HC Deb 28 October 1952 vol 505 cc1725-6
33. Sir W. Wakefield

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works, as representing the Lord President of the Council, what precise cuts have been made in the plans for the development of the work of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research; which particular research organisations have suffered cuts; to what extent in money and manpower; and to what extent these proposed cuts have been agreed by the Advisory Council of this Department.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works (Mr. Hugh Molson)

As the answer is rather long and necessarily contains a number of figures, I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Woodburn

Is the Minister aware that economy in this Department may be a most dangerous thing for the welfare of this country? Is it not due to the fact that we did not economise in scientific research and development in this country that we have been able to put ourselves ahead of the world in aircraft and other scientific achievements, and that any economy on this must be carefully reconsidered in order not to endanger the country's future?

Mr. Molson

The utmost care is taken to ensure that the economies made will not have any adverse effect on the progress of scientific research.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson

Is it not a fact that most of the scientific progress of which we are so justly proud has been made in private industry? Is it not also the fact that many people take the view that encouragement of private industrial research is more profitable?

Mr. Molson

The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research does co-operate extremely closely with industry and private scientists. I think we have arrived at a system by which public enterprise and private enterprise are working extremely amicably together.

Mr. G. R. Strauss

Is the hon. Gentleman aware, in view of the last supplementary question, that all the basic research for the aircraft industry, and nearly all research on jet engines, has been done in Government Departments?

Mr. Molson

I am aware that a very great deal of fundamental research has been done there and that the utmost use has been made of it by the aircraft industry.

Following is the answer: The plans for the development of the work of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research have been cut only in the sense of delaying their progress. No major plan or activity has been eliminated. Early this year the Department, in common with most other departments, was required to reduce its non-industrial staff below the numbers in post on 1st October, 1951. The reduction required was of 25 posts, thus reducing the number available to the Department of 3,054. The effects of this decision were to halt planned recruitment for the Department's plans as a whole, to cancel a large number of outstanding vacancies for staff, and to necessitate the reallocation of the reduced manpower resources between the establishments of the Departments. Most branches of the Department had to give up authorised vacancies for staff, but it was considered essential to provide some further staff for two new and developing branches, namely Mechanical Engineering Research and Hydraulic Research. To meet those needs reductions were made in the staff of the Department's Headquarters and of the Building Research Organisation. To give effect to these manpower decisions and to make some further small economies, the estimates of the Department for 1952–53 as originally prepared were reduced to £5,390,950 (net). This was actually an increase of £24,950 over the sum provided in the estimates for the previous year, since savings due to reduced provision for numbers of staff were outweighed in cost by rises in rates of salaries and wages, and in prices. The main differences between the provision made in the Civil Estimates for the Department in 1951–52 and 1952–53 are:
1951–52 1952–53 Increase (+) or Decrease (-)
Total numbers of staff (non-industrial and industrial) provided for 4,317 4,049 - 268
Estimates: £ £ £
gross 5,796,000 5,881,850 + 85,850
net 5,366,000 5,390,950 + 24,950
It is not possible to give a precise comparison between the numbers of staff provided for each branch of the Department in the two years because in 1951–52 provision was included for 205 posts not allocated between branches, and no such provision was made in the current year. Other factors, such as the irregular incidence of cost of specially heavy capital expenditure on equipment or on contracts for work outside the Department similarly affect the accuracy of direct financial comparison. The figures contained in the published estimates of the Department are subject to these difficulties of interpretation. In the case of the two branches in which positive reductions of staff were called for, it can be stated that the number of non-industrial staff currently authorised for the Headquarters of the Department is 281 as against 299 actually employed on 1st October, 1951. The corresponding numbers for Building Research are 420 and 489. The decision to restrict the manpower available to the Department, and the necessity for some reduction in the Estimates, were communicated to the Advisory Council, and the reallocations of the total resources within the provision available were made with their knowledge.