HC Deb 18 April 2000 vol 348 cc815-6
5. Mrs. Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth)

What assessment he has made of the impact in Scotland of the Electronic Communications Bill. [118130]

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. Brian Wilson)

The Electronic Communications Bill will further improve opportunities for development of electronic business in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, to which the Government are heavily committed.

Mrs. McKenna

Can the Minister say what benefits are derived by Scotland from the joint ministerial meetings on the knowledge economy? Can he tell us who takes part in those meetings and, more importantly, whether they understand the importance of public access to information technology?

Mr. Wilson

The Government recognise that an enormously important part of the economy, now and in the coming decades, is based on the e-commerce revolution. It is extremely important that there should be no barriers to that; it is important that we should benefit from everything going on throughout the United Kingdom, and it is also important that we should add Scottish dimensions to what we do. The joint group is concerned to ensure that the UK legislation is enhanced and value is added within Scotland.

We are extremely aware of the access issue. In addition to e-commerce, the university for industry will be based on the use of such technology. So everything that we can do to remove obstacles, open up opportunities and make this a real business and career option for as many people as possible will create jobs in Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

If the Bill is as good as it is cracked up to be, how does the hon. Gentleman explain that—as in England and Wales, so in Scotland—the Federation of Small Businesses has been deeply critical of the enormous regulatory burden that will be imposed by that legislation?

Mr. Wilson

When I see the hon. Gentleman, I think of the phrase "dot.com".

Mr. Bercow

Was that a joke?

Mr. Wilson

It was not a joke; it was to say simply that it is not unknown for the Federation of Small Businesses to be critical of legislation, whether Tory or Labour legislation. That is its job as a pressure group. Anything that allows electronic signatures to be admissible in court as evidence to prove authenticity of documents, smooths the way of e-commerce and adapts to current circumstances is good stuff when it comes to enhancing the technological revolution. Some small businesses will be in favour and others will have doubts. That has always been the way. We must communicate with them to persuade them why they should be in favour.