HL Deb 30 March 1988 vol 495 cc785-830

4.24 p.m

Debate resumed.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, if we can now return to the debate upon your Lordships' Select Committee report on space, perhaps I may first join in the thanks of those of us who served on the committee and those noble Lords in the House today to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. I should also like to thank our specialist advisers, the clerks and, if I may say so on this occasion, the shorthand writers. This is not an easy subject for anybody. It must be frightfully difficult for shorthand writers to have to listen to people on the Select Committee who tend to start sentences and then to go on to something else, and then produce a coherent report. We are intensely grateful to all those people.

After five years on your Lordships' Select Committee, to me this was one of the most difficult investigations in which I have been involved, even having had the benefit of serving on the sub-committee that looked at remote sensing and digital mapping way back in 1983. It took a long time for many of us to get the feel of the problems before us. This was partly because the subject is such an immense and expanding one whether or not one believes in the Big Bang theory.

The problem was undoubtedly compounded by the uncertainty that has already been referred to as a result of the BNSC report, which never saw the light of day as far as we were concerned. We expected it to be published right at the beginning. Indeed it is possible that the committee was set up at that time because that report was expected to be published at that time. I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, nods in agreement. It was not published. We were certainly not alone in expecting it to be published. If your Lordships care to look at the evidence of Sir Geoffrey Pattie who, after all, was the Minister who called for the report in the first place, it can be seen that he himself expected it to be published in some form or other.

In answer to Question 730 from the Lord Chairman the Minister said: But as it was no secret the plan was being prepared by a body established with a fair degree of publicity, it was always tacitly understood that the plan would be published in a reasonably unexpurgated form at some stage". In answer to the next question: Do you think it should now be published?", the clear answer came from Sir Geoffrey Pattie: "Yes, I do". So did we. There is no doubt that this report should be published if we are to have a sensible national debate on the subject.

If we compare the evidence of Sir Geoffrey Pattie with that of his successor, the present Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, it shows quite clearly that there was a complete change of direction of government policy between, on the one hand, the ESA Council in The Hague and the appointment of Mr. Roy Gibson as Director General of BNSC in 1985 and, on the other hand, the reply which has already been referred to and which was given by the Prime Minister in another place on the last day before the Summer Recess of last year. There was a complete change of direction.

The Government may well reply that there had been a change of direction or a change of emphasis by ESA. I do not deny that. There was a cranking up of the ESA programme which may not have been acceptable to the committee, let alone the Government. I believe that we would agree that on the balance of evidence presented to us the pursuit of a European-manned programme is a grotesque waste of resources. Apart from one witness who had a slightly Boy's Own Paper approach to the whole problem, it was difficult to find anyone in this country prepared to support the French in their insistence on a manned programme.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said that the scientists are against this and that they regard men in space as a contaminant. The Select Committee would have supported the Government if it was only a question of objecting to Hermes and to the man-rating of Ariane. We believe that the Government are correct in rejecting the more grandiose French plans in this direction. However, as has already been said, there comes a point where one has to participate in some things that one does not like in order to be able to participate at all. I think that the general conclusion of the committee was that we should still participate in Ariane 5, even if it had to be man-rated, in order to have some contact with the project.

The Government went beyond that point to a situation where the new cash limits, in my view and I believe that of most of the members of the committee, ensured the worst possible option. There is a danger that we may pay for the infrastructure but we may not be able to afford to invest any more money in order to obtain the fruits of the investment we have already made.

Perhaps I may quote from the evidence given by Mr. Roy Gibson at page 169 of Volume II of the report in answer to Question 588 which was: Do you, therefore, accept … that at this level we are in fact subsidising other countries and not getting equal benefit ourselves? he replied: Yes, I think we are getting a bad deal for our investment at the moment, yes. I think it would be possible over … two or three years, if we were to get more money, then to start re-adjusting even where we put our original £100 million. The difficulty is re-arranging it when we do not have any room for manoeuvre. He was then asked: So we are locked in subsidising other people's programmes? To which he replied: Certainly for two years we have no headroom at all. That is what I mean when I say that we are getting the worst of all worlds as a result of the amount of money that the Government have assessed as being the cash limit.

At present we are unable to sustain any further national programme of any significance. If we cannot do that, we cannot give industry the chance to play a full part. The consequences of that lack of competitiveness and the shortage of trained manpower for the future in this area, and in a variety of associated industries, are very serious. I believe it is foolish to throw out the British baby with the French bathwater.

However, the Government seem to expect industry to play an ever-increasing role in this sphere. We do not disagree with that; industry should be encouraged to play an increasing role. Indeed, it may well be that industry has not been as forthcoming as it should have been in this general area. Nonetheless, I suspect that we mean slightly different things and that in any case government expectations are unrealistic. They give the impression—this came through I believe very clearly from Mr. Clarke—that they see a greedy industry waiting for Government handouts for hardware contracts.

As I have already said, the committee is not uncritical of industry; industry may well be shortsighted, especially those companies superficially remote from space. However, many projects as the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, has already said, are essentially speculative; they are not attractive to shareholders or the City and the pay-off is really very long indeed. As your Lordships' Select Committee suggested, in its deliberations last year on the subject of R&D and surface transport, there is a great need for demonstration projects. If that is true of surface transport, I believe it is also true of space.

The real pay-off in industry will only come from the long-term exploitation of space projects by user companies, as is the case with communications. However, in the meantime, it is quite clear from the evidence we received that an absolute maximum, not more than £30 million, will come forward from industry and the Government will apparently not make good the shortfall in the short term.

Of course it takes time for industry to realise just what is happening and we have seen in the interim between our report in 1983 and that of the present day, that there is a shallow learning curve as regards industry. I looked at the evidence that Shell International gave to the committee in 1983. It stated: For hydrocarbon exploration the use of such techniques"— referring to remote sensing— is limited to 'quick-look' cartography and to interpretation of surface geology in a few suitable areas. Some four years later a letter, written a year ago today from my old friend and former colleague Dick Longfield in Shell UK, shows that much has happened to its awareness in the interval. In addition to an extended list of direct and indirect benefits—for example, weather and metoocean data; navigation; detection of oil spills and pipeline leakages—he also makes the following significant comment: The experience of space research and policy within a company such as ours is as yet limited, although we hope that as the commercial utilisation of outer space increases so will our 'space awareness'. Therefore, if that is true of a great international company like Shell UK, how much more true must it be of smaller companies in this country? So there is a danger of an investment gap which can only be filled by public funds, until industry has a greater sense of space awareness.

If what I have said, together with that which has already been said in the House, appears to be critical of the Government and their policy, I hope that this will not be taken as a party political speech. In so far as the report is critical, I believe that it is critical across the whole party spectrum. It is clear from the committee's view that the Government do not have a stable policy and that they ought to have one.

Industry must believe in the stability of government policy, perhaps more than anything else. The report tries to fill that gap and suggests a policy to the Government which they could adopt as stated on page 61 at paragraph 5.111.

I do not intend to deal with much more detail on the subject, as many other noble Lords will no doubt mention Columbus and the polar platform, which indeed have already been referred to. I have already stated my views on Hermes in that I am against it, and my distaste for a man-rated Ariane 3 rocket.

Although I was originally sceptical about HOTOL I have now come round to the view that here is an opportunity that we cannot allow to go by default. It may be that it is our historic role to bring this concept to actuality; I believe it is unlikely that any other country will do so. We are already ahead of the Germans. HOTOL has the benefit that it is intended to be an unmanned artefact, and competitors from Germany and France who came into this business as a result of the initial HOTOL breakthrough have much more ambitious performance goals which will undoubtedly be more expensive. It is also unlikely that any nation with an expendable launcher system would take the project up because of the trauma it would cause to the lucrative business which its manufacturers already enjoy. Since we have no such industry to replace, it should indeed be easier for us.

It should also be borne in mind that the lower launch costs in the end will lead to lower spacecraft cost. With relaunch costs being lower following failure, a lower standard of space qualification and less demanding construction become possible. Therefore I hope the Government will not be too dismissive of HOTOL. They could, as the report says: win back for Britain in the 21st century a place in launcher technology even more important than that abandoned in the seventies". Finally I should like to reinforce what I said on remote sensing. This is an area in which we already have considerable expertise. Therefore by concentrating our activities in those areas where we have such expertise—namely, radar, data processing and interpretation—we can begin to build up a commanding market position. That will keep us in a strong bargaining position for access to data. It will also put us in a complementary position as regards the French Spot satellites and the American Landsats working in the visible and infra-red frequencies.

I shall also draw your Lordships' attention to paragraph 5.96 of the report. It concerns a point raised in committee by the noble Baroness, Lady White, relating to the commercialisation of meteorological data. Privatising meteorological satellites would be a terrible mistake; we should avoid privatisation. Weather data should be available to all countries, especially third world countries, where it could be a matter of life and death. Should it be privatised, many of those countries would not be able to obtain such data.

I believe the report offers a way forward in space. I hope that the Government will therefore be prepared to accept it in the spirit in which it is offered and will work on it. We are in danger, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said, of opting out of space, and the cost of such action to this country would be extremely serious.

4.39 p.m.

Lord Chorley

My Lords, I propose to base my remarks on the committee's recommendations that: The UK needs a clear policy for space which is adhered to firmly and consistently. [that] The Government should formulate a positive space policy and make a full statement of that policy. [and that] this should be supported by a national space plan which should be published and updated regularly". Any objective observer who was ignorant of the events of the past three years, especially the contents of the three brief government announcements during the past nine months, might well be surprised that it was necessary to set out such a simple, self-evident set of propositions. Indeed, it is surprising that we should have considered it necessary to address those remarks to an administration who in other risk areas have quite rightly sought to inject a more businesslike approach into government. However, the fact of the matter is that it has been almost impossible to discern exactly what the Government's policy on space is. Certain decisions have been taken—and with some one can readily agree—but, taken together, they are perceived by our colleagues in Europe, by industry in the United Kingdom and indeed by almost everyone who speaks on the matter as a massive U-turn. The explanation for the change has been cursory, and that is no sense of strategy at all.

The Government seem to be looking for greater commercialisation and the involvement of the private sector. That is good; it reinforces incipient trends in Europe and America. However, one is bound to say that the business has not been handled well. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, referred to firms that had invested in space and then have now been left high and dry. He mentioned some names One could add others. Considerable damage has been done. For example, ESA has had to cancel contracts with Logica and other United Kingdom firms. As a result, commercially valuable know-how has had to be passed across to our competitors, who have taken on those contracts. That surely must be damaging. It is hardly surprising in those circumstances that firms are now reluctant to invest in space.

It would be only too easy to score points on the Government's handling of space in a debate of this nature. In my view it is better to draw a line under what has happened and turn to the future. We should accept the current level of spend, or thereabouts, and see how best we can get good value for money from it and secure fruitful collaboration with ESA or with our own private sector. However, collaboration will be successful only if there is clarity of intention, reasoned explanation and a certainty of commitment.

This picture of muddle, and one has to say that it is muddle muddle, in my view is not helped by—indeed, to some extent it may reflect—the hyperbole of the space enthusiasts. Here I am bound to say that I have a certain amount of sympathy with the Government. Much of the evidence of the committee is long on assertion and short on reasoned argument.

I do not deny that space is exciting. I am currently President of the Royal Geographical Society. Space is, I suppose, a form of exploration, and I can share in the excitement. However, we need to be hard-nosed about it because it is very expensive and absorbs a lot of resources. Here I very much regret the honourable necessity of the resignation of Mr. Roy Gibson. In my view he certainly has his feet on the ground.

Worse still are the apparently sophisticated exercises attempting to quantify things that are inherently unmeasurable, for example, estimates of amazing rates of return alleged to have been generated by NASA's investment in space research and development. I have examined most of these studies. There are some honourable exceptions, but most could be rubbished with great ease by any junior Treasury official. They damage their case and they do not help the very real problem of deciding how much we should spend on space as compared with other competing claims for resources—a difficult decision, goodness knows!

It has been said that the case for space has many ingredients, not all of them economic. I do not intend to go over the ground already covered in the debate. I should like to sketch the kind of argument that seems to me to be relevant in one currently important field, that of earth observation. I do so against a background of having recently chaired a government committee on a closely related subject: the application of information technology to the handling of geographic information. The two subjects overlap.

Before I turn to earth observation, I wish briefly to refer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, on ESA's Horizon 2000 programme, the basic science programme. It is an important programme and rather well thought through. The problem that has arisen is quite a small one, but it is having disproportionate knock-on effects. We have used our veto, which I suggest, is not always a sensible thing to do in a partnership, and it had the most unfortunate and unforeseen effects. I therefore very much hope that the Science and Engineering Research Council will sort out the problem.

I turn to earth observation. It may be helpful if I start by describing briefly the three programmes that have been on the table. First is the ERS II satellite programme to follow on ERS I. This is due to fly in 1990 and to have a three-year life. Then there is RADARSAT. This is a bilateral programme with the Canadians and therefore not part of ESA as such. Finally, there is the major programme, polar platform. This is an ESA programme designed to pair with the Americans' polar platform so that together they give morning and afternoon global coverage. The two platforms will fly in the late 1990s. They will be the first operational remote sensing satellites. By operational, I mean that they will be designed to give commercial reliability in a sense of data continuity —an important point.

The programmes are linked. In effect they are a continuing development although, as I said, Radarsat is not as closely linked as the other two. Together, in terms of operations, they take us well into the next century. The programmes have already been agreed in principle although in the last few days the status of ERS II has become unclear: it is difficult to know what is going on—there seems to be some politicking. The necessary agreements with NASA have now been settled. This has resulted in a new configuration that I think is also important. I shall come to that later. The programmes are not enormously costly in contrast to some of the other ESA programmes. There is little doubt that in some shape or form they will happen.

That is the background. The first question is do we want to be part of them and, if so, in what manner. If we say no, it is difficult to see how we can be usefully involved in this field—a field in which, as has been rightly said, we have considerable expertise—for the next 20 or 30 years, and it is as long as that. In my view it would be naive to believe that we could set up alternative bilateral programmes because all the major players—the United States, ESA, the ESA countries and Japan—will be involved in this single international polar platform system. They would in any case be more expensive. So much, to me at any rate, is clear.

Nevertheless, if we enter the programmes we need to be satisfied that we can achieve value for money. The question is whether there are likely to be sufficient end-users of benefits. In the nature of things, one cannot be certain about that. Experience from existing satellites in the fields of meteorology, aircraft and ship navigation, crop management and natural resources suggests that there are sufficient benefits. There are other important benefits of a scientific nature. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, referred to the popular but nontheless important one of the ozone hole in the Antarctic. That is one example in my view of the need to understand much more effectively the whole business of global physical processes.

There seem to me to be two important caveats. First, developing the right products and services, using both remotely sensed and other data, is likely to be most successfully carried out if it is undertaken by private sector companies. Secondly, the majority of end-users, especially government agencies, are used to being provided with data at prices that are not commensurate with the value of the data. A lot of education and market development will therefore be required. It will take at least 10 years.

I should like to inject a parallel here. I referred a few minutes ago to the committee on information technology and geographical information with which I was involved. The commercial applications of IT in that field have been a long time gestating. This afternoon I have come from a conference in Nottingham which attracted 500 people representing local government, the utilities, a great range of industry and so forth. It is hard to see how such a conference could have taken place with those numbers several years ago. Considerable sums of industrial money, some from the private sector and some from nationalised industries, are now being injected into that new field. It is a parallel example, not to be pushed too far, of how we spend a great deal of money developing a market, and how finally there is a breakthrough and the applications come through.

Be that as it may, if that analysis, which emphasises the importance of the ground segment, is right, we should welcome the Government's announcement that they intend to spend £4 million a year to develop the data centre which has been referred to. It is an important first step towards the polar platform; to obtaining operational use from it from the day it becomes operational. ERS II is an essential link in the chain of experimentation leading to fully operational development.

The ground segment is of course only one aspect of commercialisation. Just as important in the realms of earth observation is the space segment. It is important because, again properly handled, it will mean better value for money. In the nature of things, the private sector is better able to manage the technical risks and hence to inject upfront money, provided—this is the important point—the objectives and commitment are clearly defined. It means that instrumentation development must be user-driven. And it probably means that commercial risks are intitially underwritten by the Government. Eventually one would like to see a progressive sloughing off of that underwriting.

I am aware that I have oversimplified a complex set of relationships. Nevertheless, I believe that progressive commercialisation is important and can be achieved, but it will need imaginative procurement policies.

I have no doubt that achieving cost-effective solutions will depend upon who is in the driving seat. The country which takes the lead on the polar platform will have a dominating influence on how the programme is developed and operated and how costs are controlled. That is all too obvious from previous experience in ESA. It is therefore the best way of ensuring commercialisation and of ensuring that the programme is user-driven and properly tied into the value-added industry.

Furthermore, it ensures that the United Kingdom obtains the full technology benefits and—this is an important point—that the programme mounts radar as well as optical sensors. It is an important point for the United Kingdom because of cloud cover. We need the capability to see through cloud at all times. It is already clear that if we do not lead on the polar platform, there will be no radar on it. It will be dominated, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said, by the Spot Series II system. It has been mentioned that the Olympus platform could be modified for the purposes of the polar platform. The latest information is that, partly as a result of the agreement with NASA, and the reduction of the proposed weight of the polar platform from, I think, 3.5 tonnes to 2 tonnes, or something like that, it would now be possible to use the Olympus platform. That would result in a considerable saving in cost, which should be attractive to the ESA countries. The point is that it is a British design and would therefore only be used under ESA rules if the United Kingdom led the programme. That is an important practical and industrial reason for being in the polar platform.

Finally, there is of course the question of costs. The Government will know more about the detailed costings. My information is broadly similar to that of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. The run-off of existing programmes—the building up of headroom—should provide some headroom in a year or two. But there may be some initial expenditure above the current budget level in the first couple of years. Nevertheless, even if the costs prove to be rather more, my conclusion is that it would be a reasonable premium to pay in order to stay in the one area of space which holds out a reasonable promise or exploitable results over the next 20 to 30 years.

If the ESA programme and RADARSAT cannot both be met within the present budget constraints, then I say that we should regrettably have to abandon RADARSAT and go for the polar platform as being the more important in the long run. I see little point in joining the programme unless we lead it. It would be difficult to control and the technology know-how benefits would be minimal.

The Government have said that they believe that earth observation from space could have significant potential. That was part of the February announcement. I happen to agree with that. But we have to come to a decision. As the House has been told, ESA has left the door open. I think we should be grateful to the director general of ESA, Herr Reimar Lüst, for his helpful influence. But the ESA countries want to come to a decision. They will do so in two weeks' time. The Government should react positively and with determination. I believe that our European partners would welcome that. But let us be in no doubt that if we say no, the programme will still go ahead; and if we prevaricate, we shall be unable to climb back on again.

At the beginning of my remarks I said that I had some sympathy with the Government, although not for the way in which they have handled the matter. I know the feeling of climbing on to a cost escalator. And the space business has all the hallmarks of such an escalator. But decisions have been taken. Some were not rational, but it so happens that one element can be put right. It happens to be the least costly element. If we reject it and say no, I would agree with other noble Lords. It might be better to bow out of the whole space business.

4.58 p.m.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, I, too, should like to signify our debt of gratitude not only to the chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, who introduced the debate, but to the many other people who took infinite pains through a long hearing. One has only to read the reports to see the trouble that people took. Those of us who did not sit on the committee are deeply in their debt.

It is an appropriate time to be debating this matter. Two decisions need shortly to be taken. Two windows are being kept open. One is the opportunity to join the polar platform with the ground control station; the second is the possibility of joining RADARSAT, the Canadian-led project. The second decision must be made by tomorrow night and the other by mid-April. This is almost the last moment—almost born in the vestry—to have the debate.

It is sad that Britain, which played such a tremendous part in launching the European Space Agency, now seems to be phasing out its interest, enthusiasm and contribution in real terms. I urge the Government to think again at this late stage. It is surely not right to take the rigid line that the private sector must provide most of the money. The money for these long drawn-out research programmes does not come back quickly; it may take five or even 10 years.

Governments in all capitalist countries would not have succeeded in the breakthroughs in so many fields—lasers, the biotechnology that is now coming—if it had not been for government participation. After all, perhaps the greatest capitalist country is the United States of America. But where would its space programme be without NASA, a carefully planned long-term programme and long-term budgeting? We owe it to our national space centre to announce our plan and our contributions to ESA.

There is not much chance of recruiting the right director of the British National Space Centre let alone his deputy—since both the director and his deputy have now gone—if we do not have a plan, new terms of reference and a budget, as well as, I hope, the independence recommended in this report. I am puzzled, as many other people must be. I ask myself why, in the last two years, the Government have gone so cold on space. After all, we have just had a very confident Budget. We are told in forecasts from the CBI and everywhere else that the industrial growth of our country is good and will be sustained. Everything seems good and bursting with energy and confidence. Yet the one place where we are not prepared to invest is space.

I believe that the space centre itself and such firms as British Aerospace and Marconi are strongly recommending to the Government two essential short-term projects. The first priority is the reentering of the portion of the Columbus project—not the whole but a portion of it—which deals with the polar platform. We visualise being offered the chance to undertake it as the prime contractor. The control and the data processing for that earth station would rest with Farnborough. Secondly, they suggest a short, holding operation whilst the Government sort out whether the UK will go ahead with the Canadian RADARSAT or possibly the ERS-2. If we do not go with the ERS-2 then Spot will be sold by the French in its place.

The extra cost of these two projects might be in the area of between £10 million and £15 million. I understand that the industry itself is prepared to rake through its coffers and contribute £3 million or £4 million towards that sum. It is not big money in a huge budget. After all, we were reminded only last week that we were paying £21.75 billion on health. Here we are asking for a small increase in investment of new money, immediately or fairly soon, of £10 million to £15 million.

What is the cost of not going ahead? That is something which one can never judge completely accurately. People say, "Oh, we can't afford yet another project of this sort." French nationalism, as a result of de Gaulle's leadership, has certainly succeeded in funding a tremendous amount of venturesome, high technology projects. One only has to think—it was many years ago now—of the train de grande vitesse, TGV, which was a world leader and still is. The nuclear power stations are now taking between 70 and 80 per cent. of the electricity load in their country.

There is half of Concorde, which, incidentally, we tried to get out of but the French kept us to our obligations in the contract. Every time Concorde flies over me I feel proud of it, and I think most Brits do. Whenever they see it in the air or on the ground, they feel an extra sense of pride in something which we have taken part in building and launching. The French have their own independent nuclear deterrent, not only the land-based one but the submarine-based ones. They have more submarines operational at sea than we have. Then there is the airbus with all its variants, the A310 and A320 and coming along now the A330 and A340. In our own area which is under debate today, we have Ariane 3, 4 and 5 to come.

A noble friend of mine on these Benches who has just returned from Latin America said, "You have no idea what the French salesmen are doing, going round putting on a tremendous display of what they can offer with their space programme and space launches. They are not going to be held back, they are going on." When the French are so confident, why are we so pussy-footed in space in general? True, we have agreed to keep things ticking over, as has been rightly said by so many speakers, at about £120 million a year. The proposal is that this programme might cost a minimum of the £10 million or £15 million which I mentioned, but it is more likely to be between £20 million and £30 million, to undertake what industry believes is essential.

I think we want to go on. I know the DTI has launched a very big, expensive advertising programme to create new jobs. But let us also remember to create confidence in our country at the same time and in the future of high technology jobs.

Finally, I should like to remind my noble friend of an assurance which I hope will give him the let-out when he comes to wind up this debate. It was made by the Leader of the House, Mr. John Wakeham: We are reconsidering our position … before any final decision is made." [Official Report, Commons, 25/3/88: col. 670.] I hope therefore very sincerely that my noble friend the Secretary of State will say that we shall grab these two windows of opportunities which I have mentioned. That will bridge the gap whilst we are working out our space policy and its budget. I would urge my noble friend, in persuading his colleagues to go along with him on this, that national pride, prestige and confidence are essential for the success of any country in a competitive world. If we do not grab our opportunities in space, France will.

5.8 p.m.

Lord Sherfield

My Lords, as a member of the Select Committee responsible for this report, I rise this evening to support the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, who had a particularly difficult task in this case in leading the committee through some pretty choppy waters to what I believe is a sound and well-balanced report, firmly anchored in the evidence. The Government appeared to reject the main conclusions of the report out of hand almost before the print was dry on it. But we shall learn later this evening whether they have been saved by any second thoughts.

First of all I want to support the plea of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and some subsequent speakers for a clear statement of policy on space, backed by a national space plan. So far, all we have had is the flat statement in the White Paper on the future of the DTI which was quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel. By way of contrast, it is perhaps worth looking at what has been happening on the other side of the Atlantic. On 11th February last, President Reagan announced in a major state document: A comprehensive space policy and commercial space initiative to begin the next century. It is a very long document, but I should like to quote a few sentences from it: The United States civil space sector activities shall contribute significantly to enhancing the nation's science, technology, economy, pride, sense of wellbeing and direction, as well as United States world prestige and leadership. Civil sector activities shall comprise a balanced strategy of research, development, operations and technology for science exploration and appropriate applications. I have one more quotation: The objectives of the United States civil space activities shall be (1) to expand knowledge of the Earth, its environment, the solar system and the universe; (2) to create new opportunities for use of the space environment through the conduct of appropriate research and experimentation in advanced technology and systems; (3) to develop space technology for civil applications and, wherever appropriate, make such technology available to the commercial sector; (4) to preserve the United States pre-eminence in critical aspects of space science, applications, technology, and manned space flight; (5) to establish a permanently manned presence in space; and (6) to engage in international co-operative efforts that further United States space goals". I am not one of those who think that we should seek to emulate United States policies. For one thing we do not have the resources and I fear that in many cases we also lack the motivation. But in this case a great deal of what the President said could be quite easily transferred into the kind of statement of policy which the committee has asked the Government to make.

So far really all we have is the application of an arbitrary cash limit coupled with an exhortation to the private sector to do more. That really is not good enough. I do hope that at least when the Government come to make their response to the committee's recommendations they will produce a reasoned and coherent justification for the policy which they intend to pursue.

I turn for a moment to support what the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, and the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, said about the situation in the British National Space Centre. The decision to create that entity in 1985 was warmly welcomed by the Select Committee. It appeared to be just what was needed to carry out what then was thought to be the policy of the Government on space. But it has never got off the ground. It now appears to be little more than an inter-departmental committee, the members of which have to rely on their own departments for finance for the centre. That is a recipe for failure.

Moreover it is at present headless, as other speakers have pointed out. Indeed we have seen the somewhat bizarre situation of the United Kingdom being represented at an ESA meeting by resigned and retired directors of the centre.

I know that Ministers and departments dislike receiving, still less accepting, advice from outside the machinery of government. But as the committee recommended, this centre must be given the status and the means to function effectively under strong leadership. The appointment of a new director must be a matter of urgency.

Now a word about Europe. I cannot resist a general comment about the Government's treatment of our European partners throughout the long drawn out negotiations. It is surely possible to disagree on policy with them, as indeed the committee disagrees with them on important points, without insulting them or using the rule book to block scientific research which they all wish to undertake and from which of course we ourselves would benefit. No doubt this will be regarded as a typically wet remark by a retired diplomat. But I nevertheless draw the attention of your Lordships to the committee's opinion on the ESA programmes and the moderate language in which it is expressed.

In this context I shall only make one specific point. It relates to Ariane 5. The Government originally welcomed this project at the Rome Conference in 1985. Some British companies invested money in securing contracts under it. Now the Government appear to have backtracked and this investment threatens to be lost. The excuse is that Ariane 5 has been, in technical jargon, man-rated, and will therefore be somewhat more expensive. But it will also ensure that the UK will have access to a more dependable and sturdy rocket for lesser loads. I understand that this aspect of the new project will be given priority.

For these and other reasons the committee recommended that the United Kingdom should keep a foothold in launcher development by supporting Ariane 5 at the same level as it is supporting Ariane 4. I urge the Government to think again about this if it is not already too late.

Unless we participate in this and more importantly in at least part of the Columbus programme, our influence in ESA will soon vanish with the result that British industry will be virtually excluded from sharing in the European space market. Can the Secretary of State be happy about handing to the French on a plate a quasi-monopoly of the industrial space market in Europe, because that I fear is likely to be the result? The recent French decision, at least for the time being, to block the ERS 2 project is a red light which should not be ignored.

The committee's views on the merits of specific projects in the international space plan are certainly different from those of the Government. But I urge the Secretary of State to agree with nearly all the speakers who have so far spoken that two positive decisions are needed now. The first is to join the Canadians in RADARSAT and the second is to take a prime contractor role for the polar platform. Our reputation in Europe and indeed in the United States and our credibility as a partner in high technology are both at stake on this issue.

My last point this afternoon concerns the light which the space controversy has shone upon the Government's attitude to the system which was set up for co-ordinating and offering advice on science policy as a result of the Select Committee's report on research and development. The Government's response was warmly welcomed by the committee, but there was a potential catch in the situation, namely that the Government would simply ignore the advice which they received under the new arrangements. It is a great deal gained when these matters are assured of attention at the highest level, but cold comfort if the highest level uniformly rejects the advice.

It is fair to say that when the crunch came in space policy the new system was barely in place. I at least have no hard evidence regarding the ACOST advice and whether, whatever it was, it was completely ignored. But enough uncertainty has been created to justify asking for an assurance that the Government are serious in their determination to make the new system work, and that they do not regard it as so much cosmetic powder which can be puffed away at will.

5.19 p.m.

Lord Rippon of Hexham

My Lords, I became accustomed in another place to the high quality of Select Committee reports from your Lordships' House. But I have known none which is more worthy of attention and indeed action than the one we are discussing today. The Government's White Paper DTI—the department for Enterprise, which we debated last month, had one short and, I found, dreary and dismal, little paragraph on the subject of space. It stated bluntly that the Government were only prepared to spend about £120 million a year and had no proposals for any increase. In those circumstances I think that the Select Committee is right to conclude that the present level of spending is wrong and gets the worst of all worlds, to pick up an intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in the course of the very interesting and important evidence which the committee heard.

Having reached that inescapable conclusion that we are getting the worst of all worlds, I think the modest suggestion of the committee that expenditure should be raised to £200 million is somewhat less than what is required and dictated by the evidence and the conclusions and recommendations of the committee. We have a budget of over £130 billion. We can apparently give without difficulty a dowry of £800 million to Rover and we can spend £5 billion on the Channel Tunnel. I wholly approve of the expenditure on the Channel Tunnel. However, I believe that it puts the sums which we are discussing into proportion.

I share to the full the views which were expressed by Sir Geoffrey Pattie who, as has been pointed out, was the Minister responsible for United Kingdom space policy before he left the Government. In a report in The Times of 31st January 1988 he said: The Government by deciding not to join our European partners in advanced space programmes has opted out of the key future technologies and handed over the high technology leadership of Europe to France and Germany". We have fallen so far behind France that France now has an annual spend of over five times that of the United Kingdom. Germany and even Italy now spend more than we do. In the words of another witness before the committee, Dr. Geoffrey Pardoe, who spent a lifetime in these fields and was in charge of the Blue Streak project in the 1960s, this is: a ridiculous and untenable situation which demands rectification". I agree with Sir Geoffrey Pattie that we are witnessing a great betrayal of our scientific and industrial heritage. Of course, this is not the first betrayal. My noble friend Lord Caldecote reminisced a little today, as I might in a moment. We can look back on a sorry history of vacillations, cancellations, missed opportunity, lack of purpose and Treasury obduracy. As Sir Geoffrey said in his evidence, in answer to Question 764: We start on certain programmes, then we get in a great panic about them, start saying 'We can't see where they are taking us' or, 'What's going to happen? The costs are going to be terrible', and we come out of them". He continued: There are plenty people around who were actually involved in Blue Streak and who have an awful déjà-vu sense about what is going on now". I am one of those people who were actually involved in the Blue Streak project. I can hardly find words to convey the dismay I feel at the present situation. That is only mitigated by the admirable speeches which we have heard today. If the Government have ears as well as guts, they will listen to those speeches.

As a junior Minister in the Government of Mr. Macmillan, as he then was, I told the other place on 29th July 1960, and again on 21st December, that we had the capacity—using Blue Streak as the first stage, modifying Black Knight for the second stage and with a new third stage, Black Arrow—to put our own satellites into orbit within the following five or six years. We were looking forward to using satellites for telecommunications and television channels.

I cannot honestly say that all my colleagues shared my enthusiasm. As my noble friend Lord Caldecote said, the Post Office did not share it, and inevitably the Treasury did not. However, I recall sending Mr. Macmillan a report from a United States Congressional committee to the President of the United States. It started by saying: "this is no astronautic boondoggle", and it continued to say that the programmes would produce a number of highly valuable pay-offs. If we look at the list today, we shall see that that was right, although people laughed at the time. I got the approval of the Prime Minister. But of course there were those who refused to believe that the projects had any practical or commercial future.

We see the same shortsightedness today. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, referred to the development of the aircraft 80 years ago. There are Members of this House who can remember Louis Blériot crossing the Channel. The general view was that aircraft had no practical or commercial future. I said in 1960, and I say again today, that those are the sort of people who, if they had their way, would allow Britain to degenerate in the 21st century into a nation flogging hand-knitted Union Jacks to tourists.

We may not have gone forward in the 1960s as far as I and many others would have wished. However, we had Ministers of Aviation in the Cabinet at that time. I was fortunate enough to serve under the late Lord Duncan-Sandys and my noble friend Lord Thorneycroft. We remained in the forefront of development until the Labour Government in 1967 abandoned Blue Streak, shut down the facility at Spadeadam, which was one of the most advanced installations in the world, and turned away 900 skilled people working there. Far from keeping the pledge to forge the new Britain in the white heat of the technological revolution, all they left was a flickering ember. It is that flickering ember which we are trying to keep alive today.

We do not want to compete with the United States and the Soviet Union in being the first to hit Mars or, as the Select Committee said, put a family into orbit. However, the conclusion is clear. There is no finishing line, but there are plenty of prizes. The major technological powers in the world are making up their teams for the race. The United Kingdom has a chance to join in. Unless we do so now, we shall never be in the running.

That is the conclusion of a powerful Select Committee that the Government and the nation should not disregard. I said in 1960, and I say again today, that of course we must go ahead in international collaboration, particularly in Europe. In 1960 we were in the process of establishing the European space research organisation. We were leaders in that organisation. Now we find ourselves almost at the bottom of the list.

That we are holding on today by our fingertips in space technology is, as was said by Sir Geoffrey Pattie in answer to Question 279, largely due to the investment made in the 1960s. We have been coasting for some time with the engine virtually turned off. The fact that British satellite technology is so widely acclaimed is again directly due to up-front Government support via the ESA. As my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing has said, in the United States the Government back NASA. Whatever private industry does—and I agree that it ought to do a great deal—it cannot do anything without the underpinning of Government support.

I make no apology for drawing particular attention to the evidence given by Sir Geoffrey Pattie. He was the Minister responsible and his knowledge is quite up to date. To many of us, he speaks with a great deal of authority. His evidence and that of Mr. Roy Gibson are most important. I believe that we should all agree that Mr. Gibson's resignation as the director general of the British National Space Centre was a national tragedy. However, it drew public attention to what is happening. The evidence deserves your Lordships' closest attention.

I warmly welcome the conclusions of the Select Committee in Paragraph 6.9 that: The United Kingdom should play a more constructive role in the future and be prepared to take part in some ESA projects about which it has reservations, in the interests of full collaboration". Many of those projects deserve more attention on their merits than can be given to them in a debate of this kind. I think that, in the course of the next year or so, we should find more opportunities to debate the subject. It is one of the most important subjects with which we should deal.

There are four immediate areas which might perhaps be targeted and which the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, put to Mr. Roy Gibson, who agreed with him. Those areas are the development of the next Ariane rocket, some sort of participation in Columbus, earth observation and exploring the atmosphere from space and in astronomy. As many noble Lords have pointed out, sadly, time is running out for us. Decisions are urgently needed on those and other projects. Some of those projects are Columbus, the polar platform, and RADARSAT.

Perhaps the modifications that have been made on the Columbus polar platform may lead the Government to be more inclined to support it on the grounds that it is now more realistic in its commercial objectives. Equally, I think that we are almost unanimous that some action must be taken to appoint a new director general for the BNSC. Of course that is impossible until there is a policy for him to implement.

Finally, there is one project, HOTOL, to which I should like to draw particular attention. Some reference has been made to it and to the conclusion of the Select Committee that: In the longer-term the prospects of HOTOL should be explored, as an international venture. If at the end of the proof of concept stage of HOTOL the future looks promising, the Committee favour pressing ahead, subject to certain conditions". In the light of earlier statements in its recommendations and the evidence, I think that that might be put a little more strongly. This is a project in regard to which we are in grave danger of repeating all the mistakes of the past. It was in relation to HOTOL that Sir Geoffrey Pattie made his observations about Government vacillations and doubts. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, also pointed out that in the committee's knowledge: This concept could win back for Britain in the 21st century a place in launcher technology even more important than that abandoned in the seventies". This is not an opportunity to be missed. As the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said, it is true that certain aspects of the project remain classified. Reference to the 1988 Mitchell Lecture delivered by Mr. Alan Bond indicates fairly clearly the potentialities of propulsion for economic space transportation policy.

I welcome the Select Committee's report. They are not alone in feeling that this is a superior subject. There is one other concise and cogent pamphlet to which I should like to refer. I hope that your Lordships will be inclined to read it. It is called Highways in the Sky and is published by the Conservative Computer Forum, a body which I hope will commend itself to Her Majesty's Government. The pamphlet points out that HOTOL is the one project above all others which has stolen the limelight and captured the public imagination. They want to see us go forward with the project. Above all, I share the conclusions of the young authors of Highways in the Sky that, in its ability to expand our influence and forever push forward Britain's skills, the space industry fulfils many of the principles for which the Conservative Party stands. I hope that there will be no more betrayals of the future.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether I can raise a point which he made at the beginning of his speech. He castigated the committee slightly for being somewhat unambitious in the amount of money it talked about. Perhaps I may draw his attention to the evidence of Mr. Roy Gibson in answer to Question 575. He said: I think it is possible to say that if there were available around £200 million—some of that coming from the private sector and some of the additional coming from Government—you could even now make a sensible and reasonable programme". Many of us would want to go beyond that, but I think that the committee felt that a sensible and reasonable programme was what we wanted. Of course, Mr. Gibson was accused by the Minister of being an enthusiast, which the Minister uses as a pejorative word.

Lord Rippon of Hexham

My Lords, I agree that without it there could be virtually no worthwhile programme. I think that he would grasp at anything. I only say that that is the minimum.

5.34 p.m.

Lord Gregson

My Lords, perhaps I may first of all add my tribute to our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, on a difficult job well done, and also to the clerks and expert advisers who served the committee so well.

I do not want to go over ground that has already been covered by others, but I want to underline my concern at what I believe to be the unfortunate direction that the European Space Agency is now taking. In my opinion it is unfortunate indeed that the French have coerced the agency into the folly of manned space flight. I believe that that has deflected the European Space Agency from following a potentially exciting and worthwhile developing space potential of great value to Europe which is based on good science. Other than rampant nationalism, there is not a case for superimposing the complications of transferring man to and supporting him in space on a significant and worthwhile programme of space science and technology.

It is well recognised throughout the world that modern tele-operated technology can do almost anything that man can do in space and can do some things a great deal better, at a fraction of the cost and without the human tragedy of a potential failure. There would be some justification if man in space were still a pioneering project. But since the pioneering has now been carried out by the Americans and the Russians it is simply not justified to risk human life at great expense in pure out-and-out nationalism.

Although it may sound strange from these Benches, I have to say that I entirely agree with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in his evidence to the committee. He told us that he failed to elicit any sound scientific or technological reason for the French drive to add a third project for man in space alongside those of the Russians and the Americans. I think that the French have done an extraordinary disservice to the European Space Agency in pursuing this course. I cannot understand the German support for this line of development. It cannot be based on logic. Since the Germans are so famous for their scientific logic I can only conclude that it is a political decision for a reason that I cannot comprehend.

Since there is no longer any pioneering reason for launching man into space there can be no possible justification for manned space flights with such high risks. One then has to re-engineer the whole system of launching, supporting and recovering human beings in any such project on a low-risk basis. That is extremely expensive, as the Americans have now realised. They are now attempting to upgrade the space shuttle to a more acceptable standard than when they were simply pioneering.

If one considers the record of Ariane launches—let us accept a failure rate of about one in 10 or one in 15 flights—and then considers full safety cost basis aerospace engineering in a modern jet liner with a risk factor of 1.5 deaths per million flights, one realises the enormity of the change that is necessary. That change from high to low risk is unbelievably expensive. In my opinion there is no way that the European Space Agency can carry out its project for manned space flight to the risk standard that is now required for anything like the sums of money that it has suggested for those projects. The costs will escalate, as they have in the past in so many other ill-conceived projects.

All of that is detracting from the invaluable true science and true technology of a space programme which is so important for the future of technology in Europe. That is the extraordinary disservice which I believe the French are imposing on Europe at the present time. The importance of the international programme on Spacelab and polar orbit is well stated in our report. But one has to remember that in the original proposition polar orbit does not need manned assistance. From the very beginning the Americans offered to provide space transport for the nations collaborating in the Columbus project which are foolish enough to think that man in space is of any real importance other than the jingoistic one.

Having said that, I believe that it is of crucial importance that the United Kingdom should play a major part in the European Space Agency. We should do so not only to try to counsel our European partners in a more sensible policy but also because I believe it will be necessary to rescue the space agency when the present folly runs into the ground, as I am perfectly sure it will, I hope that the Government will do all they can to maintain their presence and at the same time provide the maximum assistance and support for British industry in the process.

5.40 p.m.

Lord Renwick

My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for giving us this opportunity to discuss UK space policy. As the tenth speaker on the list I find that much of what I intended to say has already been superseded by the speeches of other noble Lords. Most particularly I felt an enormous sympathy with the words of the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, who spoke from the Front Bench opposite, and who spoke much more eloquently than I can.

In this rather strange situation I find myself thinking back to my reasons for wishing to contribute to this debate, and I realised that I had always been involved in innovation and technology. One might say that I was almost weaned on them. Before I reached the age of 10 I was constantly at RSRE, as it was called, or TRE Malvern. That was during the war, of course. At that age I could not understand why at weekends I was made to go and see what the water was like up on the hills there, although it was because my father was involved in what eventually came to be known as radar. After the war I learned what it was all about, and I am very grateful to the people who developed radar before the war and which protected our shores during the early years of the conflict.

A memory that comes clearly to mind is a moment in 1957, on 4th October. I remember it vividly because that day happened to be my father's birthday. On that day came the news report that the Russians had put up a Sputnik. I was covered with pride when I learned that it was the Jodrell Bank radio telescope built by Mr. Bernard Lovell as he then was, now Sir Bernard Lovell, who was an old colleague of my father during the war. Alone in the world his radio telescope could track the Sputnik without listening to its bleeps That facility was unique to Britain, and I felt a real pride in it. I am sure that noble Lords will be able to recall many other instances in which they have felt a similar pride.

I am in the slightly unhappy position of having to criticise my noble friend the Secretary of State who is a senior member of a Government who, since 1979, have been able completely to transform the commercial and industrial face of Britain. I believe that in 1979 the withdrawal of restraints from industry (which I think many of us tend to forget) was of enormous importance in restoring pride to British management. Noble Lords may have forgotten, as I find myself forgetting, that there were limitations on dividends, wages, profit margins and prices. At a stroke the Government abolished the restraints upon the management of our great country. It took a little longer to remove exchange controls but they also disappeared.

The Government understood their role in relation to industry and the fact that industry has to get on with the work of creating a prosperous and expanding economy in a framework provided by them. That understanding has been proven by the programme of successive privatisations. It showed that the Government understood that bureaucrats and politicians were not the best people to run industry, and that the lack of financial discipline in a nationalised industry did not operate in the best interests of either the industry itself or its customers.

I therefore find it hard to understand why the importance of a national programme of research and expenditure on science and technology as a means of pump-priming industry does not seem to be basically understood by the present Government. Surely there comes a time in all scientific programmes when industry sees the commercial value of a concept, so they pick it up and run with it. As was mentioned earlier, there are areas in which it is not easy for a Treasury official to see the commercial value of expenditure. I believe that in 1985 the Government made a wise decision therefore to form the British National Space Centre. Properly used, that organisation would have been well equipped for the role of advising the Government on the tactical or even strategic value of involvement in space research.

At this point I must declare an interest in that I am a non-executive director of GTS (General Technology Systems Ltd.), the company mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and I am a co-director with Dr. Geoffrey Pardoe who was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Rippon. I feel that Britain has a lot to contribute to the thinking of governments and the understanding of activities in the areas of space research. I totally agree with nearly all previous speakers that the ESA programme for Hermes is wrong and that we should not become involved in man-rating. Nevertheless I believe that it is of vital importance to the whole framework of the commercial future of British industry to be involved in such programmes. Other noble Lords have put figures on these programmes but I shall speak only in general terms. I believe that the viewpoint of the Treasury official which looks purely at the immediate return on the various programmes which we have been discussing totally misunderstands the vital importance of the involvement of our scientists at—I shall say it—the forefront of British technology.

I am sorry if I repeat myself, but it is vitally important that money should be made available in adequate amounts. The availability of money raises very specific problems, in that people given too much of it are inclined to spend most of their time wondering how to spend it, and those who have too little money wonder how at the end of the week they will pay their staff. But money is not the only resource which is or should be made available by government. Equally important is the framework within which that money is spent. That, I believe, involves the role of government and I think that in this situation they should look at it carefully.

5.50 p.m.

Lord Dainton

My Lords, I should like to say a few words about science in space on which the United Kingdom spends, through the British National Space Centre, about £21 million a year. The very word "space" presents conceptual problems. By definition it is a three-dimensional extent without any limits. Most of it is a vacuum. Thus expressed it would seem to have little significance for your Lordships who, like nature, doubtless abhor a vacuum. However, just because it is limitless and infinite, space contains everything in the universe. That includes us, the inhabitants of this universe.

As humans we have a curiosity about space that will not be denied. Names such as Kepler, Copernicus, Halley, Newton and so on, remind us of those who first brought order into the movement of celestial bodies and identified that mysterious phenomenon of gravity. Their work also provided the stimulus and the means for the creation of optical instruments, some of them for navigation, thereby facilitating commerce and the colonisation of continents. Scientific inquiry has indeed always—not just 300 years ago—had a commercial spin-off at a financial value far exceeding the cost of the science which originated it.

It is much the same today but there is an important difference from the past. Following Newton, we have known that it is theoretically possible for an object to be shot into space with sufficient force to overcome the gravitational pull of the earth's field and then either to stay up, moving in orbit above the earth, or to continue its travels to distant planets and stars. As the noble Lord, Lord Renwick, has just reminded us, this possibility became a reality with Sputnik just over 30 years ago. This new power that man has acquired has many consequences, some of which are detailed in the second report of the Select Committee. I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to the following points.

First, our ability to transmit signals to artificial satellites and thereby control what they do, and to receive signals from them, is now so enhanced and so precise that observations of events in space need no longer suffer the restriction of the observing instruments being earthbound. It also implies that the earth can be kept under constant and minute surveillance. The benefits which have accrued from this new power have been not just to space science—which is advancing rapidly—but also to telecommunications, the benefits of which we all enjoy, and many other sciences ranging from the obvious sciences of geology, oceanography and meteorology, to the physical and even biological and medical sciences.

Secondly—and this is most important—the conditions of temperature, density, chemical composition and gravity within space and on celestial objects are so different from those on earth, and vary over such wide ranges, that space can and should be regarded as a magnificent laboratory, unattainable on earth, that can be used to test scientific ideas in the most stringent ways imaginable. Likewise, unpredictable processes and phenomena are to be found in space which challenge our current thinking.

Thirdly, to design, to construct, and to put into the required trajectory in this hostile environment, a space vehicle with its payload of sophisticated equipment makes extraordinary and extreme demands on the skills of engineers, material scientists and technologists. They must work at the leading edge of knowledge in their fields and because failure is so costly their products must meet the most exacting standards of reliability. The high levels of competence, organisation and management that these people and their firms must possess confers obvious and real benefits on other activities in the enterprises that they serve. I believe it is no exaggeration to say that involvement in space is one of the engines of industrial innovation.

Fourthly and finally, let us not forget that astronomy, particle physics and space research are known—inquiries have been carried out to investigate this—to be areas of scientific activity which command public interest and attract able youngsters into science. These young people are not only the oxygen of science who will keep its flame burning brightly in years to come, but the majority of them find their way ultimately into industry and other employment where they are in short supply and desperately needed for the advanced skills and knowledge that they possess. That the Government are deeply concerned about this recruitment is nowhere more clearly manifested than in Mr. Baker's initiatives about the city technical colleges. In short, we must all agree with what Sir Geoffrey Pattie had to say while he was Minister: No technologically developed country can afford to approach the 21st century without a significant stake in space". Hitherto in this country we have had a good record in space science. Why then was your Lordships' Select Committee so concerned when it reported as it did? The answer lies in the fact that space science research is expensive—too dear for a single European country to "go it alone". That is why we have the European Space Agency. Its task is to ensure that collectively European countries have a viable space science research activity. It has produced a plan for European space research called, as we have heard, the Horizon 2000 programme, which has four major priorities that are called cornerstones, and five medium-sized missions.

The noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham, has told this House that the Government are committed to that programme. Indeed, they accepted the implications for funding the UK subscriptions to ESA up to 1989. However, as noble Lords are now aware, last November at The Hague the Government did not accept the 5 per cent. per annum funding growth necessary for that programme for the quinquennium 1990–94 inclusive to go ahead. Moreover, since approval required unanimity of all the member states this act also blocked the increase that other nations were willing to provide. In fact the Government went further. They insisted that the subscriptions of members newly entered in 1986—Austria, Norway and Finland—be used not to make the programme go ahead at a slightly higher rate but to abate the subscriptions of existing members and to keep the envelope of expenditure constant.

Since November ESA has been probing the effect of the reduced level of resources it now faces. It has stretched the programme to the year 2007. But even so it has concluded—and I do not think that anyone who is knowledgeable in the area can dispute this—that it must eliminate two of the four cornerstones of its programme. These are in X-ray and infra-red astronomy in which fields, sadly, the United Kingdom space science community has not only great interests but very great expertise. I fear that flights will become so infrequent that it is doubtful whether our United Kingdom teams can be kept in being. Those who depart from those teams will be eagerly snapped up by our competitors. These are grievous blows to British science.

What, your Lordships may well ask, is the magnitude of the money saved by the Exchequer through this decision? That 5 per cent. per annum on the £21 million per annum that we spend is, in round figures, a mere £1 million extra per annum, equivalent roughly to a mere 2p per annum per head of population. Surely in our state of affluence we can afford this small sum?

Therefore I earnestly request the Government in their reconsideration of space science to reverse their earlier decision and thus avoid that kind of damage to British science which I have mentioned and to our relations with other countries which are members of ESA—damage which is out of all proportion to the paltry sums involved, at least as far as space science is concerned.

Moreover, this restoration of the £1 million extra per annum each year in the quinquennium would be the key to unlock the at present unwillingly imprisoned moneys of the other nations, so that Horizon 2000 could go ahead with the proper and most beneficial speed.

6.1 p.m.

Lord Butterworth

My Lords, as a member of the Select Committee I too should like to add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. He could hardly have chosen a better date for this debate, having regard to the decisions that have to be taken in the near future.

In listening to the evidence that was given to us, it seemed to me that space fell into two categories. First, space proper; the exploration of the stars and, secondly, space used for terrestrial purposes, for earth measurement and observation. The report is clear that in the first category the Government were right not to join ESA in putting a man into space. Here I wholly agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, said. France persuaded ESA to man-rate Ariane and to adopt Hermes with the object of putting a man into space to achieve some spurious European independence. Perhaps a country like the USA is rich enough to indulge in such exercises, but even for the States the cost of putting a man on the moon or sending him to Mars is vast and in terms of scientific advancement the return is pitifully small.

When President Kennedy in 1963 said, "We will go to the moon", it took 10 years to accomplish the feat. But most of the scientific know-how was already known in 1963. The project actually required little extra science or engineering development. Indeed as the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, seems to have discovered, perhaps the most significant scientific pay-off of that exercise is the teflon nonstick frying pan.

The exploration of space is expensive and is not the most effective way of advancing technology. The chairman of the SERC has made it clear that if more resources for research are to become available the exploration of space, in the sense of putting a man into space, would not be the first priority. Examples of scientific problems which need to be tackled to make Britain become more prosperous are process engineering, superconductivity and knowledge-based computing. The truth is that countries which have put men into space have done so for political reasons rather than for scientific reasons. France is now leading ESA into man-rated space projects for political reasons. A spurious independence in space is being achieved by repeating old technology. It may not be long before France and Germany reconsider their adventure of putting a man into space.

I therefore should like to turn to my second meaning of space: space in relation to the observation and measurement of the earth; an area where Britain has already established a considerable reputation and an area which is nearer for commercial exploitation. In reply to a Question by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, the Government announced that at that time they would not be extending our involvement in ESA including, the Columbus space station as presently proposed". I ask your Lordships to notice the words, "as presently proposed". The Government argued that no case had been established for any increase above the £120 million a year plus the additional £4 million for the earth observation data centre.

Those statements imply a willingness on the part of government to reconsider if the situation should change. Indeed since the Select Committee reported, important changes have occurred of which we have heard something this afternoon. At the same time we have also heard that the British position with regard to RADARSAT, the Canadian satellite, needs to be reconsidered. As the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, pointed out, it has to be done before tomorrow night.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, that politically our relationship with Europe, and therefore with ESA, may be more important. At the time of the conference at The Hague, the UK made certain conditions about the Columbus programme and those conditions have now been met by the agreement between ESA and NASA on the scope of the programme. As a result the size of the platform has been significantly reduced from a payload of 3½ tonnes to 2 tonnes.

As my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing pointed out, the Lord President of the Council in another place on Friday last week stated that the Government were reconsidering their position because of modifications to the configuration of the polar platform.

But there is yet another reason why our position should be reconsidered. The problem of servicing a polar platform still remains unsolved. It is not therefore impossible that the concept of the platform will have to be replaced by polar satellites. All these changes are bound to bring about a considerable reduction in costs. Whatever the eventual solution to either of these problems, the solution could be based on Olympus technology.

There is one final refinement in this story which for completion I must just mention. As we have already heard, the future of ERS-2 is now in doubt. If that is not proceeded with, there will after ERS-1 be a discontinuity of data. The gap therefore after ERS-1 must be filled. It can be filled either by RADARSAT or by some reorganisation of ERS-2 using the Olympus bus.

As regards costs, as our space programme develops there will be increasing savings from the annual expenditure of £120 million a year. A kind of savings wedge will appear year by year. I am informed that if those accumulated savings are taken into account the further sum that would be needed would be about £10 million a year. For that amount we could not only take the lead in the polar platform but we could also make a contribution either to RADARSAT or to ERS-2 and, therefore, ensure the continuity of the data.

My noble friend Lord Rippon had some grandiose alternatives to compare with the modest amount of money that is required. I thought I would have some more homely comparisons for your Lordships. Our annual contribution to the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden is £13.2 million per year. The contribution to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre is £5.2 million per year. Last year we refurbished the Royal Yacht "Britannia" for £10 million. Let me be clear, I am wholly in favour of all these excellent projects, but in terms of a space programme the amount of money about which I am speaking this evening is modest.

We were quite right to withdraw from projects to put a man into space. We should certainly not and we do not need to countenance further expenditure of the order contemplated in the old space plans which, we have to admit, are now seen to be too ambitious. For me personally that poses a very difficult question about the future of the BNSC.

The changes in the polar platform mean that for a comparatively modest further sum we can remain significant in the field of earth observation. Failure to take part might well be regarded round the world as a signal that Great Britain no longer regards itself as a technological nation and considerable damage would, I have no doubt, be caused to our commercial prospects.

6.13 p.m.

Lord Carver

My Lords, as a member of your Lordships' Select Commitee, I too should like to pay my tribute to its chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, who is also the chairman of the subcommittee which carried out this study. If I may use musical terms, he conducted his orchestra, which had its due proportion of wind and brass, in a tempo of allegro con brio.

He had a difficult task, as the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, has said, because your committee did not find it easy to make up its mind what the Government's space policy should be. This was partly because almost all of the evidence that we received came from space enthusiasts. It was also because much of that evidence was conflcting and, as some of the speeches in your Lordships' House this afternoon have shown, for one reason or another different members of the committee incline to different attitudes towards aspects of space. On one conclusion, however, there was no difference. That was that the Government have no space policy and ought to have one.

As has my noble friend Lord Chorley, I have some sympathy with the dilemma which the Government faced in determining their attitude to the European Space Agency. We undoubtedly do gain advantages from our membership, but ever since—primarily for defence reasons—we opted out of the launcher business, France has held the initiative and largely determined the agency's policy. That policy is motivated by a concept about which your Lordships' Select Committee received sharply differing opinions. It is that space is the new horizon; that humanity needs such an horizon in order to inspire a spirit of idealistic adventure. In the past that was provided by exploration of the oceans and of the world's remote regions and unsealed peaks, as well as by the construction of great monuments such as pyramids and cathedrals.

The exploration and exploitation of space must now fill that essential human need. If we, the Europeans, do not pursue that goal, not only will our youth be attracted to American or Soviet culture or be discinclined to pursue science or technology, but we shall suffer a loss of sovereignty in the same way as we would if we were excluded from the oceans.

Although some of us were inclined to be attracted by that concept, your Lordships' committee rejected it and the Government clearly have done so. We agreed that the French-led three-man shuttle project called Hermes led nowhere and should not be supported. We also had doubts about the need for the American-manned space station, but recommended that nevertheless we should play our part in European participation in the manned advanced pressurised module. The Government have rejected even that and intend that our participation in the Columbus project should be limited to the one unmanned project, the polar platform.

The essence of the dilemma facing the Government is this: to give full support to the ESA programme would in practice mean an open-ended subsidy to the ambitious and, we agree, misguided French policy. To restrict our support to ESA to little more than the mandatory programme means that more than two-thirds of the Government's expenditure on space is largely devoted to subsidising our fellow members, principally the French, while, by not participating in the optional programmes, we gain little advantage from that expenditure.

It might appear that, in that case, we should withdraw from the agency and concentrate on our national programme and bilaterial projects. Apart from the political impact of that on our relations with Europe and America, we have rejected that option and recommended that the right course is to remain in the European Space Agency, but spend more on a national programme. This could give us more influence within the agency to wean it towards a more realistic programme. It is the strength of France's national programme which gives her such influence within the European Space Agency.

France's aim of European autonomy in space is not restricted to ESA, the charter of which limits its activities to the civil field. The French seek European autonomy also in the defence field and are trying to breathe new life into the Western European Union as the vehicle for this. The project which they are pushing at the moment is called "Helios". It would be a European information-gathering satellite system developed from their remote-sensing satellite SPOT. Their argument is that for military and for armed control purposes Europeans need to be able to make an independent assessment, not dependent on the USA, both for information-gathering and for its analysis.

The Ministry of Defence, I am glad to say, made clear to the committee that it had no intention of being drawn in that direction. It suffers from the fault of other measures undertaken or projected to support an insurance policy against the withdrawal of US support of European defence, including both the British and the French independent so-called deterrents. If that support were ever to be withdrawn the measures to insure against it could never replace, in terms either of deterrence or of actual military effectiveness, what was withdrawn. Meanwhile, effort devoted to them is at the expense of measures needed to strengthen the alliance, and especially to reassure the Americans that it is in their interests to continue their support of it.

The committee also welcomed the Ministry of Defence's continued interest in other aspects of defence interest in space: in the application of remote-sensing to surveying on the surface of both land and sea as well as below the surface of the latter; to meteorology, navigation and communications. There was a hiccup in the latter when I was the Chief of the Defence Staff, caused by the 1975 defence review carried out by the Labour Government, which the report has noted. It was a typical example of the ill-effects of the demand for short-term economies in defence expenditure which governments of both colour invariably make. One is forced to cut development projects because others either only produce economies in the long-term or are counterproductive as they involve penalty clauses or redundancy payments. We judged correctly at the time that we could tide over an awkward period.

Since then the Ministry of Defence's satellite communication programme has been highly successful, leading, as it has, to NATO adopting Skynet 4. The Marconi Company deserves considerable credit for that. It complained to the committee that defence had benefited from developments initiated for civil purposes. That seems to me entirely right. There is a progression in this disputed area of the technological spin-off between defence and civil applications. The technology is usually intitially developed for military purposes. It is then applied to, and further developed for, a variety of civil purposes. Given the long periods for which the military have to keep their equipment in service, the civil technology overtakes the military. The right policy then is not to spend more defence money on development in that field, but to exploit the civil development. That is what the Ministry of Defence is correctly doing in the communications field, and is what we recommend they do in that of remote-sensing.

I have one slight worry about the communications field, which is our total dependence on other people for launching our communications satellite. Although I fully understand the Ministry of Defence's reluctance to be drawn into providing considerable financial support for HOTOL, I believe that they should for that purpose show a little more interest in it than they appear to reveal to the committee.

We received a certain amount of the usual ill-informed criticism that there was little or inadequate co-operation between those working in the defence and civil fields of space. This was curious when one considers that the two establishments which have played leading roles in the development of space technology are Ministry of Defence Establishments, the Royal Aircraft Establishment and the Radar and Signals Research Establishment, and that the industrial firms involved are the same.

One important object of the British National Space Centre was to bring together under one head all the agencies working in the space field, both civil and defence, the Ministry of Defence and its research establishments playing a full part in it. The BNSC now appears to be in a state of limbo, having lost two heads in quick succession and now being without one. Even before its plan was rejected, its status appeared uncertain. It had no control of any funds itself, and, as a subordinate branch of the Department of Trade and Industry, was muzzled in public. Paragraphs 5.29 to 32 of the report deal with this issue, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, in such strong terms. Why he should ever believe that he could be regarded as a wet retired diplomat, I cannot imagine.

The committee have said that the situation cannot be allowed to remain as it is, and we have recommended that the space centre should be made stronger, preferably by becoming free-standing within Whitehall, and that industrial partners should be brought into it, perhaps providing the next director general. I hope that the Secretary of State, in replying to this debate, will be able to tell us that the Government are taking some positive action to remedy this very unsatisfactory state of affairs.

The Government's attitude to this whole space business at present appears to be that of Mr. Micawber. It is waiting for something to be turned up by industry. The announcement in the press a few weeks ago of the project called LITTLEO, to provide a commercial satellite launch facility into low earth polar orbit, from an island off Norway, must have been music to their ears. However, that is a very limited project. But we cannot afford to sit about waiting for such projects to turn up. The Government's lack of decision and action is already threatening the RADARSAT project, which is of considerable potential importance to us. All involved in space-related projects, scientific, industrial and defence, need to relate their activities to a clear, consistent Government policy. When are we going to see one?

6.25 p.m.

Lord Rodney

My Lords, perhaps I may express my appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and the other members of the Select Committee for this very interesting and far-reaching report which I read with great interest.

My excuse for taking part in this debate today, if I need one, is that I am a member of the Science and Technology Committees of both the Council of Europe and the Western European Union. I thought I might be able to make a small contribution to this debate by looking at Britain's approach to space as seen through the eyes of our European partners.

Last year our committee visited Washington and California when we toured a number of the largest American space corporations and had an exchange of views with members of the Pentagon and a selection of senators and congressmen. Also, in November of last year we had a meeting in the ESA headquarters in Paris where Professor Lüst, the director-general, explained the agency's programme in some detail.

In recent years both the committees which I have mentioned have produced their own report on space. The Council of Europe Committee produced two: one in November last year entitled The Future of European Space; and the other as recently as January of this year called European Space Policy. In addition, the WEU Science and Technology Committee, although as your Lordships will know primarily concerned with defence, produced a report entitled European Space Policy Until 2000. Rather amazingly, if that is the word, the content of that report—although as I have said the WEU is primarily concerned with defence—had a very high content of civilian and commercial considerations.

Your Lordships can see from that that the European agencies, in particular their science and technology committees, have been very concerned with space and many words have been written about it. I find it especially interesting to compare these reports with the report of the Science and Technology Committee of this House.

If I were asked what I considered was the single most fundamental difference between Europe's attitude to space and that of Her Majesty's Government, I would say that it was Europe's adherence to a policy of European independence in space by the turn of the century. There is no doubt that this policy is primarily dictated by France. Many of your Lordships have already mentioned France, but I make no excuse for mentioning it again. That policy is diametrically opposed to the policy of the British Government.

From this European policy, it is a small step to ESA's plan, which is quite clearly tailored to achieve this objective; that is to say, a man-rated Ariane 5, Hermes and the Columbus programme. If one probes a little further still, one finds that Ariane 5 is to be built in France. Hermes is a French project and the Columbus programme, although ascribed to West Germany, nevertheless has an important French involvement.

From this I am sure your Lordships will agree that at the present time France is leading the way in space in Europe. It can of course be argued fairly that, in view of the large sums of money France is investing, it is natural that that should be the situation. As the saying goes, "He who pays the piper calls the tune". The question is, are we as a nation, and are our Government, prepared to accept the situation?

It is not simply a matter of national pride, though I believe that that does carry some weight, but more importantly, of commercial considerations—a question which I am sure will be of interest to my noble friend the Secretary of State. Her Majesty's Government rightly look seriously at value for money, but is it reasonable to judge all projects on a short term return? Is not this an instance where we should be taking a longer view and looking to the benefits that can accrue to British industry from involvement now in the high technology that presence in space entails? I suggest that investment of the taxpayers' money today may not show high returns tomorrow but holds out promising rewards for the day after.

Various ministers have recently reiterated their belief in space projects and their determination that Britain will continue to maintain its stake in ESA. But actions speak louder than words. After the recent statements made at the Council of Ministers meeting in The Hague, is it surprising that our European partners are somewhat sceptical of our true commitment to space? It may be that many aspects of our Government's criticisms are well founded, but I suggest that if we want to maintain and enhance our influence over European space decisions we need to show more flexibility. For example—and this has already been referred to by a number of noble Lords—Her Majesty's Government have refused to agree to an increase of some 5 per cent. in their contribution to the mandatory element of the ESA programme, which is effectively blocking all the other ESA members' ability to effect this increase. Is that the way to win friends in Europe and obtain support for our own projects and aspirations?

There is no doubt that Britain's involvement in European space activities is greatly valued by the majority of our partners. Certainly, when Professor Lust spoke to us in Paris his remarks of concern for Britain's attitude and apparent about-face, though clearly critical, were spoken more in sorrow than in anger. However, there is a risk, and we should not be blind to it, that if we continue with this negative approach the day may come when our colleagues in Europe—particularly the French and the Germans—may come to the conclusion that we are more trouble than we are worth.

One can applaud the firm stance we take in Europe over agriculture, but I suggest that a similar attitude is inappropriate in this situation. It can in the future put an important sector of our industry seriously at risk. In the meantime, our influence in European space circles is minimal, as was evidenced by the other ESA members accepting the programme at The Hague. Further, there is a risk that because our contributions are so small the returns to our industry in compensating contracts will diminish still further. In the end, as has already been pointed out, our contributions could in large measure go towards financing contracts in other member countries.

I said that there is no doubt that the aims of our European partners and of Her Majesty's Government are widely separate, but there are aspects of the ESA programme which I believe commend themselves on purely commercial grounds Professor Lüst told us that Ariane had at that time, when we were in Paris, 64 forward bookings, more than half of which originated outside Europe. The total value of these proposed flights is three times the development costs of the Ariane project to date. That surely makes the future development of Ariane 5 worth supporting.

I agree that it is a fact that at the moment the specification includes a manned capability so that it can carry Hermes, but it is agreed that the project will be subject to review after three years and there is no doubt that a carrier with enhanced carrying capacity, as envisaged for Ariane 5, will be required for the larger satellites which are already coming into use. Here I should say that if we are interested in satellite sensing those satellites somehow or other must be put into space. Either we will depend on the Americans or Russians, or Europe must have its own carrier. As virtually all noble Lords have said, Hermes is an extravagant luxury which Europe does not need and can ill afford. As and when the need arises to fly European astronauts—for example, to the space station if it comes about—it should be perfectly possible for them to fly with the Americans.

However, the Columbus programme—again, as several noble Lords have mentioned—has some attractions for us. This applies particularly to the polar platform, for which at one time it seemed Britain would be the prime contractor; but this, too, may now be at risk. Time is running out. Professor Lust has asked for confirmation of our intentions by mid-April. The British National Space Centre is without a director-general, as many noble Lords have mentioned, and needs a thorough overhaul. We are already excluded from a number of European projects and we may lose more still. France is attempting to curtail further development on the European remote-sensing satellite (the ERS-2) with its British input and to substitute in its place its own SPOT satellite. It is certain that Britain's influence in European space matters is at a low ebb and could well slide still further unless we take immediate remedial action.

In conclusion, I fully support the recommendations of the Select Committee's report and I ask my noble friend the Secretary of State to urge the Government—as virtually every other speaker has done—to take a more dynamic and long-sighted approach to space; and, above all, to make an early declaration on a British plan for space so that British industry and our European partners may know where we stand.

6.38 p.m.

Lord Shaughnessy

My Lords, I can claim no professional knowledge of space technology but in entering today's debate on the Select Committee report on United Kingdom space policy—introduced so ably and with such unrivalled experience by its chairman the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton—I am motivated by a deep interest in the commercial and technological relations between the United Kingdom and Canada.

The history of this collaboration dates back many years under peacetime and wartime conditions. The benefits that have accrued to both countries have been substantial, to say the least. Recently the UK has joined with Canada in major projects such as the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope; the world's most advanced high accuracy radio telescope. Closer to earth is the major collaborative deal signed last year between Britain and Canada whereby a large number of Westland EH101 helicopters will be supplied to the Canadian military. Underneath the sea lies the tantalising prospect that British nuclear submarine technology and equipment may be chosen for the Canadian navy.

Today I propose to confine my remarks to and to elaborate a little on what many noble Lords have stressed concerning one specific recommendation of the Committee; namely, that Britain should continue and extend its collaboration with Canada (and also the United States where applicable) in the development of the remote sensing programme known as RADARSAT.

It is encouraging to note that since publication of the committee's report, Her Majesty's Government have announced several measures that fit well with that recommendation. In particular, it is gratifying that the Government have agreed that British space policy should focus on remote sensing, as stated by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in Answer to a Question in another place on 10th February last. Moreover, the recent allocation of funds for establishing a United Kingdom earth observation data centre is a proper element in building British competence in the utilisation of remotely sensed data.

However, as regards the acquisition of such data, there is a distinct possibility that the United Kingdom might forgo the opportunity to participate in the development of the most advanced system for this purpose which RADARSAT will provide. A British and Canadian team has been working for a number of years on the concept and design of this international project in which the industries in both countries would design and build an operational remote sensing satellite to be launched by a US rocket in early 1994. RADARSAT will incorporate the most advanced synthetic aperture radar—and in this world of acronyms it will be known as SAR—to provide reliable high resolution images despite atmospheric interference. The RADARSAT spacecraft, if derived from the British Aerospace Olympus satellite as planned, would be the best earth observation vehicle available to the end of the century and beyond.

Collectively, our two countries have invested about £15 million to establish and prove the RADARSAT concept including detailed specification and costing of the additional instruments that the United Kingdom will have the opportunity to include within the RADARSAT payload on the Olympus-type bus. Based on those studies the total costs of the RADARSAT satellite have been set at £370 million. Each country's share of the costs in this tripartite endeavour are estimated at £205 million for Canada; £55 million for the United States and £110 million for the United Kingdom (of which Italy is expected to contribute £30 million towards the platform sub-systems).

Thus to be a major participant in this most advanced operational satellite planned for the mid-1990s, the share of the United Kingdom would amount to about £80 million spread over seven years or approximately £10 million per year.

Compared with the far-reaching benefits that this programme will produce in terms of commercially valuable data alone, surely it should be possible to find this amount within the current limitations of the space budget, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has suggested. The Canadian Government approved the RADARSAT project in June 1987 subject to the agreement of the designated international partners. The United States has confirmed its commitment to launch the satellite in 1994. Canada has waited for close to a year for the United Kingdom to resolve its priorities in space and to confirm its continued partnership in the RADARSAT project. Understandably, as time passed, the Canadians, as project leaders, have had to consider alternatives to United Kingdom partnership. My information is that although British partnership is still by far the much preferred option, Canada must make a decision now.

Lacking a positive decision from the Government, Canada will proceed with RADARSAT. The data gap, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Butterworth, prior to the establishment of a polar platform, will be filled, but, unhappily, without Britain as a partner.

If that were to happen, British firms would be denied an opportunity not only to develop their technology for this project but also to market that technology against hard commercial opposition in the future.

Beyond the aerospace industries, whose experience is needed to create RADARSAT, the real beneficiaries; namely, dozens of small high-tech firms which will emerge to process and interpret RADARSAT data for specific end-use markets such as offshore petroleum exploration, better crop management for farmers; geological, shipping, forestry and other industries throughout the world. Denied access to RADARSAT data, these entrepreneurial firms will not emerge and extensive development of the attendant specialised hardware and software systems will not take place in this country.

For all those reasons I submit that participation in RADARSAT is the logical and most effective way to implement the government's strategic focus on earth observation and its commercial potential. To lose this opportunity by default would be most regrettable.

As many of your Lordshps have said during this debate, time has almost run out. In the interest of continued Canadian co-operation in the realm of space technology from which many tangible benefits have already flowed, I too urge the Secretary of State to tell the House today that a positive decision will be reached promptly on this joint programme.

6.49 p.m.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I too join with other noble Lords in congratulating the Select Committee on a quite superb report and in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for introducing the report to us in such an excellent and interesting way.

I suppose that I am somewhat disqualified from taking part in this debate because I too am an enthusiast. I note that the report says: An outstanding characteristic of the evidence is its quality of enthusiasm: a deep desire to make a substantial British contribution as part of a European and international space initiative. Such enthusiasm, while strongly to be commended, is infectious and can cause distortion unless it is supported by thorough analysis. The Committee have tried to avoid such distortion in their conclusions". I am delighted with that. I am bound to say that in so many areas of our national life there is very little enthusiasm. We ought to be cautious at any time in suggesting that we should not be enthusiastic about something.

I notice in that connection that the committee has also been struck by what it refers to as: the paucity of sound economic analysis of the benefits that may be derived from investment in space programmes". It also refers in a rather insulting way, which I shall try to ignore, to: the imperfections of economic analysis". I do not know what imperfections one can possibly find in economics, so I choose to ignore that remark. Nonetheless, I am well aware that there is not sufficient economic analysis of those matters, as many noble Lords have already pointed out, and that the economic aspects in this connection are important. We need much more research in the field. I should like to see some of the private enterprises that are interested supporting serious economic analysis.

However, having said that, what also worries me is that there is a type of economics—I was quite good at it myself—which is very disruptive to many projects. As economists we are very good at focusing our attention on all the costs of the project, seeing the benefits as accruing in the future—rather nebulous benefits we might say—and then in a sense we throw our weight against almost anything enterprising or imaginative.

I hope that in this sphere the Government—although they should always take notice of economic analysis—will not use it to destroy such projects.

On looking at today's debate the first objective is to repeat the plea made by many noble Lords, especially by my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel, that we must have a statement of policy from the Government; that is, a statement of what the Government are trying to do. That at the very least we should like to know.

Secondly—I am not speaking merely as one taking part in the debate; I think I am reflecting as it were the interested party, namely industry itself—industry wants to hear a statement of commitment. I believe that this is a classic area of industry and public governmental co-operation that will involve funds. I shall return to that aspect and enlarge upon it later. However, what industry wants above all is some form of commitment so that, should it commit its resources as it were, its main risk will not be that the Government will change their mind. That would be grossly unfair to industry and if that is the Government's view we might just as well bow out of space research. I hope that we do not but if the Government cannot make up their mind will they please say so and let us get the whole thing over and done with, disastrous though I think that decision would be.

I turn now to policy. It seems to me that, partly because of the high risk nature of the projects that we are talking about and partly because of the enormous range of spin-offs, not least, on the one hand, those of scientific importance but also, on the other hand, the defence aspect of the matter, there is a public interest involved. This is not one of those areas where even the most ardent free marketeer, or anyone else, could say that we should leave it to the private sector and it will all come out well. Even if we were to believe that theory, there is overwhelming evidence from every other country in the world that this is the type of area par excellence where the Government and the private sector must get together.

As I have already said, that is partly a matter of commitment and partly of creating the right climate—a climate of certainty. However, I am bound to say that it is definitely a matter of the Government providing additional funding. Such funding should be, to use the technical term, super-additive. It is true to say in this case that the more money that the Government put in, the more private industry will put in.

The sums that the committee has mentioned are rather on the cautious side. In my opinion it has leaned over backwards in order to persuade the Government that such figures are not too extravagant. Those people whom I have consulted have suggested to me that the £200 million mark that the committee is talking about errs vey much on the side of caution. I should like to believe that if the Government were to say that they would give that much, they would also say that if a good case could be made for more money more funding would be forthcoming.

There are two aspects in this connection. First, this is an area of decision-making under extreme uncertainty. It is the equivalent of sitting down at the poker table. I should also add that it is enormously competitive internationally. I must tell the House and others who know anything about this type of game, that when you play it, if you do not sit down at the big game with enough stakes you might as well not sit down at all because you will lose. Either we do it properly and commit ourselves on a large scale, bearing in mind that we might still lose because it is a decision without certainty, or we do not do it at all. I hope we do it properly.

I should like to make a further remark en passant which relates to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Dainton. There is an enormous scientific aspect which we should not forget. I hope the space programme as we see it develop does not crowd out other important scientific developments. In other words, in speaking out this afternoon as I do very strongly for the space programme, I am not saying that we should forget the case for basic science altogether. I have complained to the Minister previously because I do not believe that we devote enough in the way of resources to basic science; so I hope that that does not happen.

I turn now to criteria. I believe that the scientific criterion is a very important one. As we have said many times before, our record in basic science is marvellous and it is not one that we should ever risk abandoning or losing. Therefore, even if it could be argued that a major space programme, whatever that means, would only have scientific impact, that would be a good enough argument for me. However, I do not for one moment believe that.

I strongly believe that space programmes are very important. I hope that that does not detract from the argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, about pride, prestige and national confidence. Those are ideals that I subscribe to totally. I hope that the Secretary of State does not decide to oppose them just because I happened to agree with his colleague. However, it seems to me that programmes which raise national pride and prestige are not trivial; they are important.

In that respect as a lay person I must say that I am grievously unhappy about the no Englishman in space policy. However, I have to admit that the Select Committee and noble Lords, notably the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, have together convinced me that such a policy is correct. Nonetheless I say that with great sadness; I wish it were not so, because that too is part of the national spirit and the concept of national pride and prestige. However, we must accept that there are tremendous economic potentials to be derived from a proper space policy.

I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, who referred to the Americans looking well into the next century. But as regards the future of this country's economy, we must look into the next century. We must ask ourselves what Britain will be producing in the next century; what acquaintance and what experience we will have with the highest and most advanced technology. My view in that connection is that our survival will depend upon all considerations, as space is clearly the most obvious one that we can see at the moment.

Therefore, following what the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, and many others had to say, I say that even if our economists cannot pinpoint the precise economic benefits we should go back and look at almost all the major inventions and realise that at the beginning no one could have predicted with precision the benefits which followed from them. We have to use our judgment and common sense in these matters and say that this is clearly an area where such benefit would be forthcoming.

I should like to refer to one or two specific projects. I hope I do not have to emphasise that I am not in any sense an interested party; I am not part of the space industry in any way whatsoever. Therefore, when I support such projects I stand to gain nothing other than the fact that I should be living in a country which would be more successful.

I am appalled by the RADARSAT problem but I live in hope that when the Secretary of State replies he will tell the House that we have taken the decision and also confirm that it is a positive one. The polar platform decision seems to me to be a sensible one and one that we should come to as rapidly as we can—by which I mean now. Speaking purely as a lay person, I think that the HOTOL project makes good sense, in a way more sense than any of the other bits of technology. It will not cost an enormous amount of money to proceed with the conceptual analysis in the first stages. I hope that we shall proceed in that way.

I do not wish to detain your Lordships much longer. The debate has been a good and interesting one in which I and, I hope, many other noble Lords have learnt a great deal. I make the usual plea of those of us in Opposition. Much as we like to talk about these things, what we want is action, not kind words. In particular, we want action with respect to particular projects—RADARSAT, polar platform and so on. I should like to hear a positive statement about the British National Space Centre. I should like the centre not merely to find itself with new leadership but to be given a bigger, stronger role altogether. I hope that we shall hear something of that.

More generally, I hope to hear that the Government now regard themselves committed to supporting all kinds of important projects and will therefore lend themselves to giving whatever guarantee they can so that Great Britain in the long term will have a successful position both in space technology and in space science.

7.2 p.m.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, the past few hours have provided a lively and stimulating exchange of views. I had expected to sit through the afternoon totally friendless but, to my pleasant surprise, I find dotted round the Chamber still a friend or two for the Government. Space is a particularly fascinating and challenging field of research and development and, I suspect, attracts more than its fair number of enthusiasts. I shall endeavour to dampen my natural enthusiasm when I respond to the debate. Many points have been raised by noble Lords and, if I do not answer them all, I hope that I may be given the opportunity to reply to them later.

We are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, who introduced the Motion, and to his colleagues on the Select Committee, which has produced this valuable report. I do not believe that your Lordships would expect me to respond to all the specific recommendations in the report now. Indeed, the Government would wish to consider their attitude carefully. I should like first to sketch in briefly our general approach and our reaction to the proposals put forward by the European Space Agency at The Hague. I shall then deal with some major issues that have been raised in the debate.

There is a measure of common ground between the report and the Government's position. Because space is a high risk, indeed, expensive business, collaboration through ESA has been a centrepiece of our policy. We are one of the founding members of ESA, and it is through this agency that the main British effort has been directed over the last 10 years, accounting for about 70 per cent. of our civil space budget. Our policy of adopting a selective approach towards the optional programmes has yielded worthwhile benefits, as for example, the report recognises, in the satellite communications field where we have been able to develop one of the strongest industries outside the United States. Our scientists have been able to utilise our membership of ESA I believe to considerable effect. We have had some notable successes, in particular the International Ultraviolet Explorer, which has now been operating successfully for 10 years, and Giotto, ESA's first interplanetary probe, which encountered the comet Halley. We therefore value our membership of ESA and hope to continue to play a constructive role.

At the same time a solid national programme is required to underpin our technology base and to get the best out of our membership of the agency. We need to achieve the right balance between ESA and national expenditure and between Government expenditure and private sector funding to meet our industrial and commercial objectives. We shall therefore be examining the content of our national programme in the context of our future ESA involvement and of the scope for greater private sector involvement in the operation and funding of projects.

The Government welcome and share the committee's view that private sector expenditure on space should be encouraged. I believe that there is also scope for collaboration outside ESA and this should be another feature of our space activity. Anglo-French co-operation on the Eurostar satellite in the early 1980s allowed the British Aerospace-led consortium to bid for and to win the INMARSAT second generation satellite requirement worth £65 million to the United Kingdom. Scientific instruments and payloads have been flown on American satellites and further collaboration is planned. We are fostering co-operation with China, another launching nation, and co-operation with the Soviet Union on space science provides an opportunity to cover cost effectively areas outside the ESA programme.

However, I am sure that your Lordships will agree that there is always scope for improvement, and ESA is no exception. Having a 13 nation membership it has difficulty from time to time, as the committee rightly pointed out, in reconciling conflicting interests of individual member states, and compromises have to be made. What emerged at The Hague was a plan where the supporting infrastructure and transportation programmes were, in the ESA director-general's words, at the centre of gravity of ESA's future activities", and, as the committee recognises, this will swallow the bulk of ESA's funds in the coming years. The step by step approach envisaged at the previous ministerial meeting in 1985 had given way to a dash for European man in space and, as many noble Lords have pointed out, the long-term plan is now distorted towards infrastructure to the likely detriment of application programmes.

At The Hague three major optional programmes were under discussion, Ariane 5, Columbus and the Hermes manned spaceplane. The Government entirely share the committee's reservations about seeking to put a man in space as an end in itself. The committee describes it as "an expensive and hazardous diversion". We made it clear at The Hague that we would play no part in that diversion. At that time we also opposed an increase in mandatory funding for science. While we are committed to ESA's Horizon 2000 programme, it will have received an increase in real terms of 27 per cent. by 1989. The Science and Engineering Council believes that the main scientific objectives of Horizon 2000 can be achieved within the present budget, and it does not give a high priority to additional funding in this area.

Since The Hague meeting we have given further consideration, in consultation with industry, to participation in the two new programmes. It has to be accepted that, while we have contributed some useful technology to earlier Ariane programmes, this has not generated exceptional spin-off. The minimum effective participation in Ariane 5—between 2 and 3 per cent.—would cost us some £80 million over eight years or so. Even if Ariane's market projections are borne out—how many projections ultimately are?—revenue from sales will not begin to accrue until the late 1990s. Our share of the profits would be small and unlikely to be commensurate with the scale of the investment required.

Since The Hague we have decided not to take part in the further development of Ariane 5 as we believe that the case for our contributing to it is weak. However, it is even further weakened by the requirement that Ariane 5 should be capable of launching the Hermes spaceplane. We have heard good reasons in your Lordships' House today why the Government do not support the man-rating of Ariane 5. At that time we did not see a case for joining Columbus, although there have been recent developments on the polar platform, which I shall explain in a moment.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, questioned to some extent the attitude of Professor Mitchell, the chairman of SERC. Professor Mitchell said that he fully supported the Horizon 2000 programme in concept, but believed that the main scientific objectives of the programme would be achieved within the present budget, albeit with some rephasing and restructuring of the programme. Despite our enthusiasm for space, surely we should not lose the basic precepts of good government; that is, to seek to obtain value for money and to ensure that the programmes into which we enter have some scientific or commercial logic.

What has happened since Rome two years ago has ensured that the programmes that ESA had at The Hague were different from the programmes it had in Rome. Not only have Hermes and man-rating been added, the whole balance has changed. Costs have increased by 60 per cent. We reserved the right to look at the programmes again and did so.

My noble friend Lord Caldecote questioned the existence of the duopoly. I recently confirmed the Government's position to your Lordships. We shall consider the present position of the duopoly in November 1990. It is the foundation of communications policy. I strongly believe that we should ensure that there is sufficient competition for British Telecom. I do not believe that it would be right to pre-empt the review, even today. It will have a considerable effect on whether we will allow point-to-point communications. There will be an opportunity for about six companies (British Aerospace will be one) to come forward to look at down-loading programmes which could be operated through satellites.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for so courteously giving way. Are we committed to that position? All along, while trying to break the monopoly and create competition in telecommunications, we have asked for time for our manufacturers; for them to have the specifications; and to start to make the equipment well ahead of the start of any further service in competition. I was under the impression that we were going to discuss the matter in 1988; that we were going to have rulings in 1989, as originally laid down in debates in the other place, and were going to have a ruling that it should start in 1990. If we start considering the matter in 1990, there is no chance of the change coming until 1992. That puts the idea of competition a long way into the future.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, from the moment that my right honourable friend Kenneth Baker made the statement in 1985 until I restated it only a few days ago, it has always been government policy that the duopoly would be reconsidered in November 1990. We have considered the matter. There are many other implications. I do not believe that I should take up your Lordships' time this evening to deal with that point. I am happy to deal with it on any other occasion. It is a plank of our competition policy that we do not reconsider that matter until November 1990, because we wish to see that there is adequate competition in that field. I believe that that is necessary.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, confessed to the House that he was an old-fashioned romantic. I have long suspected that, but I am glad to have confirmation of it. He was therefore keen about the long-term prospects of HOTOL. HOTOL will cost so many tens of billions of pounds to develop that it is clearly outside the range of any individual nation. During my recent visit to Japan I mentioned HOTOL. Although I did not receive an immediately enthusiastic acceptance of the idea, I believe that in the fullness of time we may look for co-operation and collaboration in the development of a concept as radical as HOTOL.

The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, said that the Government do not have a policy on space. They do. Many noble Lords have said the same. The policy has been stated on a number of occasions in another place by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. I shall endeavour to restate it before I sit down. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, was kind enough to say that we should draw a line on the past and start again. I agreed with him when he identified that earth observation should be a primary purpose. I hope to deal with that matter a little later.

I fear that I cannot be as agreeable to my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing. Whether we have power stations depends upon those who take part in planning inquiries more than upon government policy. I am second to no one in my admiration for Concorde. Every time that I see it, let alone the odd occasions on which I fly in it, I rejoice in it as a triumph for British engineering. However, I must point out that it was a dead end. It led nowhere and sold nowhere. If we had taken more account of commercial considerations, there may have been a different outcome. Despite the fact that it is a triumph for engineering, it absorbed a great deal of British skills and expertise at a time when, if we had not taken part in that project, we might have gone in other directions.

The noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, asked us about the advice of ACOST. It is of course confidential. However, the Government are grateful for the helpful advice of ACOST. It was fully taken into account when we reached our decisions. I doubt whether anyone on ACOST would disagree with the Government's line on space, which I should like to deal with in a moment.

My noble friend Lord Rippon accused the Government of not having enough guts to invest in space. Guts is a test—

Lord Rippon of Hexham

My Lords, with respect I said that I hoped that the Government had ears as well as guts.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, the Government certainly have ears, because I have listened to a great deal. Guts is not a factor that I would apply to any decision to invest. Mindless investment is one way in which we can go wrong. Space is a romantic notion. Reality is different. We must be sure that we go into matters in which there will be a sound commercial return, where there is a good economic case. That is something we are endeavouring to apply throughout the whole of our space programme, while disregarding whether other countries wish to spend considerably more than we do. The single test that we should surely apply in government is not that of inputs (how much things cost) but of outputs (what we get). That is the one we must bear in mind.

I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, who recognised the change of direction in ESA. After I had listened to him, I wondered whether the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, whom we shall have an opportunity of hearing again, would agree that I have at last found a friend. In those circumstances, he may be prepared to contribute towards the ESA programme, although he may not consider that the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, contributed as a friend in full measure. I believe that he did.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dainton. We have some difficulties with Horizon 2000. Agreement was reached that the subscriptions of new subscribers, who were added in 1987 and 1988, would cover the additional costs which were due to delays in the shuttle. The convention which set up ESA is silent on the treatment of the subscriptions of new members. There are arguments both ways as to whether that is a proper use of the money. The issue is currently being examined by ESA's administrative and finance committee. We shall no doubt hear about that matter shortly.

The noble Lord, Lord Dainton, also inferred that the 5 per cent. increase amounted to £1 million a year and that it was bad for the Government to have gone along with that increase; they should have vetoed it. The Government were asking people to stop and look at the 27 per cent. real increase in the Horizon 2000 contribution between 1985 and 1989. SERC has itself said, as I believe I have already said this afternoon, that if there were priorities, they should be elsewhere.

The noble Lord, Lord Butterworth, recognised that a savings wedge will develop and that will be taken into account to protect data collection. I do not think I could quite go along with the noble Lord in choosing between contributions to Covent Garden or data collection. I prefer my data collection to be musical, but noble Lords may have their own views on that.

I am grateful to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, who drew attention to the implications of defence. But the BNSC was set up to co-ordinate civil space activities. Defence space activities are the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence. I hope to assure the noble Lord and all in your Lordships' House that the appointment of a new director of BNSC is being examined as a matter of urgency. We are also examining, and I hope we shall come back with conclusions shortly, how to ensure that an industrial input into the British National Space Centre and a greater partnership with industry can come about in the future. We have taken the committee's views on that. However, alas, I cannot see how the space centre could be free-standing. It is part of a government department, it spends taxpayers' funds and at the end of the day the policy would have to be that of Ministers.

The noble Lord, Lord Rodney, said that money should be invested long-term as an act of faith. I am not sure what "long-term" is; often "long-term" is, I suspect, an excuse for those who cannot get funding for their particular projects if they are short-term. Acts of faith are perhaps something on which we should resort to prayer on occasions. We are looking carefully at each and every investment to ensure that there is a likelihood of a real return.

Perhaps I could assure the noble Lord, Lord Shaughnessy, that although his figures contemplated Italy participating in RADARSAT, my information is not that they are not interested but that they have not yet decided whether they will join. That decision is still to come. I wish to assure the noble Lord and indeed all in your Lordships' House that we shall respond to the Canadian Government in good time. The time is not tomorrow night; we have longer than that.

The noble Lord, Lord Peston, said that we must be prepared to sit down at the big table otherwise we should lose. I am a gambling man in my private life but not when I stand before this Dispatch Box. I believe that there are some important matters which we should look at. I shall deal with them very quickly since I have rather exceeded my time.

Lord Peston

My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord for moment. He said that he would make a statement on what the Government's space policy is. I take it that the noble Lord will not sit down before telling us that.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I am absolutely certain that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, would not let me sit down without doing so, and I shall give our policy before I sit down. Perhaps I may deal with earth observation which several noble Lords have identified today as an important area with long-term potential. We agree with your Lordships' committee that out main effort should go into the ground and user segments so that the space data can be usefully exploited by industry and science. As a first step it is essential to ensure proper handling and processing of data. For this reason we are providing about £4 million a year over the next five years to set up an earth observation data centre as part of the BNSC's National Remote Sensing Complex at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. In the first instance that will handle data from ERS-1 which should begin in the early 1990s.

In the space segment, there are a number of projects available. In the period immediately after ERS-1, ESA's first radar all-weather satellite, the Canadian-led RADARSAT and ESA's second radar satellite are proposed. Beyond that there is the polar platform with Columbus. I am afraid that when we discussed the future scenario with industry at the beginning of this year, there was little consensus emerging among our space companies and potential users on any preferred strategy, nor was there any apparent willingness to make a significant contribution to the heavy costs involved. In those circumstances we could not see why we should join nor what justification there was.

However, in the past few weeks ESA have been re-assessing with NASA the polar platform requirement and the indications are now that its target configuration will be significantly modified, resulting in a less expensive and perhaps more utilitarian concept. I ask myself from time to time, would that actually have happened if my right honourable and learned friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster had not questioned the programme so properly? Surely that is a proper function of each and every partner within ESA. ESA will now decide how to proceed at the Columbus board meeting on 18th April. But I hope we can take a decision before that time. At the same time, we have RADARSAT.

In view of all these decisions we asked the main space companies and users to carry out a rapid reappraisal of the changed situation and to give us their conclusions, which we received yesterday. ESA are giving the BNSC a presentation on the redefinition of the polar platform tomorrow. We are urgently re-examining the options and aim to reach decisions as soon as we have had an opportunity to reconsider first of all the latest information from ESA, then the latest information from the UK industry and users. So this debate is timely and it will be particularly helpful to have the views of the House on the matter, since we wish to continue to play a visible and effective part in the exploration and exploitation of space. We do this not at all costs, but we shall seek to spend our £120 million a year on civil space activities as sensibly and as usefully as we can in those ways which will have a good outcome.

I believe that we can put all this into context, my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster having made a Statement in another place on Thursday 12th November last year. In it he explained the stance which we took at the Ministerial Council at The Hague and later in a Written Answer in another place on 10th February this year my right honourable friend explained our policy on the science and technology of space research.

To summarise, it said simply that the Government will seek to use the expenditure on civil space activities in ways which are potentially beneficial for both the industry and scientific research. We are committed to a programme of scientific research in space, and in particular we are committed to the main aims of the European Space Agency's Horizon 2000 programme. We shall continue to consider the various options open to us in the field of earth observation, including the Columbus polar platform and RADARSAT. But we reserve the right to apply the same economic tests and the same spirit of looking for outcomes to space as we have in the rest of the economy. In this field space is on land as well as up in the air.

7.28 p.m.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, the noble Lord's reply was in many ways predictable. I did not believe that the Government would move, particularly in response to a debate in the House of Lords, but the Minister left us with a measure of hope. I suppose I ought to be grateful that he seems to have persuaded the Canadian Government that we can have a little more time so that Her Majesty's Government do not have to announce a decision for or against at the time of this debate. The information which we have all had from official sources and from the Canadian Government was that the decision had to be taken by tomorrow. However, the Minister seems to have succeeded in postponing that decision and I hope it will be the right one.

I shall speak very briefly. First of all I should not like the noble Lord, Lord Peston, to think that we were nasty about economists. What we said was that one cannot carry out cost benefit studies on something if there is no costable benefit at the end of the day. However, we called for exactly the sorts of skills which he has in approaching these problems. Therefore I am very gratified that the advocate of the dismal science is such an enthusiast for enthusiasm. That is what is called for and what has to some extent come from a number of noble Lords in this debate, albeit not from the Secretary of State.

I do not accept that there has been a major change, notwithstanding remarks in regard to the policies of the European Space Agency. I do not know what the Government have been doing for the past four years if they have allowed a situation to develop in which, according to Mr. Clarke, the ESA has unfortunately not so far helped governments to agree on the balance. He said that he believed that the agency had simply piled up grandiose proposals in seeking to pursue every objective regardless of cost, as was shown by the high operating expenses and other matters.

I ask the noble Lord what the Government were doing all this time. They were party to this agency and they had representatives on it. Suddenly they wake up. A general election took place, but the same government came hack to demonstrate a new dose of apparent realism and complete ignorance. I do not know who was advising Ministers as I am quite sure that the members of the British National Space Centre did not agree with their philosophy. I suppose that we should be grateful that there has been some progress.

A number of noble Lords made kind remarks to me. I can claim very little credit for this report. If I may say so, I had a very idiosyncratic committee, most of whom proved conclusively their capability of thinking for themselves, which is a distressing quality in a committee of which one is chairman. The result, I am hound to say, has been a difficult one to achieve but one on which there is a great deal of agreement. I must pay tribute to our advisers. The senior clerk, Mr. Hayter, and others did a superb job, because we were rushed in trying to get the report out in time to influence the Government before the first of what appeared to be a series of deadlines. There is now a third deadline as regards RADARSAT.

There is a great deal of enthusiasm among those who have moved into this field because they are interested and because they think it does something for this country. I ask the Secretary of State, because he has shown enthusiasm in other areas, whether the Government will stop trying to justify their very inadequate response at the moment and the change of direction of this body. If anyone has changed direction it is the Government rather than the European Space Agency.

We made clear that we think that Europe seeking to put man into space is mistaken. But we know that man is already in space and undoubtedly Englishmen, Scotsmen, Welshmen and Irishmen will go into space even if it has to be in an American or alternatively a Russian rocket.

I see that the Secretary of State is not volunteering to go himself. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Peston, could volunteer, as the Labour Party is always in the van of progress. I ask the Secretary of State to think very hard on this reduced area, namely RADARSAT and the polar platform. There is no doubt that the polar platform has been adjusted. It is an easier proposition. The Secretary of State can give some tribute to Mr. Clarke if it makes him and Mr. Clarke happy after the deplorable performance that Mr. Clarke has put up. According to what my European friends tell me, Mr. Clarke did not help his cause. The Secretary of State was not there and so he does not know whether that is the case, but let him talk to the other members of the European Space Agency. The Secretary of State is loyal and he is defending his subordinate. In those circumstances I do not think that we need to take the matter any further unless we start the debate all over again.

I suggest to the Secretaryof State that he might let those of his doubting colleagues read our report. I know one Treasury official who thinks that it is a very good report, but I shall not mention his name.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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