HC Deb 18 November 1959 vol 613 cc1217-38

Order for Second Reading read.

5.47 p.m.

The Minister of Education (Sir David Eccles)

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

The purpose of this modest Bill is to amend two provisions in the Atomic Energy Authority Act, 1954, a Measure which it fell to me to introduce to the House for my noble Friend Lord Salisbury who was then Lord President of the Council.

The House will recall that five years ago we were setting up a new kind of organisation and that Section 1 of the 1954 Act laid down the structure of the Authority itself. Here we were following the wise advice of Lord Waverley, whose judgment in matters of administration was of the greatest value to all who sought it. Under Section 1 of the original Act, the Authority was to consist of a chairman and not more than ten and no fewer than seven members; five of these members were to have special qualifications which are laid down in the Act. Provision was also made for some of the members to be full-time working directors.

There were two thoughts behind these arrangements. The first was that, having regard to the scattered and complex nature of this great business, experience alone would show what was the right number of members of the Authority. The second was that though some members should be full-time, part-time members were certainly also required. In practice, the Authority has found that it has worked well for the heads of the distinct branches of its work to be full-time members and that, at the same time, roughly the same number of part-time members should be added. With that combination of full-time and part-time members we believe we have created the best kind of governing body for this unique organisation.

Since 1954 the work of the Authority has increased very much. For example, the number of people employed has increased from 17,000 to 37,000. One consequence of the expansion has been that the elbow room provided by the provision that there must be at least seven but not more than ten members was soon fully used. Today, besides Lord Plowden, there are four full-time members and six part-time members. Clause 1 of the Bill seeks to recognise the growing complexity of the Authority's work and to restore a measure of flexibility for the future in the composition of the governing body. In making changes in the size of the Authority we wish to preserve the same balance between full-time and part-time members.

There are two immediate requirements to be considered. In the first place, the Authority has decided to split the industrial group into two. The industrial group received a very good report from the Select Committee on Estimates for its efficiency and successful functioning, but now it is considered wise to split it into a Development and Engineering Group, and a Production Group. That seems sensible because the activities on both sides have grown very much.

The Development and Engineering Group is in the charge of Sir William Cook, who is already a full-time member of the Authority. Sir Leonard Owen has been designated as head of the Production Group, and I am sure the House would think it right that he, too, should be a full-time member of the Authority. Then, as the House knows, Sir John Cockcroft has been appointed Master of Churchill College, Cambridge. His place as member for research has been taken by Sir William Penney, and Sir William, in his turn, has been succeeded at Aldermaston by Sir Claude Pelley.

No one here would be happy if Sir John Cockcroft's unrivalled experience were lost to the Authority as a result of these changes and we all want him to stay on as a part-time member, which he is willing to do. As the membership is already ten, the present statutory limit, and Sir Ivan Stedeford's place as a part-time member is required for somebody else, we are short of two places today, one for Sir Leonard Owen and one for Sir John Cockcroft. I know it will be agreed that it is better to look to the future and increase the maximum membership to fifteen, which is three more than the twelve we want today. That is the proposal in Clause 1.

As, no doubt, there will be another occasion, I will not trouble the House this afternoon with a description of the expanding work of the Authority. There is no other single institution in this country which, in so short a space of time as five years, has done more to establish the reputation of Great Britain in the scientific age. I would only add that the range of the Authority's work is astonishing. It extends from the administration of a large research organisation, for both fundamental and applied science, through development work and engineering design on a scale and of a complexity that is not equalled elsewhere in this country, to the operation of many factories incorporating diverse plant of a most delicate kind and with the most extraordinary instrumentation. Then there are all its relations with industry which every day grow greater, as they should, and there are also its overseas activities which are always on the increase.

All this calls for the highest qualities of organising skill and it is fair to say that they have not been wanting. Every hon. Member here who has experience of atomic work, and there are many, will agree that it is a remarkable tribute to the administrative talents of our country that so vast and so varied an enterprise could have grown up as well-knit as this one has done. Here I should like to pay a tribute to Lord Plowden who, as the House knows, is retiring and who has given such remarkable service to the Authority, and also to Sir John Cockcroft, Sir Christopher Hinton and Sir William Penney, who may be considered to have been his three chief aides. We are remarkably fortunate that at the moment of the discovery of nuclear fission we should have had such eminent people with both the scientific and administrative talents to carry on the work. Therefore, I think we can confidently endorse the decision of my noble Friend the Lord Privy Seal that the expansion of the membership of the Authority proposed in the Bill is fully justified.

I turn for a moment to Clause 2. This is an enabling provision which will allow the Authority to admit employees of the National Institute for Research in Nuclear Science into its superannuation schemes. The National Institute was established to help the universities to carry out work in nuclear physics, but the fact is that the equipment and facilities required for this vital research are too expensive for any one university to provide. At the same time, it is important that the facilities should be available outside a Government institution and under the control of the universities themselves. That need has been met by the creation of the National Institute. Its organisation is growing fast and much of its staff is certain to be recruited from the Authority.

It is right, therefore, that the Institute's staff should have superannuation schemes of the same kind as those of the Authority. The simplest arrangement is to give the Authority power, which it does not possess under the 1954 Act, to admit the staff of the Institute to one of its schemes, if they wish to be admitted. It is expected that there will be frequent interchange of staff between the Authority and the Institute. That is a good working arrangement, and it is clear that the interchange will be made easier if a man who is at one time employed by the Authority and at another time employed by the Institute is always inside the same superannuation scheme. I understand that these proposals are supported by the staff associations concerned.

I feel that the permissive power to widen the Authority's superannuation schemes will commend itself to hon. Members, and I hope they will agree with the arguments I have put before them in support of the two Clauses of this small but useful Bill, and will give it an uncontested Second Reading.

6.0 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)

The Minister of Education has made a most pleasant and lucid explanation of the Bill. I should like to associate my right hon. and hon. Friends with the tribute which he paid to Lord Plowden, Sir John Cockcroft and Sir William Penney, and indeed to the staff of the Atomic Energy Authority as a whole.

There are, however, two aspects of the situation which I find a little puzzling. The first is that the Bill has been introduced by the Minister of Education. On two occasions the Prime Minister has defined the Minister's status in matters of atomic energy, but although he has defined it, he has not explained it to our satisfaction. Although the Minister of Education is a most talented man, it is difficult at first sight to see the link between the planning of secondary education and the organisation of the Industrial Group of the Atomic Energy Authority. In view of the importance of educational matters, I think that the public may well be a little surprised to find that the Minister's energies are being distracted from the tasks which are the real function of his high office.

The second feature of the situation which I find a little puzzling is that we have been allocated so little time for a matter of this kind. The last debate of any substance that we had on the Atomic Energy Authority was in 1954. Since then the Fleck Report has been published—in December, 1957—and the Report of the Select Committee of the House—in July of this year—together with four or possibly five Annual Reports by the Atomic Energy Authority.

During those five years two major decisions have been taken by the Authority. The first was the decision to remove, and later to restore, the executive responsibility of the technical members of the Authority, and the second was the decision to divide the Industrial Group. We therefore have some slight misgivings, and I am sorry that there is not time for us to develop them more fully.

The Minister, as always, has been very frank with us about the reasons which have led the Government to make this proposal. The Atomic Energy Authority has always had the maximum number of members. I think that this has been necessary and that the success of the Atomic Energy Authority, which is one of our most remarkable and successful nationalised industries, has confirmed the wise choice of members which was made. The number fixed in the Act, however, left very little room for manœuvre, and I think that it is right to give the Government more room for manœuvre in the appointment of additional members of the Authority. When Sir John Cockcroft is appointed Master of Churchill College it is right that the Atomic Energy Authority should be in a position to retain his services as a part-time member.

Here I should like to emphasise the importance which I attach to part-time membership of the Authority, because it enables men who are distinguished in industry and science to help the great work which is being done. Equally, I believe that if the Atomic Energy Authority decides to split the Industrial Group—and that decision is one of the reasons for the Bill—it should be perfectly free to do so.

Having said that, I should like to revert to the misgivings which I still entertain. Anyone coming to the problem completely fresh, as I do, cannot fail to detect a certain unpredictability in the running of the Atomic Energy Authority, while at the same time realising the need for flexibility.

I should like to give the House two examples of what I have in mind. The first example, with which the Minister is very familiar, relates to the partition of the Industrial Group. In October, 1957, the Prime Minister appointed a Committee to report on the organisation of the Atomic Energy Authority. The chairman of the Committee was Sir Alexander Fleck, chairman of Imperial Chemical Industries, and the other members were Sir William Penney, the member of the Atomic Energy Authority for weapon research and development, and Mr. C. F. Kearton, one of the part-time members of the Authority. It would be difficult to find a team better qualified to consider the organisation of so large a project or so well able to predict the possible course and scale of its development.

It is, therefore, well to remind the Minister of paragraph 74 of the Report which sir Alexander Heck and his colleagues presented to the Prime Minister. It reads: We consider that because of the essential unity of the Industrial Group its functions should not be divided between two groups. Nevertheless, the Atomic Energy Authority announced on 20th March this year that as from 1st July the Industrial Group would be divided into two. The reason given was that its responsibilities had increased greatly in the past five years, but it is difficult to believe that they had increased so substantially in the intervening fifteen months since Sir Alexander Fleck presented his Report as to invalidate the views of so experienced a judge as Sir Alexander.

It is difficult to reach a conclusion on the Authority's wisdom in this respect because the chairman's evidence to the Select Committee of the House was not reported. It is, however, fair to recall that in paragraph 48 the Select Committee welcomed the decision that the Authority had taken, stating that they did so because They believe that its advantages have now become greater than the disadvantages which led the Fleck Committee on Organisation to oppose such a change. The second example which I want to give is that of the Authority's change of mind as to whether the technical members should or should not have executive responsibility. The decision to remove that executive responsibility was announced in paragraph 23 of the Fourth Report of the Authority and the decision to restore it was announced in paragraph 18 of the Fifth Report of the Authority. That change, too, was welcomed by the Select Committee, as reported in paragraph 18, but I am bound to record my own feeling that these quick-fire changes must cause some disquiet about the higher planning of the Authority's work.

I should like now to turn very briefly to Clause 2 relating to the National Institute for Research in Nuclear Science. As the right hon. Gentleman reminded us, it is a most distinguished body, appointed by Royal Charter. Here I think there is a difficulty. If as I understand it to be the situation, the Institute is to set up a laboratory cheek by jowl with the Atomic Energy Authority's research establishment at Harwell, with considerable interflow of staff between the two, there are obviously possibilities of friction arising if the conditions of employment of the two staffs are in any way different.

If I am correctly informed, the Institute's expanding staff will be recruited to a large extent from the existing staff of the Atomic Energy Authority. It is therefore right that the conditions of employment in the two organisations should be made as nearly the same and as attractive as possible. It is most important that we should realise that in 1958 the Industrial Group of the Atomic Energy Authority had vacancies for 269 university graduates. The Authority offered jobs to 422 graduates, and only 160 of them accepted the appointments which they were offered. The others preferred either to remain in the universities or to accept the higher salaries and better conditions which they could obtain in other industries.

I hope that the improvement which the right hon. Gentleman is proposing in the pension conditions of members of the Institute staff and the general drawing together of the conditions in the two organisations will help to make service in the Atomic Energy Authority and the Institute more attractive. It is because I hope this, and because I hope that it will lead to still greater triumphs for a project of which all of us are proud, that, on behalf of the Opposition, I welcome the Bill.

6.10 p.m.

Mr. Austen Albu (Edmonton)

I should like to join the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) in the compliments paid to Lord Plowden and the very distinguished team of scientists and engineers who built up this outstanding achievement in the field of public activity. It is the complete answer to those who say that one cannot get both initiative and good organisation in institutions run by public authorities.

The new board that is coming into being, partly by the process of retirement and change and partly as a result of the Bill, is, of course, facing some very serious problems indeed. They are problems relating to priorities in research and development and to the expenditure of what are very large sums of public money. These are problems that face the Government not only in this field but in all the fields in which public money is expended on research and development, and in relation to the scale on which it is spent at all. In passing, I should like to support the strong plea made by Professor Hoyle in the current issue of Discovery for more Government expenditure on fundamental research, which would very much benefit this country in future.

As my hon. Friend has said, we have far too few opportunities to discuss at length this very large undertaking, and the very large sums we spend on it. As more than 90 per cent. of the money that this organisation receives comes directly from Government sources, and therefore, it cannot in any way be considered a commercial undertaking, I should be happy if the Government would agree that more Parliamentary Questions on its policy and day-to-day administration could be answered in this House. It should not be treated as though it were a commercial undertaking, like a nationalised corporation.

There were last year, and I believe that there are still, very considerable anxieties among members of the staff of the Authority, particularly in some divisions. This applies particularly to the Isotopes Division, where the growth of Treasury control would appear to be beginning to stifle the essential fundamental research work of the Division. It appears as though there has been too early an attempt to make that division a commercial and paying proposition. It is, of course, earning substantial sums, but, in my opinion, it is too early yet to make it a commercial undertaking. As I say, there is great anxiety that the Treasury and the accountants are frustrating the efforts of the scientists.

The right hon. Gentleman probably knows—and if he does not his noble Friend undoubtedly does—that during the last year or two a very large number of heads of departments in the Authority have left it—voluntarily—because of frustration; not because they wanted to leave, but because they felt that they could not get on with their jobs. I am not now referring, of course, to members of the Authority itself. I shall not mention any names or divisions—the Minister may well know them—but it is a fact that a number left, and the morale of the Authority—at any rate, last year; I do not know whether it has improved now—was not too good.

That may have something to do with the difficulty referred to by the Select Committee in the recruitment of senior staff. It is very difficult indeed to recruit senior staff, although we have to admit that the number of those, particularly in engineering, who are capable of undertaking these very responsible jobs is few, and their tasks are sometimes rather peculiar. A man who may be in charge of a great atomic plant may have great technical expertise and organising ability but may need to exercise his authority and assume responsibility on only very few occasions. When he has to do so, he has to exercise the very highest authority and the greatest degree of judgment of all. It is almost like the case of the man watching a dial on an automatic machine who may have nothing to do until the machine goes wrong. Because of the nature of the work, that is a very difficult problem.

There is disappointment among some members of the staff—perhaps among members of the board, too, but I do not know—that no scientist or engineer is thought to be fitted, in this great scientific undertaking, to be chairman. Let me say at once that I understand that Sir Roger Makins has acquired an extraordinary knowledge of nuclear science, no doubt gained from his work in New York on the agreement with the United States.

The main difficulty in the administration of the Authority is that at present it lacks a sense of direction. This is the result of the disillusionment occasioned by the slowing down of the progress in the commerical development of reactors, both for ourselves and for export. We are all well aware of the reasons for that. The panic over the shortage of sources of energy has disappeared throughout the world—at any rate throughout Europe. Therefore, the urgent necessity for alternative sources has gone. There is also the fact that other countries—the United States and Russia in particular—can afford to spend so much more than we can on the development of so many more types of reactor.

The new board will have to grow again into a really strong team. There are a lot of new members, and they will need to become knitted together in the organisation, as did the old team which founded the Authority, and which, to some extent, has broken up. There is now need for very firm decisions on the scope of reactor development that this country can afford to undertake. We cannot afford to undertake everything. In this, as in other fields of very expensive research and development, we must carve out a niche.

Attention has been drawn to this by the Select Committee which, on the whole, is in favour—as, I believe, are many engineers—of our concentrating on reactors that will in future be able to burn the plutonium that is being produced in our ordinary electricity generating plants of the type now being built. Therefore, we all welcome the commissioning of the fast-burning reactor at Dounreay, as this shows us the way we should go.

We could also concentrate on a small type of reactor suitable both as a marine reactor and as a small land-based power station. At present, there are not any plants in any country available for both of these purposes, especially for the latter purpose. When nuclear energy first began to be talked of and plants to be designed people said that the desert would blossom soon, the underdeveloped areas would benefit quickly, and so on. As in so many other similar cases, this was rather optimistic nonsense.

The truth is that we can put down a large plant, but if the amount of current that it produces is very great and if the number of consumers is small or spread over large areas, the cost of the current to the consumer is far too great. What would undoubtedly be of great help and benefit in the under-developed countries, and have a considerable market, would be small stations that might be suitable also for marine work. I hope that the Authority is seriously considering that suggestion.

When it comes to the much larger schemes, where we find it so difficult to compete with countries like the United States and the Soviet Union with their vast resources, we must, I am sure, go much further in co-operating with other countries both in Europe, as we are beginning to do to a small extent, and in the Commonwealth, as we are beginning to do with Canada. Only by combining resources on a larger scale than this country can itself afford will we be able to keep up with the countries that have very much larger resources of their own. I hope that I will not be misunderstood. This has nothing to do with the skill or knowledge of our scientists and engineers. It is merely that an enormous amount of work has to be done, not only fundamental work but development and engineering design work.

I feel that a new drive concentrated on some of these aspects of the work, concentrated on a limited field where people can quite clearly see the target, and the removal of the Treasury "dead hand", if it exists, on some of the fundamental projects, particularly isotopes, will give new encouragement to the staff of the Authority. If this is done, I think all hon. Members on this side of the House will wish the new board every success.

6.21 p.m.

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

This is neither the time nor the occasion on which to develop a broad debate on the Atomic Energy Authority Bill, or on the relative issues of the economics of atomic energy and the part it will play in the future of the country. We are all grateful for the work that has been done by all the men connected with atomic energy in the past. We are grateful for the contribution that they have made towards making Britain one of the foremost atomic energy countries in the world.

There are, however, two facts that I want to deal with. I do not propose to trespass for long on the time of the House because I know that I would be ruled out of order if I mentioned all the things that I should like to discuss. I hope that the Government will give us another opportunity to discuss this subject in greater detail.

It is time that we tried to understand something about the economics of atomic energy. The small reactor is a vital consideration. I believe that we are losing some of our initiative in obtaining contracts abroad. The uncommitted parts of the world where people are thinking of small reactors rather than large ones might provide scope for expansion.

I welcome the Bill and I will not bore the House by quoting at length from the Select Committee's Report because it is available for all hon. Members who wish to see it. There are, however, two sentences which I should like to quote. Paragraph 162 says: The relative positions of the Authority and of industry have been changing rapidly of late. Paragraph 163 says: Your Committee believe that the Industrial Group should respond to this changed position by bringing industry into closer partnership at every stage of development. That is the point that I wish to make. I am sure that that is a step in the right direction. I may be treading on someone's toes, but, without entering into party politics, we must remember the magnificent work that was done by public enterprise and the initiative that was taken.

The Government, in conjunction with public enterprise, must be prepared to break down a little of the conspiracy of silence about so-called classified material. We hear more and more talk of classified material in relation to atomic energy, but this talk is becoming less and less important.

We welcome the broadening of the Atomic Energy Authority, but at some time or other we would like the Government to place enough material before the House to enable us to have a full and constructive day's debate to see what Britain's position is in relation to the rest of the world. Our position in the world is of vital importance.

I would only be talking round the point if I tried to make a longer speech on the Bill. We on this side of the House welcome this Measure and hope that it augurs well for the future of British atomic energy production.

6.25 p.m.

Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley)

I rise with some trepidation on the first occasion on which I address the House from the distinguished position of the Dispatch Box.

Although the Bill is small in size it is very large in content. In spite of its being a two-Clause Bill there is sufficient material in it, indeed within the content of the first Clause alone, to have warranted a full day's debate.

I have checked the statistics of the number of debates we have had on this subject, and the result has caused me some perturbation. I find that since July, 1954, nearly five and a half years ago, we have not had one full day's debate on atomic energy alone. The number of times that this subject has been discussed in five and a half years, when at least four columns of the Official Report have been filled, is thirteen. There have been eight Adjournment debates and on five other occasions this subject has been mentioned during questions and answers following statements. There have also been a few references to it in the Queen's Speech or in debates on fuel and power. When there is a debate on fuel and power the emphasis is on coal. Sometimes the emphasis is on gas and electricity, but at no time have we had a full day's debate on atomic energy.

This is something which the Government ought to try to remedy. It is indicative that today we are squeezing this very important Bill, which is investing authority for reorganisation in the Authority and making a 50 per cent. increase in the policy-making team at the top of the Authority, between a retirement pension Motion and an Opposition Motion on another subject. Such a position is not fair to the Atomic Energy Authority or to the House.

The Bill envisages some reorganisation within the Atomic Energy Authority, and from my limited knowledge of developments this is rightly being done. The original programme with its ensuing development under the small board raises doubts in my mind whether it has proved completely right. I could offer a few criticisms but I will only mention in passing that there is not the time to do so and perhaps this is not a suitable occasion on which to level such criticisms and to go into detail.

Many of us wonder whether we have been right in plunging into the development of the Calder Hall type of reactor. Because of the decision to develop gas-cooled graphite-moderated reactors we are now finding great difficulty in getting contracts abroad. As we all know, we over-stretched ourselves a little when we went in for experiments to try to solve the problem of harnessing H-bomb power with the fusion reactor called Z.E.T.A. We might find ourselves querying once again the colossal jump forward in attempting these experiments with the fast-breeder reactor at Dounreay.

As many hon. Members who have taken an interest in this subject know, because of the policy of having a gas-cooled graphite-moderated type of reactor, we are now hoarding an excessive amount of uranium. This has recently caused a great deal of trouble in the uranium market, particularly in Canada. However, for my part, I recognise the many difficulties that face the Authority from outside.

We had to predominate in the military field of nuclear development. We have done well, and criticism at this stage would be out of order. However, the change of emphasis from military or defence work to peaceful developments is absolutely necessary. It seems to me a question of whether the balance of importance should switch more emphatically and decisively from nuclear equipment for military purposes to nuclear developments in the civilian field. Defence work is still going on apace, but by comparison it should be receding more rapidly, and the civilian uses and developments of atomic energy should be more intense. This may mean a shift of scientific manpower from the Weapons Research and Development Group to the industrial group, which will be necessary if further expansion is visualised in the peaceful field.

This leads me to the second problem, namely, the shortage of experienced scientists, technicians and engineers so urgently required for further advances in nuclear energy. We are losing many highly-qualified scientists abroad. They are taking up research scholarships in America and Canada, and once these men have settled their scholarships over there the attractions, both of industry and the Atomic Energy Commission, are so great that not many come back. That may be a slight exaggeration, but it is important at this stage to realise that there is a drain of scientific manpower from this country to Canada and America.

I have raised this problem in the House on previous occasions, especially on 4th November last year, when I asked the Minister of Labour what the Government were doing about it. In reply, he said: The Civil Service Commission has reported that recruitment of British scientists in the United States and Canada for research fellowships in this country has had encouraging results. The Atomic Energy Authority has been associated with this effort. This is satisfactory and I hope that others who have employment to offer will follow this initiative."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th November, 1958: Vol. 594. c. 38.] The Minister at that time was acting upon the Report of Her Majesty's Civil Service Commission which says, in paragraph 39, that they were getting encouraging results. The Commission went to Ottawa and Washington and interviewed seventy people, and it was hopeful of getting a number of them back. That was last year's Report. This year, paragraph 41 indicates that developments have not been as successful as was first anticipated. The Report says: The results of the interviews held in Ottawa and Washington in April, 1958, to select applicants for Research Fellowships and for Scientific Officer posts were less satisfactory than originally appeared likely. Although several suitable candidates were found, in the event only two joined the Service—one as a Research Fellow and the other as a Senior Scientific Officer. From a wider national point of view the exercise may have been more profitable since it appears to have stimulated some well-qualified men to return to this country where they have taken up appointments in the universities or in industry. It is noticeable that none is taking up an appointment with the Atomic Energy Authority. Therefore, there must be a greater attempt by the enlarged board to plug this gap.

I would not dream of suggesting that we should ban people from taking research scholarships. By all means let them go. The experience will be of great benefit to them and to the industry they serve. But we should seriously attempt to find out why many of our good scientists, technicians and engineers take these scholarships and fail to return.

A further matter which the newly organised board must consider is its alliance with industry. I would ask the House to examine to what extent this marriage can take place, with a view to harnessing the whole of our scientific manpower, geared to a programme to keep us in the forefront of the world's nuclear power developments. There is a temporary stoppage in our advance, perhaps because the authority is handicapped owing to the shortage of experienced personnel. All the published reports are riddled with the same comment. The Report of the Select Committee, the Fleck Committee's Report on reorganisation, and every Annual Report of the Authority keep stressing the fact that we are not getting sufficient experienced personnel to carry on with the many developments we have in hand. Consequently, there is a temporary stoppage in the advance of the Authority at the moment. This is shown by what happened with regard to the Windscale problem. Many scientific personnel were moved from the Dounreay experiment in order to solve the Windscale problem. As a result, the work at Dounreay has been retarded by about fifteen months, solely because the Authority lacked sufficient experienced and qualified personnel.

Let us contrast this with the consortium of five groups of companies who were attracted by this new industry and all that would obviously flow from it. They stretched their tentacles and captured all the available scientific and technical staff. They envisaged that there would be a large nuclear power programme, and that we should be building nineteen atomic power stations, although we are now to build only twelve. They visualised markets abroad, especially in Europe, but the Government failed them, because we now have only a technical collaboration agreement with Euratom instead of having become a member.

Because of hesitancy by the Government we still have not come to a decision ahout the building of a nuclear-powered ship. All these factors, apart from the fact that the Authority is frustrated because of the shortage of personnel, lead the private sector of the atomic energy industry—the consortium—to feel that it has had its efforts stifled.

This has meant that the private industry has a surplus of scientific and technical manpower, and also of research capacity. What we now have to decide is some way of using the consortium and its experienced staff to a greater extent. All that will be a problem for the Authority. It will have to find some way of marrying the industry with the Atomic Energy Authority, so that we can use the whole of our scientific and technical manpower to the full, for the benefit of the whole nation.

Another problem facing the Authority arises from its vain attempts to attract key men with high qualifications and plenty of experience to serve in the managerial positions. Only recently, as the right hon. Gentleman said, we have lost Sir Christopher Hinton, who went to the Electricity Board; Sir William Strath, who went to the Ministry of Supply; Sir John Cockcroft, who is now working part-time instead of full-time, and who has gone to Churchill College—and now we are to lose Lord Plowden. The Authority is having the greatest difficulty in attracting men of this standing, such is the competition with industry.

Another factor which requires the attention of the Authority is the problem of maintaining international relations. This proposed increase in the strength of the Authority may ease the burden of the present executives, because demands made upon senior staff to keep up international collaboration are occupying an appreciable portion of their time. Many people are not aware of the number of committees and organisations which they have to visit. There is the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations Scientific Committee, C.E.R.N., or European Research in Nuclear Energy, Euratom, and the International Labour Organisation. They all want representation from the British nuclear industry.

The enlargement of the Authority may help to cure that problem, but I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is still necessary to have so many internal committees within the Authority itself, particularly in the Industrial Group. One senior executive is still expected to attend 106 meetings a year. A functionary executive of this nature is not likely to be attracted to the Authority to do a worth-while job when one-third of his time will be spent sitting fastened in committee.

During the course of the debate my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) mentioned the concern that exists about the Radio-Isotope Division of the Authority. I am very concerned about it. It has recently been streamlined, and it is now producing and marketing radio-isotopes on a grand scale. Sales from Harwell and Amersham rose to £800,000 in 1958–59 compared with £650,000 in 1957–58; 60 per cent. of our production is exported and already we feed fifty-five countries. It is a product which will always be in demand. It has a predetermined life—many have only weeks or months of life. Because of the help which they can provide in medicine, agricultural research and industry there will be a recurring demand for them.

This Division of the Authority is making a profit and its future is promising. But I am concerned because I recollect what happened to S. G. Brown, an organisation which, having been taken over by the State during a time of need and built up into a profitable commercial concern, was then handed back to private industry. I should like the Minister to assure us that this Division will not be turned over to a commercial concern and taken out of the control of the Authority in consequence of the nature of the Division, the progress it is making and its proven profitability.

This Bill will go through its various stages with indecent haste, as have other atomic energy Measures. That procedure is typical of what has happened throughout the past five and a half years of the administration of this and the previous Government. For the sake of the Atomic Energy Authority, more Parliamentary time should be given to discussing atomic energy matters and that time should be provided by the Government. The Fifth Annual Report of the Authority has been presented recently. This is an opportunity for the Government to provide time for a more detailed analysis of the nuclear programme. That is what hon. Members who have taken an interest in the matter consider should be the future trend.

6.42 p.m.

Sir D. Eccles

If the House will permit me, I should like briefly to reply to one or two of the interesting speeches which have been made. The hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Greenwood) asked why I should be the spokesman. The only reason I can think of is that I was the spokesman before. When I was Minister of Works I represented the then Lord President of the Council and I suppose that I have remembered a little. I will do my best from time to time, on behalf of my noble Friend the Lord Privy Seal, to give to the House the information desired by hon. Members.

I note that almost every hon. Member who spoke was of opinion that we should have more frequent debates on the Atomic Energy Authority. There are well-known ways in which the House could ensure that time is provided for such debates, and I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will hear of the comments which have been made. The hon. Member for Rossendale drew attention to the frequent changes, as he called them, in the organisation of the Authority. I suppose the reason is that the Authority is still very young, and has shown a flexibility such as I think can hardly be considered a bad thing. When expansion is as rapid as it has been, not only in size but in the nature of the work, I do not doubt that a good board does change its mind from time to time. From the information I have, opinion now supports the splitting of the Industrial Group into two.

The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) made a very interesting speech which I shall certainly draw to the attention of my noble Friend. He felt that the Isotope Division was starved of funds, and the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) mentioned the same point. There is, however, no intention of stopping work on the manufacture of isotopes, or their sale, which has been a great success. The hon. Gentleman is correct in thinking that the market for this product is likely to expand. But I suppose it is sometimes necessary to say to people doing research which does not seem likely to bring in any return, "You had better stop that and try something else." It may be that from time to time it is necessary to adopt that course.

I was sorry to hear that the hon. Gentleman felt the organisation lacked a sense of direction. From the little which I have so far been able to learn about its current work it seems that a great number of experiments are going on. No doubt the board has to establish priorities, as do all boards when the business they are conducting is so extensive. The need for a small reactor to be used in ships, or to be land-based, is appreciated. Our cooperation with the United States is also all to the good. Only this week the Authority announced a new agreement for sharing information on the advanced gas-cooled reactor. That must be right considering the fact, as the hon. Gentleman said, that we could never have the resources to cover the whole of such a vast field.

The hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) and the hon. Member for Barnsley mentioned the relations between the Authority and industry. I can tell them that the recommendations of the Select Committee on Estimates on that point have been accepted by the Authority, and that relations are close on such subjects as reactor technology. The manufacture of fuel elements is another subject raised by the Committee which is receiving attention.

The hon. Member for Barnsley felt that the Authority had gone a bit fast in some directions and that, in his opinion, some of the work ought to be transferred from Aldermaston to the civil side. If I am correctly informed, the Aldermaston work on plasma, which is of great importance, is continuing, and precisely for the reasons which the hon. Member himself mentioned. He will also know of the new machine pronounced "Ice", but spelt "I.C.S.E.", which is really a successor to Z.E.T.A. and which is now to be built.

If the supply of scientists is deficient, I suppose that is one reason why the Minister of Education might have something to do with this sphere of science, but I can hardly think that the situation is quite so bad as hon. Members have suggested. I have here the figures for recruitment by the Atomic Energy Authority. A comparison of the count made on 31st March, 1958, with the latest count at the end of last September reveals that the senior professional grades, including scientists, engineers, medical staff, etc., have increased from 377 to 511. The figure for scientists and engineers, including draughtsmen, was 6,900 in April, 1958, and today is 8,600. It does not look as though there is much pause in the expansion. Of course, I am not saying that the Authority can always get exactly the right man for the right job. There is vast competition with other employers of scientists, and obviously we must be concerned if the Authority cannot recruit the staff it requires.

Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)

Has my right hon. Friend the numbers of people in the higher income groups, because the Select Committee drew attention to the difficulty the Authority is having at the £2,000 a year or £3,000 a year level both on the managerial and the research side? The Authority is perturbed about it. I wonder if my right hon. Friend could tell us at some time how the Authority is getting on in that field, because this is the key to the whole problem.

Sir D. Eccles

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention and I shall ask my noble Friend to provide me with the information so that I can give it to my hon. Friend. The senior administrative staff, which presumably comprises the highest grade of administrators, has, however, gone up from 56 to 93, which is nearly double. That does not look so bad. I hope and believe that the effect of having one or two more members on the board and of the great interest which the House shows in the Atomic Energy Authority will be factors leading to the successful and further expansion of the authority. I hope that the House will now give the Bill a Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Bryan.]

Committee Tomorrow.