HL Deb 12 May 1959 vol 216 cc296-9

3.40 p.m.


My Lords your Lordships may be interested to know of the following Answer which the Prime Minister has given this afternoon to Questions in another place about space research.

"There are two problems to be considered in relation to a British contribution to space research; the nature and design of the instruments to be carried into space; and the means by which the containers for these instruments are launched.

"With regard to the first, with the assistance of Fellows of the Royal Society and with the endorsement of the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy, a programme for the design and construction of instruments to be carried in earth satellites has been approved. Work will begin at once.

"With regard to the second, there may well be scope for joint action with the United States, with the Commonwealth or with other countries. We therefore plan to send to Washington a team of experts, including Professor H. S. W. Massey, to discuss possible Anglo-American co-operation; and we are also opening consultations with other Commonwealth countries.

"Meanwhile, however, design studies are also being put in hand for the adaptation of the British military rockets which are now under development. This will put us in a position, should we decide to do so, to make an all-British effort.


that, of course, is the Prime Minister in the context—

"have asked my noble friend, the Lord President of the Council, in consultation with my right honourable friend the Minister of Supply and other Ministers concerned, to exercise general supervision of these new developments."


My Lords, we are greatly obliged to the Lord President of the Council for giving us this information. I can see nothing very special to comment upon at the moment. We are glad that the matter has been done with the full advice of the Advisory Council, and that apparently there is to be all possible effort to co-operate with other countries. I thought at first sight that it was the United States and the Commonwealth. In this particularly important and yet, in some respects, dangerous development of space research, the more it can be kept on an international basis, especially with those who think of the freedom and liberty of the individual, the better it will be for the world: the more international it is in its co-operation the better.


My Lords, I should like to support the plea that this matter should be kept on an international basis, not only for the good of the world and because of the danger that may be involved, but for the financial involvement concerned. I hope that Her Majesty's Government—and I have no doubt they will—will keep a careful eye on the production when we are going from a world of three dimensions and five senses to another world in which we may find an infinite and unknown number of both. As we may be landed in a large commitment, I apologise that instead of, as usual, urging the Government to do something, I urge them not to undertake too much.


My Lords, could the noble Viscount tell us whether the opinion of the Astronomer Royal has been sought on matters of space research, and if so what his opinion is?


My Lords, perhaps the Lord President would he good enough to answer this question. It may be that there are military aspects in this matter, perhaps even to the extent of sending up these vehicles to ascertain what other people are doing about fallout, explosions, and the rest of it. If that is so, maybe there is a case for confining these experiments to the Commonwealth. Secondly, I would ask whether the Government will do everything in their power to secure adequate contributions from the Commonwealth countries who will share in the pride of achievement, if there is any, and in the safeguarding of results, if there are any.


My Lords, before the noble Viscount replies, may I ask him to consult not the present Astronomer Royal, as my noble friend Lord Taylor asked, but the former Astronomer Royal, who is taking a leading part and showing great initiative in developing international co-operation in this field? Whilst I am impressed at the aplomb with which your Lordships have accepted this really striking statement, might I wholeheartedly welcome the Government's initiative and say that I hope it is only a beginning of a much greater effort which will provide British scientists with the opportunities they desire?


My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have asked these supplementary questions, and I would seek to answer them as best I can. As my right honourable friend said in his statement, we have the international aspect very much in mind. On the other hand, the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, will also be aware that it is a very long story. As the noble Viscount probably knows, there is a non-Governmental scientific body known as the Committee for Space Research or, less elegantly, as "COSPAR"; and Professor Massey, who is a member of our team and who, as I have said, is going to the United States, is ion the executive board of that body. On that body the United States and the Russians, as well as ourselves, are co-operating.

On the other hand, I ought also to say that the United Nations Assembly last autumn set up an ad hoc Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space to report to the next Assembly on the area of international co-operation in the peaceful uses of outer space which could appropriately be undertaken under U.N. auspices and the future organisation of arrangements to facilitate such co-operation. That Committee is again one with which Her Majesty's Government, and, I think, the American Government, are co-operating, though, unhappily, the Russians are not.

As regards the question of my noble friend Lord Fraser of Lonsdale, it is, of course, true that in many countries the launching vehicles were not unconnected with defence matters. We are certainly already inquiring of the Commonwealth what their contribution can be to this project. Undoubtedly the Commonwealth, and in particular Australia, has done a great deal in our valuable work in connection with the Skylark rocket, which is a vertical sounding rocket. I think I am right in saying that the Commonwealth as a whole is co-operating with both the international bodies that I have mentioned, so I think at this stage we are doing what we can, and I hoped that we should carry the House with us. As regards the two Astronomers Royal, I think I ought to be a little cautious, because I gather from the two noble Lords opposite that there is perhaps a difference of opinion between those great men.


My Lords, in considering the peaceful use of space research I hope that the Ministry will not forget such matters as the peaceful use of cancerresearch and so forth.


My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that I have that matter very much in mind. I am, of course, the Minister responsible for the Medical Research Council, and I can assure him that I have had very much in mind from the outset the correct deployment of our financial resources in different scientific spheres. If I thought that what was now being done was in any way a rival to cancer research, or even that cancer research was being held up for purely financial reseasons, I might take a different view. But I do not regard these two projects as rivals, and I feel that one must examine the merits of research projects in the light of hopeful leads and available personnel, rather than in mere terms of cash.