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Wednesday, 18 March, 1998, 16:04 GMT
MP pushes for free Internet access
One Labour MP says a computer will be more useful than the Millennium Dome
A Labour MP has called for every family to be given a computer by 2002 as a millennium gift from the National Lottery to help people become more Internet friendly.

big ben
Derek Wyatt wants a Net revolution in Whitehall
Derek Wyatt told the House of Commons that it would cost no more than the current spending on the Millennium Dome.

"This would be a much better way of welcoming in the 21st century," he said.

Recipients would also be given 10 hours free Internet access a week, he said.

In a debate on the government's strategy for the Internet, Mr Wyatt called for the introduction of six "Internet Czars" to train all ministers, MPs and departments to cope with the growing influence of the World Wide Web.

New ministry

The Sittingbourne and Sheppey MP said the Internet Czars should work for a new department, the Ministry of Communications. Its brief would include responsibility for the Internet, telecommunications, broadcast, regulation and software.

Britain could be losing out on Internet opportunities
Mr Wyatt said: "The Internet is the most important peace-time invention of the 20th century. We can no longer ignore it - it is the key to retooling and reskilling our society.

"If this government sits on its Internet-free hands for much longer over this issue, any chance we have of creating a modern post industrial society will have been lost forever."

Mr Wyatt said the proposed ministry would act as a "showcase for Whitehall".

Two thirds of the department would work with the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, Northern Ireland's Stormont and the new regional development agencies.

"Staff would oversee the trust hospitals and help the local education authorities. They would be flying Internet evangelists," he said.

The medium is the message

Mr Wyatt said that over the past year the Internet had been a key player in spreading the news about the general election, the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, the Louise Woodward trial and the alleged Monica Lewinsky/President Clinton sex scandal.

He said it was impossible to regulate the Internet, but he saidd this was not an excuse for inaction.

"Because no single department is in charge of the Internet it falls into the black hole of cyberspace.

"Because so few Cabinet Ministers understand the Internet, so many of them still have no e-mail addresses and clearly they do not regularly look at their own departmental Websites which are woefully inadequate and make us look like bumbling amateurs."

Left behind

Mr Wyatt warned that Singapore had set about creating the first Internet-based society.

Singapore: a possible example for the UK
"If we are not careful the Internet will create the biggest ever brain drain, virtual or otherwise, that Europe has ever experienced. The consequence would be much, much higher levels of unemployment across Europe," he said.

The Liberal Democrat MP Brian Cotter welcomed government moves to bring the Internet into the classroom.

He said it was important that children had proper access to computers and their own e-mail addresses.

For the Conservatives, Cheryl Gillan warned that there was a "policy vacuum" in the area of the Internet.

She urged ministers to act against pornography on the Net.

Labour's efforts to cope with the millennium bug, the problem affecting some computers when the date changes from 1999 to 2000, were "disastrous", she said.

See also:

12 Jan 98 | UK
Schools get Internet boost
03 Mar 98 | Politics
Government reviews Net policing
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