The speech made by Christine Jardine, the Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West, in the House of Commons on 4 February 2021.
It is a pleasure to take part in today’s debate, because if someone had told the eight-year-old me who was allowed to get up in the middle of the night to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon that I would one day be discussing the prospect of a spaceport in Scotland—of the UK grabbing 10% of the global space market by the end of the decade—would I have believed them? I suspect I probably would, because it was only in January 1961 that Kennedy promised to send a man to the moon and back safely by the end of the decade, and it was achieved in 1969. Perhaps the biggest thing that space exploration has given us is instilling the belief in an entire generation that anything is possible. I am sure the scientists who hon. Members have mentioned were inspired by that in different ways. We have already grasped more than 5% of the available space market, but we must harness that spirit of belief to achieve our goal of 10%.
While I am immensely proud of what is being achieved in Edinburgh, I am confident that scientists there and across the country would agree that a spaceport in Scotland, particularly, would be invaluable to the continued growth of the industry. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) for his work in supporting the development of this project by Highlands and Islands Enterprise—a project that is so important to all of us. Like Dounreay and the University of the Highlands and Islands before it, it attacks a major issue that has blighted this area of the country, the highlands, and in fact many areas of Scotland: lack of employment and an absolute absence of opportunity for young people. More than 10 years ago, as an employee of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, we carried out a survey that found that the majority of young people felt there was no career for them in the highlands.
This is where a space programme can help so many young people. It can create revenue, reverse economic decline, and give young people opportunities. We should do everything we can to ensure that girls and young women are encouraged to be part of it from the beginning, and I make no apology for saying it is a prime example of something that demonstrates the benefits of working together across the United Kingdom. The space programme gives us the power to do wonderful things for this country, and we should harness that. We should have a fund dedicated to British entrepreneurs entering the space industry. It should include groundbreaking research projects and a strong, nationwide supply chain, harnessing the almost unrivalled power of British engineering. Communities across the country are crying out for investment, and I believe this is the industry that can do it—that can build a better country for the future.