HC Deb 14 November 1958 vol 595 cc725-43

Order for Second Reading read.

11.6 a.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. John Rodgers)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Development of Inventions Acts, 1948, and 1954, so as to extend both the period of, and the financial limit on, the advances which Government makes to the National Research Development Corporation. It does not modify the Corporation's functions in any way.

During the passage of the 1954 Act, my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield) said: The history of the Corporation is one of support from all parties."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th January, 1954; Vol. 522, c. 1636]. I believe that this is still true. Although the Bill is solely concerned with finance, no doubt it will be for the convenience of the House if I give some background on the Corporation's work.

The first question which hon. Members may ask me is why the Corporation exists at all. The 1948 Act gave it two functions. First, it was to develop inventions emerging from public research. The Corporation was expected to give expert help to research organisations in the public sector in assessing the potential commercial value of any inventive material, in arranging patent protection at home and abroad and in negotiating agreements for its use with the commercial interests concerned. In this way, the Corporation was to offer private industry another pair of eyes, to ensure that new ideas with valuable industrial applications do not lie undetected and wasted in publicly-financed research laboratories. I do not think that anyone would question that this is a sensible and useful arrangement.

The second function of the Corporation was to act as a long-stop, developing any private inventions which seemed to be worth while, but neglected. I think that this, too, is a useful provision, not because industry is slow to take up new ideas, but because nobody can claim an infallible judgment in the assessment of inventions; and it is of the greatest importance that we should make the fullest possible use of all the important new inventive ideas which come our way.

The fact that the Corporation has not been called on to do much in this field, is, however, evidence that there are not—as has been, and sometimes still is, suggested—innumerable inventions carelessly neglected or wickedly suppressed by industry.

The 1954 Act enabled the Corporation to go somewhat further in suitable cases and undertake research to find a way to solve a specific problem; and it is now supporting two promising lines of research in partnership with the cooperative Research Associations of the cotton and scientific instruments industries, in one case with a view to applying automatic control to cotton spinning and in the other to the development of an ultrasonic flowmeter.

I now pass to the methods the Corporation uses to carry out its many tasks of developing and exploiting inventions. These methods must vary quite widely according to the nature of the invention handed over to the Corporation and the stage which it has reached. It was not, of course, intended that the Corporation should compete with industrial interests, or that it should acquire extensive laboratories and workshops of its own; and the 1948 Act requires it normally to entrust the exploitation of any invention to persons engaged in the industry concerned.

If the invention is ready for commercial application, the Corporation's task is merely to patent it and licence it to industrial users. If it needs more development, the Corporation can put this out to a firm on a contract basis; or it may enter into association with, say, the inventor and a suitable firm to underwrite the development of a prototype; or, if further research is needed to bring an idea up to the point of a practical invention, the Corporation can assist that research, subject to the approval of the Lord President of the Council as well as of the Board of Trade—the approval of the Lord President is required to ensure that there shall be no duplication of work with other public bodies engaged in scientific research.

What are the fruits of this work? Hon. Members will doubtless have seen the Corporation's annual reports and accounts which are laid before Parliament, the most recent being that for the year ended 30th June, 1957, which was laid on 3rd March this year. I have heard it suggested that these Reports come out too late.

I agree with this view and I may say that the Corporation has normally finished its work on them by November. My right hon. Friend will try to publish them in future immediately after the Christmas Recess or, indeed, before the Recess if that proves practicable. In these annual reports, the Corporation has set out fully the progress in the work on which it has been engaged over the years.

Currently, the Corporation holds nearly 1,000 British patents and nearly 2,000 overseas patents. It has over 350 licensing agreements at home and abroad; and these are now bringing in royalties of about £170,000 a year, of which—and I think that the House will note this with interest—one-third represents dollar receipts from the United States.

The last published report lists roughly 50 projects on which the Corporation has been engaged, some of which have been commercially exploited and some of which are still in course of development. Among the inventions on which the Corporation was then obtaining revenue were Bailey bridges, many of which have been exported to the less developed countries; the control gear for the ship stabilisers which are now adding to the comfort of sea travel in such great ships as "Queen Mary" and "Queen Elizabeth"; as well as such humbler but important inventions as new weedkillers and medical preparations.

Among its development projects were various inventions for food preservation, a new form of mechanical transmission designed to make big fuel savings on buses and heavy lorries, and a flat cathode ray tube for colour television.

Many hon. Members will also have heard of the very substantial contribution which the Corporation has made to the growth in this country of an electronic computer industry. More recently, some hon. Members may have heard of a new race of sea serpents to be seen on Southampton Water. I can reassure them that these were merely trials, sponsored by the Corporation, of large flexible bags for transporting oil, the development of research carried out at Cambridge University.

The fact that the Corporation has been able to make such a contribution is a tribute to the valuable work of its chairman and other part-time members, who find the direction of its affairs of sufficient interest and importance to fit it in with their already heavy commitments in the world of science, industry and finance. It would be invidious of me to pick out names, but I know that the other members of the board would like me to make a special mention of the vital part played by the Managing Director, Lord Halsbury, who, when he leaves the Corporation next March, will have spent nearly ten years in building it up on a firm and practical foundation. From the beginning Lord Halsbury has guided the Corporation, and its success is due in no small measure to his efforts.

I now come to the financial matters with which the Bill is concerned. The Development of Inventions Act, 1948, empowered the Board of Trade, with the consent of the Treasury, to make advances to the Corporation for its capital requirements within five years from its establishment, subject to a limit of £5 million outstanding at any one time. The 1954 Act extended the period in which this power could be exercised to ten years, which terminate in June next year.

The Acts also require the Corporation, so far as can be done consistently with the fulfilment of its purposes, to meet its outgoings on revenue account from the receipts from its activities at the earliest possible date, taking one year with another. This position has not yet been reached; it is, in fact, too early to judge whether the Corporation will prove self-supporting on a long-term basis. Unlike a commercial firm which would normally make its profit from the sale of equipment embodying an invention, the Corporation can derive revenue only from royalties on patents—which become more valuable towards the end of the patents' 16-year life—and from the inevitably slow return on capital invested in development projects. One cannot expect quick turnover; what one can look for at this stage is a steady build-up of income.

In the financial year in which the 1954 Bill came before the House, the Corporation's gross income was £30,000. This covered only a little more than one quarter of the Corporation's administrative expenses. Since then, the Corporation's income has continued to rise steadily; and, for the financial year ended on 30th June of this year, it stands at almost £200,000 which, the Corporation informs me, more than covers administrative expenses at the moment by a sum of roughly £20,000.

It is against this background that the Government have decided to bring the present Bill before the House. The Bill does two things. It extends the power to make advances to the Corporation to cover the period up to twenty years from its establishment; that is, by a further ten years from next June onwards. Secondly, it raises the limit on the amount of advances from £5 million to £10 million.

As to the period of advances, some extension is necessary if the Corporation is not to abandon many projects already in hand before they could come to fruition. Since the Corporation is now just about half way along the period of some sixteen to eighteen years needed to assess whether it will prove self-supporting, the Government believing that the results so far justify giving the Corporation a fair run over the rest of the course, have come down in favour of a 10-year extension.

This decision bears on the question of what the permissible level of these advances should be. At the moment, the limit is £5 million, and out of this just under £2 million had been advanced over the nine years ended 30th June this year. The Government do not, however, believe that the limit should be left at £5 million. The Corporation had inevitably to build up its business slowly, but, in recent years, the tempo has been quickening.

I understand that, if all the Corporation's existing plans and projects proceed on the lines that they hope, its total borrowings may well exceed £4 million; and this would leave very little for new projects unless the Corporation's income rose to an unexpected extent. The actual expenditure of substantial sums of money by the Corporation upon a particular project comes often at the end of many months, or even years, of preliminary work.

Unless, therefore, the financial limit to the advances is raised, the Corporation might quite soon find itself unable even to discuss new projects with inventors or research organisations, however important their proposals appeared, since it could not be certain that the money would be available to carry them through. We do not think that its activities, whose worth has already been proved, should be cramped in this way.

Accordingly, the Government consider that the limit should be raised from £5 million to £10 million. This money will, of course, only be drawn on against actual requirements; but it should enable the Corporation to continue its work right up to 1969 in much the same way as it has developed in the past. If there were to be a diminution in the flow of inventions—which I hope there will not—or if the Corporation's own income rises more rapidly than we can at present expect—which, I hope, will be the case—then perhaps not all of this £10 million would need to be drawn on.

I ought to draw the attention of the House to something that the Bill does not do. Under existing legislation, the Board of Trade is empowered, subject to the approval of the Treasury, to waive payments which are due to it from the Corporation by way of interest on advances made. This power has never yet been used; and I see no reason why the Corporation should not be able to pay interest. Indeed, I think it necessary that it should do so if the Corporation's financial arrangements are to be on a proper business-like footing.

Accordingly, no extension of the power to waive interest is included in the Bill although the timing of the repayment of interest will be determined by the Treasury and the Board of Trade in the light of the Corporation's financial position from time to time.

These, then, Mr. Speaker, are the views which the Government hold about the Corporation's future. The Bill makes no change whatsoever in the Corporation's functions; and the doubling of the financial limit does not imply any change of policy in respect of its activities or any sudden increase in expenditure in any particular direction. It is important to keep matters in perspective. It has been estimated that, in 1955, British industry was, out of its own resources, devoting about £70 million a year to research and development for civil purposes; and there are no grounds for thinking that these activities are likely to slacken.

Behind such an annual outlay there must be a vast stock of capital, invested in laboratories, testing facilities and experimental plants. The growing importance in our export trade of new industries, of industries which have shot ahead since the war, and of industries which are firmly based in science and technology, is adequate evidence of the willingness and ability of British industry to maintain a massive research and development programme in order to preserve our competitiveness in world markets.

The financial provisions we are discussing today are on a much more modest scale; but they, too, have their part to play as a further contribution to the full use of this country's resources of inventiveness and commercial talent. The Government are confident that the National Research Development Corporation will be enabled, by this Bill, to continue the activities upon which it has so successfully embarked and to demonstrate over the years that it is a useful and financially sound element in our national industrial life.

In this sense, I commend the Bill to the favour of the House.

11.22 a.m.

Mr. Austen Albu (Edmonton)

The Parliamentary Secretary was right in say- ing that this Bill would have the support of the whole House; in fact, I would be surprised if there were any opposition to it. The original Bill was, of course, one of the many far-sighted measures which were introduced by the Labour Government in the first years after the war, being introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) when he was President of the Board of Trade.

I must say, however, that this unanimity is a rather newer feature, because at that time the Bill received a very lukewarm welcome from the Opposition, led by the present Lord Chandos, then Mr. Oliver Lyttelton. He made a speech on the Second Reading of the Bill in the best manner—which surprised me in this extremely progressive industrialist—of an industrial fuddy-duddy of the 'thirties. He said that he would like to divide the House against it, but I imagine that some of his hon. Friends who were members of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee at that time persuaded him against doing so. At any rate, the Conservative Opposition during the Committee stage of the Bill tried to reduce the original limit of the advances which the Corporation was to receive from £5 million to £2 million. However, as the Parliamentary Secretary has told us, by 1954 so useful had the Government found the Corporation that they extended its life for another five years. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighouse and Spenborough (Mr. J. Edwards) aid at that time in speaking for the Opposition, the gloomy forebodings of the Opposition in 1948 had been proved false.

I think two things are now recognised on all sides. The first is that many inventions come from people working in public bodies, not working for profit, either individually or the bodies themselves. The second, though this may be more controversial, is that a public corporation with a good board and good staff can operate efficiently. This would not be the occasion to argue that matter in detail, nor would it be suitable on what is generally a non-controversial day. Nevertheless there are a number of examples, and this is certainly one of them.

I agree with the Parliamentary Secretary, however, that for this success and for this efficiency all credit must be given to the chairman and the various members of the board, a number of distinguished scientists and industrialists who have given their time to the service of the board, and to its staff. I would like especially to associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Gentleman about the present Managing Director, Lord Halsbury, who is that strange combination of a chartered accountant and scientist with a famous legal ancestry. I believe that it is largely his personal drive, his percipient intelligence and his strong commonsense that has kept the Corporation on the right road and made it the successful body it is. I have been extremely interested in the last year or two to find Lord Halsbury becoming an almost equal expert in the social sciences. He is one of the few men in this country who may be able to integrate the technological and sociological problems of our age, and a very heavy responsibility will lie on those who have to appoint his successor.

In the debates on the original Bill in 1948 much play was made by the Opposition with Clause 3, which instructs the Corporation to balance its revenue account taking one year with another. The Opposition seemed to think that the Government of the time thought that to pass a Clause of this type made it certain that this was bound to happen. This was obvious nonsense, but it is necessary in such a measure, setting up a public authority, to give that public authority directions as to whether it is to behave as a social service or as a commercial undertaking.

I am afraid that sometimes, especially in one or two of our nationalised industries, we are not clear as to which we intend it to be. Hon. Members on both sides of the House frequently make demands on the nationalised industries for what can only be thought of as social services, while at the same time they expect them to balance their accounts taking one year with another. The National Research Development Corporation is, with one sole exception to which I will refer in a moment, a commercial undertaking. As the hon. Gentleman said, it is expected to pay its way in the long term, though in view of its functions, that must be sometimes a fairly extended long term.

I was interested to hear the Parliamentary Secretary say that the revenues of the Corporation now exceed its administrative outgoings and are approaching a figure of around £200,000 a year. Incidentally, I was also pleased to hear him say that he intends to speed up the publication of the report. This, to my mind, lies in the hands of his Department and not so much in the Corporation. I cannot see why any body whose accounts run to June should not have them published before the end of the same year, especially in view of the interest Parliament is now taking in industrial research and development.

The measure of the success of the Corporation is the fact that the Government are now dropping the Section which enables the Treasury to waive the interest payments, so that for next year the Treasury presumably will be receiving interests on its advances. However, as I read Section 8 of the Act, it seems pretty flexible as to when the interest has to he paid.

One could underestimate the work of the Corporation if one looked only at the extent to which it has drawn down the advances, which it is entitled to do, and some criticism has been made of it in the past on that account. To some extent it is using its advances as a revolving fund because it has made prototypes and machines and has sold them and received the income from these sales.

The Parliamentary Secretary referred to the significance of the period it has now reached. The corporation has passed the half-term period in the life of its first patents. In his evidence before the Public Accounts Committee Lord Halsbury suggested that the Corporation must be paying its way by the sixteenth year, or thereabouts, or it would never pay its way, if the flow of patents remains constant: on the theory that patents are dying out as fast as they are coming in. I should have thought, however, that the value of patents would vary so considerably that this would not necessarily be statistically true. At any rate they are coming in at a steady rate of 600 a year, and the number of patents held by the Corporation, as mentioned by the Parliamentary Secretary, have now risen very substantially indeed.

If one wants to recognise how extremely valuable the Corporation has been and how the actual amount of money it spends or the research and development that it does may bear very little relation to the catalytic effect that it has in industry, one has only to look at the development of electronic computers in this country. Ten years ago neither the scientists nor the manufacturers foresaw in any way the developments which are taking place in this most important field. Lord Halsbury has told in a paper which he read recently how he failed to interest the punched card manufacturers, the obvious people to undertake the work, or the electronic manufacturers in a joint effort to develop computers, especially for what was then an awakening market in America.

The British firms at the end of the war which were the sort of firms which would be capable of or suitable for undertaking the work were rather small and busy with re-equipping British industry with their ordinary regular line of goods, while in the United States there was that giant organisation, the I.B.M. Corporation. This had the subsequent advantage of the enormous requirement for the continental radar defence system which had to be linked by computers, the development of which on Government account amounted to an enormous subsidy to the American computer industry, a subsidy sometimes estimated at about 250 million dollars.

Without the National Research Development Corporation, one can see that there would be no computer industry in this country based on indigenous development. It would undoubtedly have developed, but very largely on American patents and research. Today there are a number of firms engaged in this activity, most of them sponsored by the National Research Development Corporation, which is itself also sponsoring a patent pool on which they can draw. On 1st December we shall have the opportunity of seeing the results of what British manufacturers are doing at the exhibition which is going to be held. I was interested when the Parliamentary Secretary said that the Corporation now has a substantial dollar income, which he said was about one-third of its revenue. I think I am right in saying that on the computer account, taking account of the cost of the patents in the United States, the Corporation is now making a dollar balance.

The wide range of activities covered by the Corporation were mentioned by the Parliamentary Secretary. They are very extraordinary. They range from crude engineering products to the most important chemical and pharmaceutical products. There have been one or two developments which are of special interest, though some of them have not actually come to commercial fruition. One which interested me a great deal was the Ricardo light steam engine, developed at the request of the Indian Government. This seems to me to be of great importance, because one of the best ways of making economic advances in vast under-developed areas is to have local industries based on small sources of power. What is happening in China now is interesting in this connection. For various reasons, so far the Indian Government have not seen fit to order these engines. They are being made on a small scale; it has not yet been possible to reach the sort of commercial development that was once hoped.

Another very promising new development in the engineering field, which naturally interests me, is a new mechanism for storing energy in the flywheel of a commercial vehicle when braking and making the energy subsequently available for acceleration, which may enable us to reduce bus fares one day.

In the field of instruments the most outstanding new invention is that of Sir Thomas Merton's diffraction gratings at the National Physical Laboratory which will have increasing use in spectrometry and meteorology. There are also the printed circuits which constitute one of the most successful developments in this field.

The flexible containers for towing oil, to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred, developed by Professor Hawthorne and his colleagues at Cambridge University, hold out very great hopes for the future. This is one of the few useful outcomes of the Suez adventure, which drew our attention to the great importance of reducing the cost of transporting oil over long distances.

Many of these developments are now paying their way. Others need further development or await commercial exploitation. I advise any manufacturer looking for a new product, as many are already doing, to read the bulletin which the Corporation publishes from time to time.

There are one or two small points of possible criticism which I have heard. It is sometimes said that the Corporation imposes terms, in pursuit of its ideal of financial rectitude, which are over-harsh. Some research associations have said that they do not think it worth while co-operating with the Corporation because of this. I do not know whether this is the case or not. I have also heard a complaint from an industrial firm that the Corporation would not grant exclusive licences. The Corporation makes its position very clear about this in its little booklet. On the whole, I agree with the view that where public money has been involved in an invention, unless there are very strong reasons for doing so, it should not grant exclusive licences, though I believe the Corporation is willing to do so if the manufacturer can show that the cost of investment to get the product going makes it essential to have an exclusive licence.

What will be the future of the Corporation? I think it is agreed on both sides of the House and outside that no drastic change is required. As the Parliamentary Secretary said, the Bill makes no drastic change. But we still need to stimulate innovation in British industry; that still remains of absolutely prime importance. I have said previously—it is an exaggeration, but I still think it is the basis of the truth—that as other countries throughout the world industrialise, this country will only be able to sell goods that other people cannot make, and more and more we shall have to develop new products and processes if we are to maintain our competitive position in the world.

There have been a number of interesting academic studies recently on the conditions which encourage invention and industrial innovation. It is difficult to draw from them any very general conclusions, but, by and large, what appears is that most inventions, although they are made by individuals, are very rarely made by independent individuals. The inventor today is generally a professional engineer or scientist working in a large organisation or at least in a research laboratory, possibly a university research laboratory or the laboratory of a research council or institute. However the invention is made, its subsequent development is possible only in a large organisation because of the increasing cost of the capital equipment required to develop an invention, particularly the cost of such things as pilot plants.

The very nature of inventions is changing. Inventions are no longer simple, highly profitable things by themselves. They are often just improvements on existing techniques or processes, and even they may have a short life because they are liable to be overtaken in a very few years. This has led to a system of royalty free licensing by companies because it is hardly worth while to maintain or defend a patent. It is a system which is sometimes rather hard on the inventor who may be an employee of the company.

The truth is that the romantic conception of the inventor living and starving in a garret are out of date, and the day of the inspired amateur has almost gone. This does not, however, rule out the existence of serendipity, which, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is the faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident. This is especially so in the chemical and metallurgical fields where inquiry consists of conducting hundreds of experiments, some of which provide clues for valuable sidelines of investigation, such as the Welsbach gas mantle, penicillin and some of the artificial fibres.

There are three directions in which the Corporation can best develop its work in helping Ito increase the rate of technical innovation in British industry under modern conditions. The first is by using to the full its power to place development contracts, particularly for new processes or for new machines which are very often based on the work of the industrial research association. This was one of the recommendations two or three years ago of the Advisory Committee on Scientific Policy, and the Parliamentary Secretary referred to examples.

The response of the industrial research associations has not yet been as good as it might have been, or as was expected, but an increasing interest is being shown in this type of work. This type of development contract is especially valuable where the project falls between the interests of a producer and user industry, where neither has very advanced technical knowledge, or where the firms in the industry, either producer or consumer, are very small or under capitalised. That applies in instrument manufacture and in the machine tool industry, particularly with the invention of the new techniques of computer control, and in the Sheffield industries such as file-making machinery. I have heard it suggested that one of the subjects in which the Corporation might take an interest is the development of rocket fuel for industrial use, a development which I understand to be taking place in the United States, although it is probably a fairly long-term project.

The second direction in which the Corporation might expand its activities is in making more use of Section 5 of the 1948 Act which enabled the Government to ask it to undertake work which was not economic and for which it would make good a loss if the work was in the public interest. A number of important developments seem to fall between Government Departments, between different authorities, between the research councils, associations, or institutes.

Among the examples of that are the recovery of sulphur from flue gases. Another is the use of small coal, about which we have heard so much lately and which still seems to be bagged down between the Government Departments and research associations. It is incredible that the development of the use of small coal, the need for which must have been foreseen for several years, should still be in what appears to be a very dilatory state. This is a research which the Corporation, with its great drive and energy, might undertake. That is also true of the underground gassification of coal, a matter which always seems to be falling between Departments or the two corporations.

A more elaborate and long-term project would be the development of a super-fast electronic computer, such as the S.T.R.E.T.C.H. computer, commissioned by the Atomic Energy Commission in the United States. This will almost certainly not be a profitable proposition in the near future, but its development might be extremely valuable in the long term in the development of new techniques in the design and manufacture of electronic apparatus.

In recent years, many of our most spectacular industrial advances would never have taken place without the uneconomic support of defence research. It is well known that that applies to aircraft, electronics and so forth. The fact that 60 per cent. of the total research expenditure in this country is Government expenditure on defence indicates the extent to which we are dependent on research expenditure for new ideas. Even today, the Government are considering spending millions of pounds on what may be purely prestige activities, such as sending rockets to the moon. There is a very strong case for some of that expenditure being used for more mundane matters. It might be that one day we shall even find a cure for the common cold.

Finally, I hope to see the Corporation develop its existing good collaboration with the universities and the colleges of technology. Already it is developing inventions or supporting research at Cambridge, Oxford, the Imperial College of Science and Technology, The Manchester College of Science and Technology, Reading University, Glasgow University, Battersea College of Technology, University College of the West Indies, and Wye College of the University of London, as well as a number of hospitals and medical schools.

In the past, universities have been reluctant to become too closely associated with industry, for instance, by sponsored research, Although one can understand their attitude and reasons, both industry and the universities have suffered. The Corporation is in the best position to effect the necessary liaison and break down the barrier from which we suffer compared with the United States and some other countries, certainly Russia, where there are no traditional barriers in this respect. As I said earlier, in many ways the Corporation acts as a catalytic body and forms a useful meeting point for all those engaged in applied research and in development, whether in industry, Government, research councils, or universities.

Under continuing wise leadership, its influence could probably be greater than a mere study of its reports and accounts would suggest. The Bill extends its life to a total of twenty years and by doing so will help it to recruit those experienced engineers and scientists whom the Corporation will need for its expanding activities. For those reasons, together with my hon. and right hon. Friend, I give the Bill a hearty welcome.

11.46 a.m.

Mr. Frederick Wiley (Sunderland, North)

I am sure that all hon. Members will wish me to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary and my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) on their elevation to the Front Benches. They made very erudite and competent speeches supporting the objectives of the Corporation and, therefore, serving a useful purpose. I am delighted that the Minister has appeared to be an enthusiastic convert in favour of public corporations.

I want to take up a matter which has not yet been satisfactorily covered. It is concerned with Section 3 of the parent Act. It has to be conceded that the Bill is being presented because Section 3 has become a fiction. We should no longer accept "Morrison's Law" as being an infallible guide to public corporations. This is a corporation which is not purely a commercial corporation and consideration of the public finance supporting such a corporation raises difficult problems.

Steps should be taken to categorise the projects being supported so that we can clearly appreciate those which are regarded as non-profitable and those which are regarded as being eventually profitable. That would give us a guide to the judgment of the Corporation. It is a lax way of financial control to have the fiction that the Corporation will pay its way, taking one year with another, especially when one repeatedly asks for further financial aid. We should be frank about it, and say that this is a body which is not purely concerned with projects of money-making possibilities.

If we concede that, equally we have the responsibility to consider whether it is possible for the Corporation to regard its work in that light and whether it would be possible for it to have two budgets. It should be clearly recognised that this is a body which is not being supported on commercial lines and we should recognise that it has to exercise its judgment about projects which it regards as not profitable. I am always disturbed that in a society such as ours, a society which is short of scientists, scientists and technicians should spend useless time on useless research. It is extraordinarily difficult to make a decision on that, when many vitally important developments have been invented fortuitously, but there should be priorities. We all know what is happening in Russia and in the United States.

I would like to know what liaison exists between the Corporation and D.S.I.R. and A.R.C. From a study of the Corporation's annual reports we see that there is a good deal of support for inventions affecting agriculture. I want to know how close an association there has been with A.R.C., and how far A.R.C. is encouraging and promoting research where it seems particularly needed. To put the matter quite shortly, here we have several publicly financed corporations which are supporting scientific inventions and research, and I want to know how far behind this there is a conscious promotional drive to seek to obtain the results that we need to compete in the world today.

The Minister was a little flippant about research and invention by individuals. I am not making out a case that an enormous amount of inventive research is being wasted in industry. Nevertheless, it is a little disappointing that we have not got much from individuals. I wonder how far restrictive contracts of service affect the situation, and whether this is not a matter which should be looked into rather more carefully. Agreeing that a good deal of research in industry might be fortuitous, casual and unexpected, I should like to know how far the promotion of this research is discouraged, either by lack of interest or by the restrictive covenants of those working in industry.

Having raised those points, however, I join the Minister and my hon. Friend in praising the Corporation for the work it has done, and particularly for the work done by Lord Halsbury. I also recognise the work done by members of the board. I am sure that everyone was grieved at the death of Sir Alan Saunders. I had the privilege of knowing him. My hon. Friend was talking about research into electronic computers, and I would assume that that had a good deal to do with the interest and initiative of the chairman. We recognise the valuable work that the Corporation has done, and I do not want to disturb the amity which exists between the two parties. It is important that we support this research to its utmost. But as a public corporation like this is developing in its work we should pay attention to its financial structure. We should not be doctrinaire one way or the other, because the financial structure is bound to effect the way in which a public corporation works.

Secondly, although it is true that this is a limited Bill, we should take the opportunity it affords to review the work of the Corporation, particularly in regard to other public corporations, and see how best we can forward its work.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Colonel J. H. Harrison.]

Committee upon Monday next.