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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for the reception they have given to this Statement. I do not think I have ever seen, either in government or in opposition, a Statement which was welcomed unreservedly on the Opposition Front Bench. I do not think that when I was in Opposition I ever welcomed a government Statement unreservedly.

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The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was right to say that this is still a widespread and a difficult problem. He emphasised that point. He emphasised the need for realism as to the extent of the problem, and the need to recognise how difficult it is. As regards his comments on the completion dates given in the summary, I have some sympathy with what he said. I hope that I can reassure him. This is a summary, after all. It summarises by giving the end date for the final completion of the work in the appropriate department. If the noble Lord looks in the Library, he will see the detailed submissions which have been given by departments. He will see that I am holding in front of me about 50 pages. That is about a quarter of the submission from the Department of Social Security. The noble Lord commented in particular on the Department of Social Security, with a completion date of September 1999. As he will see when he considers the report, the DSS has been incredibly conscientious in looking at the extent of the problem not only centrally but in all of its agencies. It has costed, allowed for and given a timescale to the replacement of hardware, operating systems and application software. Even additional copies of manuals are provided for in the DSS submission.

When the noble Lord refers to completion dates at April 1999, he is right to say that it diminishes the scope for dealing with slippage. However, perhaps I may remind him that the previous government set a target date of December 1998 for all departments. Departments then wrote in to say, "We cannot test our financial systems by December 1998. We have to run them over a year end"; that is the end of March, beginning of April. Therefore, they could not complete their review of the problems and deal with them before April/May 1999. That seemed a reasonable answer and it was widely accepted.

I am not sure that I can answer the noble Lord about the coastguard agency. He is right to say that the Ministry of Defence has an extraordinarily large problem in that it has something like 20,000 different systems. Virtually every piece of equipment that it operates has some device in it which is susceptible to the millennium bug. All those points are well taken and will have the continued attention of Ministers and of the ministerial group which has just been announced.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, asked me whether we would be willing to publish concrete examples of the problems which have been found in central government so that we could give help to the private sector in dealing with them. That is exactly the purpose of the Action 2000 task force which has been set up under Mr. Don Cruickshank. It is not only to deal with the interface between the public and private sector but to make available the lessons from the public sector. I can therefore answer the noble Lord's question on that positively.

The noble Lord asked me whether in our quarterly report next spring we would be able to express our satisfaction or dissatisfaction with progress in the major private sector companies. I am not sure that we shall be able to do that. But that is again why we have the ministerial group under the President of the Board of

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Trade, who will be seeking to ensure that the private sector is not slipping as disastrously as the noble Lord, Lord Methuen, seems to fear.

I appreciate the point that the noble Lord makes. In 1958 as a programmer I was invited to approve the purchase of an Elliott 1301. I am glad to say that I advised my company against it because it would have taken a whole air-conditioned room to perform what can now be done with equipment I can hold in the palm of my hand.

The noble Lord, Lord Methuen, rightly drew attention to the problem of the lack of skills of people who know about the older systems. I suspect that the answer will not be retraining people in the older systems but replacing the equipment. Estimates of costs for dealing with the millennium bug are of two kinds: one is going into the systems and actually dealing with the problem by replacing the chips or rewriting the software, scrolling through thousands of pages of source code, I imagine; and the other is simply to advance replacements. In many cases, in particular with smaller systems, it must be more effective to advance replacements. The capital cost of that replacement equipment or software is not the total cost of the millennium bug. I believe that some people who are making estimates are confusing the two.

The noble Lord, Lord Methuen, asked me about local government. I can confirm that local government will be within the scope of the ministerial group which I have announced.

Above all, I wish to say this to noble Lords who have expressed concerns. The action we are taking is precisely because we believe those concerns to be justified. Nothing in information technology ever works the first time or on time. We must not expect it to do so. But we believe that we have now taken every reasonable precaution to set things in the right direction.

6.45 p.m.

Viscount Waverley: Has a study been done into what ministries, first, created software in-house, secondly, contracted out the production of software, and, thirdly, purchased the software off the peg? The point is as regards the responsibility in cost which could be passed on to third parties.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Government departments and agencies have for many years taken the advice of the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency on the purchase and leasing of both hardware and software. Therefore that responsibility goes back a long way. I very much doubt whether there is scope for suing people for past mistakes, although if there is any failure among those who have guaranteed millennium compliance that would certainly be pursued.

The noble Viscount's question gives me the opportunity to say that since September 1996 all government purchases, whether of hardware, firmware or software, have been guaranteed by contract to be millennium compliant. That applies also to equipment or

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software which is bought off the government electronic computer catalogue (G.Cat) produced by the CCTA. That also is all guaranteed to be millennium compliant.

Human Rights Bill [H.L.]

6.48 p.m.

House again in Committee on Clause 10.

Lord Goodhart moved Amendment No. 68:

Page 6, line 18, leave out ("may") and insert ("shall").

The noble Lord said: In substance this is a drafting amendment. I hope that it may be considered as an appropriate clarification of the duty of the Minister under Clause 10. It seems a little odd that if a Minister considers it appropriate to amend legislation, the Bill provides only that,

    "he may by order make such amendments",

rather than, "shall" by order make amendments to it. The same point applies to subsection (4). I do not think that I can take the matter further. I beg to move.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: Perhaps I may add one sentence to what my noble friend Lord Goodhart said and press the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor a little further on the degree of pressure on the Minister to move relatively quickly in the event of incompatibility. That is obviously the point on which we need reassurance.

The Lord Chancellor: The effect of the proposed amendment is made very clear by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. It would replace the discretion of a Minister of the Crown to use the order-making power where he considers that appropriate to amend incompatible legislation with an obligation that he do so.

As I have made clear, we expect that the Government and Parliament will in all cases almost certainly be prompted to change the law following a declaration. However, we think that it is preferable, in order to underpin parliamentary sovereignty, to leave this on a discretionary basis. The decision whether to seek a remedial order is a matter for government to decide on a case-by-case basis. It would be wrong for a declaration automatically to lead to a remedial order. It would in effect be tantamount to giving the courts power to strike down Acts of Parliament if there were an obligation in all cases to bring remedial orders forward. This is a fundamental point on which it may be that we take a fundamentally different view from that of the noble Lord.

Lord Ackner: I intervene to invite my noble and learned friend's attention to the phrase,

    "if a Minister of the Crown considers that, in order to remove the incompatibility, it is appropriate".

We have reached the stage of the Minister having applied his mind to the question and deciding that it is appropriate to amend the legislation. I cannot see where this is a question of the courts striking down. The

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Minister has considered the matter and reached a conclusion that the legislation should be amended. That being so, it surely follows that he has an obligation to do what he considers to be appropriate.

Lord Goodhart: I respectfully agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner. It seems to me that the element of discretion is already there. The discretion lies in the Minister's power to consider whether it is appropriate to amend the legislation. It seems to me extraordinary to contemplate a situation where the Minister has come to the conclusion, in the exercise of his discretion, that it is appropriate to amend the legislation but then decides not to do so. I do not think that there is a fundamental disagreement. But that seems to me to be contradictory within the terms of the clause.

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