HC Deb 30 June 1972 vol 839 cc1913-6
Mr. Emery

I beg to move Amendment No. 10, in page 4, line 20, after 'functions', insert: 'and of technological development connected with such matters' I trust that it will be convenient Mr. Deputy Speaker, to discuss at the same time Amendment No. 11, in line 21, after 'into', insert: 'or technological development connected with'. and No. 12, in line 22, after 'research', insert 'or development'.

in rejecting our proposals do not, in our judgment, stand up on their merits. Since the Minister is not prepared to accept our ideas, it is our intention to test the opinion of the House and we propose to divide on the Amendment.

Question put, That the Amendment be made: —

The House divided: Ayes 22, Noes 41.

Division No. 256.] AYES [2.46 p.m.
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis) Kaufman, Gerald Rankin, John
Bidwell, Sydney Kerr, Russell Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.) Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.) Stoddart, David (Swindon)
Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury) McCartney, Hugh Varley, Eric G.
Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.) Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Concannon, J. D. O'Halloran, Michael
Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove) Palmer, Arthur TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Garrett, W. E. Pavitt, Laurie Mr. Tom Pendry and
Ginsburg, David (Dewsbury) Perry, Ernest G. Mr. John Golding.
Batsford, Brian Howell, David (Guildford) Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Hunt, John Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Biggs-Davison, John Iremonger, T. L. Rost, Peter
Boscawen, Robert James, David Skeet, T. H. H.
Dykes, Hugh Jopling, Michael Spence, John
Emery, Peter Knox, David Stanbrook, Ivor
Eyre, Reginald McAdden, Sir Stephen Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)
Fenner, Mrs. Peggy Maude, Angus Tebbit, Norman
Fox, Marcus Moate, Roger Weatherill, Bernard
Goodhart, Philip Money, Ernle Wilkinson, John
Goodhew, Victor Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm. Worsley, Marcus
Green, Alan Page, Graham (Crosby)
Grieve, Percy Peel, John TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley) Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L. Mr. Tim Fortescue and
Havers, Michael Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis Mr. John Stradling Thomas.
Mr. Deputy Speaker

That will be convenient.

Mr. Emery

These Amendments give effect to an assurance given by my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), when he was in charge of the Bill, in response to Opposition Amendments which were directed to the same end but, were technically defective.

The effect of the Amendments is to require the Gas Corporation to extend its general programmes of research into matters affecting gas supply and other matters affecting its functions to include technological development connected with such matters, and to give it the duty of securing the carrying out, by itself or others, of the programmes thus extended. Thus, the corporation's research programmes will be required to include development projects, as the Gas Council has in practice done by administrative arrangement.

These Amendments give the lie to accusations made previously by hon. Members opposite that the Government are never willing to agree to the extension of any activity which will benefit a nationalised industry purely because we do not believe in the extension of the public sector. I wish to make it absolutely clear that the Government are determined to do everything in their power to carry out the functions given them by law efficiently, profitably and reasonably to the benefit of the nation. Here is an illustration of the Government working to this end.

3.0 p.m.

Mr. Palmer

The hon. Gentleman has said that the Opposition are not prepared to give credit where it is due, but there are times when the Conservative Party and Conservative Ministers are anxious to look after the efficiency and advance the interests of publicly-owned industries I willingly concede that this is the case in regard to these Amendments. We raised in Standing Committee the need not only to give the Gas Corporation power to conduct research but to ally this with development. The Minister has now conceded the strength of our arguments, and we readily acknowledge his enterprise.

Those of us who follow the fortunes of the nationalised industries find that there is a split in the personalities of the right hon. and hon. Members opposite. When they have the responsibility for nationalised industries, very often they enter into the spirit of it. However a Minister's soul tends always to fight the party soul. Before a member of the Conservative Party becomes a Minister he bitterly attacks the principle of public ownership and attempts by words to reduce its achievements. When right hon. and hon. Members opposite come to office, I readily concede that they are obliged to advance the interests of the nationalised industries, and often they do so genuinely. That is as it should be.

I wish to say a word about the principle involved in adding development to research as one of the obligations of the Gas Corporation. Nearly all the research undertaken by an industry of this kind is bound to be applied research. There is little need for the Gas Corporation to enter into abstract principles of physics and do pure research. That can be left to other Government and private enterprise laboratories and to the universities. Therefore, it is important to emphasise that the research undertaken by the Gas Corporation should be research with a purpose, and the industry does a great deal already, as can be seen from a study of the annual report.

It is particularly appropriate that the Minister should add development to research in the Amendment because the issue is extremely topical. The controversy associated with the Rothschild recommendations has revolved round having research strictly applied to a specific purpose. It would have been contradictory if the Government had held to the view that they maintained in Committee, that the present words which simply had research standing by itself were sufficient and that it was not necessary to add development. That would have been to contradict the Rothschild principle which in other spheres they appeared to uphold.

Our point of view has been accepted. Our request has been granted. It would be ungenerous of me to look a gift horse in the mouth. Nevertheless, looking back to our debates in Committee when the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury was still Minister—he came to an untimely political end a little later—the hon. Gentleman spent nearly 15 minutes explaining that our words were not necessary and that the words in the Bill were sufficient by themselves. It was very much a lawyer's argument and, like most arguments of that kind, it failed to convince me. I always go by the plain meaning of words.

We will not go over old battles. But at times it would help if Ministers in Committee conceded points a little earlier. If they did, they would save the time of the Opposition and of the Government. That is not said in any ungenerous spirit. I believe our arguments were sound and, to use a word which is common in this sphere, self-evident.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 11, in page 4, line 21, after 'into', insert: 'or technological development connected with'.

No. 12, in line 22, after 'research', insert 'or development'.—[Mr. Emery.]

Back to
Forward to