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Baroness Crawley: My Lords, if it goes to Afghanistan, it will operate with other NATO troops and, of course, with Clansman, the other system that our Armed Forces use at present. There have been trials to ensure that.
I have been told in my briefing that it is not just a radio, but a command, control and communications system. Calling it a radio would be like calling Chelsea football team a few lads who have a kick about on a Saturday afternoon. It has been tested in hot and dry climates in the Californian desert and in Oman. It has also had trials on terrain.
Lord Garden: My Lords, I am slightly surprised at the noble Baroness's answer. We already know that the headquarters of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps will be deployed. We are the framework nation for that headquarters, and we have a special responsibility for communications as a result. Does that not mean that we should already be identifying units that we will have to work with in that headquarters? We should be trialling and testing with them.
We know that the introduction to service for the UK forces was quite testing, and we need to do it with the other forces that we shall be working with in Afghanistan. Surely, we need to start that now.
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, tests are being carried out all the time. He will also know that the Bowman systemthe radio system and the data communications and digital mapping systemsis being rolled out incrementally, unit by unit, division by division. Until we have settled on exactly which units will be in Afghanistan in 2006 and their precise nature, we have to leave the matter of exact equipment open.
We know that the personal role radio has been an enormous success in Iraq and that it has increased our communications capability there very much. We have already operated with it, and we shall obviously look at that. When we decide which units and which communications equipment are going to Afghanistan, we shall make those decisions.
Lord Marlesford: My Lords, in view of what the Minister has just said, can she confirm information that I have that a British Army unit that was recently sent to Iraq and was equipped with Bowman in the UK had that equipment withdrawn because of problems
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and that the unit has gone to Iraq with the obsolete Clansman? If the Minister does not know the answer to that, will she write to me?
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I am happy to write to the noble Lord with a detailed answer to his question. There are opportunities in Iraq at present for Bowman to be used with Clansman which, as the noble Lord knows, is the other system used by the forces. We do not deny that Bowman has had problems. It is an enormous communications system. We have looked at problems in the past few years, and we learn as each problem is corrected. The Bowman radio system is an enormous success, and we want the systems that will go into the armoured vehicles to be as successful.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I remind the House of my peripheral interest. Can Bowman work in secure mode with the Clansman system?
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, as I understand it, Bowman can work in an insecure mode with Clansman. If I am wrong about that, I shall write to the noble Earl. However, there is a gismonoble Lords will note my technical expertise; I come from a generation that finds it difficult to pre-programme the video recorderthat can be attached and which, I believe, can make it secure, but I understand that both modes are available.
Lord Garden asked Her Majesty's Government:
What level of nuclear forces NATO must maintain in Europe to provide an essential political and military link between European and North American members of the alliance.
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, all NATO's forces are maintained at a minimum level necessary. At any given time, that level is dependent on the current and foreseeable security environment. NATO's nuclear forces stationed in Europe have been reduced by more than 90 per cent since the end of the cold war.
Lord Garden: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her somewhat opaque Answer, although it contrasts with her own Government's very open and transparent declaration of UK nuclear forces, which is what the reference was about. A recent report by a Washington institute, the US National Resources Defense Council, states that there are 480 nuclear bombs currently fielded by NATO in Europethe same number as in 1994, no reductions100 of which are based at RAF Lakenheath. Is it not time for us to be more open and to consider reducing those numbers?
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, the noble Lord is right. The Government seek to be as open as possible about the UK's nuclear forces. However, he will also understand that some areas properly remain secret. The Government believe that, given its need to maintain security, NATO
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also is as open as it can be. Security is the principal reason for the long-standing, neither confirmed nor denied, policy with NATO. It is adhered to by NATO, the US and the UK, applying to location and numbers of nuclear weapons deployed. At present, we do not foresee a moment at which we would change that.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether, given reduced annual rainfall, there are adequate measures in place to deal with the resulting water shortages.
Lord Bach: My Lords, water companies have drought plans to deal with periods when rainfall is below average. Each company's drought plan sets out how it will continue to meet its duties to supply adequate quantities of wholesome water during drought periods. The plans contain a series of triggers that cause the companies to initiate a range of actions. The measures activated depend on the severity of the drought and include publicity campaigns and hosepipe bans.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. He has told us what the duties of the water companies are. However, I would respectfully suggest to him that the Government have a number of duties. I am sure that the Minister is aware that your Lordships' House chose to introduce several amendments to the Water Act, including a duty on the Environment Agency to secure efficient use of water resources. None of the duties under the Water Act has yet been implemented, including the suggestion that there should be a water saving trust to promote the efficient use of water. In the light of the fact that we are now experiencing the second driest period in 100 years and that, given climate change, variability in the weather is likely to continue, what progress has the Minister's department made in implementing all those duties?
Lord Bach: My Lords, for the eight months from November last year, rainfall totals across England and Wales are indeed below average. The developing drought is most intense in southern and Thames regions, which have had less than two-thirds of average rainfall. Midlands, Anglian, south-west regions, and Wales have had about three-quarters of average rainfall. Northern England has been wetter, with an average of 80 to 90 per cent of rainfall since last November.
The noble Baroness asked about the Government's role. The Government have no direct role until a water company applies to the Secretary of State for a drought order. We expect the company to meet officials to discuss the worsening situation prior to any application for a drought order being made.
The noble Baroness referred, appropriately, to the Water Act 2003. She will know that drought plans were made on a non-statutory basis as a consequence of the
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water summit that this Government held in 1997 shortly after coming to power. The Water Act followed from that and, later this year, those drought plans are to be made statutory and will be open to public consultation.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, do not the Government have a major responsibility in this field in that they are demanding that local authorities in south-east England build hundreds of thousands more houses, all of which will need a water supply, when the infrastructure for that water supply in not in place in the south east?
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am not surprised that the noble Countess makes that point, but we need to draw a distinction between short-term issues of drought and those of longer-term demand. Companies reconcile normal demand for water with supply and that is dealt with by water companies in their water resources plans. Those plans have included estimates of housing growth and will continue to be revised as the number and location of new-build housing becomes clearer.
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