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Space Research

Volume 640: debated on Thursday 11 May 1961

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asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of their respective responsibilities towards a space research programme and the importance of co-ordinating public statements on this subject, he will instruct the Minister of Aviation and the Minister for Science to consult together before the issue of official statements concerning space research.

No, Sir. There is no need for me to instruct Ministers to consult together on matters of mutual concern.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the Minister for Science is always belittling the possibility of Britain having an independent space programme? At the moment, the Minister of Aviation is patriotically and correctly saying that we could perfectly well have one. Is not this very confusing? Will the Prime Minister understand that we must make up our minds soon about what we are going to do about the Blue Streak rocket? Will he assure the House that he will not be put off by the Americans dumping cheap-rate rockets on Europe, but will have our own independent rocket launcher?

There are quite a number of questions in that supplementary question, but perhaps the most important is with regard to the programme which we hope to be able to organise. We shall certainly try to reach a final conclusion as soon as possible.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the whole spectrum of industrial technology is associated with space research, and can he say how we will maintain an industrial basis for our society unless we are involved in these technologies?

I think that what the hon. Gentleman said contains matter for deep thought, which I shall certainly give to it.

Does the Prime Minister accept what is generally being urged on us, that if we are not in this field at all in the sense of ourselves providing some of the machinery and thereby learning the technological problems we will, in fact, suffer a considerable blow nationally? If he accepts that, ought not he to talk rather firmly to our American allies about the action that they seem to be taking to keep us and our rockets out of this field, and to keep the field to themselves?

I do not think that that was the intention of the Secretary of State. I am informed that any question of American launchers being used would have to be from American bases, which could not possibly take the place of a European or British launching system, but would be additional to and not in place of a European or a British system.

Is not the Prime Minister aware that his Government have been trying to make up their mind on this problem for over a year and a half? What possible excuse can there be for further delay? Can his Government not make up their mind about any important subject?

What I think the hon. Gentleman does not appreciate is that the work on Blue Streak has gone on continuously.

The right hon. Gentleman did not answer the first point I put to him, and about which we would all like to be clear. Does he accept the view being urged on us that unless we are in this in the sense of using or providing our own rocket and thereby ourselves learning the problems, we will suffer considerable damage?

I suppose that one could say that of anything, but there are two different aspects to this. There is the launching technique, or what we might call rocketry technique, which I hope we will be staying in as part of a European organisation which would be a fine thing to get going, and there is the separate part of the satellite, the instruments, and the whole spectrum of scientific information which comes from the instruments which are put into the sky.