libraries, citizens advice bureaux and so on.
Over recent years Government have been increasingly active in this important area and it is a pleasure to note the many publications that have been aimed at increasing public knowledge and awareness of the potential value of the new technology in all aspects of national life. In these efforts the Department of Trade and Industry has been particularly active and I look forward eagerly to the response of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, to this debate. nevertheless, turning to the committee's recommendations I must admit to some disappointment that the Government have not been as accommodating in their responses as we had hoped. Although the Government have shown some measure of agreement with more than half of our recommendations they have failed to accept a number that we consider important and, since I am sure that noble Lords speaking later in the debate will be intending to address many of these outstanding issues, I shall confine myself to remarking on only four of them.
First, I refer to our proposal that the Government should set up an information society task force, chaired by an enthusiast, to advise government on the agenda for action in the UK and publish reports. We were encouraged to make this proposal by two observations; first, that the government publications by a number of different departments of state and agencies have had less impact than they might have had. Many of these publications have been well produced and attractively presented, but all too often they have lacked the detailed information and guidance that are needed by potential users of the technology in society and the general effect, I fear, has been rather diffuse. Our second observation was that the Untied States Advisory Council on the National Information Infrastructure has been very effective in providing guidance to American communities on the steps they can take to connect themselves to and take advantage of the so called information superhighway.
The differences between the two national approaches are well illustrated by the nature of the Kick Start Initiative published by the US Advisory Council, which encourages
"community leaders across the Nation to provide all individuals the opportunity to access and use the Information Superhighway",
and goes on to elaborate a wide variety of methods that have been used to achieve this objective. One of the case histories that is described concerns the initiative in the State of North Carolina that we were able to study during the committee's visit to the United States. There we saw, among other things, how a highly qualified teacher at a central school could give a lesson over the highway to classes at a number of remote schools with the active co-operation of teachers in those schools.
I shall return briefly to education, but my aim here is to ask the Government to think again about the need to bring their initiatives and guidance into better focus and to reconsider the value that an information society task force might have in acting as a generator, promoter and focus for information and ideas. No doubt, much is going on and there are almost continuous announcements of government initiatives: those highlighted by the Lord Privy Seal in his evidence to the committee included not only the very welcome Cabinet Committee, which he chairs, but also the Central Information Technology Unit (CITU), the DTI's Information Society Initiative (ISI), the DTI's Multi-media Industry Advisory Group (MIAG), the DfEE's Education Superhighway Initiative (ESI) and the contributions of the Technology Foresight Programme.
Since our report was published we have had the Government's Green Paper government.direct— A prospectus for the Electronic Delivery of Government Services—and next month we are promised IT for All, which is to set out
"the most ambitious programme of its kind ever attempted in a major nation".
That is a bold claim and we shall wait to see it with eager anticipation. Perhaps it will, for the moment, pull together all these initiatives and point the ways ahead, but I shall hope to see also the introduction of a process able to carry us forward in a rapidly evolving scene.
The second issue that I must touch on briefly is the Government's rejection of our recommendation that the restrictions on telecommunications companies either conveying or providing broadcast entertainment services in their own right should be reviewed as a matter of urgency. Here again we live in a rapidly changing world and hardly a day goes by without the announcement of some major development in the global telecommunications industry.
In recent weeks we have had the proposed merger of BT and MCI and the amalgamated of the Cable and Wireless "Mercury" operation with three UK-based but largely foreign-owned cable companies to form Cable and Wireless Communications (CWC). Only today I read in The Independent newspaper that AT&T is objecting to the BT/MCI deal on the grounds that the UK telecommunications industry is not as open to competition as that in the USA and that,
"the key principle behind competition in the UK, which encourages operators to build rival cable networks, is acting as a barrier to genuine customer choice".
This is complicated territory and I understand very well the reluctance of the Government to change the rules set out in 1991 that have helped to encourage a great deal of investment in the cable infrastructure in the UK. Nevertheless, the development of the cable industry in recent years suggests strongly that the expectations of 1991 were rather wide of the mark. Who anticipated then that cable TV companies would be profitable only in the provision of telephony or that their penetration of the TV market would be so low? This reminds me of the advice that we were given by the Director-General of OFTEL early in our inquiry that the main problem is the provision of attractive material for transmission—content, as it is known in the often repeated saying "content is king". I am sure that others will address this issue, but I hope for my part that the Government will think again—perhaps influenced more by AT&T than by the committee—about the problems that have arisen over the provision and control of content packages and the impact they have had on the viability of the cable companies.
My last points are quickly made. Together with the other members of the committee, including most especially my noble friend Lord Flowers, who is prevented by ill health from being with us today, I fear that the Government view—or perhaps I should say the education department's view—of developments in education, particularly at the primary and secondary school levels, seems to us complaisant. We are not persuaded, for example, that an adequate range of good quality software designed for the UK national curricula already exists or that teachers are being properly trained in the use of the new media. Here again there seem to be too many organisations and agencies involved and there is a clear need for the Secretary of State for Education and Employment to take the lead in improving teacher training in IT. On this front we were also extremely disappointed by the Government's negative response to our support for the enterprising Free Computers for Education scheme.
On the other hand, we were encouraged that the Government is sympathetic to our proposals for networking public libraries and citizens advice bureaux—though we note that progress towards these two highly desirable goals depends upon the support of the Millennium Fund. I would wish to encourage the Millennium Commission to consider favourably the applications they have received from "Information for All", on behalf of the public libraries programme, and the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux. Implementation of these schemes could go far to minimise the risk of our society being divided between those who benefit from the IT revolution and those who do not.
There are many other issues addressed in the report of your committee and in the Government's response, but I trust that the most important ones that I have neglected, including those that affect the provision of healthcare, will be taken up by other speakers. I look forward to a lively and constructive debate that will lead to further advances. I beg to move.
Moved, That this House take note of the report of the Science and Technology Committee on Information Society: Agenda for Action in the UK (5th Report, Session 1995-96, HL Paper 77), and of the Government's response (Cm. 3450).—(Lord Phillips of Ellesmere).
My Lords, the House will indeed be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Ellsemere, for the clear and comprehensive manner in which he introduced this important report. Indeed, he reminded us that Lord Sherfield, way back in 1979, was instrumental with Lord Shackleton in advising the House that we should have a Select Committee specifically to address science and technology. The terms of reference were very wisely drawn up in the widest possible terms to consider issues of science and technology with which, in the opinion of the committee, the House's attention should be concerned.If ever there was a subject which meets fairly and squarely that specification, this is it. As we speak the information society is permeating every aspect of our government, of our lives, and is clearly critical to our competitive status, to the quality of our life and to much else besides. It affects every branch of central government, local government and industry. It clearly affects this House, and it is very difficult to think of an area which would embrace so many different aspects of our lives. It is complicated by the fact that this subject is technology driven; that technology changes by the day—one could perhaps say sometimes even by the hour—and clearly a report of this nature will be out of date very soon as, I have to admit, will be the Government's response. It is clearly important that we address this issue and look at what is a masterly overview from the committee. I can say that because I was not a member of the sub-committee which produced the report. I find a compelling echo of the Clinton administration's "agenda for action" in this report. We clearly need to bring together and co-ordinate a large number of initiatives which are taking place in this country and make sure that we are taking the best possible advantage of those initiatives. It is clear that there are a number of advantages of which we can be proud and of which the Government can be proud. It is clear that the decision to deregulate the telecommunications industry very early on compared to other countries has been of inestimable advantage to us. It has given us a flying start. We can go back some 15 years or so when the original scheme to put personal computers into primary schools allowed our society to become very much more aware of the opportunities that personal computers offer. We have in fact in this country a greater penetration of computers in the home and in the school than in many other countries and we also have the rapid investment in the infrastructure. It is haphazard; it tends to follow the route of the cable companies and, as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, reminded us, it is in danger of leaving some embarrassing gaps. Nevertheless, they are advantages on which we simply have to build. It is only fair to say that in our Minister for Science, Mr. Ian Taylor, the Government have a Minister with great knowledge and enthusiasm. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, and I went to speak to him before the Select Committee started this inquiry. I think we must recognise just how many initiatives have emanated from the different parts of government. Having said that, I would draw attention specifically to an area, for example in the aspect of health care, where the report demonstrates some opportunities, perhaps missed at the moment, to provide the information society with the benefits of which we are clearly not making use. Paragraph 5.81, for example, talks of the opportunity to reduce the administrative load on general practitioners. There is not a doctor in this country who would not complain about the amount of paperwork. There are opportunities spelled out in paragraph 5.81. If only we can network GPs' practices to consultants and to hospitals so that one can have on-line appointments. But we need a secure, confidential, intranet system. That will not happen by market forces; it will not happen if a cable company happens to be passing that way. It has to be planned. Likewise, at the moment a GP has to provide records on paper. It was a central provision in an earlier age. But of course nowadays, if records are to be kept in electronic form, it is quite absurd to require GPs to copy them out on paper. Paragraph 5.82 states what will happen, but nothing has happened yet. I hope that the Minister will assure us that that matter is in hand. Paragraph 5.83 refers to the number of forms which are duplicated and the figure of £100 million is mentioned. I do not know whether that figure is right, but I know that there is a log-jam and that modem technology can and should move it. Again, someone must be responsible for doing that. Paragraph 5.85 refers to the handling of health scares, which is a topical subject. Only last week we heard about the sad effects of the scare about the pill a year or so ago. Had an Internet with the network been available to pass on information securely and confidentially, I have no doubt that the unnecessary damage which was caused by that scare would have been avoided. Opportunities will not happen unless there is a co-ordinating body bringing together the local provision of networks, the local requirements of the health authority and other legitimate requirements of the area. I was interested to read the evidence which the committee took in North Carolina. It also reported on progress in New Brunswick and Wales. All three are centres of excellence in their own respect. In each there is a clear theme; there is a regional agenda which is well defined by a co-ordinating and leading agency, bringing together the requirements of the GPs, hospitals, libraries, primary and secondary schools, further education and industry. As a result of the way in which we determine departmental responsibilities, it is difficult at a regional or central level to obtain that degree of co-ordination. In the United States and Canada it is clear that central government have been proactive as policy makers in setting guidelines and in getting things moving. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, reminded us of the United States' "Kick Start" initiative, which is well named. It implies that the United States Government—Al Gore and President Clinton—have seen themselves as very much responsible for making things happen. It is the "can-do" society, to which the report refers. As regards education, the report highlights the centres of excellence which have been built up by experience and a number of inspired initiatives. Paragraph 5.71 refers to those centres, while Appendix 7 refers specifically to Netherhall School in Cambridge. I have had experience of city technology colleges, specifically the Thomas Telford School in Telford, of which I was the first chairman. A large investment was made in new technology but it is expensive to keep that up to date. There is now talk of laboratory schools, which is an important concept, to determine what is best practice and what lessons can be learnt from other schools. After five to seven years, with centres of excellence and information technology, some lessons are already clear. It is extremely expensive to provide multimedia networks within schools, let alone between schools and local communities. They need to be updated at least every four or five years. That is inevitable due to the speed of the technology. Incidentally, one always under-estimates the capacity of the band network required. Enormous opportunities are available not only as regards giving access to schools, further education establishments and libraries, which is undreamt of through the Internet, the web and local networks, but there are also opportunities for the rest of the community to benefit by further distance learning and adult education. There are also opportunities for industry to benefit from the facilities on offer. Some of the best initiatives are providing just that and it is truly impressive. Of course, we have a log-jam. Super-Janet can just about cope with the research institutes and parts of higher education. Further education is hardly provided for and it is not clear how on earth we shall provide the kind of capacity which Super-Janet has for all those centres of education, including secondary and primary schools, which would derive enormous benefit. Clearly, it will be expensive and technical support will be required in schools and colleges of further education. We must be able to maintain highly sophisticated terminals and networks and a great deal of servicing will be required. I know that the Thomas Telford School has invested heavily and in a pilot scheme has had access to educational trust funds. However, it is clearly important that nationally we face up to the consequences in all our schools. I return to the requirement to provide a co-ordinating, overall focus. I realise that the Government are always chary of task forces which appear to override departmental responsibilities. It does not fit easily with the concept of Cabinet responsibility. Nevertheless, that is precisely what we need and I am sure that is why the sub-committee recommended the task force. If the Government cannot bring themselves to support the task force, will they at least recognise that in a similar area—that of sustainable development—we were faced with precisely the same issue? Like the information society, sustainable development permeates almost everywhere. There is not an aspect of central or local government on which sustainable development does not have some bearing. In 1994 the Prime Minister recognised that and appointed a round table of 30 people to advise. He also appointed five people to the sustainable development panel. I had better come clean immediately and say that I am one of that panel of five and therefore I like the idea of panels of five. Its convenor is Sir Crispin Tickell and its responsibility is to advise the Prime Minister on any aspect of sustainable development pertaining to government policy. It has produced a number of initiatives and some advice which, on the whole, have been followed up by government. If we cannot have the task force which the report recommends, why not opt for a well-focused panel with a leader who can get things done, as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, suggested? Why cannot we have a focus which will demonstrate to government time and time again what is needed? I am sure that when the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, said that some of the Government's response smacks of complacency, he was probably making a very fair point.
My Lords, I welcome the Select Committee's report, particularly the chairman's opening remarks. It is good to have the Government's response available today because it focuses our considerations. The debate on this topical issue is well timed and it will be ongoing. This is a major contribution to the national debate.I wish to refer, first, to paragraph 6.8 of the report and to the Government's response dealing with the regulation of illegal and harmful content. The regulative framework is right in highlighting the need to review the framework of regulation and the approaches to regulation. Traditional approaches will not be capable of application to these new services and technology in the same way and with the same effect. The relationships are so different. For example, the user of the new services can also be the content provider, often anonymous and untraceable. There are no geographic boundaries so areas of jurisdiction are not apparent. Furthermore, there are too many regulators. Perhaps I too should declare my hand, as did the noble Earl, Lord Selborne. I chair one of the regulatory bodies in this sector. The fact that there are too many regulators is accepted by the regulators themselves. The figures vary but ICSTIS, the body which I chair as paid chairman, looked at the numbers involved in content regulation and identified 13 different organisations in the UK. Others will say that there are more, but it appears that the number of regulators grows with the strength of the argument to reduce them. Surely, it is confusing for the consumer, quite apart from the overlap of the regulatory bodies. One must question how much falls through the holes between the regulatory bodies. Within the framework it is essential not to ignore the effectiveness of industry and self-regulatory solutions which have evolved in the UK to great effect. That has not always been the case but there are some very good examples of the type of regulation which has worked; for example, in telephone services, direct mail and advertising. In this debate we should ensure that initiatives which are effective and which offer systems of redress at no cost to the taxpayer have their place in any future regulatory framework. Some of the discussions today about the reorganisation of the regulatory framework assume a clear separation between content and economic issues. The report takes a more pragmatic view and the Government response recognises that it is not a straightforward matter to draw such a neat distinction between the two. I agree with those views. We need to consider how it would work in practice. For example, economic regulatory levers may need to be applied in order to influence issues which relate to content. There may be a need for quality thresholds. While traditional forms of regulation, current models, and arrangements on which those are based are not necessarily relevant to new services, it is important that the experience of what has been developed is not lost: for example, the procedures to ensure user/consumer involvement in policy development; transparency in decision-making; and systems in place to ensure effective and impartial redress. Paragraph 6.9 of the report refers to the Internet Service Providers' Association—ISPA, which is a new body. I was interested to see in the report that page upon page of abbreviations already exist in this domain. They seem to grow by the day. But let us talk about ISPA. That is a new body and one to which the Government have given their support, along with the code and the Internet Watch Foundation, the IWF. That is not the International Wildlife Fund; it is the Internet Watch Foundation. Three principles articulated in the documentation from those new organisations are rating, responsibility and reporting—the new three Rs perhaps of this new superhighway age. I gather that at this stage they are merely proposals and that nothing has yet been established or is working. Rating will provide a rating service for news groups, which is the area of greatest concern, for members of the organisation. I gather that there is little progress so far, but it has great promise. The responsibility aspect seeks to ensure that all players—service providers, users, and enforcement agencies such as the police—must take responsibility where they can and, within their powers and competence, do what they can to ensure co-operation in relation to standards and action to maintain those standards. The third R is reporting in the form of a hotline for the public which I gather has yet to be established. That would enable both members of the organisation and the public to ring in and report illegal material. It is not dissimilar to other initiatives which have been established in other sectors of public policy development. Inherent in any system of regulation, statutory or voluntary, must be the commitment of those to whom it applies. It must have their support. Without that, it will not succeed, as has been demonstrated so often. And in this world of new technology, which is developing at such a pace, any regulation must be capable of adaptation. The new ISPA and IWF initiative is to be welcomed and should be supported. It is in its early days and is concentrating its focus on illegal material, which at the moment is the area of greatest public concern. As the new initiative develops, I suggest another three areas on which we should concentrate to ensure the integrity of the system. They relate to the consumer but also, in overall terms, to the industry itself. I call them the three Cs—coverage, confidence and clarity. There must be coverage because the system can work effectively only if it is supported by all. Often breaches of what is regarded as acceptable by an industry are perpetrated by those not part of the system—those who choose to be outside the ground rules. What can be done to bind those people? The industry initiative and blueprint has been promoted in Europe and seems to be receiving support. The DGXIII communication on illegal and harmful content adopts much of that model. However, as the European communication notes, in order to achieve coverage there will need to be the effective co-operation of enforcement agencies at an international level. This industry has no boundaries. There are several such agencies—the UN (ITU), the OECD and the WTO. The second C—confidence—is another essential element of the model. It needs to develop the confidence of those to whom it applies—the providers—and the confidence of those for whose benefit and protection it has been established; that is, the public, the consumer. The scope for introducing independence in decision-making needs to be considered too as that will contribute largely to the building of wider confidence. The third aspect is clarity. That is crucial in the standards it sets and the procedures by which it seems to apply those standards. Clarity in terms of accountability for decisions and identifiable and public indicators by which its success can be measured will need to be developed. The report highlights and recommends the ICSTIS model, of which I am chairman. ICSTIS regulates what is known as the premium-rate telephone service sector of telecoms where the revenue is shared between the network operators and the service providers. It is shared by virtue of a contract. The authority of ICSTIS is gained from telephone companies which agree to support the code of practice and regulations and require their service providers, by their contracts, to abide by the ICSTIS code. In turn, ICSTIS has a contract with the telephone companies. It is neither a statutory nor truly self-regulatory model but a model of independent regulation funded by the industry but with no industry representation on its board. The organisation is 10 years old this year and I am pleased to inform your Lordships, with some small degree of pride, that it has just become the first regulatory body in the United Kingdom to achieve the ISO 9002 world standard for its complaints handling system. In their response to the committee's recommendations, referring to the ICSTIS model, the Government refer to the licence condition obligation which the director general imposes on network operators as an indication of why they do not feel that the ICSTIS model may be relevant for this new technology because the committee recommended that it may be a model on which to build. The licence condition referred to by the Government is only for live services, which currently represent less than 5 per cent. of that 250 million-calls-per-year industry. The remaining 95 per cent. do not have such a licence condition. The relationships between service providers, network operators and callers are different in this new technology in the premium rate telephone sector. Of that there is no doubt. It is not possible to apply the model as it stands. However, the features of such a voluntary model are there to be built on. Independent complaints handling and decision-making processes build consumer confidence in an industry system. Standards applied through a code with sanctions to back them up ensure that they are applied equally. There must be flexibility to update and upgrade the code to ensure that it remains relevant to changes in the nature of services. That is all-important in any open regulatory system. I was pleased to read in paragraphs 5.64 to 5.69 reference to universal access, I am sure that we all agree with those proposals. Some of us—and I include myself—would have liked to see a stronger reference with matching recommendations. The technology now available and the developments taking place almost weekly could provide many opportunities, and many of our citizens are currently missing out on those opportunities. It is essential that we do not have a have and have-not division in our society in accessing the superhighway. Some may say that the division is already occurring. These new developments provide the chance, if we take it, to start to change opportunities in a real way. I know that that was the intention of the committee and I support it. That is why I support the libraries in their bid for millennium funding, referred to by the noble Lord in his presentation of the report. What a marvellous way to start to open up access and opportunity in our communities irrespective of the income levels of the individual members of those communities. I thank the Select Committee for its very detailed work. We are indebted to it, as Members of this House, for the thoughtful considerations and recommendations put forward and for the evidence from witnesses—and the calibre of those witnesses—so many of whom are key players in these developments. It is a report which we will refer to continually in our business in this whole area of public policy as this topic and debate carries on and indeed is widened.
My Lords, I must start by declaring an interest—or, rather, interests—as I am shortly to become chairman of London Economics, which does a substantial amount of strategic analysis and competition casework for broadcasters, telecoms businesses and indeed regulators in the converging media markets. I am also involved with a number of financial services businesses, which have a fast-growing interest in the electronic markets for their products.I wondered whether I should try your Lordships' patience with a still longer list of interests, simply to make the point that every business and organisation is actually or potentially affected by the digital revolution. But I will leave that to the register. As a member of the sub-committee, I should like to start by expressing my thanks to, and my admiration for, the chairman of our committee, Lord Phillips of Ellesmere. The noble Lord navigated us most skilfully along the superhighway, as well as through various international air terminals. The Internet is the offspring of the academic and defence communities, of which we had also other most distinguished representatives on the sub-committee, notably the noble Lords, Lord Craig and Lord Flowers. On security, on research and educational uses of information networks their expertise was invaluable. The noble Lord, Lord Flowers—who I am very sorry could not be here today—could run a personal advisory service on the precise timings of the daily traffic jams on transatlantic superhighways. I wish him a speedy recovery and happy surfing meanwhile. Lest your Lordships should suppose these are unique honorary members here of the nerd generation—I note that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, has already registered his claim—you may be interested to learn, as we were, that Compuserve has more private subscribers over the age of 50 than under the age of 30. I wish to single out only two of the 40 recommendations made by the committee for your Lordships' attention. It is easy to be intoxicated by the potential of digitisation. Our ability to transform all forms of information—data, text, picture, sound, even to replicate the sensations of touch—into a digital stream, and to transmit massive quantities of information worldwide virtually instantaneously, is an extraordinary power which has been associated with the notion of a second Industrial Revolution. The exponential growth of the Internet—driven by the market, not by some government plan—is evidence of the potential speed of development in this area. Such developments challenge our notions of national regulation and sovereignty; there are, as has been said, no Customs posts in cyberspace. Internet-type systems pose very difficult issues with respect to intellectual property of the kind your Lordships were discussing earlier today. At the same time, they offer obvious opportunities for the more effective delivery of government services, from education to health. But it is important to keep at least one toe on the ground. Markets for many of these services have yet to be established. Who will be prepared to pay for any of these, and how, are questions taxing both the public and the private sectors. Thus the first recommendation to which I would wish to draw your Lordships' attention is the need for the creation of a task force or a panel of some kind outside Whitehall to advise Government. The Government's own paper on the electronic delivery of government services is a very welcome step on which I wish to congratulate my noble friend. He will perhaps forgive me if I stress the need for continuing vigilance to ensure that individual government departments do not all insist on their God-given right separately to reinvent the wheel. In conformity with the objectives of the Citizens Charter, I trust everything will be done to see the problem of access from the individual's point of view and to work cross-departmentally to aid navigation. This is the kind of issue on which an external task force or panel, or whatever, could be a useful support—or do I mean goad, my Lords? I am sure my noble friend will give further thought to this. My second point concerns the regulatory framework. Witness after witness testified to the benefits the United Kingdom enjoy from the liberalisation of our telecommunications market, which has permitted new information services to grow faster here than in the rest of the European Union. But the framework within which this has taken place needs to evolve along with the market place. The word "convergence", with respect to these industries, is bandied about all too loosely. The digital revolution will not destroy all distinctions between, let us say, entertainment and financial services. What it will do is enable a much wider range of products and services to be delivered along networks hitherto specifically dedicated to either broadcasting or telephony: fibre optics, cable, terrestrial, satellite or good old twisted copper pair. This changes the nature of competition in these markets. Thus the committee concluded that a new regulatory regime for these industries would be needed by 1998. Some serious work will be needed—very soon—to get that regime right.
My Lords, I was not a member of the committee which gave us this excellent report, so may I thank my noble friend Lord Phillips of Ellesmere and his committee and say how much I have benefited from reading it.The report compares the recent advance of information technology with the shift from the agricultural to the industrial economy. The Government response was no less positive when they modestly described their own proposals as "IT for All". It is probably true that information technology will he seen in the years to come as one of the principal contributions of the second half of this century to the technological and scientific history of mankind. The only other advance of comparable importance since the war is surely the discovery of molecular genetics, with its own incomparable code of information transfer. Information technologies have been developing throughout our history, from speech and writing to the printing press, the typewriter, the telephone, radio, and then on to calculating machines and computers. But there is no doubt that a seachange has taken place in the last few years and is advancing at an incredible rate today. The discoveries which made today's information revolution possible were principally those of solid state physics and in particular the transistor—that tiny electronic switch which provides one bit of information. It was discovered largely at the Bell telephone laboratories in New Jersey by Bardeen, Brattain and Shockley. In 1949, Claude Shannon, also at Bell, had advanced information theory through his brilliant synthesis with the second law of thermodynamics. In those days several of the great industrial laboratories—especially in the United States—left their top scientists free to follow their own ideas. The information revolution which followed owed a great deal to that policy. At first sight it seems clear that information must be a good thing and that ignorance is bad. But there are exceptions even to this apparent truism and the recommendation in paragraph 6.9 of the report, the one most strongly supported in, I believe, the whole report by Her Majesty's Government, refers to the need to eliminate information which is illegal and to discourage the transmission of other information which is objectionable in a civilised society. The report points out, perceptively, that the technology needed to eliminate such unwanted material is in the hands of every citizen, it is called an on-off switch, and parents, in particular, should know how to operate it. Nevertheless, the undertaking by the UK Internet service providers, mentioned in the government response, to implement a code of practice enforcing the removal of such material, is most welcome. I shall refer to only two other recommendations of the committee, which, considering their importance, received rather scant encouragement from Her Majesty's Government. Both are about education. Recommendation 6.22 expresses the need for an information technology module in all initial teacher training courses. The government reply tells us of many things under consideration but little that is actually happening. Thus we hear that the TTA, the teacher training agency, is looking at further means to improve teacher confidence in IT, exploring means to help teachers identify their training needs and is also currently considering its research priorities. These, we are told, are likely to include the effects of IT on teaching and in particular the use of IT in relation to improving literacy and numeracy—I shall return to that in a moment. The other recommendation, 6.24, is about extending the use of IT,
The Government admit that there is scope here for further development, that this is an area where the private sector is active, but that,"to develop [the] educational content…[of the] British curriculum…by a targeted R & D programme, for which public funding should be made available".
That really is not good enough and the Department for Education and Employment, which is responsible for co-ordination in this area, should recognise the need for more positive, urgent action. Already we are communicating regularly, through e-mail, with colleagues and associates throughout the world. The Internet is widely available in universities and some schools. The word processor has made it possible for students to type their publications or their thesis for themselves, and they are now expected to do this—gone are the days when they employed others for such simple tasks. Students will soon be in deep trouble if they do not have the skills or the means to do those things. Incidentally, those advances affect not only students; they are equally valuable to older users like myself when they find their own random access memory becoming ever more random. We have heard several reports only this month about the inadequacies of British children in mathematics, particularly their mental agilities, without the computer. We are also aware of the parlous state of spoken and written English in many schoolchildren who have been deprived, in recent years, of a proper education in grammar and the reading of the good English. These problems are closely related to the proposals about education in the information society. It is not just that teaching time is limited so that when new areas such as these are introduced to the curriculum others have to go, there is a "trendency", seen increasingly since the sixties, to suppose that the new technologies will replace the stuffy old things like English grammar and even, in extreme cases of post-modernism, that watching television is a substitute for reading. Information technology can, of course, be a valuable addition to reading and to communication by writing and speaking, and an invaluable tool for the teacher. But it is not a substitute and must never be allowed to become one. Therefore, while recognising fully the immense importance of teaching all our citizens, especially the young, to be computer literate and to take full advantage of the great superhighway of information to which they are being given access, let us not do this at the expense of teaching numeracy and the proper use of language."the extent to which programmes with support from public funds are required will depend on a variety of factors, including the nature of emerging technologies, the pace at which they develop".
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in expressing gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Ellesmere, and his committee. The report before us today summarises the information society in all its myriad aspects in a clear, intelligible way. To any who feel themselves stumbling in the dark of IT's terminology, to anyone who has an interest in how IT will shape our future, the report serves as an excellent introductory analysis.IT is of course an immense subject. The perception that it will be an agent for radical and extreme change permeates the whole report. Thus, in paragraph 1.6 the report says:
Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Porter, referred to that. It is a useful analogy. The industrial revolution may have created some troubles and difficulties, but there is no denying that we as a nation benefited from it enormously. There is merit in assessing how and why as a guide to how we should proceed with IT. It seems to me—and I am no historian—that one of the most important reasons was that, in the main, we were prepared to embrace the new technology. In effect, governance, commerce, and society itself could see the potential benefits and were, to a greater or lesser extent, in step with the technological advances in both thought and deed. I am less certain that this is so as the information revolution gathers pace. Yes, there is adoption of IT on a grand scale and in all kinds of areas, but our capacity to adapt to it seems a much more nebulous affair. The evidence provided to the committee by the University of Leeds puts its finger, so far as I am concerned, on that particular pulse in calling for,"As the Bangemann Report said 'this revolution adds huge new capacities to human intelligence and constitutes a resource which changes the way we work together and the way we live together'. The potential technological, economic, and social upheavals resulting from the information revolution could be of the same order of magnitude as those arising from the shift away from an agricultural to an industrial economy".
explaining this requirement thus in paragraph 4.88:"computer literacy skills to be replaced by 'information literacy—,
The credibility gap, if I can call it that, between adoption of the technology and adaptation to it is as wide as that. In much the same vein, the British Library states in paragraph 4.209:"Without it being seriously addressed and adequately resourced, the users of the Information Superhighway will be as disenfranchised as if they had been set free in a library without ever having been taught to read and write".
while the Technology Foresight ITEC Panel at paragraph 4.213:"We have everything to play for, but we have to find ways of getting all parts of the community thinking about how it is going to affect their particular interests and lives";
In that regard, I am frequently struck by how many of your Lordships and how many Members of another place seem to be, if not intimidated by, diffident towards the new technology. Indeed, as the report mentions,"We think it is going to be quite disruptive, quite profound and we ought to be master of it and a leader in its exploitation not a rather unwilling laggard who just has it done to us".
We should not be too surprised by that. It is exceedingly difficult to unlearn, as it were, the habits of lifetimes spent working with paper-based institutions and acquire those necessary for working with ones based on information technology. It requires an entirely different mind-set from that with which most of us grew up and to which most of us are used. At the moment we live and work with systems that rely upon compartmentalisation and specialisation. These are not readily adaptable to IT, nor indeed IT to them. This goes to the very heart of one of the most consistent threads within the report, much emphasised by my noble friend Lord Selborne; namely, that what is required above all else is a co-ordinated approach. Thus:"The Westminster Parliament has not been an 'early adopter' of Internet technology".
In the light of that, I share the disappointment of other noble Lords, even disquiet, that the Government chose to reject the committee's recommendation for a UK information society task force with the specific remit that:"What is needed now is a concerted effort to pull together all the current UK initiatives, many of which are excellent, into a coherent whole".
Superficially at least, there is some logic in the reasoning underlying that decision, as,"One of its first jobs should be to draw up a policy document setting out its advice to the Government for a UK agenda for action, involving both the private and the public sector".
However, in the words of the report,"it would suggest a top-down culture to the Information Society".
I trust that I do not misrepresent the committee if I say that that vision does not strike me as being intended to be in any way top-driven. More importantly, there is an urgent requirement for the visionary lead and impetus that an ISTF (if noble Lords will forgive the acronym) would provide. That said, I do not doubt the validity of the Government's perception that their existing IT initiatives,"Since the development of the Information Society should be a national objective, the Task Force should represent the full diversity of interests, expertise and opinions across society as a whole".
However, that approach is re-active rather than pro-active. Our journey through the information revolution will be no more than an aimless magical mystery tour if we simply rely on what we meet on the way to determine our course and if we do not afford ourselves achievable destinations within a predetermined time frame. Of course I acknowledge the publication this month of government.direct. However, in the words of my right honourable friend Roger Freeman,"provide a useful diversity of input, and combine to form a coherent and balanced approach to the development and implementation of issues relevant to the development of the Information Society".
I also note that apart from,"The purpose of this Green Paper is to explain the Government's vision of what is possible, and to start a debate".
By inference, the proposals within the Green Paper again envisage a re-active rather than pro-active involvement with IT. This particular dilemma of IT is nowhere more apparent than in its regulatory and legislative context. The blurring of the boundaries between the broadcasting, telecommunications and information services industries is a well-recognised phenomenon of IT, and one that should serve as a catalyst for regulatory convergence in these areas. However, as the report indicates,"a number of pilot schemes in partnership with industry … it is likely to be a year or 18 months before … implementation of the strategy".
The greater part of the evidence submitted to the committee on this subject reveals that there is an overwhelming sentiment supporting the contention that such a re-active approach is seriously undermining the capacity of the UK to keep up with developments in IT, let alone take full advantage of them. So far as concerns the legislative context, I have had occasion in the past to cite a comment from Nicholas Negroponte. I make no apology for repeating it in this context:"In 1994 the Government said that 'it … would … be premature at present to promote change in the regulatory structures, in the absence of much more concrete information about how convergence will occur.' In the meantime, the Government has continued to legislate separately for the rapidly converging industries concerned".
If policy formulation is to all intents and purposes re-active in character, this can only be reflected in our consideration of such policy and in its enactment into law. And, of course, that is further compounded by the diffidence/intimidation that so many parliamentarians appear to feel towards IT. The upshot is that, as legislators, we are simply playing "catch-up" with the new technology. Worryingly, that that is so is manifest in very many areas of our society. For example, it has been observed by police constable John Thackray of the South Yorkshire Police, one of the country's most experienced computer investigators, that:"Most of the people, and particularly legislators, are fundamentally clueless about what is going on".
That signifies the very real risks implicit in a re-active approach to IT. Finally, I offer what I believe to be the most intriguing piece of evidence submitted to the committee. Microsoft stated that,"We are far behind our own criminals on these matters. We only catch them when they get complacent and keep using old technology and old methods. If they simply keep up with current technology, they are so far ahead they are safe".
It may well be that the concept of the "cyber society", even the "corporate nation", are the stuff of science fiction. However, the juxtaposition of a deep disaffection with our existing political and governmental processes and the possibilities inherent in IT—especially the fact that it is no respecter of geographical boundaries—means that that is something that could very well happen. This is the order of magnitude of"the big thing that kept people coming back was the ability to form on-line communities, to meet people in a common interest, whether it be travel to Alaska or gardening or political debate".
to which the report refers. In evidence to the committee, Microsoft,"the potential technological, economic, and social upheavals"
What is required is a more visionary and forward-looking approach. Nor should we close our minds to the fact that it is the responsibility of us all, of the whole of society and not just government, to make our contributions in this area. We all need to adapt to as well as adopt the new technology if we are to establish the necessary foresight and understanding not only to enable us to get the best out of IT but also to shape it for the benefit of all, and if we are not to be "a rather unwilling laggard who just has it done to us"."stressed the need for the government to think about the future, rather than thinking 'about the business as if it were yesterday—.
My Lords, I consider myself particularly fortunate to have worked on this topical report. I can tell the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, that I have been fascinated by information technology ever since a dozen BBC micros were introduced into my company. Since then we have always used information technology to give us a competitive advantage. So I am particularly grateful to my hard-working colleagues on the committee, to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, for leading the committee so well, to our specialist adviser, and to Dr. Tudor our excellent Clerk.I have an interest to declare. I am a non-executive director of a cable company and am involved in the merger of three cable companies and Cable & Wireless about which the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, spoke. Now that it looks as if the merger will go through, I expect to receive my P45 fairly soon—a document with which some noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite may become familiar in the spring. The merger is relevant to the commercial aspects of our report. As we heard, the present regulatory regime encourages a variety of operators to build an infrastructure but the control of that infrastructure lies with the local loop. The local loop is the connection between the infrastructure and the home or office. The local loop is the most expensive part of the network to install and maintain. At present, that local loop is largely owned by BT and is being duplicated by local cable companies. Away from metropolitan areas, where there is plenty of business traffic, the individual cable companies do not have the critical mass to provide an effective alternative, even with their right to transmit entertainment. That is why they are merging, and that is why providing the local loop is likely to become a monopoly or, at best, a duopoly. In the end BT and one or two other large companies will control the local loop and therefore control Britain's information society. That is why I join the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, and other noble Lords in being unhappy about the Government's response to our recommendations in paragraphs 6.6, 6.7 and 6.8 which call for better public access and regulation of that access. The Government's response is that its role is to promote a stable regulatory environment in order to encourage infrastructure investment,
I find this complacent and backward-looking, rather than forward-looking, because this policy will leave the monopolies or duopolies in control of the local loop and thus in control of the network. Perhaps the Minister will give further thought to our proposals, bearing this argument in mind. One of the delights of working on this report was the feeling we got from many witnesses that the information society will be a more open society. We became a little infected with this spirit of openness, and that is why our first recommendations, paragraphs 6.1, 6.2 and 6.3, dealt with opening up the work of Cabinet Committee GEN 37 and the relationship between this Cabinet Committee and the information society. One of the essential purposes of our recommendations for an information society task force is to break down these barriers and open up the information society. This spirit of openness may have infected us, but sadly it did not infect the Government. The rather tired response of"promoting effective competition and communications networks".
is not exactly an example of open government encouraging an open information society. That is why our report was published on the web, as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, told us. For the Government to say in their response that the present arrangements of various committees reporting to Ministers provide a useful diversity of input misses the point entirely. We are concerned about looking outwards to the information society at large, not about looking inwards to advise Ministers. However, I welcome the Government's support for our proposals to encourage the use of e-mail in government, citizens advice bureaux and doctors in general practice. I am sure that they will not only benefit from the lower costs but will also find that, as in business, e-mail will provide a powerful tool for empowerment by overcoming barriers to information. The shop floor can e-mail the chairman direct. As a result, decisions are taken lower down and information is more widely available. All this produces subtle changes in the hierarchy by reducing layers of access. Working patterns become more flexible and informed. I hope that the Minister will take note of these lessons. I am disappointed that the Government, in their response to our recommendation in paragraph 6.24, do not consider training as part of education. After all, we are still in the Year of Lifelong Learning. Providing education and training for all, using interactive multi-media programs over the Internet, is an important part of Labour's concept of an information society. This is particularly important in providing education and training for employees of small and medium-sized companies whose firms do not have the facilities to provide their own training. Perhaps I may suggest that the Minister should send a representative to the National Film Theatre on 10th December, when our plans for this service will be presented to a conference. I welcome the Government's agreement with our proposal in paragraph 6.9 regarding unacceptable content on the Internet. We called for a code of practice and on 4th October the Internet Service Providers' Association issued such a code. My noble friend Baroness Dean spoke of this. However, in addition to what my noble friend Baroness Dean, said, I draw the Minister's attention to the first words of the fifth paragraph:"collective responsibility requires Ministers to respect the privacy of Cabinet business"
It is important continuously to develop this code because the internet is a fast-moving worldwide institution, as many noble Lords have said. A code of practice is designed to back up the legal obligations currently in force. More important is the concept of regulation by the Internet Watch. As the Government pointed out in their response to our proposal in paragraph 6.10, and as my noble friend Baroness Dean pointed out, regulation can keep up with changing technology whereas a code of practice will only reflect the existing law. Is it intended that the Internet Watch Foundation will become a regulatory body like the Broadcasting Standards Authority? The global scale and huge diversity and volume of material on the Internet is just too large for a voluntary code which only applies to those service providers who agree to it. Internet Watch is focusing initially on child pornography. Will the Minister ask for this to be extended to a watch on racism, as the paper from the Institute for Jewish Policy Research on the Governance of Cyber Space suggested? Regulation of the Internet is closely tied in with issues such as privacy versus freedom of expression and copyright versus freedom of information. This is a complex and difficult area, to which I hope the Minister will give special attention. He would have been greatly assisted in this by the information technology task force which we proposed. As the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, told us, the information society is developing rapidly. Much has happened recently, both technically and commercially. In concluding, perhaps I may bring to your Lordships' attention a development about which I became aware during the summer which adds urgency to some of our recommendations. I refer to voice recognition. Voice recognition is much more advanced than I thought. Not only can you dictate letters and memos direct to your computer, but Bell Canada has recently introduced a telephone service where you do not need to dial the number, you just speak a name. If this technology can replace the keyboard, the number pad, or the mouse, the information society will become accessible to many more people far more quickly. It will also make it more accessible to older people. Our recommendations in paragraphs 6.17 and 6.18 calling for steps to be taken to assist the "have nots" and the "cannots" and to provide library terminals will become more urgent as voice recognition is introduced. I am pleased that the Government agree with these recommendations, but, if voice recognition becomes as universal as the telephone companies would like it to be, then the Government will have to give a lot more priority to these recommendations. However, I remind noble Lords that human error is always with us. I am one of the Compuserve subscribers over 50 to whom the noble Baroness, Lady Hogg, referred. Compuserve recently arranged a special home delivery deal for some of its clients with the local supermarket chain. Using a CD-ROM and the Internet, we placed a heavy and bulky order. The order never arrived. However, the following day we received an e-mail which said:"The current code is intended only as a starting point from which to evolve a comprehensive code".
"Order for the Lord Haskel. Our delivery van diligently scoured the area but could not find a pub of that name".
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Ellesmere, for finishing a truly mammoth task. I was privileged to start the examination on his sub-committee. I enjoyed the one or two sessions that I was able to attend but I then left to begin a different examination. This paper points the way forward in a very practical way across a broad field of problems which in my view are easy to over-estimate. We have reached our present situation of having an enormous amount of technical development without perhaps the degree of government co-ordination, enthusiasm and regulation which some people seem to think necessary.I have heard the Internet described as an anarchic organisation. That is perhaps what one would expect of something born out of a defence need. I hope that my noble and gallant friend sitting opposite will forgive me for that. It has grown out of demand and the one thing that will continue to develop is demand. Demand will come from the direction in which individuals like the individuals within this Chamber wish. We should always remember that. We should keep it very much in the background of our mind. My intention is to come at this report from the position of a provider in the field. In the early 1980s the Essex County Council established a small unit to look at and develop the use of computers in schools, to study the implications and to find out what was involved. It was supported by what were then the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Trade and Industry. Inevitably that unit became incorporated into what was in those days an institute of higher education and subsequently that institute of higher education was taken out of local government control and became a part of what is now the Anglia Polytechnic University. It has been given the rather exotic title of the Ultralab, and is one of Europe's top research centres for multi-media technology. That has happened despite all the inadequacies of the current framework. It is perhaps worth relating what the unit does. Its staff very often are leaders opening conferences on multi-media in education across the, whole country. Inevitably, there is a multi-media degree, which one would expect, and there is even a Master's degree which is taught on the Internet. There is a student operating entirely out of Fremantle in Australia who will obtain a very good degree. We operate multi-media and information systems as part of teacher-training within the university, which comes back to points that have already been made. Those aspects of work are already taking place. Indeed, there is an on-line component in an MA.Education degree. Because of the work of that unit, particular support can be provided for pupils with learning handicaps, such as dyslexia or visual impairment. One can become involved in language teaching. All those things go on not just in the university but also in the classroom. It is very important at this point to use another military metaphor, if I may be permitted to do so. I thought that it might have been out of line but I was told by an educational man that it was very much in line. The military people may, however, pick me up. There is concern in the teaching profession that the computer might put some of their positions at risk. The military metaphor is appropriate; namely, that battle is about holding ground. Ground cannot be held without troops on it. Teaching is about classrooms and individuals; but a class cannot be held without a teacher in it. In fact, we are talking about systems which will come to the support of traditional teaching and which will aid and improve it. We have to develop the thinking in teaching education to make that possible. I turn to another aspect of work that is already taking place. Obviously, there is research. The unit gets a very good score in the research assessment exercise. One of the current projects is funded by a major local hospital to assess multi-media for postgraduate medical doctors' training. That has an immediate and major impact on the possibility of keeping doctors up to date as medicine and medical technology develop. Better than that, it feeds back into medical education. We do not train doctors but we do a lot of work with nurses, radiographers, and so on. So there is feedback there. As an aside, we have in the DTI's "Schools On-Line" Internet project the "Best Educational Web-site", which was announced at Edinburgh this year. Going on from that and coming to more serious problems, it is surprising where one can go with a little unit of this kind. It is at present working with the BBC, studying and helping to develop thoughts on the future of television. That arises inevitably from the development of digital broadcasting and of course the similarity between that and telecommunications. The distinctions are disappearing. I had a problem because I found that the BBC were also working with BT on the future of telecommunications. One might have thought that there was a potential conflict of interest there but there is in fact a community of interest. Surprisingly, it is working with Norte], looking at the question of social interactions as a result of the technical changes that are now happening. So the family television set will become the family computer. What happens when there is a conflict of interest between granny who wants to watch an entertainment programme and little Johnny who needs to do his homework? That is the reality of what is happening on the ground. It seems to me somewhat ironical that within just one year of passing a Broadcasting Bill and having a new BBC Charter, we should already need to be looking at the question of how we regulate and control the broadcasting and telecommunication industries. Those industries are moving together. There is no escaping that fact. It is my candid opinion that we can never move the regulatory framework to be in advance of the situation on the ground. The developments that are taking place are so quick that we shall have to face the reality that the framework in which people operate must always be open enough to permit the developments which are happening in reality to take place without restriction. We shall then have to look at what needs to be done to make sure that wholly undesirable ill effects do not take place. I am very happy with this report and support it wholeheartedly.
My Lords, as a member of the committee, I thank and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, on his chairmanship of it. Indeed, he was the skilful pilot who brought a complex report safely to port.I shall focus entirely on those parts of the report which deal with education. Information technology has already begun to produce changes which, cumulatively, will amount to a social revolution. Education must be given a primary role if society is to be adequately prepared to deal with those changes as they occur. The changes are revolutionary because,
An impressive amount of work in this field has already been undertaken in the UK. A recent study of G7 countries showed that in secondary schools the United Kingdom has the most computers per 100 pupils—12 per 100 pupils. We were the third highest in primary schools after only Canada and the United States. However, as has been said so often this evening, leadership is now urgently needed in the whole field of information technology. Not only must different activities be co-ordinated but they must be drawn together in a national strategy. Thirty thousand independent purchasers—for there are 30,000 individual schools—can make many expensive mistakes if they are not given clear guidance in a co-ordinated national strategy. Some schools and colleges are moving forward admirably. About 5,000 schools and colleges are already connected to the Internet. But the divide is widening between schools which are moving forward and those which are not. If we are to make a success of the information society, every child must be entitled to these information and communication technologies. This problem knows no boundaries and it certainly cannot be contained within the ambit of individual government departments. We need a co-operative, co-ordinated approach and leadership within an agreed national framework providing guidance but at the same time allowing local initiative and competition. For instance, in the field I am looking at this evening why should we not create a school intranet, to provide a national education framework? The intranet could drive connectivity through all the schools. The intranet could enable government and the department to communicate electronically with all schools and colleges, an innovation which might ultimately be self-financing and even save money. It is estimated that the department currently spends in excess of £9 million a year on postage in communicating with schools. The intranet could become a prime means for communicating with all staff, especially in academic fields and matters of the curriculum. It would provide a minimum platform of appropriate standards and it could harness expenditure and minimise the risk of inappropriate expenditure. Again, as already pointed out, we were not convinced that the present arrangements, including the new Cabinet Committee GEN 37, working within government protocol, could produce the kind of galvanised leadership that we have in mind. Incidentally, it would be quite interesting to know how often GEN 37 has actually met in, say, the past six months. Perhaps the Minister, when he replies, will let us know. The most important point I want to deal with is the committee's concern with the state of teacher training. Our fears have not been allayed by the Government's response. First, we recommended that all initial teacher training courses should contain an information technology module. I do not know whether noble Lords will believe it, but the teacher training agency has still not confirmed that information technology will even be included in the national curriculum for initial teacher training. For established teachers the agency is considering information technology as part of the profile for newly qualified and experienced teachers. But that does not go far enough. A modular accreditation should be available to all serving teachers to enhance their qualifications. Accreditation is what is needed for that would create a market in the teaching profession for the development of information and communication technologies. Moreover, teachers should be offered opportunities to develop IT skills through the technology itself; through networks, CD ROMs and the like. Why not offer financial assistance to teachers to help them in purchasing their own equipment in order to have personal access to this new world? In this section our report concluded:"They will change the way we work and the way we live together. They will bring about a fundamental change in the way we communicate with each other, a fundamental change in how we use information and understand knowledge as a product".
We are still calling tonight. Finally, perhaps I may mention the field of educational software, a new industry in which we ought to be commercially dominant, for educational software carries the culture of the country. British educational software should be exporting our educational system, our culture and our social values. We have so much operating in our favour. We have the expertise, we have the educational credibility, and we have the English language. Yet the software market is dominated by the United States, including the CD ROM market and the on-line content of the Internet. Moreover, software production requires a global market to support it but our home market is not big enough on its own to ensure automatic access to global markets. Some government assistance is essential if we are to be successful. However, it is a delicate area and it is important not to distort the market so that it becomes unsustainable. Consultation is needed with the software or content industry on what might be the most helpful method of giving assistance. The industry itself is rapidly changing and now consists not only of software suppliers, but also of book publishers, television producers and some film producers. Suppliers and purchasers may be helped by a cental source of information. The National Council for Education Technology (NCET) already has reviews of over 400 CD-ROMs on its web site. It is interesting to note that its pages are currently being accessed over 1,000 times a week. This might be a nucleus which could well be extended. We were among the leaders in understanding the impact of information technology. We urgently need a galvanised leadership within an agreed national framework if we are to be successful in the new information society, and education is a key area."Despite the vital need to remedy IT skills shortages amongst teachers, our enquiry identified the need for improved co-ordination between the DfEE and the various agencies working in this area before this need can he addressed fully. The ultimate responsibility for sorting out the present confusion over who should be taking the lead in improving teacher training in IT rests with the Secretary of State for Education and Employment. We call on the Secretary of State to investigate this area as a matter of the highest priority for her Department".
My Lords, I should like to touch on three points in particular in this very interesting debate. But before I do so, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, for his excellent chairmanship. He will understand as much as anyone how pleased I am that he has stayed the course so fully.In response to our report the Government say that they are encouraging departments and agencies to make good quality information available to citizens and businesses electronically on-line. That is good. They appear to agree with the recommendation of the Select Committee that wide use of this medium should be made to publish official documents and information. Further, the Government say that they will revise advice when necessary to promote this objective. Those of us who have had access to government.direct on the worldwide web will have had a foretaste of what is being done. It is excellent. In the same section of their response and elsewhere the Government say,
As individual and stand-alone statements of government policy, these three are hard to fault. But am I alone—and I judge not by the tone of this debate—in believing that, taken together, they hardly add up to a very pro-active stance or really strong encouragement of a far wider exploitation of the electronic medium? It would be welcome if the Government were much more enthusiastic and forthcoming in their drive to make the public aware of what is becoming available. Until I plugged into the worldwide web, I was quite unaware of what was on offer through the excellent CITU web pages at government direct. The recently published Green Paper seems at last to go some way towards bringing these issues to greater public notice. There is a clearly stated commitment to make all kinds of government information available electronically. I welcome that and the forthcoming IT for all trial. I hope that the Information Society initiative for small businesses has been well received: it deserves to be. However, as we identified in our report, there appears to be a particular hang-up over Crown copyright. When will the Government be ready to announce their decisions on the future management of Crown copyright? Have they set themselves a target date? It would be great encouragement to know that this is soon to be resolved. It would give much greater scope for departments to publish electronically. Incidentally, I was really dismayed to learn that the report of the Select Committee Towards Zero Emissions for Road Transport just out will not be published by this House electronically. Surely that is a subject of very wide public interest. It is high time that all parliamentary reports and publications are available electronically. It is marvellously convenient to be able to access, with a few key presses on one's lap top, the text of a House report or what a noble Lord has said a few days or perhaps weeks ago. However, the costs of keeping information up-to-date are growing more and more and are expected from these resources. Are the Government confident that these costs will be contained and offset by savings elsewhere? The noble Baroness, Lady Hogg, also posed that question. I have seen no examination of it to date. My second point relates to the proposal in Paragraph 6.20 of the report that a programme of information sharing and mutual assistance between Commonwealth countries in the development of information super highways should be set up. What became clear in the course of our inquiry is that there were others in the Commonwealth apart from the United Kingdom, who have been gaining considerable experience and making good progress in the applications of IT. The Canadians, particularly in New Brunswick, and the Singaporeans, for example, have set themselves demanding targets for super highways and their uses. The Singapore Minister of Communications, speaking last June, said that after lagging far behind the developing countries for so long, Asian countries today are either planning or are implementing cutting-edge information technologies which will enable them to leapfrog ahead of developed nations. We can find the whole speech on the Singapore Government's home page on the Internet, together with the full text of 17 speeches made since June on IT topics in Singapore and much more besides. Goodness, have they not leapfrogged us in spades on the worldwide web! The Government's response to our recommendation about drawing on the expertise of other Commonwealth countries seems to brush a joint approach rather to one side. They concentrate on what the United Kingdom Government are doing to support Commonwealth scholarships and the like. That is worthy, but what we had in mind was much more exciting and dynamic. During our visit to the United States, I was struck by the considerable efforts being made by the United States Government to make IT infrastructure available to a number of African states. One I have read about is a fibre optic ring main on the ocean bed around the whole of the African continent to enable individual nations to plug in and gain access to worldwide high capacity telecommunications. There seems to me to be a very important issue here; namely, that worldwide availability of text, sound and video may become as important in the future as the availability of the BBC World Service, for example, is today. We need to be thinking how the right news and the wealth of other information about us and our interests are going to be accessed and projected around the world in the 21st century. A concerted effort by the more electronically advanced Commonwealth countries is called for so that national and Commonwealth ideals are made widely available and not compromised otherwise we might find ourselves, on a global scale, caught out by some dominant gatekeeper with little interest in spreading the information which we judge important. I do not believe that it is too early to be giving these issues serious consideration as the information revolution spreads around the world. Happily, some remote regions are becoming more able to access and use expertise to help their activities; for example, SatelLife a not-for-profit organisation, which exploits the speed and versatility of the electronic medium to allow information exchange, for example, between medical workers in remote jungle areas, which have never had any telephone access to the rest of the world, and the appropriate consultant specialists in a western hospital. Not infrequently, the calls from such outposts are not for blankets or food but for more of this kind of speedy satellite communication. But there is a long way to go before it becomes widely and readily available. Pervasive to much of the evidence taken by the committee—this is my third point—was the problem of security of information stored and transmitted digitally. Whether it be patients' records in a paperless NHS system or the way in which chargecard and other payment methods are transacted by computer screen, we urgently need to find appropriate solutions, to explain them to the public and to reassure ourselves that the methods adopted are reasonable and trustworthy. Much of this will be international in coverage and will therefore need agreements at government level. I hope that we can be reassured about this level of commitment and approach to so important a topic. Only last week a newspaper article reported that the United States Government had lifted its ban on the export of high grade cryptographic systems. If this is true, perhaps the noble and learned Lord can say whether the Government are satisfied with what the United States have done. As the report makes clear, the committee welcomes the Government's proposal to license trusted third parties as a step in the process of protecting information and preventing fraud. In the Green Paper government.direct I was pleased to see in the list of strategic principles (set out on page 13) the emphasis placed on the principle of public confidence. Without it, the IT revolution will be a drag and not a boon. Incidentally, the list of principles makes no reference to a need for material retention and archiving. Surely, this needs to be addressed to set out a clear policy on what records government departments must keep and in what medium. Much of the use and value of IT will hang on the confidence that the public has in these all-pervasive arrangements. I look forward to hearing what the Minister says about it. Finally, I should like to draw attention to the committee's recommendation in relation to citizens advice bureaux. I should like to underline a point that has already been made by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. I believe that these bureaux should be linked to an on-line database. If we are to avoid a new divide between the information rich and the information poor, wide support for the steps that the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux has in hand is called for. It is at the vanguard of planning to make information available to those who cannot afford to provide IT facilities for themselves or are unable to fathom their workings. Its efforts to support an information system on CD-ROM, to link its offices together electronically and to provide public self-help databases accessible through user-friendly terminals in libraries, CAB waiting rooms and other public areas, deserve strong support. There can be fewer more helpful ways of providing on a nationwide scale something of real value to citizens. I hope that its bid to the Millennium Commission will be rewarded with the grants needed to realise its plans and that its ambitious and far-sighted project will attract the support of the Government that it deserves."decisions on what information should be selected for placing on line are best left to individual Departments and Agencies".
My Lords, I believe that everyone connected with the agenda for action is to be congratulated on an extremely interesting report. Today we have heard some fascinating speeches in the House. It is of considerable help to have this discussion after the Government's response. It allows us to try to move forward. I have tried to make a kind of swot report to look at strengths and weaknesses and to see where we have got to.There is no doubt that there has been a step change in the Government's thinking about the importance of what I call ICT (information and communications technologies). One finds evidence of this in many places: the ministerial group GEN 37; the formation of CITU with a mission to embrace best practice in electronic government; and, interestingly, the Civil Evidence Act 1995 which for the first time allows electronic hearsay evidence to be rated by judges for its worth. Late last year a joint venture began between the Lord Chancellor's Department and the DTI. It commissioned a working party of the Law Society to try to achieve a situation in which the use of electronic commerce had every bit as much legality as the use of manual commerce. That is an ongoing process. The merger of the Central Statistical Office, the Office of Population, Censuses and Surveys and the statistics branch of the former Department of Employment to form the Office for National Statistics, together with the collaboration between that office and Ordnance Survey, provides a very good start on integrated databases which are a key part to moving forward on electronic government. Of course, the personal launch of government.direct by four Ministers, one a Cabinet Minister and one in video conference from Scotland, shows considerable personal support from Ministers themselves. All of these are strong indicators of government commitment. I suggest that the real question is how to translate that commitment into effective action. The Select Committee had concerns to which the Government have now replied. Taking those responses into account, I offer some concerns of my own. Because the Green Paper is the first post-CITU product, it seems clear that the strategy of better service to citizens and business is now a major priority for the public sector. But who, I wonder, is the Green Paper's audience? Who will actually read it? When I first read it I thought that it was aimed at the kind of people who would support it anyway. I then played the disc and somehow the layout made exactly the same language appear more understandable to the citizen at large. But will that citizen have a PC with a disc? I wonder who will actually pick it up and read it. If, as I believe, government.direct is a real attempt to reduce the gap between the ICT haves and have-nots I doubt whether the Green Paper will ever be read by the have-nots. I question whether this kind of consultation will work. I believe that a White Paper would have been a better option. Achievement of this better public service requires a massive culture change. It requires departments to co-operate to achieve a single point of entry for the citizen to a government-integrated database or help desk as envisaged in government.direct. This will be very hard to achieve. It will require very firm management to end inter-departmental turf wars. The comment by the Government in 6.14 that what is placed on line is best left to departments seems to me to ignore the co-ordination that is necessary for an integrated database. I worry about the long-term role of CCTA. I am pleased to learn that it is to improve co-ordination across Government and to facilitate effective delivery of services to the public. I also understand that in due course it must pay its way by charging departments for services which such departments may well feel are being imposed upon them. If departments are free to reject CCTA services but CCTA can sell only government-directed products, then CCTA staff are in an unenviable position. I should have thought that the Government could achieve much more by giving CCTA a guaranteed period of, say, not less than three years. I turn to specific sectors. I focus upon transport, education, training and health. I thought that transport would not be mentioned until the noble and gallant Lord spoke just now. I do not believe that the Government's current transport strategy takes proper account of the power of the new technologies now available to improve congestion, reduce pollution and improve health and safety. Here, I declare an interest as president of ITS Focus. That is how I know that ITS (intelligent transport systems) can help. That view is supported in a recent EU communication:
I am not the only person saying that. Three Foresight Technology proposals were approved for transport: the intelligent vehicle, the informed traveller and clear zones. The first of those is moving forward strongly. The second already had much work ongoing. However, I do not see any evidence that the environment project has begun, yet I read that the second round of proposals is beginning. Can the Minister say who monitors progress on the implementation of existing proposals in round one? In relation to schools, I was very impressed by the speech of my noble friend Lord Butterworth. The real ICT needs for schools are not only those of infrastructure, which in any event is heavily subsidised by British Telecom and cable companies, and not necessarily the equipment because with a little effort schools can get support from corporates in the vicinity of their school, but the real question is what use the school makes of that largesse. The role of the teacher is changing, and that is the crucial need. I should like to quote from an interesting speech by Sir Geoffrey Holland KCB, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Exeter. He stated:"by way of example, telematic applications can help to reduce the requirement for transport infrastructure investment, urban congestion and pollution."
I quote from the same Commission document:"The new technologies transform access to learning; they make it possible for the student to study at a time, place and pace of his or her choosing. They make learning student-centred and call for a redesigned role for the teacher as a supporter of the learner rather than as the fount from whom all wisdom flows. They dramatically reduce the unit costs of learning and can make learning fun and an adventure."
That is a major culture change for teachers. I am concerned about the lack of IT skills. I am president of IDPM, the Institute for the Management of Information Systems. In this year's annual skills report so much concern was expressed about the crisis in professional IT skills that we wrote to the Prime Minister to flag our anxiety. The IT industry lead body is ITITO. My institute is a member. We anxiously await government support for a national campaign to increase IT skills through ITITO. Here is an institute which is teaching IT skills and there are many schools that do not have such skills, and obviously the two sectors must get together. I doubt whether the National Health Service is moving forward fast enough in ICT. It now has much of its NHS network in place although I note that the Government are exhorting it to move forward faster. I recollect that a 1993 award finalist for innovation was the Oxfordshire Health Authority which had then achieved electronic pathology reports with 300 GPs in 47 practices. Results of blood tests were reaching GPs within 24 hours. In Northampton Hospital waiting times were also being sent electronically to 20 places and both waiting times and worrying times were reduced by that use of electronic trading. That was in 1993, yet when I asked a National Health Service manager what had happened subsequently to build on that I was told that once the NHS network was in place it was for local authorities to do their own thing. Oxfordshire had shown what could be done but since it preceded the network it apparently received no support. If that is true, it shows that the National Health Service management was short sighted. As a private sector enthusiast I was taught that the way forward was to build on the work of champions. Oxfordshire health authority was a 1993 champion which could have been a role model for nationwide improvements in customer service. I am all for infrastructure, but surely we can support innovative applications simultaneously. Last week an elderly friend of mine was rushed into hospital for tests. She reported that she had had her entire life history written down manually by three separate departments over 10 days. We have got a long way to go. I hope that by relating these fears and concerns I am drawing the Minister's attention to areas that need a helping hand to move forward. They do not detract from the very considerable advance in the strategic vision of ICT which the Government have embraced; rather they are about how the current vision gets translated into benefits. I would not like to give the impression that all of us are perfect and that if anything goes wrong it must be the Government's fault. Let me draw attention to the great irony in information technology, which is best expressed in verse:"Education in the information society must move away from a system centred solely around teachers to focus more on learners. It must be built around learning and less around teaching."
Reducing paper is our aim, we hear the IT men proclaim; Yet when they put this into prose their use of paper is verbose; Instead of halving what is used, the tree gets doubly abused. Oh, for the skilful written brief on two short pages—for relief!
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Ellesmere, and the Select Committee for their work. I must start by declaring an interest, albeit most definitely a non-pecuniary one, as president of my local citizens advice bureau in Woking. I welcome the report because it recognises that there are increasing concerns about the growing gap between the "information rich" and the "information poor", and it makes the point at paragraph 5.64 that,
The advent of the information age could revolutionise the information and advice world. The National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux gave evidence to the Select Committee and believes that it is able to fulfil a key role in extending access to the information superhighway of the future. It can make sure that both the information-rich and the information-poor have access to clear public information through the information superhighway. In that regard, I welcome the comments of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley. There is a CAB service in over a thousand cities, towns and villages across Great Britain and Northern Ireland handling over 7 million inquiries each year. One in seven of us uses the CAB service every year. When giving evidence to the committee, NACAB said at paragraph 4.31 that its clients,"The Information Society is not an exclusive club. Every British citizen should be able to become a member".
I am using the CAB service as an example of the way in which the advent of the information age could revolutionise the information and advice world simply because it is an organisation which I know well. I am aware that much of what I say today could be relevant to other advice and counselling agencies. Like many organisations, CABs are looking at the superhighway and asking: what is it going to do; how will it fit in; and will it help us to do our job better? I believe that the information superhighway gives us the potential to improve information and advice services in two major ways. It can make it possible to improve the quality and quantity of the traditional forms of advice work done by over 30,000 CAB advisers, over 90 per cent. of whom are volunteers, and it can be used to develop innovatory services, especially direct access by members of the public to the information they need. This development of advice services will depend upon two factors: first, that the government make information readily available; and, secondly, that the Internet develops into a fully fledged superhighway offering two-way real-time video transmission and interactivity. If those two pre-conditions are met, then how could CABs be involved in exploiting the potential of the information superhighway to bring improved advice services to the public? The opinion of the Select Committee at paragraph 5.67 is that,"on the whole are what we would term the have nots, who might be left behind in the information society…the people who come to us are largely fallen on hard times, and they come to us for advice and information. So we have the confidence of the have nots…Citizens Advice Bureaux getting involved in the superhighway means we can bring them aboard to some degree."
Behind those rather bland words, "the regular manual updating", lies a mind-numbing task, as I know. I have done it in my time. The database is a 70-volume, 12,000-page paper system held in every bureau. Updating it is a scissors and paste job. It means that by the time NACAB has collated the amendments and posted them, and the bureaux have done their scrap book work, the information may be up to six or seven weeks old. Just think of the time which could be freed up for better use if this job disappeared. It would mean that the CABs could see an extra 500,000 clients a year. And the advisers would have much enhanced access to accurate up-to-date information. I am pleased to say that the CAB service nationally already has plans to satisfy the Select Committee's observation. It intends to create an on-line database accessed by bureaux via ISDN lines to regional file servers. The database would be updated daily. The system would be further developed through the addition of case law from courts and tribunals, copies of the relevant statutes, and a range of advice tools such as calculation packages which would help to manage clients' debt casework and cope with social security benefit calculations. And of course a useful by-product of such a change would be the training of 28,000 CAB volunteers in IT skills which they can export into paid employment, if they so wish. But what of other innovations which rely upon the development of the superhighway and could improve the provision of services to the public by CABs? It will be possible to improve and extend services to people who live in remote rural areas or who have mobility problems. Using the superhighway, advisers could make home visits distant from the bureau and be connected via a lap top computer to the national information system and to their parent bureau office systems. Video-conferencing facilities would be valuable for outreach work too. The Select Committee took evidence of how the public could have direct access to the Internet and recognised that,"The Citizens Advice Bureaux could become more effective and efficient if all their bureaux were linked to an on-line database system to make unnecessary the regular manual updating of their current databases."
When the committee took evidence, the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, pointed out that the have nots are so often the cannots as well, and asked what use public access points for Internet use would be for them. I believe that advice agencies endorse his observation and will make sure that when the public use access points they will be assisted by trained advisers whenever appropriate. There have already been significant initiatives in the use of IT taken by CABs in Northern Ireland, Scotland and some parts of England. For example, a CAB in Gloucester provides an advice service on the Internet. It is used by people with disabilities and those who are housebound to help them communicate with the outside world. The London division of the CAB service in partnership with Thames Water provides up-to-the-minute advice to the public on a range of specialist subjects, including money advice, welfare rights, computer development and social policy through the use of information technology. CABs were delighted to be invited to participate in two of the three pilot projects announced by the Government at the launch of the Green Paper government.direct. These are Direct Access government, a one stop shop on the Internet to allow access to government forms and regulations, and the Touch Screen Pilot which has been developed by the Inland Revenue, the Contributions Agency and Customs and Excise to provide information. Spennymore CAB in County Durham is one of the eight sites being used for this pilot scheme. But until now the use of IT by bureaux has been decidedly patchy because of disparate access to resources. Each bureau is autonomous and responsible for securing its own funding. I was made acutely aware of the results that that could have a few years ago when I visited Belfast for the first time. I had left Woking in the midst of negotiations to upgrade our creaky PC (an Amstrad) to a series of 486s, desperately trying to avoid having to settle for 386s. I then visited the CAB on the Shankill Road. There was delight that somebody had just given the bureau the chance to upgrade to an electronic typewriter. The quality of its advice was excellent, but its ability to deliver it as widely and efficiently as it would like was severely hindered. NACAB's strategic plans to equip every CAB and each part of the national association with hardware, software and telecommunication links, plus training and support will require funding. It will have to be outside the bureau's usual local resources. As the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Ellesmere, said in opening the debate, NACAB has taken an innovative approach. It has applied to the Millennium Commission for 50 per cent. of the costs in addition to seeking £2 million from government and £8 million from the private sector. I believe that the development of the information superhighway and its use by advice and counselling agencies is a major way of ensuring that the most disadvantaged groups share in, and benefit from, technological change. The development of the information superhighway provides the opportunity for all to face the challenges and grasp the opportunities of the information age. I welcome the recommendations of the report."Public libraries and CABs can also provide a supportive environment in which people can try out new technologies to which they might not otherwise have access, either at home or at work".
My Lords, I am sure that noble Lords will agree that we have just listened to a most interesting and enlivening debate on one of the most important topics of the moment, as was brought out in this excellent report for which I thank the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, and his committee. Unfortunately I have had only limited time m which to digest its comments and so I shall confine my remarks to some of its technical aspects.As other noble Lords have said, we are facing in the information society a revolution comparable to that of the industrial revolution 200 years ago. I spent some 30 years in the IT industry of which the last 19 were spent with Rolls-Royce, from which I retired two years ago, where we had an almost total information society ranging from a paperless shop floor, inter-company E-mail, video conferencing and total networking world wide. We had a computing-secure environment to prevent unauthorised access. The need for computer literacy from the worker on the shop floor to the managing director is obvious and emphasises the need for IT education at the earliest stage of school education. The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, may like to note that my son-in-law who suffers from RSI does all his input by voice recognition, and that has been very successful. There is one minor point in the report which needs correction. Paragraph 1.13 concerns coaxial broadband cable systems. Those are perfectly capable of providing bi-directional data paths at megabit speeds and have been widely and successfully used on university campuses and on large industrial sites since the late 1980s. We had three of them at Rolls-Royce, so perhaps I speak with experience. One would however of course now use fibre optic cables for such installations. I turn now to the information society. Teleworking is capable of making vast changes in people's lives, reducing the need for commuting, and is already doing so for many people. As the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said, the coming together of television and personal computers, which surely should be made much more practical with the onset of digital television, will provide a vehicle for the domestic, office, and industrial user to obtain the maximum benefit from the information available on the networks. In many ways we are only just at the beginning of this revolution. We have yet to get the best out of expert and knowledge-based systems which can offer guidance to the layman and the professional in the performance of their occupations. That is particularly appropriate to organisations such as the CAB. However there is, as other noble Lords have said, further work required to improve the security of the network and data and to tackle the issues of privacy and data quality, some of which of course are trivial and irrelevant. Government leadership and sponsorship, in conjunction with industry, are essential if the UK is to maintain its position in the leadership of the information society. Therefore I strongly support the formation of the task force or panel as mentioned by many previous noble Lords. There are two final points I should like to mention. The information explosion will lead to an increase in manpower working in the IT industry. Already a substantial amount of that work is being exported to countries such as India and the Ukraine where good quality personnel is available at substantially cheaper costs than in Europe. The excellent communications facilities make the distances quite irrelevant. It is therefore imperative that we have a well-trained workforce to minimise that job loss. I should like to mention in this forum the problems associated with the year 2000. Many existing software systems only employ a two-figure year and that recently resulted in a Marks & Spencer batch of baked beans with a "use-by" date of 2000 being rejected as being 96 years old. That problem is of enormous magnitude and worldwide is going to cost billions of pounds to put right. At a recent meeting in Scotland 150 IT managers were asked who was doing anything about it. Only two put up their hands. This matter is so serious due to the unknown content of much software in such areas as air traffic control and embedded micro controllers that it is suggested that one should not fly in the 48 hours between 31st December 1999 and 1st January 2000. The manpower needed to overcome the problem is enormous and there may not be sufficient skilled people to do the job particularly on legacy systems. It is not a question of budgets. Time does not stand still and will simply run out and may leave many companies with unusable software. I hope the Minister can give some comfort to those of us who are aware of this problem. Otherwise the reputation of the information society may well be left in tatters.
My Lords, in welcoming this splendid report, I should like to make some general remarks and then some specific ones on the Government's response. On a personal note, I am an enthusiastic user of computers and I waste more time on the net than I care to admit, even to myself. When I first came to your Lordships' House, they did not know what to do with me. They said, "He is a professor; we will put him on the Library Committee". I went to the Library Committee and at the first meeting under Any Other Business, I said, "Where are the computers?" I was like a man in a Bateman cartoon. One noble Lord said, "Oh, I am perfectly happy with a ball point", and I am afraid I was not as nice a person then as I am now and I asked him what made him give up the quill pen.We have come a long way since then and one of the things to bear in mind is how cheap in real terms is all the equipment we use. A state-of-the-art machine with incredible computing power can be purchased for £1,500. If you do not want state-of-the-art—and most people do not although they are all as crazy as I am and they think they do—for about a third of that you can buy a computer that was state-of-the-art three or four years ago. That, by the way, is the answer to Lord Dixon-Smith. The family which has those tensions buys more than one machine. We live in a consumer society, and that is the answer. I shall not upset your Lordships by telling you how many videos, television sets, computers and hi-fis I own, but I can tell you that in each case it is much more than one. This notion that somehow it is a big deal buying a computer simply does not convince me at all. One other subject which the committee did not discuss—and I do not criticise them for this; they cannot discuss everything under the sun—is the enormous importance of these developments for democracy. I remember when I was a research student at Princeton, and that is a long time ago now, someone said to me—and we then had no idea about the personal computer; we were thinking in terms of mainframes—"Of course, the great impact of these machines is going to be in terms of democracy. We shall be able to create in the big nation state Plato's concept of the small nation state. Everybody will be able to have their point of view expressed, and governments will be able to find out what people think." We were hopelessly naive then: we actually believed that governments wanted to find out what people thought. The technology is there to do all that sort of thing and I believe that our democracy will change as a result of that, although I would not care to predict what will happen. The only other general remark I wish to make, and it relates to what I have already said, is that the present position is primitive and, although we burst with pride when we think where we are today compared with the past, even 10 years from now—certainly a generation from now—people will regard what we are doing as so primitive that they will wonder how we got along with it. That is why the dynamics of this are so important, and although I believe that the Government should show more leadership than they are willing to show, they clearly should not show a sort of leadership which stops things happening. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, apropos of one of my interventionist speeches not long ago saying that if we had taken that view, we would never have built the railways, and this was me trying to control something. I well take his point: in terms of technological development an enormous amount of resources are wasted; but, although I think the Government are failing on this (and why would I not say that?) I do not want interventions that prevent us wasting resources because the only way forward is both to destroy what the past contains and to have several people differing on what we ought to do next. On the response, I think the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, used the word "complacent". I had written down "lukewarm" as the Government's response. What troubles me about the response is its negativism. Indeed, it is almost a self-contradictory negativism because the Government have rejected the main recommendation; namely, that we should have this ISTF chaired by an enthusiast, and this document demonstrates more than anything the need for someone to be enthusiastic about all this. I am enthusiastic, but I am not in the business of being chairman of whatever this body is—I bet it would not be paid anyway! However, we need someone who believes in driving it ahead, and I must admit that this document suggests exactly the reverse: no one wants to drive it ahead. I meant to ask the Minister beforehand about the fact that he refers to the MMIAG and its membership. I hope at some point he might write to me and place a copy of his answer in the Library. I should like to know who specifically are the members of the MMIAG. I particularly should like to know whether a lot of them use the things we are talking about, and use them enthusiastically. I have no stronger evidence about the need to do something to respond to what the committee says than doing what I do regularly: I logged in. Incidentally, one of the problems for those who are very keen is that we will get nowhere if people do not switch their machines on and log in. I am not certain there will be a law that says that when we have the whole country networked, it will also be mandatory to switch on and log in. There is nothing more boring than someone with whom you are trying to communicate under E-mail who does not switch his machine on for a couple of weeks. When you wonder why you have not had a reply, that is the answer. A lot of people in my business of economics—real hotshots—do not switch their machines on, yet still claim to be at the frontier. It is possible to log into the DTI itself on the web. What do we get, My Lords? We see a nice picture of the Minister, and that cheers us up immediately. We also get the Government's response—the document we have before us—we get the competitiveness White Paper; and ministerial speeches. The one thing we do not get is information. If the idea is that the DTI is providing information, and if whoever wrote the document believes that, they cannot possibly use the web. There is no data there at all. Something has gone wrong with my method of using it because until recently there was available at least a list of all the departments with the officials and what they did. It did not contain telephone numbers or anything useful like that, but it did say who they were. That list seems to have disappeared, for it was not there this morning. However, that might be my fault. That is the Government telling us that everything is all right. They also go out of their way to get up one's nose because they tell us that the aim of whatever service they believe they are providing is to help business people find the right contact points in the DTI quickly and easily. The idea that only business people matter is as good a way of annoying me as anything I can think of. If the department has an opportunity to edit the web, it might use the word "people" instead of "business people". That is the DTI telling us that everything is all right. That is the DTI boasting that,
I have written the word "no" in the margin because there is not a vast amount of information. There ought to be. Perhaps I may make two interesting comparisons. First, the Law Lords are on the Internet with something useful: since last week one has been able to obtain their judgments. Secondly, as regards the private sector, one can obtain excellent free access on the Internet to The Times and the Telegraph, including access to archive material. That is what we want and that is what the Government do not give us. There is a very good reason for that, and perhaps the best way of explaining is to take as an example the Office for National Statistics. The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, made the point that it is technology-driven, which is right; but it is also economics driven. The great problem with the public sector is that it is not keen to give anything away if it believes that it can sell the original material direct to the public. Therefore, if one tries to log in to the ONS network, as I do, one receives practically nothing worth having. In a democracy, it is interesting to ask whether we ought to have a complete government database available free on the Internet. I believe that we should. Of course, if one obtains information free on the Internet, one cannot sell it. That appears to be the crux of the problem, and that is why I am a good deal less impressed by the Government in this respect. That is not a political point because I am sure that if my party were in power it would take a similar mingy view of the matter, unless someone such as I had any influence. Perhaps I would, and perhaps I would not. I turn to a matter which we debated several hours ago relating to copyright and related rights. Your Lordships' committee dealt with that issue and tonight the noble Baroness, Lady Hogg, raised the question of access. Noble Lords who are on the net obtain free access but most people pay for a provider and for the telephone bill. Some material is free but, increasingly, one pays for that which is available. At paragraph 2.21 the committee points to a fundamental issue. It states:"Indeed, a vast amount of data is already available free of charge on CCTA's multiple award-winning government information service on the Internet".
Perhaps I may take an obvious point. If one can go into a library and look up words in a dictionary for nothing, one will do that. However, one will not be able to go to the library, log on and get access to the same dictionary on line for nothing. The most important dictionary, the Oxford Dictionary, is not available free on the Internet but it is available in hard copy form free in your Lordships' Library. In terms of the use of resources, that is absurd. My two favourite examples are similar: they are access to the telephone directory and access to what used to be called the British Rail Timetable. In this privatised era, I have no idea what that timetable is called but I refer to the timetable of the privatised complex of railways. Both those publications are available on CD-ROM in a user-friendly form; but, importantly, one cannot gain free access to them. When one considers that the marginal access is zero, one can see that there is an enormous waste of resources for charging for that. Furthermore, the committee is right in asking why one would gain access when it is easier to go to one's library and look something up. That situation is absurd. We must face up to the economics of the situation. We cannot ignore the copyright issue, and so forth. I have hundreds of other comments to make, but I have already missed one half of a football match and am not prepared to devote the second half to your Lordships. I shall conclude by saying that the central message that I wish to put across is that of the committee: we are at the beginning of something marvellous. Thinking of the future, your Lordships ought to be pressing for the recommendations to go forward. I am not saying to the Government, "You must take over and control things". I believe that I am echoing the committee by saying to the Government, "You must respond enthusiastically and say that things can happen, rather than say that we cannot do this, that must be left alone and so forth". The change is going to happen, and one would like to see the Government taking the lead."If users have to pay for electronic access to what they hitherto receive freely in print form, they will question whether they need that information at all, and their usage may decline dramatically".
My Lords, this has been an extremely interesting debate. I regret to say to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that if I attempt to answer only half the points that have been raised I should take up the whole of the second half of the match that he wishes to watch.We formally welcomed the report when it was first published. I take this opportunity to say to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, that the welcome which was then extended is repeated by me for the additional focus that it has brought to this important area. If I were disappointed by any tone in the debate it was that in some respects it was thought that the Government were either indifferent, lukewarm or complacent about the issues that have been raised. We certainly do not believe that we are all knowing in the way in which the information society will develop. However, as best we can, we are committed to ensuring that we should be a leader in the global information society. While it seems to have been challenged, the information society initiative is cross-departmental. Our comments about our strategy on the matter have been placed in the House Library. In spite of the criticisms of it, it is to be found available on the DTI's world-wide web site. I hope that that has been helpful. The information society initiative brings together a wide range of programmes and activities in support of business, the field of education, proposals for the electronic delivery of government services and a major forthcoming initiative, which I had hoped would receive a warmer welcome in the debate, called "IT for All". It is specifically aimed to increase public awareness and the use of information and communications technology. The Deputy Prime Minister has also announced plans to earmark the Millennium Commission's share of lottery money, currently some £300 million a year, following the completion of the millennium projects, to create a new information and communications technology fund. That will allow greater numbers of people to experience the benefits of information and communication technology which have been referred to—for example, in schools, colleges and libraries—and will ensure, as many noble Lords have indicated tonight, that we do not see a society divided between information haves and information have-nots. Taken together, without being complacent, we hope that these initiatives will help to enhance the skills base of the United Kingdom, increase the competitiveness of United Kingdom firms and improve the quality of life for all our citizens. We well recognise the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, that real skills are emerging in South-East Asia and we would be wrong to fail to recognise that. We are committed to practising what we preach. The recent Green Paper was published as a Green Paper rather than a White Paper because it intended thereby to ensure that we received views and comments rather than simply expressing what our final views would be on the electronic delivery of government services. I hope that that paper is recognised as setting out ground-breaking ideas which will revolutionise both the Government's internal communications and the way in which that interacts with the public. Indeed, I hope that that is of particular interest to my noble friend Lady Anelay because we could see the development of an electronic "one stop shop": a terminal situated in a library, a shop, or even in the high street, perhaps in CAB premises, which would provide a gateway to government services. It might be possible to fill out a tax return, renew a licence, and find information on a new government project, all through the same computer terminal. The Government have asked for reactions to their proposals from all quarters, and an e-mail address has been set up to which anyone can send comments. The consultation period will last until 7th February. We do not wish to suggest—and I repeat what appeared in our response—that the development of the information society will be a top-down affair. I am sorry if that has caused some concern but it certainly is our view that we cannot allow that to happen. It would be very undesirable. One has only to look at the way in which grass-roots innovation is driving technology and services forward to see that there should not be a top-down approach. I heard what was heard and repeated by those who contributed on the desirability of setting up a group. It is not necessary for me to repeat my view except to say that the multimedia industry advisory group is chaired by Mr. Ian Taylor, my ministerial colleague. I do not know who has spoken to him, but certainly in departmental terms he is hugely enthusiastic about what is taking place. Whatever criticism may be directed to government Ministers, I should have thought that a want of enthusiasm on his part would have been a most unfair comment to offer. The range of people acting on that group is included at paragraph 6.5 of the response to the committee's report. The Government now make available a huge amount of official information from something like 400 public sector organisations on the Internet and now that Hansard has gone on-line, the official report of this debate will be available on Parliament's own web page tomorrow morning. On the services side, we have seen in the UK recently the development of a self-regulatory framework, brought forward by the Internet industry itself, to deal with the very small percentage of material which is illegal. That is an innovative and responsible action by service providers, which can only enhance the experience and reputation of the Internet. That is why the Government see their role in the development of the information society as promoting awareness of the potential, and the potential risks of the new technologies and applications. We want to show the opportunities that new technologies can present. We want to demystify technology, which I hope is approved of, and reduce technophobia. We want businesses and the public to ask themselves how they might benefit from use of the technology. In order to do this, it is important to draw on expertise from the private, academic, and public sectors. The Government have convened a range of advisory groups and panels to cover the various aspects of information and communications technology, and to ensure a wide diversity of opinion, from a range of different perspectives. Besides promoting awareness and debate, the Government are also responsible for providing a stable regulatory environment to encourage investment. The Government's policy of promoting effective competition in communications networks is a prime example of that. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, referred to the committee's view on cable regulation. New communications technology and services require very considerable and sustained investment. Investors must have confidence that successful long-term investment will be rewarded appropriately. Our commitments to long-term regulatory stability in cable policy, for example, have given United Kingdom cable franchisees the confidence to schedule investment of more than £12 billion in new cable networks this decade. We remain convinced that that framework is valid. It provides certainty for all involved and also gives clear dates for review. We are of course aware that regulation must move with the times and I note that both the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, and my noble friend Lord Northesk were keen to ensure that that is understood. Indeed, we recognise that and we also recognise the regulatory overlap to which the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, referred. It is for that reason that we agree with the Select Committee's analysis that in the medium term, a new regulatory framework in both telecommunications and broadcasting will be needed to reflect the increasingly technical convergence between those traditionally separate sectors. Indeed, so far as I am aware, this was the first time ever that there has been a commitment in principle to that convergence. But my noble friends Lady Hogg and Lord Dixon-Smith both uttered words of caution: that convergence is as yet at an early stage and it is important not to second-guess technological and commercial development, although, as they and I now recognise, that will undoubtedly increase as those sectors become fully digital. Of the various points which were raised in more detail, nothing was referred to more repeatedly than issues affecting education. Working together, the four UK education departments issued a consultation paper in May 1995. This sought the views of the education service, and industry, on networked communications for education. It challenged industry to pilot relevant technologies in schools and colleges. Taking account of the results, the education departments set out the priorities for the development of education superhighways in their paper The Way Forward. That was launched by the Deputy Prime Minister last November. He announced a programme of projects piloting superhighway technologies in education, which is being independently evaluated. With further funding from the DfEE, the programme now includes 25 projects, and a total of some 1,000 schools and 50 colleges of further education. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith and others raised the issue of teacher training in educational software. The DTI's schools on-line project also aims to link schools up to the Internet and to research whether that technology can be beneficial to teachers and pupils in delivering the national curriculum. Phase 1 of the project links some 60 schools to the Internet, focusing primarily on science and modern foreign languages. Phase 2 is currently being developed and aims to address issues which were identified in Phase I such as the development of teachers' Internet skills. We recognise also that IT teacher training is an area of priority and need. The IT area is currently among those identified as a priority by the Teacher Training Agency which has lead responsibility for improving teacher training across the board. The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, raised some interesting and important questions about the development of content regulation and the Internet. The Government have been working closely, both in G7 and in Europe to consider how effective regulation of content can be brought about. The consensus which we have been instrumental in achieving is that self-regulation is the best way in which to proceed at this stage. I am sure that noble Lords would also support the priority being given, for example, by Internet Watch to combat the spread of child pornography. The noble Lord, Lord Methuen, raised the problem of the century date change. As he spelt out, we recognise the seriousness of that issue. We have been taking what steps we can to ensure that businesses are well aware of the problem and are ready to take the necessary action. Although responsibility in this context must rest with individual businesses, we have been encouraging the CBI and CSSA to set up Task Force 2000 to raise awareness and co-ordinate action. Initial funding for that task force was provided by my department. We are calling for every business in the country to check its systems to see if there is a problem, and then to commit the necessary resources to fixing it. Since any solution will then need to be fully tested, I echo his words that there is not much time left before the year 2000 is upon us. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, asked a specific question about Crown copyright. I am pleased to confirm that on the day the Government published their response to this report, my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster announced in another place a wide-ranging review of the future management of Crown Copyright, with the intention of publishing a Green Paper on the subject next year. There are clearly cost implications in this, as the noble Lord, Lord Peston, seemed to acknowledge—although I think that he fell into the category of the nudge and wink of increased public expenditure on this issue—which my right honourable friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has recently been commenting on in public.
My Lords, I do not think the word "expenditure" passed my lips. If it did, it was to do with private expenditure and buying new computers; certainly no public expenditure. I would be fired immediately and the noble Lord knows that.
My Lords, that was a fine effort at retrieval. The noble Lord indicated that there were vast areas of information which are presently covered by Crown Copyright and so on for which proper charges are made. He indicated, certainly a personal view, that it should be provided free to one and all.I am conscious that this debate has gone on a long time. I am also conscious that there are a number of other matters that I have not commented on. I hope I have covered most of the issues that were raised. My noble friend Viscount Chelmsford mentioned the programme for business. This is a programme designed, as a partnership with business, to develop over its four years of operation in response to changing market conditions and business needs. It has a particular, but not exclusive, focus on the needs of smaller-use companies and works closely with a range of busy business intermediate organisations, particularly business links and trade associations. There are two other matters I should try to deal with. First, my noble friend Lord Selborne and others made some reference to the issue of the National Health Service. In the area of healthcare, the electronic network known as NHS Net is already operating and will continue to develop and expand as take-up increases. It will enable GPs to make hospital referrals on line, provide access to information, libraries and electronic books and facilitate the dissemination of new health warnings. We remain committed to introducing the changes necessary to allow GPs to keep records solely in electronic form. This is not an issue solely for Government, nor can we act unilaterally in all the areas where there are very real issues of security. From my time as a health Minister, I cannot think of any other area where that matter arises more acutely for individuals. Introducing this change requires detailed consultation with the BMA—a process which, perhaps not surprisingly, has taken longer than expected because of the wide agenda on primary care which has diverted the profession's attention away from some discrete action such as this. In a related way, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, identified the importance of public confidence in the security of confidential information passing over advanced communications networks. He made reference to an article in a paper fairly recently which indicated that the United States Government had relaxed their position. I can confirm that the United States Government have allowed some liberalisation of their export controls over encryption equipment. It has of necessity been something of a gallop through the many points that have been raised. If I have dispelled anything, I hope it is the notion that we are lukewarm to the report, to the contents of it and to the very valuable advice offered to the Government. Far from being indifferent to it, I hope that in the coming months a real, clear focus will be given to this area of activity. I conclude by again recording my thanks to all those who have not only participated in the debate hut also contributed to this most valuable of Select Committee reports.
My Lords, my first duty is to thank all those Members of the House who have made kind remarks about my role as chairman of this committee. I must say that the credit is entirely due to the members of the committee who made my task a pleasant one. It is one that I shall recall with great—and I hope it does not sound too conceited—satisfaction. I am also grateful to all Members of the House who contributed to this wide-ranging and interesting debate.I am particularly encouraged by the wide degree of agreement that has emerged on all sides of the House in discussing the various topics that have come out in the debate. Being an incorrigible optimist, I am even somewhat encouraged by the response of the Minister, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie. I look forward to the further development of what the noble Viscount, Lord Chelmsford, described as the "sea change" in the Government's attitude to this area. It is not improbable that this rapidly developing area may again attract the attention of the Select Committee at some time in the future. Finally, on a slightly different note, perhaps I may say that today is the anniversary of the birth of Andrew Carnegie, a person well known—at least in my early days—for his contribution to the development of the public library system in the United Kingdom. I hope that this report and this debate may in time be seen to have made contributions to the dissemination of information in the United Kingdom at least comparable to that made by Carnegie. With my thanks to all those who have taken part in the debate, I commend the report to the House.
On Question, Motion agreed to.