Debates between Lord Johnson of Marylebone and Lord Vaizey of Didcot during the 2019 Parliament

Thu 4th March 2021
2 interactions (635 words)

Space Industry

Debate between Lord Johnson of Marylebone and Lord Vaizey of Didcot
Thursday 4th March 2021

(5 months ago)

Grand Committee

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Cabinet Office
Lord Johnson of Marylebone Portrait Lord Johnson of Marylebone (Con) (Maiden Speech)
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My Lords, humans can travel in space at 40,000 kilometres an hour, and I will have to speak as fast to deliver my maiden speech and refer to my relevant interests at Harvard, Kings and in Skyrora, in a minute. First, I thank Black Rod, the doorkeepers and my sponsors, my noble friend Lord Risby and the noble Lord, Lord Desai, for helping me acclimatise to an environment that is so similar and yet so different to the Commons, to which I was elected three times, and where I spent 10 increasingly tumultuous years in various roles, including as head of the Policy Unit and as Universities and Science Minister under three different Prime Ministers.

My noble friend Lord Willetts referred to the Space Industry Act, which I had the privilege of taking through the Commons as Space Minister. It received Royal Assent three years ago, yet we are still waiting for the regulatory framework to arrive. We need it fast and we need it to be proportionate, as my noble friend Lord Willetts rightly said. We also need much greater commitment. If we are serious about developing sovereign launch capability, which was one objective of that Act, we need a great much greater commitment to ensuring that it is UK industry that benefits from opportunities from the Act, including launch, not just the usual giant US aerospace companies. We messed this up once before as a country in 1971, when we abandoned our Black Arrow programme after being made promises of free rides for our satellites on US launches. Those offers disappeared and left us the only country to have launched a satellite successfully into orbit and then to have abandoned that independent capability. Let us make a reality of sovereign launch capability and not make those mistakes again.

Lord Vaizey of Didcot Portrait Lord Vaizey of Didcot (Con)
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It is a great honour to follow my noble friend Lord Johnson, to welcome him to the House and to praise him for an excellent maiden speech, which I know will be the first of many fantastic contributions he will make to this House. I have to say that I know all the Johnsons, but let me say in the privacy of this room, to go no further, that he is by far my favourite. As he alluded to in his remarks, he has had an extremely distinguished career, working for the Financial Times on the Lex column but also as its Delhi correspondent; he has written a seminal book on contemporary India. He was a distinguished Member of Parliament, the head of the Policy Unit and indeed a fantastic Science and Universities Minister, highly regarded by his sector. I have just realised that I am sitting between two former Science and Universities Ministers, both of whom I love. However, for the purposes of the maiden speech, my noble friend Lord Johnson is my favourite former Science Minister, at least for the next minute. He will make a wonderful contribution for the next 50 years, because he is also very young.

The International Trade Minister Graham Stuart announced the space sector Covid support plan this week, which is very welcome, but it will take time to deliver an impact. In the meantime we must find a way to bring forward the next phase of investment in the national space innovation programme, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, which has been delayed by the postponement of the CSR. The current phase runs out at the end of this month. If that is allowed to happen, it will create another R&D gap, further compounding the impact of the lost EU contracts. We must also find ways of bringing forward other delayed capital investments—for example the disruptive innovation for space centre proposals at Westcott and Fawley, which will underpin future private sector R&D investments. I end my speech.