John Pugh MP

John Pugh MP Southport (Liberal Democrat), entered Parliament in 2001. Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson. Graduated in philosophy from Durham University before becoming a teacher. He taught in secondary modern, comprehensive and independent schools and prior to his election as MP was head of philosophy and religious studies at Merchant Taylors' School in Crosby. TheyWorkForYou says he asks most questions about Information Technology, Saudi Arabia, IT Projects, IT Expenditure, Iraq.


Open Source

Pro Open Source

Westminster Hall debate Government IT and Software Procurement 9 October 2007

... Four things ought to be avoided. The first is a lock-in, an indefinite commitment to a single proprietary solution—endless licensing renewal that the Government simply cannot get out of. Secondly, there must obviously be interoperability; its absence will always be a problem, because it limits the growth and integration of whatever software has been bought, as well as one's choice of supplier. Thirdly, it is preferable to have access to the source code, so that if necessary people can understand what they have. Finally, it is extraordinarily helpful to have a good skills base on the client side, so that people know what they are dealing with.
On that basis, one would expect the Government to have made use of the growing British open-source software industry, which is by and large highly successful, although there are exceptions. It is successful in a number of operations known to all, such as eBay, Amazon, banks and stock exchanges and so on. ...

Speaking at the launch of the National Open Centre, John Pugh said 27 February 2007

"Large tranches of Whitehall don’t know what open-source is," ... "We need a partnership approach for public-sector procurement and open-source scores well in this respect. But open-source has its enemies and its enemies are very close to government, including those at the top of government who are intending to stay there."

Wrote Early Day Motion Software in schools 21 November 2006

That this House congratulates the Open University and other schools, colleges and universities for utilising free and open source software to deliver cost-effective educational benefit not just for their own institutions but also the wider community; and expresses concern that Becta and the Department for Education and Skills, through the use of outdated purchasing frameworks, are effectively denying schools the option of benefiting from both free and open source and the value and experience small and medium ICT companies could bring to the schools market.


Likes Linux thinks it should be considered for use by the government.

Electronic Voting

John Pugh said the following at the Liberal Democrat conference, Open Rights Group fringe meeting, should we trust electronic elections 17 September 2007

There are many people in the room very, very expert in the British electoral system as it currently runs and it would pay study because, when you are first confronted with the plethora of different procedures, counting agents, polling agents, numbered ballot papers and so on. You wonder in a naive way exactly why this is all in place and you suddenly realise this system has evolved over many years because people are always trying to get round it in some way. To abuse it. (Laughter from the audience.) Not of cause Liberal Democrats (Even more laughter.), who would never dream of of doing any such thing, but the system has been designed because people have tried and tried and tried again to abuse it and therefore, through a sort of Darwinian process, it's been established. That being said any alternative system would have to go through the same type of process.
I remember when we had the debate in Parliament on Electoral Administration Bill that we where discussing all postal ballots and I think we as a party and the Electoral Commission, as well, recommended caution on it. The government said "No no, its really awfully straight forward this business it will not be abused, it will have the same sort of profile as an ordinary election", only to find again The Liberal Democrats and the Electoral Commission were right and indeed it was abused and they are now starting to think of ways in which they can address this comparatively simple development of the electoral system. So we have genuine reason to be very, very cautious because people have genuine motives to abuse the process, because the prize at the end of the electoral system is power, and power is sought by a lot of people for good and bad ends.
The problem with government and this goes right across all departments of the government, is their enthusiasm for IT is very naive. The people who promote, develop and forward IT schemes often don't really know what can legitimately be expected from them and therefore, for a simple-minded Home Office minster, why not have electronic voting (more laughter in the background) after all its easier to sit in front of your computer than to plod down to polling station and they see it as a mechanism by which they can increase the number of people that can or will vote, hopefully the number of Labour Voters, that can and will vote.
Now I don't think we want to be Luddite about it but, if we simply look at what is on offer in the way of new e-politics we can see that there are really two different areas that demand our attention. Electronic counting and electronic voting and to some extent they are different issues. I think most of us might be more sanguine about electronic counting, but then I have reflected on this and I have thought well suppose somebody where to demonstrate to me that the electronic voting machine was pretty faultless, I think a good third party test could show that, I think I might relax. If they showed me that it could occasionally go wrong, or be tampered with, I might be more genuinely concerned, because under the current system, if somebody is trying to hide ballot slip under the table because they have been bribed or whatever or trying to knock a Tory pile into the waste paper bin or whatever, I think that will be seen. You have counting agents that see it. If on the other hand the machine is at fault or has been tampered with, all you are going to see is lots of papers whizzing by and you will have no idea that it has taken place and no way of detecting when it has taken place. So there is a genuine and quite real concern there. There is a difference, between a process that you can watch when it goes wrong, even if its generally OK and the system of counting we have got at the moment by town clerk officials is generally OK and a system that when its not OK, you can not detect it. If your going for that you have to be aware that you are going for that.
When it comes to electronic voting I have grave, grave concerns. I think Jason has accentuated many of them by showing me information from America. It's perfectly possible to devise voting software that says we will give 100,000 to the Democrats but whenever we do that the software will automatically give an extra ten votes to the Republicans. Obviously software like that would never be accepted, obviously software like that would never be desirable or bought deliberately, one would hope, but if the software is in a source code, which is owned by company and if that company actually happens to be a contributor to a political party, say the Republicans, either the temptation would be there or the possibility would be there and the confidence will not be there in the process, so there is actually a serious reason to be concerned and if we have a electronic voting we will certainly need not proprietary software but open source software so people can check it and see what it actually does. Because it does not need to do a great deal or a country as big as America or even a country the size of the UK, to have a decisive effect in terms of the tilt of electoral fortunes.
There is one final point I want to make which is based on my experience of Electoral Administration Act, the last one, when we talked about electronic voting in a sort of misty-eyed, starry-eyed, it's-in-the-future kind of way. When we talked about text voting, there were sort of rumblings on the Tory benches, and they are rumblings that may be reflected in this room in some respects, and they went something like this: If people just had to sit in front of their computer or by their mobile phone to vote, they will cast a frivolous Big Brother type vote. This is a kind of almost in principle argument against electronic voting which I don't think is necessarily going to impress everybody in the room, some of the Tories seem to suggest that the device of having polling stations fairly far away from where people live was actually good for democracy, because only the truly determined voter (more laughter from the audience) with a real political opinion, who had thought about it, would bother in those circumstances to vote. Whereas somebody who just gets a text message to vote and responds by just pressing the button on their phone may well not be tutored in the issues that they are actually voting on. Take that far enough as an argument and you can make an argument for making an obstacle course between where people are and may be turning the polling station into mazes and if you can't get through them, your clearly not clever enough to vote in the first place. (Audience are trying hard to stop laughing).
I think you can sound Luddite like that and there is a genuine argument for making voting as easy as it ought to be - however it ought to be - but there isn't, I don't think, at the end of the day, a final argument in principle against electronic voting. I don't think we can say it is inherently evil or there is some argument we can summon up which will show that it will always be bad no matter how refined. What I am perfectly aware of is anything we are currently trying or likely to try in the immediate future, is most probably going to be deeply flawed, require serious investigation and unfortunately that serious investigation is not going to come directly from the Home Office, who may be pushing it our way.
Thank you.

Attended the Open Rights Group viewing of Hacking Democracy. 6 February 2007

"The procurer's who commission IT have a starry-eyed view of what it can do," he said. "They feel it's a very 'modern' thing." Vendors, also, can be very persuasive (I'd like to see tests on what they put in the ink in those brochures, personally). If, he said, Bill Gates were selling voting machines and came up against Tony Blair, "We would have a bill now."
"The old system was never perfect," he said, but over time "we've evolved a way of dealing with almost every conceivable problem." Agents have the right to visit every polling station and watch the count, recounts can consider every single spoiled ballot. By contrast, electronic voting presumes everything will go right.

While listening to Nick Hawkins list some of the many things wrong with e-voting John Pugh said in the House of Commons debate Additional provisions in respect of electronic voting 16 December 2003

The hon. Gentleman's comments are extraordinarily valuable. Does not the American experience also demonstrate, however, that these machines have a strange predisposition to award a greater number of votes to the Republicans than opinion polls show?

Trusted Computing

Westminster Hall debates John Pugh 16 January 2003 E-services

... In the IT world, people are buying less and less hardware, possibly because they are unimpressed by the pretensions of new hardware. However, computer companies will pick up the income stream lost there by endeavouring to lease software, rather than sell it outright. Increasingly, software is requiring digital authorisation, which does not yet lock out third-party software but may in the future, and in America people are dreaming up schemes associated with trusted hardware for which not only the operating system, but the hardware that accompanies will be prescribed.


NHS computer system must not be a trojan horse for big brother state 3 November 2006

"We need to know how access to this highly personal information is to be controlled, what rights the subject of that information has and how unnecessary intrusion into a very private sphere is to be identified and prevented."
"Regardless of the limited amount of data held on the spine of the system, it will be technically possible to upload full digital records from GP surgeries and access that private information from all over the UK."
"There will always be a way of tracing who has accessed information but some government agencies - most notably the police - can easily justify access, sometimes in circumstances where previously a court order had to be used."

"The NHS IT system must not be a Trojan Horse ushering in a Big Brother state."

Software Patents

Aware of software patents and has asked written questions about them. [1]

Possibly of interest.

Signed an early day motion PARLIAMENTARY SCRUTINY OF EU LEGISLATION 29.03.2006

That this House notes that in the combined 2003-04 and 2004-05 parliamentary sessions only eight hours thirty minutes was spent in this House on considering EU documents, out of 1,746 hours available; further notes that other national parliaments in the European Union have established closer structural links with their counterparts in the European Parliament; recognises that European politics can no longer be considered in isolation from the business of the House; and calls on all political parties to look at ways better to scrutinise European legislation.

Open Standards

Westminster Hall debates Government IT and Software Procurement 9 October 2007

...there must obviously be interoperability; its absence will always be a problem, because it limits the growth and integration of whatever software has been bought, as well as one's choice of supplier.
The crucial and damning aspect of the Government's treatment of certain sectors of the industry is that many of the applications chosen by Departments are locked into and tilted towards well-known proprietary solutions. I shall give some examples. The Driving Standards Agency driving theory CD-ROM can be used only on Windows computers. The Revenue website has limited functionality for the Firefox web browser, the most popular alternative to Internet Explorer and one that some would argue is more secure. The Department for Work and Pensions online benefits system can be accessed only by those who have a Windows computer. Those who have Unix or Linux computers or who use Mac computers should simply not bother. Technically, the Government gateway is owned by Microsoft, and there is a certain amount of co-advertising of products between the Government's chosen solutions and the providers of those solutions that, at times, is close to being product placement.

Westminster Hall debates John Pugh 16 January 2003 E-services

... I am told that it is difficult to get far on page 3 of the income tax form without using Internet Explorer or some other Microsoft product. I am also told that the national health service has done a deal with Microsoft whereby computers are provided with the OEM operating system thrown in for free. I am worried by repeated stories in the press that digital certificates for VAT returns and similar forms are not universally accessible to non-Windows-based computers. Someone who is by no means inexpert in the use of technology to fill in their corporation tax return on the Equifax system told me today that they had experienced problems. ... Proprietary standards occasionally become industry standards simply because the firm is so successful and its technology so good that it dominates the market and everyone must use it. That has happened in all fields of technology from time to time. However, it is best when it happens through open competition.
It is crucial that the Government try to make that competition as open as possible, if only because it can save billions. There have been significant savings to private bodies that have looked outside the Microsoft world. A current example is the use of a UNIX-based system by the West Yorkshire police authority. There are significant and increasing risks in putting ourselves in the position of being solely dependent on a monopoly supplier, because we are moving away from a system in which we purchase software to one in which we lease and pay to re-lease software, thereby ensuring an income stream for the IT companies.

DNA database

Links to the Protect innocent people's DNA campaign from the front page of his website.

Signed the Early Day Motion RETENTION OF DNA SAMPLES 19 July 2006

That this House recognises the vital role DNA and the DNA database play in the detection of crimes but is concerned about the retention of DNA on the National Police Database of those individuals who are neither charged nor cautioned; further recognises the potential detrimental effect the retention of DNA has on innocent juveniles; further recognises that there is a disproportionate number of DNA samples retained from members of black and ethnic minorities; and therefore calls on the Government to bring forward legislation to remove the DNA samples of non-charged and non-cautioned individuals currently on the database, except when the individuals concerned give their express consent to the retention of their DNA.

Signed Early Day Motion 1697 Use of the DNA database 27 Febuary 2006

That this House expresses its concern about the retention of DNA data taken from children aged 10 to 18 years who have never been charged or cautioned with any offence; notes large regional differences in retention policy between various police forces; and believes that this imbalance is being further exacerbated by the Government's unwillingness to issue clear guidelines to chief constables about the removal of innocent children from the National Police DNA Database.

Children's Digital Rights

Signed Early Day Motion 446 Contactpoint 29 November 2007

That this House notes the announcement by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families of the deferral of the implementation of ContactPoint to allow for an independent assessment of its security procedures by Deloitte and to address the changes to ContactPoint that potential system users have suggested, but regrets that this review will not extend to the design and content of ContactPoint; expresses concern over the safety implications of such a vast database containing potentially sensitive information in the light of security breaches at HM Revenue and Customs; further expresses concerns about the projected costs of ContactPoint; notes the conclusion of the House of Lords Select Committee on Merits of Statutory Instruments that the Government has not conclusively demonstrated that a universal database is a proportionate response to the problem being addressed; and therefore calls upon the Government to reconsider its decision to proceed.

Freedom of Information

Signed Early Day Motion 845 Freedom of Information 06 Febuary 2007

That this House expresses concern that the proposed new fees regulations under the Freedom of Information Act would allow authorities to refuse on cost grounds a high proportion of requests which they are currently required to answer; notes that the Government's consultation document recognises that this will have a greater impact on journalists, hon. Members, campaign groups and researchers than on private individuals; considers that such changes would undermine the Act's contribution to increased discussion of public affairs, accountability and trust in the work of public authorities; and calls on the Government not to proceed with the proposals.



2008-01-20 - Groklaw - The BBC's iPlayer Goes to Parliament
Author: Sean Daly
Summary: I'd like to draw your attention to a series of questions asked by Member of Parliament Dr. John Pugh. Dr. Pugh is clearly aware of the iPlayer's shortcomings and asks about the project's total cost. ... He is also worried that the BBC's initial Microsoft-only policy constitutes illegal state aid, a situation which could subject the UK Government to an investigation and sanctions from the EU. He was concerned enough to write to the BBC's Director-General the day after the hearing. We have obtained the letter which we present as text below, along with the portion of the HoC PAC questions relative to iPlayer. ... Here's the transcript, followed by the Dr. Pugh letter
2008-01-14 - The Register - MP accuses BBC chief of illegally championing Microsoft
Author: Chris Williams
Summary: A House of Commons public spending watchdog has accused BBC chief Mark Thompson of illegally supporting Microsoft. In failing to ensure iPlayer on demand services are available to all licence fee payers he has been blinded by the novelty of the internet, it's charged. As part of a Public Accounts Committee session on BBC procurement last Tuesday, the director-general was grilled by Liberal Democrat John Pugh MP on the decision to release the download version of the iPlayer for Windows and Internet Explorer only. The move has prompted anger from Mac, Linux and Firefox users. ... Pugh followed up the meeting with a letter to Thompson on Wednesday. He wrote: "By guaranteeing full functionality to the products of one software vendor [the BBC] is as a public body handing a commercial advantage to that company - effectively illegal state aid!" "What might be a pragmatic choice for a privately funded company becomes deeply problematic for a public corporation." Pugh is the MP for Southport and takes particular interest in IT issues, especially around public sector procurement and interoperability.
2007-10-12 - Computer Weekly - Schools have no idea of IT spend, says MP
Author: Karl Flinders
Summary: Many local authorities have no idea of how much is being spent on IT within their schools, according to a survey carried out by a Liberal Democrat MP John Pugh.
2007-10-11 - Kable - MP challenges operating system policy
Summary: Citizens are being excluded from e-government services because they don't have the right software, an MP has warned. Liberal Democrat MP Dr John Pugh believes that the government is unwittingly creating a Microsoft monopoly in its delivery of online services because, in many cases, the public can only access them by using the US company's Windows software.
2007-10-10 - CNET News - Lawmaker blasts U.K. government on Microsoft policy
Author: Colin Barker
Summary: A member of Parliament of the United Kingdom has launched a stinging attack on the U.K. government's IT strategy, saying that it has given Microsoft too much control. John Pugh, who is a member of Parliament, or MP, for Southport and a member of the Public Accounts Committee, was speaking in an adjournment debate on Tuesday that he had called. The aim of the debate, he said, was to explore the alternatives to using Microsoft software, including open source. The current U.K. government strategy has left too much in the hands of Microsoft, Pugh argued, and he accused the company of "predatory pricing and stultifying competition." He said that the U.K. government's policy "is, in part, in breach of European Union regulations" on competition.
2007-10-09 - Open Rights Group - Westminster Hall debate on government software procurement
Summary: John Pugh MP will today lead a Westminster Hall debate on government software procurement. The Liberal Democrat MP for Southport (and veteran speaker at ORG's e-voting events) is a well known advocate of free and open source software. Yesterday, he released the results of a survey he had conducted which showed that many local authorities had no real idea how much money is being spent on IT within their schools.
2007-09-13 - ZDNet - UK failing to exploit open source
Author: Peter Judge
Summary: The UK's failure to make use of open source is a "scandal", according to open-source experts speaking at a key Westminster debate. ... John Pugh, Liberal Democrat MP for Southport, was also active at the event, chairing several sessions. He has led a parliamentary campaign to try to force Becta, the government's schools IT agency, to recommend open source.
2007-02-27 - Computing - UK government ignores open-source potential
Author: Madeline Bennett
Summary: The UK government is biased against the use of open-source technology, a situation that could limit the computing skills of the future workforce, according to experts attending the launch of the National Open Centre (NOC) this week. Speaking at the launch event at the Houses of Parliament, John Pugh MP argued that there is "widespread ignorance" within the public sector about open-source.
2007-02-23 - John Pugh MP - Crime on the web
Author: John Pugh MP
Summary: John Pugh has just returned from Washington as part of a small delegation of MPs sent over to discuss the future of the Internet and internet crime with Congressmen, IT and security experts, and law enforcers. The party were accompanied by the head of Scotland Yard's e-crime unit and met with the FBI. Reporting back , John Pugh said: "Our general conclusion was that few of the crimes committed over the internet are new. Fraud, blackmail, theft and human exploitation have simply found new and more subtle ways of being carried out. However with the Internet the perpetrators of crimes can often be in far away countries out of the reach of local and national police forces. Everyone in Southport is vulnerable to internet fraud and scams, and may even find that their own computers have unknown to them been hijacked to send out messages elsewhere - possibly information about their passwords or bank details." The MP revealed that he himself had even received a death threat via the internet. "Last April I received an e-mail from someone who described themselves as 'your killer' threatening to stab me. I have little doubt that the person was local though the police traced the actual e-mail to a BT call box in Bold St. Liverpool." "Keeping ahead of the new criminal methods presents ever new challenges to the Police".
2006-12-19 - eGov monitor - Parliamentary opposition grows against Government IT policy in schools
Summary: Massive cross-party backbench support for change in government policy for IT in education. Nearly 1 in 5 backbenchers from all parties have questioned the exclusion of open source software from UK schools in their response to an early day motion (EDM) tabled by John Pugh MP. The motion addresses concern for government policy which stifles innovation and locks users into high cost software.
2006-11-28 - Open Rights Group - Open Source Motion Filed in House of Commons
Author: Glyn
Summary: John Pugh MP has tabled an Early Day Motion number 179 in the House of Commons entitled Software in Education. Please write to your MP requesting that they add their name to this motion. The Open Schools Alliance have detailed information and advice on what to put in your letter.
2006-11-22 - John Pugh MP - NHS computer system must not be a trojan horse for big brother state - Pugh
Author: John Pugh MP
Summary: Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson, John Pugh MP, has today written to the Health Secretary, the NHS Director of IT and the Information Commissioner asking for clarification on how far patients’ records can be shared with other government departments.
2006-09-08 - The Register - MPs condemn NHS IT
Author: Mark Ballard
Summary: Two members of the Public Accounts Committee have condemned the centrally-run management of the National Programme for IT and called for a return to local decision making and procurement. Conservative MP for South Norfolk Richard Bacon and Liberal Democrat MP for Southport John Pugh picked the programme to pieces in a paper they published yesterday.
2003-06-27 - The Register - Linux: so what's in it for me?
Author: Bruce Tober
Summary: All the prospect gets is a lot of technobabble, says Dr John Pugh, MP (Lib Dem Southport) This adds to the perception that Linux is a geek's tool. He says consumers will buy Linux PCs if they understand that they won't have to buy a new computer every couple of years, and that if they run a home business, that business won't be brought to a screeching halt every time a virus hits. Linux has to be marketed on its financial and other home-user benefits if it is to make its way into the home user environment, Pugh says.
2003-06-25 - The Register - So why has Linux failed to live up to expectations?
Author: Bruce Tober
Summary: Echoing his thoughts is Dr John Pugh, Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament (Southport). Pugh, who speaks mainly on science subjects for the Lib Dems, told The Register that he's astounded by Linux's "limited take up in the UK despite its security and low cost." This, he said, is very much due to "consumer ignorance". This ignorance is down to a marketing strategy, which is "in part flawed."
2003-06-19 - The Register - Win free tickets to the LinuxUser & Developer Conference
Summary: The conference boasts an international line-up of some of the foremost Linux and free software gurus. Speakers include Alan Cox, Jon 'maddog' Hall, Tim O'Reilly, Georg Greve, Jim McQuillan, Dr John Pugh MP and many more.
2003-06-17 - The Register - Roll up for LinuxUser & Developer Expo
Author: John Leyden
Summary: The line up for a major Linux conference in Birmingham this month is taking shape. ... Political support comes from Liberal Democrat party spokesman on Education and Skills, Dr John Pugh MP, who is also speaking at the conference.