HC Deb 21 February 1967 vol 741 cc1429-31
Q7. Mr. Hastings

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a further statement on the terms of reference and purpose of the Central Advisory Council on Science and Technology.

Q9. Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

asked the Prime Minister what powers the Central Advisory Council, under the chairmanship of the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government, will have with regard to military research.

The Prime Minister

The Advisory Council will be concerned with advising the Government on the overall distribution of our scientific and technological effort, in the private as well as the public sector and in both the defence and the civil fields.

It will consider how our resources for research and development for defence can be used to benefit civil technology, together with the implications of any such measures for our defence programme.

Mr. Hastings

I am grateful to the Prime Minister for that reply. Does he agree that too much scientific work is going on in isolation in Government establishments at the moment, and that there is a need to relate scientific work progress to markets and production methods? Will he make sure that the Central Advisory Council does not neglect this aspect?

The Prime Minister

I am sure that the Council will not neglect it. I do not think there is much evidence of isolated work in Government establishments, but the need to relate pure scientific research and, indeed, technological research to the need of overseas markets was one of the main reasons for setting up the Ministry of Technology to see that science is applied more fruitfully to industry.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the cost of military research has now risen to the fantastic figure of £270 million a year? Will he ask the Central Advisory Council to consider whether the strength of Britain in the world would not be better promoted if some of this money were devoted to civil research for the export industries?

The Prime Minister

I do not think it is the duty of the Council to go into questions quite so wide as those mentioned by my right hon. Friend, but he will have seen the figures I have given in this House of the very substantial swing of resources from defence research to civil and technological research over the last three years, which has been a continuation and intensification of the policy which was already growing before we came into office.

Mr. Hogg

Is it not a fact that to save money on research is only to waste it on obsolete technology and useless manpower?

The Prime Minister

This is often the case, and one of the biggest problems which came up at the Productivity Conference was that far too few firms are using in their productivity methods, policies and technology well established and applied by the best firms.

Mr. Woodburn

Is my right hon. Friend aware that at Farnborough and many Government establishments there is a continual exchange of scientific study between private and public industry, but in some cases public industry is not aware of the great advantages to be gained from the research establishments of the Government? Could something be done to bring these two closer together?

The Prime Minister

If my right hon. Friend has examples of public or private industry not knowing what facilities are available, I should be glad to have them, and so would some of my right hon. Friends who are concerned. It is certainly the case that Farnborough and other establishments for many years have undertaken much research for private firms, and private firms have taken the initiative.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Would the Prime Minister consider, before this Council goes into the private sector at all, whether it would not perhaps be better employed in examining the methods adopted by Government Departments concerned with the scientific effort of the nation?

The Prime Minister

No, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. I think that we all agree that, despite the fact that so many of our firms lead the world in their fields, whether in science or in the application of science, there is a very big gap which we have to overcome. This is one of the most important tasks of the Ministries concerned. What this Council is trying to do is to advise the Government on how the limited funds—and they are limited—for research—civil, defence, pure science, technological—should be best allocated in the interests of the nation.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Will the Prime Minister say whether the purpose mention in Question No. 7 includes directing that modern scientific research should be used for the benefit of the trade, industry and commerce of this country, of which Dounreay experimental station is an example?

The Prime Minister

Dounreay is obviously a very important part of this, though there are others as well. The Government's policy on Dounreay was stated in the House a year ago.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. The Prime Minister, to answer Question No. 10.