|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
The advertising industry bases its assessment of television watching on 1,000 telephone interviews. That is a very concentrated process for providing ratings. Is it possible to feed such a system into the e-democracy debate? We could invite an outside agency to telephone 1,000 people to test a debate or an issue. It has been statistically proven that that is the best method. The current system is often only one-way.
Similar ideas have been brought to my attention during the debate. For example, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations suggested that we might set up a citizens panel to which we could refer major questions in Parliament. Departments could also refer to that panel and the consultations could be conducted partially or fully via new forms of technology.
Several Select Committees are considering ways in which they can use new technology to reach out to smaller voluntary organisations that might not be able to give evidence in person, but could provide it through the web or e-mail. Greater access for the public could be a great gain. However, I fully agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North that we must do that
The Select Committee on Procedure is currently holding an inquiry into parliamentary questions which will report later this year. I understand that there is overwhelming support among Members for e-tabling of parliamentary questions.
Let me move on briefly to e-voting by the electorate. There is great potential for us to use new technology to make the voting process in elections more convenient to the elector, more accessible to all sections of the electorateparticularly those who are less likely to vote, such as young peopleand more efficient, thus possibly leading to greater turnout at elections. There are obvious areas of caution such as security issues involving the internet, let alone telephone voting and, of course, the digital divide issues, to which my hon. Friend referred. That is why the Government are moving forward with caution on such matters.
Last month, the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions announced 30 pilot schemes for this May's local elections. Those schemes range from all-postal-vote elections in certain authorities; some trial use of mobile phone text messaging and local digital television for voting; trials of internet voting from home, local libraries and council information kiosks; early and extended voting; and electronic counting. The Electoral Commission is giving financial support and advice to the pilot authorities.
The aim of those pilot schemes in new forms of voting is to help to develop secure online voting, so that we can open the possibility that e-voting will play a role in a future general election after 2006roughly translated, that means not at the next general election. Nevertheless, that is something to which we can all aspire.
In consulting on the various issues of e-democracy, it is very important, as my hon. Friend implied at the beginning, that we reach out beyond the usual suspects, whether computer expertsmy hon. Friend had another word for themor constitutional reformers, who may take a certain view on the wider context of such issues. We want the consultation to reach the wider public. That is why we want to ensure that we get the consultation document absolutely right when we launch it.
Finally, I pay tribute to all those who worked hard on such issues inside and outside the Government, the e-envoy and his team, various hon. Members on both sides of the House and, in particular, the Information Committee. I see in his place its former Chairman, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan), who has been a trail-blazer on many of these issues. I also pay tribute to many people in the wider civil societynotably, as my hon. Friend said, the Hansard Society, which has done so much take this issue forward.
We have the potential, as a country, to be at the cutting edge on this issue and, as a Parliament, to be ahead of many other Parliaments in other advanced democratic countries. The consultation document, which will be issued shortly, will enable the public to have their input into that debate, and I am pleased that my hon. Friend has given me the chance to update the House on how our discussions are going.