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Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, that is why the international space community is focusing on ways to improve detection.

Lord Tanlaw: My Lords, I thank the Minister for Science for his reply. I note that the "giggle" factor as regards this subject is still alive and well. Could this category of near Earth object be described as one of nature's missiles of mass destruction which could pose a far greater threat to British citizens than any material discovered under the sands of Iraq? Therefore, could not the funds presently allocated to the search for Saddam's elusive weapons of mass destruction be more gainfully employed by implementing the 14 recommendations listed in the task force report on potentially hazardous near Earth objects dated September 2000? Does the Minister agree that such a policy could reduce the number of false alarms, increase the lead time for national mitigation procedures to be established and allow an effective global asteroid deflection programme to be put in place? Will he say—

Noble Lords: Oh!

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Lord Tanlaw: My Lords, noble Lords have had their fun laughing at this Question. What would be the minimum time required to launch a proven asteroid deflection programme? Could it be in place before 21st March 2014, supposing the threat of impact from asteroid 2003/QQ47 became a reality?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, this is a more interesting subject than occasionally is thought. There is clearly a risk. That is why I set up the task force in January 2000 to look at the whole issue. We are pursuing a policy of trying to get the matter on to the international agenda because it is clearly an international issue. Nevertheless, one must keep the issue in proportion. So far as we can make out there has never been anyone killed as yet by an asteroid. Dinosaurs may have been but not people. There has yet to be such an incident. The chances of that happening are still extremely remote—one in 800 million. That is a very small probability. The only probability that comes anywhere near that that I can find is one in 1.5 million, which is the risk of dying in one's bath. So these are very remote possibilities. We should not spend too much time worrying about them.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, with regard to the Minister's first response, what is being done to predict more accurately the risks posed by long period comets where advanced warning may be as short as one year?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the only way in which the matter can be dealt with is by an international effort. As I say, the UK has taken a lead both in the OECD workshop and in the United Nations Action Team. We hope that we shall be able to get the matter on to the agenda of the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and in that way have a system which will give us the earliest possible warning.

Lord Razzall: My Lords, while I recognise that this topic inevitably has an air of science fiction tinged with the humour so beloved of your Lordships, will the Minister please recognise that his task force to which he referred indicated in its last report that the risk of a near Earth object hitting the Earth was certain? Will the Minister please explain when the 14 recommendations of that task force will be implemented, and, if they have not been implemented, why not?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, as I said, there is a risk. It is a very small risk but nevertheless it is a very serious one because if such an incident happened, the implications would be very great. So far as I know, all the recommendations have been implemented although there is a question in some cases of finding the funds for the use of the particular telescopes which have been allocated. I shall meet with the task force in October to review the position and to consider the progress made.

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Anti-terrorist Exercise at Bank Station

3.15 p.m.

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What assessment they have made of the recent anti-terrorist exercise at Bank station.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, our early view is that the elements we planned to test in the exercise worked well. There will, of course, be lessons to learn for all those involved.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that illuminating reply. Is he aware of comments in The Times, and many other newspapers, on Monday that fire-fighters at Bank station,

    "had to haul 13-stone dummies to the surface because the Health and Safety Executive would not allow them to carry people"?

Does that mean that if a fire-fighter finds someone in the Tube who is seriously injured and cannot walk, he will say, "Sorry, Gov, I can't help you unless you can get yourself to the surface"? That is not the way fire-fighters are supposed to work. It reminds me of the occasion when a Metropolitan Police commissioner was charged with allowing a policeman to chase a burglar across an unsafe roof. Is it not about time the Health and Safety Executive was brought under control?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am sorry to destroy the main proposition of my noble friend's question but the matter was not decided by the Health and Safety Executive and nor had it anything to do with it. Police cadets who took part in the exercise above and below ground were able to walk away from the supposed accident. Non-ambulant people with simulated serious injuries did not take part in the exercise simply because that could have endangered their health. People may be harmed by being carried to the surface in such circumstances. We had to ensure that the exercise was as realistic as possible but we did not intend to risk the health of volunteers. For that reason mannequins were used with the body weight of a person who might be involved in such an incident. In that way we ensured that no one was injured in the simulated exercise.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, is the Minister saying that one can carry anyone of any weight? Is a police cadet meant to carry me out of a place of danger? Surely the whole exercise was so artificial that it will not carry any weight in the long run.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I took the trouble to ascertain whether appropriate simulation had been carried out. I assure noble Lords that the

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mannequins used weighed 13 stone. Some people may weigh more than that but 13 stone is rather heavy compared with the average weight of British people.

Lord Quirk: My Lords—

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords—

The Lord President of the Council (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, was up first.

Lord Quirk: My Lords, is it not the case that if last Sunday's event had been for real with a crowded station and crowded trains, the grave deficiencies in our public address system would have been laid bare with possibly disastrous consequences? Will the Government ensure that first-rate training is at last given to all those involved in providing oral information in public transport so that it is maximally intelligible and prompt?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord draws attention to an important point. There is no doubt at all that in circumstances of grave emergency, such as that simulated on Sunday, accurate information to anyone who might be affected would greatly aid rescue as it would calm and reassure those who were not at the absolute point of risk. That is an important point.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords—

Lord Swinfen: My Lords—

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it is the turn of the Liberal Democrats, who have not had a question yet.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, in planning for emergencies, particularly the sort of problem that the civil contingencies Bill will address, will the Government consider including the voluntary sector as an important contributor to dealing with national emergencies?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is a most valuable and important suggestion. It will also be recognised that the particular circumstance simulated on Sunday was a chemical attack on the Underground. As the House will readily recognise, the first requirement is to have the highest level of professionalism in the initial response. The noble Lord is quite right that volunteer organisations can play a significant part in support.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, would it not be more realistic to carry out such exercises during the working week, when the streets are full of traffic and people?

Lord Davies of Oldham: Indeed it would, my Lords. All that we would need to do to carry out that exercise in an Underground station is stop the whole of the London Tube for the period for which it went on, which would be several hours. That is not a ready proposition to put before people, even in these dire

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days when we all need to be on our guard. The practitioners need practice at the techniques that they need to employ. A Sunday was chosen on a line detached from the rest of the Tube system—the Waterloo and City line—to minimise the impact on the wider public while getting as close as we could to real circumstances of disaster on the Tube.

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