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European Commission Fast

Volume 387: debated on Tuesday 29 November 1977

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

10.11 p.m.

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their attitude to the proposal of the European Commission, known as FAST, that it should add six people to its staff for a "programme in the areas of Forecasting, Assessment and methodology in the field of Science and Technology ". The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am sorry to ask this Unstarred Question so late at night, but it is geared to the rhythm of decision in the Council of Ministers of the European Community and I was not able to obtain any assurance from anybody that, if I did not bring it forward tonight, I should be able to ask it and have it answered before the Council of Ministers took a decision on the matter in question.

The matter in question is simply what should the European Community as such do to look into its own future? By way of background, I would remind the House that nation States do a great deal to look into their own future, that industrial corporations do a great deal to look into their own future, that anybody who has anything at stake in his own future does a great deal to look into it in the best way he can: it is individual behaviour, political behaviour and corporate behaviour.

The European Community, on the other hand, has lagged somewhat behind in this matter, so much so that in January 1974 the Council of Ministers, on a recommendation of the Commission, set aside half a million units of account to obtain a recommendation on the question whether or not the institutions of the Community should set up a permanent body to study the foreseeable or possible developments over the next 30 years which are likely to affect the progress of Europe. So great was the urgency felt that the Council of Ministers called for this feasibility study to be carried out within one year.

Immediately after that, a group of 40 people who were acceptable to the European Commission was gathered together. Those people were scientists, civil servants from Member Governments of the Community, academics, industrialists and politicians. I had the piece of crazy good fortune, if you like, to be chosen to be the director of the operation. I am aware how extraordinarily lucky we were to obtain that particular group of 40 people from the five or six different walks of life concerned—extraordinarily lucky in one sense, while in another it was only to be expected because the future of the Community was at stake and I dare assert that there are few persons of the requisite intellectual calibre who do not have that future at heart. Therefore they worked.

As demanded, we reported within the year we had been given. Our report first of all made the distinction between forecasting and prediction. Forecasting is not prediction. Prediction says, "The following will happen", while forecasting says, "If the following were to happen, the following other things would be more or less likely to happen". The report then considered the questions: How can forecasting, as opposed to prediction, be done?—the question of methodology. Next, what forecasting is already done which is of interest to the European Community? And next, what are the possibilities of a European Community-wide integration of the national statistical bases? This is precisely what the Prime Minister very recently referred to as builder's work, when he compared it with architect's work. He said that there were too many architects of Europe and not enough builders. This question of the integration of a national statistical base into a European statistical base is an archetypal builder's work, as opposed to architect's work.

Next, our report considered 16 fields of human activity in which forecasting, as opposed to prediction (which is nonsense) might make sense, and in which the integration of forecasting might be effectively carried out. These fields ran from climate and population—because without climatic forecasting there is no point in forecasting anything—to health, to economics and finance, to education, to science and technology, to industry, to agriculture and fisheries, to environment, to transport, and so on, to the number of 16.

The report ended by recommending that so vast a task as that which had been laid upon the group of 40 by the European Council of Ministers could not very well be carried out over the decades by a force of fewer than 30 qualified persons, graduates, with support staff. It said that this new proposed organ of 30 people should be governed by a board, and that the board should be appointed by the European Commission; in other words, it should be the creature of the Commission, not of anybody else. It should serve the Commission and the European Parliament equally, but should, nevertheless, have a certain academic independence which would be guaranteed to it by the Commission-appointed board.

The members of my team were unanimous that 30 was the critical level of persons required to do this work. Fewer than 30 would not be able to do it, and that ought not to be considered. The cost we reckoned would run up to 2½ million units of account per annum over five years; that is to say, the cost of the operation in the first five years would be about 8 million units of account. I remind your Lordships that a unit of account is a 1970 US dollar. Above all, the work, we said, should be inter-disciplinary. It was useless to forecast in one field without forecasting in another because they kept impinging on each other. I revert again to the Prime Minister's words the other day. He spoke of too much spire and not enough foundation for the cathedral of Europe. Our purpose in this work, and the purpose of the Council of Ministers four years ago in calling for it, was to assure the foundation under the spires which are being designed so freely.

We reported in September 1975, and late in 1976 a slightly edited version of our report appeared. This was called the Futures of Europe. A copy has been in the Library of the House since late 1976. In June 1977, two years after the report, the Commission put out two documents. The first was Commission Document (77) 218 saying that the Commission would not adopt the recommendations of the Europe plus 30 report since they were too expensive and since the Commission itself lacked experience in this matter. One may think perhaps that it was the lack of experience which had induced them to call for the report in the first place, but let us let that pass. On the other hand, the document said that it would take a course of action which had been considered and

rejected in the Europe plus 30 report; namely, that it would hire a smaller number of qualified people, six or 10, whose work would be limited to the fields only of science and technology, instead of covering the whole waterfront, and who would work within the Commission bureaucracy instead of having a degree of academic independence from it.

My first question to the noble Baroness who is to answer tonight is this. The Government have not yet sent to either House of Parliament an explanatory memorandum on Commission Document (77) 218. Such explanatory memoranda, as the House will know well, are normally sent within two weeks, or three or four weeks, of the publication of the Commission document. It is now six months since that document, and still no explanatory memorandum has been sent to your Lordships' House or to your Lordships' Select Committee on European Regulations and Legislation. Why is this the case? We have Commission Documents 218 and 283. Document 283 says that the Commission will not do Europe plus 30. Document 218 says that it will do something else, called FAST. This stands for "forecasting and assessment in science and technology", and it is what I have just outlined.

Let us now turn to the issue in question. The Commission said that Europe plus 30, as recommended, would cost too much. When things are bad economically, as of course they are now, should one spend more money on rectifying them than one has before, or should one spend less money on rectifying them than one has before? My own answer to this question—the unanimous answer of the 40 persons in the group which I had the honour to direct—was that when things are bad one should spend more money on trying to rectify them. The Commission's recommendation, on the other hand, goes the other way and says, "Spend less". I forget the exact sum it recommends for spending on FAST, but the noble Baroness will be able to supply it. The two figures I have noted here are that the Commission found 8 million units of account—that is, 8 million 1970-dollars—in five years on Europe plus 30 too much but it has recently decided to spend £2 million (a pound being, of course, more than a unit of account) in three years on research into recycling waste paper: not into the purchase of paper for the circulation of its own plans, not into the making of paper, not into the paper industry in general; but into research on how to recycle its own paper. I am speaking now of the scale of priorities.

The great question for Europe is: What weight do we attach to the following series of opposites? On the one hand, this work of forecasting could be done independently, or, on the other hand, it could be done within the Commission bureaucracy, under the day-to-day control of the Commission bureaucracy, as part of it. Secondly, what weight do we attach to the unanimous opinion of the Europe plus 30 team that a critical mass of 30 is necessary to make any sense of speculations about the future of a population of 250 million people; and, on the other hand, to the recommendation of the European Commission that such sense can be made by only six or 10 persons? Thirdly, what weight do we attach to the recommendation of the Europe plus 30 team that it is useless to seek to forecast in single sectors of society and the economy, and that we must forecast across the board, taking cross-impact into account? Conversely, what weight do we attach to the recommendation of the Commission that it would be a good plan to seek to limit forecasting to the fields of only science and technology?

The 40 persons who were concerned with the original report—and if Members of the House will look at the list of those persons in either the report itself or in the version published by the Cambridge University Press, I doubt they would themselves be able to think of more distinguished and experienced persons for the job—were unanimous, and occasionally vehement, in their rejection of fewer than 30, in their rejection of an operation within the Commission bureaucracy, and in their rejection of an operation limited to one sector out of the many possible ones.

A related point I should like to ask the noble Baroness to answer when she comes to reply is this: What is the Government's attitude to the enormous proliferation of these bodies at the present time? We have the European Institute of Advanced Studies in Management, at Brussels, partly funded by the Ford Foundation; we have had the International Institute for the Management of Technology, in Milan, funded jointly by the European Commission under OECD. It died. We have the European University Institute in Florence; we have the College of Europe in Bruges; we have the forecasting effort called Inter-futures under the umbrella of OECD in Paris, to which the European Commission nevertheless contributes; we have the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis at Laxenburg, near Vienna; we have the proposed Medium-term Economic Research Institute under the European Commission; we have the Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions under the European Commission, situated in Dublin and, at present, we have a proposal for the so-called European Brookings which would use, of all things, United States' non-governmental money to a very large extent. I wonder what possible justification there can be for the European Community to turn to the, by now smaller, economic entity of the United States for research money in the problem of thinking about its own future; or even what justification it can have for accepting it when it is proffered.

The Europe plus 30 report considered all these institutions except the last, which was not then being proposed; and it suggested guidelines for relations between itself and them and between each of them and the others. It also suggested guidelines for relations between Europe plus 30 and any others which might he set up in the future. They are clear; they are in the report. I do not know what guidelines are suggested for FAST; that is, the six people to be added to the bureaucracy of Directorate-General No. 12 within the Commission for the relations between FAST and this multiplicity of other organisations.

What we have to consider is this. First, will FAST, if it is set up, do harm because people can think it is doing good? It is clear to me and to all those who worked at the Europe plus 30 deal that it cannot do good: it is too small, too limited and in the wrong place in the bureaucracy. The second related question is this: If it is set up, will the existence of FAST make it harder to set up later on something which will be able to do good work because it is big enough, above critical mass, because it is quasi-independent and because it is able to consider all sectors of economic and social life in the Community and not just one?

I do not pretend that these questions are easy to answer but I say that I would very much sooner the Government did not risk backing the minimal bureaucratic measure, since it really is below the threshold which can do good work by itself. If the Government were to choose just to go along with this proposal because it is slightly cheaper—and indeed it is slightly cheaper—and because it would be quickly forgotten, and because they do not want to be awkward within the European Community, then not only will this proposal, and not only will the Government's attitude, do no good to the world—that is certain—but, and this is not certain, it may make it harder for good to be done to the world later in a truly meaningful manner. I beg to ask the Unstarred Question which stands in my name.

10.30 p.m.

My Lords, Lord Kennet's Unstarred Question is an interesting one and deserves a wider audience than your Lordships' Chamber tonight. I look behind me and find that the attendance on my side is as sparse as it is upon the Government's side—but even we managed to beat the Liberals, who are here in great strength! As the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, reminded us, this proposal dates back to 1974 when he was appointed to lead this project. A supervisory board was established of which the noble Lord was also the chairman. Apart from the noble Lord, the other members of the board were not immediately familiar to me, apart from one. They seem to have a strong academic flavour about them. The board is none the worse for that, no doubt, but I wonder whether all of them have the experience of the world at large which is not always granted to academics, however brilliant and however exalted.

My Lords, before the noble Lord proceeds, I wonder whether he would concede the point that the research directors of Philips of Eindhoven, of Fiat of Turin, and the chairman of Messerschmitt Bölkow-Blohm, might be counted as practical industrialists?

I was speaking of the general flavour of the list of members of the noble Lord's project hoard. They are all, I have no doubt, splendid and worthy people headed by a splendid and worthy noble Lord. Some of them—a few—had the experience the noble Lord has described. But we have to judge the team by the product. I find the proposals which they made a little disappointing.

What it seems the noble Lord and his team proposed is a European Think Tank. I hope the noble Lord will agree that is a reasonable description of what he is proposing. I will call it a super Euro-Think Tank because that is certainly what he had in mind. There are to be 75 "thinkers", or "tankers", as my noble friend Lord Eccles described another group recently in your Lordships' House. It is clear from the document which the noble Lord prepared that the 75 members were to be graduates, and presumably therefore there would be a secretariat of typists and junior people to assist them, so the total pay roll would be considerably more than 75. It is not proposed that the "tankers" themselves would do their own typing or make their own tea. As the noble Lord has told us, the cost, at 1975 prices, was 5·6 million units of account. He has explained to us that that was an equalised figure; initially it would be more than that but, as the years went by, it would be reduced.

My Lords, I do not want to give way again to the noble Lord. I listened patiently to him; I hope he will now do me the courtesy of listening to me. If, when I have finished, he wants to take up some points, I will be happy to deal with them before I sit down.

My Lords, it might be for the convenience of the House if I were to correct an error as it arose.

Seventy-five qualified persons was the maximum recommended in the report. The minimum recommended was 30. In my remarks just now I took 30 as being a desirable figure, and the cost I attached to it was for 30 and not 75.

My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for that correction; but the cost that I gave—the cost of 5·6 million units of account—related, according to my information (I will stand corrected if I am wrong), to 75 people. The noble Lord was talking of a lower figure than that when he was speaking, relating to 30, as he has told us. Whether the number was 30 or 75, that was certainly the number of "thinkers" or "predictors"; and of course there would be a secretariat to support them.

The Commission have definitely rejected this proposal and I believe it is right. I say that for these reasons. First, I doubt whether the science of prediction—I am not sure that I follow the noble Lord in his distinction between prediction and forecasting, but I will use the word "prediction" because I know the noble Lord prefers it—has reached the point of reliability where we can justify substantial investment of this nature. The report suggests, for example, that if this team had been in existence earlier we might have avoided the creation of a beef mountain, a wine lake and a butter mountain. All those things have been criticised, of course, as a result of EEC agricultural policy. But I do not think those examples are really valid, because the butter mountain and the wine lake were, I should have thought, obvious results of the political decisions which were taken to subsidise the producers of those products. I do not think any amount of prediction or forecasting would have avoided them. The only thing that would have avoided them would have been a different policy—and the need for that was obvious and plain as a pikestaff long before the mountains appeared.

The Commission produced a more modest proposal with much more limited aims, and indeed more limited resources. They are to be confined to the areas of science and technology and, as I understand it, will have a role more of coordination than of forecasting. I am not disposed to reject that proposal quite so peremptorily as I reject the one originally made by the Europe plus 30 team. But before we listen to the Government's views on that idea, I would ask rhetorically whether more forecasting and more prediction—I must use that word, because the noble Lord rightly insists upon that—

My Lords, I must beg to correct the noble Lord once again. The purpose of my remarks about the word "prediction" was, as I should have thought was perfectly clear at the time and will certainly be perfectly clear in Hansard, to say that we reject prediction as a possible human activity. It is, in the words of the report—and I wish the noble Lord had read that report—a "mug's game". Our report is about something rather different which we call "forecasting" and which is described at some length therein.

My Lords, I am aware of all that. I am not sure that the noble Lord has helped us very much with that intervention: he certainly has not helped me. But I would say that the science of "forecasting", which is apparently the word the noble Lord now requires, has not reached the stage where we could justify the expenditure of substantial sums of money on it. I agree that the new proposal is significantly less expensive than the one originally proposed. Even so, I do not think that it is necessarily going to be very cost-effective, because I would agree with the noble Lord that the size of the new proposal is now so far removed from the size of the original scheme that it is doubtful whether those concerned will have the resources available to make any effective contribution in any of the areas they will touch, despite the fact that the areas are much reduced. I also doubt whether staff of sufficient experience and expertise will be available. Even if we agree—as I will gladly do, if the noble Lord says so—that his original team were all brilliant experts in this field, they may well not wish to serve on a permanent body such as is now proposed, and I wonder whether the necessary staff can be readily secured.

It occurs to me that a great deal of the work which the noble Lord envisages, and which I certainly agree is useful if it can be done effectively and efficiently, could well be done by firms of outside consultants. Already this is done on some scale, and indeed the Commission and the noble Lord have accepted this as a possibility. But I think it ought to be more strongly emphasised as a real solution to this problem, rather than the somewhat cumbersome proposal that the noble Lord originally produced, and the rather less desirable and very small proposition, which was ineffective in cost terms, of the Commission's counter-proposals, which the noble Lord is asking about tonight.

The difficulty, as I have said, is to bring the science of forecasting to a point which justifies the expenditure of Commission funds on it, and I really believe that those funds, limited as they are, would be better used in retaining (if that is the right word) outside contractors and consultants in specific areas to provide the information that we need. I think that that is a better solution than to set up a permanent secretariat or bureaucracy, as it has been called, within the Commission.

10.42 p.m.

(Baroness Birk)

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, that it is a very great pity that this debate is taking place at this time of night and with such a very thin House, because it is something not only of great importance but of very wide interest. First, I should like to say how much I appreciate what I should like to call the imaginative choice of my noble friend as Director of the original project, Europe plus 30. I should also like to congratulate him on the very succinct, brief and interesting way in which he covered an extremely wide, deep and important subject. He produced an important and substantial report and it was a considerable achievement, particularly to fit it into the tight schedule which he mentioned, which meant that this colossal piece of work had to be done within a year. He was also doing it in such a way that he had to co-ordinate opinion in a very short time among so many European experts from so many disciplines. The result has been an important landmark in Community thought, and this is something that we should hang on to.

I hope that my noble friend accepts and appreciates that I not only understand; I have considerable sympathy with him if, in having produced a piece of work like this not only with considerable intellect, but with considerable dedication, one then finds at the end of the day that the output is not really taken up. Nevertheless, as I have said, the result has been an important landmark in Community thought. It is a subject which the Government themselves are keenly interested to see developed. Like my noble friend, who put it so well in his report, the Government believe that
"the pace of change and the uncertainty of its direction have made forecasting more than ever necessary, to anticipate change, to prepare contingency plans, to take out insurance policies against various dangers, and to help in moulding the future so far as one can".
Accordingly, the Government helped my noble friend by extensive comments from officials at formative stages on his draft text, and also with advice on the composition of his project team. I believe that my noble friend will also agree that the Government have a record of constructive and active support for long-terns forecasting and that this support stands up to scrutiny.

My Lords, there has been strong concern in recent years for sufficient studies to be made of the longer term outlook for the United Kingdom—I shall not expand on that point at this time because I agree with the way my noble friend opened upon it—and also for various international groups with which it is involved. The Systems Analysis Research Unit was established in the Department of the Environment after the Stockholm Conference in 1972 to appraise research into long-term problems and to contribute to the development of necessary methods. This was an inter-departmental concern. Thinking was co-ordinated and centrally steered at senior official level in close association with SARU. The upshot of several years of intensive work was the discussion paper Future World Trends. This again was another important landmark in this important field, since it explored all the major issues facing the United Kingdom and the rest of the world, in the longer term. Also in 1976, the Government joined several OECD countries in "Inter-futures Project", to which my noble friend referred. This was a three-year study of future relations between the needs of advanced industrial societies and less developed countries. A forecasting model prepared by SARU will be an important input to this work.

The United Kingdom is also a founder member of the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis. This is actively engaged in studies of several major problem areas facing mankind in the next few decades. It has also made very useful progress, and this week the Institute celebrates its fifth anniversary. It is a forum in which East and West meet, with the USA, the USSR and the United Kingdom all making major financial and other contributions.

My noble friend referred in his speech to how the Government view the proliferation of organisations. Especially where the Government are doing all or part of the funding, they are concerned that, if possible, there should not be overlapping because it is wasteful. On the other hand, where organisations are funded—the noble Lord gave Ford as an example, as well as other examples, where private or other individual institute or industrial money has been put in—it is often very difficult to steer it into other channels. One sees this not only in Europe but all over the world.

All of this bears very broadly on the Unstarred Question which my noble friend has put down. However, the question turns around the contrast between the proposals of the Commission and those of my noble friend. It is absolutely true that FAST, which is the subject matter of the Unstarred Question which we are discussing tonight, differs from my noble friend's proposals, and, as he stressed, it does this in three very radical ways. It is more limited in range and it is confined to long-term forecasts affecting science and technology. My noble friend read out nearly all of the 16 subjects which covered a much wider field than those which were contained in his original report. It is also on a very much smaller scale. There is a unit of 10 staff, made up of six professionals and four support staff, as opposed to the much larger number which my noble friend had in mind.

I do not want to be drawn into the numbers game which "ping-ponged" between my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, except to say that 30 professionals would mean something like 60 to 70 people in all, if one added the other people who would be supporting the professionals. I understood, when my noble friend was talking of the numbers, that these were the professional people he thought were necessary to carry out the sort of work that he sketched. It would also be located within a particular directorate-general of the Commission, whereas my noble friend referred to it as a creature of the Commission and wanted it with a working relationship with the Commission as a whole and with close links to its President.

And to Parliament. There is no point in pretending that there are not very strong and sharp differences between these two sets of proposals. The FAST proposals are at present expressed in draft Council Decision. Incidentally, my noble friend asked why there had not been an explanatory memorandum. There has been considerable consideration of how what had been proposed could be fitted into the FAST proposals, how one interlinked with the other, and the way in which it could be worked out and whether it could be viable. This has meant delay, but an explanatory memorandum will be issued very shortly.

The product of these extensive discussions between officials of Member States has not yet been submitted to the Council of Ministers. If FAST is approved soon by the Council of Ministers the Commission expect it to be well under way by 1979. The Government will take the discussion on my noble friend's Unstarred Question into account in reaching their final view, although the Government's present attitude is to support the Commission's proposal. I recognise the difficulty of convincing my noble friend, but I believe this view is consistent with the positive attitude already described towards work of this kind. I do not honestly believe that it is counterproductive in the way that my noble friend appears to think it is. As he knows from official discussions in Brussels in which he took part, there was very strong opposition from European partners to proposals in his report. The United Kingdom has consistently pressed constructively for some Community work of this kind, but at the end of the day you have to reach some form of consensus, and the upshot of these lengthy discussions was consensus for a small unit on the scale that the Commission now recommend.

The Government see this as initially just viable—we do not go beyond that—and prefer to accept this as the best we could obtain. This is in the context that all Commission proposals are necessarily reflections of consensus of view among Member Governments, and in this context we ought to go along with FAST and give it every chance of success, since not to do so would be unconstructive and would not further the cause of long-term forecasting generally.

My noble friend has stressed the limited scope of FAST. His own concept ranged widely over various broad themes such as agriculture; energy; climate; population and health. It is true that FAST concentrates on science and technology, which is only one of the 17 headings. However, although it is certainly a relatively narrow field the Government still believe that there is substantial scope for effective work within it. What this will entail has yet to be firmly settled, but officials of Member States are already considering broad possibilities such as the Community's long-term supply of resources; long-term technical and structural change affecting the Community and long-term social changes.

Within the first—the supply of resources—it might be useful to study the application of science and technology to saving raw materials or, within the third option—long-term social changes—prospects for an information-based economy arising from new communications systems. The debate on these options will continue. The field is clearly broad and potentially fruitful.

It is difficult to make comparisons. For example, my noble friend Lord Kennet compared the amount of money spent, say, on recycling waste with that spent or not spent on forecasting. First of all, one is in an area of comparing unlike with unlike, which I do not think is very productive. I would also point out that the recycling of waste, which was the example my noble friend took, is of substantial practical importance and an area where successful research and development could, in fact, produce clear-cut dividends and savings in material costs and would therefore be an investment which could be very well justified. That is one matter that I think could quite easily come into these studies.

My noble friend also questioned whether science and technology can be fenced off from all the other sectors that he had in mind. If it were to be so rigidly compartmentalised then he would, of course, be right. However, I do not believe that the boundaries are meant to be, or would be, drawn in such an unintelligently rigid manner. The FAST unit clearly cannot analyse science and technology in a vacuum. It must be mindful of the evolving policies that science and technology is intended to influence, which was really the starting point on, 1 agree, a larger scale from which the original study began.

Proposals for the FAST unit also involve two extremely important coordination functions: First, the monitoring of international forecasting and, secondly, the gradual establishment of a European forecasting network. I am extremely sorry that my noble friend doubts the usefulness of these activities because in his exposition, which I thought was brilliantly put over and very simple, he made a very strong and brief case for forecasting. I am entirely with him when he juxtapositioned forecasting with prediction, because they are two entirely different matters.

My Lords, I hope that my noble friend Lady Birk will forgive me for interrupting, but this is such a difficult matter that misunderstandings arise so easily. I do not doubt at all the value of monitoring other people's work and getting work done "out-house". A major part of the Europe plus 30 report is devoted to recommending how precisely this should be done. What I doubt is the possibility of doing those two things and doing "in-house" work with only six or 10 people. I am sure that this work is valuable. I doubt that it can be done on a shoestring.

My Lords, if I may put it in a brash way, I really think that it would be a great pity to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If one does not start in this way—if this is the result of the consensus—then I believe that my noble friend would be making a great mistake in not allowing, or trying to work against, a starting point at all—a starting point which, in fact, has arisen, although I agree in a very much more miniscule manner than what he, himself, produced originally. Even on the question of the monitoring and establishment, they are also part of all the methodology of research. There are many areas in industry and in science—whether it is groups in the universities—where a small group of people, provided they are of the requisite quality, can initiate and do a great many things and get very great ideas started and off the ground. Therefore, I still believe that, even within this very tight-knit unit, it should not be impossible for it to be able to do some of its own forecasting work, and that the monitoring and establishment of the network should not necessarily be at its expense.

Small though it is, it will not be cheap. It will not be done entirely on a shoestring because the cost will be somewhere in the region of £1·8 million. The United Kingdom would have to contribute about £75,000 per year over five years and the Government would not be ready, certainly at this time, to fund on this scale unless convinced of the likely value for money.

I have great sympathy with my noble friend, because when I am pressing for projects myself I am arguing that there are times when one does not have the money at the right time. He has been in Government himself, successfully, and is an old hand at this, and knows very well that this is not quite the argument that seems to move Treasuries or influence financiers. That is a difficult task to take on at the moment. The Government would not even be prepared to put forward this amount unless they were convinced that it was useful and valuable in terms of scope and function. But the Government will have to watch closely the effectiveness of this small unit, and it is important that it is strong enough and has people of sufficient quality to take off and provide value for money.

There then remains the question of location. Certainly a wide-ranging project, such as that which my noble friend proposed to the Commission, would be very much better if it were on the lines he suggested. Once one is really down to a narrower unit, then it would seem more sensible to locate it within the Directorate which is responsible for science and technology, provided—and this is extremely important—that links with other parts of the Brussels machinery can be effectively ensured.

Another point concerns the Advisory Committee on which all the Member States are represented. In this way the Government could watch the unit's work programme, its staff strength and the dissemination of its results. We already have interdepartmental machinery which would ensure that fully agreed United Kingdom views were fed into this committee. It is on that basis that the Government are at present disposed to support the Commission's proposal. Our approach is not one that is uncritical but I believe it is realistic and it is also, above all, constructive.

After the first five years of FAST's life, there will be a review. During that five years international thinking about the case for a larger unit with wider terms of reference will, no doubt, continue parallel with the evolution of the very different FAST project. To an extent, it is for FAST to convince those who doubt the value of the approach which it represents. I do not really believe it will make it harder to set up something else. Even if, at the end of the day, we have to start with something very much smaller than one ever envisaged, I would rather hold on to that small thread which is there above the ground than have nothing and have it all put off year after year after year. The Government will watch developments closely if this does come about, and the presence of my noble friend's report will, without any doubt, continue to be felt. It has acted as an important catalyst to Community thinking and I believe, and so do many others, that it will continue to represent a major landmark in the development of thought in this field.