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Millennium Compliance

3.32 pm

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett): I am pleased to update hon. Members with the results of the final monthly review of progress in tackling the millennium bug across government. The completed questionnaires, on which the review is based, will be placed in the Libraries of the House and published on the internet as usual.

The report follows my written statement to the House on 25 November 1999, Official Report, columns 183-85W. In addition to a report on central Government, I am also reporting on preparedness across the national infrastructure, including key services delivered by the wider public sector.

I am pleased to report that work on business critical systems is now complete in all Departments and agencies. That means that systems have been fixed, tested and successfully put back into operation. Business continuity plans and millennium operating regimes--BCPs and MORs--are essential safeguards against the impact of unforeseen bug failures and the other particular pressures of the millennium holiday period. All Departments and agencies also have robust and tested BCPs and MORs in place, and are keeping those arrangements under review so that they can continue to deliver essential services. An immense quantity of work has been undertaken across government to ensure completion of work on business critical systems, BCPs and MORs. I congratulate Departments and agencies on their continuing efforts.

For the central Government millennium operating regime, the Government will be operating a millennium centre from 31 December to 7 January. Staff in the centre will be drawn from the Cabinet Office Year 2000 team and Cabinet Office secretariats, supplemented by staff from Action 2000 and volunteers from other Departments; from the Y2K media co-ordination unit, supported by Departmental press officers; and from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport millennium unit.

The centre will collate information from Departments about any significant millennium problems in the sectors for which they have policy responsibility. There will also be links with similar centres in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and with the Government offices for the regions. More than 200 people in all will be involved and the team in the centre will provide up-to-the minute briefing to Ministers and the media on the emerging picture. On 26 October, Exercise Herald tested the arrangements and demonstrated that they were sound, and further improvements have been made in the light of that work.

The Government millennium centre will post all press releases and statements during the millennium period to a special website, which will also act as a signpost to other sites of interest. The website will give the public and the media easy access to information about the situation in the UK as it enters the new millennium. All this information can be found over the millennium period at

Independent assessments of the readiness of the national infrastructure with respect to Y2K compliance and business continuity planning have been undertaken as

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part of the national infrastructure assessment project run by Action 2000. Organisations within the programme were also required to have robust millennium operating regimes in place in order to achieve the top blue rating.

The process of independent assessment of the state of preparations for the date change of the UK's national infrastructure has given us one of the most--if not the most--comprehensive and objective pictures of national readiness for the date change in the world.

In my last statement to the House, I confirmed that all areas of the national infrastructure were rated as 100 per cent. blue. This means that independent assessors have not identified any risk of material disruption as a result of their full assessment, and that the public can expect a normal service. These sectors included utilities such as electricity and water, as well as police, fire, telecommunications and health care. I am pleased to report that all sectors remain 100 per cent. blue and that they will keep their state of readiness under constant review between now and the end of the year.

While there can be no absolute guarantees, the overall aim set out by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister--to ensure no material disruption to the essential public services of the UK as a result of the millennium bug--should now be achieved. The Government and those who provide services across the national infrastructure have invested a monumental effort to meet that objective. We have less information about other countries, so we cannot be confident that there will not be problems elsewhere, but we have taken action to assess and minimise the impact of those problems on the United Kingdom.

Of course, no matter how much testing has been done, the possibility of some failures still remains, although if these occur, they are likely to be localised and short term. That is why we place so much emphasis on the need for robust and tested business continuity plans to be put in place, so that essential services can continue to be delivered.

Any disruptions that may occur over the date change could be related to bad weather or the length and scale of this year's celebrations, as much as to the millenniumbug. The Government have, therefore, widened their preparations to deal with all aspects of the millennium. Even at this late stage, and with so much work completed, we cannot afford to be complacent. We need to ensure that the necessary monitoring work continues through the final weeks.

The Government will continue to lead by example and to be open and transparent about our work. I will make a further statement to the House, probably in January, on the impact of the date change on central Government and the national infrastructure.

As we approach the final days of the millennium, I pay tribute to the vast number of people in the UK across the public and private sectors who have worked tirelessly, and whose effort is almost without equal internationally, to meet the goal that we set of ensuring no material disruption in our country as a result of the millennium bug.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): I apologise to you and the House, Madam Speaker, for my somewhat uncharacteristically quiet voice. I seem to have contracted a virus resulting in some form of bug.

Mr. Ivor Caplin (Hove): Did you catch it from John Redwood?

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Mrs. Browning: Most certainly not.

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for making the papers available to me at half-past two this afternoon. I join her in paying tribute to those who have worked across the country in an operation that has gone on now for a long time. I have studied the detailed papers that the right hon. Lady deposits in the Library from time to time, and it is clear from reading them that a lot of work has been done in both the private and public sectors, although I did detect a slight hint of "" in the right hon. Lady's voice, in case something goes wrong. We all welcome the fact that at this date, which is so close to the end of the year, she has been able to give us such a reassuring statement.

The right hon. Lady stated that all systems have been completed. Will she confirm that that includes the testing of contingency plans? She will recall that, during her previous statement to the House on this subject, I asked about one or two individual contingency plans that still had to be tested--especially those for the Ministry of Defence. The official papers show that the MOD was not due to complete testing until December. It would be reassuring if she could confirm those points.

The right hon. Lady mentioned that lessons had been learned after Exercise Herald on 26 October. She announced the use of a website to be used by the Government millennium centre to deal with any problems. Which member of the Cabinet will have responsibility for the centre over the new year? Will it be the right hon. Lady or, perhaps, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, the right hon. Member for Redcar (Marjorie Mowlam)? In the event of major problems, will there be a ministerial presence at the Cabinet Office centre?

Since the right hon. Lady made her previous statement, Northern Ireland has taken responsibility for its own preparations in this matter. Will she confirm that there has been a smooth transition from Whitehall to Belfast? Some late contingency plans in Northern Ireland were outstanding, such as the plan for the payment of teachers' salaries? Have those plans been sorted out?

A recurring theme in the deposited papers is that of remuneration packages in the public sector. Will the right hon. Lady confirm that all such packages have been agreed for those who will be working over the new year bank holiday to deal with any potential problems that might arise? Several of those plans were outstanding. It is important that lack of preparation should not impede the presence of key staff on the night, and afterwards, if there are problems--especially in the public sector.

I thank the right hon. Lady for her courtesy, and that of her officials, in briefing me extensively a little while ago, so that the Opposition were aware of some of the detailed background planning that has gone into the preparations.

Mrs. Beckett: I am grateful to the hon. Lady, especially for her final remarks. I accept her thanks, especially for my staff and for the Government advisers who took part in that briefing. I am glad that she found it helpful. I am happy to record that for her to have gone through that heap of material in the Library was probably above and beyond the call of duty. I am grateful to her for confirming that it shows the position clearly.

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The hon. Lady asked me about the testing of contingency plans at the MOD. I confirm that that work has been completed. She asked about responsibility for the millennium centre. In general, I am primarily responsible for the centre. There will be ministerial presences in the Cabinet Office during the period. The work will be shared among different Ministers; all Departments will have someone on standby and several Ministers will be available to the centre.

The hon. Lady asked me to confirm that work in Northern Ireland had been completed. I can confirm that. We experienced no problems during the handover and the transition. I am not aware that there are any outstanding problems on remuneration, although she will be aware that that matter has been settled in the individual organisations.

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