1.The UK-US Agreement regarding Technology Safeguards associated with US Participation in Space Launches from the UK (the UK-US Spaceports Agreement) was laid before Parliament on 16 October 2020, and the scrutiny period is scheduled to end on 1 December 2020. It was considered by the International Agreements Sub-Committee on 25 November.
2.The Government has stated that the UK-US Spaceports Agreement is designed to pave the way for US companies to operate from UK spaceports and export space launch technology. It indicates that the Agreement is aimed at boosting the UK space industry, in part by allowing US launches from UK sites. Most of the provisions relate to protections to preclude unauthorised access or transfer of US origin technologies. Article I notes that the purpose of the Agreement is to “preclude unauthorized access to or transfer of U.S.-origin technologies associated with the launching from the U.K. Spaceports” of either US launch vehicles or US spacecraft. The Agreement specifies that activities relating to the development and production of such US equipment are “not within the scope of this Agreement” (Article I.2).
3.The UK-US Spaceports Agreement was signed on 16 June and, in a press release issued the day after, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Science, Research and Innovation, Amanda Solloway MP, said that it took the UK “one step closer to seeing the first ever launch into space from British soil”. The press release also stated that the Agreement:
“Means US space and technology companies throughout the supply chain can contribute to and benefit from the commercial opportunities offered by the UK space sector which already employs 42,000 people and generates an income of £14.8 billion each year.”
4.The Agreement contains provisions precluding the launch from the UK of foreign craft or launch vehicles that are owned by countries subject to UN sanctions, or which belong to governments that provide support for acts of international terrorism. There are also restrictions based on counter-proliferation under the Missile Technology Control Regime (Article III).
5.The Agreement contains specific provisions on “controlled areas” and “segregated areas”. Controlled areas are areas within the territorial jurisdiction of the UK that are designated by HMG and where it has ensured that only persons authorised by HMG or the US Government, or by the government of other countries involved in launch activities, have access. Segregated areas will be jointly designated by the UK and the US for the handling of US launch vehicles, spacecraft, related equipment and technical data. Once an area is so designated, access is to be permitted only to persons authorised by the US and will be controlled by the US government or entities licensed by it (Article VI). These areas may prove contentious in their detail and operation. In addition, there are provisions for “launch anomalies or failure” (including accidents), which would give the US special access to conduct search and recovery exercises (Article VIII.3).
6.Notably, Article X provides that the obligations of the parties in respect of security, disclosure and use of information from a “launch anomaly” or “components or debris thereof resulting from a failed launch” would continue to apply, even in the event of the termination of the UK-US Spaceports Agreement.
7.The accompanying Explanatory Memorandum (EM) notes that many of the treaty obligations will be incorporated into the Space Industry Act 2018 licensing process by way of secondary legislation. It indicates that the secondary legislation is not anticipated to come into force until 2021, and that the UK-US Spaceports Agreement cannot enter into force until this occurs.
8.Helpfully, the Government has provided us with some further details of its intentions in this regard. A consultation was run between 29 July and 21 October 2020. In a note, included at Appendix 3 to this report, the Government has indicated how the proposed secondary legislation will interact with the Agreement. This is an example of good practice, and we would ask officials, when future EMs are produced, to consider including such information where agreements will be implemented by way of secondary legislation.
9.However, we note a significant issue in respect of the transparency of the agreement. The EM makes clear that a “supporting Side Arrangement (Memorandum of Understanding) sets out the implementation of certain provisions in this treaty and the roles of UK authorities in this”. It adds that in addition to the above-mentioned secondary legislation, the “remainder of the treaty obligations will be implemented via administrative arrangements, e.g. the Supporting Agreement”.
10.At the time of writing, despite requests from Committee staff, the Government had not disclosed to us either the text of the Supporting Agreement or any explanation of its contents. It is unacceptable to expect a Select Committee to give an international agreement a clean bill of health in circumstances where it is not in possession of all the facts. This is particularly pertinent, given that the underlying Agreement notes that there may be issues of national security at play, and it is unclear whether the Supporting Agreement relates to secret material that is relevant to national security, or is simply material that the Government does not wish to place in the public domain for other reasons. It is worth noting that there is also the possibility that spaceports could be used for military purposes. In his speech on the Government’s integrated review of foreign, defence, security and development policy on 19 November 2020, the Prime Minister said: “We will establish a … new RAF space command, launching British satellites and our first rocket from Scotland in 2022.”
11.Article X of the Agreement makes provision for amendments to be made by “written agreement between the parties”. The EM repeats this verbatim, but it provides no details about how any such amendments would be communicated to Parliament or stakeholders. We have previously asked that the Government make clear whether any amendments would be subject to parliamentary scrutiny, and although the Government has indicated its intention in principle to make all amendments to international agreements available, it has yet to set out how this will be achieved. We reiterate our request that amendments be made available for scrutiny in respect of this Agreement.
12.Finally, we note that on the issue of consultation, the EM states that although the Agreement is not considered to engage devolved matters, the Government acknowledges that it might have an impact upon Scottish justice and policing, “in particular the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, and the emergency services, such as fire and rescue and ambulance services which are devolved areas”.
13.The EM notes that the Government consulted both the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in Scotland and Scottish Government officials “on the drafting of this Treaty”, and that it “shared the relevant draft text in advance of signature”, but the EM provides no clarity as to whether the Scottish Government consented to the text, nor whether it expressed any concerns. Given that the Government’s press release specifically suggests that the Agreement would benefit companies from Scotland, and there has been press speculation that a Space Hub might be sited in Sutherland, it is unfortunate that the Government has not been explicit about this, not least because environmental impact and transport are devolved competences. If Committees are to form a view, the Government must, in its EMs, provide a clear indication whether the devolved governments support an international agreement or have raised concerns.
14.We draw special attention to the UK-US Spaceports Agreement on the grounds that:
15.The UK-Norway Fisheries Framework Agreement was laid on 19 October 2020, and the scrutiny period is scheduled to end on 2 December. It was considered by the International Agreements Sub-Committee on 25 November.
16.Given the importance of fisheries, as the Brexit transition period approaches its conclusion, we opened a short Call for Evidence on this Agreement, and we are grateful to all those who submitted written evidence, listed in Appendix 3. That written evidence was shared with the EU Environment Sub-Committee, chaired by Lord Teverson, who wrote on 11 November sharing that Sub-Committee’s views. That letter is included in Appendix 4. We endorse the assessment of the Agreement set out by Lord Teverson and thank the Sub-Committee for sharing their expertise in this area with us.
17.In brief, the UK-Norway Fisheries Framework Agreement facilitates annual agreements between the parties and seeks to maintain existing fishing opportunities for the UK fleet in Norwegian waters, and vice versa, when the UK ceases to be a party to the EU-Norway Fisheries Agreement on 1 January 2021. It also seeks to facilitate the effective management of fish stocks in those waters. It has an initial term of six years and can subsequently be renewed for four-year terms. Each party may terminate the Agreement after giving at least one year’s notice (Article 11). The Explanatory Memorandum (EM) notes that the Agreement applies only to the “metropolitan UK”; that is to say, it does not apply to the waters of the Crown Dependencies or the Overseas Territories.
18.As Lord Teverson’s letter notes, the implementation of the annual agreements will be the key test of the effectiveness of the UK-Norway arrangements. However, we do have some observations about this Agreement, given the importance of this framework for the UK fishing fleet, which in 2018 landed £32mn worth of fish from Norwegian waters.
19.Our witnesses have largely supported the Agreement in providing some continuity of UK fishing access in Norwegian waters, which “reflects the international norm” of fisheries framework agreements. The UK-Norway Agreement, unlike the EU-Norway Agreement, does not require the parties to grant access, but states only that access “may” be granted, although it is anticipated (Article 1). This change was welcomed by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation.
20.However, there appears to be some question about whether the Agreement does, in fact, maintain existing fishing opportunities for the UK fleet. UK Fisheries Ltd has noted that it does not preserve the UK distant waters fleet’s access to the Norwegian Exclusive Economic Zone, granted via an Exchange of Letters between Norway and the EU in 1992. Under that Exchange of Letters, Norway was granted access to the UK EEZ and in return offered the EU 4.14% of the annual total allowable catch of Arctic cod. As an EU Member State, the UK was assigned more than half of that amount. Losing this access, UK Fisheries Ltd told us, could “adversely impact … businesses, jobs and investment in the Humber region”. Officials confirmed that the effect of EU-Norway Exchange of Letters was not replicated in the UK-Norway Fisheries Framework Agreement. In view of the concerns expressed by those affected, we would be interested to know why this continuity was not secured as part of negotiating the UK-Norway Fisheries Framework Agreement.
21.As Lord Teverson’s letter indicates, resolving the question of EEZ access may be matter for the further trilateral negotiations between the UK, EU, and Norway, but we repeat his call for the Government to clarify the position regarding these access arrangements in its first annual agreement with Norway.
22.In addition, Lord Teverson’s letter notes that the Government provides figures for the value of fish landed by the UK fleet from Norwegian waters, but not for the value of fish landed by the Norwegian fleet from UK waters. We agree that it would be helpful for the Government to provide such figures, as they are essential for judging the value of the agreement for the UK and any potential asymmetries within it. We expect the Government to make this information available ahead of any debate on this Agreement, and any parliamentary proceedings on the first annual agreement reached with Norway.
23.We also note that the UK-Norway Fisheries Framework Agreement cannot address the management of some North Sea stocks, which as the EM notes will require “separate trilateral discussions” between the UK, Norway and the EU. The bilateral UK-EU fisheries relationship remains unclear at the time of writing, and we understand that the discussions for a trilateral framework agreement will not begin until the bilateral UK-EU relationship has been clarified.
24.Lord Teverson’s letter also reflects on whether the Agreement goes far enough in supporting the long-term sustainability of fishing stocks, and he notes that some “firmer sustainability obligations” would be valuable. In its evidence, Greener UK argued for “requirements … for both parties to negotiate according to clear sustainability criteria”, including fishing below Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY), and Our Fish also supported an MSY commitment. There are risks that unilaterally set total allowable catch (TAC) levels will, when combined, result in unsustainable fishing, and Professor Barnes noted that “explicit reference” to cooperation in that area “would have strengthened one’s confidence in the agreement’s management credentials”.
25.We welcome the fact that the long-term conservation and sustainable use of fisheries are recognised as key principles in the UK-Norway Fisheries Framework Agreement. But we agree with our witnesses that an opportunity has been missed to embed sustainability concerns into the Agreement, and we urge the Government to ensure that these issues form a substantive part of its annual discussions with Norway under the Agreement.
26.The EM indicates that the Government consulted the devolved administrations on the drafting and negotiation of the Agreement. We clarified with officials what the involvement of the devolved administrations would be in licensing Norwegian fishing vessels under this Agreement. We were concerned that fishing licenses authorities might approach licensing foreign fishing vessels differently in respect of their maritime zones, which could cause confusion. Officials confirmed that there would be a Single Issuing Authority for licensing foreign commercial fishing vessels under the provisions of the Fisheries Act 2020. The terms of those licenses will have a set of conditions attached to them, in accordance with Article 5 of the agreement, including the applicable rules in different areas of UK waters. That set of conditions will be agreed by all UK Fisheries Administrations. We are grateful for this clarification, which helps explain how the interests of all nations of the UK will be protected while ensuring a manageable and streamlined licensing system.
27.We note that the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has scrutinised this Agreement and has written to the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Victoria Prentis MP, with questions about similar issues to those raised above. These include questions about how binding the Agreement’s sustainability commitments will be in practice, and about the issue of whether the UK fishing fleet will have the same access to the Norwegian EEZ as currently. The EFRA Committee has sought a response from the Minister by the end of the CRAG scrutiny period. We will read the Minister’s response with interest.
28.Lord Teverson has tabled a motion to debate this Agreement, and we trust that this report will prove useful to the House when time is found for it.
29.We draw special attention to the UK-Norway Fisheries Framework Agreement on the grounds that:
1 Agreement in the form of an Exchange of Notes between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of the United States of America on Technology Safeguards associated with United States Participation in Space Launches from the United Kingdom, CP 307, 2020: [accessed 2 November 2020]
2 UK Space Agency, New US-UK agreement boosts UK’s spaceport plans (17 June 2020): [accessed 13 November 2020]
3 Department for Transport and UK Space Agency, Spaceport and spaceflight activities: regulations and guidance (29 July 2020): [accessed 12 November 2020]
4 HC Deb, 19 November 2020,
5 Severin Carrell, ‘Residents of remote Scottish peninsula face up to its future as spaceport’, The Guardian (9 October 2020): [accessed 12 November 2020]
6. Framework Agreement on Fisheries, done at London on 30 September 2020, between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Kingdom of Norway, CP 308, 2020: [accessed 2 November 2020]
7 Agreement on Fisheries between the European Economic Community and the Kingdom of Norway, (29 August 1980)
8 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, UK and Norway sign historic fisheries agreement (30 September 2020): [accessed 12 November 2020]
9 The agreement was described as “critical” by Professor Richard Barnes () and “essential” by the Seafood Industry Alliance ().
10 Written evidence from the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (); the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations also welcomed the agreement’s brevity as a framework, avoiding any “attempt by one party to impose asymmetric or exploitative conditions on the other” ().
11 Written evidence from Professor Richard Barnes ()
12 Written evidence from the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation ()
13 An Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is an area of sea beyond and adjacent to the territorial sea that extends up to 200 nautical miles from a country’s coast. Where the EEZs of two adjacent countries overlap, a median line is defined equidistant from the two countries’ coastlines to separate their respective zones. Within its EEZ, a coastal state has sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the living natural resources.
14 Written evidence from UK Fisheries Ltd ()
16 Written evidence from Greener UK () and Our Fish ()
17 Written evidence from Greener UK () and Professor Richard Barnes ()
18 Letter from the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Victorian Prentis MP (24 November 2020): [accessed 25 November 2020]