Select Committee on Trade and Industry Eighth Report



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.[8] 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 commitment.[9]

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.[10]

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 strategy;[11]

  • 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.[12] 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.[13] 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.[14] 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 role".[15] The 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.[16] 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.[17] 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.[18] 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 to update.[19]

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.[20] 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 effects.

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.[21] 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 departments.[22] We 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 statutory regulation.

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.[23] 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.

Interception regime

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,[24] 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.[25] 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 be successful."[26]

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.[27] The Government has announced a modest initiative for local broadband services and an audit of bandwidth requirements in 100 market towns.[28] 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".[29]

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.[30] 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 — " m-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.[31]

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".[32] 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.[33]

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.[34] 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 pretty well".[35] We received a detailed memorandum from the Treasury.[36]

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.[37] 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".[38] 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".[39] 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 area.


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.[40] 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.[41]

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.[42] We recommended in January 2001 that the DTI should identify in future Annual Reports those key departmental services not electronically accessible.[43] We have also followed in Reports and evidence the introduction of the ELATE software into the Export Control Organisation.[44]

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.[45]

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.[46] 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.[47] 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 Union".

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.[48] 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 line".

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.[49] 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 in Greece.

  • 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 on progress.

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 specific initiatives —

  • Smart Cards, where the Commission has sponsored a drive towards common standards and applications;

  • e-Content, 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 e-Learning initiative;

  • 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 directives;

  • 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 screen.

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 real priority.

  • 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 states.

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 us hope.

8  Printed in full in HC 648 , para 32 Back

9  Ibid Back

10  HC 835, page v Back

11  Ev, p 27ff  Back

12  Qq 49ff Back

13  Q 7; Ev, pp 20-22 Back

14  See Q 5 Back

15  Page 17 Back

16  Q 1 Back

17  10.43, 10.45 Back

18   C 862, paras 17 and 18 Back

19  HC 168, page v Back

20  HC Deb, 24 May 2000, cols 531-3w Back

21  Qq 37-8 Back

22  Qq 35-7 Back

23  Q 89 Back

24  Qq 93-4 Back

25  See also Second Report form the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, HC 161 of session 2000-01, The Communications White Paper Back

26  HC 90 of session 2000-01 Back

27  DTI Press notice P/2001/64, 13/02/01 Back

28  Opportunity for all in a world of change, White Paper, DTI, DfEE, Cm 5052, paras 4.42-4.52 Back

29  HC 161, paras 69-91 Back

30  HC Deb, 16 March 2001, cols 748-751w Back

31  7.16 Back

32  DTI Review of Impact on regulatory Regimes Back

33  DTI Press Release P/2001/147 Back

34  HC 648, paras 101-106 Back

35  Q 60 Back

36   Ev, pp 22-4 Back

37  See PIU Report, Box 7.3 Back

38  HC 648, para 104 Back

39  Cm 4917, para 5.110 Back

40  Cm 4611, page 20 Back

41  Cm 4611, page 20 Back

42  HC Deb, 17 January 2001, col 330 Back

43  HC 140, para 47 Back

44  HC 140, paras 46, 50-1 and refs there to evidence Back

45  Ev, p 24 and Q 46 Back

46  Ev, pp 25-7 Back

47  Qq 103-4 and progress reports Back

48  Q 55 Back

49  numbered 4.1 Back

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