HL Deb 13 May 1999 vol 600 cc161-2WA
Lord Acton

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What was the outcome of the recent Ministerial Council of the European Space Agency. [HL2473]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville)

I was invited to chair the Ministerial meeting held in Brussels. At the meeting the UK led its partners in the European Space Agency (ESA) to embark on a new £400 million programme of environmental research. The "Living Planet" programme will help scientists to understand and predict the Earth's environment and humankind's effects upon it. For example, it will monitor the effect of global warming on the polar ice caps and measure soil moisture and other factors that are essential to the accurate modelling of climate systems.

I have announced £67 million investment in the programme by the British National Space Centre (BNSC). The UK has taken a strong lead in devising this programme. Our scientific community has worked closely with the BNSC in identifying how to deliver a challenging value-for-money initiative, using state of the art equipment and know-how. The agreement we secured is the first step towards providing an assured long-term programme of scientific research which looks at the Earth and its environment from space. We are putting Earth sciences on an equal footing with ESA's traditional areas of scientific research—astronomy and planetary exploration.

I also announced further commitments of around £40 million to other new ESA programmes in satellite multimedia and global navigation satellites. These were coupled with renewed commitments of around £46 million per year to existing science and facility investment programmes.

The Government's support for space has allowed the UK to make major commitments not only to science, where the substantial increase in funding in the recent Comprehensive Spending Review is already hearing fruit, but also to the continued health of the UK space industry. Our subscriptions to the satellite multimedia and navigation programmes will position our companies at the forefront of the knowledge-driven economy and give them the opportunity to maximise their share in global markets that will be worth around £65 billion a year within the next decade.

I am confident that, with the current spirit of co-operation between the member states of ESA, we will now be able to press ahead with the exciting missions of ESA's Horizons 2000 programme, such as Planck/FIRST, and that we will be able to include the unique Mars Express mission. This is a new chapter, opening a period of great potential for European space.