Oral Answers to Questions — Cabinet Office – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 19th November 2002.

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Photo of Ann Coffey Ann Coffey Labour, Stockport 2:30 pm, 19th November 2002

What assessment he has made of the outcomes resulting from the recent summit on the delivery of e-government.

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

Earlier today, the Prime Minister made it clear that the Government will invest #6 billion in information technology in the next few years. That funding will include resources not only to improve access to online services, but to drive up the usage of key services.

Photo of Ann Coffey Ann Coffey Labour, Stockport

I thank the Minister for his reply, but will he outline what benefits my constituents might expect as a result of the Prime Minister's speech today on the role of information technology in delivering Government programmes?

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

I can assure the House that this is a genuine coincidence, but the Prime Minister identified Stockport as one of the areas of e-services in the midst of an important, groundbreaking speech today. He talked about the experience of a GP surgery in Stockport in using new technology to ensure a more efficient service not just for patients, but for doctors as well. That is why we particularly welcome the announcement in relation to schools and doctors' surgeries made by the Prime Minister today.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Conservative, East Yorkshire

Summits are all very well, but does the hon. Gentleman accept that they are no substitute for action? Has he seen the recent survey, published by Jupiter Research, which shows that the United Kingdom is one of the slowest connected countries to the internet, with only 7 per cent. using broadband, and most of that 7 per cent., of course, is in urban areas. Is not that appalling? Is he aware that the figure is nearly 30 per cent.? in Sweden? Why are they doing so much better than we are? Is it not the case that, under the John Major Government in the mid-1990s, we led the world in this area? Why is the United Kingdom now a world laggard?

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

Far from leading the world then, the real progress has been made during the past year. Broadband connections are being made at the rate of 28,000 a month in the United Kingdom and broadband prices have fallen. We have 66 per cent. coverage across the country in terms of DSL-enabled exchanges. The real progress is being made under this Labour Government, which is why we are rapidly moving up the progress league table to become an even more connected economy in the years to come.

Photo of Margaret Moran Margaret Moran Labour, Luton South

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the progress that we are making in extending broadband across the country, but does he agree that it is important that our public services include interactive e-government delivery, particularly to allow feedback on the quality of services provided to citizens and to ensure that there are opportunities for e-consultation and e-democracy?

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's work in this area; it is a matter of genuine concern to her. I would make two points. First, we have an obligation to continue to pursue our target of extending access to services now being provided electronically online. Secondly—again, the Prime Minister made this clear at the summit today—it is vital that we drive up the take-up of those services. That relies on having citizen-focused, customer-focused services, and we rely on having exactly the kind of feedback that has been identified to ensure that we design those services in the future.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Liberal Democrat, Berwick-upon-Tweed

If every school and every doctor's surgery is to be connected to broadband, can the Minister specify how that connection will be achieved in those areas where it is not available on the telephone exchange?

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

A range of broadband technologies is available. One of the other aspects of the summit today was the announcement, made by my colleague the Minister for E-Commerce and Competitiveness in the Department of Trade and Industry, on the establishment of the United Kingdom broadband taskforce, which is specifically charged with driving out further infrastructure across the country—exactly the point that I was making. Wireless, satellite, DSL—digital subscriber line—and cable technology is available. That is why the Government's platform neutrality is important. We need to work together with other regions to ensure that we get the right solution for each locality.