HC Deb 16 July 1956 vol 556 cc976-96

9.24 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works (Mr. J. R. Bevins)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 10, at the end to insert:

"and (c) take steps to further the practical application of the results of scientific and of industrial research". When the Bill was in Committee, the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu), supported by his hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), and, I think, my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead), raised the question whether the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research is giving adequate practical effect to the recommendation of the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy that greater use ought to be made by Government Departments and research associations of the technique of development contracts so as to make sure that the results of research are quickly brought into use.

This Amendment is very widely drawn, so as to cover all development work and contracts however undertaken, whether leading to inventions or not. It implements my earlier undertaking to hon. Members that the Bill should make it clear beyond all doubt that the Department has important responsibilities in the stages of research between the laboratory and actual production. Whether or not we are doing enough at the moment is a matter of opinion, but it is one of the most important subjects which will, obviously, deserve and get the attention of the Research Council when it is formed.

9.30 p.m.

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)

I thank the Parliamentary Secretary, on behalf of my hon. Friends, for moving to insert this form of words into the Bill, which makes it quite clear that part of the duties of the new Research Council will be to take steps to further the practical application of the results of scientific and industrial research.

It would be churlish of me not to thank him, but, although one is not supposed to look gift horses in the mouth, I must examine this one's teeth rather more carefully. I am very much in favour of giving this Research Council the powers to do its work, but what I really want to know—and what I am quite certain the Parliamentary Secretary will not tell me—is what use it will make of those powers. I should have thought that it was not a matter of opinion as to whether we were doing enough at present. The Parliamentary Secretary thinks it is. I say it is a matter of fact that we are not doing enough.

One of the major troubles of British industry now is that we have so many firms of such a small size that they are quite incapable of employing scientists and technologists to any degree; they are, in many cases, not only incapable of absorbing the latest scientific and technical developments, but they do not even know that they exist. There is very great scope here for the Government to raise the "Second XI" of British industry to the standard of the "First XI".

There is no doubt about the "First XI"; it is doing first-class work in research and in the practical application of it. It is really almost beyond argument—and this is where so many of us feel such concern—that these small firms, those I call the "Second XI", are not, because of their size, able to take advantage of the opportunities which science is laying at their door.

This proposal, which writes into the Bill something which, I know, the Parliamentary Secretary will tell me can already be done by the Research Council, gives the Government, if they are so minded, the opportunity of spreading among a wide range of small and medium-sized British firms the great benefits to be derived from science and technology today. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will, before we leave this Amendment, tell us, if he can, what use they propose to make of that opportunity. We have a number of associations now which are doing quite useful work, in a minor way.

What we should like to see—and this was the object of our Amendment—is this work developed on a much bigger scale so that the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research could, and indeed, would, become responsible for entering upon development in such a way that these many small and medium-sized firms, the greater part of British industry, could take up projects which are known to exist but which they have not the necessary technical resources to use.

That was our object in tabling our Amendment in Committee, which the Parliamentary Secretary has now accepted. I thank him for accepting the form of it and I now ask that we should know how much pressure there is to be behind the idea and how much will be done in this sphere. If we cannot get a very satisfactory reply, this is something that in the months and years ahead the House of Commons will have to fasten on in order constantly to press upon the Government the need for using their own resources to do this work.

It is fairly generally agreed—I think it was the hon. Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead) who said this on Second Reading—that the Government will have to play an increasing part in research and development of this nature. If so, we must ask not only that the Government should formally accept the proposition that has been put forward, but that we should have a clear statement from them that there will be steam in this particular turbine.

Sir H. Linstead (Putney)

I join with the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) in expressing appreciation of the inclusion of the two Amendments in the Bill. I am not certain, however, that I can follow the hon. Member in his suggestion that the Government have a responsibility in, I think he would almost have said, pressing this development upon smaller firms in industry. It seems to me that that goes beyond the duties of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and, indeed, beyond what it is reasonably practicable to expect the Government to do.

Mr. Callaghan

That depends on whether one believes in a laissez faire economy.

Sir H. Linstead

It seems to me that the Government's duty and the duty of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research is to pick out likely pieces of research in the laboratory stage and then, if they are not being taken over by industry, to make certain that they are carried a stage further to the pilot or development stage at which their potentialities on a manufacturing level can be assessed. Beyond that, however, I hardly see that the Government can go. If industry has not the initiative and the vision to take on from that stage, so much the worse for industry.

Mr. Callaghan

And for Britain.

Sir H. Linstead

And for the country, I agree.

It may be that the Government have the opportunity of putting pressure upon nationalised industries or upon certain industries with which they have a close relation because of defence, but to say that a large number of small industries should be under pressure by the Government to take over from a certain stage seems to me to be wishful thinking. Although I join in the hopes which have been expressed that these powers will be fully used, I believe that the last stage from development onwards is a challenge to British industry rather than a challenge to the Government.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

My worst fears about the future of British industry are confirmed by what the hon. Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead) has just said. Research has now reached the stage that only Governments or wealthy corporations can really indulge in it. The Government propose to spend substantial sums of money through the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, on probing into things that in these days are quite beyond the financial and human resources of firms, except those of great magnitude.

We have got past the days when Priestley and Cavendish, with home-made apparatus, could carry out substantial experiments, which, after all, revolutionised the world into which they were born. Even Faraday and Davy and people of their generation were able to carry on their researches by their own financial strength and according to their human ingenuity. That era has gone. I.C.I. and Lever Brothers and similar firms may be able to carry on research, but even the universities cannot carry it on now without substantial grants from the Government, and they accept those grants, though that, when I was first connected with a university, would have been regarded as a very dangerous thing for a university in this country to do.

I take it that the words of this Amendment mean that, when these results have been achieved, it will be part of the duty of the Research Council to bring the results of the research to the notice of firms and industries which will be able to apply them in the ordinary running of their businesses. To think that these things are to be published and that then it does not matter whether anybody takes them up or not!

As the hon. Member for Putney frankly said, in answer to an interruption by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), so much the worse for the country if they do not. Yet if we are to believe what the Prime Minister said on Saturday, or to believe as much of it as some of us are willing to accept, the country is in far too parlous a condition in this matter, which may mean all the difference between success and failure in the future, to leave it to a body of directors of, say, a small firm in a back street in Putney to make up their minds whether to avail themselves of these results or not.

I hope that this Amendment will mean that the Research Council will feel itself charged with the duty of taking steps to further the practical application of the results of scientific and industrial research. The words are quite sufficient for me, if they are implemented, but what if the spirit expressed by the hon. Member for Putney prevails? I do not know what the spirit of the Government may be. I recollect that the hon. Gentleman defeated the Government on a Prayer about glass-ware, although he did not vote himself; but we saw to it. It may be that we shall have sometimes to press the Government to give more body to these words than the hon. Member for Putney is prepared to give them.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us that these words really mean what they say. They are simple, and the meaning of them seems to me to be perfectly clear, and I hope they mean that the Research Council will be charged with the duty of seeing that the discoveries it finances will be brought to the notice of the industry of the country, and that firms which are capable of applying them, and which are engaged in businesses in which they can be applied, will be pressed to take advantage of them, where they are likely to be of advantage to their trades and to the country.

Mr. Bevins

By leave of the House, I would reply to what has been said. I do not want at this late hour—[HON. MEMBERS: "Late?"]—to become involved in a violent discussion of what the full signicance of the Amendment is, but I would assure the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) that his object is very adequately covered by the words in Clause 1(3): The Research Council shall he charged with … the dissemination of the results of such research … Those words are emphasised by the Amendment.

9.45 p.m.

We had a long discussion in Committee on development work generally, an important aspect of the work of the D.S.I.R. I said then that the Department has been engaged on development work during the last few years. It has been in liaison with the research associations, which are autonomous bodies, and in certain cases has been seeing that development work does not overlap between the associations and the Department itself. I think that I am right in saying that in one or two cases development contracts have been given to industrial firms where the circumstances have been thought to be appropriate.

I give the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) the assurance that the Government are very conscious indeed of the value of this sort of work. It is important not only that we ought to engage in pure and basic research, but ought to develop that research and get it across to industry and make a real impact upon it. It would not be appropriate at this stage to say how far this work will be developed in future. I say that not because I am shy about it or reluctant to talk about it; but simply because the Research Council which will be formed during the next few months will be charged with a number of tasks and this will be one of the most important of them. It would be quite wrong for me, in my capacity, to hamstring that Council in any way.

Mr. Callaghan

Will the hon. Gentleman ask that the Council should devote a special section of its first report to the use that it makes of these powers?

Mr. Bevins

I will certainly convey that to my noble Friend.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Bevins

I beg to move, in page 2, line 12, at the end to insert: and in exercising their functions under this subsection the Research Council shall have regard, consistently with the national interest, to similar or related activities carried on by other persons". The aim of the Amendment is quite simple. It is to ensure that there is effective co-ordination with other research work so as to avoid undesirable overlapping. I hope that the form of the Amendment will meet the point of view which was expressed by the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Mikardo) and others in Committee. The words … consistently with the national interest … have been put in because there may be circumstances—I put it no higher—where the national interest dictates that we should, as a Department, interest ourselves in a particular research even though others are engaged upon it. The great thing is to see that our programme should include what we consider to be in the national interest, having regard to what is going on in research elsewhere.

Mr. Callaghan

I thank the hon. Gentleman for devising a form of words to meet the criticisms made from this side of the Committee. I thank him for the intention that he is trying to carry out, but I am not at all happy that the result will be achieved by this method. This is better than nothing, but I do not regard it as doing what is necessary here. I had a feeling at one stage that perhaps the Amendment was an attempt to cut down the work of the D.S.I.R. if research was being done by private firms and industries outside, but from what the Parliamentary Secretary has said I gather that that is not so.

I had that in mind because of the illustration I gave of the work done on polymers in chemical research laboratories, which was challenged by private industry working on similar lines. It was challenged not because private industry had a real desire to avoid overlapping, but because it did not want trade secrets to get out and be widely spread. I gather that that is not the intention of the Amendment and that the intention is to achieve some measure of co-ordination.

I cannot possibly imagine that we can secure co-ordination in this sphere as long as there is more than one authority among the Ministers responsible for this work. We have, as we well know today, a number of Ministers who are so responsible. There is, of course, the Lord President of the Council, the Minister of Defence, the Minister of Supply, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and there must be others.

There is at the moment about £235 million being spent on research this year. Of that total, D.S.I.R. is responsible for some £10 million. The great bulk of that expenditure is on the defence side. The Minister of Supply is perhaps the man who is more responsible for our research expenditure than any other single person in Britain today. I do not see how we can achieve co-ordination until the Government have bridged the gap which exists at the moment between the Service Departments, on the one hand, and the Civil Departments, on the other, notably D.S.I.R., the Medical Research Council, the Agricultural Research Council and those other bodies who are interested in the civil side of research.

At the moment, the real difficulties that we have on this question of scientific co-ordination, at which this Amendment is directed, is not that the Services are uninterested in scientific development, but are absolutely obsessed with it. As Mr. James Conant has said, writing about the American Chiefs of Staff and their attitude to scientific research, "They get on their horses and gallop off in all directions at once."

I would not be surprised when we come to examine scientific research on our own defence side if we did not find much the same thing. That is where co-ordination is lacking. While I appreciate that this Amendment is an attempt to ensure that at least there is some liaison in this direction, nevertheless I think that the Government have to go further than they have gone. There has to be a real bridge here. There has to be a senior Minister—to come back to my old King Charles's head—in this House, in my view, who has to be responsible for co-ordination and prosecution of our scientific and technological effort in this country. Meanwhile, this Amendment will have some effect in that someone in D.S.I.R. will have to ask someone in another Department what is going on; but I believe this job is too big and vital to Britain's interest to be left in this rather slipshod way and that this Government or the next Government will have to take up this question and organise our scientific and technological effort in such a way as to ensure, first, that there is no overlapping, secondly, that the Service Departments by default do not get too large a proportion of our effort and, thirdly, to increase the total amount of effort which we are putting into science and technology, which at the moment is totally inadequate.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

9.54 p.m.

Mr. Bevins

This Bill was given a Second Reading by the House on 20th June. It was examined by Standing Committee the week before last, and it is now in its concluding stages. This is very rapid progress, and I should like to thank hon. Members on both sides, particularly those hon. Members who served on Standing Committee A for their help and also for their criticisms, which have been most valuable.

The House does not often enjoy the opportunity of debating scientific matters of a civil character, and it may well be that because of the infrequency of such opportunities that the Second Reading debate ranged rather wide—rather like the speech which the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) has just made. I do not complain about that; it would not matter much if I did. I think it is fair to say that there is now very general agreement throughout the House on the main purpose of the Bill, namely, to strengthen the organisation of the Department so that it can carry out its task with the best possible results.

On the importance of that task I do not think there can be any dispute. It has been emphasised over and over again, both on Second Reading and in Committee, that science and its application to industry are vitally important to our wellbeing and may be, indeed, to our economic survival. Nevertheless, it is the case that several hon. Members have questioned whether the replacement of the Advisory Council by the new Research Council will make very much difference in actual practice.

Precisely how much difference it is going to make is, of course, a matter which only experience will show. No doubt the composition of the new Council will be very similar to that of the present Advisory Council which it will replace. Speaking for myself, I do not think it can be suggested that an advisory body, however distinguished, is the same as a body which possesses executive powers. The new Council will have the duty of deciding upon and not merely advising upon the priorities and the balance of the Department's research programme as a whole. It will decide whether there are any new research tasks which the Department ought to undertake and whether any of its existing work should be expanded or, perhaps, tempered down.

In its second Report, which was published as a White Paper, the Jephcott Committee used a phrase now widely quoted. It said: Much is started, but not enough is stopped. As a result, many of the programmes have become too diffused or too uneven in their quality. I want to emphasise that one of the first duties, and, indeed, a continuing duty, of the new Research Council will be to pursue this recommendation. The intention is that the Council shall be so constituted that its members will, in practice, be able to give a good deal of time to it both collectively and as individuals with specialist responsibilities.

I should also like to emphasise that the duty of making sure that enough research work is stopped should not be regarded as something which is purely negative. On the contrary, it will ensure that the Department uses scientists and technologists, whose scarcity, after all, is one of our major problems at the present time, to the greatest possible advantage. The new Council will be taking major policy decisions which will call for all the wisdom and experience that it is capable of commanding.

Having said that, however, I ought to add that it is not the intention that the Council should become involved in the execution of the programmes, except in such broad aspects as the allocation of finance or of scientific manpower. The practical methods by which items in the programme are pursued will remain, as now, the responsibility of the directors at the research stations. I know the House will agree that this is important if scientific freedom and independence are to be preserved.

Perhaps I may here pay a small tribute on behalf of the Government to the present and former members of the Advisory Council. They have—

Mr. Ede

Why only a small tribute?

Mr. Bevins

I do not want to overstate it.

These gentlemen have done a splendid job over the years, and it is certainly no criticism of their work to say that it is now desirable in the circumstances of 1956 to make the change provided for in the Bill.

Before I conclude, I wish to say a very brief word on the comments made by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East on Second Reading, in Committee and again during the Report stage tonight. The complaint is that in a matter of this sort the Government ought to have a Minister, and preferably a senior Minister, speaking at this Box, a Minister invested with all the authority of being in charge of the Department whose work we are discussing tonight. I must remind the House that it is a long time since that was the position. I find that one has to go back to the early part of 1951 when there were certain changes in the Labour Government, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) was appointed Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. I am afraid that I must remind the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East that when the right hon. Gentleman was succeeded as Lord President of the Council—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

I do not think that that is in the Bill, and we are now on the Third Reading.

Mr. Bevins

I will not weary the House with the point, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but perhaps I might add that the Minister at that time was in another place and his place in this Chamber was taken by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. Therefore, whether we regard the precedent as a good one or a bad one, it was established not by my right hon. Friends but by the hon. Gentlemen opposite.

I would end by expressing what I know is in the minds of all hon. Members who have taken an interest in the Bill by expressing our hope for the success of the Research Council when it is appointed—my noble Friend intends to set it up towards the autumn—and also by expressing our best wishes to Sir Ben Lockspeiser's successor, Professor Melville from Birmingham University. I am sure that both the Secretary of the Department and the members of the Research Council will do a very fine job of work. I am confident that the Bill will achieve a good deal more than perhaps some of us have felt during the last few weeks.

In conclusion, I am assured by my noble Friend that not only he himself but the members of the Research Council will bear very much in mind the criticisms and the constructive comments which have been made from both sides of the House during the various stages of the Bill.

10.2 p.m.

Mr. Callaghan

I thank the Parliamentary Secretary for the courteous way in which he has met us throughout the course of the Bill. I hope he will feel that it has given him a taste for this work. If the Government care to promote him to become the senior Minister in charge of scientific research, my hon. Friends and I will take no exception to it. What we want is a senior Minister and not someone from outside the Department coming here and reading somebody else's words. That is all we want; that is all we ask for. I leave the matter at that.

I should like to make one or two comments on the Bill. Frankly, I am not persuaded by the Parliamentary Secretary's eloquence that this change will be of very great significance, that changing an advisory research council into a part-time executive Research Council comprised, so far as I can see, of mostly the same people, at any rate of very similar people, will make anything like a revolutionary alteration in this sphere. I have the feeling that, in the words of an editorial in one of our scientific journals—I hope the House will forgive my accent—"Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose". I have the feeling that that is what will be the result of it.

However, my hon. Friends and I hope very much, because our scientific future is at stake, that this will be a substantial change and that it will result in much better control, in one sense, of the effort, but not in the matter of interference with the research directors, and that it will result in more power being attached to the Minister who is responsible for the subject. We certainly wish Sir Harry Jephcott and the members of the Research Council well, together with Professor Melville, when he takes over the post which has been held with such distinction by Sir Ben Lockspeiser.

I should like to say a word—I think shall be able to prove that it is in order—about the cuts which have been announced. Clause 3 of the Bill refers to the payments which have to be made for the work to be done. We were staggered to hear that the Government were proposing an economy cut of £150,000 in the current financial year's Estimate of the Department. It is absurd that a cut of this nature should be made in such an important Department. I and my hon. Friends very much regret that the Government are proposing to reduce the number of staff to be engaged, certain small grants for industrial research, certain grants for purchase of equipment and certain items concerned with the Geological Survey.

All these are to be cut down. We believe that the Government are making a profound mistake in tampering, in however small a degree, with the funds allocated to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. This is our lifeblood and investment in the future, and these derisory and contemptible cuts should be set alongside the paragraphs in the last Report of the Department which show that from every quarter and every department have come calls for additional resources. Apparently every department in the D.S.I.R., almost without exception, says that it is short of men, short of equipment, or short of both, and yet the Government, so far from maintaining the increases which they had made, are now proposing to cut them.

I would remind the Parliamentary Secretary that those cuts are coming at a time when we were told that there would be no cut in the Vote of D.S.I.R. I very much regret that this should have happened. Let me illustrate it by quoting from a very remarkable editorial in The Chemical Age.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am not at all certain that the hon. Member is in order. Clause 3 provides machinery for the payment, but I do not think this is the occasion to deal with the amount.

Mr. Callaghan

I will not continue with that, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I will turn to that part of the Bill which deals with the duty of the Council to disseminate information. If I cannot get in the point under expenses, I will deal with it under the duty to disseminate information.

In this month's issue of The Chemical Age—I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister will read it—is an editorial which deals with the Chemical Research Laboratory. We have asked, as the Parliamentary Secretary knows, that there should be a vast extension in the dissemination of information. I should like him to notice what is said in the editorial about the Chemical Research Laboratory: Many outside requests for advice and information are received by CRL, and often the testing or investigations required involve subjects or techniques which arc no longer of research interest. Such work, therefore, would be of little mutual value to CRL and the inquiring firm. On corrosion problems alone the 1955 inquiries numbered 400 compared with 240 in 1954! I leave out a sentence which is not material. It is now the declared policy of CRL to refer such requests to private consultants through the Royal Institute of Chemistry. Apparently, an exception is made if other Government Departments ask for help.

Here is obviously a void, a gap which is not being filled and which should be filled as I read the duty of the Department in the Bill. It is clearly reverting to an Amendment accepted during Report stage. Here is a rôle which the Department can easily fulfil, namely, acting as a sieve for these inquiries and helping smaller firms in British industry with the information which they need. That means not a cut, but a substantial increase in its resources. As we all know, it has not the means, nor the money, to do that job at present.

I will end with a further quotation dealing with the inadequacy of the resources available to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. The editorial in The Chemical Age refers to the disparity between staff devoting their time to atomic energy research and those devoting themselves to all other types of research in chemistry. Without going into the details, I will merely give the summary contained in that article: In our view, fundamental research work on microbiology, on remedies for corrosion, on high polymers—cite only three selected fields of C.R.L. interest—must be conducted more expansively if the risk of missed opportunities is to be kept as low as possible. These are expansive fields of research—in two of them major processes of the industrial future are to be found, in the third there are great opportunities for reducing national wastes and loss. We need to step up the effort of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. I hope that the new Research Council will press on the Government very considerably the need for a substantial expansion of the resources that have been placed at its disposal.

As the Parliamentary Secretary will not be surprised to hear, we do not intend to oppose the Third Reading of the Bill. Our aim is to strengthen the arm of the D.S.I.R., not to weaken it. The view of the Government is that their proposed organisational change will strengthen it. We certainly hope so. We wish the Department well and will try to assist it in the future.

10.12 p.m.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

I wish to add only a few words to what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan). Basically, I still have the misgivings I expressed on Second Reading of the Bill. I doubt whether the change from an advisory to an executive council will make much difference. As the Jephcott Committee said in its Report, which inspired this Bill, A change of substance is often helped by a change of form". But a change of form in itself will not produce any results. We merely hope that the change in form will produce the change of substance because, unless it does so, the whole object of the Bill will have served no useful purpose. We on this side of the House were shocked when we heard recently about a cut in the Government's grant to the D.S.I.R. A much greater Government contribution is required for the activities of the Department.

If the debates we have had on Second Reading, in Committee and now on Third Reading have served no other purpose I think that they have served this valuable public purpose. They have directed public attention to the immense importance of this subject, which we have only too few opportunities to ventilate in this House. I do not think it is any exaggeration to say that those concerned with the future of our national welfare are very much concerned about the inadequacy of the Government approach to the whole subject of the use of scientific manpower and the opportunities which exist for developing technological knowledge and scientific research both fundamental research and its application to practical problems.

It has emerged during these debates that as our natural resources as a nation dwindle we become more and more dependent on the efforts and energies of our manpower. In the next few years and in the long run our economic survival as a nation will very largely depend on the ways in which we direct responsibilities for using the vast preserves of scientific manpower of the country.

As I have said, I view with some misgiving the mere change of an advisory council into an executive council, particularly when we learn that in all probability the composition of that council will remain much the same as in the past few years. I hope that the Government will bear in mind the lessons to be learned both from the interim Jephcott Report, which has been published, and from the second Jephcott Report, which, unfortunately, has not been published.

The Report which has been published reveals among those best entitled to form an opinion a state of profound disquiet and disturbance about the activities of this Department in recent years. It is a healthy sign that at any rate something is being done about it but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East said, and as others of my hon. Friends stressed on Second Reading and in Committee, we on this side of the House feel a particular sense of urgency in this matter.

We are convinced of the all-important necessity of using our reserves of technological manpower and of seeing that all opportunities of scientific research and scientific knowledge are exploited to the full. We believe that this objective can be secured only if far greater publicity is given to this matter than has been given in the past.

These debates have served some purpose. The Reports of the Department are not nearly as widely known as they should be. The Government's failure to publish a final Jephcott Report is a policy of secrecy and of silence which, I believe, renders profound disservice to our national interests, because if anything is needed it is the widest possible dissemination of information on the research which is being done not only in chemistry, physics and geology but in every other aspect of science.

We have learned from these debates of the preponderent efforts which have been made in recent years in nuclear energy. No one regrets that or criticises it; in fact, I think we all take pride in the immense achievement which this nation has made in nuclear energy, but I think it is a valid criticism that that progress and those achievements have been made at the expense of comparable progress which could have been made elsewhere and that work elsewhere has to some extent been starved by the Government's failure to make adequate financial resources available for that purpose.

There is a conflict between the interests of academic science and the interests of business, of which a number of illustrations have been given, not only in polymers but in many other matters, where there is a conflict between the academic interests, which are concerned to pursue scientific knowledge and progress for their own sake, and the interests of industrialists who, as experience has shown, are sometimes anxious, in their own interests, to hold up progress.

Notwithstanding our misgivings, we all very much hope that the effect of the Bill will be to secure a much greater liaison between those conflicting interests and to see, at any rate, that the national interest is placed above all.

I should like to conclude by emphasising what may hon. Friend has said and what others of my hon. Friends have stressed—that we believe that the best results here will be achieved only if we have regular and frequent opportunities in the House of interrogating the Government about the decisions being taken by this new Council.

For that reason we believe it vitally important that there should be a senior Minister in the House able to deal with this question and able, as a result of firsthand and immediate contact with the Council, to give the House information; and, secondly—and this is equally important—able to impart to the efforts of the Research Council the drive and energy and sense of vital national importance that is necessary if we are to get the best results and to obtain all that can be obtained from our great potentialities in scientific progress and advancement.

10.20 p.m.

Mr. Austen Albu (Edmonton)

As one who, since he has been in this House, has been one of the small number who has tried to make the House and the country aware of the importance of a scientific basis for our industrial structure, and as one who has taken some small part in seeing this Bill through the House and the Committee, I should like to say just a few words before we part with it.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary feels that the hours he has spent on this Bill have been worth while. I think he will admit that he has learned quite a lot about the subject, which may help him in the future debates which I hope we shall have on this subject, if we do not get the senior Minister for whom we are asking or if he himself should become the senior Minister whom we should like to see in charge. I should like to add my welcome to Professor Melville in his new position as secretary of the D.S.I.R. and to Sir Harry Jephcott, whom, I understand, it is the Government's intention to appoint as first chairman of the Research Council.

I do not want again to pursue the question of whether or not there is a change in actual practice. I would only remind the hon. Gentleman of what we said during the Committee stage about the operations of the Council; that it will not be able to operate unless it has an adequate headquarters staff, adequately paid, with adequate chances of promotion and adequate seniority. If the job of planning civil research is to be done properly, it may be supervised by the Council, but the actual planning must be done by the staff. If there are to be reductions in the staffing of headquarters. I think that the change would be no change at all, because the possibility of the Council really exercising any proper supervision will be negligible.

Mr. Bevins

Perhaps I may reassure the hon. Gentleman that there will be no cuts whatever in headquarters staffs.

Mr. Albu

I am very glad to hear it, but I suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary looks into the question of whether the present headquarters staff is adequate for the increased burden that would be placed on the top levels of the Department if it is to do the job. After all, the new Council is not to be judged by what it stops but by what it starts and gets finished. The Jephcott Committee Report referred to what should be stopped. We are not so much interested in that. We are interested, of course, that there shall be no waste, but we are much more interested in what is to happen in the future and what expansion is to take place. It is on those grounds that we on this side have been made extremely anxious by the fact that after the Bill had been introduced by the Government in another place these cuts, amounting to £150,000, should be made in the appropriation—and £33,000 of that was reduction of staff.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) has said, one of the problems which the Council has to face is that so much of the money that is devoted by the Government to research purposes is either for defence uses or else for what I might call the glamour industries—aircraft, nuclear electronics and so forth. On the other hand, we know that practically every industry, even some of the old traditional industries, could do with a great deal more research effort. There is serious danger in rushing into all the new glamorous fields of research which attract so many of the young men from the universities and other places and neglecting the very substantial increases that might be derived from research in the more traditional and basic industries—substantial increases in productivity output, methods, etc., which are extremely important for our economy.

May I give one warning to the hon. Gentleman—or perhaps may I give him this advice if he has anything to do with resisting further cuts which may be made in the work of the Department. It is very easy for the Treasury to make cuts at certain levels—for instance, among technicians, typists, laboratory assistants and so on—but, of course there is a multiplied effect here. If we cut out the assistance to the higher-powered scientific workers, we greatly reduce their efficiency in the work that they can do. It is a very easy way of making reductions in expenditure, but its effects are not just the effects of the cuts which are made. We have to realise that there are the multiplied effects in the reduction of the efficiency of the more high-powered scientific workers.

It is very important indeed that if we are short of the best scientific brain power, as we are and as every country in the world is at the present time, we should not make ourselves even shorter by starving them of the technical, laboratory and typing assistance without which they cannot do their best work. It is extremely important for the Council to watch that this sort of cut is not made.

My hon. Friends have referred to the extreme importance of the passing on of information. We all know that this is one of the most difficult problems that scientific research organisations face at the moment. Some of my hon. Friends have made some criticisms of the attitude of some private firms towards the disclosure of research, but that does not mean that we do not want the closest collaboration between D.S.I.R. and industry. We are well aware that the money that is going to be spent—and we hope that more money will be spent in the future—will be entirely wasted if this work is not carried out in the closest collaboration with industry so that industry takes up the results of research as quickly as possible and translates it into economic effect.

This is the original purpose for which D.S.I.R. was set up. Its function has since been extended, and in this Bill we confirm that it has the function of supporting fundamental research in the universities, even now to the extent of advanced scientific instruction. This is a new and important function of the Department. All these things are tied up together and they must go forward together.

I wish that we could have far more debates on this matter. We wish there were far more hon. Members present during the Second Reading of the Bill and on this occasion. We hope that the Government will give time in the future to discuss these very important matters. It is part of the Government's function to create an interest and an excitement in these subjects, not only on this but on technical education as well, and indeed the whole field of scientific progress. We all realise that our whole future depends on this question, but too many people pay lip service to it and are not prepared to do very much about it. The Government should devote more and more of their resources to this sort of function, and they should do everything possible to encourage more people to undertake these sorts of scientific activities.

We thank the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary for the courtesy with which he treated us in Committee. One or two small Amendments have been accepted, and one or two have been brought forward by him in response to our request. However, I do not think that the form of the Bill or of the Amendments is what really matters. What really matters is the spirit behind the Bill. It is by the spirit in which this new Council works that we shall judge the Government's intentions in this matter.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with Amendments.