HL Deb 23 April 1968 vol 291 cc491-8

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, with permission, I should like to repeat a Statement which is being made by my right honourable friend the Minister of Technology in another place about European Space Policy. The Statement is as follows:

"As the House will know, the Government have been considering the report of the Advisory Committee on Programmes set up by the 1967 Rome Space Conference to make proposals for the development of a European space programme. This Report—known as the Causse Report—is due to be discussed at the European Space Conference to be held in Bonn, this summer, and all the Governments concerned were asked to make their views known on its recommendations in time for preliminary discussion by the Committee of Alternates at a meeting which had been fixed for to-day.

"Our examination of the Causse Report has paid particular regard to its evaluation of the economic benefits of the proposed programmes. On the main issues raised, our conclusions were as follows.

"First, as to launchers, a further development programme of the ELDO launcher, beyond that to which we are committed, and which ends in 1971, cannot now be justified. The development and production costs of ELDO launchers would have been prohibitive, and the potential applications for them, both limited and speculative. We therefore decided not to undertake any additional financial commitments to ELDO.

"Secondly, as to the CETS project for an experimental TV relay satellite, the Causse Report states clearly that this could not yield a commercially viable project unless at least all the research and development costs, both of the satellite and the launcher, were completely and totally written off. Whatever the long-term merits of such a project, we consider that in present circumstances it would not be an economically justifiable use of scarce resources and that for this reason it would not be right for us to participate in the project.

"Thirdly, as to the scientific programme, we decided to agree to some increase in expenditure in this field over the next three years—though not to the full extent recommend by the Causse Report. Allowing for other claims on the funds available for science, we can support an average increase of not more than 6 per cent. per annum on the 1968 ESRO budget of 250 million francs.

"Having reached its conclusions, the Government decided it would be right to let them be known as soon as possible. It therefore communicated these to the other Governments concerned and to ELDO and ESRO last week. Because of the likelihood that this would then become public knowledge, I thought it right to issue a short Statement at the same time.

"The Government realised that these discussions would be a disappointment to some and be criticised by others. But it would be quite wrong to conclude from them either that we were opting out of space or turning our backs on Europe. Every Government is having to decide for itself whether these proposals represent an economically justifiable use of scarce resources. In our view it really would not make sense for Europe to develop its own total independent capability, regardless of cost and benefit. The Government have, of course, weighed the political arguments in favour of the Causse proposals for ELDO and CETS, but do not consider that they outweigh the strong economic arguments against them. We shall all have to think about what limited capability in space technology will enable us all to take up economically justified applications as and when they emerge.

"These decisions follow directly from our general approach to European collaboration and the problem of the technological gap between the United States and Europe. We are concentrating upon the development of industrial policies which will promote collaboration between European industries. The efforts of Government should be directed to reinforcing the industrial potential which Europe already possesses.

"European scale industries are essential if we are to generate the vast sums required for research, development and marketing to allow Europe to compete industrially on more or less equal terms with the advanced technological industries of the United States. This need is urgent and critical to the very existence of certain industries with great growth potential, such as computers, electronics, airframes and nuclear energy.

"The Government's proposal for a European Centre for Technology is expressly designed to explore the further possibilities of collaboration between industries and to identify the obstacles to the development of European industrial capability designed to meet the assessed needs.

"Joint inter-governmental European projects, on many of which we are engaged, have a role, provided they are soundly based, promise benefits commensurate with the expenditure involved and are relevant to Europe's broad industrial objectives. But projects which are economically unsound do not become desirable merely because they are undertaken internationally. The Causse proposals did not pass the necessary tests of cost and benefit, and we believe they are inconsistent with the need to concentrate limited technological and financial effort on those areas which will contribute most to strengthening Europe's industrial capabilities, which must be done if Europe is to develop its economic and political potential to the full."

3.53 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we are all grateful to my noble Lord the Leader of the House for having made in your Lordships' House this Statement which has also been made in another place. However, I am sure that most of your Lordships very much regret that we should now be deciding not to go on making a full and continuing contribution either to ELDO or to the other organisation, CETS, just at a time when the Government are advocating an extension of technical co-operation in Europe, which we all welcome. It seems tragic that we should now be pulling out of two European technological organisations which do exist—we may be thinking of others—even if we all know that ELDO has had its problems. Would the noble Lord not consider it to be more economic that we should continue on a European basis rather than that European countries should do so on their own? Is he aware of France's national space programme, which is much more extensive than our own? Is he aware, also, that Canada has the intention of launching, or has launched, her own domestic communications satellite? Should we not do so, too? All this is very disappointing to those who have advocated increased expenditure in space for commercial purposes, especially in view of the Prime Minister's earlier statement about science being harnessed to socialism in the white heat of the technological revolution. May I say one further thing? I do not think that we should necessarily accept all the economic arguments of the Causse Report—of which, incidentally, there is only one copy in your Lordships' House, and most of us have not had an opportunity of reading it. I should like to ask the noble Lord whether it is likely to be published. It may well be that in the long term these projects would prove economic. I am extremely disappointed about it, even if glad that the scientific programme is not to suffer and that the Government are continuing to press ahead with European co-operation in other industries.


My Lords, would not the Government agree that the essential reason why ELDO has yielded, apparently, disappointing results is because it is run by a group of national experts, each of whom regards problems primarily from the national point of view, and, therefore, there is no consequential provision for an authority who would take the necessary decisions in the interests of the group as a whole? Would the Government not agree that this is the essential reason why it has not functioned very satisfactorily? Secondly, are the Government aware that the very responsible French newspaper, Le Monde, is saying that the decision to withdraw from ELDO after 1971 means that the Government are not serious in their proposals for the creation of a European technological community? Finally, I should be grateful if the Government could tell us what exact economy they think will be effected by withdrawing from ELDO after 1971.


My Lords, before the noble Lord replies, perhaps I may—


My Lords, may I reply to the two noble Lords who have spoken, and then the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, can say what he wants to say; otherwise I may forget the points they have made? I appreciate that the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, spoke more in sorrow than in anger. We have both had a great deal of interest in space research and have frequently discussed this question, and he will know that I am one of those people who for a long time, long before there was any space research, believed that it would come in our lifetime. But I must say that of all the decisions on cuts which the Government have taken I have less regret on this particular issue, for a number of reasons. We have assessed this realistically, and both in relation to CETS and ELDO—and the noble Earl will remember that the Estimates Committee raised some big question marks, particularly against CETS, but also against ELDO—I am convinced that this is the right decision.

The noble Earl went on to refer to various national programmes. There is no intention at present, so far as I know, to do other than continue with the Black Arrow programme. Nor are we opting out of an interest in space. We shall have to see what happens when the Conference have met and what they decide to do. On the point about the Causse Report, I will do what I can to help the noble Earl. I agree that it is a lengthy Report. But the arguments and the analyses for which we had asked pointed firmly to the direction in which we have now taken our decision.

Replying to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, there have of course been criticisms of the particular ELDO set-up. I would rather not go into them, although I was interested to note what the noble Lord said. The potential saving (I am not sure whether these figures have been made available for publication) after 1971 in relation to the further increased expenditure will run into a good many million pounds, and this is money which it would be folly to expend if we believe that there are better uses for the money and the resources.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, referred to Le Monde. I can only say that responsible newspapers in this country, like The Times, the Guardian, the Daily Mail and others, have all welcomed the Government's decision. I would stress —and I hope the Statement made it clear —that this is in no sense a withdrawal or weakening of our determination to co-operate in Europe, and to co-operate technologically. But co-operation, to be of any use, must be towards useful ends.


My Lords, two sentences only, which I do not think the noble Lord the Leader of the House will resent. I seldom dissent from the views expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, but upon this occasion I am entirely on the side of the Government. Far from being disappointed, I am absolutely delighted by the decision they have taken. Sooner or later we must face up to the fact that this country is not in a position to invest vast sums of money in international schemes most of which will probably come to nothing. There are two words in the English language to-day which absolutely terrify me, and they are "space output". I venture humbly to suggest that we have quite enough to do at home and in this country, and quite enough problems to compete with, without cavorting off into space output, because what we shall probably find when we get there is exactly what we have gone to see—space, and nothing more. Therefore, I say that I think Her Majesty's Government are wise to go carefully and cautiously at the moment, and to watch very carefully any projects and keep them at a severely utilitarian and practical point.


My Lords, are the Government aware that it is this sort of to-ing and fro-ing that gives colour to the accusation to which we are frequently subjected: that we are not very reliable partners? Could the noble Lord tell us what has happened in the matter of ELDO to make it so uneconomic and undesirable, when only a short time ago it was apparently considered worth doing? What developments have occurred to make it so uneconomic?

Secondly, have the Government taken into account in their calculation the very considerable technical drop-out which arises from these new technological developments? I have been assured by American friends that an immense amount of technical drop-out occurs which forms the basis of very useful industries, including export industries, in America. I wonder whether the Government have taken account of that. Arising out of that point, is it the case that ELDO will continue without the British; and, if it does, will our competitors in Europe get drop-out which we shall not be able to receive?


My Lords, would the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, say whether the firing range at Woomera will be affected when we finally pull out of ELDO? Can he also say whether the Government consider that launching facilities are adequate for ESRO, when they go forward to some of the new satellite projects which will no doubt still require substantial launching facilities? Can he say whether we are to be totally dependent on American launching facilities, or have the Government considered possibilities of manufacturing launchers under licence here in Europe for, for example, firing at Woomera range?


My Lords, first of all may I say that I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, for his realistic approach. It really does sum up the attitude of the Government. This is a decision that was taken after the very lengthiest consideration, and I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, that there have been doubts for quite a long while. Indeed, I even went so far as, tentatively and hesitatingly, to express them myself in this House a year or more ago. But what has been the decisive factor has been the evaluation of the costs and benefits in this particular case.

There have been troubles in ELDO. The costs have been liable to go up; there has been the failure of the French stage, which has been quite a factor. There has been the need to develop the perigee apogee stage, which adds further costs. The important point I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, is that, although no one is more interested than I am in regard to spin-off, drop-out, fallout, whatever it may be, it is rather limited in this instance, and the British part of the programme was the least interesting part. It was based on Blue Streak, which was itself based on an American rocket. Therefore, the losses in this regard are less than they would be in other areas. I am personally more interested in Black Arrow from this point of view.

The noble Lord asked whether ELDO will continue. I cannot answer that question, but we are committed to financial obligations to ELDO up to 1971. I must say that I think some of this money will be wasted. However, this is the arrangement that was entered into, and we are unable to drop out—and we should not contemplate doing so; but it may be that other European countries will consider the position again.

As for the ranges, I cannot answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Ironside. This problem of ranges and launching sites is, as he is aware, a very complicated one. Woomera suffers from certain disabilities, particularly when it comes to launching in a particular direction, say to put up a geostatic satellite. One of the matters that have been exhaustively considered is other possible sites, but it is a very tangled and difficult issue, and I would rather not try to give a firm opinion today. On the point about hiring or using launchers obtained from the United States, of course we have had satellites put up by the United States, but this is one of the factors which will have to be considered in the future.