Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300 - 305)

TUESDAY 11 JANUARY 2000

DR HELEN MARGETTS, PROFESSOR CHRISTINE BELLAMY AND DR STEPHEN COLEMAN

Chairman

  300. I think the phrase that Christine Bellamy used "seem to work" just now is interesting. I think that is the bit that we are in pursuit of. It is possible to seelots of things going on, but it is knowing what that phrase "seem to work" means. Work for whom, in what terms, at what cost, with what result? If you are asking people to invest in some of this those are the kind of questions they would have to have the answer to.
  (Dr Coleman) I want to address the question you asked before about trying to make a case for this. I think the case that I would make is that there is a distinct possibility that in ten years' time digital television with its inherent feedback capacity will be totally misused. We will have national votes on the end of soap operas, a lot of tele-shopping, tele-gambling and polls which will be based upon nothing at all scientific. I think at that stage in ten years' time the Public Administration Committee of the day may say, "It would have been a very good idea when all of this started if somebody could have carved out some real public space and used this fascinating new technology to link up representatives and the people they represent instead of squandering it on this pointless DTV exercise," and I think that is the significance of this now. One does have a real opportunity. I think the Digital Television and Internet providers would be responsive to moves from Government and Parliament to using these channels for those purposes. So in a sense it is a question of deciding whether there is a political gain in doing so.

  301. That was precisely my last question, tell usthe things in practical terms that a Government thatwas committed to exploring the potential of allthis should be doing and that is your answer, is itnot?
  (Dr Coleman) Yes.

  302. Does anyone want to add to that?
  (Dr Margetts) Developing a presence. At the moment if you go onto the front end of the British government, which unusually for the British government is called "open.gov", you see all sorts of advertisements for private sector companies but not on any site anywhere do you see any sort of advertisement for the British government. Create a presence as well as a space. People cannot participate with a government that they cannot find.

  Chairman: It is all getting a bit elusive now.

Mr Browne

  303. I am just not convinced that access to Parliament ought to be through the Government's Web site.
  (Dr Margetts) Exactly. That was just an example.

  304. I think there is in what Dr Coleman is saying a challenge to Parliament to capture some of this space never mind a challenge to Parliament to encourage Government.
  (Dr Margetts) And to have a presence there.

Mr White

  305. Is there not also a challenge to the political parties to adapt to this?
  (Dr Margetts) Yes, and to some extent they have. Look at the political party sites, you can do more with them than a lot of the departmental sites.
  (Dr Coleman) I think it is distinctly about a role for Parliament. Government generally knows what it is there to do. It governs and the Executive is very good at doing it and very well resourced at doing it. I think political parties also know what they are doing, which is that they are using it to organise within and not to inform people without because they do not see this as being the moment to use the Web to do that. I think they are right. What is significant is the role of Parliament here. Parliament is a representative body. Christine or Helen were saying that a department could wrap itself up as a Web site and I think that is what Parliament can do. I think that the Parliamentary Web site can be the door into Parliament, can be the access to a digitised record of Parliament, to the individual MP's Web sites, to opportunities to feed into Committee inquiries. Every Bill should be published on the Parliamentary Web site at the very point when the Bill is first being considered. So that it becomes a much broader opportunity for citizens to have some kind of ownership of this place because, after all, they do technically own it and they can feel that they can enter it wherever they happen to be. If Parliament then finds that it is bombarded by thousands of American PhD students who say, "We want to use this for writing an essay," that is a particular technology problem which is not that difficult to overcome. If one finds lots of people who are not constituents of one particular MP writing to that MP, that has to be dealt with. In fact, in most corporations that is the way problems are dealt with. They are dealt with first of all by setting up the structure and then by dealing with difficulties of overload in one area and the need to manage knowledge in another.

  Chairman: That may be a note to end on. Thank you very much indeed for your evidence. It has been extremely useful to us. Thank you for coming along.





 
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