HC Deb 17 January 2001 vol 361 cc327-8
1. Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey)

When the appointment of the e-envoy will be announced. [144195]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mr. Ian McCartney)

The selection is being overseen by the civil service commissioners and is being made in accordance with the civil service commissioners' rules for recruitment to the civil service.

The selection panel consists of the first civil service commissioner, Baroness Prashar; Mavis McDonald, the permanent secretary to the Cabinet Office; Nick Montagu, chairman of the Board of Inland Revenue; and Iain Anderson, the former adviser to tilt Prime Minister on millennium bug issues. Interviews were completed with candidates earlier this week.

Once the selection panel has reached a decision, the appointment has to be approved by die Prime Minister on the recommendation of the head of the home civil service, with the agreement of myself and my hon. Friend the Minister for Small Business and E-Commerce. The formal announcement of the appointment will be placed in the House of Commons Library as soon as the selection process has been completed.

Mr. Wyatt

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he share my view that, with the publication of the communications White Paper—which might lead to a new Department after the next election—we need an internet Minister first, rather than a new e-envoy?

Mr. McCartney

I did not quite catch the gist of my hon. Friend's question, but I think that it was about the Government's current and future proposals for the management of Government policy in respect of e-Government issues. My hon. Friend the Minister for Small Business and E-Commerce is responsible for co-ordinating the whole e-agenda. I am responsible for the e-Government agenda and the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills), is responsible for access to skills. Of course, we also have a champion for the e-agenda at Cabinet level: my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

Although I am sure that the whole House will be thrilled at the knowledge that a new e-envoy is shortly to be found, why did the Government state on the resignation of Alex Allan back in October, when it had been known for some time that he would resign in October, that a replacement would be found in December? It now seems that a replacement will not be found much before February.

Mr. McCartney

There has been absolutely no delay and an announcement will be made soon. Not only has there been no delay, but we immediately appointed an acting e-envoy, someone with considerable experience, who has continued the work. As a consequence of that, we are able to announce today that we are ahead of our target for the number of services already on the internet. More than 40 per cent. are already on it and we are ahead of delivering our target in 2005.

Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the most important aspect of e-commerce is the effect that it has on opportunities for British exporters? Therefore, alongside the services that we have for e-commerce and e-business generally, we need to create more opportunities for those setting up websites and entering e-commerce to learn basic business skills, so that they can offer the support to their clients and customers overseas that good business men always try to offer.

Mr. McCartney

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why my hon. Friend the Minister for Small Business and E-Commerce and my colleagues at the Department for Education and Employment have put a huge multimillion pound project in place to give help, advice and training not only to individuals, but to small businesses in particular. The programme will deliver for the United Kingdom the best environment in Europe for doing e-business, both here and abroad.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

I, along with all other hon. Members, have received a letter from the Lord Chancellor's Department giving details of how an extra £54 million will be spent in the Court Service. However, the expenditure of that money is subject to the approval of the e-envoy. Why?

Mr. McCartney

We announced in the review of information technology projects—99.9 per cent. of them were mistakes left by the previous Government—that we would put in place systems to ensure that, where Departments roll out programmes and technology, those programmes fit a system so that, when they are rolled out, they will be successful and have a rigorous business plan attached to them. The proposals that we set out in the document on improving information technology have been signed up to by all Ministers and all Departments. That will ensure that, in future, IT programmes in any Department will be of high quality. When they go online, they will work successfully.