§ 19. Mr. Connarty
To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what plans he has to ensure that all social groups have equal opportunities for access to information and communications technology. 
§ Mr. Wills
We are taking forward a range of measures to ensure that everyone can benefit from the advantages of new technologies. The ICT Learning Centres initiative will give many people living in disadvantaged communities in England the opportunity to access the Internet and ICT facilities. We have recently announced a pilot project to wire-up deprived communities to bring housing estates, tower blocks and rural areas on line. We are also introducing a scheme—"Computers within Reach"—to pilot arrangements for those who cannot afford new computers to acquire reconditioned computers. The recently published report of Policy Action Team 15 looked specifically at issues relating to the role of ICT in community renewal, including the availability of ICT to black and minority ethnic groups. We will continue to work with partners and the private sector to address the issue of closing the digital divide.
§ 20. Dr. Palmer
To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what support has been given to teachers to ensure that they are able to utilise information and communications technology to raise standards. 
§ Mr. Wills
The New Opportunities Fund is making available £230 million to support the training of serving teachers and school library staff in the maintained sector in the effective use of information and communication technology (ICT). The training is available to all teachers in maintained schools and is specifically targeted at using ICT in the classroom to support the National Curriculum. In addition, in the period up to 2002, the Department will have supported local education authorities expenditure of more than £700 million on ICT hardware, software and training for their schools.186W
§ Dr. Starkey
To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what plans he has to ensure that people in deprived communities develop ICT skills for employability. 
§ Mr. Wills
From 15 May, we will be making available 50,000 extra training opportunities in England for people claiming benefits to acquire basic computer skills with recognised first-rung qualifications. The courses will increase their chances of getting a job as well as enable those who wish to develop their ICT skills further. In addition, the Government are making £15 million available for a pilot scheme—"Computers Within Reach"—to enable those who cannot afford new computers to acquire reconditioned computers for use in the home for the purpose of improving their employment prospects, for lifelong learning, or for their children's homework. We recently announced a £10 million project to wire up disadvantaged communities, enabling people living in them to use the new information and communications technologies to access jobs, learning opportunities, Government and other services. We are also establishing around 700 ICT Learning Centres in the most deprived communities. These centres will offer access to those initial ICT skills that are increasingly essential to people's job and career prospects.