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Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I do not doubt that those who have consistently sought to have the findings of negligence set aside in this most tragic of accidents do so for the most honourable of reasons. But, is it not the case that the board faced a choice between two presumptions? Either the crew were able to follow one of the safe options as they approached the cloud-covered Mull, but failed to do so and were negligent; or the crew could not maintain safe flight because they faced an unidentifiable emergency so serious that they could not discharge their primary responsibility for the safety of their passengers and the helicopter but which left no trace of having happened? Can the noble Baroness confirm that there is no new evidence that could affect the key conclusion of the board that the crew did have control of the aircraft up to the point of impact?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, for putting the position so clearly and, if I may say so, from a position of unique authority on these issues. I can tell the House that I have not seen any new evidence that would prompt us to revisit the conclusions of the board of inquiry. However, that is not to say that no such new evidence exists. I fully accept that. That is why I cannot answer the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, in the unambiguous terms that he is pressing me to do.

However, I can tell the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, that I am able to repeat an offer that was made only last week by MoD officials to the father of one of the pilots involved. If there are serious doubts still remaining, the evidence should be collected together as one body of evidence--if it is new evidence that those who are concerned believe they have--and presented to the MoD. As the Prime Minister has said, the MoD will analyse such evidence thoroughly with, I hope, a degree of compassion, given what I know is the real concern of the families involved, and will provide as full a response as possible.

Bowman Radio Project

3.7 p.m.

Earl Attlee asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the Bowman radio will incorporate electronic protection

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measures and will provide the Armed Forces with a secure communications system. It is one of our highest priority equipment projects. Archer Communications Systems Ltd, the prime contractor for Bowman, recently submitted its bid which we are considering, along with information that has been received following alternative fall-back studies that we commissioned. We are currently considering the way ahead on this very important project. We hope to make an announcement soon.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Does the noble Baroness recall her delight in reminding the House of the previous government's efforts over seven years in this respect? However, does she agree that, in three years, she has achieved nothing herself, apart from a budget reduction in the Bowman project that must equate to reduced equipment, or reduced equipment capabilities? She has ordered the personal role radio, but does she agree that that is only a short-range radio with none of the Bowman complexities? When will the noble Baroness make a decision on this matter?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, if I may use the colloquial term, I must say to the noble Earl that that is "really going it a bit". I have to remind noble Lords that this project was under way for nine years under the previous administration and that, so far, I have not yet been the Minister for Defence Procurement for one year. However, I should point out to the noble Earl that it is really a matter for the previous administration to describe why they failed to meet the in-service date of 1995.

I have told the noble Earl that I expect to make an announcement on the project soon. By that, I mean very soon indeed. I hope that that might be by way of a Statement. I also hope that, on this occasion--unlike the last time when we offered the party opposite a Statement on the Type 45--the party opposite would like to hear that Statement.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, I thought that my noble friend made it clear that it was accepted that the former Conservative government had a slippage, which this Government inherited, of 75 months. Does the noble Baroness accept that there has been a further slippage of 24 months in the three years that this Government have been in power, for which I can find no explanation? Does the noble Baroness further accept that Archer Communications Systems Ltd produced a submission for £4 billion, which was double the amount of money available? The project has been brought back into budget; what has suffered as a result?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I certainly accept that when this Government came into office the declared slippage was some 75 months, which was found to have been something of an underestimate. Since that time, there has had to be an adjustment to that. If the noble Lord cares to read the National Audit Office report, he may find some

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interesting judgments there about how Smart Procurement, which this Government have introduced, might have prevented the delays because the project would have been better assessed at the outset and some of the risks involved with it would have been better identified. The noble Lord will find that at paragraph 327 on page 47 of the National Audit Office report.

I hope to be able to make an announcement on this project soon. I hope that then we shall be able to discuss the detail of what has happened in the recent past. I shall be open about that. I hope that the party opposite will also be open about its period in office. However, what is important is that we shall discuss the way forward.

Lord Carver: My Lords, how does the noble Baroness intend to ensure that, with the fantastic technological developments in this field, when Bowman eventually comes into service it is not already out of date?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, of course that is one of the crucial issues and one of the reasons why the Smart Procurement initiatives have been designed to ensure that there is sufficient flexibility to build into the system--after all, this is not the only system where such technological advances are of such enormous importance--to enable us to adjust and have in the specification sufficient room to make those adjustments and to give ourselves sufficient headroom for possible future developments in this rapidly moving area of technology.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness the Leader of the House--

Lord Marlesford: My Lords--

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, does not the noble Baroness the Leader of the House think that if questions and answers were shorter, Question Time would be much more fun and many more questions could be asked by people who want to ask them but cannot do so?

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, the simple answer to that is "Yes".

Lord Elton: My Lords, does the Minister--

Noble Lords: Lord Marlesford!


3.13 p.m.

Lord Carter: My Lords, after consideration of Commons amendments to the Learning and Skills Bill, my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement which is being made in another place on the Comprehensive Spending Review.

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Before we begin proceedings on the Learning and Skills Bill this afternoon, I draw noble Lords' attention to the fact that a revised Marshalled List has been issued. In the original Marshalled List some amendments were numbered wrongly. It is crucial to ensure that we are all working from the revised list. The revised Marshalled List is headed helpfully, "Revised Marshalled List".

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, before the Chief Whip sits down, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, accused the Opposition of having turned down a Statement on the Type 45 Frigates. It is, however, always open to the Government to insist on having a Statement read.

Lord Carter: My Lords, that is absolutely correct, but it has become the convention that if the Opposition do not require the Statement, it is not normally taken.

Business of the House: Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That Standing Order 46 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with to allow the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill to be taken through its remaining stages tomorrow.--(Baroness Jay of Paddington.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Learning and Skills Bill [H.L.]

3.14 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons amendments be now considered.

Moved, That the Commons amendments be now considered.--(Baroness Blackstone.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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