Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 159)

WEDNESDAY 10 JANUARY 2007

DR DAVID WILLIAMS, MISS PAULA FREEDMAN AND DR ARWYN DAVIES

  Q140  Adam Afriyie: How much money are you bidding for?

  Dr Williams: It is currently of the order of £20 million.

  Q141  Adam Afriyie: So it is quite small in the scheme of things.

  Dr Williams: It is quite small, but, as a percentage of the space spend, it is significant.

  Q142  Adam Afriyie: But you are hopeful that you are going to get a successful outcome for that bid because obviously, without it, it would undermine the entire space programme, I would imagine?

  Dr Williams: I am hopeful that we will get somewhere on that bid, yes.

  Q143  Adam Afriyie: This is a question for Paula. What action, from your point of view, have the BNSC partners undertaken to reduce the obstacles which are faced by small- and medium-sized enterprises? During the inquiry, we found that smaller businesses do not necessarily feel that they have access to these investments and this downstream funding and the opportunities that larger businesses have. I know that in the DTI there have been some changes recently in the way that things are funded, so what action has been taken by partners, in your view?

  Miss Freedman: Small- and medium-sized businesses are very important. A company like Surrey Satellites started as a very small company and they are now quite a large one. We have a programme of helping to educate companies about doing business in Europe both through the European Space Agency and to secure EU funding through the Framework programmes and we try and engage with them and help them through the process. We also give a lot of information on our website to help companies look at commercial opportunities.

  Q144  Adam Afriyie: Do you think those actions have been successful? Just looking at the results obviously since 2004 when the changes were made, it does not seem to be that successful.

  Miss Freedman: I think it has been successful and I think we have grown the space community, but these opportunities are not quick wins and they need quite a lot of investment in terms of effort and understanding to secure the business.

  Q145  Graham Stringer: How is our relationship with the European Space Agency going to develop over the next 10 years?

  Dr Williams: Well, the European Space Agency in the run-up to a Council meeting in 2008 at ministerial level are looking at how they should evolve and how they should change for the future and that is largely driven by the enlargement of Europe. We have a good working relationship with them and we recognise the value of the European Space Agency in developing missions which individually no country in Europe would need to develop on its own and probably could not develop on its own, so we want to keep that skill and we want to keep that capability. What we want to do also is get them to recognise that, with 25 countries, they will have to change the way they do business to some extent, the juste retour principle, of everybody getting a bit of every programme will probably disappear. Some of the voting procedures may have to change because some decisions are unanimous, and some are simple majority which poses a problem for the countries that put most of the money up because you can be outvoted by a lot of countries with little money when you put a lot of money in and that in itself poses a problem at times. Perhaps the most difficult bit for the European Space Agency, and it is a UK perspective, is how big it should be and what it should do relative to what should be done in countries because, if you set the European Space Agency up today, you probably would not set it up with three big centres in Europe, but you would set it up in a much more open, European-wide-style system with e-science and e-capabilities between sites. I think whether they address that or not is one of the big issues for them and one of the issues we have to push.

  Q146  Graham Stringer: Are you trying to get a major ESA facility in this country because, given our contribution, it is rather surprising that we do not have one, is it not?

  Dr Williams: I had a meeting with the Minister and the Director General of ESA two months ago and in a follow-up to that I discussed with ESA the UK having a facility in the UK and he gave a lot of encouragement to that and said that yes, he thought it would be sensible and he thought it would be important. We are now trying to identify what sort of capability we could look for to come to the UK and then go back to ESA and start debating that and seeing how we can manage it.

  Q147  Graham Stringer: So is that a done deal, a 90% chance?

  Dr Williams: Politically and psychologically, it is a done deal. I think we have to identify something we can bring in in a tangible way which will bring benefit to the UK without overloading the system in the UK.

  Q148  Chairman: What do you think that will be?

  Dr Williams: There are number of candidates. One is, looking long-term, a return sample site, the samples from extraterrestrial planets, and in the shorter term we may be looking at perhaps bringing in some of the science evaluation, science programming or the application areas to the UK where they do the planning, so there are a number of areas we can look at, and making better use of the facilities we have in the UK at the expense of central facilities in ESA.

  Q149  Graham Stringer: Is the location determined?

  Dr Williams: The location is not determined, but the idea is that, if we can focus a national programme on the Harwell Business Campus and we can use that as a vehicle, whether it is on the campus or somewhere in the UK as a second-order decision because within the UK we should not be prescriptive and we should follow the same idea that you can be open with e-science about how you develop and locate things.

  Q150  Graham Stringer: Dr Iddon asked some questions about manned space flight. What is the timescale when we will have to make a decision about whether or not to opt into the Aurora programme?

  Dr Williams: Well, in the next session Keith Mason can answer that probably better than I can, but we are in the Aurora programme and we need to continue to be in it.

  Q151  Graham Stringer: But in the manned space flight?

  Dr Williams: I do not see a need to make a decision on that certainly in the next 10 years and then we could probably consider it at any point in time.

  Q152  Graham Stringer: What are the benefits and disbenefits of opting in and out of that programme?

  Dr Williams: It is not a disbenefit, but the problem of opting in is a cost one. If we had a lot more money, we could do it. It is really a priority issue for the Government as to how it spends money and where it can afford to spend money.

  Q153  Graham Stringer: I like the answer that we are going to get a facility here, but how effective are we in co-ordinating government departments, industry and academia in bidding for ESA contracts? Do we do as well as we should and are we punching below our weight?

  Dr Williams: We have historically punched at our weight. When I came in, it was clear that we were down on industrial returns. The system is that for industrial contracts, for every pound a country puts into a programme, once you decide how much you are going to spend on industrial work, you expect a pound back, and that is to develop technologies. We have fallen behind in the last three years and there are a number of reasons, there is no single reason. One is that the UK economy has done well, so we have gone from being 13% of a managed programme to 17.7%. That is a 25% increase in subscription which takes time to filter through to industrial work because all the existing planning is on the old figure and we have got the new figure. In space science, one programme, the Eddington programme, was cancelled and the UK was hoping to get work on it and, therefore, we lost some input there, and there has been a restructuring of UK industry which has lost some of the capability in a major company and, therefore, the ability to win work as we choose, so I think there are a number of factors coming together and we are actively addressing that with the DG of ESA and telling him that this has got to be rectified and rectified quickly and to get us back on track.

  Q154  Graham Stringer: I was interested in your previous answers about the Galileo project. You said there was a debate about whether or not there should be a defence capacity in the Galileo project. I am fairly certain that, when the Transport Select Committee did an inquiry into Galileo, Alistair Darling told us that under no circumstances would it be used for defence. Are you saying that that is not accurate?

  Dr Williams: No, I am saying that that is accurate and that has been the crux of the debate in the UK. We have been very strong that that is the way it must be, but, as I explained, if, in 15 years' time, Galileo exists and you can buy a GPS receiver for a car and there is a military person driving that car, do we have to tell him not to use it? There is a sort of de minimis point below which you say, "Well, it would be used to some extent", but it is in the more active military area that it must not be used, in what we call the "applications", and that is where we are being very strong, working very well across government and working very strongly in the European Union and ESA to make sure that that does not happen.

  Q155  Graham Stringer: So you are saying that our decision is holding, but it is still an active debate to use it for more than the de minimis position for military application?

  Dr Williams: Because other countries have different views and you have to work that position.

  Q156  Chairman: Your view is that we should not?

  Dr Williams: The UK position is that it is a civil system for civil application.

  Q157  Chairman: Your view is that you are supportive of that view?

  Dr Williams: Yes.

  Q158  Mr Newmark: You have sort of answered some of the questions I am going to ask, but, in general, what role has the BNSC played in the development of the European space policy and, specifically, to what extent has the BNSC been involved in the development of the space programme in Framework Programme 7?

  Dr Williams: We have a strong involvement. We have people dedicated to work on that and, on the European space policy, I spend quite a bit of my time going to the meetings and being involved, so the answer is that we are very strong and we are very positive.

  Q159  Mr Newmark: But being involved is what?

  Dr Williams: Being involved means trying to drive the policy itself and shape it in a way which will suit the UK and that is to have it driven, on the policy side, by output and not by input, and we are working with the UK representation in Brussels on that. If you read the first draft of it, it was sort of good European speak. What we are trying to do is convert it so that we say things like, "Europe should become number one in space science". At the European level, space currently is estimated at—


 
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