HC Deb 11 July 2001 vol 371 cc781-2
5. Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East)

What assessment has been made of the potential for using the JANET project in the e-government project. [1874]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Christopher Leslie)

The Government are making good progress in getting services online, and with 42 per cent. already available electronically we are on track to meet our target of having all potential services online by 2005.

The joint academic computer network, known as the JANET project, connects higher and further education institutions across the UK, and is a good example of how modern broadband technology can improve co-operative research.

Mr. Connarty

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and commend him for his swift learning curve. I know that he has read the submission to the former Department for Education and Employment on the use of JANET. The network stretches from the south-west of England to the university of the Highlands and Islands, and is already reaching into the community in places such as Telford and Wrekin. The use of broadband technology is expected to grow this year, and the United Kingdom Education and Research Networking Association recommended that we should consider that technology as the natural platform for services such as the People's Network or the NHS Net. Should we not be thinking about using the highway to expand existing services, rather than trying to reinvent an e-government highway that already exists?

Mr. Leslie

My hon. Friend makes a number of important points. The university and college broadband network could be employed by other services, and we are considering that. There are clear practical and logistical problems with broadband that must be resolved, but perhaps it would be more useful if I were to write to my hon. Friend on this matter

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam)

I welcome a fellow Yorkshireman to the Government Front Bench, but does he agree that, when he speaks about the percentage of Government services that are available online, he should recognise that many of those services are online only to the extent that they involve a telephone, rather than the internet? The hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) spoke about fast broadband access, and I urge the Minister to take on board what he said. Such access is vital if Government services are to be properly available via the internet, 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

Mr. Leslie

The hon. Gentleman makes some important points about broadband, but I believe that the UK is doing reasonably well in that respect. As for getting Government services online, what is important is to ensure that services are available to the public in the easiest way possible, regardless of the technology involved. However, we must keep bearing down on all Government Departments to ensure that they modernise their services. In that way, we will fulfil the promise that all services will be online by 2005.

Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell)

I add my congratulations to my Front-Bench colleagues on their appointments, and draw their attention to early-day motion 85, which relates to the Post Office. It is very good that the Government are addressing the digital divide, but the local sub-post office will still be the main source of information—Government leaflets and so on—for the vast majority of people. Will my hon. Friend ensure that more attention is given to that fact, and that we are not caught up by too much talk of Government online?

Mr. Leslie

I thank my hon. Friend. The Post Office network is, of course, extremely important, which is why my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister announced, in the previous Parliament, measures to protect and enhance it. We are not putting services online for the sake of it; we are trying to make sure that we are responsive to consumers and to the public at large.