SUMMARY OF CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
(a) 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 (paragraph 8).
Need for analysis
(b) A major effort to bring to reality
the promise of public and private e-business within and outside
Government is now under way. We commend to other departmental
committees the 65 commitments in the September 2000 Report as
a rich seam, which we suspect would benefit from further scrutiny
(c) 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.
We are concerned at this mini-empire growing up in the shadow
of the e-Envoy. 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. 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has been replaced by the language of Whitehall.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 (paragraphs 7 and 10).
(d) 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. 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 completing the orders set out 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 (paragraphs 13
Trusted Service Providers and tScheme
(e) 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 (paragraph ?).
(f) 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 (paragraph 17).
(g) 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. 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 (paragraphs
18 and 24).
(h) 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 (paragraph 28).
(i) We record the abolition of betting
tax as one of the first fiscal casualties of electronic commerce.
We look to the next Annual Report to give a full critical commentary
on developments in the taxation policy area (paragraphs 32 and
(j) 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. 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 (paragraph
(k) 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 (paragraph
(l) 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. 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 (paragraphs 47 and 48).
Digital divide: programmes
(m) Two years after the announcement that
100,000 low income families would be receiving and paying for
recycled computers, it seems that only a third of that number
have received them, within the last few months (paragraph 56).
(n) If the Wired Up Communities programme
is to prove of any value it can only be if the level of expenditure
and effort needed to produce worthwhile results stands any chance
of being replicated on a national scale (paragraph 57).
Digital divide: general
(o) Some programmes seem to be designed
to make a real difference. Others are evidently a drop in the
ocean; they are either pilots which seek to prove that further
expenditure is justified, or futile gestures. These initiatives
and centres and development programmes do not amount to a strategy
to overcome the digital divide between old and young, rich and
poor, urban and rural. In the context of the scale of the digital
divide, they look like woefully inadequate gestures. Millions
of people are excluded, not the thousands reached so far by these
initiatives. We hope that the e-Envoy will be given time to look
up from the world of e-Whitehall and take a holistic view of the
divide. His first priority must be to bridge that gap with a rounded
strategy, based on the experience gained of the rather disparate
initiatives of the past few years. We look forward to its presentation
in the next Annual Report (paragraphs 55 and 62).
Education and skills
(p) There is an impressive array of educational
initiatives and efforts designed to get on top of the ICT training
agenda. There remains a massive task. Some of the initiatives
would repay closer study than we have given them, perhaps by other
departmental select committees; being able to teach Japanese by
ICT, for example, may be useful but cannot be at the centre of
the nation's educational requirements. We suspect that it is proving
harder to reach older people. It would be useful to have some
idea of measurable output in the next Annual Report, and to have
a European perspective on the UK level of achievement, at all
stages of lifelong learning (paragraph 66).
(q) Consumer confidence in e-commerce
and awareness of consumer rights remains low. We would
welcome the deployment of the resources of DTI's consumer division,
led by the responsible Minister, to publicise the efforts being
made to make the electronic marketplace at least as safe a place
to buy as the real marketplace, and to consider what more needs
to be done (paragraph 69).
Advice to business
(r) There is in our view a role here for
the Chief Executive of the Small Business Service to examine these
support programmes anew and satisfy himself and those who advise
him on the Small Business Council that this is the best use of
the business support funds available (paragraph 71).
(s) In the absence of an authoritative
study, undertaken by those without a vested interest in boosting
electronic commerce, strategies designed to increase the volume
of electronic commerce run the risk of being counter-productive.
We look forward to the early production of an evaluation of the
net economic effect of e-commerce (paragraph 72).