Select Committee on Information First Report


Background: levels of Internet access

  6. The Government has set as a goal that it intends to ensure that everyone in the United Kingdom who wants Internet access should have it by 2005.[6] According to the most recent figures, 38 per cent of households in the United Kingdom have Internet access, and 51 per cent of adults in the United Kingdom have accessed the Internet either at home, at work, or from a public access point. However, Internet penetration, while it is increasing constantly, has yet to make a significant impression in certain sectors, leading to a "digital divide". Research conducted by the Office for National Statistics in July 2001 found that 35 per cent of the survey sample indicated that they would be "very unlikely" to use the Internet during the next year. A similar proportion of the survey sample had given this answer when asked in 2000.

7. An analysis of Internet take-up by households on the basis of their gross income shows that, whereas approximately 70 per cent of households in the highest income decile have home access to the Internet, fewer than 10 per cent of households in the lowest two deciles have such access. An analysis by age is also illuminating:[7]

Table 1: Adults who have used the Internet, by age group

Age Group
Percentage (%)
89 %
74 %
60 %
40 %
12 %

Source:National Statistics Omnibus Survey, July 2002

A comparison of these figures with figures published in July 2001 shows a rise in Internet take-up for each age group.

8. The Government has recognised that there are barriers of motivation and skills, as well as access. The UK Online Strategy, set out in the most recent annual report of UK Online,[8] lists a number of recommendations and commitments designed to develop the "knowledge economy" in the United Kingdom; some of these recommendations address directly the barriers noted above.

9. We raised issues of Internet access during the course of our video conference with Reg Alcock, a Member of the Canadian House of Commons. He agreed that the "digital divide" was a major concern. He argued, however, that it would be a mistake to shun technology simply because it was not available to all. His view was that it would be a matter of time before the familiarity of younger people today with new communications technologies was reflected across the age range.

How this Report can add value

  10. Throughout the inquiry, we have sought to look ahead and to try to anticipate the kind the information and communication environment that will prevail ten years from now. Stuart Hill, Director of the BT Stepchange programme,[9] described to us his vision of how a day in the life of an MP might look in 2012.[10] Some features of this vision might seem over-imaginative and fantastical now, although that does not mean it should be dismissed. Ultimately, we cannot pretend to have any clear idea either of what will be possible technologically in ten years' time, or of the extent to which the public will take up such technologies. However, it remains important that the United Kingdom and its Parliament are comfortable in maximising use of changing technologies.

11. We have therefore drafted a set of Principles for Information and Communications Technologies (ICT), which we believe would be of benefit not only to the House Administration but also to the public and to outside bodies who deal with Members or with the House in general. The Committee recommends that the following set of principles for information and communication technologies be adopted for the House:

    A.  The House is committed to the use of ICT to increase its accessibility and to enable the public, exercising its right to use whatever medium is convenient, to communicate with Members and with Committees of the House.

    B.  The House is committed to using ICT to enhance the professionalism of Members, their staff and House staff in all aspects of parliamentary life.

    C.  The House is committed to the use of ICT to increase public participation in its work, enabling it to draw on the widest possible pool of experience, including particularly those who have traditionally been excluded from the political and parliamentary process.

    D.  The House recognises the value of openness and will use ICT to enable, as far as possible, the public to have access to its proceedings and papers.

    E.  The House will develop and share good practice in the use of ICT by other parliamentary and governmental bodies both within the United Kingdom and elsewhere, and will work in collaboration with outside bodies.

These five principles are expanded upon in detail in the rest of this Report.

12. The Committee recommends that the House report annually on its progress in implementing these principles.

6   All information in this paragraph is drawn from the Annual Report of UK Online, November 2001. Back

7 Back

8   Annual Report of UK Online, November 2001.  Back

9   Described by BT as "an initiative established to help government meet the challenge of creating a modern, integrated public sector and transform the delivery of public services." Back

10   See Appendix 1. Back

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Prepared 15 July 2002