Internet access a 'basic right', says dotcom peer

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New crossbench peer, Baroness Lane-Fox of Soho, has warned against a two-tier society split between people with and without the internet access, and described that access as a "basic right".

The founder of travel company Lastminute.com and UK digital champion said: "We must not create a two-tier society but aspire to a universality of digital skills. We must make sure that the potential of all our citizens is unlocked."

Many peers welcomed her maiden speech on 13 May 2013, the third day of debate on the Queen's Speech.

Lady Lane-Fox, who became a peer in March, said there were 16 million people in the UK who did not have basic digital skills and seven million people who had never been online.

The general debate focused on measures and policies concerning business, economy, local government and transport.

Commercial Secretary to the Treasury Lord Deighton opened the debate by highlighting the government's commitment to "fiscal responsibility" and determination to make Britain a competitive place for business.

He focused on housing as "central to our plans for economic growth" and said the government aimed to "deliver 200,000 new affordable homes by 2016-17 with over £20bn investment".

Shadow Treasury spokesman Lord Eatwell criticised the speech for its lack of Treasury measures, other than the Banking Bill or the National Insurance Contributions Bill, which he said was concerning "given the seriousness of our economic problems".

Lord Eatwell was also critical of the government's decision to extend the Affordable Homes Guarantee programme, instead saying they should be focused on building new homes.

However, Conservative peer Lord Forsyth said "we need to get Britain working and our economy growing again through investment in infrastructure" and that there was no answer on "servicing the debt" from the opposition.

The Queen's Speech, prepared by the Cabinet, featured 15 bills, two draft bills, and two carry-over bills from the previous parliamentary session.

A High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill will give parliamentary authorisation for the government to spend the money to build the new rail link between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. It will also allow the government to pay for preparatory work needed before construction begins, such as ecological surveys.

Many peers welcomed the legislation on HS2, with crossbench peer Lord Bilimoria calling it "a great investment our grandchildren can benefit from".

The speech included plans to reduce the cost to small businesses of employing staff, by entitling them to a £2,000 employment allowance from April 2014.

In addition, the Audit Commission will be shut down and replaced with a new local audit framework, with estimated savings of £1.2bn over ten years, according to the government. The bill will also enable local council taxpayers to veto rises in council tax caused by bodies such as disposal authorities and integrated transport authorities. It will apply to England and Wales only.

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