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Space Industry

Volume 810: debated on Thursday 4 March 2021

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to support the United Kingdom space industry.

I am delighted that your Lordships are debating the UK space industry. It is key to building back better. It is rapidly growing—by 60% in the past decade—and is spread across the whole country, from Goonhilly in Cornwall to the north of Scotland, via Guildford, Leicester, Glasgow and elsewhere. I declare my interests, especially my roles with Surrey Satellite Technology, SatixFy and Skyrora and my position as chancellor of the University of Leicester, which has a long and distinguished history of space science and is now creating a space park, which it hopes will host a national centre for space manufacturing.

I also welcome the Minister, my right honourable and noble friend Lord Frost, to his maiden speech at the end of this debate. I believe there will be two other maiden speeches as well, to which I am greatly looking forward; I am only sorry that the time constraints in this debate are so intense.

I very much welcome the initiatives the Government are taking to promote the British space sector. The National Space Council should integrate governmental policy work on space, and the investment in OneWeb was a welcome and bold initiative. The Government have also led the UN initiative on responsible behaviour in space, an excellent example of soft power. Britain is also one of the key players in the European Space Agency, which is an intergovernmental body and not part of the European Union, which I am sure the Minister will welcome. Now the Government are committed to a comprehensive space strategy, to be published in the next six months, which is also very welcome. Meanwhile, I would like briefly to set out four challenges, which I hope the Minister will be able to address in his response at the end.

First, there is funding. Space is one of those classic areas where well-designed public spending crowds in private spending rather than driving it out, so we do need a well-funded national space programme. However, there are concerns about the future of some existing programmes; for example, the space international partnership programme, which has been part of the Government’s ODA spend. There is a very tiresome media trope that developing countries should not have anything to do with space. The opposite is the case; many developing countries which do not have conventional infrastructure need space-based services even more. This programme provides for partnerships with them, and I very much hope it will be maintained. Also, a national space innovation programme was launched last year, which is an excellent initiative. Because of the lack of a long-term comprehensive spending settlement, there is a risk to that programme as well. It would be marvellous if it could be maintained.

The second challenge is regulation. The Space Industry Act 2018 sets out the framework, but it is important that the detailed regulation is correct and not too onerous. There are exciting prospects for space launch from Scotland. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Johnson, whose maiden speech we may hear shortly, who, when he was Minister, pushed the space launch initiative forward. We all want to see space launch from the north of Scotland soon.

This is a race and we must not be complacent. There is a real gap for a European space launch capability, because when you launch small satellites into low-earth orbit, equatorial launch is not what you are looking for, you want to launch north, over the poles, so there is competition between the north of Scotland, Sweden and Germany, which is investing a lot. If the regulations from the CAA are too onerous, we will lose out in this race, so it is important that they are proportionate.

There are also burdens of regulation on satellite operators who are not launching from the UK, but are legally based here. There are long-standing issues, which all of us who were Ministers in the past with responsibility will remember—the tricky issues around liabilities, the cost of insurance, the right balance between private insurance and ultimately the Government taking the risk. It is very important that we do not expect greater legal liabilities from UK-based entities than companies located elsewhere, particularly—I am looking again at the Minister—if EU regulation is less onerous than ours and launch companies move to the EU to escape onerous British regulation.

The Government have just launched an excellent new initiative on innovation and deregulation. Will the Minister give that team the opportunity to review the proposed space sector regulations with the industry to check that they are proportionate, promote innovation and do not put us at a disadvantage.

Thirdly, the Government’s investment in OneWeb is already proving its worth. It will be crucial to Five Eyes capacities over the Arctic and it can do much more in the future when we move on to the second generation of OneWeb satellites. A lot of work was done on a British alternative to Galileo, but the original idea of a technology similar to the Galileo and GPS systems—the large satellites way out in distant orbit, further than 10,000 kilometres—would not have added resilience to the US or European system, because it would have been copying their technologies. It is far better for us to invest in a new LEO—low-earth orbit—constellation, complementing what GPS or Galileo can do.

I put it to the Minister, with his geopolitical interests, that one may imagine a deal in which the EU were given some place at the table in OneWeb in return for our getting access to Galileo once more. But as a minimum, it is important that we look at using the next generation of OneWeb satellites to deliver position, navigation and timing services. I hope that the Minister will assure us that the MoD will commission research on those services for the second generation of OneWeb satellites.

Fourthly and finally on my list, there is the role of space in tackling the climate emergency, with the prospect of COP 26 being held in Glasgow later this year. Earth observation data, in particular, is very relevant to COP 26, There is one estimate that half the 50 essential climate variables that have to be monitored can be observed only from space. There is also the visual observation of marine conservation areas—one of the main ways, incidentally, in which space-based services help developing countries, by enabling them to police their own maritime areas—as well as mapping tropical rainforests and deforestation, and helping disaster response to extreme weather events.

There is a real prospect of space playing an important role in COP 26 and the monitoring of decisions taken there. I very much hope that, given our exciting position chairing COP 26, it will be possible for us to promote and identify a distinct space strand to that discussion.

The Government are strongly committed to space. All of us who have worked closely on space policy in whatever capacity will know the potential that exists there for the UK. I very much look forward to seeing the UK play a crucial role in new technologies, space surveillance and tracking, space debris removal and in-orbit servicing. The Government have already taken very useful initiatives in space, and I hope that the Minister will be able to address the challenges I have identified today and make further progress in the future.

My Lords, I welcome the maiden speakers, including the Minister. The noble Lord, Lord Willetts, has stolen my thunder a bit because he has focused very much on OneWeb, which is one element of government investment in the space industry. They co-invested half a billion pounds in OneWeb, which was a failed satellite communications company that had gone bankrupt and had to be raised from the dead. Although it is based in London, OneWeb’s satellite manufacture is in Florida, and there is little evidence of benefit so far to UK taxpayers or jobs. The company’s plan was to provide global broadband coverage from space in the hope that it could provide an alternative secure satellite navigation system now that the UK has been thrown out of Galileo.

It is proving difficult to get information on the Government’s intentions on OneWeb—the UK Space Agency declines to comment. Can the Minister confirm whether OneWeb is to be the UK Galileo alternative, as the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, outlined? If not, what has the investment of half a billion pounds secured for the UK?

My Lords, there cannot be any other industry where international links are more fundamental. Since 31 December, we have been excluded from important schemes such as Galileo and EGNOS, the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service. From 25 June, UK users will lose access to the EGNOS Safety of Life Service. Can the Minister clarify the impact of that and the alternatives that the Government plan to provide?

Despite losing so much we are still awaiting the Government’s space strategy. The Government’s rather random decision to invest in OneWeb does not fill us with confidence. Launch is not the be-all and end-all—it is just an enabler. The space industry and its highly skilled researchers need a strategy that amounts to much more than picking possible winners. It needs balanced investment.

My Lords, I am delighted to have this brief opportunity to make my maiden speech. It gives me a moment to put on record my great thanks for the generous kindness of the Convenor, Black Rod, the Clerk and the excellent House authorities. I want to make special mention of Kate Long, Daisy Christy, Ayeesha Bhutta and Gabby Longdin. I also thank my noble supporters—both colleagues and personal friends for many years—the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, and the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Weardale.

I am honoured to join many very distinguished noble Lords and friends in this House whom I have valued over the years as teammates in this country’s national security machinery, whether in the police service, the Armed Forces, the Civil Service or in political, judicial or scrutiny roles. There are too many to name today, but all are bound together in the single common endeavour of protecting this country. For my own part, I could not make this maiden speech without taking the opportunity to pay tribute—as I may now do from the outside—to the exceptional dedication and skill of all those who work so hard in MI5 and its partner organisations to keep this country safe through thick and thin. They do more than we know, and we owe them our wholehearted admiration and thanks.

I had been very much looking forward to contributing where I could to the legislative programme of this House and perhaps even serving on a Select Committee in due course. This House is tackling a slew of important Bills on national security matters of considerable interest to me, where I had hoped I might add some value. I would also have liked to engage on a range of other matters, including conservation, faith, social justice and science and technology, including this important question before us now.

However, as your Lordships will understand, this first speech must also be my last for some time. Since my recent appointment to this House, Her Majesty the Queen has graciously further appointed me as the next Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household. I am absolutely delighted and humbled by such an extraordinary honour. It follows that the work that I had planned to do in this House as a participating Member will now properly be restricted to my prospective duties as Lord Chamberlain, following in the highly distinguished footsteps of the noble Earl, Lord Peel. I very much look forward to serving Her Majesty in every way that I can in this role.

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to warmly welcome the noble Lord, Lord Parker, into our midst. The noble Lord has served our country within the national security space during particularly testing times. In a career of public service spanning 37 years, he rose to the rank of MI5’s director-general. On behalf of the House, I confine myself to thanking him and his former colleagues in MI5, together with the other intelligence agencies and police, for making our country a safer place.

In the normal course of events, he would embody the contribution that your Lordships’ House brings to the national debate. As he has just informed us, however, Her Majesty has other plans and has determined that she wishes him to head the Royal Household as Lord Chamberlain. He should know that, while his contribution to our deliberations is on hold, and we wish him well in his new post, we await his return and trust that, in the meantime, he can also find time to follow his passion of watching and photographing birds.

I offer just one brief point on space. The relationship with China is pivotal to the UK space programme, and vice versa. China has, as a national priority, the development of new, innovative approaches in space science applications and space skills development. The UK is a recognised world leader in these areas. Cool heads need to prevail generally in this relationship, taking account of course of all the recent, well-rehearsed challenges, but also to reflect carefully on the potential strategic nature of that relationship.

My Lords, the UK space industry is made possible because it adheres to the laws of science but also to the laws of humans, upheld by the United Nations. Satellites orbit on agreed paths and transmit their information on agreed frequencies. Through these laws, we avoid chaos in the cosmos. There is a trust between nations evident above the earth that sometimes eludes us on it. When viewed from space, we see the earth without borders; we see a beautiful planet of colour and contrast, home to all the life we are currently aware of in the universe. This should remind us of our solemn responsibility to care for our common home and for those we share it with. Space invites us to explore its wonders and unravel its mysteries, and we can do that if we remember the first law of human dynamics: we can accomplish immeasurably more if we work together and learn from each other.

My Lords, I was delighted to see that the European Space Agency recently announce that it was intending to send a disabled person into space. There was much celebrating from non-disabled people, who saw it as a step towards inclusion, but personally, I would prefer it if it were possible for me to get onto the Northern line.

Asking the International Paralympic Committee to help highlights some of the challenges of not being able to go down the more traditional recruitment route. The sector employs 42,000 people but, as with other areas, it is hard to find data on representation, and we know that getting into STEM subjects is not easy for disabled people. It is not quite comparative data, but the British Medical Association stated that 77% of respondents were worried about being treated unfavourably if they disclosed a disability or a long-term health condition to their employer or place of study. I would be interested in the data for the sector and, as we are under a strict time limit today, I will just say that I would also be interested in the employment of disabled people and how it can be included in a future strategy—not just one person being sent into space, if the ESA finds someone.

My Lords, it is good that we have the noble Lord, Lord Frost, with us to be accountable for Brexit, because he has a lot to be accountable for. His UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement is the most damaging treaty negotiated by a British Government for more than 50 years. It reduces our trade and undermines our co-operation, and nowhere is the damage of Brexit greater than to our space industry. Some £1.2 billion has been needlessly squandered in our expulsion from the Galileo project, and £500 million has been speculatively invested in OneWeb. Dr Bleddyn Bowen, a space policy expert at Leicester University, says that the OneWeb investment is a “tech and business gamble”, and OneWeb satellites have been described as unsuitable for navigational purposes by our own space agency. Space is turning into another Brexit catastrophe, and no one is being held accountable.

My Lords, first, I welcome the maiden speakers. The Sutherland spaceport will be the first spaceport in the United Kingdom, with the first launch as early as next year. I would be grateful to hear from my noble friend—and does he agree—that the demand for commercial, vertical and horizontal launch facilities is enormous. If so, have other sites been identified, boosting employment and revenues not only in Scotland but in the whole of the United Kingdom?

My Lords, humans can travel in space at 40,000 kilometres an hour, and I will have to speak as fast to deliver my maiden speech and refer to my relevant interests at Harvard, Kings and in Skyrora, in a minute. First, I thank Black Rod, the doorkeepers and my sponsors, my noble friend Lord Risby and the noble Lord, Lord Desai, for helping me acclimatise to an environment that is so similar and yet so different to the Commons, to which I was elected three times, and where I spent 10 increasingly tumultuous years in various roles, including as head of the Policy Unit and as Universities and Science Minister under three different Prime Ministers.

My noble friend Lord Willetts referred to the Space Industry Act, which I had the privilege of taking through the Commons as Space Minister. It received Royal Assent three years ago, yet we are still waiting for the regulatory framework to arrive. We need it fast and we need it to be proportionate, as my noble friend Lord Willetts rightly said. We also need much greater commitment. If we are serious about developing sovereign launch capability, which was one objective of that Act, we need a great much greater commitment to ensuring that it is UK industry that benefits from opportunities from the Act, including launch, not just the usual giant US aerospace companies. We messed this up once before as a country in 1971, when we abandoned our Black Arrow programme after being made promises of free rides for our satellites on US launches. Those offers disappeared and left us the only country to have launched a satellite successfully into orbit and then to have abandoned that independent capability. Let us make a reality of sovereign launch capability and not make those mistakes again.

It is a great honour to follow my noble friend Lord Johnson, to welcome him to the House and to praise him for an excellent maiden speech, which I know will be the first of many fantastic contributions he will make to this House. I have to say that I know all the Johnsons, but let me say in the privacy of this room, to go no further, that he is by far my favourite. As he alluded to in his remarks, he has had an extremely distinguished career, working for the Financial Times on the Lex column but also as its Delhi correspondent; he has written a seminal book on contemporary India. He was a distinguished Member of Parliament, the head of the Policy Unit and indeed a fantastic Science and Universities Minister, highly regarded by his sector. I have just realised that I am sitting between two former Science and Universities Ministers, both of whom I love. However, for the purposes of the maiden speech, my noble friend Lord Johnson is my favourite former Science Minister, at least for the next minute. He will make a wonderful contribution for the next 50 years, because he is also very young.

The International Trade Minister Graham Stuart announced the space sector Covid support plan this week, which is very welcome, but it will take time to deliver an impact. In the meantime we must find a way to bring forward the next phase of investment in the national space innovation programme, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, which has been delayed by the postponement of the CSR. The current phase runs out at the end of this month. If that is allowed to happen, it will create another R&D gap, further compounding the impact of the lost EU contracts. We must also find ways of bringing forward other delayed capital investments—for example the disruptive innovation for space centre proposals at Westcott and Fawley, which will underpin future private sector R&D investments. I end my speech.

I welcome today’s maiden speakers and thank the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, for the way in which he introduced this debate. I was interested to hear his positive comments on OneWeb, which were particularly striking in contrast to the remarks others have made on that issue. Following the latest fundraising for OneWeb, can the Minister tell us where the country’s holding in that company now stands? It had been 42.2% and I wonder whether it has been significantly diluted. Could he also tell the Committee how much money was spent on trying to develop our own GPS system, a scheme that has now been abandoned?

More positively, astronauts such as Chris Hadfield are now talking about colonising the moon. NASA is setting up a lunar village, or has plans to. Can the Minister say whether the government’s space strategy will be similarly forward looking? Can he also tell us how we are regulating commercial activity in space?

My Lords, we have been involved in space for over 50 years. In 2000 I was recognised by the Americans for my work in the national security space missions of both our nations over the previous three years. In the one minute allowed, I intend to address that critical and crucial national security space mission.

The UK must harness existing UK and Five Eyes capabilities in geosynchronous satellites and medium earth orbit capabilities, particularly low earth orbit capabilities, for a sovereign space-based position, navigation and timing system. This is crucial militarily, for our nation’s security and for the operation of many things. It should be interoperable with the Five Eyes nations and also provide secure satellite communications. This is forced on us not least by the outrageous behaviour of our European friends over the use of the Galileo system. We should also consider establishing a national space operation centre. Could the Minister let us know if this is the plan and by when it would happen?

My Lords, the Government’s decision to create UK space command is a golden opportunity for greater co-operation between defence and industry. Its creation is a huge step forward because space is fundamental to our national security, vital to our economy and to our very way of life. As space becomes ever more congested and contested, it is critical that the UK is integrated in its approach. It is envisaged that space command will interact with the UK Space Agency to deliver joint national space capability. It will be a joint command based at RAF High Wycombe and be staffed from all three services of the Armed Forces, the Civil Service, and key members of the commercial sector. At its heart, its success will be determined by our ability to network our capabilities and share skills between industry and defence through the enterprise approach. Central to the ability to share skills will be the greater use of reserves splitting their time between uniformed service in the military and civilian employment in the space industry.

My Lords, I declare my interests as disclosed in the register. If the Government’s ambition is for the UK to seize 10% of the global space economy by 2030, there needs to be much more joined-up thinking and a clear policy. I seriously question the likely success of the Government’s deal to rescue OneWeb. While it is admirable and imperative that the UK creates and supports a launch capability, such a strategy must go hand in hand with supporting those designing and building satellites, and constellation of satellites, which will need launching. My simple question is whether the UK’s funding of the space sector is effective at maximising growth. The UK needs to encourage innovation in the space industry and support space start-ups, which have the potential to deliver world-class and world-first technology.

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Willetts mentioned Scotland. A’Mhòine in Melness, Sutherland was announced as suitable for a vertical launch site and spaceport in 2018, promising increased economic activity in the area. But some two and a half years on, the community is divided, with some of the opinion that this would be destructive to the natural environment, as the site is within the largest area of peat and wetland anywhere in the world. It is at present under consideration for UNESCO world heritage site status. The project for the spaceport is currently halted and under judicial review. If the spaceport is located in Unst in the Shetland Isles, the alternative site mooted, will the Government make efforts to offer investments and incentives to other related space industries to locate in Melness in Sutherland? Economic resource and resilience are vital for the long-term future of the area and its youth, and space offers that opportunity.

My Lords, I declare an interest as, until recently, vice-chair of Eutelsat. LEO—low earth orbit—satellites have high potential. Unlike geostationary satellites, they have low latency and universal reach, enabling instant broadband communication anywhere on the planet. But OneWeb, the LEO player in which the Government recently acquired a stake, has no track record, limited capability and went bust. How will OneWeb compete against other LEO players including Elon Musk, Amazon, China and the EU’s flagship project? How will OneWeb finance the massive rollout needed and acquire the capability to enter markets and reach customers? I ask the Minister: when will the Government finally articulate a long-term vision and plan for OneWeb?

My Lords, I too congratulate all the maiden speakers today and declare an interest as set out in the register. The United Kingdom can be the world leader in space technology. There are many spin-off technologies that originated from space research, including ear thermometers, artificial limbs, water purification and even enriched baby food, so this is not about space alone. Last year, we witnessed the SpaceX Crew Dragon transporting NASA astronauts to the international space station. This could never have happened without close co-operation between government and a young company; our success in space depends on that spirit of partnership.

While I congratulate the Government on their significant efforts, we need to think about strengthening our space situation awareness capability, developing financing for constellations and improving insurance for small satellites. Finally, we are currently in the middle of a recruitment drive for the next cohort of British astronauts. This is an opportunity for us to inspire kids in schools across the country by talking about space, letting them hear from British astronauts and helping them develop a love for the stars and the planets.

My apologies. The essential satellite services that maritime operators, the Royal Navy and indeed all of us rely on are at risk from growing congestion, debris and threats from irresponsible or hostile actors in space. There is no international rules- based order as such in space—indeed, no organisation to oversee properly the development of such an order. The International Maritime Organization, based here in London, has performed a wonderful role in establishing rules for maritime. Is it not time that we had an international space organisation to promote a safe and sustainable space, perhaps also run by the UN and based here in the UK?

My Lords, perhaps I may briefly, in advance of his maiden speech, welcome my noble friend the Minister to your Lordships’ House. He brings with him a rare combination of diplomatic skills, commercial knowledge and political astuteness, having served as Her Majesty’s ambassador in Copenhagen, as the chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association and as a special adviser to the Prime Minister, both at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and at No.10. He has also negotiated not one but two major agreements with a tough and aggressive counterparty, two more than many of the most distinguished diplomats of his or recent generations can claim. I am sure that we all welcome him.

I welcome this debate. As my noble friend Lord Willetts clearly explained, we have tremendous opportunities in LEO satellite technology, but to achieve our potential as a sovereign independent nation, we need a strategy and I look forward to hearing further from my noble friend on that.

My Lords, I welcome the Minister and look forward to his maiden speech. There are many questions about the £400 million purchase of OneWeb, a bankrupt UK company trading in the US that required a ministerial direction for the purchase to proceed. Have all the US court consents to the purchase now been obtained? Is the manufacturing capability to be transferred from the US to the UK and when will that happen? Will we ensure that satellite launches are not dependent on the Russian Roscosmos agency? How does the purchase of OneWeb fit with the work of the space-based navigation and timing programme, which is exploring new ways of delivering satellite navigation to the UK? What part in our space policy will be played by the international agreement between the UK and the US on technology safeguards associated with US participation in space launches from the UK? When will that be debated in the House? If we are to develop an alternative version of Galileo or GPS, what is the estimated cost and how long will it take?

My Lords, the future is data and the future is now. Much of that data needs to, and can come from, space, not least EOD, as my noble friend Lord Willetts pointed out in his excellent introduction. We also have a phenomenal opportunity to bolster our cyber effort and I, like the noble Lord, Lord Parker, in his excellent maiden speech, pay tribute to all in our security services who work tirelessly and rightly in the shadows to keep us safe 24/7. We have a phenomenal opportunity with the new satellite industry. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that it is a great opportunity for Scotland as part of the United Kingdom? How does the space strategy fit within the overall industrial, digital and data strategies? Does he agree that space is not the final frontier but, if properly approached, is a universe of economic endeavour and possibility?

My Lords, we rightly celebrate the UK’s outstanding ability in the technical and scientific fields that are making science fiction into science fact, but we must also build on the UK’s ability in creating international law. Our maritime history is relevant here. Space is a new frontier governed by, frankly, a few pretty generic treaties that lack key signatories. We have made progress but much more needs to be done if space is not to become, as frontiers tend to do, a mass of short-term competing commercial and military interests. That may well be more difficult to achieve than the technology for the exploration and exploitation of space, but if we fail to regulate it properly, if we simply give rein to the human instincts that have so damaged this planet and if we make the heavens a hell, as with climate change, those who come after us will curse our lack of foresight and self-control. Will the Minister commit to engaging with this?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Willetts for this debate, be it short. I also want to welcome my noble friend the Minister and congratulate him on his maiden speech and new role. As a person from Leicester, where we have the National Space Centre and where the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, is the chancellor of the University of Leicester, I want to ask my noble friend where we can explore better collaboration programmes with the emerging markets in space development and high-tech knowledge exchange. Cities such as Leicester need to reinvent themselves post pandemic. We have brilliant universities and brilliant research collaborations going on across the world. We now need to maximise those partnerships globally. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sarfraz, that it is not just about space; it is about all the other side events that can come into fruition from better collaboration.

My Lords, it is very clear from what the noble Lord, Lord Johnson, said, that we have been down this road before. Some of us are old enough to remember Blue Streak and Black Arrow. What is needed first from the Minister is a clear commitment to a long-term strategy for the space industry. In doing that, will he clarify for us what the role of the national space council will be and how it will act as a conduit between the private and public sectors? Will the Minister also tell us whether either academic or commercial space co-operation will be inhibited by the powers in the National Security and Investment Bill now before Parliament? As a last thought, will he consider using his diplomatic and negotiating skills to persuade the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, to return to government to give the sector the political vision and commitment that it needs?

My Lords, from Labour’s Front Bench I welcome the noble Lords, Lord Parker and Lord Johnson, who spoke earlier, and I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Frost, who we will hear from in about 45 seconds’ time. There is a guy, Sanjeev Gupta, who currently rents a one-bedroom flat above a hairdresser’s on Lewisham High Street so that he can work from home. Sanjeev is a geologist, and in his flat he has five computers and two other screens for Zoom meetings. He is helping to direct and control the movements of Perseverance to drill and collect samples to help determine whether there has ever been life on Mars. Compare his endeavour with the Government’s investment in OneWeb, against the advice of experts and the concerns of the space agency. Is this OneWeb investment part of the UK’s global navigation satellite system? If not, what is it? As we have heard, OneWeb continues to manufacture its satellites in Florida. The high-skilled, well-paid jobs will come only if we get our investment and industrial strategy in sync—or are we destined, like Sanjeev Gupta, to rent more flats in Lewisham from which to explore the final frontier?

My Lords, it is an honour to make my maiden speech in this debate and it is a privilege to do so here. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, for initiating this debate. I know, not least because I was an official in his department when he was the Minister responsible for this issue, that he has a long-standing and most important interest in this subject. Under his leadership, he reinvigorated this country’s work on the space sector, and where we are now is very much the product of his efforts. We intend to build on them to the benefit of the whole country. He made a number of very important points and, indeed, listed some challenges, as did many other noble Lords, and I will respond to them as I go.

First, however, I begin with thank yous. They may be traditional but they are no less heartfelt for that. I thank Black Rod and the Clerk of the Parliaments for their help and advice, and I thank the doorkeepers, who, in the short time since my introduction, have been unfailingly helpful and friendly. I am grateful to my two introducers: my noble friend Lord Shinkwin—a friend and colleague from our time supporting this country’s great wine and spirits industries—and my noble friend Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, a distinguished Minister in many capacities and currently in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Johnson of Marylebone and the noble Lord, Lord Parker of Minsmere, on their incisive maiden speeches, the latter particularly on his distinguished future appointment.

As has been said, it is also my own maiden speech today. I have spent most of my life working on international relations in various capacities—on international trade, as the head of trade associations and, of course, as a diplomat—although I fear I seem to have acquired a rather undiplomatic reputation during the last year or two in negotiating with our European friends. It has been an honour to have been part, for 25 years, of the best diplomatic corps in the world. I am delighted to rejoin in this House many former colleagues from that world, all more distinguished than I in the depth of their knowledge and breadth of their experience. I look forward to debating with them, as I am sure I will, but more importantly to learning from their expertise.

I now turn to my subject. The UK has an extraordinary history of discovery and innovation. We remain a global innovation leader and we want to cement the UK’s place as a science superpower. Our aim is to invest in science and research that will deliver economic growth and societal benefits for decades to come, and to build the foundations for the industries of tomorrow. Space technology is a clear example of what can be done. The global space market could be worth more than $1 trillion by 2040. The past decade has, indeed, brought a global space revolution and the exploitation of space is vital to our economic future. As my noble friend Lord Holmes said, it is a frontier of possibilities.

In the UK, we are pioneering a new space age. On the back of the Space Industry Act 2018, we have established a new National Space Council to co-ordinate space policy. I reassure my noble friends Lord Willetts and Lord Moylan and the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that we will publish very soon—this summer—the new national space strategy to boost UK space innovation, and that it will be appropriately funded. Our space sector already employs 42,000 people across the country, from Cornwall’s Goonhilly Earth Station to a future Shetlands space centre. The Government are working to help every region to benefit. My noble friend Lady Verma underlined the importance of making sure that the whole country benefits. We are backing plans for a network of space hubs to attract commercial investment. It is very important that all this work, as the noble Lord, Lord St John, said, supports the aims of boosting maximum growth across the country.

From Guildford to Glasgow, the UK is already home to world-leading small satellite manufacturers. Now we want to be Europe’s best destination for launching them into orbit too. I agree with many noble Lords who noted that there is competition for this facility. We are investing £40 million to ensure that we match up to that. My noble friend Lady Mobarik raised the potential spaceport in Scotland, and I can reassure her that we are considering appropriate plans for both the sites she mentioned. We are very conscious of the spin-off benefits for communities wherever facilities eventually settle.

We expect the first launches in 2022 and I reassure my noble friend Lord Johnson that of course we intend the regulatory framework to be in place by then. On that point, which my noble friend Lord Willetts also raised, our rules will be based on the world’s most modern space legislation, building on industry consultation to ensure safety and drive innovation. Of course, outside the EU, as he said, we also have the ability to set these rules for ourselves and create the best possible context for innovation and growth. It is certainly not our policy to have more complicated legislation than the European Union in any area, and my own responsibilities as Minister for the opportunities of Brexit underline why we will take this seriously.

My noble friend also raised our aspirations for OneWeb and associated issues. I note the concerns raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, the noble Lord, Lord Birt, and many others, and the controversy that still surrounds this investment. We believe that it was a justified risk and will show benefits in the future. We are committed to making a success of our investment in OneWeb, and we anticipate that the satellite communications service will be live at the end of this year. The noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, asked about our share in OneWeb. We have invested £500 million and we maintain a significant share in OneWeb. This will obviously dilute over time but we will retain a special share, giving us the final say over the company’s future and the technology that it uses.

We are also working across government, including the Ministry of Defence of course, to ensure resilient delivery of positional navigation and timing. This is central to underpinning the UK’s critical national infrastructure. The space-based positioning, navigation and timing programme is currently analysing a number of innovative options for capability in this area, including different satellites at different orbits. We will set out our requirements soon.

As my noble friend Lord Bates and many other noble Lords said, although we aspire to be a leading space power in our own right, we cannot achieve everything that we want to achieve without international collaboration. As has been said, the UK is a proud founding member of the European Space Agency. Currently, we invest more than £370 million annually in the agency, ensuring that UK scientists and engineers take lead roles in ground-breaking missions. As many noble Lords mentioned, last month the European Space Agency made its first call for new astronauts since 2008. I very much hope that we shall see new British candidates to follow Tim Peake in reaching for the stars, inspired by the huge opportunities before us.

Our EU trade agreement, which I negotiated, has opened the door to our continued partnership in the world’s largest earth observation programme, Copernicus. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, asked about other EU programmes. In those negotiations, we were not able to reach a satisfactory outcome that would have enabled participation in our interests.

We are also investing in new broader international partnerships. Only last week, the UK signed the world’s first space bridge with Australia, deepening a space relationship that goes back to the test launch of the Black Arrow rocket from Woomera in South Australia, 51 years ago today. My noble friend Lord Willetts raised COP 26. We are committed to ensuring that it is used to showcase world-leading scientific expertise in this and many other areas. Also on international collaboration, my noble friend Lord Willetts raised the space international partnership programme. This is the biggest such programme and is world beating. We will take his points into account as we consider the future of this programme and its funding. We will also reflect on the suggestions from the noble Lords, Lord Mountevans and Lord Cromwell, regarding the governance of space—a new frontier, as has been said—and an international space organisation. We will draw this to the attention of the responsible Minister.

UK space businesses need skills and technology to compete. That is why, last week, we announced new support for a space sector export academy to help build valuable trade skills. We are using space to support STEM education, notably by helping university students and apprentices to access placements in our thriving space enterprises.

I note, and will reflect on, the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, about access for disabled communities and others in this whole area. I will draw this to the attention of the responsible Ministers.

Last year, the UK Space Agency launched its national space innovation programme—the UK’s first dedicated fund for cutting-edge space technologies. Partnerships with the private sector are of course also critical. If I may be forgiven another personal allusion in a maiden speech, I come from the greatest city in the East Midlands, the city of Derby, where my parents spent their working lives at that great British company Rolls Royce. That is why I was personally pleased to see the Government’s announcement in January of a partnership with Rolls Royce to investigate the possibility of nuclear power in space exploration. This will be a genuinely game-changing technology.

On space and defence, as my noble friend Lord Lancaster mentioned, last year we announced the new joint Space Command and have recently appointed its first commander, Air Commodore Paul Godfrey. I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord West, that we are committed to protecting national security in space, as we are anywhere else. This is the first priority of the Government. We are committed to countering aggression in space and, as has been said, we have worked to achieve the UN resolution on responsible behaviours in space—once again, a first.

To conclude, I thank my noble friend Lord Willetts once again for raising this important question. I have tried to answer all the many rich points made in this debate, and of course I will review Hansard and write if there are any points that I have failed to deal with. This Government are backing British businesses and scientists to ensure the maximum benefit: economic, scientific and, as my noble friend Lord Bates said so eloquently, for the imagination. Our space programme will forge the next chapter in our space story.

My Lords, perhaps I might presume to congratulate the Minister on his maiden speech and extend to him a very warm welcome both to the House and to his ministerial post. I also congratulate all the speakers on the discipline with which we have conducted this debate—including the maiden speakers, who have shown great promise for future contributions to the House.

That completes the business before the Grand Committee this afternoon. I remind Members to sanitise their desks and chairs before leaving the Room. The Committee is adjourned.

Committee adjourned at 6.40 pm.