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Lord Whitty: My Lords, the proposition at that time was the extension of rates of subsidy, not continuation of the regime. The rates were voted on by the majority of that council. Whichever way the United Kingdom voted would not have ended this unfortunate regime.
Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that before I became a respectable Member of this House I was responsible, for some years, for this regime? Therefore, I know quite a lot about it. It is a clearly indefensible regime. However, is the Minister aware that we must decide the best way of correcting it? I ask the Minister whether the best way of correcting it is to differentiate between the areas where there are alternative crops, where it can be simply phased out, and those areas where there are not alternative crops where perhaps some payment of a social kind might be justified?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, that I have never held him personally responsible for this regime. Unfortunately, he was lumbered with it, as the rest of us are. If we take a rational approach to this, it is certainly true that some form of social or regional subsidy could be directed at areas such as northern Greece which are dependent on tobacco. Other areas could be given over to more beneficial forms of agriculture.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, are Her Majesty's Government aware of the fact that this entire tobacco scheme presently in force has been fraudulent from the beginning? It has been fraudulent in regard to claims; fraudulent in regard to the areas covered; and fraudulent in amount. When will Her Majesty's Government really put their feet behind a move to boot out this entire fraudulent regimethe existence of which is well known, but well hidden, by the Commission itself?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the United Kingdom Government are behind any move to phase out this regime. As far as fraud is concerned, historically there has been very substantial fraud in this regime. Much of
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, will my noble friend say what the Government could do not just to be behind but to be in front of any move to abandon the regime? Is it not true that European taxpayers are spending £613 million a year to subsidise the product that kills half a million European Union taxpayers/citizens every year? Is there not an opportunity, in the light of the strains that the accession countries' rural economies will put on the CAP, for using that as a way of abandoning and replacing, where necessary with social payments, a regime that does no good to anyone except producers and a lot of harm to many others?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, my noble friend is clearly right in much of what she says. The pressures on the CAP give us another opportunity to try to get rid of this regime. The more immediate opportunity is that there is a review of the whole regime due to report within the next few weeks. That will be the immediate period where we can do what she suggestsnamely, take the lead in arguing for its total demise.
Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, will the Minister explain to his noble friend Lady Hayman that we have absolutely no chance? He has explained himself; it is for 20 years now that we have tried to reform the regime. We have had absolutely no success. We continue to be outvoted. What is the answer? Should we not leave the common agricultural policy altogether?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, is right if this issue is regarded in isolation from all the other pressures on the CAP. There are huge budgetary pressures, WTO pressures, and public opinion pressures which will draw out some form of very radical reform of the CAP as a whole during the next few years. That is what we are currently engaged in. It is to be hoped that the tobacco regime will be eliminated as a result.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): My Lords, yes. Our current capabilities are fit for purposeas demonstrated in recent exercises and operations. We need further to develop our communications capabilities to exploit advances in technology and to enable networked capabilities.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the Bowman system, as mounted in tanks and armoured cars at present, gets hot, burns out and needs to be changed at rear level even in English winter conditions? Therefore, how is the system not going to burn out in the Iraqi desert? Is the noble Lord aware that regiments earmarked for the Iraqi campaign are now loading up their lorry parks with more Bowmans so that when they burn out, which they inevitably will, they can change them?
Lord Bach: My Lords, I think that the noble Earl inadvertently said Bowman, but I think he means Clansman. I shall answer the question accordingly. There are, of course, problems operating any radio equipment in hot desert environmentsnot just for Clansman. Clansman continues to perform as required and, of course, will be replaced by the highly capable Bowman system from 2004 onwardsa programme that continues to make excellent progress.
As I mentioned to the House before the Christmas Recess, a number of urgent operational requirements are currently being procured, including communication systems. For obvious reasons, I am not prepared to help any possible adversary by going into any more detail on the specific capabilities.
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, does the noble Lord recall the communications problems that arose in operations in former Yugoslavia which were raised in this House at the time? Does he agree that it is essential that the British Army has systems which are strong and reliable, especially when hostile transmitters are creating interference on the airwaves?
Lord Methuen: My Lords, can the noble Lord confirm that the new Bowman system will not only provide communications between military units but also with the other services and, in particular, aircraft?
Lord Bach: My Lords, yes, I can confirm that. The Bowman system will be an excellent system. I must say that it has had a rather long and tortuous history until now. If it had not been for my noble friend Lady Symons, when she held the position that I hold now, we might still not know when Bowman would be coming into operation.
Lord Vivian: My Lords, last Tuesday, the Secretary of State in another place gave the assurance that Her Majesty's Government are working on a process of ensuring that combat identification is dealt with satisfactorily. Will the Minister tell us what new
Lord Bach: My Lords, before answering the noble Lord's question, I know that I speak for the whole House when I welcome him back to his rightful place on the Front Bench. I look forward to facing his questions over the next weeks and months. I do not want to make my welcome too effusive in case I am mistaken.
As regards his important question, we take combat identification and the risk of friendly fire extremely seriously, as does he. Lives depend on it. We believe that our combat identification procedures are effective. We have deployed successfully as a country on many operations since the tragedies in this field during the Gulf conflict. There have been no reported incidents of what is described as fratricide, or blue on blue, involving UK forces. I say that with caution because whatever technology one puts in and however sophisticated it may be, these things sometimes happen.
In the event of military action, British troops will be fully interoperable with United States troops for combat identification. That capability, including new equipment options, are currently being procured.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, how can the Government contemplate committing British troops to action with armoured vehicles which are fitted with Clansman when Clansman is, first, unreliable and, secondly and more important, insecure in two crucial respects: it lacks digital encryption and the frequency-hopping capability which prevents enemy forces from tracking and attacking vehicles? Do the Government recognise that, if our troops are committed to the Gulf and there were to be casualties as a result of the inaccuracies of Clansman, Her Majesty's Government would bear a grave responsibility?
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