HC Deb 17 April 2000 vol 348 cc677-8
1. Jane Griffiths (Reading, East)

If he will make a statement on the future of the Meteorological Office. [117879]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie)

As a trading fund combining the best of the public and private sectors, the Meteorological Office will continue to build on its success as a world-leading meteorological service. Its aim is to enable individuals, society and enterprises everywhere to make the most of the weather and the natural environment.

Jane Griffiths

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. When Ministers consider the future location of the Met Office, which I understand will have to relocate from its current site, could they consider the economy of the entire country and the fact that the south-east is immensely congested? That makes it difficult to locate such an office in the Reading area as has been suggested.

Dr. Moonie

To move forward successfully, the Met Office must harness the benefits that go with a modern building and its associated infrastructure. Redevelopment or refurbishment of the main Bracknell site would not be cost-effective. No decisions on the final location have yet been taken, but a move to Shinfield park, near Reading, would have attractions in developing the Met Office's long-standing relations with the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. Other locations that meet the Met Office's future strategic and business needs will be considered. An application for outline planning approval for Shinfield park will be submitted to the local planning authority at the end of May 2000, and that will address a range of environmental issues, including traffic management.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell)

The Minister will be aware that the Met Office is based in my constituency, not in Reading, East. Does he accept that the people of Bracknell greatly appreciate having the Met Office in Bracknell, and that the town has had a long association with it? The people of Bracknell are appalled to learn from the hon. Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths)—this morning, on local radio and now in the House—that they should all lose their jobs and that the office should relocate to Liverpool. Is that official Labour party policy?

Dr. Moonie

As I said in my initial answer, our current intention is to consider the Shinfield park site as the office's preferred option. Eighty per cent. of the Met Office's staff are mobile grades. Although most of them would be expected to relocate to the new site, it is likely that, if it were at Shinfield park, most would commute.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

The Met Office's latest annual report states: relationships with the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency are key to future service developments. Can the Minister say whether the remote sensing branch and the meterological research flight, which are currently at Farnborough, will find themselves partners of core DERA or privatised new DERA under the new arrangements sneaked out today in a written parliamentary answer to a compliant Labour Member, who is not even in the Chamber for Defence Questions?

Dr. Moonie

The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that that matter has already been considered in the consultation document.

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