§ Q11. Mr. David Atkinson
What initiatives he is taking in the European Union to encourage action to ensure the millennium compliancy of computer systems.
§ The Prime Minister
We are taking action under Britain's European Union presidency to deal with the problems of the so-called millennium bug. We are not only setting up meetings in Europe to publicise the dangers that the millennium bug poses to our companies, but ensuring at a European level that action is taken across member states to increase awareness of it.
§ Mr. Atkinson
Does the Prime Minister plan to discuss with President Clinton the letter that he reportedly received from the President urging that the introduction of the single currency be delayed until after 2000 because the computer systems involved would be not only single currency non-compliant but, more crucially, millennium non-compliant, which would cause absolute chaos?
1048 If the Prime Minister is as serious about the issue as he claims, why do his Whips continue to object to my private Member's Bill, which would do much to protect British business from the millennium bug? Will he ensure that the Bill receives its Second Reading on Friday 13 February, and will he read a copy of the Bill on Concorde tonight?
§ The Prime Minister
The answer to the last point is no. We shall not ask the Whips to reconsider their opposition to The hon. Gentleman's Bill, for a very simple reason: his Bill would require companies both to check their systems and to report their proposed action in the annual report and accounts. We believe that that is an unnecessary bureaucratic requirement and that it is not a sensible way in which to proceed.
It is far better to do what we are doing. We are spending more than double the amount spent by the previous Government in relation to the millennium bug and the threat it poses. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is chairing a ministerial group to bring together work in the public and private sectors and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is monitoring progress in central Government. We are raising the issue not merely at the Group of Eight but under Britain's presidency of the European Union. As far as I am aware, President Clinton has made no request to delay the introduction of the single currency.
The millennium bug is a serious issue. It could cause problems for our companies, particularly smaller ones. It is necessary that they realise that, if they do not change their systems, they will face very great difficulties. I should have thought that both sides of the House can agree about the importance of making it clear to companies that they themselves bear the ultimate responsibility for bringing themselves into line. We shall do everything that we can as a Government to publicise this issue and to give it impetus both here and abroad.