Pre-legislative Scrutiny

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:20 am on 6th January 2004.

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Photo of Mr Richard Allan Mr Richard Allan Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry) 10:20 am, 6th January 2004

We can all pick a collection of those adjectives. All were the result of thoughtful research among a large panel of people who defined those characteristics. Some of the features of the alien representative are particularly relevant to our debate, and I shall give some quotations that show how people feel about us:

"They are disconnected from the real world."

"He is too remote and not on the same wavelength as the people generally."

I like this one:

"I don't think they are on the same planet. They have no idea about normal life."

The fact that, for many of those people, we have no idea about normal life means that we are not in the same places as them. The internet is one place that they increasingly visit—it is where they chat and conduct business. If we want to become less alien, it is important that we catch up with and address the modern age. The hon. Member for Nottingham, North referred to television debates. If we had not decided to televise Parliament, how alien we would seem to a culture in which watching television is a prime leisure activity. We should be aware that things are happening on the internet—we cannot ignore it or expect it to go away.

Great developments have taken place without Parliament's permission—that may be why they have been so successful. Only three Members refuse to accept faxes from faxyourmp.com, a website that was set up when people said, "We want to e-mail our MPs and will find a way of doing it. We will not ask permission; we will just get on and do it." It has been hugely successful. Publicwhip.org.uk is another relevant website. It has nothing to do with sadomasochism, but is entirely political and wholesome. Members do not need to type "whip" into a search engine. They should go straight to publicwhip.org.uk, where someone has examined MPs' voting records and compared the way in which we voted on various issues. The site has some wonderful maps and was set up, without our permission, to make MPs publicly accountable. The BBC is also in on the act with the interesting iCan project, which includes a wonderful section giving helpful advice on organising a demonstration. It suggests that AGMs are good places at which to raise political matters, and says that people should get together and use the internet to make their point.

Democracy is happening on the internet—the question is whether we want to engage with it proactively or have it bite us on the backside. The Information Committee produced a report in 2001 that tried to help Parliament engage positively with that agenda. It defined five principles, which are still relevant. We should use the internet to assist with accessibility, effectiveness, participation and accountability, and we should share best practice. The participation principle is particularly relevant. The Committee stated:

"The House is committed to the use of ICT to increase public participation in its work, enabling it to draw on the widest possible pool of experience, including particularly those who have traditionally been excluded from the political and parliamentary process."

It said that it is particularly important to include people

"who have traditionally been excluded".

That leads me to a matter that must be discussed in our debate—the digital divide. Answers to that problem are emerging, including a clearer definition of the divide and whether online consultation will include or exclude people. The extent of exclusion has been vastly overstated. The Oxford internet survey in 2003 helped to define more clearly who is using the internet. It said that 59 per cent. of people are users and 9 per cent. are proxy users who use the internet via someone else. A large group—25 per cent.—do not want to use the internet, and only 7 per cent. are actively excluded because, even though they may want to use the internet, they are unable to do so. Use of the internet is therefore extensive.

Turning to social classes and age groups, the younger age groups are interested in engaging in politics because most of our decisions will affect them more than anyone else. The penetration rate among social classes A, B and C1 is 100 per cent. The fact that 100 per cent. define themselves as internet users may appear to be a Saddam Hussein-type referendum or election result but, although it is an exceptional figure, it is probably true. Among those in social group DE, there is 80 per cent. penetration. That is not brilliant, but compares favourably with the functional access of that group to library and other information services, which is poor.

The fact that many people are using the internet shows that the digital divide in society is largely resolving itself, which gives us interesting opportunities to engage people who traditionally have had no access to politics. Many people who use the internet would not have gone to their local library to reserve a copy of Hansard, which would arrive at a later date. Even if they had a copy, they would not be able to work out what was going on. It is pretty unintelligible to me, never mind anyone else. I still cannot understand Order Papers, which completely confuse me.

Annotations

Kaihsu Tai
Posted on 15 Jan 2007 10:03 am (Report this annotation)

The website http://publicwhip.org.uk/ is mentioned here!