Andrew Clay on whether Millennium Bug legislation is enough.

Andrew Clay is an intellectual property partner at Hammond Suddards.

Two Bills are before Parliament which could have a significant impact on how businesses deal with the Millennium Bug.

The Government can be applauded for what it has done to increase awareness of the problems that may be caused by the inability of computers to identify dates after the end of 1999. But it is surprising that few have heard of two Bills dealing with the issue.

The Companies (Millennium Computer Compliance) Bill will impose a duty on companies to assess their IT systems for millennium-compliance. Directors must set out, in a director's report, their findings and proposed solutions to problems.

The Millennium Conformity Bill will provide that businesses making or selling non-complying computers or software will be guilty of a criminal offence. Businesses must mark millennium compliant goods as such. Doing so falsely will also be an offence.

Third parties will be given a right to request a declaration of compliance in respect of a company's computer products.

Finally, every company (whether or not it makes or sells computers) will have to file a public declaration confirming that its software and hardware (whether in standard computers or embedded in lifts, machine tools or alarm systems and so on) is millennium compliant.

Such measures aim to "name and shame" non-complying businesses.

Regrettably, the measures come much too late to make any real difference. Even if they come into force early next year, much of the intended benefit will never be realised.

Companies have a long window from their financial year end in which to file their reports, so the obligations may not take effect until 2000. Even if companies do publish their reports before then, other businesses will have little time to react, especially if they are already tied into contracts with suppliers.

If the Millennium Bug proves to be as disastrous as some suggest, then the Government will, with justification, be heavily criticised for its tardy action.

A valuable opportunity to help the business community manage the risk it represents has already been lost.