HL Deb 20 February 1990 vol 516 cc137-9

2.43 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the international services providing weather forecasts and storm warnings have improved since October 1987.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (The Earl of Arran)

My Lords, there are no international agencies providing weather forecasts and storm warnings. However, the Meteorological Office provides forecasts for shipping and civil aviation in fulfilment of its obligations under certain international conventions and agreements. While warnings to ships and aircraft in October 1987 were timely and adequate, these recipients too will have benefited from the general improvements effected following the Swinnerton-Dyer-Pearce Report on the 1987 storm.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for his reply, which is satisfactory because a few hours' warning of gales enables basic precautions to be taken. However, since flooding has been the worst effect of recent bad weather, is it possible to forecast conditions which cause this; for example, very heavy rainfall and snow melting on hills?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I can inform my noble friend that the National Rivers. Authority is committed to a policy of providing and operating flood warning systems and that it keeps them under constant review. Moreover, as new technologies, such as rainfall radar, are developed they are incorporated into those systems.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the Minister prepared to consider the fact that when British television companies broadcast their weather forecasts the forecaster sometimes brushes his hand over an area representing 500 or 600 square miles and people are not always quite sure about which area he is talking? Therefore, would it not be possible for them to illustrate the different parts of the country and the weather that is affecting them by indicating the number of towns involved; for example, by mentioning Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle, Birmingham and Cardiff as well as London?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I can tell the noble Lord that the BBC and ITN, along with the Meteorological Office, are considering ways of reinforcing procedures in order to enhance the impact of broadcast information in severe weather conditions. As regards the particular points he raised, I shall ensure that these are brought to the attention of those concerned.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, does the noble Earl recall that two or three years ago the European Parliament urged that a system of co-ordination be looked at within the EC? Can he tell us what steps the Government have taken to encourage an EC-wide weather forecasting organisation? Further, can he tell us what steps this country takes to alert other countries when bad weather which is affecting us is moving in their direction?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, international co-operation in meteorology is very extensive, ranging from meteorological research to the exchange of observations and forecasts several times every day. The WMO's global telecommunications system connects the national meteorological services of some 160 member states. Moreover, where services are required on an international basis, current procedures and agreements work well.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that the Meteorological Office is totally incompetent when compared to a Jewish forecaster who lived over 2, 000 years ago who was able to advise the Pharaoh that there would be seven good years followed by seven bad ones?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, with great respect to the noble Lord, I think that we have been successful in updating a more reliable system since that time.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, is it not a shame that the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, is not present in this Chamber today?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, it is always a shame when my noble friend is not present in your Lordships' House.