HC Deb 01 July 1958 vol 590 cc1049-51
11. Mr. Robens

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works, as representing the Lord President of the Council, whether, in view of the importance of scientific developments in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, he will now regrade the post of British Scientific Attaché in Moscow to the level of Deputy Chief Scientific Officer, which is the grading of the similar post in Washington, instead of advertising it at the level of Principal Scientific Officer, which is two classes lower than in the scientific class hierarchy.

Mr. H. Nicholls

As I said on 24th June, this is not simply a question of grading. As I said in my reply to the hon. Member's Question on this subject on 17th June, an appointment to the post of Scientific Attaché in Moscow is being considered in the first instance in the grade of Principal Scientific Officer, but if a suitable candidate cannot be found, the best way to fill the post will be reconsidered.

Mr. Robens

Will the Parliamentary Secretary take it from me that this Question and the other Questions to which he referred are designed to be constructive and helpful? Does not he agree that the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. are the biggest users of scientific manpower in the world today and that unless the Scientific Attaché at the Moscow Embassy is of sufficiently high standing he will not have the ear of the leading scientists of Russia? Would not it be useful if the Scientific Attaché at Moscow were of equal rank to the Scientific Attaché at Washington?

Mr. Nicholls

Yes, Sir. My noble Friend appreciates the very real interest the right hon. Gentleman is showing in this matter and the way he has presented his Questions. There is no question at all of wanting to have a higher grade officer in the U.S.A. than in Moscow. The position is that in America we have a terrific interchange of knowledge, which over the fifteen years that it has been in operation has justified the team of men with the higher grade man there. When it can be seen that we are likely to get the same co-operation in Moscow which will justify a higher grade, the matter will be looked into. Indeed, even in the case of this first appointment, if those who apply do not, in our view, reach the standards which we think are required, there is no question of our having made up our mind on that matter. We appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's interest.

Mr. Ede

Would not it be sound to say that the more difficult it is to get the information the higher should be the grade of the officer appointed?

Mr. Nicholls

That is how it would seem at first sight, but it is not really so. If one has a higher grade scientist, he is more likely to be a specialist in a certain branch. If one has a scientist of a slightly lower grade, he may be more in the nature of a general practioner and at the beginning could open up liaison and interchange much better. We have not ruled out the possibility that a higher grade scientist will have to be appointed.

Mr. Ede

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that what he has just said is the greatest indictment that has been made against scientific training in this country?

Mr. Nicholls

There is a schoolboy howler to the effect that the expert is one who learns more and more about less and less until he finally knows all about nothing. At this stage in opening up a new service we need someone whose approach may be more important than his actual scientific qualifications.

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