Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I start by thanking noble Lords for signing up to my debate. I must confess that, as I saw the list of names increase, I was slightly alarmed that perhaps people thought I was going to give some kind of technology master class in the Chamber. However, I think that noble Lords’ enthusiasm, and the breadth of experience that we will hear from this afternoon, is testament to the extraordinary impact this relatively new invention has already had on all our lives.
I first began grappling with the opportunity of the web in 1997 when Brent Hoberman and I co-founded lastminute.com. We were on an evangelical mission. We had to convince suppliers, customers and investors that the internet was here to stay, that the web was not going to blow up and that it was safe to buy things online. Imagine the landscape then: no Facebook, no Google, no Twitter, and certainly no smartphones. What a short time—and how much everything has changed.
The UK has a long history of technology breakthroughs. Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s invention follows on the footsteps of Ada Lovelace’s first computer program, which she wrote for Charles Babbage’s analytical engine in 1842. Obviously, the Bletchley codebreakers deserve a mention for their role in helping us win the Second World War.
I now find the web’s usage numbers not even surprisingly huge any longer: 2.4 billion people worldwide use the web; 1.2 billion are shoppers online. To put this in context, the rate of adoption is warp speed. It took 38 years for the radio to reach 50 million users, it took 13 years for television, it took four years for the web and it took 10 months for Facebook.
The fastest growing demographic using social media is the over-55s. Africa has the fastest growing number of web users, with Nigeria having the largest number; 47% of them are accessing the web via their smartphones. More than 55,000 projects have been started on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, most of which would never have got started without it. In the UK alone, £4.6 billion has been earned by people sharing their products and services using what is called the gift economy through sites such as Airbnb or Zopa.
The web has transformed the way we work, the way we interact and the way we play. Some of health’s greatest challenges are being rethought. Millions of so-called citizen scientists are plotting cancer gene patterns via online games. Early intervention in dementia is becoming more common after the success of an online test for patients. Education is being opened up on a global scale through the use of massive open online courses, from Khan Academy’s tutorials to Coursera’s degrees.
All industries are being disrupted. Farmers in Ghana are saving time and money by using their smartphones to trade their products before the long walk to market begins. Underprivileged women in South Africa are breaking out of the cycle of poverty after training that enables them to help US customers with their technology problems.
Even the animal videos posted online—much mocked by some—are now enabling scientists to gather meaningful data about animal relationships that would never have been accessible before. Noble Lords may have seen the BBC’s brilliant documentary “Animal Odd Couples” based on this.
Beyond the hyperbole, this 25th birthday—and as part of that, I hope, this debate—is a good moment to reflect on all these different aspects to the web. The UK’s relative position on the technology stage is a complex one. There are many areas where we lead the world. Products and services delivered online now account for at least 10% of UK GDP. We have the highest proportion in G20 countries. The British are the most advanced online shoppers on the planet. Estimates are that in 2014 e-commerce will be 20% of total UK retail. The UK internet sector is bigger than the health, education or construction sectors. Britain has created some world-leading businesses—Asos, Moshi Monsters and, dare I say it, lastminute.com.
London is becoming a significant tech hub, but it is not alone. Edinburgh, Bristol and Brighton are all seeing record numbers of digital start-ups. Our location and our language mean that we are a vital part of every dominant global web business. London is the only English-speaking city in Facebook’s top 10 and we have the highest number of Twitter users on the planet.
The Government are also making some big strides in how they embrace the web. Through the Government Digital Service, which I am proud to have played a small part in creating, the Government are leading the way for open data, open standards and digital government. The government digital platform, gov.uk, even won a design of the year award from the Design Museum—surely a world first.
This year, coding will be part of the school curriculum and all children aged five and above will be taught computer science. The UK now has the most visionary policy in the G8 for educating children. Yet we face some big challenges. There are 11 million adults who lack the ability to do four basic things online—communicate, transact, search and share information—and to do these things safely. Of these, 50% are over 65 but 50% are of working age in a country where 90% of new jobs require basic online skills and many vacancies are advertised only online. In addition, only 30% of small businesses are able to transact online, meaning that they miss out on both huge sales and savings. Go On UK, the cross-sector charity I chair, estimates that there is £68 billion of value to the economy if we address these adult skills.
We will need to fill 1 million technology sector jobs by 2020, which is looking nearly impossible from our current workforce. More depressingly, the number of women in the UK tech sector is actually falling as an overall percentage. If current trends are not reversed, only 1% of the sector will be female by 2040. Looking around the Chamber today, I am sad to see that this does not seem an alarmist statistic.
Despite the Government’s ambition to improve our infrastructure—I welcome Maria Miller’s announcement this morning about a rural broadband fund—we lag far behind Taiwan, Korea and Japan for universal coverage and a long way behind Singapore or Korea for available average speeds.
I am constantly surprised and frustrated that the only local website in the top 10 most visited websites in this country is the BBC. So although we start as many digital businesses as anywhere in the world, we do not scale them and we do not compete with the global web businesses in the world.
Finally, and perhaps most seriously, we do not have the skills and understanding of the digital world at the top of our corporate, public and political life. This leads to a lack of high-quality decisions about our future—a future where so much will inevitably revolve around technology. Only four FTSE 100 businesses have a CTO or digital executive on their plc board and yet all these businesses face huge upheavals.
Turning to Whitehall, the picture changes again. Just think of the UK Government’s reaction to the Snowden allegations. The political discourse lags far behind that of the US, where an expert panel has looked into the NSA’s claims about the necessity of data gathering and found that only one case was solved by the bulk collection of data—just one, and that was a small incident of money-laundering. We are woefully quiet on the subject of liberty versus security. Allegations that GCHQ and the NSA worked to undermine encryption should caution anyone who trusts the web with their medical, financial or personal records. To add to the complexity, the technology landscape is not remotely stable but is changing at mind-boggling speed.
We face hard questions as we grapple with the technology we already know about, let alone that coming up in the future. What should be the regulation of personal drones? How do we regulate driverless cars? How do we protect against increasing cybercrime? What are the privacy implications of wearable technology? What is the IP of a 3D-printed object in your home? How do we teach children about online identity and anonymity? How do we protect the free flow of information around the world and avoid a balkanised web? How do we make sure that we have the understanding and experience to debate these areas effectively?
To celebrate this anniversary year, Sir Tim Berners-Lee wants to kick off as many open source-style, local discussions as possible to try to answer the question, “What kind of web do we want?”. I would construct my answer by going back to what I imagine were some of his guiding principles in 1989: inclusion, by making sure no one is left behind demographically or geographically; freedom and transparency, by making sure that consumers understand the quid pro quo with the handful of big companies whose services they mainly use without obvious charge; and openness, by making sure no Government can control access and content. This is tested every day. Just this weekend, the Turkish authorities announced a clampdown on websites and a new wave of censorship.
The web has immense power. I find something magical and remarkable on it every single day, but I agree with Sir Tim. We need to talk about the web we want. We need to pause for breath and perhaps be more conscious of the next 25 years of development. At the moment, we are sleepwalking into assuming that the platform underpinning so much of our daily life is not changing.
I should like to ask the Government two questions. First, what plans do they have to mark this extraordinary global invention that should be a brilliant inspiration for the next wave of British inventors? Secondly, do the Government agree that a fitting tribute to Tim’s vision that this is for everyone would be to review the billions government invests annually in adult skills and employment training to ensure that digital skills are embedded throughout the whole of our society?
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness for initiating this debate. As a distinguished entrepreneur who quickly saw the commercial opportunities that the internet provided, she has gained an iconic reputation for understanding its potential role in every aspect of modern life. Her words today confirm how privileged we are to have her leading this debate.
My contribution is inspired by my first-hand experience of a 94 year-old friend who is determined not to be excluded. He has combated bereavement and loneliness, kept mentally active and even, perhaps, deferred or diminished the onset of mental illness by becoming internet-proficient. In the UK today, there are 10 million people over 65, and by 2050 there will be more than 20 million. Some 11% of one-person households over state pensionable age had internet access in 2000; today it is more than 40%. However, as the noble Baroness pointed out, there are still around 6 million pensioners who have never used the internet. Seventy-five per cent of people in the UK who are over 75 consider themselves lonely. My 94 year-old friend would never consider himself lonely. For him, the internet is infinitely flexible. Online book groups, staying in touch with friends via e-mail and texts, Skype calls and downloading music and videos keep him alert and interested in the world outside. A Dutch survey confirms that people who feel lonely are significantly more likely to develop clinical dementia than those who have no such feelings.
For many older people, the internet empowers them. They are starting small businesses, going on virtual world tours, learning how to stay healthy and even learning to play a musical instrument. Recent research suggests that video games help keep brains alert and improve cognitive function and hand-eye co-ordination. The gaming industry is now looking to develop more video games specifically tailored for older people. Dr Gary Small, a professor specialising in ageing at the University of California, points out that internet surfing uses more brain activity than reading. “It seems”, says Dr Small,
“that people who are more adept with internet technology are likely to remain mentally agile”.
The internet is a global boon to those who are retired, alone, ageing, no longer as active as they were and facing the potential slowing of their mental faculties. Their ability to access the internet, particularly via their TV, a friend they really understand and love, rather than via unfamiliar tablets and phones, will encourage even more of them to use it to the full. This morning, my 94 year-old friend had the last word. He sent me a message inviting me to join him on LinkedIn. I have no doubt that, although physically frail, his astute, inquiring and agile mind is due to his genes but also in no small part due to the invention 25 years ago of the world wide web.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, on inspiring this debate. My decision to contribute was a bit belated—a bit lastminute.com, if she will pardon the allusion—and given three minutes my speech will need compression techniques.
The cybergenie is well and truly out of the bottle. After a very panoramic view of the range and speed of development, there is not much I can add. No doubt 25 years after Gutenberg and Caxton revolutionised communications in the 14th century, there was a similar debate. I look at the right reverend Prelates, and I am almost certain that there was, given the way that quite contentious pieces of text were circulating.
What we know is that the world wide web—the internet—presents an enormous range of benefits and challenges. It is all pervasive, as the noble Baroness told us, in every sphere of our society, whether health, education, banking, retail, science or defence. The ability for the world to be a truly global place and for people to communicate quite cheaply using Skype is another profound change in the way people communicate.
There are lots of positive benefits but perhaps some of the biggest challenges that the Government face are things such as cybersecurity. Everything now rests on the web or the internet in one way or the other. Keeping that information safe is a big challenge. Only yesterday, we saw a horrifying use of the internet in child abuse and paedophilia. Young children in the Philippines were being used to gratify the obscene needs of some people scattered around the world. We have to look at all aspects of that. There is the question of taxing the companies which make enormous profits on the internet and the world wide web in a way that does not hamper growth but makes sure that they make a real contribution to the economies that they benefit from. Equality of access is another point to which the noble Baroness drew our attention. There is still a digital divide when it comes to speed of access and, for some, a generational divide. We need to do more to encourage the older generation to participate, as the noble Lord, Lord Chadlington, said in his contribution, although I think that as each successive generation comes along, they will be more able to do that, and the younger generation to be internet savvy. I agree with the noble Baroness that the essential skills that employers need are not just literacy and numeracy but computer skills as well.
We need to remind ourselves that 50 years ago Gordon Moore came up with Moore’s law. For those who are not aware of it, it says that every two years the number of transistors on a chip will double. Without that vision and the determination of industry to provide it, the internet would probably be a lot slower. We need to remind ourselves that we have more power in our mobile phones than they had when they landed the first man on the moon.
What do we want the Government to do? The Government should encourage the older generation to participate and perhaps have an overall digital strategy to ensure that society as a whole benefits from the world wide web and the internet. I am an incurable optimist so I believe that the internet glass is half full.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, not only on opening this debate in such an inspiring way but on so successfully carrying out her role as the Government’s UK digital champion.
The use of the internet in the UK climbs inexorably. We celebrated the universality of the web at the Olympic opening ceremony with Sir Tim Berners-Lee tweeting, “This is for everyone”—a phrase mentioned by the noble Baroness—which was instantly spelled out in lights attached to the tablets on the seats of the 80,000 people in the audience. I absolutely share the noble Baroness’s concern to ensure that no one is excluded.
Having come to the web myself some 20 years ago, and now standing here with my iPad with all its apps, I still find the speed of developments since I first used the Netscape browser quite extraordinary. Sir Tim and the early pioneers of the web deserve huge recognition for setting the open and neutral standards that ensured the growth of the world wide web. However, the development of ethical safeguards and standards now needs to evolve at the same pace as the range of applications. The web is not some kind of foreign country where ordinary rules of conduct do not apply. We need an alignment of online and offline rights and protections. Freedom of expression is a vital principle that needs to be upheld both online and offline but it needs to be balanced with rights of privacy.
One commentator has said that Silicon Valley appears to regard privacy as a “marketable commodity”. The Government, through what we now know about their access to the Prism programme, appear to have a similar view. It is vital that we have maximum control over our own metadata. The UK’s ranking in the World Wide Web Foundation’s Web Index is reduced by concerns over the UK Government’s attitude to privacy rights. I hope that Communications Data Bill will not resurface in its previous form. Therefore, I welcome the campaign, the Web We Want, and the statement of 19 December co-ordinated by the foundation.
I also welcome the recognition by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport of the need for adequate filtering to protect young people from online abuse. However, as was discussed in this House only recently with the Online Safety Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, should we not be making filtering compulsory? Is it enough simply to leave it up to parents to make the choice about appropriate safety features?
There is concern about the content of online music videos, highlighted among others by Reg Bailey in his review into the commercialisation and sexualisation of children. The proposed amendment to the Video Recordings Act is designed to ensure that content presently exempt from classification but unsuitable and potentially harmful for younger children will in future require BBFC classification. However, it covers only hard copy video works. Should not online music videos containing sexual or explicit content be subject to the same age ratings and regulations? As my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister has advocated, we also need better guidance for young people about the dangers of online pornography.
I also ask my perennial question to my noble friend the Minister. When can we expect full implementation of the Digital Economy Act 2010 or at least an alternative effective remedy to combat online copyright piracy? I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend on securing this debate and on setting the scene so brilliantly. In my three minutes I will speak only of health, where the world wide web already contributes enormously but where there is much more to come.
The web enables clinicians to access information where and when they need it, which is ever more important in a world where, for example, there are now more than 6,000 different disease entities. It also enables them to consult colleagues. Organisations such as the Swinfen Charitable Trust, run by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, and his wife, allow clinicians in even the most remote and isolated locations in the world to consult a network of clinicians in every discipline. The web also helps meet patients’ demand for information and empowerment. For example, there are 27 million views of NHS Choices a month and 1 million patient reviews of services on the site. It also allows for the remote monitoring of patients where, with the whole system demonstrator, the NHS leads the world in terms of evidence-based use of this technology at significant scale. There is even patient self-treatment. There is an excellent programme called “Beating the Blues”, which is designed to do exactly what its name implies, and I wonder whether this is the first internet-delivered treatment available on NHS prescription. If so, I am sure there will be many more.
A very important point has been made about inclusion, where again there is much to do. The sickest are probably the least able to access help electronically, but conversely the web offers much greater reach to people than otherwise. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, as the nation’s digital inclusion champion.
However, progress in health has not, perhaps, been as a fast as one might have expected because behaviour change is slow in health and redesign involves many other aspects of health systems. This is problematic but not necessarily always a bad thing. It is important that, in a subject as crucial as people’s health, evidence of impact and effectiveness is properly weighed and we should not rush in just because something seems attractive.
I conclude on a point where we need national and international co-ordination. I am privileged to be one of the Global eHealth ambassadors, in a programme chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It exists to promote telemedicine and e-health globally. It sees e-health as a means of transforming healthcare delivery to make it economically and socially much more sustainable. It campaigns for some standardisation of systems and methodologies in e-health to ensure that data can be properly shared and that every clinician can judge the reliability and effectiveness of the electronic tools they are offered. We need a global framework for this. This is very ambitious but much of the infrastructure to sustain that transformation already exists. The programme gives an example of one of those wonderful internet facts. It asserts that there are now more cell phones in Africa than toothbrushes. I am not sure that we can verify this assertion but we have known for years that toothbrushes are essential for health and we now know that cell phones and the world wide web are even more essential.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, on introducing a party into this Chamber. Perhaps the screens should have moving images and the lights should move much more quickly.
The world wide web is a wonderful development but it is full of challenges. It is a mixed bag, as we have heard from a number of noble Lords. Regarding health, I was part of the IF campaign for enough food for everybody, and the web enabled that campaign to involve all kinds of people. It was inclusive, flexible, transparent, participative and enormously successful. The web is the new political tool.
On the other hand, I have been involved in debates in the past couple of months in this Chamber—as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, hinted—about online pornography, the objectification of women and the bullying of young people. There is a dark side to the internet and we should not be surprised at that, given that this is human nature engaging with a wonderful invention with all kinds of dark possibilities.
I am reminded from my experience of being a university teacher that when students writing an essay searched the web to fill up a couple of pages, you could always tell—the information just did not fit with the main argument because they did not understand the angle it came from. The information that the web is so wonderful at making available needs interpretation. Wisdom is interpretation on a very wide scale—a big picture—and the bigger the picture, the more you can see, appreciate and interpret.
The marvel of this world wide web is that you can now hold it in the palm of your hand, and, with one finger—or two thumbs, if you are more dextrous than me—control the web and have the information come to you. That raises huge questions about how we help people interpret all the information, temptation and possibilities. My simple question is: what is the role of a Government concerned about human rights and human welfare in trying to give people a hinterland and some tools, with allies—which allies the Government would recognise is another question—so that there is a big picture to help people interpret? People talk about giving parental control. That is a technical solution, but parents and others need a kind of hinterland; a wider vision with which all this information can be processed, evaluated and deployed creatively.
My Lords, www.chrisholmes.co.uk—if I am not in the Chamber, that is where you can find me. That is the point; we all need an online presence, or at least an online connection. If we want the best shopping deals, the cheapest flights, the best hotels, or if we want to interact with local or national government, we do so online. When I was a schoolboy, 25 years ago, I had no idea about the world wide web or its potential; I was still playing on my ZX Spectrum.
Latterly, at the Olympic and Paralympic Games, when we were making the Games’ website, we were profoundly aware of the impact that it could have. It was the most visited website of the year, reaching billions around the world to become the first truly new-media Olympic and Paralympic Games. That is the point; we need to be online, and yet millions suffer on the wrong side of the digital divide, for reasons of age and geography, for social and economic reasons, or because of disability-related factors. Disabled people who are currently offline number 3.8 million. This has to change. We need to look across the piece at the skills, kit and technology—and, crucially, at ensuring that the best broadband is rolled out right across Britain. I ask my noble friend the Minister to comment specifically on all the points around broadband.
The coming decade will be fascinating, not least in the relationship between our on and offline environments, such as the connection between bricks and clicks in retail. Click and collect was excellently delivered this Christmas by our retailers, not least John Lewis. In a wider context, to see how the internet has impacted politics, we should look to Libya and Egypt. There is all this to come, and the time moves so quickly in this internet age.
Similarly, considering where the next steps will come from, we have already heard about issues of online security. As Eric Schmidt of Google said, “Mea culpa, we didn’t think criminals would show up”. It is crucial that we make this environment safe and secure. A lot of that will tie in with the quality and credibility of the content that is online: how it is ranked, how we access it, whether we can rely on what we are reading online and how we can make sure that we are secure while we are there.
In short, we have to consider accessibility in its widest possible sense. We have to consider usability in its widest possible sense. As has already been mentioned by noble Lords, we need inclusion and inclusivity in their widest possible senses. We need to ensure that we do not construct in the internet world artificial, exclusionary barriers and steps in cyberspace.
I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Lane-Fox for bringing a party to the House and apologise for raining a little on the parade. I declare an interest as having recently made a documentary film about teenagers and the net. I am specifically raising the issue of how data relate to young people today.
Unlike the early cry of “free, open and democratic”, we are all aware that the web has become monetised with a value that is entirely dependent on harvesting data—data created by our interacting as much as humanly possible with the commercial platforms on the web. The millions spent on the vast and incremental experimentation of combining neuroscience and technology to keep us attached to our devices is not disputed by those who do it, but it fuels a culture of compulsion, disclosure and distraction that has a particular implication for young people who are not yet fully formed.
Our young people are growing up with devices that act as their telephone, post box, camera, scrapbook, family album, newspaper and school pigeonhole. In using those devices they routinely relinquish ownership of every interaction, private and public. It is worth reminding ourselves that, in this context, the data we are talking about are actually the intimate details of young people in their period of greatest personal developmental and social change. It is as if we are taking their bedrooms and putting them up for sale on eBay. We have allowed a situation to develop in which it is legal for a multibillion dollar industry to own, wholly and in perpetuity, the intimate and personal details of children. We all know that this space is moving so fast that we do not really know what might happen to it in the future.
In every other part of life, children are children, and we take a view on their level of maturity and accompanying levels of responsibility. We protect them from every other addictive substance. On the net, it seems, we are asking that they take responsibility on their own, even as we denude them of power over, and ownership of, their own histories.
I did want to come to the party. I was an early adopter and I love the internet. It has delivered previously unimaginable opportunities that hold within them the full gamut of human creativity, but it is not without cost. We have a responsibility in this House to ensure that it is not the next generation who pay the price. In July last year, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, said that,
“when it comes to the internet in the balance between freedom and responsibility we’ve neglected our responsibility to children … So we’ve got to be more active, more aware, more responsible about what happens online. And when I say we I mean we collectively: governments, parents, internet providers and platforms, educators and charities”.
I could not agree more.
At 25, the world wide web, unlike many of its young users, has reached the age of maturity. What better celebration could we have than designing and putting in place a regulatory framework that protects young people from the routine collection of their data, to be stored and sold in perpetuity without any recourse or protection?
My Lords, I join the queue in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, on having initiated this debate, and say what a great addition she is to your Lordships’ House. That is my three minutes more or less gone.
I will be more extravagant than most other speakers so far and say that the internet has been the greatest transformative force in history bar none, because of the speed of its transformation; as has already been mentioned: it took 20 years. The invention of writing is perhaps the only parallel, but that took 5,000 years and was the prerogative only of elites. It is the greatest transformative force because of its scope, because it is the instrument of globalisation on a level never seen before; and because of its intensity—it enters all our lives. We see people going along the streets who cannot let go of their mobile phone. It has become an intrinsic part of who they are. There has never been anything like this before in history, so it is not surprising that it is rather difficult to come to terms with its longer-term impact.
I will make some brief comments on higher education and the advent of MOOCs. MOOCs are not a kind of medieval curse; the acronym stands for massive open online courses, which promise to be deeply transformative of universities. When I was running the LSE about 15 years ago, we all thought that the future of universities would be online. We had consortia with other universities in the United States, but that did not really work. The only experiment that worked a bit was with the University of Phoenix, which was more or less an online university.
MOOCs are transforming that situation. Now these courses are being adopted by the elite American universities: Harvard, MIT and Stanford. They promise to be both deeply shocking to traditional universities and also to add to their armoury. In this country we lag behind. The Open University is in the forefront, but the Americans—as before, perhaps—are well in the lead.
The advent of massive online courses will not see the end of the campus-based university, because such universities have other things to offer. We are not having this debate online, but in your Lordships’ Chamber. There is what sociologists call the “compulsion of proximity”—the need to be with other people—and the added value of having been to a campus-based university. However, massive online courses will probably transform universities as fundamentally as Amazon has transformed the book trade; that is the future they offer.
They also offer the opposite—the digital divide, which has been referred to by many people. Billions of people will be able to follow these courses online and interact with other people in real time, in seminar groups across the world. That will be possible for billions of people in Africa, for example. It will be like mobile phones; Africa will be able to jump a stage in the evolution of education.
I conclude by saying, “Don’t go all high-tech”, because back to the future will often be one of our political remedies. We used to think that the car was the instrument of the future, but now we are going back to bicycling and walking. That will be true of all areas. I wave my piece of paper, but that is not because I think I am just a remnant of a previous age; there will be many areas where simple, back to the future solutions will be just as important as technologically developed ones.
My Lords, the great thing about anniversaries is that they happen every year. I suggest to the noble Baroness that she puts in her diary now the date 16 January 2015 and that we do this all again. I am making a sensible point there: we should be having annual debates about the effect of the digital revolution we face. I absolutely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, as the internet is certainly the most transformative thing that has happened in my lifetime and is something that we cannot ignore.
As chairman of the Information Committee in your Lordships’ House I was absolutely delighted—that is the only word I can use—when I heard that the noble Baroness was joining us, because I was sure that she would have an effect on the way we work. We have been engaged in parliamentary business for 700 years. We are now facing a change in circumstances that will require revolutionary methods of responding if we are not to fall far behind. The process of legislation that is the important duty of this House will become more difficult to deliver if we do not respond to the degree of challenge we now face.
I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness about the three or four values she set out as absolute necessities for the future: inclusion, transparency and openness, in that order. As somebody who is involved and interested in social security, inclusion for me is first: the last thing we need in this country is a digital divide that is exacerbated by leaving a huge proportion of our population behind. That is something to which we must attend.
In the next two minutes, I want to persuade your Lordships that we have a serious problem in the way we do business here if we are to keep up with the change that is coming. The nexus of mobile working together with cloud computing, social media and big data information that is about to happen to us, if it is not happening already, is extraordinary. If we continue to ignore it, we will be leaving the process of engagement and disengagement with Parliament in a much more difficult position over the next few years. Somebody said to me the other day that, by 2017, 75% of all government data will be in the public domain, so we cannot continue to go on the way we are going.
There is good news. Now that we have a completely wi-fied parliamentary precinct, which was a welcome decision by the administration, we will—although this will be troublesome for some Members, and I am sorry we cannot avoid that—be rolling out Windows 365 during the rest of this year. It is hoped that by the summer we will all be capable of moving and working at the same time. I exhort Members to take advantage of the possibilities now being offered.
However, in the future we need to get a plan for a digital political system of operating in Parliament. Otherwise, the public will leave us behind completely, which will not be good for Parliament or for the rest of the country.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Lane-Fox for bringing to bear her expertise, which I hope to test further towards the end of my three minutes.
Education is at the root of so much with which we concern ourselves in this House. What is the greatest prerequisite of education? I say that it is curiosity. When we think that, thanks to the web and the internet, I can in a second summon up a page of an original Bach manuscript, look at a detail of a Leonardo da Vinci sketch or put in a line of Shakespeare and have the context quoted back to me almost immediately, it is little wonder that students and children, young and old alike, find tuition and research on the web. We owe much to it for that.
Even your Lordships, when they cannot be here for a whole day, can keep au fait with what is going on in this House and, perhaps more fundamentally, taxpayers can see what we are up to and what Members are up to in the other place. I often wonder what Moses might have thought, had he had access to the web, and how much trouble it would have saved him, but then he probably would have been rather horrified at the way the commandments are being broken on the web as well as acceded to. Certainly, to pick up on an earlier remark, this morning’s news item from the Philippines is a good example of things that we have to be careful about and legislate against, for the web is a double-edged sword.
If I might speak now as a composer, there are problems. Frankly, I am hugely flattered when I find that people have accessed my music, legally or illegally, on the web. My publishers, record companies and instrumental players and singers are slightly less happy, because they do not get the rewards due to them. Here comes my challenge to my noble friend and to the Minister: really, there is a problem here. I love it that so many people come into my shop, if you like, but it is a worry that they can take things off the shelves without paying for them—a worry not only for the people I mentioned but for the bills that other composer colleagues have to pay. As the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said, we have not managed to deal with copyright exception measures, especially the copyright infringement provisions, which have not yet been implemented.
I know that this is a very difficult area to police, but if the noble Baroness and, in particular, the Minister, would look at this area, they would be doing good to a section of the creative industry that brings a huge amount into the economy, whether it be the Beatles, Radiohead, Coldplay, Peter Maxwell Davies or Harrison Birtwistle. You need to protect that which we are bringing into your economy.
My Lords, in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, for her magnificent speech, I must say that she and I belong to a very exclusive club in your Lordships’ House: we are both IT entrepreneurs, although there are a few others. I pay every tribute to all she has done. For the help she has given in the skills sector through Go ON and for the help she has given me in my role in Labour Digital, I thank her again.
In 1967 at the age of 24, I joined what was then called the data processing industry. I was a systems engineer, and the first central processor I ever worked on was an IBM 360/30. It had 64,000 bits of memory and it cost £65,000 to buy. The CPU was a huge box with dials and lights on it. It was kept in a dedicated air-conditioned environment and it must have weighed a ton. Input was via punched cards. Today, I have an iPhone 5 in my pocket, which has a million times more memory and costs one-thousandth of the price. It has no air conditioning, no punched cards and input is via touch or voice. This is Moore’s law in action, with processing speeds doubling every 18 months.
The world wide web needed not only massive leaps in computing speed but also massive leaps in communication ability. We all remember fax machines that connected at 9,600 bits per second—how fast they seemed then. My network at home has a speed of 100 megabytes per second—10,000 times as fast. We are witnesses to a revolution in digital that is every bit as dramatic as the Industrial Revolution was 200 years ago. Just as James Watt showed that steam could drive a machine and replace muscle, so Tim Berners-Lee’s invention of the world wide web has replaced the way we access data, communicate and organise our lives. As coal, oil, petrol and electricity give us energy to power our lives, so digital is now giving us mass access to swathes of information.
I would like to take a look at retail. In the UK, more than 3 million people work in this sector. If you compare the number of employees required for each £1,000 sold online against the numbers required for traditional retailing, the ratio is 1:3, so any move to online retailing is bound to cause significant reductions in employment. Last year, Jessops, HMV and Blockbuster all went bust due to their own technology myopia. There are many more to come. In the past week we have seen that, over the holidays, the quantity of retail sales completed online reached 20%—a massive increase. The retailers who are succeeding are those who embraced online many years ago. However, Morrisons was never interested in online retailing, and we have seen what is happening to that company.
I have cited retail, but I could have mentioned schools, universities, medicine or even government itself. All these sectors are changing at a very rapid pace. As other noble Lords have mentioned, the next big thing will be wearable technology. What we see before us is Joseph Schumpeter’s concept of “creative destruction” on steroids. The digital revolution is sweeping all before it. Those who embrace it will prosper, and I suspect that those who do not will mostly perish.
My Lords, I, too, would like to add my congratulations to my noble friend Lady Lane-Fox on such an inspiring introductory speech to the debate.
As some noble Lords have said, the internet, which Sir Tim Berners-Lee opened up in 1988, has become the greatest source of information and freely exchanged ideas in history. However, these early ideals are under threat as Governments struggle to try to control this source of free speech. It is not just in undemocratic countries that citizens face being cut off from free access to the world wide web; the threat to the freedom and openness of the internet extends into western democracies as well and concerns all of us in the United Kingdom.
I fear that the independence of the international organisations that run the internet is in danger. I would like to draw your Lordships’ attention to what is happening to two of these bodies. At the moment, an independent body, the Internet Engineering Task Force, decides on the protocols for the internet—that is, the nuts and bolts of how it is run. Its role is vital as it selects the technology to ensure easy and unimpeded movement of information, safeguarding security for people who bank, trade and move sensitive information across the net. Likewise, ICANN, the phonebook of the internet, is an independent, not-for-profit organisation. At the moment, its ownership and control are evolving.
However, there are determined attempts, led by Russia and some Middle East Governments, to subvert the independent control of these and other organisations which run the internet. These Governments want them to become part of the United Nations International Telecommunication Union. If they succeed, national Governments will have the final say on how to innovate technology and control access to websites on the internet. They will have the power to negotiate and prohibit the technology as it is rolled out on the internet and even to veto it. The ITU meetings are often held behind closed doors, with civic and user organisations excluded.
These Governments also want ICANN to come into the ITU, opening the possibility that Governments who do not like whole categories of websites could try to cut them off from the internet by banning them from the directory. I, for one, do not think that this offers a guarantee of free speech. Sir Tim Berners-Lee said that the running of the internet should be left to its users rather than to a UN agency representing the world’s Governments, which would only interfere further with its openness.
For some years now there have been attempts to set up independent multi-stakeholder control of these crucial internet bodies. That approach would allow internet companies and citizens to be equal partners with national Governments, so that one group does not abuse another. It would enshrine transparency and open up discussion to ensure that national Governments do not dominate the running of the internet. That issue will be central to the agenda of the internet governance conference to be held in April in Brazil, to which the UK will be sending a sizeable delegation.
I ask the Minister to require that our Government do everything possible to ensure that the bodies which run the internet are not subverted by national Governments opposed to freedom and openness.
My Lords, I confess an interest in that I earn most of my income from the web and that the social enterprise I am promoting at the moment, which is called The Good Careers Guide, depends for its potential success entirely on web technologies, so I am perforce an optimist for the web but, I hope, a rational one.
As the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, said, we are in the middle of an unprecedented upheaval, but we probably do not yet realise the size of its consequences. I am optimistic that this will lead to a far better world than we have at the moment, but we will have to work hard to make sure that it does. We in Parliament have a very important role to play in that, acting in the interests of citizens and the country to tame the forces which might otherwise overwhelm us.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, talked about the importance of education and of including all our citizens in the benefits of the internet. Doubtless, the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, will also speak about that. I entirely agree with that.
I hope, too, that we will take a stand against those parts of the internet which have become, or seem to be becoming, more powerful than states. We should stand beside Sherlock Holmes in confronting our digital Charles Augustus Magnussens and the amoral, all-knowing Amazon, Google, Facebook and others. I think we should stop short of Sherlock Holmes’s solution of actually shooting them, but we should stand up to them. We should not allow them to use legal tax avoidance to destroy our own domestic companies which cannot take advantage of the routes that the international companies do.
We also have to take a strong look at ownership. I own my library, which was my parents’ library and my grandparents’ library and beyond that, but my children will have no library. All they are being offered at the moment is the opportunity to rent, and they will have nothing to give to their children. That is the other side of the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. Why I do not approve of piracy is because the owners of copyright are trying to deprive us of the right of ownership once we have paid for it. We need something along the lines of an information right—something to give us as citizens the right over our own information against the all-powerful organisations which have made themselves a necessary part of life and demand all our information and all power over it if we are to use their services.
Politics and politicians have a very important part to play in the future of the internet. I very much hope that the Government will face up to that.
My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Baroness for the opportunity to discuss and debate this subject. I declare an interest as I am a very pale imitation of the noble Baroness and I struggle to match her achievements: I am the national digital champion of the Republic of Ireland. Through the Open University, Promethean and the Times Educational Supplement, I have been able to engage with education transformation right across the piece.
I start with some amazingly good news. Ten days ago, on 6 January, 1 million teachers shared lesson plans and ideas with each other across the web on this one day at the beginning of term. Not only did that possibility not exist at all in 2008, but that degree of co-operation would have been unimaginable during the six years that I worked with the Department of Education not that long ago. Quite extraordinary things are taking place but, as has been said, the digital world is both a creator and, potentially, a destroyer of jobs, even of lives. I do not believe that that is fully understood by government or business. In their own ways, both the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, and the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, are right: there are extraordinary opportunities and great dangers. Jaron Lanier’s book, Who Owns the Future?, unblinkingly sets out these challenges. He, like Sir Tim Berners-Lee, seeks what he describes as a very humanistic economy enabled by the world wide web. The noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, suggested that we should seek the web that we want and I agree with her.
In the couple of moments left to me, I want to make a suggestion, which I hope does not sound too Utopian because it is not intended to be so. Governments always tend to be behind the curve on this type of thing but here is a suggestion that I suspect the noble Lord, Lord Bates, in responding, will like very much indeed. Almost 20 years ago, I had the pleasure of serving under the noble Lord, Lord Chadlington, in the early days of the National Lottery, looking at ways in which that extraordinary creation of Sir John Major was able genuinely to transform opportunities for arts and other organisations in the UK. Similarly, an amazing statistic—I rely here entirely on the Email Statistics Report published in Palo Alto last year—is that 183 billion e-mails are sent every day. At the outset, had we had the wit to place a 1p levy on each e-mail—these are unaudited figures—that would generate today £730 billion worldwide. That figure is 29 times the total amount spent by the United Nations and all its agencies each year. It is more than the global aspiration for development and climate change mitigation recommended by the UN. Last year, the need of UNICEF, of which I was UK president, was £1.7 billion, of which only 46% is currently funded. This tiny 1p levy could totally change the landscape of aid and the opportunities for multinational support worldwide.
I realise that it is rather late in the day to suggest this, but there is another advantage. If there were such a levy, it might allow people to pause momentarily before hitting that quite dreadful “Reply to All” button.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a director of three companies listed in the register which conduct their business on the internet. The world wide web is a veritable miracle of science and technology, captured brilliantly by the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, in her opening remarks. Information can be uncovered in seconds which once would have taken days; pictures and news can be shared instantly with friends and family; grandparents can Skype their loved ones in Australia; anyone can set up shop, or start a business, for next to nothing; and individuals are free to express their political and other passions, convictions and beliefs, as never before, unmediated. Events can be broadcast that repressive states once covered up with ease. The internet has enabled, empowered and enriched us. But it also brings worries as well as wonders, and neither nationally nor internationally have we developed an appropriate policy or institutional framework to address them.
In the UK, we have a lively start-up sector, yet we have to look abroad for many of our skills. There is a huge shortage of programmers in some web languages, especially those needed for developing mobile applications, and the UK’s educational bodies are not fleet-footed enough to meet that shortfall. We are tolerating behaviour and actions on the internet that would never be allowed in the physical domain. For a while, Facebook, with spurious justification, believed that videos of beheadings should be allowed on its service. If our banks exploited information about our private transactions in the manner of Google, there would be uproar. If the ugly, threatening, sexist abuse that is harboured routinely on Twitter took place in a pub, it would more often be prosecuted. When Lily Allen criticised online copyright theft, her website was the target of a DDoS—a distributed denial of service—attack by online anarchist warriors, no doubt using malware placed on millions of computers known to the ISPs, but not to their innocent owners, all mounted with impunity.
Online fraud takes place on a gigantic and global scale. In the UK, we neither measure its impact on our citizens, nor do we do anything material to counter it. Without threatening in any way the precious, priceless benefits that the world wide web has brought us, the task over the next 25 years is to extend to it civilised standards and the rule of law.
My Lords, last night, looking at the time limit for today, I tweeted in despair:
“Tomorrow I speak in @Marthalanefox’s Lords debate in 25th birthday of World Wide Web. Time limit of 3 minutes! What’s most important to say?”.
Adam replied from New York:
“That you can simply ask the ‘common folk’ what to spend your 3 minutes saying, just by tweeting the question!”.
So that was that. I will use my time to tell you what my social media followers on the world wide web wanted me to say. I must first refer the House to my entry in the register, in particular as chair of the Tinder Foundation. Thanks to successive government funding, we have helped 1.2 million people to get online since 2010 through UK online centres.
I turn back to Twitter and Facebook, starting with Tom Watson MP:
“Just say: Thanks Tim!”.
Ed Balls just said:
Then Councillor Warren Morgan said:
“The web has connected and empowered, informed and democratised, tackled isolation, built new generations of businesses, spread ideas”.
Susan had the freedom of Facebook to say more:
“Connections through the internet enable ordinary people in different countries to communicate directly with each other, to understand each other better ... It also means lots of people who would otherwise be isolated—whether geographically or because of disability or because they are carers—are able to keep their minds and spirits alive. Politically, it's wonderful. More people can be engaged in trying to influence the decisions a country makes”.
Louise and Peter had a more nuanced view:
“The web is a powerful tool that's used for good and ill. With the freedom the WWW gives comes greater personal responsibility resting on the shoulders of those in power”.
Stephen Heppell asked:
“Why isn’t Tim on a banknote yet?”.
He also wants kids to own their learning data and to have education discounts on connectivity for learners. Ruth agreed and added:
“Plus maybe something about digital exclusion—geographically (it’s still APPALLING in some parts of the country) and demographically (viz poverty). And you ought to celebrate the richness of life brought through cat videos. Probably”.
Helen agreed with Ruth and said:
“Make sure you mention how handy it is for sharing cat videos”.
Emma Mulqueeny just posted another video of her kitten, Grape.
There were also several who celebrated the freedom of the web but worried about who controls it. That was best summed up by Mark, William and Adam who said:
“This will only be persistent as a benefit if we actively seek to protect the neutrality of the network. 25 years can be about celebrating the past but absolutely also needs to be a call for vigilance in developing further an equitable future. We need to address the surveillance problem. And we need personal control over personal data. The freedom and anonymity of the web which is a vital part of its power and vitality is being eaten away by govts and big corps. If this continues a lot of what makes it important will vanish. Sorry to sound like a liberal”.
I have curated all the comments on Storify but will conclude by quoting Owen:
“The web is the single most powerful thing that mankind has ever created but, like most other things, it can be used for good or for evil purposes. What we have to master is giving freedom to the good whilst curbing the evil”.
Finally, from me, thanks Tim for your gift to everyone. You gave it for free to keep it universal. As a result, we all have to change how we do things to make the most of it, for everyone.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Lane-Fox for introducing what must be a central topic for all of us. She also asked the right question: what sort of world wide web do we want? There are also the questions of what sort of web we can have and have now.
We are probably living in the twilight of the cyber-romantics who think that zero regulation of everything online is the way we should head. We obviously are not in that situation. The effective and enriching use of the web is life-transforming but depends on the right sort of legislation and regulation in the right places. If we doubt that, we have to think, just for a moment, about all the online shopping that people do and what it has taken for people to have a reasonable degree of confidence about entering that world. Of course, there are other worlds about which they do not have that confidence.
The area of greatest worry to a lot of people is online privacy and surveillance. However, it is odd that they feel it is okay for the Amazons, Googles and others to have their private data but somehow not okay for Governments to have it. That proposition will need to be tested down the route. Commercial power is not negligible.
I should like to ask the Minister some limited questions on privacy. We are, as we know, facing a new data protection regulation, which, if it comes through the process in Brussels, will spread across the entire European Union and ostensibly aims to protect privacy more by raising the standards for consent. Will it do that or will it protect fictions of privacy by allowing fictions of consent to count as legitimating? Do Her Majesty’s Government have a view on that?
I should also like to ask the Minister a question about anonymity. This is a matter of some disagreement. Some people think that online anonymity is highly desirable. They note, of course, that it protects the spamster, the scamster and the cyberbully but feel that that issue should be settled at another level. However, knowing that we are anonymous is, to be sure, liberating but often in dangerous ways. In serious situations, we stand by our words, and free communication depends upon being able to judge what the other party says.
We have heard a good deal in this debate about the merits of transparency. I do not believe that transparency is a sufficient, ethical ideal for online communication. It is a remedy for secrecy but is not sufficient for communication, which is surely what matters, online as much as face to face—being able to judge what others are saying and what they are doing in saying it. Are they, for example, promising something or threatening something? We need to be able to judge not just speech content but speech acts. This can be frustrated in many ways, and I ask the Minister whether he thinks that there are things that we need to do to limit online anonymity in order to protect the future possibilities of online communication.
My Lords, I join others in congratulating the noble Baroness on her introduction to this historic debate. While the internet impacts on every aspect of life, two areas of society affected most are education and the media.
The changes that have taken place in education have been breathtaking, not least for adults who benefit in terms of lifelong learning. I think, for instance, of the work of the Royal College of Music, on whose council I sit, and I declare an interest accordingly. One of the hallmarks of the RCM’s wonderful teaching is the virtuoso master class. Each year 4,500 people attend them, but by making them available online, a much bigger audience can participate. Consider this: in the past three months alone, more than 60,000 people have watched one of those master classes, more than had attended all master classes in person in the previous decade. The RCM is also pioneering an online resource to teach people the basics of music theory. So far, it has delivered more than 200,000 lessons to more than 50,000 students in 50 countries. That is the great egalitarian, inclusive side of the internet—making things possible for those who, a generation ago, could never have dreamt of achieving something such as that.
The media is another area where change has been dramatic, and I declare my interest as director of the Telegraph Media Group. While some suggest that the internet is destroying the media, the truth is the opposite for innovative and enterprising companies because of the new audiences that the web provides. The Telegraph was the first paper to get a website, back in 1994, but at that time its audience was limited to those who read newspapers in the UK. Twenty-five years on, audiences are global, and when people want authoritative news analysis, it is trusted news brands to which they turn. During the London Olympics, the Telegraph website alone attracted a record 408 million page views— 220 million here in the UK and 190 million abroad.
Local newspapers, too, are seeing strong growth in online audiences. Three regional publishers, including the owners of the Scotsman, the Northern Echo and the Manchester Evening News passed 10 million monthly online readers last year, a massive figure, considering the geographical limits on their print circulation. Of course, newspapers still face huge challenges in this age of the internet: protecting copyright, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, said; monetising digital content; and adapting business models. Gaining a global audience also means attracting global competition. Such a period of transition is proving to be painful for many in publishing but it is change that is absolutely essential for survival. For those who are succeeding, the internet is taking the UK’s iconic newspaper and magazine titles and turning them into global media brands.
I conclude with this point in praise of the web: with so much content from so many publishers, the vast majority of them individuals, being provided in so many jurisdictions, any attempt to censor the web through legal or statutory regulation is ultimately doomed to failure. This point is vital to any debate about press regulation, which is dear to my heart, but which was, ironically, completely ignored during the Leveson inquiry, which was an analogue inquiry for our digital world. What the web, in all its glorious anarchy, has done is to make any form of statutory press control futile in an online age. As someone who believes passionately in freedom of expression, that is one of many good reasons to say, “Happy anniversary”.
My Lords, I am grateful to be able to contribute to this welcome debate on the world wide web and the internet, a key aspect of technology and society. More debates on this area will persuade sceptical scientists and technologists to accept that Parliament is relevant. Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, will take over Harold Wilson’s position as probably the only, or best known, prominent politician to be identified with technology and society in the past 40 years.
The Met Office, of which I was the chief executive, was one of the first agencies of government to apply the web in its operations. It may surprise noble Lords that in the 1980s the Met Office used not only the radio fax but Morse code. Many of our operators had to learn it; in fact, I learnt it as a boy from my great-aunt. That shows how far we have come. Morse code was then needed to take data from Atlantic weather ships, which, of course, do not exist any more.
In the 1990s, Tim Berners-Lee discussed with the Met Office how weather forecasts, data and research could be helped by the new developments. In fact, he then gave advice to Gordon Brown’s Government about the importance of opening up data. That has been a big change in the past 30 or 40 years. The World Meteorological Organisation’s congress in 1995 established the new approach. The UN has come in for some criticism this afternoon but it has certainly helped in some areas, including openness of data. The great thing now is that with this data, it is possible for users to be informed about alternatives, from weather forecasts to purchases. That will give people more confidence in many senses.
However, as others have commented, there are dangers. The security of the web is a dodgy business—I was swindled last year. Every time I give a credit card to someone, I fear for my life but, obviously, most other people do not. Of course, I do not fear for my life in the restaurant in the House of Lords; I am very confident there.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, commented, new users of the internet are often weakest and poorest, not only in this country but around the world. So the fact that hurricanes and typhoons can be forecast more accurately and then displayed on the web provides enormous assistance and life-saving help to some communities. In Myanmar—Burma to some people—the coastal communities do not have the web, so hundreds of thousands of people died in the hurricane in 2011.
Air pollution is now predicted in many urban areas: it was used in Beijing and used in London. This can be predicted right down to street levels. If you look at the number 73 bus, it will tell you that if you have breathing difficulties, get a message from your doctor and then you get this information. But this information—I have been talking about it and everybody has been talking about it—is essentially one-way information in terms of technical information. Now, however, we have the possibility of people providing information back. There is a fascinating example from Manila, which was able to deal with floods in a way that we could perhaps learn about in the UK. People there have mobile phones and send back information in the form of a colour—yellow, red or green—as to whether the water has reached their ankles, their knees, their thighs or their shoulders. This goes to a central centre, which can see where all the water is travelling in terms of height; it then runs its computer programs hour by hour and tells people whether to get out or to stay put. This is what is called the “web 2.0”—this business of much more feedback between people—and it is part of the new revolution.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, deserves our thanks for instigating this debate on what is surely the most transformative innovation of the past decades. I will focus on how the web is impacting just two things: research and education. Web archives, electronic journals, blogs and wikis have levelled the academic playing field globally and have democratised research.
The involvement of amateurs has been traditional in sciences such as botany, but the scope for citizen scientists is now much wider. In my subject of astronomy, for instance, there is so much data that the professionals cannot scrutinise them fully. It is now possible for eagle-eyed amateurs to access archives and themselves discover new planets or galaxies. Likewise, large datasets in genetics, healthcare and environmental science can be accessed anywhere. This openness can promote the progress of science, the understanding of it and trust in it. The web’s benefits to research spread beyond the sciences. For example, amateur scholars are reading and transcribing ships’ log books from the 18th and 19th centuries, unearthing fascinating social history as well as important data for climate scientists.
What about education? Here I fully agree with the noble Lord, Lord Giddens. The web may thankfully have a disruptive and benign effect on some unsatisfactory features of formal education, especially higher education. It will offer access to an ever-growing menu of outstanding courses—star lecturers and teachers will have a global reach. Traditional universities will survive only in so far as their faculties offer mentoring and personal contact with their students.
The Open University model—distance learning supplemented by a network of local tutors and mentors—surely has vastly more potential in the era of the web and smart phone than when it was founded back in the age of black and white TV. We can all freely access wonderful material on the OU’s Openlearn website, much prepared jointly with the BBC. In the United States, two organisations, edX and Coursera, disseminate MOOC courses developed by leading universities. The OU has set up a similar system called FutureLearn. I think all UK universities should seize the opportunity to widen their impact via the web. In particular, they should do this by supporting the Open University and by contributing content to FutureLearn rather than getting locked into one of the American platforms. The OU and the BBC have unrivalled reputations in their sectors. It is surely in this country’s interests that they should set the gold standard for web education and strive for a global reach.
The opening speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, was an inspiring one. I hope it is widely disseminated. The first thing I would like to do is to echo her call on the Government to find a way of recognising the 25th anniversary of Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s invention. This is, after all, the country that invented the industrial revolution, the second one that changed mankind out of all shape following the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago. Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s step is another giant step on the road for this country and we ought to recognise it as much as other countries do, where you often see public memorials to him even before he is dead, which is quite an achievement. I congratulate him again on that.
My second point is that this moves very fast. I started my blog as a Member of Parliament in the early part of this century. There were just three of us who did it. I then moved it here to the House of Lords under “Lords of the Blog” and it is still going, but I slipped off the edge a bit and I need to reinvent myself. One of the beauties of the world wide web and the internet is that you can actually reinvent yourself. As someone said earlier, you actually can stimulate your own mind in doing so, although I might need the assistance of the noble Lord’s 94 year-old friend to give me a leg up on the situation. I might have to give him a call.
We have talked a lot today about how the web and the internet will change the way everyone works. We do not talk enough about how it will change this place and the way we do politics. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, touched on that point. We really have not thought that through. I give a simple example: the argument about security and privacy, which came to the fore with the revelations about the interception of messages. The Bill that we passed five or six years ago was out of date technologically before it received Royal Assent. Many of the Acts of Parliament that we enact now are also technologically out of date. We have to find a way for Parliament to modify laws as we move on. We have tended over the years to have a system where we simply added amendments or changes or a new Act every five, 10 or 15 years. The speed of change is so great, however, that on anything involving technology, we get left behind.
My last message is to the political parties. I am no longer involved in drawing up manifestos, thank heavens, but all the parties need to have a very clear statement about science and technology in their manifestos for the next election, particularly on how they are going to approach the privacy and security of the world wide web and the internet. It is profoundly important. There are very exciting possibilities here. We really can change the way we do politics and involve people in the political process much more effectively than we have done in the past. It is not easy to work out how to do this, but we need to respond to how people are thinking about things and how we can create politics out of ideas and movements rather than just carry on with political parties in the older form.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the others who have thanked the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, for securing this debate and launching it so comprehensively. It seems impossible to believe that it was only in 1989 when Tim Berners-Lee presented his bosses at CERN with a paper that foreshadowed the web. He got it back with the comment scrolled on the top: “Vague but exciting”. How exciting it turned out to be.
The world wide web has changed lives, generally for the better. It has fuelled revolutions and shrunk the world. I speak as a trustee of the British Museum. The world wide web has made the contents of that museum available to anyone anywhere. There are 3.5 million objects now online and they are visited all the time. The web site traffic grew last year by 47% to 19.5 million visits. Yesterday, the museum celebrated its 255th birthday with a record number of visits, fuelled by a Google doodle.
However, we need to be discriminating. This is no comment on the Lords of the Blog or the noble Lord, Lord Soley, but there is quite a lot of rubbish on the web. One of my favourite cartoons was in the New Yorker and it showed two dogs looking at each other. One says to the other, “Do you blog?” The other says, “I’ve stopped. I’ve just gone back to incessant stupid barking”. There is some wonderful stuff on the web, but there is also a lot of rubbish and policing is never going to work. The net will always be ahead of those who try to police it. Perhaps that is why even some respectable news organisations seem to apply different standards to what they put online to what they put in print.
Wikipedia of course is a wonderful source, but it is not infallible. The users of the web have to learn to discriminate. They have to apply their own judgment. Nevertheless, it is an amazing force for good. It has changed lives for the better, not just by enabling people to shop the world, but to educate themselves and entertain themselves. As the noble Lord, Lord Chadlington, explained to us, it is also a wonderful way for some people, who may be housebound, to combat the loneliness that affects so many.
I have only one question for the Minister. In the internet age, why on earth are we providing free television licences for people, taxed or not taxed, when perhaps we should be offering them subsidised broadband?
My Lords, I should like to talk about the benefits as opposed to the risks that the linking together of people can bring to the UK in different dimensions—not just in huge organisations but in small, not just for the young but for our age, not just for big data but for human stories and not just for global but for local.
In retail, the internet works for big firms but also for small independent businesses such as that of my daughter, Susie Stone, who has a new vibrant couture business in which I declare an interest. The internet is incredibly useful for her and other SMEs. Via social media and networking sites, the global reach of the internet allows such small firms to share ideas, collaborate, promote their work and have success.
It is not just for the young. Ten years ago, customers at N Brown group, most of whom are over the age of 45, bought online 2% of sales. Now it is 58%; over £400 million. Its CEO, Angela Spindler, says that the group is developing relationships through the web making shopping for fashion easier and more enjoyable, regardless of customers’ size and age. Also, very traditional British retail names, such as Burberry and Jaeger, and some that are new but becoming traditional, such as Jigsaw and Paul Smith, can now spread their wings and fly all over the world. “Ah!”, people say. “But what about the high street? It’s being destroyed by online”. Nope. Believe me, even with the growth of these so-called dark stores, the physical marketplace will not disappear. A new Israeli start-up, Appick Shopping, will launch a new internet technology in the high street soon to make shopping more enjoyable. It is coming to London because it knows that we in the UK spread shopping technologies to the world.
The web can be a vehicle for coherence for all beings. Its dangers lie not in the technology, but in whether users act mindfully. It can work in peacemaking, not only globally but locally. In Jerusalem, PICO—People, Ideas, Community, Opportunities—has an exciting new concept in co-working shared space, creating a grassroots change in a complex neighbourhood. It sets out to include both the Arab and Jewish communities in West Jerusalem and will link with a similar set-up in East Jerusalem. The web crosses the physical walls and those of culture and language.
In world health, we use not only big data, but also patients’ personal stories. Healthtalkonline knows that patients and their loved ones need more than just medical facts when facing illness. The site provides real people’s experience shared on digital film to help others understand what it is really like to have an illness. It covers more than 80 illnesses and conditions and gets 3 million unique visits a year.
Oxford University’s research is of such a high standard that it is now working with universities and hospitals in 10 countries, from the Far East to Canada. DIPEx International is now a global charity. Recognising the growing importance of the third sector, the new social innovation commission is bringing together leading experts, entrepreneurs and parliamentarians around the intersection between social enterprise, impact investing and crowd funding to develop this field.
Finally, on health, this Government are part-privatising the health service, which creates fragmentation. We should have a system of whole person care using the world wide web to move in health from fragmentation to integration. By the way, can some techie tell me how it is that other noble Lords in three minutes speak much more slowly than I do and yet seem to say more?
My Lords, the noble Lord may be about to be proved wrong. The noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, was concerned that we would think we were going to receive a masterclass and would be disappointed, but that is indeed what we received. When she asked if I would contribute to this debate, she said it would be good if the youth wing of the House were represented. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Chadlington, showed, this is an invention for all ages and for all time to come.
If the noble Baroness and I have anything in common, it is that we were the last generation of children to go through school without any online resources. We were the last to have our childhood with no online play and no online interaction with other children. This now happens around the world. Today we are debating an empowering invention. There are some areas where we need to consider the dark side, but the rest of my contribution will be about the positives: the platform it is providing for future generations of young people who will be more creative and entrepreneurial and will invent great things that we cannot comprehend today. It will be the platform for our future leaders.
In essence, the world wide web is a means for humans to communicate, celebrate, inspire, amuse, insult and learn. My business card is printed on the last Victorian printing press in Scotland, Robert Smail’s printing works in Innerleithen. Some 150 years ago, that print works promoted passage and communication to Canada and the new world for people wishing to leave Scotland. With this e-mail and web address, people from my own family who moved to Canada can now communicate with me instantaneously through the world wide web. The motive to communicate is the same: it is the mechanism that is different.
A number of years ago, at the National Library of Scotland, I held in my hand the second book to be printed in Scotland; it was printed in 1509. Today, I have it in my pocket, along with Magna Carta, the US declaration of independence, Ann Frank’s diary and a fair few movies produced by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam. The noble Baroness mentioned Taiwan. I was there as a guest of the Government just after Christmas. We have also heard Sherlock Holmes mentioned in today’s debate. You might think this a slightly incongruous link, but when I was there, using the Taipei-wide wi-fi system that is free to anyone, local resident or tourist, I read the South China Post, which reported that 2.8 million people had watched the new episode of “Sherlock” on their version of YouTube.
It is an exciting, empowering invention—but, as the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, said, it is also a challenge for this place. If we are to have genuinely open participation and an open democracy, we also need an open Parliament and an online Parliament.
Finally, I mentioned Innerleithen not just to plug my former constituency but because it is about to receive superfast, fibre to the cabinet and fibre to the property broadband of up to 300 megabits per second. The community wanted it and won a competition from BT. They put pressure on the Scottish Government. I hope that we will put pressure on the UK Government to ensure that all parts of the United Kingdom have the right infrastructure to allow us to utilise the invention to the full.
My Lords, I join in thanking my noble friend Lady Lane-Fox for introducing this very topical debate and for her excellent overview of the subject. I declare an interest as a member of the advisory board of Silicon Valley Bank and as someone who has been involved for several years in building and managing data centres.
We now live in a hyperconnected world in which a number of technologies work together to provide a new paradigm for work and private life. The nature of the workplace has dramatically changed, with more and more people working from home in the so-called virtual workplace. With cloud computing, and mobile and work collaboration platforms, this has resulted in anytime, anywhere, on-demand access to information which can only grow. The web has also enabled entrepreneurs, young and old, to build global businesses that from their early stages can reach customers and partners in all parts of the globe. It has huge potential for job creation.
Although there is satisfactory broadband connectivity in most major cities in the United Kingdom, we have a long way to go to provide adequate broadband to rural communities. I share the concerns of most of your Lordships who have spoken about the need for more action to be taken to address the digital divide. I entirely agree with my noble friend Lady Lane-Fox that digital skills need to be embedded. We have moved, in a very short time, from an analogue age to a digital age to an on-demand age—and, now, to an interconnected age. Mobile and cloud are converging to create a new platform that can provide unlimited computer resources, unconstrained by traditional memory, processing and battery life.
It is extraordinary that more than 1 billion people are connecting on Facebook alone on a monthly basis. There is no doubt that media convergence has opened up myriad opportunities, but it has also posed a number of challenges that will need to be constantly monitored and addressed by Ofcom. I agree with my noble friend Lady O’Neill that there will be a need for some form of additional regulation. Although we have all heard of the benefits of the mobile internet, cloud computing and the so-called internet of things, we are increasingly subject to growing security risks, often referred to as botnet threats. There is no doubt that cybersecurity breaches threaten both individual and business data, and business continuity.
Time restricts me from addressing another major concern, the dark web or deep web, which has been used for illicit activity. A lot more focus needs to be placed on controlling the content of the deep web.
In conclusion, although challenges remain with security and privacy concerns, we are in a period of profound and exciting change.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, for making this timely debate possible, and for her inspiring speech. The irony is that most of the history of the web is ahead of us. The internet is far from reaching its full potential as an agent of empowerment. The reality is that only 25% of the world’s population currently use the web, and in this year, 7 million adults in the UK have never used it. The noble Baroness emphasised the importance of inclusion, which was part of the vision of Sir Tim Berners-Lee for universal access.
However, there is a group that is excluded from access to the internet by way of government policy. I am not asking the Government to change the policy, but to modify it in relation to some within that group. Its members are part of the digital divide and they are on the wrong side. At present, UK prisoners are excluded from the internet. We imprison more people than any other nation in Europe and our prisons are full to capacity, with more than 85,000 prisoners, but the policy is not working. More than 70% of prisoners reoffend within the first year of release, and major factors concerning reconviction are a lack of education and training, and the inability to gain employment.
For low-security, category D open prisons, I suggest that where prisoners are preparing for release back into the world, the intranet or even the internet under controlled supervision should be made accessible for training, education and researching job opportunities. It should be a privilege to be earned and not a right. Some 74% of UK prison governors surveyed this year by the Prison Reform Trust believed that low-risk prisoners should have secure and controlled access to the internet as part of their release process. Norway and Australia are among the countries leading the way on internet provision in prison, where it has led to decreasing reconviction rates.
The other issue I would like to raise is that of cyberbullying. Some 28% of 11 to 16 year-olds have been targeted, threatened or humiliated by an individual or a group through the use of mobile phones or the internet. For a quarter of the victims, the bullying was ongoing for weeks or months, and there have been high-profile cases where Twitter has been used to intimidate people. I am an admirer of a small charity called the Cybersmile Foundation, which started in 2010. It offers advice to victims. Organisations like Cybersmile and charities like BeatBullying, ChildLine and Kidscape have an important role to play in this. I urge the Government to find ways of working with these charities and to offer them more support.
The growth of the web has revolutionised the UK and the rest of the world, but it has not been a bloodless revolution, because the web has brought with it some difficult challenges. But while humans manage to remain at least one step ahead of computers, I believe that its future can be approached with faith, not fear.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Lane-Fox for this opportunity, and in her honour I prepared for it only at the last minute. I have some interests that are declared in the register, but I also chair EyeHub, which is one of the TSB-funded IoT projects. The internet is very new, and most of us have not been using it for anything like 25 years. We are only just beginning to make a start on the internet of things, to which my noble friend also referred. That will change things, because machines will start reporting what we are doing behind our backs. There are all sorts of implications in that which we have not yet thought about.
In fact, people all over the world are only just beginning to evolve and think about how they will adjust to the implications of the global internet and the consequent cultural clashes that are happening. One of the major ones is how much Governments should be allowed to control their citizens. The whole thing is global, and Governments are losing control because people can work from anywhere. To whom do the taxes belong? We are seeing that debate now.
We will have to rethink entirely how we interface, work with and talk to people. Also, I will just slip in a comment that we still need to meet people face to face. You have to share hospitality with people to know whether you can trust them; you cannot just trust electronic tokens or people whom you have never met, unless they come highly recommended by a friend. That is going to be one of the big issues in the near future.
The other great thing about the internet is that remote communities and communities on the edge of urban conurbations can become global players. You do not have to be situated in the middle of things. However, they need to be able to access the internet properly—and access is a real problem in Britain, despite all the things that the Government are saying. I am afraid that an awful lot of stuff is flying around that is not quite true.
Vast amounts of information are out there, and the problem is that some of it is about you. Much of it is inaccurate and misleading, and it always will be. That is partly because it is easy to fool a machine and partly because it is easy to get things wrong. It is very easy for criminals to fool machines. If I want an alibi, I will lend you my telephone and iPad and get you to establish an alibi for me. We have to be careful about what we think we are actually seeing about people if we are talking about Governments and control.
The point is that it is dangerous to allow the puritans who try to tell us what to do for our own good to have too much control, because life will not be much fun. The other problem is that when they are the Government, they can make you into a non-person, and that may be done on inaccurate information. It has happened to people already, so we have to be very careful about it. I recommend that noble Lords watch a 2008 miniseries called “The Last Enemy”, which can be bought on DVD; it is very interesting.
You cannot regulate or block criminal or unethical practices out of existence—I am afraid that that is true. All we can do is try to arrest the criminals and disincentivise them, and try to disincentivise the big players by modifying their behaviour through cultural pressure. The web may sometimes help with this, but its basic resilient design means that there are always ways to get around the blocks. Like life, the internet will never be completely safe; that would be boring. We love the freedom of being able to hear the cries of the downtrodden, but we are going to have to fight to keep that freedom for ourselves. Our fathers and our grandfathers died for it.
My Lords, I thank all speakers for their contributions to this debate. They have necessarily had to be short and sparky, but they have also been very informative. I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, for securing this debate in the first place and for her excellent introductory speech, not only for its immediate and relevant content, but for giving us the historic context on the whole question of the web. I also thank her for her other work until recently as the UK’s digital champion.
The noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, mentioned the need for everyone to have an online presence and indeed he gave us a small glimpse of his own. It is obviously useful to have that. I immediately rushed to my iPad to see what his looked like and I was much impressed by that. I also thought that I had better check out the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, so I looked immediately at her website and discovered that she had already put her speech up on the web. It is here, you can read it now. I think it was done afterwards, because it says,
“This is a speech I made in the House of Lords”,
and not “This is a speech I am about to make”. We are in the middle of a revolution both of our thinking and of our operations.
The noble Baroness ended by asking us: what kind of web do we want? That echoes what I was doing in researching for this debate by thinking about what people thought about the web. The best description that I came across was that the world wide web is humanity connected by technology—humanity, not just people. That is something that I will come back to.
There are those who would argue, and there is some merit in this argument, that the web is just another technology, although of course it is very exciting, different and distinctive in the way that it is applied. I suppose, like any other technology, the web can be whatever we make it; we can shape it and mould it. Most importantly, we need to keep in mind that we can use it to do something that I do not think any other technology has ever done, which is to connect every single person on earth—every single person. The web gives people the ability as users and contributors to improve their lives and communities or, in other words, to create humanity.
As we have heard, there are some 2 billion people currently on the web, mostly in the West and the developed nations but, as the internet becomes more connectable and more available through mobile, that will grow to an estimated 5 billion by 2020. That means huge opportunities and challenges, but it also means huge changes in the way in which we approach and think about the world.
Is the web just another technology? It seems to me that the things that it does that other technologies have not done are important, and we need to think about how we approach and engage with that technology. It does something to time. Whereas before we always had some time to reflect on an activity, people now report on and read about events as they occur. You get instant pictures and information. What happened to reflection?
The world wide web also localises. That seems like a contradiction in terms, but the way in which the web is organised so that any community can find a way of sharing information relevant to their interests and to their members and fellow citizens is an important aspect of what it does. At the same time, it is also universal, in that you have access anywhere in the world where you can get a connection—although that is not always possible, even in Britain.
The web also has a different way of focusing things. We have millions of communities, we all have multiple identities and those identities can be reflected on the web though our languages, our hobbies and our different natures. It allows those with shared interests to exchange resources in a way that has not been possible before. That is helped, of course, by search engines. Information has always existed; it has always been in repositories and difficult to access but now it is available. It is of variable quality, as we have heard, but it certainly is there if you can find it.
The web also provides links, both in real time and in a parallel way, across things. Many noble Lords will understand that if they have young children or grandchildren. My children seem to enjoy in a relaxing moment—although they say that they are working—lying on a sofa together, the three of them, interacting through texting and e-mailing while watching television and possibly reading something on their iPads. I cannot do that, but then multitasking has never been one of my strengths.
In that way, we are engaging by voicing opinions and raising issues in a way that has not been possible before. It is inexpensive, it is free—or virtually free—it is immediate and, if well looked after, it is durable. We have engagement and a chance to get involved in things that we would not otherwise have done. We also have the chance to raise opinions and, as people have said, to make a better fist of democracy, or participatory democracy, than has perhaps been possible before.
So there are huge opportunities but, of course, as many people have said, big challenges. There are, within those challenges, very substantial ethical ones. It will be interesting to listen to the Minister respond, if he can, to some of the very difficult questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, and her ethical concerns about some of the issues about the web.
The good news is that the UK seems to have embraced the new technology in a terrific way. We have made economic use of the web and we buy and sell more goods online than any other country. I am not quite so sure about the fact that we have the highest number of Twitter users on the planet. I suspect, and have always thought, that this is largely due to my noble friend Lord Knight—he certainly confirmed in his speech that he has played a major part in that growth.
There are of course other important things, such as MOOCs, which we heard about. We heard how the Open University is developing this new technology, about the sort of digital services that we know are possible through the web and about the way in which an open government system can support these things.
Against that, we also hear that only 30% of small businesses are online, that there are alarming difficulties in getting access for the older parts of our population and that skills shortages are significant. We are also very worried about rural coverage. I read one statistic in my research which suggests that fewer than 0.5% of students choose computer science at A-level. That surely needs to go up, particularly for girls, for whom the figure is a fifth of that.
What comes next? The interesting thing is that most of the history of the web is ahead of us: it is a very young technology and very far from reaching its full potential as an agent of empowerment for everyone in the world. Web access for, perhaps, 4 billion or 5 billion people is an incredible opportunity, and new technologies will enable billions of people who are currently excluded to join in.
However, there are some big questions, such as access and skills, which I have mentioned. There is also a need for a change in the whole way in which we do business from physical interaction, although that will still be important, to one-click shopping. That is, of course, related to things such as transport and logistics—the physical movement of goods. How different it is now watching downloaded films compared to going to a cinema, particularly when you think about the change from reels of film to the way they are now broadcast or available on DVD. I have a particular concern about archiving material on the web. I am not sure that we are up to speed on that and wonder whether the noble Lord might respond to that, particularly about e-mails in government.
There are also points about privacy, which were well made initially by the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, in relation to children and also by the noble Lord, Lord Birt. We need to address some of the concerns that we have about the “dark side” of the web, as it has been called. The Prism and Snowden cases raise big questions. Perhaps most worrying for me, and an issue raised by other noble Lords, is what comes next in this area rather than what has already happened.
Other noble Lords raised questions that we also have to address, including those relating to intellectual property and whether that is up to date for the digital age. I suspect it is not. It needs much deeper and more effective work to get us ready for what is going to happen there. There is also the question about how we relate to the data that are stored about us. We need a mature conversation about that. As one noble Lord said, we are quite happy to give up considerable details about our personal data, including our credit card details, to commercial operators but we quibble about how much data government holds. That is very silly: we need to get this right and get the balance right. It may well be, as has been said, that we need champions—somebody who looks after information—but we cannot go on living in a parallel world on this.
The world wide web is a technology, but what it does and what it can achieve is really up to us, the users. Like all new technologies, the internet is often blamed for many of the problems in society. This is not the first time. One thinks of Shakespeare’s Globe and why it was situated outside the city, the penny dreadfuls in Victorian times and video nasties. These things are always blamed for society’s ills, but they are a feature of human endeavour and not of the technology itself. The Government have to come up with policies, although sometimes—including, I suggest, in this area—not doing something is almost as important as legislating. Particularly in relation to privacy and other issues, it should always be remembered that one person’s filter is another person’s censorship.
The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, made some good points about the things we can do in our own House. My suggestion would be voting electronically: why do we have to troop through the Lobbies every time a vote comes, as we do currently? Surely we can do something differently with that. The noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, had a good idea, modelled on the Tobin tax, of raising funds for good purposes, which is something we should think about. It is probably too late but it is a good idea. We need to go back to the essential issues about inclusion, openness and transformational thinking about how we operate commercially and personally in a digital world, and how to promote humanity connected by technology—
We meet each other in the Division Lobby. If we do not and we all start to press buttons, are we saying that that is progress? One of the themes of today is that we have to balance humanity with technology. That seems to be balancing technology with technology.
On that last point from the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, we all look across at the Whips, who, above all, enjoy the human-to-human contact in the Division Lobbies as Members come in.
For this debate, I read Twitter this morning and saw some entries by the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, expressing some apprehension about addressing your Lordships’ House. I think we can agree that it was a truly inspiring and insightful speech, and masterful in how she set out the debate’s context and some of the issues that we need to address. I join the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, and many others in saying that she is an outstanding addition to your Lordships’ House. I do not know whether my noble friend Lord Kirkwood has yet secured the noble Baroness’s membership on his Information Committee, but if not I am sure that an invitation will be on its way.
I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, for her time as the Government’s digital champion and the tremendous work that she did to narrow the digital divide, and extend and set the framework for government policy on broadening access. Many people have talked about how the world wide web has transformed the way in which we do business, and how our society and the economy operate. A number of Members talked about how it is transforming this place. The idea of regular debates, whether annual or virtual and ongoing, seems appropriate. The cross-party nature of this discussion shows that the world wide web is a bigger phenomenon than any narrow political party or country can control. That is a point to which I will return.
I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for creating that entity, the Lords of the Blog. This morning I noticed that my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth had posted interesting data there about the number of hard-copy letters that were received by your Lordships’ House. In 2005, the figure was 4.7 million. In 2013, that had fallen to 2.4 million. This again reflects the changing way in which we interact with those whose interests we seek to represent.
Many Members have articulated in this debate that no technological change has advanced our world as much as the world wide web. It is hard to believe that it was only 25 years ago that Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote the first protocols that created the web. The principles of inclusion, freedom, transparency and openness that he included, and that have been referred to by many Members, are still at the heart of the Government’s view of how the world wide web should operate.
When my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones referred to the opening ceremony for the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games, I recalled the scrolling message going around the stadium, “This is for everyone”. The fact that this was viewed live by an audience of around a billion and has been viewed by many more online is an important thing, and we must keeping coming back to it. Many noble Lords spoke about the potential that this vast creation has for enabling two-way traffic, not just to push but bring in the thoughts of people. The noble Lord, Lord Rees, spoke of research that is taking place online. My noble friend Lady Wheatcroft spoke of the British Museum and its online exhibits. I think that we were all moved this week to see the 1.5 million pages of World War One diaries that were placed online—an example of how, when we go online, we are invited not just to view but to participate in archiving and contributing to material, and certainly to engage with it.
The noble Lords, Lord Mitchell and Lord Stone, were among many who referred to the UK being at the forefront of connectivity and consumers engaging with online enthusiasm, and the implications of that for the high street. The noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, made the point powerfully that many people see that as a threat to the high street but actually it is something that ought to be celebrated and, for those on the high street who embrace it, it can have a dynamic effect on their businesses.
My noble friend Lord Black referred to the impact the internet is having in a very similar context on the media, creating global brands. Of course, I was particularly pleased to hear, in addition to the Daily Telegraph online, his reference to the Northern Echo being at the forefront of this activity, which was very welcome indeed.
Seventy-two per cent of business premises have subscribed to broadband and 14% of premises now have a superfast broadband service. This last figure is higher than any of the other five major EU countries, which is something we can be pleased about. Last year, AT Kearney estimated that the internet economy ecosystem was worth £82 billion a year in the UK, which is 5.7% of GDP. This is because the web enhances speed, efficiency and productivity.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, referred to the development of this technology as “warp speed”, which appealed enormously to me, as a Trekkie, but this does not come without its challenges. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, among others, referred to the importance of intellectual property rights, which I will come back to.
According to the Digital Efficiency Report of 2011, the cost of an online transaction is 20 times lower than a phone one, 30 times lower than a postal one and 50 times lower than face to face, although I accept the point made by several Members that human interaction is key, a point that the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, made so powerfully. During this Parliament, the Government will save £1.2 billion by going digital and £1.8 billion year-on-year from making government services digital by default, which I know was an aspiration of the noble Baroness.
As well as the economic issues, we have also had outlined for us the philosophical, almost theological issues, most notably by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, who spoke of the information overload—the scope of what we have. The picture of holding the world in the palm of your hand was very powerful. I was able to scroll up on my—I do not think I am allowed to say the brand—personal internet device and find that line from TS Eliot, when he bewails in “The Rock”:
“Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?”.
Placing things in context, understanding wisdom, is something that we all have to be aware of, not least the Government.
Using the web may be second nature to many but for some there are still considerable challenges to going online, despite the optimistic anecdote that my noble friend Lord Chadlington told of his friend with whom he is now connected on LinkedIn. Many figures have been quoted today but recent BBC survey data show that some 11 million people—18% of the population—are not online. Given the progress and the importance of it, that is a very worrying figure. I will outline some of the things that Her Majesty’s Government are doing to try to address the issue.
One challenge is making the necessary improvements to the underlying infrastructure. That is well under way, with £1 billion of government investment by 2015 or very soon after. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, was able to report that superfast broadband had arrived in his part of the country.
By 2015, or very soon after, virtually all premises will have a good standard of broadband, with 90% of businesses being able to access superfast broadband. Broadband and superfast broadband, and indeed the world wide web, bring not only purely economic benefits but other benefits. We heard powerfully and insightfully from the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, on healthcare and how the future might take shape with people increasingly accessing their health services via the internet. I was intrigued and looked up the programme Beating the Blues, initially a little worried that this might be a partisan point, but I now recognise that it is a helpful programme. I am sure that we will avail ourselves of this many times in your Lordships’ House.
My noble friend Lord Holmes, as well as giving his own side a good plug, spoke very well about how having a presence on the internet is just part of normal human life. It is important that we increase the access of as many people as possible, which is why I am delighted to report that yesterday, my right honourable friend the Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, announced a £10 million fund for alternative technology providers with innovative ideas about how to help superfast broadband reach Britain’s most remote communities. That is something that will be very important.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, spoke of the importance of the internet, which may not yet be able to make the weather but can certainly forecast it, and how that not only has a curiosity interest but can, in very real terms, save lives and save property.
I turn to some of the specific points that were raised in relation to the governance of the web. The noble Viscount, Lord Colville, mentioned this, and asked what the position of Her Majesty’s Government was in relation to control of the internet. It is very clear that this Government favour a self-regulatory approach to the internet, engaging with all relevant stakeholders. We champion a process and model whereby Governments work with industry, civil society and technical communities on an equal footing to ensure the internet is managed effectively. This point was communicated by the Minister responsible for this, Ed Vaizey, at the international global forum on the internet in Bali last year.
Digital inclusion, of course, is wider than just access. Inclusion is about encouraging and supporting individuals, small businesses and charities that are not online, to develop their digital skills and build the confidence to go online independently. I realise that many charitable organisations are doing this. I also pay tribute, in this context, to Go On UK, which is the charity that the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, chairs. It does a tremendous amount. I know this from my home town of Gateshead, where there has been some great work going on, as there has in Liverpool with Race Online, where some really innovative initiatives are happening within the charitable sector to engage people and get them equipped with the skills necessary to go online.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Warwick, raised an interesting point, which I do not dismiss, although of course it raises challenges. He talked about extending internet access to those in prison. That is something which I will certainly relay back. It seems to me that, at a minimum, where there are many good charities that are working with ex-offenders as they immediately come out, equipping people with internet and digital skills ought to be very much at the heart of that, helping to narrow the digital divide.
In that context, my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft raised the innovative idea of moving from subsidising TV licences to subsidising broadband. I can inform my noble friend that the Government continue to work with the internet service providers on low-cost tariffs. The digital deals sponsored by the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Work and Pensions, and supported by the charity of the noble Lord, Lord Knight, the Tinder Foundation, are a prime example of how the Government are helping to provide low-cost broadband, but again we accept that much more needs to be done.
The noble Lord, Lord Soley, asked what steps Her Majesty’s Government are taking to mark the tremendous achievement of Sir Tim Berners-Lee in creating this innovation that we are celebrating and marking today. I am pleased to say, not in any small way due to the timeliness of this debate, that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has been in contact with Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s office about discussing a fitting way to mark this remarkable anniversary. The Minister responsible, Ed Vaizey, has specifically asked for an opportunity to meet the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, to discuss ideas that she may have. I know that they are both following our debate today very closely.
Many noble Lords mentioned the value of the internet to education. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, referred to MOOCs and online communities, and my noble friend Lord Black referred to the master classes that are available online. Education is obviously a key area that will benefit from this, but I suspect that, as the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, said, we should not anticipate too much of a change. There will be elements of back to the future about it where the interaction between student and tutor will be central.
The likes of Tech City, as well as the plethora of tech hubs around the country, have been essential in fostering the right environment to build momentum. We are reducing red tape to help entrepreneurs, a point which the noble Lord, Lord St John, raised, and ensure that we have many more UK success stories such as lastminute.com. We believe we have the right foundations in place to bring that about.
In order for that to happen—I am conscious of time—we are aware that the issue of intellectual property, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, my noble friends Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Lucas, and others, is important. There are 1.68 million people employed in the creative industries and the technology sector. In 2012, it contributed £71.4 billion to the economy, a growth of 10%, so I totally take the point about people taking things off the shelves without paying for them, as my noble friend Lord Lucas described it. The Government are fully behind industry efforts to introduce a voluntary copyright alert programme which should be quicker, more flexible and cheaper than the Digital Economy Act, which the noble Lord, Lord Soley, rightly identified as probably being out of date before it came on to the statute book, presenting some of the challenges we have.
The noble Baronesses, Lady O’Neill and Lady Kidron, spoke very movingly about the challenges, particularly for young people. I draw noble Lords’ attention to the speech made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister last year on internet child safety. It is an issue that we are taking very seriously indeed. It is important to make children aware of the risks they face. That is why, as well as placing restrictions on internet providers, we need to make sure that children and young people are educated about the dangers so that when they go into this community they do so safely. There are some specific issues that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, raised in this context about privacy and the archiving of e-mails by government. I will come back to the noble Lord, if I may, on that. The noble Lord, Lord Young, also spoke about issues of child internet safety. The noble Lord, Lord Birt, reminded us of that with the good phrase that the internet—the world wide web—provides us with worries and wonders. I am sure that every parent would echo that view, but the potential and the benefits vastly outweigh the disadvantages, as so many people have said. Many examples were given. The noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, mentioned a million teachers going online to share lesson plans. That is innovative and very welcome indeed.
We must get the framework right. It is right that all stakeholders—Governments, civil society, the private sector and the technical community—are involved in how best to ensure the internet operates effectively and efficiently. We believe that this current multi-stakeholder approach is the right one. It will ensure that we have the right data protection framework in place and the right intellectual property.
In conclusion, I fully support the noble Baroness’s Motion and urge the House to take note of the tremendous impact that the world wide web has had in its 25 short years. It was British ingenuity and innovation that brought it about. The web shows that Britain is great—open, innovative and creative—and we should all take inspiration from Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s invention. We should rightly be proud of this, celebrate it and build on it. There are many issues and it is traditional for Members responding from the government side to say that they will write to noble Lords and place a copy in the Library. It is probably appropriate that I e-mail noble Lords and place a copy on the web.
I thank the Minister for his answers. I am delighted that we have had the first debate on the world wide web here in the Chamber. It is perhaps one small step for mankind and one bigger leap for the House of Lords. If I was going to organise a birthday party, I think I would engineer the presence of an astronomer, a writer, a philosopher, a composer, some film directors and maybe, dare I say, even a politician or two. I would argue that it has been a very successful birthday party for the world wide web; I thank all noble Lords for their contributions and look forward to many more high-quality debates about the future of our technology landscape.