§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss (Vauxhall)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Transfer of Functions (Atomic Energy and Radioactive Substances) Order, 1953 (S.I., 1953, No. 1673), a copy of which was laid before this House on 20th November, be annulled.This Order is the first step in transferring the control of British atomic energy development from the Ministry of Supply to a corporation. We have been told by the Government that the purpose of this Order is to make the Lord President of the Council responsible to Parliament for the activities of that corporation—
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman for interrupting, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but, on a point of order, may we have your guidance at the outset of this debate on what is likely to be a most difficult and technical matter that arises? Do we interpret the purpose of this Order correctly as being only on the narrow issue of transferring function from one Minister to another? If that is correct, could you guide us as to whether it will be in order at any stage in the debate to discuss the merits or demerits of the creation of a corporation or, in fact, any other facet of the many recommendations contained in the recent Government White Paper following the recommendations of the Waverley Committee, or only the narrow issue of transfer of function?
Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hopkin Morris)
All this Order does is to transfer function from one Department to another, and that is the narrow issue which arises. As I understand it, this is a preparatory Order for setting up a board of a corporation, and for that purpose legislation will be necessary. Therefore, that would be debated at that time. One cannot anticipate on this debate any question that arises for legislation. A passing reference to the board might be in order, but to debate it at length upon this Order would be out of order.
§ Mr. Strauss
On that point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I understand, after 2287 discussing the matter with Mr. Speaker, that while it would obviously be out of order to discuss in any detail the Corporation which is to be set up, since we know that the purpose of transferring these functions to the Lord President of the Council is to put him in charge of the Corporation described in the White Paper, it would be in order to refer broadly to that Corporation and the duties which it will have to carry out. With your permission, therefore, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I propose to proceed along those lines.
Let me say at the very outset that we on this side of the House have no objection in principle to a corporation outside the Government machine administering any important public enterprise wherever that is appropriate. Indeed, we thought that this was the proper instrument for commercial undertakings such as coal and steel. We think, however, that the proposed Corporation set-up envisaged in the Government White Paper is inappropriate for our atomic energy project, certainly in its present stage of development.
We move this Prayer against this Order therefore, not because it contains any unsound principle, but because we believe that it will create an administrative mess that will retard rather than advance atomic energy development in this country. And we strongly object to the proposal that this House is to be deprived of a Minister responsible for, or indeed associated with, this revolutionary scientific development on which the prosperity of this country for years to come may well depend.
It is clear from the White Paper that what probably more than anything else has moved the Government to take this step is a belief—one may call it a prejudice—that any project progresses better the further away it is from the Government machine; if possible hand it over to businessmen, but if that is not possible, as it obviously is not in this case, then put it in the hands of a halfway organisation such as a Corporation.
What the White Paper says, and this is really the heart of the Government's case, is that the atomic energy enterprise needsimagination and drive2288 and calls forflexibility and for rapidity of decision.I do not think that anyone would disagree with that. For that purpose we are told that there should be…a form of control of the project which is more akin to the structure of a big industrial organisation….The White Paper then goes on to propose a form of organisation which I submit to the House has no similarity whatsoever to any industrial organisation, past or present, and which in our view combines the worst of both worlds.
First, the House should ask itself, before passing this Order, what evidence there is that as a department of the Ministry of Supply the atomic energy organisation has lacked imagination or drive or flexibility. I maintain on the contrary, and I do not think that I am personally prejudiced in this matter, that the progress of this atomic energy project under the Ministry of Supply has been exceedingly successful and that in fact it possesses at every stage flexibility, energy and drive. Indeed, only on occasions when those able people who are in charge of the atomic energy department of the Ministry have been prevented by deliberate Government policy from doing what they want has there been any curb whatsoever on their activities.
In the new scheme of things, just as in the old, the Government will have to interfere on all matters of importance over exactly the same range of subjects as in the past, when these matters were under the control of the Ministry of Supply. Moreover, the people who will be administratively responsible in future for the progress and the development of atomic energy will be exactly the same people as those who were responsible for it under the Ministry of Supply. The only difference is that Sir Edwin Plowden is to be chairman. He is a man who is held in the highest regard by everyone who knows his work, but to get his services as chairman does not seem a good reason for making these damaging changes in the whole set-up of the atomic energy organisation. The question whether the present arrangements are good or not depends for its answer on whether the advances made in atomic energy development have so far been satisfactory, or whether there is any 2289 indication that those advances are likely to be retarded if the present arrangement continues.
No one can say whether we might have advanced faster had we had a different set-up. The Minister of Supply has had great knowledge of these affairs, especially during the last two years, and I doubt whether he would contradict me when I say—and I think everyone who knows anything about the matter will agree—that progress both in the civil and military field, taking into account the limited resources available, has been little short of miraculous. I express my personal belief that, except for the mass production of atomic weapons, but certainly in research and development, we are well up to and in many respects ahead of the Americans today.
Whether this is true or not, certainly no evidence can be brought forward based on past experience to suggest that there is anything wrong or retarding in the present atomic energy set up. On the contrary, if we are to base our policy on the evidence which is available, we should say that it should stay, at any rate for the time being, as it is.
The main reason for the success of our atomic energy enterprise so far has, of course, been the brilliance of the scientists, engineers and planners who have been the leaders of that enterprise. But there has been a secondary cause. That has been the immense experience in conducting successful research and development possessed by the Ministry of Supply organisation and its intimate relationship with all branches of the engineering industry. There is no doubt that the atomic energy project has benefited immensely from this in the past, and particularly by the highly developed expertise in advancing research and development both in its own establishments and in co-operation in industry. It is this expertise which is largely responsible for Britain's pre-eminent position in production of new aircraft. I am sure that most aircraft manufacturers will agree that that is so.
Moreover, the Ministry of Supply, because it has under its authority immense resources in scientific staff and scientific establishments, is able to deploy those resources from time to time where they can render the best service. A considerable amount of atomic energy research is, for example, at present carried out in 2290 Ministry of Supply research establishments which, primarily, are used for other purposes. However attractive it may seem, therefore, to those who are not fully cognisant of the present set-up, to wrench the atomic energy organisation away from the Ministry of Supply—I am speaking without any political prejudice in this matter, because all I want to see is the best form of development in this enterprise—would in my opinion weaken rather than strengthen the development of that project in the future.
It is further erroneous to suggest, as I think is implied in the White Paper, that the proposed set-up under the Lord President of the Council would be better able to deal with industrial matters. The Ministry of Supply is largely an industrial organisation. Its staff know every engineering works of importance in the country. Its managers are efficient—
§ Mr. Richard Fort (Clitheroe)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Could you give a ruling as to whether, now that the right hon. Member is branching out into the organisation of the Lord President of the Council, we shall be able to answer the points he is making in that connection?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I have already dealt with this point at the beginning of the debate. As I understand him, the right hon. Member is now saying that the set-up under the Ministry of Supply is the proper instrument to deal with the position. That clearly is in order. The right hon. Gentleman has not yet reached the border originally set. The change in the set-up cannot be discussed in detail, but it can be referred to.
§ Mr. Strauss
I was arguing the advantages derived by the atomic energy enterprise through its association with the Ministry of Supply. The purpose of this Order is to remove that association.
I was saying that its staff knows intimately every large engineering firm in the country, its personnel and its capacity to carry out contracts. Last 2291 year, according to the information given to me by the Minister of Supply in answer to a Question the other day, about 250,000 contracts were made by the Ministry of Supply with industry to the value of £630 million and these were spread over 10,000 firms. I do not believe that whatever contracting organisation the proposed Corporation may devise it will be as efficient or as experienced as that now operated on behalf of atomic energy in the Ministry of Supply.
What, then, do we gain by the Government's proposals? The new set-up—the Corporation—will clearly bear no resemblance whatever to an industrial organisation. It will be subject to Government direction as much as ever before in all major matters of policy, and on minor matters or technical points there has never been any Government interference or restrictive red tape. We are told that there will be Treasury control of expenditure and that the accounts of the Corporation will be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor-General.
Government control, however, under the new arrangements will, I suggest, be more complex and far more cumbersome than before for now we shall have three Ministers with a finger in the pie. The Lord President of the Council will exercise general supervision, the Minister of Supply will be responsible for the com ponents of atomic weapons and will place contracts with the Corporation for research in relation to Service requirements. The Minister of Defence comes into it. He will be responsible for saying how much of the resources allocated for defence will be used for research, development in or the production of atomic weapons.
How the atomic energy enterprise can rationally be divided in this way, and the responsibilities parcelled out as suggested, I do not know. The ingenuity of the Civil Service is such that I am sure it will somehow make it work but I amalso sure that the Civil Service will do so under serious and unnecessary handicaps.
I would ask the House to bear in mind that all the major problems likely to be associated with this enterprise are Governmental ones, apart from the obviously technical ones which will be 2292 dealt with by the scientists and technicians in the ordinary way. There will be problems of capital expenditure, defence, location, security and foreign relations. All these matters will be dealt with by Ministers. For that reason, among others, I think it would be far simpler and more appropriate if the whole show were under Government control.
I wish to say a word about salaries. We are told that one purpose of this change is to make it possible for the Corporation to pay to a few selected people salaries in excess of those now being paid to those engaged in the atomic energy organisation. I suggest that this may lead to a lot of trouble. Arrangements were made by the last Government. I think in 1949 and 1950, when the atomic energy set-up was under the Ministry of Supply, to ensure that where special circumstances existed the Treasury would agree to an exceptional salary being paid. Since that arrangement was in operation until at least the time when I left the Ministry no one was lost to the atomic energy organisation whom it was desired to engage.
If we go any further—and it is suggested that as a result of this change it will be possible to go further in paying higher salaries to a selected number of people—we may well upset the whole salary scale of the senior technical scientific staff employed by the Government. Other leading scientists in Government employ will not accept the condition that they should receive less remuneration than their colleagues in a Government corporation whose salaries are paid by governmental grant in aid, and those who work—
§ Mr. Strauss
One of the purposes of taking the whole enterprise out of a Government Department, the Ministry of Supply, and placing it in the hands of the Lord President of the Council, who will establish a corporation is that those engaged in atomic energy work will receive higher salaries. That is one of the main purposes.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
That may be one of the purposes, I do not know. But it is not effected by this Order.
§ Mr. Strauss
I do not want to press the point, though I think that it is not only one of the consequences of this Order, but one of the main purposes. I must sound a warning that if we take those people now working in atomic energy outside the normal range of Civil Service pay and conditions we shall create a serious situation in other Government scientific establishments; in D.S.I.R. in the Medical Research Council, and among aircraft and radar workers. We may, and I think we shall, cause disgruntlement among a lot of people whose services to the Government and the nation are all important.
I think it constitutionally unwise to place the Lord President of the Council—who is able to render special service to the Government because he has no Departmental responsibilities—in a position where he would have considerable Departmental responsibilities, as will happen under this Order. Such responsibilities would give him a stake in a large number of matters which have to be considered by the Cabinet. On constitutional grounds, it is far better to leave him clear of such responsibilities so that if there be disputes between Ministers he can be an unprejudiced arbitrator.
There are many other points which I should like to raise, but it will be more appropriate to discuss them when the Bill setting up the new Corporation comes before the House. But perhaps even at this stage whoever is to speak for the Government—I take it that it will be the Minister of Works—might comment on what is, to me, a strange and an alarming reference in the White Paper regarding one change likely to result from this Order. It is stated in paragraph 19 that in future security is to be the responsibility primarily of the Corporation and not of the Government. That seems to me to be an exceedingly dangerous suggestion.
My last complaint about this Order is one to which hon. Members on this side of the House attach very great importance. It is that in future this House will have to rely on the Minister of Works for information on all atomic energy matters. Whatever qualifications the right hon. Gentleman may have in other directions, he cannot in the nature of things have any knowledge about this subject, 2294 for he will have no association whatsoever with the Corporation or the Lord President of the Council.
The application of atomic energy to industrial uses is likely to have an exceedingly important impact on the prosperity and welfare of our people over a constantly widening field, and we protest vehemently that the Commons should be debarred from contact with the Minister who will be directly responsible for this development; and that will be the immediate consequence of the passing of the Order.
For that reason, and because it seems to us that the Corporation will enjoy neither the advantages of commercial freedom nor the resources of an experienced Government Department, we say that this proposal is ill-conceived and ill-timed, and in moving the Prayer we ask the Government to think again.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) had four main grounds for rejecting the Order. The first ground was habit. He said that the Ministry of Supply had long experience in atomic energy matters, and he sought to portray the idea that a vast organisation would be left behind and all the new projects would be forced upon a Ministry which had no experience what ever. He contradicted himself in the course of his speech by admitting that the civil servants would accommodate them selves to the arrangements which were made. He meant that the appropriate sections of the Ministry of Supply would simply be transferred to the aegis of the Lord President of the Council. So the right hon. Gentleman is no better off on that one.
His second ground was security. Paragraph 19 of Appendix I of the White Paper says:Security should be primarily the responsibility of the Corporation; but it should be recognised that the designated Minister may from time to time, or as occasion may require, satisfy himself as to the working of the security arrangements.As the designated Minister is the Lord President of the Council, a Minister in the Cabinet, whereas the Minister of Supply is not in the Cabinet, I should have thought that security would have been even more secure in future.
2295 Thirdly, the right hon. Gentleman said that Order was transferring new powers to the Lord President of the Council, and he suggested that the Lord President had no experience of these matters. For many years past, perhaps a quarter of a century, the Lord President of the Council has presided over the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, which is now a very elaborate organisation, as the right hon. Gentleman ought to know very well. The National Physical Laboratory at Teddington and ancillary establishments all over the country employ hundreds, if not thousands, of persons, and cost a great deal of money. It is not a very great effort of administrative technique and competence to transfer the sections of the Civil Service dealing with atomic energy to the Lord President of the Council.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss
The noble Lord will no doubt agree with me that there is a difference between having responsibility for some research department as in the case of the D.S.I.R. and building up one's own administrative staff at headquarters. It may well be absolutely essential to have a considerable number of staff if the Lord President is to have a Corporation and be responsible for its immense manufacturing, as well as research, activities.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
The Lord President will be responsible in an administrative sense, but Sir Edwin Plowden and the Corporation will deal with the techniques and experiments and the sales of atomic energy. The Lord President of the Council will not be charged with excessive duties, and certainly not duties which he cannot perform adequately, having regard to the way in which he now performs his duties in relation to the D.S.I.R.
§ Mr. C. R. Attlee (Walthamstow, West)
I happen to have occupied the office of Lord President of the Council. The Lord President has no staff at all in the ordinary sense of a Department. At present he deals with the D.S.I.R. and so forth, but what is envisaged is that he will have a definite Department, a staff, under him, quite apart from the Corporation.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
Of course, I accept the right hon. Gentleman's very considerable experience in this field. I 2296 only know that, before the war, I had the great honour to serve Mr. Baldwin, as he then was, when he was Lord President of the Council, and I saw something of what went on in his private office. I know that these scientific subjects were brought to him by appropriate civil servants and dealt with by him as faithfully as no doubt they were by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition himself. All I am trying to suggest is that this Order imposes no great elaborate administrative burden—or is not likely to do—upon the Lord President which is in complete disproportion to the burdens he bears already.
Fourthly, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall complained about this Order on the grounds of the enormous salaries likely to be paid under the new administration. If we are to hive off from the industry a giant service which the Government has fathered and sponsored, eventually creating something perhaps equal to the enormous technological services performed by the nationalised Corporations—and I say it in that sense—it surely is important that the persons at the head of the Corporation should receive salaries appropriate to those paid to their opposite numbers who occupy positions in the nationalised industries.
We do not know that atomic energy is not going to bear, in 10 or 15 years' time, the sort of relation to our national technological affairs as the National Coal Board bears now, and if it is right to pay a salary of £8,500 to the Chairman of the National Coal Board, surely it is right that we should pay some comparable salaries to the heads of the Atomic Energy Corporation?
§ Mr. Speaker
I think we should leave the discussion of salaries until we see what is proposed in the Bill setting up the Corporation, because this matter is not dealt with in the Order.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I am bound to accept your Ruling, but I was merely seeking to answer very briefly certain points made, while you were absent, Mr. Speaker, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall. I end those comments by saying that, obviously, if this organisation were retained in the Ministry of Supply, as is the burden of the right hon. Gentleman's case, we would be in 2297 for a great deal of trouble in the Civil Service if we did not pay the salaries which are deemed to be requisite.
I recognise that a great many of these matters could be raised more appropriately on the Second Reading of the Bill which is to follow, but I am a little disturbed that there is no reference either in the White Paper or in the Order to the borrowing powers of this Corporation. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall said that the money is to be provided out of sums voted by Parliament, and is to be checked by the Comptroller and Auditor General.
It seems to me that, once we begin to enter the great field of industrial development which this new technique will involve, in order to get into relation with the National Coal Board and the other nationalised industries in the region of fuel and power we must envisage the prospect that this organisation must have borrowing powers; otherwise, we shall get into the position in which the load upon the Estimates will become intolerable and taxation will not be able to satisfy it. I very much hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Works, who is to reply, will be prepared for an onslaught on this subject on the Second Reading of the Bill. It has an enormous relation to what we are doing in other fields, like roads.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will find it possible, perhaps not before the Second Reading of the Bill but during that stage, to arrange through the Parliamentary Scientific Committee or by some other means, as has so often been done on other matters, for hon. and right hon. Members of this House to visit some of these great establishments in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire or wherever they are. There have been visits to Harwell Station, and I enjoyed my visit there and learned a very great deal. The House is to be asked to take a tremendous interest in this subject and we all want to do that. Visits therefore would be appropriate, if they could be arranged.
No mention has been made of a very significant factor, which will perhaps arise more appropriately in the foreign affairs debate next week than now, but we should recognise it. The present proposal is a move towards peace and towards pacification, and I am a little surprised that the Labour Party have not 2298 caught this up. It is a move towards international pacification, and is showing the world, as the Americans have shown, that we are taking away from the central Government service and putting one stage more remote from the military authorities the manufacture of this—
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
If the hon. Gentleman wants to make a speech, perhaps he will wait a moment, as I am just about to sit down. It surely is of very great significance if we can show to the world that we are not driving forward this great new project under the aegis of the Ministry of Supply and in association with the giant military services of the State. It is appropriate that the military aspect should remain behind it, but it is a message to the world of some importance that this country is prepared to dissociate from the central aegis of the State some of the peace-time purposes and projects of atomic energy.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Anderson (Whitehaven)
I take part in this debate because my Parliamentary division is very much involved in the transfer of these functions from the Ministry of Supply to the Lord President of the Council. It will be well known, I think, that a large atomic energy project is proposed within the Whitehaven Parliamentary division. I am not quite sure which of the projects is to be transferred to the Lord President of the Council. They are not set out in the White Paper, except in a general way. If I put one or two questions, perhaps they can be replied to at a later stage.
In the Whitehaven division we have the commencement of the building of an electricity undertaking. Is it to be transferred to the Lord President of the Council? In addition, at Seascale, a large number of houses are being built specifically on behalf of the Ministry of Supply, and the houses are occupied under special terms of contract by scientists, technicians and others. There has been a special allocation of houses through the Whitehaven Corporation for industrial workers classed as "key" workers, and allocated to employees of the Ministry of Supply.
Is it the intention to transfer those houses at Seascale to the Lord President of the Council? I think it is only fair that we should know whether those 2299 houses and undertakings are to be transferred to the Lord President of the Council. I want to support what my right hon. Friend has said about the transfer of the general atomic energy projects to the Lord President of the Council. I believe that this is the beginning of the industrialisation of atomic energy. It appears to introduce the profit motive.
In particular, my right hon. Friend spoke about security. When these undertakings are transferred to the Lord President of the Council, can we be assured that the security measures will not be tampered with that are in operation for this huge undertaking in my Parliamentary division? It will be known to the Minister, no doubt, for I know he has been there, that for a long time there have been scientific ships out in the ocean dealing with effluent and so on so far as radio activity is concerned. Is there anything to prevent the Lord President of the Council from saying that has got to be dropped prior to the introduction of the Bill for the setting up of the Corporation? Are we to stand still when these transfers are made so far as safety regulations are concerned? Will he continue what has been done previously by the Minister of Supply?
People in our district are very concerned about the effects of the radio activity establishment upon the inhabitants of the area and the farmers in particular. There was a great feeling at one time of the day, and they had to be reassured that there would be no ill effects from radio activity, and I am a little worried as to whether the Lord President of the Council will exercise the same safety measures and security measures as have been operated by the Minister of Supply. I think it is only fair to ask that there should be no tampering at all in this transfer with those security and safety measures that have been taken so diligently by the Minister of Supply.
I want to say a word upon the position of the people who are to be transferred to the control of the Lord President of the Council. There are scientists, there are technicians, there are established employees and unestablished employees. I should like to know what the position of those people is to be who are transferred to the Lord President of the Council. Are they going to enjoy the same 2300 advantages and security of tenure as they are enjoying under the auspices of the Minister of Supply? I think it is fair to ask that question, because there is quite a number of the employees, at least at Windscale, who are feeling concerned about how far their position will be secure under the transfer arrangements. The Minister ought to say whether they can feel that their conditions will not be worsened as a result of this transfer to the Lord President of the Council.
The Order will be operative from 1st January, 1954. What is to happen to people who come into the employ of the Lord President on and after that date? Will they enjoy the same conditions of employment as they do today? That is what is worrying some of the people in the area. I feel that this is a retrograde step, and that the work which the Ministry of Supply has done in development will be retarded as a result of this transfer, which has as its ultimate object the establishment of a corporation.
The White Paper refers to capital projects, and so on. Are we to understand that, before the Bill is brought in to establish the corporation, the Lord President will carry on the trading activities which will be allowed when the corporation is established? The White Paper also refers to the ceiling in finance. What will be the position of the Corporation before the Bill becomes law? I ask these questions because this is a serious matter for my constituents, especially with regard to the security of tenure of the employees, the scientists, technicians and others within the Whitehaven Parliamentary division.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Fort (Clitheroe)
I should have thought that some of the questions asked by the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. F. Anderson) had been clearly answered in paragraph 2 of the draft Statutory Instrument, which definitely lays on the Lord President of the Council the functions of the Ministry of Supply as defined in two Acts, and, as though to emphasise the fact, continues, in sub-paragraph (2), as follows:With the said functions there are also hereby transferred to the Lord President of the Council…the rights and liabilities enjoyed by, or incumbent on, the Minister of Supply in connection with those functions.No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will reply to the details, but in broad prin- 2301 ciple the White Paper answered at least some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Whitehaven, in particular the important ones in connection with safety. I cannot imagine that in any circumstances, anywhere in the world, those who are responsible for dealing with this new technique would dare to take any risks with some of the most poisonous substances known to man.
The right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) described, in part fairly but in part ignoring some very important factors, the progress of the Ministry of Supply during the past few years. He rightly said that the Ministry of Supply employed men working on atomic energy—men of world-wide repute, like Sir William Penny, Sir John Cockcroft, Sir Christopher Hinton and others—in the different engineering and chemical plants.
Even with such a splendid staff as that, and even allowing for the fact that we have had our difficulties with regard to capital expenditure, the Russians, who started on this technique several years after we did, managed to detonate their first atomic bomb considerably before we were able to. If I remember rightly it was somewhere about two years ago. That means that, despite all the splendid team of higher executives, with the support of the Ministry of Supply, one of the most backward technical countries in the world was able to collect enough fissile material much quicker than we could. I think that is one of the most important facts to show that this type of organisation is very ill-suited to carry on what is increasingly an industrial operation.
§ Mr. Attlee
Can the hon. Member tell us, as he seems to know so much about it, what is the organisation in Russia?
§ Mr. Attlee
If they have got ahead because they had some different organisation to ours, do we know if they run it as a government department or a corporation or what? I do not, but the hon Member seems to know.
§ Mr. F. Beswick (Uxbridge)
How does the hon. Member know that they did not start some years before the Atomic Energy Act of 1946?
§ Mr. Fort
I am afraid that I missed the point of that intervention. If the Russians did not start then the period is even shorter than the hon. Gentleman says. Another matter to which one is bound to refer is that one of the most eminent airmen who has served our country, Lord Portal, was appointed to be in charge of atomic energy work in this country, and for reasons which I have never heard explained to this House or elsewhere, but it was certainly not health reasons, he found it necessary to resign, presumably because he did not approve of the way in which the Ministry of Supply organisation was carrying on in this vital field.
Whatever may have been true about the original set-up under the Ministry of Supply in 1946, the argument is, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that times have changed. At the time it was brought under the Ministry of Supply, the primary use was for military purposes. In his speech, he made the point about it being impossible to disentangle the military use of atomic energy from its industrial use. That might have been true after the war when the present arrangements were made, but it is certainly not true now.
One has only to see in yesterday's Electricity supplement to "The Times" an article by Sir John Cockroft discussing, with a fair amount of technical detail, the economics of power production from nuclear fission to see how much knowledge has been gained in the last seven years. It must be common property for so much detail to be published in the Press. Similarly, when there have been scientific gatherings, information has been given out about the uses and certainly not military uses which show the progress which has been made in the industrial field. It is a little strange to hear the argument that an organisation which originally was built up under quite different circumstances and which despite the eminence of the people working in it, was slow to produce results, even in the military field, for which it was primarily designed, is now the right organisation, 2303 for what are entirely different circumstances.
It is noteworthy that not only in this country are we contemplating this type of change, but that in the United States, where the Americans have been able to put so much more drive into it, the Atomic Energy Commission only this summer went to ask the United States Congress to allow more information to go out to those who were prepared to use it for industrial purposes. To come and argue that what was agreed six years ago by all parties is still the best possible arrangement, is simply flying in the face of the facts that we have before us.
The White Paper, which is the first step in making the alteration to meet the new circumstances, merely sets about transferring from a Department, which, I am quite certain, could not undertake the work in these new circumstances, to a Cabinet Minister with general supervision in these matters, with the intention of putting before the House a Bill which will set up an organisation very much more like an industrial organisation than anything that is possible under the Ministry of Supply. I hope that for those reasons hon. Gentlemen opposite will not press their Prayer against the Order, but will wait at least until they have the Bill before them and amend the Bill in those details in which they think the new arrangements are defective.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Julian Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
I am rather surprised at the argument deployed both by the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Fort) and by the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), contending, as I understood them, that the tendency in the United States had been to take away responsibility from the central Government and give it to private industry. I should have thought the whole of this debate would be wholly unreal if it were not taken in the context and atmosphere of the recent speech by President Eisenhower. Far from the argument which those two hon. Members have deployed being correct, it seems to me to be the very reverse of the truth.
I am trying desperately hard to keep in order, because I propose to relate this argument to the responsibility to this 2304 House of the Minister of Supply. May I quote what President Eisenhower has said on this point? He proposed thatthe Governments principally involved, to the extent permitted by elementary prudence…begin now and continue to make joint contributions from their stockpiles of normal uranium and fissionable materials to an international atomic-energy agency. We would expect that such an agency would be set up under the ægis of the United Nations.It may well be that there can be a certain amount of decentralisation from a central Government agency. That would be exactly the same procedure as we would wish to maintain under the Ministry of Supply. I think that the whole tendency to detract responsibility from the central Government is one which we must object to and fight as hard as we can.
In this context I wish I could feel confident that the Minister of Supply is wholly in support of this proposal. I should have thought that with his information and knowledge of the possibilities of serving industry and the individual industries concerned, he would have been the very last person to support the Government in this proposal. He must know perfectly well that the whole of the post-war history of the Ministry of Supply has been that not only of an ordering Ministry for individual Ministries, but of a co-ordinating Ministry for all sorts of consumers who are affected by atomic energy production.
We have before us tonight this Order which, in effect, transfers responsibility from this House to somebody in another place. In the field of foreign affairs, we have had a recent unhappy experience of transferring responsibility from this House to another place, and it seems to me that it is only too obvious that if there is a subject of such vast importance as atomic energy production, one would expect any Government, whether Conservative or Labour, to have in this House, answering Questions and attending debates, both a Minister responsible for Foreign Affairs and a Minister responsible for the production and supply of atomic energy in this country.
§ Mr. Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)
Is the hon. Gentleman objecting to the present holder of the Office of Lord President of the Council or to the office itself, for there is no need for the holder to be in the House of Lords?
§ Mr. Snow
I was relating my argument to the office itself, but since I am challenged, may I say that I have no particular confidence in the present holder of the office, though, because of his technical knowledge, he may appear to be a satisfactory holder of that office. His apparent sympathy with profit-making industry does not commend him to me. I might add that I am advancing only my personal opinion here.
I should like to return to my main argument. I am surprised—and I believe that hon. Members on this side of the House share my surprise—that the Minister of Supply should lend himself to this particular proposition, knowing full well that this country appreciates what the Ministry of Supply has done in encouraging production, stimulating enterprise and providing the necessary co-ordinating services.
On this question of the relative position of the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Supply, there is some variation of opinion between the two sides of the House but may I opinionate in this way: as I see it, we are here tending more and more towards a Foreign Office problem. We already have in Europe an elementary form of an international atomic energy organisation; and when it is said, as it is said in the Government White Paper, that for many years to come there will be relatively small receipts for this industry, that seems to be an argument in favour of a recognition of international Governmental responsibility. As such, I should have thought that responsibility must remain with a Minister or a combination of Ministers who must be responsible to the House of Commons.
§ 9.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)
The hon. Member for Lichfield and Tam-worth (Mr. Snow) and his right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) seem to have this point in common. They both like the organisation of a Government Department so well that they believe that one of its functions is evidently to be charged with a responsibility for research and development of probably the most highly scientific matter that has yet been brought before this nation. In fact, I think that that point of view is a misunderstanding of the function of the Ministry of Supply.
2306 During the war years, of course, it might have been desirable that a consideration of this kind was merged into the general responsibility of that Ministry. It might in war-time have been necessary to have a Ministry of Supply for service and supply purposes. I doubt whether today the Ministry of Supply, as such, should have any greater responsibility than the development, production and application of weapons and equipment for the Armed Forces. I do not believe that this responsibility ought to be spread into highly scientific fields where contact is required in a large number of different directions simultaneously.
May I make the simple point that this is not a problem of the application of atomics and atomic physics to weapons and to defence alone, but also surely to the production of industrial power and, what is becoming increasingly evident day by day, for biological purposes as well. I conceive that a rather extraordinary position might develop if the Minister of Supply, responsible for the development of atomic energy, also had to place himself in the position of becoming involved with biological considerations. That is a major issue today. [An Hon. Member: "Penicillin."] I agree that penicillin has drifted into the Ministry of Agriculture today and also in many other directions.
What I want to do with the development of atomic science is to isolate it from any other Government Department. I want to isolate the responsibility for the development of atomics the management and the administration of the large sums of money that will have to be voted for the purpose during the next few years. I want to isolate and segregate that as far as possible away from any other Government Department having characteristic responsibilities of the character that I have described and attributed to the Ministry of Supply.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) accused my hon. Friends and myself of wishing to move responsibility for this important development of the atomic science as far away as possible from central Government. That must be true. Surely we want a devolution, we want this specialised science to be dealt with by a special body, we want a Corporation created with a Minister answerable 2307 in this House. The only better alternative I would know than that, is to have, ultimately, a Ministry to deal with all atomic considerations. That will have to come. It is not envisaged at present.
I do not propose to emulate the example of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall and make a Second Reading speech which would be more appropriate to a future atomics Bill. Under this Order it is desirable to put this function in the hands of one Minister as a preparatory measure to the creation of a Corporation, and to leave it at that with a view later on to creating a Ministry charged solely with the application of these important functions in three fields: firstly, for weapons and other defence purposes; secondly, for industrial power, and thirdly, for biological considerations.
The other matter which is of equal importance is how we are to get some sort of cohesion in the matter of research within the atomic field. This is not only a question of research by Government physicists, by Government metallurgists, by Government chemists; it must also spread presumably over the research organisations of all the appropriate organisations in industry, and very many large companies which have organisations that can be suited to the atomic science.
The third research body that must surely be called into use must be the large number of physicists, chemists, metallurgists and others who are currently employed in our universities. If one is to get this trinity of effort within the research field—firstly, Government Department; secondly, in industry; and thirdly, in the universities—I would say that it would be disastrous in the long run to leave those complicated functions, and matters mixed up with a Department of an industrial and production character such as the Ministry of Supply, which ought to have in my view the limited function I have described, for the preparation and production of weapons for the Armed Forces.
A good deal of play has been made of the fact that the Lord President of the Council is to be the Minister responsible for atomics. The fact that the Lord President of the Council for the time being sits in another place I submit is 2308 almost irrelevant. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition as Lord President of the Council sat in this House. The right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) sat in this House, and it may well be that in six months, 12 months or two years' time the Lord President of the Council will again sit in this House.
But I have very great confidence in the meantime in the Minister of Works who might add a third wreath of laurels to his Crown, the first being his outstanding success during the Coronation period, the second being the preparation of materials for a record housing programme. I feel confident that the trinity will be completed by a comparable demonstration of capacity in the development of atomic energy and in answering for that important science in this House. I approve of the terms of the Order which is before the House, and I hope that no Division will 'be forced against it, for as an interim measure I am sure that we are taking the right course.
§ 10.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Edelman (Coventry, North)
The hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) clearly came here tonight to praise the Minister of Works, and in doing so he has nearly buried the Minister of Supply. Both the hon. Member for Kidderminster and the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Fort) made a very grave attack against the Minister of Supply and against the Ministry. After all, if we have to consider whether the function of the Ministry of Supply is capable of dealing with the serious problem of atomic energy we have merely to look to its performance. The fact is that in 1943. as everyone knows, there was a deliberate Governmental decision, an act of careful policy, that we in Britain should cease to engage in the production of atomic energy and that we should leave it to the United States.
When the war came to an end even then most of our resources and many of our best scientists were otherwise engaged, so that we were late in the atomic race. The fact that we were so successful in producing an atomic explosion and that today in many respects we have outstripped the United States in atomic development is clear proof that during the period when the production and development of atomic energy was 2309 in the hands of the Minister of Supply it was eminently successful, that our scientists deserved well of the country, and that there was nothing wrong in the organisation in the duties which it sought to perform.
Now we find something entirely different. All of a sudden the Government decides that it will rip the vitals out of the atomic energy organisation within the Ministry of Supply and try to reconstitute what they have extracted into the form of some self-supporting atomic organisalion. What comes out very clearly—and here I suggest we try to sift the underlying purpose of this Order—is that the Government have been haunted by the analogy of what is happening in the United States, while at the same time they have been driven along by impulses of big business similar to those which have actuated the United States in the decision that it took in 1946 when the Atomic Energy Commission was set up. As we know, originally the Manhattan Project was a para-military one and, just as this Order intends, it was decided that a Commission should be set up which would have a wide and general directive to develop atomic energy not only for military purposes but for civilian purposes as well.
By way of illustration and analogy, I should like to deal for a few moments with what has happened in the United States'. The fact is that the Atomic Energy Commission, designed originally to be a supervising body for the development of atomic power, had swollen by 1949—the latest year for which figures are available—to an organisation which was employing 5,000 administrators. I am not talking of technicians or of those actually engaged in the production of atomic energy-or power; I am speaking of those actually concerned with the administration of the atomic project.
I should like the Minister, when he replies, to say if it is envisaged that this new Corporation which will ultimately be set up as a Result of this Order should swell in exactly the same way as did the Commission? Is it intended that, having first abolished the existing organisation within the Ministry of Supply, we should then set up a more or less identical body—build it up from scratch and try to recapture precisely that condition which this Order is an instrument in destroying?
2310 In considering this Order there are three considerations which should be in our minds. The first is, will the ultimate Corporation set up as a result of this Order improve the efficiency of our existing means for developing atomic energy in its military and industrial uses? The second question is, will it provide for greater security? The third, and for many of us the most important question is, will it by its new constitution enable such a degree of public responsibility to be established within the framework of the Corporation that we shall be able to keep a check on and keep control of what the organisation does?
It is said that one of the main reasons why it has been decided that power should be transferred from the Ministry of Supply to the Lord President of the Council and then from him to this new Corporation is that this body should be analogous to an industrial organisation. It will be futile for the right hon. Gentle man when he replies if he tries to com pare the proposed Corporation to any existing nationalised industry corporation. Those are trading bodies
§ Mr. Speaker
In case there is any misunderstanding, I should say that I shall feel some difficulty in allowing the right hon. Gentleman to reply to all this because we are to have a Bill dealing with the Corporation. Details as to the functions, powers, and possible expansion of the Corporation are more relevant to the Second Reading of that Bill and its subsequent stages than to this debate.
§ Mr. Edelman
With great respect, is it not inferential that the Corporation will be set up as a result of this Order and is an essential purpose of what we are discussing this evening?
§ Mr. Speaker
I think it is inferential, and I have laid it down that there may be reference to the Corporation. But details of that organisation and its powers will be the subject of another debate which we cannot anticipate on this Order.
§ Mr. Edelman
I am much obliged, Mr. Speaker, and I shall not embroider that theme. It is none the less necessary to say quite clearly that whatever the Lord President intends to do with those powers when he absorbs the functions of the Ministry of Supply, we must judge of his 2311 capacity to discharge his duties by a three-fold test. That test is whether the Corporation will lead to a contribution towards efficiency in atomic energy development, whether it will enable security to be introduced into atomic energy development supervision and, finally and most important, to what extent the transfer of the functions of the Ministry to the Lord President will enable this country to take part in those international arrangements which have already been foreshadowed. It is perfectly clear that we are entering a time when, instead of it being desirable as the hon. Member for Kidderminster suggested, to disperse control of atomic energy development, it is desirable rather to concentrate that control.
If the Lord President were to have more co-ordinated control of these resources for atomic production which are in existence at present one might say, "Let the Lord President have these powers because then he will be able more easily to deal, as an agent of the Government with those international arrangements which are likely to be made." But I do not believe that to be so.
I believe that this diffusion of power, as a result of the diffusion of responsibilities among the Minister of Works, the Lord President of the Council and the Minister of Supply, will be harmful to Britain when we approach those international problems such as have been foreshadowed by President Eisenhower and mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Snow). Therefore, I wish to declare my firm opposition to the Order in Council. It is quite clearly the beginning of a chain of legislation which will result in authority and responsibility being dispersed. It will weaken the power of Parliament to control both Ministers and policy in relation to atomic energy. From those points of view it is a bad Order, and I trust that my hon. Friends will oppose it in the Lobby.
§ 10.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)
There are three issues which concern us all in the conduct of our modern affairs. They are the conduct of foreign policy, the application of modern science to our defence, and the application of atomic science to our industry. In two of those spheres, the Minister concerned is a 2312 member of another place and in the case of the conduct of our foreign affairs we have seen in recent days that whenever there is sickness in this House the conduct of foreign affairs also passes to another place.
This House must really concern itself with the Government's attitude of constantly transferring vital issues away from the scrutiny, the questions and the criticisms of elected Members of the Commons to another place. I ask the elementary question—why are we asked to transfer the functions of the Ministry of Supply to the Lord President of the Council?
I disagree on almost every issue with the present Minister of Supply, as he knows, but I pay him the compliment that he does try, when questioned or criticised in this House, to find adequate reasons for his conduct. We have seen in recent days that that cannot be said of the present holder of the Office of Lord President of the Council, and I therefore believe it to be quite wrong that the Government should at this stage, without giving any adequate reason for the transfer, ask this House to accept the transfer of the conduct of the atomic energy organisation.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven (Mr. F. Anderson), I happen to have in my constituency one of the biggest atomic research establishments in this country. In Risky 2,000 of my constituents are extremely concerned at the proposals which the Government are now presenting to us. I do not propose to develop the argument, as we have not yet had the Bill, and I should be out of order in going beyond the confines of the Order.
I say to the Government, first, that they are creating confusion and anxiety in the minds of many hundreds of people in my division who have been transferred from their homes in other parts of the country to Risley in order to be employed in the Ministry of Supply establishment there. They are wondering how this transfer will affect their employment. I cannot understand the action of the Government. We know they intend to transfer the atomic energy organisation to a public Corporation, but I do not understand why they should create confusion in the minds of civil servants by transferring the control of atomic energy to the Lord President of the Council.
2313 What advance will it make? At present we put down Questions to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works when we wish to inquire about scientific matters and we have been sorry for the hon. Gentleman when he has had to reply, because obviously he has had to consult other Departments to obtain the right answers. If we are to be placed in that position regarding the control of atomic energy, and if the Minister of Works has to inquire of his noble Friend, it will be no more than a farce. I hope that my view is shared by my hon. Friends.
Constituents of mine who live on a housing estate at Risley wish to know what effect this transfer will have upon them. Will it mean a diminution in the numbers employed at Risley? Will it mean that the conditions which their union has negotiated with the Ministry of Supply will no longer obtain? At one time the Prime Minister gave a promise of a consultation with the union on these matters. He said it would take place at the appropriate time. The trade unions concerned do not accept that there has been any proper consultation with them prior to this decision by the Government.
The trade union wishes to know the position of its members who desire to remain in the service of the Ministry of Supply. Will they be transferred? Will the conditions of employment and the superannuation provisions which they have negotiated still obtain when they are transferred from the control of the right hon. Gentleman, and what will be the position when they become employees of a public Corporation? They would like to know the career prospects. Will there be any guarantee about their grades and classes? What will be the possibilities of promotion? Will they be retarded in any way by this transfer from the Ministry of Supply?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
It is not clear to me whether the hon. Gentleman is now discussing what will happen under the Corporation.
§ Mr. Lee
I am not discussing that. There are a number of Civil Service unions, some of which are appropriate to specific Departments and the union to which I am referring functions within the Ministry of Supply. I should like the 2314 right hon. Gentleman to tell me whether the conditions negotiated by their union will obtain when members are transferred to the Corporation which is to be under the Lord President of the Council.
These are the main points on which my constituents would like information. It is for them a difficult period. Having removed their homes from other parts of the country to Risley, having become established in the Ministry of Supply and having negotiated certain terms and conditions of employment, they now feel that all that has been done for nothing unless they can have adequate guarantees that when the transfer is effected those conditions will remain. If we are to get the best out of these people during the difficult interim period, it is essential to have an undertaking from the Minister that in nonsense will the conditions which these people have obtained deteriorate as a result of the Government's action in transferring these powers.
§ 10.31 p.m.
§ The Minister of Works (Sir David Eccles)
This is the first of a number of debates which we shall have on this tremendous topic. I feel that my duty tonight is to try to answer the question put by the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee), which is: "Why do the Government propose to transfer the powers and responsibilities in relation to atomic energy to the Lord President of the Council? "
The proposal is a very great tribute to the Ministry of Supply. To suggest that it is a reflection upon my right hon. Friend's administration or the administration of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss) is the exact opposite of the truth. It is precisely because British scientists and production engineers have made such astounding progress under the direction of the Department responsible for the manufacture of weapons, that the Government now believe the time has come to put atomic energy in the charge of a Cabinet Minister who has no Departmental requirements for nuclear products. I hope to show that the form of organisation suitable to the project when it was an infant in arms is not now suitable: when the project has grown to manhood,.
The House will remember the history of the United Kingdom atomic energy programme; how during the war it was 2315 placed under the Lord President, Sir John Anderson, as he then was, because he had great personal qualifications, and also because the Lord President was the Minister responsible for scientific matters arising out of Government policy. After the war the project was transferred to the Ministry of Supply.
As I understand it, there were two reasons for that. First, the armament programme was being rapidly run down and, therefore, the Ministry of Supply had spare capacity, and, secondly—perhaps more important—at that time the overriding aim of the atomic energy project was to produce a British bomb. That is the key to the arrangement which was then made.
In 1946, when the Act was passed placing the project under the Minister of Supply, the United States knew how to make an atomic bomb. We did not, although our scientists, as the President of the United States said in his most significant speech on Tuesday, had made great contributions to knowledge of nuclear fission. But the Americans, for reasons which we understand but none the less regret, felt unable to share with us all the secrets of the production process. Therefore, the Labour Government—and Her Majesty's present Ministers think they were right—determined to make the bomb here, and, with this their chief object, it was natural to give the job to the Minister responsible for the manufacture of weapons. From 1946 to 1951, £100 million or more was spent by the Ministry of Supply on this project, and, in the last two years, further great sums have been laid out for the same purpose.
§ Sir D. Eccles
The establishments at Harwell, Risley, Windscale, Calder Hall, Capenhurst, Springfields and Aldermaston have arisen in their mysterious complexity, and I can assure the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. F. Anderson) that all these establishments, together with ancillary houses and other buildings, pass now to the Lord President of the Council.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
The right hon. Gentleman has told us that £100 million was spent by the Labour Government to develop the atomic bomb. Can he tell us how much the Ministry has spent since?
§ Sir D. Eccles
No, I cannot give the precise figure, but expenditure has gone on at a very high rate.
§ Mr. G. R. Strauss
I think the right hon. Gentleman is slightly misleading the House in suggesting that the atomic energy department spent large sums of money solely devoted to making the bomb, whereas a very large proportion was devoted to civil purposes.
§ Sir D. Eccles
If the right hon. Gentleman would wait, I was coming to that point and what happened as a result of this military progress.
Enormous though the expenditure on these establishments has been, the results have been equally enormous. The bomb has been made and has been exploded, and that achievement has greatly increased the defensive power of this country and the help and comfort we can bring to our allies, but, at the same time as British scientists and engineers made the bomb—and this is the point which the right hon. Gentleman made—they added so much to the knowledge of nuclear physics and products that no one who has measured the results of their work can now treat the atomic energy project as something in the nature of a part of our weapons programme.
The Ministry of Supply deserve the congratulations of the House for having brought this about, because, out of a necessary evil—that is, the decision to make the bomb—have come unlimited possibilities for good. Here we are, only eight years after the war, in possession of the secrets of how to make large quantities of fissile material, and how to use that material to explode as a bomb or to generate heat which can be turned into electricity or for other purposes.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) referred to some of the other purposes of this development. On this occasion, I shall not say anything in detail about the medical, industrial and agricultural use of isotopes produced in atomic piles or about fission products which promise to become so important to the plastics industry and in the preservation of food.
The fact is that the most compelling reason for the transfer from the Ministry of Supply is the competition between bombs and electric power stations for 2317 the same fissile materials, and I would say to the hon. Member for Whitehaven that the profit motive in this respect does not come in, because it is only in the United States that power companies are in private hands. As a matter of fact, if it is profitable to develop electricity with fissile material it will be the British Electricity Authority which will, in fact, do it.
The atomic project has grown up, and it is like an infant prodigy who was only interested in soldiers, but who has now widened his outlook and added other and more peaceful ambitions to his military interests. The pace at which these ambitions can be realised depends, of course, upon the international situation, to which the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) referred, and on the response shown to the speech of the President of the United States. Those are great uncertainties but, subject to that, it can be said that the development of the project is now largely a question of production engineering and, therefore, of the scale of resources which the House is prepared to devote to atomic energy plants, and to the division of those resources between the military and civil uses of fissile material.
Surely, then, it is right to place the responsibility for these great decisions in the hands of a Cabinet Minister who is not himself a claimant for the material. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Supply continues to want bombs for the Services. I think it was the hon. Member for Coventry, North who asked whether the Services would be satisfied with this arrangement.
§ Sir D. Eccles
I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the prime purpose of the Ministry of Supply is to supply weapons to the Services.
§ Sir D. Eccles
I will enlarge upon that point. The bomb has, as I suppose hon. Gentlemen are aware, a core of fissile 2318 material which is wrapped up in a case with a lot of gadgets, fuses, etc., of a conventional nature. The Ministry of Supply will continue to be responsible for the manufacture of the conventional parts of the bomb. It will order from the new Corporation the fissile cores just as it orders explosives to put into shells and cartridges. The Corporation will carry the making of that fissile material up to the point where it is to be put into the bomb or warhead or other weapon.
The Ministry of Supply will place orders, through the Lord President, for as many of these cores as it is Government policy shall be made. The Government will have just as much control over the quantity and quality of the bomb cores as they have now, but under the new arrangement we shall be in a very much better position to assess the balance between the military and civil uses of what is the same material.
It is not only the Ministry of Supply which has a claim. There is the Ministry of Fuel and Power which wants electricity which can be generated by nuclear fuel. There is the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Board of Trade. They are all interested in nuclear products. As more progress is made, it may well be that other Ministers will put forward claims for these products, or for the skill required to build atomic plants, for sale overseas. There will be a conflict between the uses of the material at home followed, one may suppose, by a conflict between domestic demand and exports.
I was asked about staff arrangements. The move we are discussing tonight is to disentangle from the Ministry of Supply a going concern, which will afterwards be transferred to the Corporation. The Civil Service will remain the Civil Service after 1st January just as it is now, until the terms have been settled for the transfer to the Corporation. Perhaps the hon. Member for Newton will look at paragraph 20 of the White Paper entitled "Transfer Problems." My noble Friend is adopting this suggestion, and it will also be seen in the Bill that full discussion has taken place and what the arrangements are. To put it simply this atomic energy project is going to expand largely, and when one is in an expanding industry one is on a good thing.
§ Sir D. Eccles
They will come in on Civil Service terms until the Corporation starts its existence exactly as they have come in up to now. If we are looking for a Minister who has no departmental claims on fissile material, the Lord President of the Council is the obvious choice—
§ Sir D. Eccles
—as he was during the war. It is quite an accident that the Lord President happens to be in another place. If I remember rightly, Lord Addison was Lord President; and what one has to look for, in a matter of such tremendous seriousness, is a Minister with the best qualifications for taking these great decisions in the use of this new power.
The Lord President is responsible for the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and the Medical Research Council. The first brings him into contact with scientists, and there is little doubt that as atomic energy approaches the commercial stage some scientists may fear that research may be sacrificed to production and that more money will go on production and less on research. The Lord President is by far the best Minister scientists can have to understand and satisfy their needs, and I am sure the House feels that research is vital. The Medical Research Council advises the Lord President on the medical uses of radio-active products and on research in that field, and on the protection of workers in the plants and the general public from the dangers to health involved in the manufacture and treatment of uranium. I hope that will reassure the hon. Gentleman the Member for White-haven that standards- will be maintained and looked after by my noble friend.
Great judgment will be required to balance all these rival claims, and I would say that there is no one on this side of the House who thinks that anyone is more fitted to exercise this kind of judgment than the Lord President. He is going to have a particularly difficult job, because fissile material has a peculiar quality as a component of weapons. Other materials 2320 deteriorate with keeping, or grow obsolescent, but this material will keep for thousands of years and can at any time be called from the strategic stockpile to industrial uses. Therefore, if peace were assured we could beat all our plutonium into ploughshares.
In the meantime, we require an independent Minister of great authority, like the Lord President, to watch over this rapidly growing store of life and death and to guide Her Majesty's Government in the negotiations with the other atomic Powers, to which the hon. Member for Coventry, North referred, so that we may come to an international agreement, which we all hope and pray can be secured.
I do not think it is necessary to say very much about my own position in answering Questions for the Lord President, except that it is not true that the Ministry of Works has nothing to do with atomic energy. We have built all these plants to which I have referred. I have 950 professional staff engaged on nothing but drawings and designs for atomic energy plants. I visit the work that is going on as often as I can, arid very interesting it is.
The whole business of atomic energy is a voyage into a new world quite uncharted and unimagined. Here are no signposts. [Interruption.] Hon. Members know that it is because we are on this voyage of discovery that we have got to take the greatest care about the organisation that we set up.
§ Mr. Lee
Will the right hon. Gentleman give to the House the assurance that, quite apart from the buildings, which I agree his Department covers, his Department will be taken into discussion when issues of principle are being determined by the Lord President, and that when he answers Questions in the House he will be answering of his own knowledge of the researches which have gone into this whole issue?
§ Sir D. Eccles
I am not sure that the White Paper includes the arrangements that are to be made. All I can say, therefore, is that I will convey the hon. Member's remarks to my noble Friend.
In 15 years this adventure has placed in our hands a power for good and evil immeasurably beyond all past experience and immeasurably beyond our present 2321 comprehension. Therefore, there rests a terrible responsibility upon those who have to decide how this power shall be used. Personally, I feel that the days of the Old Testament prophets are coming back again and that any layman contemplating the first fruits of atomic physics and atomic chemistry finds it very hard not to believe in Hell, and in Heaven, too.
Parliament has the duty to watch over the organisation of atomic energy in the United Kingdom. We ask the House to reject the Motion, which would prevent us from taking the first step to establish
§ a sound system of control over the violent force which at this moment we are creating in this country and which, we hope, will be exercised for the defence of peace and for the happiness of men. I cannot believe that the Labour Party, having looked at this matter carefully, want to keep atomic energy a prisoner of the armaments programme, and therefore I hope that they will not press this Motion to a Division.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 122; Noes, 158.2323
|Division No. 15.]||AYES||[10.45 p.m.|
|Albu, A. H.||Hewitson, Capt. M.||Plummer, Sir Leslie|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||Hobson, C. R.||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)|
|Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)||Holman, P.||Proctor, W. T.|
|Anderson, Frank (Whitehaven)||Holmes, Horace (Hemsworth)||Pursey, Cmdr. H.|
|Bence, C. R.||Hudson, James (Ealing, N.)||Rankin, John|
|Benn, Hon. Wedgwood||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Reeves, J.|
|Beswick, F.||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Reid, William (Camlachie)|
|Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale)||Janner, B.||Rhodes, H.|
|Blackburn, F.||Jeger, George (Goole)||Ross, William|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Jeger, Mrs. Lena||Royle, C.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Jenkins, R. H. (Stechford)||Shackleton, E. A. A.|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Johnson, James (Rugby)||Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir Hartley|
|Bowles, F. G.||Jones David (Hartlepool)||Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke-on-Trent)|
|Brockway, A. F.||Jones, Frederick Elwyn (West Ham, S.)||Smith, Ellies (Stoke, S.)|
|Brook, Dryden (Halifax)||Keenan, W.||Snow, J. W.|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||King, Dr. H. M.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, S.)||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Sparks, J. A.|
|Champion, A. J.||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Stewart, Michael (Fulham, E.)|
|Coldrick, W.||Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)||Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)|
|Collick, P. H.||Lindgren, G. S.||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||MacColl, J. E.||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Dalton, Rt. Hon. H.||McGovern, J.||Thomas, Ivor Owen (Wrekin)|
|Delargy, H. J.||McLeavy, F.||Thornton, E.|
|Donnelly, D. L.||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Turner-Samuels, M.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Mann, Mrs. Jean||Wallace, H. W.|
|Edelman, M.||Manuel, A. C.||Warbey, W. N.|
|Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)||Mellish, R. J.||Weitzman, D.|
|Fienburgh, W.||Messer, Sir F.||Wells, William (Walsall)|
|Fletcher, Eric (Islington, E.)||Mikardo, Ian||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Follick, M.||Mitchison, G. R.||Whiteley, Rt. Hon. W.|
|Foot, M. M.||Morley, R.||Wigg, George|
|Gibson, C. W.||Mort, D. L.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Moyle, A.||Williams, Ronald (Wigan)|
|Hale, Leslie||Nally, W.||Williams, W. R. (Droylsden)|
|Hall, John T. (Gateshead, W.)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. J.||Williams, W. T. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Hannan, W.||Oldfield, W. H.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Hardy, E. A.||Oliver, G. H.||Yates, V. F.|
|Hargreaves, A.||Oswald, T.||Younger, Rt. Hon. K.|
|Harrison, J. (Nottingham, E.)||Padley, W. E.|
|Hastings, S.||Paget, R. T.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hayman, F. H.||Parker, J.||Mr. Bowden and|
|Herbison, Miss M.||Peart, T. F.||Mr. Kenneth Robinson.|
|Aitken, W. T.||Bishop, F. P.||Cooper, Sqn. Ldr. Albert|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Bossom, Sir A. C.||Crockshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Boyle, Sir Edward||Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.|
|Amory, Rt. Hon. Heathcote (Tiverton)||Brooman-White, R. C.||Crouch, R. F.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Browne, Jack (Govan)||Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)|
|Ashton, H. (Chelmsford)||Bullard, D. G.||Darling, Sir William (Edingurgh S.)|
|Baldwin, A. E.||Campbell, Sir David||Davidson, Viscount|
|Banks, Col. C.||Carr, Robert||Deedes, W. F.|
|Barber, Anthony||Cary, Sir Robert||Doughty, C. J. A.|
|Beach, Maj. Hicks||Channon, H.||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord Malcolm|
|Beamish, Maj. Tufton||Clarke, Col. Ralph (East Grinstead)||Drayson, G. B.|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmouth, W.)||Drewe, Sir C.|
|Bennett, F. M. (Reading, N.)||Cole, Norman||Duthie, W. S.|
|Bennett. Dr. Reginald (Gosport)||Colegate, W. A.||Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir D. M.|
|Birch, Nigel||Conant, Maj. R. J. E.||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.|
|Fell, A.||Macdonald, Sir Peter||Roper, Sir Harold|
|Fleetwood-Hesketh, R. F.||McKibbin, A. J.||Russell, R. S.|
|Ford, Mrs. Patricia||Mackie, J. A. (Galloway)||Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.|
|Fort, R.||Maclean, Fitzroy||Schofield, Lt.-Col. W.|
|Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||Macleod, Rt. Hon. Iain (Enfield, W.)||Shepherd, William|
|Fraser, Sir Ian (Morecambe & Lonsdale)||Maitland, Comdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)|
|Galbraith, Rt. Hon. T. D. (Pollok)||Maitland, Patrick (Lanark)||Stevens, G. P.|
|Garner-Evans, E. H.||Manningham-Buller, Sir R. E.||Steward, W. A. (Woolwich, W.)|
|Gough, C. F. H.||Marlowe, A. A. H.||Storey, S.|
|Graham, Sir Fergus||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.||Strauss, Henry (Norwich, S.)|
|Gridley, Sir Arnold||Medlicott, Brig. F.||Summers, G. S.|
|Grimond, J.||Mellor, Sir John||Taylor, Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Grimston, Hon. John (St. Albans)||Molson, A. H. E.||Teeling, W.|
|Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Morrison, John (Salisbury)||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Nabarro, G. D. N.||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, W.)|
|Hay, John||Neave, Airey||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hn. Peter (Monmouth)|
|Heald, Sir Lionel||Nicholls, Harmar||Thornton-Kemsley, Col. C. N.|
|Heath, Edward||Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)||Tilney, John|
|Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Nicolson, Nigel (Bournemouth, E)||Touche, Sir Gordon|
|Hirst, Geoffrey||Nield, Basil (Chester)||Turner, H. F. L.|
|Holland-Martin, C. J.||Oaksholt, H. D.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Hopkinson, Rt. Hon. Henry||O'Neill, Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)||Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.|
|Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Orr, Capt. L. P. S.||Vosper, D. F.|
|Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)||Wade, D. W.|
|Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives)||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-super-Mare)||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Hudson, Sir Austin (Lewisham, N.)||Page, R. G.||Walker-Smith, D. C.|
|Hutchinson, Sir Geoffrey (Ilford, N.)||Perkins, W. R. D.||Ward, Miss I. (Tynemouth)|
|Hylton-Foster, H. B. H.||Peto, Brig. C. H. M.||Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.|
|Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Pitt, Miss E. M.||Williams, Rt. Hon. Charles (Torquay)|
|Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Powell, J. Enoch||Williams, Gerald (Tonbridge)|
|Jones, A. (Hall Green)||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)||Williams, Sir Herbert (Croydon, E.)|
|Kerr, H. W.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Langford-Holt, J. A.||Raikes, Sir Victor||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Rayner, Brig. R.||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Redmayne, M.||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Longden, Gilbert||Renton, D. L. M.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Low, A. R. W.||Roberts, Peter (Heeley)||Mr. Studholme and Mr. Wills.|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Robinson, Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
Question put, and agreed to.