European Navigation Satellite System

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Industry – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 5th April 1995.

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Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan , Chesham and Amersham 2:30 pm, 5th April 1995

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport about ensuring United Kingdom industrial involvement in any future European global navigation satellite system; and if he will make a statement. [16439]

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor , Esher

My noble Friend Viscount Goschen, Minister for Aviation and Shipping, and I have agreed a common approach to the European global navigation satellite system programme. Our Departments are together contributing some £5.2 million which, added to contributions from UK industry, will provide an effective basis for UK involvement in the programme.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan , Chesham and Amersham

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on his welcome announcement of that £5.2 million funding, which will support our UK industry in the new area of navigation by satellite? I do not want to sound ungrateful when the new funding has just been announced and I know that the plans from the European Space Agency have only just been forthcoming, but could my hon. Friend give me and the UK industry an assurance that there will be funding in the medium term to build on this excellent up-front funding?

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor , Esher

It is always a pleasure to be chivvied by my hon. Friend, especially in space—[HON. MEMBERS: "Which space?"] We seem to be getting into holiday mood, for which I blame myself. The importance of the global navigation system and the ARTES 9 programme is that they are likely to lead in the long term to controlling the movements of all civil aircraft, the movement of ships and, ultimately, the monitoring of road transport. It is therefore essential that British industry should play a full part. We have put up money which British industry is more than matching. I am in negotiations with the European Space Agency to ensure that we can accept the whole of the amount that British industry is putting up. It is difficult for me at the moment to forecast future public expenditure survey rounds, but my noble Friend Viscount Goschen and I are looking closely to see what more we might do in this programme.

Mr. Robert Ainsworth:

Does the Minister agree that with this navigation system and all other areas of space involvement, if we do not actively involve ourselves European-wide, give the encouragement that is necessary to the industry and assist in restructuring the industry so that it can face the challenges from the United States, we shall be pushed out of this area altogether? Does the Minister raise these issues when he is talking about trade with people from the United States who are constantly telling us about their record on free trade when indirect subsidies from the American Government are being poured into their space and aerospace industries, to our detriment?

Photo of Ian Taylor Ian Taylor , Esher

I am well aware of the pricing policy which can occur in some American companies and I have alerted my European colleagues to it. We are busily restructuring the industry. One of our largest companies in the space sector, Matra Marconi Space, is now a 50–50 joint venture with the French. There is a new arrangement between Matra Marconi Space and Alcatel for a new series of the Eutel satellite programmes. We are well placed to win competitive bids. My big problem at the moment is to persuade the European Space Agency to let contracts competitively rather than on the basis of Buggin's turn or juste retour. I will raise that point at the ESA ministerial conference later this year.