E-commerce

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Industry – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th November 2000.

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Photo of Mr Paul Marsden Mr Paul Marsden Labour, Shrewsbury and Atcham 12:00 am, 30th November 2000

If he will make a statement on progress made in encouraging businesses to communicate electronically with (a) customers and (b) other businesses. [139543]

Photo of Patricia Hewitt Patricia Hewitt Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry

There are now 1.7 small and medium-sized businesses online, and we are extending the UK online for business programme to help more businesses use the full potential of information and communication technologies to get real business benefits.

Photo of Mr Paul Marsden Mr Paul Marsden Labour, Shrewsbury and Atcham

I welcome the Government's determination to lead the way in Europe in delivering e-commerce business opportunities. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating Shrewsbury's businesses? They are among the first in rural areas to invest in asymmetric digital subscriber line technology, which is being rolled out by BT and is delivering better services and better quality communications.

Photo of Patricia Hewitt Patricia Hewitt Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry

I am delighted that Shrewsbury and the rural communities have been included in BT's ADSL roll-out programme and I congratulate the businesses that are taking advantage of it. We are determined to ensure that broadband, high-speed internet access is delivered to businesses and consumers across the United Kingdom as quickly as possible.

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

In the past fortnight, the prospects for electronic communications have not progressed; they have taken a complete and utter nose dive. The auction of broadband fixed wireless licences has been a complete flop. Of the 42 licences on offer, 26 remain unsold; the auction raised £38 million instead of the predicted £1 billion; and rural areas, in particular, will continue to be an internet black spot. Why does the Minister think that the auction was such a failure? Does she accept responsibility, or does she blame her civil servants? Will she now make a clear statement to the House on how she will retrieve this sorry state of affairs and reintroduce some sort of competence and momentum in developing this important part of the communications infrastructure?

Photo of Patricia Hewitt Patricia Hewitt Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry

It is a great pity that the hon. Gentleman has completely failed to acknowledge the fact that more than half of the United Kingdom population live in areas that will now be served by a new source of high-speed internet, which is broadband fixed wireless access. Those include Scotland, Northern Ireland and the north of England. That is good news for businesses and consumers in those areas. I am reviewing with the Radiocommunications Agency how we should make best use of the remaining spectrum in other parts of the country.

Several hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. We have not made good progress today. I hope that in the new Session I shall hear shorter questions and briefer answers. It would also help if Ministers resisted the temptation to discuss Opposition policies, which are not their responsibility—[Interruption.] Order. Let the Speaker chair the proceedings.