HL Deb 26 November 1964 vol 261 cc932-5

3.15 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what progress has been made in the co-ordination and development of research work in connection with underwater activities.]


My Lords, if the noble Lord has particularly in mind those fields of underwater research where diving can be used, a number of Government Departments and agencies are maintaining an active interest in underwater research by this means. These include particularly the Ministry of Defence, the Government Fisheries Departments and other agencies and Government-supported bodies concerned with research in the underwater environment. There is already very close co-operation between all of those bodies participating in this field of research.


My Lords, while thanking the Minister for that reply, may I ask whether he is not aware that a year or two ago a Committee was set up to see what could be done to co-ordinate and extend all the various activities now engaged in underwater research? is he not aware that there are many of these activities—medical, commercial and in other directions as well—and that, whereas at one time this country led the world in some of these activities, it row appears that this country is falling behind? Can he give some assurance that this matter will be treated with urgency and that there will be a proper co-ordinating body set up to make quite certain that this country does not fall further behind other countries in this particular sphere of activity where once we had the lead?


My Lords, I am aware of all the facts in the first part of the noble Lord's statement and have been personally interested and concerned in some of them, but I doubt whether all his noble friends would agree that the Government must co-ordinate everything. I imagine he is referring particularly to diving techniques. This is a technique which can be used in many fields. It can be used commercially; it can be used particularly for research purposes. A good deal of work in this respect is going on, and we are closely in touch with that going on in other countries. But I am doubtful whether thin is rightly a field in which the Government should co-ordinate everything. In other forms of exploration you use, for instance, sledges and dog teams, but the Government do not attempt to co-ordinate research into dog teams. I think there is a limit to this. As to the Government's interest, I can assure the noble Lord there is no doubt about that, and we shall, of course, continue to be interested to hear any representations which he or the British Sub-Aqua Club may wish to make. There have been these meetings and I hope that useful cooperation will continue. Perhaps I might also mention that there is a direct Government subvention to the tune of £1,500 to the British Sub-Aqua Club from the Department of Education and Science.


My Lords, I thank the Minister for that further reply. I was not suggesting that there should be direct co-ordination by the Government in this matter. I was, however, suggesting that it is surely up to the Government to create conditions which would ensure that there was a far better co-ordination than now appears to exist. It is the creating of conditions which I am suggesting is of such importance, in view of the many organisations with such a variety of interests in this underwater activity and exploration. Is the noble Lord not aware that two-thirds of the earth's surface is covered with water, and that there is here a great field where activity can be developed, in fact with much more immediate and likely results than in exploration in space?


My Lords, I think the noble Lord is moving into very deep water indeed. In particular forms of research there is such coordination. Only recently a committee over which I presided, the Expeditions Committee of the Royal Geographical Society, provided official support for an underwater research of this kind. We are well aware that two-thirds of the earth's surface still needs investigating, but of course diving techniques are not the only way of doing so. While I am sure your Lordships will admire the enthusiasm of the noble Lord in this matter—and certainly we would wish to encourage that—I think there are limits to the part that the Government can play.


My Lords, may I ask Her Majesty's Government whether this matter will come under the new Ministry of Technology?


My Lords, it depends on what particular use this technique is going to be put to. In so far as it is research, I should have thought it would come under the new Natural Environment Research Council. But, of course, so far as commercial and industrial applications are concerned the Ministry of Technology will have an interest, will watch, and will co-operate with anybody else in this field.


My Lords, does the noble Lord take great pride in the fact that H.M.S. "Reclaim" holds the world's deep-diving record at the present moment?


My Lords, I entirely endorse what the noble Viscount has said. There have been other deep-diving records, including one held a few years ago by the Royal Navy. And there is, of course, close co-operation between H.M.S. "Vernon" and the British Sub-Aqua Club. I think the noble Lord need not worry too much.