HC Deb 24 June 1968 vol 767 cc10-1
16. Mr. Marten

asked the Minister of Technology if he will make a statement about progress with hypersonic flight.

Mr. Benn

Expenditure by my Department on hypersonics research is being progressively reduced and is expected to fall to about £200,000 in 1969–70. This is all that can be justified at the present time.

Mr. Marten

Why, apart from the views given by the Plowden Committee is this money being reduced, considering that this country leads the world in supersonic flight, and hypersonic flight, is merely the next stage after supersonic flight? Will not the Minister reconsider the matter?

Mr. Benn

I have considered it very carefully, and I am sure that it is the right decision. Half our problems in the past have stemmed from our decision to remain in the most advanced fields and hope later to be able to sell equipment, instead of gearing our own effort to what the market really wants. I remind the hon. Gentleman that £200,000 a year on hypersonics research is still a substantial sum of money. I am sure that the right thing to do is to make room in our programme for the sort of research which will produce exports for this country in the relatively near future.

Mr. David Price

Has the right hon. Gentleman considered this decision in the context of what it would be right and proper for Britain to do in space in the next 10 years? There is a no-man's-land between what we call aviation and what we call space. Is there not a rôle here for Britain which is nothing like as expensive or as ambitious as the traditional space programme about which we usually talk?

Mr. Benn

The hypersonic aircraft comes in what is now called the aerospace field. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman accepts that it makes sense to shape our research and development to a large extent on the basis of investment put into industry for developments for which there is likely to be a market. On that basis, I believe our decision to be right.