HC Deb 16 May 1990 vol 172 cc871-2
4. Mr. Atkinson

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on United Kingdom participation in space research for peaceful purposes.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

The United Kingdom is successfully carrying out a range of civil space activities, principally through the programmes of the European Space Agency. The main emphasis of our programme is on space science and on Earth observation. Development of Earth observation services will open up new commercial opportunities and play a significant role in monitoring the global environment and climate.

Mr. Atkinson

In view of the negative vibes that we were giving out to the European Space Agency two years ago, may I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that encouraging reply? Is he aware of the various plans to develop a space plane—Hermes in France, Saenger in West Germany, the Orient Express in the United States and our own HOTOL project? Does he agree that it would be sensible to collaborate internationally on such an expensive project, and to include Japan and the Soviet Union if possible? Will he initiate international discussions along those lines?

Mr. Hogg

We do not have any intention of putting Government money into HOTOL. If it ever takes place, it is likely to be an enormously expensive project, and very few vehicles would be required. If there are industrial participants who are thinking in terms of it, I should certainly commend to those involved international co-operation of the sort suggested by my hon. Friend. I take this opportunity to emphasise the Government's commitment to the programmes sponsored by the European Space Agency.

Mr. Page

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the most profitable aspect of space science has been telecommunications, in which we have been enormously successful in the past? Is he concerned that we might be losing that lead? Is he fully convinced that we are giving all the support necessary to the new projects coming forward?

Mr. Hogg

That is an important question. The Government are trying to take on projects in space that are likely to give rise to the most useful programmes in the foreseeable future. We have done well in telecommunications in space, and British industry leads the field in that. As a specific reply to my hon. Friend, he may know that we have just announced a commitment of another £32 million towards what is known as DRTM—the data relay technology mission. We shall be researching intercommunications between satellites and between mobile land satellites.