Space Industry Bill [Lords] DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Layla MoranMP Main Page: Layla Moran (Liberal Democrat - Oxford West and Abingdon)
Department Debates - View all Layla Moran's debates with the Department for Transport
Legislation Debates - View all Layla Moran's contributions to the Space Industry Act 2018
(2 years, 5 months ago)Commons Chamber
With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 2—Potential impact of leaving the EU on the UK space industry (No.2)—
‘(1) The Secretary of State must, within 12 months of this Act receiving Royal Assent, lay before Parliament a report setting out a summary of any discussions between the UK Government and the European Union on the future relationship between the UK space industry and the European Union, following the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.
(2) The report under subsection (1) must make reference to, but is not limited to—
(a) options for future cooperation and partnership between the UK space industry and the European Union; and,
(b) any new arrangements with, or proposed access to, EU space programmes, following the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.’
This new clause would ensure that Parliament is kept up to date with negotiations between the UK and European Union in regards to the UK space industry, in order to provide clarity to the UK space industry
If the guarantee is only for another two years, there will be a profound effect on research and development, particularly in universities. If there is no guarantee beyond that, there will be a great deal of uncertainty for both universities and the industry.
I start by passing on the apologies of my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford), who has been heavily involved in the Bill since the beginning. Unfortunately, she is extremely unwell this week and has uncharacteristically heeded her daughter’s advice by staying at home, but she is no doubt watching from her sickbed.
I rise to support new clauses 1 and 2, which attempt to ensure a proper assessment of the potential damage that an extreme Brexit could cause our space industry. During the passage of the Bill, we have had a glimpse of the opportunities ahead for the UK’s space industry, but this relates to the wider reaches of the EU. The EU funds space research through Horizon 2020, and we want to ensure that we remain a player beyond that point. Although the European Space Agency is separate from the EU, it does still receive significant funding from it, so we need to know whether the Government have made any assessment of the impact of Brexit on our space industries. Given the previous impact assessment fudge, the answer is probably, “Probably not, but if we have, we will not be publishing it anyway.” That is simply not good enough. The new clauses make it clear that the Government will make that assessment and will publish it. If they do not accept these amendments, the question must be: what do the Government have to hide?
The European Commission has made it clear where it wants to go on space, so do the Government intend to remain part of the strategy and programme it has outlined? If we are not an integral part of the European space programme, what will be the impact on our viability as a spaceport centre, compared with other spaceports located within the European family?
How will we retain access to EU research and development projects, which are so important to our space industry? As has been mentioned, how will changes to freedom of movement affect this industry, an industry that exchanges talent across frontiers on a regular basis? Not all that talent will be at a salary threshold that allows easy access to the UK. Will we retain full access to programmes such as Galileo and Copernicus? Will we be marginalised in EU procurement decisions?
Those are all important questions for the Government to consider now, and they should be included in any impact assessment.
Break in Debate
Like the hon. Members for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) and for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), the Government want the UK to make the most of the opportunities that lie ahead. We want the UK to be a go-to place for scientists, innovators and tech investors in the years ahead. We intend to secure the right outcomes for the UK research base, including our space community, as we exit the European Union.
As hon. Members will remember, the agreement that successfully concluded phase 1 of the exit negotiations in December 2017 made it clear that, as part of the financial settlement, the UK will remain part of Horizon 2020 until at least the end of this budget period in December 2020. As part of the new deep and special relationship with the EU, recognising our shared interest in maintaining and strengthening research collaboration, the UK will seek an agreement that promotes science and innovation, including on space, across Europe now and in the future. We would welcome a specific agreement to continue collaborating with our European partners on major science, space research and technology initiatives, and we will be approaching the upcoming negotiations on that basis.
New clause 1 would require the Government to undertake an assessment. As Members will remember, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union provided the relevant Select Committees with reports on many sectors, including the space sector, on 27 November 2017. The space sector report contained a description of the sector, the current EU regulatory regime, the existing frameworks for facilitating trade, including between countries, and the sector views on it. Ministers have a specific responsibility, which Parliament has previously endorsed, not to release information that would undermine our negotiating position, and I know Members present understand that position.
On new clause 2, the Government’s September partnership paper set out our intent with regard to discussing options for future co-operation and partnership with the EU through the EU space programme. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has given a clear undertaking to the House that he will keep the relevant Select Committees informed of progress in discussions with the EU Commission on EU exit matters. That commitment to openness needs to be balanced with the overriding national interest in preserving our negotiating position.
I recognise the interest of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) in how our future relationship with the EU will help support the continued strong growth in the space sector—it is an interest the Government share—but I hope he will appreciate that we cannot enter into commitments to inform Parliament about the EU exit negotiations on a sector-by-sector basis, through various bits of legislation. In the light of that, I ask the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon to withdraw new clause 1.
Break in Debate
I intend to speak briefly on this issue, having heard what the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) said and having looked at these matters in my previous life, as it were. Liability is salient to this Bill. The Government have acknowledged that in what they have said and in the changes they have already made as a result of our consideration in Committee.
I pay tribute to the new Minister for the work he has done on this. It is right to say that he is continuing discussions with the industry. As the hon. Lady said, there is a fragility about the industry. That is not to say that it is not successful, growing or doing wonderful things, but when one innovates or is on the margins of innovation, as this industry is bound to be, given that it is pushing the frontiers ever further, of course one is in a risky business. To gain the necessary investment to make that innovation happen and to take on board those risks, one needs to create a framework of certainty, and the certainty is to some degree about liability.
If I may say so, though, there is a simpler way to deal with the hon. Lady’s points. As I said, I shall be brief. I notice that the Government have already made changes to clause 35(3), where the word “may” has been changed to “must”. They could make similar changes to clause 34(5). Were the Government obliged to make regulations to deal with liability, I think that would go a long way towards satisfying the hon. Lady. I have sufficient trust in the Minister and his Department to know that even with the word “may” in the provision, it is likely that, following the discussions that he and others are having with the industry, further regulations will be introduced for the very reasons the hon. Lady set out in a measured and moderate way.
It is vital that we create the investor confidence that will allow the industry to grow and, as I have said, push forward the frontiers of technology in what is necessarily a risky business. This can be a great success and the Bill takes us a long way towards enabling that success. To get the issue of liability right will be the icing on the cake, but as everyone who has ever dressed or consumed a cake knows, the icing is vital—it is what draws us in, encourages and seduces us to consume the cake. With that overture, I hope that the Minister can provide the reassurance that the industry and I seek and that on that basis the hon. Lady might see fit to withdraw her new clause, although that is a matter not for me but very much for her.
I understand the hon. Lady’s point, but she must know that a Bill of this type essentially establishes what I called earlier a framework of certainty. This is a highly innovative industry and technology changes very rapidly. To be prescriptive about what the future might look like would be a woeful error. There has to be a degree of flexibility in the Bill, which she risks limiting by being prescriptive at this stage.
I rise to speak to amendment 4, which I tabled, as well as the remaining new clauses and amendments.
Amendment 4 would give clarity to the UK’s space industry. As it stands, the Bill makes no provision to ensure that the industry works with the Government to create the regulatory framework that it so badly needs. The amendment would increase the focus on making the UK commercially attractive for potential spaceflight operators. As with new clause 3, the amendment was tabled to press the Government to publish clear regulations for the UK space industry, which is one of the Bill’s key issues.
Under the amendment, the Secretary of State would have to publish guidance for any forthcoming regulations and hold regular discussions with any potential operator before a licence was issued. The UK’s space industry needs as much clarity as possible; we do not want further uncertainty that may hinder growth. If the Government do not get this right, they could quite possibly deter investment, recruitment and growth in the space sector. It will be interesting to hear the Minister’s views.
Labour Members generally support the aims of new clause 3, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford). The Bill does not set out the criteria for awarding licences, and nor does it describe the procedures in any great detail, which is a problem. When I spoke to new clause 2, I alluded to the fact that Labour wants the UK space industry to grow in the coming years, but the Government need to get this legislation right and have had the opportunity to do so. The industry must be made aware of regulations. We agree that the Government should lay a report before Parliament setting out the proposed licensing regulations in detail. That is fair and reasonable.
On new clause 3(3), Labour tabled an amendment in Committee that would have ensured that if space activities were established in any of the devolved Administrations of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, their respective environmental agencies and bodies, and respective Governments, would be consulted before any decision was made to grant an operator licence in their jurisdictions. Unfortunately, our amendment was defeated, so I welcome new clause 3, which presses the issue a little further.
The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire also tabled new clause 4, which deals with the liability issue that came up time and again in Committee.