Wednesday, November 4, 1998 Published at 17:43 GMT
'Bug could cause civil disaster'
Donald Dewar says the territorial army may be need in 2000
By Political Correspondent Nick Assinder
A warning that the millennium bug could spark a civil emergency requiring military intervention has come from Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar.
The claim comes in a leaked letter which reveals a row between Mr Dewar and Defence Secretary George Robertson over cuts to the Territorial Army north of the border.
Trade Secretary Peter Mandelson was immediately under pressure to confirm whether the ministers' fears of a civil emergency caused by the bug were correct.
Shadow spokesman John Redwood tabled a series of Commons questions demanding a reassurance that all public services will work on 1 January 2000 and what further action was now planned to meet Mr Dewar's fears.
"The government must provide answers to these key questions that potentially affect the livelihood and security of everyone in Britain.
Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party which obtained the letter, said: "We have had nothing from the government to indicate that the TA was needed to be in place to meet these problems.
"Unless the TA cuts are reversed it is going to be very difficult for the government to respond. It is a hugely important issue."
He also demanded an immediate statement from Mr Mandelson, claiming: "There does seem to be open warfare in the cabinet on this issue."
But Deputy Scottish Secretary Helen Liddell said Mr Dewar's references to the millennium bug were simply intended to point out a "what if? scenario" to outline the importance of the TA.
She also dismissed claims that the row between Mr Dewar and Mr Robertson was out of hand.
And she accused the SNP of trying to "court martial the secretary of state for Scotland for fighting Scotland's corner in the cabinet".
But it was clear there is a serious rift in the cabinet over plans to dramatically cut back TA numbers.
The letter, which dates from last August, was sent from Mr Dewar to Mr Robertson. It stated: "The detailed proposals lead me to conclude that TA ability to respond and support local communities in the event of a major civil incident will be severely affected and indeed will all but disappear north of Inverness."
But Mr Redwood stressed that if the millennium bug could threaten a civil emergency in Scotland, then the same would be true in the rest of the UK.
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