HC Deb 06 February 1961 vol 634 cc28-33
45. Mr. Wyatt

asked the Minister of Aviation whether he will make a statement on the progress now achieved towards a Commonwealth and European space programme under British leadership.

46. Mr. Rankin

asked the Minister of Aviation what support for a joint space research programme he has received from those Governments he recently consulted.

47 and 48. Mr. Chetwynd

asked the Minister of Aviation (1) whether he will make a statement on the European Conference on Space Research held at Strasbourg; and

(2) whether he will now make a further statement on the future of Blue Streak, in view of his recent talks with other interested Governments.

The Minister of Aviation (Mr. Peter Thorneycroft)

I will, for convenience, circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT the final communique of the Conference just concluded at Strasbourg. Delegates expressed keen interest in the political, scientific, economic and technological advantages of co-operation in the manufacture of launchers for heavy satellites. If an Organisation for this purpose is set up, it will be on a long-term basis and will as its first programme use the British Blue Streak as a first stage, a French rocket as a second stage and a third stage manufactured elsewhere in Europe. Delegates are reporting to their Governments. The United Kingdom and French Governments will now be asking their partners in the Conference to study its results with a view to deciding whether to form such an Organisation.

Mr. Rankin

While indicating our interest in this statement, may I ask if it is also true that the overtures of the right hon. Gentleman on behalf of Blue Streak have been decisively rejected by the Bonn Government? In view of that fact and the somewhat frosty welcome they got in other quarters, would it not be better to devote any spare money he has to the social purposes which his Government are so viciously attacking at present?

Mr. Thorneycroft

No, Sir. I understand that Herr Strauss was asked a question which referred to an Anglo-French decision over the development of a rocket for space satellite purposes. I am informed that Herr Strauss explained that it was not a question of an Anglo-French decision but of a European programme, in which the initiative had been taken by England. The Federal Republic was in principle ready to take part. It thought it necessary that European and American efforts should be coordinated in order to avoid duplication, which had taken place in other fields and which had cost a great deal of money. The Federal Republic had neither the possibility of, nor any interest in, developing or contributing to a rocket of its own for space purposes. It is clear that the German Government have not yet reached their decision on the discussions which have been taking place in Strasbourg. No doubt they will be considering the reports of their delegations to that Conference before making their final decision in the matter. Meanwhile, it is also plain that they maintain their interest, which they have already expressed, in the suggestions which we have been discussing.

Mr. Chetwynd

Does all that mean that Blue Streak is to be used or that Blue Streak is not to be used? What about associating the Commonwealth and the United States with this new body in Strasbourg? Can the right hon. Gentleman say something about the estimated cost of our contribution and that of the other countries concerned?

Mr. Thorneycroft

It is plain that, if this organisation is formed, it will be upon the basis of Blue Streak as a first stage. As to the co-operation with other countries, Australia will undoubtedly be the place from which this particular programme, using Blue Streak as a first stage, will be launched. The capital facilities and the like are there. If other Commonwealth countries, now or later, wish to be associated, no doubt provisions could be arranged whereby, by suitable contributions, they could be brought in. We, of course, welcome every co-operation with the United States of America. We always have cooperated with them and it certainly is our intention to go on co-operating with them, but, if one is to co-operate with someone on something, it is quite a good thing to know a little about how to do it oneself in order to contribute something.

Mr, Emrys Hughes

Ask the Russians.

Mr, Thorneycroft

With regard to the actual amount of money, the British subscription would be on the basis of 33⅓ per cent., as has already been announced, which, on the basis of £70 million as the cost of the whole project, would be £23,300,000 over five years.

Mr. Wyatt

Will the Minister accept the congratulations of all those who believe that Britain has an expanding future in persisting in this task, despite the obscurantism on both sides of the House and in The Times over this matter? He has earned the respect of the whole country for what he has been doing. Will he make it clear that if, for one reason or another, the Germans do not want Blue Streak included in the programme, and if the present plan falls through, he will nevertheless persist in carrying out a space programme of our own, which we are quite capable of doing?

Mr. Thorneycroft

I would rather leave what we might do until we have received replies from various Governments concerned, but I hope that what I have said today has cleared up a little some misunderstandings about the German position.

Mr. Farey-Jones

Will my right hon. Friend take comfort from the fact that those who are in the know are entirely with him in his efforts to aohieve a coordinated Commonwealth space programme? Even if my right hon. Friend fails to succeed in achieving European co-operation, it is of dire necessity that the Commonwealth itself should achieve a co-ordinated space satellite programme in view of its fantastic importance to coming generation in this country.

Mr. Shinwell

Is not the position that the right hon. Gentleman is trying on behalf of the Government to recover the losses sustained on Blue Streak by foisting it on to other countries? In spite of his denial about the statement by Herr Strauss, the fact is that the Bonn Government, while quite prepared to enter into an agreement of a European or world or general oharacter for the purposes of launching a satellite of this kind, will have nothing to do with Blue Streak.

Mr. Thorneycroft

No, Sir. They have said nothing of the kind. I hope that the Answer which I have given today—which I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will study—'will help to dispel that illusion in his mind. May I also seek to dispel one other? The British Government are not trying to recover money which they have spent on Blue Streak. On the contrary, what the British Government have done is to put in the knowledge of the British Blue Streak rocket free to the European organisation, as a first stage, and on that to attempt to build what I believe all sides of the House may on reflection think to be a useful thing—an organisation capable of making launchers for heavy satellites.

Mr. McMaster

Is it part of the agreement which my right hon. Friend hopes to obtain that if Blue Streak is used in the first instance, future rockets for space research will not be built in this country?

Mr. Thorneycroft

No, Sir. I do not say that they will not be built in this country. If we have this organisation it must be regarded as a long-term enterprise; that is to say, we do not intend just to carry through a project of this kind for five years and then drop it. The first programme will be based on Blue Streak. What will happen five years from then probably will not be in my hands. What will happen is that, within the countries which are co-operating in Europe, within the members of the club, rockets will continue to be manufactured.

Mr. Chetwynd

In view of the speed with which both Russia and the United States are developing their space programmes, are we not in some danger of being left far behind unless urgent and immediate decisions are taken?

Mr. Thorneycroft

These are arguments for getting on with the job rather than for not starting it at all. Following is the communiqué: The Conference convened by the Governments of the United Kingdom and France at Strasbourg to consider their ideas for the development, through co-operation between European States, of space launchers for peaceful purposes concluded today (2nd February).

2. The Anglo-French suggestions have been discussed with Delegates from Belgium, Denmark, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland and observers from Austria, Canada, Greece and Turkey. Delegates expressed keen interest in the political, scientific economic and technological advantages of such co-operation. These discussions will be of great assistance to the Governments concerned in considering their response to the Anglo-French suggestions.

3. The latter provide for the establishment of a European organisation having as its first programme of work the development of a three-stage launcher using the British rocket Blue Streak as its first stage, a French rocket as its second stage, and a third stage to be developed elsewhere in Europe. The organisation will be empowered to study other projects as the need for them becomes apparent.

4. All the member countries of the organisation would be given an opportunity of participating in the scientific, engineering and other work of the organisation, thus enjoying the scientific and commercial benefits that could arise from a development of satellite launchers for peaceful purposes. It is intended that the work previously done on the Blue Streak rocket and the related technology should be put at the organisation's disposal for the purposes outlined above. For its part the French Government would also give to the organisation the benefit of the studies carried out and investments made in the framework of its national programme.

5. It is envisaged that a Council would be established on which each member country would be represented. This council would create whatever subsidiary organs it considers necessary to carry out the programmes which the organisation might decide to undertake.

6. A number of formulae for financing were proposed during the course of the discussions. At the conclusion of the discussions the United Kingdom and French delegations are submitting to their own and other Governments proposals for financing the first programme in which a launcher based on Blue Streak as the first stage would be developed. Because work on this programme is so far advanced in the United Kingdom and because the bulk of the work would take place there the United Kingdom is prepared to accept one-third of the cost of the first programme based on Blue Streak. The share of other countries would be based on their national income except that those with smaller national incomes would contribute on a reduced scale.

7. The United Kingdom and French Governments will now ask their partners in the conference to study its results with a view to deciding whether to form such an organisation with a programme such as that outlined above.

2nd February, 1961.