Mr. Bill Olner (Nuneaton) (Lab): I declare an interest as the joint chair of the all-party group on space, which has the support of nearly 100 Members, from both Houses and from both sides of this House. I am delighted to see my co-chair, the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor), on the Opposition Front Bench, and to see the considerable number of members of the space group here. They, and you, Mr. Illsley, will know that my interest in space and my support for it in the House is of long standing.
I asked for this debate for a number of reasons. First, the relevance of space to all of us is growing. We live in an information age, and much is possible because of satellites. Television, mobile phones, weather forecasting and satellite navigation are just a few things that show that our lives increasingly depend on space technology. Increasingly, space applications play a crucial role behind the scenes, monitoring disasters, assisting in aid efforts and driving forward our understanding of climate change.
Secondly, today's debate allows us to pay tribute to the lead role of UK space in that revolution. That role has been possible only because of sustained development and investment in technology over the years. I give the hon. Member for Esher and Walton credit for his work as a Minister in the previous Government to advance joined-up thinking about space. Such thinking is crucial if the UK is to play a major role in Europe and across the globe and to get its share of space contracts in future.
In March and November, the world's biggest and most sophisticated telecommunications satellites were launched. The Inmarsat-4 satellite series was made in Britain by EADS Astrium and operated in Britain by Inmarsat, the world's most profitable mobile satellite communications company. That is a triumph both of British technology and of British business success in using that technology to ensure that profits are made for British business. It is a shining example of technology transfer really working, involving British technology moving through to a British business and on into the global marketplace, all of which is a huge success.
When UK space was not making the news, it was often behind the news. UK space is a vital part of the world's disaster monitoring and disaster management infrastructure, and British companies used British space technology this year to make a real difference to relief efforts after the Asian tsunami, the famine in Darfur and, most recently, the earthquake in Pakistan and Indian Kashmir. Our space industry is not just making money; it is saving lives.
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It is no surprise that the space sector is seen by many countries as a prize asset and a strategic asset. Britain spends £195 million a year on civil space activities. That is equivalent to about a penny per person per day. Sadly, our level of spending as a proportion of gross domestic product is only 16th in the world; we are well behind the Finns and the Belgians. Although we do well, if we are to remain a world leader and a sharp cutter at the edge of this technology, we need more investment.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if the Government were to increase that money, it would be not expenditure but investment? It would repay itself, not only because of the commercial profitability of which he has spoken, but because the skills that our space industry is famous for encouraging would grow and prosper.
Mr. Olner : Yes. There is always a semantic difference about whether funding is an investment or a cost. Money invested is space is just that: an investment for the future. As I shall say a little later, it is an investment because of the amount of technical expertise in the industry. The figures will become clearer later, but an enormous number of graduates take up worthwhile and meaningful careers in the space sector. Investment in the industry not only repays itself; it is an investment into the education of some of our young people.
Across the UK, the space sector employs more than 15,000 people in more than 200 companies and offers some of the most exciting and rewarding work to be found anywhere. More than two thirds of the work force have a degree; they are probably the most highly skilled work force in British manufacturing, and they are adding value to Britain. By the Government's own measurement, the space industry is one of the most value-adding, generating about £4 billion a year for the British economy. The global space industry is growing at 15 per cent. a yearpast investment is paying off.
Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on his speech about a very important subject. Although he calls for vast increases in investment in space activity, I am aware that he knows that a tremendous number of satellite operations have failed and that an extraordinary amount of rubbish is circulating the globe. Does he not think that Governments should invest, or have invested, huge amounts of money to clear up that mess before we further pollute the outer atmosphere of the Earth?
Mr. Olner : Yes, there is some space litter up there, and we probably need to pay attention to it. However, my hon. Friend's point about failed launches shows that, although we take for granted such things as getting a signal on our mobile phones or getting a television stream, such technology is at the cutting edge. Space technology is not just about pressing a button; it is not a given. There are real challenges out there, and I think they are being addressed by our companies. We have failuresour successes far outweigh themwhich, unfortunately, are well publicised. The space industry is doing well in all that it does.
At the European Space Agency ministerial conference, the UK must decide where it is goingnot just where space technology is going, but where the
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country is going. The UK Government must make two decisions if we are to sustain Britain's bank of space technologies, which generate wealth throughout the economy. We must subscribe at the same level to the Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems technology investment programme. If space technology and the industry are to remain at the forefront of global efforts to combat climate change and develop a global early-warning system for natural disasters, we must play a leading role in the global monitoring for environment and security initiative. Those decisions will test the UK's aspirations to having a high-tech, highly skilled future and its global leadership in combating climate change.
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his long interest and expertise in the space sector. Does he agree that during the late evening debate on climate change last night, it was a little surprising that, in responding to my intervention, the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment did not appear to be entirely au fait with GMES and the role that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has to play? Does he agree that that is slightly alarming, and that it will be interesting to see the Minister's written response to me, which I hope will arrive before the ESA ministerial conference?
Mr. Olner : I did not hear that intervention on the Minister last night, but I assume that he is more au fait with the issue now and that it will burn in his mind when the ministerial conference comes up. It is important that all sections of the Government know the UK's position in the field of space technology and how crucial it is to get proper support from the various Departments.
Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): I add my congratulations to the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. He mentioned the importance of GMES and UK space policy for helping to tackle climate change and for environmental monitoring. Does he agree that it is surprising that the UK Government are considering contributing only £3 million when a UK contribution of £11 million is required to fund GMES properly?
Mr. Olner : The hon. Lady makes an important point, which I was going to stress later: it is no good the Government just giving warm words and reassurance. Those things must be matched with investmentspending is not just expenditure; it is investment in the industry. It allows the UK to play a major role with the rest of its European competitors.
Space could well be used for many things. We all know that one of the Prime Minister's passions is Africa and how we are best able to help it. A company called Avanti is seeking to put a type of footprint over Africa that will allow various things on tele-medicine and tele-education to be streamed into Africathings that we in Europe perhaps take for granted because we have overflying satellites that provide a footprint here. Unfortunately, the footprint is not as heavy as I would like it to be in Africa, and UK industry is able to play a role there.
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Keeping our eye on the planet will help our ability to forewarn, particularly in Africa. Famine is one of the scourges in Africa, whose climate leads to failing crops. Being better able to predict and plan for such events will start to put the world in a better position to assist people living where natural disasters might occur.
Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. FriendI use that phrase as the hon. Gentleman is my co-chairman on the all-party group on space. Will he pay tribute to Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd's disaster monitoring constellation, which uses four big satellites and which is now part of a wider operation ensuring that natural disasters are monitored?
I hope that the Minister will address the point about DEFRA and the minimal UK contribution to GMES, because the UK needs to make its position known at the ESA ministerial meeting in December and needs to be a lead country in space. The fact that DEFRA plans to put in less than £2 million a year for the next two years is a disaster. That is part of a UK contribution totalling less than £3 million a year. If we were talking in billions or could add a couple of noughts to those figures, we could, and would, be looked at as a major player. Although £2 million or £3 million is still a lot of money to meI still have not made my first millionin the run of things it is paying lip service to something that needs better investment.
Other hon. Members want to speak, so I will curtail my comments. Next month the Government face a decision. The question is not: "Are we in space or are we not in space?" It is far simpler than that. The question is whether we really want a high-tech, highly skilled economy and whether we really care about climate change and natural disasters. If the answer is yes, we need to sustain our support for ARTES and to play a leading role in GMES. Anything less would simply pay lip service to our vision of not only a better Britain, but a better world.
In my early teens, as an apprentice at Bristol Siddeley Engines, I developed a keen interest in space. In the early 1960s, we manufactured launchers. We have not manufactured many since, unfortunately, but the UK and its industries have since played a major role in harnessing for the betterment of mankind the advances in communication and observation that I have spoken about. We must not allow the position that we now enjoy to be lost. I look forward to hearing from the Minister the assurances that I and the industry require and which are so crucial.
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Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Olner) on securing the debate. As he said, it is important because of the ESA ministerial meeting that will take place on 5 and 6 December. He noted the small amount that this country spends on space activities. We have only to look at the expenditures of some other countries to see a stark difference. That is worrying. It is not that if we do not engage in space activity, it will not happen. If we do not engage in it, other people will. That means not just that we will lose out, although clearly we will, but that the skills associated with the space industry and the profit related to itthe wealth of a country can be measured in many wayswill be lost to this country and go elsewhere.
Where will those things go? Clearly the United States of America is spending vast sums on space activityit always hasbut we should look at China. It has an ambition to put a man or woman on the moon, and there are a number of other activities that the Chinese want to engage in. The Chinese do not want to do that for nothing. They know the importance of space, which is why they want to be involved and why they are spending somewhere in the region of $620 million on it. That figure will increase.
The decisions to be taken next month are important for us. The hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that DEFRA plans to spend something like £2 million a year on space, which is a ridiculous sum of money. He spoke about natural disasters and climate change. Everybody talks about climate change, and we must do a lot more about it, but that will not happen on its own. A vast amount must be invested and, frankly, £2 million is chicken feed in the context of what we need to do.
Mrs. Gillan : Does my hon. Friend agree that it is appalling that we spend about £195 million a year on civil space activities, whereas France spends €1.9 billion and Germany spends €850 million? Our spending on civil space activity falls behind 15 other countries, including Finland and Belgium.
Mr. Evans : It is embarrassing. I am looking at the tables showing what other countries are doing. We know about China. It has growth rates of about 8 per cent and it is definitely growing its space programme. The same is the case in Russia and in India, which also has growth rates of about 8 per cent. and is spending $500 million. We are spending almost half the money that India is spending on space activities. I am worried that we will lose all the skills involved and that Britain will be seen as a country that is not interested in or committed to the space programme. When other collaborations take place in the future, Britain will not even be considered.
There is also great worry about whether skills can be retained. There are tremendous skills in this country. For example, I visited Astrium, which builds satellites. We should be proud of the absolutely fantastic skills in that company.
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The hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) referred to debris in space. A great deal of attention must be paid to how it can be managed, and since the pollution of space is clearly in no one's interest, that is something in which this country could be involved.
Mr. Ian Taylor : There is the prospect of a Dutch satellite that will gulp up debris. I believe that that project is private-sector driven, and perhaps my hon. Friend would like to consider it. The serious point is that we must clear the way for other satellites to be launched and ensure that no damage is done to them.
Mr. Evans : My hon. Friend makes an important point about the project being commercially driven. There is a great deal of money to be made in the space industry, so it is commercially attractive to companies. However, there is definitely a need for the Government to drive progress harder and faster than is currently the case.
Various activities are involved. For example, we discussed telecoms. I remember that when I first became a Member of Parliament in 1992never mind when others first became MPsthe internet was in its infancy, and satellite television was just starting, but look at the situation now. We have a choice of 300 channels and that number will grow. It will not be long before we all hold devices that allow programmes to be beamed down to us wherever we happen to be. The excitement in the telecoms market is superb. I am delighted that Britain is at the forefront of the telecoms market, but we must continue to invest on a much larger scale if the industry is to have a future.
The hon. Member for Nuneaton discussed the number of space industry jobs in this country and the fact that two thirds of them are filled by people with university degrees. That is superb, and we want to further it. I hope that the Minister will comment on the closure of physics departments in universities, the shortage of physics teachers in schools and the fact that many youngsters are not interested in physics. That worries me. We will store up trouble for the future if we do not try to correct that.
Mrs. Gillan : Does my hon. Friend agree that it would also be interesting to hear from the Minister what progress this country is making on the Lisbon goal? It appears that we will not meet the target, which means that we will not produce the number of scientists needed to support our economy or the European economy.
Mr. Evans : The attitude in this country to science, and scientists and physicists, must change. I hope that the Minister will say something about that. A couple of weeks ago, I spoke to a constituent who visited the House of Commons. He said that he was the last physics teacher in his university, and that he was on a short-term contracta 12-month contract. I do not know how people are supposed to plan when they are on such contracts. He feared that the whole department might close. Scientists are respected in other countries, but we do not treat them the same way.
Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab): I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman. Does he not recognise that the Government have published a 10-year scientific framework
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programme, and that they have made more effort to increase the proportion of our GDP that is spent on research, development and innovation than his party did when it was in power? Under this Government, expenditure will go from 1.9 per cent. to a target of 2.5 per cent. for 2014. That record is better than his party's.
Mr. Evans : No. The hon. Gentleman's party has been in power for eight years. I do not want to make this debate party political. His hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton led on the figures about how much DEFRA is spending and the total budget compared with other countries. We have to do much more.
I shall finish, as I want other Members to have the opportunity to speak. I am thinking about the excitement that surrounded Beagle 2. It was considered to be space on the cheap, but many people were gripped by it. I do not believe that its failure dampened people's enthusiasm for space technology.
Jo Swinson : Will the hon. Gentleman join me in congratulating Glasgow on securing the international astronautical congress 2008? It is exactly the sort of opportunity that the Government should make the most of to enthuse and inspire people about science and space.
Mr. Evans : I congratulate Glasgow, of course. It is tremendous that all parts of the United Kingdom should get involved in the opportunities relating to space. The hon. Lady mentioned enthusiasm and excitement and that is what space provides. It captivates people, as Beagle 2 did; people were excited. I went to the Royal Geographical Society when Beagle 2 was separated. Prince Andrew turned up, it was exciting and everybody was enthused and gripped. It was a shame that the project was not a success, but I do not think that it diminished people's enthusiasm for space, its potential and what can be achieved.
The hon. Member for Nuneaton mentioned climate change and the natural disasters that seem to befall Earth far too often these days. That is where space can play its part, too. We also have a role to play in space. That is why I hope that we shall hear from the Minister
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that our commitment this December will be made and reinforced with the extra investment needed to play our full part in space technology in the future.
Sarah McCarthy-Fry (Portsmouth, North) (Lab): I, too, am a member of the all-party space group. Why I should want to become a member was a source of perplexity to some of my parliamentary colleagues. To many people, space technology means either space exploration or boys' toysthe "Star Trek" or "Star Wars" syndrome. Whether one has aspirations to be Captain Kirk or Luke Skywalker, there is another important aspect of space, which is the eco-warrior role. The role of the space industry in monitoring, tracking and ultimately helping to reverseor at the very least better manageclimate change is crucial.
A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the European Space Research Institute at Frascati in Italy to watch a video link to the launch of the Cryosat satellite. All seemed to be going well, but unfortunately after what we thought was a successful launch, the satellite ended up plummeting into the Arctic ocean. It was a bitter blow for the British man, Dr. Duncan Wingham, whose brainchild the satellite was. It was going to survey from space the thinning of the Earth's icecaps and provide the clearest picture yet of what climate change is doing to our planet. We monitor from the ground, but that is not good enough. The information that we could have got from the satellite would have been crucial.
The aborted launch brought home the fact that space is still an inexact science. As my hon. Friends the Members for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) and for Nuneaton (Mr. Olner) remarked, we do not yet have all the answers. However, we have a wealth of opportunity. The satellite was launched on top of an old Soviet SS-19 ballistic missile. I could not think of a better example of the swords-into-ploughshares argument: a rocket designed to destroy parts of the Earth being used to launch a satellite that was going to help save it.
Climate change is probably the most important global issue, and I want to make sure that we do not lose the opportunity to gather important data. The data that that satellite was seeking are essential to our understanding of climate change, would have given scientists a definitive picture of the rate of thinning of the Arctic sea ice and would have enabled them to improve computer models of climate change.
Will Europe approve a replacement satellite? That is one of many issues that will be debated at the European Space Agency ministerial meeting. Cryosat cost £90 million, which is not insubstantial. However, the project director said:
If a decision is made quickly, much of the original team will still be in place, so we will not need to reinvent the wheel. The original satellite took seven years to build, and it is estimated that if we move quickly, a replacement could be built in three. That is better than seven years, but it will be three years in which the icecap thins still further and scientists do not have the
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information they need. That is just one example of the importance of the space industry, not only to the United Kingdom, but much further afield.
We have reached the point where we must ask whether we want the UK to be a major player in the space industry. Last month, Lord Sainsbury of Turville, the Minister for Science and Innovation, said that UK Space's importance as a contributory factor in achieving our goal to be Europe's leading knowledge-based economy is without question. However, we are at a crossroads. Without continuing investment, we will not be able to play that role. Space is one of the few industries in which Britain retains a comprehensive design and integration ability and it employs the most highly skilled work force in British manufacturing.
Ironically, it was a British man, Arthur C. Clarke, who found fame and fortune from spacenot from designing or manufacturing space hardware, but by writing about it. He was my literary hero during my teenage years. I found his books fascinating, because although they were fiction, they were rooted in real scientific ideas. He was a man way ahead of his time. He predicted communication satellites way back in 1945 and inspired generations of young people to dream about space.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the United States Apollo missions inspired a generation of Americans to go into science, engineering and technology. A MORI poll last year found that 70 per cent. of young people would be encouraged to go into science, engineering and technology because of UK involvement in space, but we need to have a space industry for them to use their skills in.
When I watched the doomed Cryosat launch last month, I found it fascinating that the technology for putting satellites into space was still basically a giant firework. Once again, we can turn to Arthur C. Clarke for inspiration. His view is that the rocket has as much future in space as dog sleds have in serious Antarctic exploration, but at present it is all we have. However, he came up with the vision for communication satellites remaining poised over a fixed spot on the equator by matching their speed to the turning Earth. He progressed that idea in his book "The Fountains of Paradise": by adding a cable linking the satellite to the ground, payloads could be hoisted mechanically and reach their orbit without the need for expensive rocket power. He called that a space elevator and although at first it was just a fanciful idea, since the discovery of material with which it could be builtthe third form of carbon, C60it has become a real possibility. It would have the effect of massively reducing the cost of putting payloads into space. We should imagine what the growth effect of that would be on the UK satellite industry and what it would mean for the UK economy.
In my constituency, I have seen the effects of job losses across industry and, in particular, jobs going to the low-cost eastern Europe and Pacific rim countries. However, we should examine which jobs are being outsourced; by and large, they are at the low-skill and low-tech end of the market. The key to retaining jobs in the UK is to maximise the number of high-skill, high-tech jobs, and that is exactly what jobs in the space industry are.
EADS Astrium, which is one of the UK's leading space companies, employs around 1,000 people in my constituency. They have highly skilled jobs, which is
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precisely what my constituency needs in order to be a driving force in the knowledge-based economy. We need many more knowledge-based, high-tech, science-based industries and I want my constituents to be able to obtain the skills they will need to work in those industries. There is so much good work going on in my constituency to encourage young people into those career paths. EADS Astrium has sponsored the local girls' school to become a specialist school in science and maths. The support and help of such a leading player in the space industry helps to inspire schoolchildren to take a positive look at science, engineering and technology opportunities. School standards in my constituency are still below the national average, despite huge improvements since 1997. I welcome the involvement of such a major high-tech company in helping my young constituents to reach their potential and to have an ambition beyond working in McDonaldsnot that there anything wrong with working in McDonalds, but it should not be the only choice. The head teacher is very enthusiastic about the project and has said that attaining specialist status in science will give the girls in her school a unique opportunity to acquire the technical, and ultimately transferable, skills that they need to thrive in the 21st century. However, what is the use of their gaining those skills if we cut the legs from under the UK space industry through short-sighted cutting of funding?
The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) has left, but referred to the European global monitoring for environment and security programme and said that the UK should contribute around £11 million a year to maintain our position in the driving seat of that programme. If it is true that we will contribute only £3 million, it sends the message to our European partners that the UK does not want to be a leading player in the co-ordinated European effort on environmental monitoring, including disaster management and monitoring climate change.
The UK holds the EU presidency and recently held the chairmanship of G8. Our Prime Minister has said that tackling climate change is a key part of those roles, but we cannot do it alone. We must bring other countries on board, but if we cut back our contribution, what message will that send out?
Mrs. Gillan : The hon. Lady is making an excellent speech and I agree with every word that she utters, so I will call her my hon. Friend. Does she agree that we are not talking big bucks in terms of Government spending? We are talking about the difference between a commitment of £3 million and the amount that industry and outside assessors have arrived at, which is £11 million. That is just pocket change to the Government, even though it is taxpayers' money. It is almost ridiculous that we have to fight for that money and encourage the Government to spend it when the Prime Minister rightly said at G8 and various EU meetings that he wants to take a lead. Showing leadership would surely mean finding this small amount of money.
Sarah McCarthy-Fry : I hesitate to say that I agree with the hon. Lady, but it is good that we have cross-party consensus on driving space industry forward because we all realise its importance. One difficulty is that different Departments contribute, and in this
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debate we can impress on the Minister the fact that we need a co-ordinated effort across Departments. The matter is important to the UK economy and for jobs in my constituency, but there is a much wider importance and the effort needs to come not just from one Department. I hope that the Minister will pass that message on.
The natural hazards working group, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton referred, acknowledged that earth observation, space science and space engineering are key parts of our scientific knowledge bank and are helping us to understand and prepare for natural hazards.
I have spoken today from the perspective of my constituency about the economic aspirations of the young people of Portsmouth and wanting it to be a high-tech, high-skilled city, but the consequences of not supporting the GMES programme with the full commitment go far beyond the borders of my constituency. We would let down not just my constituents but people in other parts of the world who might face tsunamis, hurricanes or earthquakes. We have a responsibility to our children and grandchildren to do all we can to tackle climate change. By supporting the space industry, we could do that.
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I do not intend to keep the Chamber for long. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Olner) secured this debate, for which several of us applied.
It is important that we have this brief debate because it is a considerable time since we have had a chance to debate space. With the important decisions coming up in the next few weeks, I am grateful to the Speaker, who had the foresight to grant it. However, I am less impressed with the GovernmentI apologise to the Minister if I imply a personal criticismwho do not see fit to devote their time to debating or examining policy in this area before taking fairly serious decisions that will affect our businesses and research councils.
Space is exceedingly exciting. I went to a Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council exhibition the other day, which was, rather inappropriately, held in the Treasury. I had with me a schoolboy doing work
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experience, who was very enthusiastic about what he saw in the presentation on what was happening in space. For example, it was good to find, even under the auspices of an anonymous philanthropist, that the opportunity for schools to use a telescope directly through computers in their schools is being made available through Cardiff university.
A couple of weeks ago, I visited Salford to look at the Group 4 Securicor tagging and monitoring exercise, where I saw the satellite tracking that is being used in two pilotsamong the three being conducted by the Home Officemonitoring the control of criminals at the end of their sentences when they are in the community. I was impressed by what has already been shown up by those pilots. I hope that the Minister will familiarise himself with the commercial applications for space, which are paying our society dividends.
I shall concentrate mainly on one aspect, which the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Sarah McCarthy-Fry) mentioned. How do we ensure that the benefits from space research flow through to our space industries? I yield to no one in my admiration for the successes achieved by our space scientists in pushing forward our knowledge of the universe and its origins, and there is a lot to say about that. However, I am concerned that we are not optimising the industrial benefits that should flow not only from scientific research, but from civil research, whether funded by the Government, the European Space Agency, the EU or our space industries.
Like many people, I do not see the issue as political and I certainly do not raise it to score political points because many of the problems have existed for some time, whether under a Conservative Government or the current Labour Administration. I raise the matter from a genuine desire to engage the Government in a discussion and to find a solution. I share the Government's objectives to exploit space technology to benefit us through improvements in communications, Earth observation to monitor climate change and all the other items that have been mentioned in this debate.
Massive improvements have been made in using space technology, but it is not functioning correctly. The problems result from the machinery of government and are, therefore, all the more difficult to solve. As the practical uses of space extend, more Departments are affected. Having recognised that some 20 years ago, we established the British National Space Centre to act as a focus for space activities, both internationally through ESA and the EU, and recently, bilaterally with China. Internally, BNSC acts as a forum for interested partner Departments and the scientific research councils. All the agencies and councils have worked together well and achieved some great successes.
Mr. Olner : Does the hon. Lady agree that we are in danger of missing a golden opportunity, because Departments are not talking to each other? The Department of Trade and Industry has put in an awful lot of work and money. Lord Sainsbury has been a tremendous champion of space over many years. We are fortunate that he has held that position for so long. The problem is not Lord Sainsbury, but the fact that other Departments do not realise the relevance of the space industry and of joining all the bits together.
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Mrs. Gillan : The hon. Gentleman takes the words out of my mouth. I am certainly not laying the blame at the door of Lord Sainsbury, who is a space enthusiast, as far as I know. Indeed, I say that while sitting next to my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor), a well known expert who was a first-class Minister on the subject. I am trying to focus the Minister's mind on joined-up government. The hon. Member for Nuneaton makes my point exactly, and I think that he probably agrees with me.
Although the BNSC, through the DTI, can fund industrial research via the European Space Agency, my concern is that funding applications in the public sector become the responsibility of the relevant Department, whose main interest is not space. A current example is the European space navigation project, Galileo. That is an agreed European project funded mainly by the EU, but with ESA as the up-front research organisationits responsibilities include the first four proving satellites. Funding is required from both the DTI and the Department for Transport.
I hope that I am wrong, but there are signs that the Department for Transport cannot fully provide the funding required and that our industries could well lose out rather than cash in on all their work. I seek reassurances on that from the Minister. There are similar potential problems with international efforts to use space technology to help on climate change. I refer to global monitoring for environment and securityGMESwhich we talked about earlier. It seems that DEFRA will find that funding is wanting, with disastrous consequences in my view and that of many people in this House and beyond.
The Government, in common with previous ones, have long insisted that our space industries should share in funding research and that we should not just look to taxpayers' money for funding. Our industries have responded to that challenge better than industries in other European countries where Government funding is more forthcoming, and I admit that there have been notable successes. For example, the privately funded consortium launching Paradigm's Skynet has proved a great success at providing communications satellites for our military. However, Galileo is a European, publicly funded project. Our industries have won an impressive share of the work, but that will be realised only if the Government are prepared to fund their share alongside other European countries.
This and similar cases raise the "machinery of government" issue. Unless we can find some way of ensuring that Government-funded research is followed up with Government-funded support for public sector projects, our space industries will not benefit fully from the research that they and the Government initially funded. After all, we are talking about front-edge technology that is recognised as being critical for the UK, particularly as lower-technology industries are taken over by developing countries. I hope that the Minister will take that thought away from the debate and examine whether improvements can be made to Government arrangements that will benefit our space industries and ensure that what we have already invested is not wasted for want of a ha'p'orth of tar.
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Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab): I apologise for being late for the debate; I was attending a seminar on the global science and innovation network held by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Olner) on securing the debate. Having tried to secure debates of this kind in the past, I know how difficult it is to do. It is the first time that I have heard a debate on space policy in this Chamber, since we have had Westminster Hall. I did not want to indulge myself by taking part but was sufficiently provoked by the hon. Member for some valley
The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) made a doom-and-gloom speech, attacking the Government's science and technology policy. I do not want to make the debate partisan, but the hon. Gentleman has sufficiently provoked me to do so. As somebody who has worked at the sharp end of research most of my adult life, was a practising scientist and engineer in research and specialised in engineering before entering the House, I can tell him that I have never seen a Government devote so much of their resources to tackling science and technology, its problems and the contribution that it makes. UK space policy is part and parcel of that, and it is a great credit to the Government.
I speak loudly in praise of the Government. I know that the Minister will do a grand job because he excels in every Department in which he has served. I speak loudly also of Lord Sainsbury of Turville, whom my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton mentioned. Lord Sainsbury is one of the best Science Ministers we have ever had. He is exemplary and outstanding, and his contribution has lifted the spirit of science and science policy in a way I have never known in all my years following science policy.
The issue I take with the hon. Member for Ribble Valley concerns the figures I quoted for the increase in investment in research and development, from 1.9 per cent. of GDP to 2.5 per cent. by 2014. Those figures are quoted in "Science in the New Parliament", a report by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, which is an independent body. I wanted to put it on record that I did not pluck those figures from the air. That is why I asked the hon. Gentleman to give way earlier.
Mr. Evans : I wonder why the hon. Gentleman thinks that the French and the Germans spend so much more than we do. Does he not think that we are missing a trick, that it is an investment and that it would benefit us if we spent more?
Dr. Kumar : I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but we should remember the base from which we started, and where we were under his Government. That is the difference. Under his Government, science went downwards. I praise the former Minister, the hon.
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Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor), because he did a great job under difficult circumstances when the country's finances were screwed up. The credit goes to this Government, however, because our finances are healthy. That is why we are able to invest in science and technology.
I praise the Government, and one of their greatest achievements has been to secure money for science and technology. Much credit goes to our Prime Minister, because he speaks with great passion for science, and to the Chancellor. The ideas that we develop, we translate through action.
I support many points that hon. Members have made about the need to spend more money. I am happy to go along with that, but we must recognise what has been achieved. That is important, because it was not always so. Year after year, scientific research grants were cut at universities. That is not the case now because budgets have been growing, which is a great credit to this Government.
I agree with some points that the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) made about exploiting the UK's space policy and technology. I am happy with that, because I recognise the contribution that space policy would make, assisting us with the problem of climate change, developing climate model forecasting and dealing with coastal and flooding problems. Climate change will be an important issue during the next five years and more, because it is on our doorstep.
Mrs. Gillan : As the hon. Gentleman has chosen a party political platform, perhaps he would acknowledge that the British National Space Centre was started by a Conservative Government. He should face Lord Hunt of Wirral in the other place and tell him that we did nothing about science and technology. We did a tremendous amount about it, including starting the framework for action, and the hon. Gentleman should be better informed on such matters before he starts slinging things at previous Conservative Governments.
Dr. Kumar : I am happy to make such acknowledgements and I was not slinging things. The Nietzschean picture of doom and gloom painted by the hon. Member for Ribble Valley is not my view of science and technology. I was trying to help the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham and was agreeing with some of her important comments. She was right that we have to exploit these things. I did not try to demean the previous Government. I tried only to paint the picture.
I agreed with the hon. Lady about one issue, which was the drop in the number of students studying physics. If we are to create scientists and engineers to deal with the problems of UK space policy, we have to train scientists and we ought to have more physicists. I find it sad that the number taking physics at school is dropping in the country that gave Newton, Faraday and Maxwell to the world. We do well at primary school level in getting children interested in science. At secondary level, things seem to go in the wrong direction.
I speak as a strong friend of the Government and praise their achievement, but my hon. Friend the Minister ought to have some words with the Secretary
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of State for Education and Skills. We ought to consider why those things are happening; there is no magic answer. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley gave no explanation of how to deal with it. He just said, "Enthusiasm, enthusiasm, enthusiasm". That is fine, but we can create only so much enthusiasm before it reaches a certain level. It existed in the spirit of scientific innovation once upon a time, but I know that we have moved away from Faraday and Newton and individuals do not do research in the way that they did; they work in collaboration either in research institutions or internationally.
To a certain extent, I am concerned, just as the hon. Member for Ribble Valley is. We must look ahead and the situation I describe is the thing that we must get right if we are to create world-class physicists. That is one thing about which I strongly agree with him. I am sure that the Minister will address it because it is worrying, as is the situation in relation to chemistry departments mentioned by the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham.
I was not trying to make a partisan speech. I had not even prepared to take part in this debate. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley provoked me into doing so by trying to rewrite the achievements of the Government. This is the first time that I have spoken loudly on science policy on behalf of the Government. As I said, it is a testament to our very good Minister for Science and Innovation, who has achieved a great deal. I idolise him and think that he has done a marvellous job. He came to my constituency several times trying to encourage youngsters to study science and he was there during the election campaign. In fact, he visited one of the science labs at Laurence Jackson school.
Ministers can do only so much. Nevertheless, we must take seriously the concerns that I have addressed. As one who had no intention of taking part in the debate and ended up making a 10-minute speech, I think that I ought to shut up and sit down.
Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Olner) on securing this debate on the exciting subject of UK space policy. Although it is now nearly 50 years since the first satellite was sent into orbit, space exploration remains exciting and full of prospects for understanding the origins of the universe and life on Earth. There is also the tantalising prospect of finding evidence of life on other planets. Space studies continue to advance our knowledge of the universe and the fundamental laws that govern it. Although the exciting part of space is often exploring other planets and trying to understand the origins of life, the space industry is an important one in many other respects and can bring many benefits here on Earth.
Satellites play an important role in communications and navigation. For example, the Government's proposals for road-user pricing would be impossible without satellite technology. Satellite services have a crucial role to play in extending broadband networks to households throughout the country, particularly in those remote and rural areas that are too far from telephone exchanges to be able to receive broadband on a landline. Satellites can also play an important role in monitoring the Earth, helping to forecast the weather, measuring climate change and aiding responses to natural and man-made disasters.
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Space is a high-value global industry and Britain a world leader in many aspects of space technology. An estimated 15,000 people are employed in more than 200 companies in Britain in space-related jobs. The jobs are highly skilled, and more than two thirds of the workers hold a university degree. The industry generates about £4 billion a year for the British economy, and it is therefore important that we maintain it.
It is vital that our schools and universities continue to produce people with high expertise in science, especially in physics, chemistry, astronomy and maths. Young people must be encouraged to take those subjects at school and university. The excitement and possibilities of space travel and exploration certainly encourage young people and must be used for that purpose. In order to achieve that, we need more graduates of those subjects teaching in our schools.
We also need to address the supply of research scientists. We need to ensure that there are physics departments in local universities and that these subjects are sustained and grown. We need to tackle the problem of short-term contracts and job insecurity for science post-doctoral researchers. We also need to recognise that increased student debt deters graduates from going into teaching and research in the public sector and encourages them to go into higher-paid jobs in private industry.
Investing in space involves cutting-edge technology, which is obviously very expensive. Co-operating with our European partners clearly makes sense. Roughly two thirds of the UK's budget is spent through the European Space Agency and EUMETSATthe European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satelliteswhich provides and operates Europe's weather forecasting satellites.
The procurement system used by ESA is known as "fair returns to contributing nations". That means that the bulk of the contracts are awarded to companies simply because they are in countries that have contributed to the ESA budget and not necessarily because they are the most cost-effective bidders. That is not a sensible system. Awarding the contract to the most cost-effective bidder would be better and would reduce costs. However, given that that is the system, it is important that Britain contributes, so that British companies can gain a fair share of the contracts.
The loss of the Beagle 2 Mars lander was referred to earlier in the debate. It was clearly a setback to the UK's involvement in space, but we should not allow that setback to deter us from undertaking future projects. It is necessary to take risks to make scientific progress and in a cutting-edge business such as space, some projects will inevitably be disappointing failures. Beagle 2 was an exciting project and high-value returns were possible, so it was right to take risks.
Mr. Evans : We talked about the failure in that case, but Mars Expresswe are involved on three of the instruments that are being usedis bringing back much information from which we will benefit. The successes clearly outweigh that one failure.
Mr. Reid : I agree. As I was saying, we should not allow that failure to put us off taking risks. It is important, however, that, when a project involves a
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significant risk, there should be a thorough feasibility study to identify the risks and options, investigate potential benefits and accurately estimate of the project costs. If it is decided that we should proceed with a risky project, it is important to ensure that, having carried out the feasibility study, the project is properly funded. Trying to cut corners is often the road to disaster.
We should take risks to explore space. Britain is a world leader in space industries and space offers exciting prospects. I hope that the Government will do all they can to maintain that leading role.
Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton) (Con): I am grateful to my co-chairman on the all-party group on space, the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Olner), for securing this debate and to colleagues on both sides for contributing so knowledgeably. This important debate is about an important subject, just ahead of the upcoming European Space Agency ministerial conference.
I pay tribute to my successor as space Minister. My only successor, believe it or not, is the noble Lord Sainsbury. I was the Minister for three and a half years. Most of my hon. Friends thought that that was far too long and that I was in orbit for most of the time, but Lord Sainsbury has had a remarkable record and I pay tribute to his enthusiasm. If there is one drawback of his continuity in the post, it is that the space Minister is not a Member of this House, which has sometimes held back some of our discussions. However, I believe that his enthusiasm has kept the space budget at the forefront.
We should not play party politics too much. I happen to have a good memory of the period in which I was the Minister for Science and Technology, and it does not matter what the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, on whose council I serve, says. One of the good things I was able to do, when my ministerial colleagues at the Department of Trade and Industry were not watching, was to grab some year-end funds and put them into the space budget. The British National Space Centre, the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council and others were rather grateful for that.
Mr. Taylor : That intervention was pretty infantile, if I may say so. I was saying that the space budget during my period as Minister compares very favourably. There is no doubt that the overall budget for science and technology has gone up under this Government, as I have said many times in the House of Commons.
One of the key things to come out of this debate is the enormous excitement and importance of space. There have been many examples of that this year: the Venus Express has just been launched and Mars Express has been mentioned. Although Beagle 2 was ultimately lost, a lot of its technology has been captured and will be reused in other missions. The Huygens probe has landed on Titan; the Inmarsat launch will be vital for global communications. Those are really big issues.
No one doubts that space issues are crucial. The question for the Government is about their tactics at the ESA ministerial conference. What key issues will they
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raise? There are some big questions. The ARTES programme, which has been mentioned, is pretty crucial. ARTES has mixed funding, from industry and Government. Even Lord Sainsbury has said that we can get a measurable commercial return on ARTES investment of at least six or seven times. In that context, it is genuinely an investment. It represents perhaps about 80 per cent. of UK space industry activity, yet makes up only 10 per cent. of UK civil space spending. What is the Government's commitment for further work on ARTES?
GMES has been mentioned. It is important and fulfils all the criteria on environmental monitoring set forward by the Government themselves, yet the participation level that the Government are committing to is, in my judgment, sub-critical. What will the Government do about GMES?
On the space science side, will the Government continue to commit to Aurora? I shall mention two other programmes that will not be discussed at the ESA ministerial conference. There are still top-up funding arguments to be made on Galileo, which is vital for the UK space industry. We have already won contracts for the two preparatory satellites from EADS Astrium and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, but there are many other upstream and downstream implications. I should be grateful if the Minister had a word with his Ministry of Defence colleagues about TopSat and how we will continue that investment.
When I was Minister, I found that the key thing about the space industry is that it really wants to work with the Government, the European Union, which has now taken on a space role, and the European Space Agency to turn technology into wealth, to amplify skillsthey were mentioned earlierand to improve academic excellence. We have some fantastic universitiesI do not have time to mention them alland detailed knowledge of what is happening in space and some of the work that is being done. Such work is exciting and inspirational to younger people, yet DTI funding of the national programme has been cut alarmingly. I believe that it is only some £5 million or £6 million, whereas it used to be well into the twenties. What is the future of the DTI's investment in the national programme? How will the British National Space Centre, which has been reviewed several times, not least by the National Audit Office, improve its game in respect of co-ordination across Government Departments, which was one of its original functions? It seems not to have gone much further than persuading the Department for Transport to put some money into Galileo, and, in fact, that is with the Department now.
There must be drive and determination. This is not a personal comment on the individuals involved, but the centre is not seen by the outside world as a driving force across Government Departments, which it needs to be, as the space industry now affects so many aspects of our lives. The DTI certainly is not the space ministry. The Department of Health, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Transport are all vitally involved in the downstream use of space. As they are, in a sense, the consumers of space-derived material, to what extent should they also be the anchor tenants in projects and
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have extra funding, rather than just depending on the DTI or the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council?
I want to give the Minister a full opportunity to respond, as we do not get ministerial statements on space often enough. There are challenges. For example, is he content that during our presidency we are taking a lead on space policy in the European Union, which now has a dedicated space ambition? I have not seen evidence of that. Are we on top of the marriage between space and security? A panel of experts on space and security has produced an interesting report. What are the implications for Britain in the security aspects of, for example, GMES and Galileo? It seems that the rest of the EU is thinking about those fundamental questions but we are not articulating them.
There has been a succession of space policy documents. I am glad to say that mine in 1996 was the first, and there have been some excellent ones since, but I am worried that we are fudging some questions, perhaps because of budgetary pressures or because we have not really decided what we want to do in the future. I recently saw a Royal Astronomical Society report on the scientific case for human space exploration. It reads extremely well, but I urge the Minister not to be seduced by the idea that Britain should start investing in manned space exploration. We have not dedicated enough money to existing space activity, which has a much higher priority. I was the Minister who decided that we should not have an active role in the international space station, simply because it would have sucked out money disproportionately from every other activity. I was not convinced that it was good science anyway, and I believe that my successor, the noble Lord Sainsbury, has been grateful to me ever since.
I do not believe that the Government's expenditure on space has reached critical mass. Let us not argue about statistical analyses of the past. I am dealing with issues that confront us today and with new programmes. Indeed, I would argue that during the eight years since I was Minister, space has become more central to decision making in Government. What was only beginning to be anticipated, for example, in the use of space to evaluate fraud in the EU and in the common agricultural policy has now become a central platform of what the EU wishes to do, much to the irritation of some member states, incidentally. Most of the fraud in that area is not carried out by the Commission but by member states. Nevertheless, it is of extreme importance for the use of space for the practical delivery of policy. That is an important point, and we have not previously been able to utilise it.
On disaster monitoring, the satellites launched by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. with some interesting partnersNigeria and Algeriacover an area of the world that is prone to problems. Someone mentioned the tsunami in the Indian ocean; that was picked up and tracked by satellites. Sir David King, the chief scientific adviser to the Government, did not sufficiently show in his report the way in which satellites can help us to
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monitor and anticipate such events. I would wish the Minister to have a further word with Sir David about the role that satellites can play.
This is an opportunity for the Government to show leadership. I wish my party were in government; we are not. That is something for the future. I assure the Minister on a personal basis that if the Government take a lead in space policy, he will have strong support from the Conservatives because of the national importance attached to it for science, discovery, skills and its industrial base.
The Minister for Energy (Malcolm Wicks) : We have had an extremely well-informed debate. I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Olner) on securing it. Indeed, all the contributions have been excellent. I felt quite humbled in being unable to match from my earlier career the experience and interest of some of the people present.
On the subject of Arthur C. Clarke, as every schoolgirl knows, this autumn is the 60th anniversary of his proposal that we should use geostationary satellites for global communications. As I recall, that was published in Wireless World in October 1945. That is a useful reminder.
My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland (Dr. Kumar) has learnt a new scientific law of political science this morning. If someone attacks the Government, that is above politics and statesman-like. If they have the temerity to defend the Government, that is sheer partisanship. We have learnt a new law of one of the softer sciences, which we should all reflect on.
This is an opportunity to consider the UK's role in space. I applaud the work of the all-party parliamentary space committeeI feel jealous that I am not a member, and I must declare it as an interest. The debate is certainly timely. In Europe, the world, and the UK, decisions are being taken and new developments taken forward. The UK is taking a leading role. Although there are issues and concerns, we have a great deal to celebrate in our space sector.
I will start with Europe, where the UK has taken centre stage throughout our EU presidency. A joint European Union/European Space Agency space council will focus next week on the programme definition for global monitoring for environment and security. Our success in taking forward the European space programme will set the pattern for the future framework of European space initiatives. The EU is an increasingly important user of space, and we support an approach in which Commission directorates use space when that is the best means to achieve policy goals. It should not seek to enhance its status by prestige projects, however.
A week later, the ESA ministerial council will see important decisions taken on the level of UK involvement in key ESA programmes. We will contribute to programmes that meet our economic, scientific and technological objectives. The ESA matters enormously to us. About 60 per cent. of the government's civil space spend is invested in its activities.
The United Kingdom also leads on the global stage. We are coming to the end of our G8 presidency, and space has done much to help us meet our objectives in
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support of Africa and climate change. That environmental theme has been a feature of this morning's brief but important debate. In providing images of changing land usage, environmental changes, and the impact of human and natural events, space offers detailed data and images that cannot be obtained by other means. Satellites played an important part in the response to a number of recent events, such as the earthquake that had such devastating effect in Pakistan and the terrible hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the United States.
As many people know, the UK, through the British National Space Centre, took the chair of the committee for earth observation satellites in November 2004; it passed to Argentina last week. The committee has an important role in co-ordinating space-borne information systems, and the UK has sought to develop that role. In support of that vital work, it was announced last week that the UK-led disaster monitoring constellation has been accepted to operate within the international charter for space and major disasters. UK technology can now play its part in helping to respond to major disasters.
Finally, on the international front, the UK has taken the initiative in considering the threat from near earth objectswhat most would call asteroids and comets. The threat is not just good fodder for films such as "Armageddon"; although it might bring some solution to concerns about avian flu, it is nevertheless a serious matterand not only to those on the Liberal Benches.
Mr. Meale : Before the Minister leaves the international scene, will he comment on what is happening with the space race? First, it is being led by the United States, which is currently pursuing a policy that would give it territorial rights in space. Secondly, the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) asked about security in defence. The American Governmentor should I say the President?have announced a $25 billion programme for defence in space, which includes space-to-space as well as space-to-earth defence activities. Will the Minister comment on those factors?
Malcolm Wicks : If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I need to make a number of other comments in response to the debate. However, I shall draw those matters to the attention of the relevant Defence and Foreign Ministers.
I shall speak next about our national priorities. The UK space strategy for 200306 sets out three objectives for the use of space, all of which require a dynamic and innovative space sector in order to succeed. I believe that those objectives remain a sound basis for the next UK space strategy.
The first objective is to maintain high-quality scienceanother theme of this brief debate. We have all seen the value of collaboration through ESA in the recent exciting results from Cassini-Huygens. The first pictures from the surface of Titan were astonishing. Another recently launched mission with major UK involvement is Venus Express, which plays well with our interests in climate change. Science is also about advancing our understanding of our environment. Much has been achieved in developing stronger capabilities in services aimed at prevention, forecasting and assessment of damage from disasters.
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The second objective is to stimulate commercial use of space and to develop not only the important upstream areas of space but to identify areas where carefully focused investment will lead to significant downstream economic benefits. My hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Barbara Follett) has spoken to me about the importance of that to her constituency. The telecommunication and broadcasting sector makes up 80 per cent. of all UK space industry turnover. There is now a large commercial space industry, worth more than $100 billion globally and estimated to be growing at 9 per cent. a year. We must, of course, be part of it.
The Government seek to support the development of technology for the space industry. However, we should not forget that the overall UK budget for space has risen from £160 million in 200203 to almost £200 million in 200405. I am sure that others will consider the words of colleagues: in an ideal world we would be spending more. That has been a strong theme of the debate, but the Government are proud of our record, not least in relation to the overall science budget. When making international comparisons, we should recognise that, in my judgment, the return on our investment exceedsI shall be tactfulthat of many of our counterparts.
The third objective is to seek to identify and support projects that most benefit the lives of citizens in the UK and the wider world. Galileo has been mentioned. The UK is committed to that important programme. It is a key part of the infrastructure that is necessary for a digital world. The UK has made a strong technical contribution, but there is still much to decide both now and in the longer term.
To respond to a point raised by the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), I am advised that the UK has contributed more than 17 per cent. of the cost of the early phase of Galileo. We also contribute through the EU budgets. Decisions on funding for the next phase have not been taken, and I understand that discussions could proceed well into 2006.
GMES was mentioned. It is well known to the DTI and across government. Over the past few years, we have been able to demonstrate the benefits of a series of practical services from the GMES programme. Their value was dramatically shown in the aftermath of the Boxing day tsunami.
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The UK's achievements in this area are credible, and I want to address some specific issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) mentioned the clear-up of space debris. The UK is working in the inter-agency space debris co-ordination committeeI wish I was a member of it, but, sadly, I am notto address problems and to develop codes of conduct for the disposal of satellites. It is important that we are concerned not only about waste on our own planet.
Education was another theme of the debate. I know from my time as Minister for Lifelong Learning in the then Department for Education and Employment that that is a matter of great concern to Ministers with responsibility for education, and rightly so. We are all concerned about what has happened in respect of physics teaching. There are programmes to address the problem, and to get competent scientists to teach in our schools; there are salary inducements and other incentives. I am not saying that we have entirely cracked the problem, but colleagues are on the case.
The development of sector skills councils, which I had a hand in when I had ministerial responsibility in that area, is important, as is the interface with education more generally. I am pleased that the Department for Education and Skills is now a member of the British National Space Centre; that is an example of joined-up policy that shows that we are moving in the right direction.
Parliament has shown a strong interest in what we are doing in respect of space. In the past few years, there have been inquiries by the Trade and Industry Committee and the Science and Technology Committee, and the Public Accounts Committee has addressed the subject, too. There has also been discussion of asteroids and the European Space Agency.
It is encouraging that there is that level of interest in the subject. Reviews have shown that spending on space is good valueit is a sound investment in an exciting sector that can only become more important. Parliament's interest helps the country to know about space and informs discussion on the subject. We are at the end of an exceptional year in space, and this debate has very much been in keeping with that positive tradition.
I will draw the conclusions and judgments of Members in this debate to the attention of Lord Sainsbury of Turville, and I welcome the tributes that have been paid to the important role that he has played in government and industry.
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