Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, is the Minister aware of what I can only describe as a scam being carried out by a very well-known company, Pitney Bowes, which provides franking machines to industry and commerce? The company is persuading customers to change their franking machines, ostensibly under existing contracts, in order to safeguard them from the year 2000 bug and involving them in a five-year contract for £16,000 when a new machine can be bought for £1,300. Can the Minister tell the House what the Department of Trade and Industry is doing to prevent such scams and what redress customers have in such circumstances?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Countess has made a very serious allegation about which I had not heard. The word "scam" sounds to me as indicating something illegal as well as something commercially undesirable. I hope that the noble Countess will perhaps discuss the matter with me. We can certainly talk to the appropriate authorities.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that the Council of Europe has called on the OECD to organise an international test day for millennium compliance? Would my noble friend support such a test day being organised on an international scale?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Yes, my Lords. I had heard suggestions about a test day. However, I do not

3 Nov 1998 : Column 137

think that it would be appropriate, nor does Action 2000 believe that it would be appropriate. Indeed, there are too many different kinds of problems, and businesses and individuals are at far too many different stages of development of their responses to the millennium bug problem for any particular day to be appropriate.

In a sense, there will be a compulsory test day on 9th September next year because many computers are programmed to cause trouble on the 9th day of the 9th month of 1999. Therefore, on that day we will have some forecast of what might happen at the end of that year.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, does the Minister agree that a particularly difficult aspect of the problem is embedded chips? Will the Government give special advice and guidance to smaller firms to deal with the problem, which can be most costly to resolve?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord is entirely right. Problems with the real-time clocks are relatively easy to deal with, and problems with bios-clocks are slightly more difficult to deal with. However, problems with embedded chips--let us say, to take an extreme example, in underwater survey equipment--are extraordinarily difficult to deal with because in many cases, particularly with smaller items of equipment, the cost of finding and replacing the faulty embedded chip would be greater than the cost of the material itself. That is the kind of advice which Action 2000 is giving to small and medium-sized enterprises. Indeed, its hotline is receiving 10,000 requests a week.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, do the Government have any plans about helping ordinary consumers in their homes as regards this millennium bug? It is not only large organisations, government departments and small and medium-sized firms which will be affected; indeed, there is an awful lot of household equipment involved. One is aware of the fact that this will happen in the middle of winter and one wonders about central heating systems for the elderly, refrigeration plant, and so on. Is there any advice available in that respect? Those of us who normally take out home insurance policies are now beginning to notice information about this in the small print which states that such companies will not be responsible. Therefore, do the Government have any plans for guidance in that regard?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, there is much wild talk about equipment in the home--not, I hasten to say, from the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain. Indeed, people are talking as if it would be a tragedy if a toaster did not work on 1st January 2000. Nevertheless, the noble Baroness is quite right to mention more complicated equipment, such as central heating systems. Advice is indeed available for individuals in that respect. While responding to the noble Baroness, perhaps I may commend the very lengthy and informative article in the Sunday Times this week which included such advice for individual households as well as for businesses.

3 Nov 1998 : Column 138

Lord Lucas: My Lords, on reading the latest government report on the problems that they face with the millennium bug, does the Minister recognise that it is clear that local authorities will fail to meet the target; that the MoD is having to abandon important systems because it cannot meet the target; and, indeed, that there will be immense disruption in the private sector? Do not the Government consider that it is part of their duty to the public as a whole to put systems in place to ensure that, whenever such disruption occurs, the public are protected from it as far as possible?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Yes, my Lords; we have always done so. Within three weeks of coming into office the then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster set in place a monitoring system in the public sector exactly because, as the noble Lord said, we recognise that there is an interface between the public and the private sector. Throughout the past 18 months we have given priority in the public sector to business-critical systems--in other words, those systems which will also affect the private sector. Classic examples of that would be if there were power failures, for example, which would affect everyone, both in the private and the public sector. Another example would be a breakdown in the supply chain where people who have nothing wrong with their own systems find themselves in trouble because their suppliers or their customers are not compliant. I agree with the thrust of the noble Lord's question, but I do not agree that the Government have been negligent in tackling the problem.

Dover House: Proposals

2.58 p.m.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are their most recent proposals for the future of Dover House in Whitehall.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel): My Lords, my right honourable friend is considering the likely demand for London accommodation following devolution next May. The Government will announce their conclusions in due course.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas: My Lords, will the Minister accept that Dover House has become the flagship of Scotland's interests within the United Kingdom and that it gives Scotland the opportunity and facilities for a strong voice within central government? Further, can the noble Lord dispel any rumours that the Prime Minister has other plans for it?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, yes.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House why the Government are so reluctant to tell us whether or not Scotland will be allowed to continue to have an interest in Dover House? Many of the elements that will most affect the future

3 Nov 1998 : Column 139

prosperity and well-being of Scotland will remain reserved to the Westminster Parliament and there will have to be a great deal of activity between Scotland and London on economic and other matters. Therefore, it is important that this flagship building continues to exist. Will the Government give us some assurance on the matter now?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, one of the main determinants of accommodation needs following devolution will be the view that the Scottish executive takes about its requirements in London in liaising with UK Ministers. That can clearly be decided only after we have a Scottish parliament and a Scottish executive in place. To a large extent it will be up to them to determine their accommodation needs.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, does the Minister mean that the Scottish parliament's views will be taken into account to a greater extent than those of other people, for example, the Prime Minister?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, in coming to a view on meeting satisfactorily and adequately the accommodation needs in London of those who will represent Scottish interests, two basic matters will need to be taken into account: the requirements of the Secretary of State for Scotland; and the requirements of the Scottish executive.

Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, the noble Lord is well aware that Dover House is a modest size compared with other government offices in London, yet this prestigious building is situated in exactly the right place to represent Scottish interests in London. It is inconceivable that the Government should hand over this building to another ministry. Will the noble Lord go a little further than he has already in confirming that that will not happen?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that in this case small is beautiful and size does not matter. The precise accommodation needs of the Secretary of State and, I imagine, the Scottish Law Officer in London, and of the executive will be assessed. Those needs can be appreciated properly only once devolution is in place. Until devolution is in place, Dover House will remain as the Scottish Office.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, is it the Minister's assumption that after devolution Scottish interests will require more or less office accommodation in London?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page