HC Deb 15 December 1999 vol 341 cc255-6
1. Mr. Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central)

What steps she is taking to achieve full compatibility between the IT systems of Government Departments. [101542]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mr. Ian McCartney)

Compatible IT systems can make a real difference to people. We are using the Government secure intranet to link up public servants. We are well advanced with the first phase pilot system to allow members of the public to notify Government of a change of address and we are publishing frameworks for call centres, websites, digital television, smartcards and authentication, which are the building blocks of a world-class Government IT environment.

Mr. Cousins

I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend has taken on the job of sorting out computers. The House recognises that he has the qualities and toughness needed to knock heads together and to get the job done right. However, we currently have two big computer systems—for the Inland Revenue and for the Contributions Agency—that were inherited from the previous Government; and we are commissioning new systems for Customs and Excise and for the Department of Social Security. The Government's objectives require all the systems to work together. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that that happens, with the result that we have joined-up computers as well as joined-up government?

Mr. McCartney

I give my hon. Friend an absolute assurance that the problems with the previous Government's legacy and the range of computer systems will be resolved. As important is that the Government are drawing up an IT strategy for the future that covers procurement, objectives, positive outcomes and value for money. When I answer Question 4 tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) I shall set out more detail of that strategy. However, I assure the House that the quality and standards objectives of the current Government are greatly different from those of the previous Government.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

How does the Minister reconcile his IT policy with the fact that 11 of 17 Home Office IT projects are way behind schedule? Will he undertake, as a matter of principle and priority, to publish before the Christmas recess a list of all the IT projects currently under way in every Department and the success rate of those projects, including how many are late and how many are on time?

Mr. McCartney

I thought that the hon. Gentleman might have risen to apologise for the legacy of the previous Government. Their approach to IT procurement was shambolic: no Minister took any interest in the projects, in delays, in safeguarding the public purse, or in ensuring successful outcomes. The result is that the current Government have a big job of work before them. I give the hon. Gentleman the same assurance as I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Cousins): the current Government will get it right and we are on course to do so. In the next few months, to spring of next year, we shall review both current and previous projects to learn from mistakes made by the public and private sectors and to ensure that they are not made again.