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Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): The Leader of the House has spoken of a greater emphasis on contingency planning. My constituency is close to Manchester airport, so I am well aware that contingency planning is not adequate to deal with air traffic control. Can she give some assurance to my constituents and any others who might be affected that air traffic control procedures will not be tested by aircraft having to experience difficulties in 2000 but will be certified as safe before then?

Mrs. Beckett: As I have said, all Departments and Government agencies have said that they expect to be millennium ready. We are in constant contact with organisations such as the CAA and the national air transport system, and they are sharing their preparations and plans with us. We are continuing to monitor the situation. The organisations' preparations are well regarded, but no one is complacent and we are continuing to put information in the public domain.

Mr. John Swinney (North Tayside): References have already been made to the concerns of the Secretary of State for Scotland about the effect of cuts in the Territorial Army on its ability to deliver emergency services in the event of any disruption. Is it wise to make any reductions in preparedness for civil difficulties caused by the

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millennium bug, when the Leader of the House is, understandably, not in a position to give us a guarantee that there will be no disruption to public services?

Mrs. Beckett: The hon. Gentleman is inviting me to stray into the territory of the strategic defence review and its aftermath, which I fear I am disinclined to do. Of course we will have the normal contingency planning in place. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has had extensive discussions with the contingency planners and intends, heroically, at no little personal sacrifice, to be on standby on the key night; but the whole thrust of our work and programme is to try to ensure that there is so little material disruption to public services that there is no need to call on contingency services.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): In her list of prime culprits, the Leader of the House omitted to mention the Department of Trade and Industry. The Taskforce 2000 report, published on 11 November, said:


Is that slow progress not attributable to the fact that the present political management of the Department of Trade and Industry is even worse than that of the immediate past?

Mrs. Beckett: I certainly cannot countenance for a second any criticism of my successor, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who is doing an excellent job.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): What about your predecessors?

Mrs. Beckett: Even less do I criticise them.

Yet again, we are relying on the analysis--if one can call it that--of Taskforce 2000. It is certainly true that the DTI has encountered more work than was initially anticipated, and that is entirely consistent with what is happening elsewhere in the public and private sectors. That has been the forecast for some time, but the Department is still on course to meet its declared deadline of April 1999 for business-critical IT. The estimated completion dates for embedded systems and telecommunications, for example, are deliberately cautious, so they should be well founded.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam): I welcome the sober and systematic approach of the President of the Council in her statement, which contrasts with those who seem to want to predict the coming of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse creating attendant panic. Does she agree that people who make statements suggesting that hard-working IT staff in the public sector have not dealt professionally with the issue are insulting those staff? In a spirit of sober analysis of the problems, may I draw her attention to the new national insurance recording system, which has a potential late delivery date of 31 October 1999, as some of the recent deliveries of systems by the private sector to the Department of Social Security have faced a few small problems in implementation?

Mrs. Beckett: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks and his understanding of the issues. I am

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aware of some of the problems that have occurred, but I am sure that he is aware that independent analysis of the work of the Department of Social Security has suggested that it is going well. I suspect that his point is slightly different, because the Department has had problems with its computer systems in the past, but it has done much work on them recently.

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale): Given that one company, Unilever, has estimated that the costs to it alone of the millennium bug will be £300 million, is the right hon. Lady satisfied with her estimate that the cost to the entire national health service will be only £320 million?

Mrs. Beckett: We are saying that that is the further cost as we see it now. I am familiar with the work of Unilever and impressed by it. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is aware that the Prime Minister's adviser on the matter is Dr. Anderson, who was in charge of millennium compliance at Unilever. He has brought a wealth of experience and information to the issue, including the basis of the observation which I made earlier that it is now clear that we should all have started work on the matter much earlier. That is partly why I am happy to recognise a general responsibility for the problem: it does not lie in one quarter rather than another. Under Dr. Anderson's overall supervision, we continue to monitor, probe and assess the cost to various Departments, and we hope and believe that we have the measure of it. We may see some small increase, and that has been the experience over time at Unilever, but as we get closer to the date change our confidence in the accuracy of the financial predictions should strengthen.

BILLS PRESENTED

Scottish Enterprise

Mr. Secretary Dewar, supported by Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer and Mr. Calum Macdonald, presented a Bill to make provision with respect to the financial limits in section 25(2) of the Enterprise and New Towns (Scotland) Act 1990: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed [Bill 6].

Greater London Authority

Mr. Secretary Prescott, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Straw, Mr. Nick Raynsford and Ms Glenda Jackson, presented a Bill to establish and make provision about the Greater London Authority, the Mayor of London and the London Assembly; to make provision in relation to London borough councils and the Common Council of the City of London with respect to matters consequential on the establishment of the Greater London Authority; to make provision with respect to the functions of other local authorities and statutory bodies exercising functions in Greater London; to make provision about transport and road traffic in and around Greater London; to make provision about policing in Greater London and to make an adjustment of the metropolitan police district; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed [Bill 7].

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European Parliamentary Elections Bill (Allocation of Time)

5.34 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw): I beg to move,


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    12. If the House is adjourned at the sitting this day, or the sitting is suspended, before the conclusion of proceedings on the Bill, no notice shall be required, of a Motion made at the next sitting by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.

The Government remain determined to press ahead with the European Parliamentary Elections Bill in the form that this House has decided by overwhelming majorities. I shall say a little more about why we subscribe to that belief when we come to debate the Bill itself. Let me now explain why the Government believe that the allocation of time motion is appropriate. The answer is simple: the House has already devoted a huge amount of time to discussing the Bill. There may be a little more to say, but we think that the time allocated is adequate in the circumstances.

The Bill has only six clauses and four schedules. In the Session that ended only 10 days ago, we spent more than 34 hours debating the Bill, which works out at more than three and half hours for each clause or schedule, whether substantive or not. The Bill is a constitutional measure and, for that reason, we have taken it on the Floor of the House. It is worth pointing out that it is not exceptional for Bills of a constitutional nature to be guillotined. Some hon. Members will recall--and some Conservative Members will do so with discomfort--that the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1986, which introduced the single market, had to be guillotined by the previous Administration. The then Lord President of the Council, Mr. John Biffen, said when moving the timetable motion--


and he explained why. Earlier in the debate, he sought to justify the Government's decision to guillotine the measure. He said:


    "The Bill received its Second Reading with the clear majority of 319 votes to 160. That is an indication that the Government fully have the authority of the House for wishing to ensure that the passage of the Bill can be concluded."--[Official Report, 1 July 1986; Vol. 100, c. 933-34.]

If Mr. John Biffen was correct on that occasion, we must be even more correct when we say that this Bill has received the overwhelming authority of the House, because it received a majority of 355 to 160 on Second Reading on 25 November 1997.


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