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15 Oct 2002 : Column 173—continued

Women (Public Appointments)

36. Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West): What progress has been made in increasing the number of women in public appointments. [71406]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mr. Douglas Alexander): At 31 March 2001, 34 per cent. of appointments were held by women, compared with 23 per cent. 10 years previously. This Government are committed to increasing diversity in public appointments. Each Government Department has an action plan in support of this aim.

Dr. Starkey : I welcome the progress that has been made. Obviously there is considerable room for improvement, however, because women constitute the majority sex in the country and that is not reflected in public appointments. May I suggest that a way forward might be to provide training events for people who would otherwise not consider themselves the sort to apply for public appointments? That would encourage not just women but people from other parts of the community who are also under-represented to understand what it means to be on a public body and to appreciate the skills that they might bring to it so that they are more likely to apply.

Mr. Alexander: I could not agree more. Let me point out first that a number of regional seminars have been held to encourage women to apply for public appointments to ensure that there is balanced coverage

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across the country. In addition, in the coming days the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will host a specific seminar on the opportunities for women from ethnic minorities to participate fully in public bodies. I certainly welcome that initiative, which shows the direction that the whole the policy is taking.


37. Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East): What progress he has made on the co-ordination of the use of broadband by Departments in providing access to Government services to the public. [71408]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mr. Douglas Alexander): In response to a study by the Office of Government Commerce commissioned by the Prime Minister, the Government will launch the regional broadband unit later this autumn. That will aim to co-ordinate at a regional and local level broadband initiatives that support e-government initiatives.

Mr. Connarty : I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I know that his attention is focused on the power of broadband. Does he concur with those who have studied the matter that the rollout of broadband, with its instant, permanent online access, is the equivalent of the infrastructure built before the industrial revolution took off? Does he agree that the Government must do more to link up all existing networks, including SuperJanet, so that everyone can have access to public services? Surely he realises that the use of television for access means that we have to link up with people in their homes to give them access, rather than have them come to us, seeking our services.

Mr. Alexander: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's knowledge of and familiarity with this issue. I recently heard him on the radio in Scotland, campaigning on the subject. We face two challenges: to extend the coverage of broadband across the country and to drive up usage levels. I am pleased that we now have 1 million broadband subscribers, but I am not satisfied. There is further work to be done, and as my hon. Friend suggests, it will support the drive towards e-enablement of government services, to which this Government are committed.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): How will rural areas get access to government services or run small businesses through broadband given the limits to BT resources and to the extent to which BT thinks that it can supply broadband through its exchanges? Are the Government expecting to rely on satellite, with higher charges and lower quality, to supply broadband in rural areas?

Mr. Alexander: No, we are not relying exclusively on satellite, although it has a contribution to make. There are now 1,117 BT exchanges enabled across the country, and homes in approximately two thirds of the country can now receive broadband services. There is no silver bullet; we need to take several different steps, which is why I commend to the right hon. Gentleman the

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#30 million regional development fund established to support broadband initiatives in every region through the Department of Trade and Industry.

Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton): What are the Government doing to widen access to the internet through digital TV?

Mr. Alexander: The Government have already put in place a digital TV action plan. In April the Office of the E-Envoy launched UK online interactive. Digital TV offers tremendous opportunities for government services to be accessed online and reaches a section of the community who may not have a personal computer in their home.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): How many of the 3 million broadband subscribers are in rural areas? How many of the exchanges that have changed over to broadband are in rural areas? Does the Minister share my concern that there is an impending digital divide between rural areas and the rest of the country? Will he therefore work with his colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry to place an obligation on Ofcom, the new body that will regulate broadband, to ensure that all areas of the country have access to the digital revolution?

Mr. Alexander: There are a couple of ways forward. We are establishing 6,000 UK online centres, not only in urban Britain but throughout the country. I commend the Welsh Executive for their efforts in this matter. The Welsh Assembly has taken imaginative policy initiatives, and we will work not only with the DTI but with the devolved Administrations to make sure that a digital divide does not open up as this new technology becomes available.

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38. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): What proposals he has for e-government. [71409]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mr. Douglas Alexander): My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House announced the Government's proposals for e-democracy on 16 July. The aim of the policy on e-democracy is to strengthen representative democracy by the use of the internet and other communication technologies.

A copy of the consultation paper, XIn the Service of Democracy", has been sent to every Member of this House and Members of the other place.

Paul Flynn : Does not e-democracy, especially in the form of MPs' websites, provide wonderful new opportunities for us to serve our constituents in direct, instantaneous ways that are particularly valuable to the housebound, the elderly and the disabled? The Government are to be congratulated on achieving 95 per cent. of their e-government targets. How much progress has been made on improving participation in voting via e-democracy?

Mr. Alexander: Again, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's work. We have made significant progress, not least by allocating through the last comprehensive spending review additional resources specifically for pilots of e-voting. We face two fundamental challenges: first, progressing the work on e-voting and, secondly, facing the challenge of e-participation—how to make policy making in this country more porous and more open to contributions from a range of different sectors of society. That is why the consultation paper is so important. I believe that it will inform Government policy for years to come.

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3.30 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the bombings in Bali, Indonesia.

Two bombs went off near the Sari club in Kuta, Bali, just after 11 pm Indonesian time on the night of 12 October. At the same time, a bomb exploded in Denpasar, capital of Bali, near the United States consulate, and another at the Philippines consulate in Sulawesi. The Sari club was packed with people, mainly young, enjoying themselves on a Saturday night. The attacks appear to have been timed deliberately to cause the maximum possible injury and loss of life.

First, I would like to express my deep sympathies and condolences to the families who have lost loved ones in this appalling terrorist outrage. The final toll of the dead and injured is unlikely to be confirmed for several weeks, but as of this morning more than 180 people are confirmed dead, with hundreds more injured. Many of those who died were young Australians. Up to 30 British people may have died: nine Britons are confirmed dead, with a further eight bodies yet to be identified and 13 people still missing. Eight have been medically evacuated from Bali; many more received hospital treatment at the scene. We are providing assistance, as we did after 11 September, to the relatives of British victims. That will enable those who wish to travel to Bali to do so, and we will provide help and support to them while they are there.

This was an act of pure wickedness—horrific and brutal attacks that have left hundreds of families here and all around the world in shock and grieving. Last night, the United Nations Security Council condemned the bombings in the strongest terms, calling them a threat to international peace and security. At the weekend, I spoke to Prime Minister Howard and to the Premier of Western Australia to express my condolences to them, and I will speak to President Megawati later. I have also spoken to President Bush. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spoke at the weekend to his Australian and Indonesian counterparts, and he is discussing the issues with Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington today. A team of specialist officers from the Metropolitan police service anti-terrorist branch has already flown to Bali, and more are on their way. US and Australian experts are also on the scene.

I should like to place on record the Government's gratitude for the help extended by both the Indonesian and Australian authorities to all those from the United Kingdom who have been caught up in these dreadful events.

We had no specific intelligence relating to the attack in Bali. We do not yet know for certain who carried it out, but we do know that there are groups of extremists active in the region, some of which have strong links to al-Qaeda. Those groups have worked with al-Qaeda on attack plans in the past. We know that they have tried before to carry out major terrorist atrocities in the region—for example, in Singapore last December, when a massive attack planned against targets, including the British high commission, was thwarted by the

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Singaporean authorities. I discussed that with the Prime Minister of Singapore when he visited London in April this year. He told me that had the authorities not discovered these plans, hundreds of people could have died.

The Indonesian authorities have been conscious for some time of the growing threat from extremists in the region. Indonesia is a secular country with a tradition of tolerance and moderate Islam of which Indonesians are rightly proud, but prior to 11 September, and especially afterwards, we identified the south-east Asian region, including Indonesia, as an area with a real and present threat from groups linked to al-Qaeda. The most prominent is Jemaah Islamiyah, which has a network stretching across a number of countries in the region, and which has to be one of the groups under most suspicion for this atrocity. We are urgently considering proscribing it under the Terrorism Act 2000.

Earlier this year, we put in place an enhanced package of counter-terrorism assistance for Indonesia, including specific programmes on intelligence, crisis management and aviation security. We also offered assistance with bomb disposal and bomb scene management training.

In June, I met President Megawati in London to discuss how we could fight terrorism in Indonesia more effectively, and we agreed to expand our existing programme further, drawing on the wide range of expertise in counter-terrorism that Britain can offer. We will do so in close co-operation with the US and Australia, as well as with the Indonesian authorities. We have also set up programmes to help other Governments in the region. In the Philippines, we are training in counter-terrorism, hostage negotiation and police investigations. In Malaysia, we are setting up training by Scotland Yard's anti-terrorism branch and in bomb disposal. We fully support the tripartite counter-terrorism agreement signed by Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines earlier this year, designed to combat money laundering, illegal border crossing and the illegal trade in arms.

Of course, since 11 September, here in Britain we have enhanced our intelligence efforts, strengthened protection against rogue aircraft and shipping, and clamped down on sources of terrorist financing. We have passed new anti-terrorist legislation. Internationally, we have put a new UN framework in place, under UK chairmanship, to ensure more effective national and international action against terrorism, and we have increased intelligence co-operation, strengthening existing partnerships and putting in place new ones across the world.

So we have had a fresh reminder, if we needed one, that the war against terrorism is not over. In the past 10 days, there have been attacks in Kuwait and in Yemen. The threat to all people at any time, at any place in the world, is real. In the end, it is not just the families now grieving for their loved ones who suffer, but the people of Indonesia, many of whom already live in poverty, who will have to face the devastating economic consequences of this attack for their country, as those bombs, and the fanatics who use them, do not discriminate between young and old, east and west, black and white, Christian and Muslim. They will kill anyone of any race, creed or colour. They respect no frontiers. They have no inhibitions in murdering the innocent—indeed they rejoice in it. Because of the way

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they work, in small cells of fanatics, and because their victims are the most vulnerable—people in a pub or a cafe, on a street or on holiday—discovering where and how they might strike next is hard. But the message we send out, and should send out, is once again the same—one of total defiance, of determination in the face of this evil to prosecute the fight against them the world over, until in time they are defeated: defeated, of course by intelligence, by police and even military action, but defeated also in the triumph of our values of tolerance, freedom and the rule of law over those of terror designed to produce bloodshed, fear and hatred.

Some say that we should fight terrorism alone, and that issues to do with weapons of mass destruction are a distraction. I reject that entirely. Both, though different in means, are the same in nature. Both are the new threats facing the post- cold war world. Both are threats from people or states who do not care about human life, who have no compunction about killing the innocent. Both represent the extreme replacing the rational, the fanatic driving out moderation. Both are intent not on letting people live in peace with each other, celebrate our diversity, and work out our differences in an orderly way, but on producing such chaos and disorder that out of it comes a world in which religions and nations and peoples fight each other for supremacy. That is the true measure of what is at stake. The war on terrorism is indeed a war, but of a different sort to the ones we are used to. Its outcome, however, is as important as any we have fought before.

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