Examination of Witnesses (Questions 441
WEDNESDAY 15 MARCH 2000
WYATT, MP AND
441. Good afternoon, Mr Wyatt and Mr Adams.
Our apologies for keeping you waiting. Thank you for the two papers
which you have put in to us. My colleagues will have a feel for
this from the papers you have put in and from other knowledge
of you also. I wonder if I can kick off by asking you what global
role does WiF aspire to?
(Mr Wyatt) Good afternoon, everyone.
The reason we have started WiF is because we feel that there is
a chasm of knowledge from the government side around the world
where we are playing catch-up and where the Internet community
finds it incredibly difficult to get in. The computer industry
is in, is embedded as it were in relationships with the government,
but the Internet community is not. It is very hard for Lastminute
or Amazon actually to come and show their technology. If I take
one example of Lastminute, which I know is a hot subject, at the
end of August every year people clamour to get to university.
If there was a LastminuteUniversity.com, that could save a lot
of angst, it would be very much cheaper, it would be simpler.
There is an enabling technology in the Lastminute website that
could be used by government, but it is very difficult for them
to get into it. We felt that whereas initially the Internet was
in a way business to consumer, and is much more now business to
business because they want to make some money, there is very little
business to government. The idea is to try and bring solutions
to problems that all governments face in the public services,
like for instance, what is the future of a physical school building?
It is time we had a look at these questions but probably the Internet
community has a better idea of that than governments round the
world. Probably each government is struggling with it. It is for
the public services and we are trying to create a window, initially
with a conference, then with a secretariat and then with a portal;
one thing at a time.
442. You seem to be a little bit critical of
the United Kingdom Trust which is an attempt to solve a particular
problem, again which is government, the industry and, I suppose,
part of the public service. It depends where you class the Consumers'
Association. Is that not the kind of area where the Government
is reacting appropriately, and yet you feel it is not satisfactory?
You offer yourself as an alternative?
(Mr Wyatt) No, we do not offer ourselves as an alternative.
I just feel currently that there needs to be a discussion about
the Consumers' Association's role from both sides of that particular
443. Just in that area?
(Mr Wyatt) Indeed. But it is a global problem. You
could have the United Kingdom Trust, but most websites and servers
that do business are in the east coast of America. In fact, between
90 and 95 per cent of all servers are, so you need to attack this
in a world forum rather than a United Kingdom forum.
444. The east coast of North America, actually.
(Mr Wyatt) Yes, Boston.
445. So how do you do it?
(Mr Wyatt) How would you do it? Well, sir, please
write a cheque and send it to me in the post. Initially we have
to gain confidence in what we are trying to do. That will take
a little bit of time. That is also branding, that is also integrity.
It will take a while.
446. What does "a while" mean?
(Mr Wyatt) I think we need to see out this year. We
will have done a conference. We have so many different things
hitting us that we do not have the resources yet to be able to
handle secretariat issues. For instance, just today we have had
people coming in to talk about Media Carta which is a sort of
Magna Carta for the Net. In fact I told him to call it Magna Carta
2.0. They have said, "We have nowhere to put it. Could we
put it in the secretariat?" One day we had the Internet Watch
Foundation who said, "We have got all these sorts of foundations
all over the world but they are a bit bitty. What we need is a
policy forum. Is there some way that could be the secretariat?"
Clicksure (I am Chairman of the Council of Clicksure, which is
a world trust based in Oxford and Washington) actually said to
me recently, "We do not actually want the Council any more.
We cannot really have our own Council that is telling us these
are the rules. We need the World Internet Forum or someone to
say, `We will do that'." Just listening to the previous conversation,
there is a hole that, with a bit of luck, we might be able to
447. Mr Wyatt, I have the advantage of being
quite a rapid reader because we only got your supplementary paper,
B94, when we arrived at this meeting today. I have read the whole
paper and I am intrigued. I would like to ask you a couple of
questions on it because it is obviously fundamental to your philosophy
about this area. When you say that in the area of public understanding
you would score them five out of 10, what is the 10? Is the 10
some sort of worldwide standard or is it a standard created by
Mr Derek Wyatt MP?
(Mr Wyatt) Mark wrote that bit so I will ask Mark
to answer it.
448. I see. Well, then, is it a standard created
by Mr Mark Adams?
(Mr Adams) Those numbers were put down in no way to
act as arbiter, rather to make it simpler for people who inquire
as to how well do we think we are doing, and for me to say, "Well,
I think we are doing about five out of 10".
449. That is how well we are doing by comparison
(Mr Adams) It is an interesting question. How well
we are doing in comparison with the G8 countries particularly,
how well we are doing in comparison with the emerging economies
in the Internet, the ones that are really making things happen
in Scandinavia, Malaysia and Singapore, and also of course, in
comparison to my own view on what we should be able to be achieving
and what we could be achieving. Just to give you a quick perspective
on that, my view is not an arbitrary one. My view is very closely
linked to many of the papers and speeches made by the Prime Minister
who has set a tone for where we should be. In comparison to that
tone I feel somebody needs to say, "We are not living up
to that tone." It is a combination of those three things.
450. I must say I am slightly disappointed because
I hoped you were going to tell me that you had a whole raft of
information that the Committee as a whole could draw on in terms
of what level ten was on trust, on creating company awareness,
on the development of the enterprise culture and so on and so
forth. It is really based on Mr Blair, is it?
(Mr Adams) It is very subjective. Yes, it is based
on Mr Blair and my analysis and is based on the levels achieved
by the other two groups of countries I mentioned. I would add,
however, that the work that the DTI has done in inspection reports
is very rigorous and very thorough and if the Committee required
the more substantive numbers behind these points we could produce
some, there is good work available.
451. You describe the eEurope Action Plan
as an unambitious and uninspiring initiative and you say that
[email protected] is very much ahead of the times.
We have had a lot of evidence to suggest that [email protected]
is very good indeed. This statement "very much ahead
of the times", what times are we talking about? As it is
ahead of the times, does that mean that people are not going to
be able to understand it because you are rather scathing not only
about the intellectual ability of this country and the inhabitants
thereof, but their internet ability, their modern e-commerceability?
Also, where you say "A condition of the performance reviews
of all civil servants should include an appraisal of internet
literacy", I suspect that you do not know that a lot of people
are quite literate on the internet. For example, with one very
noble exception on this Committee I think we all communicate by
(Mr Adams) As I said before in those notes, the performance
of this Committee in terms of e-mail use has been absolutely exemplary,
I think it has been fantastic.
452. I hope you have been to our web pages as
(Mr Adams) I think you have demonstrated, if I might
say, a style, an approach, an attitude, a flexibility, that is
the hallmark of what it is to be in the internet era. If I could
bottle it and sell it I would not need to start a .com company.
That would be a terrific asset.
(Mr Wyatt) If I might just add a couple of thoughts.
Tim Berners-Lee let out the World Wide Web in 1992, it is now
2000 and that was eight years ago. It was six years ago that Netscape
announced what it could do and here we are still struggling as
a Government all around the world with it. It seems to me that
there is actually a hole in the way in which governments function
with respect to an idea as profound as this but we are catching
up and, to be honest, we are going to catch up forever and that
is the worry. The second thing is I think that, unfortunately,
we feel that e-commerce is a delivery system and actually we have
not asked what Government.com is and we have not asked what that
fundamentally does to Government.
Chairman: Can you try to answer some of those
questions for us, please?
453. You asked the same questions, can you answer
(Mr Wyatt) Can I?
(Mr Wyatt) I cannot find a FTSE 100 company that has
22 board directors, so the Cabinet currently has 22 board directors.
I think that the style in which a government works should be sharper
and quicker and faster. Therefore, I wonder whether the structure
of vertical institutions, which is what Government departments
are, is an 18th Century model and whether the actual internet
redefines that. I do not have a finite answer. I have begun a
series of lectures about this but I have not got to the end of
it. Fundamentally we must start the debate. In Washington at the
moment there is a very serious set of debates on the net about
whether Congress should vote on an issue, pass it and put it into
a sort of box and then for the Internet community to vote on it.
That raises a huge number of issues.
455. That is pretty anti-democratic.
(Mr Wyatt) Nevertheless, that is the debate going
on and it is current about does this mean a change in the constitution,
an adaptation, and we will listen to that debate with interest.
Chairman: Could I suggest that you look at the
issues of accountability and budgetary processes which we presently
have. If you could provide some solutions to those we might start
to see some real cross cutting Government in a whole range of
areas. I might suggest that you look at some of the experimentation
with democracy in Finland where I understand at the end of each
week parliament decides on a question to be put to the people
who then vote on it, those who choose to participate, expressing
a view on a nationwide basis.
Baroness O'Cathain: But do they act on it, Lord
Chairman: We are thinking about seeking further
evidence on that.
456. Mr Wyatt, nice to see you here in your
expert field. As you heard my colleague, the noble Baroness, reads
with an e-mail speed but ordinary mortals like me have read only
a little bit. You have given Government five out of ten and in
one of our earlier evidence sessions we received evidence that
if Government had a more dedicated Minister to look after e-mail
perhaps it would move faster. On the other hand, the Government
claims that they have a Minister of State in charge and a full-time
E-Envoy. How big a difference would it make in your view if they
had a Minister for e-commerce to get this whole programme moving
(Mr Wyatt) There are a couple of things there, Lord
Paul. First of all, if you look at how the major FTSE 100 companies
are moving in their management systems, the poor old personnel
manager and the poor old computer clerk used to be in the gutter
bracket of the career structure and now it is very clear it is
the chief executive and the finance director and the Internet
person. That is a significant shift in the way in which the management
structures are going. To be honest, that is what we need inside
the Cabinet Office. We need the Prime Minister, the Chancellor
of the Exchequer and I think the next big appointment would be
a Minister for the Internet. Currently it is held across Government,
there is an e-commerce Minister in one department, the DTI, there
is an E-Envoy in the Cabinet Office, and Ian McCartney is the
procurement person but that is for computing, not necessarily
for Internet. You have got NHS Direct, you have got a thousand
computer centres being built, you have got the National Grid for
Learning, but there is no defining architecture, there is no understanding
of what a hub could do, there is no way in which we could plug
in our communities locally. Somebody must be responsible for the
overview of how this country is going to get the net. At the moment
it is muddled and confused.
457. Can I just butt in there, if I may. Is
it Government's responsibility to ensure that everybody is net
literate, is able to visit websites? By your discussion here today
it looks as though the internet is the king that we have all got
to aspire to, whereas Internet and e-commerce are another tool
of carrying out business and making life a little bit easier,
(Mr Wyatt) I think there is a profound difference
between what the Internet is and what e-commerce is.
458. Yes, but e-commerce is actually using the
Internet as well as.
(Mr Wyatt) Indeed, but we have a responsibility I
hope, although it is not always easy, to make sure that when students
leave school at 16 they are literate and numerate and various
other things, I think we would put into that debate they should
also be internet fluent. I think we do have that responsibility.
Because this is the most profound thing since the industrial revolution
we also have a wider responsibility to our old age pensioners,
to groups of people, mainly men over 45that is mewho
have missed it, most of us are logarithms and slide rules, if
we got to that bit, and miss it. I have seen far too many chief
executives with their secretaries answering their e-mails. They
really do not get it. This is a huge thing. I do not think we
have defined the Internet clearly in this Government or as a nation,
and we need to do that.
(Mr Adams) May I add a comment to that? Does Government
have a role to play? I think the answer is yes, categorically.
There are two major impacts of the Internet and e-commerce, and
I am bundling the two together, the effect on the economy, the
new world economy of the knowledge-driven world, and the effect
on society. Both of those two areas I believe are extremely poorly
understood, they have not been charted or mapped sufficiently.
I will not use the word negligent, maybe remiss is the word that
there is no clear map for the effect of internet and e-commerce
on the economy or on society and that is where Government has
to get involved, especially if we wish to establish the United
Kingdom's position in the competitive global economy.
Lord Woolmer of Leeds
459. In relation to Europe, not just the United
Kingdom but the EU and all of its governments, in as concrete
terms as you can, what should governments in the different European
nations and what should Brussels be doing now? What precisely
should they be doing, in your view?
(Mr Wyatt) I think the biggest problem, to be honest,
is tax: tax collection, tax identity. That is just such a big
issue that the OECD papers are awaited with interest. Currently
if you order on Amazon.com you ought to pay VAT on the music side
but quite often Customs and Excise in the United Kingdom either
do not badge it up or collect it. I imagine that is £2 million
to £3 million a week coming through that is not collected
in VAT. So there is a policing customs issue with that. I down-dialled
Real Audio 5 the other day off the net from Seattle but, of course,
I did not pay VAT on that. Normally I would have bought the CD.
There is no VAT to pay on the net. If you then move off VAT, TVA
or value added tax, where are the companies going to start to
pay corporation tax? Where they register their server? Where they
deliver their product? Where they originate their product? These
are very fundamental problems and I do not think there is a body
yet, I do not think the G8 has got there and I do not think the
United Nations or the European Union have got there. We think
that is one thing maybe the World Internet Forum Secretariat could
be charged with, blowing my own trumpet there. This is fundamental
now because it does mean you might not build a hospital or a school.
This is not going to go away. This is a huge issue.
(Mr Adams) On the question of what governments in
Europe should be doing, my view is that Europe has a role on the
information privacy issue that you were discussing earlier and
the tax one, those are very big issues for Europe. Broadly speaking,
I think governments are addressing the issues. A year ago we would
have been saying that this issue and that issue should be addressed,
but now it is more the case that most of the issues are being
addressed and it is a question of the pace. The pace and the commitment
with which decisions are then taken seems to be too slow. The
areas that have not been addressed are the two I raised earlier,
the impact on the economy and the impact on society.