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Lawmaker blasts U.K. government on Microsoft policy

British Parliament member criticizes U.K. government's IT strategy, accusing it of "skewing the market" in favor of Microsoft.

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.

The government's strategy hits the poorest hardest, Pugh said. "Why should people on benefits have to use Vista when it costs hundreds of pounds and there are cheaper open-source solutions available?" he asked. "Why should people have to use Vista rather than Apple, for that matter?"

Furthermore, the U.K. government has ceded control to Microsoft, Pugh said, pointing to Connecting for Health, a government health program as an example. "I am happy for Connecting for Health to go to a company like Microsoft," he said. "I am less happy when the details are subject to a confidentiality agreement."

Speaking for the U.K. government, Angela Eagle, MP for Wallasey, said that the government's strategy on IT was not governed by a desire to choose any particular vendor, but by the "need to get value and the best possible deal."

Eagle said that there were many benefits of open-source software but, in the end, it was the price to the taxpayer that mattered. "I agree that open-source platforms can help open competition and that we want a free marketplace," she said. "We are using open source in many areas, and we do realize there are benefits."

But while open source can appear to be cheap, there are extra costs in training and support that mean it may not always be the cheapest solution, Eagle said.

Pugh is a frequent critic of the U.K. government's IT strategy. In November 2006, Pugh called for a "level playing-field in software," arguing that the government was favoring Microsoft above other companies.

Colin Barker of ZDNet UK reported from London.