§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ Lord Flowers
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount the Leader of the House. I, too, was privileged to be a member of the sub-committee that produced the report on remote sensing and digital mapping under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. I learned a lot from the experience and I am grateful to the noble Lord for the opportunity to talk about our work today.
If ever there were such a thing as high technology this must be it, for it involves microelectronics, high-speed data processing and transmission, sensitive instrumentation and the precise control of satellites in earth orbit. It also involves a great deal of basic science. For example, if one wishes to observe from space changes of vegetation on the earth's surface, one has first to know how the reflecting properties of different plants and soils depend upon the wavelengths of the radiation being observed—upon the colour of the light if it is visible radiation. Only then can the space technologist set about the design of suitable radiation sensors.
Some colleagues of mine at Imperial College are using such techniques to study how the size and distribution of small patches of woodland affect the flora and fauna of a district. If the patches are too small or too far apart certain species can no longer be supported. Eliminating one patch may therefore do damage to natural habitats elsewhere. Perhaps that example will serve to illustrate the multidisciplinary nature of remote sensing; in this example a liaison between botany, geology and optics in the service of ecology. Applications to mineral exploration, or to meteorology and climatology, involve rather similar basic considerations and are certainly no less complex.
Remote sensing might also be regarded as astronomy turned inwards. Some of the most significant advances in our understanding of the universe have come in recent years from telescopes carried aboard satellites. Telescopes are merely radiation sensors of a particular kind and many of the other requirements, such as satellite control and data transmission, are similar to those of remote sensing which has therefore gained enormously from the efforts of space astronomers, and not least in this country.
Your Lordships may deduce from these introductory remarks that I am personally more interested in remote sensing than in digital mapping, and that would be true. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, saw remote sensing, as he has already explained, mainly as a valuable source of input data for digital maps. Given his lifelong interest in things geographical, not least in the well-being of the Ordnance Survey, that is hardly surprising.
Digital mapping is important in its own right. Equally, however, one may see it as an essential tool of remote sensing, because it enables one to present and transmit analysed data in a wide variety of graphical and therefore intelligible forms. Chickens and eggs are 39 not the same things and they certainly have their independent uses. Nevertheless, there is a considerable degree of common interest. So it is with remote sensing and digital mapping, and that is why we found it valuable to study them together in spite of our different starting points. Nevertheless, I shall leave it to others more knowledgeable than myself to talk about digital mapping.
I have stressed the essentially multidisciplinary nature of remote sensing. This has important implications for education and training. At present the research councils have approved only one advanced course leading to a Master of Science degree in remote sensing, and that is offered jointly—if I may correct the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton—by the Centre for Remote Sensing at Imperial College and University College London, with an annual intake of about 15 post-graduates. Students are taught the basic principles not only of image processing and data handling but also the physics of sensors and space platform design and the fundamentals of electro-magnetic radiation and its behaviour in passing through the atmosphere. The course covers many of the applications of remote sensing to such things as the location of mineral resources, environmental monitoring, hydrology, crop prediction, oceanography, meteorology and planetary atmospheres—to some of which subjects the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, referred. In addition to that, however, remote sensing forms a component of several other MSc courses offered by Imperial College, such as atmospheric physics and dynamics in the department of physics, mineral exploration and petroleum in the department of geology, and environmental technology, itself interdisciplinary. These reflect user requirements rather than the development of the technique as such, and both kinds of course are necessary.
I am sure that several universities, such as Leicester, Surrey and Oxford, include remote sensing in courses reflecting particular applications, but I regret the fact that so far the research councils have not been able to support more than the one multidisciplinary course in London. Apart from anything else we would like some healthy competition!
I believe that our report has been warmly welcomed by the Science and Engineering Research Council and the Natural Environment Research Council, who see it as timely and constructive. However, I believe that we may not have done full justice to SERC, whose interests in remote sensing are considerably wider than the evidence to us may have suggested. For instance, we did not take sufficient account of university courses, supported by SERC, which include remote sensing as an available technique, and of research which is highly relevant, if peripheral, into solid state devices, for example. We paid scant attention to SERC's extensive experience in satellite ground segment work, which began in 1974 with the Ariel V satellite and has continued to this day with IRAS, the infra-red astronomical satellite.
Nor did we take into account sufficiently the work of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory at Chilton in the important matters of data networks. In Recommendation 7 of the report, we said that a communications 40 network should be created for the distribution of spatial data with its central node at the National Remote Sensing Centre at Farnborough. As the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has reminded us, we said that it might be on the lines of the Starlink model devised by SERC for the transmission of astronomical data to and between the universities. However, we did not refer to SERC's main networking activity, the Joint Academic Network, JANET, which they have been developing in collaboration with the Computer Board. JANET links mainframe computers at most of our universities to the major SERC computing centres at Chilton and Daresbury and to the Computer Board centres at London and Manchester universities. This important networking activity has been developing over the last ten to 15 years or so and is managed by the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, I am interested to hear him talking about JANET. We were aware of it. The difficulty is always time and, of course, it is a low-rated network.
§ Lord Flowers
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord and I do not entirely disagree with what he has said. I feel that I myself am in part to blame for not having put sufficient emphasis on it.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, on what point does the noble Lord disagree with me? It is low-rated technically.
§ Lord Flowers
I should like to accept a little bit of blame for not having brought sufficient attention to this project in our committee, because it had its beginning when I was chairman of what was known as the Science Research Council. Had we given more attention to the JANET project, I do not think it would have altered our recommendation that the remote sensing network should be managed at Farnborough—what else is a national remote sensing centre for?—but we should certainly have wished to draw attention to the highly relevant experience of JANET and, for myself, I should have wished to recommend that those concerned should be fully consulted in setting up the newly-dedicated network. It is not immediately obvious to me now that some of the facilities of JANET could not be used jointly, especially if increased computer power could be included somewhere in the network. Perhaps the Minister when he replies would care to comment on this point, for I am sure that he will have been adequately briefed on it by SERC.
Remote sensing is a very expensive activity and we recommended in our report that we should therefore go about our support for it selectively. In Recommendations 4 and 5 we said that our main efforts should be in the ground and user segments, in radar sensing technology in which we are traditionally strong—Sir Martin Ryle won the Nobel Prize for his invention of aperture synthesis in radio astronomy—and in data handling and the relevant software engineering in which we are also strong and. thanks to the Alvey programme, likely to remain so. The Natural Environment Research Council have pointed out that in this country remote sensing has developed mainly as a result of technology push rather than user 41 pull—something about which the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, has already spoken—and that user agencies will have to be brought more into the decision-making process if there is to be a significant change of balance. But the user community is extremely dispersed and does not benefit directly from the structures, both national and international, that have brought communications and meteorological satellites into successful operation.
The users will eventually be expected to pay for operational systems, so they should be involved as soon as possible. In Recommendation 44, we call for a study of the foreseeable economic benefits of operational remote sensing and, if this should turn out to have positive results, it will obviously act as a powerful magnet to users. Cost benefit studies are difficult, however, especially in a relatively enexplored area like this, and are often controversial. It might prove more realistic to mount a few demonstration projects funded partly by satellite developers and partly by potential users in both the public and private sectors, Government departments, research councils and industry. That is a more conventional way of establishing whether there are real benefits to users and to establish the relevant costs. However, it supposes that user departments would be willing to commission their part of any joint project, and it has to be said, not for the first time in your Lordships' House, that the record of successive Governments in the commissioning of research is not encouraging.
I believe that the House will be interested in any views that the Government may have about how best to go about stimulating user participation. I support the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in what he said about the need for a Government lead here, and I hope that the Minister will be able to make encouraging comments on it. At the same time, we said in Recommendation 45 that, although we did not foresee the need greatly to extend United Kingdom expenditure on remote sensing, we thought the balance was at fault, giving too little to the research councils. There is perhaps some confusion here. We should have said that there was no need to increase public expenditure. As private expenditure increases, representing the user contribution, public funds become available for basic studies and for the development of the art.
My Lords, it is a matter of balance but, in urging more emphasis on user applications, we should not go overboard. Indeed, there are several areas where there should still be some technology push. One of them which gives me particular concern is the whole field of data base management, too little stressed in the Alvey programme, as I have had occasion to say before. One has to learn how to store data in such a way that it may later be analysed for purposes that had not been foreseen when it was originally acquired—for, otherwise, a great deal of information will remain inaccessible. A related matter is the adoption of more efficient means of data storage; compression of the huge amounts of raw data to be expected from a remote sensing programme into much smaller physical volumes.
Some advance has already been made in this country by storage on video tapes rather than on ordinary magnetic tapes, which gives compression by 42 a factor of between 10 and 100. In the United States, they are already using video discs with somewhat greater compression and the additional advantage of indestructibility. The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory have also had some success with data compression through image processing techniques developed for the Infra-Red Astronomical Satellite. But a great deal more needs to be done. High-speed transmission via optical fibres and increased computer power will also be essential if we are to make use of the data once acquired. Even in the Landsat programme of the United States (to which some reference has already been made) it has so far proved possible, for reasons of this kind, to make available for research less than 10 per cent. of the available data. Still more remains to be done in this country. It will involve solid state physics and software engineering, in both of which, in this country, we are strong. There is considerable sales potential here and, as our report suggests, we should be doing more than we are.
Development problems of that kind involving a considerable amount of basic research are primarily matters for the research councils. The usual response is to say that it is for the councils to determine their own priorities within the funds made available to them. In better times, it was difficult to argue otherwise—although, of course, we did! The fact is, however, that at the present time the funds available to the councils through the Science Vote are under increasing pressure, partly because of the increased contributions they have to make to international organisations because the value of the pound is falling and partly, as the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, has said, because of the breakdown of the system of dual support of university research because the budget of the University Grants Committee has been so heavily and so continually cut.
It is a treasured belief of the Government (but an entirely mythical one) that basic research has been protected by upholding the value of the Science Vote in real terms. In fact the Vote has had to make up for gross deficiencies elsewhere, with the consequence that money for basic research is harder to get now than for many years. When combined with an unwillingness on the part of Government to commission strategic and applied research, it is little wonder that in this country we are hard pressed to harness the intellectual resources we undoubtedly possess to tackle remote sensing with the vigour it undoubtedly deserves—and the same thing could be said of many other major fields of science and technology at the present time.
What is needed is a co-ordinated programme between Government, research councils, universities and industry, each contributing its proper share. We have it in the Alvey programme for information technology—the one truly enlightened act of the present Government in science and technology. If they would only learn from their own successes we might be able to halt the downward decline in our technological strength, which in the long run will otherwise cost this country dear.
§ 5.11 p.m.
The Earl of Bessborough
My Lords, this was, I think, by far the most fascinating inquiry with which I have been concerned in 28 years as a Member of your 43 Lordships' House. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for having arranged that we should undertake it and for producing such an interesting report in co-operation with our admirable specialist adviser, Dr. David Rhind, and our equally able clerk. It was a privilege to be a member of the noble Lord's sub-committee. We have both been interested in space science and technology for more years than we might care to admit although, as a cartographer, the noble Lord, who has been so distinguished a president of the Royal Geographical Society, would, I am sure, beat me easily even if during the war he did not take a course in graticuled oblique photography as I did!
In some ways I personally should have liked the sub-committee to cover the broader spectrum of space science and technology generally. Perhaps we may do so on another occasion, when no doubt the forthcoming remarkable book by Mr. Geoffrey Pardoe (the new co-ordinator of the National Remote Sensing Programme), which I have had the advantage of reading in typescript, might well provide a comprehensive basis for such a debate.
Going back in time—and I feel I must do so—I greatly regret our failure, for example, to take up Arthur C. Clarke's proposals in 1945 regarding the launching of communication satellites in geostation-ary orbit and, later, our abandonment of Blue Streak in the early 1960s. I regret that, having given up our launcher capability, we could not go ahead with the British Space Development Company formed by my friend Sir Robert Renwick, later Lord Renwick—and I am glad to see that his son is sitting behind me—of which Mr. Pardoe was then a very effective executive technical director.
We let the Americans and, as has been mentioned, the French, go ahead in the development of rocketry; and our French friends and relations now have their own successful rocket, Ariane, in which we, the British, have only a small interest through the European Space Agency. The French also have, as your Lordships know, their own rocket base in French Guyana. We got left behind there. Then, too, I regret to say, we lost out in our efforts to participate effectively in the American space shuttle, which Mr. Pardoe and I worked for when I was a Minister of State in 1970.
These are sad stories, and yet we still have tremendous expertise in space instrumentation and indeed in remote sensing, as the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, has indicated. We must not be left behind in these scientific and technological developments too, for, as our Committee says in its report,—and I do not think any speaker has yet quoted this—large rewards for British scientists and companies can be expected if we actively develop the exacting technology of remote sensing from space.International competition in remote sensing promises to be fierce. As proprietary satellite systems become more common, any country without a foot in the door will virtually be shut out of the market. The United Kingdom must have something to offer, and I agree that the keystone technique for British effort is radar. This clearly should be accompanied by specialist work in data handling in software engineering and in developing applications. I also agree that a main effort 44 should go into the ground and user segments, and I would hope that the new National Remote Sensing Programme Board would work towards co-ordinating user requirements.
We certainly need, too, our own computer-based communications network for making both imagery and mapping data available through regional centres. That is why the Committee recommend that the Government should fund the establishment of such a network, co-ordinated from the National Remote Sensing Centre at Farnborough.
There may be, I think, a number of candidate solutions for other elements of a national network of this kind, and I am glad to learn that the new remote sensing programme board will seek to co-ordinate these into a comprehensive and integrated national network. My own view is that we may not necessarily have to spend so much on a new network once we have integrated existing and proposed facilities.
From what I have said so far, your Lordships may gather that I have in this investigation been more interested (like the noble Lord, Lord Flowers) in remote sensing than in digital mapping, but I would not like it to be thought that I do not believe digital mapping to be of great importance; and I am sure that both the Ordnance Survey and the National Environ-mental Research Council's Experimental Cartography Unit have made and still continue to make very important contributions. Nonetheless, I am glad to find that the additional knowledge provided by remote sensing and the ability to view large areas in quite small detail produces other benefits, to some of which the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, has also referred, not only in mapping—and especially I would underline thematic maps—but also in mineral exploration, oceanography, fisheries, crop forecasting and land use in general, as well as industrial spin-off in high technology companies. We should also do well to remember the extensive applications overseas and the scope for market development there.
The importance of satellite surveillance for weather forecasting and defence, as others have said, is already well established; and when I was recently in Washington—by chance at the same time as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton—there was much greater interest in military space systems ("Star Wars for real", as they say) than in our own problems in Europe, our coal strike or our EEC budgetary contributions. These were scarcely reported in America at all.
"Star Wars for real" is something we must discuss in your Lordships' House at some time because, as your Lordships know from what President Reagan has said, there is no doubt that the Americans will now be developing anti-satellite satellite systems; and maybe if there is to be a third world war—which God forbid—it may be better if it takes place in space rather than on our own planet Earth.
Of course, I agree with the 46 recommendations of the report and particularly that we should make our contribution through radar. In regard to Recommendation No. 5, about our membership of the European Space Agency and our engagement in bilateral projects especially with the Americans and Canadians, I am interested to note that the United Kingdom, through 45 our own meteorological office, is participating in the development of the new meteorological research satellites to be operated by the European Space Agency and the United States of America. And, of course, as I know well from having recently visited Ottawa, Britain is involved in the Canadian Radarsat programme, which is due to start in 1990.
I agree particularly with what I consider to be some of our main recommendations, including strength-ening the Ordnance Survey's research and development capacity, aimed at improving the value of digital mapping data for general use and for amalgamation with census and other spatially referenced information. I agree, too, that there should be a joint research councils committee concerned with both remote sensing and digital mapping, and I am glad to note from the recent views of the Natural Environment Research Council that they consider this proposal to be a sensible early step to take. I also fully endorse the proposal that an experiment in mapping the coast of the United Kingdom by satellite, to include both landward and seaward information, would be very useful.
Clearly we must also preserve the national collections of air photographs. Those taken from aircraft flying at lower levels have a higher spatial, if not perhaps spectral, resolution than images transmitted by satellites from much greater heights, and they have of course immense historical importance. For certain limited purposes, aerial photography from aircraft certainly still has an important role to play even if, as I said, it cannot cover anything like such wide areas as satellites, which, for instance, in polar orbit have been producing detailed images of the whole globe every month.
In this connection, I was particularly interested in what the French had to tell us about their SPOT satellite, which, as will be seen from the list of abbrevi-ations, stands for Système probatoire pour L 'Observation de la Terre. It is, I think, recognised by all experts in this technology that the French SPOT satellite will give higher resolution than any of the five American civil land satellites. Indeed, the Canadians told Dr. Rhind and myself that they hope to make more effective use of this satellite than even the French themselves. There seems no doubt that the Americans, too, will be clients in obtaining data from this French satellite and that we in Britain will want to do so too. There is no doubt that in certain sectors of space science and technology the French are well ahead of us in Britain, as the noble Lords, Lord Shackleton and Lord Sherfield, have already indicated.
While recently in Washington, I heard—and this is something which no noble Lord has yet mentioned—about the Versailles Working Group's report on remote sensing from space which is to be submitted to the summit meeting in June. I should be interested to know whether my noble friend Lord Trefgarne—I hope that he received the notice I gave to him of this question—would be willing to tell us something about the contents of this report. In so far as the Americans are concerned, I note that for the Federal Year 1985 Budget the National Environ-mental Satellite Data and Information Service (NESDIS) is calling for a budget of 271 million dollars—funding sufficient to operate and manage the 46 American civil earth observing satellite system and the global data bases for meteorology, oceanography, solid earth geophysics and solar terrestrial sciences.
I was pleased to learn in Washington that Dr. McIlroy, the chairman of the Versailles Working Group, had said that the United States Congress has now reaffirmed its commitment to the free exchange of meteorological information. I see, too, that the National Oceanographical and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which has taken over a great deal of work from NASA, has examined a number of model arrangements for sharing the costs of meteosats. I hope that there may also be a sharing of costs in other applications of remote sensing, too—including digital mapping.
I think I have said enough to show that I fully support the recommendations of the Committee. Nonetheless, I hope that this will not be the last of our debates on these subjects and that the Select Committee on Science and Technology will continue to watch, and indeed monitor, developments looking especially to the future. When I think how right Arthur C. Clarke was in his calculations about how high to launch a satellite in geostationary orbit—calculations that he made in 1945—I wonder, in reading some of his latest explorations in space, 2010, his second Odyssey, is it fiction or faction, and I wonder whether we should not keep an eye on his new predictions and hypotheses. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for introducing this debate.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Lord Energlyn
My Lords, on the night when the Luftwaffe practically destroyed the headquarters of the Ordnance Survey it was thought that we had suffered an irretrievable blow. But that was not so, because quietly we had been developing the science of photogrammetry. This applied aerial mathematics related to air photographs. Consequently we were immediately able to convert photographs of all kinds into maps and plans. But during that disastrous raid there was a piece of equipment which was quite important to our work; it was called the Multiplex and it was destroyed in the raid. This had been made by Zeiss at their works in Jena.
Fortunately for us, the Prussian who owned the estates on which Jena stood had been dispossessed by Hitler and had become our agent, and we appealed to him to obtain for us a Multiplex. He organised among his old parishioners an entry into the factory, stole a Multiplex, sent it to Switzerland, and we got it back and were in operation within a few weeks. I thought that your Lordships might be interested in that little anecdote, if only to emphasise the crucial importance of this study of photogrammetry to our war effort.
The optical instrument which we brought back here was only the beginning of a whole variety of instruments which we began to develop at very high speed. If it were not for those instruments, people like Barnes Wallis would not have been able to have a precise survey of the Mohne dam and to pinpoint the spot at which his bouncing bomb would be most effective. There are dozens of similar examples, but one must always remember that if it were not for our photogrammetric analysis of the coastline of France, 47 we would never have been able to locate the most beneficial and advantageous beaches for our advent on the continent.
Consequently, when the war was over I seized the opportunity to establish a degree course in photogrammetry. As the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, emphasised in his speech, education in this subject is of enormous importance because it is a subject of great width and depth, as is evidenced by the fact that the committee received evidence from over 100 sources of information. It is an enormously important and intellectual subject of great economic value. This course, which I established in Nottingham in 1948, was the beginning of photogrammetry in university studies of engineering, geology, geography and applied mathematics, but I am sorry to say that it did not receive the support it might have had, had it been sponsored perhaps by more forceful people.
From this obscure centre emerged a whole series of "firsts". We were the first people to publish the photogrammetric method of surveying coal seams and of locating subsidence. In my maiden speech I pointed out how these methods could be used to avoid disasters such as that at Aberfan in South Wales. The photogrammetric analysis of coal tips is now standard practice as a result of this kind of obscure, embryonic work. As the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and many other speakers, including the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, have pointed out, the use of photogrammetry—or air photography, to use a simpler term, or remote sensing, to use a more graphic term—is useful when looking down on the earth's surface for deposits which man cannot see when he is crawling over the surface.
One fascinating example which has a future to it is the one we observed when we were flying across the Kalahari Desert. We were all photographing through the windows of the aeroplane like mad! About a year later when I was again looking at the photographs, I noticed that there was a geometric pattern to the salt domes in the Kalahari Desert. This could mean only one of two things. It could mean that the salt domes are diamond pipes, or it could mean that the geometric pattern of this series of salt domes indicates oil. So there is a wholly unknown area in Central Africa which can be ascertained only by photogrammetry or by remote sensing methods.
On a lighter side, we also embarked upon a search for King John's treasure. We found, by photo-grammetric methods, the route which King John took from King's Lynn across The Wash. The whole subject is full of drama, colour and glamour. And it is creative. As the report states:Remote sensing, aerial photography apart, is still relatively undeveloped".The report goes on to point out that most of those who develop technologies and the hardware have a different discipline from those who develop and use the applications. This is a very important point. The committee realised that in the framework of remote sensing there is both hardware and software. In developing the hardware for this subject we had to invent new instruments. In this connection, I wish to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Hives, who was then the chairman of Rolls-Royce. He fitted up a 48 workshop for me. Those instruments which we could not make ourselves he made for us. This is how it all began and how it will all go on.
There are three elements in the remote sensing sphere. First, there is the detector. This has to be designed to produce a measured image of a visible object or of an invisible situation. The detector may have to operate in the field of optics or, as the report describes, it may have to operate in the area of electro-magnetic radiation. It might have to operate in the invisible field of electro-chemistry or in the still little understood field of resonance. Resonance is symbolised by the divining rod. It is a very important field of remote sensing. We are only at the frontier of this remarkable area of resonance, to which I shall refer in a moment.
Secondly, there is the recorder. This has to be designed to translate the images produced by the detectors. Until the advent of the semi-conductor and the birth of micro-electronics we were restricted to the use of moving pens to record what our detectors were telling us. This was far too slow, so one finds the use of digits or pulses. Digitisation means that you can speed up your recorder to match the output of information from the detector. That is why digitisation is absolutely vital in the sphere of sensory determinations.
Finally, we have the analyser. Until the arrival of the computer we were human analysers. We were applied mathematicians. The only aids we had were the calculators, but now the computer has taken it on. So there are the three elements: the detector, the analyser and the results at the end. Be that as it may, it was a surprise to everyone that we were able to achieve in those early days quite remarkable results, even without these remarkable new inventions.
The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, may like to be reminded of the time when we were able to analyse photographs in Antarctica of an outcrop of sandstone called the Beacon Sandstone. We had developed a detector which could detect infinitely small quantities of oil. Therefore, we were the first people to deduce that there would be oil-bearing strata in Antarctica. This is another graphic example of remote sensing in the very earliest days of the history of this quite glamorous subject.
In an entirely different area of application—not surprisingly, it has taken place at Nottingham University—there is the work of Dr. Tony Heyes who has produced the first pulse-echo ultrasonic guidance aid for the blind. It is controlled by a micro-processor which uses advanced information-processing algorithms. This is a dramatic breakthrough, because it will pave the way for the formation of a digitised map for the blind. It will replace Braille. It is as big and important as that.
Remotely sensitised data has been the basis of the recently developed studies of the tides in the Bay of Fundy. Instead of barraging this fantastic bay, with its incredible rise and fall of tides, they found, from photogrammetric evidence, that it would be far better to take one of the inlets and to barrage that, not the whole bay. From this, for the modest equivalent of £33 million, they are able to produce 20 megawatts of endless power. Recent photographs in the Bristol 49 Channel have proved to be equally revealing. They show, with little doubt, that any barrage put across the channel will disturb the existing equilibrium of the sediments. Within a short space of time the ports of Bristol, Newport and Cardiff will become inoperable.
These pictures also show with equal clarity that the long shore currents are equivalent to those which they discovered in the Bay of Fundy and in the exit to the River Rance in France. So we should not put a barrage across the Bristol Channel. Instead we should put a tidal barrage from Neath to Swansea and produce a power station which will give us far more power than the hypothetical barrage across the Bristol Channel—and for the modest sum of about £40 million.
I have said sufficient in the way of narrative to support the importance of this report, but allow me to conclude with one further reference. It is to the use of remote sensing in the earth's atmosphere. We are talking about satellites, distant sensing, and so on. But let us get nearer to earth. The detector has been developed to measure the pollutant gases in the earth's atmosphere, but we have yet to devise a recorder which will work at the speed of the detector. Once such a recorder has been devised, it can be put into a helicopter with the detector, and the helicopter would survey the atmosphere. We would very quickly find out where the pollutant gases are and where the acid rain is being produced.
I make these comments simply to support with all the energy 1 can muster and to praise this report, and to ask Her Majesty's Government to take note of it and to continue to sponsor a subject which has great depth, great intellectual value, and which has its birthplace in Britain.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Baroness White
My Lords, I rise to add my modest support to the recommendations of this committee, of which I was very happy to be a member. I agree entirely with the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, in that this committee was one which I (with less knowledge than the noble Earl can command) found to be one of the most difficult but also one of the most interesting and fascinating committees on which I have ever had the pleasure to serve. I can say this with no false modesty because I believe we all recognise that the quality of a report is dependent primarily on the quality of the chairman, the specialist adviser, and the clerk to the committee concerned. In this case, all three were absolutely first class and the report produced is accordingly of high quality.
It is a very good report and I hope that the Government will take it constructively and seriously. The Minister of State for the Department of Trade and Industry, Mr. Kenneth Baker, who gave evidence before us, remarked that remote sensing is, and I quote,a complicated, intricate and somewhat arcane subject with many different interests in it … and remote sensing information provides new and very significant opportunities for managing and monitoring our natural resources".Characteristically, he went on:We are taking a very practical, down to earth, commercial industrial approach to this".50 Those of us on the committee would agree with that attitude as being all very well up to a point—but, as the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, remarked, only up to a point. There is no doubt that private industry is likely to have the sharpest ideas as to where and how a growing market may best be stimulated. But no sensible person could pretend that, at the present stage of development, market growth can be left entirely to private effort. Certain prerequisites fall firmly in the public domain. It seems to me especially significant that even in the United States, with its far wider domestic requirements and opportunities, and where steps are currently being taken to transfer the Landsat system to private corporations, Congress has recognised that the market for remote sensing data is still too small to cover the operational and development costs of satellite remote sensing.
Accordingly, as I understand it, it is proposed that there should be a provision for federal subsidies to be assured to the proposed private interests invited to take up the Landsat system for up to at least 10 years ahead. If this support is necessary in the United States, then, a fortiori, it holds good in the much more restricted conditions of the United Kingdom.
A number of important recommendations in our report deal with specific public responsibilities. The most important of these has already been stressed in this debate by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and others. It is that the United Kingdom should publicly decide upon and maintain as a matter of major policy the concentration on user applications, data handling and relevant software engineering, with only highly selective efforts in remote sensing technology itself. All this would be without prejudice to our partnership in the European Space Agency or, in particular, to our specific projects with United States or Canadian enterprises.
To develop our chosen role, we need to strengthen our own organisation. Our report points to a number of present weaknesses. For example, we need to make up our minds about and embark upon a properly-designed United Kingdom communications network for the distribution of spatial data. This is essential, and it is one of the most important recommendations in the report. Although I am sure that private enterprise can play an extremely important part, it must have the backing of the Government if this organisation is to be realised in a reasonable space of time. If the Minister can today indicate that the Government accept this concept and are prepared to embark in the very near future on an evaluation or a feasibility study, that will at least indicate that the Government are in earnest about developing the matters dealt with in our report.
There were other weaknesses. In recommendation No. 8, we point to a revelation that shocked some members of the committee, including myself; namely, the dangerously small number of highly qualified staff available at the National Remote Sensing Centre and at Ordnance Survey itself. In paragraph 5.5.9 of the report, we point out that in Ordnance Survey the number of graduates employed appears to be fewer than 20 out of a total staff of 3,000. This situation compares very unfavourably with the French geographical institute, where they have some 400 graduate staff in a smaller total of 2,500 workers. 51 In general, United Kingdom support seems to compare poorly with that given by the governments of other major industrialised countries and even in some less highly industrialised countries, such as India—to which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and others have referred, and which I understand hopes to launch its own remote sensing satellite with the aid of a Soviet rocket in 1986. Meanwhile, until the French and European satellites are operational, we depend mainly on the United States Landsat system.
I would like strongly to support the comments already made by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, when he said how grateful we should be for the open skies policy of the United States. This has meant that, up to now at any rate, we have been able to obtain a considerable amount of remote sensing data at very little cost to ourselves. It is only right that we should express our gratitude to our colleagues in the United States for the way in which they have observed the open skies policy. Whether it can be maintained under private enterprise is another matter, but it will be very detrimental to our own work if some comparable arrangement is not made for sharing the results of their enterprise.
I have in my possession some references to the new Landsat V which was launched, sooner than expected, last month, as the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, remarked. We know that it is very similar in its scope to its predecessor, but we trust that it will not have the technological problems which beset Landsat IV. I notice in Flight International a reference to the fact that the new satellite is in an orbit of some 700 kilometres above the earth's surface, which will allow it to observe each part of the earth's surface under the same lighting conditions every 16 days—that is, two days less than its predecessor could. This will add to the immense quantity of data, the handling of which is an immense problem facing all countries using this type of remote sensing information.
Meanwhile, whatever may be the major importance of satellite thematic mapping above the earth, our report makes the emphatic point, to which the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, referred, that we in the United Kingdom with our small tightly-packed terrain should not neglect the continuing use of conventional aerial photography. For many United Kingdom uses aerial photography can fulfil existing needs for local planning and land use purposes. Some local authorities, though by no means all, have commissioned their own photographic cover. For example, in Wales, of the four counties in the former area of Glamorgan and Monmouthshire which undertook a survey in 1971, only one has updated it for the following census year of 1981. In North Wales the county of Clwyd is hesitating whether to update for 1984–85—the appropriate 10-year interval—the survey it undertook in 1974–75. The estimated cost is less than £20,000 but in these days when local authorities are so much badgered and constricted by Government even such a small sum to maintain a scientific series becomes doubtful.
In the inquiries that I made there seems to be no central guidance available on what local authorities should do in the matter, even though I am assured that a county like Clwyd has found the survey invaluable 52 for planning, and even for transport planning purposes, with a great saving of time and staff effort. However, regular updating is essential.
There are some areas in the United Kingdom where satellite remote sensing may be more immediately useful to local authorities than in others. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, mentioned, for example, the Grampian region in Scotland; and there are other areas. But the praiseworthy pioneering example of the Grampian regional council received very short shrift from the Minister of State, Mr. Baker, when he was giving evidence before us. He bluntly told us—I refer to page 267 of the evidence—that,if Grampian wants maps Grampian has to pay for maps and the payment that Grampian makes for maps will allow us to develop this equipment and allow us to launch satellites.I cannot believe that the mite received from Grampian would make that much difference to our capacity to launch satellites. Frankly, we did not find this ministerial comment either very profound or very helpful.
It is perfectly plain that there is a lack of purpose and sense of direction in the relationship between local authorities and central government in this area. If we are agreed that aerial photography remains the best bet for certain public uses and also for certain uses by private firms it is important to keep the archives and records in England, Wales and Scotland easily available. Whether this will really be so in England seems questionable, at least until we get our full network of information centres. I understand that the Department of the Environment has decided to hand over its vast collection of prints to the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments. I am sure that this may be extremely interesting for the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, but whether it will be the most helpful way of dealing with it for other users I am not entirely convinced. I understand, however, that of the roughly two million prints in the DoE store only about half have been indexed and are, therefore, accessible. Conceivably the Royal Commission will be able to do what the DoE has not found it worth while to do; that is, sort them out and make them available to interested bodies.
I understand that the films are to be returned to the Ministry of Defence. The register, however, will be with the Ordnance Survey at Southampton. In our report we recommended that it should be with the National Remote Sensing Centre at Farnborough. By contrast with this dispersion in England, I am happy to say that a few days ago in Cardiff I was able to visit our small but useful centre at the Welsh Office, where everything is under one roof and easily available to any public authority or private individual who is interested and may wish to consult it. Similarly in Edinburgh, where dispersal was not contemplated but access, we were told, at one time was to be curtailed to official users, there was so much public protest that a sensible compromise has been reached. Public access will still be permitted but, for the sake of economy, in the afternoons only.
The overseas survey archive is another very important source for aerial photography. I presume that that will be going to Southampton. The staff are being transferred there, but I very much hope that proper arrangements will be made for this to be easily 53 accessible to those who are concerned with its use. Those of us who are especially interested in land use would like to know more about the attitude of the Department of the Environment because the use of remote sensing is not just an industrial matter but a question of the proper study and monitoring over time of our natural resources. We were told in evidence that the Department of the Environment was (and I quote) "holding a watching brief. In consequence of this attitude it has taken twelve-months to summon the first meeting of the Advisory Group on a project for Monitoring Landscape Change in England and Wales, sponsored by the Department of the Environment in conjunction with Hunting Technical Surveys. This will make use both of Landsat Thematic Mapping and aerial photography but on a statistical but not a cartographic basis. I believe that some difficulties have already arisen. The Nature Conservancy Council seems not to be entirely happy with the efficacy of the scheme and wanted to do something on its own. However, it is a small step in the right direction and we shall await the results with interest.
However, useful as these modest exercises may be, I think we were primarily concerned, as the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, emphasised in his most informative speech, with the matters of major importance touched upon in this report. I think it is fair to say that none of us on the Committee felt that the Government have yet taken the full measure of the problems or the opportunities at home or abroad. There is diffusion of interest and a reluctance to acknowledge the need, especially in the next few years, to sow in order to reap. It seems to us that we are being outdistanced by our competitors. It will be lamentable if we fall unnecessarily far behind. I put to the Minister who is to reply to the debate that our 46 recommendations offer sound advice and that the Government would be wise to adopt them.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, I feel I must explain my temerity in intervening in this debate. Until recently I thought that remote sensing was what drove dogs to wander from home, but since reading the valuable report of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton I find that I have taken part in remote sensing myself, in that in my youth I did some aerial photography in the RAF and that this is indeed remote sensing.
I am intervening in the debate purely because I am an ex-rector of Dundee University, which has been doing a great deal of work in this field and is under considerable difficulty because of the policy of Her Majesty's Government. It runs a number of courses, it is taking part in the MSC course which is being developed and it runs summer schools. The university is uniquely placed to collaborate with industry and the other Scottish universities because it has the offshore oil industry, to which remote sensing can be extremely important. It is also doing a study of its effects on the Tay estuary and of course it has the fishing industry on its doorstep. But the difficulties it is experiencing have nothing to do with this report, which, I understand from my mentor, Professor Cracknell, who is the head of the theoretical physics department, is entirely satisfactory, fulfils much of what the university has been thinking, and is considered to be of great value, particularly as regards Recommendations 6 and 7, 54 because much of the university's work would be enormously helped and would be of great practical help to fisherman and others if the information came in in time. In fact, some of the information from the outlying stations takes as long as a month to come in, by which time it is of only historical interest or for storing in whatever form of computer may be used for the purpose.
I think that the universities around the country must play a bigger part in the development of this extremely important subject and science. They cannot do so to the degree that they should without Government help. Obviously the technique of this, as even I can see, has advanced to a stage where the technique is far more advanced than the organisation necessary to put the technique to good practical and theoretical use. This is where the Government must come in. They must supply the money, they must supply the organisation and they must do the negotiation in order to bring about the system necessary to take advantage of the technique.
The universities do feel that perhaps the research councils are not doing as much to help the universities as under their charter they should. I know that Dundee University has been extremely forward-looking in seeing what the Government are going to do by way of cutting back further through the University Grants Committee. I was most impressed in my time in the court of the university by the way every appointment was examined in order to save money to put in the direction of the priorities on which it had decided. One priority has of course been the extension of the department dealing with remote sensing and, indeed, digital mapping.
I think that the Minister does need to assure us that NERC and SERC are looking at this, more in putting the work out, in helping the departments of the universities, instead of building their own empire or holding their own empire together, which is the fear that Dundee University is expressing. It is very exasperating for people who are doing tremendously good work in the field to feel that they are being frustrated by the money being ill-used elsewhere. I should like the Minister to assure us that the money is being spread about according to a system of priorities and that some effort is being made to put the shortages right by a readjustment of money. For universities which have been doing this themselves, it is a little galling to see pious hopes and excellent recommen-dations such as No. 36 in the committee's report, which are bound to go by the board unless more money is made available. Recommendation No. 36 (vi) stresses this once again when it says that,the intellectual, commercial and political merits of providing courses for overseas students should be recognised".There is no question of the immense importance of this. I do hope that the Government will be able to give some hope to the universities which are doing good work in this field that the cash will be available for them to extend their activities.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Lord Chorley
My Lords, as the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, has said, we were most lucky to have in our chairman the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, a former president of the Royal Geographical Society 55 and someone who had actually been a real life surveyor. For my part, I came to our subject with no knowledge at all of remote sensing but having what one might call an amateur's knowledge of digital mapping through having served on the Ordnance Survey Review Committee, under the distinguished chairmanship of Sir David Serpell. I hope, and indeed believe, that we shall soon hear the Government's response to it. As has been said, it was published no less than five years ago—some time ago—in 1979. It is only fair to say in this connection that the occasional obiter dicta from the Government appear to endorse many of the Serpell recommendations. One knows that, at a practical level, much of the report has been implemented.
One of those recommendations was that there should be an advisory board. This has recently been set up by the Secretary of State and I am privileged to be a member of it. And so I must declare an interest, although this afternoon I will confine my remarks to the report of the Select Committee. Inevitably, of course, it means that I shall tend to concentrate on the less exotic topic of digital mapping.
Back in 1978–79 it was clear to us—the Ordnance Survey Review Committee—that computer technology would dominate a major facet of the work of the Ordnance Survey for the remainder of this century, and that this would have major implications as to both how people used maps and how the Ordnance Survey would need to be organised and the skills that would be needed. In a sentence, the OS would need to change from a rather traditional and inward-looking organisation—an essentially craft-based organisation—to a more outward, science and technically based organisation. So, four years later, it was instructive to see the changes that have taken place at Southampton.
The first point to make is that if one compares the OS of today with the organisation when I first saw it in 1978, the changes there have been very considerable, and not just in the field of digital mapping. The Select Committee's report acknowledges this, although it is critical—but I hope constructively so—in a number of areas. I should like first to deal with the need for digital mapping. There can be little doubt that, as a means of handling spacial data, that is to say, its manipulation and analysis, and its storage and distribution, the traditional paper charts and maps are now technically obsolete. The evidence to the Serpell Committee, the detailed and painstaking survey conducted by the Ordnance Survey itself last year, which was made available to your Lordships' Committee, and the written and oral evidence generally to the committee, all indicate this.
More recently the cable television companies have expressed a strong interest. Evidence from overseas points in the same direction. I suppose that to anyone involved in information technology the need must seem both obvious and also consistent with Government philosophy in this field. I see no point in labouring the question of need. I think the more difficult questions are how quickly the archive should be converted to digital form, the question of costs and cost recovery, and, finally, matters to do with the application of digital mapping.
56 In the field of large-scale maps, which is the great bulk of the Ordnance Survey's work, we have said that the aim should be for national coverage in 10 years. The Ordnance Survey takes a rather longer view, although there is not much between us on the key area—the urban and the peri-urban areas. It is fairly obvious that the benefits of the digital national archive will be fully realised only when large blocks of contiguous country are covered. As office automation generally gathers pace so will the pressure for digital maps increase. Delays carry with them the danger of duplication of effort by bodies such as the utilities which decide that they cannot wait for full coverage. There is already some evidence of this duplication taking place, but it is not such that one actually needs to worry about it.
But there are considerable practical problems in speeding the conversion process. It is currently pretty labour-intensive, and even if the bulk of the work is sub-contracted to the private sector, as is the Ordnance Survey's plan, there is a practical limit (in particular in adequately supervising the work) on how fast one can proceed. A balance has to be struck. Moreover, it is extremely difficult to judge at this stage the extent to which the conversion process will, as it were, naturally speed up when the full programme gets under way. For example, it is hard to say in this fast-moving technical field to what extent automatic digitising will be able to take over economically from manual digitising. The other important factor here, as we note in the report, is that there should be a clearly laid down timetable so that users can make their own plans, because they, too, will have to put work in hand.
On the question of costs, the Ordnance Survey puts the gross cost of converting the large-scale map archive at about £100 million, which sounds a lot of money. It is unfortunate that this cost tends to be the cost which is bandied around, because this makes no allowance for the considerable savings that will flow from the annual programme of bringing out new editions of out-of-date maps by old-fashioned manual cartographic means. These costs will be saved by digitising, so it is the net figure which is put at £50 million (say £5 million a year) which is relevant in resource cost terms. Moreover, one would expect that in parliamentary Vote terms, the net figure would be even lower because it should be possible to charge an enhanced price for the computer tapes. This latter is a difficult area which we discuss under the heading of "Copyright".
The conversion of the archive is a one-off cost, as has already been said—an investment expenditure—with long-term benefits. It seems to me therefore that the approach to cost recovery (i.e. to pricing) should reflect this. This could mean spreading cost recovery over a longer period, but with the inclusion of a concomitant element for the cost of the notional capital involved.
The costs that I have quoted are direct costs and do not make any allowance for user benefit some of which, by their nature, are not readily quantifiable. If these benefits are to be properly realised, considerable education is needed on the applications side; at present both the Ordnance Survey and users perceive their needs for digital maps rather in terms of convenient substitutes for paper charts. This is not surprising 57 because this is what they have been used to. It is not easy to appreciate the wider purposes—the powers of spatial analyses and of being able to relate spatial data to non-spatial data—until you have the new technology.
In this connection the structure of the database will be all important. We devote a number of paragraphs to this and also to the question of educating users to the applications that can become available. But I am inclined to think, on re-reading our report for this debate, that we do not stress sufficiently the need for user education in applications. This is a case, it seems to me, of forging a closer relationship between the academic community, the users and the Ordnance Survey itself.
Let me now say a word about the small scale maps—that is to say, the 1:50,000 and smaller scales. My remarks so far have been largely devoted to large scales, but digitising the small scale map series is also very important. This emerged clearly from the evidence. The Serpell Committee took the view that the small scales programme should run in parallel to the large scales programme, but in practice it has tended to lag behind. The programme needs an impetus.
The cost of the exercise would be only a small fraction of that for the large scale; nevertheless, it would be unfortunate if the Ordnance Survey was required to meet this investment cost out of its annual small scales revenues. It was therefore encouraging to note the Minister's statement in evidence that his department would take a practical view about cost recovery. Now that the Ordnance Survey has embarked on a comprehensive user survey one hopes that the work can be put in hand as soon as possible, for there is no doubt that in both the scientific and military communities a properly structured digital database is now urgently needed.
As a number of members of the committee have already said this afternoon, we formed the impression that the R and D effort at the Ordnance Survey should be enhanced. The director general in his evidence to us in November rather chided us I thought for not taking sufficient note of what was being done. Perhaps we did not. It was certainly encouraging that both he and his Minister said that they wanted to do more.
But the problem is not just one of the amount of the R and D budget—of budget constraints. It is also a question of approach and attitude. If mapping is entering the high technology era, then, as in so many other fields, the old demarcations of professional disciplines break down. It is necessary to combine the traditional skills with the new. This is a matter of people, of combining different disciplines, of recruiting or seconding people from outside, of staff exchanges, and so forth. The review committee recommended, and the Select Committee reiterates, that R and D should be headed by a chief scientist—a technical man with research experience—supported by staff with a wider range of disciplines; that there should be a considered R and D programme—a strategic plan if you like; and that there should also be a research requirements committee.
It is in this area above all that an outward-looking organisation is all important—one that has an easy 58 and close relationship with its peer groups in related fields. It is here that our suggestion for an expert committee to report on the handling of geographic information might be a useful catalyst.
It is also perhaps here that there could be a linkage between remote sensing and digital mapping. I believe it to be particularly important that remote sensing and digital mapping (which is in a sense its handmaiden) should develop together and not, whether for institu-tional or other reasons, in separate compartments. The common thread is the user: what are his needs for spatial data and how can they best be met?
As the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said, it is no doubt quite natural that remote sensing, as with digital mapping, has to date been technically driven, and, as so many other speakers have said, it now needs a much more applications thrust. In such a wide field it is here that I would place emphasis—to quote from our report—on,an immediate need for research into the nature and extent of user benefits".Let me be clear, this is not a plea for cost benefit analyses in the technical economic sense, but rather ofidentifying and understanding the benefits that are likely to accrue".Although, as we know, some benefits can usefully be quantified—and some have already been referred to—at this stage of development many of the most important benefits are not realistically quantifiable. It is therefore—to repeat—more to identify and understand, and hence rank, the uses according to the benefits.
In this new, wide and exciting field it is very easy to get carried away by one's enthusiasm, and I am no exception. If one is to get the best use from our pounds one needs a rather disciplined framework.
This has, I believe, been a debate of considerable quality. It is a matter of regret that, owing to the lateness of the hour and a prior engagement, I shall not be able to stay to its end and listen to the Minister wind up.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
My Lords, I am happy to follow the noble Lord, and indeed I was glad to give him my place in the list of speakers in order to help his timetable because I have had the benefit of hearing his excellent speech before making my own speech, which is somewhat related to what he had to say. I should like to begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and his colleagues on producing this outstanding report and on choosing what is already acknowledged to be a somewhat arcane subject. To me, one of the many uninitiated, it is a subject of not only very great interest, but also enormous importance. I have listened fascinated to the debate about remote sensing. I do not intend to make any comment on it because I do not have time, but I have certainly learned a very great deal to my benefit, as, I think, have all noble Lords concerned.
I want to make just one comment. It is about the application of digitisation to the public utilities, in particular the water industry. The report has recommendations which touch on this point, and in my opinion there is no doubt that the Ordnance 59 Survey should be given the necessary strength in personnel and finance to mount and to accelerate a programme of digitising its large-scale maps, with a publicly stated programme for the digitisation area by area.
The water industry is deeply interested in this matter. Indeed, if their national head had not been cut off by my noble friend and his right honourable colleagues, the 10 regional water authorities would, I am sure, have united in thanking the Select Committee for producing a report which is so valuable and potentially helpful to them. In default of any national body to speak for them, I am very happy to do so myself. I should think that other public utilities would be in a very similar position to the water industry, but perhaps no public utility is more interested than is the water industry because it has no fewer than three national networks. It has the rivers, tributaries and water courses (which of course will show up direct) the underground systems, main water supply pipes, and public sewers and outfalls.
In the evidence the Ordnance Survey fairly makes the point that the water industry is not yet ready to use digitised maps. That is true, but it very soon will be ready; though perhaps it would be fairer to say, "soon will be". All regional water authorities—except Wales, where they do not seem to have heard about it—are making, or are about to make, preparations to use digitisation. But it is generally recognised that prepara-tion will be a long and expensive business for them. However, they see that the benefits in terms of efficiency and cost at the end of it will be very great and well worth going for.
There are two particular aspects of preparation in which they must engage. The lesser one is that they must complete their own records of underground services, water mains and sewers. As noble Lords will know from the excellent report, there are 318,000 kilometres of water mains and 234,000 kilometres of sewers. In the rural areas these are not at all adequately recorded—certainly not in some of the regions of the country. So that has to be completed. It is troublesome and expensive work.
Much more important of course is that all the regional water authorities must equip themselves with the necessary computer hardware and softwear for the conversion. It is a fact that the transfer of the regional water authorities' records from the existing Ordnance Survey paper maps to computer is a major undertaking, though some of them have already engaged in it. Indeed, the Wessex Water Authority, as members of the Science and Technology Committee will remember from their visit there a few years ago, have already digitised their records, though unfortunately with a system not compatible with that of the OS, and so they have now jettisoned it and started again. But this is a point which I think has been made in speeches this afternoon; namely, that too long a delay by Ordnance Survey will see public utilities proceeding on their own to get out digitised map systems in their areas, which will not be compatible, and a very great deal of benefit will be lost thereby. But certainly the preparatory work for a Regional Water Authority to get its information in a state where it can 60 then make its overlay fit on to the Ordnance Survey's digitised system will be a very major job.
Fortunately, there are specialist consultancy firms—private firms—which are now available to serve water authorities, and indeed any other public utilities which want them. They tell me that, for instance, in the Thames area they have already engaged a firm called View Map, which has started in the eastern division, and will soon be extending to the others. But they are all getting ready, or have already started in this major job of preparation. They are also co-operating under the Water Research Council, so that they are informing each other, so that they will harmonise with each other, and so that they can talk to the Ordnance Survey as they proceed with their preparation, and the Ordnance Survey proceeds with its digitisation. As the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, very rightly said, it is most important that the potential customers should be learning just what is involved and how they can make the best of it and make their preparations in both hardware and software accordingly.
In this context, I should like to commend the Dudley experiment. It is quite admirable. The Dudley local authority has brought together four public utilities working with the local authority, setting up a five year co-operative programme: the use of digitisation for the common benefit. This undoubtedly is a most valuable exercise as a prototype of what is needed eventually throughout the country. A footnote to co-operation is, as again this admirable report records, that the amount of mutual damage which is done by the public utilities is surely too appalling to record. No fewer than 73,000 incidents annually, at an estimated cost of £15 million, where such dreadful accidents as a pickaxe being put through a main electricity cable when a workman is on his way down to find the main water pipe, with the most terrible effects for everybody, possibly even the death of the workman. That kind of totally unnecessary accident would be removed for ever once we get a total universal digitisation.
So the picture of the water industry which emerges is that the industry is aware that there is great potential here. They are in various stages of digitisation, mostly pretty early stages. They are a little apprehensive that they are committing themselves to a great deal of money and a great deal of work. Therefore, the timetable of the Ordnance Survey digitisation is absolutely vital to them and I guess that they are not really going to commit themselves wholeheartedly until they see that timetable in front of them.
So it is really up to my noble friend who has sat there very confidently. He has got a perfect speech to answer everything that has been said and I do not doubt he will produce that in a few minutes. But as far as the potential customers are concerned—and public utilities and local authorities must be among the most important of them in the civil scene—they really do need to have a firm programme and this does mean clearly from the report that the Government have got to commit extra resources in money and personnel for the Ordnance Survey to do just that.
On finance, I recognise the figure of £100 million or thereabouts is a heavy one, but there is no doubt that these public utilities are going to be able to pay for this 61 when it is finished. It is going to be worth a lot of money to them. Therefore, I am sure that Lord Chorley made a very good point that the £100 million to be set out initially is going to come back to a very large extent in the value of the new and improved services that can be spent.
Can I just add my word in this very interesting debate to those of others that Lord Shackleton so ably gave the lead to, to ask the Government to treat this report with the gravity which it really deserves and commit the Government to give the necessary support to the Ordnance Survey so that it can fulfil our expectations.
§ 6.30 p.m.
The Earl of Cranbrook
My Lords, it is of particular interest to me as a member of the Select Committee to hear the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, speak from his special expertise and to hear his opinion of this report. As the last man in from the Back-Benches, it would be inappropriate and rash of me to attempt anyhing like the wide-ranging and diverse reviews that your Lordships have heard from previous speakers. I shall try simply to hit again a ball throught an opening in the field identified by the noble Baroness, Lady White, when she spoke of land use surveys.
The survey of land use changes and habitat monitoring is identified on page 18 of the report as being an area of common application of the two otherwise somewhat diverse topics, remote sensing and digitial mapping. For this reason I wish to dwell on it for a moment. As the report notes this is the concern of the Department of the Environment, the Nature Conservancy Council and the Countryside Commission. It is also an area in which the Natural Environment Research Council has strong research interests. I recognise that the noble Lord the Minister may feel that in dwelling on an environmental issue I am unfairly taking him outside his own personal field of expertise. It is fortunate that he has beside him the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, who can whisper a word or two in his ear, if necessary.
But the noble Lord the Minister can hardly have overlooked the existence of widespread public anxiety about some perceived current trends in land use in the United Kingdom. There has been some publicity for the Friends of the Earth in the launch of its countryside campaign. Last weekend, I recollect, one of the large national Sunday papers started its own "campaign" to use its words, to "save the British countryside from further depredation". There is even a feature article in The Times today on the same theme.
In these outlets, the figures for habitat losses put forward by the campaigners are, in fact, those of the Nature Conservancy Council. For instance, lowland herb-rich meadows are, I quote, probably 95 per cent. destroyed. Ancient lowland woods are estimated to be 30 to 50 per cent. destroyed. These figures are, of course, in a sense dependent on one's interpretation of the word "destroyed". They are also, as I am certain the Nature Conservancy Council would admit, estimates based on partial samples of the countryside, and, in several cases, the relevant investigation was carried out some years ago. There is an urgent need to review these data and to bring them up to date.
62 The urgency attached to a review of land use by those who care for the natural environment is illustrated by action being taken spontaneously in my own county of Suffolk. Here, the local naturalist trust is devoting much energy to a county-wide survey of current land use based on Ordnance Survey 1:10,000 scale maps. This survey also involves the local preservation society, the local community council, the local biological records centre and the county council itself. So far 80 volunteers have come forward. They have achieved since February a 15 per cent. coverage of the county.
I asked the organisers whether they could estimate for me what would be a reasonable economic cost if this survey was to be done by paid practitioners who were drawing normal Civil Service travel allowance, and so on. They estimated that about £90,000 worth of work was being done. This is probably fairly realistic. It can be compared with a Countryside Commission research project that is designed to resurvey the new agricultural landscapes, which is budgeted for at £22,000 but covers scarcely more than a few parishes. So, for a single close ground survey covering one county, one is talking of something approaching £100,000. Your Lordships can multiply that figure if you can remember how many counties there are these days, and the total for England and Wales will come to millions. Moreover, this is for a once only survey. As the noble Baroness, Lady White, has emphasised, such surveys need to be repeated to monitor the effects of action taken or, as many fear, the effects of inaction.
This is precisely an area in which remote sensing and digitised mapping can reduce the cost of data collection and data processing. I ask the noble Lord on the Front Bench to state the Government's position. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, will forgive me if I quote his words in a recent debate on the protection of areas of outstanding beauty—on 4th April, when I take it that he was speaking as spokesman for the Department of the Environment. He said:It is the task of central government to provide a framework for achieving a balance between these various demands"—that society places upon its land. He also said:The Government's job is to provide guidelines by which others, principally the local planning authorities, may formulate proposals for the shape of future land use".The noble Lord continued:Structure and local plans set out the land use policies".—[Official Report, 4/4/84; cols. 784–85.]This seems to me a reasonable interpretation of the duties and powers that are conveyed in the relevant sections of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Whether or not this Act gives local authorities sufficient powers may be disputable, but clearly they have an obligation. But so, too, do the Government. It is important to establish a national framework and to draw up guidelines on a national basis as envisaged by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. It is no longer acceptable—in fact, it is damaging to both sides of the argument, if indeed there is an argument—to depend on partial and outdated figures derived from limited ground surveys.
Local initiatives cannot provide the basis for a national framework and guidelines. Moreover, even if 63 a range of local studies could be combined to form a national data base, the cumulative cost to the nation is likely, as I have shown, to be very great. As the noble Baroness, Lady White, says, this is a major opportunity for the Government to take advantage of the technologies now available. There are other examples that I could bring forward. The noble Baroness mentioned the Countryside Commission and Department of the Environment joint contract with Hunting. But this, as I think the noble Baroness said, is not a full land use survey. It is rather an attempt to obtain statistically reliable information which is, of course, the important point. It is essential that any Government decision on land use, even if merely in proposals for guidelines, should be based on satistically sound figures.
If such a project is to be used to provide us with land use guidance, what are the aspects that need to be safeguarded? I choose to reiterate two points that have already been made. First, the database must be established in a mappable and digitised form that is accessible to a wide range of potential users at the county or district local government level. It is important to promote facilities for shared use of the archive, and the report suggests the mechanism. It is important to ensure the fullest co-operation between potential users and even more to ensure that their processing facilities are mutually compatible.
Secondly, it is essential for this nation which lacks its own data gathering satellite to maintain user access to data at a reasonable cost. For some purposes necessary in a land use survey, satellite images are still too coarse grained. At the present state of technology, air photographs continue to be indispensable and, as the report stresses, must be treated as part of a common archive and mutually compatible database.
As the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, mentioned, in theory SPOT—that is the French satellite—should provide greater resolution than the present generation of Landsat American satellites. In practice, I have been told that the simulated SPOT trials produce data with a lot of noise, that is to say, with a lot of random scatter. Once this has been smoothed out, despite the potential higher resolution the ultimate data do not have greater resolution than Landsat. This is a significant point which requires following through. In any event, it is important to keep options open and to retain access to all data-gathering systems. Whatever appeal is made to local, regional or international loyalties it is important not to allow this country as a user to become dependent on any one source.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, it is just over a year since we started this experience together, and it is nearly four hours since we started this debate. I feel that after 10 speakers I had better be brief because the noble Lord on the Front Bench opposite has been very patient and he deserves to be able to stand up very soon and let us know what the Government really feel about some of our recommendations.
This was my first experience of sitting on a sub-committee of the Science and Technology Committee of your Lordships' House, and I must say it was a very 64 rewarding experience. One is surrounded by people of great eminence. En passant, I must say that I find it rather strange that I can sit on committees with Nobel prize-winners and not be allowed to refer to them as noble and learned Lords, whereas one always has to refer to eminent lawyers in that way. Perhaps it is a sign of the fact that this nation has not yet wakened up to the importance of science and technology. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for the way in which he chaired this committee and initiated me, as it were, in the mysteries of this sort of activity. I am overwhelmed with admiration for the way in which our clerk managed to put everything together into a coherent form that we could all understand and agree with at the end of the day. Obviously he was greatly supported in that by Professor Rhind, our adviser.
Many other speakers have already commented on matters about which they know far more than I do, but if I repeat some of the things they have said I hope your Lordships will allow me to do so because I think we all should have a bit of a go at this. It is welcome that one or two noble Lords who were not members of the committee have joined in the debate. I regret that on these matters more noble Lords do not join in the debates. We have been listening to ourselves talking to each other for over a year and it is nice to hear a few new voices on the subject. Those who have joined in are indeed welcome.
I should like to start with the question of the digital mapping part of our remit. I endorse the views that have been expressed that it is disappointing that the Ordnance Survey have not made greater progress post the Serpell Report. It is particularly unfortunate that a real start has not yet been made on small-scale digitising. I very much welcome the opinion stated in our report that the timescale has got to be speeded up now, and that while it would be wrong to dispense with the user survey—I refer to page 48—it should take on the character more of a sales drive than of a search after truth.
I think this message comes through loud and clear at a number of points in the recommendations. Certainly it was at the forefront of many of our minds when we were discussing some of these matters that, as the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, said, there has been a technology-led drive in this matter and it is now time for the market or for the user to be encouraged into picking up the stroke and making sure that the whole activity both in remote sensing and in digital mapping is progressed in a way that is different from before. Again, on page 48, we refer to a sense of urgency and drive that must be imported into small-scale digitising. We did feel there was a lack of urgency there in the Ordnance Survey. I do not want to be too critical of them because we all believe they have done a first-class job. Our chairman made reference to the work that they had done on several occasions while they were giving evidence to us; we all endorsed that.
As noble Lords have said, there has been considerable worry about the fact that the slowness of digitising is leading to a duplication of effort, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, mentioned, there is this real danger that local utilities and indeed other people, including the Natural Environment Research Council, will start doing their own digitising to standards that 65 are incompatible. I think the Ordnance Survey would say they are inferior. That depends on one's standpoint, but certainly they could well be incompatible. That would be an enormous waste of manpower and effort. It is for this reason, more than any other, that we want to see the Ordnance Survey get on with digitising both the large-scale and the small-scale maps.
The other area where the Ordnance Survey do seem to have been lacking interest at first is the whole question of remote sensing. One can understand that they have been in the map-making business for a long time, that we are the best mapped country in the world, and therefore their instinct is to look upon the possibility of deriving maps from remote sensing as being inferior to the methods that they use at the moment. It was encouraging when the director came back to us, along with the Minister from the Department of the Environment, to find that there had been some change of attitude and they were now beginning to say that SPOT could be useful to them when they start to look at small-scale maps. I must say that I was slightly alarmed to hear what the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook said about the results of the SPOT simulation exercises. If that is true, then perhaps we are in for more problems than we thought.
There are one or two points I should like to emphasise about remote sensing. First, we were all disappointed by the concluding remarks of Mr. Kenneth Baker when he appeared before the committee. The noble Baroness, Lady White, has already referred to those remarks and certainly I endorse what she said. He seemed to see the role of the Government only as one of co-ordinating the commercial forces. I suppose it was a classic view that the market forces would exert themselves, and that if they did not it would not be the fault of the Government. But, as many speakers from all sides of the House have said in this debate, there is available to this country a tremendous opportunity which, as the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, said, we missed in the case of other science-led applications years ago. We must not miss this time round.
The committee has identified very specific areas where this country can take the lead—in the radar developments, in the whole business of data manipulation, data compression both on board and on the ground. We have focused our attentions on those areas, but the problem is that while there are a lot of potential customers for the data, and indeed for the equipment and for the software, many of those potential customers are not aware that they are potential customers and somebody has got to go out and tell them.
I thought that the Minister was too dismissive of the idea that the Government should help to stimulate the market. The suggestion as regards stimulating the market was something which was mentioned quite frequently in our discussions. It is clear that the French, who have set up a commercial company called SPOT Image, very much backed by Government money, have realised that the potential is there provided that they go out and seize it.
The other thing that the French are doing—and I do not think that anyone has mentioned it yet today—is encouraging a considerable number of overseas 66 students from developing countries to come and take courses and see what is going on at Toulouse. It seems to me again that this country is missing a trick because many of those countries will become potential markets for data, and those are the markets for which we should be looking. They are not areas that will be able to fund it themselves, but they are areas where the techniques of, in particular, remote sensing will be of the greatest possible value in helping to uncover mineral deposits and hydrocarbon deposits. So the difference in attitude between France and the Department of Trade was rather startling, and I hope that that impression can be corrected by the Minister when he speaks.
Not everything is gloomy. One applauds the fact that the department has appointed Mr. Pardoe—Mr. Geoffrey Pardoe—as co-ordinator of the National Remote Sensing Board. I must say that his attitude was extremely refreshing. It seemed to me that he was part of the better news that we heard during the whole of our discussions and he certainly showed an awareness of the need to get up and go and create markets.
Therefore, as I have said, the report is quite clear about the areas upon which we should concentrate. We were led in that direction by some excellent memoranda from the Royal Society and from the Remote Sensing Society. Indeed, the thing that put the matter into perspective for me more than anything else, was a brief visit to Imperial College, and I say that not just because my noble friend is sitting behind me. However, in my view, that visit put many matters into context which I, for one, had been groping for among the mass of data that we had before us. Those of your Lordships who have a copy of the evidence will realise that quite a heavy tome was produced, not by our efforts but by contributions from people outside. Those particular items helped to clear our minds.
Undoubtedly the most important recommendation, which has already been mentioned by several people, is the one contained in the opinions on the institu-tional framework in paragraph 5.3. This is an area where we must ask the Government to state their intentions as soon as possible. It will cost money but it is an enormously important capital investment for the country to have this data network. As has been said, it is something which will link into other data transfers. Without it, in my view large parts of the country will be flying blind. The concentration of activity in the south of England has been referred to by many of the people who wrote to us. Indeed, my noble friends in Dundee I am sure illustrate the problems that exist in places away from the south-east of England.
I hope that the Government will take the matter seriously. I hope that the Government will not just leave this report to gather dust, but will realise that we have tried not to be spendthrift in making recommen-dations that can never be achieved because they are too expensive. We have endeavoured quite seriously to focus our activities on matters which are genuinely important and which need a minimum of Government intervention, at least in the early stages. The market forces can take off in due time, but they need the type of encouragement that can only come from the Government. I have had my eyes opened by being on this committee. I have seen how many excellent people we have in this country in a whole 67 range of different disciplines. It behoves Parliament and the Government to recognise that that talent is there and that, given the right support, we can find a sector of this whole business where we can be extremely successful and which can be profitable in every sense of the word for this nation.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I have only myself to blame for being here. Just over a year ago I had the temerity to make my maiden speech in your Lordships' House in a debate on the future of the Ordnance Survey, and to talk specifically about digital mapping. I was misled by the common courtesy of your Lordships to think not only that I might have made a reasonable speech, but also that I had some intellectual understanding of the issues involved. I must assure your Lordships that my technical knowledge of these matters is extremely limited and if I succeeded in concealing that fact a year ago, I will have much more difficulty in concealing it now.
I am drawn to the subject not least by the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Energlyn, who described remote sensing as being a matter of drama and colour and glamour. Not just from the illustration of the report, but from my own reading of the whole subject over the period since I was asked to reply to this debate from this Dispatch Box, I must agree that this is a subject of very considerable fascination as well as of very considerable importance.
I see my duty speaking here on this subject as being two-fold. First, to express support for and appreciation of my noble friend Lord Shackleton and his colleagues for the excellent work which has been done in the report, and for the recommendations that they have put before your Lordships. Secondly, to make some effort to anticipate the kind of objections which the Government—any government—are likely to have towards any positive action, especially involving the expenditure of money, and to see whether it is possible, in anticipating those objections, to weaken the response of the Government and to make it more difficult for them to oppose positive action. I hope—and I think that it is highly likely—that I am doing a great injustice to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, and to the Government, but let us work from that assumption for the purposes of the next few minutes.
In my first task of expressing appreciation for the report, 1 want to add my thanks to my noble friend for the way in which in his opening speech he gutted the recommendations for us. It is daunting to be faced with 46 different recommendations about two subjects whose interconnection is not immediately obvious although it has been forcefully made clear by a number of speakers in this debate. As I understood it, the most important recommendation which my noble friend was commending to the House on the question of digital mapping, was that there should be a very considerable speeding up of the process of digitising both large-scale and small-scale maps by the Ordnance Survey, and that there should be a considerable strengthening of the research and development capability of the Ordnance Survey. I shall return to both of those matters in a few minutes.
68 On the question of remote sensing, it is clear that we have here a very complex investment decision. I think that it can be readily agreed that the first priority for investment by this country—whether it is private or public—should be in the ground and user segments. But the committee is recommending to us that there should also be a selective involvement in the space segment. Having no particular knowledge of the space technology involved, I am convinced that this is the right approach and that, as the committee says in its recommendations, it will be a rewarding investment.
I am thinking particularly of the need for space instrumentation which, in the short history of space technology, has proved to be enormously more economically and technologically exciting when applied to other applications than to space itself; secondly, of the importance of concentrating on radar sensing, which I understand to be a unanimous view of the members of the committee and of noble Lords who have spoken today; and, thirdly, perhaps more important still, of the importance of improving the capability of this country in data handling and in software.
My noble friend then referred to the importance of the institutional arrangements—and a number of other noble Lords have made the same point—in strengthening the National Remote Sensing Centre and the National Remote Sensing Programme Board. There appears to be some disagreement as to whether or not the communication network should be based on Starlink, but I believe that those are both secondary matters. It is the importance of the communication network itself which will be the most significant element in the committee's recommendations.
I turn now to the second part of my duty, which is to try to anticipate what obstacles there may be to advance, and to see what answers there might be to those suggested obstacles. First, there is the obvious and most straightforward one, which is the sheer cost of the investment by the Ordnance Survey in digital mapping and, indeed, the research and development capability within the Ordnance Survey. If we take the 10-year period which is suggested as being appropriate for the digitising of large-scale maps, and if we take the estimates which we have been given of a net cost of £50 million over the 10-year period—that is, taking into account the savings in what I think one would not be unfair to call obsolete technology or at least obsolescent technology within the Ordnance Survey—that does not seem to me to be a very significant level of investment, even of public investment.
The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, referred to the need for balance and to the difficulty of actually finding the facilities for speeding up digitising, even if we succeed in going over very largely, or entirely, to automatic digitising rather than manual digitising. An outsider's view would be that, if there is a will to achieve complete digitisation of our large-scale maps, and if there is also a will to go to the private sector to have this work done, the prospect of international business in all the other countries of the world, which will be behind us in digitising as they have historically been behind us in the creation of large-scale maps, will be enough to attract private investment in automatic 69 digitising equipment and will be enough to make it possible to speed up the programme.
Another obstacle referred to in the report is the question of copyright. Here I believe that the report is grossly pessimistic. The copyright issue here is nothing like as complicated as some of the other copyright issues which are now coming to the fore with the development of other means of communication and other media. After all, when we are talking about the copyright of Ordnance Survey maps, there is only one beneficiary of copyright. I accept that copyright income is a third of the income of the Ordnance Survey, but nevertheless, there is only one beneficiary, and the secret—as always in these matters—is to make sure that the user is getting a sufficiently differentiated product for him to want to have his own map, his own features, his own scale and his own co-ordinates, even at the cost of paying a copyright fee, rather than pirating something which is less suitable for his applications. One of the great things about digital mapping is that it will be possible to have customised maps, whereas at the moment almost all users of maps are using models which inadequately represent their own needs and requirements. Under those circumstances and given the progress that is being made in finding ways of enforcing copyright, probably through licensing agreements, I do not think that copyright needs to be a serious problem.
The major reason why a government, particularly this Government, might resist rapid advance in these matters was expressed very clearly by Mr. Kenneth Baker in his evidence to the committee. It is the view that investment in these matters should be user-led. A number of noble Lords have very effectively answered—and very directly answered—that suggestion. The noble Lords, Lord Sherfield and Lord Flowers, referred to the difficulty of finding the users who do not yet know what they want. The noble Lord, Lord Flowers, spoke about purposes which have not been foreseen. Is not that the essence of a large part of scientific advance?—that one pursues a line of research because it seems to be the right thing to do and then one is surprised and delighted when it turns out to have other applications. In practice I do not think it likely that finance from private users will make the sort of progress—particularly in the very capital-intensive, remote sensing area—which will be necessary to keep this country up to and—why not?—ahead of, the world in this matter.
When talking about keeping this country up with the world, I must confess that I was disturbed by the reference on page 34 of the report to anxiety in the United States that their supremacy in remote sensing was being challenged by competition from Europe and elsewhere. I should have thought that that was exactly the wrong attitude to take to the development of remote sensing. Nearly all of the effective development on the space segment of remote sensing has been by international co-operation, and a number of noble Lords have referred to the necessity, mentioned in the report, for us to keep in with the international-multinational projects which are taking place at the moment in this area.
The essence of this is that both remote sensing and digital mapping will have unsuspected uses and unsuspected users, and it is impossible to forecast at 70 this time what they will be. There are almost comic examples of this. The recent scandal, if that is the right word, of the avion renifleur, which did not cast much credit on a certain French oil company, a certain Belgian count, or even certain members of a former French Government, was only an example of remote sensing; it was claimed that it was possible for, in this case, a low-flying aircraft to spot oil underneath the Sahara. We are told in the report that the maximum penetration below the earth's surface from a satellite is, in fact, in the Sahara, but that that penetration is only down to five metres. If that report had been read thoroughly before anyone became involved in the investment in avion renifleur perhaps recent French history would have been slightly different.
I am also reminded of the recent film "Trading Places", which hinges on early reports of the frozen concentrated orange juice market and the success of the crop in Florida. Perhaps if there had been continuous remote sensing of the development of the orange crop there would have been none of the stock market opportunities for success or disaster and we might have been deprived of a most amusing film. But there are much more serious applications. In the report the possibility is suggested that we might be able to use remote sensing to improve on and update census data. I should be interested to see in detail how that might work, and I wonder whether the Government are considering doing without the 1986 sample census on the basis of an adequate investment in remote sensing technology.
The most important of the areas where the uses cannot ce fully anticipated will be in the military area. Here the issue of space instrumentation, so clearly identified in the report, is the most significant. I want to suggest to the Government that there is good evidence from the report and from the opinions of the witnesses who spoke to the committee that this development ought to be still in the public sector. The reasons for that, oddly enough, are set out most clearly in the evidence from Logica Limited. It says that it has to be because of the pre-eminence, first, of defence interests; secondly, of the uses for environmental monitoring (a number of noble Lords have referred to that in the debate); thirdly, because of the uses for mineral and geological exploration and research—I concede that that is an area where it could be thought that the private sector has a concern—and finally for the understanding and control of the weather and climate. That is an element which I understand Mr. Pardoe refers to as humanitarian rather than business, which I still think is very important to our economic development, and it is difficult to see how it could ever be in private hands.
However, I do not think for a moment that to say that this development should be in the public sector is to say that it should be carried out without a degree of business acumen. This is the message which I take away from the report and why I think that the report is so important. It is in considering it in business terms as investment in capital and looking at the revenue to come in ways which are only hinted at at the moment that we will make the most progress. I believe that here not just the geographical but the scientific and economic benefits of the work proposed in the report will be of the most value to this country.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I should like to begin by expressing the Government's gratitude to your Lordship's committee for this report. It comes most usefully at a time when both remote sensing and digital mapping are at important stages in their development. This comprehensive report brings such a welcome focus to both these fields, that it is already a much-valued source of reference.
We are greatly indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, not only for moving the debate but for opening his speech with such a useful explanation of the techniques of remote sensing and digital mapping and their many applications. The Government share the noble Lord's view that we should not be swept away by spectacular advances in new technology so that we proceed without regard for its applications—a subject I should like to return to later.
Your Lordships will appreciate that I cannot on this occasion give detailed replies to all the 46 recommendations of the report. A full written reply is being prepared by the Government and I am pleased that we shall be able to take account of your Lordships' debate today. I have listened most attentively to the points that have been made, and I shall see to it that they are carefully considered.
The committee's first recommendation was that the development of remote sensing and digital mapping should be complementary and their separation should be no greater than necessary. The Government are in complete agreement. Though the techniques used are very different, and the areas of application overlap only partially, the two areas do have important common applications. In thematic mapping, for example, there is a requirement for the transformation of remote sensing data to match standard map projections, and here especially there would be benefits from a joint approach.
We must avoid duplication of effort and the production of incompatible data systems. The closeness of the relationship will undoubtedly increase with the enhanced power of resolution of remote sensing satellites. As the report suggests, however, it would be unwise to try to force an artificially close relationship, and, outside the areas of overlap, remote sensing and digital mapping should be allowed to develop independently—for instance the linkage between digital mapping and the handling of other types of spatially referenced information is likely to become increasingly important. As an earnest of the Government's intentions, I can say now that the Ordnance Survey will forthwith be appointing a member to the National Remote Sensing Programme Board, as recommended in the report.
Turning first to remote sensing let me state the Government's objectives. They are: first, to put British companies in a favourable position to develop and exploit markets (through the provision of national archives and distribution arrangements, a national research programme, and back-up advice and services); and, secondly, to provide guaranteed continuing access to worldwide remote sensing data.
The Government recognise that a sustained effort of co-ordination will be required to achieve these objectives, chiefly because of the wide and varying 72 range of actual and potential users of the data, and the interdisciplinary nature of the applications and techniques used. It was for this reason, and actually during the course of your Lordships' committee's inquiry, that the Government set up the National Remote Sensing Programme Board. This has representatives from industry, from the research councils, from all the relevant Government departments and now of course from the Ordnance Survey. The Government also appointed an industry-based team to co-ordinate the national programme. The board has already set about several of the tasks which the committee have recommended—in particular the development of a national policy framework for setting research priorities to take account of an exercise to identify more clearly the potential users and the economic benefits of remote sensing.
The interest in ERS—1 of the noble Lords, Lord Shackleton and Lord Sherfield, and many of your Lordships has been carefully noted and I can assure your Lordships that the emphasis in the national programme will be to work towards the development of practical commercial applications and the provision of major investments in reception and processing facilities, particularly of the radar data.
Last year, my right honourable friend the Minister for Information Technology announced the start of a £14 million co-ordinated national remote sensing programme, mainly to develop techniques for the use of the European Space Agency's ERS satellite for coastal and oceanographic observations. The decision whether to proceed with the main development phase of this satellite has to be taken within the next couple of months. Your committee rightly appreciated that the United Kingdom, with its maritime tradition and experience unique in Europe in radar remote sensing, would be well placed to develop applications for this satellite.
If I may reply now to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, about the ESA in particular, I can confirm that the Government remain committed to membership of the European Space Agency. An increasing proportion of the Government's space research and development budget is projected as being devoted to remote sensing, reflecting its increasing priority. As for bilateral projects, the United Kingdom is already involved in preparation for the important Canadian Radarsat programme together with the United States, and we are likely to be major participants in this mission, which is due for launch in 1990. I think that was in the mind of my noble friend Lord Bessborough as well.
Before I turn to digital mapping, there are two more of the committee's recommendations on remote sensing which have already been taken on board, and which I should like to mention. The report asked the Government to take all reasonable steps to support a second experiment with the European Space Agency's metric camera aboard the United States space shuttle. Your Lordships will be pleased to hear that there is now every prospect of a further flight for the metric camera in the near future.
I turn now to the future of the Central Register of Air Photographs for England, a subject which I know is of considerable interest to the noble Baroness, Lady White. The Select Committee were concerned that the 73 register should continue, and form part of the national catalogue of information accessible through a communications network. I am pleased to be able to announce that the Government have decided that responsibility for the Central Register is to be transferred to the Ordnance Survey from the Department of the Environment. This decision has been reached after careful consideration of the responses to the DOE's consultation paper issued towards the end of last year.
The Ordnance Survey have an acknowledged expertise in air photography, which they will be able to combine with their existing customer services. They propose to computerise the register, and to provide an improved level of service to its users. In this way, the register could form part of a national archive of information. I can assure the noble Baroness that computerisation, higher-profile marketing and the other improvements that the transfer of functions will bring will improve the level of service to the public.
My Lords, I turn now to digital mapping. The proposals of your Lordships' committee for digital mapping are ambitious and reflect the expectation that the demand for digital information will increase rapidly over the next decade. The speed of change can undoubtedly be increased by the injection of significant new investment, but I do have to say that the Government have some doubts as to whether all the proposed expansion can be implemented cost-effectively in such a short period of time. Techniques have still to be refined and promulgated; users still have to learn and experience what can be done; new users still have to emerge; hardware has to be installed and personnel have to be trained. All this requires considerable time, effort and financial resources.
Despite this note of caution, your Lordships will be interested to learn that the Ordnance Survey's proposals for an acceleration of its basic scales digitising programme to provide cover of Great Britain by the year 2000 were recently endorsed by the Ordnance Survey Advisory Board. These recommen-dations will be submitted to Ministers shortly. With regard to Recommendation 19 of the committee's report, I am pleased to say that the survey of user needs for small-scale digital mapping is in hand and when the results have been assessed later this year an appropriate programme will be prepared. The Government will, of course, need to consider further the costs, benefits, and conflicting priorities for Ordnance Survey resources before committing themselves to an expanded programme for the mainland, but I am very pleased to be able to announce that approval has been given to the programme to digitise the mapping of the Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland. The procurement process for the acquisition of the necessary new capital equipment is already in hand.
One of the Select Committee's key recommen-dations, in our view, is the proposed committee of inquiry into geographic information systems. I can assure your Lordships that we are looking into this very seriously. We very much agree with the committee's analysis of the issues here: in particular, the need to provide a forum, or "club", as it is sometimes referred to, to co-ordinate and strengthen user interests. We also believe that the committee has 74 rightly pointed to the need for widespread discussion on how geographic information systems should develop. These discussions will be essential if the growing number of sources of information are to be effectively brought together, and if duplication of effort between data collectors is to be avoided. The Government see the merit in securing good advice, as suggested by the committee, on the best methods of building up and maintaining a national catalogue of all digital spatial information. We should expect to be able to make an announcement on these important issues and proposals when we respond formally to the committee's report.
Turning to more specific points, your Lordships' Committee made recommendations for the Ordnance Survey's research and development capabilities. The Government accept the need for strengthening these capabilities. Already a number of extra graduates have been recruited to the Ordnance Survey's Research and Development Division, and it is hoped to double its strength during the next five years.
In addition, the graduate strength of the Ordnance Survey will increase from the current figure of 48—not 20, incidentally, as the report states—to 84 as a result of the amalgamation with the Directorate of Overseas Surveys. Recruitment of additional graduates is in hand and this year six graduates in surveying, geography and mathematics will join the department; but increases in graduate manpower can only come about within the manpower ceilings currently authorised. Also, numerical comparisons of the kind made in the report can be a little misleading because more account needs to be taken of how graduates are employed and of the different types and varieties of work done by different departments. Nevertheless, it is recognised that the hydrographic department, for example, has benefited over the years from having a high proportion of good honours graduates on its staff.
My noble friend Lord Bessborough asked me about the Versailles Working Group. I am pleased to be able to say that the Government have been playing an active part in the discussions of the Versailles Working Group on remote sensing from space. In the main, discussion has so far focused on polar-orbiting weather satellites. The latest thinking is that the broader European participation in this mainly US-inspired programme should be through the provision of additional satellite instruments. The United Kingdom is in fact providing such instruments for the present series of American satellites. There were a number of other matters raised by the Versailles Working Group about which perhaps I may write to my noble friend.
I turn now to some of the other points which have been raised during the course of this debate. The noble Lords, Lord Flowers and Lord Sherfield, and the noble Baroness, Lady White, and I think one or two other noble Lords, asked me about the possibility of the Government financing the establishment of a communications network as suggested by the committee. The Government accept the view that rapid dissemination of data and ready access to the national archives are essential for the development of the remote-sensing and digital-mapping user communities in the United Kingdom. The development of the British Telecom System X will provide adequate channels for this purpose. In 75 addition, as the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, pointed out, the whole university and research council community have now agreed to establish a unified network. For major regional centres or for locations not serviced by System X special arrangements will be necessary. The architecture of any data communication system will require considerable further study, and the universities' JANET network may well be relevant here. The Government would expect users to contribute to the investment, particularly in the setting up of regional nodes.
The noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, referred to the remarks made by my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Information Technology about the priority in financial allocation given to remote sensing. My right honourable friend went on to say that knowledge for knowledge's sake is a very expensive thing. I agree with him, but the fact that we are interested in developing applications rather than just in technology and that we are looking for users who will be prepared to fund further developments does not indicate a lack of will on the part of the Government. We are keen to prime the pump with funding for remote sensing, as in other areas.
On the question of extra resources for basic research in remote sensing, in its 1983 advice, the Advisory Board for the Research Councils identified remote sensing as a priority area for additional scientific research. This was followed with a recommendation for an additional half million pounds' spending on remote sensing in the National Environment Research Council for 1984–85.
The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in his opening speech—and I think that this may have been referred to by at least one other noble Lord—asked about whether the Government agreed that more needed to be done in the field of application research. The Government welcome the Committee's analysis of the requirement for research and development, and we support the view that more needs to be done in the field of applications research. The R & D projects to be implemented will need to be selected on the basis of their contributions towards the development of useful and rewarding applications. Work is being carried out in some of the areas identified by the Select Committee but we agree that the appropriate bodies for recommending priorities are the research councils and the National Remote Sensing Programme Board. Work to date has progressed on an ad hoc basis and as a result of the specific interests of potential users. The NRSPB is already considering the adoption of a more thorough and systematic approach.
The noble Lords, Lord Flowers and Lord Mackie, referred to the attitude of the research councils to work on remote sensing in the universities. The research councils well recognise the value of the universities' remote sensing work. The NERC has given particular help already to the University of Dundee, especially through grants and a contract to help to finance the development of a satellite receiving station there. The international recognition accorded to the output from this station is a great tribute to the success of the NERC investment and to the quality of the Dundee staff.
76 It is open to universities to initiate requests for recognition and support for advanced courses. However, in the absence of such bids for remote sensing courses, the NERC and SERC, recognising the national importance of this work, unusually, invited universities to submit proposals for a MSc course to be supported by both councils. As the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, said, the University of London proposal was selected, but others may still submit proposals for courses for consideration.
The noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, queried the status of the Ordnance Survey and manpower levels and their commitment to R & D and remote sensing. Of course, the Ordnance Survey is an autonomous Government department reporting through a Minister in the Department of the Environment. Its future manpower levels will be set taking into account its rolling five-year plan. The staff reductions to which the noble Lord referred were not decided upon lightly, but it was the Govenment's view that the maintenance of the archives and progress in digitising programmes would not be significantly affected by them. R and D at the Ordnance Survey has concentrated on large-scale digitising, and consideration of small-scale digitising must await the outcome of studies now in hand, in collaboration with NERC, in order to identify the demand. As for remote sensing, the Ordnance Survey has monitored its use for some years. The Ordnance Survey is a principal investigator for SPOT—my noble friend Lord Bessborough and also my noble friend Lord Cranbrook referred to this—and it is participating in studies using the metric camera in Spacelab, to which I have alrady referred.
Perhaps I may say a few more words about the SPOT programme in response to what my noble friend Lord Bessborough said. I am pleased to be able to say that some years ago Her Majesty's Government were the first in the world to sign a memorandum of understanding with the French for access to the SPOT data. That will be available to users here from the National Remote Sensing Centre, which is organising a preparatory simulation programme this summer.
My noble friend Lord Cranbrook was rather critical of SPOT. With regard to the potential spatial resolution of SPOT data, it is well known that simulations using aircraft are not precise, and, while I have no knowledge of the particular results to which my noble friend referred, I am assured that the specified resolution of the SPOT sensors can be achieved. I believe I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, on that point as well.
I imagine I have omitted many points that have been made, but time is marching on and perhaps your Lordships will forgive me if I do not speak on particu-lar points raised which I have not so far dealt with. I will deal with those points in writing on a future occasion. Let me conclude by thanking the committee once again for its excellent report and by thanking its chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for arranging this most informative debate. We shall be endeavouring in all this to set the right course for future development, to spell out our priorities for action and to provide the conditions and framework within which remote sensing and digital mapping can develop successfully in the United Kingdom.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, the debate has gone on for a long time and I shall not spend very long in replying. I should like to thank the Minister, who has shown great endurance. I do not think he has moved from his seat during the debate. He is well qualified to take part in a space mission I should say. I should like also to congratulate my noble friend; in fact I think the two Front Benches have done rather well in the face of the mass onslaught of all the members of the committee, except one. I am very grateful, because I feel that between us we have been able to cover all the points that we wanted to cover. I am also grateful to other noble Lords who have joined in.
One point I should like to mention is this. I have been looking again at the evidence and I think that it is one of the most fascinating collections of information. I do not believe that anyone here has time to read it, but it is a textbook containing most useful information and most useful views. By and large, also, I think our report reflects the evidence we had.
I do not think I need do more, except perhaps to mention one or two weaknesses in the report. I do not think we stressed sufficiently the importance of help for developing territories; nor perhaps did we stress to the ordinary reader the importance of overseas as a source of successful industry and business. I think we thought that we had, but from comments we have received perhaps we did not press it far enough. Nor, of course, were we able to cover all the people who have since written in or who have given evidence; for example, the various university departments. I am conscious that we may not have paid the tributes to them that we should have paid. We had interesting comments on Dundee University, and we are well aware of the importance of their work. There were also other universities, such as Southampton, Reading, and Nottingham, all of which are doing pioneer work. There is a great burst of energy, in particular in the geography departments. Geographers see this as a point where they can actually focus themselves without just being regarded as spread between other disciplines. I see this myself, as a former geographer. It is a multidisciplinary activity, and indeed our team was a multidisciplinary one.
I shall not go into the question of whether the appropriate network should be JANET; in the long run I think we shall need something with a great deal higher capacity than the JANET network. But I think that today the Government have given us as much encouragement as we could reasonably expect, and indeed perhaps rather more than I had hoped. Clearly I think we are agreed on the diagnosis, and certainly this represents the views of Government and industry. If one reads the evidence of Marconi, one sees that they look to Government. They do not believe that private enterprise at this stage can create the markets and finance the activities; and this point is well reflected in the report.
I am also grateful for the reference to the Versailles meeting. I do not think that people generally are sufficiently aware of the importance that is beginning to be attached by scientists and technologists to this matter and the matters which are being taken to the summit meetings in this whole area. What is 78 characteristic of the House of Lords, I like to think, is that we are able to pioneer these things.
Seeing the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, in his place reminds me of our interests in the past. I remember a parliamentary scientific committee in 1955 suggesting that we should have a session on space. There was an embarrassed silence, and then I substituted the international geophysical year, when of course the first sputniks went up. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Saint Oswald, the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, and I in the aviation debate suggesting that we ought to take an interest in space. I also remember that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, said that he was not going to spend his time flinging satellites round the moon. We are not doing that, but we have got to participate with those people who are putting satellites into space.
I am grateful for what the Government have said. We shall look with some anxiety to the report. As the noble Lord knows, in this House we are able to return to topics and to keep up the presssure. I think the role of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee is to highlight and emphasise areas to which the Government need to give attention. I consider that the Government, together with certain civil servants in the Department of Trade and Industry, deserve congratulations. People are not aware of how often only a very few civil servants are carrying major responsibilities, and they are entitled to credit. They will need support, as will the National Remote Sensing Centre. So far, so good. We shall await with interest the Government's reply.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.