HL Deb 06 December 1961 vol 236 cc86-158

2.40 p.m.

THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH rose to draw attention to the possibilities and problems of space research; the benefits to be derived therefrom, and Britain's participation therein in the light of progress in the U.S.S.R. and in relation to the contributions of the U.S.A. and other countries both inside and outside the Commonwealth; and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, when I first set down this Motion over fifteen months ago I was not at all happy about this country's contribution to space research. In April last year the Government decided that the economy of the country could not sustain the cost of further development work on the rocket vehicle Blue Streak as a military weapon, although it had an excellent record of static firings of many of its systems. Therefore, except for certain restricted development work at Hatfield, Stevenage and Spadeadam its future was left somewhat in abeyance. Moreover, the excellent range facilities at Woomera in Australia did not look as though they would be fully used, the Black Knight rocket, Skylark and some other smaller military rockets being about the only weapons which were being fired. But there was no rocket vehicle for true space research.

Meanwhile, my Lords, what have the United States and the Soviet Union been doing? Altogether, the Russians and the Americans appear to have carried out some 116 orbital space shots. This figure does not include the flights of Shepard and Grissom, which were non-orbital, and I understand that no unsuccessful Soviet attempts have been disclosed, so there may have been more. It was as long ago as October, 1957, that the Soviet Union successfully sent their first Sputnik into orbit. This was followed by the first American lynching in February 1958. The Americans have launched 51 satellites, 30 of which are still orbiting the earth, and 11 of these are still transmitting signals. We have, of course, launched none. The American Vanguard 1, which was launched in March, 1958, is, incidentally, still sending out signals after three and a half years in orbit; in fact, my Lords, it cannot be stopped. This is much longer than anyone expected, but the amount of communications information gained from these satellites is enormous.

However, since I set down this Motion, the most dramatic news came in April this year, when an amazed world learned that Major Yuri Gagarin had orbited the earth once in Vostok I and had landed successfully. This almost incredible achievement was followed in May by the more modest American launching of the reliable Redstone rocket down the Atlantic missile range, with Commander Alan Shepard in a Mercury capsule. The Russians followed up their lead in August with the Vostok II flight in which Major Herman Titov circled the earth seventeen times in 25 hours. In the same month, the United States fired their Liberty Bell 7, this time with Colonel Virgil Grissom at the helm, and, indeed, an American chimpanzee has circled the earth twice, also in a Mercury capsule.

I know that the noble Viscount, the Lord President of the Council, who is also Minister for Science, and who will be replying to the debate this afternoon, is fully aware of the valuable part which space research can play in a balanced scientific effort. I know that he is aware as some others are aware—but there are perhaps not so many in this country who are—that we stand, in his own words: "On the threshold of infinitely exciting discoveries".

It is clear that for some time the Soviet Union has been devoting a very large part of its economic resources to the exploration of space, but it was only after the successful launching of the first Russian Sputnik that the Americans decided to step up their own activities, and, indeed, an immense amount of American money is going into space research. When I visited Cape Canaveral at the end of February this year, before Gagarin's flight, I spent some time in the Mercury control room and also in the block houses adjacent to the launching pads. I was told that the United States had then already spent 600 million dollars in this field, and spending was continuing at the rate of 11 million dollars a month. This rate of expenditure has, I imagine, greatly increased since President Kennedy outlined his four national goals in May of this year.

Perhaps I may be permitted to mention what those goals are: first, to land a man on the moon before the decade is out; secondly, to accelerate development of the Rover nuclear rocket which will perhaps go to the very ends of the solar system itself; thirdly, to accelerate the use of space satellites for worldwide communications; and, fourthly, to develop a satellite system for world-wide weather observation. Altogether the President asked Congress for an additional 7 billion to 9 billion dollars over the next five years.

The Soviet Union and the United States thus appear to set hardly any limit on their exploration of space, and have gone ahead with their moon probes and even the Venus probe, and are now thinking in terms of Mars, Mercury, Jupiter and the astral belt, with the ultimate aim of sending probes near the sun. I might add here that the deep space tracking station at Goldstone. California, has great achievements to its credit. I understand that the radio contact it has established with the planet Venus has proved that this planet is a better radio reflector than the moon. Since it became clear that the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. were spending so much on space research it has been obvious that Britain could not opt out of this field altogether. But we have not done so very much yet in comparison with these other two great Powers. On economic grounds, the Government have evidently felt that if we in this country are to make any important contribution at all it will have to he not only in conjunction with the British Commonwealth, and in particular Australia, but also in co-operation with such of our Allies in Europe as may be interested in joining us in launching a European satellite.

In this country, and I think in France and Germany, there seems to be a general feeling that it would be better for us to concentrate our efforts on this specific project which would have certain practical uses, not only in the communications field but also as an aid to navigation—call it "beaconry" if you like—and in weather prediction; a satellite which should also become a very substantial revenue earner. It might also be used to relay vision signals and to make global television a practical possibility. Most experts in this country seem to think that some eight to ten satellites in orbit of medium altitude—say 7,000 to 10,000 miles—kept stationary in relation to one another, would provide an excellent world communications service as well as improved quality and reliability, and would give promise of substantially reduced tariff rates.

I think that most of your Lordships will agree that it is wise of the Government to set a limit upon their endeavours. These, however, at the moment, are certainly restricted. I gather that the Government are so far committed to spending only £500,000 this year on space research, and £1,100,000 in 1962–63. I think this is mainly in support of the Anglo-American satellite research programme. Those figures certainly do not include—and I hope the noble Viscount will correct me if I am wrong —any contribution which Britain may make to the European Space Research Organisation, which is known as E.S.R.O., or to the European Launcher Development Organisation, which is known as E.L.D.O.

I understand the budget expenditure for the launching of a satellite by E.L.D.O., the launcher organisation, will be something of the order of £70 million, to be spread over the next five years. Even if Britain were to be responsible for, say, half this cost, about £35 million, that would mean expenditure at the rate of about £7½ million a year. It would not include the contribution to E.S.R.O., the research organisation, which would, however, be nothing like so large, since there are twelve countries which are members of that organisation and the cost would be spread over them. Of course, I do not suppose that the proportional contributions of each country to E.S.R.O. and E L.D.O. have yet been fixed, but clearly 13ritain would have to take a large share in the financing of both of them.

I feel sure your Lordships will agree that it is essential that what I hope will be a mainly communications project should be co-operative and allied. All the same, I hope there will not be too many members of the "space club"; otherwise, I think the scientific, technical and language problems may become excessively complicated. However, I agree that we may benefit by some cross-fertilisation. After all, scientists and engineers of different European origins all work together reasonably satisfactorily in the United States. I feel I should emphasise here the French contribution. In addition to Véronique, which is to be the second stage of this European rocket, France has also a first stage or launcher of her own in the Diamant. She has also important facilities in the Sahara at Colomb Béchar for launching, too. France has thus not lagged behind in space research.

Although it may now be possible—and I hope it will be—as between Governments to form the European Launcher Development Organisation, it would seem to me to be valuable if private enterprise could ultimately also play its part, and if perhaps a proportion of the funds required from this country were to be raised, say, through the British Space Development Company, the consortium of ten companies over which Sir Robert Renwick presides. I am personally connected with two of them. I feel that if the British Space Development Company were authorised to raise money by public subscription there might be hundreds of thousands of people in this country who would he inclined to risk a moderate investment on the basis of the calculated profitability of a communications satellite. I do not feel that the burden should liesolely on the taxpayers of the countries concerned, many of whom may have no desire whatever to risk even a small sum in such an enterprise. I should add here that it would perhaps not seem to he right to appeal to the public to invest in this project until the applications of Blue Streak, with its French second stage and German third stage, have been clearly defined.

I do not think that I have seen a definite statement from the Government that the application—that is to say, what is to be put on top—will consist of a communications satellite. I hope that the Government will make a definite statement in this respect as soon as possible. There seems to be a general feeling in official circles, and in industry, that the launching of such a satellite, mainly for telephony, would be desirable. When the application has been defined, I would hope that it might then be possible to form an international company, perhaps similar to the old Suez Canal Company, in which private enterprise as well as Governments would have an interest.

Britain and her Commonwealth have always been in a leading position in long-range communications in the world. Indeed, we need such communications more than any other group of countries, because the Commonwealth is so widely spread. We have led in the laying of cables across the oceans, and now I believe it to be essential that we should lead again in this new method of communications, which should be considerably more economical. I think I am right in saying that it will cost something in the order of £90 million to lay the round-the-world cable, which will have only 80 circuits in it. For substantially less than this amount, excluding the cost of developing the launching vehicle (which, after all, will have other applications), a communications satellite system can be developed and put into operation with all of its ground equipment and provide a service not merely to the areas near a cable but to the world. A system of this kind would have such a flexibility of growth that within two decades several thousands of telephone circuits, as well as one or two television channels, could be accommodated.

It looks as though space telephone systems are likely to follow, as cables have done, the pattern of ocean-borne world trade. The largest need is between continents which have seaboards on the Atlantic Ocean. Indeed, it seems likely that more than two-thirds of the world's space-communication needs could be served by a single satellite in stationary orbit over the North Atlantic. The nations which would benefit most are those with the largest ocean-borne trade—that is to say, the United States, the United Kingdom and, thirdly, perhaps surprisingly, Japan, whose exports are 100 per cent. ocean-borne. The largest continental responsibility lies with Europe, including the United Kingdom. With increasing telephone requirements following our trade routes such satellites would, in my view, and in the view of many experts, become a fundamental necessity.

My Lords, on the whole project of launching the satellite I should like to say here that I am much impressed by the interest, energy and enthusiasm of my right honourable friends, not only the Minister of Aviation but also the Minister for Science, and of his officials as well as of those of the G.P.O., especially since they went on their mission to the United States. The work that the G.P.O. are doing at Goon Hilly Down to receive signals from the American communications satellite which is to be launched next spring is a sign of their interest and determination that we should not be left behind in this field.

I have also made it my business to find out the attitude of the Australians in this matter. Australia is an isolated but highly-developed country, and has a requirement for many communication links with the rest of the world. At the moment, however, these are limited to telegraph cables and an ionospheric radio telephone circuit which is really not much better than that which existed in 1936. The Australians regard voice communication with the rest of the world as a most important facility, for they are partners in the £28 million Pacific link of the round-the-world cable which, as I say, will provide only 80 circuits. This would probably cover Australia's requirements for, say, five years, but if the traffic on the transatlantic cables is any indication, the number of circuits will need to be increased radically at the end of that time. The expenditure involved, as will be seen, is already in satellite-cost class.

Although Australia has had an enormous development in its industry since the war, most of its overseas income is still derived from primary products, the quantity and quality of which are largely dependent upon their weather. Better long-term weather prediction would certainly enable Australia to plan its flock movements and plantings, and could, I am told, save it several tens of millions of pounds per year. But, of course, Australia's interests are even more specific and immediate, since they have developed one of the few facilities in the free world from which satellites can be launched. The noble and gallant Field-Marshal, Lord Slim, who regrets not to be present here to-day, tells me that, so far as Woomera is concerned, he thinks that there is no doubt whatever that that is by far the best range in the world from the point of view of the amount of land over which a missile travels before reaching the sea. When he first saw it some years ago, he thought it was rather like a very well equipped racing stable without any racehorses. He suggests that the sooner we get these other racehorses into it—although there are, perhaps, some fillies already—and really start training them, the better.

While discussing the contribution of the Commonwealth, I cannot fail to mention Canada, which is carrying out extensive research in the ionosphere and on the earth's magnetic field, and is also doing research on the upper atmosphere using Canadian-developed rockets fired from the Churchill range, which is the joint facility of Canada and the United States. I gather that British experiments have already been included in Canadian rockets and that it is expected that this type of co-operation will be extended in the future. But this is mainly what I might describe as "non-orbital" stuff. Canada is also developing a satellite of its own, which is to be launched by the National Astronautic and Space Administration from California early next year. This satellite will measure the properties of the ionosphere from above and from a near circular orbit at a height of some 625 miles. Canada are, therefore, well in the field too, and in fact should have their satellite up long before Europe can get theirs into orbit. But, of course, the Americans are giving them considerable assistance in this.

Having discussed the practical and limited communications scheme and the Commonwealth interest in it, I should none the less re-emphasise what will certainly be clear to your Lordships: that both the Soviet Union and the United States are going much further than this. The people of both of these countries seem to be imbued with the same kind of spirit of enterprise which inspired Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus to cross an ocean without any certainty that they would discover land on the opposite side; the kind of spirit which prompted Captain Cook to make his journeys, which were to Australia, not in the interests of getting to Australia, but in the interests of astronomy and space research. No doubt in this country many of our most earnest enthusiasts would feel that it would be in a true Elizabethan tradition for this country to look out beyond our present limited horizons toward the wider and further exploration of outer space. Some may say that the analogy of the voyagers of the fifteenth and later centuries is false. It may perhaps be so from the scientific and technical points of view, but not, I believe, from the psychological. None the less, I agree that hard economic facts may make such further efforts impracticable for us at present, even in conjunction with our Allies.

Yet despite this, the spirit of adventure does still exist among the peoples of the British Commonwealth. Why do Englishmen climb Mount Everest? Why do others carry out expeditions to the North and South Poles? Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, who I am glad to see will be taking part in this debate, can enlighten us on this. I am not asking that we should lose sight of the ground on which we stand, but I do ask that we should give every encouragement to those who are in a business which may affect us all. I am not speaking of space fiction here. We must forget that, for it bedevils the argument. True interest does exist in the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. I do not find the same interest in this country, except, perhaps, in a few of those directly concerned in research establishments and industry, and, of course, among the young, for whom space has a special, maybe almost mystical, appeal, an appeal on which, perhaps, the right reverend Prelate may comment.

There are, of course, numerous by-products to be gained from space research in general. In addition to the benefits in the fields of communications, navigation, and weather forecasting, we must not forget the technological stimulus which the development of a satellite launcher will create in many different fields concerned with high-vacuum conditions, power sources, control mechanisms, electronic instrumentation, the resistance of materials to extremely high temperatures, and so on. I will not go further into these, or into the spread of general economic benefits and the creation of vast new industries which will result, important as these are bound to be. I recognise, of course, that it is most important that in going into space other projects in which we may be in advance of others, which are especially the concern of the Ministry of Aviation, such as the vertical take-off aircraft and the supersonic aircraft, should not be starved.

Our American friends issued, some little time ago, an important report on the values of space exploration, which came before a Committee of Congress, the Scientific and Technical Committee, and which is contained in Union Calen-Jar No. 928. Some of the values which they mention would, I know, be confirmed by our own scientists, especially in so far as they concern astronomy, astrophysics, meteorology, and, of course, satellite relays. But these may, so to speak, be described as aims or end products in themselves, and should not be confused with the so-called fringe benefits. The Americans make many claims. They make in this document some 53 claims, and a considerable number of them relate to every-day living.

I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, who is a chemist and physicist (unlike the noble Lord with a very similar name), will be able to discuss some of these claims. Some of them, he may say, may be special pleading; others may possibly be relatively trivial; but I feel that a considerable number of them do make sense. For example, as a result of work done after the Second World War on lenses and plastics, the glass industry made substantial gains, and a commodity which is called (I am not certain how to pronounce it) "Pyroceram", which was developed for missile radomes, is now being used in the manufacture of pots and pans. Other materials suitable for use in the nuclear preservation of food may, perhaps, make your Lordships even better fed than we may already be!

The Americans also claim a whole series of benefits in the field of medical research and health problems, which are being solved by the electronic equipment used in space craft. These are only a few particular instances out of a long list, to which, none the less, I should like to add the finely-woven stainless steel cloth, which is designed for parachuting space vehicles back to earth. This material is about one-fifth the thickness of a human hair, and is believed to have a potential for industry and consumer alike; but there are many others.

My Lords, when I visited the Soviet Union in May of this year, I was invited to appear on Moscow television. During the course of an unscripted interview, which centred around the possibility of increasing the number of scientific and cultural exchanges, and also the signing of the new United Kingdom/U.S.S.R. Agreement on the peaceful uses of atomic energy, I suggested would it not be a good thing if we could also co-operate on the peaceful uses of space? This view seemed to meet with general agreement. Everyone in the studio started beaming. I was interested to see that Russians attended the Congress of the International Astronautical Federation in Washington in October of this year and that two Russian scientists have also been visiting Jodrell Bank during recent months. I should add that I have just received the exciting news that my colleague, Mr. Geoffrey Pardoe, who is Chairman of the Technical Committee of the British Space Development Company, and I have been invited by the head of the Soviet Academy of Sciences to visit the Soviet Union to meet their own space scientists.

Whether it will be practical, as Sir Bernard Lovell has suggested, to arrange that experiments made and outer space probes sent up should be conducted in an internationally agreed manner is, of course, another matter, but obviously it is an idea and an aim which is well worth pursuing. Indeed, all that Sir Bernard Lovell says is worth studying and inwardly digesting, not least his recent articles in the New Scientist on the trend towards stifling basic research and in last Sunday's Sunday Times, in which he repeats his criticism of those who may be contaminating extraterrestrial space, as in the case of Project Needles. I am glad to say that I have heard from a friend in the American Embassy that these needles have now been lost. Whether they are therefore still a contamination, I do not know. In his article in the Sunday Times, Sir Bernard also praises the Russians for their brilliant scientific achievement in photographing the other side of the moon. I cannot refrain from saying here how much Jodrell Bank and the telescope there owes to the vision of those in charge of the Nuffield Foundation, which helped to finance it at a critical moment.

It will not do for us to take only a half-hearted interest in these matters. We have to make a real contribution and lead Western Europe into space itself. Let us postpone for the present the Q3's, the Channel bridges and the claustrophobic tunnels, each of which will cost as much as, if not more than, the development programme of the rocket vehicle. These are old-fashioned ideas. Instead, we should concentrate our immediate efforts on securing for this country a place in the inner fringes of outer space. We have to decide now whether we go into this or not. No final decision has yet been taken on the project of launching a European satellite. We must make up our minds now whether we do it with all of our friends, with some of our friends or on our own. A decision now to do nothing, unlike other decisions which we may make in other fields, is irreversible. If we do not decide to go in now, we are out of it for ever. Can we afford to be out? Should we remain out and then have to buy rockets and hire sites from our American friends?

Personally, I believe that the United Kingdom, Europe, the Commonwealth and, I might add, the French community, have the resources, scientific, technical and industrial, to do this. We have the capacity to get into space. Having said that, I ask, on what ticket should we go into it? I believe that we must look at it as a hard business man would look at it. We should go into space for technical and commercial reasons, and not purely on academic and theoretical grounds. Putting men into space at this stage, in my view, is a complete waste of time. That is not the way to go about it. I urge, therefore, that we should play a leading part and take a major share in the proposed £70 million investment in E.L.D.O., and I hope that the Treasury will not look too harshly upon this project.

Your Lordships will have gathered from what I have said that my main objects in putting forward this Motion to-day have been threefold: first, to increase interest in this country generally in space research; secondly, to urge the Government to press ahead with the European satellite in conjunction with their Allies and with industry, and thirdly, to urge the Government also to consider how the West may co-operate further with the Soviet Union in the peaceful uses of space. I hope that these aims may be achieved and, believing so, I beg to move for Papers.

3.16 p.m.


My Lords, I think that we should all be greatly obliged to the noble Earl who has raised this important topic. It is a matter very much before the public mind. If we go ahead with it it is going to involve large sums of money. Since the noble Earl has declared an interest in the subject, I think that I may do the same, though I find it rather hard to define what it is. Perhaps it will be sufficient if I say that nobody involved, as I am, in the electronics industry can remain uninvolved very long in the sort of topic we are discussing this afternoon. The subject is of supreme importance to men of science. Any massive injection of money by the Government into the scientific world for some particular project tends to permeate through the entire scientific community. To some extent it acts like a central mechanism of the bank rate variety. Whatever is decided at the centre makes itself felt on the periphery and can make or mar what occurs there, by giving a natural or artificial direction to our scientific effort. For this reason, it is extremely important that whatever is decided at the centre should be wisely conceived.

The money involved—the noble Earl gave the figure of £70 million—may not sound large in relation to the scale of the economy as a whole, or even to the scale of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Budget, but it is large indeed in relation to the total scientific effort of the community and would involve ear-marking a large proportion of that effort for a particular project.

It seems to me that there has been a tendency for four major sources of misunderstanding to cloud our judgment in discussing this subject. The first is almost a myth. It was derived from the spectacular success of the Manhattan project and the explosion of the first atomic bomb, followed by the fairly rapid conversion of energy to that provided by a nuclear power station. The myth is to the effect that scientists can do whatever you ask of them at short notice if given a sufficiently large sum of money. One conclusion drawn from this myth, if it is accepted, is that the sum of money involved in anything like the Manhattan project is something which a country like the United Kingdom, whose economy is in a state of only marginal balance, simply cannot afford. No doubt this may be true in some cases. Another conclusion is that, since British scientists are so much better than anybody else's, we can afford it. That, I think, is a piece of hubris we would do well to abandon, because human intellect is the same the whole world over. The fact is that scientists can be effective in this sort of context if the basic knowledge of how to do it has been established in advance. This was the case in the atomic bomb project and in relation to the nuclear power stations.

Your Lordships may like to consider our comparative success in converting the energy of a fission bomb into that provided by a nuclear power station, and our relative failure to do anything comparative with the fusion or H-bomb. In the former case, we know how to set about the task. The residual problems to be solved were only technological. In the other case, we did not know how to make hydrogen power stations and all the money spent on it so far has done little more than illuminate our ignorance.

This is highly relevant to space travel, because at the moment we are using extremely heavy-handed methods to do by inelegant means what our ignorance prevents us from doing better. That is the long and short of it. That is why I feel that any analogy with the Columbus period is fundamentally false. Columbus crossed the Atlantic as a professional sailor in a sailing ship with a crew who themselves were professional sailors and who spent their lives in such sailing ships. They were all accustomed to being at sea, and navigation was the same all over the sea. They had every reason to suppose that if they found land it would be similar to the land which they had left. All these analogies are false in the case of space travel, and we should not fall into any fantasy or myth-making on this subject.

The second confusion lies in the distinction between engineering means and scientific ends. It is true that the tools in some branches of science that deal with research have become very expensive. One thinks immediately of giant particle accelerators that cost millions and millions of pounds. Nuclear physicists use them in order to study the sub-nuclear structure of matter. The same is true of the launching vehicles for space craft. All these devices are triumphs of engineering rather than triumphs of science. They are engineering means to scientific ends. Without their bubble chambers and particle counters our giant cyclotrons would stand useless and idle. If extra-terrestrial space were bursting with rockets like Trafalgar Square on Guy Fawkes night no knowledge of space would accrue for that reason. It is the instruments they carry with them and the brains of the men behind the instruments which alone can get the results.

The cost of this instrumentation is relatively small compared with the cost of the engineering means of putting the instruments into orbit. We must endeavour to find sensible ways of sharing or reducing the cost of these means, to the ownership of which no false prestige should be allowed to attach. The designers of these devices are in fact engaged in a sort of technological leapfrog. The latest design is always the biggest and best for a short period, but it does not remain so for long. Everyone takes it in turn to lead for a while, but the lead is short-lived. Kudos should be attached not to the date on which some device was the biggest and best of its kind in the world, but to the output of useful work conducted with it during the course of its history. False preoccupation with means will lead to the neglect of ends. Due to what may have been an early over-estimate in the minimum weight of a fusion bomb, the Russians have currently a lead in the field of weight placeable in orbit. They are, however, making relatively little scientific use of this lead, although they have made some: they have photographed the back of the moon. But the important scientific results are nearly all being obtained by our friends the Americans with lighter though possibly less reliable launching vehicles. I was converted to this view originally by Niels Bohr and Professor Blackett, having argued this out with them many years ago. They became converted to the view they put forward and would now be reluctant to abandon it.

For that reason, I would support the E.S.R.O. and E.L.D.O. schemes. I believe that the Government are also converts to this view and I would take this opportunity of wishing the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and his colleagues every success in endeavouring to prosecute the idea behind E.S.R.O. and E.L.D.O. If that does not succeed, there are other means of going at it, one being to rent space and time on American or Russian launching vehicles, thereby cutting down the cost of launching and generally enabling us to concentrate what we spend on the important part, which is the instrumentation.

The third confusion which I think afflicts this subject relates to the uselessness of a general truth as an aid to discriminating between particulars to which it applies. It is generally true that all scientific research tends to overflow into quite unexpected and very often beneficial directions which have quite surprising results. This is, I think, a proposition that no serious student of the subject would deny. However, the generality of this truth makes it quite useless as a means of discriminating between one project and another, for it is equally true of all. Whether we try to put rockets into orbit, on the one hand, or on the other hand to drill holes in the bottom of the North Sea to look for natural gas, I am sure that unexpected benefits would derive from either.

I will call these unexpected benefits of research "fringe benefits", to use a popular term borrowed from the businessman's vocabulary. The reason why I call them "fringe benefits" is because they are not necessarily small; they may be very large. But no one seriously undertakes research because of the fringe benefits, for by definition they generally accrue to others and not to the party which undertakes the research. For him they are unforeseeable. But if research is sponsored by the nation, the validity of that argument is slightly weakened, because the nation gets the fringe benefit. I think that if we are to finance a programme of space research we must do it because of the merit of what we are doing and not for the sake of the fringe benefits. They may accrue, but they would be liable to accrue whatever we did.

The fourth source of confusion is the fact that the public are not sufficiently aware of how disappointing are the actual fringe benefits currently coming out of the cold war weapons research. The technological efforts of the First World War and of the Second World War had a more fertilising effect than those of the cold war, which has now been going on for as long as the two hot wars combined. I would submit that if research in the cold war is having the same fertilising effect on industry as that of either of the two hot wars its results ought to be apparent by now, if not to a layman, at least to a technological historian. But I find it difficult to locate them. The noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, was cautious in his use of the claims made in the United States Government publication to which he referred. I think his caution was well advised. I have analysed some of the claims in that publication in terms of such knowledge as I have. If the noble and learned Viscount would earmark a departmental historian to spend a little whole-time study on them, I am sure my analysis could be much better done.

However, for what it is worth, I have analysed fifty-three of the fringe benefits claimed apart from those which are purely science-fictional. Sixteen of them I would dismiss as relatively trivial, in the sense that some product or process replaces some other product or process on which it is a marginal or even a substantial improvement. But they are not to be compared with the fringe benefits we got as a result of the First World War and the Second World War. About a further twenty claims seem to me to be special pleading, in the sense that a scientific historian would attribute far more of what has been achieved either to the overflow of the Second World War or to the early stages of the guided missile programme and far less to space research itself than is attributed in the document to which I refer. Then there come nine more and, in order that I may put forward no claim to omniscience in this House, I must confess that of these nine I do not know sufficient to say very much of them. Of the nine, only three seem to me to be significant, and of the three, two seem rather doubtful starters economically. The survivor of the nine, of which I know little, is the general heading "New Materials". I agree that some interesting new materials have come out of cold war research, but in comparison with the very interesting new materials that have been the product of peacetime academic research by Professor Ziegler in Germany and Professor Natta in Italy. they are certainly trivial, so far.

I think that leaves me with seven out of my fifty-three. Of that remainder I would regard one as an economic non-starter and two as fringe benefits which might equally well have come out of the hydrogen power research programme, since they deal with a rather esoteric branch of knowledge called plasma physics. I am left with four. Of these I find that three are not the fringe benefits of space research, but the actual space research itself; that is to say meteorology, as observation by means of satellites, general astronomy and the astrophysics of the solar system.

Of my fifty-three little nigger boys, I am therefore left with one, and that is the one in particular which the noble Earl has chosen to speak about—and I think his choice was a very wise one—namely, satellite communications. In addition, one or two scientific devices of great interest not mentioned in the Paper have emerged—cryotrons, masers, lasers. and so on. I am sorry to say that our current effort on these interesting devices is very thin.

To cull from the overflow of the wars what we got from each, from the First World War we derived practically the whole of the modern radio and television industry and a great deal of industrial electronic control engineering. During that war, mass assembly techniques matured and gave us the modern consumer durable industry in its present economic form. From the Second World War and its overflow we got radar, computers, solid state diodes and transistors, gas turbines, jet aircraft and nuclear power stations. Nothing so significant has yet emerged from the cold war and the space research of the last few years. What are we not doing? If we propose to spend another £70 million on one thing, it is reasonable to look at what might be going by default if we do so.

Let me tell your Lordships a little of what we are not doing in other branches of science which ought to have equal consideration with space research if each is to make claims on the public purse. From the standpoint of the lead we ought to be establishing, and the help we ought to be giving to the younger nations of the Commonwealth, our effort in the fields of tropical medicine and agriculture is quite inadequate. We used to lead in the field of tropical medicine, but we are not leading any longer. Many of these new countries are quite inadequately surveyed geologically. We ought to be helping. The contracts for exploitation are most likely to flow to whoever provides assistance for the geological survey. There is a fringe benefit for you, my Lords! We do not need to seek fringe benefits in outer space; they are waiting for us on mother earth.

Perhaps physics is more fashionable than biology. Let us see what we are not doing in the field of physics. The following are all in jeopardy, and they are all what one might call first-class projects. As is well known, I am speaking at a time of financial stringency for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Let us look at the effect of this financial stringency on the current programme for various university departments. Decisions have not yet been taken but the following are all under threat. First of all, the budget for C.E.R.N. may have to be cut. Secondly, two university research reactors, one for the northern universities and one for London University, are under threat. Thirdly, three radio telescopes are under threat and also a synchrocyclotron for Glasgow. We may actually have to turn round to our own university professors and say, "We are awfully sorry, but we cannot let you have these for the time being; we have not enough money". With the possible exception of the synchrocyclotron for Glasgow, where there is some room for doubt, they are all first-class projects.

Radio astronomy is an almost entirely British-made field of science. Rocketry at the moment belongs to the Americans and the Russians. Is it not folly to neglect our own field of discovery where our own professors are doing first-class work—a field in which we have shown ourselves to be good—to have a dab on an inadequate scale at someone else's? Unfortunately, our neighbour's garden always tends to look greener than our own. I am sure there is much to be learned about lunar physics, but ought we to be learning it to the neglect of geophysics?

To turn to another branch of science which could be said to be neglected, chemistry in the universities is not an expensive subject in the sense I have been mentioning. One £20,000 mass spectrometer goes a long way. But in the field of natural product chemistry there could be one very big item of revenue expenditure which is worth consideration by the noble and learned Viscount—the cost of extracting rare chemicals from soil, animals, plants, insects and so on. Many of these rare physiologically active compounds exist in only trace quantities. To get a rare chemical from the soil it may be necessary to treat hundreds or thousands of tons of soil to get at it, although it may be known to be there. This is not a job for a university laboratory. Some central means must be found for enabling this to be done. As an example of the importance to the nation of this sort of research, the value of the potato crop in this country is about £100 million a year. It ought to be 25 per cent. higher, because some 20 per cent. of the gross crop is destroyed by insect pests such as eelworm. It has been established in Cambridge that there is a substance in germinating potatoes which causes eelworms to hatch. If one could extract this from the soil, establish its constitution, synthesise it, manufacture it, and treat the soil with it before the potatoes were sown. the eelworms would hatch and starve to death in advance of the potato sowing. That would he quite an expensive project. It cannot be done at Cambridge. Some industrial firm must be given a contract for doing it. That is an example of the sort of thing we could be doing, and are not.

It is difficult to get an authentic list of all these things, for the very good reason that professors of chemistry know that the noble and learned Viscount's Department is short of funds, and they just do not come forward and ask. They say, "What is the sense of asking for money when you know you just will not get it? Why ask for more when projects which are known to have the support of the Department are themselves in jeopardy?" I believe there may be a large latent demand for funds in the universities for this purpose of which we know little. It seems to me that it is a matter which the Minister for Science might well refer to the Advisory Council for Scientific Policy, Sir Alexander Todd's Council: the magnitude of this so far unmeasured latent demand.


My Lords, if I may interrupt this very interesting speech, I should like to make it quite clear that if any such university professors, particularly in the field of chemistry, to which my noble friend has referred, are putting forward a project for research to any of the research councils, I would ensure that it would get a fair hearing on its merits. They should not for an instant harbour the idea that they know they will not get the money. I think I could get the money for something that was really worth while.


My Lords, I am glad to have that assurance from my noble friend, and I am sure that when our professors read this debate in Hansard they will be equally glad to have that assurance. I think they are a little shy in coming forward. I think that is the trouble at the moment, but I am sure the noble and learned Viscount has a Departmental machine which can get the answer for him. He does not have to take my word for it; he can check it.

Lastly, there are purely topical issues related to subject matter: cryogenics, lasers and solid state physics, where it seems to me that our national effort is fragmentary and lacking in general direction. But I would not pretend to know the answer to what we should do about it. I am no negativist. In dismissing some topics from consideration, I am also ready to advocate others. In saying that we should not spend money on some things, I am quite ready to say that we should spend it on others, particularly—and this is very important—on giving the universities some sort of general fund on which they can draw at high speed for instruments when they are in a hurry. In many worthwhile fields university research progresses unnecessarily slowly, while instrumental and other facilities have to be sought from a rather slow-moving public machine.

When so much of direct concern to us is in jeopardy, or may be going by default, what real justification have we for spending, in the name of science, the massive sums required by space research? I am not an enemy of space research as such. I would only ask that whatever we spend on it for scientific purposes should bear some reasonable proportion to the scale on which we suport science as a whole. In saying "reasonable proportion", I do not mean any kind of barren equality. I am not concerned with disparities of expenditure by factors of two or three, as between one subject and another. But the programme begins to look unreasonable, however, when disparities of the order of two or three hundred become involved. On this scale the whole cost of any space research project must fall right outside any limit which can be called reasonable.

Therein, of course, lies a major difficulty, which I acknowledge. A decision to sponsor space research will almost certainly be based on mixed motives. Military men will want space facilities for some purposes; politicians will want them for others; the telecommunications industry may want them for purely commercial reasons; and its proposals must stand or fall by the economic character of the commercial investment represented. Scientists, too, would like to see some space research done.

How are we going to reduce these very mixed motives to some sort of common monetary scale and thereafter form their sum so as to see whether it adds up to the cost of a space programme? I do not pretend to have the answer. This is a topic I must leave to the noble and learned Viscount, and I am sure he will do his best to find an answer to it.

One thing I would beg of him, however, and that is that he will not allow the whole cost of whatever is finally decided upon to appear as one item in a list of all the things the Government do for science, so that there will be an excuse for doing no more because we are already doing so much. Only a very small proportion of the total cost will be regarded by scientists as justifiable for science's sake, and they would be dismayed to feel that so much was being granted in one field while so much is withheld or under threat in many others.

3.41 p.m.


My Lords, it really is a very formidable task to follow the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, with his profound scientific and technological knowledge. I must say, though, that some of his most eloquent remarks were, none the less, as I am sure he would agree, assumptions, and I hope he will not mind my reminding him of an argument I had with him in 1954 when he proved to me conclusively that space travel was an impossibility. He has since explained to me that he did not quite mean it in that sense, and if he would wish to correct me I should be very glad to give way.

Of course, there are a very large number of technical considerations in this matter, and it is extraordinarily difficult for us to absorb all the factors; and, despite the extreme effectiveness of his arguing, I think some of his analogies, the ones he himself tilted at, whether from history or elsewhere, could equally be tilted in the other direction. It was Wilbur Wright who said in 1901, to his brother, "It will be fifty years before man can fly", and Wilbur Wright subsequently said he was so shocked with this demonstration of his own impotence as a prophet that he had never gone in for prediction since. I hope the noble Earl will bring some of the humility—and I do not wish to suggest he is not a humble man—that some of us who have not got quite the same scientific background try to bring to a study of history; and, my Lords, it is clearly impossible for us at this stage to attempt to foresee the whole pattern of future human development.

I believe in planning. I believe that if we could really plan the resources of the world, or indeed of this country, there are all sorts of priorities which we should like to establish before certain other things that we actually do. It is obvious that there are many things in a world which is starving which we, as a welfare country, if we were willing to do without, should do without, but it really is not practical politics. This equating of one form of expenditure with another is one of the most dangerous forms of arguing which faces politicians, because as politicians it is our job to take political decisions.

It always used to be argued that if only we could dispense with the cost of one battleship we could do this, that or the other. The current argument usually is to substitute for a battleship the egg subsidy. The noble Earl is now suggesting another version, which is space travel, and I find some difficulty even in following his argument in regard to this, because he told us he was in favour of E.S.R.O., which is a research organisation, and I think he was in favour of E.L.D.O., which is the European Launcher Development Organisation. And it is these particular measures that the Government are supporting and indeed have initiated, and that the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, is hoping we shall support. This is really what we are all in favour of except the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, who has confused us, if I may say so, by producing a wealth of argument against supporting these institutions, as I understand it, having previously said he was in favour of our supporting them. Although I am sorry to throw these somewhat sophistical arguments back at him, I thought there was a certain danger that he, by his eloquence and by his sincerity in these matters, speaking as he was from the Cross Benches, might persuade your Lordships' House that we could safely sit back and ignore this question of space research.

Nor, my Lords—and here I would come to the defence of the noble Viscount the Minister for Science—would it be fair to say that he thinks of research projects in terms of a total budget. He has made very clear on a number of occasions—including the occasion when I myself advocated some research into the problem of eel-worm—that he does not think in terms of an uppermost limit but in terms of particular projects which he hopes will get money. The fact that he has not been very successful is due more to the Government than to himself. I hope he will agree it would be an entirely false analogy to say that if we dispense with our support for a European space programme that money will automatically go to universities or to Professor Rya11—and it is tragic that he is not able to get his radio telescope equipment. I do not think that that would necessarily follow at all.

We are all agreed—and I am sure the Minister for Science is agreed—that there is a great deal more he would like to do in the field of support for science in the universities. I can assure him that a number of us will continue to press him very hard, and rather less politely than we have done in the past. But I do not necessarily expect that he will achieve it by withdrawing British support from this European Space Research Organisation or the launcher development field.

It is quite clear that there is an imbalance in the number of fields of scientific research, and this is particularly true of the biological sciences. I have said this before and spoken on this subject in this House. If we really had a world in which we had priorities and in which Governments governed according to the light of reason, we could, in effect, decide—and this is what the noble Earl put his money on—what could be called reasonable and what unreasonable. If this were a matter we could approach with certainty it would be very much simpler, and I should be happy to join the party which succeeded and was able to put it into effect. But unfortunately humanity has not yet succeeded in approaching these issues in this way. The fact remains that, whether we like it or not, Russia and America are in the space business in a big way. It is not a question of our competing. It is not only a question of providing opportunities for investors or private enterprise, and I am not sure whether the argument of the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, on that line was the most convincing part of his very convincing speech. It is a question whether we, the British, whether in the Commonwealth or as Europeans, can now afford to stand aside from what is clearly going to be a tremendously important human development.

There are, of course, many arguments that can be brought forward, for or against, in terms of utility and benefit, but I do not think that decisions of this kind can be taken wholly in terms of utility. If I understood Lord Halsbury's argument aright, it was that the First and Second World Wars produced enormous scientific and technological dividends, but the Third, and so far only cold, war has not yet done so. It seems to me that space research might yet be regarded as an acceptable substitute for a Third World War.


Anything is an acceptable substitute for that.


It may in fact yet provide more—and in that I am more optimistic than the noble Earl—of the results we hope to achieve. The noble Earl was kind enough to tell me he was going to deal with this theme, and therefore most of my remarks are devoted to this particular aspect of the matter. The noble Earl said that he is in favour of some sort of space research, and the question is, what is the right amount, what is the reasonable amount, what is the two or three times as opposed to the two hundred or three hundred times? We are already committed, as I understand it, to spending something like half a million pounds or £1 million this year. I do not think anyone would argue that we should not take advantage of the help the Americans are giving with their Scout vehicles in carrying out certain research with instruments which we are mounting in these vehicles. The noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, gave us some account of the astounding sums of money that the Americans are spending, and if we were to spend on anything like the rate that they are spending in proportion to the size of our economy we should be spending something like £500 million a year, instead of a figure which, I understand, is likely to be of the order, at the highest, in the next few years of £4 million to £5 million.

I really should like to be able to say something nice about the Government; it is not often we have a chance to do so these days. I would congratulate them on the success of their European space research programme, and I think the Minister of Aviation has been extremely successful in persuading our fellow Europeans to join with us in what is the only sensible and reasonable approach to this matter, if in fact we are to go in for it at all. I would at this point make only one criticism. It is unfortunate that there are signs that certain of the countries are wishing to reserve some of their resources for independent space research, and I hope that the initiative that the British have taken in this matter will be firmly followed by other countries and that we will pool our resources.

We also had some discussion as to whether the analogies with Columbus and Cook were valid. Personally, my recollection of history is that the sailors who sailed with Columbus had a great deal less knowledge about where they were going than Major Gagarin when he went up. Indeed, I think when voyagers go into space, to the moon or wherever it is. they will have a much clearer view of where they are going. To start with, they will have photographs taken by unmanned vehicles which have preceded them, whereas I think Columbus's men, who thought in any case that if they were going anywhere it was to India, were much more afraid of sailing over the edge of the world. The noble Viscount will correct me if I am wrong. Certainly they were unaware where they were going.


They thought they were going to India.


They thought, to the East Indies. Captain Cook in fact went out not so much for space research, to observe the transit of Venus, but to look for Terra Australis, which a certain Professor Dalrymple was convinced was necessary in order to balance the world so that it did not tip over. I think it is likely that any space travellers in the future will have a rather more precise knowledge of what they are seeking to do. The fact is that the energy of mankind goes in many strange directions, but until such time as the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, or others, to whatever Parties they may belong, have a clearer view as to how they are going to spend every penny we have, some of our activity will have to be determined partly by instinct, partly by design and partly by the need to play our part along with the rest of the world.

I do not think the arguments in favour of the space research programme in terms of fringe benefits are very convincing. The noble Earl mentioned some of them. Some he dismissed. Whether we accept all his dismissals I do not know, but obviously the benefits have been overrated. I am told that among the benefits which will spring from space research is one that we shall have expert knowledge—this is solemnly listed—of excremental processing. I do not know whether your Lordships regard this as an important economic gain, but it is a measure of the almost frivolous or irrelevant nature of some of the suggestions made.

There are some solid gains that will come. There are the examples that the noble Earl gave in regard to communications. It seems to me quite extraordinary that this country in the Commonwealth, with a great direct political as well as economic interest in communications, should stand aside from a field where we have in fact got such an interest. I am told, for instance, that during the Kuwait operation communications broke down at one stage. We are still at the mercy of various forms of interference which would not bother us if there were vehicles orbiting the earth, either round the Equator or round the Poles, supplying us with a much more reliable and, in the long run, probably cheaper form of communication than the enormously expensive and very limited cables we are putting into the sea, whose cost is at least of the same order as the cost of putting vehicles up.

Again, we have had mention of weather. I do not wish to use the argument that we shall perhaps be able to forecast our weather better, but there is no doubt we do not forecast it very well at the moment, and even a small percentage improvement in weather forecasting would be likely to be of enormous value. I suppose the main interest will still be scientific, and to that extent the noble Earl's complaint that this will be equated with scientific research is valid, although for reasons I have given I do not think it will be primarily equated with research. But the importance of the scientific work which will develop, and the possible new knowledge and, through that, the new science—not merely old science or development of existing sciences on earth but major breakthroughs into completely new fields—is of a kind which we cannot possibly at the moment foresee. I am told that a telescope in space, once we get it up there—and there are plans already—will be worth more than all the telescopes we have on earth at the moment, because we look out at space at the moment through some rather soupy atmosphere—and I do not mean smog or the atmosphere which normally covers the earth. Until we have a telescope out in space, the extent to which we shall acquire new astronomical knowledge or, at least, new vision of the universe, cannot be foreseen, because we have not yet put one out.

It is quite true that in this matter radio astronomy will not benefit to the same extent because radio astronomers are in fact able to operate on their particular wave lengths through our atmosphere, and there will not be the same gains. But the discoveries that have already been made in inter-planetary space are of pretty considerable interest. We know now, as Milton said, that space is not vacuous, that it is full of surging electronic storms and charged particles, and that it is indeed a place where there is a great deal, at least, of electrical activity going on.

The argument that was used by the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, that there will be technological stimulus is, I think, a valid one. It is one that is supported by many people of distinction, including people like Professor Hawthorne, who is a Professor of Engineering of Cambridge University. I will not waste your Lordships' time by reading all the interesting things he has written on it, but he has said, among other things, that: In our study of engineering design teams we find that, as the team progresses with its design task, it programmes the solution of its problems until a highly organised team structure is achieved, in which there are many sub-divisions and specialist groups. In such highly programmed groups innovation is rare and a knowledge of company practices becomes more important than a knowledge of general engineering practices. One may imagine that engineering graduates find that work in the low levels of such structured groups is unrewarding. This may explain why our undergraduates tend ultimately to enter groups which have fresh problems to solve, and why such highly programmed teams do not get the more able and imaginative graduates. I generally advise undergraduates to go where fresh problems are being tackled energetically, for their own good. It would be sad to have to advise some of the more able to go elsewhere if they are interested in the engineering problems for which space projects provide the most fruitful field of endeavour to-day. The argument that we ought, in a better planned society, to persuade our scientists and our technologists to go to work for British Railways or in some other field where there is need for more technological advance, is really in the light of human nature, not a valid one. We cannot, I think, afford wholly to cut our people off from what is in fact going to be one of the most exciting and important of human developments. If we do, we are in danger of stunting ourselves in a field where we ought reasonably to be playing our own part. The returns that we may get in the way of fringe benefits may seem to be fortuitous—they may help in the long run to pay the cost—but I think that the arguments really are that it is impossible for us to turn aside from what, with reasonable luck, is going to open up a whole field of new knowledge and therefore a new science.

We shall indeed probe deeper into some of the mysteries of life. Your Lordships will have read Professor Lovell's articles. They may upset some of our more anthropomorphic prejudices, and we shall be interested to hear what the Church may have to say if, in fact, we find not only life on other planets, but possibly even civilisations. I hope that, however fortuitously or arbitrarily, space will in fact be a unifying force. Undoubtedly, the aeroplane has broken down some of the national boundaries of the world, and I cannot really believe that national boundaries are going to extend into space any more than I think we shall seriously have political arguments extending there about nationalisation or private enterprise. Whatever method will be operated, I think that it will be part of a more wide seeking approach by mankind.

I think that the argument that we ought to stay and cultivate our own little garden, our own backyard, is a valid one until the big boy down the road climbs into the road from his garden. It might be suggested that, if we were wise, we would stay at home and continue to cultivate that little back garden. But I do not think we can do this. I do not think at this stage we have the right to say that we are not justified in supporting what is a pretty moderate, but none the less useful, programme which the Government and the European countries have thought out. There is the possibility that, just as the Renaissance gave rise a couple of hundred years later to a scientific renaissance, the Royal Society and a new burst of knowledge, we shall in fact find the same sort of stimulus not immediately but at a later stage.

In seeking a suitable conclusion to this argument, and looking back as one always does to the earlier writers, I was happy to find (I am sure the noble Viscount will agree with this) that Milton also saw space as a non-vacuous place, when he said: ride forth, and bid the Deep Within appointed bounds be Heaven and Earth; Boundless the Deep, because I Am who fill Infinitude, nor vacuous the space. I hope that space will not be vacuous, either in terms of Russians or Americans or Britons.

4.7 p.m.


My Lords, in rising to take part in this debate I find myself rather in the position of the man in the pew. I say that not, I hope, to sugest that we have been listening to anything that might be called a sermon, but in appreciation of the fascinating speeches we have listened to and the wide realm of knowledge that these different experts have opened to us. I have no scientific training, and if I had not had the privilege of reading Prayers in your Lordships' House, I should not have ventured to put down my name to speak in this debate. I was reminded this morning of the story of the old woman, whose outlook I do not share, who seeing a balloon go up, said, That be so bumptious to the Almighty. Her sentiment is more to be commended than her understanding. But we want to have before us the feeling of the common man—the common man with no specialist knowledge; the common man, be he European or Asiatic. I was interested to read the observations of a trained observer—I quote: I have recently spent two years in various parts of Asia, and wherever I was, whenever the Russians or the Americans (it made no matter which) sent up a rocket round the world or off to the moon, the invariable reaction was: 'It is very wonderful; but if only that money could be spent on the earth instead of up in the sky.' I think it is desirable that there should be a brief contribution from this Bench, for this debate concerns scientific research, and scientific research and the advancement of science are in many ways causes the Christians should strive to promote. The Christian understanding of the end and purpose of creation means caring about the world and its life, and involves an openness of mind as well as of heart to the spirit of inquiry when it probes space.

Lord Bessborough's Motion draws attention to the possibilities and problems of space research, and I found myself in agreement with many of his arguments. But to discuss the problems of space research is difficult, for facts are shrouded for most of us in secrecy. The Chairman of the British National Committee on Space Research, Sir Harrie Massey, is quoted as saying that, so far as Great Britain is concerned, there is plenty to learn in the first thousand miles above the earth's surface. My Lords, I submit that there is no compelling need for us to be interested in supporting flights to the moon and so on, which, while providing great opportunities for the acquisition of pure knowledge, are also closely associated with national prestige. So far as we have gone, I understand that we can fairly compare the expenditure on space projects with development expenditure in other spheres, such as the training of teachers to work in undeveloped countries, and the improvement of agriculture in such countries. My Lords, I am thankful for this balance of investment.

The Motion of the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, relates Britain's participation in space research to progress in the U.S.S.R. and to contributions made in the U.S.A. In the light of this progress we face astronomical figures. If we go into this field, my Lords, can we meet the ever-increasing financial demands, and ought we to contemplate such expenditure? Ought we to try to keep up with these giants of Joneses? I come back to the comments made in Asia: "Rockets are very wonderful, but if only that money could be spent on the earth instead of up in the sky!" Can we then limit our objectives, and say that there is enough for us to learn in the first thousand miles above the earth's surface? Therefore, need we then spend money on flights to the moon? I judge from their Lordships who have spoken in this debate that they share this point of view in some measure.

Surely, we must pause before committing ourselves to astronomical expenditure, and take note of the very great needs for research in sociology and elsewhere. If our spending is to soar, let it be to help the undeveloped countries in the Commonwealth. Let us take bold action to improve conditions in the West Indies so that their standards of life are rapidly improved and their need to emigrate ceases to be such an acute problem. Let us take another look at housing in this country. In the next twenty years we shall have a population increase of just over 4½ million, and it is calculated that in this period the number of households—that is to say, separate families requiring houses—will increase by 4 million. When we face these problems we need to pause. I understand that the amounts paid by the United Kingdom Exchequer on overseas expenditure have risen to some £720 million in the last nine years. Our contribution certainly is not negligible, but are we thinking in an imaginative way about economic assistance for hard-pressed areas?

In the West, we are accustomed to living in a world of difficulty and margins. President Kennedy addressed Congress and asked for 40 billions of dollars to get to the moon, and the proposal was accepted, for people's imaginations were stretched. Have we not to give more rein to our imaginations, so that we can concentrate on what we can do to help mankind as a whole to realise its potential? Is not this picture in our minds when we pray, "Thy Kingdom Come"? Certainly our economic position is weakened, and certainly there is an argument on the balance of payments which makes it difficult for us to contribute to countries overseas as we would otherwise do. But there are certain ways in which we can act effectively, and I submit that we should look at them before over-reaching ourselves on expenditure for space research. Here, I have in mind some of the points which the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, has made.

There is no doubt that space research will go on, but this need not imply that we budget for £100 million a year or so, and compete with the Americans and the Russians in exploring outer space. Such a sum, surely, would be better spent in making the best possible use of our first-class material, our men and our women, and in promoting research in the universities, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said something about. The search for knowledge for its own sake has all the authority that Christian teaching can give it. Is not our best contribution made in training our people, by realising that scientists are a free export, and, if they feel the urge to work on space projects, they may play their part best if they take their place alongside others in countries overseas, in the United States or in the Commonwealth?

My Lords, I believe there is a danger that space research will dominate our thinking. If it does, are we going to be blind to the needs of the world's children? An educational authority has estimated that a capital sum of £1,250 million is required to bring our educational institutions up to the standard we need by, say, the end of 1970. What would be the total for the Commonwealth if in those lands every child were to have the educational opportunities of children in England? My Lords, I submit that these considerations should be in our minds as we debate the money to be spent on space research. Finally, my Lords, I should like strongly to support the view of the Overseas Development Institute, that the time has come when the Government should be pressed to consider charging a Minister with the responsibility of watching the claims of developing countries, and presenting their cases at moments when the claims made on the Budget by strongly entrenched Departments or powerful interests may be too demanding.

4.17 p.m.


My Lords, after listening to four such interesting and, I might say, learned speeches, I wonder how it is that I have the audacity to participate in this debate, as I can lay no claims whatsoever to scientific training or expert technical knowledge on this particular subject. On the other hand, my business activities, in more directions than one, bring me into contact with those who have studied the problems, particularly of space research, both from a technical and from an economic angle. I propose to confine myself to the question of space communication. Here, my Lords, I think I must declare an interest, as Rolls Royce Limited, the company of which I am chairman, is a member of the British Space Development Company, and Rolls Royce is also interested in the work at Spadeadam on Blue Streak. In addition, my firm, Lazard Brothers, made a report on the economics of developing a communications satellite system, which I understand was made available to the Minister of Aviation, and that report was approved by me before being submitted to the Minister.

It is not so long ago, and certainly within the lifetime of many of us here today, that the telephone was developed into a practical instrument of communication. Some fifty or sixty years ago a private individual with a telephone in his house was looked upon as an advanced individual and had the admiration of his neighbours. In our lifetime electricity has revolutionised the lighting of our homes and streets, although I believe there are still some streets left in London which are hand-lit by gas; and when Marconi first sent his message over the air in 1895 it was considered a miracle but unpractical. I remember my father telling me that when he bought his first car very early in the Twentieth Century he had the misfortune to knock down a pedestrian in Hounslow, and the pedestrian got up and apologised and hoped he had not hurt the car. I recount that only as an illustration of the vast changes which have taken place in half a century.

What would modern society do to-day without the telephone, without electric light, without motor cars, without wireless and without television? All of them are now considered as essentials, both at home and in business; in fact, I think it is difficult to imagine the world going round without them. In considering the development of space communications, I am convinced that we have arrived at the stage where we have to take courage in both hands and use our imagination. If we do so, a vista is opened up—telephone calls overseas without inconvenient time scheduling; the absence of interference effects due to poor transmission conditions; the capacity for the transmission of television programmes; the use of satellites for navigational aids and for more accurate weather forecasting; and, on the military side, for reconnaissance, early warning and missile launching. So far as fringe benefits are concerned, I am afraid I am more optimistic than the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, as I consider that these are incalculable and might amount to revolutionary benefits to this country and the world in general in stimulating new scientific discoveries, inventions and new techniques applicable in other fields. The prize is colossal if successful launching of communication satellites can be achieved at a cost which can be considered economic to the future.

I do not think we can be left behind. In fact, I do not think we can afford to miss the bus. It is evident that our friends in the U.S.A. are going to go ahead developing the satellite communication system, and I understand that the General Post Office are developing a receiving station in Cornwall to conduct experiments using an American satellite. If we do not develop a British system—and by this I mean British manufactured satellites—it is almost certain that American equipment will have to be used. We have technicians in this country second to none, and if we fail to go ahead with the satellite communications system we are in danger of losing on enthusiastic team to competitors while the programme is still open to some doubt. Whether it be a national, a Commonwealth or a joint European venture I urge the Government to take courage in both hands and to embark without too much delay on a programme to prove that a successful communications satellite can be launched; and I am convinced that over the years and in the foreseeable future there can be a substantial financial return to meet the cost of developing the system. To sum up, my Lords, I am of the opinion that this country cannot afford, either on its own or in conjunction with the Commonwealth, or with other European nations, to delay or exclude itself from the development of the communications satellite system.

4.25 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, must declare an interest in this subject, as the company for which I work is deeply interested in these developments. I am sure we should all agree with the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, when he said that there is a danger of drawing wrong conclusions from false analogies. Nevertheless, it is many thousands of years ago that the Chinese started experiments with lodestone and the Greeks played with pieces of amber, which they called electron, and rubbed them and found that they attracted small particles; and it is 60 years ago next week when Marconi sent his first message across the Atlantic. One could quote many other examples of early discoveries when the men who made them had no conception of the ramifications which would stem from those apparently trivial observations or inventions. Indeed, Marconi was told, I believe, that although his invention was interesting it would never be of any use owing to the curvature of the earth.

I would agree with those—the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, was one—who believe that we must enter this field. We cannot afford to lag behind in this part of general technical progress, and we must make full use of all the benefits we can expect from developments in space. There are three general spheres in which we may hope for such results, I believe. First, there is a general increase in scientific knowledge. This, I think, is something which everyone agrees is desirable, although no one can tell where the increase in the store of human knowledge will eventually lead. Some of it will be useful; some of it will never be useful. In space, there are so many ways in which scientific knowledge can be advanced that it would take far too long to make a category of them all to-day, but certainly we can make great advances by taking advantage of the new environments of space—such an advance as has already been mentioned, for instance, in the use of telescopes in the clear conditions of outer space.

We can make observations on radiations which are impossible within the atmosphere; we can study, perhaps, the evolutionary processes which have gone on within the stars and planets in a way which is quite impossible if we remain earthbound; we can study the magnetic fields—and already some interesting results have come from the measurements that have been taken in space; and we can study a far wider spectrum of light. There is, too, an interesting proposal to check the general theory of relativity by comparing the times of, I believe, two atomic clocks, one in an earth satellite and one on the earth. Who can say whether that is useful or useless? It will certainly add to the store of human knowledge. We might even, perhaps, find new forms of life on the moon or on the planets when we visit them, and surely that will be something well worth while. Then there are the special applications, and I cannot regard these as fringe applications. Surely, when we put a communication satellite into space it is something that we do with clear intention; it is not a fringe benefit. Similarly, there may be navigational satellites and weather satellites. Ultimately, perhaps, my Lords, we shall be able to travel to the moon, and even to the planets. I should like to come back in a moment to the subject of a communication satellite, because it is in itself, as the noble Lord, Lord Kindersley, has said, of great importance.

Then we come to the much discussed matter of fringe benefits—and I must say that I thought the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, gave us a splendid example of fringe benefits of a space debate when in his interesting speech he spoke of such problems as the eel worm in potatoes. I am much more optimistic than the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, about the advantages we shall get from these so-called fringe benefits. It is extremely difficult to say precisely what these will be, but, with the greatest respect, I felt that he looked at the subject rather too much from the point of view of the scientist working in a laboratory. I feel that many of the advantages that we are going to get from developments in space are going to be in the technological sphere. He mentioned this, but I feel that he did not put enough emphasis on it. The ultimate test of an invention, of a new advance in science, is when it is put into something which has to work, and not only has to work once, but has to go on working for hours, maybe years on end.

Surely, my Lords, in these satellites that we are going to put up, be they communications satellites, weather satellites, research satellites, or whatever they are, one of the things which will be absolutely vital is the reliability of the equipment. If we spend hundreds of thousands of pounds in launching one of these satellites, we shall take very great care before we do so to make sure that the equipment in it is very satisfactory and has every chance of lasting for as long as we design it to last. This is a sphere which anyone who has worked in complicated engineering industry knows is of the greatest importance. Advances have been made so rapidly over the past twenty years that reliability in many spheres is beginning to suffer. I believe that that is one way in which we shall all benefit from these developments in space. I believe, too, that we shall see new materials developed, materials which are light and strong, which are heat-resisting, which are good insulators and light, so that they will not reduce the useful pay-load in our satellites.

There are some fascinating developments taking advantage of the electrical properties of materials at extremely low temperatures. There are the advances which are being made now in micro-miniaturisation of electronic components. These will receive added stimulus from a space development programme which I do not think they could receive in any other way. One final example in this field is the new methods which are required for the production of electrical power within these satellites. It is easy to say that advances of this kind can be made without going to all the trouble of putting satellites in orbit. In an ideal world I believe that would be true; but it is a well established fact that these advances do not take place in the way that I have described unless there is an extremely rigorous requirement in front of the engineers and technologists who are designing the equipment.

What are Britain's plans in this field of space development? We have already heard of the European Launcher Development Organisation, based on Blue Streak, and I, too, would add my congratulations to the Minister of Aviation for his successful efforts to obtain collaboration in Europe. I believe that it is of the utmost importance that Britain should take an adequate part in this work; but I do hope that the relatively large amount of money which is going to be spent on E.L.D.O. towards the development of Blue Streak will not prevent a balanced programme being undertaken in this whole field. At the moment it appears that most of the money that we are going to subscribe in this country will be put into E.L.D.O. rather than into E.S.R.O., the research organisation. E.S.R.O. is the main inter-governmental organisation which is going to take part in the research programme, first of all putting up sounding rockets, and later in the launching of satellites, based, we hope, on Blue Streak.

In this field it is tremendously important, if we are to obtain those fringe benefits which have been mentioned to-day, that British industry is allowed to play a full part, and that there should be no question of the greater proportion of this work being done in Government establishments, excellent places though they are. If that is done, it will mean that British industry will not benefit as rapidly or as completely as it should do, and must do, if we are to obtain full value from the large sums of money which will be spent.

Then, my Lords, there is another unofficial body, Euro-Space, which is a collection of firms in Europe who have banded together to prepare proposals to be presented to their Governments for space development programmes. This seems to me to be a most valuable first step in collaboration in this field, and Britain is playing an important, and in some areas a leading, part in it. But we have to remember that all work going into this will be quite valueless if, among other Governments, our Government do not give it backing when the time comes; and not only do not give it backing, but do not give it backing with all the speed necessary. I can foresee the sort of situation arising which we have discussed in this House before now, and which, unhappily, exists in some of our defence supply arrangements, where there is too much detailed control by the Government financial authorities; where there is too much reluctance to allocate a sum of money to a particular sphere of activity. I very much hope that in the case of the European Space Research Organisation the Government will allocate a definite sum of money for this work, which those who are put in charge of it can allocate between various projects in the way they think best.

May I now take up a few minutes on the subject of communications satellites? There is still a very great deal to be done in this field. There is a great deal of investigation work to be done to make sure that a communications satellite will be an economic proposition. Until that work has been done, it is quite impossible to assess the economic possibilities. At the moment, it looks as though a communications satellite would be of great value in transmitting television pictures round the world, and in making a very great increase in the number of telephone channels available. Whether this will be an economic proposition must depend upon whether a substantial increase of telephone users, who will make use of this facility, comes about.

It is rather dangerous in this field to draw analogies from the North Atlantic traffic, which I believe is quite unique in its density, and is quite different from the traffic which goes on in other parts of the world. There will be many difficult problems of judgment to solve before we can be reasonably certain that a communications satellite—as, for instance, a European-Commonwealth communications satellite—will be a paying proposition, for it seems likely that the North Atlantic one is almost bound to be put up by our friends in America. Nevertheless, I am quite clear that we must go ahead as if we were going to enter this field, and go ahead with all speed, and the investigations of the economic possibilities must go ahead alongside the technical advances. There is one rather sad aspect of the work which is going on at the moment in that it seems to me to be shrouded in so much unnecessary security and secrecy. Would it not be possible for British industry as a whole to be informed, not necessarily of every detail but in a broad way, of what the Post Office proposals are, and what the Government's intentions are, in this field?

That brings me, my Lords, to the whole question of security in the field of peaceful space development. How much security is necessary? Is this not a field in which there is a wonderful opportunity for international co-operation? It has already been mentioned to-day that there are opportunities for collaboration with the Russians. Is this not something which we should grasp with both hands, and is it not now being rather spoilt by an unnecessary amount of security and secrecy? Unhappily, officials who have confidential information rather like to stick to it. Any one who has it likes to keep it confidential, because it gives power to that individual. I hope we shall break this down with all possible speed, so that in this country industry is brought into close partnership with government; and that internationally we shall share our knowledge, so far as it does not touch military security, with other countries throughout Europe and the Commonwealth.

There is also an urgent need for international agreements on the use of space. This extends right across the whole field. Can we not make more progress than has been made already, in obtaining agreements on such questions as the recording of the launching of satellites? If we are to get the best use of this development and avoid using space for military purposes to the danger of the whole human race, surely it is not too soon to make really stringent efforts to get this kind of international agreement before things have gone too far.

I should like to touch on one point which the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of St. Albans made in his most interesting speech. His main theme was that it was a pity to spend all this money on space development when there were so many other needy causes waiting for money to be spent on them, such as housing and the under-developed countries. I agree that all these things are desirable, but we shall never be able to do them in this country unless our economy is strong and prosperous. As we were saying a few weeks ago in another debate in your Lordships' House, unless we move forward technologically—and the field we are discussing to-day is one in which we must move forward—and unless we keep up with the technical progress of other countries, we shall certainly not be prosperous enough to have resources to put into those things which the right reverend Prelate hopes to see done.

This is a tremendously important point. The reason why we want to proceed with space development is to keep ourselves ahead technically in this highly competitive race. I agree most sincerely with the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, to whom we are all very grateful for bringing forward this question, and with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that we cannot afford to be left behind in the work of space development. To some extent, the question of what we are going to get out of it is a matter of faith, but can we opt out of it now? That would mean that we are virtually opted out of it forever. At least, it would be very much more expensive to get back into it at a later stage. I would congratulate the Government on the steps they have taken so far and would urge them to go ahead with all speed in allocating resources among the different activities in the space field, in the faith that these will produce useful, even vital, results in the future.

4.44 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to associate myself with those noble Lords who have thanked the noble Earl for giving us an opportunity of debating this most important subject. Like other noble Lords, I would, at the beginning of my remarks, declare my interest. As Treasurer of the Royal Society, I have a considerable responsibility in the amount of endeavour which the Royal Society is putting into space research at this time. I should like to make it clear that my personal interest is in the general scientific aspect of this matter and that I have little or no specialised knowledge, and certainly no practical experience of this type of work.

There is no doubt—and this must be emphasised—that in the realm of pure science, of valuable additions to the sum total of natural knowledge, the subject is one of great importance, both at the present time and in the future. The conventional conception of space research in scientific and technological circles is that it essentially involves rockets and therefore the projection of considerable quantities of materials away from the earth through the atmosphere into interplanetary regions. I would emphasise that that approach is an important one and nothing that I say should be taken to minimise its importance.

Nevertheless, I would ask your Lordships to bear in mind that there are other ways of gaining important space knowledge and doing important space research. A tremendous amount of useful and important work in exploring space can be done solely from the earth's surface. Classical astronomy should be given a full measure of acknowledgement for its contribution to space knowledge. I need only remind your Lordships of the brilliant work done as long ago as 1868 by Sir Norman Lockyer, who discovered the existence of helium in the sun more than thirty years before that element was known as a terrestial one.

More searching, perhaps, and certainly more immediately rewarding, so far as space knowledge is concerned, is the recently developed discipline of radio-astronomy, to which several noble Lords have already referred. Basically, radio-astronomy has its most immediate function in helping us to investigate centres in far-off space which are sources of powerful radiation, not necessarily associated with masses of material, that can be picked up by normal optical means. Additionally, radio-astronomy gives us information about conditions in the vast spaces between the stars and is therefore most appropriately considered as one of the valuable tools in space research.

I should like to emphasise what has already been said. In this branch of science, the leading position is held by British scientists. I am sure that your Lordships do not need to be reminded of the commanding position that is held by the Jodrell Bank telescope. with which the name of Sir Bernard Lovell is so closely associated. Then we have the work going on at Cambridge University on radar by Professor Ryle. I must also mention the Royal Radar Establishment at Malvern and the far-reaching pioneering work of Dr. Hey. Essentially, there are two types of radio telescope. First, there is the non-steerable type, exemplified by that at the Mullard Observatory at Cambridge, where one part of the fixed element is more than half a mile long. Secondly, we have the steerable type, of which the best known is the massive Jodrell Bank telescope, 250 feet in diameter. Expensive as these instruments may be, work with them is very much less expensive than whole-hearted experiments of putting satellites into orbit.

These telescopes are important scientifically from three points of view. First, we can define those parts of the solar system which are important sources of radiation, such as the areas associated with sun spots. Another important solar question on which these telescopes can contribute information is the magnitude of the sun's corona. Secondly, these telescopes are also unique for the study of radiation from the Galaxy, of which our system is a member. In the same way, they can contribute to our developing understanding of phenomena associated with other galaxies. Their contribution to our knowledge of space between stars is quite definite, and we can obtain knowledge of the conditions in space where the concentration of matter is less than one million millionth part of that we have in our normal atmosphere at the earth's surface. Thirdly, and finally, these telescopes are important to those pursuing space research by means of satellites. By their means the satellites can be traced and information of the conditions being experienced by the satellites can be brought back to earth and made available to the observers.

As I have already said, British scientists are in a commanding position in this field of space research. I trust that as and when your Lordships are in a position to encourage and help this field of space research, either through university effort or through provision for Governmental research, you will not fail to exercise to a full extent the undoubted weight of your opinion in this matter.

I now turn to make a few comments on space research as it is conventionally understood in technological circles; that is to say, putting up masses of material out of the earth through the atmosphere into interplanetary space. So far as concerns responsible organisations in this country—that is to say, organisations with a research programme and the means to carry out extensive work on that programme—the generally accepted definition of the research work to be undertaken is research work carried out by instruments launched by rockets. They may be vertical sounding rockets or satellites. What I wish to emphasise particularly is the broadly accepted view that our research should be carried out by instruments. That means (and I am glad to know that there has been no dissenting view in your Lordships' House this afternoon) that, so far as responsible organisations are concerned, they are not interested at this time in putting a man into space, either by verticle sounding methods or into orbit. It is a widely held opinion, and to my mind a justifiable one, that much greater returns for the effort involved will be obtained by restricting the work to the use of instruments alone rather than becoming involved at this time in the intricate questions which are raised whenever a man's life is concerned.

Research in space by means of instruments in satellites holds in itself a very large potential of worthwhile work, and whatever efforts we can make here contain a promise of the most valuable results. From the surface of the earth we are limited in looking out into space in much the same kind of way as we are limited in looking out of a room through a window in an ordinary house. On one side of short waves we can in general use only light, and that is the limitation of optical astronomy. On the long wave side we can use only waves of between one centimetre up to, say, 30 metres, and there again is a limitation. If, however, we can have a stabilised platform—and I emphasise that it has to be a stabilised platform—in a satellite equipped with suitable measuring instruments, many, if indeed not all, of those limitations can be removed; and such a stabilised platform is at least a conceivable technical achievement.

The Minister of Science will no doubt be referring when he speaks to the views put before him from his Advisory Council on Scientific Policy. These are fully set out in the Council's Report for the year 1958–59, and I hope I condense their views fairly when I say that their basic conception is based on the desirability of using British earth satellites in American launchers with Commonwealth and other country collaboration. In all this there is this implied acknowledgment that we in the United Kingdom cannot hope to provide resources to develop independently on an equal footing with the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R.

On a matter that has been raised by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and others of your Lordships, I would point out that the Council have repeatedly emphasised the importance of adequate expenditure on research and development in fields directly and immediately vital and important for the welfare of our people and for the strengthening of our economic position, as well as for the improvement of living standards in less well developed territories. They say: To leave those needs unsatisfied in order to shoulder the crippling cost of a large programme of space exploration on a purely national basis would be, in the Council's view, the grossest folly. I am glad to think that the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and others of your Lordships have agreed with that in principle. In their Report for 1959–60 the Council reaffirmed their previous advice. I would add that with the general policy as outlined by the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy I am in complete agreement. I am one of the Council members, and I whole-heartedly support the views which they have put forward.

Within the limits that have thus been indicated, how should this country carry out its agreed "space-research-by-instruments" policy? The Royal Society is much involved, and within its precincts many voluntary committees meet to further the work, a large portion of which is done in universities, under the general guidance of Sir Harrie Massey as Chairman of the British National Committee on Space Research. The detailed executive technical work, with the co-operation of the Royal Aircraft Establishment, is in the hands of two men (and I emphasise that) seconded to the Royal Society from the Ministry of Aviation. I would suggest, with considerable emphasis, that this is not sufficient; I would go further and say that it is totally inadequate for the important objectives that are involved.

There are, of course, other organisations whose interests should be noted, and they have already been mentioned by a Member of your Lordships' House this afternoon. I refer, first of all, to E.S.R.O.—the European Space Research Organisation—in which our scientists are much interested and which has their wholehearted blessing. It is a proposed organisation which already has a preparatory commission involving, as has been said, twelve European countries, and which is due to report in early 1962. Then there is E.L.D.O., again which has been mentioned, the European Launcher Development Organisation, which is, as I understand it, a proposal of much less scientific interest, and in which the Royal Society does not feel particularly concerned. I wish to emphasise the point—and I regard this as a very important one—that Britain's efforts for further research are dependent upon agreements with the United States and on prospective agreements with certain European Governments, as I have just indicated. With those conditions very much in mind, I would invite the Minister for Science to consider whether organisational arrangements within the Government are adequate to meet these not inconsiderable Governmental responsibilities, both present and prospective. It is these organisational arrangements within the Government that some of us have very much in mind.

What, then, is being done in this country to set out our operations in space research? This has been done in a report by the British National Committee on Space Research to the corresponding international body which met in Florence in April of last year. This Committee, that is, the British National Committee, reports to the Royal Society and advises the Minister, through the Steering Group for Space Research. The cost of much of the work is carried by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. I would submit to the Minister for Science that space research, in the conventionally accepted definition of that term, would benefit if it could have a review by him of the general organisation through which he hopes to make progress with this important subject. Such consideration would, I hope, give us an organisation which would be more capable of keeping the many aspects of this important subject in better relation to one another than I fear they are to-day.

I have mentioned some aspects of scientific work which are involved at the present time in space research, and, arising from those considerations, our questionings naturally turn to the possibility of these researches finding some applications which would make an impact on the lives of the ordinary citizens of this country. Frequent mention has already been made this afternoon of communications, and I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say on that subject. I have made it perfectly clear that I have no expert knowledge which makes any suggestions from me appropriate to that end. But we know of the general trend of this matter, and that is that it is hoped to use satellites for re-radiating the waves for purposes of communication. The waves can be retransmitted from satellites.

I would ask the Minister whether he could tell us something specific that has been achieved in these matters. We know it in general terms, but we should like some more specific information. I believe this possibility to be of great interest to the Post Office people but, so far as I am aware, practically no specific information has been made public. if such information has already been given, I apologise to the Minister and plead the weakness of an individual to absorb all important information made available from time to time. But the question of communications is an important one, and if substantial progress is being made, that is a material factor in the formulation of a consistent policy for space research. I would hope that the Minister will agree that, as a first step, this House could rightly expect some specific information on the factual position. Dependent, of course, on the nature of the facts disclosed, the matter might require to be again brought to the notice of the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy. It is my definite feeling that the House is indebted to the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, who introduced this Motion, and our thanks are due to him.

5.7 p.m.


My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken before me and my noble friend who introduced this important debate, I have an interest to declare in that I am a director of an electronics company. It is not concerned at the moment with anything to do with space research, but, of course, as the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, has said, if you are mixed up in electronic work anything may happen. One is always optimistic in this matter. The next thing I have to say is that I find it a formidable task to speak this evening after so many of your Lordships have spoken who are so eminent in the scientific world, and it is with a feeling of great humbleness that I venture to take up a few moments of your Lordships' time.

I suggest that the exploration of space will bring not only advances in basic scientific knowledge, but also a tremendous impetus to engineering. I find it a little difficult to go all the way with the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, in this matter because sometimes there are intangibles, and with the best will in the world we try to look through the glass darkly. It is not given to everyone to be a Jules Verne, and things come out to-day, or will be apparent in the days of our grandchildren, which I believe we here cannot see. I believe that the effects of research in space will be felt in many fields, not all of them vital to space itself, but some of them in directions which have already been mentioned, like metallurgy, control engineering, electronics and fuel, whether it is in a solid or liquid state or, as was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Caldecote, in the way of electrical energy. I think one had better call it advances in energy.

I believe that no country is likely to reap timely benefits from this stimulus unless it is actively engaged in space research, and this, I believe, is the practical issue behind E.L.D.O. I in no way belittle the importance of the civil aspect of the space research programme. Indeed, I think it is vital to the technological advances of our country. I submit to your Lordships that there is another equally important aspect which I think it is right and proper to mention to-day, and that is the importance of space to our national security. Both America and Russia are devoting vast resources towards space research. I do not believe that this is due solely to the pursuit of prestige, the quest of technological advancement, but it must surely reflect their conviction that whoever has control of space stands to gain military dividends of the utmost importance.

Some of these military dividends, my Lords, I think one can foresee. Already the Americans have satellites in orbit. The first one, I think, was called Tiros, which produced meteorological information which can be of the greatest benefit in long-term weather forecasting, which is particularly important to us in these Islands, where we sit, placed geographically, where various air masses meet, and we never know which wind is going to get here first or which goes back when you think it is coming. The second satellite, I think, is called Midas which gives early warning of ballistic missiles. Then they have reconnaissance satellites, Samos, and a navigational satellite called Transit. I believe in the course of the next year they will launch several types of communication satellites. These are fields of fundamental military importance in which we are at present limited by the problems of distance, weather or reliablity; and by reliability I refer to the effect of sunspot activity on radio communication. Satellites can, and will soon, remove these limits.

But surely, my Lords, this is only the first step in the military use of space. Already the basic techniques exist for making satellites carry offensive weapons or men. The military advantages of manned space aircraft may be difficult to see at this moment, but they will be found, I have no doubt about it—I do not quite agree with the noble Lord, Lord Fleck, on this point—if only for the reason that man is much more versatile than a computor. The problem here is to enable a man to sustain his life and develop his full mental powers while he is in space, but research is progressing so fast that I think this problem may well be solved within the next few years. I believe it is vital to the security of this country that we should at least have a thorough appreciation of the military possibilities of space. At the least we must know what is going on above us in the air space, because we may, in due course, have to intervene if we are to continue as a world Power or even continue to exist.

I think that the House will agree that it is clear we have not the money or the scientific resources to compete with the United States or Russia over the whole field of space research, but I believe that unless we start to play a practical part in military space development we shall never gain a proper insight into its possibilities, let alone be able to start to make our national contribution to the Western military space programme. Progress in space is going ahead at a rate which confounds the predictions of the past few years. I submit to you, my Lords, that we have already wasted valuable time and I suggest that we cannot afford to wait any longer in establishing a firm military space programme,

I do not think that we have to seek very far for projects which are both urgent and within our capabilities. First it is predicted that in about five years' time we shall be entering a period of intense sunspot activity, when long-range radio commitments will become highly unreliable. In view of our world-wide civil and military interests, should we not now be making every effort to introduce a satellite communication system in time to meet this emergency?

Secondly, the number of objects in space is increasing rapidly and by the end of the decade thousands may be in orbit, some of which will remain there over a number of years. If we are ever to contemplate a defence from attacks from space, should we not start now keeping track of the objects in space before the picture becomes too confused? I think we should and I hope your Lordships will agree with me. Because our resources and our practical experience are limited I do not think it would be sensible for us to start from scratch on an independent programme in these fields. Rather, we should seek collaboration with other countries on military projects as we are seeking to do in the E.L.D.O. programme. The tracking and cataloguing of objects in space seems to me to be one obvious field for such co-operation. Beyond, this, I think that we could deal with all those things which the state of our knowledge and skill enables us to tackle, such as some important aspect of a project or to make some special contribution to basic technology.

I hope that the consideration now being given to our space research programme by Her Majesty's Government will recognise and give full weight to the military aspect, as I do not believe that this can be solely achieved as a by-product of E.L.D.O. I believe it demands the attention of a Services Ministry and the support of a research programme directed to military ends; and I suggest that the Royal Air Force would seem the Service best fitted by role and technological experience to be charged with this responsibility. I make no apologies, my Lords, for mentioning the Royal Air Force, in which I had the honour to serve throughout the best part of the War, but it seems to me to be the logical Service. After all, it has been responsible for the defence of the air space over our heads and has had to go up, looking after that defence, higher and higher as the operational altitude of the weapons which have been used against us continues to rise; and I say again that it is logical that they should still continue that job.

In conclusion, I should like to finish my remarks by asking Her Majesty's Government and my noble and learned friend, to whom I have given prior but very short notice, three questions. First, do Her Majesty's Government recognise both the importance and urgency of a military space programme? Secondly, recognising the limits of our resources and background knowledge, will Her Majesty's Government seek every opportunity of promoting and collaborating with the West in a joint military space programme, both long-term and short-term? Thirdly, and lastly, will Her Majesty's Government immediately put in hand a military communications satellite to give us our first footing in space and to ensure reliable communications during the next period of sunspot activity?

5.20 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we had all been looking forward to a speech from the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, winding up the debate from the other side of the House, but he has sent me a message that he is sent for to attend a Member of your Lordships' House who has been taken unwell. I should like to say how very sorry we are to miss the pleasure of hearing him, and I send my best wishes to the Member of your Lordships' House who is not well.

I think this is the first occasion upon which the institution of which we are all Members has ever debated space research, and indeed it may well be the first occasion upon which any Parliamentary institution has really given the kind of attention to it that we have been giving to it this afternoon. Certainly it has been a vastly superior debate, if I may say so without offence to anybody, to the rather peculiar and short discussion which took place on the adjournment in another place some months ago. I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Bessborough for having introduced to us this fascinating topic. I have told him that some, at any rate, of the questions which he raised cannot be answered this afternoon, since they depend so intimately upon the delicate stage now reached in the negotiation for what we have now come to call E.L.D.O. in the course of this afternoon's discussions, and quite obviously the direction which our plans will take will very largely depend upon the future of those negotiations.

The same, I think, must be said of the specific question which the noble Lord, Lord Fleck, put to me with regard to the organisation, which he found insufficient. Perhaps he would take it from me—and before I really begin this interim answer—that the present organisation was devised by me, I think just over two years ago when we started our Scout satellite programme, to which I shall come in the course of my remarks. It was quite manifest then that I had to do something which was constitutionally acceptable to put the rather modest expenditure then contemplated upon a proper Vote, and I then adopted the device—I think the perfectly appropriate device—of putting it upon the D.S.I.R. Vote, but leaving the real responsibility under the Government, through me, in the hands of the Steering Group. I do not think this is a permanent arrangement which could prove satisfactory to anybody, but I believe that at any rate until the shape of our programme is better seen the organisation, which has worked amicably so far, should be allowed to continue. But I recognise at once that, so far as I am concerned, this was an interim device and not one which would bear the scrutiny of a permanent arrangement. I would also say to my noble friend Lord Waleran, who has just asked me three questions, that I will write to him about the military questions which he has put, since they go a little outside the orbit of the other speeches, and also I should like to have more time to reflect upon what it would be proper for me to say in answer to them.

Before I embark upon the main part of my speech I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, opposite, for his kindly reference to the imagination and drive of my right honourable friend the Minister of Aviation, to whose abilities the relative success of our negotiation in the E.L.D.O. project is very largely due. But, my Lords, what I should wish to do this afternoon is the more humdrum, and I am afraid rather lengthy, task of clearing the air a little by giving the House what I might call some of the facts of life concerningspace research itself and by clarifying some of the issues which we have got, either now or in the future, to solve. I am afraid that even if I do this conscientiously my speech will be a little longer than I would have sought to make it ideally.

First of all, the term itself, "space research", is, I should have thought, somewhat unfortunate and even misleading, since it covers quite a number of distinct activities motivated by quite different reasons, and may therefore mean, and evidently does mean, quite different things to different people. To some it means physics. To others astronomy. To others again, rockets. To others weather forecasts, andto others again, military projects of one sort or another. To othersagain, communications satellites; and to a more numerous but less scientifically-minded public it spells Dan Dare or Jeff Hawke or MajorGagarin. Therefore, this drives me to begin at the beginning.

Until the last war the only way, broadly speaking, in which man could learn what goes on outside the atmosphere was by observation of the heavenly bodies by natural vision or by optical telescope and by mathematical or logical inference from these observations and experiments. Since the war two new fields have been opened up, radio astronomy and rockets. I do not myself propose to speak very much of radio astronomy this afternoon, but I was particularly glad that the noble Lord, Lord Fleck, and others mentioned it. I should be wrong not to mention it too, since it is a field, as the noble Lord, Lord Fleck, reminded us, in which, at least for the time being, Britain is as relatively pre-eminent as Russia and America are in the field of rockets. We have, as the noble Lord, Lord Fleck, put it, a commanding position. That this is so is due to the genius of a few British scientists, among whom Sir Bernard Lovell and Professor Ryle have been rightly mentioned by the noble Lord.

Part of the significance of radio astronomy has been the power which it gives us of exploring not merely the solar system but the remotest confines of outer space by means of the reception of radio waves. The importance of these studies to our knowledge of the universe itself has recently been given wide publicity. It is important to remember that these extremely distant signals—some I believe come from as far distant as 7,000 million light years away—come from regions which we shall never be able to reach by any other means. Great praise, therefore, is due to British scientists whose work has opened these distant scenes. As the noble Lord, Lord Fleck, reminded us, another among many uses of radio astronomy is the value of some radio telescopes, including, notably that of Jodrell Bank, in tracking satellites. In this connection, of course, radio astronomy is used as an adjunct to the other branches of space research about which most of the discussion this afternoon has centred.

This, therefore, brings me to the main field. Since the V2's at the end of the war, men have developed rockets which have enabled them to put objects into outer space, and this has been done for quite a variety of reasons, both military and civil. To-day, as I said, I shall deal primarily with the civilian field, although some of the applications are, or may become, commercial and thus are not strictly space research, and others may certainly possess a military significance. The simplest kind of vehicle used in this connection, as the noble Lord reminded us, is the vertical sounding rocket. Its function is to put instruments into the upper atmosphere or space for effecting scientific observation and experiment, and then they fall back to earth without escaping from the earth's gravity. Nowadays, we do not read so much of these in the newspapers, but they do, in fact, provide much of the bread and butter of space research. A good example is the British Skylark. This is capable of carrying a payload of 150 lb. to an altitude of between 100 and 175 miles. For a number of years now British scientists have been using these rockets for experimental firings from Woomera in co-operation with the Australian Government, to whose help in this matter and in other matters I shall be coming, but to whom I should like to draw aside for a moment to pay tribute.

The current programme this year alone will extend to between 15 and 20 firings of the Skylark rocket. Ten will carry experiments selected under the agis of the Royal Society from proposals made by research workers in universities and Government Departments. They will dealwith all aspects of the physics of the upper atmosphere and studies of the sun and stars. Six will be simple rounds carrying grenades for meteorological observations under a Royal Society programme. The university experiments are financed by grants from the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. The manufacture of the rockets has been undertaken by the Ministry of Aviation. The launching and collecting of data is a joint Anglo-Australian responsibility. The current programme of Skylark firings is probably in excess of anything being carried out outside the United States and the Soviet Union. Ithas been planned to achieve a high proportion of successful experiments and could not be expanded at present without sacrificing the careful preparation of each shot which is essential for success.

I think I can claim that this British programme of sounding rockets has already produced important information about the atmosphere and the ionosphere, and has had direct effects upon important areas of applied science—for instance, in the fields of radio research and meteorology. I should emphasise that there has been no duplication of effort and the information obtained in this way could not have been obtained in any other. Again I must emphasise that there is ample scope in this field for further significant contributions for many years to come. Incidentally, the instrumentation programmes provide indispensable training for our scientific teams in space research technology. The cost of the rockets for this programme in this year is of the order of £200,000.

When we leave the vertical sounding rocket experiments we enter a field in which rockets, liquid or solid fuelled, single or multi-stage, are used to project objects at speeds which take them outside the power of the gravitational pull of the earth. Some, the satellites, are projected into orbit round the earth. Others, like Pioneer V, can be projected into orbit round the sun. Others, like the Russian and American ventures in this field, are aimed at the moon or the planets, in which case they are called lunar or planetary probes. In the main, these objects carry instruments, but the House is of course aware—indeed they have been mentioned this afternoon—of the American and Russian sounding and satellite experiments with men and living animals. Whatever may be the significance of these for the future, it is right that I should at the outset agree with the noble Lord, Lord Fleck, and with others of your Lordships who have taken part in this debate, and indeed with our own scientific advice, that, at present at least, the more valuable scientific information from these rocket experiments is likely to come from satellites carrying instruments rather than from satellites carrying human beings. Perhaps this is fortunate, as I shall go on to explain why it is quite out of the question that we should be in a position to fire a rocket carrying human beings at the present time.

It is important to emphasise—I think we should bear this in mind at the base of all our thinking on the subject—that only the United States and the Soviet Union at present possess fully developed rockets capable of flying satellites. No one else can do it. No one else can fly artificial planets, or lunar or planetary probes. We sometimes need to remind ourselves, when we discuss our own future programme, that the reason for this is not the scientific backwardness of the rest of the world at all, but the fact that only the United States of America and the Soviet Union have thought it desirable to complete the development of rockets for military purposes with nuclear warheads, and that though they have subsequently made adaptations of these for peaceful purposes, it is quite clear that, apart from their military origin, these big rockets would probably not have come into existence in our time at all.

This is no place to enumerate the various systems based on rockets which originally were conceived as intermediate range ballistic missiles and intercontinental ballistic missiles. At this point I feel that I ought to describe our own British Blue Streak rocket—in origin an intermediate range ballistic missile (because the advice we have received has shown that we do not need and never have needed an intercontinental ballistic missile) whose military rôle has now been abandoned. It is a liquid-fuelled rocket capable, with appropriate second and third stages, of putting into orbit a payload of (I use round figures) 1,500 lb. at say 200 to 300 miles orbit, or an appropriately reduced payload, say 150 lb., at a vastly increased orbit, say of 100,000 miles. This rocket has not yet flown. It has cost about £70 million to develop, and it would cost between £50 and £70 million, depending on the nature of the second stage, to develop it into a second satellite launcher.

I say no more about it at this stage of the argument, but I ask, although I, at this stage at any rate, deliberately refrain from answering, two questions. First, the original object of all rockets was primarily military. The peaceful results are therefore by-products or, as they have been called in this debate, fringe benefits. Can a nation or a group of nations develop a launcher for peaceful purposes competing with the products of the military Powers, bearing in mind that the Americans, whose figures are available—the Russian figures are not really available—are spending on rockets alone something like the sum we are spending in every department of defence put together, something of the order, therefore, of £1,600 million a year? Secondly, I ask: unless we develop Blue Streak—I say Blue Streak specifically—either co-operatively or on our own, there will be virtually no advanced rocket technology either on this side of the Atlantic or on this side of the Iron Curtain. Is this a healthy situation? Is it ultimately a tolerable situation?

These are questions which I think all European countries, and not merely ourselves, should ponder when they consider, as they are doing now, the future of Blue Streak. Is Europe to become a technological backwater in this advanced sphere? I must, however, emphasise that in no circumstances that I am aware of will Blue Streak fly a man into space. This would require a payload of something like four tons, and a much bigger rocket than Blue Streak would be required. I do not know how much it would cost to develop one; but if I were to say that it would be something of the order of £1,000 million I do not think I should be far out.

I mention this figure because I notice that in a newspaper this morning my Parliamentary Secretary was criticised for saying that we had no plans to put a man into space. The noble Lord, Lord Fleck, and other noble Lords all dealt with the scientific argument. I do not mind either my Parliamentary Secretary or me or the Government being criticised, but anyone who wants to criticise this programme of proposals must tell us quite plainly that he wants us to spend something of the order of £1,000 million to develop a rocket which, by the time it flies, will probably be behind the then developments of American and Russian rockets. It may be that this is a desirable course of action for this country to pursue. If it is, the country will say so and the country will get what it asks for. But I am bound to say that I agree at the moment with the view taken by other noble Lords, that anybody who understands this question will say that this is not a rational course of action to pursue. At any rate, let us get it out of our minds that any modification of Blue Streak that we can think of is likely to do the job.

Now, my Lords, I should next mention the first British satellite experiments. These were authorised by the Cabinet in 1959.


My Lords, I hope the noble Viscount will forgive me if I interrupt him, because he is now leaving Blue Streak. He said that it had not been flown. Can he say when it will be ready to be flown?


I do not think it would take long. I should not like to give an exact figure for it. I have seen the thing fired from a static launcher, and very impressive it was. They tethered it to a post because it was being fired at Spadeadam and not at Woomera.

My Lords, I should now like to turn, if I may, to the first British satellite experiments, which were authorised by the Cabinet in 1959 and which I am now hoping will shortly come to fruition. We call this the Scout programme, from the name of the American rocket by which they were originally to be launched. The first is now likely to be launched by another vehicle, the Delta rocket, which is more powerful and is said to be more reliable. This is a three-stage liquid-fuelled rocket. The satellite will be loaded with instruments designed by British scientists and paid for by us. However, they will be launched at no cost to ourselves. They are an essential preliminary to any more ambitious British space programme with satellites, because we must, after all, learn to walk before we can run. The launching of the first satellite provided under these arrangements is scheduled for next Spring. Work on two more satellites is well advanced. In spite of the difficulties of co-operation in precise design by teams of scientists and engineers, 3,000 miles apart, the work has proceeded with, I think, notable success. It is flattering to be told by the Americans that they regard the payload of our first joint satellite as one of the most sophisticated within their experience.

The experiments on the Scout programme, as I think it is still convenient to call it, are now being financed by D.S.I.R. grants at an annual rate of about £160,000, on the advice of the Royal Society. Substantial sums are also being spent on similar experimental work within Government research establishments, particularly the RadioResearch station.


My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Viscount has finished with the Scout programme. Do I understand that the Americans are in fact giving us the rockets, in the sense that we are not paying for them? Presumably they cannot be used more than once, and they are paying for them.


The phrase, I am told, is that there is no billing on either side, and I think that both we and they gain from the joint experiments. But the work is shared and the cost is shared, according to who does the work. The experiment is ours, the rocket is theirs. Also, of course, there is the more complicated question of assessing the way in which you, first of all, make your satellite and then fit your satellite into the rocket.


The main point is the launcher. The rocket is probably ten times more costly.


Well, my Lords, I think it is. I thought it had been rather a good business, I must say, and I should like to give my tribute and praise to the generosity of our American friends. But it would not necessarily alter my judgment as to the desirability of having a larger rocket available on this side of the Atlantic, for reasons which I gave in an interrogative form.

My Lords, before I leave this subject, I think I ought briefly to describe the two more recent and, incidentally, more ambitious ventures which noble Lords have referred to, under the names of E.S.R.O. and E.L.D.O. They are both projects to which Her Majesty's Government is giving full support. They are both essays in the art of European co-operation as well as of space research. First of all, E.S.R.O. A year ago Britain and ten other European countries agreed to set up a Preparatory Commission to study the constitution and functions of a possible space research organisation. Its purpose would be to co-ordinate scientific experiments in space by European scientists and to make joint use of satellites, sounding rockets and other appropriate devices. So far, the discussions proceed without commitment to join any eventual organisation.

The Commission will, we hope, shortly be in a position to present its recommendations. They are expected to stem from an eight-year programme which will include the firing of sounding rockets from a range to be developed in Europe, the design and construction of payloads for rockets and satellites, and the launching of these satellites by means of an appropriate launcher, which for this purpose is assumed to be that of the proposed E.L.D.O. organisation which I am about to describe. If E.S.R.O. is established, it will provide the framework for scientific co-operation, giving our scientists access to experimental opportunities far beyond any which could be provided by national or by bilateral arrangements. It will also constitute a major venture in co-operative technology which will have beneficial effects on the development of advanced techniques in industry in all the countries concerned.

My Lords, I now come to the second proposed organisation. E.L.D.O.


My Lords, before the noble Viscount leaves E.S.R.O., could he say how much it is likely that E.S.R.O. will spend in the United Kingdom during this eight-year programme?


My Lords,I think I had better deal with the question of the cost of our total programme at a later stage in my speech, if I may do so. I am not sure that I can give a specific answer to the question of how much of a programme not yet promulgated is likely to be spent in the United Kingdom, if the proposed participants agree to participate.

The second proposed organisation E.L.D.O., which is quite distinct from the first one, E.S.R.O., centres around the future of Blue Streak. Our policy here is, in co-operation with other European countries and Australia, to develop a launcher for heavy satellites. At a conference in Strasbourg at the beginning of this year, the British and French Governments put forward detailed proposals, and at a further conference in London in October a draft convention was prepared for the establishment of the organisation. The convention is now being considered by the various Governments which it is hoped will participate.

The proposals provide for an initial programme of about £70 million to be spent over five years for the development and construction of a launcher using Blue Streak as the first stage, a French rocket, probably Véronique, as the second, and a third stage to be developed under the leadership of Germany as part of the initial programme. The organisation will also develop a series of satellite test vehicles to prove the launching system. Studies will also be carried out concurrently with the initial programme, to formulate proposals for developing an advanced launcher which might be undertaken by the organisation in a subsequent programme. All members of the organisation will be given an opportunity to participate fully in the scientific and technical work, and, of course, information will be freely exchanged. Thus the project will afford a means of educating and training technical staff in new and important technologies, and this will in turn bring economic and commercial advantages in its train.

It is believed that the development of the first launcher should be completed in time to meet the requirements of E.S.R.O. in carrying out those parts of its programme which require heavy satellites. Clearly, it will be of great advantage for Europe to have its own launcher for this decisive phase of its space research programme, instead of having to depend on obtaining heavy rockets elsewhere. Of course, it would also be possible to use the E.L.D.O. launcher once it is developed for communications and other peaceful purposes.

This brings me to the complicated and fascinating question, which has been raised by numerous noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Kindersley, of communications satellites—recognising that I have now left the realm of space research altogether, and have begun to speculate on the future of telephony, telegraphy, and it may be wireless and television—between nations on the face of this planet. Again, I would emphasise that what I have to say is limited to the civilian sphere.

Hitherto such communications have been directly operated from ground stations in the countries of origin and reception. But it is now established, I think, that, in theory at least, it would be possible to utilise satellites in place of cables and direct communication, and that a system of, say, twelve or sixteen satellites in permanent or semi-permanent orbit would give a world coverage. Such satellites could, in theory, operate passively by reflecting signals from the ground, but they are more likely to be used semi-actively by boosting them, or actively by re-broadcasting them.

In principle, as many of my noble friends have said during the course of the debate, such a system would have many advantages, including an almost unlimited number of available channels. The cost would be high. The life of the satellite is uncertain; and whether, if it succeeds, the system will complement or replace the new and expensive cables which are even now being laid, is not known. The 64,000 dollar question, which I think was posed by my noble friend Lord Caldecote, is: how many such systems, whether one system or more than one system, the traffic is likely to bear, and what degree of international co-operation is necessary or desirable for the purpose of completing the system? My Lords, I think it would be better if I did not enter far into this highly complex and speculative field at this stage of the debate. Clearly, as my noble friend Lord Kindersley said, a successful competitor for providing the launcher for a successful system would make a lot of money. Clearly, also, I feel it necessary to say in contradistinction, the losses of an unsuccessful competitor who had developed a launcher for the purposes of a system which was not adopted—or, still worse, the successful competitor for an unsuccessful system—would be astronomical. This is clearly a case in which it would be unwise to count one's chickens before they hatch. I had better confine myself to describing the actual state of play.

My noble friend Lord Bessborough made interesting reference to the British Space Development Company, and I know that my right honourable friend the Postmaster General, who is departmentally responsible for the communication satellite programme, will be greatly interested in what he had to say. The experts all seem to be agreed as to its technical feasibility, and they also agree that if a commercial system can be put into operation it will enormously increase the capacity available for handling the ever-growing volume of international traffic, including, as some noble Lords have pointed out, television. So much, I think, is common ground, and we hope to learn more—and perhaps this will help to answer the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Fleck—froma series of experimental tests which will take place next year in co-operation with the Americans. But there is not yet the same measure of agreement about the commercial prospects.

In parallel with the studies made by the British Space Development Company, studies of a possible design have been made jointly by the Post Office and the Ministry of Aviation. I am not myself familiar with the details of them, but on two points at any rate I must say that there is, at first sight, a very wide difference between the Company's conclusions and those of the Post Office. It is, perhaps, natural that the Post Office should take a more cautious view, and the assessment of some of the elements that enter into a commercial assessment of satellite communications must be matters of opinion. But there is no doubt that a wide difference does exist. I understand that the Company's estimates of the cost for establishing a system are less than half the estimates made by the Post Office, and the Company assume a much faster rate of growth. For these reasons the Post Office consider that they must look forward to a date considerably later than that estimated by the Company as the date by which a satellite communication system could begin to pay. Much, of course, must depend upon the arrangements made with the Americans, who are bound, as I see it, in the light of what I have just been saying, to be the first to have such a system in being. I hope I have said enough to show my interest in these possible developments.


My Lords, might I just interrupt the noble Viscount? He has just made, I think, a rather serious statement, which I hope I did not misunderstand. Do I understand that the British Post Office are wholly waiting on the Americans before they consider whether they themselves could participate in some European or British programme? This has been a matter which has given rise to a good deal of alarm already, and was partly responsible for the development of a private enterprise activity in this field because the Post Office were not themselves prepared to take any initiative or do any real work on it.


My Lords, I do not think I said that at all, and I certainly did not intend to convey that impression. I did say that, in conjunction with the Americans, we were conducting next year a number of trans-Atlantic experiments which would yield very valuable data, or so we hope. I also said that, for the reasons which I have endeavoured to explain, the American expenditure on rockets generally, and therefore on a launching system, must necessarily be to a very large extent in advance of our own. I also said—and I hope to make this plain—that our own launching system, if there is one, must largely depend on the future of Blue Streak, and that this would obviously be one of the activities which would be undertaken by the proposed European Launcher Development Organisation, which I was endeavouring to describe, but that it would be inappropriate for me this evening to deal with that in view of the stage which the negotiations have reached.

My Lords, I hope I have said enough to show my interest, but I would add this: the British Space Development Company, I understand, have sent to my right honourable friend the Postmaster General a copy of a report setting out their proposals. This report is being examined in detail, and I believe that my right honourable friend will shortly he having a discussion with the Company about it. Perhaps I might therefore leave this interesting topic there.

This brings me back to the main issues debated this afternoon. What,after all, is the reason for space research, if we are to use the term? On what scale, and on what principles, ought we to embark upon it? Are there not more interesting and valuable things to do with our money? These, of course, were questions raised from the Cross Benches in a remarkable speech, I think, by my noble friend Lord Halsbury, who enumerated a number of scientific projects of at least equal importance, and from another point of view by the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of St. Albans, who reminded us that there were a number of things to do on earth which it may be were of a very high obligation on us to undertake.

I am going to try now, if I may, to answer some of these questions, if not in detail, at any rate in principle. First, I would say that we are not in a position to ignore space research unless we are willing to opt out wholly of some of the most exciting developments in physics, astronomy and the earth sciences, and engineering and technology. Space research, to use the term, is necessary to astronomy since, for the first time, men can place instruments outside the atmosphere to observe the sun, the moon, the planets, the stars and cosmic radiation of all sorts. Secondly, it is necessary to the earth sciences. For the first time it is possible to use instruments in space to photograph, to measure and to inspect the earth, its magnetic field and its atmosphere, from the outside. It is necessary for solar physics—the study of the sun, where new information is constantly coming on the streams of particles emitted from it.

My Lords, it is of immense importance, as has been pointed out, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, certainly by my noble friend Lord Caldecote, to the future of engineering, to which the problems of miniaturisation, guidance, metallurgy, design and maintenance-free operation present a new, exciting and, I would say, almost unlimited challenge. It is useful in biology even, since living tissue can be subjected to new conditions, and thus more can be learned of its nature. It might even be possible to discover if some form of life can exist, and even so, in what form, in environments different from the earth itself.

My Lords, what the ultimate uses of space research will in the end turn out to be, I will not try to speculate. The answers can be measured only in terms of the insatiable curiosity of man's questing spirit of investigation. The point (and I must make it in these terms) is that we can no more avoid space research in some sense, and on some scale, than the early sixteenth and seventeenth century natural philosophers could avoid, in their time, the use of the telescope and the microscope, which for the first time opened new horizons beyond the limits of ordinary natural human vision. I would say that I prefer the analogies of the early astronomers—Galileo, Kepler and others—to those of Vasco da Gama and Columbus, since more than one noble Lord has pointed out aspects of the matter in which the analogy in those other cases fails.

This brings me back to the facts of life, to the humdrum realities of economics and politics. What can we afford? For what purposes? And with what organisation, as the noble Lord, Lord Fleck, asked? What is the best balanced use for our money, our men, and our materials, all of which—not only the money—are in what is called short supply, remembering, as we have to, the immense calls on our resources and the immense human need for other types of expenditure and investment? Hitherto the question, on the whole, has been an easy one for us to answer. We have been learning to walk before we can run. Therefore, our programme has been modest one, and I hope that the modest nature of the programme which I have already outlined will reassure those who feel some doubts as to whether we are likely to commit ourselves to astronomical sums, and so distort our economy.

My Lords, the first point to note in regard to what I have been saying, apart from the modest size of our present expenditure, is that not one but all of our activities are, to some extent, international in character. This is not fortuitous; it is deliberate. I am convinced myself that it is desirable, and I am also convinced that, whether fortuitous or not, sooner or later it would become inevitable. From the figures I have given, I think it is manifest that, whatever may be the position now in 1961, space research, as it is going to develop, if it goes on according to present indications, cannot be economically carried on by one country alone, not even, I would say, by America or Russia, still less by ourselves, alone. My Lords, it would have been agreeable no doubt to have contemplated progress on a Commonwealth basis alone. But I am bound to say that, apart from our co-operation with Australia, and, as my noble friend Lord Bessborough pointed out, with Canada, it would be in fact unrealistic to talk In those terms.

We are left with four possibilities, and all of them merit consideration. We can co-operate on a world basis; we can co-operate on a European basis; we can co-operate on an Anglo-American basis; and we can go it alone with Australia, and perhaps with Canada, most of whose programme is conducted on an American-Canadian basis. The pattern of the future may well include all four types of activity. But my duty is, I think, to point out that none by itself will meet the case. If we were to confine ourselves to going it alone with Australia and Canada, a possibility which, in certain circumstances, we cannot rule out, we should do so in the knowledge that in all probability we should have to drop out of any development requiring rockets more advanced than Blue Streak.

My Lords, there are, of course, attractions, which have been referred to this afternoon, from an ideological point of view in world co-operation in space research. I should be interested to hear what ideas my noble friend Lord Bessborough may bring back from Russia, and may I offer him my very best of good wishes for the journey which I understand he proposes to make there. Personally I hope and believe that we may come to this view. But it involves the whole question of American and Russian relations, since they are the owners of the only big launchers; and it involves, I am sorry to say, the rather dispiriting story of relations between our own country and the Communistbloc countries in various spheres, such as I.A.E.A. in Vienna, where at first sight co-operation seemed possible and desirable and unconnected with politics, but has so far in almost every case proved disappointing in practice.

Then we come to Anglo-American co-operation. This is already the basis of our present Scout programme, and I myself look forward to other examples of the same type in the future. But in so far as it involves exclusively the use of American launchers, personally I should be reluctant to accept without a struggle a situation in which the art of rocketry on a large scale was entirely confined to the Communist bloc and the New World.

We therefore come to Europe, for some purposes, both scientifically and politically, by very much the best option, provided, of course, that we can combine this honourably with our co-operation with the Australians at Woomera, and do not thereby exclude ourselves or others from the wider vision. It is for this reason that we have gone a long way, especially with France, in supporting the proposals in E.S.R.O. and E.L.D.O. which I have described. If we can achieve this, European co-operation combines several solid advantages. It enables us to co-operate with European countries in a field not already hopelessly confused with previously adopted attitudes, political issues, and even emotional undercurrents. We should preserve and develop thereby an advanced large rocket on this side of the Iron Curtain. We should be co-operating with countries who are in the same class economically, scientifically, technologically and politically. At any rate, that is the direction in which we have taken certain steps.

Now may I mention the question of expense? On our scientific space research programme identifiable Government expenditure now amounts to about £550,000 a year. This will increase, perhaps, more than tenfold over about ten years, to a level which must depend on whether E.S.R.O. comes into being and is on the scale now being studied by the preparatory commission. This possible level of expenditure is, or at any rate becomes, high, but it is important to note the main considerations which support it. First, there is no element in it of "man in space" and only projects justified by their scientific merits are proposed. Secondly, apart from our desire, for technological and commercial reasons, to develop European launchers, we are deliberately seeking to avoid duplication of scientific programmes of other countries.

Thirdly, British scientists have for centuries played a prominent part in extending the knowledge of the earth, its atmosphere, and the universe in which we live. They have the skill and the desire to continue to play an honourable part. We should not, I think, deny them adequate resources with which to do so. Lastly, this country depends for its standard of living on the practical application of the most advanced knowledge and techniques, and, because research facilities are now so complicated and costly as to be beyond the means of individual institutions, finance must come, at least in reasonable measure, from Government sources, if it is to be done at all. It can be argued, therefore, that what we are doing is an essential investment for the future of the nation.

My Lords, in all of this complicated skein of argument and counter-argument, I myself have sought to follow one guiding light, which was, if I mistake not, contained in the original Report to me of the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy, in which the noble Lord, Lord Fleck, played some part, when the Government authorised the original Scout satellite programme more than two years ago. My guiding light has been to stick to decisions which can be justified as scientifically correct. This has not always been easy. There are many Dan Dares among our adult population who look upon the thing principally as a form of international sporting contest for the sake of prestige. Other countries, with military axes to grind, and vastly larger national incomes, can afford programmes immediately motivated by a desire for national prestige rather than scientific achievement. I do not think that we can do this and, if we could, I do not think I could recommend it to Parliament.

I believe, with the A.C.S.P., that the real path to international prestige in the scientific field is the adult path of pursuing what is scientifically, or technologically worth while, and worth while in the context of this country's situation, and not in the situation of some other country. If, in the course of this policy, we hit the headlines of the popular Press, so much the better, since the effect of our doing so will be to attract interest in our genuine scientific achievement. But, if we do not, we shall not remedy any shortcomings or imbalance of our scientific programme by hitting the headlines of the popular Press. Our space programme, and our other scientific expenditure will be expensive enough without frittering away our resources on playing to the gallery. It is in this perhaps somewhat austere mood of scientific integrity, which is at the same time one of idealism and imagination, that I welcome discussion of the Motion which has been moved by my noble friend.


My Lords, after such an admirably complete survey of the problems which we have been discussing, your Lordships will not wish me to remain on my feet for more than a few seconds. I wondered why I had had the temerity to put this subject before your Lordships. I was encouraged by my noble friend Lord Halsbury to continue to do so, although I realised that everyone else who was to speak had a wiser head than I. It has been interesting to me to find that the majority of speakers this afternoon do not oppose the idea of space communication by satellite. It is supported by the noble Lords, Lord Shackleton, Lord Caldecote, Lord Kindersley and Lord Waleran, and I do not think that my noble friend Lord Halsbury opposed it on any fundamental grounds. other than the economic one; the right reverend Prelate, I am afraid, stands rather alone in this respect.

I have watched two count-downs at Cape Canaveral and at Spadeadam, and now I expect to be setting out to meet space scientists in the Soviet Union as well as visiting Woomera, I hope, early in the New Year. Clearly, therefore, I am convinced that this has become a really urgent matter and that we have to go into this business even further than we have so far. I would say that this has been a highly satisfactory and fascinating debate, but I propose now that we should go out of orbit and re-enter the earth's atmosphere. In so doing, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at fourteen minutes past six o'clock.