Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Burnham: My Lords, the Minister has said that the Bowman personal radio worked well. When are the Bowman's other functions going to come on line?

Lord Bach: My Lords, the personal role radio worked extraordinarily well. That, as the noble Lord knows, is for platoon level. It was a huge success; so much so that our American allies bought a large number for their own soldiers' use. The noble Lord refers to the Bowman tactical secure voice and data system and I am happy to say that, as I speak, the in-service date of 31 March this year will be met.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, although the NAO report is favourable, can the Minister say whether this is due mainly to the terrain in Iraq, which is extremely favourable to radio communications? If we were in an area such as the Balkans the Clansman would not have performed as well. What is being done to improve the range of the Clansman?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am not in a position to talk about terrain. I do not have the noble Lord's intimate knowledge of the difference of terrain between Bosnia and Iraq. All I can say is that communications worked well.

19 Jan 2004 : Column 837

Lord Vivian: My Lords, will the Minister explain why there was no training and initially no cryptographic equipment accompanying the OSCA strategic communications system? What problems were encountered in fitting the strategic communications systems into the current communications structures?

Lord Bach: My Lords, as I understand it, there was training. A considerable amount of training was put into effect before the OSCA system began to be operated. Prior to deployment, personnel received training on all elements of OSCA, which as the noble Lord knows, is the operational and strategic communications architecture, which covered the strategic communications in this case. The training was conducted by a mixture of civilian and military courses and was supplemented by having subject matter experts available in theatre. As the noble Lord knows, we had some experience of using similar equipment in other theatres such as Bosnia and Afghanistan.

On the second part of the noble Lord's question, we are planning to introduce the Cormorant system from May 2004, which will provide, crucially, an in-theatre command and control information infrastructure, thus avoiding the need for what is described as hubbing in the United Kingdom.

Lord Elton: My Lords, the Minister has emphasised the importance of strategic communications. Can he tell us the extent to which those communications are dependent on satellites that are neither owned nor controlled by the British Government? To what extent does that influence our strategic policy?

Lord Bach: My Lords, we do of course rely on satellite communications, and we have for many years. The satellite communications that we relied on in this case worked well, and their strategic links were enhanced by using a combination of military and commercial resources. We are content that we have as much control over these satellites as we require for military purposes.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, the Minister said that strategic communications were multiplied by eight times compared with those for the previous Gulf War. Surely the one thing that commanders want is not people from Downing Street or the Ministry of Defence chattering up the lines; they want to get on with it. What possible use can there be in increasing communications eight times, except possibly looking for body armour?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I do not think that it was people chattering from Downing Street or wherever else the noble Earl said; I think it was commanders on the ground and commanders at headquarters in theatre wanting to talk to and exchange information with those who commanded the Armed Forces in this country. The reason why there is so much more communication now than before is that it is now so

19 Jan 2004 : Column 838

much easier. It is critically important, as I hope the noble Earl will agree, that at a time of expeditionary warfare, many thousands of miles away from the United Kingdom, we should be able to use all modern technology to enable commanders to talk to commanders.

Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001

2.51 p.m.

Lord Dubs asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will respond to the report of the Privy Counsellor Review Committee on the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, in particular regarding the recommendation that the powers which allow foreign nationals to be detained potentially indefinitely should be replaced as a matter of urgency.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, I refer my noble friend to the reply which I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Burlison, on 18 December:

    "The Committee has used the provisions"—

within the Act—

    "to specify that the whole of the Act be considered when we come to debate its renewal. We will, of course, provide the House with the opportunity to do that".—[Official Report, 18/12/03; col. WA171.]

While we are considering the report's recommendations carefully, we believe that the Part 4 powers are a necessary and proportionate response to the current threat.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, the whole House will of course welcome the Government's tough stance against terrorism. However, does my noble friend accept that detaining people indefinitely without charge is a denial of many of this country's most important traditions? Will the Government consider as a matter of urgency dropping the ban on the use of intercepted communications material in courts, as has been done in the United States, as the best way forward in dealing with this aspect of a very difficult problem?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I say straightaway to my noble friend that we have never at any stage suggested that the situation in which we find ourselves is ideal; it is not. However, by using this legislation we have tried to behave in a proportionate and appropriate way so as to ensure that the interests of the people of this country are put first. I hear what my noble friend says about intercepted information and the best way of dealing with that. Noble Lords will know that we are considering the response to the committee's report. We shall in due course take these matters into consideration also.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, while appreciating the way in which the Minister has replied

19 Jan 2004 : Column 839

to the noble Lord's Question, I am struck by the fact that the Question is not just about procedure; it does indeed concern human rights. Is the Minister able to give reassurances that any legislation on detaining foreign nationals will be matched against that wider arena of human rights? Will she also reassure us that that valuable, even golden quality of restraint will figure in the way in which this government policy is worked out?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am certainly more than happy to reassure the right reverend Prelate on that golden quality of restraint, and I hope that noble Lords will have seen clear evidence of it in the way in which we have approached the SIAC proposals. The monitoring of that procedure has been absolutely rigorous, and we shall continue to ensure that that is right. Noble Lords will know that consideration has been given also to whether any of the foreign nationals can be sent back to their own country, because we consider the issues in relation also to Article 3 and so on. All those matters are extremely complex and difficult. The Government will continue to be proportionate and appropriate in the way that we respond to them.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham: My Lords, in declaring an interest as a member of the review committee, I wonder whether the noble Baroness is aware that the Government—in the shape of her right honourable friend the Home Secretary—attacked the committee's conclusions almost simultaneously with its publication in respect of Part 4, which is the subject of the Question from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. Does the Minister agree that as well as fixing an early debate in the House to discuss the committee's conclusions, a preceding period of quiet consideration by the Government might be appropriate?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, of course I hear what the noble Lord says in relation to attacks on the committee. However, my right honourable friend's comments should not be thus interpreted. My right honourable friend was quite clear. He complimented the committee for its sterling work. He made it clear that we are going to consider all the recommendations. However, it was only right and proper that we should indicate in relation to Part 4 that the reasons that caused us to create this legislation, regrettably and somewhat tragically, still pertain. The security of this country and its citizens will always remain at the forefront of the Government's consideration.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I worked at Bletchley Park during the war? One of the good things about Bletchley is that we never cackled. I hope that she will bear that in mind before adopting the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can certainly assure the noble Baroness that we will be as careful as she would wish.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page