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Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, will the noble Lord reconsider the answer he gave which implied that the outbreak was substantially under control and was confined to existing hotspots? Is he aware of an entirely fresh outbreak within the past month on the Brecon Beacons on the very day they were opened to

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walkers and of a series of outbreaks within the past 10 days in the valley where I live around Llangenny and Crickhowell, an area previously unaffected? All the sheep have had to be culled on the Sugar Loaf, which I see from my home. That area has been opened to walkers recently. Indeed, I climbed the Sugar Loaf only about two weeks ago. Does not the fact that the disease is appearing in entirely new areas indicate just how dangerous it is and the care that must be taken before footpaths are opened?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the outbreak in the Brecon Beacons has existed for some time. It is regrettable that after a lull, there have been recent cases in the area described by the noble Lord. However, to ascribe that to the opening of footpaths is erroneous. There has been no evidence of a single case of foot and mouth being spread by walkers. Overwhelmingly, the highest risk in terms of spreading the disease is incurred by people who transport livestock in vehicles and who move from farm to farm and mingle flocks and herds. One has to strike a balance here. The situation in Powys is unfortunate. The administration of that situation is, of course, primarily a matter for the Welsh Assembly. Nevertheless that is one of the hotspots on which we now have to concentrate to eradicate the disease.

Barclays Group Reorganisation Bill [H.L.]

3.54 p.m.

Read a third time, and passed, and sent to the Commons.

National Australia Group Europe Bill [H.L.]

Read a third time, and passed, and sent to the Commons.

Business of the House: Standing Order 40

3.55 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The first half of the Motion concerns next Monday's business and would allow us to debate the Motion in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, alongside the affirmative order it relates to, which seems a sensible adjustment. The second half allows us to move the economic debate pursuant to Section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993 from Tuesday to Monday. It had been agreed that the debate should occur on Monday, but it is presently on the Order Paper for Tuesday. If the House agrees, the debate will take place on Monday.

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Assuming that perfect clarity has not been established by my explanation, perhaps your Lordships would like to read the Official Report tomorrow. I particularly commend that as it will be the last one to be edited by our most distinguished, long-serving editor of debates, Mary Villiers. She has been editor of Hansard for 16 years and retires today. I know that the House will not wish to see that occasion go unmarked. I am sure that your Lordships will wish to join me in expressing our sincere gratitude and admiration for all that Mrs Villiers has done. No matter what any of us actually say in the Chamber, it always comes out coherently in Hansard. Therefore, I record the admiration and appreciation of us all to Mrs Villiers. I beg to move.

Moved, That Standing Order 40 (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be dispensed with so far as is necessary on Monday next to allow the Motion standing in the name of the Earl Russell to be taken before that in the name of the Baroness Hollis of Heigham; and that leave be given to the Lord McIntosh of Haringey to advance his Motion relating to the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993 from Tuesday 24th July to Monday 23rd July.--(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, before the Question is put, on behalf of these Benches I thank the noble and learned Lord for what he has said. I entirely endorse his views of Mary Villiers, the editor of Hansard, not only for the contribution she has made herself but also that of her whole team in providing a real service to this House. It is the lot of Hansard that we talk much about it while forgetting all the people who work so hard to make sense of our words. I know that Mary Villiers in particular on occasions has been able to see through what we are saying so that by the next day we see before us only the pearls of wisdom that we should have uttered. We all wish her well in the future and a long and happy retirement.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Bowman Radio Communications System

3.57 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in another place. The Statement is as follows:

    "I should like to make a Statement on the Bowman communications programme.

    "This project will provide the Armed Forces with a modern, highly capable tactical combat radio communications system to replace Clansman. It will provide secure, reliable communications to our land forces and selected elements of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. In addition to voice communications, the system provides a tactical internet and automatic position location, navigation and reporting. Delivery will include

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    more than 48,000 radios, 30,000 computers, conversion of over 30,000 platforms and training for over 100,000 members of the Armed Forces.

    "Until recently, the history of the Bowman project has been a saga of difficulties. The requirement for this system was originally endorsed as long ago as 1988, but the initial attempt at competition collapsed in 1996. The following year, in March 1997, it was decided to pursue a single source procurement with Archer Communications Systems Ltd. Last summer, in the light of continuing major problems with the programme, this Government decided that the competition for the Bowman combat radio would have to be relaunched.

    "That decision has now been vindicated. Over the past year we have made impressive progress on the project. There has been a vigorous competition with three strong bids submitted by Thales, TRW and CDC, a subsidiary of General Dynamics already operating in the United Kingdom.

    "Following careful analysis of these bids, I am pleased to announce today that CDC has been selected as the department's preferred supplier of the Bowman system.

    "We have evaluated a wide range of issues. Given the project's chequered past and the continuing operational need, the priority has been to deliver a successful and low-risk solution that will fill this capability gap at the earliest possible opportunity.

    "CDC offers just that. Its solution is the clear winner of the competition. It provides the best value for money solution, fully meeting our military requirements. I am confident that it will meet our demanding timetable for getting this system into service. It is based on experience of developing a proven system and includes best of class radios and a very efficient approach to rolling out and supporting the equipment.

    "The Ministry of Defence and CDC will now work together on the programme to bring Bowman into service. We aim to be in a position to let a contract in late summer this year to achieve an in-service date of early 2004.

    "The contract is valued at around £1.8 billion. This will cover the supply of the Bowman system and the first five years of support up to the year 2009. It will use the ITT VHF radio sub-system and the Cogent cryptographic system.

    "CDC's solution provides employment opportunities in the UK in a broad range of system areas, including design, development, manufacture and project management. Ninety per cent of the work content of the CDC bid will be based in the UK--the highest proportion of any of the three bids. Around 1,600 jobs will be secured across the UK, including 400 new high technology and support posts at the company's headquarters which CDC plans to establish in South Wales. The company has also earmarked South Wales for a new Army communications technology research and development centre. This will be staffed by around

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    65 leading scientists. Other regions will benefit as well. We expect subcontract work to secure more than 100 jobs in Scotland, more than 300 jobs in south-west England and around 75 jobs in the South East, centred on Hastings. Major UK sub-contractors include Alvis and Westlands.

    "This is excellent news for British industry and not just in terms of job opportunities. The high quality jobs it brings will allow for the continuation of this country's defence communications capability. In particular, there will be significant technology transfer to the United Kingdom. The Ministry of Defence will hold appropriate intellectual property rights, available for use by other companies working on linked projects. Industry has committed itself to maintain a development and production facility as a UK concern. All this will mean that we will maintain a strong UK strategic capability.

    "This month will also see the first deliveries, ahead of schedule, of the personal role radios. This is a new capability, separated from the main Bowman requirement in 1999 to ensure early delivery to the front line. These radios will provide short range communications for dismounted infantry and will transform the way that they operate.

    "The progress that we have made, and this announcement today, draws a clear line under the problems of the past. It confirms that the Bowman programme is on track for success. And it shows that our commitment to Smart acquisition--to best practice--is delivering tangible results for the Armed Forces. Selection of the preferred supplier, just one year after we re-opened the competition, underlines our determination to deliver this battle winning capability to our servicemen and women. Our Armed Forces can now look forward to receiving the most modern and integrated secure communications system available anywhere in the world.

    "I recognise that today's announcement will be a disappointment to the other two bidders. Thales and TRW have invested considerable time and effort on their respective solutions. Both submitted proposals that were substantially better than the one we rejected last year. Their involvement has ensured a hard fought and successful competition. As a result, their reputations as credible prime contractors have been enhanced. I want to stress in particular how much we have valued the significant Thales presence in the UK defence sector.

    "However, for this project, it is CDC that offers the best solution to meet our military requirements in the right timescale. As I have outlined, it does so with an excellent package of work in the United Kingdom.

    "I am confident that we have made the right decision both for the Armed Forces and for UK industry. I commend it to the House."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

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4.5 p.m.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, I thank the Minister most sincerely for repeating the Statement made by his right honourable friend in another place. The Statement and the decisions underlying it are extremely welcome. We have been waiting for them for far too long.

Let there be no doubt: the initial slippage came under the Conservative government. But there have been two feasibility studies since then and there were years of fiddling about before the Ministry of Defence removed the preferred bidder status from Archer in June of last year.

I have specific questions under two headings: cost and the in-service date. The Statement states that the contract is valued at £1.8 billion. But the latest MoD estimate is £2.345 billion, of which £351 million has already been spent. This tallies with the National Audit Office estimate of £1.95 billion for the demonstration and manufacture stage of the project.

In March 1999 the Archer consortium delivered a submission which totalled £4 billion. Sir Robert Walmsley, Chief of Defence Procurement, told the House of Commons Select Committee on Defence that this was brought back into budget,

    "not entirely by shouting at the company but by shaving off bits of the requirement here and there".

To what extent are we now getting a cut-price reduced specification project? After all, you get what you pay for. The National Audit Office has given examples of capability trade-offs by certifying Bowman to less stringent standards and reducing the equipment numbers. How does this contract differ from the previous Bowman specification?

The Minister has given an in-service date of early 2004. (I have to say that I shall have a bet on that one!) More important than the in-service date is the date for all the platforms to be completed, including the Territorial Army. When will that be? At present, if we were to face an enemy with a full armoured capability we would be in trouble. There is need for Bowman everywhere; it is vital. Clansman is bad enough as it stands but in the words of the National Audit Office,

    "if Bowman is delayed beyond 2004 it is likely that problems arising from obsolescence, such as unreliability and lack of availability owing to repairs will increasingly affect Clansman".

The delay to date and the decision to abandon Archer means that the Ministry of Defence will have to write off development costs of between £35 million and £102 million. This is probably small beer for the Minister of Defence but what amount will have to be written off?

I remind the Minister that the capacity of laptop computers doubles in 18 months. The Ministry of Defence cannot buy anything in under five years. It is no wonder that we are behind. Again, I hope that we can get a move on.

Today and in speeches on previous occasions I have asked a number of specific questions of the Minister and her noble friend. Like my right honourable friend William Hague, I have not been very lucky in getting answers. May I please have some now--possibly through a secure radio system?

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4.9 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we on these Benches welcome this much-delayed announcement. The Armed Forces need far better combat radio systems. We are all aware that Clansman is becoming extremely obsolete. The sooner the equipment is available, the better. We also welcome the decision to adopt the best equipment available; and welcome this as a tried system.

I am struck by the way that this Government follow the same path as their predecessors. The civilian manufacturing industry is not given any particular privilege for home-produced manufactures in the Treasury's or sometimes the DTI's approach. In the defence industry the approach to the number of jobs in this country for each contract is applied somewhat differently from the civilian sphere. In that respect, they have chosen the best equipment, even though it has not necessarily provided the best jobs in this country.

In the context of being half way between the declaration of the Helsinki goals and their achievement, with a clear British commitment to closer European security and defence policy, perhaps I may ask how closely that takes us, if at all, towards commonality of equipment with the armed forces with which we are most likely to operate in conflict management, conflict prevention or forceful interventions over the next few years. Is there full inter-operability between Bowman and the Dutch, German, French and other forces with which we are likely to operate in the field?

Secondly, how long is the estimated service life of the system? We all hope that it will have a rather shorter service life than Clansman has had thus far, but it would be useful to have an idea of how rapidly we believe obsolescence will occur.

4.11 p.m.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for having welcomed the announcement this afternoon. They are quite right: it is a very important announcement, and our priority in making it is to ensure that the Armed Forces have a proper system in place at the earliest possible time.

So far as concerns the past, although we cannot exactly draw a veil over it, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, should be slightly cautious in claiming that the present Administration has been involved in any delays that may have occurred. The single source contract was first made in February 1997. However, I believe that in relation to a matter such as this, which is very good news for the Armed Forces and for the country generally, it does not help greatly to hark back too much. Instead, we should look forward and try to ensure that the scepticism shown by the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, in respect of the in-service date is, in this case, misplaced. We are determined that the system will come into operation at the earliest possible opportunity.

With regard to write-offs, there is no doubt that some will occur. However, it is important to know that a large part of the money spent in the past will have

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been of benefit in ensuring that the new system works properly. Therefore, by no means has all the money been wasted; a large part has gone towards ensuring that we have a decent system in place.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, raised the point that we should not change the way in which we approach these matters. I do not know whether or not that is the case. However, the manner in which this particular decision was reached within a year of the crucial, good decision taken a year ago to restart competition is, we believe, a good example of how Smart acquisition has worked. I am not sure that such a decision would have been reached so quickly in the days before Smart acquisition.

The noble Lord's point in relation to inter-operability is most important. We shall, of course, try to ensure that the new system also works well with the defence systems of our European partners and neighbours.

I do not know whether the noble Lord will be pleased or disappointed to hear that it is intended that the Bowman system should apply until the year of our Lord 2030. I dare say that some big adjustments will be made to it well before the end of this decade, let alone before 2030. However, that goes to show that the Government have today made a major decision. It was made on distinct and clear advice and will, I believe, represent a very good way forward for our Armed Forces.

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