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Baroness Byford: My Lords, perhaps I may press the Minister a little further following her replies to my noble friends. We on these Benches are concerned that the money available for research is well directed and that there should not be delay and fragmentation. Can the Minister set out the timetable and say when we might be likely to receive a response to the question raised by noble friend Lord Selborne?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the House should not believe that there is necessarily fragmentation. Different people feel that the way in which the research is co-ordinated could be improved. The research supported by my department directly underpins our aims, objectives and policies. That is the area in which we can direct. Government can act only as a co-ordinator when we are talking about areas where research is being done by other bodies. However, if there are areas where we have not made sufficient progress I shall look carefully at the recommendations that have been made and see whether we can take that forward.
The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, the Government are working with the Alliance for Electronic Business and the Consumers' Association, in consultation with the OFT, to develop a new body called TrustUK to accredit e-commerce codes and a "hallmark" that accredited codes may use on their websites. TrustUK will be operational by early next year.
The Electronic Communications Bill, which was introduced in another place on 18th November, includes measures to recognise explicitly electronic signatures in law and remove other legal barriers to doing business electronically. The Bill's promotion of high quality cryptography services will allow people to have more confidence about who they are dealing with on the Internet and to protect the confidentiality of data; for example, payment details. The Government welcome the proposals by the Alliance for Electronic Business to meet the objectives of Part I of the Bill and ensure appropriate standards for such services through accreditation under its T-scheme.
The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. No doubt the Minister will be aware of the special "Money Programme" report over the weekend concerning Internet fraud. The programme implied that public confidence in e-commerce will not be achieved until the issue of fraud has been properly addressed. Can the noble Lord explain why the Electronic Communications Bill legislates for registration of cryptography service providers, while the Government continue to maintain that the industry should regulate itself in the area of cryptology? However, there is nothing on the face of the Bill that addresses the issue of Internet fraud.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, existing consumer legislation applies online just as it does offline. However, we are checking the existing legislation to ensure that this principle applies across the board. I am sure that the noble Earl will appreciate that we have had to work hard to achieve the kind of Bill that is needed. It will apply a light-touch regulatory system, for which this House constantly presses, but at the same time it will give consumers confidence. The measures that I have outlined, which will result both from the existing consumer legislation and the new Bill we have introduced, will cover this area.
Lord St John of Bletso: My Lords, while I appreciate that there is a need for a form of legislation to protect the consumer for electronic commerce, does the Minister agree that the Government should be promoting the Internet as a servant of the consumer rather than as a monster from which the consumer should be protected?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I believe that everyone would agree that this Government are hugely enthusiastic proponents of e-commerce in all its forms and its promotion is absolutely central to government policy. However, we must provide a minimal amount of necessary regulation to give consumers confidence. If we do not do that the possibility of fraud will be considerable, as was shown on the "Money Programme". That in itself will damage the growth of e-commerce.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the vast majority of sites offering goods and services on the Internet originate in the United States? For that reason, can the Government suggest to the European Union that discussions should be opened with the United States so that a harmonised regime of regulation can be adopted on both sides of the Atlantic? Does the Minister further agree that the best and wisest choice for consumers is to buy only from reputable organisations such as Amazon or Dell?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that in these circumstances the question of confidence in organisations is clearly extremely important. However, once we have put in place the "hallmark" system, that will go a long way to
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, does the Minister recall that on the last occasion we discussed these issues I suggested that this is not only a matter for Europe, but that this is a worldwide matter? I believe that the programme shown last Sunday made it abundantly clear just how worldwide it is. We might--and I emphasise the word "might"--be able to put secure systems into place in Europe, but they will not be of much value for Internet trading that will take place all around the world, including the United States and the Far East. Can the Government ensure that we consider this matter from a worldwide point of view? That is exactly what Internet trading and Internet commerce will bring about.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, as I have pointed out, consumer legislation is already in place. Here we are considering two matters that relate closely to the situation in this country. Other countries also have consumer laws and those must be taken into account in international trading.
Lord Carter: My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I say a few words about the business this afternoon before the debate begins. We have a very long speakers' list with around 40 contributors. The debate is not time limited, and we may therefore find ourselves sitting until rather late this evening when I believe that certain events might take place. Because of that, the usual channels have suggested that it may be for the convenience of all if some informal guidelines are suggested as to the length of speeches.
It has been suggested that Front Bench speeches be kept to around 15 minutes and those from the Back Benches to eight or nine minutes each. These guidelines are of course purely voluntary. However, if noble Lords confine themselves to the suggested times, I am sure that they will find their restraint appreciated on all sides of the House. Of course, if noble Lords have prepared speeches that take less than eight minutes, I am sure that the House will understand if they do not wish to put themselves to the inconvenience of extending them at such short notice.
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, although I am reluctant to delay the start of the debate, I should like to raise a matter. It is directly related to the point the Government Chief Whip has raised about the length of the debate and who is to take part in it.
When the noble Baroness the Leader of the House spoke last Wednesday, she warned the House that her noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath would intervene during the debate. That was understood and was in itself an unusual course. However, now that we have been given the list of speakers for today we find that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, has been grouped at the end of the debate with the noble Baroness the Leader of the House. In effect, we now have two Ministers winding up the debate.
It was unusual enough to anticipate an intervention from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and I say that without prejudice to the pleasure we always have in listening to what he has to say. The matter provokes two questions. If the Government feel that it is necessary not only for the Leader of the House but also another Front Bench Minister to reply to the debate, why does that not happen on other occasions? Noble Lords will have forgotten that at the beginning of the debate I attempted, from these Benches, to give an overall comment on the gracious Speech. The noble Baroness the Leader of the House gives an overall comment from the Government's point of view. So, logically, there should have been another speech from this Front Bench today, and indeed from the Conservative Front Bench, relating only to the business of the day. The conclusion to be drawn is that we should not only have two speakers today or indeed two speakers every day. If we discuss three subjects, then we should have three speakers from the Front Bench. I do not believe that Ministers could argue that they were entitled to three without the Conservative Party being entitled to three and we on the Liberal Democrat Benches having three. That would not be appreciated by Back Benchers.
This may not be a precedent and I do not wish to labour the point too much, but what is proposed today has not occurred within recent memory. I suggest, for the convenience of the House and to cause no further delay, that the whole structure of the Queen's Speech is examined by the Procedure Committee to ensure that Back Benchers have their fair share of the debate. The discussions are far more focused than they have been in the past. With the greatest respect, I believe it to be an anomaly that on a very busy day when Back Benchers are being asked to limit their contributions to under 10 minutes there should be two speakers from the Government Front Bench.
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