HC Deb 20 January 1965 vol 705 cc323-9
Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby (Dorset, West)

I beg to move Amendment No. 8, in page 3, line 21, to leave out: and the National Oceanographic Council". My object in putting this Amendment down is really twofold. First, on Second Reading we had practically no reference to oceanography, and there was no attempt that I could find to justify this change. Secondly, as this Council performs a very useful task, it seems only fair that someone should pay tribute to the work which it has done.

Oceanography may not sound quite so romantic as space travel, but it is none the less an extremely important subject. As little interest was aroused by the book "The Sea Around Us", but the fact remains that, although the sea covers such a very large proportion of the surface of this planet, we know extraordinary little about it compared with what we know about the land surface.

I have another reason for moving the Amendment. For five years I was chairman of this Council. It was not a particularly onerous task. It consisted, in part, of presiding once a year over a very learned Council and, in greater part, more frequently, of badgering the Treasury for the necessary money to carry on this very valuable work. Not only the Treasury was involved, as we used to receive large contributions from overseas, from Commonwealth countries such as Australia, for instance. Before this change was proposed, was there consultation with those countries which made their valuable contributions over so many years?

With the somewhat limited resources at the disposal of the institute, we were able to set up a headquarters at Wormley, where they still are, and the second question I put is: is the work to go on there or not?

We began with a rather old ship, "Discovery", for the very important research work which is done all over the world, but a new ship has now been built, and we definitely need an assurance that she is to be fully utilised and that the kind of research work that she can do is not to be cut back in any way.

This brings me to my next question: are we, as a maritime Power, spending enough on oceanography? We read in the newspapers of the effort which has been put into the work in Canada, the effort to persuade more graduates to take it up, the building of more ships, and so on. We learn also, not altogether surprisingly, that the Soviet Union is doing a great deal of oceanographic research.

On a comparison of the official figures of what we and other countries spend on oceanography, we do not come out very well. We spend £2,170,000 a year, the United States spends no less than £20 million, France spends £1½ million and West Germany—not what one might regard as a maritime nation—£1¾ million This is not very large, whatever way we look at it, and considering that we are a maritime nation I think that, as a percentage of total Government expenditure on civil scientific research, it does not show us up in a very good light. I hope that this new change will put that right, rather than have the reverse result.

9.45 p.m.

I believe that the record of the institute has been a good one up to now. It has had very close naval ties and though, at first sight, that may seem illogical, it has, in fact, been of great use to it. It had naval work given it to do when it was short of work for the research aspect, for example. The ties with the Hydrographer of the Navy have been functional ties which, I am sure, have resulted in the collection of a great deal of information.

I think that before this Committee, as it were, winds up the Council, it should pay a tribute to the staff of the institute, and particularly to Dr. Deacon, who has been with them for so long. I believe that a great deal of interesting data has been collected, information about the ocean deeps, information about currents—it may be that the whale marking project was not entirely successful—and information about plankton. Indeed, high tribute has been paid elsewhere to their work, although during the passage of the Bill we have paid scant attention to it. There is a tribute from the United States Academy that it is the outstanding centre for oceanographers. I hope that it will go out from this Committee tonight that we think they have done a good job.

I am not entirely happy about this new name—the National Environment Research Council. I suppose that it is the best that can be devised. I should hardly have regarded the depths of the ocean as a natural environment for the Parliamentary Secretary or, indeed, for any of is. I should have thought it a very unnatural environment indeed. The other thing which I am not quite happy about is this bedfellow which it has been given, in the Nature Conservancy. I must confess that I do not have the highest of opinions of the Nature Conservancy and I am worried lest this should in any way restrict the valuable work—much more valuable work, as I believe—which is being carried out in oceanography.

I should like in reply an assurance that the work is to continue unhampered, that the proposed change will not be a cloak for any particular cut. I also hope that a bit more of an effort will be made than has bee I made in the past to give the fullest publicity to the very valuable work which is being done.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Department of Education and Science (Mr. James Boyden)

I am sure that the whole Committee is most grateful to the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) for raising the subject of the National Oceanographic Council and for paying his tribute to it. If I may pay tribute to his five years as chairman of the Council—even though, perhaps, he did not find it onerous—he has shown here tonight his continued interest in it. It is a subject which, I think, would arouse enthusiasm in the minds of all good English people who like the sea.

I am sure that the hon. Member would not want me to commit the Government to any specific development in relation to oceanography at the moment, but I can assure him that this particular rearrangement will have no adverse effect on the subject in which he is interested. I should have thought that putting oceanography in with N.E.R.C. and developing the whole field of environmental studies was bound to be for the advantage of oceanography. In the general reorganisation of science I think that this will be to the advantage and not to the disadvantage of the subject.

As the hon. Member knows, the National Oceanographic Council is a large body. It represents wide interests—not only United Kingdom Departments and scientific interests but Commonwealth Governments. It works mainly through the Executive Committee, which administers the National Institute of Oceanography. The finances for this have come from several different sources. They have come from the Navy Department and from the Development Commission. University research grants in oceanography have come from D.S.I.R. It is thought—and the previous Government thought this, too—that this arrangement is cumbersome and unsatisfactory.

The Advisory Council on Scientific Policy accepted the recommendation of one of its committees, the Sir William Slater Committee, to put oceanographic research into the Natural Environment Research Council, and, also, that it should take over the interests in N.I.O. This recommendation was endorsed by the Trend Committee. The Navy Department did not have any objection to it and, in fact, the Navy Department will have an assessor on the oceanographic committee, although not necessarily on N.E.R.C.

I think that there has been general agreement on the fact that this reorganisation will be helpful to oceanographic research and not harmful to it. I cannot be expected to give a pledge that particular work will be expanded, but I can assure the hon. Member that this work will be in no way diminished by this piece of reorganisation. I therefore hope that he is prepared to withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Cornwall, North)

Before the Minister concludes, will he reply to my hon. Friend's question about whether there has been consultation with the Commonwealth?

Mr. Boyden

N.O.C. has its annual meeting next week and the proposals will be formally explained to it. The Commonwealth Governments are represented on it. But there was no consultation with the Commonwealth Governments during the time of the previous Government and there has been no consultation by this Government since.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

I do not wish to detain the Committee, but I wish to put one point to the Parliamentary Secretary. The Council is to be wound up and to become part of the Natural Environment Research Council. In the definition of the work of the Natural Environment Research Council, in Clause 1, nothing is said about the oceans. The Council is to be a body established for the carrying out of research in the earth sciences and ecology—which is the relationship between the human being and the environment. Nothing is said about the sea.

This has always been an important subject in this country, where oceanographic research has been a great tradition from the days of Captain Cooke, Sir James Ross, Captain Shackleton, Captain Scott and others. I hope that the fact that these things are not mentioned does not mean that the work will be hindered by the tight drafting of the Act.

Mr. Boyden

I can give the hon. Member an assurance on that point.

Mr. Wingfield Digby

In view of the Minister's assurances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Boyden

I beg to move Amendment No. 9, in page 3, line 27, after "sections" to insert "84".

The effect of the Amendment is to place a duty on the Nature Conservancy to have due regard to the needs of agriculture and forestry when exercising their functions under the National Parks Act. When the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) spoke of the need for the Nature Conservancy to co-operate with the Ministry of Agriculture, I had in mind that this Amendment would have that effect.

I have something of the same difficulty in my constituency. Upper Teesdale has very rare flora, particularly blue gentians, and there is a conflict of interest between those who want work in the building of large reservoirs and nature conservancy interests. The nature conservationists feels that the rare flora and rare terrain would be spoiled by the building of reservoirs. But that is only by way of illustration. The Amendment is a very simple one and makes sure that this consultation will take place.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Graham Page

I beg to move Amendment No. 11, in page 4, line 10, after "instrument", to insert: (which shall be laid before Parliament and shall be subject to annulment by resolution of either House of Parliament)".

The Chairman

It may be for the convenience of the Committee to take, at the same time, Amendments Nos. 12, 15 and 19.

Mr. Graham Page

On a point of order, Dr. King. May I ask whether, if we find the answers to our Amendments not very satisfactory, we shall have an opportunity of voting on Amendments that we group with this one?

The Chairman

I believe that there is one Amendment which the hon. Gentleman would wish to press to a Division. Is that so?

Mr. Graham Page

Subject to what may be said from the Government Front Bench, I would wish, Dr. King, to press Amendment No. 15 to a Division.

These four Amendments deal with the form in which delegated legislation under the Bill may be exercised. Perhaps I might preface my remarks by saying that the form in which delegated legislation is to be made is decided by the Bill itself. It comes perhaps as rather a shock to some of us when we refer to the Statutory Instrument Act, 1946, to find that that Act does not say that every Statutory Instrument should come before the House in any form at all. Statutory Instruments may be made without being laid before the House. It is for the Bill itself to provide the procedure for those Statutory Instruments.

In regard to the case dealt with by Amendment No. 11, subsection (6) refers to a Statutory Instrument. It does not direct that it shall be laid, it does not direct that it shall be subject to annulment by the House, and it does not direct that it shall be subject to any affirmative Resolution procedure. In fact, the House need never know about it. It need never come before the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments. Except for the vigilance of a private Member, it need never be known.

But what can be achieved by that Statutory Instrument is the transfer of ministerial functions. According to the early part of Clause 3(6) as it stands, the Minister can transfer property, rights, liabilities or obligations from a research council to a research council, from a research council to a Government Department or the other way round, or even from a Government Department to a Government Department merely by a Statutory Instrument which will not come before the House.

Amendment No. 12 deals with the latter part of subsection (6). There the Minister would be empowered to transfer to any research council or Government Department the responsibility for any activities in relation to scientific research. This is the transfer of ministerial functions. It could be by an Order of which the House will know nothing, because the directions mentioned in the latter part of subsection (6) need never come before the House and need never be considered by the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments. The Secretary of State may order the transfer of the responsibility for any activities in relation to scientific research which may be carried on by a Government Department.

It being Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

Committee report Progress.