Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:18 pm on 23rd March 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of David Morris David Morris Conservative, Morecambe and Lunesdale 3:18 pm, 23rd March 2021

May I echo the sentiments that you just expressed, Madam Deputy Speaker? I have found Neil Gray to be a good colleague, as was his predecessor, who is still a very close friend of mine.

The UK space industry has arguably benefited the most from the US ARIA equivalent, DARPA. For a very recent example, we need look no further than Astra, the launch vehicle manufacturer that had a successful launch on 16 December 2020. While discussing ARIA, however, attention should be paid to the necessity of having an ecosystem approach. There is now an acknowledged and accepted dependency on space, and the space sector is one of the 13 critical national infrastructure sectors. The UK is at a decision point and is reaching a critical stage in terms of launches becoming commercially viable. To secure launches as part of the UK offering of space ports would ensure access to hugely significant economic opportunity through whole-sector participation, including end-to-end delivery.

While there is no doubting the UK’s space ambitions, there needs to be a clear line of investment, which will have two elements. At present, most of the Government’s investment is focused on academia and technology. There is little focus on launch infrastructure and the development of logistical support. Noting that it is generally accepted that a launch will make the difference for the UK’s standing and therefore economic benefit from the global space market, it is estimated that this alone will be worth £400 billion to us by 2030.

Regulation, though, is a key enabler of development in the space sector, and much has been achieved through the introduction of the Space Industry Act 2018. One anomaly is the Civil Aviation Authority and the intention of lifting the insurance liability from a £60 million cap to unlimited liability, which will make UK launches unviable from UK soil, with many other countries offering less liability. So that must be addressed very soon.

Have the Government ensured sufficient harmonisation between the existing regulatory authorities and the UK Space Agency? Is the UKSA playing its full role as the Government-sponsored agency with responsibility for all strategic decisions on the UK civil space programme and to provide a clear and single voice for UK space ambitions? That has to be clarified.

The environment is rightly the lens through which we need to examine current and future actions and ambitions. The space sector is demonstrating its commitment to the environment through the development of new materials and processes, but with space acknowledged as one of the key enablers to understanding and monitoring of global environments and environmental change, are the Government driving the right relationship between space and the UK environmental agencies, acknowledging devolved responsibilities?

Ambition itself cannot deliver on enterprise for a nation. Leadership is key to ensuring the right information and that action takes place at the right time and with the right entities. Does the space sector enjoy the right nature of strategic leadership both in the Government and the private sector? Has the UK established the types of structures, executive councils and committees necessary to provide the support, confidence and assurance of decisions, making opportunities for the space sector to thrive under the new ARIA regime? A lot of clarification needs to come forward, and I am sure that the Secretary of State will provide that development and regulatory structure to allow a commercial and viable space industry to grow. I have highlighted some anomalies within the structure as it currently stands.

I would like to see the Bill pass, and I am certain it will. It will enable the UK space sector to do a better job than it is already doing. The UK space sector, as my right hon. Friend Greg Clark has already said, develops 40% of what is already flying around in orbit, and we can do more. The UK space sector has bucked the trend over recessions and pandemics, and the sector is increasing.

I want to end on a positive note. I will be backing the Bill, and I would like to see more money for the space sector.