HC Deb 02 November 1998 vol 318 cc548-9
14. Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)

If he will make a statement on the progress on the millennium readiness of computer systems relating to the defence and security of the United Kingdom and its allies. [55891]

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. George Robertson)

The Ministry of Defence has a comprehensive programme for addressing the impact on defence capability posed by the potential failure of computer systems over the millennium period and beyond. That includes both rectifying MOD systems and developing contingency plans where necessary.

Substantial progress has been made on fixing MOD systems. About 35 per cent. of those systems that require rectification have already been corrected and we expect 80 per cent. to be fixed by autumn 1999. In addition, we are working closely with our allies to raise international awareness of the issue.

Mr. Atkinson

In the light of that comprehensive reply, will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that Britain and its NATO and Western European Union allies will not be rendered defenceless by the millennium bug, as was originally feared a couple of years ago? Can he guarantee that the millennium bug will cause no problems for defence-related information technologies? If he cannot give that guarantee, will he ensure that contingency plans are put into place, and that they are thoroughly tested in time for the millennium?

Mr. Robertson

Few Departments are more aware than the MOD of the dangers and problems that might arise with the millennium. Indeed, few countries in Europe have, so far, done as much as Britain to deal with the problems. My Department is spending £200 million addressing the problems for technology that could arise over the year 2000.

I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurances for which he asked, as we are taking the matter extremely seriously. My right hon. and noble Friend the Minister for Defence Procurement has a specific and long-running interest in the issue and I have made sure that the problem of the year 2000 is on the agenda for every Defence Council meeting.