§ 1.30 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General
I beg to move, in page 7, line 25, to leave out "knowingly."
This is a drafting Amendment, designed both to remove any ambiguity as to the words which are qualified by the condition that the communication must be knowingly made and to bring the Clause into conformity with language which is used in other legislation.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Further Amendments made: In page 7, line 25, at the end, insert "to any other person."
§ In line 27, after "which," insert "to his knowledge."—[The Attorney-General.]
§ Major Vernon
I beg to move, in page 7, line 31, after "operation," to insert: 531(other than the fundamental physical or chemical processes on which the operation is based).The purpose of this Amendment is to give more freedom to educational establishments to carry on their necessary activities without having to apply repeatedly to the Minister for a special licence for particular operations. Fundamental physical or chemical processes are necessarily part of the operation, and it should be quite clear—and we think it is the intention—that this fundamental research work should be excluded. To my way of thinking the operation does include the operation of the experimental parts, generally on a small scale, which are essential to educational work. Therefore, we would like an assurance from the Minister that the intention is to exclude these educational pieces of apparatus and their use from the term "operation" now in the Bill.
§ Mr. Woodburn
We are quite in sympathy with the desire of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. However, we are advised that the Clause as it stands excludes these processes much more effectively than they would be excluded if his Amendment were adopted. One of the problems which arose was the question of defining "fundamental physical or chemical processes." He himself has had that difficulty, and we had the same difficulty when considering this matter previously. I can assure him that, as far as we know, there is no way in which this can be made clearer or safeguarded better than by the Clause as it stands. I would draw the attention of the hon. and gallant Gentleman to an Amendment which follows, in line 40, at the end, to insert:(2) The Minister shall not withhold consent under the last foregoing subsection, if he is satisfied that the information proposed to be communicated is not of importance for purposes of defence.That gives the Minister very definite instructions in this regard, and gives the greatest amount of freedom. It would be better than inserting any words which might be limiting as well as apparently extending the power.
§ Major Vernon
I am very pleased to accept that explanation. I think what the Minister has said gives us part, indeed most, of the assurance for which we are asking. I would point out that a further 532 clarification may be possible at a later stage, because there is an Amendment which aims at defining the particular operations more precisely than we are trying to do here. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I beg to move, in page 7, line 37, to leave out "general."
This is in a sense a drafting Amendment. There is no particular reason why it should not be possible for the Minister to give some latitude in regard to special plant which might come into existence but which is not in general use. We are advised, therefore, that it would be better to leave out the word "general."
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I beg to move, in page 7, line 40, at the end, to insert:(2) The Minister shall not withhold consent under the last foregoing subsection, if he is satisfied that the information proposed to be communicated is not of importance for purposes of defence.I should like at the same time to refer to the following Amendment, on the Paper—in page 8, line 5, to leave out Subsection (4).
Under Subsection (4) it was discovered that scientists might be placed under the very serious difficulty of having themselves to define the point at which they were breaking the law. Scientists were a little apprehensive, we were informed, and said that this was a responsibility which should not be put on them but should be the responsibility of the Minister. Therefore, my right hon. Friend has put in a general instruction to himself thatThe Minister shall not withhold consent …. if he is satisfied that the information proposed to be communicated is not of importance for purposes of defence.Within these very strict limitations he binds himself to exclude all matters which have been raised—the questions of plant for scientific research, for educational work great or small. If it can come outside that definition the Minister frees it entirely from any restriction whatsoever.
§ Mr. Blackburn
The double negative in this proposed Amendment is extremely cautious. I think the Minister would recognise that himself. The deletion of Subsection (4) does undoubtedly take away something which scientists regarded 533 as being for their protection, and the Minister has dilated before on the point that it was for their protection. Would the Minister be good enough to explain how he will come to an opinion under this proposed Amendment? How will he know whether the information proposed to be communicated is or is not of importance for the purposes of defence? I would like to put the difficulty to him. Suppose the Minister had been Minister of Supply in Germany in 1938, and that Professor Hann, as in fact happened, discovered the phenomenon of nuclear fission and discovered that uranium could be split into two parts. Assuming a new discovery of that kind were to be brought to the Minister now, would he say he thought it was dangerous for the purposes of defence?
I hope the Minister will be good enough to tell us in what way his mind is working. At what stage will he begin to think a new discovery may be a danger? Will he interpret this in the liberal sense or in a narrow sense? Will he say, as he has said in this Committee very frequently on previous occasions, "Well, of course, this is a very broad subject. Who knows in which direction this step may lead us? Who knows what the result of this new discovery may be? I cannot conscientiously say that I am satisfied this information is not of importance for the purposes of defence." That is what I am afraid the Minister will do. I am satisfied that is the way his mind will work. If the Minister will tell the Committee today, and put it on the record that he will interpret this in such a way that, if possible, he will free the information, and that he will only decide not to free it if he is absolutely satisfied it is reasonably likely to contribute to the production of weapons of destruction, then I think the attitude of scientists and the Committee would change.
§ Mr. Wilmot
I find it a feat of mental gymnastics of which I am incapable to imagine myself a Minister of Defence in Germany in 1938, so perhaps I may be excused from pursuing that. I should find it very painful. If I had sought for words to define the attitude of mind in which I would approach the performance of this duty, I could not have improved upon the words which the hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn) has just used. I accept them in full, and I can assure the Committee that the inten- 534 tion of this is to bind the present Minister and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo) said, his possibly less meritorious successors, to withhold nothing that can safely be given. That is the spirit in which I think it should be approached.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Further Amendment made: In page 8, line 5, leave out Subsection (4)—[Mr. Woodburn.]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
§ Mr. Palmer (Wimbledon)
I think it would be a pity to let this Clause pass without giving to the Committee some expression of the feelings of hon. Members on this side with regard to its dangers. I think that our feelings on this matter must be put as strongly as possible to the Committee. None of us would seek to make any exaggerated case; tribute has already been paid to my right hon. Friend, and we know that he is a Minister almost beyond reproach—that is the impression I got from some of the glowing tributes that have been paid to him—and it is unlikely that he will use these very wide and sweeping powers in any unreasonable fashion. None the less we must remember, I think, that science has progressed in the past, and is likely to progress in the future in the same way, by the full and unrestricted interchange of knowledge. It is doubtful if science can remain science for any length of time if it is half slave and half free. The powers given to the Minister in this Clause are so wide that they fill the minds of many scientific workers with considerable apprehension about the future of scientific progress.
During the Second Reading Debate I gave some idea to the House of a situation that I thought might possibly arise, and I should like to go back to it again and to have my right hon. Friend's comments upon it. It is not just existing plant that the Clause covers, but additions to existing plant and proposed plant, and it is on the word "proposed" that I want to dwell for just a moment. Let me take the case of a scientific man who is a great expert in this matter of nuclear physics and atomic energy, and to whom some new or original idea occurs. He is perhaps not working directly in a Government Department; he may be working in a university, 535 independently, and he thinks that this new idea may be of great benefit and may perhaps even solve some problem that, until that time, lacked a solution. In order to solve his problem he must have advice from some colleague, perhaps in some other university. In the Second Reading Debate I suggested that perhaps this colleague might be an expert in hydraulics, but he might also be an expert in thermodynamics or some other branch of science altogether.
This hypothetical scientist sketches the idea out and, in that sense, it becomes a proposed plant for the purposes of atomic energy. He takes his sketch along to his friend. I suggest that by taking that action he lays himself open to prosecution, and it is a most disturbing thought, because science progresses by the free interchange of information, by publication, and if this Clause is to be used to restrict investigation into fundamental processes I think it will be most unfortunate. I would ask, since everything under this Bill will be vital to national security, and since it is a Government monopoly, is this Clause really necessary? That might appear to be rather an extreme view, but I should be glad to have yet another assurance from my right hon. Friend on the point. Another thought also passes through my mind: Are the police in a position adequately to enforce this Clause, and just how will they enforce it? Shall we have a new legion of atomic policemen? Its enforcement must involve a considerable knowledge of very deep and complicated scientific processes; we all have great respect for the police, but we do not imagine that they are necessarily in a position to enforce this Clause intelligently, and it needs intelligent enforcement, however intelligent they may be as policemen.
There is a second point. If this Clause is used oppressively, how are the Parliamentary checks my right hon. Friend talks about to be exercised? It may be that gross blunders are made by some one in my right hon. Friend's Department, that mistakes are made that lead to inefficiency, and that some one who works in the Department thinks that it is all wrong and that some hon. Member of this House should be informed. He has to prove to the hon. Member that there is inefficiency and that mistakes 536 are being made, and in order to do so he may need to mention some detail about a particular plant. In that case I suggest that that official or scientist working in the Ministry is liable to prosecution under this Clause. I therefore suggest, with all respect to my right hon. Friend, that it is perhaps not very fair to talk about Parliamentary checks, since the Clause may be used to prevent effective Parliamentary criticism from being expressed.
Is it not likely that the Clause will breed excessive caution among scientific men? Before they can publish anything they have to get the permission of the Ministry. The Ministry may not necessarily say "No" immediately, but it may be some months before they are in a position to say "Yes." There is certainly a great danger of delay and obstruction. Some of us hon. Members on this side who take the view I am trying to express have not reached the conclusion that we have about this Clause without a great deal of thought. Some of us worked fairly hard to see if we could define in some way the dangers involved. In the long run we came to the conclusion that it was not possible to do it successfully, because the border is always shifting. There are both black and white, and in between there is a very large grey patch. I, therefore, suggest to the Minister that probably this Clause is unnecessary. It could be done away with without seriously weakening the Bill or without seriously endangering national security. Is not the Official Secrets Act good enough? For some years this work is likely to be more or less a Government monopoly, and anything dangerous in the military sense can be quite easily placed under the Official Secrets Act. I suggest that it would be a good thing if the Clause were dropped, and fundamental research was freed from the very grave risk of legal action, and from the very grave risk of being seriously hampered.
§ Mr. Cobb (Elland)
I should like to add a few words to what my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Palmer) has said on this subject, because we feel somewhat perturbed about it. If we were amid preparations for war, then secrecy must be drawn as widely as possible, but if, happily, we have peace in front of us, then we do not feel that scientific progress will be as rapid as it could be with this Clause remaining in the Bill. Scientists do 537 not flourish in an atmosphere where they are frustrated by regulations of this description. My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon has quite rightly pointed out that the Official Secrets Act should be a sufficient safeguard for the Minister as things are at the moment, because scientists who are likely to work upon the wartime application of atomic energy will be covered already by the Official Secrets Act.
This Clause seeks to cast the net over private scientists who may be working on their own on applications of atomic energy for peace-time uses. If they have to observe this Clause, they will feel—and I believe that the Attorney-General would advise them to do this—that they should each and every one of them have their own private lawyer to advise them on every particular piece of private thinking and private discussion which they have with their colleagues. It puts them in an absolutely impossible position. I am pleading on behalf of the scientists of this country who want to enlarge and increase the speed of the application of atomic energy for peace time use, that this Clause be deleted. Finally, I should like to say something which has to do with the liberty of the people of this country. This Bill gives only one person liberty as we in this country through the ages have been taught to understand it. It gives liberty to the Minister. It denies liberty to the scientist and to the public. It denies liberty to the public to criticise the Minister in the carrying out of this work, which resides in Parliament, and Parliament can only criticise a Minister if Members have the ammunition with which to criticise. We all know how difficult it is in ordinary circumstances to get ammunition to criticise. One has to go through the highways and byways of the economic structure of the country and take a great deal of care and attention to obtain one single small pebble to throw at a Minister. Under this Clause, a single grain of information will cast not only the scientist who gives it into prison, but also the Member of Parliament. This is a blank denial of the liberty of our ancestors. It is adding to the already onerous parts of the Official Secrets Act. We feel, in giving very careful consideration to this subject, that the Minister has already ample powers under the Official Secrets Act, and that if we are to have the liberty still to criticise him—we hope it 538 will not be necessary—then we must have the liberty to obtain the ammunition with which to criticise.
§ Mr. Warbey (Luton)
We all recognise that we and the Minister are confronted with a difficulty in trying to discover how to handle a problem which involves the conflicting claims of security and liberty. This is a problem which arises with particular acuteness in this case, because we are dealing with a field in which the possible repercussions are still comparatively unknown. Nevertheless, it is only an extension of the general problem of how to reconcile the interests of national security with those of safeguarding the general public from the abuse of liberty, or the possible inefficiency of the Government, and the question of safeguarding, individuals in their capacity as research workers or operatives in carrying out their task. I feel that we must begin to think here of the question of evolving some new kind of procedure to deal with this problem.
It is quite clear that a full session of this House is not the occasion when one can conduct that searching investigation. It may be that we ought to consider the possibility of instituting some special Select Committee—let us say, a Select Committee on defence—covering not only this particular problem, but other related problems, where it would be possible for those who have a grievance, or suspect abuse or inefficiency, to bring their evidence in confidence to a group of members specially chosen for the purpose. These Members should have access to the Minister, and power to call for papers and persons. It should also be possible for members of the public to apply for permission to present evidence to such a committee. In any possible redrafting of the Clause, I suggest that between now and the Report stage, the Minister might consider inserting an Amendment providing for the possibility of the introduction of such a procedure at a later stage. He should make it possible,, for example, for information to be disclosed to a Select Committee appointed by this House. I am not suggesting that this Bill is the occasion to set up such a committee, but there should be a safeguarding Clause should the House decide at some later stage, in the interests of preserving liberty of the subject in this very difficult field, that a special procedure should be adopted. That would leave the road open.
§ 2.0 p.m.
§ Wing-Commander Shackleton (Preston)
I am appalled that a subject of this importance is being discussed in the presence of four Members of the party who claim to defend liberty. So far most of their interventions concern imaginary rights about a mineral which does not exist in this country. This Clause, in my opinion, is of the very greatest importance. Scientists who are concerned with atomic energy, and with the planning and thought of future scientific development in the field of nuclear physics, are extremely worried, because they do not know what this Clause means. Quite frankly, we have not been given a very satisfactory explanation of the purpose of the Clause. I hope that when the Minister comes to reply he will tell us exactly what he is trying to do. It is obvious that its purpose is not clear in the same way as the Official Secrets Act. When this Bill is passed, there will be a state of affairs in which scientists will not know where they stand. The orders which the Minister has promised he will make have not yet been made, and there will be a state of uncertainty.
There is a further point about this Clause, and it is that I am not sure that it will succeed in doing what I think the Minister wants to do. The Clause, as we have just amended it, says:Subject to the provisions of this section, any person who without the consent of the Minister, communicates to any other person any document … which to his knowledge describes ….Unless a person, revealing this information, or publishing this document, also communicates the implication or possibility of the production of atomic energy, he will not, in my submission, be breaking the law. I would like to know how it will be possible to stop anyone publishing information, providing he does not reveal that he knows that it has some special implication. This Clause is not effective. It is bad legislation, and I suggest that my right hon. Friend should reconsider it. I do not think we should wipe it out without putting something in its place, because I understand that the Minister has an idea which he wants to carry out. He wants to obtain certain powers, but the Clause does not give him those powers. It is highly restrictive. I regard the Clause as a very crucial one indeed. We are discussing a matter affecting the liberties and rights of scientists, 540 our people and Parliament. We shall have to keep a watch on this industry, and this Clause would make that very difficult to do.
§ Mr. Wilmot
The Government have already given very great thought to this Clause. As the Committee realises, we are in a very great difficulty in this matter because, as has been pointed out, it is a difficulty that flows out beyond the limits of this subject in all matters of defence. We have an admitted conflict between the interests of national security in the present state of the world, and the necessity for securing the utmost freedom for the necessary exchange of scientific knowledge. I agree absolutely that the exchange of scientific knowledge is an essential part of scientific progress, and that without it science will languish and die. I recognise that to the full, but we must all recognise that at the present time there are some matters which, for reasons of national security, must remain secret. How do we reconcile these two things? This Clause is the best compromise we have been able to devise between these two contrary objectives.
§ Mr. Blackburn
Is my right hon. Friend admitting that the Government have failed to take steps which they ought to have taken to keep secret matters which ought to be kept secret? If this Clause is necessary, does it necessarily involve the proposition that the Bill ought to have been passed at least 12 months ago?
§ Mr. Wilmot
That may be, but here it is. It was not an easy Bill to produce. As I explained on the Second Reading, we deliberately allowed some time to pass between the publication and First Reading of the Bill and the Second Reading in order that we might have the benefit of informed criticism from science, industry and the public at large. We realised the tremendous importance of the Bill, and particularly this Clause, and the inherent difficulties of reconciling the two things I have mentioned.
Let me say at once that the words, "to his knowledge," referred to by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Preston (Wing-Commander Shackleton) do give very wide latitude, but we put them in because we did not think we could possibly defend prosecuting people who have done wrong without knowing it. I admit that in giving that safeguard to the 541 liberty of the subject we are running a certain risk, but I think it is a risk worth running. It brings the wording into accord with the existing wording of the Official Secrets Act. I have been asked why the Official Secrets Act was not good enough, why we could not have rested on that Act alone. In practice, it is not enough because it applies solely to the communication of information obtained from official sources. There is a danger here in the communication of certain information which may not have been obtained from official sources and, therefore, in that case the Official Secrets Act would not apply. Any person obtaining information about atomic energy plant, if he did not get the information from official sources, would, without this Clause, be perfectly free to disclose it wherever he chose. As I say, in the present state of affairs, and from what is within our knowledge, the Government regard it as a danger, which they could not embrace, to leave this big gap. This Clause seeks to fill that gap.
Let us not exaggerate the breadth of this matter. The Clause allows complete freedom over the whole field, unless it is associated with atomic energy plant. The plant is the thing which is safeguarded. [An HON. MEMBER: "And proposed plant?"] Certainly, proposed plant may be an even more vital secret than existing plant, because it may be an improvement, and so on. That lets right out of the operation of this Clause all basic scientific information, and the Clause, as now amended by the Government, directs the Minister to consent to publication even about plant where the information would not be dangerous from a defence point of view. Everything other than plant is outside the Clause. Also outside the Clause is such plant as may not be of importance for purposes of defence. I undertook in the Second Reading Debate to go further than that. The hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Blackburn) and his friends were good enough to say that they much appreciated the statement I then made. I undertook to make an order at once, on the passage of this Bill, freeing what I called the ordinary tools of the nuclear physicist's trade. You see, we are getting a long list of things already which are outside the operation of Clause 11.
§ Mr. Blackburn
As a scientist has put this point and is anxious about it, would that undertaking, which is greatly appreciated, cover the results of work on the tools of their trade as well as details about the plant itself? I imagine it would cover the results as well as the plant.
§ Mr. Wilmot
I would like to consider that. If it were possible to say ''Yes,'' I should be very glad to do so. I would like to think about what the implications are, but if it is possible to do it, I shall be only too pleased to do it. A combination of these various safeguards and limitations on the effects of the Clause should secure, as far as we can see, as complete a freedom as possible and as is reasonably consistent with the requirements of national safety. I think the Committee should note—and this is very important—that we have drawn the Bill in such a way that the Clause cannot be made more restrictive by the Minister than the words here set down, but he can progressively loosen it. The Minister cannot tighten it, but he can loosen it, and in fact, he is already beginning to loosen it by undertakings before the Bill has been passed. What I think will surely happen is that, as we go on and learn a bit more about this new science and what it involves, we shall get more and more exemptions made, a wider and wider field outside the Clause, as we can define more exactly the actual limits of national security requirements. We shall get a sort of case law which will emerge.
Let it be remembered all the time that it is not an absolute prohibition. It is only a requirement that the person who wants to make a communication should come to the Minister for consent, and the Minister will, of course, give his consent wherever he possibly can. One of my hon. Friends spoke of the difficulties which would arise with men working together or in association in devising, shall we say. improvements in atomic energy plant. Would they not, he asked, with great reason and wisdom, I thought, be inhibited from exchanging information which they must exchange with one another in order properly to do their work. How would they know what they could talk about? They would be struck dumb by this Clause. No, they would not. They would come to the Minister and they would say: "We want to discuss this with somebody else—a firm of constructional engineers whom we want to make us some 543 parts of the plant which we are devising." The Minister, if he wants that plant to be made, will say: "Certainly, I will give you the licence at once." As this goes on, and as this new and unfathomed thing begins to find its place in the normal work which people do, a kind of case law will be built up, and we shall begin to know the sort of applications which are granted and the sort that do not get granted, and just as we know, about a whole range of things where licences are required, what sort of application is likely to succeed, so it will become common form that you get a licence for this and you do not get it for that. Then, the next step will be to free a whole class of things from the operation of the Clause. That is as I see it, and much as I should like at this stage of the Bill to widen the freedom and remove the fears, I cannot see how we can do it without jeopardising national security.
§ Mr. Palmer
Will the Minister say something about the point raised concerning communications to Members of Parliament?
§ 2.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilmot
I intended to come to that as a final point. I do not think we can go any further without jeopardising, in the present state of affairs, vital national security, and further—and this is not without importance; in fact, it is probably the most important thing of all—if we are successfully to achieve the greatest objective, which is a workable and binding international agreement declaring this thing to be unusable in matters of warfare, unless we can find a way of international agreement which will prevent the horrors of atomic war, we must in this country put the Government in a position to control their own citizens in the use of atomic energy, and it is no good talking about the desirability of binding international law unless we are prepared to face the implications of binding law within our own State. That is a most important part of the reasons for this Bill and for this Clause, which has great importance in that aspect.
Finally, I come to what is a very serious point; it has to do with Parliamentary control, which, I agree, is so vitally necessary. How is the Member of Parliament, upon whom the responsibility ultimately rests of seeing that the Government are 544 adequately and properly discharging their duty to the nation, to know what is going on if people working in the field are not able to come to Members of Parliament, as they do, and disclose information which would be necessary to establish their case that the Government were not doing what was right and proper? My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Palmer) asked, "Why not leave it to the Official Secrets Act?" But the Official Secrets Act operates in exactly the same way, and Clause 11 of this Bill makes no greater difficulty as regards communication between officials and Members of Parliament than does the Official Secrets Act.
§ Mr. Palmer
The Minister said that the Official Secrets Act only covers official secrets. This Clause covers unofficial secrets. That is the difference.
§ Mr. Wilmot
Certainly, it slightly extends the scope, but it does not alter the nature of the thing. We have the very same difficulty over the whole field of munitions provisions, that the Minister is responsible in regard to his munitions responsibilities to Parliament, and yet the Official Secrets Act has the same operation, as between an informant and a Member, as Clause 11 will have in matters which are not covered by the Official Secrets Act. It is a problem and a difficulty which we have to admit and which we have to face. We have managed somehow, for better or for worse, with this same problem in the munitions of war and security arrangements, when most of the people who have the information upon which the Government could be criticised are in fact covered by the Official Secrets Act. It is a problem and I do not know the answer; we have not found it and if later on someone can find it without jeopardising public security no one will be more pleased than the Government.
Of course, there are certain safeguards. The Minister is responsible to the House; he may be removed at any time, and he naturally has to see that as far as possible he keeps the confidence of the House. If there were something going really seriously wrong and the people who were working in the field felt that it was their overriding duty to the State to see that this matter was raised in Parliament and that the Government were censured, what 545 would they do? They would have to ask the Minister for permission to do so and he could refuse, but in matters of this kind such considerations do not usually apply among honourable people. The persons concerned would ask the Minister for permission to communicate with Members of Parliament and, supposing the Minister were so short sighted, foolish and mean as to use his powers under this Bill to refuse that permission, I ask the Committee how long could that Minister last? That is the ultimate sanction and safeguard—that the Minister is responsible to the House and that when he loses the confidence of the House he ceases to be the Minister. I think that is the final answer.
§ Major Vernon
I am sure we all sympathise with the Minister in the difficulty in which he finds himself, a difficulty which, for the reasons he has suggested, is insoluble. It is the age-old problem of having one's cake and eating it. The Minister seeks to have secrecy and to do away with secrecy—the secrecy which is linked up with that horrid word "security," and the absence of secrecy which he admits, and which we all know, is necessary for the progress of science and the increase of knowledge. This idea of secrecy, which I am sorry to have noticed was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton (Mr. Warbey), is a word which he implied meant the same thing as safety. But does anyone dare to suggest that our safety depends on the number of atomic bombs which we can accumulate? There was a time when hon. Members of this House carried swords and occasionally adjourned to the park and killed each other, but security was not any greater because of those weapons. To my way of thinking, world safety will be no more secure when all the nations of the world have a magnificent supply of atomic bombs.
The question has been asked: How is the Minister to be aware of these breaches of secrecy? We can guess. There are already Military Intelligence, Naval Intelligence, Air Force Intelligence, and Scotland Yard, each with its appropriate staff, and also a vast expenditure of £1,250,000 on what I believe is called the Secret Service which appears in the Estimates. I do not suppose that these will be available in the future to the Minister of Supply—there will be a Ministry of 546 Supply Intelligence Service. These Intelligence Services may be a menace. They are very much in the dark but they do exist. They can only continue to exist by proving their usefulness and it they cannot uncover real mysteries there have been cases where they have invented them. In fact one has only to remember the recent spy trials in Canada where some of the worst features of the old agents provocateurs occurred. Individuals were introduced into a scientific establishment in disguise and led people into traps in conversation and then reported their conversations to the authorities to be used subsequently against them. That development is rather by the way. As the Minister has mentioned the main difficulty between having secrecy and not having secrecy will become more in evidence as time goes on.
The Minister has spoken of his powers of giving and withholding licences and allowing people to carry out investigations and so on as if he alone were concerned, but we have been reminded today, and we all know very well, that there is such a thing as Cabinet responsibility. The Minister must take the advice of the Service chiefs and we know how, in case of doubt, the military people say, "This is too secret." Here is a conflict which will develop as time proceeds between the military mind on the one hand and the general public, as championed by the scientists, on the other, and there is just no happy answer because the scales are weighted on the side of the military since the whole existence of the military machine depends on the provision of weapons and the maintenance of secrecy. They will struggle to the last to maintain an area of secrecy and a department of secret weapons. The scientist, however, has other things to do, and when he finds this kind of life too onerous his interest will drift over to those other things. Thus I can see the interests of secrecy paralysing the advance of science which is so desperately needed in this particular direction.
Another thing we have to remember is that the eyes of the world are upon this House and upon this Debate and that the direction in which we face and the implications of our arguments will be considered abroad. We know some of the things which are being said in the United States. For instance, the American Undersecretary of State for War has declared 547 that the production of atomic bombs must go on until they are absolutely sure that other nations have permanently dispensed with the bomb completely and ceased their efforts to develop it. Will the United States be any more likely to slow up their manufacture of atomic bombs as the result of what has been said here this afternoon with our care all the time that military secrets must be safeguarded? This will seem to them to be an indication that we are going ahead making atomic bombs as fast as we can.
§ Major Vernon
They say they will go on as long as anyone else is doing it. If we begin to slow up, then they will have some encouragement to do the same.
§ Sir W. Smiles
In my opinion, war between the United States and ourselves is unthinkable, and I hope and believe that we shall always be Allies, so that the stronger we are, the less anxiety the United States of America will have to provide itself with munitions.
§ 2.30 p.m.
§ Major Vernon
The question is whether we shall accept this Clause or not. If we reject it, that will be an indication of our faith in the progressive decline of the military spirit and of the military element in this country, and of the progressive gain on the scientific and on the civil side. It would be a good thing if the Clause were dropped altogether, or if the Minister could reconsider it, and bring in a substitute in some more acceptable form—a task which I am afraid is beyond the wit of man.
§ Mr. Blackburn
I am sorry that the Minister—he has been here all the time and is entitled to go out at half-past two—is not in his place. He has made an extraordinarily important statement on this subject. He has also been extraordinarily conciliatory. I feel convinced that he is determined to operate the Clause in accordance with the statement of the Prime Minister, which I venture to repeat here: 548While we can meanwhile encourage the dissemination of basic scientific information, there must be power to prevent the dissemination of information as to what is called the 'know-how.' —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th October, 1946, Vol. 427; c. 47.]It is upon that point that the whole Debate has centred. It is an issue of fundamental importance upon which the whole future of science in this respect may turn.
This is nothing more than the issue of freedom for the scientist. It is magnificent that we have had about a dozen Labour Members making speeches in favour of freedom for those individuals. We have not had a murmur from the extraordinarily incompetent Opposition. We have not had—
§ Mr. Blackburn
The only indication from hon. Members opposite has been concern in connection with hypothetical property rights in certain minerals which do not exist in Britain. One hon. Member was talking about compensation for subsidence. I hope that, having made those comments, which I have felt to be important, I can now proceed to deal with the point at issue.
It is a very serious matter. The effect of Clause 11 is to establish control over the mind. That is the really sad thing about it. It does not really control raw materials, and it does not indicate that you cannot go into large scale manufacture of atomic energy without having certain secrecy obligations. Over the whole field of nuclear fission, no scientist is entitled to talk to another scientist about new developments, unless he has first obtained the permission of the Minister. The Minister—I say this without reservation—has made a most important concession. If he will follow it up by agreeing that the results of fundamental research will also be covered, I I think he will have gone practically the whole way.
I agree with my hon. Friend who has just spoken that Clause 11 is unnecessary. If it had been necessary we should have had this Bill 12 months ago. The Minister cannot seriously suggest that there is a danger of vital secrets leaking out to the whole world and that the Labour Government have, in this single 549 respect, been inefficient, have waited for 16 months to produce the Bill and have allowed these secrets to leak out all over the world in the meantime. That is absolute nonsense. I think that the Minister and his advisers know perfectly well that Clause 11 is unnecessary. If I had to decide from the point of view of my own conscience, I should have to vote against the Clause. I do not want to vote against it, and I do not think that my hon. Friend wants to vote against it, although I cannot speak for him. We want to mark—I certainly want to mark—appreciation of the extremely reasonable and conciliatory way in which the Minister has dealt with this matter.
I would refer to the important question raised by the hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Warbey). In America, there has been a special committee of Congress which has gone into the whole matter for several months. When the Minister talked about the possibility of a scientist approaching a Member of Parliament, I said I feared that the result of the scientist going to the Minister and saying he wanted to see a Member of Parliament, would be that the scientist would be sacked. I did not suggest that the Minister would sack him because he had gone to the Minister and said he was dissatisfied. That is not the ground upon which these things can be done. There are other grounds. We know what can be done in the Army and in the Civil Service, and we believe it is quite easy to do it. I am glad that the Minister has said he would regard it as mean and despicable for the Minister to sack the scientist because the scientist wanted to see a Member of Parliament. It is very valuable that the Minister has given that assurance. I am confident that he will operate it. What terrifies me is that somebody who sits upon the Benches opposite may exercise this responsibility. It would be a horrible thing if anything of that kind occurred. Hon. Members on the other Benches are grossly ignorant on the subject, and it would be most unfortunate if we had them. They have not made any contribution at all on this vital matter. They cannot. They do not know anything about it, and they admit it.
I would like to add that if the Clause goes through without a Division it will not be because any of us here have been convinced by the Minister's argument. 550 It will be because we desire to make a gesture in response to the very reasonable and conciliatory attitude which the Minister has adopted. We all hope that he will, personally, see that the Clause is operated in such a way as to ensure that fundamental research goes forward, and that we do not have that deadly compartmentalisation which is already seeped in to this matter. Scientists must have the freedom of research without which they cannot go forward.
§ Mr. Cobb
The Minister has dealt with this matter with great sympathy and has made one of his many gestures of generosity. He lowered his halo, almost to the point where it was in danger of becoming a noose. He said that he could not tighten the Regulations but could only loosen them. There was a very important Amendment standing in the names of myself and some of my hon. Friends to Clause 11, page 7, line 41, to leave out "may," and to insert "shall." I feel that the Minister might have gone on lowering his halo and might have kept it lowered a little bit if he had agreed to that Amendment.
§ The Chairman
We have passed the point referred to by the hon. Member, and the Amendment he mentioned was not selected. He cannot refer to it now.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The only thing for me to say is that the Minister has considered all the points that have been raised, including that which my hon. Friend the Member for Elland (Mr. Cobb) was in process of putting. The fact is that to change the wording as suggested, would make no difference. It would be useless to put in the Amendment. The fears of hon. Members on behalf of people who will come within the 551 scope of the Bill are unfounded, for one or two important reasons. It is in the interests of the State itself that these matters should be developed to the uttermost. Everybody who is acting constructively and for the benefit of the community will get every possible assistance from the Minister. That is laid down in the Bill.
We have to realise, as my hon. Friend said, that there are some people who are criminally minded; perhaps not criminally minded in regard to the normal aspect of crime, but in respect of their own State, in which case you must have some powers to deal with them. It always happens of course, that if you take a power to deal with a criminal, it also applies to ordinary citizens if they become criminals, and the whole argument seems to be based on the assumption that all scientists are criminals because some scientists may become criminals. The point is that all scientists who are honest men are not affected by the Bill at all. [HON. MEMBEES: "Oh."] The Bill only affects those who actually become dishonest and who are suspected of that and who may be prosecuted for that.
§ Mr. Warbey
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that a scientist who is aware of some gross inefficiency taking place, and who desires that it shall be made known and corrected, has a criminal intention?
§ Mr. Woodburn
No, the point is that the safeguards are such that the onus is on the Crown to prosecute and prove that that person, to his knowledge, communicated things which were a danger to the State.
§ Mr. Blackburn
No, all that you have to prove under this is that a scientist knowingly communicated any information at all in the whole field of nuclear physics, to anybody else. That is what is amounts to.
§ Mr. Woodburn
—that it does not apply to anything except those things which are within the definition of the safety of the State. Therefore, I think that while the 552 apprehensions of my hon. Friend are justified that some honest person may be caught by a trap of this kind, I think it must also be realised that the interests of the community should be safeguarded to the maximum extent.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.