HC Deb 17 June 1999 vol 333 c550
8. Dr. Doug Naysmith (Bristol, North-West)

What assessment he has made of the scientific and industrial advances that have resulted from Britain's participation in the European Space Agency. [86498]

The Minister for Energy and Industry (Mr. John Battle)

The United Kingdom has a world-class scientific community in several major spheres of space research, not least Earth observation. Our scientists have played an important part in the European Space Agency's Soho satellite, which has extended our knowledge of the sun's energy dynamics. Last week, my noble Friend the Minister for Science announced that ESA had selected a United Kingdom proposal to study the thickness of Earth's ice sheets as the very first mission in its new earth science research programme, living planet.

Dr. Naysmith

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I am sure that he will agree that last week's announcement demonstrates the importance of working with our partners in Europe in the European Space Agency, and the benefit of positive leadership in Europe. However, he and other Trade and Industry Ministers will be aware that I have made representations, and even led a delegation to the Department, about closure of the site at Filton. Will he confirm the assurances that we have been given that, when the transfer is made to Portsmouth and Stevenage, every attempt will be made to ensure that none of the workers or expertise available at Matra Marconi Space will be lost, particularly in space vehicle construction and Earth observation? There have also been many assurances that every attempt will be made to find employment for those who choose to stay in the Bristol area. Will he ensure that those attempts are made?

Mr. Battle

My hon. Friend champions the industry in the House, and knows well that ESA membership provides a very wide range of opportunity for both British industry and our scientific and technological community to develop our expertise in Earth observation, which is crucial in the practical work of tackling the challenges of environmental pollution, for example. Although, as he said, the work being done at Filton by Matra Marconi Space—which is a world leader in the design and manufacture of advanced communications satellites, and in every development in the Earth observation market—will be transferred to Stevenage and Portsmouth, the British National Space Centre has received assurances that Matra Marconi Space's expertise in Earth observation will be maintained. It is important to remember that the units are being relocated, not disbanded.

I appreciate that some employees may choose to remain in Bristol, or have no option but to remain there. I hope that there will be alternative employment for those who cannot move—Honda recently announced 125 new jobs—and we shall work to ensure that those employees have such opportunities. Meanwhile, our job is to ensure that we remain world leaders in that science and technology, and continue to make that contribution to Earth observation.