HC Deb 01 July 1954 vol 529 cc1531-6
The Minister of Works (Sir David Eccles)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the appointment of the members of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority in accordance with the provisions of the Atomic Energy Authority Act, 1954. A similar statement is being made in another place by my right hon. Friend the Lord President.

The Act prescribes that the Authority shall consist of not fewer than eight and not more than 11 members. Eight members have now been appointed, and my right hon. Friend intends shortly to appoint one additional member.

The following have agreed to serve as members of the Authority:—Sir Edwin Plowden as Chairman, Sir John Cockcroft. Sir Christopher Hinton, Sir William Penney. Sir Donald Perrott, Lord Cherwell, Sir Luke Fawcett and I. A. R. Stedeford, Esq., K.B.E., the last three named on a part-time basis.

The Chairman will receive a salary of £8,500 a year and the remaining members, other than the part-time members, £5,000 a year. Sir John Cockcroft, Sir Christopher Hinton and Sir William Penney will receive an additional payment of £1,000 per annum in their capacity as executives of the Authority. The part-time members will receive £500 a year, save that Lord Cherwell will, at his own request, draw no payment.

The members have been appointed as from 19th July. An Order in Council, made in accordance with the provisions of the Act, has fixed 1st August as the appointed day on which the Authority shall commence to exercise its functions.

Mr. G. R. Strauss

The individuals chosen by the Government for membership of this Authority ensure that it will be a very strong one, and, of course, we wish it all success, but a point arises in regard to additional payment of some members of this Authority about which I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question. It is surely entirely unprecedented that on any public body, corporation or board there should be additional payments given to members of the corporation for their executive offices? I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is not an entirely new procedure and whether he has considered the repercussions of it on other authorities and corporations in the future, and whether it does not create a very strange situation when there is only one member of the Authority, Sir Donald Perrott, who gets the basic salary of £5,000 a year. I would further ask what is the present salary of the three gentlemen who will in future get £6,000 a year.

Sir D. Eccles

I must ask the right hon. Gentleman to allow me to inquire about the last part of his question. I will write to him about the present salaries. [HON MEMBERS: "Publicly."] If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to put down a Question, I shall be pleased to give him the information. With regard to the appointment of executives as members of the Authority, this is a very novel and exceptional Authority. It was felt that these three gentlemen, who are so well known to the House, should, because their executive work is so heavy, have this additional £1,000 a year. Very careful consideration was given to this matter.

Mr. H. Morrison

Is the top rate of £8,500 now becoming the standard rate for these positions? I thought it was tending to be £7,500. Is there enough work for the gentlemen to do who are appointed full-time at £5,000? Is there enough work for them to do to justify a salary of £5,000? Reverting to my right hon. Friend's question, is it not really wrong as a matter of principle and of good public administration that executives should be mixed up with members of the board? Is not the function of members of the board to supervise and check the work of the executive officers under the Board? If the executive officers become, in this proportion, or indeed in any proportion, members of the board, who is left to check the work of the executive officers under the board?

Sir D. Eccles

The first point about the rate of £8,500 is really a question for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, and I will bring it to his notice.

Mr. Morrison

The right hon. Gentleman is responsible.

Sr. D. Eccles

The right hon. Gentleman say's that I am responsible. I am, but only for the Atomic Energy Authority, not for the salary scales of the Government as a whole. There is more than enough work for these three distinguished scientists and engineers. I doubt if there is any position in industry today which calls for more skill and more work than these three gentlemen have to perform.

I have some sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman on the last point. The fact of the matter is that these three executives have been in charge of separate sections of the old atomic energy project, and for the time being, until separate managers can be found to take over those sections, it is necessary for them to double the work of continuing to be in charge respectively of research, of production and of the bomb. Therefore, they have to be both members of the Authority and executives. I think that this is probably a temporary arrangement.

Mr. Morrison

If it be the case that these, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. G. R. Strauss), said, estimable and expert people must go on with their executive departmental work, why not let them go on with that work? What is the necessity for making them members of the Authority which has to supervise the work of the executive officers who are under it? Is it not wrong that we should confuse the responsibilities of executive officers responsible to the Authority by making them members of the Authority so that there is a double situation of great confusion, which is surely wrong in relation to the principles of good public administration?

Sir D. Eccles

If the right hon. Gentleman had attended our debates, he would have heard me say that one of the reasons for bringing in the Atomic Energy Authority is precisely the desire to co-ordinate these three and in some ways separate and overlapping departments of the project. We think—I think results are already coming in—that the fact that these three gentlemen now sit round the same table and discuss in common the problems of atomic energy and take joint responsibility for the continuing programme, is a very good thing.

Mr. Attlee

Is it not rather curious, when we hear such complaints about the excessive cost of Government and the numbers of Ministers, that we are now substituting for one Minister about six people who are to be paid more than a Cabinet Minister?

Sir D. Eccles

I can only say that comparisons as between Ministers and these executives are odious.

Mr. Assheton

Would my right hon. Friend agree that many of the most successful commercial organisations of the world are organised in this very way—certain members of the board hold executive offices and certain members do not? Many of the greatest corporations, both in America and in this country, are organised in this way.

Sir D. Eccles


Mr. Usborne

In the case of the executives, would it not have been far better if they had been paid an adequate salary for their executive positions, and if they had also to be on the Authority—there is a good argument for them being so—I cannot see why they need additional remuneration for attending board meetings in what is obviously working time, for which they are already paid their executive salary?

Sir D. Eccles

It is a matter of choice how their salaries are paid. I think that the hon. Member will know that these particular men could, if they were to cross the Atlantic, get very much more than they are getting here.

An Hon. Member

So could we.

Mr. Erroll

Would the Minister agree that the nationalised boards, and particularly the British Electricity Authority, which are organised on the same pattern, are working very well?

Mr. I. O. Thomas

Would the Minister indicate whether, in addition to the stated salaries, the members of the Authority will receive expenses allowances for any activities connected with the board?

Sir D. Eccles

Under the Act we have to lay before Parliament a statement of any extra remuneration and allowances and pensions, and we shall do that in due course.

Mr. I. O. Thomas

On a point of order. I put a question to the Minister. He has not answered it. I am asking him to say—

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order. We often hear that complaint made of Ministers.

Mr. Ede

Could the Minister explain how it was that a statement appeared on the tape during lunch-time that Lord Salisbury would be making this announcement in the Lords this afternoon, and giving the list of the names, and is that a proper way to treat this House? Will the right hon. Gentleman make inquiries as to how the leak occurred? With regard to the Minister's answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Yardley (Mr. Usborne), will the right hon. Gentleman warn any of these scientists who may be contemplating going to America that they should read the life history of Dr. Oppenheimer?

Several Hon. Membersrose

Mr. Speaker

We really cannot debate this matter now.

Mr. I. O. Thomas

On a point of order. May I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that when a question has been put to a Minister by a Member, it is the Minister's duty at least to attempt to answer it? Therefore, I suggest that the Minister should answer the question which I put to him, namely, whether, in addition to their salaries, the members of this Authority will receive expenses allowances?

Mr. Speaker

I think the Minister said that any such expenses allowances paid would appear before the House in the usual way. The hon. Member may not consider that to be a satisfactory answer,

but I can assure him that such a feeling is common to those who ask questions of Ministers.

Mr. Lewis

In view of the fact that we have had one or two precedents in recent weeks, can you. Mr. Speaker, give us any idea as to what assurance we can have that if, as may well be the case, the 1922 Committee meets and objects to these salaries being paid until old age pensioners and the more hard-pressed are dealt with, the House will not be flouted and that the Minister will not withdraw this statement?

Mr. Speaker

I am afraid that that is a hypothetical question, and I do not think, so long as I have any authority in the matter, that the House will be flouted in any way.

Mr. I. O. Thomas

May I ask the Minister whether his reply to my question is "Yes"?

Mr. Speaker

I suggest that the hon. Member ought to write to the Minister.