HC Deb 18 April 1988 vol 131 cc348-9W
Mr. William Powell

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (1) what progress has been made in identifying a new director general for the British National Space Centre; and if he will make a statement;

(2) what is the Government's policy on the RADARSAT and Columbus space station projects; and whether he will make a statement.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what steps he is taking to review the position of British participation in European space ventures; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

The Government have considered carefully the options for the Columbus polar platform and RADARSAT earth observation projects. I am pleased to announce that we shall be proposing today to our European Space Agency partners that the United Kingdom should take a leading role in the polar platform. This represents a sensible next step, based on our consistent policy of supporting earth observation, where a commercial market can be developed through the acquisition and processing of data for sale to end users. We joined the ERS-1 project under ESA in March 1982; ERS- I is due to be launched in 1990. I announced on 10 February 1988, at column 250, our decision to establish a new Earth observation data centre at Farnborough costing an additional £20 million. We are now set to proceed with our next major project, the polar platform, at a cost, including the associated instrumentation, of over £250 million during the next 10 years.

I am also pleased to announce that industry will be contributing up to £5 million of the cost of the polar platform. This demonstrates in the clearest possible way British industry's support for our decision and its confidence in the longer-term commercial prospects.

Having decided to enter Columbus, the Government will not be entering the Canadian RADARSAT project. RADARSAT is a good project and we have spent £4.5 million examining it carefully, but it is essentially a one-off project on a smaller scale than Columbus and we would not have offered as good a base for commercial exploitation. To pursue both Columbus and RADARSAT would involve expensive parallel development of different platforms. We expect to receive most of the information RADARSAT would provide through our membership of ERS-1 and Columbus.

Over the last 10 months, we have been urged to enter a wide range of space projects which would have cost the taxpayer well over £1 billion in total. I believe that I have now made a sensible choice to join those projects which offer the best value for money for the British taxpayer and British industry. We have also appointed a new director general for the British National Space Centre. He is Mr. Arthur Pryor, a senior official in my Department. One of his main tasks will be to work closely with industry in order to maximise returns from our new investment in the polar platform.