HC Deb 07 November 1995 vol 265 cc704-5W
Mr. Duncan Smith

To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a statement about the outcome of the recent European Space Agency ministerial Council at Toulouse. [42229]

Mr. Ian Taylor

I attended the meeting at ministerial level of the European Space Agency Council in Toulouse on 19 October. Important decisions were taken which will reinforce ESA's contribution to the UK's industrial and scientific goals for space and to European space collaboration generally. My ministerial colleagues and I agreed unanimously to set a level for the ESA science programme capped at 347 million ESA accounting units a year for 1996–2000, except to the extent that inflation exceeds 3 per cent.—that is, some 15 per cent. below earlier proposals. This decision was vital to allow the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council to devote adequate resources to domestic scientific activity which exploits the opportunities provided by the ESA programme. We endorsed the introduction of reforms to ESA's procurement practices and to internal management and structures, including a 12 per cent. staff reduction, which will significantly improve the agency's value for money and contribution to industrial competitiveness. We further agreed to develop and bring forward proposals in a year's time on industrial policy, including reforms to the agency's system of geographical industrial return. The ecu was adopted as ESA's unit of account, for both national contributions and contracts with industry, a change which also brings about the end of the system of retroactive exchange rate adjustments to member states' contributions. Agreement was reached on the European contribution to the international space station, in which the UK does not participate, and on the Ariane complementary programmes for which I indicated political support. A further formal ministerial meeting was envisaged to take space in Belgium in 1998, together with an informal meeting at the end of next year.