Committee (1st Day)
Relevant documents: 1st and 2nd Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee and 2nd Report from the Constitution Committee
Clause 1 agreed.
1: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Potential impact of leaving the European Union on the United Kingdom’s space industry
(1) The Secretary of State must carry out an assessment of the potential impact that leaving the European Union will have on the United Kingdom’s space industry.(2) The assessment under subsection (1) must make reference to the following areas—(a) membership of the European Space Agency;(b) the impact of the UK’s exit from the EU on research and development and access to funding, including Horizon 2020;(c) the free movement to the UK from the EU of those who work in the space industry;(d) the UK’s participation in the Galileo and Copernicus programmes; and(e) the impact of the UK leaving the Single Market on supply chains within the space industry.(3) The Secretary of State must lay a report of the assessment under subsection (1) before Parliament within one year of this Act passing, and once in each calendar year following.”
My Lords, it is always very encouraging, when one is in the position of the first item of business after Questions, to have old friends passing you saying, “Nothing personal”.
We are starting the Committee stage of a very important and exciting Bill. As we assured the Minister at Second Reading, we on these Benches want to be as helpful as possible in seeing it on to the statute book. He will be aware that a number of Committees of the House have pointed to what they see as gaps and shortcomings in the Bill, and indeed a number of noble Lords pointed out similar at Second Reading, but we are looking at a very exciting piece of a jigsaw puzzle that could be part of a very 21st-century industry for this country.
The European space industry employs over 230,000 professionals and generates a value-added estimated at between €46 billion and €54 billion. Key projects include Copernicus, a European system for monitoring earth observation data; Galileo, the EU’s own satellite navigation system; and the European geostationary navigation overlay service, EGNOS, which provides navigation services to aviation, maritime and land-based users over most of Europe. The EU also funds space-related research through Horizon 2020.
The space strategy for Europe follows the requirement of Article 189 of the Lisbon treaty for the EU to draw up a European space policy. The communications on the strategy identify four strategic goals: maximising the benefit of space to society in the EU; fostering a globally competitive and innovative European space sector; reinforcing European autonomy in accessing and using space in a secure and safe environment; and strengthening Europe’s role as a global actor and promoting international co-operation. Much of this work, it is true, is done through the European Space Agency, which is not an integral part of the EU but is linked to it by treaty. Nevertheless we thought it was important at this stage of the Bill to probe a little exactly how the long shadow of Brexit will be cast over the future of this important industry. That is especially important for these high-tech industries, which need clarity and certainty. “Build it and they will come” is not a long-term industrial strategy. Some of us are old enough to remember both Blue Streak and Black Arrow 50 years ago; we learned the hard way that for a country of our size and capacity, going it alone was not really an option.
Nevertheless, it is a real source of pride over the last two decades that Governments of all persuasions—the coalition Government of whom I was a member, the previous Labour Government and this Conservative Government—have given support to the UK’s space sector. The sector has responded in a quite remarkable way, with a turnover of £14 billion and exports of £5 billion and employing 40,000 direct employees and 1,400 apprentices. The UK’s space sector has tripled in size since 2000. The industry plans to grow to a turnover of £40 billion by 2030, creating 100,000 new jobs and growing space-related exports to £15 billion.
We are very supportive of what the Government are trying to do with, as I say, this small piece of a wider picture. It is a sector where collaboration and co-operation are key to success. Although, as I have said, membership of the European Space Agency is not contingent on EU membership, there are other consequences of Brexit that will directly affect the UK’s ability to be a world leader in the realm of spaceflight.
Will we retain access to EU research and development projects? How will changes to freedom of movement impact on this industry, an industry which exchanges talents across frontiers on a regular basis? Will we retain full access to programmes such as Galileo and Copernicus? Will we be marginalised in EU procurement decisions? If we leave the single market, what will be the impact on a sector where the burdensomeness of customs procedures and time-consuming customs checks could be fatal to the project’s success?
Our amendment asks the Government to make an assessment of the impact of Brexit under varying scenarios. The tragedy is that in many high-tech industries, such assessments are already being made and judgments being made about both investment and location, so our request is sensible in the light of the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord’s amendment is excellent but I do not want to speak about that, but to make brief reference to the fact that on the previous Question I should have declared that I was a vice-president of the LGA. I forgot to do that, and I apologise to the House.
I just add one or two brief comments to what the noble Lord, Lord McNally, quite rightly said, seeking to explore further what the impact of withdrawal from the European Union might or might not have.
At Second Reading, the Minister made reference to the issue and said:
“The Government’s policy to exit the EU does not affect the UK’s membership of the European Space Agency. The UK has a strong and healthy space economy with an international outlook. We have a long history of collaboration and participation in European space programmes and missions through the European Space Agency. The Government will continue to take an active role in European space programmes, supporting UK industry in its bids to win contracts overseas and developing our national capability to keep the UK competitive in the global market”—[Official Report, 12/7/17; cols. 1268-69.]
Those were clearly welcome statements, but I am not sure that they went to the heart of the question: namely, what impact could our withdrawal from the European Union have on spaceflight and the space industry in this country? Apparently, there has been talk in government circles of the possibility of leaving on the basis of no agreement at all being reached with the European Union on the terms. Can the Minister spell out what the consequences might be for the space industry and the level of co-operation that currently takes place if we ended up withdrawing from the European Union without any agreement? Perhaps he could also compare and contrast that with the situation whereby we left with what I think is known in the official jargon as a soft Brexit.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, rightly made reference to the fact that the industry would like a degree of clarity and certainty for the future. Indeed, that was the Government’s argument for bringing forward the Bill at a time when we know nothing about the regulations, on which consultation will not take place until next year and which will not be produced until 2019. Presumably, if the Government are saying that the Bill is needed because the industry requires clarity, they will use this opportunity to offer the industry clarity on the impact of our leaving the European Union on the space industry and spaceflight in this country.
My Lords, there are 38,000 jobs in the UK in the space sector, and they are top-quality, well-paid, highly skilled jobs. Brexit threatens the majority of those jobs, both directly and indirectly. Although the Bill is welcome and in itself uncontentious, it does nothing of any significance to plug the gaps that are threatening those jobs.
How and why does Brexit threaten those jobs? Two sets of work are ongoing on which we rely for a very large part of our jobs in this country relating to the space industry; they are funded by the Galileo and Copernicus projects. The UK Government have said that they want to remain part of those projects but they have failed to make a binding commitment to them. The problem is that talk of a no-deal Brexit seriously undermines the Government’s verbal assurances on this issue. They need to make it clear that they want to buy into those programmes in the future—beyond 2019. Clearly that could not happen in a no-deal scenario.
Let us be clear that we do very well out of EU space activity. In terms of what is technically called “geo return”, we put in 12.5% of funding and get back 14% of spend. We are talking about very large amounts of money. When applying for funds, companies now have to make it clear to the EU how they will ensure that after March 2019 they will still have a base in an EU country. This is a new requirement. The impact is that those companies with other EU sites are leading their bids from there, not from the UK. Those companies without another base are obviously thinking of moving to another EU country. Because there is such a long lead-in time in this industry, these decisions are being made now or in the very near future.
The second factor is the supply chain, a lot of which is foreign inward investment into the UK, and there is some current rethinking on that—so more good jobs in the UK are at risk. A major aspect of this problem is the free movement of people. The industry relies a lot on EU nationals, many of whom are already leaving. But British staff, working in the industry, are also looking abroad for opportunities and we cannot afford that brain drain. It is essential to the aerospace sector as a whole that there is free movement. The kind of visa for highly skilled workers that the Prime Minister has already talked about simply would not suit their needs. They need flexible, long-duration visas because they require staff to be so mobile and flexible. Their needs are very much like those for the rest of the aerospace sector.
For example, as many noble Lords will know, Airbus has plants in Toulouse, Broughton and a number of other places. A technician might arrive at work in Broughton one morning and be told that he is off to Toulouse by lunchtime and will be back tomorrow or the day after. Airbus, as a company, moved employees 80,000 times last year between the EU and the UK. It has its own jet shuttle between sites. The kind of visa that the Prime Minister talked about does not start to tackle that problem. The perception in Europe is that we have already left. So whatever the Government’s good intentions with this Bill, if you hollow out what we already have in our space industry in the way in which I have outlined, there is not much point in this Bill. We simply cannot afford to keep losing such high-value industries and high-quality jobs. It is important that the Government persuade us here today that they have already taken on board the key issues that we have raised in relation to Brexit and our relationship in the future with the EU.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McNally, very much for his initial comments and his general support. I understand that he will want to probe further and question us on the purposes and intent of the Bill, which of course I welcome—but I also thank him for his initial supportive comments.
The UK space industry is a global success story, leveraging our best talent to deliver highly innovative products and services every year. This Government want a UK space industry that captures 10% of the global market by 2030, creating 100,000 new jobs in the process. The Government are pursuing a range of measures to support this fast-growing sector. This Bill is one of those measures, and aims to put British businesses at the forefront of new space services. Another measure of our support to the UK space sector will be through our negotiations with the EU on future collaboration on the EU space programmes.
The UK has played a major part in developing the main EU space programmes, Galileo and Copernicus, which have supported the rapid growth of the UK space sector and contributed directly to our prosperity and security. We will work to ensure that we get the best deal with the EU to help support strong growth in the sector. I understand the link that noble Lords and the noble Baronesses have drawn between these two measures of support through this proposed amendment, but I do not consider that including provisions related to the EU negotiations will improve the purpose of the Bill or the support that the legislation will provide to our sector. This Bill is about regulation of UK space activities and sub-orbital activities and connected purposes.
As the noble Lord, Lord McNally, acknowledged, the European Space Agency is an international organisation, rather than an institution of the European Union. As I said at Second Reading, the UK’s membership of the European Space Agency will not be affected by the UK leaving the EU.
I was asked about the release of the studies on the impact that Brexit will have on the sector. Since the referendum, the Government have been undertaking rigorous and extensive analysis work to support our exit negotiations, define our future partnership with the EU and inform our understanding of how the EU exit will affect the UK’s domestic policies and frameworks. However, Parliament has voted repeatedly not to disclose material that could damage the UK’s position in the negotiations with the EU. I am sure that the Committee will agree with me that, in any negotiation, information on potential economic considerations was very important to the negotiating capital and to the negotiation position of all parties.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, asked about the effect of freedom of movement on the space sector. Of course, they are correct that when we leave the EU freedom of movement, as we know it, will end. However, we have been clear that there will be an implementation period after we leave the EU to avoid a cliff edge for businesses, and after we leave the EU we will have an immigration system that works in the best interests of the UK. Crucial to the development of this will be the views from a range of businesses, including from high-tech sectors, such as the space industry.
In the light of that information, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
2: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Impact of the Act on the United Kingdom’s economy
(1) The Secretary of State must carry out an assessment of the expected monetary benefit to the United Kingdom’s economy that this Act will bring.(2) The Secretary of State must lay a report of the assessment made under subsection (1), including the details of any companies that have approached the Government with plans to utilise provisions set out in this Act, before Parliament within the period of six months beginning with the date on which this Act is passed, and once in each calendar year following.”
My Lords, in introducing the first amendment, I mentioned the good work that successive Governments did to give the British space industry a boost. I did not say—but it was in my notes, and I am prompted by seeing him in his place—that the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, played a special part in that. The space industry made real progress during the time he had responsibility for it under the coalition Government.
This is more of an amendment to the Bill itself and it challenges the Government to respond to a simple question posed by the Commons Science and Technology Committee: where is the clear evidence that there is demand for a UK-located spaceport? We are going to a great deal of trouble to put into law regulations for these developments yet, as that committee mentioned, the Government have not quantified the financial benefits of a new regulatory framework for spaceflight. This is a probing amendment to see what work the Government have done on the concept of spaceports.
There is no doubt that we want to be part of this industry. As we know from our discussions on the Data Protection Bill, demand for data is growing globally and the satellite industry is uniquely positioned to meet the need to collect and communicate data around the world. Some 25% of the world’s communications satellites are built in the UK, which is particularly successful in developing small satellites. These have evolved from being simple technology demonstrators to highly capable operating vehicles. Hand in hand with these developments, new materials such as graphene and advances in high-value manufacturing offer the prospect of carrying secondary structures and payloads, which will be smaller and lighter without compromising the ability to deliver into orbit.
The space sector has an exciting story to tell. The more the Government can give us the facts as they know them, the more momentum will be created behind this new space age. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for his kind remarks. I declare an interest as a member of the boards of Surrey Satellites, a space company, and of Sirius, a space security company. The noble Lord raised an important question. When talking about science innovation it is very hard to be absolutely confident about what the exact scale of monetary benefits to the British economy might be. However, we have a particular geographical advantage. If one is trying to launch satellites into polar orbit, launching over an ocean at a good angle is very attractive for many companies. With the Irish Sea and, even more importantly, in Scotland, we have the opportunity for spaceports that could be a good location for vertically launching satellites into polar orbit.
There is now a very lively race going on between several possible locations for spaceports. Norway is planning one and the Azores are working on one to launch satellites out over the Atlantic. I strongly support the Bill because it provides the possibility of the UK entering that competition early with, apparently, a range of candidates in other locations as well as the north of Scotland. From the Back Benches, I assure the House that there is an enormous opportunity here. There is currently no major spaceport functioning in Europe that enables space launches to take place over the ocean. It could well be that, as a result of this excellent Bill, the UK has an opportunity to take the lead in that.
My Lords, I declare my interest, which I declared at Second Reading, of living in sight of Prestwick Airport. I am a great protagonist for the interests of that airport. The comments that have been made are extremely important: we need to get a first-move advantage in western Europe. This is a highly competitive market and we have a real opportunity to put our significant skills base into effect in ensuring that we have early recognition and licensing of spaceports in the UK. There should be two. However you look at the spaceport option, there will always be the weather challenge. While Prestwick happens to have an outstanding microclimate and is highly suited to being the first spaceport with its nearly three-kilometre runway and a launch direction out over the north Atlantic, as my noble friend has just said—particularly for the launch of satellites, which is a very important part of this—the Government would be wise to look at licensing two spaceports in the first instance, not least because of the weather implications.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, it is gratifying to see an all-party approach being taken to this issue, both locally and nationally. In the context of Ayrshire and Scotland, not only have the Scottish and British Governments done a lot of very good work, but so have MPs from across the spectrum, such as Bill Grant and Philippa Whitford, and my noble friend Lady Ford, who was very active on this issue during the summer, as well as council leaders of all parties. It is important that they all recognise the benefits of spaceports and of the industrial opportunities around licensing them, as well as of outreaches in terms of employment opportunities and the links to schools and encouraging young people in the vicinity to study science. In Ayrshire, there is heavy unemployment in some of those areas. This would be an inspirational opportunity for young people to study the sciences and related industries. As I say, the advantage of making the first move is critical in the international global market and there are real benefits to local communities where the first spaceports are likely to be licensed.
I shall take that last point first and thank my noble friend Lord Moynihan for his support. It is unusual for someone who lives near an airport to want to see an expansion of opportunities for it. He will understand that, as aviation Minister, my postbag is normally filled with correspondence from people living near airports who seek to halt whatever goes on at those airports, so I welcome his support.
This amendment raises the impact of the Bill on the UK economy and seeks to provide some degree of assurance through the annual laying in Parliament of an assessment of the monetary benefits. Noble Lords are right to draw attention to the economic opportunity the Bill represents, the need to evaluate the market effectively and how we measure the benefits it will enable. As noble Lords know, the UK space sector is a British success story, a growing sector which continues to pioneer new technologies from satellites and instruments to new applications and services. The one area where our space sector cannot prosper is launch. The Bill will allow us to do just that. This legislation will create a safe and supportive regulatory environment for small satellite launch and suborbital flight in the UK. I am confident that the UK will attract companies and investment. Only last Friday, I met stakeholders to discuss the Bill and the wider space sector. I heard an awful lot of positivity about the Bill and the future demand for launch activities.
Earlier this year, the Government announced a call for industry proposals to establish a launch capability in the UK. This resulted in 26 proposals for grant funding from bidders wanting to establish spaceports around the UK, along with operators from the UK, Europe and the US. Through this approach we have demonstrated a strong interest in spaceflight activities in the UK from right across the country.
On evaluating the importance of the sector to the UK, the UK Space Agency and its partners conduct regular economic evaluation. The majority of these assessments are publicly available and published online. This includes a biannual size and health survey of the UK space industry. The emerging market for spaceflight in the UK will be included in future versions of this industry-wide evaluation and will be made publicly available, as it is now.
The amendment would require a report to include details of companies that have expressed an interest in carrying out spaceflight activities. Details of the companies that have approached government are largely commercial and in confidence. I am sure noble Lords will agree that it would not be appropriate for government to report on these engagements or on these companies’ plans.
With regard to the economic opportunity for the UK, global small satellite launch and servicing could exceed £25 billion in revenue over 20 years, with an untapped European regional market potentially worth around one-third of this £25 billion. Nowhere in the world is this market fully exploited by a sustainable commercial offering. In addition, suborbital launch creates new opportunities for UK science by giving British scientists access to the unique environment of microgravity, as well as training, tourism and supply chain opportunities.
I understand the intention behind the amendment. However, I hope noble Lords will agree that we already engage extensively with industry to develop our plans and continue to conduct assessments to ensure we are making effective decisions. It would not be appropriate to duplicate information already collated and published in the public domain or to disclose information provided in commercial confidence to public bodies. I therefore hope the noble Lord will withdraw Amendment 2.
My Lords, we shall now move to the nitty-gritty of what is essentially a planning Bill with lots of environmental, health and other matters. Beyond that, however, I was delighted by the two interventions. There is a need to bang the drum on this. It is such an exciting prospect, and although some may be keeping quiet about their intentions, entrepreneurs such as Virgin, Elon Musk, Professor Cox and others, tell us that this is just round the corner. I was therefore glad that the noble Lords, Lord Willetts and Lord Moynihan, took the opportunity to bang the drum, as did the Minister, but we have to keep up the momentum on this. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 2 withdrawn.
Clause 2: Duties and supplementary powers of the regulator
3: Clause 2, page 2, line 25, at end insert—
“( ) the effect on the environment and on local communities of activities connected with the operation of spaceflight activities or the operation of a spaceport as licensed under this Act;”
My Lords, the Bill has been drawn up with the objectives and the future of the spaceflight industry in mind. There is obviously nothing wrong with that, but other interests and considerations also need to be safeguarded and addressed. The calls at Second Reading for light regulation and what is described as no unnecessary bureaucracy or red tape make one a little wary. Light regulation is what we apparently had for the financial services sector a decade ago, and we all know what some involved there got up to, which cost the country dear. One person’s light regulation and so-called red tape can be a weakening of another person’s protections and safeguards.
One of the areas on which we need to be satisfied that the Bill either provides or does not remove appropriate safeguards and protections is over the impact that spaceflight development as envisaged in the Bill could have on the environment and local communities. There appears—subject to what the Minister may say in response—to be surprisingly little in the Bill that addresses potential concerns in these two important areas.
The duties and powers of the regulator, as set out in the Bill, are geared to the promotion of spaceflight. Indeed, at Second Reading there were calls for a more specific statutory government duty to achieve this objective. Clause 2(2) states:
“The regulator must exercise the regulator’s functions under this Act in the way that the regulator thinks best calculated to take into account”,
with the first two matters listed being,
“(a) the interests of persons carried by spacecraft or carrier aircraft”,
“(b) the requirements of persons carrying out spaceflight activities”.
There is no specific reference to local communities in the other matters listed under Clause 2(2), and the reference to the environment appears to be,
“environmental objectives set by the Secretary of State”.
Those could prove to be wide-ranging but, equally, they could prove to be non-existent or even negative, depending on the outlook of whoever is the Secretary of State at the relevant time.
As the Secretary of State could, as I understand it, also be the regulator under the Bill, does that mean that in his or her capacity as regulator he or she would be required to take into account “environmental objectives” which he or she had set as Secretary of State and which presumably they could change as and when they wished?
The need to strengthen the considerations that the regulator must take into account in exercising the regulator’s functions is increased by the statement, in Clause 2(3), that,
“If in a particular case there is a conflict in the application of the provisions of subsection (2), in relation to that case the regulator must apply them in whatever way the regulator thinks reasonable having regard to the provisions as a whole”.
Thus, the Bill would appear to indicate that conflicts in the application of the terms of Clause 2(2) are likely. If there is no proper reference in that subsection to the impact on the environment and on local communities of space activities having to be taken into account by the regulator, they are surely much less likely to be taken fully into consideration if they conflict with the interests of persons carried by spacecraft or carrier aircraft, or the requirements of persons carrying out spaceflight activities, which are the first two considerations for the regulator under Clause 2(2).
My amendments in this group seek to address that situation and would require the regulator to take into account the effect on the environment and on local communities of activities connected with the operation of spaceflight activities or the operation of a spaceport as licensed under this legislation, in addition to the other considerations already set out in Clause 2(2). The amendments also provide, under Clause 12(6), for the regulator to consult the Environment Agency or similar bodies in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, as well as any relevant local planning authority, before deciding what conditions to include in a licence under this legislation.
We need to know from the Government, on the record, exactly how this operator licensing regime and the powers of the regulator will work in relation to the existing planning process and planning laws. Will a person with an operator licence or with exemption from an operator licence, or the regulator, including if the regulator is the Secretary of State, be able to overrule or avoid any of the existing planning processes, planning laws or regulations, or environmental regulations, processes or laws, in respect of spaceflight activities in the United Kingdom or the operation of a spaceport either under the terms of the Bill or in subsequent regulations, including under the Henry VIII powers in Clause 66?
I hope that when the Minister responds, he will be able to address all the concerns and points that I have raised. I beg to move.
My Lords, as the noble Lord has said, there is very little mention in the Bill of the environment. I am going to address Amendments 13 and 14, in the name of the Liberal Democrats, which cover some of the same ground to that outlined just now.
Clearly, there will be environmental implications of launching space vehicles and, indeed, of bringing the rockets on to site. At the moment, the nearest thing to this we are familiar with is when an aircraft wing is moved along the motorway. We are talking here about developing in rural areas, where there will be an obvious change of pace of life for local people. According to industry stakeholders I have discussed this with, the Bill does not sufficiently address health and safety and environmental aspects related to, for example, on-site assembly, maintenance and refurbishment of the launch vehicle and its payload—that is, the satellite. Nor does it address the storage and transport of launch vehicles or the issues of solid boosters and engine and thruster propellants. All these activities involve the handling of dangerous and explosive materials.
Amendment 13 would ensure that the operator cannot be granted a licence unless they have considered and minimised the impact on the environment. The Minister has made it absolutely clear that both the Scottish and Welsh Governments are very supportive, as is Cornwall Council. These are the areas where the impact is likely to be, at least in the first instance. However, we are legislating for all possible future spaceports, and whatever the supportive nature of the devolved authorities and county councils, one has to think of the impact on local people. Just because it is exciting and being done in rural areas does not mean that we can ignore the impact on the environment. It is already clear that there will be controversy—make no mistake about it, as this is going to be intrusive.
Amendment 14 concerns specifically the impact that the required high levels of security will have in local areas. Obviously, spaceport activity will be subject to very high levels of security, and rightly so; we would demand that. Let me give noble Lords an example that was brought to my attention. In north Wales, the Llanbedr airfield, which is owned by the Welsh Government, is leased to an organisation that wishes to set up a spaceport. The neighbour to this airfield is Shell Island, an enormous holiday camp that was established in the middle of the last century. It has 80,000 happy campers a year and employs somewhere in the order of 100 people. That is a big business in north Wales. At high tide, the only access to the holiday camp for emergency vehicles is along a path across the airfield. This is a very well-established right of access, but now, for security reasons, there is the potential that Shell Island will be denied the right to that access. In other words, emergency vehicles will not be able to access the holiday camp. This is not only an issue of local discussion and so on but a well-documented problem. This dispute may well be settled satisfactorily, but it illustrates the potential for local clashes of interest and that security issues will be of paramount importance and intrusive.
Amendment 14 seeks to probe the extent to which the Government have discussed such issues with the emergency services, potential spaceport operators and the devolved Administrations. It would ensure that the operator of any spaceport must take all reasonably practicable steps to allow emergency access for neighbouring properties. The security aspects of establishing a spaceport are glossed over in the Bill and need to be taken seriously at this point in our discussions.
My Lords, under this Bill the number one priority for the regulator will be, quite rightly, to ensure the health and safety of the public and the safety of their property. There is clearly a moral case for ensuring public safety but also a compelling business case. Safe operations will be critical to the long-term sustainability of the UK spaceflight industry. There are, of course, other interests and requirements which the regulator must take into account in the exercise of its functions.
On Amendment 3, I thank the noble Lords for raising the issues of the impact on the environment and the interests of local communities in particular. These are important matters which the Government have considered in drafting the Bill. Under Clause 2(2)(e), the regulator is already required to take account of environmental objectives set by the Government when exercising its functions. Environmental objectives here mean both the policy objectives of the Government and the legislation and other forms of regulation which are used to realise those objectives. This places a wide-ranging duty on the regulator and ensures that proper consideration of environmental matters informs the carrying out of its functions.
Under Clause 2(2)(c), the regulator likewise must take account of the interests of persons not involved in spaceflight activities in relation to the use of land, sea and airspace. This will include the interests of local communities affected by spaceport and spaceflight activities. A further protection both to local communities and the environment will be afforded by local planning processes. I stress that the Bill does not impinge upon or override local planning decisions. This will take account of the concerns raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, about emergency access to a campsite, which we discussed in one of our previous meetings. I hope she is reassured by that.
As part of the planning application process for any spaceport, whether a new site or an existing aerodrome which undergoes development, an environmental impact assessment will be needed if it is required by the EIA directive. The local planning authority will therefore already be obliged to scrutinise the environmental impact under existing planning legislation where the EIA directive applies. An EIA would also be required as part of any airspace change.
On Amendment 13, for the reasons already set out, we can be assured that this matter is sufficiently addressed. However, should we require further environmental legislation as new technologies emerge, the regulation-making powers in Clauses 10(b) and 67 give us the flexibility necessary to develop appropriately detailed measures which would supplement existing legislation.
On Amendment 14, I thank the noble Baroness for raising the specific question of the impact of spaceports on local emergency response services. As I said earlier, I can assure her that no provision in this Bill will have a negative impact on the emergency services’ ability to operate effectively in the area surrounding a spaceport. As part of the established planning processes across the UK, local planning authorities will be responsible for granting planning permission for spaceport sites once they have carried out the necessary assessments. Local authorities are also responsible for the provision of emergency services and will take the ability to provide effective emergency services to the surrounding areas into consideration as part of the assessment of planning applications. The Bill will not take away or weaken the power of local planning authorities to decide the appropriateness of the location of the spaceport. Their decisions will take into account the impact on the surrounding area of a proposed spaceport as well as any safety and security requirements which would fall to a spaceport operator licensed under the Bill. I am confident that the Bill contains the necessary powers to ensure that spaceports put in appropriate emergency response procedures, and fire and rescue provision, and will draw on local emergency services only where necessary and with the agreement of local responders.
I turn finally to Amendments 18 and 20. As we have discussed, as part of the planning application process for a spaceport, an environmental impact assessment will be required. The local planning authority will therefore be obliged to scrutinise the environmental impact under existing planning legislation alongside other planning considerations. As I noted earlier, Clause 2 requires the regulator to take into account any environmental objectives set by the Government, which would include any issued by the Environment Agency.
I welcome the spirit of these amendments, but requiring consultation with the relevant Environment Agency and local planning authority before deciding what conditions to attach to a licence should not be necessary and is likely to be disproportionate if required in each and every case. The Government share the concerns raised by these amendments, but I believe that we have already appropriately accounted for them in the Bill.
In answer to a question put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, an exempt person will need to comply with environmental legislation where necessary, and planning, as part of current exemption conditions. Exemption from the licence does not exempt the person from the requisite planning legislation. I hope noble Lords feel that I have addressed their questions and reassured them on the provisions in the Bill, and I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister for his response. Obviously, the issue of the significance or otherwise of someone who is exempt from the licence will come up later in a separate debate, but presumably, if someone is exempt from the licence, the regulator cannot apply conditions that have to be abided by on a licence because the operator will not need one.
That is true, but it does not exempt operators from the relevant planning provisions.
But it would exempt the person from some of the duties in Clause 2, which would be covered by the licence. That includes the things the Minister has prayed in aid in rejecting the amendment. Presumably, it does not include the requirement regarding,
“the interests of any other persons in relation to the use of land, sea and airspace”,
“any environmental objectives set by the Secretary of State”.
The regulator could not take those into account when issuing the licence because no licence would be required by the person who was exempt.
I thank the Minister for his response, but if the Government really are determined to make sure that environmental considerations are covered and mentioned fair and square on the face of the Bill, I put it to him that they would not have used the phrase,
“the interests of any other persons in relation to the use of land, sea and airspace”.
I think they would have been a little more specific, because it begs the question as to how one interprets,
“the interests of any other persons”,
which does not say anything specific about the environment or anything else. It would presumably be left open to the regulator, who could be the Secretary of State, to define what they thought that phrase covered. I ask the Minister to think hard about that on the Government’s behalf, because if, as he said, we are all as one in wanting to make sure that environmental considerations are taken fully and properly into account, why not make that a lot clearer in the Bill?
The Minister referred to Clause 2(2)(e):
“any environmental objectives set by the Secretary of State”.
“Objectives” implies something fairly wide-ranging, not something that has to be abided by or adhered to. I have already made the point—which I do not make in relation to the current Secretary of State—that an awful lot will depend on the attitude to environmental objectives of the Secretary of State of the day and the extent to which they are taken into account. Different Secretaries of State may have very different views on that point, so, frankly, I do not regard the Bill as it stands as satisfactory—particularly since the Government seem to accept that we are all as one in wanting to ensure that environmental considerations are properly taken into account.
There are a large number of regulations still to come in the Bill. I know the Minister will say that those affect only minor issues and none of substance, but regulations have a habit of being extended somewhat. I posed the question as to whether regulations could be drawn up that weaken or take away any of the current planning and environmental protections. I also referred to the Henry VIII powers in Clause 66, which by definition enable the Government to alter legislation. I again put it to the Minister that, given the Bill’s current wording, environmental considerations could very much take second place.
I will withdraw the amendment, but I refer to what the Minister said—perhaps I misunderstood him—on Second Reading:
“We do not believe that the Bill engages obligations to produce an environmental impact assessment”.
He also said:
“Environmental impacts are heavily correlated with the type, frequency and location of spaceflight activities. At this stage, it is very difficult to ascertain specific environmental issues. For example, the sensitivities of a site cannot be known until we know the location of the spaceport”.—[Official Report, 12/7/17; col. 1268.]
I would have thought it extremely difficult to argue, as one could interpret the Minister was arguing on Second Reading, that there could be a spaceport site for which no environmental consideration at all needed to be taken into account, and that there was therefore no immediate need for an environmental impact assessment. That part of the Bill could be strengthened.
I hope the Minister will think long and hard about what has been said today, and hopefully he can be more positive during the Bill’s later stages. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
Clause 2 agreed.
Clause 3: Prohibition of unlicensed spaceflight etc
4: Clause 3, page 3, line 16, leave out “spaceflight activities” and insert “a specific spaceflight mission or class of missions”
My Lords, I rise to make a short probing amendment. Before I do, may I say how much I appreciated the excellent speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson? I want to comment that in Ayrshire, we have none of the problems that she perceives exist in Cornwall, nor indeed in Wales. We have a tough and comprehensive security arrangement that surrounds and includes our airport. On the contrary to the noble Baroness’s concerns about tourism, I think spaceports will increase tourism. In fact, we envisage a visitor centre near the airport because there would be real interest in the adopted and adapted 747s that will be necessary for a lot of the satellite launches, not just from people involved in aviation but from the local community. After all, when it comes to security and noise, many residents of south Ayrshire have experienced Concorde in training many years ago and many military activities at present. The rare launch of these aircraft—we are not talking about a daily basis in this Bill and rarely on a weekly basis—will be of a frequency much less than the general public perceive and the noise associated with horizontal take-offs will be de minimis. Indeed, Prestwick is applying for only a horizontal licence. I make that comment in passing as I am sure my noble friend the Minister is aware of how ready Prestwick Airport is to move on this and how it would like to accelerate the licensing powers in this Bill so as not to lose competitive advantage.
My amendment is rather more specific, but nevertheless very relevant to the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, on bringing relevant aircraft parts to the spaceport. At the moment, as I read it, an operator licence means a licence under the clause,
“authorising a person to carry out spaceflight activities”.
It is the word “activities” that I have an element of concern with. This could involve companies involved in R&D relating to spaceflight activities, or bringing relevant aircraft parts and those companies involved in doing that. I am sure the intention is not to have a licence for all those activities. It is my suggestion to the Minister that as currently drafted that may be too wide. My probing amendment is simply to delete “spaceflight activities”, and insert,
“a specific spaceflight mission or class of missions”,
which is what I understand to be the Government’s objective in awarding operator licences. I hope I have been incredibly helpful to my noble friend the Minister, who will be able immediately to accept this constructive and reasonable amendment. I beg to move.
I pay tribute to my noble friend’s enthusiastic promotion of his local airfield. I am sure his comments have not gone unnoticed. I have certainly taken them on board.
The fundamental purpose of Clause 3 is to prohibit the carrying out of spaceflight activities or the operation of a spaceport in the UK without a licence. Launch from the UK is a new activity and we envisage that launch vehicles will be licensed on a per-launch basis, but the Bill allows for the licensing of a launch vehicle for a number of launches if that is deemed appropriate.
The amendment tabled by my noble friend raises an interesting issue pertinent to the future growth of the space sector—namely, the challenge of licensing classes of satellite together, as opposed to licensing each satellite separately. This is particularly relevant for so-called mega-constellations, comprising a great number of satellites working in concert.
The current licensing regime under the Outer Space Act already allows us to license a constellation of satellites that can be described broadly as multiple satellites of similar or identical design under the control of a single operator and which work together to deliver a single service. The definition of “operator licence” in the Bill is also wide enough to allow for the licensing of a constellation of satellites. Of course, while the Bill is designed to cover all types and classes of mission, a licence will be granted only if the regulator is satisfied that a licensee has met all necessary requirements, most notably those relating to safety.
Clause 4 is fruitfully discussed in the context of Clause 3. The purpose of the clause is to provide for circumstances where a person may be exempted from the requirement to hold an operator licence. First, an exemption may apply where an arrangement has been made with another country whereby it complies with international obligations, such as the UN space treaties, on behalf of the UK. This provision is based on Section 3(2) of the Outer Space Act 1986 and allows the UK and the other state to agree between themselves who should supervise the activity. In this situation an Order in Council would be made to apply such an exemption to a class of activities.
The second exemption is where it is not deemed necessary to license an activity because it would not give rise to safety concerns or invoke the UK’s international obligations. The Bill is drafted broadly to ensure that all spaceflight activity can be licensed. However, a consequence of this is that activities may be legally required to be licensed where there are no concerns. Again, this replicates the provision in the 1986 Act. Such an exemption would be made by regulations. These may also set out the process for granting an exemption and any terms and conditions that may apply.
The regulations made exempting the activity may also specify that the requirement to indemnify the Government under Clause 35 does not arise, or set out the maximum amount of the indemnity. Such an exemption might be appropriate where the activity would not itself risk causing injury or damage; for example, a person renting capacity on a satellite that is owned and insured by another licence holder. However, we consider that exemptions under this clause are likely to be rare as there would be a high bar to clear to show that people’s safety is not at risk.
With this explanation of the licensing provisions in Clauses 3 and 4, I respectfully ask my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I may have misheard, of course, but I did not hear my noble friend the Minister address my noble friend’s question about whether some other activities that should not need a licence might fall under the wording of the Bill because “spaceflight activities” can refer to activities associated with spaceflight rather than just launches. I hope I have understood my noble friend correctly.
I do not want to prevent an answer to the noble Lord’s question but if the Minister is going to reply to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, I want to come in afterwards.
I thought I had responded to it but I will reflect on the point that he has made.
The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, moved an amendment to Clause 3 and the Minister went on to talk about Clause 4, perhaps because they are grouped together on the list in front of us. If the Committee is willing to bear with me, I have a stand part resolution down in relation to Clause 4. If I could just make one or two points about that, I would be grateful.
Clause 4(1) refers only to not requiring,
“an operator licence to carry out spaceflight activities”.
It does not refer to operating a spaceport. Can the Minister say whether the provisions of Clause 4 apply only to spaceflight activities—that is, the flight itself—or do they also apply in any way to the operation of a spaceport? Clause 4(1) refers also to international obligations, which the Minister has referred to already. I will read Hansard carefully to see exactly what international obligations he referred to in giving an example of the kind of situation in which an exemption would be given.
What role or powers will the regulator have in relation to a person who does not require an operator licence under the provisions of Clause 4? We partially dealt with that in the discussion on the previous amendment, and I think the Minister referred to later amendments and suggested that he would deal with the matter then since it is not immediately clear what powers the regulator has in relation to a person who is exempted from having a licence or what difference that exemption makes in terms of the regulator.
Clause 4(2) states:
“Regulations may make provision for other activities or persons to be exempted, either by the regulations themselves or by the regulator”.
What other activities or persons could we be talking about—which in relation to activities or who in relation to persons—that would be exempted from an operator licence or does the reference to activities go beyond activities for which an operator licence is required? Although I listened to what the Minister said, I am not quite sure exactly what he said about the need for the provisions in Clause 4(2) as opposed to the provision in respect of Clause 4(1).
Clause 4(4) states:
“Regulations may … make provision about the revocation or renewal of an exemption”.
Why is “may” there? In what circumstances would an exemption from an operator licence be granted which did not contain a provision for that exemption to be revoked?
I shall first address the noble Lord’s question. It is considered that the activity of operating a spaceport will not qualify for an exemption as the activities that will take place from the spaceport will have safety implications, for example, the storage of hazardous materials, the launching of spacecraft et cetera.
I shall give the noble Lord a few more details on the kind of exemptions that we are considering under these clauses. These exemptions are based on similar exemptions contained in Section 3(2) of the Outer Space Act 1986. The first exemption in Clause 4(1) is for situations under the UN space treaties where the UK and another state are jointly liable for a space activity. This provision allows the UK and the other state to allocate responsibility for regulation, supervision and monitoring activities between themselves. This exemption would be made by way of an Order in Council. The second exemption provides that activities or persons can be exempt from the requirement to hold an operator licence if the activity does not give rise to safety concerns or invoke the international obligations of the UK. There is also an exemption in Clause 7(4) that regulations may exempt persons or services from the requirement to hold a range control licence if the activity does not give rise to safety concerns or invoke the international obligations of the UK.
The terms “operating a space object” and “operating a spacecraft” in the Bill are drafted to be intentionally wide. Although this is useful and necessary to capture all activities for which a UK liability might arise under the UN liability convention, certain activities could be captured where there are no safety or security implications and the state liability is already indemnified by someone else. In such a case, a licence might not be necessary and could be overburdensome on industry. Clause 4 therefore provides for exemptions in these circumstances.
I shall give some examples of activities that could be exempted from licence requirements. The Bill provides that persons engaging spaceflight activities and range control services can qualify to be exempt from the requirement to hold a licence. Some aspects of manned suborbital activities could qualify for an exemption. However, the exemption under Clauses 4(2) and 7(4) will apply only in cases where the activity does not give rise to concerns for public safety or the safety of those involved in the activity. If there were any concerns that the activity would put people’s safety at risk, then it would not qualify for an exemption. To qualify for an exemption under Clause 4(1), another country would be required to take on all the international obligations of the UK. I hope that my response satisfies the noble Lord’s concerns.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for his response and for the intervention from my noble friend, who is exactly right. My concern was not the distinction between a specific spaceflight mission or a cluster of missions—as important as that is, which my noble friend the Minister addressed—but the use of “activities” in the legislation, which seems to go far wider than is intended in the context of issuing licences. It can mean anything from training programmes to a visitor centre, or any activity which is related to the operation of the spaceport. I note that in response to my noble friend, the Minister said that he recognised there might an issue here and that he was prepared to go away and think about it. I would be grateful if he would, because the wording here could be improved to allay any concerns about the breadth of the activities that he has in mind for the issuing of operator licences. In the spirit of his response, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 4 withdrawn.
Clause 3 agreed.
Clauses 4 to 6 agreed.
Clause 7: Provision of range control services
5: Clause 7, page 6, line 39, after “guidance” insert “in regulations”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 5 I will also address Amendments 6, 9, 10, 25 to 28, 30 and 31. First, I declare an interest. I am a member of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which I hope has contributed constructively to the drafting of the Bill and to briefing the House on a number of issues relating to it. The comments I wish to make are strictly personal and the position taken by that committee is before the House in any event.
The House may recall that the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee examined the draft Spaceflight Bill towards the end of the last Parliament and invited the views of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Given the importance and intrusiveness of many of the Bill’s provisions, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee recommended that some delegated powers be removed altogether and that others should be subject to the affirmative rather than the negative procedure. I personally place on record that I believe that the Government have taken on board many of that committee’s recommendations. The number of regulations subject to the affirmative procedure has increased from four to 13, and two objectionable Henry VIII powers have been removed altogether—I say objectionable because they included one that allowed the regulator to dispense spaceport operators from any statutory requirement in any Act of Parliament, without any parliamentary procedure whatever. The Government have perhaps implicitly acknowledged the argument that a regulator’s job is to regulate compliance with the law and not to dispense the need for compliance with it.
Several provisions in the Bill allow the Secretary of State and the regulator to issue guidance, and I will concentrate for a moment on this word “guidance”. No parliamentary procedure attaches to the issuing of such guidance. The Government justify this on the ground that the guidance is intended to be user friendly, be detailed and aid policy implementation by supplementing regulations, rather than intended to substitute any legislative provision. My view is that where someone must have regard to guidance, or indeed must follow it, the guidance has legal significance—meaning in turn that some parliamentary procedure is appropriate, typically negative-procedure regulations. The fact that the Government say the guidance is designed to supplement regulations—in other words, add to the law—also suggests that some parliamentary procedure should attach.
In Clause 67 there is an increase in the number of regulations subject to the affirmative procedure, from four to 13. However, this is not quite the whole story. Of these 13 affirmative sets of regulations, five contain what the Government have called a compromise. In other words, the first set of regulations made under the powers in question have to be affirmative but subsequent regulations are only negative. This is unquestionably an advance on the position taken in the draft Spaceflight Bill, but it invites several comments. The technique could be open to abuse. The first set of regulations, the affirmative ones requiring debates in both Houses, might only be skeletal. The subsequent regulations might provide all the real substance but they would merely be subject to the negative procedure. I am certainly not suggesting that the Government intend to adopt such a ruse, but I hope the House will judge delegated powers not merely on how the present Government propose to use them but on how any hypothetical Government might be able to use them in future.
One of the Government’s stated reasons for the affirmative procedure applying only to the first exercise of the powers, with the negative procedure applying subsequently, is that having the affirmative procedure in all such cases,
“could take up a disproportionate amount of parliamentary time and might discourage timely updating because of difficulty securing parliamentary debates”.
I believe this to be unconvincing, and would generally argue for the adoption of the negative or no procedure in virtually all cases. In the case of safety regulations under Clause 18—safety is absolutely at the heart and centre of the Bill—with subsequent regulations only negative, the Government have justified making the first set of regulations affirmative on the grounds that the “continuous updating” of safety regulations should occur,
“in a nimble and proportionate way”.
No one would want safety regulations not to be updated because of an alleged difficulty of securing parliamentary debates, but this is such an important issue that I hope the Government will look again at it. As I say, safety is and should be at the heart and centre of the Bill, and should not be in some way put to one side on the grounds that there might be difficulty in securing parliamentary time to consider it.
With those thoughts in mind, I have tabled these amendments in my name. While recognising—I emphasise again—that we have moved a long way from a skeletal Bill to a far more detailed and comprehensive one, and that the Government have listened carefully to the arguments made in both Houses, I still believe we have some distance to travel. I beg to move.
I must say that I rather support the thrust of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, has made. Later on, though not today, we will come to the amendment we have tabled about how regulations should be dealt with in view of the number of them that will be associated with the Bill.
I shall confine my comments now to the view of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, particularly in respect of the issue in Amendments 9 and 10 where clearly there was a disagreement, with the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee arguing that where there was a requirement to abide by the terms of what the Government described as “guidance”, and where there was a requirement that an applicant must do something of importance with that guidance for the regulations to be satisfied, it should in fact be subject to parliamentary scrutiny given its legal significance. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, has of course drawn attention to that point.
The Government seem less than enthusiastic about going down the road of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee on that issue. However, they did not actually address the point being made by that committee, which was the distinction between guidance that an applicant may take into account and guidance that an applicant must take into account in order for the regulator to be satisfied. Although I certainly support the thrust of everything the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said, I confine my specific comments to that point in the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee report and invite the Minister to think again about what appears to be the Government’s rejection of it.
My Lords, at this stage, I declare my financial interest in GKN and Smiths Group, both of which probably have some activity in the space industry, although I am not currently aware of it. I associate these Benches with the amendments and the overall thrust, which I am sure that the Minister is beginning to get, that there is considerable concern about the exercise of delegated powers. As the previous speaker mentioned, that will come up in a series of later amendments.
I defer in my knowledge to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, who is expert in these matters, but it is clear that we want to get the balance of affirmative and subsequent negative delegation right, and the excuse or otherwise that parliamentary time may not be available for the return of legislation is probably insufficient. Again, I hesitate to say this in front of the noble Lord, but safety is often dealt with by safety cases rather than a line by line, “You should do this, you should do that”, style of legislation. It does not require line-by-line scrutiny by government or Parliament.
With those points in mind, we associate ourselves with the amendments. We ask the Minister to review the Government’s position on delegated powers and are interested to hear how he stands on the amendments.
My Lords, I am sorry that I was unable to speak at Second Reading on this important Bill, but I have had a helpful exchange with the Minister on the powers in it and his plans for consultation in future.
Following on from the comments made by my noble friend Lord Moynihan, I have a question and a comment. First, he argued for parliamentary procedure in relation to guidance. I would find it helpful to have a little more detail as to what sort of guidance is envisaged, so that we can look critically at whether any parliamentary procedure is appropriate. Secondly, I share his concern at the double barrel—having an affirmative resolution for the first regulation and a negative resolution for subsequent provisions—because it could be open to abuse and give too much power to the Executive on important matters. I would welcome further study of this provision, as has been suggested, before Report.
I am worried about the powers in the round—in this Bill and the Data Protection Bill—and I think that delegated legislative provisions will also become an issue when we come to the plethora of Brexit Bills later in the Session. It would be very useful, in this less contentious Bill, to make sure that we have the right provisions.
I thank my noble friend for allowing me the opportunity to explain the Government’s approach to statutory guidance under the Bill. I also thank him for his work on this Bill and for his role in the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. As he said, the Government have taken on board many of the recommendations of that committee, following its scrutiny.
The purpose of guidance is to aid policy implementation by supplementing the legal framework. It is not intended to circumvent this legal framework set out in primary or secondary legislation. The main benefit of the guidance is the flexibility to amend quickly and take account of changing events. For example, recently with Monarch Airlines, the CAA had to provide extensive guidance about passenger consumer rights under the ATOL scheme. This included what protections there were for consumers and how they could go about making an ATOL claim. This guidance had to be produced very quickly to support those impacted by the airline’s failure, and it is a clear demonstration of the flexibility of having guidance not made in regulations.
I should add that the approach we are taking under the Bill is consistent with that in aviation. Various standards, technical information and information regarding best practice can change annually. It would be difficult to keep up with changes if the guidance had to be approved by Parliament every year. There are parallels, too, with the approach taken on health and safety and other technical sectors. For example, in the nuclear sector, guidance sets out how people can comply with the requirements imposed by the Nuclear Installations Act 1965.
I assure noble Lords that the Government’s approach to the statutory guidance will be transparent. The initial sets of statutory guidance will be consulted on to allow scrutiny and comments from anyone with an interest. Where the guidance relates to regulations we will consult on it at the same time as consulting on the draft statutory instruments. Perhaps it might be helpful, in response to the questions from my noble friends Lord Moynihan and Lady Neville-Rolfe, if I set out what we believe the split to be between the regulations and the guidance under the Bill. There may be matters on which the regulator does not wish to prescribe a particular way of working but wishes to help operators with guidance. For example, in relation to safety assessments, the regulator will be primarily interested in the outcomes rather than prescribing specific processes or methodologies. That is in line with best practice in health and safety where regulations will set out what must be taken into account and the requirements to be met in carrying out a risk assessment. Guidance will recommend a certain approach to carrying out that risk assessment.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, raises the point around the DPRRC recommendation on Clause 9. As I have already mentioned, the purpose of the guidance is to support the implementation. The recommendation in this case focuses on the need for parliamentary scrutiny of guidance given by the Secretary of State to the regulator. We believe that we need the flexibility for guidance to the regulator as well as for guidance to other persons. In aviation, for example, the CAA is required to take account of the guidance on environmental objects when carrying out its air navigation functions.
As my right honourable friend in the other place John Hayes said in his letter in response to the Committee, the initial guidance on this clause will be subject to a full consultation to enable scrutiny and comment from all those with an interest. Obviously this is an area of considerable interest in the Chamber, and we will certainly reflect on all the points made today. Given these assurances, I ask my noble friend to withdraw Amendment 5.
I am very grateful to my noble friend for her response. She cites the case of Monarch and passenger and consumer rights in the guidance. Of course, that had legal significance. The point that I am making here is that, given the way in which the Bill is drafted, there are some areas where there is no legal significance behind the guidance. Indeed, it is very interesting that some of the provisions allow the Secretary of State or the regulator to issue guidance but do not require the recipient to have regard to the guidance at all. I cite Clauses 7(7), 17(3), 18(3) and 22(3) in that context.
Given my noble friend’s very helpful response, it would be worth just taking this away and making sure that the appropriate scrutiny by both Chambers is in place, and that the argument for guidance to have legal significance is taken into account, particularly in the context of her example about the demise of Monarch Airlines. She makes the very important point, as was made from the Liberal Democrat Benches, that safety methodologies are not what is being looked for; rather, it is safety outcomes, because safety cases are critical. I well recall, as Energy Minister in another place, that being the key point made in the Cullen report following the horrific Piper Alpha disaster in the North Sea. We are not looking here for detailed methodologies to be placed on the face of the Bill. Where safety is a matter of concern, we are looking for the appropriate scrutiny by both Houses to ensure that the guidance given has legal significance and that there is an appropriate parliamentary procedure in place to consider the proposals made by either the Secretary of State or the regulator.
My noble friend said that she would have a good look at this, which I appreciate. She will have heard the support from across the House to ensure that this was appropriately reflected in the Bill. With that in mind at this stage of the Bill’s proceedings, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 5 withdrawn.
Amendment 6 not moved.
Clause 7 agreed.
Clause 8 agreed.
Clause 9: Grant of operator licences: safety
7: Clause 9, page 7, line 37, leave out “to (4)” and insert “and (3)”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 7, I shall speak also to Amendments 8, 11 and 12 in this group. The Bill requires, in Clause 9(4) on page 7:
“As regards risks to the health, safety and property of persons not within subsection (2)”—
subsection (2) is about individuals who take part—
“the applicant must have taken all reasonable steps to ensure that those risks are as low as reasonably practicable”,
“the level of those risks must be acceptable”.
This set of amendments vests the responsibility for certificating that this level of risk has been achieved in the Health and Safety Executive.
I start by thanking the Minister for the time that he has given to talk to us about the Bill—therefore, I cannot pretend that this is a probing amendment. I for one, and the rest of our Front Bench to a degree, feel that the Bill is premature. The two-year gap envisaged between the Bill becoming and Act and the full emergence of the regulations suggests to us that introducing the Bill at a later time would have been more efficient and allowed fuller scrutiny on a more comprehensive Bill. That is particularly drawn out in the whole safety issue.
The bit of the Bill that I have read requires the concept of the risks to what I shall call uninvolved third parties to be reduced to “as low as reasonably practicable”. That is a very widely used concept in the safety world—a complex concept that weighs benefits against risks and costs.
I shall take a view of the benefits of the Bill. The Minister quoted the importance and value of the space industry to the United Kingdom, and I would not in any way demur from that, but we are not talking about creating it or not, or the space industry carrying on in future or not. We are talking about two capabilities. One is about inserting the satellites into orbit and the other is space tourism. I know that some other things are prayed in aid, but that as a generality covers what the Bill will provide.
There is no way in which we are going to be a first mover in inserting satellites into orbit. The Americans, Russians, French and Chinese are all in this business. The Minister suggested that there was a special European dimension, and there may be, but to a degree inserting satellites into orbit is likely to become a commodity, especially as satellites become smaller and less weighty. There is a benefit, but the benefit will have to be judged in the whole balance of achieving “as low as reasonably practicable”.
I find the concept of space tourism extremely difficult to grapple with in safety terms. The nearest thing we have had to sustained space tourism was the shuttle programme. There were 135 missions; two ended catastrophically and 14 people died. I doubt that there is genuinely much of a market for tourism which involves a one in 65 chance of dying. The Virgin Galactic programme has also been mentioned. This has so far resulted in one destroyed aircraft and one dead pilot. Broadly speaking, the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act requires that an activity where an employee runs a risk of more than one in 1,000 is unacceptable and should simply not happen. I find it difficult to believe that, with the risks apparent at the moment, space tourism would be certificated in this country in the near future.
Although the benefits of the industry as a whole are valid, it is less clear how great they are for this particular capability. They would also need to be balanced in meeting the requirements of the clause that protects the safety of uninvolved third parties, whose exposure is nicely brought out in annexe C to the letter which the Minister was good enough to write to me and some other noble Lords. It stated:
“The current UK aviation regulatory regime prioritises the safety of the aircraft and its occupants and does not directly regulate the safety of third parties on the ground ... If the level of safety for the aircraft and its occupants is sufficient then by default third parties can be considered appropriately protected”.
This approach is clearly not sufficient in this direction, either in its outcome or in its nature.
Generally speaking, there are two ways of developing a safety regime. There is the accident-led way: an enormous proportion of our safety law—fire law, building regulations et cetera—comes from accidents from which we learn. It may surprise noble Lords to learn that aviation safety essentially has the same basis. When I was involved in the industry in the 1960s, a British-registered jet aircraft crashed about every two years. When I entered the profession it was dangerous, with a chance of dying of about one in 2,000 per annum. Before civil aviation had its many crashes, the military was exploring the edges of the envelope and having similar numbers of them. The industry developed a high-quality investigation regime and slowly learned from these events. It then put them into regulations and co-operation emerged, both in the industry and internationally, which has refined itself into today’s civil aviation regime. I am not questioning its effectiveness, but one has to recognise its background. It is about experimenting, having events and then learning from them. That is my first point in arguing that the civil aviation approach is not suitable for this industry.
Secondly, the hybrid launch concept will not be certificatable within the normal civil aviation system. Basically, you cannot certificate aeroplanes to carry rockets. One has to realise that a rocket is merely a managed explosion. Those of us who remember the early days of spaceflight know that when rockets go wrong they turn into explosions. Carrying a rocket, these aircraft will be highly specialised and certainly will not fall naturally into any certification regime. As the Minister’s quotation illustrated, the consequences on the ground of an aircraft with a rocket on board crashing will have to be addressed. The presumption that the airplane and its occupants are safe will not be proven to the level by which one can disregard the impact of such a crash.
Thirdly, in a hybrid approach, not only do we have to look at the risks to aircraft used to launch rockets, we also have to look at rocket-propelled aircraft. One of the many ideas used to illustrate the potential value of spaceports are rocket-propelled aircraft, which will be an entirely new area of risk. The Bill allows for vertically launched rockets, and these will need to be assessed. Therefore, I argue that the aviation approach is not appropriate or called for by the Bill. It calls for an ALARP approach, which essentially, as I have already said, balances the benefits against the risks. It is a forward-looking approach and is used in nuclear, the railway environment and safety-critical industries. To meet this requirement one needs competence in the ALARP approach. Our amendments argue that that competence is held by the Health and Safety Executive.
However, as important as the requirement in connection with the body certifying that the level of risk has been reduced to as low as reasonably practicable is the requirement that from the beginning we have a single point of responsibility for safety. For most of my career I have been involved in safety-critical environments. It is almost impossible to stress the improvement in safety whereby an individual accountable to his board or organisation goes to bed knowing that if there is an incident in the area for which he or she is responsible, they cannot say, “That was their fault”, because, at least to some extent, it is that person’s responsibility. The most that person can do is join other parties in their responsibility. The responsibility lies with the individual and the organisation. Therefore, I believe that we need a single authority and an ALARP approach as an integrated whole that can look at the benefits and the risks posed by events and the consequences. We argue that only the Health and Safety Executive, with appropriate professional inputs, can meet that requirement and has the experience and skill to deliver this judgment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I associate myself with the intention behind these amendments. In preparing for the Bill, I spoke to a wide range of individuals and organisations involved in the space industry. They undoubtedly take health and safety very seriously and are surprised at the low density of detail in the Bill in relation to those aspects. Noble Lords across the Chamber have said several times this afternoon how exciting and important this issue is. There is undoubtedly lots of enthusiasm but, looked at dispassionately, this is a dangerous activity for those involved in it and others who are not involved but who live in the surrounding area or, indeed, almost anywhere in the UK. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, pointed out the potential for space tourism without people even leaving the ground as there will be viewing platforms and so on. All these things have to be considered from the health and safety standpoint. I have become increasingly concerned about the clutter in our skies. We are all familiar with planes but we are increasingly concerned about drones, and now we are taking into account space activity. Our skies are crowded and it is important that the Government set out a comprehensive, co-ordinated and truly effective approach to these issues.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for their important interventions on the vital topic of safety, which we take extremely seriously.
Clauses 9 and 10 require that applicants for spaceflight operator and spaceport licences take all reasonable steps to ensure that risks to health and safety of the general public—as the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, observed—are as low as reasonably practicable. Furthermore, Clause 9(4)(b) means that even after all steps have been taken to reduce risk to as low as is reasonably practicable, the regulator will not issue a licence if the risk to public health and safety remains unacceptably high.
The noble Lord raised through these amendments the question of the role that we expect the Health and Safety Executive to have regarding spaceflight in the UK. The Health and Safety Executive has undoubted expertise and a long track record in a breadth of issues and across a range of sectors. Clause 20 ensures that the regulator is able to draw on this expertise to inform decision-making in connection with safety of spaceflight activities. This is consistent with the role the Health and Safety Executive plays in other sectors. The Health and Safety Executive does not normally regulate by licensing or certifying safety. Instead, it imposes a duty on those that may create risk to manage those risks to be as low as reasonably practicable.
The noble Lord will accept that the Health and Safety Executive in the permissioned industries—for instance, nuclear, railways and several others—directly approves the operation of those industries.
I will come on to that point shortly.
I am confident that the approach we are taking is appropriate. In line with agreed health and safety practice, the Bill places the onus on the regulator to be satisfied that risks are as low as reasonably practicable and that they are acceptable. But equally, the Bill ensures that the regulator will have access to the expertise possessed by the Health and Safety Executive, where this is required. I stress that this is expertise we have already benefited from. I thank the Health and Safety Executive for the integral role it has played in developing this legislation with my department and the UK Space Agency.
I will share some detail on how we believe regulators will determine whether risk to public safety is acceptable. The approach will be aligned with best practices for managing risk across all sectors in the UK. We expect to use an individual risk per annum approach—in other words, in a given location, the risk of death arising from the activity to an individual across a reference period of one year. The regulator will publish a methodology for assessing risk which operators may choose to use. The Government are currently working with HSE’s Science Division—its research arm—to develop a comprehensive methodology for the assessment of risk to third parties.
How can we be assured that the regulator will have the appropriate personnel and skills to assess the safety cases presented by operators? The Civil Aviation Authority, the UK Space Agency and the Health and Safety Executive are respected regulators in their fields, with proven track records in regulating risky activities. That is why we are drawing on their relevant regulatory expertise for this new sector. I assure the Committee that these organisations are building on their existing heritage to develop their technical and analytical capability to assess the specific risks posed by spaceflight.
Although regulating and managing the risk of spaceflight is new to the UK, other countries have many years’ experience of it. We are learning from existing spaceflight regulators in other countries and intend to enter into agreements that will include provision for the training of our personnel and the sharing of information on those activities. I hope that the noble Lord will feel that I have answered his questions and will agree to withdraw Amendment 7.
My Lords, in the interests of time, I will withdraw the amendment. However, my immediate reaction is that I am not fully comforted by what I have heard, and I expect us to come back on Report on this issue. In the meantime, it may be fruitful to engage in further discussions with the Minister to see whether we can get closer together on this. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 7 withdrawn.
Amendments 8 to 10 not moved.
Clause 9 agreed.
Clause 10: Grant of spaceport licence
Amendments 11 to 14 not moved.
Clause 10 agreed.
Clause 11: Terms of licences
15: Clause 11, page 8, line 37, leave out subsection (2)
My Lords, I said that the previous group of amendments was probing. We had had time with the Minister to try to understand the Bill but unfortunately we did not get as far as this area. Therefore, I will not attempt to explain the amendments in this group because I do not really understand the parts of the Bill that they relate to. With that admission, perhaps I may simply put a few questions to the Minister.
I think I understand that there is the concept of strict liability towards an uninvolved third party who suffers a loss. I would be grateful if the noble Lord could confirm that—we are moving forward question by question—obviously with the necessary caveats and niceties. As I understand it, the amount of liability may be capped. To me, that means that there is a limit on how much the operator—or the Government, who might be liable—must pay in damages to an uninvolved third party in the event of an accident. I hope that I have that bit right. However, I am not clear about who pays if the losses exceed the cap. Clearly, it is not the operator—that is what a cap means. Therefore, is it the injured third party?
It is very rewarding working in the safety sector, although it means that you get a bit ridiculed. However, we are talking about a TriStar with a bomb on it crashing in the middle of Glasgow. That is not an impossible scenario. Of course, it is not very likely but the unlikely happens—that is what the statistics show. Who would meet the costs of such a catastrophe? Even if there is no cap on the operator’s liability, the commercial structure of the company means that there will be a de facto cap because the company will rapidly go out of business without one or if it is uninsured. However, there will be circumstances in which the amount exceeds the cap.
Elsewhere in the Bill, the Government seem to have the ability to meet the obligations towards the injured third party. So if the answer to my question is that the Government will meet the excess over the cap, which part of the Bill provides for that? Is it an assurance to the uninvolved in society—us and the people around Prestwick—that where there is an event, their damages will be met either by the operator or by the Government? Who will meet the excess over the cap, or is society in general exposed above the cap? I beg to move.
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, for missing the first couple of words of his contribution and to the Committee for being slightly detained outside the Chamber.
Very briefly, the mission of these amendments, in the event that they were adopted by the Government, appears to be to create unlimited liability for the companies concerned in the pursuit of their business. Having asked a few questions of such operators, my understanding is that were they in an environment of that nature, the whole spirit of the Bill would be lost very quickly, in that no operator would undertake a risk of that level. I understand the concerns of the mover of this amendment, and the questions he has asked of the Government—who would pick up the liability?—are the right ones. However, the solution of creating unlimited liability across the board for the operator is not one that these Benches would support.
My Lords, I will comment briefly on this set of amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Fox, has put the point very vividly. This gets to the heart of the economics of the space industry.
There are risks in space, as we have heard in the past hour in which we have been debating. First, probably the greatest risks are at launch. Not all launches are successful, which is why, by and large, launch facilities aim to launch rockets out over the ocean. I am sure that will be a relevant consideration when the rival claims of different locations, especially for vertical launch, are considered. I have to say that Prestwick is very fortunate to have my noble friend Lord Moynihan—if only every possible spaceport candidate had a similarly assiduous Member of this House to make its case.
Secondly, there is some risk in orbit of satellites colliding and doing damage, or one person’s identified satellite taking out someone else’s satellite. That is rare but it does happen. Thirdly, there is the very remote possibility, but it can happen, that a satellite falls out of orbit. In those circumstances they mostly burn up and it is a managed process, but a bit could reach the ground and do damage.
These are, thank heavens, all very remote risks. However, if the worst conceivable thing happened—if a satellite came out of orbit and did not burn up in the atmosphere and landed in the middle of a busy conurbation—serious damage would be done. These remote but potentially large risks are very hard to insure. Therefore, many of the countries that ultimately take responsibility as launch nations for satellites provide some kind of cap on the liability that a private launch operator would face. I very much welcome, therefore, the conception behind Clause 11: that the Government intend that an operator licence may specify a limit on the amount of the licensee’s liability.
There are complicated arguments behind this. I can report from my own time as a Minister that I was regularly asked by the industry whether it would not be possible to reduce the maximum liability operators would face, and I was regularly pressed by the Treasury that the liability that the operators faced should be as large as possible. I suspect that those arguments carry on to this day and will never be finally concluded.
There is also an issue about state aid rules and to what extent assistance in this area in capping the liability will be regarded as state aid if there is competition between different European locations.
The Minister is facing a range of considerations but I hope he will be able to give an assurance today that the Government fully understand that capping this liability for private operators will be important if we are aiming to promote this area as an important British business and as part of our wider ambitions in space activity. Unless these costs are capped at a manageable level—the cap was reduced a few years ago—that a launch company can afford to pay as an insurance premium, we will not achieve the objectives in this legislation.
I realise that the detail of this provision will be decided subsequently, but I hope the Minister will be able to give an assurance in this debate about the approach he will take to encourage this important sector.
We have seen in the speeches the different approaches that noble Lords wish the Government to take to cap liabilities. In the case of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, it is to remove the provision.
The purpose of the amendments was to bring out precisely, in simple words, what the Government want to do. I am not hostile to a cap or to some government help, but I want to be clear what the Bill means. If I do not like what I have heard, we will come back on Report.
I take the noble Lord’s point and that of the noble Lord, Lord Fox. The noble Lord, Lord Willetts, who spoke from a position of great knowledge on the subject because of his past work as a Minister, referred to the importance of capping and summed up the dilemma well. This is an important issue which has been raised with me constantly both by noble Lords and by those who are interested in carrying out spaceflight activities. I hope noble Lords will bear with me as I explain the provisions in great detail and go through what we propose. I somewhat doubt that I will satisfy everyone at the end but I will do my best.
The liability provisions of the Bill are vital but necessarily complex and I will take a little time to explain the Government’s position and why these amendments would not be appropriate. Clause 11 concerns the terms which may or must be included in a licence issued under the Bill authorising space flight activities, the operation of a spaceport or the provision of range control services. Subsection (2) provides a power to specify in an operator’s licence a limit on a licensee’s liability to indemnify the Government and other listed bodies under Clause 35 against claims brought against them for damage or loss caused by space flight activities. Amendment 15 relates to this subsection and seeks to remove it altogether. Amendment 36 is linked to Amendment 15, as it removes reference to the subsection from Clause 35. These amendments would therefore remove the regulator’s power to cap this liability to indemnify under Clause 35.
I should be clear that the position under the Bill is exactly the same as that in the aviation industry—that operators have an unlimited liability to indemnify government. However, satellite operators have previously raised concerns that such a liability is a barrier to operating in the space industry. Operators have found that the unlimited liability has made it difficult to raise finance or insure against the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Fox. This is not the case in the more mature aviation market. The Government have responded to these concerns.
The Outer Space Act 1986 was amended by the deregulation Act in 2012 and, since then, licences issued under that Act for the procurement of an overseas launch and the in-orbit operation of a satellite benefit from a cap, which is set out in the licence conditions. The UK Space Agency publishes the usual level of cap in its guidance, which currently sets it at €60 million for standard missions. Since the level is not set by statute, the cap can be increased for riskier missions. It should be noted that some activities currently regulated under the Outer Space Act, notably procuring the launch of a space object and the operation of a satellite in orbit taking place from the UK, will in the future be regulated under this Bill. Therefore, following Royal Assent, the amendment would reverse the current policy under the Outer Space Act—that the indemnity to government for these activities is capped. However, the current cap under the Outer Space Act would remain in place for such overseas activities regulated under that Act. As a result, there is a very real risk that UK operators may decide to procure overseas launches and conduct their satellite operations overseas under the Outer Space Act or a different regime altogether to avoid an unlimited liability to indemnify government. This would go against the Bill’s aim, which I hope all noble Lords support, to grow the UK space industry.
The cap on the indemnity to government under the Outer Space Act was based on many years of licensing those activities and it was well received. The costs and benefits of capping liabilities for those activities have already been considered and were subject to a full consultation with industry at the time. There was an amendment to primary legislation that was also subject to parliamentary scrutiny. Evidence provided by industry during the Science and Technology Committee inquiry into the Bill reiterated that an unlimited indemnity to government was a barrier to entry into the industry. The discretionary power in Clause 11 therefore allows the Government to remain committed to their current policy position under the Outer Space Act. However, it also allows the Government a discretion on whether to cap the indemnity to government for other activities licensed under the Bill, such as a UK launch.
I shall move on to Amendment 35 which would remove subsections (5) and (6) from Clause 33. The power in these subsections to make regulations provides for the capping of an operator’s liability to prescribed persons or in prescribed circumstances in an operator licence. The Bill therefore goes further than the Outer Space Act and provides a power to cap all of an operator’s liability to prescribed persons. This is intended to cover third parties or the uninvolved general public who suffer injury or damage caused by regulated space flight activity. Removing these subsections would mean that a regulator would be unable to cap this liability. As a consequence, the operator would bear unlimited liability, and as previously highlighted, operators have already raised concerns about managing unlimited liabilities. Most of the main space launch nations, including France and the United States, do cap an operator’s liability in some form. Having this power enables the UK to compete on a level playing field by allowing the Government the power to share the burden of liabilities with operators. There is a real concern that we risk being uncompetitive internationally if we do not have the powers to cap operator liabilities both to the Government and to third parties. Without the powers to cap, we may be unable to attract operators in the UK. The reason for conferring a power to cap rather than simply providing for a cap in the Bill is to ensure that careful consideration can be given to whether and when it is appropriate to exercise the power, as there may be missions where capping is not appropriate.
While we have assessed the cap on the operator’s indemnity to government for activities currently licensed under the Outer Space Act, a more general liability cap for space flight activities taking place from the UK has not been fully analysed. Launches are a new activity for the UK and we believe that we should cap the operator’s liabilities for this activity only if there is clear evidence that it is necessary to do so. That is why we have taken powers to cap liabilities for space flight activities on a discretionary basis under the Bill. We are already undertaking work on assessing the availability and cost of insurance to cover the liabilities. That work will inform any policy on limiting the level of any cap on the liability both to indemnify government and to prescribed persons.
The flexibility provided by the powers in the Bill means that the right balance can be created for each mission, based on the risks involved. The Bill is designed to ensure that space flight activity is as safe as possible in the first place, which will minimise any liability arising. Under Clause 33, an operator is strictly liable where injury or damage is caused, meaning claimants can bring a claim without having to prove fault. Regulations requiring operators to be insured can be made under Clause 37; that would provide a resource to meet any of those claims. Furthermore, it should be noted that Clause 33(5)(b) provides a power to constrain the circumstances in which a liability cap applies. For instance, we envisage that a cap would be disapplied in cases of operator wilful misconduct.
On Clause 34—the power of the Secretary of State to indemnify—we have previously considered clauses that allow for an operator’s liability to third parties to be capped. Clause 34 provides a power for the Secretary of State to indemnify a claimant or an operator for injury or damage arising because of space flight activities; that includes situations where an operator’s third-party liabilities have been capped under Clause 33. In order for the Government to provide such an indemnity, the injury or damage must be sustained as a result of space flight activities. To qualify for an indemnity, the person suffering the injury or damage must not have taken part in, or be connected to, the activities. Those people will be identified in regulations; however, it is likely that they will be the same people to whom the informed consent provisions apply, under Clause 16, and who are excluded from the right to bring a strict liability claim against an operator under Clause 33. That is because they will have engaged in space flight activities in full knowledge of the risks involved. As part of the informed consent process, such people will be made aware that this indemnity does not apply to them. The Government may only indemnify an operator where a claim for injury or damage exceeds any insurance held by it. The Government may only indemnify a claimant where the amount of liability has been limited by regulations under Clause 33(5) and the claimant would otherwise have been entitled to more money.
In most cases, we envisage that an operator’s liability, if capped, will equal the amount of third-party liability insurance that they are expected to hold. Therefore, an operator’s insurance should cover their liability. However, there may be situations where an operator has taken out more insurance; Clause 34 ensures that the insurance is exhausted before the Government step in. The purpose of the clause is to ensure that the uninvolved general public can be compensated in the event of injury or damage, particularly where an operator’s liability to third parties has been capped. However, the intention is that the provisions in the Bill and subsequent regulations will work together to reduce the likelihood of injury or damage occurring in the first place. That will be achieved by implementing a robust safety regime and ensuring operations take place with appropriate provisions for range control and safety to minimise damage in the event of failure.
My noble friend just informed the Committee that, particularly in the context of Clause 33(5) and (6), the Government are as yet unclear whether capping would be appropriate and, if so, in what circumstances. I hope there will be further clarity on that question before we make progress on the Bill, because although the Government may be uncertain, the industry is absolutely sure that to be competitive, early clarity on the Government’s policy of capping will be very important. If we are not to have a capping policy, then, to be frank, the Bill will never permit the growth of what will be a critical industry in this country, in which we need to be internationally competitive against other countries that have recognised that a cap, in the context of Clauses 33 and 34, will be vital.
My noble friend makes an important point. I emphasise that we are in listening mode on this issue.
Furthermore, there is also a power to make regulations to provide an upper limit to the amount of money the Government may pay out under these provisions. For example, in the US there is a limit in legislation of $3.1 billion. There is also a power to prescribe cases or circumstances where the power to indemnify either an operator or a claimant will not arise or is restricted. Examples would include operator wilful misconduct or where several parties are at fault that might have adequate insurance or assets.
In making any regulations under this clause, we will consult on how we strike the right balance in ensuring that the public are compensated while limiting the Government’s indemnity. For example, the regulations may set out what the Government will not indemnify in the case of operator wilful misconduct, but an exception may be made where an operator becomes insolvent and the general public would not be fully compensated as a result.
The Government will use their powers under this clause to indemnify claimants and operators in a balanced way. We propose to ensure that government money is used appropriately by exercising the powers in this clause as necessary to limit the situations where the Government will indemnify and limit the amount they will pay, as well as playing a role in the legal proceedings surrounding payment of such an indemnity.
I apologise for going into so much detail and speaking at such length on this.
I very much agree with what my noble friend Lord Moynihan said. Will the Minister share with the Committee any further information about a likely timetable for these consultations? Will he also tell the Committee how he proposes to inform us, in the course of our deliberations on the Bill, of the potential figures involved? This is a subject of considerable concern.
I am aware that this is a matter of great concern, which is why I went into so much detail about it. As I said in response to the previous intervention, we are in listening mode.
The Minister went into exactly the sort of detail we were looking for. I stress that I am not hostile to the concept of a cap, but I will reduce this to very simple terms. If I were to suffer—no, I am nowhere near that rich. If Glasgow suffers an event that substantially exceeds the cap, can it reasonably expect that the excess above the cap will be met by the Government?
There is no simple answer to that question. It would depend on the conditions of the licence issued for the particular activity and whether any cap was imposed on that activity at the time. We are looking at every launch activity, and every application will be considered on an individual basis.
To go back to the comment made by my noble friend Lord Willetts, as I said, we are in listening mode. I am aware that this is a controversial subject. He will understand the discussions taking place between different government departments on this issue. I will say more on it as soon as I can, but I take on board the concerns raised by many people and those of industry, which have been expressed to me personally and by many noble Lords this afternoon. If it is helpful, let me say that the Government intend to exercise their power under Clause 11 to cap an operator’s indemnity to the UK Government in licence conditions for the activities of procuring the launch of a space object and the operation of a satellite in orbit, as this is currently the policy for activities licensed under the Outer Space Act.
As I said, I am listening to people on this. I will say more as soon as I am able to. I am aware of the concerns. We are in listening mode and we will reflect on the comments made. In the light of that, I ask noble Lords not to press their amendments.
Is the noble Lord likely to be able to shed light on this issue before Report?
If I possibly can, I will.
I hope noble Lords will agree that this exchange was worth while, because we have the record, which we can all examine. The needs or rights of the uninvolved third party in the circumstances of a very large catastrophe are still unclear as a result of that exchange. Perhaps we will have some conversations about that issue before Report. Otherwise, we may feel the need to table an amendment, because it seems reasonable for a citizen to expect, with appropriate caveats, that where the Government have allowed an operator to enjoy special rights of limitation—I can see exactly the reasons for that; it happened in aviation at the peak of the terrorist events, for example, so it is perfectly sensible—the Government would be the insurer of last resort. We may well come back to that point.
In the meantime, I thank the Government and all those involved in the debate because the record will clarify what is very difficult to understand from the Bill. With those comments, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 15 withdrawn.
16: Clause 11, page 8, line 38, at end insert—
“( ) Within the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State must launch a consultation on whether an operator licence should specify a limit on the amount of the licensee’s liability under subsection (2), and what an appropriate limit would be.”
My Lords, having listened to that debate, I feel this amendment should perhaps have been grouped with it—I hesitate to criticise the groupers because I know how difficult it is. It was a fascinating debate. The Minister need make no apology about the length of his reply. It will be studied closely. Following it was a bit like following those things that come on your iPad to say that you have agreed, but I am sure when we have time to read Hansard—
Perhaps there could be a box at the bottom he could tick to say he has fully understood the debate.
Yes, I know that every Minister wishes that was there.
I thought that the opening from the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, was sobering for us all. On the one hand is the tremendous enthusiasm and real excitement about the prospects of the industry, yet we know from history that there are dangers. I live in St Albans, down the road from where the de Havilland Comet was developed, launched and flown with a design fault. I saw a very moving documentary a few weeks ago about the Space Shuttle. Its final conclusion was that, from beginning to end, the Space Shuttle was never safe. They knew it, but because of the pioneering nature of what they were doing they took the risk. That is not open to us when we are legislating like this, so it is a matter of getting it right between risk and cover.
I tabled my amendment simply because we have been approached by the industry with concerns about the way UK law treats the licensing and insurance of small and nano-satellites. Current law makes it difficult and expensive to launch small satellites because of long licensing processes and large insurance costs. Licensing of individual satellites can dramatically increase operator liability. This amendment would allow would-be operators to feed in their concerns and work towards a proportionate but effective insurance regime. I beg to move.
I will add one comment to that. I thank the Minister, who has already given a full and lucid account of the Government’s intentions, which itself is very helpful. Another issue we should add, which the noble Lord, Lord McNally, touched on, is that historically we have been thinking about very large satellites and the risks associated with them. That is not really the issue for a UK space launch capability. It is much more likely to be constellations of small satellites, some of them meeting real UK requirements. Imagine there was a trouble spot in which UK troops were involved or a natural disaster affecting us—let us think of what happened in the British Virgin Islands recently—where you wanted to get a satellite over the scene urgently; small satellites are very likely to be used in those situations. They are often launched in constellations, and one other issue on which, again, I hope at some point we will have guidance from the Minister is whether each individual small satellite in a constellation has to be separately insured and licensed or whether, as we appear to be heading for constellations of small satellites, there could be significant flexibility in the regime so that constellations of satellites could have a single launch permission and a single insurance arrangement. If not today, I hope that during the passage of the Bill that is also made clear.
My Lords, I can answer the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, directly: a constellation can be launched with one licence.
Amendment 16 is a further amendment to Clause 11(2). It requires the Secretary of State to hold a consultation within 12 months of Royal Assent on whether an operator licence should specify a limit on a licensee’s liability to indemnify government, and what an appropriate limit would be. By imposing that a mandatory consultation takes place within a set period, the amendment prioritises the consideration of the power to limit the operator’s liability to indemnify the Government, thereby eroding the discretion to introduce a limit only if this is considered necessary and appropriate.
I accept that consultation is a critical part of policy-making. It allows stakeholders to contribute their views on new policy that affects them. We have in fact already listened to industry views extensively—I did it only on Friday, in the latest round—and an unlimited liability to indemnify government could make it difficult to raise finance and obtain insurance. We have already had an extensive debate on that with the previous amendment, and that is why we have taken the power in this subsection. However, we need to ensure that we take a balanced approach between attracting operators to the UK by making it commercially attractive to carry out space flight activities and limiting the Government’s exposure to claims arising from such space flight activities. Our policy is for space flight activities to be conducted on a commercial basis but we have taken a power to intervene and cap the liability to indemnify government if this becomes necessary.
As I set out in the previous debate, we are already assessing the availability and cost of insurance to cover the liabilities under the Bill. This work will inform any policy on limiting the level of the liability to indemnify government. If a limit is deemed appropriate, the Government need to consider the level of such a limit and the consequences of bearing the contingent liability. We may conclude that a limit on this indemnity for UK launch activities is not appropriate in all circumstances. The Government have an obligation to use public funds appropriately. It is therefore not right that they should be bound to consult on setting such limits before the need to do so is established and accepted.
Furthermore, the current power also allows the Government to deal with each licence application on a case-by-case basis. The regulator will need the flexibility to decide whether a limit is appropriate, as well as what that limit should be, depending on the risks associated with each mission. Because of the variety of spaceflight activities that may be conducted from the UK and the individual circumstances of each operator, it may not be possible to have a specific limit or a methodology that works in every case for all missions. A flexible approach to setting a limit is good for both government and industry and, in our view, a legal requirement to consult on what an appropriate limit might be may restrict this. I assure noble Lords that we will consult on this matter once we have conducted our detailed analysis and have established the need to set a limit, and assessed the consequences of so doing. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, those who asked us to table this amendment will read the Minister’s reply. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 16 withdrawn.
Clause 11 agreed.
Clause 12: Conditions of licences
17: Clause 12, page 9, line 19, at end insert—
“( ) Where an operator intends to launch a payload into outer space, an operator licence must include conditions requiring the disposal of any payload on the termination of operations where such a disposal is reasonably practicable.”
My Lords, this is a historic moment for me because this is when I take the Liberal Democrats into space. As noble Lords will realise, particularly the Liberal roots of our party are based on pavement politics—picking up rubbish and keeping the streets clean—and this is my attempt to be a first mover politically on this by making it clear that we are the party that is determined to clean up space as well as go there.
That ambition apart, this is a very serious matter. Again, since I became involved in this, I have taken to watching the various documentaries about what is going on in space. Quite frankly, it is frightening how much rubbish is up there. It is not known who owns it, what the responsibilities are, how we get it down, and so on—at a time when we are told, and I believe, that we are only in the foothills of developing space in an economic way. There is a lot more going up there and the Bill needs to put responsibility on those who send things into space for having a clear idea about how and when they should come down in an environmentally friendly and safe way.
As of 5 July 2016, United States Strategic Command tracked a total of 17,852 artificial objects in orbit above the earth, including 1,419 operational satellites. Furthermore, more than 170 million pieces of debris smaller than 1 centimetre, about 670,000 pieces of debris sized 1 to 10 centimetres, and around 29,000 larger pieces of debris were estimated to be in orbit.
Space debris poses a risk to unmanned spacecraft, manned spacecraft and even the earth itself. We want to make sure that the Bill includes that responsibility, and perhaps create another new industry from this. On one of my viewing nights I saw that work was being done on sending up a kind of—it shows my age if I call it a hoover—Dyson to pick up some of this debris and bring it back safely. It is a very real challenge, which is worthy of consideration in the Bill.
I apologise for not hearing the earlier parts of the debate. Is not what the noble Lord is saying, quite rightly, another international reason for us all resisting Brexit and making sure that we work through the European Space Agency?
Unfortunately, the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, was not here for my first amendment, which would have given him a good hour to go on about Brexit. But I am sure it is noted. I beg to move.
My Lords, as the Bill stands, there is no obligation to get down what you have put up into space. As my noble friend outlined, it is becoming increasingly cluttered.
In my mind there are parallels with, for example, Everest or the Arctic, where historically as a human race we have dumped what we no longer need because we are in difficult circumstances and we cannot retrieve it easily. Of course, the difference with space is that it is floating around. When we worry nowadays about drones—I saw a report only today about a near-miss involving a drone—we are increasingly aware of things that are in space, in the skies, which are not accounted for and not under any kind of official control or pathway. Clearly, there is a risk to other spacecraft and to earth itself. We take fly-tipping seriously here on earth, so why not out there in space? Amendment 17 would make it a condition of a licence that the operator has to take reasonable steps to dispose of a payload, as my noble friend said.
It is important that we recognise that the international group that regulates space debris is not an international organisation but an advisory body. Amendment 21 amends conditions that may be included in licences to refer to advisory bodies as well as to international organisations. Those in the industry are concerned that groups that advise on space debris mitigation have too few members or lack formal decision-making powers to be recognised in law as international organisations. We are interested in whether the Minister has had legal advice that these bodies would be recognised as international bodies rather than having to be separately specified as advisory bodies. The amendment would allow operators to take account of advisory groups, such as the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee and ISO’s orbital debris co-ordination working group. We are seeking certainty that they would be covered by the term “international organisations”.
There is indeed a problem with space debris. The aim is not to bring it back to earth—although I love the Liberal Democrat imagery of pavement politics and everything being recycled—but to knock it out of its orbit so that it burns up in the atmosphere and therefore disappears. We should take some pride in the fact that Fylingdales is where a lot of this debris is tracked. We have fantastic expertise there. It has always proved very difficult to get international agreement in this area, but the UK has a strong capability in disabling debris, and I very much hope that we will hear from the Minister that this is something that the Government continue to support. However, the prospects of any kind of international agreement in this area are, sadly, remote, not least because some of the technologies that are used for moving stuff out of orbit and disabling it are dual-use technology which can also be used in a very different way, so it has been very hard to reach any international agreement on the circumstances in which it would be used.
My Lords, in his introduction the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said that he was taking the Liberal Democrats into outer space. I am tempted to observe that many of us believe that the Liberal Democrats have been in outer space for a considerable time. I look forward to my next Local Focus newspaper dedicated to the recycling of space junk alongside plastic bottles and glass jars.
To be serious, this is an important subject, and I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for raising the issue of space debris and the proper disposal of satellites and other payloads at the end of their operational life. These amendments illustrate the crucial role of licence conditions in ensuring the effective regulation of spaceflight activity, and highlight the importance of drawing on advice from all the relevant expert bodies. The UK Space Agency already considers matters related to spacecraft disposal—passivation, which is the removal of a spacecraft’s internal energy at the end of its useful life; and deorbiting, a brilliant word I discovered yesterday—and regulates this through existing licensing regimes under the Outer Space Act. Clause 12 enables regulators to set conditions on a licence tailored to the particular activity. Schedule 1 provides a non-exhaustive list of the types of conditions that regulators may attach to licences, which includes conditions governing disposal of a payload when it is no longer operational and requiring notification to the regulator when disposal has been effected. In addition, conditions may require compliance with any guidelines on space debris mitigation issued by international organisations.
The UK Space Agency is an active member of the United Nations Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee—a marvellously august body—and takes minimising space debris extremely seriously. Through this body, the UK Space Agency works with international partners, including bilaterally on specific issues, to develop and implement measures to safeguard the space environment and minimise the risk of space debris. As a number of noble Lords have pointed out, space debris is a global problem that requires jointly agreed global solutions. This is why the Government remain fully committed to working with and drawing on the expertise of these specialist bodies. Through this engagement, the regulator will continue to shape thinking on the vital issue of space debris mitigation.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, referred to the UN Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee. Outer space is a global resource shared by everyone but owned by nobody. The UN has a unique role in developing best practice measures to protect the space environment for future generations. The Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee plays a critical role in helping to formulate technical policy free of the political influence in the UN. The committee, as a grouping of space agencies, is able to develop scientific consensus on debris issues and present them to the UN for endorsement and application by member states. I assure the Committee that it is the Government’s intention to continue to require appropriate disposal of obsolete payloads in accordance with international guidelines. I hope that in the light of those assurances the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.
In the light of those assurances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 17 withdrawn.
Amendment 18 not moved.
19: Clause 12, page 9, line 44, at end insert—
“( ) The regulator must sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the CAA confirming the conditions under which spaceflight would cease to be deemed experimental and would be considered commercial.”
My Lords, before I speak to Amendment 19, for the sake of the record I shall say that the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, has on two occasions referred to Glasgow as a possible site for a tragedy as a consequence of a spacecraft crashing. I wish to make it absolutely clear for the record that the proposal in the Prestwick application is to head north-west, straight out to sea. The sea is no more than two miles from the end of a three-kilometre runway. Prestwick Airport would be applying for a licence, not Glasgow Airport.
That said, I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, will support what I am going to argue on behalf of the European Aviation Safety Agency’s relationship to us in the UK. The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee argued that it is not clear whether the new regulatory framework proposed by the Government would apply to commercial spaceflight operations or whether they would be subject to European Aviation Safety Agency regulation. The Government have argued that the European Aviation Safety Agency’s exemption of experimental aircraft from its regulations means that spaceplanes are not subject to EASA regulations and would therefore come under the provisions of the Bill we are considering.
The Science and Technology Committee argued, however, that it was not clear whether this exemption would be sufficient, particularly if spaceplanes were deemed to be operating on a commercial rather than an experimental basis. The committee recommended that the UK seek to establish a memorandum of understanding with the EASA to clarify the point.
In a further response to the committee’s recommendation that they seek to establish an MoU with the EASA, the Government argued that that this would be unnecessary as they were “satisfied”—the word that I am most concerned about in this context—
“that both EASA and the Commission are content with UK proposals to develop national rules to regulate sub-orbital spacecraft”.
All I seek to do in the present amendment is to hear from the Minister what he means by “satisfied” in this context. In the opening amendments this evening, we faced the consequences of a future relationship between the UK and Europe. Things will change—there is no question about it—so will satisfaction need to be replaced by something more concrete? There are many in the industry who believe that satisfaction is too weak a word. Being enshrined into an MoU, even at this early stage in the Bill, would be of significant comfort to the industry, given the uncertainty. Put simply, is satisfaction sufficient or would it be wise to go further to give greater clarity to the industry in this point?
I thank my noble friend for making an important point and for tabling this amendment on what is an interesting subject. I start by assuring him that the Government have had a very constructive discussion with the European Aviation Safety Agency on our proposals to regulate suborbital spaceplanes in the UK.
The outcome of this dialogue has resulted in mutual agreement that suborbital spaceplanes are considered to be aircraft and therefore EU aviation legislation should apply to them. EU Regulation 216/2008, known as the EASA basic regulation, exempts from its scope those,
“aircraft specifically designed or modified for research, experimental or scientific purposes, and likely to be produced in very limited numbers”.
In discussions about revising the text of the EASA basic regulation, the European Commission agreed that, while spaceplanes are in the developmental stage, spaceplane operations would continue to fall under this exemption. The context of the assurance was that member states should be able to legislate for commercial suborbital spaceplane operations that launch and return to the same spaceport now, before the EASA has had time to make EU-wide rules. The Commission has also confirmed that neither commercial use nor having paying passengers in itself precludes a spaceplane from falling within the exemption.
The UK recognises—we are in agreement with the EASA on this point—that as soon as the suborbital operation starts and finishes in two separate locations, it may be considered to be public transport and subject to the full weight of European aviation rules. Although the Government’s intention is to continue to work closely with the EASA whatever the outcome of EU negotiations, we need to ensure that in doing so the UK retains a degree of flexibility to develop its own regulatory framework, drawing on the best practice from those states that already conduct commercial launches, such as the US and India, as well as from other European states.
Currently there are no European-wide regulations for spaceplanes and spaceports. We are leading by example by creating this comprehensive regulatory framework in the UK. This should have considerable business benefit for the UK. But this will also benefit the EU, and the EASA recognises that this will help inform the development of any future European regulatory framework. The Government have agreed with the EASA to work with other European states to develop common principles for regulation for suborbital operations. However, in doing so, the Government will ensure that the UK is not put in a position, as a result of any change in our future relationship with the EASA, where the EASA is handed too much control, or worse a veto, over the development of the UK space sector.
I hope I have provided the reassurance that my noble friend is looking for and that in the light of that he feels able to withdraw his amendment.
That was an outstanding and exceptionally helpful answer from my noble friend on this important subject. As long as the mutual agreement has been documented in the way that he has suggested, I am completely happy to withdraw the amendment. His assessment of the current position of our relationship with the EASA was exceptionally helpful to the House, and I thank him for it.
Amendment 19 withdrawn.
Amendment 20 not moved.
Clause 12 agreed.
Schedule 1: Particular conditions that may be included in licences
Amendment 21 not moved.
Schedule 1 agreed.
Clause 13 agreed.
Clause 14: Transfer, variation, suspension or termination of licence
22: Clause 14, page 10, line 16, at end insert—
“( ) The regulator may not consent to the transfer of a licence under subsection (1) unless the provisions in section 8(3) are met with regard to the licensee to which the licence will be transferred.”
Clause 14(1) states:
“A licence under this Act may be transferred with the written consent of the regulator”.
The Bill then appears to say little more of substance on this issue. It does not appear to set any considerations the regulator has to take into account before giving such written consent, nor does it appear to say to whom or to what a licence can be transferred or what licences are or are not able to be transferred. Clause 8(3) says:
“The regulator may not grant an application for a licence under this Act unless satisfied that … the applicant has the financial and technical resources to do the things authorised by the licence, and is otherwise a fit and proper person to do them”,
“the persons who are expected to do, on the applicant’s behalf, any of the things authorised by the licence are fit and proper persons to do them”.
Amendment 22 seeks to ensure that the provisions of Clause 8(3) will also apply to the regulator when deciding whether to give written consent to the transfer of the licence.
An argument could be made for saying that the provisions of Clause 8(2) should also be included in this amendment, since presumably one would want the regulator to be satisfied in agreeing to transfer a licence that it would not impair national security, that it would be consistent with our international obligations and that it would not be,
“contrary to the national interest”.
However, this is Committee stage and I will wait to hear the Government’s response to the amendment as it stands.
On a more general point about the transfer of a licence, can the Minister set out for the record the circumstances in which a transfer might be considered necessary and those in which the Government would not expect written consent to be agreed? Finally, for the granting of a licence, the consent of the Secretary of State will also be required under Clause 8(4) if they are not the regulator granting the licence. That provision does not appear to apply if a licence is being transferred. If this is the case, why is that so?
My Lords, I will be very brief. We welcome this probing amendment because this issue is very important. It is analogous in one sense to the potential for flagging out a particular enterprise. If the regulator is minded to allow a transfer of licence, what legal basis would there be for any enforcement of those licence agreements once they cease to be within the domain of this country? The second point is on the role of takeovers and acquisitions, where companies that own a licence and are within the remit of the United Kingdom are acquired and move beyond these shores for regulatory purposes. Perhaps the Minister can include those points in his answer as well.
My Lords, Clause 14 enables a licensee to transfer their licence to another party, provided that the regulator has given written consent. This provision enables a new body or company to take over the licence without starting a licence application afresh. In addition, the Bill requires that a licence holder has the necessary financial and technical resources, and that they are fit and proper persons, to do the things authorised by the licence.
Amendment 22 would ensure that the regulator would need to be satisfied that the new licensee met the requirements under Clause 8(3) before consenting to a transfer. I can confirm that it is our intention that the regulator will need to do this. Where the regulator is appointed under Clause 15, Clause 14(5)(c) requires them to consult the Secretary of State before consenting to a transfer. Thus the Secretary of State can ensure that they are satisfied that the new licensee meets the requirements under Clause 8(3).
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked why the power to transfer a licence is necessary. The power avoids the need for wasteful bureaucracy that could affect businesses and local communities. For example, where a spaceport licence has been issued, it should not be necessary to demonstrate the suitability of the site again just because of a change of operator. However, the regulator would need to be content that the new operator met the eligibility criteria under Clause 8. Both the regulator and the Secretary of State would need to be satisfied that the transfer of a licence was appropriate, ensuring that there were the proper checks and balances in the system if that occurred.
I am confident that the amendment is not necessary but I will reflect on whether it is appropriate to make our intentions explicit in the Bill. On those grounds, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister for his reply and the noble Lord, Lord Fox, for his valuable contribution to this debate. The Minister has indicated—at least I think this is a fair reflection of what he said—that he will reflect further on this issue. I would certainly have thought that if the transfer under Clause 8(3) will apply, it would be helpful if it said so. One would assume that the provisions of Clause 8(2) would also apply—that is, the parts about not impairing national security, being consistent with international obligations and not being contrary to the national interest. I take it from what the Minister said that he will indicate to us before Report whether the Government intend to make any amendments in the light of the amendment that I have moved.
I have a question on one point that I asked about at the end, which I appreciate is mainly a point of detail. For the granting of a licence, the consent of the Secretary of State is also required under Clause 8(4). If the regulator granting the licence is not the Secretary of State, is the intention that that would also apply in relation to a licence being transferred or is the Minister likely to come back on that when he has reflected further on the issues raised during this debate?
I will reflect on that and come back to the noble Lord on it.
I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 22 withdrawn.
Clause 14 agreed.
Clause 15: Power of Secretary of State to appoint person to exercise functions
23: Clause 15, page 11, line 18, at end insert—
“( ) Before regulations are made under this section, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report outlining—(a) the functions the regulations will confer on the appointed person;(b) the appointed person’s capacity to undertake the proposed functions;(c) whether additional funds should be made available to ensure the appointed person can undertake the proposed functions; and (d) whether the Government is intending to confer in the near future any other functions, separate to those relating to this Act, that may affect the appointed person’s capacity to exercise the functions proposed in the regulations.”
This amendment relates to the capacity and resourcing of the regulator. One assumes that it is to be the CAA because the Explanatory Notes indicate it will be, but they allow a fallback position where another body could be created. I invite the Minister to confirm that the Government have the CAA in mind.
My concern is that the CAA seems to be increasingly the maid of all work, which will undoubtedly have capacity and resourcing implications for that body. After Brexit, the duties of the CAA in relation to what one might call mainstream aviation will undoubtedly increase. The issue of drones will add to its duties. A couple of weeks ago, the failure of Monarch Airlines reminded us that the CAA has a very important role relating to such emergencies. One day we envisage the CAA bringing people back from their holidays in Portugal and the next day, or indeed the very same day, it is concerned about trips in outer space. So the body is large, flexible and very broad in its involvement. For that reason, if the Government plan to pass most if not all of the regulatory functions in the Bill to the Civil Aviation Authority, then we are concerned about whether they also plan to add to its capacity and expertise. This is very much a probing amendment to ask the Government whether their assessment is that the CAA currently has the breadth of expertise required and will simply need additional resources, or whether there will be a need to recast the body and take a comprehensive look at its role in future.
I thank the noble Baroness for her amendment. It is quite right to seek clarity on who will regulate this new spaceflight market and their capacity and resources to do so. Commercial spaceflight from the UK is in its very early stages and we want to be able to draw on relevant regulatory expertise across the UK for this new burgeoning sector. The Secretary of State is the default regulatory authority under the Bill. It is our intention that the UK Space Agency perform regulatory functions on behalf of the Secretary of State. The UK Space Agency already licenses the procurement of satellite launches from other countries as well as satellite operations from the UK. We intend that the UK Space Agency will regulate all the vertically launched rockets covered by the Bill and other space activities, including the launch and operation of satellites into space orbit. The UK Space Agency will also license and regulate associated vertical-launch spaceports and range-control services for launch to orbit.
In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, it is our intention to use Clause 15 to appoint the Civil Aviation Authority to regulate suborbital activities and horizontal-launch spaceports. These are likely to take place from specially adapted existing airports, and that will enable us to draw on the CAA’s rich heritage and expertise. The CAA and the UK Space Agency are proven regulators in their respective fields. I assure the House that both organisations are building on this heritage and developing their spaceflight expertise, including learning from existing spaceflight regulators in other countries. Clause 61 enables both organisations to put in place charging regimes to cover their regulatory costs—for example, for assessing and issuing licences, ongoing monitoring and providing advice and assistance. I hope that answers the noble Baroness’s question about the appropriate resources.
I am confident in our planned assignment of regulatory functions to the UK Space Agency and the CAA, and that both will have the resources to fulfil their regulatory functions following the enactment of the Bill and regulations made under it. I am confident in our planned assignment of UK regulatory functions to the UK Space Agency and the Civil Aviation Authority and that both will have resources to fulfil their regulatory functions following enactment of the Bill and regulations made under it.
I have a question on the previous point about the CAA clearly being ready to embrace this new responsibility. We would expect a body such as the CAA to be enthusiastic to have its remit expanded; we would not expect it to say, “Please take this somewhere else”. Have the Government sought an independent viewpoint on the appropriateness and scale of the upgrading of the skills that will be required within the CAA?
We are confident that the expertise in and knowledge of regulating aviation in the CAA is sufficient for this purpose. The CAA has a worldwide reputation for the comprehensiveness of its approach and expertise, so it will be able to fulfil these functions very well and there is no need to go elsewhere.
I shall directly answer the noble Baroness’s question: if we know that we are going to appoint the CAA to do this, why do we not specify it in the Bill? We believe that it is more appropriate to set out functions of appointed persons in delegated legislation, as the necessary limitations and conditions would be too lengthy to include in primary legislation. Further, as the industry evolves, the Government may choose to adapt the regulatory approach. The current approach allows this flexibility while ensuring that the appropriate level of oversight is maintained by the Secretary of State. With those assurances, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
I thank the Minister for his response. I will read Hansard carefully, because I think that there is still an issue about the level of resources. It may be that capacity in terms of breadth of expertise is established, but I remain to be convinced about the level of resources that the Government are willing to commit to allow the CAA to do its job effectively. It was absolutely clear in the past few weeks that the CAA is working extraordinarily hard and at the limits of its current capacity, so if we are adding responsibilities to it, we need to be reassured that it can do this job well. With those words, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 23 withdrawn.
Clause 15 agreed.
24: After Clause 15, insert the following new Clause—
“Report on the duties of the regulator and appointed persons
(1) The Secretary of State must, within the period of six months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, lay a report before Parliament detailing the responsibilities and duties of the regulator, any appointed person or persons and any other Government department or agency responsible for regulating spaceflight.(2) The report under subsection (1) must specify the legal basis under which the regulator, any appointed person or persons and any Government department or agency exercise their powers.”
My Lords, my noble friend Lord McNally has appointed me as his mouthpiece on earth for this amendment, by which we seek a sort of legal air traffic control ruling from the Government. The fact that I am slightly confused about which Act applies where is probably no surprise, but the fact that leading figures in the industry are scratching their heads probably leads to the conclusion that greater clarity is needed about which Act covers which activities. There is definitely uncertainty about what will be governed under the Bill and what will fall under the Outer Space Act 1986.
We were alerted by the Royal Aeronautical Society about its concerns about which Act applies to non-UK activities and which to UK activities. My assumption—I hope that the Minister can confirm this—is that if the launch is from this country, the Bill covers that activity; in the event that it is a space activity launched from elsewhere, the OSA 1986 covers it. I expect some clarity on that.
Similarly, UKspace has highlighted uncertainty about whether the licensing system entirely replaces the OSA or whether the OSA remains residually. On that basis, there is clearly confusion in the industry; there is confusion on this Bench, in my case; and I would welcome clarity from the Government and the Minister. I beg to move.
My Lords, as we discussed, the Government intend to use the regulatory expertise in the UK Space Agency and the Civil Aviation Authority to regulate this new sector. For all spaceflights and associated activities, there will be a single regulator responsible for issuing a licence. Whether this is the UK Space Agency or the CAA will depend on the type of activity. Let me give more detail.
In general, the CAA will license suborbital spaceplane activities and the UK Space Agency will regulate space activities and rockets licensed under the Bill. Where both the CAA and the Secretary of State have regulatory responsibilities—for example, where an aircraft has been adapted for mid-air launch of a satellite into orbit—these will be set out clearly in regulations. There will be only one licensing authority, however. In the case of mid-air launch, this will be the UK Space Agency. This approach provides clarity and accountability while making the best use of the proven expertise of existing regulators.
The noble Lord asked for clarification of the difference between the OSA and the Bill. As he said, the OSA covers launch from outside the UK of British-registered equipment, and the Bill will cover launches from the UK. In the light of those clarifications, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
In the light of that clarification, I thank the Minister and withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 24 withdrawn.
Clause 16 agreed.
Clause 17: Training, qualifications and medical fitness
Amendments 25 and 26 not moved.
Clause 17 agreed.
Schedule 2 agreed.
Clause 18: Safety regulations
Amendments 27 and 28 not moved.
Clause 18 agreed.
Schedule 3 agreed.
Clauses 19 to 21 agreed.
Schedule 4: Offences against the safety of spacecraft etc
29: Schedule 4, page 53, line 38, at end insert “including through the use of drones,”
My Lords, this amendment relates to drones, a serious issue already rightly raised from the Liberal Democrat Benches this evening. The Committee will recall that at Second Reading, my noble friend Lord Balfe made a powerful speech on the subject from a great deal of personal and professional knowledge. The safety issues associated with drones are critical and, as the House was informed at the time, it was understood that legislation had been drafted to address the problems associated with irresponsible use of drones prior to the election and was therefore in a fit and proper state to be introduced to the House at an appropriate time.
The expectation of a serious accident is very high. It is a matter of concern to Members of both Houses that urgent action be taken to address the law on drones, which needs to be reviewed with, not least, compulsory registration of drones to allow police to track down those flying them irresponsibly. The fact is that the law is not fit for purpose to prosecute the perpetrators of this type of crime, which is a matter of great concern to those of us involved in the passage of the Bill through the House.
I went to the Public Bill Office to see whether it would be appropriate to introduce legislation that would go beyond the Space Industry Bill to cover airports as a whole. I was rightly advised that, despite any clever wording on my behalf, which was not forthcoming, the scope of the Bill simply covers space activities and suborbital activities, both clearly defined in Clause 1. I am afraid that more general regulatory issues relating to drones or the aviation sector could not be covered.
What I seek from my noble friend the Minister this evening is clarity on whether the Government intend to introduce legislation on drones before the first licences are awarded under this Bill. If they do and the Minister is in a position to tell me that, that would be satisfactory because at that point the legislation would clearly apply to this Act, and it would be specified in the appropriate legislation at the time.
I apologise for not having given notice to my noble friend. I know that there are one or two further speeches to come, so I am sure that his fine group of experts assisting him will be able to give him a precise answer to that very simple question. In the event that it is unlikely or not projected that legislation on drones will be introduced before the first licences are issued, it is appropriate for us at a later stage of this Bill to make sure that it contains measures enabling determined action against those who irresponsibly fly drones around spaceports. I hope the Committee will support that, if indeed the Government are not going to introduce legislation in the foreseeable future and certainly not before 2019 or 2020. With that one simple question to the Minister, I beg to move the amendment standing in my name.
I rise to say briefly how pleased I am that the noble Lord has raised this issue. I have already referred to drones several times this afternoon. The Minister probably thinks that I think of little else in transport terms, because I raise it frequently. In the previous Parliament the Government said they were thinking about what to do about drones. At the beginning of that Parliament, we were told they would be doing something along with the rest of the EU. Now, of course, it is something on which we have to take the initiative ourselves. The Government now say they have consulted on the issue, so I too would greatly value the clarification that the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, has asked for—exactly the timescale the Government are working to. There is a real urgency about this. Thousands of drones are being sold every month, and there is little control over how they are sold and virtually none over how they are flown. Day by day, it is becoming increasingly urgent that something be done. I will listen carefully to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I begin by reminding the Committee that I am the vice president of the British Airline Pilots Association, as declared in the register. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, for tabling this amendment, which has enabled us to mention this subject. Like him, I was advised that it was not appropriate to table an amendment to the Bill. He has been more ingenious than me because he has found a way of at least debating the subject as part of the Bill, and I thank and congratulate him for that.
I shall try not to duplicate what the noble Lord said. The Minister and I have now met on two occasions—once last week in the general consultation and once in a private meeting—to talk about this issue. Like other noble Lords, I am seeking something quite specific in this debate on where we will go in the legislative process. Since the last time I spoke on this subject, we have received the report by Department for Transport, the British Airline Pilots Association and the Military Aviation Authority on drones and the mid-air collision survey. Probably the most important thing to come out of it is the threat to helicopters from drones. Obviously, any mid-air collision is not a good thing, but the report clearly showed that there is a specific danger to helicopters, at a time when literally hundreds of flights are going back and forth across the North Sea every day. This issue is of concern not only to pilots but to the Scottish Government and the wider aviation industry.
The Government followed up with a news story press release saying that drones were to be registered and users were to sit safety tests under new government rules. That was on 22 July, so I am sure the Minister will understand why, in the middle of October, we are seeking assurances about how far we will progress and at what speed. Since the last debate, we have had the tragedy of Grenfell Tower. Of course, if there were a tragic accident, people would be looking very carefully at the Minister, his department and others, saying, “You had warnings. You had a report. What is going to be done, and when?”. It is an urgent matter.
Two issues need to be dealt with. One is the police authorities and enforcement, which I understand needs primary legislation. When is that likely to happen? How will the rest of the changes be implemented? Will they be by statutory instrument or under powers the Minister has already delegated to the department? What will be done and when? If it is not being dealt with urgently, why not? In other words, how long do we have to wait to get this very important matter dealt with? A rogue drone could bring down a helicopter and cause tragedy and great unhappiness for families. The Minister is well aware of this. He is not a hard-hearted person saying that there is no need for legislation. What I am aiming for, like my noble friend Lord Moynihan, is for this debate to at least be in Hansard, our parliamentary record, showing a clear demand, and giving the Minister the opportunity to respond in, I hope, an extremely positive manner.
My Lords, I too would like to own up to trying to find some way of squirrelling drones into this debate and this Bill, but I gave up on the early assurance from the Minister that he was doing all that he possibly could. However, on rereading his letter today, I find that there is some confusion in my mind between a registration scheme relating to mandatory competence testing, and so on, and a more powerful scheme that might set up some technological devices to achieve the objective of separating drones from air traffic and be clearer about how it will be enforced. I should be very grateful if he could flesh out some of the ideas in his letter.
Also in the Minister’s letter—although I realise that this matter is only tenuously in front of us—was a paragraph on the misuse of lasers. He pointed out that there was a clause in the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill, which fell when Parliament prorogued, and he produced certain assurances about the issue and about how pilots and the wider public might be protected. I would be grateful if he would accept the indulgence of the House for him to repeat the assurances that he provides in that letter about addressing the issue of lasers at an early date.
I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate, which allows me to explain at length another aspect of my ministerial responsibilities—the thorny issue of drones. I accept that raising it in the passage of this Bill is a way in which to put it on the record, which we intend to do, and I hope that I shall be able to satisfy my noble friends Lord Moynihan and Lord Balfe, at least in part. I realise that their concerns go further than the Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, mentioned in his intervention.
The safe use of drones in the UK is vital if we are to realise the full potential that they can deliver. I assure noble Lords from the outset that that is exactly what the Government want, and exactly why we recently responded to our consultation setting out a number of measures that we intend to implement. The UK is at the forefront of an exciting and growing global drones market. We are seeing drones used across many sectors, improving services, increasing efficiency, creating high-tech jobs and boosting our economy. But while aiming to make the UK a global market leader in the drone economy, we must ensure that drones are used safely and in accordance with security and privacy rules. I am well aware of the July Airprox incident at Gatwick reported in the press over the weekend. No one wants to see incidents such as those occurring, which is why we intend to bring forward legislation to strengthen regulation and enforcement for drones.
To reply to my noble friends directly, we are exploring both primary and secondary legislation options and hope to bring legislation forward as soon as possible next year, including an amendment to the Air Navigation Order 2016. My noble friend Lord Balfe asked what measures we were introducing. As set out in our July consultation response, all users of drones that weigh 250 grams or more will be required to register themselves, which will encourage drone users to be more responsible and make it easier to identify drones that are breaking the law. Users will then be required to pass at minimum a short knowledge test to prove their awareness of UK law to ensure that they understand safety, security and privacy regulations. We are also looking to mandate the use of a safety app, an example of which is the NATS app Drone Assist, to notify plans to fly a drone and make users aware of local flight restrictions and ground hazards.
The Minister’s answer so far implies that there is no risk from drones weighing less than 250 grams. What tests and evidence does he have to assure us that that is true?
We did extensive safety tests in conjunction with BALPA, and released a detailed report on the size of drones and damage that they could cause to aircraft—both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. We considered that 250 grams was a reasonable threshold to impose at the time.
We are considering a possible restriction on all drones flying within a certain distance of airports and above 400 feet, and whether to increase penalties for breaking the rules. That includes whether and how spaceports could be included in any restrictions that we may implement. Furthermore, we are working towards implementing a product standard for electronic identification of drones at EU and international level. We strongly support EASA’s principal electronic identification, but want to see the proposals simplified to all drones above 250 grams to require electronic identification rather than a complex set of conditions.
The existing rules for drone operations are to be found in the Air Navigation Order 2016. Drone operators must maintain direct unaided visual contact with the drone to avoid collisions and must not recklessly or negligently cause or permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property. Drones weighing more than seven kilograms must not be flown above 400 feet. When a drone has a camera, the rules are stricter and operators should not fly a drone within 50 metres of a person, vehicle or building; they must also avoid flying over or within 150 metres of densely populated areas. Non-aviation-specific legal rules are also relevant. For example, failure to fly a drone at a reasonable height over the property of another person could amount to trespass, if the flight interferes with another person’s ordinary use and enjoyment of land and the structures upon it.
Reference has been made to geo-fencing near spaceports. To reduce inadvertent breaching of airspace restrictions and protect safety, we are setting up a pilot project bringing forward work to improve the use of geo-fencing in the UK. Project Chatham will create an authoritative UK airspace data source, including critical national infrastructure sites and spaceports, furthering the implementation of geo-fencing in the UK and building greater awareness of airspace restrictions among drone users.
The Minister mentioned Project Chatham. Who is accountable and leading Project Chatham?
As far as I am aware, it is the Department for Transport, my department, which is doing it, but I shall come back to the noble Lord on that issue.
We strongly support EASA’s principle of using geo-fencing to enforce compliance with airspace restrictions and electronic identification, but we want to see the proposals simplified to all drones over 250 grams requiring geo-fencing and electronic identification, rather than a complex set of conditions.
The amendment intends specifically to make malicious use of drones an offence. Of course, I recognise that that may be a desired outcome, but Schedule 4 is drafted in such a way that, no matter what device is used unlawfully, it will be deemed an offence. On that point, and with the assurance that the Government intend to bring forward legislation specifically for drones in the timescale that I outlined, I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw Amendment 29.
I am very grateful to my noble friend the Minister. I thought that he might well mention Schedule 4, and I am grateful to him for doing so and putting on the record the view that he has just expressed. I also welcome the phrase “as soon as possible next year”, because that should ensure that changes to legislation in whatever form they may be introduced—and I recognise also that that has yet to be determined—will come in advance of issuing the first licences for spaceports.
I am grateful to the Minister and apologise to the Committee that, having flown in from Sydney at 5 am this morning, after about 26 hours travelling, I will not be here right at the end of this evening’s proceedings. I have put my name to Amendment 44, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, which I totally endorse and support.
I apologise for forgetting to address the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, about laser pens. It is not part of the Bill, but I want to give him an answer. I understand where he is coming from: as he correctly said it was included in the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill, before Parliament was prorogued, to provide further certainty to pilots and the general public. We are continuing to look at other legislative vehicles. It is our intention to strengthen existing legislation. Safety is our top priority. Shining a laser at an aircraft in flight could pose a serious risk and anyone found guilty could currently be liable to a fine of up to £2,500, but it is our intention to strengthen existing legislation. I cannot give a timescale at the moment but will do so as soon as I am able.
On that constructive note, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 29 withdrawn.
Schedule 4 agreed.
Clause 22: Security regulations
Amendments 30 and 31 not moved.
Clause 22 agreed.
Schedule 5 agreed.
Clauses 23 to 31 agreed.
Clause 32: Power to authorise entry in emergencies
32: Clause 32, page 23, line 32, at end insert—
“( ) An enforcement authorisation must be referred to a justice of the peace for evaluation within 48 hours, following the 48 hour period under subsection (7) in which the enforcement authorisation remains in force.”
I have just about recovered from the shock of hearing the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, refer to not being here for a much later amendment. I was rather hoping we would not get to that because it says here that the target for the day is to complete the group beginning Amendment 32, which is the group we are about to embark on. I sincerely hope that this is the last group we deal with today.
This amendment relates to a view expressed by the Constitution Committee in its report on the Bill published last month. Much of what I will say is lifted straight from that report. It points out that Clause 31 sets out an enforcement regime under which,
“a justice of the peace may issue an ‘enforcement warrant’ in certain circumstances if, for instance, there are reasonable grounds for believing that a person is carrying out spaceflight activities without a licence or in breach of licence conditions”.
The committee points out that:
“Enforcement warrants may authorise extensive powers, including powers to enter property and to use reasonable force. For urgent cases, an alternative regime is set out in clause 32. This allows the Secretary of State to grant an ‘enforcement authorisation’ if satisfied that the case is urgent and that relevant conduct or anticipated conduct gives rise to a serious risk (a) to national security, (b) of contravention of any international obligation, or (c) to the health or safety of persons. Such an authorisation permits a named person to do ‘anything necessary’ for protecting national security, securing compliance with international obligations or protecting health or safety”.
Even though the power conferred by Clause 32 is very extensive and broad, the Bill does not appear to lay down any,
“system of judicial oversight (either anticipatory or post hoc). The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee expressed concerns about this aspect of the Draft Bill”.
In its response to that committee, the Government said that:
“In line with the Committee’s recommendation, we have reduced the period for which an authorisation would be valid from one month to 48 hours. This limits the Secretary of State’s power and if a longer authorisation is required, it will be necessary to get a warrant from a Justice of the Peace under clause 31 (Warrants authorising entry or direct action)”.
The Constitution Committee went on to say that:
“The reduction in the time for which an urgent authorisation may apply is welcome. However, we are concerned that such wide-ranging and potentially draconian powers would be exercisable without anticipatory or rapid post hoc judicial involvement. We draw attention to these enforcement authorisations and call on the Government to consider post-hoc judicial approval of their use”.
Amendment 32 provides that an urgent enforcement authorisation under Clause 32 must be referred to a justice of the peace for evaluation within 48 hours, following the 48-hour period under Clause 32(7) of the Bill, during which the enforcement authorisation remains in force. I hope that the Minister will give a sympathetic and helpful response to this amendment and others in the group. I beg to move.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, set out, Clause 32 as it stands offers strong powers to the Secretary of State in which there is no judicial involvement authorising the activities. I support Amendment 32 and will speak to Amendment 33. Those noble Lords who have read them will see that Amendment 32 is repeated by Amendment 33, which goes into more detail at some length, also taking into account the judicial systems of the countries of the United Kingdom.
As the noble Lord said, Clause 32 allows the Secretary of State to authorise the regulator to do “anything necessary”, which is a very dramatic—possibly cinematic—phrase, but we understand what it means. We can understand that there are times when moving quickly would be an issue, but this is not necessarily a block to judicial oversight. In contrast to the proposal in Clause 32, I point to the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 where warrants issued urgently by the Secretary of State, without advance approval by a judicial commissioner, must be approved by a judicial commissioner within three working days of the warrant. If it can be done in those circumstances, I suspect it can be done in those which we are talking about today. The Government have not offered sufficient justification for the wider scope of the powers offered in Clause 32, so Amendment 33 is based on provisions in the Investigatory Powers Act and ensures judicial scrutiny of any enforcement authorisations under that clause. In similar vein to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, it calls for a 48-hour period through which a justice of the peace can be involved. Our amendment stipulates that, if an enforcement remains in force for 48 hours, a justice of the peace should offer authorisation within that time or the action would cease to exist. Furthermore, no future enforcement authorisations may be granted under Clause 32 in relation to the same incident.
Amendment 33 then goes on to spell out the roles of the courts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the detail therein. Overall, we would welcome strong support for this principle from the Government and some idea of how other judicial oversight will be added to what currently appears to be a very wide legal writ for one person in government.
I thank noble Lords for their consideration of the significant powers in this clause, which we recognise are significant. I hope noble Lords will allow me to take this opportunity to provide assurance that this important power, which will be used only when immediate action is necessary, is both proportionate and subject to sufficient safeguards.
Clause 32 confers on the Secretary of State the power to grant an enforcement authorisation in the most urgent cases, where there is a serious risk to national security, compliance with our international obligations or health and safety. In such emergency situations there may not be sufficient time to obtain authorisation from a justice of the peace under Clause 31. I assure the House that there are adequate safeguards in place. Such an authorisation can be granted only to a named person who the Secretary of State is satisfied is suitably qualified to carry out the necessary action. Each time this power is used the authorisation must be in writing, must specify the action required and will remain in force for only 48 hours from the time it is granted. As an additional safeguard, improper use of this power by the appointed person could be challenged by judicial review. It is worth noting that this power is more conservative and requires more stringent authorisation than other comparable powers of entry: for example, those for nuclear inspectors or health and safety inspectors who are provided with a standing authorisation and may act at their discretion. It is anticipated that this power would be used only in the most serious and urgent of cases where there can be no delay in taking action.
I turn to the amendments specifically. The need to find a justice of the peace to review an enforcement authorisation during the period of validity would impose unhelpful bureaucracy on the person authorised at a time when they are trying to take urgent action to protect people from serious risks. A review of an enforcement authorisation by a justice of the peace after the authorisation had expired would not serve any purpose since the power granted would have already been exercised. In addition, a review by a justice of the peace, whether while in force or afterwards, would place an unnecessary and disproportionate burden and cost on the judicial system, given the other safeguards in place. Moreover, appeal by the Secretary of State, which Amendment 33 provides for, may not realistically take place in time to enable the emergency action needed to address the serious risk in question.
I assure noble Lords that the Government are listening. We have taken on board comments from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee and have reduced the time for which an enforcement authorisation remains in order from one month to 48 hours. The noble Lord, Lord Fox, asked why we have used the wording “to do anything necessary”. It would not be possible or appropriate to list possible actions that may be taken under an enforcement authorisation as this would restrict the scope of the authorisation. The action must, however, be necessary to protect the national security of the UK, secure compliance with the international obligations of the UK or protect the health or safety of persons. An enforcement authorisation will not be issued unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that the risk will be eliminated or mitigated as a consequence. Improper use of this power by the appointed person could be challenged by judicial review.
I understand the concerns of many noble Lords that this power is excessive. However, it is more restricted than other comparable powers of entry: for example, as I said, those for inspectors in the Energy Act 2013 or the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It is similar to those powers approved by Parliament in that there is no independent judicial authorisation before or after exercise of the power. The power in Clause 32 requires authorisation for each and every use, is in place only for a 48-hour window and cannot be used routinely at the discretion of the person who is authorised to enter. I am confident that our approach is proportionate and contains sufficient safeguards to address the concerns raised while retaining the flexibility necessary to deal with the very serious risks that this clause is designed to address. With the assurances that I have provided, I hope that the noble Lord feels able to withdraw Amendment 32.
I thank the Minister for his reply and thank the noble Lord, Lord Fox, for speaking to his amendment.
The Minister has produced various arguments but not surprisingly, because he probably cannot get into the mind of the Constitution Committee, he has not said why it was not moved by the kind of considerations that he has put forward. Clearly, that committee regarded this issue as something which could lead in extreme circumstances—at least, one hopes that it would be in extreme circumstances—to an abuse of power if there was no check after the event on whether the power under Clause 32 had been used appropriately and proportionately. My amendment sought to cover that, as did the view expressed by the Constitution Committee. Having a check that this power is not misused, which is what my amendment would provide, is a point that the Minister did not address in his reply. He referred to the difficulties of finding a magistrate or justice of the peace to do this within 48 hours, or at least I think he did. I think he will find that justices of the peace can be produced fairly quickly for a range of rather more minor warrants and issues, and well within the 48-hour period. Unless there is an issue over a Sunday, you can find justices of the peace at a magistrates’ court any day. If some sort of emergency measure needed to be undertaken—as it would in such a case—I imagine that the court would be prepared to co-operate.
The Minister mentioned costs. Frankly, if the Government are throwing at us concerns over costs as a reason for not having a check on whether a draconian power—the wording used by the Constitution Committee—is being used correctly or is being abused, we have reached a fairly sorry state of affairs. The Government must do a bit better than try to argue that this is unacceptable on grounds of cost, which I think was one of the points made by the Minister.
I will, of course, read Hansard and reflect on what the Minister has said but I come back to the point that this view has been expressed pretty strongly by the Constitution Committee, having seen the Government’s response to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee. These are fairly draconian powers and it is desirable to ensure that those who exercise them know that there will subsequently be a check on whether they have been used appropriately or proportionately. That would help to ensure that they are not abused. However, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 32 withdrawn.
Clause 32 agreed.
Amendment 33 not moved.