The Internet will play host to a national discussion forum, designed to spearhead a revolution in UK political life.
The UK Citizens Online Democracy (UKCOD) has set up a Web site that will allow the general public to discuss the recently launched Freedom of Information White Paper, interacting directly with the government minister. Dr Stephen Coleman, chief political consultant to UKCOD, said: ?This is an important test which could set a precedent for the relationship between government and the public. If this consultation is successful and provides greater public access, perhaps similar consultations could be set up in the future as part of the legislative process.?
It is perhaps fitting that the Internet - known for its lack of censorship - will be used as a platform for the debate of a Freedom of Information Act. Dr David Clark, the cabinet minister for public service, said: ?Before we produce the draft Freedom of Information Bill, I am keen to hear people?s views on our proposals. The UKCOD Web site will be a quick and convenient route for people to provide this feedback.?
UKCOD is a partisan, not-for profit organisation that promotes public education and participation in the democratic process, using electronic media. It launched this initiative with the help of several corporate sponsors. AOL Bertelsmann has designed the Web site and will provide online support to UKCOD. A spokesperson commented that, ?We are pleased to be involved in this initiative right from the start because it enables us to show how the Internet can work and really make an impact on government.?
Sun Microsystems has provided the servers for the site. Robert Youngjohns, Sun UK?s vice president, stated that, ?Online interaction before a Bill passes through Parliament has the potential to help government get closer to its customers - the voters - and that should help produce better law.?
Jon Tutcher, corporate affairs spokesperson for Sun Microsystems, stated that the success of the initiative depended not only on getting people to respond to it, but also on raising awareness of its existence. ?We are looking to promote this through our own Web site?, he added.
Tutcher also responded to criticism that only a small proportion of the population will actually be able to participate in an online discussion, by noting that the public can also respond by post. But he conceded that: ?This does highlight the fact that we need to invest in getting more people online, such as in libraries. As a member of UKCOD this is something we are constantly looking at.?
The Web site, ?Have Your Say?, is located at http://foi.democracy.org.uk.
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