HC Deb 04 August 1965 vol 717 cc1671-2
9. Mr. Marten

asked the Minister of Aviation whether he is satisfied with the progress of Britain's space programme; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

As I informed the hon. Member on 23rd June, a review of United Kingdom interests in space is being undertaken. I hope that this will enable us, by the autumn, to take a more comprehensive view of objectives and possibilities than has hitherto been the case.

Mr. Marten

Does not the Minister agree that by this delay we, as a country, are slipping behind our rivals in this highly technological sphere? Could he give an interim decision as to whether Black Arrow will be fired off? Secondly, when will he get the Bondi Report?

Mr. Jenkins

The Bondi Report will go to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, and not to me. Without notice, I could not say when it is expected. In the meantime, we are proceeding with the preliminary work on the small satellite launcher based on Black Knight—sometimes known as Black Arrow. I do not think that this review is holding up proceedings. We are still participating to the full in E.L.D.O., but it is important in this difficult and challenging field to know exactly where we are going, what we can afford to do, and how we can best hope to get value for money.

Mr. Maude

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that although everybody would agree that it is of the utmost importance to be quite sure what are the right lines of approach, there is a certain amount of apprehension that, as a country, we are slipping behind, even in comparison with France, at present? Will he give the House an assurance that he will try to expedite the fruitful exploration of this field as quickly as possible?

Mr. Jenkins

Certainly I can give that assurance. I am trying to expedite it, and I hope that as soon as we come back I shall be able to make a more positive statement to the House.

Mr. Orme

Can my right hon. Friend say what expense is incurred, both preliminary at the moment and proposed in the future, and can he also say what value there is in competing with the United States of America and the Soviet Union in this space race? Have not he and the Government considered trying to get some unified attempt, and thus cut down the wasteful expenditure of all Governments? Surely we have enough problems on earth to solve at the moment without trying to spend money in outer space.

Mr. Jenkins

There is another Question about the expense involved, which I will answer later in precise terms. As for competition with the United States and the Soviet Union, it is our view that we cannot afford to compete on the scale on which they are operating. What we have to decide—and this is the reason why I am considering a review of the position—is what we can do which will keep us in this important technological field and bring some worthwhile economic results without an expenditure disproportionate to our national capacity.

Mr. Hogg

Can the Minister give us any news of the present state of the E.S.R.O. programme, which has a distinct bearing on what has been asked?

Mr. Jenkins

The present state of the E.S.R.O. programme, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman must know, is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science.