§ Postponed Proceeding on Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," resumed.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Palmer
As I was about to say when I was interrupted about half an hour ago, I welcome the Atomic Energy Bill because I see in it at least the shape of a better and bolder Bill. Whether a better Bill can be forced out of the shell of the present Bill remains to be seen. Much will depend upon the readiness with which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister is prepared to consider Amendments which I imagine will be on the Order Paper on the Committee stage on Friday. I have listened to nearly every word of the Debate on the Bill this afternoon. In no part of the House has the principle or the Tightness of State control been challenged. Therefore, it seems to me that the question that remains is whether in this Bill we are defining State control in the most flexible and sensible fashion. Are we making the most of the do's or 114 the don'ts. Does the Bill in its present form encourage or frustrate? In my view, the principal weakness of the Bill is that it leans too decidedly towards the don'ts. It is precautionary legislation.
We are told that the object of the Bill is to promote and control the development of atomic energy, and the Minister is given amazingly wide powers towards that end, but, in fact, most space in the Bill is given to detailing the Minister's powers of control and prohibition and very little indeed is said about his duty of development. I do not think there is a great deal of danger under my right hon. Friend, but under some other Minister I think there is a danger that the powers of the Bill might be used to restrict scientific progress by unnecessary and tedious interference—if I may be allowed to borrow a current Blackpool phrase, to strangle progress with bands of red tape. For instance, a strict interpretation of Clause 10 might mean that all experimental apparatus in connection with nuclear physics might require a licence before it could be set up and quite clearly that would mean a great restriction on the freedom of research. But the greatest danger—and in this I am emphasising what has been said already in the Debate —to scientific progress in this Bill is contained in Clause 11. That Clause may in the future become the notorious Clause 11. It is the so-called secrecy Clause. That Clause creates a tremendous amount of uncertainty, and I am sure that in future it will create uncertainty, in the mind of every scientific worker. I do not make any claim to speak on behalf of any particular body of scientific workers or scientific men, but I am convinced that in the future every scientific worker in this country who is engaged in research, or even engaged in teaching, will be extremely cautious if this Bill becomes the law of the land. He will be fearful of prosecution if he discusses with a collaborator a new idea having a bearing upon atomic energy development.
Much has been said already—and I agree with it—about the importance of team work in atomic energy research, and of course, Socialists, in particular, like to lean towards the idea of team work in scientific research. Nevertheless, it is true that, in spite of all the team work, important as it may be, very often the vital thought that counts for so much occurs in the brain of one individual. I 115 can imagine a situation of this sort arising. Suppose a scientific man is at work in one of our universities. He may be very learned in the question of nuclear physics. He may be a great expert. There may be some problem which, until that time, has awaited a solution. One day a particularly bright idea strikes him, and he thinks that it might be worth trying out, but if he is to try it out he must get advice from someone who has, for instance, a greater knowledge of hydraulics. He puts the idea on paper, and takes steps to communicate it to some other university or engineering works in some other part of the country. I suggest that under Clause 11, if he takes that quite routine action, he is liable to prosecution. I do not think that that is in any sense an exaggerated example. The legal position with regard to Clause 11 is, as I understand it, that it does not replace but simply supplements the Official Secrets Act. It is something additional to that Act and is intended apparently to bring into the net unofficial secrets as it were —dangerous atomic thoughts of various kinds.
It is the opinion of many leading scientific men in this country that the Government have already sufficient powers to ensure the security of the State under the Official Secrets Act. Since these drastic new powers will stop the naturally free interchange of scientific knowledge, I believe that Clause 11 is in fact unnecessary. I do not think that so extreme a view has been put forward in the Debate up to now, but I cannot see how Clause 11 can be improved to remove the danger that I see in it, and therefore I consider that the Bill would be tremendously improved and greatly strengthened if Clause 11 were taken out altogether and if we entrusted the security of the State instead to the very great and considerable powers that are available under the Official Secrets Act. I do not think that it would have been necessary perhaps to take this rather extreme view about Clause 11 had the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Supply, who is responsible and who will be responsible in the future for the Bill if it becomes law, been prepared to take the advice already given to him and to agree to set up a statutory expert advisory committee. In fact, not only is the right hon. Gentleman against setting up such a committee 116 but he is going further than that, and by the Amendments already on the Order Paper he is prepared and ready actually to tighten up the working of Clause 11.
Among the duties of such an advisory committee might have been the giving of advice to the Minister as to the class of information that could be disclosed without Clause 11 being brought into operation. I believe that such a statutory advisory committee, whose advice the Minister should have been obliged to seek but not to take, would have greatly improved the legislation now before the House. If I may anticipate the right hon. Gentleman's answer I imagine that it will be on these lines. First of all, that he takes the best expert advice as a matter of routine. Of course, every Minister takes the best advice as a matter of routine; he would hardly dare confess that he takes the worst advice. But the truth is that his departmental experts are his creatures. I do not say that in any spirit of scorn, but they are bound to be his creatures in practice. I now suggest that there should be experts to advise the Minister who are abreast of the times and who are in a statutory position really to stand up to him.
I believe that the Minister has already indicated the second part of his answer by a nod of the head in reply to a question asked by an hon. Member earlier. I think it will be that nothing must stand between him and his responsibility to this House. That is an extraordinarily weak answer. I do not believe that in fact Parliament can exercise effective criticism over atomic energy development. Parliament has neither the time—which is increasingly true now that we are bringing so many industries under State control and national ownership—nor the necessary information. In the nature of things, because of the secrecy, it is not possible for the ordinary Member of this House to obtain the information which would make him a really useful critic. Here again I am emphasising something which has already been said, but it cannot be emphasised too much. Why, in this Bill, are we leaning so strongly towards the old-fashioned Post Office conception of public control? Expert bodies are in fashion; they are in fashion in connection with nearly every industry we bring under national ownership, and in that case surely in this matter too an expert body is wholly justified? I trust that 117 the right hon. Gentleman will really think again about this and that he will be prepared to relent, but from all I hear I am not too hopeful.
The immediate problem that we are facing in this matter of atomic energy is just this; How best can we protect the public interest and lead the way to international agreement without retarding the development of this new source of energy in the service of man? By this Bill the Government have undoubtedly tried to satisfy the test, but in my view far from successfully. Atomic energy is not a petty departmental matter; it is not a new line in utility saucepans, and it must receive treatment at the very highest level of State policy. In that connection may I say that I think it is a tremendous pity that there could not have been a Preamble to this Bill providing that anything done under its powers should be deemed illegal if it conflicted with any international agreement or surrender of national sovereignty in atomic energy to which this country is a party? I believe there are constitutional difficulties about this here. It was done in America and it is unfortunate that it cannot be done in connection with this Bill. I should like to ask my right hon. Friend if, when he replies, he could give the House an assurance on that point—that anything we are doing in the domestic sense will be linked up as a matter of course with any international agreement to which this country is a party.
Finally, I feel that in passing this Bill we must make it plain to the world that we, the British people, are prepared to owe a first loyalty to world authority in this matter and hope that others are prepared to do the same, but that if they are not prepared to do the same we might act on our own to set a good example. Unless we act with good sense and imagination in this business it is the fiery furnace for all of us and our children.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
I have listened throughout the afternoon and evening to this Debate. Perhaps it is the mood of the House or the aftermath of the Recess which accounts for the thin attendance, but I feel that here is something which we must watch very carefully indeed. If Clemenceau was right when he wrote that famous, historic message asking Wilson for oil, saying "A 118 drop of oil is worth a drop of blood," we have now reached a stage in society when a small particle of fissionable material is practically worth a kingdom. I want to emphasise Clause 11 for a moment. When the hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn) raised the issue on the Adjournment I did bring up this point about secrecy in the faculty of engineering physics at universities. I asked what effect it would have upon the furthering of knowledge in this sphere in the future. I have been thinking back to the days of 1799 and the Combination Acts, and remembering that it was this very House which, through a twisting of justice, sent people abroad and accused them of setting up secret societies when they formed trade union movements. Each step that modern society makes towards secrecy is a step towards misunderstanding.
Because of that I welcomed the eloquent and brilliant maiden speech here today by the hon. Member who said, "Here is an opportunity for Britain to give a lead." Although we are not dealing here with the relationship of atomic energy to the United Nations organisation —I do think, after reading the Bill, that we are really concerned with that aspect of it—yet it would have some effect upon international councils if this nation said it was prepared to put its cards face up upon the table and to say, "At least in this matter we do not propose to limit science or to make secrecy of it; we want to keep it open and above-board because we know that, in the last analysis, it is only by the United Nations and by international cooperation that we can abolish the fear of war."
I believe there is an aspect of this matter that we have missed. There is not only the fear of the tyranny of war but, as the Prime Minister pointed out, the fact that unless mankind is made fully aware of the potentialities of this energy we may, in the near future, suffer once again the acute miseries of another industrial revolution, conducted upon lines of complete laissez faire in atomic energy. Some people on both sides of the House seem to think that the Bill gives to the Minister power of nationalisation. I am not so sure about that. All we know is that atomic energy is not to be left in private hands but is to be under the control of a central authority. 119 Secondly, I gather from my reading of the Bill that it is to empower the Ministerto promote the development of atomic energy and to confer on him powers of control over unauthorised production … and the publication of certain information.These powers are not compulsory or obligatory. They are merely permissive. The Minister is not obliged by the Bill to control or to do anything. He can do it if he feels like it. What is this House asking? Are we asking for a compulsory control of this material, or do we say that the Minister of Supply may be empowered to take control if he feels like it?
That point leads me to my second point. The positive value of atomic energy sources and their need for rapid development are by no means being realised. We seem to have missed the positive possibilities of industrial development. Although there are Amendments coming in the future, the Bill seems to aim only at restrictive control. Undoubtedly, by Clause 11, the Bill widens the area of scientific knowledge in which secrecy is to be maintained. I contend that it is impossible to draw the limits. It is ridiculous to talk of one type of scientist. The theorist in nuclear physics is linked with the fitter and the mechanic, with the most humble form of engineering and with the most humble scientific worker. I see Governments having great difficulty in the future if they try to implement Clause II.
I have listened with care to what all the scientific workers have said. I have read with interest the circular of the Association of Scientific Workers. Professor Blackett is the President of that Association. They did not publish that circular without using their powers of suspended judgment, and they ask, I think rightly, that the industrial development of atomic energy and of its by-products should be nationalised. There has been a hint in this Chamber this afternoon. An hon. Member was asking what would happen to byproducts and to private products. Both sides of the House seem to agree about nationalisation of atomic energy; are we prepared to nationalise all plant and all the by-products of all fissionable material in the future? We should have the courage to delete Clause 11 completely.
There is a third point which I would put to the Minister of Supply. If I have read the Bill correctly, the Minister has 120 no power to force a private laboratory or a private organisation to give him information of any new discoveries or advances that they make in nuclear physics. Lastly, and this is a very important point, I believe that a body should be appointed by the Bill, not entirely of scientific observers, but consisting of laymen, to give advice to the Minister. I agree with the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) in many respects. I do not agree that we should fall for the apotheosis of the scientist, any more than for the rhetorical arpeggios that rocked Blackpool from end to end last week. I therefore request that there should be not only a body of scientific advisers or a committee of scientists to help the Minister, and independent of the Government, but that, together with that committee, there should be a group of laymen whose opinion the Government would respect. Before I sit down I would refer to the issue of the relationship of power to social development. Many of us, on both sides of the House, have tried to understand the evolution of mankind. Whatever political theory we may support we are bound to admit that, as man has conquered Nature with new sources of power, he has changed his own social development.
At this moment Britain can contribute to the building up of confidence in the United Nations organisation in a big way and to the building up of international understanding merely by wisely discussing this Bill and agreeing that we are prepared to take the risk—because risk it is—to abandon secrecy in Britain so far as the science of nuclear physics and the development of atomic energy are concerned while demanding the complete nationalisation of the fissionable material, the by-products and the commodities themselves that are the results of this science of nuclear physics.
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Major Vernon (Dulwich)
It seems to me that we have come to a point when the views that have been expressed need crystallising into a practical proposition, and I propose to do that. As to the Prime Minister's statement that he intended that security should be safeguarded and that development should not be hindered, one wonders how that can be done. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Preston (Wing-Commander Shackleton) 121 pointed out that he did not see how security in the sense of the Bill and development could take place at the same time, and I am quite sure that is correct. The advancement made in this particularly difficult scientific field has been the contribution of exceptional human beings, people with wide knowledge and intense capacity for concentration and an intensity of imagination which is exceptional. If we follow through the development that has led up to the present position, starting from Clarke Maxwell, an Englishman, we find many nations represented. These entirely exceptional people have cropped up at different times in different parts of the world. Until 1939 there was no secrecy at all. The work of each one of these people was available to the rest. There was first an Englishman, then a German, then a Frenchman (Bequerel), then Einstein a German, Bofir a Dane, Rutherford a New Zealander, several Englishmen, another Frenchman, an Italian, a Canadian and so on. This handful of exceptional people made this progress possible because there was complete inter-communication between them.
What will happen under this Bill if national security comes in? First the military scientists will be divided from the non-military scientists. Then the non-military scientists will be divided into compartments and all sorts of obstacles will be put in the way of inter-communication. A gradual paralysis will spread over the whole field of scientific work. The young man at the university will say that if he goes in for atomic research, he will be up against the Ministry at all points, and that if he makes a slip he may be in trouble and perhaps land in prison quite inadvertently. That kind of thing will be discouraging for people. We are finding it difficult to get people to go into the Army because conditions are not sufficiently attractive. This secrecy will have the same sort of effect on scientific aspirants, who will be disinclined to take up this field of activity which is vitally important.
What does this mean? The world is faced with a famine in fuel. There has been a ruthless destruction of forests followed by soil erosion. The best seams of our coal have gone and we can see the difficulty ahead. It may be a long way. There is a limited supply of oil in the world. It has been recklessly exploited. 122 The Americans are saying that their supplies are running short and that they need oil from the Middle East and so on. There is a prospect ultimately of a world famine. We should go back by stages to the Stone Age. There comes the possibility of a new sort of energy which will gradually replace the dwindling supplies that there are at present, and we are letting our military madness clamp down on this vital possibility for the future of mankind. I say military madness. I have always thought war was nonsense. Some hon. Members may think I am talking nonsense now but to me that seems plain common-sense. To settle disputes by ordinary warfare is not reasonable. We ought to be reasonable enough in these days to avoid mass destruction in order to settle our disputes. We are getting pretty near, but the excuse is made that somebody else must start. It is said that we must get international agreement and that once we have that we shall be happy to sacrifice our weapons and means for mass destruction.
But who is going to begin? It seems to me that Providence has directed Britain to take a lead for this reason. It was pointed out that 50 atomic bombs would put the organisation of Britain completely out of action. That is not a difficult calculation—one bomb, one city or centre of production. It was also suggested that 2,000 bombs would be sufficient to put out Russia or the United States. How many bombs have we had a chance of making? It cost the Americans £500,000,000 to make a number which has not been published but there are indications that it is something in the area of half a dozen or a dozen. We are proposing to spend £30,000,000 which will make us a few bombs, but what chance have we from the military point of view of ever competing with these people with much ampler resources? So there is a practical reason for saying that we could never succeed and never be secure by manufacturing more of these bombs than other people. What we need to be more secure is to give it up altogether.
In the Debate on 2nd August speakers on all sides of the House agreed that now was the time for Britain to take a lead. The Americans have put forward their proposals and the Russians have put forward theirs, and there is a vital conflict between them—something not very far 123 from a deadlock. The Minister of State said Britain agrees with both sides. He meant Britain agreed with the noble sentiments of both sides. Noble sentiments have been the stock-in-trade of eminent speakers all over the world the whole time, but the general public are a bit cynical of noble sentiments and want something really practical proposed. Here is a chance for us to prove our sincerity. It is not entirely devoid of self-interest. The two things happen by luck to come together. By declaring that we will deny ourselves the making of atomic bombs in the future we shall be giving a lead in the international sphere which will be a step in the right direction. That seems the direction in which we ought to move and a practical step that we ought to make—to declare that we shall not make atomic bombs ourselves. Once that is agreed, all this question of Clause 11 and the secrecy here and there disappears. There is no need for any secrecy at all.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
We have had a long, and on the whole a rather depressing, Debate this afternoon on this important subject of atomic energy. My reason for intervening is that I still feel there are certain implications in this Bill which have not even yet been fully brought before the House. We are concerned this evening with the consideration of the greatest discovery that the human race has ever made— atomic energy—comparable only, as a turning-point in history, with the discovery of fire in the distant days of primitive man. We are concerned with a discovery which, it is no exaggeration to say, is in its potentialities producing a revolution in human conditions. It will provide the supreme test of man's ability in the moral sphere to cope with his immense scientific achievements.
I doubt whether in this country we are as atomic energy-conscious as they are in the United States of America. I doubt whether the people of this country have really yet awakened to the new era in which we are living as a result of this tremendous scientific discovery. Less than 15 months ago, when the first atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the whole world was momentarily stunned and horror-struck, notwithstanding all the horrors to which we had became accus- 124 tomed during the war. But that phase has passed and there has been, in this country, a lack of public appreciation of the real significance of this important subject. I believe relatively few people realise the two alternatives with which mankind is now faced. On the one hand, if national dissensions continue as they have in the past, we are faced in the next war with an atomic conflict which will threaten the continuation of civilisation, and perhaps even the human race will be utterly destroyed. We are faced with a new weapon of warfare which at the least will involve, certainly to this country and, I have no doubt, to the other belligerents who take part in it, an almost total paralysis of their existing civilisation. The other alternative is that mankind may wake up to the realisation of the potentialities for good that are involved in this new scientific discovery, and may determine by resolution and international action and by international good will, to ensure that the human race is saved from atomic disaster and enabled to enjoy the long vista of progress and the beneficent improvements which this source of energy opens up.
It is in this background that we have to consider the proposals of His Majesty's Government in this Bill. This is a Bill for giving the Government control of the development and production of atomic energy. The reason why this Bill is before the House is that our national security requires it—that is the justification for the Bill, and nobody opposes the Second Reading. Indeed I thought the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Kensington (Mr. Law) was instructive. He realised that, for purposes of national security, it is now essential to vest these vast powers in the Government, as otherwise the safety of the State would be jeopardised. It follows, as the use of atomic energy is extended, that for precisely the same reasons, it will be necessary by measures of nationalisation of one industry and another to give the State equal control over an increasingly wide field of industrial activity in order to ensure that the State has within its control all the industrial capacity of the State required to protect the community in time of danger. In the atomic age envisaged by this Bill one must be prepared at all times to meet a possible attack.
125 My second comment is, that just as the justification for this Bill is the safety of the realm, so it is the duty of the Government to see whether in that respect the Bill goes far enough. It cannot be assumed that the atomic bomb or any contrivances using the release of atomic energy represent the only direction, or even the most effective one, in which science can be perverted to the uses of total war, threatening on a large scale the destruction of the human race. Other weapons of destruction, scientific and bacteriological have been mentioned. It seems to me that in those fields also the Government should take all essential steps of a similar nature that are required for the protection of the State.
Having said that, one must realise, as previous speakers have realised, that this Bill in its present form, which is going to receive unanimous support on Second Reading, contains certain defects, certain dangers. I regard one of the chief defects of the Bill the emphasis it places on the negative action of the State. I regard it as unfortunate if, as a result of this Bill, any idea is encouraged that atomic energy is to be regarded as primarily an instrument of warfare, in the form of atomic bombs, to be used mainly for destructive purposes. It is regrettable that during the last year there has been such a veil of mystery and secrecy surrounding the whole of this subject. It is unfortunate that emphasis has been placed on the atomic bomb, and the destruction it can cause, while less attention, in the public mind, has been given to the immense potential benefits that can be obtained by research into atomic energy. When the Minister of Supply replies, I hope he will be able to give the House an assurance that, notwithstanding the somewhat vague provisions in the Bill, energetic steps will be taken to encourage the research and development of atomic energy for peaceful, beneficent purposes.
The other criticism of the Bill is of course its encroachment on our traditional and cherished freedom of intellectual and scientific research. That way points to disaster unless carefully watched, as the example of Germany has shown us. I hope the Minister will give us an assurance that those powers with which, in the interests of national safety, he is being entrusted will be exercised at all times with the greatest circumspection and toler- 126 ance, and that the views of scientists throughout the country will not be lightly disregarded. In view of the detailed discussions that have already taken place with regard to the phraseology of Clause II and the definition Clause in the Bill, I do not propose to enlarge on the improvements which, in my view, can be made in order to remove the natural alarm of scientific workers throughout the country.
Finally, I would suggest that the State should assume the positive task of seeing that the House and the public are periodically informed of the progress that is being made in regard to nuclear fission, and all aspects of scientific inquiry covered by this Bill. It is difficult to exaggerate the necessity of ensuring that, as a corollary of the powers now being entrusted to the Government, the Minister should see that the public are educated, and kept informed, by the publication of the fullest possible information at all times, compatible with the security of the State, of the progress being made, and the opportunities that are opened up so that we may have an enlightened public opinion about the munificent illimitable potentialities of atomic energy.
§ 8.22 p.m.
Dr. Barnet Stress (Hanley)
May I first say that I support very strongly indeed my hon. Friend the Member for East Islington (Mr. E. Fletcher) in deploring the fact that so much is said about the negative or destructive aspects of atomic physics, and little is said about the many remarkable things it can do which will save life? My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) has already touched upon this matter. To put it shortly, this discovery can be used either for war, or constructively, for purposes of industry by begetting a new and cheap type of power. Certainly—and this is the point I would like to bring to the attention of the House—it might be used to save life medically. I am not one who fears that war is at all likely in the near future. I do not despair of human beings. I do not think they would be so foolish as to destroy themselves so soon after the last war. At least a generation of people will be needed who will have forgotten what we in this generation have gone through before they are tempted again into such folly.
127 It is from this point of view that secrecy becomes a danger in the way which so many speakers have already stressed. We hope that the public will be kept aware of the dangers of the misuse of this type of power. Quite recently I noted that evidence was given before a committee in the United States by some of their military experts. One of them pointed out that it was possible to fight a defensive war and prevent the invasion of North America, but possibly at the cost of 40 million lives lost and the obliteration of most of their cities, if other countries had possession of the atomic bomb.
This perhaps might be construed to be a good thing to be understood by so great a Power, for it would help them, I feel sure, if they are wise, to refuse to allow the misuse of atomic energy; but others of us are afraid that there are some sections of military opinion in the United States which feel that, if this really be true, a defensive war might well be fought in the near future so as to make it impossible for anyone in the world ever to gain atomic energy which could be used against them. There indeed would lie madness. I firmly believe that sane councils will prevail and in my view there is no chance of anything horrible like this happening in our lifetime.
I support this Bill wholeheartedly and, in passing, I would like to say that it is incredible for any of us to believe that any of this type of work can fall into private hands without the greatest danger. Though I support the Bill, I am afraid of one thing. It is that secrecy might militate against discovery or application to medical use of atomic energy and nuclear physics which would enable us to cure certain diseases which have baffled us in the past. It is well known today that it is possible to make many substances radioactive which were not radioactive originally, or which are not normally radioactive, and that the radioactivity of these substances can be controlled because their activity disappears either in a few hours, days or weeks. Many hon. Members will remember the dreadful fate which befell girls who used to paint the dials of watches with radioactive material in the old days. When painting these luminous dials they had a habit of putting the tip of the brush to their lips and licking it to keep a point 128 on it. It was not recognised that there was sufficient radioactivity in the luminous paint to produce death. We know today that it was cumulative in its effect, and many girls died rather horribly as a result.
The new substances we can check completely. For example, we know that radioactive phosphorus loses its radioactivity within 48 hours. We can have either tablets or pills and can take them by mouth and we are able to estimate the dose and know exactly where it will be deposited, namely in the bone of the human body. If a patient has any disease which may be susceptible to radioactivity, it can be treated, therefore, with some confidence. Though I would not have anyone believe that our experiments have gone as far as we would like, it is a fact that conditions of myelogenous leucaemia, a condition in the bone marrow which is always fatal, is now thought to be amenable to treatment with radioactive phosphorus. It is well within the bounds of possibility that if we can have full research on this subject with the assistance of the Minister and his Department, without too much secrecy and with a guarantee to the whole world that our discoveries will be given to them immediately if they provide a means for saving life, we shall be able to get a whole range of radioactive substances with the correct and accurate doses, knowing that these substances will be deposited in selected parts of the human body, and the diseases of cancer of the bone and cancer of the internal organs may, for the first time, be amenable to treatment.
Lastly, most of us suspect that human morality lags behind scientific achievement. That is really what we are worried about and why we are all so frightened today. International affairs have been likened recently to a game of cards in which some hold most of the trumps and those who hold most of the trumps seem to want to look at the cards of their opponents before they will disclose what they have got themselves. I think from this House we can appeal to the whole of the world to take a more realistic and sane view of international affairs, and say that where everything is to be lost by not taking a commonsense humane and human point of view, surely everything is to be gained by honesty and by open diplomacy.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Dr. Santo Jeger (St. Pancras, South-East)
We have heard a great deal in the past, and in the very recent past, from hon. Members of the Opposition about the Government policy of nationalisation, but we have not heard any attack upon this Bill, which is a Bill for the national control of atomic energy. It is a Bill which enforces nationalisation and it is consistent with the policy of the Government. If we are very optimistic about the future, we regard these proposals for national control as part of a plan for creating technical facilities and for the extension of technical knowledge in anticipation of world cooperation on this matter in the very near future, so that British work can contribute fully to the material and moral advance of civilisation. This international cooporation must be at Government level; hence all these facilities must be in Government hands, but if the worst were to happen and if bomb-making were to become the chief interest rather than power production, still less must these facilities be left in private hands. Without international cooperation, we cannot separate the peaceful from the warlike side of this work.
The Minister depends upon a number of advisers, not only scientists but technicians, not only those in the Government service but also the large number of experts from industry and from the university laboratories. I am very glad to see that there is provision in this Bill to encourage the training of scientific personnel and to safeguard the facilities of teaching establishments. It has been suggested that the Minister should provide himself with an advisory council, a council of experts and scientists who shall meet and give him advice which he is free to take or not to take, just as he wishes. Now, that advice cannot be made public, and, if it is not accepted, what is gained? All the members of this proposed advisory committee would not be equally informed upon all the facts in connection with their work, because the work is one of a very high degree of specialisation and a very important part of it would be engineering work. Since the Minister is able now to call upon the advice and help of all scientists, whether they are in Government service or not, it seems to me that he has all the possibilities at his disposal for getting the very best advice and 130 taking advantage of it. I therefore see nothing whatever to be gained by his accepting the proposal for creating an advisory council.
There is one other aspect of this matter that has not been touched upon very much in this Debate. The Smythe Report, issued by the United States Government for the development of atomic energy for military purposes, talks a great deal about safeguarding the workers in the atomic energy industry, and I want to carry that further and talk, not only about safeguards for the workers in the industry, but about safeguards for the country surrounding the sites of factories where atomic energy is created, and safeguards for humanity generally. The Smythe Report compares in many places the effects of radio-activity on the human body with the effects of X-rays. We know a great deal about the effects of X-rays on men's bodies. We know that large doses of X-rays, and even, in some cases, small doses, may cause sterilisation of the individual. We may get burns, cancer and destruction of blood corpuscles. We know that X-ray workers provide themselves with lead screens, lead aprons, and lead gloves in order to protect themselves from these X-ray emanations.
The Smythe Report says that there were no sure means for determining the adequacy of their precautions. We know that the Americans have been using very dense, very thick barriers made of concrete and that they have had difficulties in preventing radioactive air particles from coming outside the area where the atomic energy is being manufactured. But we do not know, and we have no evidence what the long term effects of these emanations may be. We know the short term effects— the effects of the bomb. We get radio activity in the atmosphere round the pile, in the stocks and residue, in the water used for cooling. If I may quote the Smythe Report again:A combination of the alpha ray activity of plutonium and its chemical properties makes it one of the most dangerous substances known if it gets into the human body.We have not had very much information about the danger, or about the steps we are going to take. With industrial diseases hitherto it has been usual to call in doctors after the event. Never before have we had an opportunity of calling them in advance of it. Therefore, I am 131 proposing the setting up of another kind of advisory council. I want a competent committee of biologists and doctors to engage in research on this very important question. I want to see individuals, their wellbeing, and the whole future of the human race safeguarded now that we are entering upon this new atomic age.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
There are, perhaps, a few moments left in which I may make an observation on this subject which has not already been made in the Debate. The subject we are discussing is a tragic one. I think that the Minister is being set up as a pill to cure an earthquake which involves the whole of this planet of ours and that we are faced, not with an occasion for the glorification of the disciples of nationalisation and collectivism, but with something really opposite. We are faced with the bankruptcy of those human institutions of ours, whether nations or collections of nations. We are being forced back, not with the banners of the National Socialist system flying, but with what we individualists have always said must be the solution of the destiny of man—the improvement of the individual and not the improvement of the machinery of the State.
I am not among those who are enamoured of handing over this important method of research to the State. We are in a pitiable position for making a world appeal. We have no power in the matter. There are only 50 million inhabitants in this small island on the North-West coast of Europe. Our place in the scheme of things is obliterated if space is the criterion. It lies with the great land masses of the Continent and those which run through France to China and from Alaska down to Cape Horn. Islands such as ours can only appeal to what little common sense there is in the universe today. Therefore, it seems to me that the State is not the best instrument for making that appeal. If we are to make the appeal on the highest level it should be made to men of science everywhere, irrespective of nationalistic considerations. Such an appeal may well fail; it may be addressed to deaf ears and the men of science may be no more altruistic and no less nationalistic than would a Government in this matter. But the attempt has not been made. We 132 need a scientific council in this country above politics and party.
Is it not possible to make an international appeal that this danger of atomic energy, which may destroy the whole planet on which we live, should be raised above the nationalistic level? This Bill does not seek to do that for one moment. It embraces the problem with all the advantages and disadvantages, and in my judgment the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. It embraces all the disadvantages of the nationalist system. We are saying, "This is the British atomic energy research," "This is the United States atomic energy research," "This is the atomic research of the U.S.S.R." and so on. We are building up in the most dangerous manner possible a system not of competing scientists or individuals but competing State machines. That may be an impossible position, but it seems to me that this Bill moves into that field rather than the field of making the widest possible appeal to the scientists as individuals and human beings to join with other scientists on the highest human level. This is the bankruptcy of statesmanship. This is the hopelessness of nationalisation, and, carried into the international sphere backed by narrow nationalism, it seems to be confusion worse confounded and despair piled upon despair.
The next observation I wish to make is more limited and local. I do not often find in this House special references made to that part of the country from which I come. I may be filled with a sinister lack of appreciation, but there is a very lengthy reference to Scotland in this Bill. What does it mean? Perhaps the Minister will tell us when he replies. Why this somewhat lengthy Clause 19 with paragraphs (a), (b), (c), (d) and (e)? I know there is a difference between Scottish and English law, especially as regards land, but are we being offered the suggestion that possibly some of the experiments begun at Didcot are to be transferred to Scotland, and, if so, is that of hope for Scotland or is it a matter for regret? Perhaps the Minister will tell us why on this occasion Scotland has such a prominent consideration in this Bill for the development of atomic energy and the control of such development. It is not often that Scotland acquires the interest which it has on this occasion. I 133 hope there is nothing sinister about it, and with that observation I will resume my seat.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Usborne (Birmingham, Acock's Green)
During the speech in which the Prime Minister introduced this Bill he used one or two phrases of which I made a note. One phrase was this: "If we can be assured that it will be used for peaceful purposes only," and later on he said: "The United Nations organisation exists to free the world from the possibility of atomic war." I maintain that in the course of his speech the Prime Minister made the assumption, as every one of us must make, that ultimately an international organisation will be created which can control internationally the production and development of atomic energy. Throughout the speeches of practically every hon. Member who has spoken in this Debate that assumption has also been made, sometimes explicitly and sometimes by implication. I would like to develop that theme a little, because I do not believe that any Member in this House could pass this Bill, unless we all automatically assumed that it was leading towards an effective international control. If that is not so, then this Bill is the beginning of the arms race. It is either the beginning of the arms race, or else we believe—and we cannot vote for it otherwise—that it is possible to create an effective international organisation in time.
Since that seems to me to be the core of the problem, I would like to spend a few minutes pointing out some of the in-consistences in the existing international system that is now at our disposal. What we all want today—all mankind everywhere, as I see it—is to create an international organisation which can make regulations to control our behaviour in various ways, particularly with regard to the development of atomic explosives. It seems to me also to be true that the effectiveness of law tends to diminish as the size of the unit to which we endeavour to apply it progressively increases. If law is not effective and cannot be enforced it is no good.
I would try to illustrate that in the following way. During the war, and in certain instances even today, there is in operation an Order on the Statute Book, 134 namely, the Essential Work Order. Under that Order an employer, a company, is not allowed to fire its employee and the employee is not allowed to give notice to his employer, the company. Anyone like myself, who has had practical experience of the working of that Order, and who is prepared to be honest about it, will I think admit that he has seldom known of an employee who has successfully evaded the working of that law, while it is equally true to say that practically every company can, when it wishes, evade that law. That is not because the employer is any more wicked or sinister or subtle than his employee. It is merely an illustration of the fact that that single law is applied in that instance to two different sizes of unit, the small unit being the individual and the large unit being the company. As the unit to which the law is applied increases in size the effectiveness or the enforcibility of that law diminishes.
Another illustration is that of litigation with regard to patent law. Towards the end of the war, sponsored by the Board of Trade, I went over to the United States to try to work some British patents some of which I owned myself. Immediately I landed in the United States, I learned that the value of a British patent had no relation at all to the intrinsic worth of the patent itself, or how well it was covered by the specification. It depended entirely upon the amount of cash one was prepared to put behind the patent in the event of litigation. That is because nowadays patents are not generally owned by individuals, nor are they infringed by individuals. They are largely owned or infringed by vast industrial corporations, and for that reason, patent law is practically unenforcible and almost entirely unpredictable. Litigation goes on for years and years; the only people who understand it or who make anything out of it are the learned counsel; and the decision, when it is ultimately made, is generally reversed in a higher court of law. In this instance the law, because it is applied to a gigantic unit, a big corporation, is almost totally a farce.
If we go one stage further, we observe that in the world today the United Nations organisation is endeavouring to make laws or regulations for the biggest unit known to man, namely, the national sovereign state; and it is impossible so to do. We cannot make effective, enforceable law and apply it to that size of unit. It 135 cannot be done. The frustration which is evident in international affairs today is not in any way due to the unwillingness of statesmen to work that machinery. It is frankly due to the fact that it is humanly impossible for them to do so. The whole of the United Nations charter is founded upon the fact that its members are states and that the function of the organisation is to make laws and regulations for the behaviour of states. The analogy which I have given shows it cannot be done. Moreover, there is an interesting extract, which I have here, from the Nuremberg trial. During the trial one of the counsel for the defence argued that the crime could not justifiably be laid at the door of his client but was really the crime of the Third Reich; to which argument the American prosecutor, Justice Jackson, replied in these words:The idea that a State any more than a corporation can commit crimes is a fiction. Crimes always are committed by persons. That fictional being, the State, cannot be produced for trial, cannot plead, cannot testify, and cannot be sentenced.Nevetheless, if you will read the Charter of the United Nations you will find we are trying to do precisely that—the impossible. What, obviously, we must try to do now is to set up an international organisation that can make, and has the power to endeavour to make, laws which can be applied. Learning the lesson of our experience, we find that effective law is law which is applied to the smallest unit—the individual, the person. If we can give our international authority the power to make laws which can be enforced, we may then, I believe, get effective international control. If or when we succeed in doing that, we shall have changed the United Nations organisation into a world government; nothing short of that can save us from catastrophe.
I go back to the point from which I started. In so far as this Bill means anything except the beginning of an arms race, it means that we know that the task ahead of us is to create world government; because, unless we do that there can be no peace. I believe it can be done, and that it can be done in time. But I do not believe—and this is where I take exception to one or two other speakers—I do not believe it can now be done on the level of governments or by statesmen. It can only be done by the people of the 136 world themselves; and it can be done by them. I should like to conclude then, by quoting the words of the President of the Board of Trade, who made a speech on this very subject early this year. I think he hit the nail firmly and correctly on the head. He said:I do not doubt the willingness of statesmen, but the task is so great and so urgent that we cannot hope to get it carried through unless we have the driving power of world public opinion behind it.I believe that that driving power of world public opinion can be got behind it, and that it can do the job in time. I wish I could tell the House how that could be done, but I think, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you would probably rule me out of Order. This is certainly not the moment for that discussion. The last word then that I want to say to anyone listening, or who will read my speech is this: I believe it can be done. I am quite convinced it must be done.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ The Minister of Supply (Mr. John Wilmot)
We have had a long, interesting and thoughtful Debate on this matter, and a number of points have been raised of considerable importance. I should like to reply to them. May I at the outset assure the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) that there is no sinister intention directed to Scotland? Scottish law differs from our own, and it is necessary, since this Bill, when it becomes an Act, will apply to the whole of Britain, that there should be provisions for applying it to Scotland, in view of the different legal system; there is nothing more sinister than a proper respect for Scottish legal tradition.
May I also say to the hon. Member for the Acock's Green Division of Birmingham (Mr. Usborne) that it is one of the primary purposes of this Bill to put the British Government in a position to carry out, within its territory, the obligations which we hope will be the substance of international agreement very soon; and it is, as the hon. Member says, quite impossible that an international authority should be able to make a law which will be binding on all the subjects of all the States, unless the States which are parties to the agreement are prepared to pass laws of their own giving effect to it. Obviously, no international agreement to limit the use of atomic energy to peaceful purposes would be of use unless the 137 signatory governments were able themselves to control their own nationals in the use that they were making of this new source of power.
The right hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench with charm, moderation and reasonableness accepted the necessity for this Bill. He rightly drew attention to the negative and restrictive appearance which its Clauses have, and he admitted that this was necessary owing to the nature of the subject, but I Would point out that the Bill begins with a positive and constructive purpose. It begins by laying upon the Minister the duty of producing atomic energy, of carrying out research and development, and doing all that is necessary to carry this new science forward. That is the positive part of it; it is not in very great detail—
§ Mr. Wilmot
It has the usual general Parliamentary sanctions, that the Minister must exercise his functions adequately and properly to the satisfaction of Parliament. This is an entirely new thing, a new human activity, and the Bill lays upon the Government, through the Minister of Supply, the duty of doing what is necessary to be done. It is not in great detail because this is a new science, there is far more to learn than the little which is already known, and therefore it is brief in compass if very wide in scope. But, as has been pointed out by a number of hon. Members, including the hon. Member for South-East St. Pancras (Dr. Jeger), it is a fact that in the present state of our knowledge experiments with, and steps towards the production of, materials used for the production of atomic energy are fraught with great peril, not only to those engaged in them but to people in the vicinity, if they are not conducted in a proper way with adequate safeguards. It is not only the defence aspect of this matter that makes it necessary to have these restrictions upon the manner in which the work is carried out, but the danger of calamity in the course of the work.
That, I think, is the main reason why, on the face of it, the Bill appears to be mainly of a restrictive and negative character, but in fact of course it is the opening of a great new positive work. The right hon. Gentleman—rightly, I think—raised the point that this science 138 will march forward only if the scientists are able to work at it in their own way, and one of the things which the Minister, his adviser- and assistants must guard against in building their organisation is that the scientists shall be confined and treated as civil servants or, as the hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Commander Noble) put it, required to clock on and off. Scientists do not do good work in those conditions, it is pointed out. Well, Sir, there will be scientific people working in Government establishments, there will be many more, in time, working outside Government establishments, in universities and later on in industry. I do not believe that there is any risk or danger that the scientific men who will be doing this work will be subject to any more irksome or tiresome restrictions which would hamper them in their work than scientists working in other departments in Government establishments or for industry. I think that the right hon. Gentleman is right to call attention to the danger of not realising that scientific people need a free atmosphere in which they can do their best work.
Something was said about the delay in introducing the Bill. The Bill was introduced as far back as 1st May. There has been deliberately left this rather long period between First Reading and publication of the Bill and this Second Reading Debate because this is so novel a subject, and because it is so important that it should be understood and the Government's proposals widely appreciated, and so that the Government should be able to benefit from the advice and informed criticisms which we hoped would come in from many sources as a result of its publication. What we hoped for has happened, and a very considerable volume of advice, criticism and help has come to us, upon which we have pondered and in many cases acted. Hon. Members will notice upon the Order Paper a number of Amendments of substance which I have put down as a result of discussions and correspondence with people in scientific occupations and men engaged in these pursuits, with industrialists and others, who have seen that the Bill could be improved. We are most happy to meet the suggestions, and I would commend a study of these Amendments and their effects upon the Bill to hon. Members between now and the Committee stage. One of these Amendments will be of con- 139 siderable interest to the hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn) and others, because I have deliberately put it down to require the Minister to give his permission for the communication of information, unless he is satisfied that to do so would be dangerous on defence grounds. It is a very wide and far-reaching Amendment which goes a long way to meet the very natural criticism which has been made about that part of the Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Kensington (Mr. Law) with others says, very rightly, that everything depends upon the spirit in which the Government will act and use the powers which will be granted under this Bill. What sort of drive and energy is to be put up behind it? What indications have already been given that the Government are tackling this thing with the full purpose which its importance deserves? It is not easy at the moment at this early stage to give a wealth of concrete evidence, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman and the House that the Government regard this matter as the most important subject of all, and, if I may say so, I think the appointment of so distinguished and eminent a person as Lord Portal of Hungerford as the Controller of Production of Atomic Energy in the Ministry of Supply is an indication of our intention to find the best possible people to carry on this most important of all work. Already we are hard at work, as the hon. Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn) said, with the research establishment in his constituency. It is robbing us of labour and materials which are badly needed for housing and industry, but, as he so generously said, he recognised the necessity of devoting all that was necessary to make the utmost speed with these preparations. I can say very little more than that. The limiting factor is not any lack of energy on the part of the Administration; it is the sheer limit of labour and materials which we can get for the job. Our productive capacity, as the House knows, is strained in every direction but we are doing our utmost, by every possible means, to press this matter forward. The hon. Member who said it was incumbent on the Government from time to time to make, as it were, progress reports to the House, and to take the House into their confidence as to how 140 this matter was progressing, made a timely suggestion, and one which we shall be pleased to act upon.
I turn to some of the more detailed points which have been raised during the Debate. The hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) asked about the Special Order procedure. It is rather a Parliamentary legal point, and probably there are Members here tonight who are more qualified to deal with it than I, but, as I understand it, the special procedure which it is proposed to use for the Orders to be made under Section 7 dealing with the acquisition of minerals, has been selected in order to give the utmost safeguard to the affected subject. The Minister may go in and work the minerals, and it is proposed to use this procedure as a means of giving the utmost protection. Any Special Procedure Order, before being laid before Parliament, must be advertised and served on the persons affected. They can make objections and cause local inquiries to be held, and take other steps, with which Members are familiar, to safeguard their interests and to see that Parliament is well aware of all that is going on. This was felt to be particularly appropriate, in view of the wide powers over property with which the Minister is endowed in these Orders.
I would like to refer for a moment or two to the very interesting and attractive maiden speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ilford (Mr. Ranger). I listened to it with the greatest interest, but I cannot say that I agree with it. I really do not feel that we should be furthering the cause of international peace if we in this country, alone and by ourselves, simply refused to go on with the science and production of atomic energy. That does not seem to be the solution of this problem. Surely, we have to play our part in getting an international agreement which wall be carried out, and in seeing that this great sphere of human knowledge is used for man's welfare, and not for his destruction. The easy way of washing our hands of the whole business seems to help us not at all. I would, however, like to compliment my hon. Friend on the attractive way in which he presented his argument. My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Palmer) asked me whether I would give an undertaking that nothing would be done under this Bill which was 141 inconsistent with any international obligations, either existing now, or, when entered into, existing then. I freely and willingly give that undertaking. I said that one of the purposes of the Bill was to put the Government in a position to carry out their international obligations.
I was asked if I could say how these provisions compared with similar provisions abroad. In foreign countries the background is very different, and the provisions are different. I am afraid that I am not in a position to give a detailed answer to the question which the hon. Member asked. Regard has to be had to previous legislation in those countries as, indeed, the references in this Bill show that we have had to have it here. I would like to say that immediately this Bill was drafted, copies were sent to all of the Dominions. I understand that Bills either have been or are in the course of being prepared and passed in each of the Dominions to carry out similar if not exactly identical provisions.
I would like to deal with what I think was the main contention of a number of hon. Members, including the hon. Member for King's Norton, the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick), the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Preston (Wing-Commander Shackleton) and others, and that was that they would feel much happier if there were included in the Bill the provision of an advisory committee of scientists to advise the Minister. I have given that suggestion, which, on the face of it, is a very natural one in dealing with so expert and difficult a subject as this, and with a Minister who is admittedly no scientist, very careful consideration. I think that I am right in saying that there is not in fact very much between us on the matter. There is at present the practice of taking advice of all the leading scientists who can contribute anything to this matter. I do not think that it would be wise, for several reasons, to have a statutory fixed body of scientists who inevitably would become a screen between the Minister and his direct Parliamentary responsibility.
§ Mr. Blackburn
The scientists, as I understand it, would, most of them, be prepared to accept it outside the Bill, assuming that the Minister was prepared to indicate that he would appoint a committee of scientists and engineers engaged 142 in the problem to advise him. Do I understand that that is accepted by him?
§ Mr. Wilmot
No. I do not think that it would be any more acceptable than if it were mentioned in the Bill. It is not only unacceptable but it is unnecessary. Obviously, it would be impossible for any Minister to carry out this work unless he had the advice of scientific, engineering and other expert people, and unless the Minister is utterly incompetent and incapable and unworthy of the confidence of this House he will seek the very best advice he can possibly obtain.
§ Mr. Blackburn
Would the Minister give the objections to publishing the names of the people on whose advice he is going to rely?
§ Mr. Wilmot
Obviously, ever since this work began there has been daily consultation with the scientists. It would be wrong to have a picture of a group of scientists sitting round a table and constituting themselves an advisory committee. This subject flows out into every branch of knowledge. It is necessary to consult people here, there and everywhere on a whole range of topics. The whole fabric of human life is affected by these vast, revolutionary discoveries. If we were to get together in one place permanently all the people whose advice we seek from time to time as the work develops, we should have a mass meeting. We should be quite incapable of conducting business on those lines. Various officers and scientific people on the staff of the establishments are continually in touch with other scientific men in the universities, in industry, and with the main streams of scientific thought; and I suggest that is the only way in which the people who have the actual administration of this work can keep themselves in phase with the development of science as they go. We cannot isolate a body of people and call them an advisory committee.
§ Mr. Wilmot
I am not saying that it cannot be done, but that it would not be a good thing. It would not improve the organisation and the objects which we 143 have in view. There is no point in setting up an advisory committee for the sake of it. Naturally, this work is carried on with the continual advice of all the people who have anything to contribute, and it will continue to be so. Therefore, I have to say it is not necessary.
§ Commander Noble
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, can he say how the Committee which has been presided over by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) now stands?
§ Mr. Wilmot
Yes. I ought to have mentioned that. There is, of course, a most important advisory body, the Anderson Committee as it is called, presided over by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities, which advises the Prime Minister and the Government generally upon the whole problem and upon which there sit a number of distinguished scientists; but that is a broader approach to the matter— the general policy of the thing rather than the day-to-day carrying on of the business. That is done by officers of the Ministry of Supply, under the direction of Lord Portal of Hungerford, and that distinguished atomic scientist Professor Cockcroft, who is in charge of the experimental establishment at Harwell. It is those day-to-day workers who are in touch all the time with the scientific people all over the country.
The second main criticism of the Bill— and I think the most substantial—was with regard to the vital Clause 11, which deals with the giving of information about plant used for the production of atomic energy. I admit right away that the drafting of this Clause inevitably presents the greatest fundamental difficulty. How is it possible to reconcile these two apparently opposite objectives? We have to secure the non-disclosure of things which may be dangerous, or things which it is undesirable to disclose for reasons of defence. At the same time we have to secure, as many hon. Members very rightly pointed out, that there is a free interchange and flow of scientific opinion, because only in such an atmosphere can science live at all. These two difficult and contradictory objectives have somehow got to be faced. Clause 11 is admit- 144 tedly the best compromise we have been able to make up to now between those two objectives.
The Clause allows complete freedom over the whole field unassociated with atomic energy plant. It is the plant which is made the objective of the restriction, and there is no restriction at all upon the exchange of basic scientific information. It is the information concerned with the plant and what the plant does which is the subject of these restrictions. But I do appreciate that Clause 11 read with Clause 18 is restrictive in operation inevitably.
I have done my very best to find ways in which we can limit its effects in that direction. As I have said I have put down an Amendment which will require the Minister not to withhold his consent unless he is satisfied that by giving it he would be doing something dangerous to the safety of the State. That goes a very long way. Secondly, I am prepared—and I think the hon. Member for King's Norton will be interested in this—in relation to Clauses 10 and 11, to free the ordinary laboratory tools of the nuclear physicist which have no defence significance by exeluding them from the terms of any Order which I may make under Clause 10; and as soon as the Bill becomes law to confer with the physicists and scientists who will be affected with a view to making an Order under Clause 11 to exclude those tools from the categories of plant about which communication is forbidden. I think that will go a very long way to meet the very natural views which have been expressed in many quarters of the House, and I would add that I am prepared to confer with the scientists in the drafting of this Order which will let out the normal tools of their profession.
I think that covers the main points which have been raised and I should like to express my very deep appreciation of the very helpful Debate which we have had. The importance of this new source of power for peaceful purposes yet remains to be measured. This science, new as it is, has its beginnings some time back in the work of Madame Curie and Lord Rutherford and others in this country. A great step forward was made on the eve of the war and it so happens that on the scientific road to the production of power from nuclear energy we passed the 145 point at which we can produce this terrifying explosive instrument. In those circumstances our minds have been focused rather on this sideline of the development of atomic energy which had such devastating results and possibilities. But the main stream of the advance is, of course, towards the production of power from this source, and here, in spite of what has been said in some quarters, I am advised that it is a little too early to make definite and accurate predictions as to how near or otherwise this new source of power is to our grasp for application. I think therefore that we have to make our forecasts with some caution. The fact that the nuclear fission reaction leads to the release of a million times more energy from a given weight of matter than would be released by any chemical process such as burning or the detonation of T.N.T., is a sufficient indication of the potential importance of this subject and justifies the steps which have been taken in this Bill.
I am advised by the experts that it may prove later on not to be necessary to use the nuclear fission method at all, and that we may find means to liberate atomic energy by different methods altogether. It is certain already that atomic energy can be used to produce new radioactive materials in considerable quantities and that with their aid new fields of research and application are opened in biology and medicine and in many branches of industry where these radioactive atoms can be used to follow chemical reactions and other processes.
The use of atomic energy as a source of power will depend upon the successful solution of a number of hitherto unsolved technical problems. The chief of these is that associated with the generation of heat in the process, at a temperature sufficiently high to use directly for the generation of electricity instead of using some other form of fuel. The recent report to the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission by Mr. Baruch shows that a body of American experts consider that electricity can be generated in the near future at atomic energy stations at a cost comparable with that of using coal or oil fuel. I would hasten to point out that the report stresses the need for finding the solution of a number of still unsolved technical problems of some magnitude. In some quarters the report is thought to be somewhat over-optimistic. It is there- 146 fore probably wise, in the present state of our knowledge, to keep an open mind on such questions until the outlook has been cleared by further research and development work. Of one thing we can be sure, that the new discoveries have in store very great things for mankind.
§ Commander Noble
Before the Minister concludes, can he say anything about the military liaison committee to which I referred?
§ Mr. Wilmot
I am afraid that that matter is outside the realm of the Minister of Supply. I think the question should be addressed, if I may suggest it, to the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I am sorry to delay the Bill, but the Minister was asked which Minister, whether himself or another, has responsibility for the survey of raw materials in the dominions of the Crown outside this country and not self-governing. Can he give the answer to that question?
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for Friday.—[Captain Michael Stewart.]