To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, when the Hydrographer's department will be able to promulgate notices to mariners (a) electronically and (b) direct on Navtex; when shipping forecasts will be broadcast direct by Bracknell on Navtex; and how much British Telecom charges for operating the Navtex frequency.
The Hydrographer currently broadcasts information, which may subsequently be included in the printed Admiralty notice to mariners, on Navtex. Neither the Meteorological Office nor the Hydrographer has any plans at present to make Navtex broadcasts direct from Bracknell or Taunton respectively. Weather forecasts from the Meteorological Office are passed to British Telecom International for inclusion in Navtex broadcasts.
I understand that the Department of Transport is charged by British Telecom for Navtex broadcasts, and that currently it costs 3·9p per word for each broadcast.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the considerable commercial potential of electronically available notices to mariners? Is it not extraordinary that, having passed information to British Telecom the Hydrographer's department then has to receive the Navtex signal to make sure that the information has been properly broadcast? In this day and age could not arrangements be made for the Hydrographer's department to broadcast the information direct?
We have considered my hon. Friend's suggestion. It would be technically feasible to make such broadcasts direct, but it would not be more efficient or cost effective than the current arrangements whereby British Telecom is paid for promulgating those broadcasts, which are extremely valuable to mariners.