HC Deb 08 May 1962 vol 659 cc204-5
23. Mr. Mason

asked the Postmaster-General whether he has consulted the Commonwealth countries who are taking a direct interest in the laying of the Commonwealth communications cable regarding its date of completion: and, whether, in view of the progress being made in space satellite communications, it is intended to halt expenditure on this project.

The Assistant Postmaster-General (Miss Mervyn Pike)

Satellite communications offer great promise for the future, but there is still much development work to be done, and it will be some years before a commercial satellite communication system can be established. Commonwealth Governments have recently agreed to the provision, by 1966, of a submarine telephone cable system between Australia and South East Asia. The position will, of course, be fully reviewed as and when further extensions of the Commonwealth cable system come to be considered.

Mr. Mason

Am I to understand from that reply that by 1966 only half of the round-the-world cable will have been laid, at a cost of approximately £40 million, shared between the Commonwealth countries and the United Kingdom? Is the hon. Lady aware that by that time we shall have sattelite links between this country and the United States of America? In view of the fact that we shall have spent £40 million on half of it by 1966, and that it would take until 1970 to complete the rest, is it not worth considering that we should halt the expenditure on the project at that point?

Miss Pike

I think that this money is very well spent. The recent Commonwealth Communications Conference agreed that underground cables should be complementary to the sattelite system. It recommended that research and development work in the submarine cable field should be continued. The volume of world-wide inter-continental traffic is expected to increase very rapidly during the next decade, and it is expected that existing and planned submarine telephone cables will be fully utilised.

Mr. Dudley Williams

Would not my hon. Friend agree that this is a matter which is causing concern and disquiet on both sides of the House, and that very many people take the view that this expenditure will prove to have been completely redundant when the sattelite system becomes effective?

Miss Pike

We will keep this matter under consideration, but we do not accept that point of view. We think that these systems will be complementary for some time to come.