§ 3.41 p.m.
§ Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)
I hope that the House will feel that this is an appropriate day for us to discuss civil science. The events of the last 24 hours have made us all feel very humble. The achievements of the Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, "Buzz" Aldrin and Michael Collins are beyond praise. They are now the senior names in the annals of human exploration.
We in this House—and I believe that I carry the whole House with me—salute them today, this day of their final success. We salute them for their courage, for their endurance, for their professionalism and, above all, for their own personal modesty.
I believe that they have added a new dimension to man's long journey from the slime of primaeval poverty and ignorance to higher things. My hope is that our adventures beyond this planet—whether men on the moon or the penetration of the extra-galactic spheres by radio telescopes—will have a catalytic effect upon the conduct of our terrestrial affairs.
It may be that the returning astronauts will tell us that Tennyson was right when he wrote this:Hesper—Venus—were we native to that splendour or in Mars,We should see the globe we groan in, fairest of their evening stars.Could we dream of wars and carnage, craft and madness, lust and spite,Roaring London, raving Paris, in that point of peaceful light.I return to our debate. Our object is to have a wide-ranging discussion over the whole area of civil science. If my memory serves me right, this will he the first debate of this nature to take place during 1238 the course of this Parliament. I trust that the whole House will agree that we were right to use an Opposition Supply day to correct this unfortunate omission
We decided to limit the debate to civil science, thereby excluding defence science. We realise, of course, that a substantial part of our national research and development effort is devoted to defence requirements, but we feel that defence science deserves a full day's debate on its own. Furthermore, we have the admirable report on defence research, produced by the Select Committee on Science and Technology, and published earlier this year.
I have no doubt that Departments will in due course present to the House their considered replies to that report. I trust that subsequently the House will be given by the Leader of the House the opportunity to debate that report and the Government's replies. I would not wish today to trespass into that debate. Nevertheless, I recognise the importance of defence research to the totality of our national effort in science and technology.
As the opening speaker in the debate, my remarks must inevitably be in the nature of a general survey of the field. I start with the general proposition that science and technology are now in the mainstream of national life. Unfortunately, this is not always sufficiently acknowledged in our public discussions, whether in the Press or in the House of Commons. I must confess, too, that another place seems in these matters to be more "with it" than we are in the House of Commons.
The influence of science and technology upon our national life will continue to grow, and grow rapidly. The accelerating pace of scientific advance offers immense prospects for raising both the material standard of living and also the worth of living to levels previously undreamt of. But it also offers greater opportunities than ever before for sheer destruction, for the suppression of individual liberty, for the establishment of efficient tyrannies, for the wanton abuse of our natural environment, and for rapid deterioration in the worth of living.
If we look round the world today and extrapolate, George Orwell's "1984" is not an entirely remote nightmare. It all depends upon how the fruits of science are used. Science, the acquisition of 1239 further knowledge about how our natural universe is constructed and how it works is morally and politically neutral. As Sir Solly Zuckermann recently observed:What we have to realise … is that in a world of conflicting power science is both the arsenal and instrument of power—but science qua science is always a neutral arsenal and a neutral instrument.That is why it is so important for Government and Parliament alike to understand what is happening in the sciences today. What primarily concerns us is the application of science in the form of technology, yet we cannot discuss technological change comprehensively without some understanding of the current developments in science.
Science has always been international. It is, therefore, the totality of world effort, and not that of any individual country, which sets the pace. Yet, as never before, science is part of any country's national effort and, through technology, helps to determine its economic position in the world; but today the basis and the scale of scientific advance is daunting to a nation even of our size, because the world has experienced an explosion of scientific endeavour never before experienced in human history, and the Apollo programme is dramatic evidence of this.
May I give the House a few crude figures to illustrate my point? It has been calculated that, of the total fund of scientific knowledge in the world, two-thirds has been discovered since the end of the Second World War, and of all the qualified scientists who have ever lived, three-quarters are alive and practising their science today.
In such circumstances we are facing problems of an entirely new order. We in Britain cannot hope to make a major effort along the whole frontier of science. We have, therefore, to develop effective techniques of selection. What, and, above all, whom, should we back?
This problem applies even more vividly when we come to "technological innovation". As the Central Advisory Council for Science and Technology pointed out in its only report so far, that on Technological Innovation in Britain:If there were anything like a law of averages, we should not expect any longer to contribute more than, at most, 10 per cent. of the world's new technical knowledge.1240 This is a sobering thought to a nation which, historically, has been so rich in invention. Furthermore, we are finding more and more that important research work involves mixed teams across the disciplines. This is particularly true in applied research and development.
In addition, it is a fact of modern life that the time lag between the discovery of an important piece of new knowledge and its application to a new commercial product is diminishing. Professor Gambling, Professor of Electronics at Southampton University, said in his inaugural lecture:The half life of the technology of electronics is rapidly decreasing and is said to be currently about eight years. Some examples of the time interval between the development of an idea and its commercial exploitation are worth quoting "—and he gave these figures: the telephone, 56 years; radio, 35 years; radar, 15 years; television, 12 years; transistor, five years; micro-maser, three years.
The lesson is clear. The traditional division between basic and applied research is decreasingly meaningful; so, too, is the distinction between the scientist and the engineer and the technologist. Quantum physics is as essential to the electronics engineer as are thermodynamics to the mechanical engineer. To my mind, we must adjust both our thinking and institutions to a more rapid feed-through from research to application, and the converse: the feedback from need to research.
At present, as a nation, we are spending over £1,000 million a year on what is classified rather loosely as research and development, of which the taxpayer provides over half. Are we getting value for money? Do we involve ourselves too deeply in research and development? Some might ask—and I have often heard this question put—why should we bother about science at all? There are those who believe that the further pursuit of scientific knowledge is positively dangerous.
Professor Dainton, in his massive report, warned us:For many young people science, engineering and technology seem out of touch with human social affairs".I should like to outline briefly some of the reasons why I believe that it is right that Britain should be deeply involved in science and technology. In 1241 all my reasons I make the prime assumption that the survival of Britain as an independent nation is important to the people of Britain and that our survival is a valid aim of any British Government. I should like to suggest a few simple reasons why we must press on with science and technology.
My first reason is that we live in a scientific and competitive age and that if we are to survive, let alone prosper, we must press ahead with relevant scientific and technological development. Put at its simplest, this is the long-term basis for earning our living in the world.
My second reason flows from the first: science is changing the known world and if we do not adapt to change we shall not survive. That is the iron law of nature.
Thirdly, through the application of the results of modern science we can, in Disraeli's famous phrase,improve the condition of the people".This means not only the prospect of improving the material standard of living but of improving the worth of living because the options afforded to each individual can be increased and widened.
My fourth reason flows from the third: through the increasing understanding which science gives us of our natural environment and ourselves as human creatures, we should be able to live and work together with greater understanding and greater sensitivity. Let me quote one example—the change which has happened in our lifetime in the attitude to mental illness. We now understand more about schizophrenia and, therefore, we no longer treat the schizophrenic as if possessed by the devil and chain him up in Bedlam. In other words, we should be able to increase the quality of human relations and social behaviour.
My fifth reason is this. Science is an important part of contemporary culture. In a sense, science not only serves the purposes of our society but is itself one of the purposes of our society.
Finally, by aiming at scientific, technological and industrial excellence, we shall be able to find for Britain her rôle in the world in the post-imperial phase of her history.
1242 Therefore, if the House accepts broadly my six aims, I ask: what are the main responsibilities of a democratic Government towards science and technology? I put this question because I do not think that we are always clear about how far the Government can or should be involved and, more specifically, where and how they should be involved. Apart from defence and national security, which are outside our discussions today, I suggest that the Government's responsibilities for promoting the six national aims in science and technology which I have just enunciated fall broadly into five areas of continuing responsibility.
The first is the Government's rôle in stimulating, assisting and supporting the acquisition of new knowledge about our natural universe and about ourselves as part of that universe. Secondly, the Government have a responsibility to encourage invention and the more rapid and effective application of scientific and technological advances throughout the economy.
Thirdly, the Government have a continuing responsibility to make better use of science and technology in fulfilling their duties and purposes. Obviously, the precise nature of the Government's proper duties and purposes will be a matter of continuing public discussion, but I hope that there will be no gainsaying my proposition that the Government must make better use of the appropriate sciences and technologies in their own work.
Fourthly, the Government have a range of duties in the educational fields and in assisting to ensure a sufficiency of qualified scientific, engineering and technical personnel to meet the anticipated needs of the nation. Finally, the Government have a general duty within the general framework of a Parliamentary democracy to ensure that scientific and technological advances increase rather than diminish the opportunities for individual happiness and individual fulfilment.
How precisely the Government fulfil their duty to the nation within those five areas of responsibility is not a fixed matter, or a matter which we should expect to be free from current political controversy. Indeed, I believe that it should be at the heart of contemporary political discussions if our discussions are to be relevant to the contemporary 1243 world. As I have said on other occasions outside the House, I am a strong believer in the concept of constructive conflict, provided always that the conflict takes place within the rules of good manners, sincerity and mutual respect.
I should like briefly to go through those five heads of Government responsibility. If we turn to the question of public support for what is loosely called basic research, we find problems. We are here talking about two main streams of public finance: block grants to the universities through the University Grants Committee, and the science Vote, which comprises principally the research councils. For all the criticisms and imperfections of detail in this dual system, I believe that it has stood the test of time well. In view of other countries' experience, I am not encouraged to advance an alternative system. I believe that the heart of the nation's basic scientific research must remain in the universities. It therefore follows that if the nation is to do right by science it must do right by the universities.
As we move into the world of big science, the case for sharing expensive facilities between a number of universities will grow. We have the experience of the Science Research Council in the field of high energy physics, with the Rutherford and Daresbury Laboratories which encourages us. But this will involve continuing discussion of mutual interest between the universities, the research councils, the U.G.C. and the Department of Education and Science. The Government cannot help being involved because of the scale of funds required, but the less the Government involve themselves in the respective merits of individual projects the better, because, with the best will in the world, they are not competent to choose.
This is where the research councils come in. They provide the second source of public money to university science. This takes the form of earmarked grants in support of specific projects and specific individuals rather than of support of a general nature. The research councils also do important work of their own. I have in mind, for instance, the Agricultural Research Council.
The principle, however, behind the creation of the research councils was that 1244 established long ago by the Haldane Committee, namely, that the control of research should be separated from the executive function of government. This principle was reaffirmed by the Trend Committee in 1963 and, in my view, we should be extremely careful before we depart from it.
The question remains as to how Government should determine the amount of public funds to be devoted to the science Vote. I am of the opinion that this can best be done through a continuing dialogue between Government and the research councils. For this purpose, I include such bodies as the Council for Science Policy in the generic term of research councils.
In such a continuing dialogue, I suggest that there are a number of guiding questions which should always be at the forefront of the Government's mind in determining their science Vote. I would like briefly to suggest what those questions are. First, what is the projected growth rate in the science Vote as recommended by the research councils, and how does it compare with the economy's current and projected growth rate? Secondly, are we providing sufficient resources to back our successful work? I am sure that the whole House would agree that we should back success.
Thirdly, are there any obvious research fields on which we are not currently working or are working below the threshold level? If so, should we take the conscious decision to opt out? If not, do we try to accommodate the work nationally or internationally? We can also ask whether, in the balance of our research effort, we are anticipating foreseeable human needs in which our knowledge is weak.
Have we outstanding British scientists in particular fields who are frustrated through lack of resources, and what are the consquences of their frustration? Is there any current work which should be abandoned? Are we doing too much proportionately in any particular field? Is little science suffering on the altar of big science? Are we devoting as much effort to research as our international competitors absolutely and proportionately, and what are the consequences?
Are we playing a full part in the development of international centres of excellence? Are we trying to evaluate the 1245 cost benefit to Britain of greater or less participation in such international ventures? Finally, how does the science Vote compare with the many other calls upon public expenditure, having proper regard to the taxpayer and the state of the economy?
The answers to these questions must come, in the first instance, from the scientists, but the ultimate responsibility for determining the size of the science Vote, like any other Vote, must remain the Government's; but, at least, let it be made in as much knowledge as possible of the consequences. Let it be recognised that if the Government do not support basic research, little basic research will be done.
The undoubted benefits which flow from basic research are uncertain and long-term. Therefore, I suggest, there is likely to be insufficient private patronage available for basic research to supplement public funds. However, I believe that it should be our aim so to reform the fiscal system that alternative sources of finance to that of the State—namely, private patronage—are encouraged to develop. In the coming years, British science will need every penny that it can get, from whatever source.
I move on to Government responsibility to encourage innovation and the more rapid and more effective application of scientific and technological advances throughout the economy. It is in this sector of responsibility that we find the greatest weakness in our current deployment of scientific and technical resources. As a nation, we devote a higher percentage of our gross national product to what is loosely classified as research and development than any of our European competitors, and yet they seem to be able to sustain faster rates in the improvement of productivity and faster rates of economic growth. It is, therefore, relevant to ask ourselves why this happens.
The fault, I believe, does not lie in any failing in our basic research. On the contrary, a strong case could be made to support the view that relative to our population, the quality and scale of our scientific research is unsurpassed by any other nation. Nor, I suggest, is the problem a failure of British invention. During the past few decades, British scientists and engineers have chalked up an unusually large number of the more impor- 1246 tant technical inventions and developments of those years.
Let me list just a few: penicillin, cephlasporon, radar, holography, the jet engine, gas-cooled nuclear reactors, hovercraft, variable geometry aircraft, Terylene and the float-glass process. And so one could go on.
All too often, I suggest, benefits that have accrued from these technological breakthroughs have been exploited in other countries, and particularly in the United States of America. To my mind, all the evidence points to the fact that there is a serious exploitation gap in Britain between invention and the exploitation of its results. This problem of the exploitation gap is being increasingly realised, but it is also growing. I refer the House back to what I said about the half-life of technological invention.
Furthermore, this exploitation gap is not peculiar to Britain. It is the general phenomenon in Europe, although it is more obvious in Britain. In his compelling analysis of the problem "Le defi Americain", M. Servan Schreiber observed thus:That which threatens to crush us is not a flood of riches, but a superior understanding of how to use skills.What has gone wrong? In my submission, there has been a failure right the way through the system to understand the technological cycle, which I will compare to an electronic circuit. This starts first with basic research, the acquisition of new knowledge, and then moves on at the next nodule, applied research, where we identify projects which should go forward to development and production to satisfy a known or a likely demand.
I would reflect on the words of Dr. Frank Jones, of Mullard, when he said:Unfortunately, most of the applied research undertaken in this country is not part of technology at all, it is not coupled into the rest of the technological cycle—and, in particular, it is not under the vital pressure of the market place.Thirdly, we move on to development. The aim of development is to take a project through to manufacturing and commercial development. These three stages are all embraced in the general term research and development but they are clearly distinctive phases. They have different objectives and different time 1247 scales and they need different team mixes working under different managerial disciplines. The current distribution of effort in these three stages is, roughly, 10 per cent. on basic research, 25 per cent. on applied research and 65 per cent. on development.
I quote again Dr. Frank Jones, when he said:There is no doubt in my mind that a deliberate policy of reducing the Government contribution to research and development, whilst at the same time making tax concessions to industry, so that it can do more research and development in its own particular technological spheres would go a long way to meeting some of our economic troubles and putting the vital wealth creating part of industry on a firm footing.There is a great deal to reflect upon in that quotation.
The fourth stage is production. Again, I suggest that production has too often been the Cinderella, whether in the private or the public sector, of our endeavours in these fields. Fifthly, there is marketing. The House will observe that I use the phrase "marketing" rather than "selling". I believe that all too often the couplings in this technological circuit are weak or totally absent, but, furthermore, there must be a complex of cross couplings between these five nodal points and, above all, between marketing and basic research, and constant feed back.
How can the Government assist in improving this technological circuit and make it more efficient? In my own view, this takes us straight into the whole field of economic management today, because the right conditions for more rapid technological innovation are broadly the same as are needed for more rapid economic growth. The argument as to which comes first belongs to the chicken and egg category. I shall not pursue these matters further today, although they are vital to our economic future. No doubt, some of my hon. Friends will wish to pursue them in the debate. Suffice it only to point out to the House the importance of the Government creating economic environment in which risk capital gets an attractive reward.
I turn now to science and technology in Government. If I am right in my view—
§ Mr. R. F. H. Dobson (Bristol, North-East)
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves 1248 this part of his speech, which has been most enlightening, I hope that he will say something about industry's opportunity to participate in the attaining of the benefits of research and the application of the benefits of research.
§ Mr. Price
The hon. Gentleman tempts me. I must confess to the House that in deciding what I would say today I realised that I could occupy at least three hours. I know that many of my hon. Friends want to participate, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not follow his invitation. He tempts me, but he would not get away with a short reply.
To turn now to science and technology in Government, if I am right that the current need is to get more science into policy rather than to produce a single national policy for all science, then the whole ethos of Whitehall must change. It is my view that neither the present machinery of government nor those who operate it, whether politicians or senior civil servants, are wholly adequate to respond with understanding to the opportunities, the dangers and the problems thrown up by the advances of science and technology. I would quote the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, when he observed:The element of the unknown in government increases with every step we are now taking to apply the fruits of modern science.This situation is more likely to deteriorate than to improve unless we take continuing measures to ensure that the machinery of government and those who man it are responsive to the product of modern science. The near-exponential rate of acquisition of new knowledge will decrease for each succeeding generation of politician and senior civil servant the relevance of that cumulative experience of previous generations which represents so much of the stock-in-trade of government. Precedent will become less of an inspiration and more of a hindrance to the making and execution of current decisions.
I refer to the need to change the ethos of Whitehall. This, as I see it, is not only a matter of reorganising Departmental responsibilities, although some reorganisation is necessary, but it also involves the infinitely harder problem of getting each Department better equipped 1249 to understand and to use the science and technologies appropriate to the fulfilment of its own Departmental responsibilities and this must mean, amongst other things, that the whole of government must practise the techniques of modern management in the formulation and execution of public policy. It involves a more technical approach to the assessing of options and to the taking of decisions.
I could develop this theme and it is tempting to do so—reorganising the whole Government—but I must defer it to some other occasion, and I move now to the next area of responsibility.
§ Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, Central)
Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that it would be better for all this process if there were more scientists and engineers in the Government?
§ Mr. Price
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am at one with him on this, but I believe that my right hon. Friend, as a member of the Fulton Committee, will agree that the proposals of that Committee have moved some way towards the views which the hon. Member and I hold.
I turn now to scientific and technological manpower and education. Central to any consideration of public policy towards science is the national stock of qualified scientists and engineers—Lord Blackett's Q.S.Es. We have been making encouraging progress in this field. Nevertheless, there seems to be general agreement that our national stock of scientists and engineers must continue to increase if we are to understand and to exploit the opportunities which modern science offers us as a nation.
The twin questions of what rate of increase we should aim at and what should be the pattern of growth for the various scientific and engineering disciplines are more open to argument, but, clearly, the determining factor will be the flow of young scientists and engineers into active life, and this, in turn, takes us straight into educational fields.
The health and vitality of science and engineering must depend upon an increasing flow of well-qualified candidates from the schools into the science and engineering departments of our univer- 1250 sities and technological colleges. If I am right that the organic association of fundamental research and higher education makes the university the best location for fundamental research, then the quantity and the quality of university staff is vital for the future of British science, and, whatever is done to encourage more scientists and engineers to enter other fields of employment, the universities must be in a position to attract their share of top minds in science and engineering.
Furthermore, I think that there is general agreement that an important factor in bridging the exploitation gap between the British and American economies is the quality and quantity of trained manpower in industry, commerce and transport. This is especially true of industrial management. We need more trained scientists and engineers in British industry, I think the House will agree.
There are also the needs for the schools. Dr. Dainton and his colleagues have drawn our attention to the growing problem of science teaching in the schools. Among their many recommendations they have called for "more graduates of high ability" to be recruited into science teaching in the schools. I believe that there is a crisis building up in science teaching in the schools. It is my opinion that this may well be the crunch issue in the 'seventies, and I should like, in support of my argument, to quote Professor Swann's admirable analysis:Over the next decade the secondary school population is expected to increase by about 50 per cent. and those in school aged 16 or over by 115 per cent. Yet almost one-quarter of the graduate science teaching force will reach retiring age over the next decade.I cannot impress upon the House too strongly the importance of this issue. Science teaching in the schools is the base of the whole of our scientific and technological society. We must get it right, and, on present trends, it is going very far wrong.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
How are we to attract science and mathematics teachers into the schools unless teachers' salaries are improved, and local education authorities are prepared to accept that the salaries payable equate with those obtainable in industry?
§ Mr. Price
The hon. Member, as a Liberal, has produced the market solution to this question. I have no doubt that in the debate his proposal will be followed. I will leave it to my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle), who speaks for us on these matters, to reply in detail.
§ Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)
Would my hon. Friend say whether he thinks that also it would be very nice if we could get a few scientists to come into the House of Commons, particularly in view of his argument that the views of scientific Members and peers would affect what the Government of the day do?
§ Mr. Price
I would agree entirely with my hon. Friend, and, by implication, I answered, when I answered the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer), that that was my view. I think that, in practice, engineers would find life here rather more agreeable than scientists, if one may make a distinction between the two, but I have already postulated that the distiction is not as great as some would have us believe. I see the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Brian Parkyn) here. I do not know whether he calls himself a scientist or an industrialist, but, anyway, he is personally very welcome.
§ Mr. Price
I have given way sufficiently and I must conclude my speech.
I turn briefly to the fifth continuing field of Government responsibility, which is to ensure that scientific advance and technological change increase rather than diminish the opportunities for individual happiness and fulfilment. To some, of course, it is axiomatic that scientific advance and technological change increase personal opportunities. We can compile an impressive list of improvements in material and social welfare which have flowed from advances in science in the last 25 years, let alone in the last 100 years.
Nevertheless, I am sure that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen agree that there are many people who have a real but often inarticulate disquiet as to where science is leading us. I suggest to the House that their fears are not entirely without foundation. For instance, there 1252 is a constant danger of modern man abusing his natural environment. Certainly, we are getting enough warning from the biologists and the ecologists. We have major problems of pollution on our hands—atmospheric pollution, river pollution, coastal pollution, sewage, and the waste of our modern consumer society which litters the countryside.
But I draw the attention of the House to some remarks made in the famous study by the Hudson Institute of New York, "The Year 2,000", published last year. I will quote one passage:Technology raises issues of accelerated nuclear proliferation; of loss of privacy; excessive governmental power and/or private power over individuals; of dangerously vulnerable, deceptive and degradable over-centralisation; of decisions becoming necessary that are too large, complex, important, uncertain or comprehensive to be left to mere mortals—whether public or private; of new capabilities that are so inherently dangerous that they are likely to be disastrously abused; of too rapid or cataclysmic change for smooth adjustment.…The message is clear. If the democratic values are to continue to flourish and persist, then democrats must master our rapidly expanding knowledge. If not, democracy may prove itself increasingly to be either incompetent or even irrelevant to handle the opportunities and the dangers of future scientific and technological development.
I apologise to the House for detaining it for so long. I hope that I have said enough to indicate the importance of civil science to our nation, and yet I am far from content that we in the House spend enough of our time and energy on the many matters which I have been describing. At present, our main instrument is the Select Committee on Science and Technology. It is still a young Select Committee, but I know that it has more than justified its establishment. I pay tribute to its Chairman, the hon. Member for Bristol, Central, under whom it has been my pleasure to serve, and to all my colleagues on the Select Committee. I trust that the House will see fit to support that Select Committee by ensuring that it has a sufficiency of resources to fulfil its work.
I trust also that the House will come to realise that science and technology are in the main stream of national life and that, therefore, they should be in the main stream of Parliamentary life. The 1253 House ignores science and technology at its own and the people's peril.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ The Minister of Technology (Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn)
I, too, should like to say how glad I am that we are having a debate on science policy in the House. It is the first since I have been Minister of Technology, over the last three years. I congratulate the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) on having ranged so widely in considering the subject, for it is very tempting in science to concentrate on some detailed aspect and to omit the wider questions. I am sure that he helped the House to broaden out the debate by the manner in which he opened it.
I, too, should like to add my tributes to those which have been paid to the American astronauts who landed this morning on the moon, having given me, and no doubt other hon. Members, an all-night sitting without the benefit of the Chief Whip. It was an all-night sitting which I shall never forget as long as I live. As I am sure that the House would wish, I have sent a telegram to Dr. Paine, the administrator of N.A.S.A., paying tribute not only to the astronauts themselves but to the huge pyramid of scientific and technical achievement—workers, skilled and unskilled, managers, designers, technicians and scientists, numbering some hundreds of thousands in all, upon whom the astronauts relied for their capability and, of course, for their safety.
Almost everything that can be said about this achievement has already been said. But my view—and I believe that others will feel the same—is that when we reflect upon it we shall see that it is the management capability which has been built up by N.A.S.A. which may turn out to have the greatest spin-off of all. For man has fashioned under the leadership of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration a system capable of co-ordinating and integrating the work of hundreds of thousands of people on a tight timetable in order to execute an objective, and mankind may need that instrument for other pressing problems. It reinforces my feeling that man, armed with scientific knowledge and engineering, can do almost anything that he wants to do and that he has removed the limitations on man's ability which have 1254 cramped his freedom since the beginning of time.
This, in turn, brings into the forefront the fundamental question: what does man want to do with science? What do we want to do with the power which we have acquired? How shall we use this new-found freedom? As between a thousand options—it is no longer a choice of sword or plough share—which shall we choose? These are the fundamental questions. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Eastleigh, who said that Parliament must discuss them not only in this debate but increasingly as the years go by.
We cannot, of course, debate them in the way in which scientists would debate science. I should like to see more scientists and engineers in the House, but we should be interested in them not because of the expert knowledge which they have, but because, against the background of their expert knowledge, they would contribute towards the wider decisions which we have to debate.
It is not as experts that we meet today, nor could Parliament ever meet as experts to discuss science. It is the organisation of science, its purpose, its control and supervision, and its social and political institutional implications which ought to involve everybody and which everybody is inherently able to discuss and debate, if people are too modest—and many are—to join in a debate about these questions, because they have no scientific qualifications then they are absenting themselves voluntarily from participating in the central questions of the time in which we live.
For our generation this is the central power source comparable with the ownership of industry in the 19th century or of land in feudal times, and those who are not concerned with the use of scientific power are abdicating their political functions. I take it that that is what the hon. Member meant when he said that as a Parliament we must address ourselves to these questions even more systematically than in the past.
It is one of the most curious, but, I think, highly significant paradoxes of our times that at a period of history when science has opened up these enormous new options—options which are both collective and personal—so many people feel that the range of their freedom is 1255 being progressively restricted. This alienation, which is very much a part of public discussion, is very widespread and it is in part—only in part—due to the fact that people find themselves surrounded by more and more things which they do not understand and feel themselves ill qualified to contribute to a discussion about. Therefore, if we are to reassert human control over this power, we have to start by having the confidence to discuss it even though we may not have technically any knowledge to contribute to the development of individual projects which lie within it.
I hope, therefore, that this will be a wide-ranging debate. The hon. Member for Eastleigh invited the House to range broadly in discussing this matter, and I hope that, in doing so, hon. Members will contribute to what I have detected to be a rapidly changing public attitude towards science, a subject to which I now come.
I believe that the public view of science is changing much more rapidly than is frequently realised. The uncritical acceptance of what may emerge from science—this process will be accelerated by the achievements of the astronauts—is beginning to give way to a more conscious desire to shape the future through the use of this power more than may have occurred at any previous time.
This certainly characterises the new contribution to science policy thinking which the Government have sought to give during their years in office. We have sought to try to give science policy something of a new direction. Five years ago we decided that science could not, and should not, be confined to a particular sector of our national life; to grammar schools, universities, research establishments and prestige projects to be handled under special procedures that reinforced its separateness and made it appropriate for a new élite.
We decided that the process of reintegrating science into everyday life was sufficiently overdue as to justify our trying new instruments of Government to control it. In so far as the debate gives the House a chance to review Government policy, this major decision which I have described and which, in part, lay behind the establishment of my Department, 1256 must necessarily come under examination.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Will my right hon. Friend comment on what the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) said about a crisis of mathematics and physics teachers?
§ Mr. Benn
I think not, because my hon. Friend, who will speak later, is the Minister responsible for science in the Department of Education and Science.
Indeed, when my hon. Friend intervened I was about to say that some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Eastleigh lie within the responsibilities of my hon. Friend. Since, as he said, there is so much to say on these issues, my hon. Friend will deal with them. She will be talking about university science, technical college and schools' science, the work of the research councils and her responsibilities in the sphere of qualified manpower.
The Ministry of Technology was set up to concern itself with the uses to which science must be put to meet our personal and national objectives. We should be judged by the objectives that we have identified and by the extent to which we have succeeded in realising them.
There may be some hon. Members—as occurred in another place, when science policy was recently debated—who still argue about the so-called division between the two Ministries. These arguments will be familiar to the House, but I hope that if they are raised the exact nature of the division will be brought out accurately. This is not a division between pure and applied science. Nor is it a division between long-term and short-term, so-called applied science and applied technology.
The scientific work done under the auspices of D.E.S. is not limited to pure science. It finances a great deal of education in the application of science, and this trend is continuing. Similarly, in the Ministry of Technology research establishments a great deal of fundamental work is being done, and will continue to be done, because it is central to our purpose.
The division between D.E.S. and MINTECH represents the different purposes of the two Departments and the different methods by which they are funded. D.E.S. is concerned with science and 1257 science education as part of its academic objectives—I use the word "academic" in its broadest sense—to enlarge the area of knowledge and to educate people qualified to move and work in the new territories that science has opened up.
The total sums are allocated according to the priorities the Government determine within the range of approved public expenditure. The decision as to what is the right sum is a central Government policy function and each must make its claim against other claims for our national resources. This allocation is entrusted to scientists, who are given the freedom to decide their own priorities. Although my hon. Friend will be speaking about this, I suggest that this seems to be a valuable consequence and inevitable method of dealing with this side of the subject.
MINTECH, by contrast, sees scientific work as one aspect of the human and material power available to the community generally for whatever purposes seem most necessary. There is no conflict between D.E.S. and ourselves. Indeed, we regard the two as complementary.
Within MINTECH, however, we have developed new priorities after very full discussion, and I will explain what they are. First, we have set it as a major objective of our policy—I am speaking of my Department—that science should he harnessed to the job of earning our living as a nation and overcoming the curse of a continuing balance of payments problem that has afflicted this country, under all Governments, for many decades.
Looking at the consequences that have flowed from this, I am sure that this is the right approach. We have, therefore, adopted a frankly commercial approach to our funding of science, and I make no apologies for having done so. It is absolutely no good spending hundreds of millions of pounds on self-generated science projects or those which earn Nobel prizes and world acclaim if industrial competitiveness is neglected in the process, with all the restrictions on domestic growth that we know that to involve.
Indeed, industrial stagnation inevitably leads to the curtailment of science spending, just as industrial success allows its growth. Thus, even in this area of taking 1258 a commercial approach to science we are making possible the opening up of options which are of benefit to science.
This brings me to an important point which the hon. Member for Eastleigh rightly made. This involves the development of a capability for making judgments involving new techniques that have not previously been available to government. This is why we have set up the Programmes Analysis Unit, which does good systematic forward analysis forecasting. This is why, in evaluating aircraft projects, for which we are accountable to the House, we use extremely complicated D.F.C. calculations based on forward market analyses of a kind which are as good, if not better, than those to be found in many firms ad industries. This is why the techniques of value engineering and the other methods which have been developed in the better companies are now in use by the Government.
This is certainly not to say, of course, that pure or fundamental science, designed to meet long-term needs, is irrelevant. Science seen as an arm of economic advance must be demand-orientated and not self-generated. It may he that, as a result of having a demand put on one by industry or by the Government, it becomes necessary to cater for certain fundamental problems. However, that is different from regarding this as an extension of the academic process which we think later might lead to some application.
If I have disagreed marginally with what the hon. Member for Eastleigh said on this issue, my disagreement would be about starting an innovation with invention. The innovation process may start with demand. For example, when President Kennedy said, "We want to land on the moon", that was the innovation that made the rest happen. I am not certain whether the remarks of the hon. Member for Eastleigh reflected what I am saying.
§ Mr. Eric Moonman (Billericay)
Without being critical of MINTECH, which has done an extremely professional job in the years since it was established, does not my right hon. Friend feel that there is a contradiction here? He has justified the division between the D.E.S. and his Ministry and has then spoken about the need to establish not just certain scientific ideas, but to look at certain other 1259 needs, of which the Kennedy example is one. Is not this another reason for bringing the two Departments close together and having them under one roof? In other words, we should say in scientific development, "This is what we want. Work to achieve these aims," whereupon MINTECH would have sole responsibility for decision-making.
§ Mr. Benn
I do not accept that. I do not accept that the present links between the two Departments are not close. Nor do I rule out the possibility—this has been proposed and to some extent it has happened—of some joint funding where there are divided responsibilities between the two. Indeed, a case is now being discussed.
But it would be an absolute disaster if we rejected a project on the grounds that it was not economic and then got it approved because it was interesting. Once we get the blurring of this harsh decision that has to be taken, I think that we shall find ourselves slipping into all sorts of difficulties. But the links between pure and applied, between long term and short term, between academic and industrial orientated research are capable of being dealt with in the existing set-up.
We have brought to the task of formulating civil science the many thousands of qualified scientists and engineers who work for and under the supervision of the Ministry of Technology. These people—there are 9,000 qualified scientists and engineers, including 6,000 working in 22 establishments—are a priceless national asset and we have tried to make it our business to refocus their effort more directly than in the past to meet our primary economic objective. The policies which we have developed to achieve this have reflected some very important and significant changes in emphasis, and I want now briefly to deal with them.
First, we have tried to reinforce the Government's general policy decision to relate defence spending to our general capability by securing a shift from defence research to civil research. In 1963–64, defence research done under the auspices of Departments that now come in MINTECH cost, at present-day prices, £266 million while civil research cost £123 million. By 1969–70, this balance has 1260 tilted to give expenditure of £169 million on defence research and development and £180 million on civil research. Thus, this year, for the first time, research and development expenditure within the Ministry of Technology exceeds on the civil side the amount that has been spent on defence.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
In that last figure on civil research, has not the big increase been in launching aid for civil aircraft?
§ Mr. Benn
I will come to that point in a moment. It is certainly true that on the aircraft side there has been a shift between civil and military. This is, in part, reflected, but the fact is that, for the first time, this balance has tilted in favour of civil research, its industrial applications and marketing possibilities.
The second shift of emphasis has involved moving away from the old exclusive Government support of aerospace and nuclear work—both of which are, of course, products of defence—towards a far wider range of industries upon which our economic future depends. A country of our size cannot aim to do everything; if it tries to do so it will store up difficulties for itself. Choices have to he made, and we have been making them, painful as some of them have been.
For example, in the nuclear field at Culham we are cutting down fusion research by 50 per cent., just because its pay-off is so far ahead, if it ever comes, and we cannot spare the funds or the people for it.
Similarly, in the aeronautical research programme we have cut back hypersonic work sharply for the same reason, and the support which we had previously given E.L.D.O., as a European rocket project, has been deliberately transferred into the much more industrially and commercially significant application satellite work. This will ultimately come under the auspices of the new combined European space organisation.
It may seem slightly odd that a Minister should highlight the things that he has stopped so as to illustrate a positive policy, but a positive policy must mean concentrating on where we can succeed and not in dissipating our efforts in the endless financing of work that is undertaken simply because it lies within the intellectual capability of the scientific community.
1261 The third change of emphasis has been from intramural to extramural research. This has been done wherever it has been appropriate, because Government research establishments—and reference has been made in broad terms to them—in part reached their present size to compensate for the research deficiencies in British industry. As the I.R.C. and the Ministry of Technology have worked on the restructuring of British industry, we have helped to create units big enough to run and finance more of their own scientific research capability.
As this happens, the rôle of Government intramural establishments will tend to change, and we must be ready for that change. Some of the work will be so specialised, so occasional, so expensive or so fundamental that it will need to be done outside industry. But the problems of transfer from innovation to exploitation, and the problems of making research programmes responsive to market needs are immensely more difficult if research is conducted under auspices separate from the needs it meets. The best transfer of technology is by the transfer of people or the establishment of joint teams, jointly funded, and this we aim to achieve.
§ Mr. David Howell (Guildford)
The Minister is on a very interesting point, and one with which I am very much in sympathy. Is the implication of his belief in the need to transfer research activity to industries which are on their feet that he would also back proposals for fiscal changes to encourage more private research as the public research programme runs down?
§ Mr. Benn
The hon. Gentleman is moving into the area of taxation, which manifestly takes me far from the responsibility of my own Department, but I would say that one of the functions of the Ministry is clearly to provide an input into Whitehall thinking from industry over very particular types of problem, some of which may be beyond the direct departmental responsibility. I will leave it at that, rather than be drawn into the tax aspects in which the hon. Member is interested.
The final shift of emphasis we have set ourselves would carry me a little outside the outer limits of this debate, but I must refer to it to complete the picture. It is a shift away from research to the exploita- 1262 tion of science in world markets, because here is where we have failed dismally over the last 100 years. A recent study has compared the development of gross national product per head of population in the major industrial countries from 1840 to 1968. It shows this country well ahead of its competitors until America overtook us in the 'nineties.
The next to get ahead of us was West Germany, in the 'fifties. The author of the study, Angus Maddison, has suggested that projections on the basis of growth rates over the last 10 years indicate that by 1983 France could be well ahead of us, itself having been overtaken by Japan, with Italy edging up almost to the United Kingdom level.
For a country like Britain, with an almost unrivalled scientific record, to accept a steady relative decline in its economic position is almost inconceivable, if not absolutely intolerable. But if we were to find out why this has happened and could continue—and it is a trend that goes well back into the 19th century, far beyond current political controversies here about the handling of our economic affairs—I am sure that part, at any rate, of the answer would be found to lie in the science policies of past Governments over at least a century.
If I say a word about such Measures as the Industrial Expansion Act, which, I know, are controversial in the House, it is because we think that it is the task of the Government, facing competition from other countries which may subsidise their industry through defence and space programmes of the kind we are mentioning, to put a lot more effort into the exploitation side, and not to think that research, however well-organised, can solve our problems.
In the past, we have allowed science to develop in a watertight compartment manned and guided by an élite, and we have, for a long time, failed to recognise in our schools and universities that science must be a part of life spreading across the whole industrial field and applied intelligently by millions of people who are not Ph.D.s but technicians and even semi-skilled workers, by managers and market men, designers and production engineers, to raise our living standards and open up fresh options by creating new resources we can use as we think best. Here is where the rôle of the 1263 technical colleges, which being institutions with porous walls, has a notable contribution to make in this field.
It is also the policy that I have been describing that led us to try to reintegrate science with industry by, amongst others things, reorganising the nuclear industry to put our research programme under the management of committees upon which industrialists dominate, to keep within the overall manpower strength in our civil establishments and run down the strength of our defence establishments.
This is why we gave the Atomic Energy Authority freedom to move into non-nuclear fields like desalination, ceramics and non-destructive materials testing, started industrial applications units at Farnborough and Malvern, and sponsored industrial units in universities as at Strathclyde; to build bridges between science and industry.
Anyone who thought that this would have a bad effect on the morale of scientists has been proved completely wrong. My case is that the morale of a scientist, like the morale of everybody else, ultimately depends on whether he feels that his work is wanted. The old doctrine that one must keep scientific teams together, even if necessary by thinking up new projects, is totally wrong. We will get the best out of people not by that method, nor by telling them what to do, but by engaging their interest in a problem that has to be solved. It is the function of Parliament, the Government and industry to see to it that our needs are formulated and presented so that scientists can help us to solve them.
I wish to say a few words about the development of our own research policy. First, I will look ahead to see how we can use the men and facilities in the A.E.A. and our own civil establishments now that the design construction companies have been set up, the fuel company is to be started, and now that Harwell has so successfully broadened its capability. It is too early to say exactly what form we shall adopt, but over the years, talking to people who have faced the same problem in other countries, it has become clear that the relationship between civil scientific research and the needs to which it has to be put is increasingly being seen as one embodying 1264 a contractual relationship. The customer, whether it be Government, local government, nationalised or private industry, pays for what it wants and, by paying, shapes the research programme itself and thus acquires an added interest in applying its results more quickly.
This has certainly been the strength of some American practice and a lot of thinking is going on in Europe on it. Ministers in Communist and non-Communist countries are beginning to think in this way and it has certain self-evident attractions for us. Whatever the framework might be, and whether the customer is a Government Department that may be interested in the problems of pollution or noise, or a firm that might be interested in hydrostatic transmission or carbon fibres, the idea of paying for what you want done would certainly provide some form of methodology and clarification. It would simplify some very important and difficult questions of research management.
I hope that the House, in debating this, will contribute its thoughts to these matters. Certainly, as a Minister who has appeared three times before the new Select Committees—twice before my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central and once before the Scottish Committee —I warmly welcome their creation and greatly value the work they have done. They have played a very commendable part in cross-examining Ministers in a way less easy for Ministers than Question Time, when Mr. Speaker may well call the next Question just in time to save those who have to answer, whereas the three-and-a-half hours' grilling under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend is an experience which may not be comfortable for Ministers but is very good for Parliament. The work of the Select Committees has been a most useful innovation and I pay tribute to it.
I wish now to say a few words about international technological and scientific issues to which the hon. Member for Eastleigh referred. It is characteristic of the world in which we live that science has broken down to a very large extent the frontiers which used to divide us. The international community of scholarship in science is, of course, very old. This has been true in the science field. Exchanges of scientists is an integral part of the process and undoubtedly we have 1265 an embarrassment of riches with the amount of discovery going on all over the world. This in itself is a new aspect of science policy, the collection, evaluation and dissemination of information which has become a matter of vital national and international priority.
There is a commercial side to the information explosion, because the marketing of brain-power may well turn out to be one of our most valuable exports. Certainly, it would be very foolish if, when we could exploit know-how ourselves, we left foreign companies the exclusive right to buy our scientific information, incorporate it in their systems and sell it back to us for foreign currency. We have to be alert here to the opportunity which is open to us to see that we use the invention we have. Not only to exploit it here. We may have to buy other people's ideas, and to do more than that, to help to market abroad what we have invented, because our inventions are natural resources as much as North Sea Gas, coal or resources found under our land.
I should like to say a word about the brain-drain. In an international world of movement we must expect people to go and get what is beneficial to them to give them experience. No one in this House would wish to stop them going to work in a particular laboratory. What must concern us is the loss of scientists—even more, of qualified engineers—who go because they feel a lack of opportunity here and who are prepared to go almost anywhere in search of opportunities. The lesson which stands out a mile when we look at the figures or lists of people in America who would like to come back to work here—and many would like to do so—is the difficulty of placing them here arising from a reluctance in industry, and maybe elsewhere, to give people responsibility.
It is responsibility more even than money which determines where a man wishes to work. It is still broadly true that most people in this country—this is one of the reasons why there is a sense of constriction to which I referred earlier—are not being stretched to the limit of their capability. Their talents are not being used to their full extent. There is prime responsibility in industry and civil organisation to use people and give them the responsibility which they want. 1266 I must come to the end of my speech. I wanted to refer to international collaboration in this field. There is much that I could say. I shall confine myself to commenting that it is our view that international scientific projects should be evaluated with the same critical criteria as national projects. That a thing is scientific and international and glamorous does not acquit us or anyone of the responsibility of seeing that what we want to do is right before we spend money on it. This is a contribution which this Government may have made, not always against a very sympathetic response elsewhere, when international projects have been discussed. I am sure that this is right and that international science must meet international needs in the same way as national science meets national needs.
People are not prepared to see science handled separately and divorced from areas thought appropriate for public discussion, funded unquestioningly, shrouded in mystery and decided by self-appointed leaders. They are coming to see that science is part of life which concerns them intimately and they want to make it work for them. They are interested in the social consequences and they are dimly beginning to realise how revolutionary those consequences are.
It is still broadly true that this country and every advanced country tries to run itself with the help of institutions which were devised and formulated and reached their final stage of development long before the forces which have come into play in the last 10 years made themselves evident. I do not dissent from the argument by the hon. Member for Eastleigh with reference to Fulton, Donovan, Redcliffe-Maud, the Select Committees and the re-examination of our national institutions, which is probably the greatest contribution that this Government could make to see that science, which will shape our future, shapes it with our consent and not, as so easily it could, without consulting us at all.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
The debate has started on a very high level, yet one which is realistic in the days in which we live. I want to join the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) in the tribute they paid to the 1267 achievement of the Americans last night. All of us would prefer a moon sitting to an all night one at any time, because it is much more interesting.
What has been said in the House today has done much to redeem some of the rather snide articles and observations which have appeared in various journals and which have been written by some very distinguished people in advance of this great event. I want particularly to say how much I deplored the article by Bertrand Russell in The Times on 15th July and the headline given to it—Why man should keep away from the moon.I find it almost impossible to understand a dessicated, cosmic Canute, saying, "Stop". In matters of this kind man cannot stop. It is in man to want to do these things.
When it comes to deciding whether philosophers or technologists have been of more value to the world, I wish I were more convinced that the philosophers could claim a monopoly. I am convinced that the contribution that technologists and scientists, particularly technologists, have to make in these days is far more important than what the philosophers can contribute. We have the philosophy handed down to us over centuries. The technologies are new. It is the new technologies being interpreted by those who hold varying philosophies that will decide the world's future.
I am not worried in the least about the sort of philosophy that Britain adopts. What I am worried about is whether we make the best use of the technology of which we, too, are capable, and apply it in the philosophies that we adhere to. That is what this debate is about. I have never for one moment assumed anything but a dedicated approach on the Minister's part to the political duties as he sees them of his Ministry and of he himself as Minister. I am sure that he is dedicated. Whether we agree with quite the way that he does these things is another matter.
Although we have for some time adhered to the great Haldane principle, to which I shall return, we have still got the continuing need, whatever we say about the application of the principle, to have somebody in government with sufficient time on his hands to be able to 1268 sit back and see things in their grand perspective. Nothing has worried me more about the Minister's Department than the fact that, because he got landed with so much aerospace responsibility, he must be finding it more and more difficult to do what the old Lord President was able to do—sit back and see things in their grand perspective and have no demanding responsibilities.
I know that the Minister is served by Parliamentary Secretaries—and they are very dedicated, too. However, there is still an importance in government in having somebody able to sit back and see things in their grand perspective in science and technology. This cannot be safely left to the universities; nor can it be safely left to any committees; nor can it be safely left to a court scientist such as Sir Solly Zuckerman sometimes sees himself, if others do not. It must be in the hands of a Minister.
I believe that that Minister should not be bogged down in day-to-day detail and that he should be someone who is not necessarily a great scientist himself—in fact, God forbid that he should be one—but should be a man who is in sufficiently close touch with the various aspects of science and technology to know whether the advice that he is getting bears any relation to the sort of things which he knows are going on outside. The picking of men is perhaps the most important rôle of all for the man who must oversee Britain's scientific and technological effort.
I turn to the question of the Haldane principle. In a very important speech at the annual luncheon of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee in 1968 Sir Solly Zuckerman dealt with this matter at some length. I know that it is not normal for us to refer to speeches made to the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, but at the annual luncheon the speech is made public, so I hope that I am at liberty to refer to Sir Solly's speech.
What Sir Solly emphasised was the changing nature of the Research Councils themselves. Having just presided over a sub-committee of the Select Committee on Science and Technology which has been looking into the Natural Environment Research Council, I am anxious today not to forestall a report which I hope will shortly be laid before the House. However, in the light of 1269 Sir Solly's remarks and of my own impressions which have been gained elsewhere, I think I am entitled to say that Sir Solly put his finger on something which is becoming of increasing importance.
Whereas in the past research councils were set up to promote science in the universities more than anything else, they are inevitably becoming more and more involved in practical application. Because of this, there is a blurring of the old Haldane principle whereby these matters were decided purely by the scientists, and inevitably more and more political decisions are being wrapped up with scientific decisions. This will be perhaps the biggest problem that Parliament will have to consider in the coming years.
As I see it at the moment, a somewhat speckled picture emerges from the activities of the various research councils. I do not think that it can be said that any one of them is typical. In some of them, and in some of the disciplines covered by some of them, there is definitely an emphasis now on application rather more strongly rather than upon more basic research.
The moment we move into this field we are blurring the edge between university and industry. What is definitely emerging from the picture as I see it—we shall have to talk about this much more in the future—is the need to get industry closer to the universities and closer to the Government Departments that are taking the decisions upon which the universities as well as industry will operate.
There must be a bringing together of industry, of the universities, and of government. I would go further and add further education and primary and secondary education. The whole field of education comes into it. All the sectors must be brought in. There must be a widespread realisation that all of us are involved.
One of the biggest jams we have got ourselves into is that in recent years we have been producing far more scientists than industry really needs or perhaps requires or thinks that it requires. We have nothing like a sufficient number of engineers.
One of the biggest mistakes was the conversion of colleges of advanced tech- 1270 nology into universities. The reasons for the change were themselves not entirely sound. One of the reasons why the C.A.T.s were turned into universities was that the teaching staff at the C.A.T.s thought themselves inferior beings to the dons at universities. I think that they were gravely mistaken, if any of them ever did think that.
We may live to rue some of the things that Lord Robbins recommended to us. We shall find, too, that we must delay the age of entry into universities and give people a chance of going out and finding out how the world ticks in industry and elsewhere before they go up to university. I believe that they themselves, when they get to university, will make a bigger contribution to the universities as a result. They will also get more out of them.
§ Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)
I ask this question in no hostile spirit. If the C.A.T.s had not become universities, what in my hon. Friend's view, should they have remained—that is, should they have remained within the local authority sphere, or should they have continued for a longer period as direct grant institutions?
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I would have said that with the job they had to do, we should probably have had to relieve local authorities of financial responsibility. Whether we left them there or not, it was not inevitable that they should automatically be changed into full university status. What matters is whether or not this country will get enough engineers which industry needs. We are not getting them and we shall not get them until we look at the whole of this business again.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) is far more knowledgeable than I of how the educational system is organised, but educationists in particular have got to be made more aware of the needs of industry. The more we hold these seminars, as some of us do, and listen to what the university and industrial representatives say, the more we realise that there is a generation in industry and education which is simply not thinking on the right network if they are to solve the problems of the modern world.
It is these things for which Ministers have a heavy responsibility. It is the 1271 right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science upon whom the burdens most lie. I say to them both and to the hon. Lady the Minister of State, Department of Education and Science, who is to reply to the debate, that however sincere they are—and I do not doubt that they are sincere—they have got to ensure that their own Departments are properly equipped to enable them to do the job that Parliament expects them to do. I do not believe that either of those Departments are properly equipped to do this job at the moment.
I still believe that this country has an immense contribution to make in basic scientific thought, and one of the things which encouraged me most when I accompanied the Chairman of the Select Committee on Science and Technology to the United States was the number of people who said how the United States still rely upon us for the basic thinking which they are better able to exploit. I still believe that we have a rôle to play in this respect. Could anything have shown better how true this is than what has happened with the moon shot? Has there ever been a better or more superlative combination of the utmost peak of modern technology designed to pursue basic research into what they bring back from the moon? These two things are absolutely inseparable. Universities can no longer sit back and say, "We do all the basic research." Industry can no longer rely on its own research or upon Government research. It has got to be universities, industry and Government—the whole lot. Let us hope that we can make some improvement very soon.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, Central)
Those of us who attend debates on this subject, though not perhaps strong in numbers, are very strong indeed in our interest and devotion to the subject. The trouble is that we tend to cross and re-cross our own tracks without always making any great headway. In saying what I have to say I shall not claim any particular originality but I might succeed in bringing a slightly new slant to the points which I shall raise, and that, I believe, is always a valuable contribution to a debate on this kind of subject.
1272 In looking at the defects of the present system of Government administration of science and at our hopes for the future, I hope we shall not overlook the progress that has been made, not just in the lifetime of the present or the previous Government but during the course of the present half-century. An enormous amount of progress has been made. If we go back further, say to Greenwich Observatory, and follow this through the foundation of the National Physical Laboratory to the creation of the Ministry of Technology and to institutions such as the Science Research Council or the Atomic Energy Authority, we can see how much progress has been made.
This is a self-generating process and I think it is driven on by two impulses. One is curiosity—the curiosity to understand the true nature of the environment in which we live and in which we are created, and its laws. The other impulse is to live better. I do not mean that necessarily in a purely material sense but in the sense of the quality and dignity of living being enhanced.
That means applying scientific knowledge. It means the technical ability to increase wealth. I prefer the phrase, "technical ability to increase wealth" to "improved productivity" although that is the modern jargon phrase. It seems to me that the human, or divine, curiosity is the sphere of science. To help mankind live better is the sphere of technology.
It is interesting to note that in the very modern world, science is often regarded as the basis of technology. Yet the fact is that technology, through much of its existence from the discovery of iron, or bronze before that, to the steam engine and beyond, lived and advanced without the support of science in any organised or recorded fashion. Technology moved on all the time but there was little science in any organised fashion at all. I have no figures, but I would think it certain that in the 19th century the amount spent in this country on the development of technology, not through government or government agencies necessarily, was immense in relation to organised scientific spending. There could have been no comparison at all between the vast amount of spending say upon technological development and science.
The same applies also to the numbers involved. There must have been far 1273 more people in the 19th century, in the age of great engineers, involved in technology and engineering than could possibly have been involved in science or research. Yet, as I say, we now have a situation where science research and development are regarded as the necessary beginning of a long development process which leads to technology. This thinking should now be re-examined.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
I believe the hon. Gentleman is right in what he is saying. In the last century there was only one scientific laboratory in this country, and that was the one in the Royal Institution.
§ Mr. Palmer
Yes, I believe the National Physical Laboratory was built at about the turn of the century.
Since the last war particularly there has, been a steadily changing relationship, which is really disturbing and goes to the root of much of our trouble, or at least is the explanation of many of the paradoxes that arise—that there are about twice as many post-graduates studying science as study technology.
Therefore, we get the extraordinary result that while the United Kingdom spends more in relation to population on research and development than even does the United States—certainly more than European countries, and more than Japan—the growth in our actual production, the improvement in our practical technology and our ability to create fresh wealth is considerably lower than the other countries just mentioned.
Science policy today must be related to the vast cost of modern research and development. Even allowing for the change in the value of money, the cost of the apparatus which Faraday used must have been quite small. The circumstances were so different; he was starting on a first principle, or an early principle. One compares that with, say, the 300 GeV nuclear accelerator. It is to be made to satisfy the curiosity of modern researchers, in the same way as the small, primitive induction motor of Faraday was constructed to satisfy his curiosity; but in cost there is no comparison between the two.
I take what my right hon. Friend said as right in this connection. We can no longer realistically divorce science from 1274 technology. It cannot be done. This has been proved to us in at least two major investigations conducted by the Select Committee. The point is coming out all the time. I think of the investigation which we conducted into the reorganisation of the nuclear reactor industry, and the investigation into defence research. Hon. Members who served with me on the Select Committee will recall that we had the experience of going to a Government research establishment where we discovered that, in order to give engineers a proper rate of pay which would attract them into the establishment and keep them there, they had to be called scientists. That was the only way in which they could properly be paid.
The Swan Committee discussed the Ph.D. and its prestige value. They thought that it helped a man to pay—or not pay—his grocery bill if he is a Ph.D. The title "Doctor" does not count for quite so much in this country as it does in Germany, but it counts for something. Swan suggested that an arrangement might be devised by which working professional engineers could be dubbed "doctor". It was felt that not only would such an arrangement help them to win more respect from grocers but we should probably induce more people to take up engineering and rather fewer to take up science.
Our major problem in this country now is no longer science as such—I am not suggesting that it has no problems, but our research is reasonably well done and we should not be ashamed to say so—but the need to bring science back into a realistic relationship with technology and engineering. If we are to get the thing right down in industry itself, we must start right by making things consistent from the very top.
I noted that reference was made to that sacred cow of Government administration of science, the Haldane principle. I do not think that the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) was bold enough. He toyed with the idea, but he felt that probably we must continue for the time being as we are. Everyone sticks at that point. Everyone thinks of cutting the throat of the Haldane principle but stops without really coming to it.
I do not deny that progress has been made in the twin Departments of 1275 Government represented science here tonight, but it is a curious arrangement that we have our research councils under one Ministry, we have technological improvement under a second Ministry, and industrial training under a third. One can never be quite tidy and rational in the organisation of Government, but one should always try to be a little tidier and rather more rational if one can. Moreover, it would be a symbol if we avoided the split between science and technology which, I believe, has roots in the past which no longer give us the substance which we need.
Things were different at the end of the last war. Even 25 years ago, there was, apart from military technology, no great interest in technology within the Government or in the country generally. There was great interest in science. An honorary Committee much connected with the House which we all know is the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee. It is now very much connected with technology, but it was called the Parliamentary and "Scientific" Committee when it was founded about 25 years ago.
At that time, when science had arrived at Whitehall, even if technology had not, wearing a magic robe, it was natural enough to give it to a high mandarin in the Government such as the Lord President. It was felt that he was suitably aloof, he had no Departmental responsibilities, he normally had nothing to do, and he could, therefore, supervise science with proper detachment and decorum. That was a system which corresponded with the spirit of the times. But now that scientific research has been handed over to a branch of a busy Department such as Education, which, heaven knows, has enough to do in education itself, the mystery has gone out of it. It is no longer something for a high mandarin or the Lord President. It is a work-a-day branch of a normal straightforward Government Department which can make errors just like any other Government Department.
We are right then to ask the question: is it the right Department? Are we setting about it the right way? Are not we trying to maintain a principle which might have been sound 20 years ago in circumstances which are very different today? Both science and technology are losing by their division.
1276 I talked of cutting the throat of the Haldane principle. I modify that and ask the question: Is the Haldane principle relevant today? I am not sure that it is. It is not for me as Chairman of the Select Committee to try to anticipate what the Committee may decide as to its future subjects of investigation, but it is open to any hon. Member to suggest a subject, and I offer the thought that one such subject might be the whole organisation of science and technology in relation to Government.
§ Mr. Palmer
I hear the hon. Gentleman say that that is too big, but no subject is too big for the Select Committee on Science and Technology.
Having said that the need is to get the thing right at the top if it is to be right below, I suggest that in industry today, in order to draw more students into science and technology in the first place rather than into arts, and afterwards to give special emphasis to applied research and technology for graduates—it ought for a period of time to be the law of the land that every large industrial undertaking, private or public, should have a proportion of engineers on its board of management. That might well be done just temporarily, as an expedient, perhaps, but I am sure that it would have an invigorating effect. Not only would it be good for the boards but it would make it clear to young men and women who are anxious to earn a good living with decency and responsibility that the engineer is a man or woman who is regarded as of importance and more certain to be on a board of directors than the accountant, the lawyer or the general administrator, as so often happens today.
A new initiative could also be valuably applied at the highest level of the scientific decisions of Government. What happens when an important decision on high Government scientific or technical policy has to be made, when all the committees and sub-committees have reported, have fought and contradicted each other, when there is no escape for the people at the top, when they must make the decision—as about the 300 GeV. European accelerator, for example, or the decision to cut back on nuclear fusion research at Culham. 1277 Who gives the advice on priorities to the Government? This is a mystery. We have tried to probe it in the Select Committee and have not had a great deal of success so far. Is it the Scientific Research Council or the Council for Science Policy? Is it the personal adviser to the Prime Minister? Who does give the final advice to Government on the big decisions? In the end, despite what my right hon. Friend said, I suspect that it is the Treasury which makes the final decision. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister of State could throw a little light. It would only be a little light I fear.
Some reference has been made to the work of the Select Committee on Science and Technology. I say this with humility, but it was an enormous step forward when the House decided to establish it. It was a symbol that the House had now recognised the importance not only of science and technology to Government but of the obligation of the House of Commons to make the executive accountable on scientific and technological matters. There was a time when the business of Parliament, in the words of the old song was only "to pass laws and put down crime", but today Parliament must do much more and this House in particular.
We all know that Ministers, either at that Box or in Papers and Estimates, say that something has to be done or must not be done and that they have had the very best scientific advice. Whether they have had consistent advice is arguable, but how is the House to check such statements? Ministers are laymen, but their alibi is that they have had the best advice. If the House is to do its duty in modern conditions, it must, even at the sacrifice of much time and effort by hon. Members, try to give these matters a close scrutiny, which is best done through the kind of Select Committee which we have established.
I hear one or two rumours—they are only rumours—that there is to be a grand grouping of Committees. I hope that any such arrangement, whatever its merits, will not include the Select Committee on Science and Technology, which, by its terms of reference, is not specifically concerned with any one Government Department and chooses its own subject. Its terms of reference are to look at science 1278 and technology and report. That means that we can pursue matter wherever it is to be found, because that is the range of science and technology. Since we are not tied to any Government Department, we make a habit of taking evidence from industry. We have established close relationships with private as with public industry.
If we should now go back on this development and retrace our steps, that would suggest to many who are working hard to make this country the advanced industrial country which its history and the talents of its people demand that the House of Commons had given up the struggle and was prepared to remain behind the times. So I suggest that the work of this Select Committee is a symbol of the desire of hon. Members to make Governments accountable for scientific and technical policy and spending; a symbol of the desire of this House to be in the twentieth century and to remain there.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
I am glad to be able to follow the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer). Having been a member of his Select Committee on Science and Technology for the first two investigations on atomic powers stations and defence research establishments I endorse what he said, that this is very valuable work. Although responsibilities to a trade association have forced me to bow out in the current year, this is in no way because I have lost my enthusiasm. In fact, I come away with even more intense enthusiasm. This is a very important part of Parliamentary life.
If this matter comes up in Government circles, I hope that the Minister will bear in mind, particularly in view of the fact that this experimental Select Committee started only two years ago, the fact that it would be regrettable if it were not given the full support of this House, to which it is entitled. I hope that the Government will fight any tendency—the hon. Member for Bristol, Central referred to this—to try to centralise all Committees. It is important that one or two Committees should be able to push the searchlight of responsibility into various corners of the Government machine. It should not then dissolve itself and start on something else 1279 but should reserve the right to go back to see what action was taken as a result of its deliberations. I pay tribute to all those—many of them are here today—who have taken part in the dedicated work of this Committee. I hope that they will go from strength to strength and will not be denied the facilities of the House.
The Minister said that it was his job to inject technological thinking into the Government and into industry. Some of his injections seem to have been rejected, because the figures which he gave suggest that there has been a reduction in research and development in these five years. The spending on R. and D. for defence in 1963–64 was £266 million and has now gone down to £169 million, a reduction of £97 million. He told us also that spending on civil R. and D. has risen from £123 million to £180 million, an increase of £57 million. Therefore, there is a net reduction of £40 million on those two figures.
The latter figure, of civil R. and D., shows that the great increase has not been over the whole field of civil applications but has been concentrated almost entirely on launching aid for civil aircraft, which has, to some extent, been necessitated by the wholesale cutting of our military aircraft programme and the decision to buy overseas. It has become imperative to give launching aid if aircraft firms are to continue as they are or to improve their contribution.
I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that now he feels that his job is to harness technology to the problems of Britain earning her living. That is absolutely right. But I think that our anxiety would be as to whether Whitehall as at present constituted has the right machinery for calculating what the potential market would be in those sectors that he wishes to select and support. I do not believe that, at the moment, Whitehall has the proper machine to carry out the market surveys. He said that it was now demand orientated. That means market orientated and it is desirable. But if there are not the trained people to be market orientated, they may not make wise decisions.
§ Mr. Benn
I did not say that I regarded it as our job to select projects but when 1280 projects come to us for support from industry we have the manifest duty to evaluate them and consider whether they appear to justify support on the basis of the markets identified for them. There is nothing in what I said to indicate that we say what should be done but that we must respond intelligently and professionally to the requests for support which come to us from industry.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Would the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) distinguish in his remarks between Whitehall, which has not the capacity to make the kind of decision to which he refers, and the programme analysis unit set up at one remove from Whitehall for this very purpose?
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
I think that it is true that if one can gather a team of specialists for this function one can so distinguish but the machine of Whitehall is not and is not intended to be market orientated. I would be the first to say that the Minister is dedicated, as we all recognise, to the promotion of science and technology to the greatest possible extent that his Ministry can influence it. I am sorry that the Minister of State, Department of Education and Science, has left. Unfortunately, as this subject has been selected for debate at relatively short notice, I have a commitment outside which means that I shall miss the rest of the debate until she replies.
I want to refer to the subject of the Dainton Report, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) in his admirable opening speech. It is no good our continuing to discuss the promotion of science and technology and the innovation of processes and the need to get ahead in every industry and in scientific endeavour if our secondary schools are to be starved of the maths, physics and science teachers essential to sow the seed. This is the seed corn of our nation. The Dainton Report was quite firm. It said that, in the absence of other methods, we must surely provide a special incentive for mathematics and science teachers in our schools. It is the job of the Government—although an unpopular job, I admit—to take on the N.U.T. The Government must say to the union that, where there is a shortage detrimental to the long-term well being of the country, there is 1281 no alternative, whatever the union may say, to paying more and attracting the necessary experienced people to teach in our schools.
We had to do exactly this in the Defence Departments when there was a shortage of doctors and dentists in the forces. Some people asked, "Is it sensible to pay a doctor or dentist in the forces more than we pay air marshals and generals?" We replied, "We are sorry but we have to pay the rate for the job". The pay of doctors and dentists was then related to comparable pay in civil life. The same applies in our schools. We should really pay maths, physics and science teachers up to the earning capacity they would have in similar jobs at a similar age in industrial and civil life. If the Government do not do that, we shall be risking the future viability of the nation.
I add my tribute to the men on the moon. Many of us saw them early today. I can only comment, having sat here at about 3 a.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of last week, that I felt that the moon landing was much better entertainment and one of the most enthralling and exciting scenes I have ever witnessed. It was well worth the loss of sleep compared with our deliberations last week. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman mistook the achievement in saying that the lesson was management. I would say that one lesson of this achievement is to pick the objective and then aim at it. This is why, surely, during the war science and technology and engineering in this country made such tremendous progress. Our objective was simple—to win the war. The Americans decided to put a man on the moon, and they did. I think that it was the defining of the objective which was the important factor, although I concede that the disciplines which have brought it about are very valuable.
This is why I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has persuaded the Cabinet not to abandon the Concorde. I know that this is a smaller objective but it is not a prestige symbol, as was suggested in 1964. It is a pioneering objective which has been market surveyed and I am sure that it is viable. It would be a desperate shame, after so much has been cancelled, if the Government cancelled this one supreme example of ad- 1282 vanced technology and, incidentally, of international co-operation. I am only sorry that perhaps the Whips—not the Treasury this time—may prevent Members of the Select Committee from visiting Concorde on Thursday. There would be a balance of Members on both sides, so that voting would not be affected. I hope that we can go despite intervention by the Whips.
I want to say something about ocean space. Our oceans cover five-sevenths of the world's surface. Of all nations, we have the longest maritime tradition. Of all nations we are most vulnerable and most dependent on the sea. We have relatively few raw materials left in our own country. There are probably immense sources of raw materials on the continental shelf and the ocean bed. As recently as 15 years ago, we had not even heard of North Sea gas. Now it is harnessed and operating. There are other potential sources as well. I feel that here is an area which we must not neglect.
It is the same with fish farming and fishing. Again I believe that there is an enormous source of food to our nation which could be cultivated as our farms are cultivated, and I am attracted to the possibility of fish farming projects alongside nuclear and other power stations where the spill-over heat is immediately available to breed and feed fish and encourage growth and other processes. This sort of fish farming would again make a tremendous impression on the half of our food supplies which currently have to be imported. Perhaps some of this percentage could be found around our shores.
Another reason is defence expenditure, of course. We are unique in having had our people nearly starved twice through submarine warfare. We have learnt the lesson and a great deal of attention is given under all Governments to antisubmarine warfare. We therefore have the defence reason, the food reason and the raw materials reason for harnessing and nurturing ocean space to our needs.
What is being spent? In his foreword to Cmnd. 3992, the Lord President of the Council says that we are sending £13.4 million a year on ocean space and of this £6.01 million is on hydrographic survey. This is a specialist and traditional operation. Only £7.42 million is being spent on a whole range of subjects. One wonders whether enough 1283 impetus is being put behind any of them. They include fisheries, mineral resources, marine transport, coastal protection, pollution control, defence and the underlying scientific disciplines of physical oceanography, seabed biology and geophysics and marine biology. The money is fairly thinly spread and I wonder whether it is a correct sense of priorities to spend only £7 million over the whole range when so much is at stake.
§ Mr. Dalyell
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I share his enthusiasm for this sector of activity. However, is there not a certain obligation on him to say what sum of money he would like to be spent? Some of his colleagues are repeatedly calling for lower taxes and lower public expenditure and those of us who have particular enthusiasms have a duty to say from where the money is to come.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
That is a standard intervention by a Government supporter in the speech of any Opposition Member. I have heard it constantly throughout the 19 years I have been here and I do not propose to take up the challenge at this time. The question of priorities is a matter for the Government and I am suggesting certain priorities. I understand that we are about to spend £300 million on the Channel Tunnel and I wonder whether that is a wise investment compared with perhaps £20 million a year on ocean space. I wonder whether the dividends on the latter would not in the long run be greater than the dividends on the former. But it is for the Minister, who has responsibility for an enormous Government programme, to consider the priorities, as he himself said.
§ Mr. Gordon Oakes (Bolton, West)
I, too, share the hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm. What more could the Government do to promote or encourage civil science research and development?
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
I hope to answer that later. I want now to deal with organisation.
Just as I believe that one Minister should be responsible for space, I believe that one Minister should be responsible for ocean space. When this matter was debated in the House of Lords, the Government spokesman drew attention to the introductory remarks of the Lord Presi- 1284 dent of the Council in the White Paper when he said:Because of the diversity of interests in marine science and technology, it would be impracticable to make the whole of this field the responsibility of one Minister and one Department.I am sure that that is not the sort of argument which would persuade the Minister of Technology. I put a Parliamentary Question to him on the subject and I was staggered, as he may have been, by the list of his responsibilities. I will not bore the House by reading the list, but it includes 40 subjects starting with explosives and fireworks and going on through steel tubes, iron castings, non-ferrous metals, agricultural machinery, metal working machine tools, pumps, valves and compressors, industrial engines, textile machinery and accessories—and that is only the first third. If he can be responsible for these things, why cannot one Minister be responsible for ocean space and marine biology and technology?
§ Mr. Benn
We have had a similar argument about air space. If science is to be integrated with its demands, the amount of work done should be dictated by the customer, and customers vary. There is the educational customer, the defence customer, the transport customer and so on, and I am a customer. The links between research and the purposes for which it is needed ought not to be separated. One has only to think of a Minister in charge of technology on land to appreciate how dangerous it would be to separate research entirely from customer interests. That is the reason for not having one Minister.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
My experience of Government is that nothing gets done unless the responsibility is harnessed to one Minister and he is a Minister powerful enough to bang the table in Cabinet.
In America, the National Aeronautical Space Agency was launched many years ago and one of the lessons was that there should be over-riding responsibility. In 1966, a similar organisation was formed, the National Council for Marine Resources and Engineering Development, which was directly under the Vice-President of the United States, so that there was full concentration under one senior Minister. This kind of organisation is essential if we are to make progress.
1285 In another place, the Government spokesman listed the various advisory committees, but they are only advisory committees and not dedicated whole time to the work, and I wonder whether multifarious committees, important as they are, are able to give the thrust needed.
It is also significant that none of these committees includes any representative of industry. It was said that such representatives might be included on an ad hoc basis, or invited to serve for a short time, but industry must be brought into these problems at the earliest possible stage. Engineering will be of vital importance to the extraction of minerals under the seas, not just their discovery, for discovery has often already been made. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider whether industry cannot be brought in now.
When the Select Committee visited the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment, we were tremendously impressed by the work going on, but when we asked how many open days it had had during its distinguished career so that industry could come and learn the technology, the answer was none, that it was in touch with a number of firms which were specialists in this work and there seemed to be no need for an open day. This is retaining knowledge which has been gained.
I repeat that I am tremendously impressed by the American philosophy in this connection, which is that knowledge created by public funds should usually be made public. I cannot help feeling that the same applies to other defence research establishments, that there would be a civil spin off of which industry could make a healthy use. Since our criticism, there has been an open day and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will encourage this interchange, not just with specialist firms, because sometimes firms which are not specialists can provide new and original ideas.
I am attracted by the idea of the creation of an authority. In the U.S.A. two authorities have been created, one for space and one for ocean space, and the same has been done in France. We had the same plan in this country with the Atomic Energy Authority, which achieved important results, although admittedly with large capital investment by the taxpayer. A similar authority for the 1286 application of satellites and another for ocean space might produce, better results than the conglomeration of diverse interests.
If we are to bring industry into the picture, development contracts with industry ought to leave enough money in industry's hands for it to undertake risk operations. Even in the current year, industry is finding it increasingly difficult to make profits. Most firms have to make loans to the Government at no interest in the form of S.E.T. or import deposits, and even, with the engineering industry, training board levies. Large sums of money are at risk and, although in due course we get the money back, we have to finance the operation and we have to do so at very high rates of interest.
So much money is being siphoned off from industry by the Government in various forms of taxes and levies that I am not sure enough is being left for industry to back its hunches in the research and development sphere, and in the long run this can have a very damaging result on the profitability of innovation.
Lastly, I endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh said in his opening remarks. Look at the financial incentives. The Americans give encouragement to private persons to come together to sponsor scientific development and innovation in partnerships, and any loss which is made is offset against taxes. If this is necessary to get an innovative process, or to encourage it, surely this is worth looking at in this country. Financial incentive is the equivalent of personal sponsorship of the arts which was prevalent in past centuries but which is obviously not possible in today's economic climate. But incentives can be given to private persons and interests to operate in this way. We should reject nothing which would harness the innovative aid inventive genius which exists among our people. Unless we do this, we shall not make up the deficit and we shall not pay our way in the world.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I intervene in the debate because I have perhaps the longest experience of the spending of money on research and development by the Government. It was my privilege 1287 after the war to be the Minister of Research and Development in the Ministry of Supply. This was an education for me both in science and in finance.
As has been said, during the war men had a purpose, and scientists were working overtime to invent new gadgets. No sooner was the building of an aircraft started than it was obsolete or obsolescent. During the war so many aircraft were being destroyed that inventions could be embodied in new aircraft, but after the war it was not possible to produce aircraft merely to use the inventions of the scientists. I had to tell them that they should go on inventing but that they should not expect their inventions to be incorporated in new aircraft.
There must be a balance between the rate of invention and the rate of absorption. One of our problems since then has been that our scientists produce new inventions which engineering and other firms are unable or unwilling to develop. There are many inventions made in this country which have not been developed and many that have been developed on the other side of the Atlantic.
The National Gas Turbine Institution probably had the most advanced knowledge in the world of gas turbines. Its science and knowledge of aircraft were used to build new aircraft, and in this sphere we were in the forefront of the world, but the Institution was brokenhearted because industry was not interested. When I became Secretary of State for Scotland I discovered that the firm of John Brown, Clydebank, was going to Brown Boveri of Switzerland to buy information for the development of gas turbines which was far behind what was available to it in the gas turbine establishment on its own doorstep. It is necessary to link invention with its eventual purpose.
The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) spoke of space research putting a man on the moon. I agree with the Astronomer Royal that putting a man on the moon as a justification for the employment of some of the world's best scientists is perhaps a lot of bilge—I think those were his words. What is interesting is that the technological fall-out of this purpose and of these inventions will change the face 1288 of the world. The miniaturisation of engineering which has been necessary to put a man on the moon has developed at such a rate that nobody quite appreciates the change it will make in the technological structure of industry.
The reduction in weight through miniaturisation can be illustrated by the production of a complete ball bearing which is the size of a small fingernail. There is also the printing of perhaps 1,000 electric circuits each the size of the point of a pin on a small strip of silicone. These circuits are replacing the cumbrous valve sets which used to be the basis of computer systems. Computer systems have jumped ahead to such an extent that the systems of five years ago have become almost obsolete.
The speed of this development has been enormous, and it will affect almost every aspect of the engineering world from now onwards. If this country does not go ahead with this new development and this new revolution, we shall fall off the bus and the world will pass us by.
Nevertheless, I agree with the Minister that there must be some relation between the effort which is given to this and the effort given to other matters. On the other hand, the excitement of taking a penny off beer or off cigarettes would not be justifiable if the result were to deprive our country of funds to carry science forward.
It might be said that a great deal of the effort spent on getting a man on the moon was a waste. Some people might say that the Concorde was a waste. But I disagree entirely with this. In any scientific research there is bound to be some waste; every egg is not hatched, but the egg which is hatched may revolutionise the world.
The Australians discovered that sheep on one part of the ground were healthy, whereas those on another part of the ground died off like flies with pine disease. The Australians asked the Animal Research Institution in Edinburgh to find out what was causing this. After research, the Moredun Institute discovered that this was caused by a deficiency of cobalt. Much of the money spent on the Moredun Institute has not brought results, but that one discovery has probably repaid to mankind all the money that has been spent on research 1289 in agriculture. The number of human diseases which have been eliminated by the discovery of deficiency-caused diseases has been phenomenal in advancing the health of the nation. The result of spending money on research cannot always be measured because no one knows what will happen.
The money spent on Concorde will have a technical fall-out for this country. During the war a Select Committee had to decide whether money should continue to be spent on the type of engineering done by Rolls-Royce. The development of Rolls-Royce put this country in the forefront of the world in technical engineering. This has provided industry, and income has been brought to the country by the export of Rolls-Royce enginees, which have been put in nearly every aeroplane which has been built anywhere. It was no waste to build Rolls-Royce for a few wealthy people, although Lord Hives said to me that actually the biggest order which he had was for 20 Rolls-Royces for the Scottish Co-operative Society for taking passengers who never complained to their las tresting place. The making of that engine put us in the forefront of engineering in the world. The same has happened with our research in aircraft engineering.
The hon. Member for Hendon, North did not appreciate that we have a unique set-up in this country in which the Government co-operate with industry. Take Farnborough and the gas turbine establishment. The Government subsidise establishments which are common research reservoirs for the best scientific knowledge. Industry can derive benefit from them free of charge. People do not realise that in this country industry and the Government co-operate in such a way that it makes all the talk of the Opposition about Government spending and Government waste ridiculous. Industry could not exist without the Government. There is hardly an important industry which does not depend on the Government.
When we talk about Government spending money on research, we must bear in mind that this is part of the nation's development. Industry is the nation's industry. The fact that some individuals run it as private enterprise does not mean that it does not have a responsibility to the nation. How we 1290 run it is a matter of expediency. People in agriculture are supplied with technical knowledge by the universities and the agricultural colleges. In Scotland farmers sit on the doorstep of the Government establishments for the latest advice and knowledge in agriculture. It is impossible to divide industry into compartments and say that private industry is independent of the rest.
The flight to the moon is not a very dramatic change in the technology of the world. Going to the moon will not revolutionise anything in our development. The man who discovered how to make fire probably created the greatest revolution in man's history and enabled people to go all over the world and made possible the discovery of America, which was probably the beginning of their trouble. We have passed through a great many revolutions since then. There was an agricultural revolution for 500 years because it was discovered how to provide winter feed. The industrial Revolution swept this country to the forefront of the world industrially. Then we had the oil age and the electrical age. Now we have taken a further step forward and have fuels which were undreamt of a few years ago. The computer is taking over in many sectors of industry.
What is the purpose of all this? Merely to invent things is an object in itself for the man inventing them. The scientist loves to work at science. This can involve a great waste. A friend of mine went into one of the biggest industries of this country. He was in a room in which there was a highly qualified degree scientist who did nothing but mark up dots on a statistical chart. Some big firms are waiting for people to take their university degrees and to employ them. Whether they employ them properly is another question. Some of them should go back to the schools to teach and prepare the future scientists.
The great benefit of science is to give man greater control over his environment. One great benefit is not in the technical field but in the medical field. The man who discovered that contaminated water caused disease was a scientist. The man who made it possible for people to enjoy pure water was a benefactor of mankind. The man who discovered electricity lengthened people's day. They did not have to go to bed when the sun went 1291 down. The men who invented television and wireless provided entertainment for peoples' leisure. Medical science has made it less necessary for people to spend a great portion of their lives in beds of sickness. In my life, medical science has made it possible for men to live over 20 years longer, and women even more, than was the case 60 or 70 years ago.
The life of man has been altered by scientific developments. Technology has made possible the production of things which removes hard work. The sweat of a man's brow is hardly apparent even in industry where there are fork lift trucks, cranes and other appliances which make hard work unnecessary. In the home, women used to tear themselves to bits scrubbing floors. Now they have washing machines and soap powders which take the dirt out of clothes and make them whiter than white. There are coffee grinders and tin openers which prevent women from injuring their hands. There are clothes which do not need ironing. Women now have more leisure time and can bring up their families without being slaves. This sounds amusing, but these are the benefits which science has brought to ordinary men and women, and I question whether they appreciate it.
This is a struggle between East and West. It is a struggle between Africans and other people because the Africans do not have these things. If we are so blasé that we accept them without thinking about them, that is not the case with the 2,000 million people at the other end of the world who are starving and who have none of these advantages. We must ensure that some of our achievements are extended to people who do not have the benefit of them.
Lloyd George once said that if we got the Chinaman to put an inch on the tail of his shirt there would be a boom in the Lancashire cotton trade. If the people in the East were able to buy our goods we should soon solve the exports problem. But we cannot export to people who cannot afford to buy—unless we do it by way of gift and aid.
Shall we use our scientific manpower intelligently and well? We cannot concentrate all our scientific manpower on gadgets. The TSR2 was a gadget. It was a lovely thing for the scientists. But 1292 nearly all the scientists in the country would have been involved in making this wonderful instrument of war. We must therefore decide whether we can afford to use all our scientists on one or two projects. I favour the Concorde because I think it will eventually prove useful and will be a step forward in aircraft development. I had to take part in the decision whether to build the Brabazon. The Brabazon never flew, but from it came the Britannia. It was quite clear that if the Brabazon was not built, the industry would not go forward. This country has made such a success of aircraft and such a success, I believe, of Concorde that it must go forward with this great achievement.
Where are we going from here? Two or three hon. Members have mentioned the serious problem that technological advance is going at such a speed that trade unions, employers, governments, local authorities and anybody else cannot keep up with it with their institutions. There will be a terrific conflict somewhere before those institutions crack and bring themselves into harmony with the speed of technological and scientific development. Therefore, if the advance goes too quickly, it may to some extent bring disaster.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Minister that there must be measurement and costing of technological advance. The scientists themselves must cost their own efforts and see whether they are justified. There is bound to be waste. Not all scientific eggs hatch, but from them we get eggs which may revolutionise the world. We have a large number of scientific achievements which are not fully developed. Some of the scientific effort should be taken from the invention of new gadgets to the development of those which have proved themselves—for example, the hovercraft and the fuel cell.
Industry in this country is backward. One firm which developed an automation computer arrangement for machine tools, which was ahead of America and every other country, was nearly broken-hearted because it could not get British industry to take it up and adapt it. The industries almost wanted the firm to give it to them for nothing. This is one of the tragedies that things are lying there and industry cannot use them.
1293 There seems to be some scoffing at the Ministry, but it has a department—it had one after the war—which advises firms on methods—which sometimes are as important as machines—on machines and on the proper use of technological equipment. There is no question that a large number of firms, especially small firms, have benefited from this. If we are to be efficient, we must have modern methods, and not only modern machines but modern minds.
Many firms distrust university graduates and scientists. Where I worked, if anybody applied who looked like a university graduate, he was immediately suspected as someone who would come in and try to teach his grandfather how to dance. No scientist was appointed to that firm except in the laboratory. It was one of the foremost firms in the use of science, but outside the laboratory anybody with degrees who came along wanting to boss the place was at once suspect.
Industry is conservative. I do not blame the party opposite for that. It may be part of the general way of thought. Industry does not like scientists. The foundry trade set up a scientific laboratory for research but it died of starvation because nobody would support it. That is one of the dangers. As long as people are getting on all right, they want to stay put. The late Sir Stafford Cripps made an offer to one of the most advanced so-called firms in science to establish a scientific industry, but because the firm was getting a dripping roast from the Admiralty and had been doing so for about 50 years, it was not interested in getting money from the Government to establish a new, up-to-date scientific industry. How are we to get industry to think in the right way?
The Clyde shipyards thought about these things only when they were facing a black-out. People must think before that stage is reached. It is the Government who have been the stimulant, and my right hon. Friend's Department has been projecting firms to think in this way. I congratulate him on what his Department has been doing. It has made a spendid job of it.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)
Order. Debates on the Motion for the Adjournment tend to be rather wide, but I hope that this will not encourage more long speeches. There 1294 are many hon. Members who wish to take part in the debate.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
I will certainly heed your warning, Mr. Deputy Speaker, about making a long or too-long speech. It is dangerous to be repetitive in a debate like this, but that is difficult to avoid.
I should like, first, to congratulate both my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) and the Minister for their excellent expositions of various aspects of Government policy on science. They have referred to the great event, the gigantic technical effort and the marvellous attention to detail of N.A.S.A. in the recent moon exploration. I am rather afraid that nations which do not have those great resources and cannot employ them may get some kind of inferiority complex, but that need not happen and I do not think that the exploitation gap should be increased on that, account.
If one looks at our attitude to America in general, the Financial Times today has an annual review of industry and gives an account of the average load factors achieved during the last three years by nuclear power stations. The Minister will probably know why I refer to this and that I have an interest in the nuclear power industry. The average load factor achieved for British nuclear power stations has been 87 per cent., and the average for United States power stations has been 78 per cent. Therefore, at this moment of congratulation of the Americans on their tremendous effort, do not let us get too world-weary about these matters and think that because we do not have the same resources as America we cannot achieve very great results as well. As one of my hon. Friends has said, let us get it right at the top and then we can do it. That is the most important thing.
I wish to talk briefly about Government research establishments and also about certain matters connected with education. I should like, however, to raise a staff side matter, to which the attention of the Minister of State should be drawn before she replies to the debate. I am not speaking this time about Culham, which I usually raise, although I assure the Minister that I shall be keeping a sharp eye on whether the long-term effort 1295 of the country in thermonuclear fusion suffers as a result of his decision and whether it was the Treasury which actually took it.
The matter to which I refer concerns the Science Research Council, which has an important responsibility for pure science and, therefore, an important responsibility to look at the human aspects of the staff. The staff side of the Whitley Council is very concerned—the Minister knows that the Rutherford Laboratory is in my constituency—about what happens concerning the 300 GeV accelerator. The staff side takes the view that plans are still required for future facilities at Rutherford whatever happens. If the 300 GeV accelerator does not get off the ground, what will happen?
The staff side has put certain alternative proposals, which I do not propose to go into now, to the Science Research Council which I hope will be considered, but I should at least like to hear a reassuring statement about this. The staff side are entitled to consideration of their views.
One of the points with which I should like shortly to deal is the need for more qualified people in industry. All the recent reports have been exhaustively discussed, and I do not think that we need any more committees on the subject of manpower. My hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite have, however, pointed out that one thing that stands out is that while we are top in pure science, we are low in economic growth. This is the real crisis we face. Certainly one symptom of it is the proportion—in this we are bottom—of graduates who enter technology. All this has to be looked at in the light of our spending £250 million a year on British universities, and hon. Members are right to point out that there is, obviously, a correlation between our poor economic growth and lack of technologists in industry.
I do not want to try to say exactly where the fault lies. In my view, there is a good deal to be said for what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) has said about the attitude of industry—and I am in industry—to scientists. I think there is no doubt that much of British management is deficient in scientific 1296 knowledge, and this exacerbates the cultural divide in this matter, but it is equally true that universities could do a lot more to stop people thinking that industry provides no intellectual challenges. This is simply not true, and universities should stop discouraging people by making that sort of statement. I am often depressed by this ill-informed comment in universities about the prospects for young people in industry. But when we have said that, progress is being made, although it is for too slow. Output of qualified scientists and engineers has greatly increased, and this is true of those who move from universities into engineering industry, and there are some, although not enough.
There are certain things which the right hon. Gentleman will agree can now be done, and I raise a subject which I do not think has been raised this afternoon, and certainly ought to be raised more often, and that is that if we are to marry up, as he wishes to do, progress between production and research we must do something about pensions and make them transferable. This comes up in every debate we have here on this subject, but we really have got to take some steps towards a national scheme on those lines, and there must also be a satisfactory redundancy payments scheme for scientists and engineers in the Civil Service if we are to have satisfactory transfers. It is also interesting that the salaries paid by universities to their graduates have a very small differential with those paid in industry in this country at the moment, and I am not sure that industry has not to look at the sort of salaries it is prepared to pay. Unless the leaders of industry and the teachers forget their prejudices there really is a serious danger that we shall become notorious as a brilliantly inventive but ineffectual nation, and this none of us in the House wants to see.
I am very much against dogma in these matters, especially in regard to the future rôle of public research and development and its administration. The right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire need not fear I am going to advocate the sort of policy which he had in mind of deliberately cutting Government research expenditure for its own sake. There must be some industrial payoff, and there is some waste, as he indicated, in Government research. I am afraid that 1297 some of my hon. Friends who are not here today have been heard to say, and many middle-sized firms have ideas on this subject, that we can transfer a great deal of research now done in Government establishments to private enterprise. I think they are very optimistic and unrealistic in many of the things they say. The Minister made a speech recently—about 18 months ago I think—when he said that industrialists had advocated this in the same way as King Henry VIII showed such passion in destroying the monasteries.
This point of view, which is a prejudiced point of view, I hope is not going to be taken on this side of the House, because I certainly do not share it, and I am sure my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) does not share it, either.
Certainly, no one engaged, like myself, in the nuclear power industry would take this view when we are beginning to realise how much designers must be supported by the research done by the Atomic Energy Authority. The reorganisation, to which the Minister referred, of the design and construction group is a great move forward. It is also true, of course, in other fields, where pioneer work is being done by the Government research establishments. I refer particularly to carbon fibres, of which we have heard something this afternoon. I was on the Sub-committee of the Select Committee on Science and Technology which went into these matters, and this is a very good example. The announcement which was made by the right hon. Gentleman that I.C.I. is to go into this work is very welcome to the House. For those who think that all can be done by private enterprise I suggest that they see what R.A.E. and Harwell—which, I should say, is in my constituency—are doing. Of course these establishments are not involved in production, and success in this does depend on private enterprise, but neither can do without the other.
I think the industrial pay off to which I referred has greatly improved. I was unfortunately unable to attend the Maurice Lubbock Memorial Lecture this year, which Dr. Walter Marshall, the head of Harwell and director of the research group of the A.E.A. gave. I believe it was extremely interesting. He was reported to have said that 25 per cent. 1298 of Harwell's budget—£4 million—and 30 per cent. of his staff are now engaged on industrial projects ranging over a very wide field. I hope that this will go on. I find it of enormous value to industry. There are now 300 firms working for Harwell, and they hope to sign one substantial agreement each week next year, according to Dr. Marshall's report. He instanced tangible commercial benefits—the right hon. Gentleman referred to this—of joint development on the programme with Weir Westgarth on the multi-stage flash distillation system of desalination, which has greatly improved Weir Westgarth's exports. I am glad the Minister referred to that. I think the cash returns to Harwell in the form of royalties will increase, but no one doubts that the work of such establishments should be kept under continuous review, and I think the Minister is doing that.
I should like to conclude by asking how these reviews should be conducted and whether Ministerial committees and Ministerial control are the best way.
The Minister pointed out in a recent speech at Imperial College that the barriers separating research from production—and that is the speech I referred to before—should be broken down, and he also said that it would be quite wrong to undertake work inside Government establishments for its own sake just to keep scientists and engineers employed. I do not think the House will disagree with that. But can co-ordination and future progress best be done by the Minister or by an independent authority? This is not a new argument. I have heard it in this House over a great many years. I think the problem really is: Can one really bring industry into an independent research authority, and can one thus co-ordinate more easily? On the whole I think this is true. I think such a research authority would need an operational analysis unit such as the programmes analysis unit at Harwell, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) that the traditional Whitewall structure is not the best way. I am sure it is not the best way of formulating joint industrial and Government programmes such as the hon. Gentleman himself envisages.
There is a case for an independent research authority which should be 1299 studied further. It is not easy in the short time available in the debate to say much more about it, but I am referring to establishments administered by the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry and by the A.E.A. We should need to know what were the original terms of reference when we studied the rôle of these establishments, whether their missions have been accomplished and whether the terms of reference were for projects which needed a temporary home and which have now become permanently installed, as seems to be the case, judging from our investigation of defence research establishments.
In particular, the work done by Government research establishments, should in my personal view, be work which cannot be done by universities and private industry or which may be done in financial partnership with them. I think that my hon. Friends were right to point to the lead for some taxation incentives to be provided to help industry to do more research, as Dr. Jones suggested. I am in favour of decentralising to a considerable degree control over the spending of the Government research establishments and giving them much more independence.
The Minister was slightly surprised when I commented upon the rôle of the N.R.D.C. in the carbon fibre programme and said that it was acting as middle man. I realised that that was an over-simplification, but I ask whether it would not be much better if the Government research establishments had more direct responsibility in their dealings with industry and a much wider degree of financial authority. Whether that could not best be done by having an independent research authority co-ordinating their activities rather than Ministerial control is a matter for debate. I am beginning to favour that view.
This is an issue which we can shirk no longer. I do not think that there are any extreme solutions. Indeed, I am against extreme solutions in this field. But if we do not find some answer, Britain will be admired for brains and pure research but the danger is that she will be regarded as ineffective. There is no reason why that should be so. We have the industry and the science. It is 1300 for politicians and the Government to decide how it can best be organised.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Moonman (Billericay)
We have seen very fine technological forecasting by the Opposition in planning this debate for a Supply Day so soon after the landing of men on the moon. Like other hon. Members, I can only say how grateful we are that they have been so fortunate in their forecasting and how grateful we are that they have given us this opportunity to debate civil science.
This is a magnificent achievement by the American Government, scientists and engineers. Every stage on the way to the moon has been a triumph for science and the spirit of adventure. Both these aspirations have been met at the same time.
On a personal note, my four-year-old son is convinced that this is all part of a great birthday present which I have given him over the last few days because he is taking all the television programmes and the references to his own domain as a situation which I have created for him. In fact, it is much bigger than I can afford and much bigger than my right hon. Friend could afford!
My right hon. Friend said that although it is always difficult to explain to people who are anxious to know why so much has been spent by the American Government, one pay-off lies in the critical nature of the value of management systems. Quite apart from the objectives achieved, there is a spin-off factor; there is a clarity associated with going for something and achieving it. But there is also all the business associated with a good, efficient management system bringing together a great deal of experience; and that will not be lost, and it will carry through to many other projects in the United States. I hope that we in this country will learn something, too.
It is ironic that, although Parliament has many channels for the discussion of scientific matters, it is several years since the subject was debated on the Floor in the way in which it is being debated today. Hon. Members have raised various aspects of scientific and technological progress in Adjournment debates. I have raised the subject of European collaboration, and the hon. Members for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) and Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) have 1301 raised other subjects in debates on the Consolidated Fund Bill. There has been diligent questioning of Ministers in the Department of Education and Science and the Ministry of Technology at the appropriate Question Time. But the main discussion of any continuous or creative nature has taken place upstairs in the Select Committee, in the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, in the Labour Party's Science and Technology Committee and in the Conservative Party's Science and Technology Committee. That is rather ironic, and I welcome this opportunity of a broader canvas for debate today.
I hope that hon. Members agree that the quality of British science is not in dispute and that Britain has a high record of achievement. As Professor Blackett said, "In the European league table of scientific eminence, Britain is now right on top". Whether one takes Nobel prizes as the criterion or our achievements at this level, we have cause for pride.
I have two questions to ask. First, are we getting the best value for our science budget and are we directing it towards the levels of innovation fast enough and efficiently enough? Secondly, is the Government structure for dealing with science and technology the most suitable structure? An eminent Russian academician said,Science is satisfying your curiosity at the expense of the State".It is certainly a major industry of the technologically advanced nations of the world. In Britain it costs about £1,000 million a year. Admittedly, about a quarter is on military research, but it still reflects a large budget.
It needs to be said that the excellence of research and development does not by itself guarantee national prosperity. A few figures make this point plain. Civil research and development throughout Britain absorbed about 1.6 per cent. of the gross national product during the early 1960s, while in the decade up to 1965 the growth of production was 33 per cent and the growth of exports 37 per cent. In the United States over the same period the comparable figures were 1.5 per cent. of G.N.P. devoted to civil research and development, with 48 per cent. production growth and 41 per cent. 1302 export growth. In Germany only 1.2 per cent. of the G.N.P. was spent on research and development, and that must be contrasted with 85 per cent. production growth and 166 per cent. export growth. In Japan, 1.5 per cent. of the G.N.P. was consumed by research and development but over that decade production rose by 274 per cent. and exports by 377 per cent. I apologise for giving the figures rather briefly.
We can all argue that special circumstances are associated with Japan and Germany, but after we have analysed all the differences and group motivation, the fact remains that there is clearly no correlation. Indeed, if there were correlation Britain would be much higher in the league in terms of productivity.
Because of the cost of modern science and because the ultimate pay-off is likely to become more uncertain and more complex, it is essential that the Government work closely with industry to aim at ways of minimising risks and with other countries on collaborative projects. This would enable the risks to be spread, and at the same time it can help to build links with Europe. I regret that my right hon. Friend did not pay as much attention in his speech to this important sector of scientific and technological collaboration as some of us would have liked. I know that he shares much of the anxiety about collaborative projects, but he cannot ignore the importance of Europe in all these matters.
After the breakdown of the Government's attempt to join E.E.C. in 1963 and last year, it became apparent that one of the most serious consequences of our failure to get into Europe was the setback to Europe's chances of achieving anything like a competitive status in the science-based industries. A deliberate attempt was made to set in motion ad hoc schemes of collaboration between Britain and E.E.C. countries on specific projects rather than on a grouped or structured basis. While E.L.D.O. and E.S.R.O. have not been major successes, it is clear that the Government will make economies on these group projects rather than on their own national projects. This makes the case for Britain's association in E.E.C. all the more urgent. If anyone doubts this, one can see that the cost of maintaining science cannot be isolated from Government procurement policies and from technological forecasting, and 1303 that a number of countries are collaborating on scientific, technological and industrial levels.
For example, a recent study in the United States by the Department of Commerce shows that only one-quarter of the cost of launching the average invention into industry is absorbed by research, development and design. The remaining three-quarters is taken up with solving the engineering problems, with setting up the tools of production and with marketing expenses. In other words, the development of inventions is only a small part of industrial activity. Thus, it is essential to look to outside R. & D. for greater product reliability, better quality and increased productivity.
This demands a closer link between industry and the universities and research bodies. Not enough of our research teachers are sensitive to the needs of industry, and even fewer are prepared to work to improve the links. From my experience in universities before coming to this place, I assure hon. Members that some, but only some, university staff are inclined to feel that industry must come to the universities to discuss their problems. This is an unfortunate attitude. The need to provide university staffs with opportunities to meet industrialists is an important matter on which I hope the Minister will comment when replying to the debate.
I do not know that I want to get involved in the earlier argument about whether or not the C.A.T.s have enhanced their position by not becoming technological universities. Suffice to say that this is not an important point at issue. Somehow we must show university staffs, and particularly those at universities with industrial-based departments, that if they want to have the right to do industrial research, they must make an effort to get at industrialists in advance of projects being set up.
It is in this connection that I have certain observations to make, and an important one is the need for collaboration among nations. When I refer to "collaboration" I mean genuinely meaningful collaboration. When the word "collaboration" has been used, both inside and outside the House, I have often wondered whether the speaker is distinguishing between co-operation and 1304 collaboration. I have no doubt that scientists know the difference. They have been able, as a result of exchanging correspondence and making visits, to get in touch with colleagues working on comparable projects, but this has not needed the support of Governments.
We have today been examining ways in which we can make the greatest possible use of our scientific know-how; and this demands looking at the practical ways of achieving this aim. The basic requirement is collaboration with other countries and, on a more modest scale, collaboration between firms.
As for collaboration between the universities and industry, I have referred to the importance of this at the individual level. Again, one can see the experience of other countries. For example, in the United States the universities have, in attempting to deal with this problem, appointed research secretaries whose job it is to handle inquiries from private firms and put them in touch with the respective professors and others who can advise on the general feasibility of a project, though not on its technical competence.
At the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich an industrial-research institutes association has been formed. Its value lies in the way in which small firms are able to seek help when they would otherwise have been unable to do so or unable to afford scientific advice. There is collaboration among research associations. Britain is unique in this respect, with the 47 research associations we have covering a wide range of industries. This enables research to be concentrated in industry, and this has been extremely successful.
I return to the original question: Are we getting the best value from our science budgets? I think that we are, due to the innovating and professional attitude of the Ministry of Technology. However, I have two reservations to make, although I have hinted at them. One is the tendency to withdraw from collaborative projects, particularly in Europe. This is an unfortunate omission because, clearly, in terms of large-scale exploitation it is in Europe where we must make a real effort to have collaboration.
Tactically, I do not think that the Government have always used their resources wisely. For example, we consider the case of the 300 GeV. Here 1305 was an opportunity for high-energy physicists in Britain to enhance the quality of their techniques by collaborating in a venture in which a great range of skill was to be concentrated. We withdrew. Perhaps we shall think again; I hope we shall.
There is a simple lesson to be drawn from this. Whether in high-energy physics or in molecular biology, concentration of resources counts. There is a tendency for effort to be fragmented, with the result that we are likely to achieve less by dispersing our resources, and at a time when money is scarce there tends to be the view that no project is on. This is regrettable. It is the voice of despair.
My second question concerns the suitability of the Government structural machine in dealing with science and technology. Briefly, I suggest that the present structure is not the most efficient. My right hon. Friend said that we should be specific when criticising the present structure and that we should show exactly where the responsibilities should lie in one Department or another. I will aim to let him have this information at the earliest possible moment, but to do so demands time to assess the necessary breakdown of responsibilities in the Ministry of Technology, and the Department of Education and Science and the Board of Trade.
I will go some way towards offering advice in this connection. Science has not always involved Governments in political decisions, and this, in part, is why the present structure is not as good as it might be. Science was formerly of minor importance in the economy. This point has been developed and restated by hon. Members frequently enough for me not to deal with it today. The lapse of time between laboratory discoveries and the practical application of those discoveries was so long, and the application so restricted, that the idea of deriving advantages from scientific research did not occur to Governments.
More important, for a long time international co-operation between scientists of different countries was confined to correspondence, publications and exchange visits by individual scientists. Governments were hardly involved, and the political implications and repercussions of scientific policy and co-operation did not 1306 emerge more clearly until 1945. Scientific co-operation was to be directed towards certain ends primarily of direct interest to Governments instead of, as previously, to science alone.
The new industries with a strong science base will not fit into the Government structural machine to be found in Britain, despite the enthusiasm of Ministers and officials in MINTECH and the Department of Education and Science. For example, consider the information industry. There is a great deal more to information and data processing than the computer. Since the computer first appeared in 1940, an information industry has been what one might call a certainty. However, we still do not have the means to build an "effective system". Nevertheless, the tools to create an information system may exist—the communication satellite, microfilm and rapid printers to reduce material to a permanent record—and this industry offers tremendous employment opportunities. Thus, we are moving from the development of such a system into the problems of staffing and exploitation.
A quite conservative estimate made in the United States suggests that by 1975 one million computer programmers will be needed. At present the United States has only about 200,000 such programmers. In Britain the scale will be less, but this highlights the sort of need and urgency that exists for co-operation between the system and the man. I have referred in this one example to a subject which involves not one Ministry but three. One can highlight many other examples to show that the need will be more difficult to implement, for the reasons I have given.
A great deal of interest was caused by a report published in Europe arising from a meeting of Parliamentarians in the Six and in this country. Some of the industries suggested as being worthy of exploitation in the late 'seventies would all involve more than one Ministry, the very point which I am conveying to my right hon. Friend.
It is not sufficient to say that the structure is right, in view of the changes that have occurred and the criteria that my right hon. Friend has employed; that of sheer need and the aim of projects being market orientated. We shall find that development from the educational stage 1307 —from the Department of Education and Science—to the innovation level will be so rapid that the Government structural machine must be more flexible.
There may well be good will in two or three departments but we are talking now about good will in about six departments. Among the examples quoted here are cybernetics, lassers, composite materials, oceanography, and vertical take-off and landing. Here we have industries which are worthy of exploitation, but we want careful selection. Just as the United States has decided to concentrate on two or three industries for the utilisation of its resources, I believe that we should do the same.
This is not to say that the present system prevents us from doing that, but I should like to feel that we were beginning to look at the structure of the present system and beginning to realise that we want a much more flexible system for the future. It is against these fundamental changes in rôle and policy that British Governments for the past 15 years or so have had to wrestle with the new and growing areas of decision making, and increasingly important decision making, in view of the vulnerability of our political and economic state.
I agreed with the hon. Member for Eastleigh when he said that science and technology are very much in the mainstream of our social, political and economic life, and there is a very strong case for taking the logical next step. We want to recognise that in the main street and talk about it without embarrassment. After all, we are talking of science and technology, not of sexual matters, so let us hope that the new liberalising influence will spread to science and technology. That means that we ought to take this next step, and take the whole science sector away from the Department of Education and Science. Here, I can assure the House that there has been no collusion between my right hon. Friend and myself; he has already indicated that he would be loth to disturb the existing structure.
That would be the logical step, and there would be no feeling of outrage in the Department of Education and Science, whose main orientation is rather down the age range and on the substance of education. MINTECH would need to adapt 1308 to this extra responsibility by losing some of its commercial and informational tasks to the Board of Trade. The structure which could take account of the economic, industrial and scientific needs of the nation would be two ministries—one for industry and one for commerce. I am surprised that hon. Members opposite have not come in on this, because they have been challenged by my right hon. Friend to say how far they would want to see structural changes in Government. We must do some homework on this matter to show exactly where the better system of government could be implemented.
I agree with what has been said by both my right hon. Friend and the Member for Eastleigh, that our economic future rests upon advanced technology which itself depends on science. We must not neglect these areas. We should aim at the achievement of a solution to the problem of research activities, to the problem of co-ordination—because this will grow—and to the problem of industrial liaison, where a great deal has been done by MINTECH. We also need a solution to the problem of co-operation between nations, particularly the nations of Europe but spreading further afield.
I urge the Government to concentrate their energy and resources here. The Report of the Central Advisory Council for Science and Technology on "Technological Innovation in Britain" put it rather well when it stated:What we have to achieve is a new balance, both overall and in particular cases, of the deployment of our technological resources.Any debate dealing with civil science must realise that that is what it is all about.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
I am very glad to be assured by the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Moonman) that we can talk about science now without shame. The country at large would have lost a lot if the reporters had been sent out of this interesting debate which has enlightened both sides of the House.
As one who is not a trained scientist, I might be somewhat shy about pontificating about it, but having been connected with industry for about 30 years, and finding my interest in science and technology growing with the years, and having for the last three years been the manager, which is the equivalent of being a director, 1309 of the Royal Institution, which still has the laboratories of Faraday, Humphrey Davy and the Braggs, and of which our present director is a Nobel Prize winner, and rubbing shoulders with scientists every week, I find it an enlivening experience for a politician.
I agree that the subject is divided into two parts: pure science—dealing with the fundamental questions of the truth and knowledge of the universe—and applied science leading to technology, to provide things which make life better, easier and more abundant for all of us here.
The scientist can have and does have large ideas and new designs. He makes calculations and so on. But when he has done that, he can move to another problem and leave it to the engineer to translate his ideas into practice. That is what is so very difficult to do, and what the Americans have done so extremely successfully in the last few years. Unless one has huge resources and, like the Americans, has enough engineers for them to be able to work a three-shift system, 24 hours a day for five years on the problem, my experience is that it is a very long job to translate the scientist's idea into practice.
I am at present trying to help an engineer build a rotary automobile engine which may yet be a rival to the German Wankel engine, and I have to say quite frankly that I have found British industry unco-operative and unimaginative over this little exercise. Every part of the new engine is a one-off part, and one finds it difficult to get British firms away from their mass production to make a one-off part. Small innovators find things very difficult.
We have been wrestling with people at the rather lower levels of industry, and finding that they did not make things according to specification. Just the other day, a firm of piston ring manufacturers making some sealing rings was not only three months behind with the delivery of what is required, but, having told us that they would be even further behind with delivery, then found that they had made these particular sealing rings three months before but had failed to deliver them to us. It is this sort of annoyance that innovators and engineering specialists are up against.
1310 I suppose that one of the greatest breakthroughs in science and technology in the next few years will be the manufacture of fresh water from sea water. Considering that 50 per cent. of the world's population lives within 70 miles of the sea, what an enormous advantage that will be to all the countries on the north coast of Africa, in the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, and so on. Scientists can desalinise at the moment, but not cheaply enough. The problem is how to do it more cheaply.
I believe in the division of labour between the nations. The U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. are specialising in rocketry, and other things. We have been concentrating on radio astronomy to such an extent that we can tell the Russians more about what their rockets are doing than the Russians themselves know. I suggest that this country can continue vigorously with desalination of water schemes for which there will be a huge demand all over the world. That would be a contribution to the benefit of the globe almost as great as the Americans are making with their rocketry at present.
The Science Research Council makes grants to post-graduate students for special projects at universities and spends about £45 million a year. I ask whether the Council has worked well. I believe that broadly speaking it has. Judgments on these projects are made not by civil servants or outsiders but by scientists themselves. Scientists being judged by their peers, the right decisions have generally been made by the Council, but I have heard two criticisms.
The first is that big science, prestige science, schemes of £250,000 or over go with a certain amount of panache to the Council and the Minister and have a fair chance of being accepted, but tiny schemes which cost only £1,000 and perhaps concern a machine required by a sub-contractor for a very big scheme are found difficult to get through the sub-committees of the Council. Such schemes very often have considerably less chance of getting through than the very large schemes because the sub-committees have used up their allocation on other matters.
The second criticism I have heard is that when a project of the Science Research Council looks like becoming practical it is taken over and grabbed by 1311 the Ministry of Technology. This is disappointing to the S.R.C. I agree that there has to be a certain amount of overlap, but this is a point which the Minister might look at to see whether it might be more encouraging to the Council if it could keep some of its practical schemes a little longer.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Does the hon. Member agree that a third difficulty sometimes arises? This is in the case of multi-disciplinary proposals across the boundary of research proposals. They may be for the S.R.C. for the M.R.C. and there is difficulty in deciding to which Council an applicant should make his proposals.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
I can well believe that is so. Between the four or five research councils there must of course be some overlapping and a difficulty in deciding to which division a particular project belongs.
I now come to my main point.
It seems that one of the greatest troubles in the country at present is the division between those who are pro-science and those who are anti-science. There is a real intellectual division between science and arts. I find this in the House of Commons. A large number of people are neutral or uncommitted with reference to science. There is a lack of understanding in the nation about science. I heard Malcolm Muggeridge talking the other day in the "The Pick of Tomorrow's World" and making great fun of science and technology. There is a feeling that science means a broiler house society. I do not think it need be that.
Continental businessmen and politicians on the whole have a greater appreciation of science and technology than have their equivalents in this country. The Continental businessman has done science at high school up to the age of 18 and a certain amount at university, even if he was not to become a qualified engineer. Even the salesman on the Continent knows more about science than most of us. I believe that behind much of the student unrest there is this anti-science feeling, a feeling that it is identified with war, defence, rocketry, poison gas and pollution of the air and water and also that it is identified with boring things such as washing machines.
1312 Students say that there is no culture in science and nothing to excite the younger generation, no vision of idealistic life such as the arts can provide. There is the drop-out of undergraduates from science after they have done science at school. I remember talking to an Oxford undergraduate about this. He had trained as a chemist at school and took the science preliminary at Oxford and then went over to economics and politics. I asked him why, and he said, "What could be more boring than being a chemist merely going to work to improve toothpaste for the rest of one's life?"
I make two suggestions with a view to countering this divisiveness in the nation. I am glad that the Minister of State, Department of Education and Science has returned to the Front Bench. Perhaps the time has come when all sixth formers should take some general science so that everyone could be given an interest in science and technology. They may be encouraged to read New Scientist or the science paragraphs in The Times.
Looking at the matter at its lowest, we are not very advanced in this country in many ways. For instance, two of our great industries started in this century 10 years after other countries had started them. Otto Benz and Daimler made a motor car 10 years before we made one in 1896, and that one was a copy of the Daimler. We pride ourselves on flying, but 10 foreigners flew before any Englishman did so. There were the Wright Brothers, Bleriot, Henri Farman and Santos Dumas and all the others. As the Minister said, we have been going down in some industries ever since the 1890s in comparison with the rest of the world.
My other suggestion is that we might seriously consider whether we should project science as something beautiful and wonderful by itself and popularise the spread of truth and knowledge of the universe without a technological angle. There is no need to pollute the air and water and so on. For this projection of science we might use a vehicle such as the Royal Institution. I declare an interest as I am connected with the Royal Institution. It is famous for its Friday discourses and its Christmas Lectures, its lectures for 20,000 school children, businessmen and civil servants, but the Royal 1313 Institution in Albemarle Street serves only London. I should like travelling lecturers to go to Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and Liverpool and even to non-industrial towns such as Edinburgh, York, Norwich, Exeter and Brighton. A scientific council on the lines of the Arts Council could be created with very little money, perhaps about £50,000 a year, for these travelling lecturers to go round the country in favour of science.
I was born and bred in the South of England and until I went to the North of England I had no appreciation of the value of science and technology. I am certain that millions of people who have no connection with industry equally have no appreciation of the great importance that science plays in every part of their life. There is a case for establishing something like the Arts Council in a small way to project science as something with a culture of its own which is of great importance and worthy of the attention of all youth. If every boy who goes to sixth form could be given some knowledge of science and if we projected the culture of science throughout the country we would be taking a great step forward.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones (Eccles)
The House is indebted to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Technology and to the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) for the manner in which they opened the debate and presented some of the problems facing society in its handling of civil science.
Everyone who has spoken has pointed out that this debate is taking place on the day on which the American astronauts set foot on the moon. It is right to point to the success of this venture, but if we come back down to earth, and if we walk less than a mile up the road to Charing Cross Hospital, we can walk into a research laboratory where the most wonderful work in the world is being done in absolutely disgraceful conditions.
For this each and every right hon. and hon. Gentleman must accept a share of responsibility. I am talking about the Biochemistry Department at Charing Cross Hospital which in the not too distant future is to move to new quarters. It is a disgrace to our society that this 1314 wonderful team which is doing wonderful work and probably leading the world in biochemistry, has had to work for so many years in such appalling conditions.
In a sense, this sums up our attitude to civil science and medical science, because if this research department succeeds further in its work very significant contributions, purely in the realm of biochemistry, may be made to help countless thousands of people now suffering from mental deficiency and mental diseases. We do not need to go to the moon to see this wonderful work. It is being done a short walk up the road. There, Professor Davison and his team, drawn from all parts of the world, are working in conditions which the House, for all its complaints about Members' facilities, would find truly bad. That leading scientists have to do wonderful work in such conditions, and have their lunch round a washbasin and boil water for tea on a bunsen burner, makes a laughing stock of all the polite words we utter about civil science. In the end, it is not our words but our deeds that matter. We can talk until we are blue in the face, but in the end it is what we are prepared to vote, what we are prepared to give, that matters.
The work that Professor Davison is doing is advanced by any standards. I was very impressed by the degree of collaboration which exists between the Professor and the hospital consultants. Regrettably, such a degree of collaboration does not always obtain. Regrettably, there are medical people who stand upon their professional dignity and say, "We will have no part of the technologist as an equal."
There are many occasions when a patient can receive no further help from the medical authorities but can receive a tremendous amount of help from technology. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Education and Science knows of a wonderful but simple piece of technical equipment called "Possum" which can bring relief to countless thousands of people.
Mention has been made of development and innovation and of the gap which there is in the application of technology. The hon. Member for Eastleigh asked what sort of rôle Britain 1315 could play in the post-Imperial era. It could play a vital rôle in taking the lead in assisting disabled and handicapped people. We already have the technological lead. What we severely lack is the ability to apply that which is known to bring relief. I am talking, not of a thousand people, but of the possibility of helping millions of people throughout the world.
Although science can be generous, it can also be harsh. I have here a very well written but rather hurriedly prepared report from the United Nations Economic and Social Council on the Problems of Human Environment in preparation for a world conference in 1972. The report poses some startling problems. The hon. Member for Eastleigh will doubtless agree that this is another way in which we could set an example to the world.
That which science destroys science itself will in the end have to try to recreate. Man cannot go on destroying his environment ad infinitum and expect to survive. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Oakes) will refer to the benefits of oceanology and marine biology. I tell him now that if no control is imposed over oceanographic pollution we may not get the rewards of which he dreams. We should be tackling this problem energetically.
Earlier this month The Times ran three articles on "the polluters". The first article struck a warning note which has not been taken sufficiently seriously by anyone. Dr. Kenneth Mellanby, the Director of the Monks Wood Experimental Station of the Nature Conservancy, made would doubtles sheartily agree if I were certain observations. Hone. Members to say that nitrates for the land are very good, and they step up food production, prevent starvation and give us a better diet, but the truth is that we then become lavish with that which nature has given us and do not realise sufficiently quickly, of the over-use of nitrates.
I quote from Dr. Mellanby's article:Nitrate in water is relatively harmless to adults but young babies turn it to nitrite which is highly poisonous and deaths in Europe and America have been attributed to this cause. If we trebled our nitrate dressing to grass in areas which serve as catchments for water 1316 undertakings the water would need to be carefully monitoredThe hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) referred to the need for desalination of water. He will be intrigued by this observation by Dr. Mellanby:It has been suggested that if fertiliser use is increased it will be safest to give babies in such areas only pure bottled waterIn our squandering method of trying to get the maximum from the soil we could easily pollute the very water which we need. If there is to be any sense of urgency, it should be in this direction. Scientists should now be working very hard upon the problems of the very overuse of the benefits of science. We can pass Bills until we are blue in the face, but it will not alter the pollution. This is something which we have to take into account on the advice of the scientists.
I hope the House will not think me flippant when I give the next example. The name that I shall mention is purely coincidental with that of the astronaut, Aldrin. I have not chosen it. I live in an area where it is very difficult to grow carrots. As soon as one weeds the line of carrots, the carrot flies come in and the carrots have gone. For eight years I tried to grow carrots in Wrexham, North Wales, and failed completely. Suddenly on the market appeared a product called Aldrin. We had the finest carrots that one ever saw in one's life. Unfortunately, Aldrin turned out to be toxic. The carrots were good in appearance but deadly in the taking.
That was some years ago. Apparently, despite warnings, there are still areas in this country where farmers are using Aldrin dust to step up their carrot crops. It may give them a good cash return but it could be fatal for us. That is the sort of thing that I am asking the House to bear in mind.
My second example is this. None of us likes to think that the sheep in the field are going to be insect-ridden. Nowadays there are some extremely good dips, one of which is Dieldren. It was used as a sheep dip in an isolated field, and four years later it appeared in a reservoir. It had seeped through the ground through several miles, retaining all its toxic properties. The purpose for which it was 1317 used was good but the results were extremely dangerous. We really must be on our guard. As I say, science and nature are generous but they can be terrible enemies in the end.
I should like to refer to the three areas of pollution which are worrying the serious scientist. First there is pollution of human settlements—the township, the village and the hamlet. It is possible to pollute the rivers and the atmosphere. One can also pollute the drinking water supply. Secondly, there is pollution of territorial areas of the water around our coastline, such as that part of the coast in which my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West is interested. But in the end it is the third factor which is most important. I refer to the global problems which arise from the squandering application of technology and science. It is this which we ought now to be taking notice of.
I have taken up the point made by the hon. Member for Eastleigh and I gave an example of what should be our post-imperial rôle, namely to try to help disabled people in a technological sense. I should like to think that my right hon. Friend will make quite sure that in the World Environment Conference in 1972 to which reference has been made the civil science and technology of this country will have a major and important contribution to make.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
The hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) has raised two extremely important aspects of civil science in his references to the need to help disabled people by means of the newer technologies which are becoming available, and the serious and almost frightening problem of the pollution of the environment to which attention has so recently been drawn in the United Nations report.
These are matters which might well be considered by the Select Committee on Science and Technology. Indeed, that Committee has already looked at one limited aspect of pollution in its report on the "Torrey Canyon" and the measures which could be taken to prevent releases of oil by large tankers and hence the fouling of the coasts of Britain.
That was only one limited aspect of the problem, and the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention to some others which 1318 are of even more far reaching importance because they affect human life—the effects of organo-phospherus and organo-chlorine compounds in the treatment of crops, which have been discovered to be an extremely dangerous measure. These compounds remain in the soil for many years and can be disseminated to such an extent that their residues are even found in the bodies of penguins in the Antarctic. This illustrates how widespread can be the effects of compounds which are used even, as the hon. Gentleman says, by the domestic gardener on his own crops without thinking how they are likely to affect the environment in which man has to exist.
I agree that much more could be done in the application of technologies to assist the disabled and handicapped. With the tremendous growth in mechanical handling equipment for industrial use and the remote handling of compounds that are toxic, new methods are being discovered of amplifying and assisting the movements of the human body which could be of very great assistance to those whose limbs are disabled or, indeed, who have no limbs at all, such as the unfortunate sufferers from the thalidomide tragedy. These technologies which have been developed for other purposes might have applications here, and I hope this is being looked at by the Ministry of Technology.
What has been said by the hon. Gentleman and, indeed, by other speakers such as the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Moonman), who referred to the need to discuss European collaboration in advanced technology, illustrates how difficult it is for the House, when we have debates of this kind so seldom, to cover the ground properly. We have to eschew discussing a variety of fields and limit ourselves to only a few aspects of the problem which are considered to be of the greatest importance at the moment.
Every hon. Gentleman who has spoken has referred to the landing on the moon earlier this morning, and I must do so even if I have to repeat some of the tributes which hon. Members have already paid. This is the most spectacular most breathtaking and most momentous achievement in the history of humankind. One has almost exhausted the superlatives in trying to describe it. My impression as I watched it on the television was wonder at the superb training and skill of these astronauts and their 1319 immense courage. As one looked at it one felt that one was sharing the adventure with those men in a very personal way, as we saw their first steps on the moon and we heard those calm and unruffled exchanges between the astronauts exploring the moon for the first time in the Sea of Tranquillity and Mission Control at Houston, Texas. I thought that these were pages of science fiction coming to life before our eyes.
Two general considerations occurred to me after I had been watching that programme. I am not in any way minimising the importance of what the Minister said of this subject, that we could learn quite a lot from looking at the management of an enormous enterprise of this kind which he thought was more significant than the technology itself. The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) said that to him the most important thing was the selection of an objective by President Kennedy some years ago and the determination of the American people as a whole to stick to that objective and see it through, although it cost them many thousands of millions of dollars.
The thoughts which occurred to me were slightly different. Of course attention has been rightly concentrated on the achievements of the astronauts themselves—Collins, Armstrong and Aldrin—to whom will always belong the glory of having been the first men to journey to another celestial body, but the honour should go equally to the brilliant engineers who made this achievement possible. The Minister said that there was a huge pyramid of achievement behind the three astronauts. The right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) said that the significance was not in the journey itself so much as in the technogies which had had to be developed for it to be possible.
I should like to emphasise what those two right hon. Gentlemen and others have said. Without the computer revolution, it would have been impossible to nagivate over a quarter of a million miles of space and land within a few hundred yards of a pre-determined point on the moon's surface. It would have been impossible to control and monitor the thousands of systems in the spacecraft so precisely as was necessary, because 1320 even the tiniest error would have led to disaster. Without the materials revolution, the Appollo capsule could never have been light enough for even the mighty Saturn rocket to hurl it all the way to the moon or for it to be returned safely to orbit.
I have been told just now, I am happy to say, that the moon craft has taken off and is back in orbit again, although the lunarnauts have not yet joined up with the command module—that will not be until 22.36—but they have safely achieved the ascent stage, which was one of the most critical parts of the whole operation.
Without the revolution in data transmission, the millions of bits of information accumulated on this historic flight could not have been returned to earth and neither could we have shared the wonderful experience with the astronauts as it actually happened. This is one of the mose remarkable aspects of it. Without the British invention of the fuel cell, which has been developed further by Pratt and Whitney at a cost of 28 million dollars, there would have been no electrical power source available for the command and lunar modules. Without the development of exotic metal forming processes, such as explosive welding and electro-magetic metalworking, the designers of the Apollo spacecraft and the Saturn rocket would have been severely restricted. I do not say that it would have been impossible to make the rocket, but it would certainly have taken much longer without these processes.
All these innovations, which have been given a tremendous impetus by the U.S. space programme, will have a profound effect on everyday life in the advanced countries. I appreciate that we must be very careful in considering how these technologies will be used by the Americans and ourselves and the nations of Western Europe and Japan, to consider also how we can apply them for the benefit of the developing countries. I understand that there is a lobby this afternoon on aid to the developing countries. Several of my constituents have been to see me, but unfortunately I cannot go and discuss the problem with them, but it would be appropriate for us to emphasise, in a general debate on this question, the need not to lose sight of the way in which Britain might be able to help the Commonwealth and other developing nations by transferring some 1321 of the technologies which we have accomplished in this country to those overseas countries which really need jacking up and bringing on a level more like our own.
Of course, Great Britain and the countries of Western Europe and Japan could never afford to embark on the prohibitively costly space programme which the Americans have undertaken—I am told that they have spent £15,000 million through N.A.S.A. over the last 10 years—but, equally, we cannot afford to neglect the engineering implications which I have mentioned. That means that we must have the engineers who are capable of exploiting the new discoveries, or we shall lose out commercially. I will follow up later what the Minister said about the commercial attitude of the MINTECH.
The second thing which struck me was the accelerating pace of technological advance. It is not so many years ago—certainly since the last war—that the Astronomer Royal of the day pronounced that space travel was "bunk". The men who stood on the moon this morning have proved him wrong, and one may begin to wonder how many other developments which have been unthinkable outside the pages of Arthur C. Clarke or Fred Hoyle may become realities before the turn of the century. The Minister went so far as to say that a man can do anything he wants, and there is a certain amount of truth in that. I believe that before the end of the century man will be able to synthesise life itself from elementary hydrocarbons—
§ Mr. Lubbock
Not from elementary hydro-carbons.
I believe that computers will be controlling most industrial processes and streamlining the flow of information. I believe that power by thermo-nuclear fusion will be a practicality, in spite of the fact that the Minister has reduced expenditure at Culham by 50 per cent., which may prove a short-sighted decision. In medical science, I believe that artificial hearts will be inserted in the human body as a minor routine operation almost. I believe that unlimited supplies of water from huge desalination plants will enable us to grow food in the deserts and that 1322 techniques of under-water engineering will enable us to recover valuable raw materials from the depths of the ocean bed.
If this seems too much like a flight of imagination, one may recall that only a few years ago the same might have been said about a journey to the moon. I have quoted that remark of the Astronomer Royal. Our biggest problem over the next 30 years to the end of the century will be not keeping up the pace of technological advance but controlling the unstable behavioural forces which threaten to ruin the golden age which our children have every right to expect.
That man can abuse his domination over the environment as easily as he can profit by it is a fact; the hon. Member for Eccles gave some illustrations. The technologies which we develop are themselves neutral, but they can be perverted to destroy the human race just as they can liberate all the human race from poverty and want.
I have said enough on a philosophical basis and should like to turn now to one or two practical aspects of the civil science policy, and want to start with some of the things which the Minister said. I have seldom heard a speech from the Government Front Bench with which I more heartily agreed. I entirely endorse what the right hon. Gentleman said about the commercial approach of the MINTECH. I approve wholeheartedly the transfer of resources from defence into civil research.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman is right in general in putting out more research to industrial companies, having more extra-mural and less intra-mural research, but research on this must be a controlled process, and in many respects it may be preferable to have co-operative research programmes going between private and public organisations, such as those mentioned by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), which have been undertaken by Harwell. He was right to mention that example, and we should consider how this can be extended, because a great deal of pioneering work has been done in this field. By that, I do not mean so much the character of the projects, exciting though those may be—the techniques of non-destructive testing, heat transfer fluid flow and, of course, the desalination programme.
1323 What I mean is the development of new types of machinery for co-operative ventures between public and private enterprise on a far more flexible basis than we have managed hitherto. I think that the hon. Member for Abingdon was right to pursue the Minister's thoughts in this respect and to see whether one could extend the techniques of management developed by Harwell into these areas.
The hon. Member spoke of the possibility of having an independent research authority which would manage these programmes on behalf of the Ministry of Technology and I should like to hear whether the right hon. Gentleman thinks that the Atomic Energy Authority, shorn of its reactor responsibilities and of its fuel production and processing side, should be the nucleus of such an independent research authority which would be engaged over the whole spectrum and not just on the nuclear side.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman entirely that we should consciously direct our programmes away from pure research towards exploitation. Again, I think that the Atomic Energy Authority has been very successful in this respect as one looks at some of the programmes which have been going on at Harwell.
But if we are to do all these things, very important problems will arise. Where are we to get the manpower? One of the tragedies of this House not having paid very much attention to scientific problems in the last few years—the right hon. Gentleman said that this was the first occasion in which he had participated in a debate since he became Minister—is that three reports on scientific manpower—the Jones, Swann and Dainton Reports—have not been discussed together. The Jones Report was on the brain drain, the Swann Report was on the flow into employment of graduates in science and technology and the Dainton Report was about the flow into higher education of candidates in science and technology.
In this House, the Swann and Dainton Reports have not had an airing. The other place has debated the Swann Report. Neither House has ever tried to look at these three reports together. This is a serious lacuna in the approaches we have made to the problem of science policy, because these three reports are 1324 very closely connected. One cannot talk about the flow of candidates from sixth forms to university and from university into industry and, later on, the migration of scientists and technologists to other countries, particularly the United States, each of them in isolation. There must be a very close connection between the three phenomena as the Swann Report, the last of the three, explicitly recognised.
I want to refer to a remark made by Professor Swann when he addressed at Nottingham University a conference organised by the Liberal Party Science and Technology Committee. We talked there about these three reports together. We were privileged to have present Professor Swann, Dr. Dainton and Dr. Jones. Professor Swann said:… as you will see, I will refer back frequently to both of these other reports because all three are fairly closely related and …it is a good thing that the Liberal Party is thinking about all these simultaneously because, as far as I know, nobody else has done so and in reality they should be considered as a sort of three-pronged attack on a rather large central problem.It is a pity, therefore, that, over the whole period since these three reports were published, we have not found time in this House to debate them together and that another place has only debated one of them and we have debated one of the others. We cannot separate these problems and treat them in isolation.
We made some suggestions at the conference to which I want to draw the hon. Lady's attention. I will not go through all the recommendations because there were quite a number of them but will speak particularly about recommendations we made about research councils, because I understand that she hopes to deal with this herself in her reply.
First, we thought that the research councils ought to reserve a certain proportion of their funds to be spent in individual universities on projects initiated by the councils themselves as distinct from expenditure in response to proposals initiated from the universities, which is the procedure most commonly adopted at present.
Secondly, we thought that academic representation on research council committees should be broadened so as to include more junior scientists and engineers and more people from newer universities. I would largely agree with what the hon. 1325 Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) said—that science research councils function very well in general—so in what I am saying I do not want the hon. Lady to think that I am being hypercritical. I only suggest some steps which might improve the decision-making machinery even further.
Thirdly, we consider that research councils should have some meetings in public when important policy changes are being discussed. That must not mean necessarily that all the subsidiary committees, of which there are many, should meet in public, but the main committees and the councils themselves should give some thought as to whether a proportion of their meetings could be open to outsiders. For example, it would have been interesting, since the 300 G.V. accelerator has been mentioned, to have had some open discussion on that issue. A report was published later on and it is available to the House but I think that some of the arguments leading up to it would have been interesting to those who had to consider it later on.
The fourth recommendation I mention as a follow on to the speech made by the hon. Member for Billericay, who is disappointed that we do not have more time to spend on international collaboration. We think that the research councils should have regard to work outside Britain and make awards jointly with corresponding bodies abroad in respect of expensive projects. One of the examples we thought of was the case of radio telescopes which, of course—to make a pun—are astronomically expensive. Thus, there may be some good arguments for the research councils to have discussions with grant-giving agencies abroad to see whether we cannot extend collaboration.
The fifth recommendation arose from our finding that inter-disciplinary projects are sometimes caught in demarcation disputes within and between research councils. We think that the machinery could be improved so as to avoid this. What we had in mind, roughly speaking, was the process whereby a proposal goes out to the S.R.C. A month later, it is decided what body should pass judgment on it. Then a lot of time is wasted with that research council saying that it is none of its business but should go to another research council to see whether it could 1326 give a grant. If we had joint committees looking at inter-disciplinary projects, all this delay and the resultant frustration of those making the applications could be avoided.
Sixth, we thought that some of the mission-orientated work sponsored by the councils should be transferred to the control of the appropriate Ministry. I do not make too much of that. It would free a certain amount of resources of councils to do the kind of things they should be doing. I mean all the councils, but the S.R.C. is perhaps the most important one.
There was no total agreement on it at the conference and I put forward with diffidence the proposal for a cost-benefit study of the machinery for making grants to university research, and in this connection it is for consideration whether one council would be preferable to the present cluster of councils or whether dangerous monopoly powers outweigh the possible cost benefit advantage. If one had a single research council giving all the awards, one would avoid all the demarcation problems, but some people in the universities think that it is helpful from their point of view to have a number of different agencies. If one gets turned down by one agency, one can ask another for the money. I put that forward only as an idea which might be considered and not for any firm decision about it at this stage.
The eighth suggestion is that professional doctorates, which have been advocated in a recent paper by Mr. Stephen Bragg, the chief engineer of Rolls-Royce, should be awarded for justified original contributions by individuals to development, design, production and operation generally in industry. Such an award should be made under the aegis of the C.N.A.A. with the co-operation of the appropriate professional institutions, such as the C.E.I. or the R.I.C. We suggest that the C.N.A.A. should undertake this work because many of the universities do not believe that they should award doctorates for work which has not been done in association with them. Some do not take that attitude, for instance, London does not. But the University of Surrey insists that a proportion of the work done towards a doctorate must be done in immediate association with the university.
Ninth, there is a well attested reluctance on the part of employers to release 1327 graduate employees for post-graduate and post-experience courses. We recommend that for a course totalling not less than three months duration in total and approved by a research council firms releasing employees should be entitled to benefit under the Industrial Training Acts in respect of their nominees. This is not now happening and it should be an incentive to companies to release personnel to undertake post-experience courses.
Finally, we favour the practice, currently followed by several of the former C.A.T.s of a joint post-graduate research programme with industrial sponsorship in which the work is done predominantly or entirely in the candidate's firm and under two sponsors one of whom is appointed by the university and the other by the company. We think that this procedure ought to be considered by the joint committee which has been set up by the S.R.C. and the S.S.R.C. to develop broader forms of training for the Ph.D. which are more closely orientated to the needs of industry. By the way, we think that the work of this committee is not nearly as widely known as it should be. I know many people in industry to whom I have mentioned it and who have said that that was the first they had heard even of its existence.
I hope that the hon. Lady will find these suggestions helpful. If I cannot have an answer to them this evening—and to expect an answer tonight would be a bit much, because of their complexity—I hope that we will have an opportunity to discuss them at some other time.
The Minister said that this was the first general debate covering the whole spectrum of science that we had had since he assumed office. He rightly went on to point out that we would be abdicating our political functions if we did not concern ourselves with these issues. There should be more broad debates of this kind ranging over the whole spectrum. There has been general agreement about the need for this kind of debate and I hope that it will be pointed out to the Leader of the House by the hon. Lady and by the Minister.
But that would not be any substitute for additional time on individual science 1328 policy questions of great national importance. They should not be relegated to Adjournment debates or to debates on the Consolidated Fund. I have mentioned the scientific manpower position, and the priorities of MINTECH were mentioned by the Minister himself. There are also the various reports of the Select Committee, not all of which we have yet had time to debate, and the subject of the pollution of the environment.
Unless we are prepared to spend as much time on these vital issues, which in the long run are of transcendental importance to the nation, as we do on the many minor issues which occupy us day by day, nobody will think that a word spoken in the debate was meant. "Science must be part of life" the Minister of Technology said. It must also be part of life even in the House of Commons.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Brian Parkyn (Bedford)
This has been a wide-ranging debate on science and there have been some useful helpful and thoughtful contributions from hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House. I concur with what the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) said about the fact that today man landed on the moon and one cannot speak in a debate on science on the day when man has first landed on the moon without making some reference to it. It is surely the greatest scientific management effort ever made, even greater than the development which led to nuclear fission.
One sees it as a conglomeration of the vast co-ordination of many scientific disciplines and many other disciplines all working together under an overall umbrella of marvellous management. It would be churlish to say anything but that it is the most marvellous effort of science which we have so far seen.
At the same time, politics is the language of priorities and one questions whether the use of these resources on this massive scale for putting a couple of men on the moon was justified. I know that this is an arguable proposition, because it is no different from arguing whether we should justify the 300 GV accelerator or be content with the Nina or the Nimrod. It is all a question of 1329 priorities and how much effort we put into any of these areas.
My right hon. Friend—and this was also mentioned in the interesting and thought-provoking speech of the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price)—spoke about technological innovation. One of my great grandfathers was an inventor, but without much knowledge for some time of technological innovation. He invented a lock which was ultimately developed and marketed by a certain Mr. Chubb and it became fairly well know all over the world. My great grandfather then invented an umbrella which was the first umbrella to be made having a steel frame. It was utimately developed by a Mr. Fox and it became fairly well known all over the world.
My great grandfather then invented a new kind of printing press. Being older and wiser by that time, he found ways and means of manufacturing and marketing it himself and of getting some kind of return out of it for himself.
I want to speak about technological innovation, because it is the most important of all the aspects of science today. If our generation were as successful at technological innovation as our Victorian ancestors, we should now be selling advanced computers all over the world, have the lion's share of all the nuclear power stations being built overseas and still be the largest shipbuilding nation in the world and we would never have been in the shameful position in which we were after the war when we had to import penicillin, a British invention, from the United States.
We devote a higher percentage of our gross national product to research and development than any other nation except the United States and the U.S.S.R. An O.E.C.D. Report in 1967 gave the figures as being 2.6 per cent. for Britain as against less than 3 per cent. for the U.S S.R. and 3.7 per cent. for the United States. It is no exaggeration to say that a better knowledge of the problems of technological innovation, and applying that knowledge, would do more to give Britain a sense of purpose and to put us on our feet economically than anything else which the country could do.
Technological innovation is "the technical, industrial and commercial steps which lead to the marketing of new 1330 manufactured products and to the commercial use of new technical processes and equipment". That is the definition given in the Report of the Central Advisory Council for Science and Technology, "Technological Innovation in Britain" published last year, and I commend this report to all hon. Members. It should be required reading by every qualified scientist and engineer, every director of every company in this country, however large or small, and by the director of every research laboratory and establishment in this country. I also hope that every member of the Government will read it.
It is a slim volume of some 20 pages but it is a tribute to Sir Solly Zuckerman and his eminent colleagues that there is more of immediate relevancy to the state of the nation packed into those 20 pages than all the pontifications of the economists puts together.
At its simplest, innovation is the sequence of events which starts with the creation of an idea, develops into a new material, process or product and carries on through the arduous and costly phases of trial production and marketing until finally the new product or process is sold and starts to bring in a financial return.
In spite of the outstanding record that the United Kingdom still has for developing new scientific ideas, comparable even with the United States, which employs five times the number of qualified scientists and engineers on research and development as we do, we are not nowadays so successful at exploiting new ideas and reaping a commercial advantage. So many British and European inventions have been rapidly and successfully exploited in the United States that America now has at least one-third of all world exports in technically advanced goods.
Last year I paid a visit to the Lincoln laboratories of M.I.T. in America with the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer). One of the gentlemen whom we met there told me that if only England in the late 1950s had decided to go ahead with communication satellites we could have continued to dominate the world in communications, but we did not, we looked elsewhere. We had our priorities 1331 wrong, or someone in the Government or elsewhere was unable to see the great contribution we could make, We did not do it.
There are many reasons for this delay and hesitation, of which the two most important are that we still as a nation try to cover the whole spectrum of scientific effort instead of concentrating our effort where it can be effective. To some extent the sheer cost of research has forced us to leave certain areas almost alone, for example, space research, but this is a negative way of arriving at a decision. It would be far better for us positively to select areas to commit our limited resources of Q.S.E.s where we can reasonably expect to reap a good financial return.
The other factor is that we employ too high a proportion of our scientists at the beginning of the innovative chain rather than at the end, and this point is made in the slim volume which I commend to every hon. Member. No less than one-third of all our qualified scientists and engineers are engaged in pure basic research, objective basic research or applied research. As the report shows, Britain appears to use only about half as many professionally trained people as, for example, Germany in applying science and technology to production and marketing. In 1964, the graduate technical staff employed in British shipbuilding firms amounted to only 0.4 per cent. of the total employees, compared with 7.9 per cent. in a particular Japanese shipbuilding firm.
We must also recognise, as the Americans undoubtedly do, that, given a decision to go ahead with a new development, a short lead-time is essential. There are two reasons for this. First, the shorter the time between the start of a project and its commercial fulfilment the sooner the commercial returns. Too many organisations still ignore discounted cash flow when assessing this problem. I am involved in the chemical industry which is capital-intensive and D.C.F. has long been recognised as essential.
Secondly, a short lead-time is needed to keep ahead of competitors because, irrespective of patents, if an idea is good it will be seized on by firms all over the world, and they will sort out the 1332 difficulties later. The only way to make sure one gets a return from something which is good is to be the first person to market it, sell it and get a return on that product. One must be first; there is no other way.
I had the honour to chair the carbon fibre inquiry of the Select Committee on Science and Technology earlier this year, and this was a splendid example of the problems of technological innovation, which was one reason why we felt we should look into the problem. One of our recommendations was that a major plant for the production of carbon fibre should be established in this country now. It is no good waiting until the demand is there. By creating at an early stage over-production, pressures are created and developed which will stimulate the demand and stimulate the effort which is needed on design work, on the development of the material and on the ultimate applications. This is what our great Victorian predecessors would have done with a good idea like carbon fibres, and it is what the Americans will certainly do if we do not.
In view of the enormous potential of carbon composites, the Select Committee felt that at least with this great British invention we must not let this fish get away. Research, exploiting the research idea and finally selling that idea is ultimately a matter of motivation, as we know from Schopenhauer. He might not have been a particularly nice man, but I think we too often ignore what he was trying to say. We have a will, and we are determined by the will which we have, much more than by our intellect, and sometimes we have to decide how we change a person's will and motivate people so that they want to do things. This is what the exploitation of a good idea is all about. Sometimes research scientists must be motivated so that they are interested in what they are doing. Here the views expressed by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) in his interesting speech are of interest.
He referred to the view of Dr. Marshall of the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell and the methods by which he is getting collaboration between the research establishment and industry. This is wholly a question of motivation. He is motivating the people who are 1333 working on the product and developing the idea, so that they can see it right the way through from the beginning to the end when it becomes a saleable product.
Another aspect of the views of Doctor Marshall which he expressed in the Maurice Lubbock lecture which I heard at Oxford University was the idea of monopoly. Monopoly still seems to be a dirty word in England; yet it was on the basis of monopoly that England became great in the Elizabethan era. If there is a shortage of risk capital—and we are short of risk capital in this country—and if people are to be prepared to risk capital, reasonable returns must be guaranteed before they will risk their capital on a project. The Government must be much more prepared to work with one selected firm on an idea. If that firm lets down the Government and society, the Government will know what to do next time, and it will select another firm. There is a great deal to be said for working with one organisation on something which involves risk, so that at least that organisation is prepared to put in capital and therefore get all the cream off the milk instead of getting just some of the milk without the cream.
I end my brief remarks by quoting the recommendations of this slim volume which are so relevant to this country in its present economic state:Wherever appropriate, both the Government and private industry should foster conditions which promote, both in the short and long term, effective technological innovation. The particular objectives which need to be achieved, where this has not already been done are—which are absolutely essential—
- (a) The direct linkage of R & D production and marketing into a single interacting operation.
- (b) Planned programmes of innovation related to market opportunities.
- (c) Effective technological management.
- (d) Short lead-times"—(e) A balanced use of scientific and technological resources over all stages of the innovative process".
§ 8.20 p m.
§ Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)
I would pick up only one point which the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Brian Parkyn) made; namely, his remark about satellites. What his American acquaintance was probably referring to was the user of satellites in this country; we went 1334 on with their development. The Post Office was very much against going over to satellites. It was very old-fashioned about this. It seemed to concentrate on ground stations rather than the use of satellites.
I was glad that the hon. Gentleman mentioned space, because I should like to remind the Minister of State that in all the five years of the Labour Government we have never had a debate on space in the House. We have been forced to slip it into debates like this one. Therefore, I should like to say a few words about space and take this opportunity of adding my congratulations to the astronauts, N.A.S.A., the American people and American industry. I will not say more because everybody has said it. But there is a lesson in it perhaps for our own space industry and programme, and that is this. The American people saw all this on television. The public relations of the space authorities was very good and the expenditure on space was brought right home to the American people in their homes. I wish that our own space industry would think much more about its own public relations and try to get across to the people of this country what it is doing. It is very bad at that.
I wish to deal with only one question and that is achieving the right balance in our space programme, particularly between scientific and commercial projects. I wish to illustrate this point with perhaps a rather tedious illustration but perhaps the House will bear with me for about a minute and a half.
On 5th December last year a scientific satellite was launched. It was the product of Britain—the British Aircraft Corporation—Germany, France and Belgium. It was supervised by the European Space Research Organisation—better known as E.S.R.O. This satellite was called H.E.O.S.1, which stands for Highly Eccentric Orbit Satellite. It had a highly elliptical orbit; the apogee, which is the furthest point of its orbit away from the world, is two-thirds of the way to the moon. Then it comes back round the world, very close in. It makes a sausage shaped orbit as it goes round the world.
It is a small satellite of 108 kilogrammes and about 75 centimetres high. But it cost 16 million dollars between 1335 four countries. I am not sure how much of that we spent, but I imagine that it was a quarter, if not more. The feasibility study for the satellite started in 1964. The general objects of it are to investigate inter-planetary space during a period of maximum solar activity and particularly what are called "solar winds"—that is, the continuous flux of plasma (protons and electrons) from the sun, characterised by a velocity typically of several hundred kilogrammes per second under quiet conditions. I am sure that the House is completely with me so far and has understood every word I have said.
However, on board this space craft were seven experiments. The first was to measure the magnetic fields in the range of 64 gamma. I am saying this in shorthand so that the House can clearly understand what it is in aid of. The second was to observe high energy cosmic ray protons. The third was to observe solar protons of low energy. The fourth was to measure both the energy distribution and angular distribution of the positive (proton) component of the solar wind. The fifth was to measure electrons, protons and alpha particles of solar and galactic origin over wide energy ranges. The sixth was to measure the spectrum of high energy cosmic ray electrons. The seventh was to eject a capsule containing a barium/copper oxide mixture which, when ignited, released a cloud of barium ions and atoms, which were further ionised by solar radiation.
I hope that the House understands what that is in aid of—because I do not. I am sure that it is a very interesting and important experiment, but nowhere have I seen what it is in aid of. Four countries have spent 16 million dollars on putting up this satellite, with all these splendid objects, and this country is paying part of it. I imagine that the Minister, either directly or indirectly, authorised the expenditure of this money, and I would be prepared to bet her a dollar to half-a-crown that she could not tell us what these seven experiments are in aid of. I will willingly give way to her if she wishes to do so, but I will keep my ground because I am sure that she cannot do so.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mrs. Shirley Williams)
My reason for not intervening is courtesy and not necessarily ignorance.
§ Mr. Marten
I am grateful for that.
What worries me is this. What do we hope to get out of this experiment, and how does it fit in to our total space effort? Why did we agree to it? I do not say that it is wrong, but I wish to be convinced that expenditure of taxpayers' money of this magnitude is being used sensibly and not perhaps marginally wasted. I question, with the greatest respect, whether the Department of Education and Science is the right Department to authorise this expenditure. As the Minister knows, I have advocated, for as long as space developments have proceeded at the present rate, that they should all be placed under one Minister so that the purely scientific space effort and the industrial space effort can be brought together in harness in an integrated fashion resulting in, I hope, a more balanced space programme.
The Prime Minister, when I have asked him to do this, has always refused to entertain the idea. But, as an alternative suggestion, the Government might consider setting up an office of advanced technology consisting of scientists, industry and the Government where all these things could be pulled together, examined, assessed and supervised.
I wanted to say quite a bit about the desirability of having a national launcher of our own. The Minister of Technology has just re-entered the Chamber. As I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Silvester) has been waiting all day to speak, I will end by asking the Minister to consider the suggestion which I have just made.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Oakes (Bolton, West)
The whole House is indebted to the Opposition for giving up a Supply Day to discuss this most important aspect of present-day life. Like the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), I think that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Technology struck the absolutely right note when he discussed in his excellent speech Britain's rôle in civil science.
Civil science is to us our bread and butter. It is the way that we shall earn our living over the next quarter or half-century or longer. In an altogether different field, we have had the Duncan Report, which scraps a great deal of our existing diplomatic channels throughout 1337 the world and reorientates them to the proper business of earning our living. Similarly, in civil science it is the duty of science to earn this country its living.
In a debate of this nature, one of the things that we perhaps tend to do is to look a little too much to the future and concentrate a little too much on the white coats in the laboratory and what they should be doing, either from the Government side or from the side of industry.
Since I may have some critical things to say of industry and, perhaps, one or two sharp things to say to my right hon. Friend about the Government's attitude, certainly to marine science and technology, we ought at the outset to pay tribute to our science-based industries. That tribute should come from these benches.
The chemical industry, for example—by which I mean not simply the technical innovators in their white coats, but everyone in the industry from the directors to the process workers—is our biggest export earner apart from tourism. It earns us more money abroad. The chemical industry has a most difficult task because chemicals are prohibited from many countries by the highest form of tariffs, in particular the United States, which is our most lucrative market. Nevertheless, the chemical industry is our highest export earner.
The other industry in a similar category is heavy engineering, both electrical and mechanical—again, a science-based industry. These industries are earning the country its bread and butter in exports. Therefore, when we are critical, as I shall be—and as most hon. Members have been of one aspect or another of civil science—the record should be put straight in that respect so that, for once, we pat ourselves on the back for Britain's achievements in the scientific field.
The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing), in an excellent speech, referred to marine science, which is what I wish briefly to discuss. We have heard of the moon landing yesterday, and, like all people in Britain, we are delighted and thrilled at the exploits of mankind. Is it realised, however, both in the House and in the country, that we know much more about the surface of the moon than we know about the ocean bed a mile from the shores of this coun- 1338 try? It is not from the surface of the moon that we can earn our living commercially, but it might well be that from the sea bed a mile from our shores we can earn a great deal of money commercially.
As the hon. Member for Hendon, North said, we have the potential of exploiting those resources because as the result of our geographical position as an island and our historical association with the seas and the oceans, we know more about the ocean than any other nation. I hope that this will not be an instance of having that advantage, having the technique and the experience of generations, and throwing it away and allowing other countries to exploit those resources, in the same way as my hen. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Briar Parkyn) told us we had done in communication satellites.
There is a great and exciting opportunity for civil commercial science industry to link together with the Government in the exploitation of the marine environment of Britain. The Government have a lot of motivation to do concerning industry and the public. One aspect of civil science and its effect upon the marine environment and its future exploitation is what my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) was talking about: the dangers of land based science ruining the possibilities of the development of ocean science by reason of pollution.
We have only to remember what happened a few weeks ago when a very small quantity of chemical found its way into the River Rhine. Not only did all the fish in that river die, but a great deal of harm to human beings could have been caused had it not been quickly discovered. That is the scale of harm from pollution that a small amount of chemical inadvertently tipped into a river or finding its way into the ocean can cause to mankind. So that to begin with my right hon. Friend has got to alert industry to the dangers which might be created by exploiting its own resources in this respect.
However, much more important than that is the possibility of what the ocean could provide for this country and for the world if we had a co-ordinated attempt, a vigorous, dramatic attempt, to 1339 exploit its resources which are all round us. I should like to know from my hon. Friend when she replies to the debate how many development contracts in marine science and marine technology we have with British industry. I know that in America most of the principal industries—Lockheed, General Dynamics, Westinghouse; all these great firms which have been involved so much with space exploration and moon exploration—are very much concerned indeed also with the exploitation of the ocean and sea bed. I wonder how many contracts we have with individual British firms on projects in oceanographic development.
Second, like the hon. Member for Hendon, North, I cannot see why industry is not represented on the appropriate committee dealing with marine environment. Surely it is essential that it should have not only an ad hoc position from time to time but a permanent position on the committee. The hon. Member discussed how much money is spent on research. It is about £1,000 million. Half of that is taxpayers' money and half of it is industry's money. I should like to see a lot more of the taxpayers' money being devoted to marine science and marine technology, and I should even more like to see a great deal of the other £500 million, from industry, being devoted to research on marine environment.
Third is the question of liaison with industry. I know, from a discussion I had only last week with the Minister of Technology, that we are now beginning to liaise with industry and beginning to interest various industries in marine science and technology, but I think a great deal has got to be done by the Ministry of Technology in showing industry the enormous advantages which would accrue—to industry—from spending resources on the exploitation of the sea and ocean bed.
Let us take an example. When the exploration was going on for North Sea gas nearly all the drilling rigs were American. It was American technology which built them. The diving techniques—in which Britain leads the world—were imported from abroad; they were not diving techniques originating in this country, even though the Royal Navy's and British experience of diving techniques leads the world. The laying of 1340 the pipes from the drilling rigs to this country, again, was American technology, American science, American know-how. We recently, I believe, had exploration for alluvial tin off the Cornish coast. It was not a British firm which was engaged to do that; it was a South African firm. We have had also on the Cornish coast exploration of the under-water resources, and, again, it was not a British firm but an American firm which undertook that contract. This is in a field where Britain ought to be leading the world at present, and British industry and civil science ought to be leading the world, and doing so not only through research going on in Government Departments but through research going on in private industry as well.
Some of the blame lies, I think, not with my right hon. Friend but with another Government Department, the Ministry of Defence, which really is too cautious in what it will or will not give from its own know-how to private industry. I refer particularly to the question of diving techniques. The Royal Navy knows a great deal about guiding technique. It has been expensively acquired at the taxpayers' expense. If that information were given freely and quickly to industry, which needs it for scientific research into a field which would be valuable and which is essential to Britain, it could bring enormous dividends for the country.
I turn to the question of public relations. The whole of America and, indeed, of the world, not only this weekend but for the last month, has been excited at the prospect of men landing on the moon. The world has been told about it and has seen its advantages. But we have not given sufficient motivation to the nation in our exploitation of the sea bed. I ask my hon. Friend in her reply to tell the House how we are to alert young people, including those in the sixth form, to the importance of this exploitation.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)
On a point of order. This is such a wonderful speech that it is deserving of a better-attended House. In order that more hon. Members may hear my hon. Friend's speech, may I call a count?
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;1341
§ House counted, and, 40 Members being present—
§ Mr. Oakes
I will be brief because I know that a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have sat here all day waiting to speak in the debate.
I was dealing with marine science and its exploitation. It is of advantage to the country commercially, of advantage both to the nation and to the industries which exploit this field of research. It is important to us in earning our living and in giving young people, including young scientists, a field of endeavour in which they can see that they will be of great use to the country. More important, it gives the country an opportunity to lead the world in a way possibly more important than men landing on the moon. After all, 75 per cent. of the surface of the Earth is ocean and two-thirds of the people on Earth are under-fed. In thirty years' time, by the year 2,000, the population on the Earth will have doubled.
What a glorious opportunity for Britain to lead the world in a field of endeavour which not only will help us commercially but can help the world to stave off starvation. It could be far more important than exploits into space. I hope that my right hon. Friend and the Ministry of Technology will spend more money, and, even more important, will motivate industry to spend more money, on the exploitation of the marine resources around the country.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Silvester (Walthamstow, West)
I hope that the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Oakes) will forgive me if I do not dwell on the subject of oceanography, although the issue about which I wish to speak and which has not received a great deal of attention today will affect oceanography since it is a central issue in the whole question of the development of civil science in Britain. I refer to the need for a sufficient supply of scientific skill.
I am not in a position to provide the House with information better than that provided in the three Reports presented by Swann, Dainton and Jones. There have been hints of criticism about these reports in that perhaps they deal with a false problem. I do not know—perhaps the Minister can tell me—the number of scientists 1342 we will need to produce. Swann points out that the forecasts made by employers of scientific manpower have generally exceeded the number of scientists they have subsequently employed. Perhaps, therefore, the situation is exaggerated.
I do not believe that one can exaggerate the position. Swann says that even if we take an optimistic view for the number of sixth formers taking science and technology subjects at our universities, we are still likely to have a growth rate in the immediately adjacent years of about 5 per cent. per annum in scientists and technologists compared with a growth rate of 10 per cent. in the last decade. Whatever argument one deploys, one cannot argue that we will need fewer of these people in the future than we have needed in the past.
Another problem must be faced—it has been raised by several hon. Members—and that is the way in which we are seeking to introduce into British industry at all levels people with a knowledge of science who can respond to tie ideas, techniques and thoughts of science and technology. This is bound to place an increased burden on the education system.
In addition to our local problems in the United Kingdom, there is the fear that we could fall substantially behind many countries. We each have our favourite quotations from Servan-Schreiber, but the one that brings the matter home clearly to me is his description of the situation by an American who said that some societies will develop in science and technology to such a degree—in advanced techniques of data processing, collection and storage and so on—that it will be almost impossible for them to converse with other nations which have not reached that standard of advancement.
While we want to have enough scientists and technologists to met our basic economic needs, we must also be able to participate in the most interesting and dynamic developments in science and technology so that the United Kingdom does not become an inferior kind of society. If, therefore, we accept that the situation is not being exaggerated, we must consider the basic timetable. I hope, therefore, that we will approach this subject with a sense of urgency. Although many interesting points have bee made in the debate, many have lacked such a sense.
1343 If one studies the Swann and Dainton Reports one comes up against a frightening timetable. Dainton, for example, confirms that the major decisions about the nature of the subjects one studies at university are made in one's third or fourth year at school. The pressures at that time decide the nature of one's sixth form studies and may, in turn, decide the nature of one's university studies.
The Swann Committee goes further. Adding together the developments which occur after someone enters university, it reckons that it can take up to 10 years before there is full development of any change of policy at any given time. If one also adds any questions of teacher training which may he involved in producing more scientists and technologists, one can quickly develop a time scale involving 15 or 16 years. In other words, we are talking now of a situation in which, if we agree with my original premise that we are in difficulty as regards the number and quality of people we are able to produce, a decision made today will affect the output of scientists and technologists round about 1979–80. That is a very long time ahead. There must, therefore, be a very considerable sense of urgency involved.
I see that in the magazine Nature, the Intitute of Mathematics and Its Application said:Britain's supply of mathematics school teachers will fall beyond the point of no return by 1970I am not sure quite what it means by the phrase "point of no return", a somewhat odd phrase, but it is clear that those professionally involved are realising that we are facing a very difficult situation.
There are a number of short-term solutions with which, in view of the time, I will not deal now, but one or two problems must be dealt with. They are those which concern the longer term production of more scientists and technologists from the schools. I emphasise that it is from the schools. The right hon. Lady the Minister of State may think that I am being too narrow in my reference but, as one understands the present situation, there are spare places at the universities for scientific and technological undergraduates. (I only wish that they were shorter of words.) It is not 1344 a question of providing more places at that level. The trouble is that there is not a sufficient supply of people from the schools to fill the places. We have to go back to that stage to get to the root cause of the problem we may have to face in the 'seventies.
When we go back to that stage we see a number of very serious aspects. One, already been mentioned by, I think, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price), is that teachers of science are older than others and soon they retire. This is true. When one looks at the statistics of teachers of subjects which they did not primarily study, apart from English, a higher proportion will be found in such subjects as technical drawing, mathematics, physics and science.
Similarly—and I do not want to make a quick political point—if we extend the comprehensive schools across the country that tendency will spread the staff available over a much larger number of children. The figures for comprehensive schools show that there is a smaller proportion of scientific staff available per child than in the existing direct grant and grammar schools. I appreciate that there are other reasons for that change, which the right hon. Lady may wish to make, but if we are short in this respect at present, it may be wondered whether this is the right time to make the change.
The present situation affects not only the universities but the colleges of education. One reads in the New Scientist, although the figures may not be its own, that at colleges of education the percentage of students with A levels in science fell. For example, the percentage in mathematics fell between 1966 and 1968 from 9.7 to 7.5; in physics from 6.6 to 4.6, and in chemistry from 5.4 to 3.3. That is not merely a percentage fall but an actual fall in numbers. There were a hundred fewer maths teachers, 180 fewer physics teachers and 109 fewer chemistry teachers. This seems to me rather a grave position which requires to be dealt with urgently.
Some of the solutions will depend on the universities. A lot of criticism has been levelled at the schools, but a headmaster in my constituency told me that it had been his intention to introduce a 1345 course for A level engineering science. For four years he had tried at the University of London to get that course. For tour years he had failed. One of the reasons given by the University of London was that that work was already done in the university. This year some of his pupils will be taking a course in engineering science because it so happens that two years ago the University of Oxford adopted almost exactly the same syllabus. That is four years wasted. I do not know whether this is a situation which requires people to talk about it for four years when it is known that by doing so the solution will be postponed, not to 1980, but to 1984 and almost ad infinitum.
The hon. Lady should note the attitude of the Secretary of State for Education and Science to oversized classes. He has said there is a specific problem which we can analyse locally in a number of different situations, which will have a number of possible conclusions, and that he would like to look at each case. The same sort of approach can be adopted to those places, schools and areas where the scientific problem is most acute.
Some suggestions I wish to make have been well canvassed. One is that there must be discriminatory payments to teachers of science. There are two ways of getting more teachers to teach science. One is to deter them from doing anything else, such as, for example, going in for research at university, by means of loans rather than grants. The other is to make it profitable for them to go into science teaching. That may be a "hot potato" but it is something which should be looked at. One way perhaps would be to introduce a weighting on the Burnham Scale to give a bias to schools with an increased number of science pupil hours.
An hon. Member for a Liverpool constituency has some evidence that there are some firms whose scientific staff has been with them for a large number of years and whose usefulness—perhaps that is the wrong word—whose fire as research officers for the company has been somewhat spent. He suggested that they could be used profitably in colleges of further education, and perhaps even in some schools. On such a man's retirement there could be movement from industry into education which in the short-term might be rather useful. Non-university 1346 establishments provide half the technologists with degrees and one-tenth of the scientists with degrees. It seems therefore that there is a great area outside the universities to which we should pay close attention for the production of more scientists.
There is a great field of opportunity for people already in industry who could benefit from further contact. One example immediately springs to mind. There are management courses at universities and business schools which attract a high proportion of arts and social science students. Colleges of education are attracting the interest of science and technology trained students also interested in management. Ultimately, although the Government can do all these things, the success of any such campaign will depend entirely on the attractiveness of science and technology as a career for people to take up. One of the most difficult features, and one of the most attractive ways of improving this, will be found in the rewards for those who take up this life.
That brings us to the realm of taxation. It brings us into the realm of preparing to let scientists undertake management as well as their own specialisms. These two matters—giving responsibilities wider than their own specialisms to scientists, and also the ability to reward them adequately—are the key to the current teacher problem.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)
This has been a thoroughly useful debate. I share the feelings of pride and wonderment in human achievement which have been expressed by many hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) started his excellent speech with a quotation from Tennyson. At just before 4 o'clock this morning I was reminded of a quotation from the less known versifier but admirable historian of the French Revolution, J. M. Thompson. He once wrote a verse autobiography which ended with one of the finest expressions of the sense of human dignity that I know. I could not help being reminded of this couplet:But to experiment, invent, explore;Having some light and always seeking moreThat alone, to me, is the justification for this tremendous enterprise.
1347 For myself, I feel the tremendous importance in the contemporary world for scientific research conducted as a sheer matter of what our ancestors would have called "natural philosophy". Having said that, may I say that I have great sympathy with those many hon. Members who have reminded us of, if one likes, the darker picture of the contemporary world. At the same time as we celebrate this massive and unprecedented achievement, let us remember the areas of scientific work where there is still a hard slog. I am thinking, for example, of mental illness, where we are still patiently going forward making comparatively very slow progress. I am glad that the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) and Bolton. West (Mr. Oakes), whose speech I thought was rather pointlessly interrupted, referred to the abuse of the natural environment.
§ Mr. John Ellis (Bristol, North-West)
The Minister got some support for the references he made to the purely commercial considerations, but is it not as well to remember on the other side that commercial considerations have unfortunately led in certain instances to man destroying his environment?
§ Sir E. Boyle
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall refer to this point towards the end of my speech. I believe that in our whole approach to science and technology, and, indeed, to the problems of British society, we must be both idealistic and hard-headed, neither forgetting the many eyesores and blots on our society that remain, nor at the same time being too tender-minded so as to forget the inescapable part which commercial considerations must play.
I want next to come to the question of the organisation of civil science. This is one of the relatively few points on which I disagreed with some hon. Members on both sides. I greatly respect what is said in these debates and by the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer). None the less, I still hold the view that it would be wrong to split up responsibility for the universities and responsibility for university science. There is one purely practical point which I think that the hon. Lady the Minister of State, Department of Education and Science will confirm and which I have 1348 raised in the House before. It is the whole question of how the finance provided by the research councils ties in with the finance provided by the U.G.C.
I quote some words of my own from a debate a few years ago:As I think the House knows, when the Research Council starts up a university project, there comes a moment at the end of each quinquennium when this question has to be asked: should this work go on? If the university and the Research Council agree that it should, they have the choice either of asking the U.G.C. that the project should enjoy the same priority as the university's existing commitments or that it should rank among the university's new proposals."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th March, 1965; Vol. 709, c. 757.]I think it is a sensible system which works well and it does point, I think, to the great difficulty of splitting up responsibility for the universities and responsibility for the research councils.
However, on one point I should like to go a little further than the Minister went today. I felt that his speech suggested the need for a rather closer link between the Ministry of Technology and what were formerly the colleges of advanced technology and the technical colleges generally. It seems to me clear that where policy in the technical college sector is concerned, the Ministry of Technology ought to have a voice alongside the D.E.S. I am thinking not only of the very top-grade technological institutions, but of the polytechnics and, indeed, of the area colleges as well. I have always been particularly concerned about the area colleges lest they should become demoted as a result of the plan for the polytechnics. Throughout that sector I should like to see the right hon. Gentleman having a more recognised voice in education policy.
Before I leave the subject of organisation, I should like to express my agreement with a point made by the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Brian Parkyn), who, as always, made a thoughtful and agreeably unconventional contribution. He actually had the temerity to put in a word in praise of monopoly, as it were. One of the things which have always bothered me—and I mean no disrespect to the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock)—is that there is a certain tendency for the rules of the game as laid down by sophisticated 19th century Liberal economics to be regarded as rather more relevant than they are in a 1349 number of cases. I think this is something of which a number of Government Departments, particularly the Board of Trade, are often guilty.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Orpington for passing me a copy of the lecture by Dr. Marshall from which the hon. Member quoted. I am thinking of page 191 in particular, where he speaks of the application of the principle of "maximum unfairness". In fact, the case he puts here for the A.E.A. workingwith a single industrial partner with which we collaborate on an exclusive basisis a very strong case indeed.
I should like to make two other points before proceeding to my main points. The first is to take up what my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh said about the importance of a policy of science informing the whole of the Government's activities. This is something to which we attach a great deal of importance, as did my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) during his years as Minister for Science.
I also take up and agree strongly with the point made by the Minister when he talked about the need to give adequate responsibility early enough to those in industry who can justify it. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, that is something which we felt strongly about in the Fulton Committee's Report. For example, in paragraph 117, when we spoke of career management we said:It is in our view of the greatest importance that those who are really able should be appointed to Assistant Secretary and parallel ranks at an early age.We have got to get used to a number of people being promoted to jobs of high responsibility at a much earlier age than happened in the past.
One thing which strikes me as wrong in Britain is that there is a tendency to feel that those of maturer years must, other things being equal, tend to be more qualified for the jobs than the younger ones. That is not true in the world of today. There are a number of highly responsible jobs to be done which will be most suitable for people of a much lower age than in the past.
If hon. Members wish to see scientists playing their full part in Government service—I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows what I am now going to say—that 1350 part of the Fulton Report dealing with arguments for a single grading structure is very relevant indeed. I am sorry the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), who was my colleague on the Fulton Committee, and who felt strongly about this, is not in the Chamber at the moment.
I should next like to turn to the question of the budget for the research councils, because I know the hon. Lady the Minister of State, Department of Education and Science will say something about the working of these councils when she replies. Today the position is one of a coincidence of a declining growth rate of the civil science budget and, at the same time, rising demand, and this is creating a number of problems for us.
Already, the growth rate is so close to the sophistication factor that it is almost as though we were standing still. There is also a tendency for the sums available for domestic use to be eroded by international projects. Although I agree with the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Moonman) who knows a great deal about this, on the importance of international co-operation, let us remember that there can be some unsound international schemes as well, and we should be chary of undertaking schemes which have little scientific merit although they may seem politically attractive.
Then the large number of recruits in the universities of the 1960s are now at their most creative period. University expansion started at the end of the 1950s and gathered pace in the early 1960s. The original expansion plan announced in 1957—I speak from memory— assumed at that time an increase in university numbers from 89,000 to 134,000, most of them in science and technology, and it is many of those people who are now coming rapidly to their most creative period.
There are other difficulties, too, which the universities have to face in their scientific effort. Pressure by the U.G.C. has resulted in diminishing unit costs, and the free money for research from the U.G.C. is positively diminishing now.
Last, and equally important, university scientists are being asked to reorientate a number of their activities from science to engineering. This is much easier in a period when the budget is rising than one when the amount of free money is 1351 positively declining. Redeployment at a time of relatively stationary university numbers creates much more hardship than redeployment at a time of rising numbers. I am glad to see that the hon. Lady concurs.
In these circumstances, what can we do? I agree with the hon. Member for Billericay in saying that, in general, the research councils give this country good value for money, and the U.G.C. pressure on unit costs has started to be effective. But I make one or two suggestions here. First, there is a good deal of pressure today for what one might call costly mission-orientated work to be undertaken by the research councils, work on such things as boring holes or work on the continental shelf. In the circumstances, at a time of financial stringency the research council should act as the agent rather than as principal, and this work should not bear too heavily on its budget.
Second, I stress the importance of planning ahead. The lead time to which reference has been made often lasts from five to 15 years. It is important when planning scientific expenditure to be able to look ahead over a period. I hope that it will be possible to have rather longer-term planning of the scientific budget for the universities than has been the case in the past.
Those were the points which I wished to make about the universities' science budget today, because I know that a good deal of concern is being felt.
§ Mr. Woodburn
The right hon. Gentleman raised an interesting point about control over projects. What about control over some of the stupid projects one sees announced in the Press sometimes for which whole bodies of people are set up to investigate quite ridiculous things?
§ Sir E. Boyle
If they are foolish projects, they should not be undertaken. But one must always exercise care in examining and probing such reports fully before accepting them on the basis of one Press report. On the whole, I think that the pressure of the U.G.C. has resulted in a good deal better value for money at the universities than in the past, although in a number of respects there is still a long way to go.
For the rest of my speech, I turn to the important issue of science and edu- 1352 cation. Several hon. Members have pointed out that the crucial issue in the education of scientists is the supply of teachers, and I have one or two questions, of some of which I have given her notice, to put to the hon. Lady. First, how far are the polytechnics being used to train more science and maths teachers by providing short courses for mature students who have had industrial experience? They can play a part there. Next what about short courses or one-year courses for teachers of science subjects?
On the general question of in-service courses, one would like to know how far they have been affected by the very severe stringency in the increase of rates of grant over the next two years. I should also be interested to know how the Government's advertising campaign for recruiting graduates has gone.
With regard to the suggestion of several hon. Members that we should pay maths and science graduates differentially more money, I would suggest that we have ultimately got to decide whether we want educational salaries to go on being negotiated. So long as salaries are negotiated, the faculty for intervention by the Minister or by Parliament is bound to be limited. We can express our views strongly in the House, but there is a great difficulty here, as I am sure the hon. Member for Orpington realises. Teachers' pay is negotiated. The Department now—I think rightly—is in on the negotiations, but it is no good anyone thinking that the Department or Parliament has, so to speak, a large store of grand jokers which can be brought easily into play.
The hon. Lady said on 23rd June this year that she was very concerned about the shortage of teachers of maths and that the Department had encouraged colleges of education and university departments to give high priority to the admission of potential teachers of maths and science. In that context, it is rather disturbing to notice that the percentage of candidates accepted by colleges of education having O-level passes in maths is declining. The proportion of men candidates with O-level passes in maths fell from 77 per cent. in 1965 to 72.5 per cent. last year, and the percentage of women with these passes has gone down from 59 per cent. to 55 per cent. over the same period.
1353 This is a serious trend and it is worth considering whether O-level maths should not be treated as a normal requirement for entry to teacher training courses and whether some maths should not always be taught in them. The article on this subject by Sir William Alexander had much to be said for it. Indeed, the whole question of teaching maths and science must be tackled right through the education system, from the primary school upwards.
We would very much support what the Plowden Council had to say on this subject. It did not agree with those secondary school science teachers who feared that children would come to them "possessing all kinds of fragmentary, unclassified information, some of it inaccurate or unscientific". On the contrary, we believe that this must start in the primary schools.
I should like to turn to the secondary schools and the possibility of seconding staff. The right hon. Lady the other Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon), said recently that the Government would be glad to have people from industry but that they must be qualified teachers. I find that answer just a little pessimistic and unhelpful. Would the hon. Lady say something about the members of the Royal Institute of Chemistry who are now in the teaching profession? It seems absurd that they should be booted out as unqualified teachers.
Again, what about the suggestions made by the University of London Appointments Board, in particular that a number of senior scientists no longer likely to produce new creative work should transfer instead to teaching. There can well be a certain number of redundant scientific civil servants, people who are burned out so far as creative scientific work goes, who nonetheless could make extremely good teachers. I was interested in the views of the Board, which seem worthy of consideration:Throughout the world, it has been recognised for a long time that a proportion … of research scientists who have done excellent creative work in their early years go 'over the hill' at a comparatively early age.It has been a constant problem to know what to do with many of these highly qualified scientists in the 40–50 age group, who are unlikely ever again to contribute anything new … and cannot therefore be easily absorbed into other activities.1354 It added that the main abstacle to their transfer to teaching was the provision of money. I would say here that surely we should try and get over that difficulty and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) said, solve the difficulty over the transferability of pension rights, because I believe that we have here the possibility of valuable sources of supply of science teachers.
I shall not say much about the Dainton Report in general except that I am sure that Dr. Dainton is right in principle to want to narrow the time gap between irrevocable specialisation and first employment. I am certain he is right in the point he makes that too many people give up mathematics too soon. I am a member of the committee of selection for Harkness Fellows, and two things have struck me. The first is the number of limes I am made to realise that what was work on the high peaks of knowledge ten or twenty years ago amounts to little more than the foothills of knowledge now. The second is the large number of people who would like to take up courses in business management but have not the mathematics they need to do so. I think that we should never forget the importance of students keeping up mathematics for longer.
The last major suggestion I have on education is this: as I think the hon. Lady knows, I have considerable sympathy with those who question whether in higher education today the traditional bachelor's degree of three years' duration is not too much in the centre of the whole picture. I was interested here to see what was said by Professor Martin Trow in a recent article when he talked of… the nature of the bachelor's degree of a high and approximately uniform standard throughout the system. … It helps prevent the emergence of a unified system of higher education, including vocational academic and professional studies, in a wide range of standards. It is enormously expensive in staff time. It contributes to the complex of factors hindering the development of post-graduate training on a large scale.I believe that there is much truth in those words. Professor Pippard of the Cavendish Laboratory has said very much the same thing. He has stated:The rigid three year course and the tradition of deep learning for the intellectual élite constrain secondary and university science education into a strait-jacket of specialism which 1355 is increasingly seen, especially from outside, as menacing our future development, industrial and social.I ask the Government seriously to consider Professor Pippard's ideas. All students concerned with science or technology should, he suggests, spend two years on a course built around a general syllabus specifically designed to educate rather than impart professional skill. At the end of two years would come the examination for the bachelor's degree. Those who wished to receive specialised education, or training for a specific career, would compete for places, and aim for master's degrees, at any institution that offered what they wanted.
Professor Pippard's 2-2-2 suggestion is worth serious consideration. Let me say that I know the three-year first degree course of uniform standard has played a great part in the past. We know what it has achieved by way of equalising standards and esteem as between Oxford and Cambridge and the civic universities. But I feel that today we want to look rather more broadly. It is my belief that "more" does not necessarily mean "worse". But it surely does point to the need for greater diversity of provision in higher education, particularly at a time when we want to achieve higher professional standards over a wide range.
I say this about one of the articles in the document known as the Black Paper and entitled, "In praise of examinations". I agree with the author of the article about the importance of standards and of having qualifications that are accepted by the public as guaranteeing a standard; but it is surely possible to believe in rigour, and in standards, whilst at the same time recognising the need for greater diversity—diversity related both to the needs of students, and also to the national need for rising standards of professional education right across the board.
I want also to mention the importance not only of higher education in the sense that I have described it, but also of technician training, of those at the diploma level—the section of the population for whom Lord Jackson—Sir Willis Jackson, as he used to be—speaks so ably both in another place and outside. I entirely agree with his views on this. 1356 We should never forget the number of technicians needed to back up the work of each top level technologist.
I hope that the hon. Lady will tell us tonight that the Government are as committed as ever they were in the time of Lord Eccles to the importance of the sandwich course. I hope, furthermore, that she will make it absolutely plain that we do not want the polytechnics to concern themselves too exclusively with the full-time sandwich degree courses. The idea that advanced work is all that matters should be exposed. To have a large number of small degree courses would be uneconomic in staff and equipment and would make it difficult to maintain academic standards. But, of course, a certain amount of research in the polytechnics is essential if good staff are to be recruited and held.
Those are the points which I wished to make on the subject of education. Before concluding, I want briefly to comment on one or two other matters. One of them is the question of graduates and industry. We need the right attitudes in industry, in Government and, of course, among the graduates themselves. I was interested to see a speech which Lord Annan made in another place when he talked of the importance of not being trained in outmoded industrial techniques. He said:The mechanical engineering industry is accused of not understanding the potentiality of its graduates because it is too much a conglomeration of family-run businesses. But even if we take a large company such as Esso, which has uniform international performance standards, why is it that 90 per cent. of the board in the United States are qualified scientists or engineers, that 50 per cent. of the board in Germany … but only 17 per cent. of the board in Britain?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT. House of Lords, 19th March, 1969; Vol. 300, c. 998.]Those are striking figures.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon who said that we must not be afraid of putting these things in national terms. The O.E.C.D. figures show this country as way ahead on pure research, and yet, as we know, we are nearly at the bottom of the O.E.C.D. countries for economic growth. I believe as strongly as any other hon. Member in what has recently been called the civilised society. I am sure that all of us who are here realise the importance of values, the importance of achieving 1357 economic growth for the sake of a more civilised and attractive society in which to live. But there is nothing particularly civilised about neglecting the material base of our civilisation, or underrating its importance.
In a lecture which he gave to the Headmasters Conference, Professor Swann put this extremely well when he said:… the left-wing caricature of Britain as a cosy upper crust, living within 100 miles of London, blissfully unaware that there is any such thing as productive industry, while existing parasitically on second class citizens further afield, who toil in less enjoyable surroundings to keep things going is not wholly without a grain of truth. I would ask you as Headmasters to brood rather care-fully on what becomes of your brightest and best boys. How many are in or trying to get, in the sort of industries on which the future of Britain depends? And how many are aiming at the professions, or queueing up for the B.B.C., or merchant banking, or accounting, or journalism, or all the other peripheral activities of a moderately affluent society?In passing, may I say that as a director of a publishing firm I regard the word "peripheral" as a little unfair, but there is certainly some truth in what Professor Michael Swann said in that statement.
I could not help thinking when I read that paragraph of a lecture which I once heard Mr. R. B. McAllum, the Master of Pembroke, give on the subject of John Stuart Mill. He said that Mill's Utopia might be thought to consist of a lot of Victorian professional men meeting on a Sunday morning, listening very deferentially to one another's opinions, preening themselves on their enlightenment at not attending church, and all taking it as axiomatic that there should be an army of servants cooking the midday meal downstairs. I wonder whether some people do not make an analogous mistake today.
If I had more time I would have asked the hon. Lady to tell us about the recent Dainton Report on national libraries. This raises the highly important issue of the retrieval of information, and I hope that the hon. Lady may be able to say a word to us about that.
I am glad the House feels that we should have more debates on this subject. I am not a member of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee nor the Select Committee, and I have no specialist knowledge on this subject, but 1358 anybody present today must surely have felt that Members of Parliament in all parts of the House were trying to understand this subject on its own terms. There is great admiration in the House for the inventive powers of British science and British industry. The question now is: how can we most successfully exploit the finest achievements of British industry?
One practical suggestion I make to the House, speaking as one who is not a member, is that I sincerely hope that the Select Committee on Science and Technology will be given a longer run and will be allowed to remain in its present form. When I was Minister of State in 1964, I was a strong advocate of this Select Committee. I thought that this was one of the best areas in which to try out this new form of organisation. I think that the Select Committee, under the leadership of the hon. Member for Bristol, Central, and with the great help of Members like my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke), has already done very good work, and I hope that the Leader of the House will notice the strong expressions about its future that have been made in this debate.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mrs. Shirley Williams)
Without doubt, we have had an extremely interesting debate, and I think the House has acquitted itself exceedingly well. I suppose that most of us who are here in the House this evening regret that we have not been able to recruit more of our colleagues into the study of science and technology. May the time come when there is a full House for a debate on what is perhaps one of the most important subjects has to consider.
Before I plunge into the extremely wide-ranging set of questions and the many subjects that have been raised—and I cannot hope to answer them all in the course of half an hour, even supposing I were capable of doing so—I should very much like to associate myself with the remarks about man's first trip to the moon, both because of the marvellous achievement—and it now looks as though it will be wholly successful in the sense that the men who went there will come back, and perhaps that is the essential and crucial part of the achievement— 1359 and also because I was thinking when I was watching the television both last night and early this morning how this illustrates the exponential growth in scientific technological knowledge.
I suppose there are many Members of the House, Like myself, whose parents were born into a world in which a car was so unusual as to draw them out of their nurseries and their rooms into the street to see one go by. Indeed, some were born long before the car was even heard of. Now, towards the end of their lives, they suddenly move on to the brink of a time when man is about to investigate the whole of his planetary system. This shows, in the course of a lifetime, how fantastic is the rate of change, and how little most of us, however hard we try, can begin to grasp it let alone control it.
One of the most striking things al though it has not been mentioned this evening, is the fact that communication with the human voice could immediately be established from this earth to that outer small piece of rock, that lifeless desert, and that immediately one could get into contact, with any waste of time measured in mini-seconds, with the people who were standing for the first time on the moon.
Perhaps it would not be excessive for me to mention that in this whole great experiment we have a small share, since it is hoped that part of the samples that is likely to be measured in tablespoonsful, will come to this country—incidentally, that will be the largest part to go any-where outside the United States—for analysis by 15 British research teams, I trust that the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) will not regard that as being in any way a pointless activity.
I turn to the first main subject raised by a number of right hon. and hon. Members. It was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer), who is the Chairman of the Select Committee on Science and Technology. It concerned where the division should come in Government machinery between the Department of Education and Science and the Ministry of Technology. There are many strong arguments for keeping the present system 1360 and many strong arguments for changing it. There is no natural division. In a spectrum which runs, and should run, from the primary schools through to the production of advanced technological equipment, any division is bound to be artificial.
I agree with much of what my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Moonman) said, but I do not agree with his view that there should be a division between scientific research and the schools. The debate has shown that one of the most disturbing things about the present situation is the fact that in the schools there has been a swing away from study and concern with science and technology. I cannot see that a sharp division between education in its most limited sense and research into science and technology would make a great deal of sense in trying to solve this problem.
There was great deal in what the right hon. a Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) said about the need for very close collaboration wherever the precise division comes between my right hon. Friends the Minister of Technology and the Secretary of State for Education and Science. Clearly, in education, post-graduate education and first employment there is a great deal to be said for knowledge of the whole situation concerning technology.
One strain run through some speeches with which I must admit I had little sympathy. Broadly, the theme was that if a stream is running strongly and one's neighbour is tapping it, the most sensible thing to do is to dam up the stream. In other words, if this country has not gained all that it might have gained from remarkable achievements in pure and fundamental research, the thing to do is to cut that pure and fundamental research to ribbons. I cannot see the argument for this. Surely the point is how one so deals with fundamental research that one enables the great achievements to continue—this argues, to some extent, for the system of considerable scientific autonomy which we have at present—while making sure that we do not so bias the system that able young men and women choose against the application of science because they wrongly believe that their main responsibility begins and ends in the laboratory. That is fundamentally a manpower question, and I 1361 shall come to that in the second part of what I have to say.
One or two hon. Members, although I was glad that several said something different, perhaps under-estimated the extent to which the research councils undertake work which is relevant in the short and medium term. May I give two or three examples. The Medical Research Council, in the work which it has recently done in immunology, has, among aother things, produced remarkable results in tissue typing and in the field of auto-immune disease. Both are in a field which is normally described as fundamental research. In addition, it appears that it may be possible to apply the work which it has done on protein structures to the haemoglobin cell in such a way as strongly to suggest methods not only of reducing but possibly of eliminating altogether the very severe attenuating illness known as anaemia in its various forms. By extension, this work may also be of the greatest importance for the prevention of leprosy and in respect of the 'flu virus.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Oakes) said so sensibly, we must not neglect the effect of scientific discoveries on the developing world. To turn to another research council, the work done by the Agricultural Research Council in the genetics of animal breeding, in plant breeding, and so on, can be shown in the short term to have had direct material returns. May I mention just one figure? The yield per cow in this country has risen from 600 gallons of milk a year 20 years ago to 1,000 gallons of milk a year—and this is simply an average figure—largely because of work done on nutrition of animals and animal breeding. Already the A.R.C. is producing such plants as potatoes and tomatoes which are resistant to some of the main plant diseases. This, too has its great relevance to pollution of the environment, because a resistant plant is one which does not require the same dressings of pesticides that a non-resistant plant requires.
Another example, from the Natural Environment Research Council, is work in environmental pollution as well as the directly economic work on the Continental Shelf in respect of shallow borings for natural gas. Perhaps I may give an example which comes very close to the field 1362 mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones).
I have with me an article published on 5th October last year by Nature. It refers to the rapid speed with which a sudden outbreak of dinoflagellates in the North Sea last year, which led to the death of a great many fish and marine creatures, was plotted, discovered and traced back to its original causes as a result of the immediate work of scientists. I could give a great many other examples in that direction but perhaps, again, one will be useful.
Finally, I should like to give an example from the Science Research Council, which is sometimes described, I think in ignorance, by some people at least, as working entirely in the very pure and fundamental fields. To give simply two examples, an S.R.C. supported piece of research has led to a control method for optimising the output of a sugar extraction plant. This resulted from work by a research worker seconded from industry, not for that purpose, but whose ideas and suggestions to the department led to this piece of work.
Another example is of a completely automated scheme for hot steel rolling strip mills, which resulted again from an S.R.C. piece of research undertaken by a professor in the field of control mechanisms who did his work originally starting from the fundamental end of the spectrum. One could go on at length about this, including work: on high tensile materials and work on metallurgy and machine tools. All this is coming under the research councils as well as under the funding of the Ministry of Technology.
Having said that, I should like to turn for a moment to the need for still greater emphasis of this kind, a need which, I think, is recognised but which the House would be mistaken if it did not realise has already gone a considerable distance. I should like to mention just two things in passing. One of them which is worth bringing out is that almost all the research councils have considarable representation of the appropriate industrial interests on them. S.R.C. has industrial interests on it. A.R.C. has working agriculturists on it, N.E.R.C. has industrialists on it, as has the C.S.P.
It is not of course the intention of the research councils, or, for that matter, 1363 the Department of Education and Science, to divorce the scientist from industry in such a way that he is unaware of the needs of industry. This is already bearing fruit, not least in post-graduate awards. I agree with those hon. Members who have suggested that this process could usefully still go further.
Already, however, we are getting specific awards in the field of co-operative awards with pure science, a field which is directly related to industrial needs. We are getting from the S.R.C. the science and industry awards, which are granted only to young men and women who have either worked in industry or have indicated their intention of spending part of the time in industry during which they are using their awards. Again, there has been a switch—I think that it could go further—towards post-experience awards in teaching as well as industry. This, it seems to me, would mean evolution, which is crucial to this country, becoming well aware of the point made by many hon. Gentlemen, the need of this country to harness science to earn its own living.
On the subject of S.R.C. I make one mention of a point which was raised by the hon. Member for Abingdon about S.R.C.'s staff with respect to a decision by the Government about the 300 G.E.V. accelerator. I would like to point out to him there is no prospect, at least in the immediate future, of a rundown in its staff, because S.R.C. has indicated that it will maintain its high energy physics programme for at least 10 years in this field and therefore the problem which would arise would be more acute if we do join 300 G.E.V. which would envisage a rundown of staff. Meanwhile, with regard to Nimrod at Rutherford, that will be improved, and work on a new bubble chambr for use at C.E.R.N. would be built and also a new nuclear structure facility.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Although the success of the research councils in promoting technologies is of tremendous importance to the nation, I made some positive and, I hope, constructive suggestions about the working of the research councils, and I wonder if it will be possible for the hon. Lady to make some comments on them in her speech.
§ Mrs. Williams
The hon. Member ought to have bided a little in patience because I was just coming to him. I have a note on his points.
The broadening of academic representation, I agree is important. On the possibilities on meetings in public, yes, this is now to be encouraged to a greater extent, though I cannot answer whether they will be direct meetings with research councils. S.R.C. and S.S.R.C. have already set up a joint committee in the field of the social consequences of science. As to international collaboration, in the Anglo-Australian telescope we have one example of international collaboration in science.
I do not wish to be tempted very far by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) who is noted for trying to tempt Ministers near to destruction, but I want to say one thing about E.S.R.O. to the hon. Gentleman. The United Kingdom joined E.S.R.O. for scientific research by European scientists. The Minister does not approve individual scientific experiments; these are the responsibility of the scientists themselves who choose the projects. This is perhaps able to be described as the application of the Haldane principle on a European scale.
I shall have to cut down some of what I wanted to say, because of the time, but before I get to the subject of qualified manpower I may make one point in passing, that in fact the expansion of the science budget has begun to slow down. In 1961–62 the scientific budget was £26 million, roughly identified with the present responsibilities for science work of the D.E.S. In 1965–66 that figure doubled to £54 million and four years later it had virtually doubled again to £92 million. The rate of growth at the end of 1965–66 was 12½ per cent. a year, and it has slowed down in the current year to rather under 6 per cent. So there has been a slow down, and I should like to make two remarks about that.
I absolutely agree with the right hon. Member for Handsworth in what he said about the sophistication factor. A scientist would regard himself as ill-served if he had not nowadays an electron microscope. Twenty years ago he would not have expected one—he could not have had one. The degree of sophistication is many times greater than it was even five 1365 years ago and the sophistication factor alone will bulk large in the increase in the science budget, leaving us very little room for innovations in other fields which we know as yet little about. One of the crucial points about fundamental science is that we do not this year know what will come next year. In the crucial field of the natural environment, the degree of anxiety which has been expressed today, I doubt the House would have expressed 10 years ago. I turn to the question of qualified manpower. I will divide into three particular aspects this complicated but fascinating subject—first, supply; secondly, demand or employment; and thirdly, utilisation.
On supply, despite the fact that Dainton pointed to a trend which, if sustained, would be extremely disturbing, the present position is by no means as serious as has been suggested. May I give figures which illustrate the point? An O.E.C.D. study of 1966 showed that of the numbers qualifying in science and technology, the proportion of the age group in Britain in 1964—the last year for which the survey was done—was 2.3 per cent. among university graduates, which was higher than in any other country except the United States and France and which compared with 0.8 per cent. in West Germany.
Let us extend this to include graduates and people taking H.N.C.-and-above qualifications. The House knows that the range of American university degrees is roughly comparable with the range of H.N.C.-up-through-first degrees. These figures show that 4.2 per cent. of the age group in the United States held American degrees, whereas 5.1 per cent. of the age group in Britain held H.N.C., H.N.D. or degree qualifications. That is the highest figure in the world. The figure for technologists is 2.9 per cent. of the age group in Britain. The next highest figure is 2 per cent. for West Germany. The figure for the United States is 1.5 per cent.
We should once and for all recognise that a great deal of the, I think, to this extent misplaced fear, not about the future but about the present position, arises from the fact that the House all too often, and advisory committees all too often, have concentrated on the universities as if further education did 1366 not exist. But it does exist, and it provides about half as many qualified people in these fields as do the universities.
What is much more disturbing is the fact that among those going into employment the desire to enter research and academic life is still extremely powerful, so that far too few of our able young people go into industry; and, secondly, that the utilisation of much of our scientific manpower leaves a great deal to be desired. The misuse of technologists and scientists as technicians is one example.
As the hon. Member for Wallthamstow, West (Mr. Silvester) rightly pointed out, if the position in the schools for 1962 onwards were sustained, we should begin to face a crisis in five or six years' time. I am pleased to tell the House that this academic year shows the first sign of a turn-back towards a greater acceptance of science and technology. But I should be less than responsible in my treatment of the House if I did not recognise that there is one field which is bound to leave us with concern—that of the attraction of young graduates and other young people into the teaching of science and mathematics.
The Department is doing all it can to scour the country for young people who have studied science and mathematics. The right hon. Member for Hands-worth quoted a figure. Despite the fact that the proportion of people holding A levels in science and mathematics and going to the colleges has fallen, as he said, the actual number of people studying science and mathematics main courses has slightly improved. This means that the colleges are beginning to take people who took mixed courses at O level and then went on to do A level perhaps in the arts or social sciences rather than in science and mathematics. We are trying to bring them back to study mathematics by the help of conversion courses and in other ways.
The figures for science graduates are encouraging. They will increase by just under one-quarter, an increase of 23 per cent., this year, and the figures for the number of mathematics and science graduates who have decided to study teaching in the colleges of eth cation show that the position is better, with a 50 per cent. increase this year. It is very much more at the junior and junior 1367 secondary level that we need to be concerned.
I believe that we shall find not only enough but reasonably well qualified science and mathematics graduates, because the figures, which I will not give in detail, show that it is not true to say that the quality has disastrously fallen. In mathematics there were 45.3 per cent. with good honours graduate degrees 20 years ago. Today there are 45.2 per cent., hardly a catastrophic decline in quality, and certainly not the decline to which reference is often made.
In referring to the subject of differentials, the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price), who made an excellent speech in most respects, perhaps glided a little too easily over the thin ice of professional vulnerability. His right hon. Friend the Member for Handsworth was more aware of the great difficulties involved in deciding to take over negotiations from what is, after all, a free professional group of bodies.
There is a certain differential. If one considers the position of those with good honours degrees one sees that, within six years of starting teaching, 94 per cent. of trained mathematics and science teachers hold posts of one kind or another, compared with 83 per cent. of those holding good arts degrees. Of those with other degrees, 92 per cent. of science and mathematics graduates hold such positions compared with 67 per cent. of those with arts degrees. There is, therefore, a built-in preference, as perhaps there might be, for science and mathematics graduates. May be this gives us a slight hint of where we might one day move.
Time does not permit me to say more than a brief word on the subject of environmental pollution. I had a great deal of sympathy for what my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles said. This is a sphere of deeply fragmented Departmental responsibility. It is a serious matter which goes beyond the seas, rivers and the earth. It involves pesticides and the whole use of antibiotics. To show how wide a subject it is, it also involves noise. I assure my hon. Friend that the Government are very well aware of the situation and are taking it seriously. That this is so is proved by the fact that the director of one of the Nature Conservancy 1368 laboratories wrote one of the articles in The Times to which my hon. Friend referred.
On the question of social responsibility for science, it was Robert Oppenheimer who, on seeing a nuclear cloud caused by a bomb explosion rising from the desert, quoted a phrase from the Upanishads, the Hindu holy scriptures:I am come, Kali, destroyer of worlds, brighter than a thousand suns.We are now moving into an era of biological revolution. In some ways it is involving us in questions of morals and ethics and these questions perhaps go even further than those posed by the physics revolution. We dare not, as politicians and citizens, keep out of the decisions in this sphere. They are for the scientists, but they are also for us. To quote George Bernard Shaw:They learn facts and ask why.We dream dreams and ask, 'Why not?'".
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
Is the hon. Lady able to recruit mathematics and physics teachers into the schools? She mentioned the incentives for extra responsibility which these teachers get later. The important question is whether she is now able to recruit sufficient teachers in these subjects to man the schools. What additional percentage of these teachers do we need in, for example, the secondary schools?
§ Mrs. Williams
I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman in detail and I should be grateful if he would table a Question on the subject. I will simply say at this stage that the position relating to the younger age group is not discouraging. The real difficulty, because of the age structure in mathematics, though not so much in science, is that we must make good the sudden disappearance of about one-quarter of the profession in the next 10 years. It is this sudden increase in wastage that causes concern.
§ Mr. Joseph Harper (Lord Commissioner of the Treasury)
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.