HC Deb 17 April 1996 vol 275 cc705-6
12. Mr. French

To ask the President of the Board of Trade how many Internet terminals there are in (a) the United Kingdom, (b) Germany and (c) France. [23927]

Mr. Ian Taylor

Figures are not available for terminals, but for hosts—in other words, computers directly connected to the Internet. In February 1996, the UK had more Internet hosts per head than either France or Germany, with 7.8 hosts per 1,000 inhabitants as against 5.6 for Germany and 2.4 for France.

Mr. French

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for confirming those figures, which show the UK to be in the lead in this matter. Will he tell the House what progress he has made in reaching agreement throughout Europe on putting in place arrangements to screen out certain material from the Internet and in particular whether he has had an opportunity to make an appraisal of the proposals made by CompuServe?

Mr. Taylor

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising what is a difficult issue, but I must tell him and the House that Governments should tread warily in trying to control the information on the Internet, which is a network of networks that has had remarkable success largely because it has grown entirely through private initiative since its early days in the defence sector. If it is designed to survive a nuclear attack, it is likely to be resistant to Government regulation, as the German Bavarian Government found. That does not mean that there is not a large onus on the network service providers to provide a highway code for potential purchasers of software. I am encouraging them to do that, and I hope that we shall see progress over the next few weeks.

Mr. MacShane

If the Minister is so keen on the spread of information, why has his Department undertaken legal action of the most outrageous nature against Mr. Adam Raphael of The Economist to gag—

Madam Speaker

Order. "Erskine May" clearly says that a supplementary question must follow the substantive question closely. We shall move on.