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Computers (Century Date Change)

Volume 301: debated on Thursday 27 November 1997

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4.27 pm

With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement on how Government Departments and their agencies are tackling the millennium compliance problem—sometimes called the "millennium bomb"—within central Government Departments and their agencies.

The problem is widely understood to pose serious and potentially catastrophic hazards in all organisations, in both public and private sectors, in every country worldwide. It affects mainframe and personal computers and any device containing a microprocessor chip that manipulates dates. That includes telephone equipment, lifts, air conditioning, lighting, clocks, timers and control equipment.

Checking and, where necessary, correcting every system is a detailed, laborious process, and there is a fixed deadline for its completion. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is leading efforts to raise awareness of that urgent problem throughout the private sector.

The principal responsibility for ensuring that systems are millennium compliant rests with individual Departments. They are also responsible for ensuring that organisations in the wider public service sectors that they sponsor have the necessary guidance and information. My role is to co-ordinate activity in central Government, assess progress and provide guidance. The Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency in my Department has produced comprehensive guidance for Departments on how to deal with the problem. That is available publicly.

Immediately after taking office, I asked to receive, as soon as possible after 1 October, detailed and costed plans, showing how Departments and agencies were tackling the problem. My officials have now analysed those plans. On the basis of those plans, I am now able to confirm that all Departments and agencies have work in hand and scheduled for completion in time—many by December 1998, a majority by March 1999 and a small number later in 1999. Some Departments will in general give priority to correcting business-critical systems, and may leave systems of minor importance until later.

The total estimated cost set out in the plans is just over £370 million. Most of it will be spent in the current and next two financial years. That is less than some estimates, but is based on careful calculation by Departments and their advisers, and I have no reason to believe that it is not of the right order, but that is something that other Ministers and I shall monitor carefully.

The Government's policy is that the cost will be met from within planned allocations, and the evidence from the plans is that almost 97 per cent. is so covered. Many costs will be accommodated in maintenance and system replacement budgets. In some cases, Departments will bring forward investment plans and adjust their priorities.

Guidance published by CCTA asked Departments to consider whether staff shortages would inhibit progress. The plans as a whole do not suggest that that is a serious problem at present, but I shall keep a close watch on that and have already written to Departments asking for further clarification. I shall ensure that that will be covered specifically in subsequent reports.

Overall, my assessment is that we have established the measure of the problem and set in hand plans which are realistic and achievable, but the bulk of the actual remedial or replacement work is yet to be done, the timetable is tight and there is little margin for error. That is the challenge. The programme needs continuous monitoring, and I shall be checking progress regularly and reporting to the House on a quarterly basis, starting this spring.

It is also my intention that we should be open about the scale of the problem and our progress in dealing with it. I am therefore arranging for all the departmental reports to be placed in the Library of the House and published on the internet; and I shall ensure that progress reports are also made available on a regular basis.

Finally, I can announce today that we are reinforcing and strengthening our effort in two significant ways. First, a ministerial group is being set up, under my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, to drive forward action to tackle the year 2000 problem across the public and private sectors. I shall be a member of that group, chairing a sub-group which will co-ordinate and drive forward the action for which central Government Departments and agencies are responsible.

Secondly, we have asked Don Cruickshank, the chairman of Action 2000, to reinforce this effort across both public and private sectors by keeping in close touch with the ministerial group and advising on best practice from the private sector. I hope that that demonstrates the seriousness with which we take the problem, and the vigour of our approach to it. Those efforts will be maintained.

I start by welcoming the Chancellor's statement on millennium compliance—it is not before time. However, many listening to his statement today will have been disappointed. There remain many unanswered questions, which I hope the Minister will now cover.

The Minister has done little today to engender confidence in his handling of the matter. He appears once again to have set up yet another committee chaired by a Minister who is rarely in the Chamber; and he appears to have saved a little money.

The timetable that we set when we were in government seems already to have slipped. Our deadline for all Departments to be compliant was December 1998. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that a small number of Departments will not complete the work until later in 1999. Can he tell us when in 1999? Why is he leaving matters until the eleventhth hour? Which part of the Department of Social Security will not become compliant until the end of August 1999? What minor matters can be left until we are right up against the wire?

Will the right hon. Gentleman give us a date by which all Government systems will be compliant? That is most important. A date for all Government systems has not been given today.

The right hon. Gentleman has glossed over the problems by announcing yet another ministerial group. He has not concentrated on the shortages of staff skilled for this exercise. What estimate has he made of the number of IT specialists and workers that will be required? Is he convinced that we have enough IT-skilled personnel available in the United Kingdom? I have talked to some companies that are already finding a shortage of skills in the United Kingdom, and are contracting with companies as far afield as India. Does the right hon. Gentleman have any contingency plans to cover any shortages that he may find?

To what extent are the Government refusing to deal with non-government organisations and suppliers that are not already millennium compliant? If the Government are dealing with non-compliant organisations, will the right hon. Gentleman set a date beyond which they will cease to deal with such companies? That has been the case in the commercial world with companies such as British Telecom.

The right hon. Gentleman has been less than frank on costs. He said that the costs are less than some estimates, but we need to be convinced on the detail. In the schedule attached to the statement, he surprisingly estimates that the compliance costs for the NHS will be only £6 million, whereas the costs for social security will be £45 million and those for defence will be £200 million. The statement on the Department of Health contains the phrase "excluding embedded systems". Will he tell us the cost of bringing into account, for example, the embedded systems, because there will be problems with, among other things, defibrillators and heart monitors in the health service?

There has been no mention of local government. What steps has the right hon. Gentleman taken to ensure that local government systems will be millennium compliant? Will extra grants be available to councils, and what will be the total cost to local government?

Is the right hon. Gentleman convinced that the Government are doing enough with their awareness programme? How does he react to the Cap Gemini survey, which is detailed in early-day motion 497? The survey shows that 29 per cent. of gross domestic product will be at risk, but if the timetable slips by another three months, the figure will be 37 per cent. Does he agree with the Midland bank survey, which estimates that one in five companies could fail?

How will the right hon. Gentleman deal with the problems of the European Commission, particularly in the light of the answer from the Minister in the Department of Trade and Industry that the Commission has produced no guidelines on millennium compliance? Does he know what steps are being taken by European organisations, and how much will it cost? Surely there will be a serious problem if plans in Europe are behind even our own.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that millennium compliance is unavoidable, but as it comes at the same time as Euro-compliance, it presents our organisations and businesses with the greatest IT task ever faced by government and industry? Perhaps he will now realise that, although we cannot put off millennium compliance, we could put off joining the single currency. Should not joining the single currency be postponed?

Is the right hon. Gentleman convinced that all computers that are being sold, including those sold to Government Departments, are millennium-compliant? I do not want to put people off buying computers, but how will the Government ensure that suppliers of computer equipment have checked that their stock is millennium-compliant? Does he appreciate that this is not just a technical problem? What steps has he taken to investigate all contracts, licences, stationery and manual processes? How will he ensure that all guarantees on computer equipment are honoured?

If the Government are asking organisations to certify their millennium compliancy, as I presume they are, how will the Chancellor of the Duchy confirm their compliance? What form will that process take? Even if organisations certify, how will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that their critical systems are indeed compliant? Will he set up a testing system, and if so, what form will it take?

What contingencies does the Chancellor have in place in the event of failure in any testing process or any eventual millennium disasters? Will the right hon. Gentleman give us the details now? If not, will he give us a date by which he will have contingency plans in place?

The year 2000 and the century date change probably constitute one of the most complex and threatening problems that we shall ever face. A time bomb is ticking away inside computer systems whether they are the largest mainframe computers or software embedded in domestic appliances. The possible effect of problems may vary from something that is slightly annoying to something that is a major threat to business, people or the environment, especially in the event of failure of critical safety systems. Will the Chancellor please reassure me and the rest of the country that he has understood the magnitude of the problem and commands the detail of the solution? If he does not, I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman will last in office until the millennium.

I agreed with the hon. Lady only when she described the millennium problem as complex and complicated. I wish that she had not trivialised it. By her cavilling and dislocated series of questions, she showed that she does not begin to appreciate the nature of the problem. Before the hon. Lady jumps in and makes such outrageous statements, I advise her to go to the Library of the House to look up the departmental reports that I have deposited there, or she can read them on CD-ROM or turn to the internet.

There are 1,200 pages of reports from the Departments for the hon. Lady to analyse. My officials and I have spent considerable time analysing all those reports, and we are confident that we shall be millennium-compliant at the appropriate date.

The compliant time and date is midnight on 31 December 1999. It is as clear as that, and there can be no slippage. I am sorry that I had to spell it out to the hon. Gentleman, but I know that he is not as numerate as he could be.

We are keen that we in the public sector and those in business can work together because it is not viable for one sector to be millennium-compliant and the other not. We obviously need an interface.

The hon. Lady talked about skills. I sometimes wonder where she and her colleagues have been over the past 18 years. There is a shortage of people with computer skills, and training takes time. I remind the hon. Lady that we have been in office for only seven months and that it was her Department which failed to match up to training people in computer skills. It was her Government who set a deadline for millennium compliance, but they did nothing else. They did nothing within the Department to prepare for that.

In the same month as I took office, I looked at the books and found that practically nothing had been done. I then wrote to all my ministerial colleagues—this was in May—asking them to prepare reports. That they did, and I have placed the reports in the Library.

May I express the gratitude of the House to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor for making this statement? It does not underplay the seriousness of the issue, which is beginning to assume the epoch-making significance of the switchover from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in 1720, or whenever it was. Indeed, if we went back to the Julian calendar, we might avoid the problem altogether. I do not know whether that is really the case.

My right hon. Friend's statement is important because it emphasises that the millennium will affect more than the banking and finance industries, along with the private computer industry. It will have an effect also on things such as life support machines in hospitals, surgical equipment and our own domestic television sets. Would my right hon. Friend welcome a report by a Select Committee—not necessarily the one in which he and I have a special interest—to reassure the House and the public that the Government, including my right hon. Friend's Department, are being kept up to the mark on that important issue?

The Government have no plans to go back to the Julian calendar—I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend.

We want to be as open as we can with information and, as I have said, we have published all the reports from Government Departments for people to see. If my hon. Friend—he happens to be a Chairman of a Select Committee—and his Committee want to look into those matters, my Department will give him any and every assistance. The House and the country need to be involved in the issue, and the more who are involved, the better.

I welcome the Chancellor's statement, which is one for which I have been asking. In opposition, the Labour party was critical of the previous Government's timetable, yet their timetable seems to have slipped behind that of their predecessors.

The right hon. Gentleman's answers seem to be inconsistent with the written answers that I have been receiving. Why, for example, did he issue a statement on 12 November stating that no deadline for tackling this serious problem had been missed, when answers to me show clearly that only three of 16 Departments could confirm that they had met the January 1997 target date?

Why did the Chancellor make a claim about receiving costed and privatised plans as soon as possible after 1 October, when the agreed date with the National Audit Office was completion by October? It is clear from parliamentary answers to me that only seven of 16 Departments could say that all their areas had met the October deadline. How can the right hon. Gentleman explain those inconsistencies?

I am puzzled by the Chancellor's claim that he has covered all aspects of Government and public body responsibility. He quotes a figure to which the Conservative Front-Bench spokesperson, the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), alluded—the £6.1 million for the national health service. Labour Members have observed that we are talking about life support systems and every trust in the land. Is the right hon. Gentleman really asking us to believe that £6.1 million will resolve the problem for the NHS? Will the cost not be hundreds of millions of pounds?

Will the Chancellor explain how he will ensure that all the public bodies outside the central Departments are complying? It is difficult to believe that £370 million is the definitive cost. Experts who have commented on those matters will find £370 million a bizarre figure. They are suggesting costs amounting to billions of pounds. The gap is huge. The right hon. Gentleman has said that, of £370 million, £200 million can be identified for the Ministry of Defence alone. Is he suggesting that that Department can absorb that cost without any consequential cuts in its budget?

It is an extraordinary statement if we are led to believe that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has everything under control and covered and that there will be delivery on time. Is the right hon. Gentleman's statement not inaccurate on deadlines? Is it not incomplete about costs and is it not insufficient on how costs will be met? In those circumstances, is the right hon. Gentleman not complacent to suggest that the Government have the matter under control? Will that phrase not come home to haunt him?

As far as we are aware, no other Government have undertaken the exercise that we have carried out and published all information for their citizens to see. The hon. Gentleman has taken a particular interest in these matters over the years and has a serious contribution to make in trying to solve the millennium problem, which is not party political but one that affects us all, public and private. It is also a global problem. I urge him not to fall into the trap of accepting the words and figures of the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), who leads for the Conservatives on this. She quoted the figure of just over £6 million for the national health service. That is not the figure for the NHS, for which I have no responsibility and for which I am not speaking. I am responsible for central Government Departments, and the figure of £6 million relates to the Department of Health.

The hon. Gentleman questioned me about a general series of figures. He produced his own figures, in which he estimated that the total cost of the Government's millennium computer problem was almost £1 billion. That of course includes local government, the national health service and various other bodies. The £370 million, which I estimate is the cost of central Government's compliance, is in line with his estimate. We do not know whether his figure is right, but we think that his general ballpark figure is probably about right—that the cost for the public services will be about £1 billion.

I am grateful to the Minister for his statement. As a former information technology manager with perhaps a little expertise in this sector, I should warn him that, as the systems for which central Government are responsible are so complex, plans to complete the work in time for the end of the millennium should have been drawn up probably in 1995. I wonder whether he could remind me who was in government in 1995 and suggest why they never took responsibility? The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) said that the Conservative Government had plans for completion of all systems by early 1998, but those plans will not be completed until the end of 1999, and that slippage did not take place in the past six months. I wonder why they did not deal with the slippage at the time.

My main point is this. Will the Minister clarify his statement on auditing plans and how they progress? What plans does he have to ensure that progress is constantly audited and that there is no further slippage?

My hon. Friend is right to remind the House of the complexity of this issue and of the many factors that are unknown to the best brains worldwide. He also makes a fair point when he asks what the previous Government did on this issue over the years. On attaining office, I came to the conclusion that they did very little. That is why we are faced with the problem today.

I am aware of the need constantly to monitor and to audit the problem. That is why I have asked each Government Department to send me, every quarter, detailed plans of how they aim to meet their proposals. I have assured the House that those detailed plans will be reported to the House, so that all hon. Members can see them in detail, monitor the position and check that no Departments are slipping. I am in the game of trying not to contrast Department A with Department B, but to ensure that the governing of this country can continue normally after 2000.

The Chancellor was unnecessarily touchy about the genuinely important questions that my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) asked. He is also slightly ill informed. I am sure that his officials did not mean to ill inform him, but the previous Government did much on this issue, often with considerable criticism from people who thought that it was all hype.

I am delighted that the figures that he has come up with—which the previous Government started in order to meet the October deadline—show that the costs and the problem are serious. Will he confirm what I think he has just said to the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce), the Liberal Democrat spokesman: the £370 million figure is only for central Government services, and the likely cost for the public services will be well over £1 billion? I think that he said at least £1 billion. In my judgment, it will be well over £1 billion because of the extensive problems of the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Social Security and the national health service.

Will the Minister say what he implied in his statement about prioritisation? Does that mean that some public service functions may not be able to continue? Will he answer the important point of what the cut-off date will be for testing, because half the cost is likely to be in the testing, not in the analysis, of the problem? Will he lay down to private sector companies a date beyond which the public sector will not deal with them electronically— unless they have computer compliance that is acceptable to the Government?

The short answer to the hon. Gentleman's first question is yes. I am talking only about central Government Departments, and the estimate for them is £370 million.

No one has an accurate estimate of the ballpark figure for public services. I do not demur greatly from the figure proffered by the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) of about £1 billion.

As to our contracts with electronic and IT companies, we now have an agreement that all contracts must be for millennium-compliant machines and equipment. I have today asked the various Departments to do random tests on the equipment that they receive to ensure that those terms are adhered to.

The Minister's statement will be greatly welcomed. Until 1 May, I was working in information technology and, had the good people of Milton Keynes not elected me, I would be working on the millennium problem. One of my concerns is that the debate is mostly about computers, not embedded software. Most people seem to ignore that. Will the Minister assure me that that will be given greater priority in the publicity he issues, and that the testing programmes, which are always the things to be cut in every computer system development programme, will not be cut in this case?

My hon. Friend is right to remind us that we are talking about not only IT systems, but the embedded chip issue, although we are not sure of the extent of that problem. It involves not only mainstream and personal computers but things involving dates, such as lifts. Many digital watches may also be affected. Some Departments may not have taken it completely on board, so I have written to all Departments to ensure that they are aware of it.

I heard what my hon. Friend said about testing. Those were very wise words. We shall try to adhere to that because, to ensure that our programme works on the critical day, testing must be done in the lead-up to that period.

It is nearly two years to the week since I was the first to raise this issue on the Floor of the House, and was widely ridiculed for doing so.

I warmly welcome this overdue statement, but will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that it will not be enough to ensure that the computer systems for which the Government are responsible are millennium compliant because, if those with which they are linked in the private sector are not, they will all crash together? Will he therefore acknowledge the value of my private Member's Bill, the Companies (Millennium Computer Compliance) Bill, which is listed for its Second Reading tomorrow and which will do a great deal to ensure that this country will avoid much of the chaos that is predicted for two years' time?

I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's interest and expertise in this subject. For obvious reasons, I was aware of his Adjournment debate. Over the years, he has taken a sustained and real interest in this subject. His foresight at that time has been appreciated.

The House will decide on the hon. Gentleman's Bill, but he is absolutely right to say that it is no use us being compliant at the centre if other organisations—both public and private—with which we interface are not compliant. For that reason, we have asked Don Cruickshank to take this forward and to ensure that there are arrangements and co-ordination between the public and private sectors.

I thank my right hon. Friend for the openness that was involved in the publication of the reports about how Departments will proceed. It will make discussions of this kind much more fruitful.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the depth of the concern that is felt in the business community? First, there is concern about the continued sale of non-compliant equipment. I know that my right hon. Friend is not responsible for that, but I noticed that my hon. Friend the Minister for Small Firms, Trade and Industry was present earlier, and I hoped that my right hon. Friend would have conversations with the DTI.

Secondly, there is what could be described as a mirror image of the issue that has just been discussed. Private companies that have made progress with compliance are concerned about their relationship with Government, and feel that Government are progressing more slowly than some of them.

I spoke at a meeting of the southern region of the Confederation of British Industry, at which both those issues were raised. CBI representatives said in terms that they did not want petty bickering between parties; they wanted collaboration, seriousness and progress. That was stated at the meeting by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood).

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that the Government are prepared to make the information available, not only to Members of Parliament but to anyone who cares to use the internet to find the detailed information supplied by the Department. That process will be on-going.

I take on board the message that my hon. Friend has passed on from the regional CBI that business does not want the issue to be bogged down in inter-party bickering. I am reassured by the fact that Opposition Back Benchers did not follow the lead of their Front-Bench spokesman, and have realised the seriousness of the issue. Along with my right hon. and hon. Friends, I shall try to ensure that they have as much information as possible, so that they can help us to make the balanced judgments that will need to be made.

May I follow what was said by the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart)? I believe that answers are needed to the list of questions that the Minister was given by my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan). I should be grateful if he would answer those questions and publish his answers, because all the issues are relevant.

Will the Minister assure the House that the all-party European informatics market group—of which I am vice-chairman—has been considering the subject for some time? There have been a number of draft reports, and the group is now about to produce its final report. I hope that the Minister will meet officers and experts from industry so that we can discuss our findings.

The Minister may be interested to know that, in an early draft of the report, it was suggested that we could not have both the year 2000 and economic and monetary union. Clearly, having discovered that, the Chancellor decided to postpone EMU. We recommend that all new Bills should be considered in terms of their implications not just for manpower and cost but for information technology. The right hon. Gentleman has said that Departments' current budgets are sufficient to provide the £370 million that is needed. I do not agree with that, but, if we assume that it is correct, the cost of staff will rise enormously because of demand and the fact that their salaries will be increased.

Experts say that the problem will have to be cured by the end of 1998, because the year 99, put into certain codes, means something completely different from the year 1999. That is not just a millennium problem; it is also a year 99 problem.

Having participated in debates on the issue with the hon. Gentleman, I know that he takes a considerable interest in it, and knows a good deal about it. I think that, when he has time to read the detailed reports that are in the Library, he will see that Departments are aware of the problems. The various departmental budgets cover 97 per cent. of the £370 million that I mentioned earlier.

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the obsolescence factor in IT is very great, and there is a very short period for the upgrading and refurbishment of equipment and of IT generally. As we advance with the refurbishment, all the equipment involved is 2000-compliant. The problem is not quite as great as it might at first appear, but I listened to what the hon. Gentleman said, and I shall write to him if there is anything that I feel I have not covered.

Order. This is a complex matter, but I appeal for concise questions and answers.

Pursuant to his last reply, does my right hon. Friend agree that the millennium presents us with an opportunity, as well as a serious challenge? In the process of ensuring that Departments purchase millennium-compliant equipment, will advice go downstream to purchasing departments at the levels of, for instance, schools and local government? Will the same advice go to the private sector, particularly the small and medium business sector, through the DTI?

I have today stated the Government's position vis-a-vis our own Departments. We have also announced that we are establishing a ministerial group, and that we are asking Don Cruickshank to ensure that the very points raised by my hon. Friend are met. Those points are indeed very serious.

May I press the Minister? I recognise that he is speaking on behalf of the central Department, and that he has also referred to other Departments, but is the Northern Ireland Office abreast of what is happening? At times, it seems to be in another orbit, and regularly behind developments.

The information that I have does not relate to the Northern Ireland Office, but we have made inquiries of the NIO. It is well aware of developments, and is in line with the other Departments.

Does my right hon. Friend understand Labour Members' irritation at the way in which the issue was addressed by the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan)? When did the last Government decide not to continue buying computer equipment and computer systems that were millennium-compliant? Has my right hon. Friend that date?

I do not have the date, but I think that the whole House will share my hon. Friend's disappointment at the cavalier and cavilling way in which the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) addressed the problem.

We have had a revelation this afternoon. Whenever the Opposition are on weak ground—[Interruption.] I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I automatically think of the Labour party as being in opposition.

Whenever Labour Members are on weak ground, they suggest that party politics has somehow come into the issue. I think it right that my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) should ask questions, and should receive answers from the Chancellor of the Duchy. After all, this is a serious issue.

May I bring a specific Government aspect to the right hon. Gentleman's attention? Many hon. Members would be amazed if the Ministry of Defence's compliance costs were only £200 million. I suspect that that figure will go up and up.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman understands that we are talking about a vital element of national security, ranging from our Trident nuclear deterrent to command and control systems that are now being operated by our military personnel in Bosnia and elsewhere. It has an international and a multinational dimension. In future, when we wish to question the Government, will we be able to question the right hon. Gentleman on specific departmental issues, or will we have to go from Department to Department to obtain answers?

The MOD estimate is accurate, I think. The MOD purchases about half of all the IT purchased by Government Departments. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the Opposition are on weak ground, not because they are bringing in party politics, but because the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham tries to rewrite history, which I find strange.

On 13 March, I had an answer from Mrs. Angela Knight, then a Treasury Minister, which stated:

"The Treasury has work in progress to identify and test its computer systems to ensure that they will operate correctly at the turn of the century. It has not proved necessary to commission any additional research."—[Official Report, 13 March 1997; Vol. 292, c. 323.]
Has my right hon. Friend resorted to any additional research, particularly in relation to the local authorities? The matter was raised in a Standing Committee on which I served with the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson).

The CCTA and the central IT unit in my Department have conducted considerable research into the matter. On the specific narrow issue, I shall make inquiries and write to my hon. Friend.

Following on from the previous question, can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that local authority systems and police command and control systems will be millennium compliant? Can he estimate the cost of putting those right?

As I said before, I cannot put a precise figure on it. I gave the ballpark figure that I estimated was the cost for the entire public sector. We had to take the new initiative because we found that the work had not been done previously by the Conservative Government. That is why we established the Cruickshank Action 2000, so that we could address the problems that he has brought to the attention of the House.

As I have a background in information technology in a university environment, one aspect that disturbs me is that the millennium problem seems to be giving higher rewards to those with long memories than to those with recently trained skills. I suspect that, all too often, we are looking to botch and fix what should be replaced. One of the disadvantages of not starting early enough on a project is that that leads to a waste of money. Is that proving to be the case? If so, will my right hon. Friend give me an assurance that he will seek to minimise it? In the interests of those in the private sector, will he ask my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to investigate whether we can use the millennium as an opportunity for investment in new technology, rather than trying to fix the technology of the past decade?

My hon. Friend is right to draw to our attention the temptation to botch when one is faced with a short-term problem. According to the figures that I have, between 50 and 80 per cent. of reinvestment in IT is coping with that problem. It is important that we use the millennium as an opportunity to re-equip and refurbish our industry, so that we can compete more effectively in the new millennium.

Given the right hon. Gentleman's answer to the previous question, and the comprehensive audit that has been carried out, perhaps he will answer a few specific questions—

One specific question, then. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us how many older turnkey systems are in use in central Government Departments? The problem is more profound with older line of business turnkey systems, rather than with office productivity systems or hardware. How many of the turnkey systems in existence in Government Departments are more than five years old? Any that are more than five years old are bound to be non-compliant.

I do not know the answer. I shall find out, if possible, and write to the hon. Gentleman.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. I accept that, as he says, some of the costs associated with the problem can be met from existing IT budgets through the purchase of new equipment. What steps has he taken to ensure that all new materials, equipment and systems purchased now will be compliant and that we shall not have a problem with new equipment in a little more than two and a half years?

All the contracts that we have with companies supplying IT and similar equipment to us insist that the new equipment is millennium compliant. As from today, we are carrying out random tests of the equipment received, to make sure that that is the case.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I, my personal equipment and all my systems are entirely millennium compliant? More seriously, will he take on board the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) in relation to the Ministry of Defence?

First, having been a Minister there, I believe that the figures being quoted are way under the actual cost. Secondly, my hon. Friend's point about security applies not only to weapons systems and command and control systems, but to intelligence systems. Thirdly, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence inform the House of the representations that they have made to the former Soviet Union, in particular, and other countries holding nuclear weapons and other global weapons systems, and of whether Ministers are satisfied with the security of those systems, given the changes that are taking place in IT?

The House will be reassured to know that all the hon. Gentleman's personal equipment is millennium compliant. I am reassured that his clock chip is okay, and that his bios firmware is above the mark.

On the serious issue, the hon. Gentleman certainly has a knowledge of the Ministry of Defence, as I have. I have examined the figures carefully and I have heard what he said. We shall be able to see on a quarterly basis what the position is. He has drawn attention to a serious problem with some of the former Warsaw pact countries, which I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. Friends.