II INSIDE GOVERNMENT |
4. The idea of appointing an e-Envoy on the model
of the US Presidential Adviser Ira Magaziner was first officially
announced by the then Secretary of State in the House of Commons
during oral questions on 25 November 1998. The job was described
as helping "to lead the United Kingdom in international discussions
on electronic commerce". The job description was published
on the internet on 3 December 1998, stressing his role as a "public
figurehead" and a "champion" of UK e-commerce in
the UK and abroad. In
July 1999 we endorsed the proposed status of the e-Envoy as a
special adviser rather than a civil servant, suggesting that "perceptions
of the independence from Government of the e-envoy are likely
to be enhanced if it is made clear that the post-holder is not
a civil servant". We warned then against
- objectives so vague as to render impossible
any assessment of their achievement
- burdening the post with a "host of unduly
ambitious and unrealistic objectives and responsibilities"
- the deflection to the e-Envoy "a
prominent but unempowered official" of difficult
decisions and thorny issues.
We also commented unfavourably on the long delay
in appointing the e-Envoy, reflecting the strong sense in the
e-commerce community that this reflected a lack of Government
5. On 13 September 1999, at the same time as the
publication of the PIU Report, the Prime Minister announced the
appointment of Alex Allan, a serving civil servant, as the first
e-Envoy. The Government's October 1999 Reply to our July 1999
Report stated that this "high-profile appointment has clearly
demonstrated the Government's commitment to e-commerce".
It also stated that, in order for the e-Envoy "to be independent
and able to criticise the actions of the Government in relation
to e-commerce", his team "will not have any direct responsibility
for operational matters", concentrating on ensuring that
targets and timescales were met.
6. Alex Allan was not able to take up the position
until January 2000. He was obliged for private reasons to resign
in October 2000. Andrew Pinder was appointed as acting e-Envoy
and following a public competition and interviews was appointed
as e-Envoy at the end of January 2001.
7. In September 2000 the first Annual Report of the
e-Minister and e-Envoy was "published" by being placed
on the internet. The Report, entitled UK Online: Annual Report,
provides not, as we had reasonably anticipated, an independent
commentary and critique of the progress being made over a wide
range of policy areas, but
- a new set of 25 headline objectives and of
65 sub-objectives, reorganising and taking forward the 60 detailed
commitments in the 1999 PIU Report, and described as the UK online
- a generally self-congratulatory account of
Government initiatives, policies and projects.
The Report is evidently from the Government, as indicated
by the frequent use of the term "we" to indicate Government
action. It is a thorough and informative document. It is only
too evident that what we feared has come to pass; that the e-Envoy
has been absorbed into the machinery of Whitehall and is now an
adjunct of the e-Minister.
8. The Report was not laid before Parliament; no
hard copy had therefore to be produced. The full text
and it is around 80 sides of print is only available electronically.
The e-Minister assured us that anybody contacting the office of
the e-Envoy would be sent a hard copy on demand, and that this
offer was apparent from the website.
While printing of a copy may be possible for some of those likely
to be interested in the document, others would find a paper copy
easier to access and read and store. It is not a promising
symptom of the attitude of Government to the digital divide that
such a key document as the e-Minister and e-Envoy's first Annual
Report should not have been made more readily available in paper
form as well as electronically. We recommend that future annual
reports be made available in paper, when the House is sitting.
9. The e-Envoy is hardly a lonely figure at the heart
of Government. There is to be exponential growth in the Office
of the e-Envoy. Following our December 2000 oral evidence we sought
details of the e-Envoy's planned staffing and future costs.
The size of the office is to rise from 61 staff in October 2000
to 158 staff by 1 April 2001 and 212 staff by April 2002. The
number of senior civil servants is to rise to 14. Most of the
staff are to be at the junior management level, including a 2002
total of 45 A grades and 88 B2 grades. The running costs are to
double from £11.6 million to £22.8 million, including
an estimated £5 million on publicity and advertising. There
is to be a 22-strong communications department. The Office will
apparently require its own Finance and Resources Management, with
12 posts. The overall figures include around 20 posts in the "Knowledge
Network", but not, for example, the new Office of Government
Commerce. The Office
is not a regulatory body; the costs cannot be recovered from industry.
10. We are concerned at this mini-empire growing
up in the shadow of the e-Envoy. So are others. The Better
Regulation Task Force's December 2000 Report accepted that "the
complexity of cross-government IT projects has meant that the
e-Envoy's office has had to adopt more of an implementation role",
but warned that it was important that "once these projects
are delivered, the e-Envoy's office disengages from this implementing
assurances given in October 1999 in response to our July 1999
Report that the e-Envoy would not be responsible for implementation
seem to have been overlooked. The promotion of UK electronic business
seems to have fallen by the wayside.
The broad and critical view taken in the 1999 PIU Report has been
replaced by the language of Whitehall. We greatly fear that the
original concept of the e-Envoy has been captured, tamed and bureaucratised
into an e-official planted in an e-office, no doubt full of activity
but caught between being an agency of implementation and a powerhouse
of ideas. It is not too late for a rethink of the scale and nature
of the Office, nor of the role of the e-Envoy.
Secondary legislation on signatures etc
11. In May 1999 we were critical of the DTI for its
slowness to recognise the need for swift legislative action to
remove outdated requirements in primary and secondary legislation
for written documents and physical signatures. We recommended
that powers should be taken in primary legislation to change existing
statute by secondary legislation. The Act gives Ministers power
under section 8 to amend statute by order so as to permit electronic
signatures and the possibility of communicating electronically
rather than in writing.
12. The September 1999 PIU Report recommended that
steps be taken "as swiftly as possible" by departments
to ensure that advantage could be taken of the provisions in the
Bill, and that work on this should start in parallel with the
passage of the Bill through Parliament.
We welcomed the "new sense of urgency" in our October
1999 Report on the draft Bill and recommended that departments
publish their priorities for using such secondary legislation.
The Government accepted this recommendation in January 2000 and
also the recommendation that departments publish within two years
details of all the outdated statutory definitions of words such
as "writing" and "signature" which they intend
13. On 24 May 2000, the day before Royal Assent to
the Bill, a list of 11 possible items of secondary legislation
was published as a Written Answer.
These included some issues of real significance, such as electronic
conveyancing, electronic authentication of records for legal purposes
and electronic communications between companies and shareholders,
and some of rather a lesser degree of significance. The Answer
also revealed that some departments "have not identified
any such statutory requirements that require updating". Some
of the changes had been in prospect for some time, including the
amendment of the Companies Act. In the past few months there have
been a few further proposals. The March 2001 progress report lists
16 proposals. Some of the new ones are significant, including
the possibility of conclusion of a regulated credit agreement
by electronic means, and the introduction of electronic prescriptions.
The Regulations allowing GPs to hold electronic patient records,
cited in monthly progress reports as an example of removal of
a barrier, were in fact made under other statutory powers and
had been subject to discussion for over a year. Two Orders are
listed as having been made. Although nobody could describe
the intended output of secondary legislation arising from section
8 of the Electronic Communications Act as dramatic in its scale
or scope, there are a number of proposals out for consultation
which if they come to fruition could have genuinely beneficial
14. The September 2000 Annual Report revealed in
all its modesty the Government's target that "70% of those
Orders announced to Parliament by Ian McCartney on 24 May 2000
will be made by the end of 2001", with the rest by the end
of 2002. We cannot fathom the mathematics behind this what
is 70% of 11? or the policy thinking. If these are priority
Orders, identified in the course of 1999 and early 2000, we cannot
understand why they cannot be brought forward now, in 2001. The
e-Minister told us that there were pressures on lawyers' time
as a result of the Human Rights Act.
We are also concerned that some departments should evidently be
dragging their feet. The Minister admitted that some had moved
faster than others, and that Ministers had written to several
recommend that departments which have not identified any need
for secondary legislation to allow for electronic signatures be
asked for evidence of the nature of their inquiries, that the
target for passage of the measures referred to in the May 2000
written answer be revised to 100% achievement, and that a second
tranche of orders be brought forward as soon as possible.
15. One of the two principle purposes of the Electronic
Communications Act was to give Ministers powers to introduce a
statutory scheme for licensing of Trusted Service Providers (TSPs),
in the event of failure of self-regulation through a voluntary
accreditation scheme. This proposal was a compromise which we
had put forward in our May 1999 Report, following an acrimonious
controversy between business and Government as to the need for
16. The voluntary accreditation scheme developed
by the Alliance for Electronic Business (AEB) is known as the
tScheme. The September 2000 Report committed the Government to
continue to work with the AEB to create the tScheme. In December
2000 the Minister told us that she was satisfied with progress,
although there were very difficult issues, and that it was still
hoped that it would be possible to begin delivering approvals
to the TSPs in March 2001. The e-Envoy noted that the Government
Gateway going live for transactions in March would also assist
on the demand side for these services. Viacode, owned by the Post
Office (Consignia), are likely to be the first approved accreditor.
Successive progress reports record that promotional work is pending
until the scheme is up and running, and that the Cabinet Office
is in active discussion with tScheme on how approvals can meet
specific government needs in respect of authentication. Much
parliamentary time has been devoted to the question of regulation
of approvals for Trusted Service Providers. We would welcome a
detailed progress report on the tScheme in response to this Report.
17. The other principle point of controversy in legislation
on electronic commerce, on which we reported in 1999, was over
the interception of communications regime. This was in the end
introduced and passed as a separate Regulation of Investigatory
Powers Act. The regime is primarily a Home Office responsibility.
There are continuing points at issue, including the apportionment
of the costs of the interception regime. There have been meetings
with the Minister of State at the Home Office on 13 December 2000
and 12 March 2001. Some alarm has been caused by proposals from
law enforcement agencies that Internet Service Providers would
have to retain records of communications for a period of years.
We understand that, despite the Minister telling us in December
2000 that Ministers did not favour these proposals,
the agencies are continuing to press for them in a European context.
The Internet Crime Forum is intended to facilitate dialogue between
all those involved in what has in the past been a confrontation.
There is a general interest in helping ensure that the internet
is both secure from attack and not used for criminal purposes.
We welcome continuing reporting of progress through the monthly
implementation reports, and recommend that the next Annual Report
reveal practical examples of the benefits of the changes introduced
in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.
18. It is generally recognised that the provision
of the right infrastructure over the whole country and the right
competitive framework to ensure that consumer demands are met
is critical if the Government's other targets are to be met. The
first major Objective of the September 2000 Report is to "drive
forward competition in internet access markets", with specific
objectives related to increased and cheaper dial-up internet access,
unbundling the local loop, leased lines competition, digital TV
and the competitive roll-out of 3G mobile phones. We have inquired
into several of these matters in the recent past, in oral evidence
from Oftel or in separate inquiries. We have also been able to
examine the December 2000 Communications White Paper, A New
Future for Communications.
The success of the new regulatory structure proposed in the
Communications White Paper will to a great measure be judged by
the extent to which it is able to ensure a more transparent and
competitive electronic market place.
19. BT introduced FRIACO (wholesale flat-rate Internet
access) in mid-2000, following an Oftel determination in May 2000.
On 15 February 2001 Oftel issued a further direction requiring
BT to offer FRIACO at the "tandem" exchange. Oftel's
Competition Act investigation into the pricing of BT Surf Together
and BT Talk and Surf Together and its market review of dial
-up internet access market are both nearing completion. Similarly,
Oftel should shortly be confirming the draft direction issued
in December 2000 on competition on leased lines.
20. We published our Report on local loop unbundling
(LLU) on 20 March 2001, concluding that there were "still
some considerable challenges ahead before LLU is successfully
implemented", that "the UK cannot afford further delays
if we are to meet the obligations set down by the European Regulation",
that "the process of LLU to date has run less than smoothly",
and that "if the Government is to meet its objective of making
the UK one of the world's leading knowledge economies, LLU must
21. We also raised in that Report the failure to
sell a number of the broadband licences offered for auction
in 2000, and referred to the Minister's February 2001 announcement
of proposals for allocating the unsold licences.
The Government has announced a modest initiative for local broadband
services and an audit of bandwidth requirements in 100 market
towns. We welcomed
"the Minister's recognition that there is a role for public
sector intervention in the provision of infrastructure in such
cases where the market cannot be expected to provide it."
22. The Culture, Media and Sport Committee devoted
some space in its recent Report on the Communications White Paper
to exploring the connection or the lack of such a connection
in policy terms between broadband, the internet and television,
noting that access to the Internet could be an important driver
of the take-up of digital television, and recommending
more stress in promoting digital television on its role as "an
easy and affordable gateway to the internet".
23. We heard evidence on 13 March 2001 on the issue
of planning controls which it is proposed to introduce on telecommunications
masts, with potential implications for the roll-out of 3G mobile
telephony. The Government announced its proposals in outline
on 16 March 2001.
We will be reporting on this shortly. The February 2001 progress
report records that Oftel is several months behind schedule in
reaching its final statement on competitiveness of the mobile
market; this is now due in July/August 2001. There has also been
delay in the production of a strategy paper on mobile e-commerce
24. It is apparent to us from all that we
have heard over recent months in evidence from the Minister and
from the Director-General of Oftel that there is still a lot of
unfinished business in driving forward the necessary infrastructure
changes to make a reality of the Government's electronic agenda
ambitions. It is scant satisfaction that most of our European
partners are experiencing similar problems. Ministers and the
regulator must continue to concentrate on creating the right infrastructure
and on opening up competition in a number of areas so that other
e-initiatives do not run into the roadblock of most people finding
the electronic world inaccessible on terms they can afford and
under conditions which suit them.
25. The Government is committed to reviewing the
regulatory regimes in all sectors of the economy to ensure that
they are responsive to the changes brought about by the internet.
The September 1999 PIU Report called for such a review, within
the context of the wider sectoral impact assessments recommended.
26. DTI produced a report on the impact of e-commerce
on regulatory regimes, highlighting some measures which could
or had been taken in response to electronic commerce, including
spectrum trading to create a market in the licences that assign
frequencies and, once the much-discussed copyright Directive is
adopted, a clearer regulatory regime on copyright. Its findings
are, we understand, to be updated on a six-monthly basis. The
Office of Fair Trading published a Report in August 2000 which
concluded that the current regulatory framework for competition
did not need to be changed on account of the development of e-commerce.
This confirms the view apparently expressed by others that e-commerce
"can be dealt with adequately within the existing framework
of competition law".
On 12 March 2001 the e-Minister announced the Government's decision
to make no significant change to the patentability of software,
in contrast to recent moves in the US. The Government is now seeking
a European directive embodying this view.
27. The Better Regulation Task Force published a
Review of e-commerce regulation on 14 December 2000, entitled
Regulating Cyberspace. The BRTF Review found that "the
open structure of the Internet marketplace is not mirrored by
a sufficiently transparent regulatory framework" and suggested
that businesses needed reassurance that there was in fact little
or no "additional e-regulation". It expressed the fear
that "businesses may be discouraged from engaging in e-commerce
through a misconception about potential risks". The e-Minister
welcomed it as an "independent endorsement for the Government's
light touch regulatory approach to e-commerce", and the DTI
announced that a response would be published "early in the
New Year". As we understand it, this has yet to appear.
28. The evidence does not suggest that regulation
is holding back e-commerce. There is however a strong perception
that it could; this requires dispelling. We trust that some positive
effort will indeed be devoted to that end, as recommended by the
Better Regulation Task Force.
29. Objective 4.4 in the September 2000 Report calls
on the UK to play a leading role in international efforts to update
the tax regime so that it is relevant to a world of electronic
as well as physical markets. The process got underway in October
1998 at the OECD conference in Ottawa on e-commerce, which endorsed
a two-year work programme. At that time the Government set out
the principles to be applied to the taxation of electronic commerce
technology-neutrality, certainty and transparency, effectiveness
and efficiency. On 6 October 1998 the Inland Revenue and HM Customs
and Excise issued a joint paper on the possible tax implications
of electronic commerce, including the question of the taxation
status of "goods" downloaded from the internet, the
taxation of payments made for such material, and the relevance
of the concept of the place of permanent establishment.
30. We examined some of the issues in our July 1999
Report, drawing on the briefings we had received in the United
States on the difficulties encountered there in reaching a consensus
on several taxation issues as well as on the evidence we had received.
The September 1999 PIU Report made a number of specific recommendations
on taxation, including resolution of the issues raised in the
1998 tax authorities paper. In December 2000 we raised the issue
with the e-Minister who assured us that the work was "progressing
We received a detailed memorandum from the Treasury.
31. It was already generally agreed at the 1998 Ottawa
Conference that consumption taxes should be levied at the consumer's
place of residence and that digital products bought over the internet
were not goods for the purposes of taxation, but services.
The focus is now on how to collect the tax in cross-border business
to consumer transactions. A draft EU Directive was presented by
the Commission in June 2000 on the treatment for VAT purposes
of certain e-commerce services. This seeks to put EU traders on
a level with non-EU web traders for the purposes of tax, and is
generally supported by the Government, which has some anxieties
over the arrangements for collecting tax from non-EU companies
on sales to EU consumers. The Progress Report records that the
November 2000 ECOFIN meeting ensured that all options for collecting
tax from operators in non-EU countries should be examined before
a final draft directive was submitted. It is hoped to reach agreement
by June 2001. There is also apparently also a consensus that a
web site is not of itself a "permanent establishment",
following the UK's firm adoption of this position in advance of
a formal OECD consensus, and that payments for downloading are
not royalties for tax purposes.
32. We welcomed in our July 1999 Report the Government's
indication that it would play an active role in efforts to safeguard
national tax revenues "from a proliferation of low-tax or
tax-free internet gambling facilities".
The 1999 PIU Report recommended that the UK should seek international
examination of the implications of e-commerce betting and gaming
for the tax yield from this sector, noting that this should be
initiated by the OECD by December 1999. The 2000 Budget announced
a consultation on modernising General Betting Duty, so that full
advantage could be taken of the opportunities offered by e-commerce,
while ensuring that the future revenue stream from betting was
protected . The Pre-Budget Statement of 8 November 2000 announced
that the Government believed that there was scope for reform,
possibly along the lines of the Gross Profits Tax reform outlined,
and that there would be an announcement at the time of the 2001
Budget, following further discussions to ensure that " the
benefits of any change are fairly shared".
The Budget announcement of 7 March 2001 confirmed that betting
duty would be abolished. We record the abolition of betting
tax as one of the first fiscal casualties of electronic commerce.
33. The Government is actively working on the next
stage of the OECD's work programme, which is to include a major
conference for revenue authorities in June 2001 on tax administration.
Future work plans should be available very shortly. The issue
of taxation of e-commerce is of more than technical importance.
E-commerce poses some risk to tax revenues, for example as a result
of the difficulties over collecting VAT on cross-border transactions,
but also through avoidance. There has been reasonable progress
but much remains to be done, in particular to establish how VAT
is to be collected from consumers in the EU who purchase goods
from outside the EU. We look to the next Annual Report to give
a full critical commentary on developments in the taxation policy
34. In 1997 the Prime Minister established a broad
target that 25% of the Government's dealings with people should
be capable of being carried out electronically by 2002. The 1998
Modernising Government White Paper added to that by setting targets
of 50% by 2005 and 100% by 2008. The 2002 target as then defined
was too easily reachable, not least as it relied on counting the
number of transactions rather than the number of key services.
In March 2000 the Prime Minister brought forward to 2005 the target
date for all services to be online.
35. There has over the past few years plainly been
some advance in electronic services for citizens. DTI record that
8% of the department's services were electronically available
in 1997 and 23% in June 1999.
That may however have been unintentionally misleading. DTI told
us in response to our queries on the 1998 Competitiveness White
Paper that 90 % of the department's individual transactions were
carried out through Companies House, the Patent Office and the
Radiocommunications Agency. That left many important but relatively
lower volume services not electronically accessible.
36. The April 2000 e-Government paper set out a detailed
way forward. In June 2000 the DTI told us that revised targets
had been set based on 50% of key services being electronically
enabled by 2002, with the percentages calculated against the total
number of such services rather than the volume of transactions.
In mid-January 2001 the Minister of State at the Cabinet Office
announced that the latest progress report laid in the Library
showed 42% of services electronically available.
We recommended in January 2001 that the DTI should identify in
future Annual Reports those key departmental services not
We have also followed in Reports and evidence the introduction
of the ELATE software into the Export Control Organisation.
37. There have been two recent major developments
in the electronic government agenda
- the launch of the UK online citizens Portal,
where information can be found connected to major life episodes.
The first four were "having a baby", "moving home",
"going away" (on holiday etc) and "dealing with
crime". Two more on "death and bereavement" and
"learning to drive" were launched in February; there
are to be six more by July 2001. It is not possible to conduct
transactions through this portal.
- the launch in January 2001of the Government
Gateway for real transactions with Government agencies, in
the first instance the Inland Revenue, Customs and Excise and
MAFF. Other services are being prioritised for addition to these.
38. We are not established to conduct a detailed
assessment of the reality behind the fulfilment of targets across
government departments, nor to take in the flood of real or electronic
documents on e-government. We suspect, however, from our knowledge
of one department that there may be an undue concentration in
the monitoring and target-setting on electronic government on
making services available, rather than on the quality of services
or on take-up. Anecdotal evidence so far suggests that take-up
is low. Few people have availed themselves of the opportunity
to file their tax returns electronically. The drive to liberalise
Government information and make it available digitally to class
licence holders on a "click-use -pay" basis has yet
to be launched. Those
agencies operating as trading funds and they are the big
earners in Government information may be unwilling to renounce
a major source of income. The introduction of pilot e-procurement
projects has slipped.
There is still a slight whiff of unreality in the electronic
government agenda. We had hoped that the e-Envoy as originally
envisaged might provide an objective analysis of such an issue,
from outside the machinery of Government. It is a task which some
element of the select committee system may feel obliged to take
up in the new Parliament.
39. In December 1999 the Commission launched
an e-Europe initiative. In March 2000 the Lisbon European Council
set the objective for Europe to become the most competitive and
dynamic economy in the world. The Minister described this in evidence
to us as "a watershed in the development of the European
40. In June 2000 an e-Europe 2002 Action Plan was
adopted at the Feira European Council, setting out around 60 actions
grouped into a number of objectives. The Minister told us in December
2000 that the Commissioner responsible was driving it forward
with great vigour.
The September 2000 Report described the priorities as "cheaper
Internet access, accelerating e-commerce and bolstering ICT skills".
41. In December 2000 the Commission presented the
Nice Summit with
- an update on progress in areas for which the
Commission and other European actors were responsible, in the
form of a short Communication, backed by
- a longer staff paper on progress in each "action
At the same time the French Presidency presented
- a document seeking to record progress in each
member state on the 25 targets, and
- a document providing a rather optimistic assessment
(in French) of the achievements of the French Presidency.
An assessment against benchmarks is to take place
at the Stockholm European Council in March 2001. The February
2001 progress report records that the Presidency and Commission
are working together to produce a paper " identifying priorities
for eEurope, to be given political endorsement at Stockholm".
42. Implementation of the e-Europe Action Plan is
one of the UK's objectives.
The e-Europe initiative set out 25 immediate targets, 10 of them
to be met by the end of 2000 and the other 15 by the end of 2001.
Most are familiar to readers of the UK targets local loop
unbundling, lower access tariffs and so on. Some are not visibly
reflected in the UK's national target set. These include two targets
on Intelligent Transport Systems covering traveller information
systems and wireless communication for high speed trains; the
introduction of a European diploma for basic information technology
skills, where the UK is aware of the excessive number of local
certificates; and the establishment of a set of quality criteria
for health related websites, where the NHS Information Authority
is apparently developing a set of quality criteria. Given the
UK's general commitment to the e-Europe process, there would be
value in reporting annually on the achievement at national level
of those e-Europe targets not already directly reflected in the
UK's own targets.
43. The French Presidency paper of 66 pages of comments
by member states on their achievements in meeting the targets
set for the end of 2000 and 2001 is a pretty mixed bag.
- There are some interesting insights into programmes
in member states: "digital North Jutland" in Denmark
and "Aveiro Cidade Digital" in Portugal, the Irish Code
of Practice on Teleworking, the French, Portuguese and Spanish
efforts to promote European content, and others;
- Belgium scarcely provide
any responses of any value in assessing progress; the notes on
progress in Finland are vague and repetitive; and the reader
will not come away with a very clear picture of what is happening
- Ireland and Portugal
the latter the country under whose Presidency the initiative
began provide a wealth of useful information which would
enable anyone analysing the material to come to some sort of conclusion.
The same is true of most of the larger Member States.
- The UK apparently failed to respond to
the targets on adoption of the Web Accessibility Initiative guidelines
for public websites or on establishing electronic marketplaces
for public procurements, but otherwise provided helpful notes
44. The Commission Communication was published in
late November 2000. Erkki Liikanen, the Commissioner responsible,
was quoted as saying "The year 2000 has truly been the year
of the Internet in Europe", and as welcoming figures showing
a 55% growth in internet penetration in the last six months in
Europe, from 18% of households to 28%. The paper concluded that
e-Europe had had a "broad policy impact" in raising
awareness and in fostering the development of new initiatives,
in the private as well as the public sector. It referred to six
- Smart Cards, where
the Commission has sponsored a drive towards common standards
a $150 million project to help "European" content on
the internet, an area identified by the French Presidency as of
particular importance, and which we understand can include some
English language content;
- Education, with an
- Research networks,
upgrading the interconnections between Europe's research networks;
- Regional Funds, including
the e-Europe Regio initiative;
and the launch of the .eu top level domain
name and registry.
45. A benchmarking programme has begun, with
the construction of a list of 23 e-Europe indicators and
the assurance that it will cover best practice as well as quantitative
analysis.. The indicators go beyond the UK's lists to include,
for example, the equipping of motorways with information on traffic
jams, and two relating to access by health professionals to the
internet. The indicators seem only tangentially related to the
25 e-Europe targets, and scarcely at all to the Commission initiatives
and key issues. There will also be a e-Europe website.
46. The Commission emphasised four issues to be addressed
- the linking of benchmarks etc to policy implementation,
in particular on information systems security.
This was one of the French Presidency priorities. They organised
a major seminar in November 2000 at Poitiers. The Swedish Presidency
has also made this issue a priority;
- using potential of digital technologies to generate
significant productivity gains;
- transposition of e-commerce and e-signature
- using the new economy to help accession countries
"e-Europe+" and the less developed countries
bridge the international digital divide, as sought by the
G8 "dot force". This was apparently regarded by the
French Presidency as a priority area; our informal inquiries in
Brussels suggested that it was not currently high on the e-radar
The February 2001 UK progress report records that
among the areas which may be identified at Stockholm for priority
treatment are "tackling gender issues" a general
theme of the Swedish Presidency and extending the eEurope+
programme for accession countries.
47. At the end of the day we question what purpose
is served in pumping out all these e-targets, most of which are
only capable of being met as a result of national policies and
practices, or in identifying "priorities" if they change
with each Presidency and represent no more than a dish of the
day from an ever longer a la carte menu. Nobody seems to be
in a position to say with any authority whether targets have been
met by individual Member States, let alone do anything about it
if they have not. Nor can "priorities" be given any
- The Commission may not be staffed to do
this and seems in any event to have developed its own policies
and initiatives, some of which reflect the 25 e-Europe targets
such as e-content and research networks and others
of which do not.
- The European Parliament is not likely
to do so.
- National Parliaments
have enough to do, judging from our experience, in keeping up
with one government's targets without expanding their focus to
look at others.
- The Presidency country may or may not
be enthusiastic about chasing these targets, and cannot be expected
to be unduly critical about the performance of individual member
48. It is difficult not to be sceptical about
these rather grandiose and flabby plans. They could however
offer the opportunity for a member state to assess its own plans
against those produced elsewhere. Ideally, somebody should be
asking Governments why something can be done and is being done
in one member state but not another. National Parliaments are
ideally placed to do this. If the e-Europe initiative is not seized
upon by Parliaments it will become another initiative doomed to
live alongside the bones of other long-discarded Declarations.
We can but hope that something emerges from Stockholm to give
8 Printed in full in HC 648 , para 32 Back
9 Ibid Back
835, page v Back
p 27ff Back
7; Ev, pp 20-22 Back
Q 5 Back
C 862, paras 17 and 18 Back
168, page v Back
Deb, 24 May 2000, cols 531-3w Back
also Second Report form the Culture, Media and Sport Committee,
HC 161 of session 2000-01, The Communications White Paper Back
90 of session 2000-01 Back
Press notice P/2001/64, 13/02/01 Back
for all in a world of change,
White Paper, DTI, DfEE, Cm 5052, paras 4.42-4.52 Back
161, paras 69-91 Back
Deb, 16 March 2001, cols 748-751w Back
31 7.16 Back
Review of Impact on regulatory Regimes Back
Press Release P/2001/147 Back
648, paras 101-106 Back
Ev, pp 22-4 Back
PIU Report, Box 7.3 Back
648, para 104 Back
4917, para 5.110 Back
4611, page 20 Back
4611, page 20 Back
Deb, 17 January 2001, col 330 Back
140, para 47 Back
140, paras 46, 50-1 and refs there to evidence Back
p 24 and Q 46 Back
pp 25-7 Back
103-4 and progress reports Back