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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, when I first came to your Lordships' House one of its more distinguished Members referred to me as "little girl". I pointed out to him that for a woman in her mid-40s that was an unusual epithet. He responded that when I reached 85 I and other women of that age were

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little girls. I apologise if I have offended noble Lords by describing anyone aged 73 as anything other than distinguished.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, are the Government considering participating in any debt forgiveness in Zambia? If so, why? What would be the purpose of forgiving the debts of a country which last year borrowed an additional 800 million dollars? Is that not like giving Alka Seltzer to an alcoholic to enable him to hit the bottle faster and harder in the future?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as I believe is well known, Her Majesty's Government are considering a wide range of countries for debt forgiveness. In so doing we are looking at a country's record in terms of democracy or its move towards democracy. There are also questions about aid. Aid donors are coming together next month to consider whether there should be a move forward in relation to Zambia following the lifting of the state of emergency in the past month.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that in Zambia the concept of democracy appears to be one that dispossesses white farmers without compensation?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am aware that certainly there is a problem in Zimbabwe of dispossession. I hope that if there is any such problem in Zambia, of which I am unaware, those matters will be looked at by the various independent commissions that have been set up.

Electronic Commerce

2.58 p.m.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to promote the use of electronic commerce in the United Kingdom in order to improve trade.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, the Government take electronic commerce seriously. That is why through the Programme for Business initiative we are making a significant effort to promote the use of the tools of electronic commerce like e-mail and the Internet to encourage firms to work on line. Another important initiative sponsored by the Department of Trade and Industry is TradeUK, which is perhaps the world's first virtual business park on the World Wide Web. To encourage confidence in the electronic environment, later this month my department is to launch an accredited certification scheme which will establish a code of practice to promote good information security management.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his response, but is he aware of the enormous benefits--I underline those words--of

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electronic mail both to the economy and in overcoming problems such as social exclusion? Is my noble friend also aware that a good deal of informed opinion strongly indicates that the British/European approach to this issue is being seriously left behind by American competition, as with Microsoft, Bill Gates and all that? What will the Government do about all this?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, the Government are aware of the importance of electronic mail, which is why there are the various initiatives that I have mentioned to encourage companies to use it. I am not aware that people consider that we are falling far behind the US. Indeed, my department has done a survey fairly recently--the result will be published next month--which shows that we are catching up with the US on the use of information technology in commerce.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, is the Minister aware that it has been possible to buy books on the World Wide Web from at prices 20 to 30 per cent. lower than one pays in the shops? Is it not likely, with the spread of electronic commerce and the use of the web as a marketing tool, that people will pay much lower prices than they have done hitherto and that the consumer will benefit enormously from being able to buy from anywhere in the world and not just from his own country?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I am aware of I have used it myself on two or three occasions to send gifts of books to people around the world. The Government are encouraging the use of the World Wide Web in commerce for the reasons mentioned by the noble Lord.

Viscount Chelmsford: My Lords, I should like to declare an interest. I am a member of the Simpler Trade Procedures Board which is a government agency. Does the Minister agree that the use of standardised electronic data messages is an important method of simplifying costs and cross-border trade? Does he further agree that that is an important reason for the promotion of electronic commerce and trade facilitation through the WTO?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I can confirm that the Government agree with the view expressed by the noble Viscount. The Government are committed to working, through their membership of the European Community, towards achieving global and binding WTO rules on trade facilitation. I agree that that work should take full account of the developments in the field of electronic commerce.

Lord Grenfell: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there is a certain dichotomy in the fact that those who would benefit most from the lower prices which have been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, will be those who are least likely to be able to afford the hardware necessary to be able to get

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into the web site? Would he not be alarmed were some kind of shadowy economy to emerge which would discriminate against the poor?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I take my noble friend's concerns about discriminating against the poor. However, I do not agree that people who do not have computers will not benefit from electronic commerce. After all, many companies are encouraging the move towards on-line ordering because that cuts costs by enabling them to follow products until they are ordered, which avoids the need for warehousing. With such a use of electronic commerce all of us will benefit from lower prices.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, if the Government are so all-singing and all-dancing when it comes to the World Wide Web, why, a year after I asked, are they still unable to answer my Written Questions by e-mail?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I am not aware of the answer to that question, because e-mail is certainly in use in the Department of Trade and Industry. I am sure that the noble Lord can communicate with that department by e-mail. Perhaps he should try to put down his Written Questions in the form of e-mail rather than in Hansard.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, with the accredited certification scheme that the Minister mentioned, will he see that every effort is made to ensure that the people who are participating in it are aware of the millennium bug problem? We are told that many of the smaller companies which have been involved in it are likely to come unstuck in 2000.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I take the point made by the noble Baroness. As she will be aware, the Action 2000 scheme is designed to avoid the problems of the millennium bug. We will tackle the problem in a proper and businesslike way and show that it can be fixed. Action 2000 will raise understanding of the implications of the problems, will point out to people the risk of not doing anything and will motivate them to take action.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I am sorry, but perhaps I might return to this point. Will part of this accredited--I took the words down--certification scheme for electronic trading be designed to ensure that there is no problem with the millennium bug for those companies?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I am not sure that the two are connected, but I shall write to the noble Baroness about that.

Criminal Procedure (Intermediate Diets) (Scotland) Bill

3.4 p.m.

Brought from the Commons on Friday last and printed pursuant to Standing Order 48; read a first time.

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Business of the House: Criminal Procedure (Intermediate Diets) (Scotland) Bill

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. Perhaps I may take a few moments of the time of the House to explain why I am moving this Motion today. It has been agreed through the usual channels that the Criminal Procedure (Intermediate Diets) (Scotland) Bill should be taken through all its remaining stages tomorrow after the Second Reading debate on the Schools Standards and Framework Bill.

This emergency Bill is necessary because of recent judgments of the High Court of Justiciary in Scotland in the cases of Mackay and Milligan. The court has determined that, as a result of an irregularity in an earlier statute, a large number of summary prosecutions and previous convictions dating back to 1981 are now in question.

The Crown, indeed, has been forced to abandon over 70 cases, with many more in the pipeline. The reason is that the court's decision raises the possibility that persons convicted and sentenced at trial diets which were fixed in a procedurally invalid way could have their convictions and sentences quashed. Up to 1,000 current cases are likely to be affected and they could include sentences for violence, indecency, house breaking, drugs offences and other serious offences.

My noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate will tomorrow make the case more fully for the Bill. Perhaps I may assure the House that the Government would not seek to bring forward this legislation in this way unless there were serious implications for the criminal justice system in Scotland and for public confidence in that system.

Under those circumstances, I hope that the House will agree this Motion today. Any noble Lord who wishes to take part in the Second Reading debate tomorrow will be able to do so in the normal way, and, as is usual in your Lordships' House, under those circumstances should any noble Lord wish to table amendments to the Bill the Clerks will accept them this afternoon in advance of the Second Reading debate. I beg to move.

Moved, That Standing Order 44 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with to enable the Criminal Procedure (Intermediate Diets) (Scotland) Bill to be taken through all its remaining stages tomorrow.--(Lord Richard.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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