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Lord Berkeley: My Lords, my noble friend said that a deal is very close. He also quoted the Mayor of London to that effect. However, when everyone is expecting a deal to be completed by the end of the week, is it not a little surprising that Mr Kiley has gone off to New York for a few days? Is that the normal way of getting both sides round the table, as it were, and completing the negotiations in the shortest possible time?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I should point out that we have been involved in a very arduous

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set of negotiations for both sides that has been going on for many weeks. As I said, those negotiations concluded in the 55-point plan that has now been offered to us by Mr Kiley. However, I hope that we can return to the issues by the end of this week. I also hope that we can deal with the issue of safety, which, I believe, has been raised rather irresponsibly in these discussions.

I should make it clear to the House that the safety case that is being operated at present is thoroughly approved by the Health and Safety Executive. The detailed assessment that is being made as regards the PPP has raised the 273 issues. However, the HSE has said:

    "The number of issues should not be interpreted as evidence of concern about the deterioration of safety standards on London Underground".

Indeed, London Underground has said:

    "Some commentators seem confused about the Health and Safety Executive process, and their inaccurate comments are creating a completely false and irresponsible climate of fear and uncertainty for over 3 million passengers who travel safely by Tube every day".

I hope that noble Lords will join both me and London Underground in condemning such irresponsible alarmism.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, when Mr Kiley came to speak to the all-party London group of this House, he said that there was quite a problem as regards the number of overland trains coming into the various terminals and the interchange between them and the Tube network? He pointed out that the surge of commuters at certain times of the day can almost be a safety hazard in itself. Can the Minister say whether that is one of the factors that is being taken into consideration in the negotiations?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, that will certainly be a factor for the Health and Safety Executive to consider. We shall have a separate set of discussions with Mr Kiley, in his new role as Transport Commissioner, and, indeed, with the Strategic Rail Authority, on planning the future integration of rail and Tube services in London. I look forward to moving on to that kind of positive agenda, as soon as possible.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, by the time that Mr Kiley returns home next week, will my noble friend the Minister ensure that an agreement has been reached on these issues? The people of London are sick and tired of the toing and froing that has occurred in the matter. They demand no less than that they should be able to travel both safely and well on the Underground.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, my noble friend can be assured that we shall use every endeavour in this respect; indeed, we shall take a very flexible and accommodating approach. I go forward optimistically

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in the hope that we shall achieve the kind of results that my noble friend requests, and which I am sure the whole House desires.

Meteorological Office: Relocation

3 p.m.

Lord Newby asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their estimate of the cost savings to be made by relocating the Meteorological Office to Exeter.

Lord Burlison: My Lords, the Meteorological Office's existing accommodation in Bracknell is not suitable for a modern, IT-based organisation. It therefore places weather forecasting services at unacceptable risk and is increasingly costly to maintain. A new site with purpose-built accommodation is the best way of meeting the Met Office's long-term needs and those of its customers.

Compared to a move in the Bracknell area, the Met Office expects additional annual operating cost savings of up to £5 million as a result of relocating to Exeter. The Met Office expects to use this cost saving both to reduce costs to its customers--especially those in the public sector--and to provide essential investment for the future.

Lord Newby: My Lords, is not the truth that this decision will rip the heart out of a world-class body of climate expertise and threaten the chance of a proposed European meteorological office being created near Reading? Will not the Government even at this stage institute a serious review of the decision, looking at the long-term future of meteorological research in this country rather than short-term cash savings?

Lord Burlison: My Lords, the Met Office is of the view that by moving to Exeter it will still maintain its links with various bodies. In choosing Exeter, all the relevant factors were considered, including the potential benefits of being located at Shinfield Park in close proximity to some of the centres of relevant scientific expertise as well as the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. Both the financial and non-financial arguments are substantially in favour of Exeter.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton: My Lords, do the Government agree that the Met Office plays a central role in policy and research both military and civilian and therefore should be as centrally located as other headquarter branches of the MoD? Will the Government reconsider their decision?

Lord Burlison: My Lords, I agree that the Met Office plays a central role in operations policy and in UK, European and global research into military and civil aspects of climate prediction. The Met Office believes that the emphasis should be on collaboration and

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strengthening ties with European partners. There are many organisations across Europe with which the Met Office wishes to maintain and develop close working relationships. It is therefore by no means essential that the Met Office should be in close proximity with the European centre in order to derive maximum benefit for the UK. With modern technology, communications should not be a problem.

Lord Merlyn-Rees: My Lords, will the close historical relationship between the Met Office and the RAF be affected by this change?

Lord Burlison: My Lords, relationships of that nature should not be affected by the change. As I said to my noble friend Lord Hunt, with the improved IT facilities, communications are better. According to the information which the Met Office has given, I see no reason why that relationship should in any way be damaged.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, will all those who are experts in weather forecasting move to Exeter or will the Met Office lose much of the expertise that has been built up over many years?

Lord Burlison: My Lords, many facilities and established organisations in the meteorological field will remain where they are at present. The Bracknell facility will move to Exeter. The Met Office feels strongly that the element that moves to Exeter will maintain a close relationship with the bodies that do not move and, indeed, with other establishments in the Reading area.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, which department of state will benefit from the £5 million saving of which the noble Lord spoke? Will the Ministry of Defence get it or will the Treasury get it as usual?

Lord Burlison: My Lords, the future of the Met Office is based very much on changes, not only the geographical changes that are likely to take place but also in terms of improved information technology and improved facilities generally. As regards the £5 million annual savings, the intention is that the bulk of it will be used to reduce costs to the Met Office's customers and to fund research and development.

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that those of us who regularly commute from the West Country do not regard Exeter as the other side of the earth and that what is important is the quality of services coming from a modern facility and the charges made for those services? While the decision was taken by the meteorological board and not the Government, will my noble friend confirm that he is content that the services in the future from the new facility will probably be even better than at present?

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Lord Burlison: My Lords, I can only repeat the information that is given to me by the Met Office on this issue. I agree with my noble friend that Exeter is not a million miles away; in fact, it is a couple of hours' journey. But most of the Met Office's argument is based on the availability of communications between it and those bodies which will provide this facility in years to come.

Lord Carter: My Lords, immediately after the Third Reading of the International Criminal Court Bill my noble friend Lord Whitty will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement on the foot and mouth outbreak and the rural economy.

Borough Freedom (Family Succession) Bill [H.L.]

3.6 p.m.

Lord Mustill: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to make new provision relating to admission to borough freedom. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.--(Lord Mustill.)

On Question, Bill read a first time, and to be printed.

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