It’s a peculiarity of elected political life that constituents simultaneously tell me to get on with doing just one thing, and also that government must concentrate on a host of endless issues, from roads to hospitals and from defence to agriculture. The reality, of course, is that a government that did just one thing at a time would never do anything, and Westminster must endlessly look at a multitude of issues.
Nonetheless, this week I freely admit testing the final frontier of that proposition when I spoke in the Space Industry Bill, which seeks to make sure that Britain remains at the forefront of an industry that scarcely yet exists.
Indeed, as I mentioned in the House, in Boston and Skegness, space comes up surprisingly frequently. That is not because there is a lot of it in the open country in which one might build a spaceport, but because, as one might expect, many constituents talk about foreign aid.
The question that always arises is why we give money to certain countries. “They have space programmes,” is the accusation. To have a space programme is used as the definition of a country that is a thriving, great nation – one that doesn’t need any help.
The Space Industry Bill, indeed, is a classic example of government looking confidently to the future: it pays attention in part to potential space tourism, which is already beginning to attract serious investment, but it also looks towards the satellites of the future that will power new industries, and above all it considers that space exploration and use is an industry that has historically generated extraordinary spin offs – not least Teflon – and real economic benefits.
To those who say we can’t afford the NHS, why should we look into space, the answer is that government cannot afford not to look to the industries of the future and the economic growth that they will bring.
So it is vital to address the question of how we should be trying to foster the benefits of a new economy that is wrapped up in new technologies and reap additional benefits on Earth. And it is also vital we don’t do so by allowing space to get clogged up with the debris of decades of research, successful or otherwise.
Extraordinary as it sounds, we must begin to think of ourselves not only as global citizens, but as intergalactic citizens.
In preparing this legislation, government consulted industry and the Science and Technology Select Committee, of which I was a member. They also sought to make sure that we did not simply have a single principle that was so broad that it was almost meaningless — that we would also have principles embodied in legislation that were broad enough to allow industries to grow and flourish and did not constrain them too much.
I, like all members of all parties across the House, supported this Bill – specifically because it does not embody every single regulation in statute; it looks optimistically to the future – because securing that prosperous future goes to the core of what parliament is for.