House of Commons Library

The Space Industry Bill 2017-2019

Published Thursday, January 11, 2018

This briefing paper has been prepared for the Second Reading of the Space Industry Bill in the House of Commons on 15 January 2018. The paper provides an overview of the provisions in the Bill and the debate and amendments made during the House of Lords stages.

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The UK Government has an ambition for the UK to be a leading player in the global space industry. The decreasing cost of launching small satellites is greatly increasing the application and use of satellite data, adding value to many sectors and industries. Further, commercial space travel and space tourism are becoming real future possibilities. Currently, the Government considers that neither international aviation law nor space law are suitable to cover the risks to safety and security posed by commercial spaceflight activities in the UK.

The Space Industry Bill intends to create a regulatory framework for the expansion of commercial space activities and the development of a UK space port. The Bill intends to cover both orbital and sub-orbital activities, and horizontal and vertical launches carried out in the UK.

The Bill was introduced into the House of Lords on 27 June 2017 and completed third reading on 28 November 2017. It was introduced to the House of Commons on 29 November 2017.

The Bill: 

  • Creates a framework for the regulation of spaceflight activities in the UK in line with the UK’s international obligations;
  • Establishes a system of licencing for UK space activities;
  • Creates powers for the Secretary of State to appoint a regulator(s). The regulator’s primary objective is to ensure public safety;
  • Creates a framework for establishing safety, training and informed consent requirements for individuals participating spaceflight activities;
  • Creates a framework to establish a launch site in the UK, including creating powers for the Secretary of State to make orders over land;
  • Creates a framework for liability, indemnities and insurance for UK space activities;
  • Creates new offences and applies existing UK criminal law to space activities

The Bill extends to the whole of the UK except for a number of provisions listed in clause 70 which do not apply to or only apply to Northern Ireland.

In general, the Bill has been welcomed by industry stakeholders. The major criticism of the Bill however is the lack of policy detail on the face of the Bill, which creates a framework for further policy to be delivered by regulation and/or guidance. The main specific issue raised by industry stakeholders is the absence of a mandatory cap on liability for spaceflight operators.

The main themes during the debate in the House of Lords stages focused on the broad delegated powers in the Bill, environmental protections and the powers over land. A Government amendment removed the Henry VIII power previously contained in Clause 66.

Several areas where further debate may arise in the House of Commons include:

  • Delegated powers: in particular the broad regulation making power in Clause 67(1) and the requirement in Clause 67(6) that only the first set of regulations for some provisions require the affirmative procedure;
  • Environmental protections;
  • Liabilities, indemnity and insurance: The Government stated during the Lords Report stage that it intended to bring an amendment in the House of Commons to make the requirement that the Secretary of State indemnify claimants under Clause 34(3) mandatory. Further debate regarding whether a cap on operators’ liability under the Bill should be mandatory may also arise;
  • Rights over land: whether the consent of the devolved Administrations should be specified with respect to the powers to make orders over land contained in Clauses 38 and 40.

Explanatory notes to accompany the Bill as amended in the Lords have been produced by the Department of Transport. Prior to the Lords stages the Government also published policy scoping notes (11 July 2017) and a delegated powers memorandum (28 June 2017) which provide further details regarding legislative intent.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8197

Author: Georgina Hutton

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