House of Commons portcullis
House of Commons
Session 2003 - 04
Publications on the internet
Standing Committee Debates
European Standing Committee A Debates

Global Navigation Satellite System

European Standing

Committee A

Monday 7 June 2004

[Mr. Peter Pike in the Chair]

Global Navigation Satellite System

[Relevant Documents: European Union Document No. 8926/04; draft Council Decision on the signing of the Co-operation Agreement on a Civil Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) between the European Community and its Member States and the State of Israel; and the Draft Joint Action on aspects of the operation of the European Satellite Radio Navigation System affecting the security of the European Union.]

4 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Jamieson): May I say what a pleasure it is to sit under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr. Pike? On a day such as this, I am sure that none of us would rather be sitting outside in the sunshine.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): Hear, hear.

Mr. Jamieson: I thank my hon. Friend for her kind support.

This is a useful opportunity to debate the European global navigation satellite system at an important stage in its development. Key decisions are to be taken this year and next. Later this week at the Transport Council, there will be an opportunity to decide on the draft regulation on the establishment of structures for the management of the European satellite radio navigation programme. The draft regulation will determine the shape of the structures for the next 20 years or more in the programme to establish a European global navigation satellite system.

We have also experienced the satisfaction of endorsing the interoperability agreement with the American global positioning system. That has been a long struggle, which has involved balancing many conflicting interests, but the goal we have achieved was worth the effort. The two systems will be complementary, and will provide the potential to develop applications that it is difficult to imagine even now.

In the autumn, we expect to receive a European Commission document that will propose in detail the final shape of the programme and the services that it will provide. At the same time, we shall reach a decision on who will gain the operating concession under the public-private partnership to build the satellites, launch them into orbit and provide services for a fully functioning constellation of 30 satellites. Those two streams are expected to come together at the December 2004 Transport Council, when Ministers will be asked to decide on the next steps.

Column Number: 4

I am convinced that participation in the Galileo programme is good for the United Kingdom. It is a major European transport infrastructure project that has the potential for almost unimaginable benefits for users over the next 20 years and beyond. That will be the case not only for transport, although that remains the primary focus and the reason why I am appearing before the Committee. We will see a revolution in GNSS applications in the next 20 years that will mirror the sort of advances we have seen in mobile phone technology in the past 20 years.

The ripples from Galileo will spread far and wide, wherever accurate positioning or timing data is required: for example, in power distribution, insurance and improved search and rescue services. Only a week ago, the Home Secretary referred to the potential for satellite tracking devices to keep tabs on sex offenders and to protect the vulnerable in our communities.

The United Kingdom agreed to become a full participant in the Galileo programme because we understand the importance of the technology. It is vital that we are involved with the development of the project. The UK has a leading place in the European space technology programme, and our industry is well placed to benefit from the significant work that will be on offer, for example, in building satellite hardware, software development and at the downstream end of inventing, designing, creating and marketing the multitude of new applications that are possible.

The UK has a real edge in Europe in each of those sectors. Large and small companies are already taking advantage of that, and many more are waiting for the programme to start operating. The first test satellites for Galileo are already under construction. One is being made by a British company; it is primarily a British product built by a small but hugely successful company— Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. of Guildford. The other is being built by EADS Astrium, the British arm of which is playing a major part in the process. Another UK company is involved: LogicaCMG. British companies are deeply involved in two of the three consortiums that are bidding for the Galileo operating concession. Although I cannot prejudge the outcome of the competitive process, I hope that their bids stand a good chance of success.

The cost of the programme appears to be high. The cost of the development and validation phase before the public-private partnership takes over is approaching Euro1,500 million according to the latest official estimate. Half of that money will come from the EU trans-European network budget and the other half will be financed through the European Space Agency. The United Kingdom is currently committed to investing about Euro95 million, which could create up to 1,000 jobs here. In the longer term, when the system is fully operational in 2010, Galileo could create over 100,000 jobs across Europe, and a market for equipment and services worth some Euro10 billion every year. We want our fair share of that.

Another aspect of the programme on which the European Scrutiny Committee has commented—it helps to back up what I have been saying about the value of participation in the programme—is the

Column Number: 5

relationship between the European Union and other countries. It is barely an exaggeration to say that there has been a queue of countries at the European Commission's door wanting to take part in the programme. That underlies the value of participating in it.

Since Galileo is a global system, we must not discourage that because we can make good use of other countries' expertise and facilities, as well as looking to those countries as a market for Galileo services. We must impose some checks and balances on their involvement, certainly where issues of national security are concerned and in order to protect the intellectual property rights of our industry, and we have taken care to cover those in the agreements that have so far been negotiated. We are pressing for an overall strategy for third-country agreements, based on the initial agreements, to guide the negotiators when they talk to countries that express an interest in taking part in the programme. They include China, Israel, India, Brazil and others.

I turn now to the aspect on which I hinted earlier I had some good news. I am most pleased to inform the Committee that the negotiations between the European Union and the United States reached a successful conclusion last Friday at the Galileo Security Board meeting, when a draft agreement was approved. Ministers will therefore be able to give their endorsement at the Transport Council this Friday to an interoperability agreement between the Galileo and GPS systems, which will be signed at the EU-US summit in Ireland on 26 June. It is worth saying that, although the Americans were sceptical at the beginning, they now welcome Galileo. They see the great advantages that will flow from a second constellation of satellites and the agreement has been strongly supported by the State Department, which has worked hard to lift the barriers and to smooth the path forward.

In conclusion, the Galileo programme is very complex, innovative and wide ranging, but has enormous potential. It is at a vital stage in its development and is beginning to turn the corner from the design stage into a fully operational system. It is important that the United Kingdom continues to be involved in it, and I intend to do what I can to encourage it. I hope that that has been a useful introduction to our debate.

The Chairman: We have until 5 o'clock at the latest for questions to the Minister. I remind hon. Members that questions should be brief and asked one at a time. There is likely to be ample opportunity for all hon. Members to ask several questions. If an hon. Member has a question that he or she thinks is not linked to the one that they have asked, they can stand up again, and I can call them two or three times in succession. That is at my discretion.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): May I ask the Minister about the military applications of Galileo? There is a reference in the draft document that we are considering to

    ''military satellite-based navigation and timing services''.

Column Number: 6

However, we have been told all along that it is a civil project.

Mr. Jamieson: This is indeed a civil project, and it is the ambition of the United Kingdom and most of the other countries that are signed up to it that it should continue to be so. One country has indicated that it has some ambition for Galileo to have use other than for civil applications, but we shall resist that most strongly. Our military will continue to use the GPS system, which is owned by the Americans and used by the UK and NATO. That does not mean to say that, in certain situations where, for example, a military ship may be involved in search and rescue, Galileo may not be used, but it would not be used for operational military matters.

Mrs. Dunwoody: Is not it true that, with a very simple series of adaptations, it could become entirely a defence system? Will my hon. Friend the Minister not only assure us that the British Government will oppose that, but make it clear that the political decision making will lie with those in control of the system, because it has enormous implications?

Mr. Jamieson: My hon. Friend makes a good point. In a couple of years' time, a supervisory authority, which will be controlled by a management board, will have overall control of the system. That board is one issue for discussion this Friday at the Transport Council, but it will have members from all countries in the Union. It is clear from the indications that we have had from other countries that they share our strong ambition for this to be a civil and not a military project. At least one country has indicated otherwise but, as I said to the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), we shall resist that pressure.


House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2004
Prepared 7 June 2004