§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The Minister of Technology (Mr. Frank Cousins)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I understand that the tradition in the House is that a maiden speech should be uncontroversial and, therefore, it gives me a great deal of pleasure to be able to present, as the first major piece of legislation for which my Ministry will be responsible, what I think can be regarded as an uncontroversial Bill.
I do this with some trepidation, because although I have had some experience of speaking elsewhere this is a rather curious—if that is not an offensive word—place in which to speak. There are a number of procedural rules which appear to have to be learned and I hope that there will be a deal of tolerance given to me if I overstep some of them. I say sincerely that I shall attempt to be uncontroversial.
This is a technical issue which we are considering and I may, therefore, be called upon to do a little more quoting than I understand is normally allowed. When I say that this is non-controversial, I would like, first, to pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath), who last year, on 28th July, announced to the House, in a Written Answer, the views that were held by the Board of Trade on this subject. He stated:The Government now propose to seek powers to extend the scope and scale of the Corporation's work so that, in addition to the activities which it has undertaken in the past, it will be able to contribute more effectively to industrial innovation and development, particularly development in which industry takes a share of the risk.That is the essential ingredient of this proposal as well as of the proposal which was intended to come from the last Government when they were considering this issue.
The right hon. Gentleman went on:For this purpose legislation will be introduced next Session to raise to £25 million in the first instance the Corporation's present limit of borrowing power from the Board of Trade. The legislation will also provide for 1374 a modification and extension of the financial and other conditions under which the Corporation operates so that, in partnership with industry, it will have greater freedom to promote the development and the commercial application of new techniques."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th July, 1964; Vol. 699, c. 261.]That was the need for expansion of development and co-operation with industry. We have been able, in the Bill, to build on that view expressed by the right hon. Member for Bexley. I am sure that, as we go through this, he will recognise many of the proposals which he himself put forward. We intend to make a slightly wider use of the powers of the National Research Development Corporation.
Before dealing with the Bill, I would like to draw the attention of the House to the origin of legislation to date, for it is essential to understand the background in which we make these proposals. When, under the present Prime Minister, legislation was proposed and introduced in 1948, and given effect to in 1949, this was the first legislative recognition of the need to deal with the problem of the development gap.
It was accepted then, and subsequent history has only served to confirm, that while British fundamental and applied research was as good as anywhere else in the world—and there is no argument about that—sometimes there were, no doubt for sound reasons, some serious delays and failures in the development and adoption by industry of the results of research.
At that time the Government research stations, civilian and defence, the universities and other research institutions were making many discoveries and inventions of fundamental importance. There had been, during the previous few years, a number of sound and substantial inventions coming forward, produced in British laboratories, but either because they had simply been published or because patent exploitation had not been followed they had eventually been developed abroad and the advantages and results had accrued to other countries.
There was, therefore, a clear requirement for an organisation equipped to undertake the task of protecting these inventions by patents and of subsequently exploiting them. The first purpose for which the Corporation was set up was, therefore, to enable it to 1375 take over and patent such inventions and then exploit them. But in too many cases active patent exploitation was not enough and it was subsequently discovered that in some instances—probably because industry had too many other things to do with its resources—industry was not always sufficiently prepared to take the risk of speculative development. Industry was often not willing to take an interest in an invention unless sufficient development had been done to demonstrate its technical soundness and to enable the firm to form a closer estimate of its commercial value.
The second purpose of the Corporation was to invest a proportion of its original £5 million capital in the development of inventions to the stage at which they could be successfully licensed to industry. The Corporation was set up in 1949 with its initial capital of £5 million, which could be advanced during its first five years. As I will demonstrate later, that was on a basis of intending that it should make its own way with that £5 million. In 1954, it was found necessary to extend the period of the advances to 10 years; and in 1958 the amount of the capital was increased to £10 million and the period increased to 20 years.
By the time of the 1954 Act, it had been realised that research, either to assist in the development or exploitation of an invention or, in some cases, because it might be expected to lead to an invention, was a necessary part of the Corporation's rôle. But last year it became clear that further action was required, and I have already said that the right hon. Member for Bexley himself expressed this view publicly.
The history and purpose of the N.R.D.C. is something which we should also consider before we come to the question of the legislation and what we are intending to do. There are, broadly, three heads under which the Corporation operates. The idea is, first, the patenting and licensing to industry of inventions which are already capable of practical application; secondly, assisting the development of inventions; and, thirdly, assisting research likely to lead to new or developed inventions.
Exploitation has continued with good success. It stayed at about a constant 1376 level for an initial period of growth, which had to be expected, but it now brings back in royalties about twice what is spent on this part of the Corporation's activities, that is, patenting and licensing are bringing in about twice as much as is invested.
For some time past, the second part, the development side, of the work of the Corporation has been assuming greater importance and it is on this side that we hope to get a major expansion in the future. The third function, research, has not up to now resulted in as much return as exploitation, or as much expenditure as development, but it has, nevertheless, covered a number of important projects.
It is now clear that the time before one can expect a return on research and development expenditure is longer than was originally envisaged. This was becoming increasingly obvious. It was first assumed that everything would be done successfully and bring in a return, but that proved not to be so. We estimate that the average period is about eight years. If this is so, the Corporation has had to carry its investments, against which interest was chargeable, for a substantial period of time.
It will be accepted that this part of the Corporation's work is essentially speculative, particularly in the sense that the Corporation is expected to take risks which industry is not prepared to face, understandably so. This is inherent in the nature of the Corporation's activities and it is, therefore, inevitable that losses will from time to time be incurred on the projects it supports. This activity has had to be financed not by equity capital, as it would have been in ordinary private business, but by loan money from the Government.
From the first, it was written in the Act that the Corporation was expected, taking one year with another, to balance its revenue account. This provision, which we intend to maintain—and I had better make that clear—has always been regarded as of very great importance by the Corporation itself. I had the pleasure of talking to the managing director before introducing the Bill, and I was told that the Corporation regarded it as essential that even in the first examination we should retain that provision, because the Corporation felt that it gave it a bargaining position when talking to industry. It 1377 allowed the Corporation to exercise its own independent judgment on any case which came before it.
However, for the reasons I have just set out, the Corporation has not so far been able to achieve this objective, and, very broadly speaking, its income from all sources has not amounted to more than hale its outgoings on current account, while it has accumulated a considerable liability for interest on the Government advances.
Nevertheless, as the House knows, the Corporation has a very reasonable record of success. It has, during its lifetime, received about £2 million in royalty revenue, which represents only a fraction of its value to industry itself. The value to industry and our economic affairs has sometimes been immeasurably greater. Out of the £6 million which has been invested in development, about £1.4 million has already been recovered. Much of the remainder represents development projects still in the pipeline and which we can expect to produce revenue for the Corporation.
This investment has been broadly based. The subjects which have been under review by the N.R.D.C. in medical supplies have been of great value to the medical profession—and I do not mean only the latest of the investments. There have also been electronics and the computer industry, a development which certainly helped the computer industry in its early days. The industry would have been much slower in making its first progress without this work. The Corporation did a great deal of work in printed circuits, which are themselves an essential part of electronic assemblies. A different kind of work, but nevertheless an effective development, was the potato harvester and another was research into automatic cardroom processing in the cotton industry, of great value in the assistance of cotton developments.
The two best known at the moment are the Dracone flexible liquid-carrying barge and the Hovercraft, which are now at about the stage, after an extended period of development and investment, where they are likely to bring returns. During the time that the Corporation has been in existence it has also developed a considerable expertise in the handling of patents and development projects.
1378 I commend to the House and to anyone interested in the Corporation its six-monthly bulletin which, if nothing else, shows the very wide range of activities with which the Corporation has become associated. The developments in the electrical engineering and electronics side and in scientific instruments show the great value of the organisation to British industry in general.
Now for the future and the proposals for reshaping the Corporation. Our wish is that it should play an even more important and constructive rôle. The Government are convinced that, much as has already been done, at the moment the Corporation is still on the edge of the possibilities of development. As the House knows, the main purpose of the creation of the Ministry of Technology is to speed up the industrial application of our scientific "know-how" which very properly comes within the range of activities in which we are involved. In the Ministry we have already started a series of studies in depth of various sectors of industry and we shall press ahead with this programme and expand it. The net result of this is likely to be a series of proposals for applied research and development to meet particular needs of industry.
In addition, we are making a fresh examination of the possibilities of developing for industrial purposes the results of research work undertaken in Government research establishments and atomic energy establishments. I hope that this will lead to the wider use by industry of new ideas and technological processes. The House will recall, in this connection, that in the Science and Technology Bill we are seeking to enable the Atomic Energy Authority to make use of its great resources and skills over a wider field. It has very great resources and it is a pity if they are not more widely used to the benefit of British industry.
The N.R.D.C. can provide a most valuable service in this examination with its wide expertise in the exploitation of inventions. I am sure, therefore, that the House will be as glad as I am that Mr. Duckworth, the Managing Director of N.R.D.C., has accepted my invitation to a position on the Atomic Energy Authority.
1379 I have said publicly before, and I now repeat, that we regard co-operation between these two bodies as a very useful development, and that Mr. Duckworth has now joined them is to the advantage of both bodies. The examination which we are having should lead to a programme of development work which will help us to give the sort of technological lift which industry needs, and the Corporation will play a major part in the drawing up of this programme.
As I have said, we expect that there will be a substantial expansion in the type of risk and profit-sharing development projects in which the Corporation has been engaged in the last year or two. These are projects brought to the Corporation by particular industrial firms, often for work which the firms themselves have commenced, but whose completion they are unable to finance. The Corporation is then able to put in the necessary finance as an investment which is returned with interest and a payment for risk if the project succeeds.
I turn now to the legislative proposals to show how they fit into this programme of action. Clause 1 of the Bill increases the capital at the disposal of the Corporation from £10 million to £25 million. The limit on the time of its use, after having been raised in earlier provisions from five to ten and then to 20 years, will be removed altogether so that we can make advances as required over such period of time as is desirable.
It seems to us that this amount of money is a quite reasonable increase in the capital resources of the Corporation when we consider how its activities and investments have been rising in the last two years, particularly following its increased support of joint-venture projects, to which I have just referred. It may be that in a few years this sum will turn out to be inadequate, but I would prefer, and I am sure that the Corporation would also prefer, to wait to see how things go. I hope that the Opposition will now think, as they did when they were the Government, that it would be wise to deal with this in this way, and then consider the matter in the light of developments.
Clause 1 also makes certain alterations in the accounting and reporting of the Corporation's activities, consequent on 1380 our decision to transfer the source of its advances from the Consolidated Fund to the Departmental Vote. In addition, we propose to take account of the distinctive nature of the Corporation's work, which I have already described, by amending the financial conditions under which it operates in such a way as to give it a chance within a reasonable period of time of being able to fulfil the break-even Clause in the 1948 Act.
We shall do this in two ways. We shall do it, first, by a provision in Clause 2 that if the Corporation has to write off, wholly or partly, a development project that it considers is unlikely to produce a return, it may ask the Minister for a direction that it will no longer be liable to repay a corresponding sum from the advances that have been made to it. It will, by this means, be saved future charges for interest on these advances.
If I may, as it were, interrupt myself at this point, it seems to me to be rather an irrational idea to recognise that a project is terminated but to continue to charge the organisation that is working for the country and industry interest on advances for the project, so expecting the Corporation to accept a continued liability in regard to something that it has already been determined is not to go on. That seems to be quite irrational when we are, at the same time, talking of advancing further sums of money.
I therefore hope that the Opposition, which had all these factors in front of them at the time, will agree that what is suggested is a sensible step to take. We also feel that it is quite logical to do this when we recognise that this is a body set up to take unusual risks, but is, nevertheless, required, if possible, to balance its accounts.
Clause 2 also provides that any amount so written off shall still count against the £25 million limit of advances, and that, if any written-off asset subsequently recovers in value, the Minister may revive it and the liability for the corresponding advance. Under subsection (10) of this Clause, the Corporation may ask for this writing-off procedure to be applied to the losses it has incurred already and which represent a heavy burden on its balance-sheet. All these actions must be recorded in the annual reports which 1381 the Minister has to lay before Parliament.
The second way in which we propose to alter the financial conditions under which the Corporation operates is dealt with in Clause 3. This will enable us to relieve the Corporation of the burden of interest for the first eight years of any advance, corresponding to the average maturity period of a development project. This will be done by making corresponding grants from the Vote of my Department. We propose that the Clause can be retrospective in action, so that the Minister may apply it to the appropriate share of the past interest due, which stands in the Corporation's balance-sheet.
I now turn to Clause 4, which extends the scope of the Corporation's activities further than was envisaged in the proposals announced by the previous Administration. Its purpose is to enable Government Departments—with the exception of the Post Office, which already has the power to do so—to ask the Corporation to undertake projects at the expense of their own Votes, and to pay the Corporation a management fee for doing this. We attach considerable importance to this Clause. Hon. Members will recognise that it is a replacement of Section 5 of the 1948 Act, which simply allowed a Department to put projects in front of the Corporation, and indicated that it might reimburse the Corporation for losses incurred. We do not think that it is sufficiently attractive if Departments merely put their ideas in front of the Corporation without expecting them to accept the position of paying it a management fee for doing work on their behalf.
As the House knows, many Government Departments, apart from those with direct responsibilities for research and development financed from their own Votes, have a close relationship with certain industries—whether it be as bulk purchasers, as sponsors, or in other ways—and have a strong interest in seeing that those industries are efficient, competitive, and alive to technological change. We believe that Government Departments have a responsibility to assist and stimulate industry to achieve this state; and that they can use their relationship positively and fruitfully by initiating and supporting advanced development projects. 1382 In the majority of cases, the N.R.D.C., with its experience, should be the preferred instrument for the negotiation and management of such development projects.
I should like now to explain two features of Clause 4 which in some ways may appear to be contradictory. On the one hand, the Clause gives the enabling power to the Departments which I have just described; on the other, it also provides that the Minister of Technology must approve the arrangements. At the same time, it gives the Corporation the option to decline to take on projects proposed to it by Government Departments. I think that this provision will meet one or two criticisms that might have been made that without the insertion of these words we were taking away some autonomy from the Corporation.
We feel that the Minister of Technology, as the Minister answerable for the Corporation, must keep a general oversight of its operations and prevent it from being overloaded. That is why we say that he must approve the proposal. The Corporation must, however, have the right to decline to carry out a project, partly because there might be incompatibility between a new project and the obligations that the Corporation had itself accepted under an earlier arrangement, and partly because the fact that the Corporation was obliged to negotiate a certain contract would weaken its negotiating position.
I hope that it will be sufficient if I deal very briefly with Clauses 5 and 6. Clause 5 tells the Corporation, quite simply, that it may make a profit. That it should be able to do so is right, having regard to the commercial nature of its operations. But it is equally right, in our view, that the Minister should have a say in the disposal of such profits. When we bear in mind the extent to which this Bill proposes to relieve the Corporation of certain financial burdens, we feel that we have the right to be involved in the disbursement of any profits there may be, including reimbursement and repayment to the Treasury if the opportunity should arise.
Clause 6 enables the Minister to increase the membership of the Corporation by two. As hon. Members interested will know, the present membership is 1383 10, and we propose to increase it to 12 because we propose to extend the Corporation's activities, and it is, therefore, necessary to provide the right spread of expertise in industry and commerce and the various technological and scientific disciplines in which the Corporation operates.
To sum up, the main provisions of the Bill are the increase in the capital available to the N.R.D.C.; the power to write off the debt corresponding to its ascertained losses; to counterbalance by grant the burden of its interest for a period and, finally, the power to use the Corporation as an instrument for a programme of civil development contracts—
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will not mind my asking a question that has no political content. Clause 4 refers to "any Government department". That appears to mean the Defence Departments, and I wondered, when the right hon. Gentleman spoke of civil development contracts, whether he was excluding the Defence Departments. If the right hon. Gentleman does not want to answer that now, perhaps an answer could be given later in the debate.
§ Mr. Cousins
That will be answered by my hon. Friend when he replies to the debate. We have considered that point, too, and have specifically said "any Government department", and have excluded one Department because it already has provision direct.
It is our aim that this should give the Corporation the financial structure and the opportunity to expand its activities, both on its own account and as an agent for the Government. These are objectives on which I think we all agree, and I hope that the Bill will commend itself to both sides of the House and that both sides will recognise that it is intended to make a significant contribution to greater technological progress and industrial efficiency.
I should like to thank the House for the courtesy it has shown me. I appreciate that right hon. and hon. Members have listened very attentively to what in some respects must have been rather dry technical comment on the Bill. There will no doubt be other occasions when 1384 hon. Members will not listen as quietly. My experience in the House up to now hardly led me to believe that they could do it on this occasion.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (St. Marylebone)
It is a peculiar pleasure that I should be signing off, as it were, my own responsibility from this side of the House for scientific matters, for the time being at least, by welcoming the right hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Cousins) to the House on the occasion of his maiden speech.
We on this side of the House have long wanted to see the right hon. Gentleman here. This is not because we agree with everything that he says, or even because we have revised our opinion that there ought not to be such a post as Minister of Technology. But we think that the House is the place for people of controversial opinions who wish to influence their fellow countrymen, and we are delighted to see the right hon. Gentleman come here and deliver a maiden speech with such success.
The right hon. Gentleman, in common with very few other Members, has had the distinction of making his first speech from the Dispatch Box. He shared that distinction with my father. Some people might think that it was an advantage. My father did not. I think that it probably is an advantage. The Dispatch Box is a very convenient place to speak from. If nothing else, it manages to conceal one's nether limbs from one's fellow Members. On the occasion of my maiden speech I seem to remember that my own seemed to be at least three yards long below the waist. The right hon. Gentleman has at any rate been lucky in the location from which he has made his maiden speech. I know that it is customary to say it, but in this case I say sincerely that we hope to hear the right hon. Gentleman often, and we also hope to see him sampling the Opposition benches for a change before long.
I also thank the right hon. Gentleman for the courteous way in which he acknowledged the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath), for I think almost every item of policy contained in the Bill. Indeed, if I may say so without 1385 presumption or flattery, many of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues who have not been making maiden speeches would do well to take a leaf out of the right hon. Gentleman's book. I do not know what hon. Members opposite may think, but I believe that the whole House is getting a little weary of hon. Members opposite on every possible occasion drawing the greatest possible contrast between the two sides of the House on matters of policy when, in fact, there is nothing objective to differentiate them from one another. The right hon. Gentleman did quite right to emphasise this side of the matter.
I believe that the right hon. Gentleman was also quite right to try to describe the policy of the Bill against the record of history. I will go in a few moments back to the same departure point as the right hon. Gentleman originally took. The policy of the Bill, which we on this side endorse. must be seen in relation to the organisation set up by this Government rather than the organisation set up by the previous Government.
I wish, first, to make one inquiry of the right hon. Gentleman, or of the Minister of State, Board of Trade, who is to reply, about the organisational side of the aspect as affected by the new position. All these organisational questions stem to some extent from the Trend Report, a Report which was gravely underestimated by hon. Members opposite when it was produced some two years ago but which they have largely now put into effect. The Trend Report recommended a single Industrial Research and Development Authority which was to incorporate, on the one side what I may call for convenience the industrial portion of D.S.I.R., and, on the other side, the N R.D.C., with which the Bill is itself concerned.
In the events which happened, this did not commend itself to the last Government. This single Corporation under the Department of Education and Science, which it then was, incorporating both the N.R.D.C. and part of D.S.I.R., would have involved the divorce of the N.R.D.C. from the Board of Trade, under which it then was. For various reasons, it became plain to us that the Corporation itself would not have welcomed the transfer, because it would have put an undue emphasis, so it considered, upon the 1386 scientific side of its work and would to some extent have interfered, as it thought, with its freedom of action. So we decided to keep the two bodies separate, each under its separate Minister.
Now the Government, for reasons be they good or bad—we discussed this at considerable length before the right hon. Gentleman arrived—have decided to put them both under the Minister of Technology. One half—the D.S.I.R. half—they have decided to give to the Minister of Technology to administer himself, instead of administering it, as before, by means of a corporation or research council. I wonder why, when for reasons which seemed good to them they decided to put both bodies under one Minister, they did not at the same time revert to the original suggestion of Trend and amalgamate the two sides in a single Corporation, which would have had the advantage of very much greater size and turnover than either of the two halves; it could have been put under an industrial chairman of great experience; also, I should have thought, it would have avoided the kind of demarcation dispute that could conceivably arise.
Hon. Members who have seen the latest Report, for instance, of the Corporation will recognise at least 25 projects which are within the terms of reference of the liaison committee between the two halves—and it would have therefore enabled the whole territory of development to have been dealt with under a single organisation. Although the importance of these matters of organisation can be exaggerated, it had occurred to me that, on the assumptions which the Government made—that is, that both are to be under the Minister of Technology—they might have got an added advantage from amalgamating the two bodies.
The right hon. Gentleman took us back to the formation of the Corporation in the time of the last Labour Government. Of course, he was perfectly right to do so. But I thought that in so doing he to some extent underestimated the novel character of the Measure he now proposes. I do not think it is too much to say that the N.R.D.C. was originally very much less concerned with the development gap than it now is and even less concerned with it than it will be after the Bill is passed.
1387 The N.R.D.C. had originally two main objectives. The first was the belief, which I think proved on the whole erroneous, that there were a number of individual inventions circulating around industry which industry was deliberately repressing because it was thought that they would interfere with established processes. I think that that has proved on the whole a mistake. Industry, on the whole, is capable of handling inventions by individual inventors which are capable of immediate exploitation. No doubt there are exceptions and there are occasions when the Government can step in, and no doubt it is valuable to have an alternative court of appeal to which the individual inventor can turn. But on the whole, that side of the work has not developed on the lines or to the extent expected.
Secondly, and this developed beyond the expectations of the original progenitors of the Bill, the Corporation is an agency for the exploitation of Government inventions. Quite clearly, such an agency is an absolute necessity in the modern world. Government expenditure on civil research and development has developed in the past thirteen years from about £30 million to about £180 million, or it very will soon be £180 million by the normal process of growth. It was £170 million by the time I left office.
It is quite clear that, with Government laboratories operating on a scale like that, a very large number of exploitable inventions turn up and it is vital that they should be properly protected by patents and when protected should be properly exploited, which in the ordinary course means a proper relationship with industry in all its forms. The Corporation has performed a vital task in that respect, but there has turned out in recent years both in the D.S.I.R. and in the N.R.B.C. a new conception of the rôle which Government can play in the development of technology, and I think that it is more in that field than in the original two that the Bill will prove to be valuable. It is the rôle referred to in the recent Report of the Corporation, and I think in the statement made by my right hon. Friend last July, as the commercial application of new techniques.
I know that it is fashionable either to praise or to blame Government activity 1388 according to which side of the House one happens to be speaking from, but the fact is that both Government activity and private activity in this field have their limitations and have their advantages and to some extent there has been a gap between the two. An invention may not always yield its full commercial benefit to the original developer. It may develop a new technique throughout industry. Electronic control processes in machine-tool manufacture are an example. Desalination of water has not yet proved successful on a commercial basis, except in rather unusual parts of the world, but that is another case where the original inventor or developer might not reap the full reward of his labours and, therefore, might well be deterred from investing money in the process.
Again, the period of time which might elapse between the inauguration of the process in research and development and its successful commercial exploitation, especially in large enterprises, is so long that ordinary commercial capital feels quite properly that it could be more profitably employed elsewhere. Equally, there might be cases where Government Departments might want an invention and feel the same need for it as the user of any other commercial process and might feel it right to put up capital in conjunction with commercial manufacturers to reach manufacture at an earlier stage than would otherwise be the case.
There is, therefore, a creative role for the Government to play in this field and one which need not necessarily offend the doctrinal purists on both sides. It was for this reason that my right hon. Friend made his statement and it is in order to achieve this purpose that the right hon. Gentleman has produced the Bill. There are one or two limitations about this, which I see the Government have accepted by implication—because of the relatively small sums of money involved in the Bill. The commercial development contract, which is one of the conceptions underlying the Bill, is not as easy in the field of civil science—as people think—or as it is in the field of defence. In defence, the Government is the customer and a Government Department is usually responsible for procurement. The very large development contracts, when they come—and I hope that they will, although on the Government's present economic policy 1389 I do not know how we shall pay for them—again come under this procedure.
The Concord is nothing but a very large development contract ending in a commercial aircraft. If a nuclear propelled ship comes, that, again, will be a very large development contract ending, at any rate, in a commercially exploitable ship, although I would not expect it to be commercially profitable in the first instance. The desalinisation of water would be another. The communications satellite which may be one of the great technological developments of the next 25 years, should be made the subject of a development contract.
None of these, with the exception of the desalinisation of water is likely to come under the procedure envisaged by the Bill. This is because the very largest conceptions will have to be dealt with by the procurement Departments. This is one of the difficulties with which the Minister will have to struggle in dealing with his colleagues, because he has been given the sponsorship, as it is called in Government jargon, of the electronics industry, the computer industry and though I am not sure, of even the aircraft industry, the main influence on which, exerted by Government, is exerted by those whom I am tempted in these circumstances to call the right hon Gentleman's Ugly Sisters. At any rate, they have done their best to kill Cinderella, unless it is that the right hon. Gentleman fancies himself as the Fairy Godmother or the handsome Prince or the less assuming Buttons. However, these matters are in the future.
In the meantime, on behalf of the Opposition, I wish the Bill well and I wish the right hon. Gentleman well in the course of the career upon which he has so successfully launched himself. I had the privilege, as I reminded the House in the debate on the Address, of appointing the right hon. Gentleman to the D.S.I.R. I can tell him that I received a considerable rebuke for having so done. The appointment was described in the most authoritative quarter as most unfortunate. However, I remained impenitent and I am still more impenitent after this afternoon's proceedings.
The right hon. Gentleman is what is called, I believe, a controversial figure. There are other controversial figures in 1390 the House. I have always taken the view that those who happen to be controversial figures are still capable of objective intellectual activity and of doing a useful job. The right hon. Gentleman has demonstrated the truth of that observation.
§ 4.40 p.m.
Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd (Sutton Coldfield)
I join my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) in congratulating the Minister on his maiden speech. It is both a pleasure and duty to do so. I think that he will have surprised the country, because most people, including his supporters and, indeed, our supporters, would never have expected, if they had been told that it was possible, that the right hon. Gentleman would succeed in making a non-controversial speech in the House of Commons. I congratulate him very much on it.
Also, as my right hon. and learned Friend said, the Minister made very handsome acknowledgment of the preparatory work done by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath) on the Bill. I reciprocate, if I may, and acknowledge that the idea of the Bill was originally that of the previous Socialist Government. I understand that it was Sir Stafford Cripp's idea in the first place.
I add only that we did well to take the Act, as it became, and to make the best of it, and I think that it would be true to say that the contribution of the Conservative Government was very largely in doing what, perhaps, they could do better than the party opposite, that is, bring in the support of business. One of the most notable developments of the past few years in the work of the N.R.D.C. has been the way in which it has been able to secure the service of very able and experienced business men and has been able, therefore, the better to get good co-operation with private industry. This is an important part of its work. One may say, therefore, that both major parties have contributed to the present position of this important experiment.
I like very much, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman does, too, the fact that the Corporation goes out of its way in a most practical and businesslike fashion to secure the co-operation of private industry in its projects. I notice 1391 with particular interest that as much as 30 per cent. of its projects now are carried on in partnership with private industry. This is most important. I do not want to be controversial, but the right hon. Gentleman may, in a benevolent moment, be inclined to agree that, when a company has its money in a project, it will put its best foot forward and will do the job that the N.R.D.C. wants it to do with real enthusiasm.
I was interested in the examples which the Minister gave of the Corporation's work. I shall follow him in that by referring to two other aspects of its activities. One which he did not mention, but which I regard as of considerable interest, is the development of the fuel cell. This is a method of generating electricity direct from electronic chemical reaction without the intervention of heat, turbines or other engines of the conventional sort.
For 30 years, a British inventor, Mr. Francis Bacon, has been working on this project. I know about it because, as Minister of Fuel and Power in the early 1950s, I had the project before me and I was able to give a small grant to allow the work on the fuel cell to carry on. I think that the Admiralty did as well. I do not claim that this was anything more than a holding operation which enabled the work to continue, but then Lord Halsbury and the N.R.D.C. came in, and I congratulate them very much on what they have done.
They have brought in an excellent consortium of private interests, including, I think, British Ropes, an important and very enterprising concern, Guest, Keen and Nettlefold and, perhaps, one or two others whose names escape me for the moment. The project is now known as Energy Conversion.
This is typical of the sort of thing that the N.R.D.C. ought to be doing because it is rafter difficult in this country, where the resources of companies are not so vast as they are in America, for instance, to expect a company to spend much money on a project when practical realisation of it seems very far in the future.
As sometimes happens in research—it is most delightful when it does—there was in this case a most dramatic move. The Americans suddenly realised that, for the Atlas space project to the moon, the fuel cell was just the right device 1392 to provide power. Although the ordinary battery, if it goes just for a day or two, probably has the advantage, when one is planning for a 17-day journey to the moon and one needs to provide power for the capsule during all that time, the fuel cell wins hands down. It is, perhaps, a sobering reflection for us, although we can have our pride in it, that, while we might have been spending £100,000 a year on the project in Britain—I do not know the exact figure—the Americans came in and immediately put 28 million dollars into it.
The development is now tremendous. The N.R.D.C. has royalties on the research, although, of course, not on the engineering technology involved, another rather sobering thought for us. Nevertheless, we can take real pride in the fact that the capsule for the American space project to the moon will be powered by the British Bacon fuel cell.
I know that the work is still at a difficult stage and is now more concentrated on seeing whether it is possible to produce electricity by this reaction using cheaper fuels than pure hydrogen and oxygen, for example, using ordinary commercial hydrocarbons, and so on, but I should like to know from the Minister whether, in addition to the straightforward production of electricity, the storage possibilities are being considered.
In a sense, it is the continuity of power production, the storage of energy in that way, which has been the principle leading the Americans to use the fuel cell for their space capsule. I could not help but be interested to read in the New Scientist, at the weekend, some words of Sir Thomas Merton, a distinguished Oxford scientist. He said, quite rightly, that in war time, once a precise requirement was laid down, it was amazing how someone or other came along and was, in the end, able to fulfil it.
I remember from my own experience, when Sir Winston Churchill asked me to disperse the fog on airfields and the Ministry of Aircraft Production said that it was impossible, I decided to get close to the customer and got from the Pathfinder Force a precise limited requirement of just 100 ft. above the runway which it said would be sufficient for it. It was that limited and precise requirement which really gave the boost to the 1393 research workers and enabled us to succeed. Of course, after that, we did much more than was required, but the original precise and limited requirement was most useful.
Reverting to the storage of energy and the fuel cell, I wonder whether there is here a most interesting possibility in the development of electric vehicles for public transport in the centres of our cities, to reduce noise and the emission of fumes. I only put it to the right hon. Gentleman for consideration, but I wonder whether it would be worthwhile someone laying down a precise and limited requirement to stimulate the research worker.
I am very interested in the medical work of the Corporation, and I am glad that it has close relations with the Medical Research Council. I stress this particularly because I am in fairly close touch with medical research in the United States, where, of course, it proceeds upon an enormous basis, with, I believe, 50 million dollars a year being spent on cancer research, and so on.
I know from some of their research workers that they have found that it is now very important to bring in the "ironmongery and hardware" side, as they call it, although I do not like to use that phrase. They need other scientists, technologists, engineers and business people in medical research because now so many things are being developed, such as heart-lung machines and artificial kidneys. There is certainly great opportunity and need for close co-operation between medical researchers and people who contribute the practical technological side. I am glad that the N.R.D.C. is doing this in cooperation with the Medical Research Council.
Finally, there is great opportunity for the N.R.D.C. to co-operate with the colleges of advanced technology now that they have become technological universities. We have the great institutions of Glasgow and Manchester and Imperial College, London. We now have 13 technological universities. I know that the new University of Aston in Birmingham is extremely keen on developing research with industry.
Perhaps it will be possible for the N.R.D.C. to co-operate fruitfully with the technological universities, particularly 1394 with the new research institutes and associations which may well grow up in them and which may result in great mutual benefit because so many of them are in great provincial industrial centres and in close contact with local industry. I know that the relationship already existing betwen industry in Birmingham and the Midlands and the new University of Aston is extremely warm and very close and is getting better all the time.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for sympathetically listening to these points. I wish him and the N.R.D.C. the very best of success in the interest of the country.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Sir John Maitland (Horncastle)
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Technology is indeed fortunate in being able to introduce a debate in which everyone in the House is interested. The idea of inventions and inventors excites us from childhood. It represents new processes and machines and is in keeping with the spirit we want in this country. I am particularly interested in the subject because, for a large part of my active technological life, I was doing some of the things that are discussed in the N.R.D.C. paper.
I am a tremendous admirer of the work of the N.R.D.C. The great sweep of that work is fascinating and, I must say, a little amusing. It deals, among other things, with the common cold, acquatic mowers, fish finders—something I have often wanted—and the detection of foreign bodies… (anything from bottle caps, to broken glass, pins and mice) in milk bottles at the stage between washing and filling.The N.R.D.C.'s Report goes on:At the moment the inspection is done by girls sitting at the conveyor line, and fatigue rapidly produces inefficiency.I must say that I could hardly sleep last night thinking about these poor girls on a conveyor line looking for mice in milk bottles.
While the work of the N.R.D.C. is absolutely essential to the national economy and to technology, there are gaps in it. I think that sometimes those who are not involved with technological matters do not appreciate that invention is very often a day-to-day matter for technologists, rather like the case of the 1395 Duke of Wellington who said that when something went wrong in a battle he knotted a rope and went on again. A technologist in his work is always finding things he has to put right and in doing so he often develops a most useful invention.
The trouble, of course, is that it is an invention for a particular service and does not get the cross-fertilisation which it might get and which might make it of great use to other parts of industry. I know that when one talks about cross-fertilisation of inventions the idea sounds very well but it is extremely difficult to carry out.
There is in my belief a gap in the work carried out by the N.R.D.C. and this is in the case of the individual, private inventor, of the small man who invents something he does not know quite how to exploit. It is extraordinarily difficult to know how best one can use an invention. I had an interesting example recently in which a man invented a machine to produce a certain reaction. It was found to be quite useless for the purpose, but proved to be the ideal answer for almost exactly the opposite purpose for which it was designed. That sort of thing happens all the time.
I want to draw the attention of the Minister and the House to the Institute of Patentees and Inventors, which has been in existence for a very long time. It is unsupported by public money. It relies on the subscriptions of its members. It has been doing excellent work dealing very largely with the smaller man. It handles a large number of cases a year and has managed to give to industry some extremely useful inventions.
I do not want to go into detail about it now, because, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, I have already written to him and I am hoping to bring the leaders of this organisation to see him. Perhaps then we shall be able to discuss these points in detail. I want to say at once that I have absolutely no financial interest in the organisation. My only interest is my belief that it is doing a first-class job.
One would think that, in the natural sequence of events, the N.R.D.C. would be able to help these small people. But this is work which the N.R.D.C. has not 1396 the statutory right to carry out. It is mainly a body for dealing with Government Departments and ideas of national importance and has no power to help other people such as the Institute to carry out duties for which it has no statutory responsibility.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he would get round somewhat similar difficulties by making a direction, and it is on lines such as that that I shall be approaching him and asking him to consider most carefully the great national service which I believe this body has been doing in the past, and could well do even better in the future with a little additional help.
I do not want an answer from the right hon. Gentleman today, but hope to have the opportunity to discuss these points in detail with him at a later date.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I join my hon. and right hon. Friends in congratulating the Minister on his maiden speech. In anticipation of this debate, and in view of its subject matter, I could not help being reminded of a well-known character in "Alice Through the Looking Glass", the White Knight—everything being all his own invention. The right hon. Gentleman has been the first to admit that the Bill was not his own invention, and I am sure that it was much appreciated that he recognised that. Perhaps instead of a mounted white knight it would be a more accurate allusion to say that he is a red knight dusted with "Snow".
I am very glad that the Bill has been introduced, because I think that the one great flaw in the Trend Report, on which the Bill is based, was that it visualised the separation of the industrial side of the D.S.I.R., which was renamed the Industrial Research Development Authority, from the N.R.D.C. It always seemed to me that Mr. Duckworth's fulminations when that Report was published were fully justified. I doubt whether any public body has been more ably or brilliantly served than the N.R.D.C. has been served by Mr. Duckworth. I think that all hon. Members who have had the opportunity of discussing matters with him have been deeply impressed not only by his ability, but by his tremendous enthusiasm.
1397 This is an immensely important feature of the promotion of science and technology in this country. The right hon. Gentleman would probably agree from his industrial experience, let alone from his short Government experience, that the research associations of industry vary tremendously in the impact which they make on the industries concerned. If the production engineering research associations' methods were followed by some of the others, they would perhaps have greater success. Enthusiasm is all-important, and the best tribute which one cart pay to the N.R.D.C.'s enthusiasm is the results which it has achieved. I am sure that as long as that spirit prevails all will be well.
For a moment I had my doubts about whether the Minister had quite the right idea when I heard what he said about Clause 5. I think that he said that when the N.R.D.C. has made a profit he will reserve the right to say what should be done with it, and that he will then do something very dangerous indeed—consult the Treasury, or that the Treasury will make him toe the line. I must warn him, if he does not know it already, that he must be very careful about that.
There is an important aspect which arises a little out of what was originally put in the Gibb-Zuckerman Report on the Management and Control of Research and Development, which was published some years ago. The point which emerges clearly from that Report and which has been re-emphasised by what has happened since its publication is that industry makes sure that the people who are most qualified see research and development projects through from beginning to end. The moment we get in the field of government—and this is particularly relevant to defence matters and the Service Departments—one is apt to have people's turn for promotion arising half-way through and off they go somewhere else. A new man must then be brought in and put in the picture. This progressing of research and development can best be achieved if the people who are originally selected as capable of starting it can see it through. I hope that the Minister will ensure that that practice prevails.
The record of the N.R.D.C. in this respect is good, but it is not anything like as good in defence matters. I realise that, as the Gibb-Zuckerman Report pointed out, quite a lot of the scientific 1398 fall-out from defence research projects is turned over to the N.R.D.C., or Power Jets (R & D) Ltd., if it has a civil application. I am sure that this process must go on. Even if less is being done in relation to the whole in defence matters—and the proportions were markedly changed in the lieftime of the last Government, and changed correctly, I think—it will still be of the greatest importance from a civil point of view. N.R.D.C. is the obvious body to deal with this matter.
May I refer to the conception with which we are dealing. I should have preferred—and I say this frankly to the Minister, despite the welcome which I have given to his Bill—to have seen I.R.D.A. and N.R.D.C. under the Board of Trade. However, I would agree absolutely that the Ministry which has taken the responsibility which would have been I.R.D.A.'s should be the one to which the N.R.D.C. should report. I make no adverse comment about that. I believe that the Minister would be wise to accept the old Haldane conception of research and development—in other words, the best people to decide what research should be carried out are scientists and that the less the politicians come into the matter the better.
We all know that the Minister was a very outspoken man in other capacities, and I hope that he will bear in mind the essential need to avoid as far as possible bringing party politics into science. Obviously, there are some decisions which must be taken politically. Whether something is in context with what is in the interests of the United Kingdom is essentially a political decision in the first instance and, perhaps, in the last instance. But while a project is proceeding I hope that political influence will be kept to the minimum.
I was a little surprised that the Minister did not tell us why it was proposed by the Bill to increase the size of the N.R.D.C. by two, I think. It is important that we should know who it is visualised will come on to this body. I suppose that we all have our ideas. My feeling is that there might be a defence representative on the Corporation. I will not select any individual in particular, but, to come back to the point which I was trying to make earlier, I think that the civilian use of scientific fall-out from defence research could best be 1399 achieved by having somebody from, say, the Ministry of Defence's Scientific Division on the N.R.D.C. I do not know who it should be, and I am not making a firm recommendation, but that is one thought which crosses my mind.
The speech which Lord Halsbury made in another place at the end of last year is of some importance to our discussion today. While he was head of the N.R.D.C., I went to see him over a matter concerning potato harvesting, which the Minister mentioned today. Lord Halsbury said that over and over again the first stage of development disclosed research problems which had to be tackled before development could proceed further and that failing a resolute assault on these, development was blocked. He went on to say that he hoped that no attempt would be made to specify some sort of push-fit between the terms of reference of the two Ministries, so that research was assigned to one and development and technology to the other in an unambiguous sort of way.If some pure scientist finds that his work has a technological bearing he must be free"—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Dr. Horace King)
Order. Is the hon. Member quoting from a Minister in the other place?
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I beg pardon, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was trying to put it into indirect speech and I apologise for getting into direct speech. The noble Lord indicated that if a pure scientist found that his work had a technological bearing, he should be free to follow it up. It was up to him alone to have the insight and enthusiasm which would enable it to be followed up adequately. I feel sure that the evidence of Lord Halsbury, in this context, is of immense importance.
Everybody realises that when Lord Halsbury became Chairman of N.R.D.C., he did a magnificent job under considerable difficulty. Whoever succeeds him in the future, and, indeed, the present holder of that office, will be greatly helped by the Bill. I particularly welcome the taking off of the automatic obligation to pay interest and the automatic obligation to keep the outstanding loan on non-profitable exercises.
1400 My right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr) presided over a committee of which I was a member. Over about two and a half years we met various distinguished scientists and industrialists. Eventually, we produced a Report, in 1962, under the title, "Science in Industry: the Influence of Government Policy". I commend that Report with great humility to the Minister. I believe that we had some useful constructive thinking in it and we particularly referred to N.R.D.C. What we had in mind was that those projects which were likely to prove particularly unprofitable or those that were likely to take a particularly long time should be placed in a separate category from those whose chances were fairly good. We suggested that we might even have earmarked allocations in finance for those projects on a different basis to the other general run of research.
On reflection. I think that the Minister's solution today is a better one. It gives more discretion and more autonomy to the N.R.D.C. It seems to me to be a little more flexible and, therefore, I welcome it. Even if the Minister adopted what we recommended, there would be a likelihood that the circumstances would change, and if the Minister became tied to one categorisation he might find it difficult to get out of it once the Treasury had approved it. Therefore, the change that the Minister is making in the Bill is for the good.
Mr. Duckworth commented on our Report and he emphasised what we had said, that in practice N.R.D.C.'s problem had been to meet its obligation under the 1948 Act to pay its way. That ought not to be the main factor and I believe that if today's Bill, when it is an Act, does what we believe it to be intended to do, that will not happen. For that reason, it seems to me to be an admirable Bill in itself.
I have been trying to ascertain whether any other country has anything remotely similar to N.R.D.C. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), the new Economic Secretary to the Treasury and I and one or two other hon. Members from the House went last April to Vienna to an interesting conference arranged by O.E.C.D. and the Council of Europe, bringing together Parliamentarians and 1401 scientists from all over Europe and including American representation, although it was not official.
We had a most interesting address from M. Palewski, of France, who, in an extremely able speech in addressing one of the plenary sessions, uttered a truth which is of the greatest importance. To quote from a report at the time, he said:the daily life of individuals and of nations and the balance of power has been radically affected by modern scientific revolution. This revolution has also had an effect on the work of political parties. It is neither socialism nor communism which reduces the working hours but automation, it is not a given party that imposes co-operation with countries in the process of development but the fact that air travel and television have made the world much smaller.If we can approach problems like this in that sort of spirit and keep the party aspect to the minimum, so much the better.
We have considerable scope to learn how other countries go about this business. As far as I can make out, there is only one organisation that is remotely comparable to N.R.D.C. and that is the one in Germany, based at Godesberg. It has a long German name, but as I cannot pronounce it I had better not try. It seems to me to have the same conception of things. Strangely enough, if one looks at the Soviet Union and the American situation, they have nothing quite like N.R.D.C. It may be that here again we shall lead the world in the form in which we should link Government science and research to industrial exploitation of what the Government themselves discover through their own research stations.
There is one most important thing which still has to be done, and I hope that the Minister will help us in this. I made this plea before he entered the House of Commons and I hope that he will back us up in pursuing it. These subjects which arise in the sort of context in which we are speaking today are so complex that it is of the utmost importance that hon. Members of this House should be able to meet the people principally carrying out the work in the Government establishments.
The Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, with membership on an all-party basis from both Houses of Parliament, as well as people from outside, is a fine body which has clone wonderful work, but it is 1402 not quite adequate to provide the machinery which I want. My hope is that we shall still be able as separate political parties to invite people such as Mr. Duckworth to come and talk to us. I warn the Minister, if he does not know it already, that the Treasury does not like this; it thinks that there is a risk of undermining the position of Ministers. That is arrant nonsense.
This is not the same thing as a Government Department doing day-to-day business with its civil servants immediately responsible to its Ministers. This is virtually a body which is given the maximum independence to get on with a really important scientific job in which there needs to be political feeling one way or the other. As hon. Members of this House, we want to keep ourselves as well versed as possible in what is going on.
It would be unfair to the Minister, to Lord Snow, or to any other member of the Government, to expect them to be able to give us the precise expert account of what is happening. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will take up this matter again. I made some headway with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone before the end of the last Parliament and I hope very much that the Minister will back us up in the way I have asked, because I think that he would agree that it is in the interest of the country that hon. Members of this House should be able to meet those who are working in the N.R.D.C. or in any of the other Government research establishments for which he will have some responsibility.
With these words, I again welcome the introduction of the Bill, I congratulate the Minister on his maiden speech and I hope that he will always find it possible to introduce such non-controversial subjects.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
This is an excellent Bill, with an excellent purpose, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on introducing it in a competent manner. Judging by the reaction of hon. Members, I am sure that my right hon. Friend can be satisfied that he has done a good job of work.
I follow the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) in what he said about the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, which examines various 1403 aspects of pure and applied scientific research. It does an excellent job, and though it is limited in the contribution that it can make, it plays a great part in the dissemination of knowledge.
The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd) represents an area near Birmingham which has about 2,000 small industries. Very often the small manufacturer needs assistance and guidance in translating an idea into production. I have seen many small inventions which were ideal for small-scale light engineering production, but which never reached the manufacturing stage. It is in such circumstances that the N.R.D.C. could play an important part.
The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) will no doubt correct me if I am wrong, but I think that there is only one scientific research lending library in this country. I understand that plans have been made to build another one on the South Bank, but at the moment we have only one. The war ended 20 years ago, and it is a sad reflection on us that we have only one library to assist people in development and research, both pure and applied.
It is extremely costly to translate an idea into production, and I doubt whether more than a few major manufacturing companies in this country are able to market a product, starting from the development stage, as quickly as many of our competitors are able to do. They have jumped ahead of us during the last 10 years. I am not apportioning blame for this state of affairs. Perhaps it is due to our background. The Industrial Revolution began in this country, and we have certain entrenched ideas. Perhaps we are even a little old-fashioned in our outlook. The fact is, however, that Japan, the United States, and France, are much quicker in taking up inventions and developing them than we are. This is particularly true of Japan. It is surprising how quickly the Japanese develop and market a new idea. It takes them between two and three years to turn an idea into a product and sell it in the markets of the world.
I am sure that most hon. Members have had inventions submitted to them by amateur inventors. I certainly have, 1404 and during the last 10 years I have taken some of them to the Board of Trade. Some of them were extremely useful indeed, and have since been developed. It is here that the N.R.D.C., and what used to be the D.S.I.R., can help, by providing more scientific libraries, by circulating information, and by using films to help people to develop ideas. I see no reason why processes cannot be filmed. I see no reason why lectures cannot be recorded on tape and circulated to technicians in small industries. I see no reason why we should not keep in circulation all the technical and scientific developments that are taking place.
Whenever a Bill is discussed in this House, great emphasis is laid on the fact that something may be done "with the consent of the Treasury". I hope that the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely has not frightened my right hon. Friend about this aspect of the matter, because I am sure that many hon. Members will agree that the relationship between the Treasury and the other Departments of State is similar to the relationship between a man and his wife after many years of marriage. The man develops the habit of saying, "I will see whether the wife agrees", but he knows, when he says that, that she will agree. It is my experience, based on 14 years in this House, that in the end the Treasury agrees on matters such as this, and that the phrase, "with the consent of the Treasury", seems to be a cliché and nothing more.
I know that at the moment an argument is going on with the Treasury, but I am sure that "with the consent of the Treasury" will not inhibit my right hon. Friend and his Department from attaining their objectives. I am sure that if at some future date my right hon. Friend is anxious to push ahead with the development of scientific and technological activities and he finds himself in trouble with the Treasury, he will receive the support of many Members on both sides of the House.
I remember that during a debate on shipbuilding many years ago I said that I hoped the day would come when the principal Department of State was not the Treasury, but that of Science and Technology, because I believed that here lay the future of this country. This is a small island of 50 million people. Our 1405 natural resources, such as coal, are diminishing rapidly. We shall have to base our future capacity to earn our living in the world on the work of our scientists and technicians. We shall have to base it on the skilled man in industry; on the men who apply science to producing goods and services; and on selling our scientific products to the world.
Within the next couple of months we shall undertake the annual exercise of examining our national accounts. I would rather have an annual examination of what we have done in science and technology. I would rather have an annual budget of our technical and scientific achievements, than an annual budget of our fiscal progress.
Fiscal action can be taken by means of the regulator. Certain duties can be imposed, while others can be removed, but scientific and technological developments cannot be turned on and off like a tap. Scientific development and research is a continuing process, and I agree with the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely that it is wrong to employ a group of people on research and development and then take them off it while they are halfway through their task.
There is nothing more frustrating to a man than to have his train of development stepped half-way through because, for fiscal or other reasons, someone decides that he must be transferred to another job. This is the sort of thing that happens because a board of directors suddenly decides to bring someone else in to take his place. It is imperative to ensure continuity for men who are engaged in research and development. We cannot afford, at the wish of the Treasury, or of anybody else, to have men who are engaged on research and development redeployed every two or three years. We cannot afford to have them switched to some other activity. Continuity is vital.
If we want scientists and technicians to give of their best, we must give them not only an objective, but an assurance that they will not be the victims of economies which may be necessary. The State may decide that we are spending too much and not earning enough. Everyone knows that since 1957 we have been faced with an adverse balance of payments.
We dare not attempt to cut back in education, science and technological 1406 development and invention. If we do we shall seriously damage our future prospects. I dread to think what would happen if anyone was foolish enough not merely to cut back, but to perpetuate or accept a situation in which there was no advance. During the next five years we have to expand to an extraordinary degree our whole scientific educational capacity—our training colleges for teachers in engineering and technology—and I hope that we shall be able still further to increase the provision made in the Bill for advances up to £25 million, which itself is an increase from the former limit of £10 million.
I hope that our scientists and technologists, together with the N.R.D.C. will be so active in developing projects that we shall have to provide more money than we do at present. If they do that, and we spend more money in this direction, and, at the same time, get rid of the old ideas of industry, we ought not to worry too much whether or not interest is paid. The interest will come to us if the contribution that scientists and technologists have made in the past is continued and accelerated at the rate at which my right hon. Friend wants to accelerate it.
I am sure that the Bill will spark off a resurgence of British inventive genius.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
I want to add my congratulations to those extended by other hon. Members to the Minister of Technology both for bringing in the Bill and for the manner in which he did so. I hope that he will not think, because of the thinness of the House at this hour, that it is not regarded as an important Bill. It is. He explained to us the effect of a number of its Clauses, such as the increase in funds for the Corporation, the tidying up of its accountancy, the way in which to deal with its profits, and the right number of members. Those are all continuations of existing policy albeit providing for a wider use of the Corporation's powers, so that it can play a more constructive rôle.
The new development in policy is contained in Clause 4—I do not think that there is any significance in the number of the Clause—which deals with the Corporation's carrying out any project in response to representations made by a 1407 Government Department. I appreciate the reason for subsection (3), in which the Minister retains to himself the right to say "Yea" or "Nay" if another Government Department requires the Corporation to carry out some work for it, but I hope that the Minister will not interfere merely for the sake of building his empire. I hope that he will give freedom for ideas to pass direct from Government Departments to the Corporation.
The right hon. Gentleman's title is "Minister of Technology". I hope that he will keep reminding himself of that. He is not merely the "Minister of Scientific Inventions". Inventions frequently arise from the activities of the technologist—from the man at the workbench—rather than the man at the laboratory bench. They spring from the technologist rather than from the university scientist, and as that is the case the ideas are often stifled, because the technologists do not know where to go or what to do with them.
The technologist is the person who applies science. He is not the research worker. He is not familiar with research and the way in which it develops, and the way in which he can develop his ideas. I therefore hope that the right hon. Gentleman will see that there is a ready channel from the technologist to the Corporation.
In this connection, I return to Clause 4. It looks rather as if it seeks to put an obstacle in front of anyone who wants to get to the Corporation. First, there is the Government Department, and then the Ministry, before the Corporation gets to work on any new idea. The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) spoke of the dissemination of knowledge. I would use a more simple description, and talk about publicity for the channel between the man who has the idea and the Corporation who may develop it. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will give thought to that point and issue an easily readable pamphlet, document, or booklet, so that the public can understand how to reach the Corporation.
That is technology at one end of the process. There is also technology at the other end. When an idea has been developed into a prototype, to the extent that it is known how to produce something 1408 on the laboratory bench, there comes the process of technology. By that I do not mean necessarily exploiting the invention, but producing and protecting it—what has previously been called the hardware of the invention.
I can best explain this by reference to the teaching hospitals. They frequently make and develop discoveries and then find that they have to buy the hardware for their application from America, because the practical part of the process has been developed there. It has been thought out to its conclusion there whereas in this country it procedeed no further than the first idea. Will the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, remember that he is Minister of Technology both at the beginning—in getting the ideas from the technologists—and at the end of the process, in producing the technological side of the invention? I repeat that I am not referring to the commercial exploitation of the invention, but its development into the state at which it can be fully used from the technological point of view.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Arnold Gregory (Stockport, North)
I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that we are indebted to my right hon. Friend for explaining so clearly and pointedly the kind of work we have to do in research and development. He referred to the way in which this kind of research is applied in industry today and the kind of return that he would expect. He made a telling point when he referred to the structure of applied research in the development and advancement of industry.
My right hon. Friend said, first, that we expected of research that it should provide a positive and recognisable return to industry. He went on to say that we wanted to prevent industry from incurring excessive risks, so as to ensure that the work it did produced a ready return to the private manufacturer, and he then said that developments in industry—and the results of this kind of technological work—ought to be such that would ensure that this country kept pace with what was going on overseas. We emphasised that in the end we want to see this kind of applied research helping us more readily in increasing our exports.
1409 A striking point is that this affects not only the new technological industries but also the older industries such as the one in which I am experienced in the textile field. Here is an industry in a decline asking the research establishment to provide means for it to become more effective. It is the kind of work to which the Corporation is turning in trying to make industry more effective.
Recently I went to the Shirley Institute and saw the kind of work to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. We could see new machinery instead of the ancient kind of machinery known to myself and many others in industry. Today there is cardroom machinery which is automated. This is established in my own constituency in a mill which was developed and prepared for the purpose of carrying out this exercise. When we discussed the work undertaken at the Shirley Institute we found to our horror that this work was being done pretty well on a shoestring. Dr. Hill, the head of the establishment, said the kind of work done in these days would cost about £750,000 a year to enable the establishment to remain in good order and keep working. In the early 1920s the work done cost about £20,000 to £30,000 a year.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) referred to the need for more money to be put into this kind of research work. We cannot expect the National Research Development Corporation to produce the needs for the new technological industries, or to revive and make more effective the older ones, unless more money is put into the necessary research. Reverting to what is happening in textiles and applied research, we find that there is not so much a need to rely on the old vegetable fibres. The industry is looking for new means of serving and of making a contribution to the national economy. It is with the assistance of research that this may be done. We know that there are experiments being carried out with polyproplene and new man-made fibres which it is planned to absorb into the production of new textiles which could make a valuable contribution to the industry. This kind of work is going on with the co-operation of N.R.D.C. and the Shirley Institute to produce new and more effective fibres.
1410 I wish to conclude with a plea to my right hon. Friend not just to concentrate on the newer industries and demand that there be a greater inquiry into technological and new techniques, but to ensure that we can give new life to old industries so that they may enjoy all the support of research establishments.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Marples (Wallasey)
I wish to reinforce the point made by the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Gregory). At some time we ought to tackle the problem of the older and heavier industries, where there is an enormous amount of leeway to be made up. I am thinking particularly of the construction industry. The future of the nation lies not only with the science-based industries but upon the capacity of the construction industry to build the houses, hospitals and schools we need. In our design work we have somehow to ensure that the construction industry is catered for. We must make sure that the docks are modernised and new docks are built so that the present export handicaps may be overcome. Some Government will have to pay attention to these heavier and older industries.
I should like to join in the praise and congratulations which have been extended to the Minister. Although the right hon. Gentleman is an experienced speaker in many of the curious assemblies which go on from time to time among members of the party opposite, and even though the House of Commons is tolerant and friendly to a maiden speaker, it is still always an ordeal for anyone to have to make a maiden speech. I well remember making mine 20 years ago. I must confess that it was not one of my best speeches, and I finished in the Smoke Room saying, "Thank heaven" and asking for a double whisky, which I had, and it did me a lot of good.
With the Minister and with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg)—those two rumbustious and controversial characters—opening the debate, I thought we should never achieve the completely agreeable atmosphere which we did achieve at about four o'clock this afternoon. I almost needed another 1411 double whisky to get over my astonishment. I had imagined that with two quiet Members of the House of Commons, like the Parliamentary Secretary and myself, to wind up this debate, we should be left to bring calm to the proceedings.
I wish particularly to join in what I thought was a gracious tribute by the Minister to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath). The Minister was extremely fair, and I am sure that hon. Members on this side of the House appreciate his fairness and impartiality. In its Report of 30th June, 1964, the National Research Development Corporation referred to my right hon. Friend's statement in the House of Commons on 28th July, as did the Minister. The Report went on to say:It is significant that the need for an expansion of the Corporation's activities appears to be generally acceptable and politically uncontroversial.I should like to echo that. We on this side of the House will do all we can, we shall give a blessing to this Bill and see that its provisions are put into effect in an efficient and speedy way.
I was surprised at the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) when he compared the relationship between the Treasury and Government Departments with that between a man and his wife where the man would say, "I will see if my wife agrees"—he knowing that the wife would automatically agree. The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East, with his impeccable logic and passionate rhetoric, has often persuaded me to go from one Division Lobby to the other, but my faith in him has been shattered today. That may be his experience, but it is not mine, and I am bound to say that his knowledge of matrimony seems rather like Sam Weller's knowledge of London, which was "extensive and peculiar".
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman is taking over what is quite a good and healthy going concern and expanding it. We shall back it, because it was from this side of the House that the foundations were laid, in the same way as we took over from Sir Stafford Cripps. That often happens when Governments change. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) surprised me when he 1412 said that Members of Parliament were being impeded in their attempts to gather knowledge because of the attitude of the Treasury. During my term of office, both at the Post Office and at the Ministry of Transport, I went out of my way to say to all parties who wished, for example, to have Dr. Beeching to explain rail policy, or some other member of the nationalised industry to speak to them, that I should be delighted to agree. I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House ought to have things explained objectively and be able to absorb as much knowledge as possible from the experts.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I think that my right hon. Friend has misunderstood my point. I know that it has been common practice for Ministers to allow all-party delegations to go to various places. I am asking that people should be allowed to talk to individual party committees.
§ Mr. Marples
That is exactly what I am saying. For example, when Dr. Beeching had the railway reshaping plan, he was asked by both main parties in this House to talk to them. I was delighted that he should explain the plan to the party opposite and to my own back benchers in the Government of the day. It was that which I had in mind. I do not think that I misunderstood my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely, but I was surprised that any obstacle was placed in his way.
There is one other point which I should like to make about the Report, which I have here but which I shall not weary the House with. I have been going through these reports very closely, and I am a little disturbed about one or two things. One is the way in which they refer to their public relations. I think that the N.R.D.C. should be more widely known than it is at the moment. I have been going round industry lately and asking a number of leading industrialists if they knew the objects of the N.R.D.C. and if they knew what it did. The did not know what it did. If one looks at the 1962 Report and those for 1963 and 1964, all of which I have here, it is clear that the N.R.D.C. itself recognises that this is a problem. In 1963, for example, they said:… we are not satisfied that industry has a sufficient awareness of the Corporation and of 1413 the ways in which it can help firms in furthering the development of inventions of national importance, and in making available for licensing the inventions in its portfolio.I agree, and I think that we in this House ought to help all we can to see that they get the necessary publicity.
I should like to make a suggestion or two. Would it not be possible to get some of the activities of the N.R.D.C. on television? Of all the things which can bring home to the public the value of the N.R.D.C. television is the most important. This is something which ought to be explained by word of mouth and by pictures and film as well. It is a difficult thing to get across. The information might be put into a play of some sort and then produced on television. I would not go as far as to say that it should appear in" Coronation Street", but if it did it would get a wide audience. I hope that some suggestion of this sort will be considered by the Government.
We have been congratulating ourselves all afternoon, but there are others who deserve congratulation. My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely mentioned Mr. Duckworth. I agree with all he said, but I think, also, that we ought to thank the members of the N.R.D.C. for the services which they give to the country, services which are unpaid. They are very busy men. As members of the National Research Development Corporation they have great knowledge of industry and commerce. There are bankers on the Corporation and the chairman, Sir William Black, is extremely experienced. I am sure that the whole House would join with me in thanking them for what they have done.
Another point which was mentioned, I think by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd), was the question of the partnership between industry and Government. I am quite certain that this is the right way to tackle this problem. I am equally certain that with industry, as with private individuals, there should be a reward for success and efficiency and that there should be a penalty for failure and muddle. Unless the private firm has some sort of stake in it whereby it can make money if it does well and lose it if it does badly, we shall never be as efficient as we want to be.
I intend some day in the far distant future, when I retire—many years off 1414 yet—to write a book on the nationalised industries, because I have had a great deal of experience with them. What I find is that one of the chief reasons that they are difficult to operate and to get to move fast is because they do not have the deterrent of Carey Street if they fail. The Exchequer is behind them with unlimited resources and everybody, management and men, think that it is a milch cow and that they only have to knock at the door to get the money. They usually get it, although there is a long argument in the process. Shakespeare said:Security is mortals' chiefest enemy",and that is what I believe. Therefore, I am glad to see that they are going to join in partnership between industry and Government and also that they are going to try to balance one year with another. In this respect, the Minister has produced a compromise arrangement so that planning one year with another will not be interpreted with rigidity in appropriate cases. I think that this compromise is a very useful one.
I come now to the development projects mentioned in the various reports, one of which is circulated each year. I must say that it is difficult, sometimes, to trace through the progress of a particular project. I hope that attention will be given to this. For example, brooding on this, I looked at the Report for the year ending 1962. On page 23 there is a description of the organo metallic compounds, and it goes on to say:Quite wide dissemination of the results of this work to the appropriate sections of the chemical industry in this country and abroad has already taken place but further efforts along these lines are continuing. Support for the investigation of the chemistry of these materials is being received from D.S.I.R.I thought that I would see how this had gone on in 1963. In the Report for 1963, there is no mention of it. I think that the National Research Development Corporation ought to have produced a follow-up in 1963 on this subject. If it is a success they should say so. If it is in the pending stage and development is going on, they should say so. If it is a failure they should say so. I should like them to say something, even if, in the words of the old song, "It is only goodbye".
Another flaw is in the way in which they present these reviews—I hope that 1415 this is a constructive suggestion—of development projects in appendix II. Another is in the Report for 1962 on page 23, on the phototypesetting machine, where the most that is said is:It is expected that the experimental prototype will be capable of demonstration by the end of 1962.The Reports for the two following years, 1963 and 1964, do not mention the experimental prototype. I think that subsequent reports should be linked up with preceding reports so that we can form a picture of how a project develops through the years.
There is one other point which I should like to mention, and that is that in the 1964 Report—
§ Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd
I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend when he is dealing with the presentation of the reports and making valuable points. Would he, and the Minister, think that this body might well imitate some of the other public bodies which have been making their annual reports a little more interesting with some illustrations and so on? The Colonial Office, in certain Colonies, has done some interesting work of this kind and modern company reports are presented in this way. They do not have to be too glossy, but I think that this helps.
§ Mr. Marples
I certainly would welcome that, because I think that they are doing valuable work. I am not criticising their work, but we ought to know more about it. The difficulty is that it is the Stationery Office which produces these reports as a White Paper and Statement of Accounts. I found the utmost difficulty with the Treasury in getting more money to present reports in a respectable and reasonable manner, easily understood and intelligibly followed. The only case in which this was done was the Buchanan Report, and even in that case it was a Herculean effort to get them to do it.
There is one other point which I should like the Minister of State to the Board of Trade to answer or at any rate to consider. If he cannot answer it this evening, I would understand, and perhaps we can put down a Question about it. On page 9 of the report for the year ending 30th June, 1964, at the top of the page headed 1416 "D.S.I.R./N.R.D.C. Joint Development Committee", it says:The Committee was set up in 1958 'to examine development problems of common interest, and to advise the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and the National Research Development Corporation on the way in which the proposals for particular development contracts should be handled'.The Committee in continuing its work during the year considered a number of matters of interest to both organisations, including over 25 potential development projects, and certain surveys of various technological fields".Does the committee disappear? I want to know whether this committee which, according to the Report, has done good work, will continue.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield mentioned some erudite research and development in respect of the fuel cell, and the Atlas project to the moon is using the principles laid down in the fuel cell. I agree with him that many scientific things are going on. One thing which worries me and the average person in the street more than anything else—and this has been mentioned in the Report for the last three years—also causes industry and this country perhaps the greatest losses of all. I refer to the need for a cure for the common cold. It seemes odd that in this scientific age we have all these things being shot off into space, we have transistors which can be seen only through a magnifying glass, and we have micro-miniaturisation leading to a fantastic reduction in size, as in the parts of a computer, and yet we still cannot cure the common cold. I hope that research will concentrate on this, because industry loses an enormous number of man-days a year through people having colds.
I have a selfish interest to declare, because I am prone to catch a cold when I leave the House of Commons. It is very heated here during the debates, and we go straight out into the cold. Very seldom do I seem to have an overcoat with me. I am continually catching cold. For the last three years I have been taking injections, but the curious thing is that I have had more colds with the injections than I had without them. Every time I have a cold the Whips inquire what my majority is.
I believe that there is collaboration taking place between the Medical Research Council, the Glaxo Group and 1417 others, and that they have a private company in which the Corporation and industrial collaborators are shareholders. Could we press them to concentrate on this research, which is of great importance to the country?
The right hon. Gentleman made some points with which I am in profound agreement, and I should like to register that agreement. I think it right that the Government research establishments should assist industry in scientific endeavours. Organisationally, it is a problem of communication between science and industry, and it is a difficult problem. We have Government establishments such as Aldermaston, and there sometimes 100 scientists and technicians are covering a very wide range of knowledge. They have a broader field of knowledge than in any other similar establishment in the country.
Secondly, they have a committee structure which enables them to bring scientists in from other spheres if they want to do so. If there is a problem in industry, they are able to bring a wide range of talents to bear in solving that problem. This broadens the scope of their help to industry, and they can keep on helping industry rather than concentrate only on defence.
If they do this, then industry must play its part, too. I believe that some of the research associations are sometimes too weak and are considered by the individual firms to be too weak. My hon. Friend the Member for Horncastle (Sir J. Maitland) made a suggestion about cross-fertilisation which has reached him from the Institute of Patentees and Inventors. He will pursue that, but if the Minister can say anything about it in winding up the debate I know that my hon. Friend will be delighted.
I come to the end of a short and non-controversial speech. The Ministry of Technology has produced two Bills. The first was a machinery Bill in which it took powers to take under the control of the Minister a number of establishments, associations and so on. The second Bill is a money Bill, which is very necessary because the money would have run out in 1968, 20 years after 1948. In 1968 it would have had no money to carry on.
We on this side of the House have backed both Bills. We know quite well 1418 that in the job which the right hon. Gentleman has taken on he will be judged more by what he does in that field administratively and by what success he has there than by what he says or what legislation he brings forward. I do not believe that he will have to bring much legislation forward. I think that, very wisely, in the first 100 dynamic days the right hon. Gentleman has made no pronouncement such as those which some of his colleagues have made, and he has not fallen into the trap into which they have fallen.
We on this side of the House will judge him by what he does and tries to do. If we think that he is doing the right thing, we shall certainly back him, and we shall certainly say so. If we think that he is doing the wrong thing, we shall say so, too. As Dr. Johnson said:We cannot pry into the hearts of men but their actions are open to observation.We shall watch the right hon. Gentleman's actions. He must, of course, be prepared sometimes for more opposition than he has had in other fields of endeavour. He may meet difficulty. He may find a sticker at the back of his car saying, "Cousins must go". He must bear that bravely. It is one of the crosses which we have to bear. I hope that he will not lose any sleep over it. Of course, he is a much more robust character than someone with the sort of delicate nature I have myself.
This issue is of crucial importance to the country. We on this side of the House are wholeheartedly behind the modernisation of our industry. Nobody ever had a rougher passage than I had in trying to modernise the railways system. I had five tough, battling years in the House and outside trying to modernise our railways system. Everybody wants it modernised—but not their branch line, somebody else's. The right hon. Gentleman will probably have his difficulties, but if he is trying to do the right thing and if his heart is in the right place, we shall back him. If not, we shall oppose him.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. George Darling)
My right hon. Friend is very grateful for the unanimous welcome which has been given by the House on this issue and the gracious terms in which the welcome has been 1419 expressed. I think that this is the last time that he will get such an easy passage, because I do not think that there are many such pieces of legislation which can be brought forward. I think that this piece is unique.
I should like to join in the congratulations which have been given to my right hon. Friend on making such a successful maiden speech, and here I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) that it is best to get over both hurdles at once, if one is to be called to the Dispatch Box, rather than to have two of these embarrassing and somewhat difficult occasions to meet.
I think that it is right that my right hon. Friend should acknowledge, as I do, the work of the previous Administration in the preparation of the Bill. As the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) knows very well, the Board of Trade is one of the Departments which have this kind of continuing activity. All that is needed is a Government with drive and determination to put forward the ideas in the first place, and I will note for the record where the idea of the National Research Development Corporation arose.
One or two points have been raised in the debate. In view of the unanimous welcome given by the House, I will deal with questions which have been raised today rather than go into points which can be better dealt with in Committee. The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone asked, in view of the proposals made in the Trend Report, why we had chosen to set up our technology organisation and our scientific organisation in this way rather than have one corporation to take over both. It is really a question of whether amalgamation or federation, so to speak, is the best solution. There will be the closest co-operation in both spheres and we consider that this arrangement will work very well indeed.
I suggest, after my short Board of Trade experience, that in view of the tremendous need to stimulate scientific development and the application of scientific invention in industry—the need for a really important technological advance—the subject we are discussing has become so vital that it is worth while giving 1420 the task to a Ministry which has nothing else to do but perform the task properly, although I agree that there must be the closest co-operation with the sponsoring Departments which are associated with industrial development.
§ Mr. Hogg
That was not the point I was seeking to put. Assuming that the Government are right to have a Minister of Technology and that the consequence of that is that the industrial heart of D.S.I.R. and N.R.D.C. is under that Minister, why do they not go back to Trend to amalgamate those two in a single corporation?
§ Mr. Darling
Perhaps I am attempting to squeeze the two aspects of the matter too closely together in my remarks. We believe, and this has been fully discussed, that pure science which is carried on in the universities and other establishments should be left there. We equally believe that we can pick up, with the closest co-operation, the other side: the application of science. We therefore think that this organisation will work and we wish to see it succeed.
The right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) in giving full support to the Bill, said that he would help us in Committee to knock it into shape where hon. Members thought that that needed to be done. I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's support because, as the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) will understand, I do not want to be involved in two disputatious Bills one after the other. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Member for Wallasey and his hon. Friends will help me on the first so that we can get this Measure going fairly soon.
The right hon. Member for Wallasey also referred to publicity for the N.R.D.C., and I can assure him that we thoroughly agree with the sentiments he expressed. There must indeed be far more publicity given throughout industry to what is being done by the N.R.D.C., to the opportunities available for industrial management as a result of the services of the Corporation, and to how those services might be useful to them. In this connection, there is also the question of publications of a more popular character, rather than the official type of report which the N.R.D.C. now makes. It will probably be convenient for hon. Members to discuss this 1421 aspect when we come to Clause 2(7) in Committee.
I will not take up the point which the right hon. Member for Wallasey made about the common cold. His proposition, that a lot more attention should be paid to it, has my sympathy because, like him, I find that as soon as I start travelling, in trains and so on, after leaving the House I am apt to succumb to the common cold. In fact, I can feel one coming on now.
The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing), who I regret is not in his place, raised the question of civilian development contracts and the Service Departments. This is an important matter, and the intention of Clause 4 is to provide for civil contracts because these involve commercial negotiations and are, therefore, appropriate to the N.R.D.C. If the Service Departments wish to place defence contracts they can, but the N.R.D.C. is unlikely to handle a purely defence contract.
The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd) made some interesting comments about the development of fuel cells and energy conversion. He spoke of the great job which has already been done by the N.R.D.C. We understand from the Corporation that this matter is being studied by Energy Conversion Limited, in which, as he knows, the N.R.D.C. is interested. My right hon. Friend is also keenly interested in this matter and I can assure the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield that it will be followed up with all the force and energy we can devote to it.
I was interested in his reference to being requested by the late Sir Winston Churchill to deal with fog dispersal at airports. This is a line of thought which we might well consider, because when we think back to the development of, say, the tank—with which Sir Winston was associated—and other inventions we realise that we can now always begin by saying, "Nothing is impossible". We can get rid of the cautious types who say, "We cannot make further progress. Nothing can be done. All the technical arguments are against it." We can now say with all the force of past experience, "Nothing is impossible. Let us get on with the job".
§ Mr. Darling
I see no reason why we cannot apply that sort of thinking even to the common cold. While on the subject, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield spoke about medical research. I appreciate that he is interested in this subject. He asked for more co-operation with the Medical Research Council. I have an interest here, because for the last five years I have been on the Executive Committee of The Fund for Research into Poliomyelitis and other Crippling Diseases. The Fund has a considerable amount of money, and since it does not need to spend a great deal now on research to find a polio vaccine, it is turning its activities to other crippling diseases, particularly to medical engineering for people who are crippled and who it is trying to help to lead normal lives.
When projects now come before us we must consider them and ask, "Is this a cranky idea? Is there any merit in it? How much should be spent on it? Should we give the inventor the money he needs to develop it and, having done that, will it pay off? What will the losses be? How, if the idea is successful, can we persuade private industry to become involved and so make it a commercial proposition? "These are difficult question to answer and we must consider them when discussing the Bill.
I agree that there must inevitably be some financial discipline. However, we must assume that if the Corporation is to do its job properly it must not be too cautious. It must sometimes go in for things which may seem impossible. For this reason we must make provision for losses which may arise from this sort of enterprise and initiative.
The hon. Member for Horncastle (Sir J. Maitland) summed up his remarks by asking a question which, I am pleased to tell him, my right hon. Friend has enabled me to answer. My right hon. Friend will be glad to discuss the problems of the small inventor and how he can be helped as soon as arrangements can be made for a meeting.
The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) paid tributes to the members of the N.R.D.C. and to Mr. Duckworth. My hon. Friends and I wish to be associated with them. They 1423 are not only doing a fine job in the tasks they are requested to perform but they often operate on their own initiative. To use an American expression, their initiative goes beyond the bounds of duty.
The hon. Member spoke of the importance of the Government seeing that people were retained on a project until it was ended, so that they might see things through. That is very important, and my right hon. Friend asks me to say that he will take it into consideration. As the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) knows, I have had some experience in this respect. When we were dealing with the Weights and Measures Bill I tried, in Opposition, to put down a number of very constructice Amendments that would have made that Measure very much better, only to find that the people who had prepared it had disappeared. They had been promoted, and a completely new group of civil servants in the Board of Trade were looking after the Measure. It was an excellent Bill, and those who had prepared it probably deserved their promotion, but I wish that they had been around to see that project through to its completion. That is an important point, as also was the hon. Member's observation that there must be no politics in research jobs. That point is very clearly taken.
The intention in appointing the two extra members is to broaden the scope of the N.R.D.C. Their selection is very much under consideration, and it must be associated with this broadening of the scope. Before making any public pronouncements, my right hon. Friend wants to look a little more closely at all the aspects.
My right hon. Friend is also looking into the hon. Member's suggestion that hon. Members should be allowed to meet more of the people engaged in Government research. There are difficulties in this, but my right hon. Friend agrees that in this rapidly changing field, with technical and scientific processes coming along all the time and quickly changing our lives in many respects, there is a real need for scientists, technicians and politicians to meet more frequently to discuss what is going on. It is largely a question of finding the right kind of organisation in which such meetings can take place.
1424 My hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) made some excellent suggestions which my right hon. Friend will note, especially the proposal, made also by other hon. Members, for disseminating more technical information, and doing it in a more popular way.
The useful observations made by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) on the organisation involved in the Bill will be noted, as will be the important role of the technologists in the production of ideas and inventions on the one hand and also of making sure that they are properly carried out, and that there is the right kind of equipment to do the job. The hon. Member also spoke of the need for publicity on how inventors can get to the N.R.D.C. These ideas were also taken up by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Gregory).
My right hon. Friend has said publicly on two or three occasions that we must tackle the older and well-established industries as well as giving help to the newer ones which are coming on, so that we can give the well-established industries a new life of active progress if there is a field of future development in which they can play an important part.
I understand that about 43,000 patents are taken out every year. Some of these are for small developments which, in themselves, probably do not contribute a great deal to our technical progress. Others may be impossible to carry out. A great number of them are of real importance to industrial development but, judging from the figures, many of them stop at the point where they are registered as patents because no one is interested in taking them up in order to find out whether they can make a contribution to our well-being in the industrial world. I understand that the petrochemicals industry produces about one new invention every day, but the difficulty lies in development, and in how we use the resources of the industry to make the ideas worth while.
We have these matters under consideration, and my right hon. Friend is well informed on them. We do not want any attempt by hon. Members opposite to create demarcation disputes. The cooperation we have between the various 1425 Government Departments will make absolutely certain that whatever good work comes forward—and plenty of good results will come from the Ministry of Technology—there will be, on the part of the various Government Departments—the sponsoring Departments, as it were—the fullest co-operation to see that industry, and technical progress generally, benefits from what is done.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Wallasey that in this Bill, and in its continuing development, so to speak, we are perpetuating that extremely useful partnership between Government, technologists and industry upon which I am sure all hon. Members will agree the future prosperity and well being of the country now depend.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).