HC Deb 29 October 1957 vol 575 cc30-2
49. Mr. Bottomley

asked the Prime Minister if he will arrange for an inquiry to consider why this country, which pioneered the development of radar and jet propulsion, should lag behind the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in launching the first artificial satellite to circle the world.

50. Sir I. Fraser

asked the Prime Minister what official scientific bodies in Britain have made observations of the Russian earth satellite; how soon they began their observations after its release was announced; if he will make a statement as to the Government's policy in relation to this phenomenon; and how far it is the intention of the Government to carry out similar experiments.

The Prime Minister

The United Kingdom contribution to the work of the International Geophysical Year, which is being co-ordinated by the Royal Society, consists of observations of the upper atmosphere with the "Skylark" rocket. There has, however, never been any intention that this country should launch an earth satellite and only two countries, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States of America, have stated their intention to do so. I do not consider that this situation calls for any inquiry by the Government.

Observations of the Russian satellite and its accompanying rocket have been made by a number of official and unofficial bodies in this country, including the Royal Observatories at Herstmonceux and Edinburgh, the radio-observatories it Cambridge and Jodrell Bank, the Radio Research Station of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, the British Broadcasting Corporation and certain establishments of the Ministry of Supply. These observations began within 24 hours of the launching of the satellite. I understand that our scientists have done very good work in tracking the satellite and analysing its orbit, with a view to adding to the pure scientific knowledge of the earth and the atmosphere surrounding it, which is being sought under the programme of the International Geophysical Year.

Hon. Members will have seen that within the last few days our great radio-telescope at Jodrell Bank has successfully tracked the Sputnik's carrier rocket.

Mr. Bottomley

If the Prime Minister will not cause inquiry to be made, will the Government consider the views expressed by Field Marshal Lord Montgomery two years ago that the country which launched a satellite that could circle the world would have an immense strategic advantage over all others?

The Prime Minister

Of course, I always consider with respect the views of the Field Marshal, and I think all members of the House do so, but I think that he was probably referring not so much to the satellite as to the control of the are of the rocket which is part of this operation. That was the part that might have the strategic effect, not the satellite itself.

Sir I. Fraser

Did the Astronomer Royal's Department take any part in these observations?

The Prime Minister

I do not know, but I have no doubt he did.