Previous SectionIndexHome Page


19. Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office what plans she has to improve access for disadvantaged groups to the electronic delivery of Government services. [198120]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Ruth Kelly): The new Directgov site is the main access point for the electronic delivery of government services. It draws together a comprehensive range of information and
16 Nov 2004 : Column 1157
services from the whole of government, making it easier for all people to access. We have also recently implemented a new government service within Directgov that focuses on the needs of disadvantaged groups. It has been very well received and is being expanded for the future.

Mark Tami: Although we are taking some positive steps forward, does my hon. Friend accept that many people from disadvantaged groups and areas do not have direct access to the internet and are not aware of which services are available? What is she doing to tackle that problem and to promote the service?

Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend is right to say that we need to educate people about the use of the internet and what services are available, so we have to start in the classroom. One of the things that the Government have done since 1997 is ensure that every school and every public library is connected to the internet. We have also opened 6,000 UK Online centres to make it as easy as possible for disadvantaged groups to access the internet. However, some people will never feel comfortable with the internet, so we are examining other channels, such as interactive television and mobile phones, for the delivery of e-government services.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Does the Minister accept that e-delivery for disadvantaged groups and others in North Yorkshire is in disarray because the very person who was to educate people in how to access the system is no longer in his position?

Ruth Kelly: I cannot comment on the situation in North Yorkshire, although I am happy to look into it, but I can tell the hon. Lady that 95 per cent. of the population is now within 5 km of a UK Online centre and that we are working with the centres to make them as accessible as possible to disadvantaged groups. That work includes the "get started" campaign, whereby UK Online centres are opened up to disadvantaged groups.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): My friend Mark Campbell of Wolverhampton has been blind since birth. He is an educated man, but it will cost him £2,500 to get the software he needs to access the internet. Is there any help available for people such as him?

Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the importance of making services as accessible as possible to disadvantaged groups, especially the visually impaired. We have been working with the Directgov service to make it as accessible as we can, and as of last month all new .gov domain names have to be compatible with worldwide accessibility guidelines. About half of all public sector or government websites are now accessible and meet those guidelines—a much larger proportion than in the private sector, where about one in five websites are. None the less, we clearly have a long way to go.
16 Nov 2004 : Column 1158


The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was asked—

Policy Directorate

20. Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster how many hours on average he has spent per week on his responsibilities for the policy directorate. [198121]

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Alan Milburn): In my role as a Cabinet Minister, I divide my time between my various duties. I am responsible to Her Majesty the Queen on Duchy business. As a member of the Cabinet, I sit on 17 Cabinet Committees. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] I will list them if hon. Members are interested.

As Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, I have a cross-Government role in the co-ordination of Government policy. I therefore have a wide range of official meetings, including meetings with Cabinet colleagues. In addition to that, I am responsible for the work of the strategy unit and, of course, the policy directorate inside No. 10 Downing street.

Mr. Wiggin: The Minister will be aware that everybody believes that his role is to organise the Labour party's general election campaign. Perhaps he should have another chance at answering my question and tell me how many hours he actually does.

Mr. Milburn: As the hon. Gentleman is well aware, it has not been unusual either in this Government or in previous Conservative Governments for the holder of this office, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, on some occasions to have other ministerial responsibilities. Some have had ministerial responsibilities other than Duchy business and some have not. In some cases they have combined Duchy business with political business. That is not unusual.

If the hon. Gentleman had listened to the answer that I gave earlier, he would understand what my range of governmental responsibilities are. I suspect that he did not listen to what I had to say because he was too busy reading the briefing that he has received from the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), who sits on the Opposition Front Bench. He has a copy of that briefing and so have I. It reads: "Dear colleagues", and it is signed "Yours ever, Julian". It says:

I like a man who is punctual.

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Chancellor of the Duchy has made the point.

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre) (Lab): The city of Lancaster is eagerly awaiting the visit of the new Chancellor of the Duchy on 9 December. Can my right hon. Friend assure me and all my constituents that
16 Nov 2004 : Column 1159
he will take every opportunity to avail himself of the splendid new developments at Lancaster university, the regeneration of run-down derelict sites in Lancaster, the revitalisation of the rural community and the huge investment that has taken place in public services across the Lancaster and Wyre constituency during the short time of his visit?

Mr. Milburn: I am of course looking forward to joining my hon. Friend on my visit to the fine city of Lancaster. As he knows, I am a graduate of the university of Lancaster. I will be meeting people from Lancaster university. I will also be meeting representatives of the Duchy and tenants of the Duchy. I look forward to meeting my hon. Friend too.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): I am delighted that the Chancellor of the Duchy has concluded his sixth minute at the Dispatch Box since his appointment in September. With such a record, it is hardly surprising that the Deputy Prime Minister got him mixed up with the right hon. Member for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers), and not in very complimentary terms either.

Is the Chancellor aware that ministerial guidelines state that answers to questions from parliamentarians should be as full as possible unless it is not in the public interest to reveal the details? Why has the right hon. Gentleman consistently pursued a policy of evasion when asked how he spends his time, how he is having his engagements organised and how much his office costs? Is it because the list is so lengthy or is it because it is so—

Mr. Speaker: Order. We have only a few minutes left.

Mr. Milburn: It has never been standard practice to release detailed information about Ministers' diaries, as the hon. Gentleman knows full well. It is true that he has asked me many questions since I came to office—I think that he has asked 35 since 11 October, 16 of which relate to my responsibilities. I noted the absence, however, of questions on the lips of his constituents about crime, jobs, health, education, child care and pensions. Frankly, the reason why he does not ask about those issues is that he, just like the Conservative party in general, has precisely nothing to say about them.

Matthew Taylor (Truro and St. Austell) (LD): While it is true that holders of the Minister's office have often combined their role with political duties, on many occasions they have not been paid by the taxpayer for that work, but by their political party, which makes more sense. Given that the Minister will undertake extensive duties for his party during the general election and that running the
16 Nov 2004 : Column 1160
Labour campaign will undoubtedly be more than full-time work, can he assure the House that he will not take a ministerial salary during that period?

Mr. Milburn: Perhaps because of the naivety of the Liberal Democrats and the fact that they have not been in office for many years—and hopefully, for many years to come—it may have escaped the attention of the hon. Gentleman that Conservative Ministers, just like Labour Ministers, have combined two roles—a role in government, which I carry out, and a role for their party.


The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—

Next Section IndexHome Page