HC Deb 10 February 1988 vol 127 cc248-9W
20. Mr. Ingram

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what is his policy on the science and technology of space research; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

I remain wholly committed to a programme of scientific research in space and in particular to the European Space Agency's Horizon 2000 programme. This programme has received a 20 per cent. real terms increase in funding over the last three years and I am satisfied that the present level of planned funding will enable the objects of Horizon 2000 to be met satisfactorily.

Space can be a spur to new advances in technology by British industry. It can sometimes be a profitable area of economic activity, for example in the field of communications. I am satisfied that the current level of Government expenditure of some £120 million per annum is justified and I will continue to seek to use it in ways which are potentially beneficial for industry. However, I do not consider that a case has been established for any increase. I have today confirmed to the European Space Agency that Britain will not be extending its involvement in ESA by taking part in the optional programmes on the Ariane V launcher or the Columbus space station as presently proposed.

Earth observation from space, however, could have significant potential. It involves the processing of remote sensing data from satellites and its supply to end-users for a range of applications. Data from the European Space Agency's first remote sensing satellite, to which the United Kingdom is contributing, will start to be transmitted by the early 1990s. To process this data I have decided to provide funds, estimated at £4 million per annum over five years, to set up an earth observation data centre as part of the national remote sensing complex at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough.

At present there is little agreement, either among manufacturing companies or users, on a preferred strategy for future earth observation operations, but I will continue to consider the various options open to us.