HC Deb 27 January 1997 vol 289 cc2-3
2. Mr. Ian Bruce

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the progress of his Department's initiatives to use information technology within Government Departments and to disseminate information to the general public. [11111]

The Paymaster General (Mr. Michael Bates)

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will be making a comprehensive statement after the conclusion of the period for comments on the Green Paper "Government Direct", which was published last November. There have already been a large number of responses to the Green Paper and more are expected before the closing date, which is 7 February.

Mr. Bruce

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his answer and on his promotion to the Government Front Bench. The Government are helping to move out the information super-highways presaged by the Green Paper. Will we in South Dorset have one of the computerised terminals that would allow my constituents to find information about government and communicate directly with the Government?

Mr. Bates

I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome to me to this position. The terminals have proved extremely popular throughout the country and many pilots have been available, but there is none yet in South Dorset. My hon. Friend's championing of interest in information technology and openness of government may lead us to consider that location shortly.

Mr. Derek Foster

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his elevated position. Despite his Geordie credentials, I hope that his tenure of office will be short.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a so-called unbeatable anti-benefit fraud scheme which was pioneered in the north-east was abandoned after only a year because the criminals cracked the system? Does that not prove that the Government are ill-prepared for the information revolution and impotent in protecting taxpayers from fraud? How can a Prime Minister who cannot lead his own party rise to meet the challenges of the information society and how can a Government who cannot see beyond the end of the week lead the nation into the millennium?

Mr. Bates

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his barbed welcome. It gives me an opportunity to thank the Leader of the Opposition for removing the right hon. Gentleman from his position as Opposition Chief Whip, thereby ensuring that my last year in the Whips Office was easier than it might otherwise have been.

We have taken many new initiatives to try to clamp down on benefit fraud—and it is notable that the Opposition have opposed every one.

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