HL Deb 08 March 2001 vol 623 cc303-4
Earl Attlee

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will review their decision to withhold, on the grounds of national security, the range of the FV432 armoured ambulance's Clansman radio, given that the information concerned is printed on page 424 of Volume I of the 1986 British Defence Equipment Catalogue.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean)

My Lords, I have reviewed the decision to withhold the information on security grounds. I still cannot answer the noble Earl's original Written Question of February 2000, which was about the maximum reliable range of the radio when mobile. It is too variable and to go into detail might, in some circumstances, compromise security. What I can tell the noble Earl is what he already knows from the British Defence Equipment Catalogue: that the typical range of the radio fitted to the FV432 armoured ambulance is 30 kilometres. The operating range will, however, vary depending on the operational environment and the type of antenna used.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I am extremely grateful for that reply and remind the House that I have a peripheral interest in this context. I think that the Minister recognised the difficulty of her position, but her Answer shows why she is held in such high regard in your Lordships' House.

We all know about the Personal Role Radio—it has none of the Bowman-type security features and it does not need them. Can the Minister give the House an update on Bowman? I believe that she is at last making some progress in that regard, although it has taken nearly four years.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I do not feel in any difficulty with regard to any of the Answers that I have given the noble Earl. If he is genuinely interested in these matters, I shall try to arrange for him to have a personal briefing on them.

I turn to the points that the noble Earl made about Bowman. We have received bids from three companies that have entered the competition. The companies are TRW, Thales and Computing Devices Canada. The analysis of those bids is currently being undertaken and presentations will be made to Ministers in the early summer. A decision on the preferred bidder is expected during the summer. I hope that whoever happens to be Minister at that point would be able to move to contract very quickly.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, what is the estimated date by which Bowman will actually be available to the Armed Forces? Its absence is currently a very serious lack, as the Minister well knows.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I do indeed know that. As I am sure the noble Lord will acknowledge, the project was some 75 months behind in its programme when the Government came to office. The feasibility studies originally took place in 1988 and the original in-service date was 1995.

The personal radios, which we have separated from the contract, will start to come into service towards the end of this year and their in-service date is March 2002. I would like to see an in-service date for the full Bowman contract within about two years of the contract's being signed. However, I shall be better able to update your Lordships when the in-service date is firmed up, which we will be able to do when we sign a contract. As I have already told the noble Earl, I hope that that will be before the end of this year.

Lord Haskel

My Lords, is it really helpful to our armed services for us to debate the technical specifications of their equipment in public in this manner?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I hope that I always err on the side of caution when discussing the operational capability of any equipment that is used by our Armed Forces. I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, would be the first to acknowledge, and that all noble Lords would agree, that it would be inappropriate to discuss in such an open forum as your Lordships' House anything that would compromise the security of our Armed Forces.

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