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Royal Observatory: Herstmonceux

Volume 476: debated on Wednesday 11 June 1986

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11 p.m.

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will reconsider the proposal to move the Royal Greenwich Observatory from Herstmonceux.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I must begin by apologising to my noble friend for the fearsome hour at which we are starting, and to the staff of the House to whom we owe so much for the late hours that they keep. I must also apologise for the absence of my noble friend Lord Chelwood, who was to have put the Question but who sadly is very ill.

The proposal to move the Royal Greenwich Observatory may be seen by many to be a minor affair but it has aroused a degree of opposition, particularly on the part of astronomers and scientists, which in my opinion points to the strong possibility that the Science and Engineering Research Council is on the verge of a serious mistake.

There are many powerful reasons for thinking that a move from Herstmonceux would cause substantial and lasting damage to astronomy in Great Britain and abroad. There would be a grave danger that the Royal Greenwich Observatory would lose its identity. I make no apology for drawing your Lordships' attention to the fact that for 300 years it has been, and still is, one of the marvels of the scientific world. There would be a loss of what I call the "window on astronomy" that exists at the present location because a university campus does not spell easy access for the public. There would be damage also to working relationships with other countries, particularly Spain and the Netherlands, as a result of the disruption of the construction work on La Palma. There might well, and I shall come to this later, be an unacceptable degree of cost to the taxpayer.

Before I deal with those points in detail, I want to say something about the lack of consultation that preceded the announcement by the SERC in March of its proposal that the RGO should move. The profession was not consulted. Not even the heads of the universities to which the observatory may go were consulted. The Royal Astronomical Society was not consulted, and there was not even any consultation with the Astronomy Space and Radio Board whose job it is to oversee the work of the observatory on behalf of the council.

I find that secrecy hard to understand, and the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, has asked me to say, and I join with him, that we both hope that this matter will cease to be dealt with as though it were one of the Eleusinian mysteries. The SERC is not an oracle. We should like to see the decision dealt with as part of open government.

I turn to the options. I begin with the report produced late in 1985 by a group under Sir John Kingman who was then chairman of the council. I am sorry to have to say that the report was not strong on reasoning, nor was it decisive. It confined itself to offering not a conclusion but four options. The first was to leave things as they are—the status quo option. The second was to merge the RGO with the Royal Scottish Observatory at Edinburgh. The third was to move the RGO to a university campus, and I understand that Cambridge and Manchester would be among the favourites. The fourth was to merge the two observatories and move them to a campus. Surprisingly, one apparently obvious option was omitted, namely, to move the Edinburgh observatory to Herstmonceux. I wonder why.

When the SERC considered these options in March, all it could manage was to discard one option and to decide that the RGO should move somewhere. It could not decide where. The council could not decide either whether it should merge with an observatory or whether it should go to a university campus. The merger with the Edinburgh observatory was said to produce greater flexibility and efficiency. The move to a campus was going to give greater access to computing and microelectronics. Two differing sets of reasons, but either of them said by the council to be better than the existing set-up.

There is no evidence of anything like a cost/benefit analysis and, so far as I know, no evidence of any straight costing. I believe that, under those circumstances, this proposal counts as little more than a kite—a kite that, let us pray, can be hauled down by the council lest it may turn into a Concorde. The opportunity for saving money on this score by a merger is to my mind absolutely minimal.

So far, there has been just one result. The staff of the RGO have been thrown into confusion and anxiety by the announcement. This is bad enough in itself. But coming, as it does, in the middle of construction work on the 4.2 metre William Herschel telescope on La Palma, it is devastating. They are continuing to do their job well in spite of the uncertainty. But there must be a strong possibility that many key staff will be lost. Some have already gone to good and well-paid jobs in industry. It will not suffice to say there will be no move until 1990. A stay of execution, when the sentence still stands, is not likely to put the victim's mind very much at rest. I wonder whether we can get my noble friend to agree on that point.

I also draw attention to the other activities at Herstmonceux. I refer to the equatorial group of telescopes which are used in collaboration with Sussex University for teaching and research and as test beds for new equipment. They are used also for longer-term projects that are the foundation of astronomy. The satellite Laser Ranger is at the forefront of work on such things as continental drift and the earth's rotation. These activities, I must tell your Lordships, are accorded just two lines in the chairman's report of the council's meeting in March. I suggest that they deserve much more attention than that.

I come now to the subject that controls so much of our life, namely, finance. The council has said that a move from Herstmonceux must be self-financing, I believe over a period of five years. As I have said, we have not been privy to its costings, if any, but one thing can be taken as certain. There is no other source of finance available to cover the cost of moving, other than the proceeds of the sale of Herstmonceux Castle. The assumption that this will raise £3.5 million or so, and will be made available to pay for a move, is at the heart of the council's proposals. This raises some rather intriguing questions about which I hope that my noble friend will be able to help us.

First, has the Treasury been consulted? If so, by whom? If it has, does it agree to a sale? Does it also agree that the proceeds of this asset should be used in the way that the council intends? Has the council considered where it should look to find a buyer outside the public sector, for this would be essential for a nil-cost result. How has it arrived at the figure of £3.5 million? All these questions must be answered.

There is one other. Perhaps my noble friend could comment on a report that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has been approached by my noble friend the Secretary of State for Employment because the latter is concerned on account of the effect on tourism? That would be very useful.

This is primarily a scientific question. I have referred already to the massive opposition from astronomers. Last week there was a meeting of 200 astronomers and scientists which I was privileged to attend, although I am certainly neither an astronomer nor a scientist. Professor Martin Rees—one of the two astronomers from Cambridge, and known the world over for his excellence—spoke for them all I think when he said this:

"The RGO is splendidly situated. It is widely known and much visited by the public. It is a shop window for UK science—as such a real asset to the SERC. From their Herstmonceux base the SERC-supported astronomers not only run La Palma but also maintain successful collaboration with many Universities.
Many of us would like to see the RGO maintained there—as an internationally distinguished centre for science and innovation in its own right as well as an essential support for astronomers in Universities."

That seems to me to say it all.

There is such a wide abyss between the views of SERC and those of astronomers, that I believe that it is the Government's duty to make their own consultations and come to their own decision. The issue is so important and covers such a wide spectrum, that nothing less than that will do.

I very much hope that my noble friend will be able to help us with some of the answers in this complex and difficult situation.

11.14 p.m.

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, for raising this question. It is no secret that his Question is a successor to a Question put down by the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood. I think that we would all express our regrets that the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, is ill and cannot be with us. He has been seriously ill, but I gather he is improving, and we hope that his improvement and return to your Lordships' House will be rapid.

Like everybody else who is speaking on this question tonight, I can say without fear of contradiction that I am no expert on the subject. I shall confine myself to a number of questions. Quite honestly, I became interested in this subject only because I was lobbied on it, but I became so interested because of the lobbying that I have no hesitation in standing up and asking the Government a number of questions, some of which touch on the matters which have already been raised by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr. I hasten to say that I am not speaking tonight as a party spokesman on science, education, astronomy or anything else; I am merely speaking because I have been very moved by the case put forward by the supporters of the Royal Greenwich Observatory at Herstmonceux, and I think that the Government need to answer a number of questions.

Therefore, in addition to the questions that the noble Earl has asked, perhaps I may ask the following. Is it true that SERC did not ask the opinion of its own space and radio board before the meeting in March, when it decided to go ahead with moving the RGO? Is it true that SERC has refused to make public the report of its own panel, chaired by its own former chairman? Is it true that it has not even let this information be seen by the Royal Astronomical Society, which one would have thought comprises people who might well have some comment to make? Is it true that SERC said that a majority preferred to move, but that in fact the truth was that the largest number preferred the observatory to stay where it was and that each of the rest had different ideas as to where the observatory should go? In other words, as the noble Earl has said, there was no clear view as to where it should go, but the largest number of people felt that it should stay where it was.

Are the Government aware that two-thirds of the staff have indicated that they would not move to Edinburgh, which is said to be the preferred site in SERC terms? If that is the case, are the Government aware that this team will break up and that the breakup of this team, which has co-operated so well with Spain and the Netherlands in the setting up of the Herschel telescope in La Palma, will be the greatest loss to optical astronomy that this country has known for a very long time? Is it true that the present site is the best observing site in Britain? If that is so, why is it suggested that they should move away?

Is it true that Herstmonceux is within 100 miles of seven top universities dealing with astonomical research in this country? Is it true that it has close links with the University of Sussex, just down the road, and that it has close co-operation with a number of universities up and down the country? If that is the case, is it not true that it is better than being absorbed within one university? Can the Government tell us whether it is true that, of the 31 professors approached by the Royal Astronomical Society, 17 supported the observatory at Herstmonceux staying where it is and only five were against?

Is it true that the total cost of the move is likely to be £6 million or more, and that SERC, again as the noble Earl has said, hopes to get this sale of the castle? Is it true that the castle was given to SERC by the Admiralty? Is it true that one of the possible occupants is the Ministry of Defence; and, if that is true, is it not likely that the Ministry of Defence will want the castle back on the same terms as it was given by the Admiralty in the first place—namely, free? If that is true, where is the balance of the finance?

Is it not true that the archives there are some of the most important astronomical archives in the world? Indeed, some of the oldest working records of astronomy in the world are contained in those archives. Is it not true that, if the observatory moves, those archives either will be broken up or will not be able to be kept near contemporary working documents? Is it not true that, while America and Europe are working on the next generation of optical telescopes, we must play our part if we are to stay within touch of optical astronomy? How is that going to happen if this team is broken up?

There are many questions like this that we need to have answered tonight. I believe from what I have heard, and I am happy to be corrected by the Government if they feel it is right, that if these questions are not answered then it will be true that the Royal Greenwich Observatory is set on a course of destruction. Does the Government not agree that that would not only be sad, but a piece of wanton barbarism?

Mr. Patrick Moore, who is not the greatest professional astronomer in this country but is certainly someone who has perhaps as much feeling for astronomy as anyone who is not a professional astronomer, has made it clear that it is his belief that if the RGO is moved from Herstmonceux it will be reduced to being simply a plaque on a wall in a university somewhere else in the country.

Like the noble Earl I do not believe we can throw away 300 years of excellence, 300 years of our scientific history. I do hope that the Government will take note of what has been said here tonight and will advise SERC to change course when it comes to the point of decision next Thursday.

11.22 p.m.

My Lords, the House must be very grateful to the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, for raising the matter, and for raising it with a persistence which encourages him to stay this late at night in order to do so. It is important that he raised it and that the matter is considered by the House now because the Science and Engineering Research Council is due to make a decision on this matter at a meeting on 18th June.

One must have some sympathy with the SERC in the difficulties that they face. Fundamentally, of course, its problem is one of resources, not just for astronomy but for all the scientific and engineering subjects under its control. When it looks at astronomy it must be aware there have been many changes since Herstmonceux was set up and the observatory moved from Greenwich in 1948. The most important of all is that first-hand observation itself is no longer as dependent on a location in this country as was the case many years ago. The atmosphere of this country, quite apart from improvements in clean air in London over the past 40 years, has never been as good as it is in other parts of the world. The resources being devoted to La Palma in the Canaries and to observatories in California and Australia are evidence of that. If our fundamental effort in observational astronomy is to be in other parts of the world, it does not really matter very much if it is at Herstmonceux or somewhere else. It is also true, as we know from a Question in the House I think a few weeks ago, that the significance of the time signal is now somewhat psychological rather than practical, and the fact that Herstmonceux is on the meridian is not of the importance it was some years ago.

I have listened carefully to the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, and to the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, but it has to be said that there has been conflicting evidence from the astronomical community. Yes, it is true that there has been no majority for any particular change, but there has not been a majority for Herstmonceux staying where it is, and those of us who are concerned with regional development may well say that devolution outside the South-East of England is not necessarily a bad thing in planning terms if other things are equal.

Then again there is the issue of separation from universities or inclusion in universities. I do see the argument that an independent research institution can successfully collaborate with a number of universities and many of the universities concerned are in the region of Herstmonceux, but it has been the experience in many scientific disciplines that the isolation of a particular subject from a university, from an academic community with a wide range of disciplines and subjects, is not necessarily the best way of pursuing an academic discipline. In all these matters I start with some sympathy for the Science and Engineering Research Council, and some doubts about the case put by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, and the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff.

However, having said all those things, I have much greater doubt first about the procedures which the SERC has adopted in coming to this conclusion, and secondly about the extent to which it has taken account of the wider considerations which ought to be taken into account in reaching a decision. It seems that the procedures adopted have been grossly inadequate. Noble Lords have already referred to the fact that the Kingman Report has not been made available even to those most closely concerned, let alone to the public.

One must echo the direct questions of the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. Why was the report not available to the Royal Astronomical Society? Why was it not made available to the local councils in Sussex? Why was there no consultation with the Astronomy, Space, and Radio Board? Above all, why was there no adequate taking of the views of the staff of the Royal Greenwich Observatory? That must be, in management terms, the worst failure of the Science and Engineering Research Council in the way it went about this matter.

The question has been raised of the valuation of the castle and whether there is any real likelihood of its sale resulting in additional funds to the SERC. Unless that issue is firmly resolved—and it ought to be resolved by the Government in answer to this Question tonight—the SERC is in danger of making a decision on totally inadequate evidence and in danger of making a wrong decision. Let nobody be in any doubt of the seriousness of the decision with which we are concerned.

It is not just a matter of the future of the staff there. Staff in academic disciplines come and go, but in a discipline such as astronomy where there is such a concentration of staff at an observatory, and where the dispersion of other staff among different universities is not going to be dramatically changed, the break up of the largest single group of professionals and scientists, which would happen if a significant number of them refused to go to any new location, would be a tragedy. Adquate attention does not appear to have been paid to that possibility.

Then there is the whole question of education. An independent observatory such as that at Herstmonceux has the opportunity, and takes the opportunity, of participating in the educational aspects of astronomy. Astronomy is one of those subjects which is immediately appealing to young people, and the open days that the RGO has and the visits that are available to the castle and the astronomical exhibition are taken up by many thousands of people a year and have a great value. As the noble Earl said, it is doubtful whether they could continue in the same way if the RGO was to be subsumed within a university campus which is not normally a focus of outside visits.

Above all, we have here a history of 311 years of a public observatory in this country. It was on the same site for nearly 300 years at Greenwich and it has been on the second site for nearly 40 years in Herstmonceux. There has to be a very good case made out not just financially but also in scientific terms for such a change as that which is proposed at the moment without the clear consent and agreement of the scientific and astronomical community and without the arguments being laid open before the public and before those in particular who are specifically involved with the decision.

If it is the case that the only motivation behind the consideration which is now being given by the SERC to this move is a question of funding, and if that is the responsibility of the inadequacy of the Government's grant to the Science and Engineering Research Council, then it is the Government's responsibility to see to it that a wrong decision which would reverberate over the years is not taken on such inadequate grounds, on such secret grounds, on such grounds that are lacking in consultation.

I can do no more than say that unless the Government have adequate answers to the questions which have been put already by noble Lords, then the Government have a very severe responsibility if a wrong decision is taken now.

11.31 p.m.

My Lords, even at this late hour of the night the House is grateful to my noble friend for raising this topic, which has aroused a significant amount of public debate, and some of it not totally well informed. I should also like to join other noble Lords and my noble friend in wishing my noble friend Lord Chelwood, who put down the original Question, a speedy recovery. We hope to see him back here very soon.

The Royal Greenwich Observatory is a component part of the Science and Engineering Research Council, and the council has the responsibility for ensuring that it functions in the most effective manner and serves the astronomy community in United Kingdom universities to the best of its ability. This is subject only to certain requirements to obtain prior approval from the Department of Education and Science to large capital expenditure and to retaining funds obtained from the sale of capital assets for use elsewhere. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has final responsibility to Parliament for the research councils, but there is a long-standing practice over many years, observed by governments of both complexions, not to overturn a decision taken by a council on scientific grounds. The decision on the future of the RGO would appear to fall firmly into that category, although the council has yet to take a final decision on its future.

The council will consider the proposals further at its June meeting, as noble Lords have said, and hence this debate is timely since I am sure that the council will take into account the points that have been raised tonight. I think that in view of the pleas for the retention of our scientific heritage expressed tonight it is worth outlining the recent history of the Royal Greenwich Observatory and the situation that has led to the present decision in principle by the council.

As my noble friend and the noble Lords, Lord Tordoff and Lord McIntosh, said, the observatory has had a long and eminent record. The figure of 300 years was mentioned. That 300 years covered the time when it was at its original site at Greenwich before it moved to Herstmonceux in 1948 to take advantage of the clearer Sussex sky and the much lower background illumination. Its beautiful historic setting and the Victorian telescopes in the equatorial group, which now houses the new astronomy exhibition, give the observatory a misleading air of permanence.

The success of the move to Herstmonceux was, however, relatively short-lived so far as professional observational astronomy is concerned, because, although it is, as one noble Lord said, one of the best locations in the UK, there is substantial cloud cover and strong background illumination from Eastbourne. As the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, said, for these reasons in the last few years the large Isaac Newton telescope has been moved to the island of La Palma, which I understand has the best atmospheric conditions for astronomical observations in the northern hemisphere. A second large instrument, the William Herschel telescope, is currently being constructed at this site and when this is completed in 1990 United Kingdom astronomers will have access to a comprehensive range of world class facilities provided at a cost of some £30 million. The site is widely regarded by the international community as one of the best in the world and, indeed, the observatory represents an international collaboration involving the United Kingdom, Spain, Holland, Denmark and others.

On a personal note, I had the great honour to be present when the site was opened by His Majesty the King of Spain. Thus, to a large extent, the Royal Greenwich Observatory has moved to La Palma but, to support the British community's use of the La Palma telescopes and to carry out other tasks such as the Greenwich Time Service, the Nautical Almanac Office, the Satellite Laser Ranger and the maintenance of the libraries and archives, a United Kingdom base is essential.

To put the other work of the RGO in context, in 1986–87 I should perhaps say that 85 per cent. of the staff and 90 per cent. of the budget of the RGO is devoted to the support of the La Palma Observatory. Completely independently of the current consideration of the location of the RGO's UK base, the Science and Engineering Research Council had planned for a reduction of staff at the RGO after completion of the William Herschel telescope. The planned complement after 1990 will be about 125, of whom, at any one time, about 30 will be at La Palma. I understand that it is the council's view that the present support functions of the RGO—which, I repeat, occupy 85 per cent. of the staff and 90 per cent. of the funding—will be best carried out in close cooperation either with a large university experimental astronomy group or by amalgamating the two Royal Observatories—the RGO and the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh, which supports the council's infra-red and microwave telescopes on Hawaii—to form a larger unit with a close association with the University of Edinburgh.

A second reason for proposing the move to a university is that the success of the La Palma observatory will depend to a very large extent on the way the supporting instrumentation and remote operation facilities are developed. Close association with suitable university departments would have many advantages in this respect. The three short-listed sites being considered by the council at its June meeting are Cambridge, Manchester and Edinburgh.

It is thus that these two scientific and functional considerations, coupled with the council's concern over the vulnerability of the relatively small size of the RGO, and particularly its Herstmonceux headquarters, have led to the present proposals. More generally, it is perhaps worth noting that there is a growing feeling that research council institutes, especially those that support university research, should be closely associated with, although remaining distinct from, a university rather than being isolated units. Indeed, this was one of the recommendations of a working party set up by the Advisory Board for the Research Councils in 1983 to inquire into the distribution of research council resources in support of research in its own establishments in universities and elsewhere.

I have touched on the remaining activities of the RGO, all of which are secondary to its main function but nevertheless important. I understand that it is the council's view that none of these functions needs be carried out at Herstmonceux and that it will make suitable arrangement for these other scientific activities. Noble Lords have asked me a number of questions. I will do my best to answer most of them anyway, if I cannot answer them all.

All noble Lords have commented on the apparent lack of consultation by the council on this matter. I understand, however, that there have been a number of phases of consultation. First, during the period of the Kingman Working Group an open invitation to comment was issued both as a press notice and through the Royal Astronomical Society. Secondly, after the January meeting of the SERC the chairman or secretary of the council visited eight universities with significant astronomy departments, including the University of Sussex and the RGO. Finally, after the March meeting of council, when a decision was taken to consider in detail the implications of moving to one of a short list of three sites, council officers embarked on a wide-ranging consultation with the heads of all astronomy groups in UK university departments, the Royal Society, the Royal Astronomical Society and the UK's international collaborators on La Palma. Following on from this, several noble Lords referred to the fact that the Kingman Report has not been published.

This report was an interim one which set out four possible options for the council to consider further. These were in no particular order: first, the status quo; secondly, a move of the RGO to a university site; thirdly, a merger on the Edinburgh site and, fourthly, a merger on another site. The Kingman Report was considered at the January meeting of council, together with a dissenting minority report from one of its members, Sir William McCrea. Further information was requested and at the March meeting the council decided to concentrate on further investigation of a merger on the Edinburgh site and a move of the RGO to Cambridge or Manchester universties. As this was only an interim report, indicating further investigations that were required, the council decided that it would not publish it.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, asked me about staff consultation and I understand that the staff side's views were put to all three council meetings; at the two that took place in January and March, and further ones were being put forward in June—

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Earl would possibly be good enough to answer the question that I asked him about the Kingman Report; namely, is it not the case that the largest number of people actually took the view that the status quo was what was preferred, and that the other options were split widely among the other people?

My Lords, that must have been a decision taken by the SERC at their meeting. I am afraid I do not know the answer to that.

The noble Lord asked me about the University of Sussex and the relationship with the RGO. I can confirm that there has been fruitful co-operation between the RGO and the Astronomy Group at the University of Sussex. The council would not wish in any way to belittle the mutual benefit of this interaction over the last 15 to 20 years. It would, of course, be very convenient if the present arrangements could provide the environment that the council is seeking for the RGO, and the University of Sussex was one of the universities visited by the council's chairman before the March meeting.

Unfortunately, the present level of interaction falls considerably below that sought by the council, not only with the Astronomy Group, but also with other departments with expertise of use in the development of instrumentation and remote operation facilities. In this context, it is relevant to note that the University of Sussex is still some 20 miles from the RGO and the interests of its Astronomy Group are mainly in the theoretical aspects of astronomy.

The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, also asked me about the archives. The SERC is aware that the RGO at the Herstmonceux site houses a priceless collection of astronomy archives, as well as one of the most comprehensive collections of rare and current astronomy books. Taken together, these are a unique resource for historians of science and practising astronomers and astrophysicists. The council will ensure that they remain easily accessible and that recent work on cataloguing and conserving will continue and, hopefully, improve in any future arrangement.

Let me now turn to the question of finance. May I make it absolutely clear to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, that this is not a proposal in any way brought about because of the lack of funds. It is to improve support for the new telescopes at La Palma. It is anticipated that a move to either a university site or to the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh would result in some recurrent savings. Worthwhile though this would be, however, this is not the driving force for the move, which the council stresses is based on the scientific case.

The other major question is the initial capital financing of any move, which, as my noble friend Lord De La Warr pointed out, would of course have to be met mainly by the sale of the Herstmonceux estate. At its earlier consideration of the future of the RGO, the council stipulated that any move must be self- financing over not more than five years. I understand that the latest costing information obtained by the council suggests that this target could be achievable for each of the short-listed sites.

My noble friend asked me about the Treasury and its attitude. The Treasury has not yet been approached because it requires a full case before it will consider whether the council can retain the proceeds of any sale. I know that the council appreciates the effect of a move from Herstmonceux on local tourism and educational opportunites. I have to say that from an overall national perspective such benefits would become available wherever the observatory was sited. Nevertheless, and despite the fact that these aspects cannot be a prime concern to the council, it is of course willing to consider ways of minimising the impact of any move, and, for example, I am delighted to tell my noble friend Lord De La Warr, has offered to separate the equatorial group of telescopes which houses the new exhibition centre from the rest of the site if any national or local group wishes to make use of them. Discussions are already in hand to this effect.

We have had some erudite contributions this evening. As I have already explained, those considerations which are of scientific timbre—and they nearly all are such—are ones that the SERC must weigh up in coming to its decision later this month, rather than ones which the Government must themselves address. I am sure that the chairman and members of the council will read the Official Report of this debate, which I know will be circulated to all of them, and will take due note of the many points made by noble Lords this evening when they come to their difficult decision on this most important matter.