HC Deb 26 July 1999 vol 336 cc14-6
41. Mr. James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington)

What progress is being made on the state of readiness of the national infrastructure in preparation for the millennium date change. [91379]

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

The latest results of the independent assessments of key sectors and processes of the infrastructure were announced at the national infrastructure forum on 13 July. They show that key elements including water, telecommunications, postal services, benefit payments, cash distribution and railway safety systems have achieved blue status, indicating that the assessments have not identified any risk of material disruption over the date change period, which is of course welcome news.

There has been good progress since the previous report in April, but there is still much to complete in some programmes. Local authorities and financial institutions have a small number of reds, indicating that they are significantly behind in their preparations and will require a concerted effort over the next few months to avoid possible material disruption to their services over the date change and beyond.

Mr. Plaskitt

Six local authorities have been given a red classification, one of which is Warwick district council. The assessment appears to have been based on a questionnaire organised by KPMG. Warwick district council is fully ready in terms of outcomes and is of the view that there is a very low risk of material disruption, but it was given a red because of KPMG's emphasis on processes, which has given a misleading impression. Before there is a further check on progress, will my right hon. Friend review the assessment criteria so that they focus more on outcomes and less on processes?

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend has made an interesting contribution and made it plain how complex these matters can be. It is not for me to say whether Warwick council deserves a clean bill of health, but the Government offices are working closely with all the named authorities and will be anxious to pursue with the council the issues that he raised.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

Does the President of the Council accept that there is still considerable uncertainty, and some anxiety, about the date change and all that it implies? She has not given us a monthly report for July, as she said she would. Will we get that tomorrow in the House? Does she accept that the booklet that has been distributed is strong on reassurance but weak on warning? If she makes a statement tomorrow, will she tell members of the general public which areas they should keep an especial watch on? When will she name names?

Mrs. Beckett

I am not quite sure what the hon. Gentleman means by that last remark, because we are publishing all the information that we can. Of course he is right to say that some uncertainty remains, and that is likely to continue all the way through, because those who give certain responses do not know what they are talking about. I anticipate publishing the July results in the very near future: over the next day or so.

The hon. Gentleman said that the booklet was weak on warning. We sought to ensure that people know where to go for information, and to keep that information as up-to-date as possible. We will continue to do that. Action 2000 has been publishing the latest results in a series of newspaper advertisements that began a few days ago.

Sir Patrick Cormack

Can I take it from that reply that there will be no statement to the House until October at the earliest? Surely we should have one tomorrow.

Mrs. Beckett

No. The hon. Gentleman will recall that the practice has been a quarterly statement to the House. That will continue.

Sir Patrick Cormack

The right hon. Lady said monthly.

Mrs. Beckett

I said that we would publish the information monthly. We will publish the July information in a written answer. That will be followed through in August and September. We are seeking means to make that information available to every Member of Parliament, so we shall ensure that the House is kept informed even during the recess.