HC Deb 10 December 1957 vol 579 cc1054-6
16. Mr. Thornton

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works, as representing the Lord President of the Council, how many persons are employed by Government scientific and technical research establishments on translating published Russian scientific and technical data into English; and whether he is satisfied that our present translating service and organisation is giving an adequate picture to British scientists and technologists of progress and achievements in Russia.

Mr. H. Nicholls

It is normally found that the best translations of scientific and technical papers are produced by working scientists with a knowledge of Russian. A large number of individuals are employed part-time on this work, and a small number full-time, in Government scientific and technical research establishments. In addition, Government Departments make use, on a contract basis, of panels of translators outside the Government services.

My noble Friend is not satisfied that British scientists yet have an adequate picture of scientific developments in the U.S.S.R. Measures are in hand to improve the availability of English language translations of Russian literature, but the aim must be to encourage more scientists to learn to read Russian.

Mr. Thornton

While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for that reply, may I ask whether he is aware that according to the New York Times of 25th November, the Soviet Union employs 2,300 full-time and 20,000 part-time translators and abstractors? Is he aware that the United States Administration and Congress are paying keen attention to this problem, and is it not a fact that the progress of the Soviet Union has been due mainly to their organisation in disseminating existing knowledge on scientific matters?

Mr. Nicholls

The hon. Gentleman will have noticed from the recent debate that we have been paying a lot of attention to improving the service in this country. As is set out in the Report of the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy, The Scientific Library and Technical Information Committee are considering with the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research ways of improving the arrangements for abstracting and translating Russian technical literature. I notice that the hon. Gentleman has a Question down for Written Answer by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education, and the hon. Gentleman may well find that we are well on the way to meeting the point that he has in mind.

Mr. E. Fletcher

Would the right hon. Gentleman consider co-operating with the United States with a view to getting translations into English of these important matters? There is no doubt that there is a shocking delay in making available to both British and American scientists the latest information about Russian developments. Could not there be some much closer co-operation in these translations?

Mr. Nicholls

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate the problem involved in transferring scientists from carrying out research to actually translating the reports on research which has been carried out. We have a shortage under both heads and it is a matter of using both to the best advantage.

Mr. Robens

Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that his reply to this Question would be made much easier if a scientist of sufficient standing were appointed as a scientific attaché to the British Embassy in Moscow, so that he could in his own right have access to Russian scientists and prevent the need for a good deal of abstraction which is now not being done?

Mr. Nicholls

If the right hon. Gentleman could guarantee that any such appointment from this country to Russia would enable the person concerned to have special rights to do anything in Russia without voluntary co-operation at that end, perhaps it would help to speed up our decision.

Mr. Bevan

Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that there are not some people in the Services who could be drawn out for this purpose? Has he made any inquiries?

Mr. Nicholls

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the importance behind this Question is fully understood and we are trying as far as we can to fill this breach and to make the system effective when it is filled.

Mr. Bevan

Will the hon. Gentleman answer my question? A large number of people have been drawn into the Services in recent years, who might not be as usefully employed today as they thought they might be when they were drawn in. Will the hon. Gentleman consider the possibility of extracting someone for this work?

Mr. Nicholls

The right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that some translators are not at present engaged in translating. I should like to leave the point; it has been well made, and we are apprised of its importance. We are looking at the practical problems to see whether they can be overcome.

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