HC Deb 20 June 1960 vol 625 cc19-21
25. Mr. Wyatt

asked the Minister of Aviation, as representing the Minister for Science, whether, in view of the memorandum presented to the Prime Minister on behalf of the British Interplanetary Society by the hon. Member for Bosworth, and of the further information supplied to the Minister for Science subsequent to 16th May, he is now able to announce the Government's decision with regard to a British space programme, to be implemented with or without European and Commonwealth co-operation and rising to an annual cost of £20 to £30 million within five years from the start of such a programme.

35. Mr. Strauss

asked the Minister of Aviation whether he will make a further statement about the prospects of developing Blue Streak as a satellite launching rocket in co-operation with the French and West German Governments.

The Minister of Aviation (Mr. Duncan Sandys)

I have no further statement to make at present.

Mr. Wyatt

Is the Minister aware that in a memorandum drawn up by a group of distinguished scientists and applied engineers, which I sent to the Prime Minister last February and which, I believe, was circulated to all the Ministers concerned, it was very powerfully argued that any British space programme must depend on our own launchers or we would otherwise be deprived of all the advances in that technology? Will he give an assurance that we will not make our space programme dependent on United States launchers, since if we do so we shall lose all the commercial by-products of any space programme worthy of Great Britain?

Mr. Sandys

I am, of course, keenly aware of the great potentialities of a British space research programme. Nevertheless, I think it is just as well carefully to examine all the factors before we commit ourselves to a very important and long-term decision.

Mr. Strauss

Can the right hon. Gentleman enlighten us a little further about his reply to my Question? After his recent visit to the Continent, he told the House that there were prospects of developing Blue Streak as a satellite-launching rocket, in co-operation with the West German and French Governments. Is he aware that since then statements have appeared in the Press saying that the United States Government have put their foot down on this project because it would mean divulging to those Governments certain secret devices developed in the Atlas rocket, so that his proposal is now quite impossible? Will he confirm or deny that?

Mr. Sandys

I also read the same report in the newspapers, but that is all I know about it. There has been no contact between the British and American Governments on this issue. The first thing is for us to decide whether we think it right to go ahead with a space programme and then we can face any difficulties or any possibilities for co-operation with foreign Governments. I think that there would be considerable interest in those quarters.

Mr. Albu

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the Wilgress report to O.E.E.C. which strongly supports the idea of cooperation among European countries in very expensive research of this kind? Is not one of the reasons for that cooperation the fact that the sum of money which would have to be spent by ourselves could be better spent on some of our backward industries which are at present bolding back our export performance?

Mr. Sandys

That is a question of weighing relative advantages.

Mr. Mason

Is it a fact that we are in discussion with the French Government jointly to develop Blue Streak as a space launcher? At some future date, would it be possible, if that development takes place, for such a space launcher to be converted to a missile?

Mr. Sandys

If we go ahead, we are converting a missile into a space-launcher. Whether we could re-scramble or unscramble the egg, I do not know. Obviously, the technique of rocketry applied to one has an application to the other, but the programmes would not be identical. I told the House that I had discussed co-operation with foreign Governments, with the French and German Governments, recently, and they appeared to be considerably interested in the idea of co-operation. It is no more than an idea, because it is first for the British Government to decide whether they think it right to go ahead with a programme of this kind before we discuss co-operation with European Governments. However, I would like to make it quite clear that before making any decision on this matter we shall closely consult the Australian Government, who are specially concerned with this matter.

Mr. Wyatt

Is the Minister saying that the Government have not yet made up their mind to spend about £20 million to £30 million a year, at a time when wE are so prosperous, to keep Britain ahead in this vital new field?

Mr. Sandys

What I am saying is that I am not yet in a position to announce any decision.