HC Deb 01 February 1999 vol 324 cc592-3
40. Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby)

If she will make a statement on the state of readiness of the national infrastructure for coping with the millennium bug. [66801]

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett)

It was under this Government that the major utility providers and users were brought together for the first time at the national infrastructure forum, which is being led by Action 2000.

The results of the first round of independent assessments for five key sectors—electricity, oil and gas fuel, telecoms, water and finance—were announced at their meeting on 21 January by the regulators responsible. The results were encouraging, and the regulators confirmed that each of the sectors appear to be well on the way to being fully prepared.

Mr. Quinn

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will she join me in condemning certain sectors of the press and certain Opposition Members who are trying to pursue alarmist propaganda about what will happen at the end of this year? What can all Members of the House do to promote the good work that is being done, and the good start that has been made, to make sure that our infrastructure is ready to face the challenges of the millennium period?

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend is entirely right to say that, although it would not be correct to be complacent, a great deal of very good work is being done. I urge hon. Members on both sides of the House to make sure that their constituents are aware of that, lest they fall into the trap of believing some of the more exaggerated stories that appear.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Is the right hon. Lady aware, as I have been made aware by railway and air transport companies, that not one insurance company is prepared to cover travel on 1 January 2000? I believe that that is also the case with ferries. That is not a move to create hysteria, but simply a practical problem. For example, people wishing to travel back to their place of work on 1 January 2000 will not be able to do so, because there is simply no insurance policy in this country that will be issued to cover travel on that date.

Mrs. Beckett

The hon. Lady makes an important point. The issue of what is happening—for example, in transport—is being examined carefully by the relevant authorities, and in particular by the international authorities in each of these sectors. I am sure that they will keep that matter under review.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey)

As my right hon. Friend knows, I am one of the sadder Members of this House—I have been to the Library to read the 500 pages on the millennium that are deposited there every quarter.

May I reflect what has already been said? In America, the Government have put together a league table, grading Departments from A to E to show where they are on the millennium bug. Will she do that, not only for Departments, but for the utilities? In the first review, which was held last year, the transport sector in America did not achieve A, B, C, D or E; it got an F. Every chip in every traffic light is affected by the millennium bug, which shows how deep the problem runs. It would be great if a league table were put into the public domain, so we could check on how good things are.

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend makes an important and valid point. I am slightly shocked to hear that he does not think that every Member of the House has read the whole of that document; but his suggestion is interesting and the Government keep constantly under review the best way of getting across information about the matter.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

First, may I thank the right hon. Lady for not blaming everything on the previous incarnation? Obviously that would be an unfashionable thing to do at the moment. Can she confirm or deny reports broadcast yesterday that all leave for the armed forces is to be cancelled, as a precautionary measure, during the new year period? Is that true or false?

Mrs. Beckett

I am afraid that I am not aware at the moment of whether that is true or false, but I am well aware that, in many sectors, leave is being cancelled or people are being urgently advised that it would be preferable if they did not take leave because people need other people to work.