HC Deb 15 February 1989 vol 147 cc302-3
5. Mr. Atkinson

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will make a statement on the future of Hotol.

Mr. Atkins

British Aerospace and Rolls-Royce are pursuing the possibility of international collaboration on Hotol. The Government remain ready to assist in the search for potential collaborators. As I indicated in my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) on 7 December last, I have raised this question with the United States authorities. The companies have initiated relevant contacts in the United States.

Mr. Atkinson

I am grateful that my hon. Friend accepts that such a high technology can be realised only by international collaboration. Does he agree that this country has a sad history of letting such inventions go with little return? Will he confirm that Hotol technology remains in British hands? Does he agree that a similar American project, WASP, for which Sheffield university recently received a development contract, offers a way forward for collaboration on our Hotol technology to be realised?

Mr. Atkins

My hon. Friend is quite right. The substance of my earlier answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) which I repeated today, was that the discussions that I had last year in the United States with the space adviser to the President were along those lines. The national aerospace plane, which the United States Government and American companies are trying to develop, is a project in which British Aerospace and Rolls-Royce are having preliminary discussions. 1 hope that those discussions will prove successful.

Mr. Stott

When the proof of concept study has been completed, will the Minister support the recommendations made by the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology which examined United Kingdom space policy? The Committee stated: HOTOL development costs, perhaps of the order of £5 billion, would be far too large for its development to be a mainly private venture, indeed it could be undertaken only as a major inter-governmental collaboration project. What are the Government's views about that? Does the Minister agree with the recommendations?

Mr. Atkins

In relation to Hotol, we have said all along that the amount of money required to keep the project going at the moment is relatively small and could be afforded by British Aerospace and Rolls-Royce. However, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, the long-term development will require many billions of pounds. That is why the Government have said that they are happy about collaboration and are positively encouraging it. However, a limited number of countries have so far said that they want to collaborate because they are not sure of the technology being developed in those countries. We are still considering the matter although, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, we have said that we are not prepared to provide the funding because we believe that it must come from a much wider collaboration. Nevertheless, the matter is constantly under review.

Sir Ian Lloyd

My hon. Friend will be aware that the European Commission, with some justification, recently expressed grave concern that western Europe as a whole was falling behind in space matters by comparison not only with the USSR and the United States but with Japan. The Commission suggests an elaborate programme of co-operation within western Europe to remedy that deficiency. Have the Government made any response?

Mr. Atkins

I believe that my hon. Friend refers to what was previously known as Euromart and related matters. We took a decision to participate strongly in that venture, although my hon. Friend will recognise that it is a wide-ranging area and one about which it is difficult to make predictions. Since Euromart has been subsumed into Brite Euram, we are supportive of it and are monitoring developments very closely. I hope shortly to be in discussion with industry representatives who are concerned about the matter so as to ensure that we represent the British case to the best of our ability.