HC Deb 22 January 1973 vol 849 cc47-164

4.11 p.m.

Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)

I beg to move, That this House takes note of the First, Second, Third and Fourth Reports from the Select Committee on Science and Technology in the last Session of Parliament and of the relevant Government Observations (Command Paper Nos. 5176 and 5177). I should like to thank my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for finding time for this debate today because the Select Committee, of which I am Chairman, heard evidence over a long period and worked very hard to produce these four reports. I thank also all my colleagues for the part that they played. I shall refer to some of them individually in a moment, and I regret that some of them are prevented from taking part in this debate.

It is an important precedent that we are debating these reports within a reasonable period after their publication. The last occasion on which I took part in a debate on a report from a Select Committee—it was on defence research—was two-and-a-half years after the event, and on that account all of us have found it rather difficult to make our speeches.

This inquiry into research and development began a long time ago with the evidence of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science—whom I am glad to see in her place—in May 1971 and the then Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price). The evidence, which we took over a period, lasted until May 1972. Altogether we published six reports on research and development—four in the last Session, which are the subject of this motion, while the other two, which were published in 1971, are history.

Besides thanking my colleagues, I should like to thank the witnesses for all the information that they provided to the Select Committee. I do not think that all of them enjoyed the experience. Indeed, judging from the debate in another place, they certainly did not, because there I was described by a noble earl as a modern Torquemada, and there have been references to the Nuremburg Trial. But I assure the House that we are as courteous as possible to our witnesses and that we do not employ the methods employed at Nuremburg.

I should like also to take this opportunity of thanking the two Clerks who had to work very hard over a long period of fairly intensive investigations into this wide-ranging subject of research and development.

At the same time as the Committee was studying the subject of the reports being debated today it was studying the computer industry and the prospects for the nuclear industry, and this it will continue to do in this Session. I should like in this connection to accord particular thanks to the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer), my predecessor, who laid the foundations for what I think has been the success of this Select Committee, as he was the first Chairman when it began in 1967.

The House will be sad today not to see in his place my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke). There has been good news of his progress, and I saw him last week. He is held in great affection by both sides of the House, and his views are respected. I have consulted him about the Government's observations on our four reports. He agrees with a number of the things that I am going to say, and I wish to put his point of view on a number of matters. In particular, he profoundly disagrees with the Government's decision on the Nature Conservancy. He regards it as an extraordinary decision. Like the hon. Member for Bristol, Central, my hon. Friend was a founder member of the Select Committee.

This Committee has a number of purposes to which I should like to refer shortly before I deal with the reports and the Government's observations. First, it seeks to form non-scienific judgments based on the best evidence, which it hears in public, and to provide information to Parliament and to the public and, above all, a dialogue with the Government on scientific subjects. On research and development we sought also—perhaps for the first time in this form—to give an opportunity to all scientists and research workers to state their views on the proposals put forward in the Green Paper by the Government and by Lord Rothschild on their behalf. There was a great deal of hard work in this, and I should like to thank all concerned for what they did.

The first thing that we tried to do when we began in January 1972—exactly a year ago—was to discover what processes of thought lay behind the Green Paper. Cmnd. 4814, "Framework for Government Research and Development", published in November, 1971, and generally known as the Rothschild Report. It also contained a report by Sir Frederick Dainton. The debate at that time, both in the coloumns of The Times and in scientific newspapers, surrounded the research councils, but we in the Select Committee decided to widen our inquiry to include Government policy for research and development as a whole, and in view of what has been said about the correct interpretation of Lord Rothschild's report I believe that to have been the right decision. Our comments in these four reports, and particularly on Lord Rothschild's method of inquiry and the Government's attitude to the Rothschild Report, are outspoken—I do not think that anybody would deny that—and our recommendations cause some controvery.

No one on the Select Committee would suppose that we always ask the right questions, and we often receive some curious answers, but it has to be remembered that our proceedings are the proceedings of the House. They are the proceedings of Parliament. Our reports are the property of Parliament, and in July 1972 we were obliged to remind Ministers and civil servants in no uncertain fashion that these are reports to Parliament and that Ministers and the Civil Service are responsible to Parliament.

It could not for one moment be suggested that we are always in conflict with the Executive. We seek to provide a dialogue on scientific and technological matters. For this reason it would be best if I were to start with our second and third reports and the Government's observations in their White Paper at December 1972, Cmnd. 5176.

I should like, first, to thank my hon. Friend the Minister for Aerospace and Shipping and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry for setting out their answers to our recommendations in a lucid form which is easy to follow. In future it will be useful to have an index setting out these observations. I have had letters from scientific librarians asking the Select Committee to consider making an index for its own reports, which such libraries would find useful. I hope that we shall also manage to abolish the traditional method of including minutes of proceedings in our published reports. Such minutes bear no relevance to the evidence that has been taken and upon which we are reporting. The Press, especially the New Scientist, has often drawn our attention to that matter in our news conferences. An index would be useful in both cases. Otherwise the Department of Trade and Industry's observations in Command 5146 are set out in a helpful way.

Members of the Select Committee will be glad to hear that the Government agreed with their views on the non-nuclear work by the Atomic Energy Authority. We are glad to hear that there will be an increasing amount of that work on a non-nuclear basis and that it will appear in future on a Vote. That was the main recommendation of the Committee.

There was another recommendation to which the hon. Member for Bristol, Central will no doubt wish to refer. The hon. Gentleman was the Chairman of the Sub-Committee which considered that matter—namely, the establishment of an industrial advisory committee. I am not clear why the Government have rejected the Committee's recommendation, which I consider useful. Harwell, which is in my constituency, was the centre of these considerations. I was glad that the Select Committee firmly rejected the view that we can dispense with Government research centres of that importance. Indeed, it firmly rejected the glib and uninformed view that appeared in some quarters that industry can do all its own research. That is completely untrue in any industrialised European country. It was untrue when these observations were made, some two or three years ago. A programme of Government research and development will have to be maintained by the United Kingdom if it is to remain competitive in the next 25 years. That is one of the main themes behind some of the recommendations of the Select Committee.

Paragraphs 11 to 24 of the observations of the Minister for Aerospace and Shipping seek to answer the Committee's point that industrial research establishments of his own Department—for example, the NPL, the NEL and Warren Spring—should exploit their services and be more competitive and independent. That was the view of the Select Committee.

The White Paper describes the way in which the establishments should transfer their technology in what I should describe as a useful but rather tame way. I do not find the description to be invigorating. For example, it is suggested that their work could be done through publication, personal contact and advisory and consultancy services.

I should like to see the laboratories much more enterprising than they are now. Why should they not do some hard selling? Why should they not put full-page advertisements in the Financial Times telling industry what they can offer? That gap between industry and the establishments worried the Committee a great deal. We are told that it will be reformed by the departmental requirement boards.

The requirements boards constitute a radical change in the Department of Trade and Industry. The Select Committee will want to watch their progress. Several other Select Committees of this House are involved in their possible reports and activities. I should like to know how the requirements boards will report to Parliament. Will copies be sent to the Select Committees?

The Select Committee on Science and Technology, as the House will be aware, has been concerned about unnecessary secrecy and publicity regarding research and development. The Committee, if I may say so, did a good service in 1972 in bringing to light some unnecessary secrecy in Government Departments regarding the publication of reports that can and should be used by Select Committees, and that should be considered by hon. Members, the public and those interested in industry and science.

Publication of reports commissioned by the Government was recently highlighted by a special report which the Sub-Committee made in December 1972 when it published the Docksey Report on intervention as an appendix. It arose during the course of taking evidence on research and development—the evidence of my right hon. Friend who was then the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. The failure to publish the Docksey Report is relevant to the recommendations which the Committee made in its First and Fourth reports.

I have said on several occasions that I condemn the practice of unnecessary secrecy in Government Departments. I especially condemn it in research and development, which merits the widest communication and dissemination of Government policy. The Docksey Report raises particularly important matters which should have been the subject of a separate debate. It raises issues of great constitutional moment in the Special Report. The Committee said that Select Committees of this House should be given reports unless there were unusual and compelling reasons, such as confidentiality in the commercial sense, and security. At no time has it wished to impair the need for Ministers to receive confidential advice. It would be absurd to do so. There must be occasions when Ministers commission reports which must remain confidential. However, I feel that the issue should be developed further on another occasion.

Therefore, I welcome the Government's statement in the July 1972 White Paper. Although that is not the subject of the debate, I consider that it should take a part in the discussion. In Cmnd. 5046, the White Paper "Framework for Government Research and Development", the Government say that they agree, at paragraph 11 that …at present neither Parliament nor the public is given sufficient information about departmental research and development programmes. That was the view of the Select Committee over a long period.

I am glad that the Government put that into their first White Paper, Cmnd. 5046, in July 1972. The method of inquiry which they adopted in 1971 into research and development and into its organisation will, I sincerely hope, not be followed in future. The Committee deplore the way in which discussion on the Green Paper, which contained the famous Rothschild Report, was impaired and prejudiced by a Government statement of policy in advance. The Government wrote a preface to the Green Paper saying that they endorsed the customer-contractor principle without giving any reasons. I do not want to go over that ground again. I hope that the Government will not follow that practice in future.

The Government, in reply to our First and Fourth Reports, at paragraph 3, Command 5177, state the rather curious principle that some Green Papers are greener than others. This one was said in some circles to have had a white border when it was first introduced. Hon. Members will understand what that meant. The Government stated that they endorsed the principle which we were supposed to be discussing and on which they had promised consultation. However, my colleagues and I take the view that the Government should not promise consultation and then rule out discussion by their preface to the Green Paper. That is one reason why the Select Committee decided to carry out an inquiry over a considerable period, namely a year, and to hold it in public. That was why we undertook to do that in addition to the duty which had been laid upon us to provide the Government with information and to give scientists, research workers and people in the centres the opportunity to state their views.

The White Paper, "Framework tot Government Research and Development", published in July 1972, as Command 5046, which purported to be the Government's decisions on the Green Paper, ignored the Select Committee's recommendations. I do not wish to go over this unfortunate affair for too long. The situation was only saved by the Lord Privy Seal appearing again before the Select Committee to announce that answers would be given in full—and indeed they have been. We certainly do not complain that they have not been given in full, and we are grateful for them, not that one accepts all the statements which have been made, but at least the dialogue is taking place, and this in itself is very considerable progress and a great asset to the understanding of science and technology in this House.

I now turn to the White Paper, Command 5177, containing the Government's observations on the First and Fourth Reports of the Select Committee. Again I thank my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for the way in which the White Paper was prepared, particularly for the index. A combination of both White Papers with an index would be the best way, setting out the recommendations first and then the answers, as was done by the Department of Trade and Industry. I suggest that this could also have been done in the White Paper Command 5177.

The First and Fourth Reports of the Select Committee were controversial. So, too, to a certain extent, as my right hon. Friend will agree, are the Government's observations. They reveal a substantial difference of opinion between the Committee and the Government as to what organisation, ministerially and otherwise, and what policies there should be in the coming years for research and development, especially Government research and development.

The Select Committee was looking to the future and saw the need for coordination of research and development under a Minister. The Government, on the other hand, appear from their observations to prefer their own existing organisation. This is an important subject for debate because it has tremendous implications for the future, but before I launch into it I should refer to a number of answers to our recommendations on other questions.

The first of these concerns research councils. Again I do not want to go over the battle of the winter of 1971–72, which took place in the columns of The Times and in other places. It was very interesting but not always entirely conclusive. I refer now to paragraph 24 of the White Paper containing the Government's observations on the first and fourth reports. My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely, with whom I spoke last week, is very displeased indeed at the decision to abolish the Nature Conservancy Committee of the Natural Environment Research Council and to establish a new Conservancy Council. Like me, he thinks this decision very extraordinary. I hope that note will be taken of what I am saying.

Two or three years ago the Select Committee—the hon. Member for Bristol, Central will recall the exact date—recommended that research and conservancy should stay together. But here we have a situation now in which the Nature Conservancy is to be separated from its supporting laboratories. I do not understand the reasons for this decision. I hope that it is not true that the chief officials of the two bodies have fallen out, if that has anything to do with it. There are rumours. I hope that this matter will be taken up during the debate and that the recommendations of my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely, which were, of course, the recommendations of the whole Committee at the time, will be seriously considered.

I turn now to the famous Table 4 of the Rothschild Report. This concerns paragraphs 27 and 28 of the White Paper. We were not able to discover what Table 4 really meant—certainly I did not. How far has implementation actually gone? What will be the final amount transferred from the Vote of the Secretary of State for Education and Science? We were not able to find out the arithmetic on which the figures were based. We interviewed a large number of witnesses but they managed to avoid telling us. I wonder whether this was a divine inspiration of Lord Rothschild or whether there really was something behind it on which the figures were based.

I do not intend to revise the narrow battleground of last winter, when Lord Rothschild defended his position against the scientific world and did so very ably. The Select Committee would like to thank him for his assistance in coming and giving evidence. But we should ask a few questions about this subject, which is all-important in relation to future policies.

Paragraph 29 of the White Paper refers to the Advisory Board for the Research Councils. What will this board do? I have never been in favour of a board for research councils, because if the research councils are to be strengthened, as indicated in the White Paper, as a result of the recommendations of the Select Committee, and if they are to do their job properly, why do we need an advisory board for them? I hope that my right hon. Friend will look at this point.

Paragraph 33 of the White Paper refers to the reports of the research councils. We look forward with anticipation to these reports in their new form and hope that they will be more informative than in the past.

I turn now to the Fulton Report. The Select Committee had a good deal to say about the future of scientists and the need for greater interchange of scientific talents. The White Paper "Framework for Research and Development", Cmnd. 5046, refers in paragraph 39 to a small high-level task force which has been set up for this purpose and to investigate how it can best be carried out between industry and the research establishments. Will the report be published? We shall press strongly for publication because this is one issue about which the staff of these establishments and industry are most concerned. There is every need for the report to see the light of day and, if necessary, to be discussed in this House.

The White Paper containing the Government's observations on the First and Fourth Reports deals with the future reporting of research and development to Parliament in paragraphs 40 to 46. It is suggested in the White Paper that the Departments should lump their reports together—into one consolidated report, I suppose; at least that is how I read those paragraphs. I hope that this decision will be looked at again. The reports should be separate documents. The Departments should not mix their reports with others. With the number of reports we have to read during our investigations, whether as members of the Select Committee or otherwise, we often find it intolerably difficult to trace them all. Will all these reports be laid before Parliament? We recommended that they should all be laid before Parliament in the future.

Finally, I turn to the question of reporting Government programmes to the House, to which I attach great importance in the interests of scientists and research workers all over the country. They study what we say here with great concern and interest. Paragraph 41 of the White Paper refers to a five-year rolling programme. The Confederation of British Industry, in its evidence to the Select Committee, recommended the system of five-year forecasting. We adopted that recommendation, suggesting a five-year rolling programme of research and development expenditure, and said that it should be published. The Government say in the White Paper that flexibility is required and that they do not want to lay down a hard and fast rule. But surely a five-year rolling programme is a flexible instrument, which is why we recommended it. I suggest that we should adopt this system and publish the programme.

I was also glad to see that the Government propose a wide interpretation of the customer-contractor principle. This, I think, we wish to see. We were not sure how it would apply to the research councils, and even now we are not sure how it will be done. We do not want to see bureaucratic control creeping towards the system of research in this country beyond what is absolutely necessary for accountability, especially parliamentary accountability. We do not want to see the customer-contractor principle doing any injury to, above all, university research.

Those are my views on those aspects of the White Papers, and I now come to what I regard as the really important issue—the organisation of Government policy for research and development in the future as expressed in the Select Committee Reports.

I have already said that big research and development programmes will be needed by all advanced European industrial countries for competing in world markets in the next generation, and it is the long-term interests that the Select Committee had in mind.

Similar discussions to the one which I am initiating today, resembling the dialogue between the Committee and Her Majesty's Government, are taking place in Europe and, indeed, in all advanced industrial countries. Paragraph 17 of the White Paper agrees that the European Economic Community is seeking a comprehensive Community policy on scientific research and technoogical development. The Council of Europe discussed this matter last year, as those who read the report of its Science Committee will see, and it has taken the view that all industrialised nations should recognise the need to expand research in the interests of social progress and the development of technologies for economic needs.

We are in the same position. The whole discussion about whether we should have a Minister for Research and Development, supported by a Council for Science and Technology, as advocated by the Select Committee, must be considered in that context. If the Government agree that there has to be a Community policy for research and development, surely they also have to consider having a national policy themselves, which at present they do not appear to have? Surely they will ultimately need a Minister and an advisory council to initiate that policy? I put these points to my right hon. Friend in the knowledge that we cannot resolve all of them today; it is a long-term matter, but it is extremely important.

In their three White Papers the Government have replied that their system is based on the functional responsibilities of Departments, that research and development is a departmental matter, that they do not look at it as an entity or as a national matter, and that they are satisfied, apparently, with the existing machinery. This is certainly not the view of the Select Committee, and it puts its case, as I think hon. Members will agree, pretty sharply.

Elsewhere in Europe we found the same doubts being raised as were raised by the Committee. In the German Federal Republic, the Federal Minister for Education and Science has recently drawn attention to the need for co-ordination of the main areas of research, and the German policy documents view research policy as part of their overall policy. For example, in Germany a Research Policy Advisory Committee similar to the Council advocated by the Select Committee—the Committee had Europe in mind when it made this recommendation—is presided over by the Minister I mentioned, in the same way as the Select Committee advocated that a Minister for Research and Development in this country should be Chairman of a Council for Science and Technology.

In Belgium a Minister Without Portfolio is responsible—this is important because these other countries are moving in the same direction as that advocated by the Select Committee—for co-ordinating the activities of departments involved in science policy.

I do not suggest that we should slavishly follow the system in other countries or that the circumstances are identical. I am merely saying that if we are to be a competing nation in the next 25 years, we shall have bigger and more important national and international research programmes which cannot be effectively carried out without the proper mechanism and machinery.

In France there is a Minister of Industrial and Scientific Development. This is interesting, because he is the head of an inter-departmental committee for scientific and technical research and also chairman of an advisory committee for scientific and technical research. In some ways this approximates to the idea of a central council with the Minister as chairman which the Select Committee has put forward. If there were a Cabinet Committee in this country, whether on research or on science, it would be advised by a central council such as we suggest.

I do not expect all these matters to be adopted immediately, but they are relevant, and they are becoming more and more important as time goes on.

In Italy the lack of machinery for implementing scientific policy, which has caused a great crisis in Italian science, is likely to lead to a Ministry of Scientific and Technical Research. Finally, in the Netherlands a Minister of Science and Higher Education was appointed last year with a science council.

So the pattern is there in Europe, and it is very similar to that recommended by the Select Committee subject, of course, to the objection that the Government of this country are at present making, that it would upset their existing arrangements.

But the Committee had the EEC in mind when it made the recommendations for a Minister to "examine and approve" all Government research and development, to co-ordinate Government programmes and to be Chairman of a Council for Science and Technology.

Clearly, that is not a new idea. In their reply the Government have relied on their existing set-up, which we found—we put our reasons clearly in our report—to be inadequate in a fast-changing world. We also found the absence of a strong and independent scientific voice at Cabinet level, and we felt that it could be provided only by a Minister. The Committee viewed the function of such a Council for Science and Technology as a scientific "look-out" or watchdog, with the Minister to co-ordinate and examine departmental programmes.

We found as a fact—the Government agree, to judge by their replies—that no one really performs this function. The Government say in paragraph 10 of the White Paper that a central advisory function is performed none the less, by the Chief Scientific Adviser, with the Lord Privyl Seal to co-ordinate policy on research and development issues. But is that a correct description? I do not believe that it is a sound answer to what we have recommended. Has that particular Minister really the time to do this job, having regard to the increasing size and complexity of research and development problems?

The Government's reply also strains at a gnat in describing how the Minister and the Council would work in practice. They choose the example of road research, saying that if there were a Minister to "examine and approve" the relative effort between road and transport research, it might involve some interference with the way in which the Department of the Environment spends its money on research. Why not? The Government's function should be to have an overall policy on research, and someone should be given the job of deciding those priorities.

The Government seem quite upset—in the sense that they disapproved, not that they are angry—about the idea of the existence of an overall budget for research and development. This is not a revolutionary idea. I should have thought that, now they are in Europe, the Government will find that they will be asked by the Commission what percentage of their gross national product they devote to research and development—and they must have some idea of the answer. Their reply to this is that the Government expenditure is not structured in this way. The whole answer is "We do not do things like that. We do not agree, because the thing is not organised in that way, the Government expenditure is not structured in this way; nor should it be according to the principle of functional responsibility."

The whole question I am raising today is whether functional responsibility is all that counts in this matter and whether there are not very much wider issues at stake, as I believe there are. Do the Government make any estimates of the future size and allocation of research and development resources on a national basis? I do not think that the issue of a separate Vote for the proposed Minister which they raise is anything more than a red herring. We do not treat that very seriously. We wanted to give the Minister concerned a secretariat of about 50 and give him a Vote for that reason.

We turned our attention a good deal to the national objectives in science and technology. Paragraph 13 of the White Paper shows a curious attitude to the whole problem of long-term research, which some of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members will view with a certain amount of amazement, but this passage appears there: In respect of national objectives the programme of nuclear fusion research at the Culham Laboratory is no way different from that for the construction of a more conventional power station. I wonder who wrote that paragraph. It is a very extraordinary paragraph. One field is, after all, pure research—we have to use the phrase "pure research" now, according to Lord Rothschild; let us use it for fusion research—and one is engineering. What about the time scale between the two, between fusion research and the construction of a conventional power station? The Government clearly believe that research and development cannot be meaningfully looked at as a whole but that it arises from the objectives and functions of individual Departments.

That is where we disagree. I find a weakness in that approach. I am not seeking to criticise the Government, in such an abstruse field, from any other point of view except our disagreement on the basis of our evidence. The weakness of that approach is that in practice science is brought in as an appendage of policy, an ancillary to policy, and not part of policy as a whole such as is found in other countries. The Committee found quite differently about this, that science should be at the centre of the decision-making machinery. That is the difference between us: science should be at the centre of the decision-making machinery.

There are one or two other crucial points. A critical gap was that the Committee found that no mechanism existed to keep the Cabinet directly informed of major developments but for the chief scientific adviser. The ability of the present chief scientific adviser is not in doubt and no disrespect is meant to him, nor to the new chief scientists in the Departments who have been appointed since these reports were first made. But the Select Committee does not regard that as sufficient. The Select Committee feels that, however distinguished an official may be in the capacity as chief scientific adviser, the final advice to the Cabinet on major issues of research and development should be made by Ministers. That is the crucial difference of opinion that we had on that point. It is a matter well worthy of full debate.

There is a continuing dialogue here and it will have to continue. It is of great interest and value. I have not sought to go over all the ground of these reports, but I hope that during this Session the Government will be ready to have further discussions with the Select Committee on these lines.

On 13th July the journal The Engineer said that it was wrong to leave all this responsibility for the allocation of money and the decision on priorities to a chief scientific adviser. I think that The Engineer was absolutely right. It said: It is understandable that people in government service are against the idea of a Minister as the piercing rays of public scrutiny fall on them as well. Perhaps that may be a little uncharitable, but that is the duty of Parliament, and the responsibility of a Minister to Parliament would be a safeguard of great importance. Parliament has to be more involved in research and development in the future if the basis of our industries is to be broadened and they are to be made more effective in the next generation.

The Select Committee's duty is to inform the House and the Government of these problems and to make Ministers accountable. As Dr. Budworth of the CBI said in the New Scientist of 7th December: Decisions of science will in future be taken on the basis of wider considerations than those of science alone. This surely means that the Committee must continue its work in reporting to the House and maintaining its dialogue with the Government.

4.55 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. James Prior)

I am sure that the whole House would wish me to take this opportunity of paying tribute to the very valuable work of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, under the able chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), and, before him, under the able chairmanship of the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer). I should like to join in the tribute my hon. Friend paid to my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke). We are delighted to hear that he is making good progress.

When it comes to replying to the debate, my hon. Friend will take up the particular point which was worrying my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely about the transfer of the Nature Conservancy.

Not only has the Committee amassed a great deal of valuable evidence but in the four reports we are debating today it has given the House a thorough and thought-provoking review of this very important field. No Select Committee has worked harder or carved out for itself such a high reputation. As my hon. Friend said, we cannot resolve all the points raised by him today or for that matter, I suspect, by other hon. Members, but we shall consider them carefully.

These debates are never dramatic debates. Unfortunately, they are never well-attended debates. But this does not underrate their enormous importance for the future well-being of our country. Therefore, I assure hon. Members that the Government take this extremely seriously. I regard it as a very important part of my duties to see that the Government take into consideration fully the views put forward by the Select Committee.

In forming our conclusions on this particular report, the Government have very carefully considered the contributions made not only by the Select Committee but also by the scientific and technological community, particularly following the publication of the Green Paper in November 1971.

The White Paper published last July, "Framework for Government Research and Development", set out our considered views. We are not discussing that White Paper particularly today. But I know that the Select Committee felt that we did not pay sufficient attention to its views in the July 1972 White Paper. We have tried to make amends in the two White Papers we published before Christmas, and my noble Friend the Lord Privy Seal appeared before the Select Committee to give his views.

Mr. Ted Leadbitter (The Hartlepools)

The right hon. Gentleman, rightly, has been dwelling upon the theme of the care which the Government have taken about the Select Committee's views. Will he bear in mind that the White Paper in July did not appear to underline that kind of assertion, and certainly the fact that the Lord Privy Seal appeared before the Select Committee did not impress us to that extent either. Some of us are not satisfied that the views of the Select Committee have been taken into account to the extent which the Lord President is trying to imply.

Mr. Prior

That is why, if the hon. Gentleman will do me justice, I said in my speech that I realised that the Select Committee felt that we did not pay sufficient attention to its views. That is why I am now trying to make amends in stating that it is very important that we should pay attention to the Select Committee's views. I hope that my speech today will at least show where we differ, and why we differ when we do so.

The Government Research and Development Organisation is very much part of the machinery of Government as a whole. The functions of Government and the structure of Government Departments have changed a great deal since the Haldane Committee in 1918 recommended that responsibility for general research carried out by research councils should be in the hands of a Minister free from any serious pressure of administrative duties and immune from any suspicion of being biassed by administrative considerations against the applications of results of research. This approach was responsible for the concentration of research establishments in the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, under a non-departmental Minister, rather than in those Departments having direct need of their services. It was really the war and the surge forward afterwards that changed all that, when Departments became much more aware of what science and technology had to offer them and felt increasingly the need to back Executive functions with applied research and development. Several changes were made during those years.

Changes have also been made in the machinery of Government, with increasing emphasis on larger, more functional Departments. The two new major unified Departments—the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of the Environment—each has a major need for research and development. Between them they are responsible for 12 research establishments and spend some £200 million a year on applied research and development.

This in itself is a pointer to the extent of the Government's present involvement. Gone are the days when Government Departments might stifle science. They are now only too anxious to use it. The Government, in fact, spend in this way over £700 million a year. This is about twice what was spent a decade ago and, even allowing for price differences, well over 100 times as much as the amount spent before the First World War.

As part of the general review of functions carried out by Ministers, it became increasingly clear that, although the research establishments of the Government and those of the research councils were centres of the highest scientific excellence, their relation to the departmental policy centres was not what it should be. In some cases the relation was, of course, very close and much better than the average. The Ministry of Defence, for example, had already shown what was possible with its new arrangements for defence procurement and with its procedures for generating operational requirements, which enabled the customers in the Services and elsewhere to identify, with the scientists, the research problems crucial to their operational needs.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

It is all very well to say that the relationship is not what it should have been, but neither Lord Rothschild nor, so far as I am aware, anybody else who has taken this view has been able to give a single concrete example, when a request was made by the Department of Health and Social Security as it now is, or the old Ministry of Health or any other Government Department, of the research councils for a specific piece of research, that the research was not attempted or that at least a good answer was not given why the research could not have been done. There is no evidence, so far as I am aware, of this malfunction.

Mr. Prior

I do not want to pursue that line too far. But I could on another occasion give the hon. Gentleman a number of examples, in agriculture, where many people would have considered that research in particular aspects of agricultural policy should have been carried out and had not been carried out by the Agricultural Research Council. I cannot speak from personal experience for all the research councils, but certainly that would be true of the relationship between the agriculture and food industry and the Agricultural Research Council.

But in other areas of Government responsibility, there was not always the same close knitting together of the policy and research sides. On the policy side it was not always realised what contributions scientists could make to the problems, or even how to call up the scientific help; and on the research side the lack of such calls meant that the scientists often had to fend for themselves in framing their research programmes. As a result, the Government asked Lord Rothschild to report on Government research and development, and also sought advice through what was then the Council for Scientific Policy on the most effective arrangements for organising pure and applied scientific research and postgraduate training. I should like to take this opportunity of paying tribute to these very valuable reports.

The resulting Rothschild and Dainton Reports were published as a Green Paper. There was quite a bit of common ground between them, and the Government were immediately able, in that Green Paper, to accept some main points. In particular—and I stress this in view of the misunderstandings—we decided firstly, to preserve the research councils under the sponsorship of the Department of Education and Science, to maintain a body of authoritative advice available to the Secretary of State for Education and Science on the allocation of her Department's Science Budget; secondly, to control all applied research and development, commissioned by the Government, in accordance with a "customer-contractor" principle.

I shall come to the "customer-contractor" principle in a moment, but before I do so I want to emphasise that the decision on the location of the research councils was an important one. In many of their research establishments, the councils are set up to do work which is, or could be, of great value to Departments, and this has led some people to consider seriously whether these establishments should be transferred generally to the relevant operational Departments, such as the Road Research Laboratory and the Building Research Station were transferred a few years ago.

But we decided against this, in agreement with the advice given to us, principally by the Dainton Report, because we saw that the responsibility of the research councils, as embodied in their charters, went wider than applied research. In fact, as we said in our fuller statement in the White Paper of last July, the purpose of the research which the Government support through the research councils, as well as through the University Grants Committee, is to develop the sciences as such, to maintain a fundamental capacity for research and to support higher education. The "customer-contractor" principle is concerned entirely with applied research and development. We are thus not here involved in science policy—in questions of priority between areas of fundamental science—but with the use of research and development to help solve some of the practical problems which we face.

These problems have to be translated into clearly specified research objectives. Applied research exists only to be applied, which immediately means that there are two parties involved—those needing to apply it and those doing the research. For brevity they have been called customers and contractors respectively. We do not wish to imply by this a formal contractual relationship. It is merely a way of labelling these two groups of people according to their distinct responsibilities. The important thing is to bring them together into the right form of close and fruitful working relationship.

The researcher should then be fully aware of the policy considerations on which the priorities are based, and the policymaker equally should be familiar with the possibilities of research for overcoming his problems. This follows the general pattern in industry where it is clearly seen that industrial research and development is most effective when there are clear, strong, links between the researchers and those responsible for production, marketing and overall policy.

I believe that, on the whole, the work carried out by the research councils over the past few years has been extremely valuable. They have done a marvellous job. What worries me, however, is that so much of the research which they have carried out, even the development which has come from research, has not been pursued through industry with the vigour that is required. I was told by someone recently that if we stopped doing any research for 10 years and merely applied the results of what had been discovered by our scientists in the past 10 years we should still achieve a high rate of growth and be a successful nation. I am not suggesting that we should do that. However, we should look carefully at how we get industry to take up the work carried out so successfully by the scientists.

Mr. Dalyell

While I agree with much of what the right hon. Gentleman has said about industry, there may be a distinction here in relation to the Medical Research Council and the way in which the discoveries of that council have got through into the National Health Service and the pharmaceutical industry very quickly. Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to make that distinction?

Mr. Prior

There is always the danger of treading into areas where one has not the necessary knowledge. Certainly the Medical Research Council has always had a very good reputation in this respect. That is one reason why, in the transfer of funds from the Medical Research Council to the DHSS, a much larger part of the funds has been left with the council and it has not been felt necessary to have the same transfer from the contractor to the customer in this respect.

Many Departments now have responsibilities in areas where science and technology have a great deal to contribute, although some were not in the past organised to exercise them. We have, in fact, broken out of this chicken-and-egg situation by making it possible and necessary for all departments to commission the research they need, but at the same time insisting that they have first-class chief scientists and scientific staffs to ensure that they are properly set up to do this.

Again, to quote from personal experience, I always felt when I was at the Ministry of Agriculture that the Ministry and the food, agriculture and fishing industries should have a bigger say in what research was carried out. I was al- ways told that they could not because the Department had not got a chief scientist. The problem was always to find a chief scientist. It was difficult to get a man of the necessary calibre to carry out the work. However, the Department has now an excellent chief scientist. I shall return to this point later.

Of course, the beneficiaries of a scientific or technical advance often lie beyond a commissioning Department itself. In agriculture, for example, the interests of individual farmers, growers, and food manufacturers have to be taken into account in any organisation which sets out to represent the "customers". It will not suffice if we are to replace the remoteness of the research council by the stuffiness of Whitehall.

The requirements boards and joint consultative machinery which the Departments have been setting up to guide them in choosing their programmes have an important responsibility to include these outside interests. The DTI, for example, is discharging this responsibility by having about six members of each board from industry. But a good Government Department should be able to act as the prime customer, or proxy-customer, on behalf of all the many interested individuals and organisations in the country. It is therefore right that it should be the organisation which pays for the research, and it is, of course, accountable to the public through Parliament for its use of the taxpayer's money.

What we are really saying is that there are a good many projects which are far beyond the capacity of an individual company to carry out on its own. This is where a good Government Department can commission research and then make the results readily available to the nation as a whole.

The Select Committee argued that there should be a Minister for Research and Development who would say what priorities were to be given to the research and development programmes of all Departments. My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon has dwelt on this at some length today. After careful consideration, the Government came last year to the conclusion that this proposal would be inconsistent with the restructuring of Departments as coherent organisations with the means and ability to manage all their own affairs, including the commissioning of the research and development that they need.

When a Department spends more on a research programme or a development project, it has less to spend on its other activities. This is a discipline for the Department and it is a proper discipline, since the Department must be accountable for the effective use, in all aspects of the Vote it receives for the pursuit of its tasks.

This is where the true judgment of priorities is to be found, in splitting a limited departmental Vote so as to achieve the right result. It makes sense to judge the amount spent on, say, research on health care against what we spend on the whole National Health Service. It does not make sense, to my mind, to judge health research against, for example, forensic research or fisheries research. What basis of meaningful comparison is there? More research for one Department should not mean less for another.

My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon said that in this argument we were tending to strain at a gnat. But I do not believe that a Minister for Research and Development would really be as good a judge of the relative value of health research to National Health Service expenditure as the Secretary of State for Social Services. My experience of the Whitehall machine suggests to me that a Minister for Research and Development would find himself at a serious disadvantage compared to a strong departmental Minister. That is a factor that one must always take into consideration in these matters.

Finally—and this is equally important—to appoint a Minister with powers over all Government applied research and development would cut across the closer integration, in Departments of scientific and policy staffs. The inevitable effect would be to separate applied research and development from the rest of Government activities by making it something distinct.

The Government, nevertheless, fully share the Select Committee's underlying concern about three principles—the need, first, to set national objectives; secondly, to assess priorities; thirdly, to ensure cen- tral co-ordination. There is indeed a central function in each of these three areas. Objectives and priorities are set by the Cabinet when the issues cannot be settled by Departments, and the Cabinet is able to draw on the advice of its Chief Scientific Adviser located centrally in the Cabinet Office.

The Lord Privy Seal has central responsibility for interdepartmental coordination of policy on research and development issues and at official level the Chief Scientific Adviser has a parallel responsibility. The Chief Scientific Adviser maintains a continuing liaison with departmental chief scientists, R and D controllers and the scientific community outside Government.

Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, Central)

Does the right hon. Gentleman think that the Cabinet Office as at present constituted has the strength, the machinery or the personnel to do this kind of co-ordination?

Mr. Prior

Yes. My experience in Government suggests that the Cabinet Office is a very powerful office. This means that it is necessary to have personnel who command respect and authority. Certainly one's experience of the Cabinet Office is that it does not lack the authority to do this work if it is right for it to do it. I do not want to be dogmatic about these matters. I think that we shall be discussing them for a long time. But hon. Members should not underestimate the power of the Cabinet Office in the Government machinery.

Although we have decided not to set up a Council for Science and Technology, it is, of course, open to the Chief Scientific Adviser—as indeed to Departments—to seek independent advice through the establishment of ad hoc groups to deal with particular matters or through consultation with suitably qualified individuals.

The Select Committee also recommended that the Government should provide Parliament with more information about their research and development programmes. The Government have accepted this and arranged for Departments to report annually. The research councils are considering how they can give a fuller and clearer picture of their allocation of resources and the Department of Education and Science will continue to look at the budgets of the councils on a rolling five-year basis.

I turn now to the progress of the reorganisation. Arrangements are in hand to enable representatives of the customer Departments to be appointed members of research councils in whose work they have a substantial interest.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science will in future agree the appointment of the chairmen and members appointed by her with her ministerial colleagues principally concerned, consulting the President of the Royal Society as necessary.

The Government certainly endorse the Select Committee's view that it is important to have as wide a spread of interests as possible amongst the members of each research council, although the major consideration must be the contributions which individual members can make to the work of the council.

Mr. Dalyell

What is meant by the phrase "as necessary"? Why should the President of the Royal Society be consulted as necessary?

Mr. Prior

It is thought that before scientists are appointed there should be consultations with the President of the Royal Society, but for lay appointments the same considerations do not apply.

The Select Committee was worried about the transfer of funds before the customer Departments were perhaps ready. In the July White Paper we announced that funds would be transferred over a three-year period from the science budget of the Department of Education and Science to the votes of customer Departments to help meet their needs for commissioned research.

At the same time we said that we wished to avoid a further period of prolonged uncertainty about the funding of the research councils. Our feeling was that it would not have been in the best interests of the councils and their staffs or of Departments to have undertaken further reviews of resources and programmes for research before making the changes on which we had decided.

The Departments have informed the research councils that in the coming year transferred money will all be ploughed back into the councils. This perhaps goes some way towards meeting the Select Committee's point. We did, however, emphasise that no transfers of funds would be made until the customer Departments had established their central scientific staffs, and the five Departments with major interests in research and development already have chief scientists in post.

Both the Department of Health and Social Security and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have made new appointments of eminent scientists which have been welcomed by the scientific community. Indeed, we are fortunate in having in our customer Departments men who have made distinguished contributions to different branches of scientific knowledge.

The Department of Trade and Industry has reorganised its headquarters staff under the chief scientist into separate customer and contractor divisions. In the Department of the Environment no changes were necessary, since the Director General of Research covers the chief scientist function. Supporting teams are being built up in the Department of Health and Social Security and in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. All in all, I am satisfied that the principal customer Departments will have effective chief scientist organisations in time for the 1973–74 financial year. We shall, therefore, have discharged the undertaking on which transfer of funds from the science budget of the Department of Education and Science was conditional.

Mr. Leadbitter

The Minister has mentioned the ploughing back to the research council of funds going to the customer Departments. I am not certain how that would be effective in giving confidence to the scientists and the councils. What is the response of the research councils to this decision of the Government?

Mr. Prior

As far as I am aware, the research councils, having been worried about whether they would get sufficient resources, now feel a good deal happier. In the first year all the money which has gone to customer Departments is going back again into the research councils. Whereas one would not want to tie the customer Departments in any way for a period of years, all my information is that the customer Departments will be looking to the research councils and their establishments for the major proportion of the scientific effort. We all recognise that the research councils and research establishments have done magnificent work and that they are the best people to carry out this work.

The whole purpose of the customer/contractor relationship is to try to make certain that the needs of the customer are more carefully and better defined, rather than to deny the research councils or research establishments the opportunity of doing the work. On that point the research councils will now be much happier than they were before.

Mr. Leadbitter

I assume that the Lord President of the Council is satisfied with the restoration of confidence, although I am not convinced. Will he bear in mind that there is additional concern about the growth rate of the financial provision of scientific research, which has fallen from 13 per cent. 14 years ago to 4 per cent. at present? It is estimated that by 1974–75 the growth rate will have fallen still further to 2 per cent. Does that indicate confidence? On previous statements made about funds there seemed to be some slight misdirection of confidence.

Mr. Prior

This is a matter of what the country can properly afford. It is not a reference to the rôle of customer and contractor but much more a question of the resources which the Government should allocate to research effort.

It is true that there has been some decline in the growth rate, but I do not necessarily believe that because one has a rapid growth rate, as we had for a number of years, one must automatically sustain it. We had better see how we get on with the development of research in the next few years. If it does a particularly good job, as I have every confidence it will, perhaps the Government will see fit to increase the growth rate, but one needs an open mind on that.

Before concluding my review of the progress made by Departments generally, I should like to say a word or two about the Department of Trade and Industry, which the Select Committee singled out for particular attention. My right hon.

Friend has replied to the Select Committee in his White Paper and I shall not repeat what is said there about, for example, the six requirements boards which his Department is setting up to implement the customer-contractor principle. But the Select Committee was concerned with the rôle of the industrial research establishment in innovation. We welcome the Committee's interest and share its view that these establishments have a part to play in providing certain research and development resources to supplement those of industry itself.

Looking to the future, we are confident that the new requirements boards will ensure that the work of the establishments is relevant to user needs which, in turn, will make it easier to exploit the results of their research.

Of course, an important way in which technology is transferred is through direct contract. An industrial firm may place a contract with, say, Harwell for work on high-temperature ceramics or with the National Engineering Laboratory for the design of components. Normally the firm will pay the full cost of the work and in consequence will retain the right to exploit the results.

My hon. Friend said that he thought that the research establishments should be more aggressive in their attitude to getting outside work, and should go in for advertising and proper marketing. I saw in the Financial Times recently an account showing by how much the outside work at Harwell is to expand over the next three years. I regard this as extremely satisfactory. The suggestion should be pursued further and I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Minister for Aerospace and Shipping will take it up.

Mr. Neave

I am glad that my right hon. Friend has taken up this point. I was referring to the National Engineering Laboratory, the National Physical Laboratory, and the Warren Spring Laboratory. Harwell is doing a good job in advertising, but the others are not.

Mr. Prior

My hon. Friend the Minister for Aerospace and Shipping tells me that he will deal with that matter in his reply.

My right hon. Friend is happy to accept the Select Committee's view that it is important for both the Atomic Energy Authority and the industrial research establishments to sustain the growth of this kind of contract work for industry and others. The Select Committee believed that transfer of technology to industry would be easier if the major research establishments were hived off into a new statutory authority. We shall keep an open mind on this; but for the moment we believe that the new policies are right and should be given a chance to work. For example, the agricultural Departments and the Agricultural Research Council will be advised by a consultative organisation which will be representative of the food and agricultural industries as well as the Departments, and will provide also for both scientific and economic advice. Their requirements boards for agriculture and food and for fisheries will decide what research and development should be commissioned in these fields.

Much research work is tied in with statutory duties. I carefully examined the arguments in favour of hiving off when I was at the Ministry of Agriculture. One matter that influenced me at that time was the fact that so much of the work carried out on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture is concerned with the implementation of its statutory functions, such as pollution in fisheries, the testing and reporting of mercury levels in fish, and so on. This would make it very difficult to have a "hived off" authority. Therefore, I should like the Government to keep an open mind on this matter.

Finally, I should not like to leave this part of my speech without a mention of the Advisory Board for the Research Councils and its distinguished Chairman, Sir Frederick Dainton. The board has taken the place of the Council for Scientific Policy and is playing a vital part in bringing about the desired partnership between the research councils and the Government Departments, and also in maintaining the support which the research councils give to the universities. The board is advising my right hon. Friend on her responsibilities for civil science with particular reference to the research council system and on the allocation of the science budget among the research councils and other bodies.

I wish to say a word about scientific manpower: the integration of scientific and policy staff to which we attach such importance. It is essential to recruit scientific staff of high calibre and then to give them interesting and rewarding jobs and which make full use of their abilities. Our recruitment, promotion, training and other management personnel policies are now designed to achieve this. While most Government scientists are employed on scientific work in research laboratories, their normal career pattern will now involve increased managerial and administrative responsibilities.

We are therefore making a more deliberate attempt to provide young scientists with such training and experience early in their careers. This month the Civil Service College will be holding its first extended course for scientists, and other young specialists, before moving for two years to headquarters posts. This is the start of what we hope will grow into a new stream of career development for Civil Service scientists. It is our longterm aim that all future directors and deputy directors should normally have gained this type of experience. The House will be pleased to hear this because it is something we have all felt to be long overdue.

Another way of broadening the experience of scientists is to make it possible for them to spend a period outside the Civil Service—for example, in a university department or research council laboratory, or perhaps in a quite different environment such as sales or marketing in industry. Equally, a movement of scientific talent from outside into the Service can help bridge the gap between scientists in the public and private sectors. As promised in July, a task force has been set up to study the problems involved in interchange of scientific talent, and to work out and oversee a scheme to develop such interchange further. The Government are convinced that such movement should become a much more normal part of career development in future.

In addition to its four reports on research and development, the Select Committee has recently published a Special Report which contains the report by Mr. P. Docksey, to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, entitled "The Government Rôle in Developing and Exploiting Inventions".

I do not want here to enter into the substance of this, which is a matter for my hon. Friend the Minister for Aerospace and Shipping, but I do want to make one general remark. While I appreciate the considerations which led the Select Committee to take this action—I must say this to the House, which I know appreciates these matters—no Government can accept an automatic requirement either to publish the reports on inquiries or to make them available to Select Committees. It is Government decisions, not the advice given to Governments, that is subject to critical evaluation by the House. It could well be that such advice will not be so readily given, or delve so deeply into confidential aspects of the matters in question, if Governments do not retain the right to keep such advice confidential when they consider it right to do so. However, where there is public interest in a particular report the Government would always wish to give sympathetic consideration to its publication.

Mr. Ronald Brown (Shoreditch and Finsbury)

How does the right hon. Gentleman envisage a Member of this House being able to evaluate a Government decision if only the Government are privy to advice which they are being tendered?

Mr. Prior

The answer is that once the Government have put forward their views the Government must be asked to justify them. The Government must not always say, "We have taken a decision on the advice of Mr. Docksey" or somebody else. The Government must take private advice, stand by it, and be questioned on what is happening. It would be impossible for a Government to get eminent people to be prepared to give advice if every time they were giving that advice they knew that it was to be made public.

Mr. Palmer

Would it not be as well in such circumstances for publicity not to be given to the names of individuals who make reports, and for such reports to be treated as part of the normal departmental advice available to a Minister?

Mr. Prior

That is something which we should consider, and probably would go some way to meet the point. It is not always easy to keep quiet as to the source of advice since certain people's styles or views shine through the written word. All these are matters which can be considered, but the House would not expect any Government, of whatever political complexion, to accept the view that all evidence given to it should be made public.

Mr. Dalyell

What has happened to the Prime Minister's promise about open Government? Would it not be a little more becoming and seemly for the Lord President to be contrite about this subject and to admit that there was an error of judgment in not publishing Docksey?

Mr. Prior

No. This has nothing to do with open government. There is all the difference between the Government publishing a Green Paper for discussion and then allowing the House and the country at large to take part in it, and the Government letting it be known what private advice they have received from somebody on a particular issue. In this case the Select Committee's view that the expurgated version of the Docksey Report should have been published by the Government has been noted, and I have tried to deal sympathetically with the views of the Select Committee. In conclusion——

Mr. Leadbitter

Before the right hon. Gentleman is allowed to get away with that, may I ask him about the use of the phrase "expurgated version"? I must remind him that the Select Committee on Science and Technology had the benefit of sitting under the chairmanship of somebody who was careful in the words he used; indeed, that Select Committee was unanimous in the support it gave to its chairman in respect of the Docksey Report. As I understand it, the "expurgated version" means the complete report with the exception of one or two matters of confidentiality. The Select Committee could see no reason why the Government should have taken the stand they did on the non-publication of the document.

Mr. Prior

I have noted what the hon. Gentleman said. He will disagree with what I said.

The Government believe that we are now developing the right kind of organisation to ensure that the very large resources—in terms both of money and of scientists of the highest quality—for which government research and development accounts, are used in the best interests of the nation. Naturally there are important details still to be settled. We shall be prepared to make adjustments, but I am sure that we are now generally on the right lines.

I have no doubt that constructive criticism from the Select Committee and from the House today and in the future has helped us and will continue to help us to ensure a strong and stable framework for Government research and development. The interest shown by the Select Committee will have been of enormous encouragement to scientific effort. Government science has been in a state of flux over the lifetime of two Governments and stability is certainly now needed.

We are entering a new partnership with the scientific community which must be harnessed for the common good. We owe it to our scientists and technologists to allow their talents to flourish in a stable situation. We look forward to a cool and calm period in which science and government can work together to enrich the quality of life for us all.

5.42 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)

I join the Lord President in paying tribute to the Select Committee for the work that it has done and for the reports it has produced. The working of this Select Committee is one of Parliament's great success stories. It has illuminated areas of great public interest which had previously been secret. The Select Committee has explained to the public as well as to Parliament issues which would otherwise not have been brought fully into the open and it has made Ministers and civil servants in a real sense accountable in a way which would not be possible at Question Time or in debate.

I say that as the first Minister to appear before the Committee—in fact before any of the new Select Committees—and I appeared before Select Committees more often than other Ministers.

The real point on which the Lord President began to show passion in a speech which was otherwise, and in every respect, measured and kind was on the subject of what should be secret and what should not be. This is the most significant part of the Select Committee's work. Whatever framework the Government may develop for the control of science none would or could be successful from the point of view of the public interest if there were not a continuing scrutiny of Government activity, whatever Government were in power, by the Select Committee.

The central theme of the debate inevitably rotates around the four reports and is linked, as the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) said, with Lord Rothchild's report. Like everyone else, I followed the correspondence in The Times when the controversy first began. In fact the proposal for a customer-contractor relationship appeared in the 1970 Green Paper, for which I was responsible. I do not believe that Lord Rothchild can either claim the credit or take the blame for having introduced the idea into the public arena.

Where the difficulty arose may partly have been in the vigorous advocacy Lord Rothchild brought to his subject and partly in the real difficulty to which the Select Committee has drawn our attention, namely, that the Government appeared to be endorsing the Green Paper at the outset. If Green Papers are to preserve the reputation they have acquired, it is important that Governments should not seek to pre-empt debate by pre-endorsement. Nor do I think that the Government have gained much by their initial endorsement, in that they could have produced their White Paper after the debate without any loss of effectiveness by not endorsing so early.

The whole debate, the Select Committee's recommendations and the Government's response, all in a sense revolve around the question whether central initiative and control or user initiative and control are to be dominant. Powerful arguments can be adduced on both sides. On the one hand, a central initiative and the retention of it in a form proposed by the Select Committee in suggesting a Minister for research and development can give the impression that there is to be some firm political grasp over research and development which, because it is a Minister in the Cabinet accountable to Parliament, must therefore be more democratic than leaving the decisions spread in other areas. On the other hand, the argument may well be put and is put, and it has some force, that, apart from research designed to advance the frontiers of knowledge without any special application in mind, the real way we make science serve the community is to ensure that the community, in one manifestation or another, is empowered to acquire by contract some access to scientific manpower to solve its problems.

I do not just mean the crude market mechanism. I mean a market in which the Government are one of the customers who therefore modify and manage the market to see that science works for the community in that way.

The whole discussion, which is of enormous interest and importance, will not be fully resolved by a debate or discussion, despite the Lord President's final words.

In recent years the tendency has been for research, certainly on the industrial side, to move towards the user application. The Minister quoted as an example the division between the Ministry of Technology and the Department of Education and Science, both of which sponsored pure, as it is called, or applied science. The difference between the two was the different motive for funding it—one academic, the other practical.

Carrying it a stage further, the transfer of the Road Research Laboratory, of the Building Research Station, of the Water Pollution Research Station, and even the creation of British Nuclear Fuels, were all designed to anchor the research more firmly to the purpose for which it was intended. Although I had, and have, strong reservations about the proposed transfer of AWRE Aldermaston, that decision and the decision that the aviation establishments should go to the Ministry of Defence offer further developments of the idea of user control of science.

My Green Paper, which I believe reads well three years after the event, sought to carry the argument further and say that, except for funded pure research which the Government wish to be done, the scientific community must establish its claims to be useful by meeting the customers' needs, through a BRAC.

In the early days of this debate the scientific community was very critical of the whole operation. It did not like it, in part because the further development of these ideas might appear to challenge the scientific community's claim to dictate how the decisions were made. The day has long passed when scientists could fear that the Minister would control them to the exclusion of their pursuit of truth, which was what Haldane was protecting them against. Today it is quite the other way round—the scientists are in a very powerful position. That is part of the problem that the community had to face.

We must consider the reality of our own experience. It is not in any sense to make a party point that I give some examples of the failure of the community to use science as well as it might. They are significant enough examples to make us wonder how things could be arranged better. First, despite all that is said, there is no necessary link between research and development and economic performance. Therefore, the argument for research and development cannot just be made on the grounds that we must think of the future, unless technology transfer arrangements in terms of people, or more organically, or in terms of financing, are also there.

I would go further and say that there is no necessary link between research and development and environmental protection unless it is specially provided that that link should be established. It is certainly true that the then existing arrangements led to the over-development of highly advanced technology at the expense of intermediate technology. We have never been slow to advocate intermediate technology to developing countries but we have been slow to learn that it has some relevance to our society. Looking back on the long list of cancellations of advanced projects under both Governments, there is no doubt that this owed something to the effect that our system of the control of science had had on over-glamourising and making over-complex our work on defence and perhaps even on civil aviation.

It is argued that the brain drain had something to do with this because people were trained up and then when the project failed to survive, those people went to the United States. I heard it said by a distinguished Government scientist who must remain anonymous, of course, that in fact it was a "brain pump". A project was built up and then cancelled and these skilled people were "squirted" to California. Now they want to come back. But this development was a product of a failure to handle properly the use of science.

It is arguable—and I am sure that my friends at the Atomic Energy Authority will not object to my saying so—that the perhaps over-emphasis on nuclear research at an early stage due to the way this was handled, has something to do with decisions which, with the great benefit of hindsight, we might not always have wanted to take in that way. When I hear of the Government's putting a lot of money into the coal industry it makes me wonder whether there was some failure to get the correct balance of scientific expenditure in matters of energy research in the earlier years, and I do not direct that criticism at any particular Government.

In looking at the balance of expenditure quoted in the Government's White Paper between defence, aerospace, the AEA, industrial research establishments, the environment and the Department of Health and Social Security one can see that the balance of expenditure even today does not necessarily correspond with identified community need. I should like to give one or two examples.

We have neglected, until quite recently, research on surface transportation. All the highly skilled people tended to work on aerospace. The Lord President of the Council gave an example from his experience at the Ministry of Agriculture. Mine comes from my experience as the Minister of Technology where I felt that it would be very easy to get an advanced programme for another aircraft project; but because the people qualified even to define surface transportation projects were not available, the work could not necessarily get redirected into areas of greater and obvious need. Although the disabled are now the subject of great public interest, I wonder whether we have devoted enough to the application of research in what may seem rather mundane and unexciting spheres like the ease- ment of the lot of people who are disabled, as against high medical technology. The environment generally may also have suffered by the way in which research was handled.

Was this because we did not have a Minister looking at the whole spectrum of research and development? That is, in a sense, the practical question we have to ask. I doubt whether that was the main reason. I think it was because the system of funding did not support the public needs that existed and convert them into an effective demand. Because the resources were not necessarily allocated in such a way as to meet that demand when that demand became formulated and funded by Government. Therefore, candidly, I found in Lord Rothschild's original proposals a great merit. They were sometimes put forward in a way which seemed calculated to stir up disagreement; but the idea that government concern themselves with need, that science has its part to play in meeting that need, and that government convert that need into demand by funding it, has substantial and important merit.

Other points arose in the course of the debate from both sides of the Select Committee which I should like to take up. There is the need for a stronger departmental scientific capability, particularly in fields like agriculture, to which the Lord President referred. There is also the need for more exchange of scientists and managers with people in industry and universities. That is most important, and I warmly welcome the proposal for Civil Service training designed to consolidate and develop this. There is the point about the five-year rolling programme designed to show what is happening—a suggestion infinitely more important than the idea that the problem could be solved by the appointment of a departmental Minister.

There was the point much stressed about providing more information. I read, as no doubt Members of the Committee read, the astonishing Executive Order 11671, issued by President Nixon in June 1972, in which he said that advisory committees advising the Government were to be opened to the public. When the Lord President says that no one will advise the Government if a breath of what they say is allowed to get out, he should read the interesting account of the man from Science News who turned up at Houston at the first meeting of the Physical Sciences Committee of NASA after the President's Executive Order. He told the Committee, "I have arrived. The President says that advisory committees are open to the public." There was a little fluttering in the dovecotes and some rearrangements of business, because executive sessions were to remain secret. But in general he sat through two days of debate and he had the opportunity of listening. The more I think about the question of the control of science, be it in industry or in government, the more this question of secrecy seems to me to be the dominant one.

Mr. Ronald Brown

When the Docksey Report was finally published it contained only two minor amendments which were quite meaningless, so that the report could have been published without any offence to privacy.

Mr. Benn

My hon. Friend will realise that this is the central point of what I am saying. If decision making in this area of science is opened up to public examination, whatever system there is, there will be some real control over what happens. This is the heart of the matter. Of course, there is the tendency to say that national interest dictates secrecy but the trouble is that it is so easy to confuse the national interest with the convenience of Ministers and also with the preferences of officials.

I do not blame a Minister for wanting to protect the rival advice which he has received, so that when he publishes his own decision it sounds so much stronger, because it cannot be tested against the strength of the rival advice. It is also preferable for a civil servant not to be embroiled in the political arena because his advice has been made public. There are strict limits which have to be placed upon these matters. But I believe that this is infinitely the most important contribution that the Select Committee has already made, and that it can continue to make, by pressing for open decision making.

In spite of what the Lord President said about there having been a period of flux, urging that the scientists should now be allowed in peace and quiet and over a long period to get on with their job, the fact is that science will always be in a state of flux because that state of flux derives from the changes that scientists make. Therefore, scientists should be the last of all people to ask for peace and quiet in which to get on with their business. This is bound to be a subject of growing interest.

Although the debate upon a Minister for Research and Development is well worth while, I can only say, as a Minister who was responsible for the research and development over a wide area of policy, that I found it had two great defects. Even having the wide range of executive power that I had, I was subjected to special pressure which I was unable to check in the way that a customer could and, secondly, the only real test that could or should be applied was whether much of this work met community need.

Mr. Neave

Will the right hon. Gentleman deal with one point about the Minister? Surely the question of the future of these large research programmes of advice to the Cabinet, is especially important? Should not the final advice come through a Minister?

Mr. Benn

I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says and what the Select Committee has argued strongly. My own opinion, for what it is worth—and in a debate like this we are all acting like the other place, we are not representing party views in any sense—is that a Minister for Research and Development of Cabinet rank, and that is very high—to be in the Cabinet simply with research and development responsibility—would either interfere undesirably in the central policy—of which research was only a part—in every other Department or he would be a glorified, wholly ineffective and decorative superstructure hovering over the chief scientist operating within the Cabinet Office.

I am giving my candid view of what would happen. In his survey today, the Lord President—and I am not flattering him—from his vantage point, has given the House just about as much as we could hope to get from a Minister with high responsibility in this area but without actually seeking to do all that the Select Committee asks. I am not inviting the House to reject the report because I think the debate about this is important. I am only giving my view. This is not just a problem of structure and we cannot solve it that way any more than we can solve the problem of space by having a Minister of Space, or the problem of peace by having a Minister of Peace. This is a more difficult problem. What really emerges from the discussion of it is that what is required is the most wide public debate.

Mr. Leadbitter

Before my right hon. Friend gives succour to the Lord President to any degree will he bear in mind that one can accept his personal views on the shortcomings of a Minister of Cabinet rank responsible for research and development, but those views are competent only as long as he bears in mind that they arise from his satisfaction with the present structure of Government? Those of us who support a different view on this are not satisfied with the structure of Government and the evidence shows that there is no co-ordination on research and development in any Department.

Mr. Benn

My hon. Friend asks me whether I am satisfied. Of course I am not. There are a number of defects which when analysed are pretty serious. I genuinely believe that the objective of this Select Committee, which is to make science serve the community, is best served by trying to take science closest to its application and seeing that each Minister with departmental responsibility can also bring into play as much research as he needs to meet his departmental objectives, rather than by supposing that a senior Cabinet Minister with co-ordinating responsibility can solve the whole problem.

I know that this is a controversial view and I put it to the House because I think it is the most important part of all. We are not really debating science today in the narrowest sense. we are debating the problem of how a community copes with a given situation at a time when mankind is re-equipping itself with a completely new set of tools. We are dealing with the problem of how to make the best use of these tools, how to create the best institutional framework. We recognise that science in a way controls the future, that the scientist is a valuable resource, and we must deal with the know-how he creates.

My recommendation to the House is that we cannot hope to find total and complete answers in any one form of government or structure of government. What we can and must do is to see that this area of policy does not remain within what is sometimes known as the "private ownership of knowledge", but is broadly shared and spread. Insofar as we can interest more people in the enormous importance of what we are discussing, we shall all learn by the mistakes that we have all made and are bound to make. We shall then improve upon that. I pay the warmest tribute to the Chairman of the Committee and his predecessor, my colleague, the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer). They have pionered this Committee and in the process have done a great service to Parliament as well as to science.

6.6 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Warren (Hastings)

I am grateful for the opportunity, first, of addressing myself to the general subject of the Government's attitude to civil research and development and, secondly, to illustrating this briefly by looking at some of the points which the Select Committee came across in its detailed study of the British computer industry. One must start from the tables which the Government gave us. It was of interest in the evidence that we took to find that in 1971–72, for instance, £201 million of taxpayers' money was spent on what was called civil research and development.

It is essential at the start to cut through this with a sharp knife and discard the substantial section of what is called civil research and development but which is not really that at all. It is, instead, the application of taxpayers' money to two projects, Concorde and the RB211. Taking that money out cuts the amount spent on research and development in 1971–72 to under £100 millon. It is from that base line that we have to realise what is being done by Governments in terms of civil research and development.

It may have been the right amount to spend, but one of the trials we continually faced in the Select Committee was that we could never find out whether it was, because there was no absolute measure that we could apply to the evidence we were given. It is a pity that the Government have not yet been able to see their way to accepting the fact that the structure of government should serve government, rather than that the structure should be inviolate.

Here I find that I cannot agree with the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn). It is the duty of government to devise a structure to serve society in the nation. The change in the demands on the structure of government is particularly rapid in science and technology where a generation lasts only five years—strangely enough, the optimum life of a Government.

It was interesting to hear the Lord President's proposals. If I understood him properly, there was a volte face on the part of the Government on the subject of deciding and setting national objectives for research and development. This is a welcome change, and when one makes a speech it is a bit difficult to compensate in mid-stream for the fact that a substantial rug has been pulled from under one's best debating points. I am all the happier—and I am sure that my colleagues on the Committee are happier—to find that despite all the evidence which Ministers gave to us they now appreciate that this recommendation of the Committee is not only pertinent but essential to the good application of the funds available for science and technology.

It is a pity this has taken so long because men and women engaged in science and technology are disciplined in the pursuit of precision. To them, nothing is accepted as "self-evident" and they must have found it very difficult to grind along under successive Governments with the old philosophy that Government with all their resources could not assemble options, analyse them and decree objectives and furthermore would not do so because they did not think it was necessary.

This extraordinary attitude was the only one put forward by the developed countries of the West which did not tie in with the assessment that every other Western nation had made. This is therefore a welcome change. It is interesting, if one looks at the research report produced by the Federal German Government in 1972, to see that it emphasises the move away from the rôle of scientists and technologists decreeing priorities to one of finding the essential part fulfilled by the politician in the arena of decision-taking.

The West German Government, in this report for 1972, said that even with generous increases in research expenditure, because of the work to be done the material and, above all, personnel resources remain restricted, their optimum utilisation and distribution require political decisions.

The Government will find that the prime battle they have to face over the coming years in the European Community will be that the size of the programmes and the political battles that will be forced on us by the other member Governments will decree that eventually a Minister with access to the Cabinet must have responsibility for ensuring that the British point of view is not only put over but usually succeeds in the debates in the council chambers of Europe. We must not underestimate this problem. The responsibility for science and technology is moving entirely into the political arena of the large programmes which the Government must fund because they are the sole source of risk capital.

The tragedy which we, as a nation, have had in the application of our scientific knowledge is repeatedly paraded before us in a way which seems to indicate that the scientists have not understood that the end product of their work was not only to produce new facts but to apply those facts for the benefit of society. I have never understood why a nation which can produce people like Rutherford, Fleming, Watson-Watt and a whole cavalcade of Nobel Prize winners in the 20th century should find it so difficult to use their knowledge to produce products which will sell in the market place. Per capita we have a society of science and technology which is second to none in the world, and certainly our greatest national resource is the brain power of our people.

I hope that the Government will throw off the dogma that "it cannot be done". With apologies to the Lord President, who has left the Chamber, I rather sensed this in his speech this afternoon. It is essential that we continually examine the work which is being done, particularly in Government research laboratories, force it out into the market place and see that it is sold. A tremendous amount of good work is locked up in the laboratories for which the Government have entire responsibility.

If I illustrate the problems which face the British computer industry, I think we might see why the Government still do not appreciate the scale on which they have to operate.

Earlier I referred to what the West Germans were doing, in terms of their attitude to science and politics. In our report on the computer industry we worked out that £50 million was the right order of expenditure for the Government's investment programme in that industry. It is encouraging to find, by referring to the West German programme, that they came up with a similar sum—£47 million for 1972. There is one vital difference. They have spent the money, whereas our recommendation has not been accepted. Indeed, from what I can elucidate from replies to Questions that I have put, we have been spending at only a third of the rate which the Select Committee on Science and Technology recommended as essential.

Looking at the way that the West German programme is to go ahead—it is essential that we look at this because, with the Japanese, they are becoming our chief competitors in computer hardware and software—we find that whereas in 1972 they spent £47 million, by 1975, in real terms, they will be spending two-and-a-half times as much, and their expenditure will be £120 million.

This is an example of expenditure on science which will be immediately applied and sold in the market place. This is something which only a Government can do to encourage investment. As far as I can determine, no adequate reply is likely to be forthcoming from the Government. Perhaps my hon. Friend will take note of the point and give us some hope tonight that there will be a faster rate of expenditure, commensurate with the demands of the industry in order to remain competitive.

I appreciate that the options open to the Government in investment are infinite. There is always somebody who has the best idea since the mousetrap. However, it is interesting to see the effect that £50 million would have on one industry compared with another.

The application of £50 million for research and development in the steel industry would have the socially undesirable effect of decreasing the number of jobs in that industry. Conversely, the application of £50 million for research and development in the computer industry would increase the number of jobs in that industry. With the application of that money we could expect to find employment for 5,000 newly qualified scientists and engineers and supporting staffs to a first order of accuracy.

The computer industry is a growth industry. It is labour-intensive as well as capital-intensive. In this it is unique. But it also acts as the fulfilling opportunity for many people who find themselves having had a good education of a kind that was not available in this country 30 or 40 years ago. Without doubt, investment in the computer industry is not only politically essential, but socially desirable. Whilst the computer industry is struggling along at the moment, I am afraid it sometimes thinks, "Thank goodness for the fact the ICL is in trouble, because that means at least £14 million is flowing into the industry in part exchange for the claim that the Select Committee on Science and Technology has tried to put to the Government."

Time and again in my daily life outside this place—I should declare an interest which I hope will not cloud the issue, but will add to the lustre of the debate—I have come across situations where, for the want of a few thousand pounds of high risk capital which cannot be obtained from normal banking sources, people have found it impossible to translate computer protoype work into hardware which can be sold. Frequently very small amounts of money will give the necessary momentum to achieve success.

On one occasion—happily under a Labour Government—when I was involved in leading a computer sales team in the United States and asked for a reference from the British Government that the company for which I worked was of high repute and a guaranteed supplier of good quality equipment to the Government, we were told that such a reference could not be supplied as it was against current practice. Indeed, we had a British competitor launched into the battle against us in the United States where none existed before.

I quote this specific instance as an example of the need which I believe exists, and of which I hope the Government will take note, to probe processes and attitudes within Departments. In my opinion, co-ordinating committees and boards are no solution. They are too slow. The need in technology is for fast reaction. When a demand becomes urgent it has to be satisfied immediately or turned away. There is no time for lengthy deliberation, and a committee is not the way to solve a problem in technology.

I hope that the Minister will find it possible to have even a secret investigation into the attitudes and practices in terms of the departments of his organisation which are concerned with computers and the realities which the industry has to face on a day-to-day basis.

I hope that the Government will recognise that the kind of specific objective which the Committee set in terms of the application of £50 million of Government funds to one industry is not merely something to catch the headlines, or to act as a point of debate, but is intended to be a clear guide line of the scale on which the Government have to operate in future.

I hope, too, that today we have seen for the first time something which I have felt creeping into the debate from the Government Front Bench, namely, a beam of reality about science and technology that will cut into the darkness that has for too long pervaded the corridors of power. This is a welcome sight, and I appeal to the Government to regard this as the start and not the summation of their attitude towards the work of the Select Committee so far.

6.21 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, Central)

As the first Labour member of the Select Committee on Science and Technology to speak this afternoon, may I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), the Chairman of the Committee in this Parliament, for the leadership that he has given us throughout, for the great independence of mind that he has shown and for the way in which he has dealt so forcefully with his Ministers. That is a great talent in a chairman of a Select Committee, and the hon. Gentleman has been outstanding in that respect.

I was Chairman of the Select Committee in the last Parliament, so perhaps I may be allowed to say that the Committee was set up early in 1967 and that its activities can be divided into two classifications. We have, I believe, completed nearly a score of reports, which is a fair achievement in the time that we have been established—about five years.

There are two kinds of activity in which the Committee can engage and has engaged. One is the basic investigation. Some have said, unkindly, that it is a Royal Commission kind of investigation, but I do not think that it is. It is where the possible reorganisation or reform of an industry or Department has to be looked at, or where it is felt that in a defined field of policy an independent approach can come from a Select Committee—constituted as the Select Committee on Science and Technology is made up. We did that in respect of nuclear policy, defence research, population policy and a number of other areas. The other equally important activity is the short, sharp investigation of contemporary scientific events and developments.

Though the investigations were spread over some months, the reports that we are considering today come into that second category. We presented four reports, but it was only the second report of a sub-committee which I chaired which seemed to win more or less general acceptance by the Government. That was our investigation into the non-nuclear research activities of the Atomic Energy Authority. These activities are naturally based upon a consumer-contractor relationship, and that is why the Government did not quarrel too much with us on most of our recommendations.

There was nevertheless one recommendation of our second report which it is a pity the Government did not adopt, and that was that there should be established an industrial advisory committee to make closer and more realistic the relationship between the AEA and its industrial customers, which could use the research facilities which the authority has available. I am not impressed by the few sentences in the Government's comments turning down what seemed to most of us to be a common sense recommendation.

I now come to the Rothschild theme. I do not think it can be doubted that the Rothschild Report has been one of the most devastating happenings in the politics of science and technology in recent years. I thought that the Leader of the House was deliberately being a little simple—at least I hope it was deliberate—when he talked about parity of esteem between Dainton and Rothschild. It is true that the two reports were contained in the same cover, but that is about all that they had in common, because Rothschild overwhelmingly overshadowed Dainton.

There are several reasons for that. The principal one is the personality of Lord Rothschild himself, though there is another factor to which I shall refer in a moment. Here is no shrinking violet who wishes to blush unseen. No one could accuse Lord Rothschild of that. He is a noble Lord, a research scientist with scientific achievements to his personal credit and an industrial leader of some eminence but he is also one of the most dangerous of people—the intellectual who writes militant common sense on his banner.

The Rothschild Report was unusual in the sense that there was no liberal nonsense about an open mind at the start. Lord Rothschild in advance assumed the, consumer-contractor principle. In short, he decided on his own conclusion, knowing that that conclusion was congenial to his own thinking and that of the Government, especially, I suspect, the thinking of the Prime Minister; that it, the Prime Minister's thinking of two years ago, which might not necessarily be the same as his thinking today.

It is that which perhaps gives me some consolation, because when highly placed individuals make dogmatic decisions one way they can easily change them to go the other way. I do not want to be contentious in a party sense this afternoon, but if the Prime Minister who was once firmly against the control of prices and incomes is now equally firmly in favour of their control, why cannot there be some dilution of neat Rothschild? I ask that because it seems that neat Rothschild comes from the political thinking at the advent of this Government in 1970 and not since.

My first contention in an attempt to influence the Government a little towards diluting neat Rothschild is that basically the Select Committee is right in asking for a national research and development programme with ultimate centralised responsibility. I am sure that we are right about that. I am sure, too, that the Select Committee is right in saying that research councils, and not Government Departments, are the best agencies for research and development in the various broad fields that we recognise. I am not sure that it is absolutely essential—and here I am a little more moderate than some of my colleagues—to have a Minister for Research and Development—although I believe that there is an arguable case for one—but it is essential that there should be ultimate centralised responsibility.

My second contention is that the Government are wrong in proposing to cram down the narrow administrative channels of individual Government Departments research and development decisions which must he taken either centrally or by those most closely in touch with opinion, advances and knowledge outside. Key decisions of scientific importance cannot always be crammed into the narrow departmental channel. If we are not careful, if that kind of method is followed too slavishly, we shall soon find ourselves back into the 1960 situation. That is more or less where we came in on this business, when all the emphasis was on means and not much emphasis was given to ends.

The assumption behind the thinking of Lord Rothschild and the Government White Paper is that if a Government Department has control of funds only relevant projects will be carried through and that wasteful projects will not be attempted because Departments are by definition customers. I have great difficulty in following that argument. The result is likely to be that mistakes will still be made. Up to a point mistakes are inevitable. Wrong decisions will be taken from time to time as before. They are not inevitable, but I think that they will be taken. Money will probably be wasted. If the departmental approach is followed we shall not necessarily gain advantages from it but we may have the great new disadvantage that the overall quality and inspiration of the effort will be inferior.

It seems that the Government themselves have some misgivings. Cmnd. 5177, which was the White Paper published in December of last year, has some interesting words. It says at page 6, Paragraph 10: The question of the ability of Departments to perceive the importance of research and development to their work and to give it the right priority is, of course, crucial to the arrangements announced in Cmnd. 5046. This is why the Government attached so much importance to building up strong Chief Scientist organisations in Departments. They will have primary responsibility for ensuring that their Departments make full and effective use of research and development; and at the same time the Chief Scientific adviser to the Government is in a position to compare and advise on the general research activities of Departments. Much of what is now proposed depends on that questionable assumption.

The figures of the sums now to be diverted from the direct control of the research councils back to the Departments also indicate that the Government have not been able to make up their mind. They were not prepared at the end to take the Rothschild suggestion any more than we were able to take that suggestion. Therefore, they have selected new figures. I am taking my figures from The Economist, which, I suppose, worked them out. The present budget of the Agricultural Research Council is about £19 million. Rothschild proposed cuts of about £14 million. The Government now propose diversionary cuts of £10 million. The Government accept Rothschild's figures relating to medicine. Rothschild proposed a diversion of environmental resources of about £7½ million, and the Government have brought that down to £4½ million.

The whole business is extremely hypothetical. One cannot be convinced that the Government know where they are going. The Leader of the House in his speech accepted the need for top co-ordination, and perhaps that is a start in the process of the dilution of Rothschild. I hope it is. But the Leader of the House is content to leave the matter to the Cabinet Office. I ventured to interrupt him and ask him if he thought that the Cabinet Office had the resources to do that work. He said rather hesitatingly that he thought it had. I see these things only from the outside as I have never been very close to such altitudes. However, I never had the right hon. Gentleman's impression of the Cabinet Office. It is at times unable to take correct general policy decisions on, say, foreign affairs, and I see no reason for thinking that it is in a special position to take correct decisions on science and technology. I should have thought that it was about the last instrument, on the balance of probabilities, that could take the correct decision.

But that possibility does not worry Lord Rothschild very much. It is curious that a man of such great intellectual capacity does not seem to worry too much about the results as long as the lines of responsibility are right on paper. Provided that there is someone who is accountable and that the theory looks right, the fact that the decisions may not be particularly effective does not seem to bother him. However, the Government are now more realistic. They accept that there is still a need for co-ordination, but they will leave it hesitatingly to the Cabinet Office to do it.

The Government do not wish to adopt the Select Committee's suggestion. It may be that it is a little too rigid. I have expressed some personal doubt about the appointment of a Minister for Research and Development. Examples have been given of other countries, but we may not have to follow their examples. The Government should consider the strengthening of the position of the Lord Privy Seal. If we are to have smaller research councils with smaller budgets, why not take control away from the Department of Education and Science? I have never been very happy that the control of the research councils should be with that Department. I believe that the Labour Government were not too certain about it. Of course, it is argued that as the universities carry out much pure research it is a good thing that the research councils should be with the Department of Education and Science. I suggest that perhaps the view could be reconsidered and that smaller research councils, which have been watched carefully in the past, can be similarly watched in future but by the Lord Privy Seal. He would be not quite the Minister that we have been suggesting or the Select Committee has been suggesting, but he would certainly give much more expert and centralised control. It would also strengthen the position of the Chief Scientific Adviser. That poor man will have his work cut out for him. He will need all the help that he can be given to handle the new chief scientists in every Government Department. They will not be easy people to handle. They will have all their jealousies and personal priorities. If the chief scientific officer is to remain more or less in an advisory capacity to the Cabinet I cannot see that he will find his position very easy.

The Government have tended to play down any changes brought about in British science and technology by the United Kingdom's entry into the European Economic Community. It is true that such has been the wide collaboration over many years since the war with continental countries, both official and unofficial, that no dramatic change can be envisaged. I should have thought that that was a reasonable assumption. Yet the EEC has recently proposed a comprehensive Community policy on scientific research and technological development with emphasis upon the social responsibilities of science.

I welcome that proposal as an engineer. I have not much patience with the anti-technology cult. I regard technology as man's tool-box. It is man's most powerful weapon in the endless uphill fight against poverty. Anti-technology and anti-science is a reactionary attitude. I am not necessarily referring to Europe in any immediate political sense, but since most Britons were born Europeans we must remember the cultural traditions of Europe and the European emphasis upon applied knowledge and upon the mechanical sciences. For that reason European science and technology generally, including our own, have special responsibilities to mankind as a whole and it is well that the EEC should recognise it.

If mechanical sciences started here, developed here, and then spread to the rest of the world, not only with their advantages but with their disadvantages, not only with the good they have brought but with the evil they have brought, Europe now has a very special responsibility towards the world generally to see that science and technology are put more in a general social setting with a greater sense of human responsibility. We cer- tainly need science and technology to take a human face.

If the European Governments are to work together more closely in that respect in future, I think that there is a stronger case for the tighter knitting of British science and technology, not their spreading and diversification administratively but their being brought together in all aspects. I believe that that was the broad intention of the report of the Select Committee. That is what we were really after, but unfortunately, it seems that the Government are drifting the other way. However, I believe that, as a result of what has been said by so many people able to say it with knowledge since the Rothschild proposals were made, as a result of the reports of the Select Committee and of this debate, there are still plenty of opportunities for the Government to repent.

6.41 p.m.

Mr. Ian Lloyd (Portsmouth, Langstone)

On an occasion like this, one feels an extraordinary weight of responsibility. This is a subject which one would like to deal with in a sense like Canaletto and paint in the greatest detail, thus making it recognisable and visible to all hon. Members, for it is such a vast, compresensive and important subject. But one feels inadequate in relation to it in terms of one's own scientific knowledge and knowledge of the wide range of subjects which have come before the Select Committee. One will be fortunate, therefore, if one succeeds in achieving something like Picasso's worst drawings—only recognisable to his best friends.

It is a rather sad occasion that, at this stage of the 20th century, when we assemble to discuss what my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) has rightly said is one of the most important reports of a significant Select Committee, when, as the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) has pointed out, the work of the Committee and the whole rôle of science and technology are of outstanding and growing importance, and when the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) has endorsed that view, there are at most perhaps a round dozen Members present in the Chamber. It seems to me to call for some comment—a comment which perhaps all of us should make in some way or other.

Perhaps we should call it a "Rothschild dozen", because the more one thinks about it, the more one realises that this is in some ways a reflection of the lack of interest in, the lack of concern over, the lack of awareness about all that has been said this afternoon and, indeed, in the reports, at the highest level in Government and the State. I shall come to that aspect in a moment when considering the extremely important question of whether there should be a Minister of Research and Development.

In my humble opinion, service on the Select Committee has been one of my most valuable experiences. We certainly wish to see the Select Committee continue as such an instrument if this is an example of the way it can work and of the type of information which it can make available—information which is perhaps followed much more outside than inside the House and which is made available in the interests of the whole country.

Why is it so important? It is important in the first place because we are witnessing, we are being affected by, and we are involved in an information explosion of unprecedented proportions. Perhaps the most significant part of this information explosion is that which is occurring within the scientific community. Few people realise just how important this is and what a tremendous impact it is having on human life and the impact which it is inevitably bound to have on political life.

Secondly, we are experiencing and getting more and more evidence of what I have seen described recently as a "physical internationalisation". That is a terrible phrase but it can be defined quite easily, in that in a number of areas we are seeing the inter-connection of the human race by physical ways never possible before or which never existed before.

One thinks here of telecommunications, with satellites. One thinks of computers which now talk to each other via telecommunications from one major capital city in the United States to other major capital cities in Europe and also to Tokyo. One thinks of developments whereby the physical interlinkage of the transport system is becoming worldwide. One thinks of resource management. We are involved here with the most fundamental types of resource management, which we are going to need and will have to improve in order to meet the political demands of human society. Resource management can only be effectively achieved and implemented on an international scale by international means. One thinks of environmental control. Here again, the spread of devices and policy making is becoming international.

I was given the other day an example which is perhaps very germane to this debate. Professor Salam, head of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics at Trieste, was giving evidence to a Congressional committee in the United States. He said that his institute would probably need in the next four years a 5,000 GeV accelerator costing 3 billion to 4 billion dollars. He developed a powerful case, which I cannot pretend to judge but which was convincing, that this was the only way in which the particular type of physical problem he wished to explore could be explored. As he rightly said, this is probably outside the resources today of the United States, the Soviet Union or Western Europe individually. Therefore, a world accelerator must be built, if one is to be built at all. It must call on and demand the resources of the whole human race. It is possibly the first example of its kind. There may well be others—indeed, there certainly will be. We see such completely new and profoundly important phenomena affecting the whole range of scientific policy and ultimately, therefore, of politics.

I return to the domestic problem which has been uncovered or at least emphasised by the Select Committee—the question whether one really can usefully aggregate research and development programmes and look at them in a sensible way as national policy. I want to look at this carefully because it is probably more important than it seems at first sight. One can take a simple analogy.

From time to time one can collect a basket of fruit. Different types of fruit grown on different trees are collected together to meet different tastes. One may ask "Can we put the fruit in a basket?" The answer is "Yes". One can then ask "Should we put the fruit in a basket?" The answer is "Why not?". Then one may ask "Has the term 'basket' in this sense any meaning? It is a collective noun. Does it produce any sensible advantage in looking at these problems?". I think the answer is "Yes". But one should then say "Do we derive any meaning from putting together a whole series of research programmes and putting the research budgets together in an aggregate budget? Does this give us any meaning when we reach the total sum?". I think that the questions one must ask are as follows.

When one compares one's basket with other baskets—and, plainly, that is one of the main purposes of this type of aggregation—one asks whether it contains bigger and better apples, and that may be a useful question to ask. One may also ask whether it contains more apples than the other baskets of scientific development, and the answer to that, too, may be of some interest. It may be of some interest and significance to ask whether it contains any apples at all when all the other baskets with which it is being compared contain apples, and one could ask, particularly in scientific matters, whether it contains exotic fruits that the others did not contain, and that could be meaningful.

It therefore seems to help the processes of evaluation if one is looking at one aggregation of national scientific research and development to compare it with another aggregation of national scientific research and development. If it is done systematically and carefully, the comparison can be of significance.

I would like to illustrate this by a rather more scientific and less agricultural analogy. If on comparing our whole range of scientific expenditure with that of France, for example, we were to find that we spent absolutely larger amounts on semi-conductor research, that would be significant and interesting. If we were to find that we spent relatively larger amounts on semi-conductor research, that would be interesting and significant.

If we were to find that we were spending and the French were not spending, or vice versa, quite substantial amounts on research and development into a replacement or substitute for semiconductors, that would be immensely significant, and it would be the sort of thing that we should know and attempt to find out about. If we were to discover that we were spending nothing at all in some areas where other countries had decided or chosen to spend a great deal of their resources, that, too, would be significant. But one cannot make this type of comparison unless one makes a local or national assemblage and produces what some people think is unnecessary or not very useful—a general analysis of the national research and development picture.

I come to the next question, which I believe should be "Who should do it?". The fourth report of the Committee contained in paragraph 22 a statement that I believe to be important: Parliament and the country are entitled to have the information which such a system would reveal". We can ask ourselves why this is so. First, it is true because the sums now being spent in this whole area are vast and form a significant proportion of our national expenditure, however that is allocated or analysed. Thus it is important. Secondly, the implications of success or failure are far-reaching, sometimes much more far-reaching than we like to concede.

We debate many great issues in the House, but the question whether Britain or the United States of America or France is the country, for example, to produce the successor to the transistor, which would form the basis of the next generation of computers would have an immense effect on the national life and welfare of this country and our trading position and so on. But, generally speaking it is not considered of sufficient interest or importance to bring into the Chamber the large number of Members on both sides of the House who on Wednesday will be brought in to debate the Government's current anti-inflationary policy, which is something we all understand and about which we can have a jolly good row and which appears to be of far greater significance but which is not; this subject is of much more significance.

I come to the next question. The choice between these areas is often political rather than scientific. Because the choice is becoming increasingly political, it is important that we debate it here. If Parliament abdicates from consideration of research and development—and there is a sense in which I think that we are doing that—the significance of what is left to us must steadily diminish, and I believe that that is happening. The effects on the Community of the decisions which are made in one research and development policy as opposed to another are vast and are of great importance and they are not in any sense covered or embraced by that insipid, ineffective and often bogus activity known as Community politics, and it is not Community politicians who come here this evening to discuss these matters.

I turn to the subject of the appointment of a Minister of Research and Development. The right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East, referred to the proposal as likely to create an individual who in the Cabinet would be "a decorative superstructure". He may be decorative and he may be a superstructure, but would a Minister of Research and Development really weaken the links between the objectives of the Departments and the research and development necessary to achieve them? I am not sure that that necessarily follows:

In looking at this spectrum of policy we are concerned with emphasis, with duplication, with gaps, with co-ordination and with communication. Those are the weaknesses as I understand them and as I have seen them at present. I should like to quote some evidence given in Canada by Senator Grossard, Chairman of the Science Policy Committee of the Canadian Parliament. He said: But we do feel that we cannot hope, in Canada, to use effectively our naturally quite limited resources for the funding of science and technology, particularly research and development, on the basis of what we have described as an existing pattern of diffuse, ad hoc responses to the claimants—and I am speaking only of the federal funding area—the claimants for funding and performing in science and technology on the public purse. In general I think I would say that we have come out for a macro science policy in Canada, not to substitute entirely for, but to support and to rationalise in advance the hundreds and perhaps thousands of micro policies which have resulted in what in two or three places in our report we call 'Canada's science policy by accident.' In some ways by operating a policy too rigorously and perhaps in a somewhat doctrinaire sense we are in danger by subscribing to this concept of "no centrally-organised science at any cost" policy of adhering to a science policy by accident in the United Kingdom.

What are the essential differences between a Minister for Research and Development and a Chief Scientific Adviser to the Executive, the Head of the Government, whether our Prime Minister or the President of the United States, or anyone occupying a similar position? Is it in the power to examine, or the power to report? Is it in the resources available to a Minister, or to a senior civil servant, however eminent and however supported by a Department with resources to analyse? There may be significant differences in that connection, but I do not believe that they are vital.

What is vital is that a Minister for Research and Development may be called before the House of Commons and may be asked by any hon. Member what Her Majesty's Government are doing and why and how. He may be asked whether he has taken part in the great debates that we understand to take place in the Cabinet about why we spend more on aeronautical research and less on hospital research and development, or whatever it may be. He may be asked to explain how the debate went and why the Cabinet reached a certain structure of decisions in one area rather than another. At the moment no one may be called before the House of Commons, and, therefore, before the country, to be compelled to offer this type of explanation. That is the most fundamental part of the distinction.

I turn to the subject of Europe. It is important, and we ought to discuss it, and we now have time to do so. There has been a long and interesting series of reports on European science policy going back to M. Kapel, Mr. Maxwell, formerly of this House, Professor Reverdin, Mr. Flamig, the Smithers Report, made by a former Member of the House, the Aigrain Committee, the Cost Committee and so on. All of these reports dealt with the problems of European scientific co-ordination and policy in one way or another.

As I understand those reports, all have called for a radical reorganisation and improvement of European scientific administration and policy—without exception. They may have based their analyses at different times on different series of information and evidence, but, without exception, they have come to the conclusion that if one looks objectively at the utilisation of science resources in Europe as Europeans—and this includes the United Kingdom—one sees that we are just not getting value for money. This is a conclusion which I believe to be inescapable and of the greatest and most profound importance to this House.

If that is so of Europe as a whole—and if it is, it must, at least partially, be so of ourselves—we face an even stronger obligation than we seem to have accepted so far to look at the fundamental way in which we are organising the distribution of our scientific resources.

One of the first things that strike us in considering this is the fact that we simply do not know how the R and D expenditure in Europe is being spent. This has come out very clearly in two or three of the most recent reports, and the former Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, Sir Peter Smithers, has tried very hard to organise an inventory of the major scientific work in Europe. His request was not met in full, but the science policy unit of the University of Sussex is now doing some work on part of this project, the results of which will be very interesting.

If this unit does not know, and it is spending a considerable amount of time, energy and money obtaining this information, and if the science Ministries of Europe do not know—we do not have a science Ministry—and if those responsible for the expenditure of R and D nationally and collectively in the United Kingdom do not know how much duplication there is, where there are significant gaps and where there should be changes of some importance, the first thing that we must do is obtain this information and knowledge and make it available.

On the question of science in Government and secrecy, the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East referred to the taming of independent scientific thinking. He stressed, of course—I entirely share his opinion—that there were great dangers in this view. I should like to go a little further. I believe that there are great dangers indeed in allowing ourselves to develop a system in which virtually all science of great competence or of great quality can justify its existence only if it can be related to the contemporary political interpretation of human need. This is a terribly tempting thing. Governments can then defend their allocation of national expenditure by saying "We are using these scientists, paying their salaries and providing expensive equipment so as to do this for you." The elector generally likes having his money spent in this way.

I do not know whether my assessment of the great saga of science is different from that of other hon. Members, but if we do not make a significant place in the whole of the scientific spectrum, if we do not allocate significant resources—I do not greatly care how they are allocated—so that the scientist of great distinction and great curiosity—he may not even be of great distinction; he may be a very young scientist of great curiosity and intellectual power, who may follow something which is profoundly interesting to him, wherever it may lead—we shall see a diminution, and a sad diminution, in the overall quality of our scientific life.

This is something which, however we look at the great challenge which is presented to us as administrators, as parliamentarians, in considering our national scientific policy, unless we maintain it as I would almost say an overriding priority, so that a significant proportion of our resources is always available for the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, we shall make a considerable mistake.

This is a subject of far greater importance than the support for the debate would suggest. Perhaps, in future, one of the things that a Minister for Research and Development could do is bring more of us into the Chamber on an occasion like this.

7.6 p.m.

Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu (Huddersfield, East)

The hon. Member for Portsmouth, Langstone (Mr. Ian Lloyd) several times regretted the sparseness of the attendance today. I agree with him, but I shall not labour the point. The only absence to which I wish to refer is that of the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke), whom I have watched in this House for 28 years, whom I respect very much, and of whom I am very fond. From these back benches, I should like to tell him that I hope that he will very soon be able to rejoin us.

Although I am not a member of the Select Committee concerned, I have found this fascinating debate, like the Select Committee itself, to be concerned with the inventiveness of the British people, how best it can be stimulated and how best it can be used for the benefit of these islands and, indeed, for the rest of the world. It is probably true that the majority thinking seems to be, and has been for many years, that British inventiveness has been pretty fertile—there is a great source of inventiveness in Britain—but that the development, production and marketing of the fruits of that inventiveness have been and still are deficient. I want to mention one or two examples which have come within my experience in recent years.

We led the way not so much in developing but in bringing to light the hover principle, but the development of that principle in recent years does not seem to have proceeded at the rate that it should. I believe that the production of hover grass mowers has been satisfactory and I hope that the production of hover mattresses for the easement of those who are paralysed in hospitals has gone ahead. We have had some success with hover transport, both across the Channel and to the Isle of Wight, yet we who took the lead do not seem to realise, as the inventor of the hovercraft himself fully realises, that the hovercraft is in the biplane stage. We seem to be content with what has so far been achieved, without pressing on and developing what ought to be achieved in the very near future.

When I was occupying a ministerial position somewhat similar to that occupied by the Minister for Aerospace and Shipping I found that industry was conducting virtually no basic research into hovercraft. It was for that reason that we established a research unit in the National Physical Laboratory specifically to do the basic research to see what the effect of sea strain was on the materials used and to find out more about what we ought to do to get sea-keeping qualities in hovercraft. Can the Minister tell us whether that research has produced some answers to the problem which faces the hovercraft industry and that the difficulties in developing hovercraft along the lines we expected only a few years ago?

Whilst I am speaking about the hover principle, I mention also the question of the hovertrain. There is no doubt that the method Britain is using for the propulsion of a hovertrain—the linear motor—is greatly superior to the methods being used by our French rivals. Yet the French work on the experimental hovertrain seems to be attracting the attention of the world, while very little indeed is being heard from our unit in this country. It would be a tragedy if, on something which was devised and developed here, and in which at first we really had a lead over the world, we once again let our pre-eminence slip into other hands.

There is another field in which British research has done remarkable work but where it seems that development and, perhaps, production are still deficient. Most of us will have seen the Harrier aircraft. It is a magnificent military aircraft. But what now concerns me is that the jump-jet principle applied in the Harrier so successfully to Service needs is not yet being fully applied to civilian needs. There was a time, only about three or four years ago, when it seemed that this country was getting to the point at which we could begin the development of vertical take-off aircraft for civilian use. Indeed, about three years ago we asked the various concerns in the industry to produce systems of vertical take-off aircraft and to produce ideas in a form of competition, which we could then evaluate in the Department of Trade and Industry. I should like to hear what has happened about all this. We were so near the stage at which we could begin thinking in terms of civilian transport by jump-jet aircraft that we were proposing to reserve sites in the centres of cities on which aircraft could land.

In this matter we were at one time far ahead of the rest of the world, but in latter times we have heard very little about the civilian development. It is enormously important from the point of view of employment and the civilian aircraft industry in Britain that we should not lag behind once again in something where initially we had the lead.

A third example is the tremendous lead that we had at one time—and perhaps we still have—in certain aspects of nuclear power production. One aspect that particularly interested me was the use of nuclear power to produce not only energy but fresh water from the sea. This is vitally important, because I believe that within the next 25 years the world will face an acute shortage of fresh water unless we can begin to draw on what is in the sea.

We have a system for doing just that, which at present is very costly—I hope that research is taking place to try to get those costs down—but it is a system which is better than any other system produced in the world. Yet when as a Minister I was touring South American countries and found that a number of countries were anxious to have these plants, there was not a single representative of the manufacturing consortia in South America. There was no attempt to sell this product of British research.

One more example is carbon fibre—a product of research work at Farnborough. In its application it has struck some difficulties, I believe, in the RB211 engine. Is research taking place to iron out those difficulties? What is being done to secure the utilisation of carbon fibre in other fields? Potentially it has an enormous advantage, especially in terms of weight, over the ordinary traditional metals. I strongly suspect, however, that here again is an example of first-class British inventiveness being followed by a lackadaisical British attitude about development and production.

What are the reasons why, sometimes, in development, production and sale, we fall behind our high standards of inventiveness? It may be in part organisation, on which we have spent a considerable time today. More likely is the fact that still not enough money is spent on development. For example, the United States can spend 10 times the amount of money on any one project that we can spend. That means that if we are faced with a problem in development we have to be fairly sure that the shot we back is the right one, whereas the Americans can take 10 shots and nine may be misses. We have to be on target with our spending. But even allowing for the fact that we are not such a rich country, not nearly enough of our resources are being devoted to development, as opposed to research.

A second reason for our poor performance in development, production and sale through the years is a certain conservatism in British industry. It has been found, to our regret, that the British machine tool industry could not prosper because the users of machine tools in British industry tended to continue using what did a reasonable job rather than he prepared to invest in what would do a better job. That, indeed, was the purpose of the pre-production scheme which I very much hope the Government will continue, in an effort to encourage the makers of machine tools to produce new and more up-to-date equipment and to encourage the consumer in industry to put that equipment into his factory.

I say that I hope the Government will continue with the pre-production scheme. In fact, I hope they will extend it, because in the industry to which I am closest—the woollen and worsted textile industry—we have suffered severely from conservatism among manufacturers of textile machinery. It is now almost impossible to get a loom made in this country which is at all comparable to those made in Germany and Switzerland. I hope that the Government will set about a pro-production scheme in the textile machinery industry and institute research in our own establishments, to try to produce equipment which is really needed in our industry, and to see that that equipment is produced in this country so that our industry can have the best tools that it needs.

I say to the Minister for Aerospace and Shipping, who is to wind up the debate for the Government: we must have more money. I agree profoundly with what has been said about secrecy. I hope there will be as little secrecy as possible in all that is being said and done about new ideas. I also believe that the Government must take an interventionist part, outside their research establishments. They have got to stimulate industry to see what is possible and to want what is possible, instead of being content with all that it has done in the past. I believe that this is vitally necessary if we are to stimulate employment in this country. Equally important, it is vital if we are to keep reasonably ahead of our rivals in the game.

7.23 p.m.

Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)

I welcome the opportunity to intervene briefly in this debate to represent the views of some of my constituents on the subject of agricultural research. Rothamsted experimental station is at Harpenden, and here several hundred research scientists are at work, including 10 Fellows of the Royal Society. The standard of work there is of world renown. They have a brilliant record in agricultural research which is of value not only to this country but to the world.

There is, of course, a continuing need for an increase in agricultural production. Making two grains of corn grow where one grew before is one of the highest achievements of mankind, and this is the sort of thing which is achieved at Rothamsted. Therefore, it is very difficult to measure the value of the research which takes place there, but I am certain that for every £1 that is spent there the world receives an enormous dividend, and any suggestion of cutting back the work there is to be deprecated.

Advice proffered to the Select Committee on behalf of all those working at Rothamsted, which was very strongly against the proposals in the Green Paper, was based on hard experience. The "customer-contractor" principle is ill applied to agricultural research. This advice was accented by the Select Committee. Unfortunately, it has been totally disregarded in the White Paper. So those working at Rothamsted are profoundly disappointed. I have had no representations whatever in favour of the White Paper. All the representations that I have had have been against it. Therefore, I want to place on record the deep feelings of the staff at Rothamsted about the proposals in the White Paper.

7.26 p.m.

Mr. Ted Leadbitter (The Hartlepools)

I think that one of the most remarkable experiences that a Parliamentarian can have is to sit on a Select Committee and, in particular—speaking for myself—to have the privilege of sitting on the Select Committee on Science and Technology. It has been a remarkably exciting committee to work on. It has been a very hard-working committee. Indeed, its impact on the community as a whole as been outstanding. Because of the reputation that the Committee has made for itself the House should take serious note of the whole of its recommendations, because it is concerned with what is nothing short of a revolution in the approach to science, technology and research.

The point which worried us most—we knew at the beginning that there was much to be done—was the manner in which the Rothschild Report took shape. It had occurred to many of us for a long time that all concepts had to be put aside, that new challenges had to be met, and that there were new ways of dealing with them but when we wanted a base, a foundation, upon which constructively to work, we found, much to our surprise and concern, a Green Paper which appeared to be lacking in the area of consultation that the subject warranted.

I need only draw attention to the First Report from the Select Committee on Science and Technology, paragraph 11 of which states: The Council for Scientific Policy, the Royal Society and the three research councils most affected by his proposals did not think that Lord Rothschild had consulted them adequately before producing his report…They did not feel that some of Lord Rothschild's assertions could be based on evidence provided by them…and they had looked in vain in his report for alternative supporting evidence. From such a responsible source this is a very serious allegation. It is more. It is a very serious allegation which the Government must answer. Today, the Lord President of the Council has been trying to persuade us about a change of heart, or a change of view. Very quietly and gently the right hon. Gentleman tried to tell us that the mistakes of the past had been noted and that a new approach by the Government was now established. Unfortunately, in July of last year a White Paper was produced which, in the view of those of us on the Select Committee, did not take into account our work. It appeared to underline the concepts of the Rothschild Report which, as I have said, seemed to be based on a lack of supporting evidence from the sources that I have mentioned and on a lack of alternative sources of evidence.

Let me again draw the attention of hon. Members to the First Report of the Select Committee—this time to paragraph 13: Lord Rothschild's inquiry also had to cover a wider area than that of Sir Frederick Dainton which also took about six months. We are dealing with a time scale of six months. There is very little evidence dealing with such an important subject to try to grapple, through that subject, with the challenging problems of the 1970s and 1980s.

In paragraph 14 of its First Report the Select Committee says: We do not feel that Lord Rothschild's consultation with the Confederation of British Industry and the Trades Union Congress adequately covered the problems of industry. We were particularly concerned that the Green Paper contained no clear recommendations on the organisational means by which development should be carried out by the Government and applied to the national advantage by industry. That is the considered view of the members of the Select Committee.

We say in paragraph 15: …the Rothschild Report is far from comprehensive. We regret that Lord Rothschild gave such cursory attention to two of the most difficult problems for Government research and development, namely, determining which programmes are most worthwhile and what should be spent on them, and ensuring that the results are exploited to the greatest public benefit. We endorse the criticism of the Science Research Council among others that disproportionate attention was devoted to the Science Vote of the Department of Education and Science in a report which purports to be concerned with all Government research and development. I consider that to be a condemnation of the whole of the Government's preparatory work, in addition to which this report, started in this way, unfortunately had the support of the Government in making statements accepting its principles even before this House or the Select Committee had had a chance to examine them. Therefore it seems to me that any assurances given at the moment have to be scrutinised with special care.

Since Rothschild the Government have had an increasing propensity to deny to Parliament debate on matter of great public issue. More than one correspondent in the responsible national Press has stated clearly that the country should bear in mind that perhaps we have gone a long way along the road towards totalitarian government. It is this worry, with the apparent weakening of the Parlia- mentary system and the strengthening of the Executive, which causes considerable concern among those of us who feel the need to take advantage of the total inventiveness of our people, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) said earlier.

When the Rothschild Report seeks to deal in practical terms with the research councils, we come to a situation which strikes fear in the minds of those who have worked on those councils for a considerable time. I need only refer to the well-known Table 4 in the report. If I quote paragraph 149 of the Select Committee's First Report in connection with this famous Table 4 the House will understand the significance of what I mean when I say that the research councils are very worried. It says: These misgivings were supported by the Royal Society which thought that if Table 4 were implemented in full both the Agricultural Research Council and Natural Environment Research Council 'would cease to exist as effective bodies' and that although the Medical Research Council would survive 'many of its activities in universities would be seriously impaired'. I do not know the extent to which that impresses the House, but it was the subject of considerable questioning by the Select Committee. As my colleagues and I understand it, the application of the customer-contractor principle has a fearsome all-binding effect. It is quite different from the language used by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East earlier when talking about the customer-contractor "relationship".

The implication in Table 4 is clear. Rothschild's formula is to hive off a considerable percentage of the financial support for the research councils to the Departments on a customer-contractor principle in such a way that a great deal of the work of the research councils, in the judgment of those councils, would be affected seriously. We ought to bear in mind, perhaps, that even if the argument from the Government's point of view is right, its timing is wrong.

When the Select Committee considered the research and development and science policies in the Departments we came to the vexing conclusion which appears in paragraph 176 of the First Report, that What clearly emerged was an absence within each Department of a research and development policy. However the individual research programmes of departments are divided, they have a responsibility to examine their research activity as a whole and to plan its future. There we have it: a policy on the basis of a rigid application of the customer-contractor principle to the research councils, hiving off the valuable work—to such an extent that the viability of the councils themselves appear to be affected—to Departments on the basis that there is some area of co-ordination and cooperation or of policy making and decision, when the whole evidence before the Select Committee clearly led us to the firm conclusion, without hesitation, that there was an absence in each Department of a research and development policy.

That is why the Select Committee came to the conclusion that we should attempt to impress upon the Government, on the basis of the evidence before us, the importance of a new approach. Hon. Members have talked about exploiting the native ingenuity of our people by seeking to finance and support the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. We have spoken in terms of ramming home the development of our natural inventiveness with financial support. Yet—irrespective of what the Lord President of the Council has said—we are still left with the impression that we have not really got hold of this problem of the lack of a co-ordinated policy and decision-making in Government Departments.

The Government's responses to the new way have ranged from disappointment because we were so active, through a state of reluctant acquiescence to an assurance, today, that things will be better from now on. But we must get down to details.

The Select Committee has worked for nearly two years, sometimes meeting twice a week. It has met men of great professional standing, both in Government Departments and from outside, a variety of scientific bodies, the research councils and the industrial research establishments. The members of the Select Committee are the only people who can claim to have a comprehensive knowledge of the trends of scientific behaviour and activity. Yet the Government say, without any convincing reasoning, that our conclusions on the major issues are un- acceptable. The major issue is that we want a Minister with responsibility for science and research development with a place in the Cabinet. I have read carefully the objections to that proposal and the Government's view that their refusal to accept that proposal automatically disposes of the need for a council for research and development, but I am not convinced. It is not good enough, purely on the basis of the present structure of Government, to draw such conclusions about recommendations which are related more to the 1980s than to the historical growth of the Departments.

Many of us believe that what is needed is a good, hard look at the practices within Government Departments. Government Departments are rusty and out of date. They succeed more in confusing Ministers than in producing clarity of approach. The Departments have inbuilt inhibitions which deny to Parliament what Parliament wants to do on behalf of the people. In certain quarters there is an excess of privilege. Those who want to hold on to their privileges and hold back Parliament should do themselves a good turn by presenting themselves to the electorate and giving us a rest.

I forecast that in about two years time we shall have a Minister responsible for research and development, because Parliament has an intrinsic propensity to cause things to be done in the course of time, whether or not Ministers like it. The tide of events shows that the Select Committee's recommendation makes sense.

When I was in Brussels a few weeks ago with other hon. Members we had a long discussion with the Deputy Director-General of Science and Research—the titles imply a military operation, and there are military titles. I left behind some questions, the answers to which I needed for this debate, to support the view of myself and my colleagues that a Minister responsible for science and research should be created. I will quote one or two answers to those questions, with the assurance that I leave out nothing that would distort what I am seeking to convey to the House. The questions were: What is meant by the Commission view that there must be explicit recognition in all fields of scientific research? What place in science and technological development will the member States of the Community have for themselves? The answers were: In order that the Commission would be able to make in the field of research and development all proposals which may appear useful to cope with observed needs —the needs of the Commission— or to reach objectives —the objectives of the Commission— of common interest the field of its investigations should not be restricted in any way. The House must understand the implications of that statement. The next part of the answer which is relevant states that Any common research and development effort must leave plenty of scope—in some sectors a predominant amount—to the free initiative of national public establishments, universities and firms. I note a reluctance there which is similar to the normal Common Market language in the Treaty of Rome, in an attempt to be all things to all men while getting on with the major objectives. If the Common Market intends to behave in this way it is highly important for us to have a Minister with responsibility for science and research to speak on behalf of the Government at the levels the Common Market is talking about.

Further questions were: What is meant by giving the Community information and the means to exercise its powers effectively? What powers does it expect to have? The answer was: The Treaties did not formerly provide for scientific research and technological development outside the fields of nuclear energy, coal, steel and agriculture to be covered by the Community. In view of the intrinsic importance of scientific and technological research and its economic and social repercussions, it became evident the Commission felt the need that this area had to enter into an enlarged responsibility of the Institutions of the Community…it will be possible for the Community institutions to ensure co-ordination of national policies and to define and implement projects of common interest … the Commission will present its proposals to the Council, whose decisions will be binding for the member countries and the Community. Therefore, it is important that we have a Minister who has at his command a complete picture of research and development and all the responsibilities that go with it so that on a European scale Britain's interests can be enhanced and defended.

Those of us who served on the Select Committee know that there is not a single Minister whom we can call to the House of Commons—never mind Brussels, which is quite another matter—to answer adequately in this House questions on research and development. The Minister concerned may think that he is answering questions on those subjects, but we have no Minister to give to the House of Commons a clear picture reflecting the totality of research and development implications upon this country and upon Europe as a whole. I forecast that the Select Committee's recommendations on this matter will be implemented in a much shorter time than some people think.

I should like to make one small reference to the conduct of the Government. I shall not make these comments in terms which are calculated to incite angry responses. I shall say what I am about to say because I believe it to be of vital importance to the future conduct of any Government. I emphasise "any Government" because the great question mark for Great Britain today is: how strong is this House of Commons? This is a matter of great public issue, and poses the following question: should the conduct of any Government be allowed to go so far as to deny a Select Committee a report which that Committee feels is essential to its work? Indeed, should a Government be allowed to deny to the House of Commons a full debate on a subject which is of great significance to our country's future?

The Lord President of the Council introduced this matter in his speech and must take the consequences. I remind him that a Select Committee has the power to sit in public or in private. I cannot recollect any reluctance by the Select Committee to consider the implications of the Docksey Report or to insist on such examination being in private if it was thought to be against the public interest to make any part of the report public. I hope that Government Ministers will have learned their lesson. They must realise that their tenure of office is the most temporary thing in their lives. It contributes nothing to the strength of democracy if they seek to back certain officials who do not wish to let the House of Commons know what it ought to know. I tell the Lord President that this sort of practice should never be allowed to happen again.

I have read the Docksey Report. It contained nothing which was against the public interest. I should like to read its terms of reference, so that they are on the record. They are: To advise on the exploitation of inventions resulting from public research and on support by the National Research Development Council for the development and exploitation of inventions from other sources. In other words, the terms of reference dealt with how best to consider inventions arising from public research. The Lord President must not be too unhappy when the House does not respond to him in the way in which he expects us to respond when he seeks to make an apology on this score. He must convey to his colleagues our feeling that no Government should ever again treat the House of Commons or its Select Committee on Science and Technology in such a manner.

The whole question of science research and development has not even yet been brought out into the open, and there are one or two matters of which we should take firm note. First, there is a great need to get rid of the cobwebs in the system. There must be some rationalisation of function. Departments should have the ability to understand not only what is going on in their own Department but what other Departments are doing. There is a great need for Parliamen to take a firm grasp of the issue and to force Government to provide the necessary funding, so that all the potential of scientific research and development can be developed.

The Lord President gave figures of the expenditure, but the Government, who talk so much about growth, albeit after devaluation, should accept that it is wrong that the funding of this important area of the economy should fall from 13 per cent. growth rate four years ago to 4 per cent. today to an estimated 2 per cent. in 1974–75.

The Government should accept that the Select Committee has done a good job. The Government would benefit from studying the four reports again— certainly the First Report this year—and review their preconceived notions and consider whether we are devoting the right proportion of the gross national product to research and development.

The Government should do much more to secure the distribution of this work. The special areas do not get a fair share of scientific and research and development activity. The North-East needs much more of this work to underpin the general growth of industrial activity—of which there is still such little sign—and to secure the general drive and incentive to educational standards which will produce in the areas where they are most needed the graduate qualities which give assurance of more work for skilled and unskilled labour.

I should have dearly loved to see here today the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke). I hope that when he reads the reports of our proceedings he will be pleased that, much as we regret his absence, we have tried to put over the views that he holds dearly to a Government who, I hope, will be receptive.

8.3 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Brown (Shoreditch and Finsbury)

I pay tribute to the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), for the way in which he presided over our work and brought our reports to fruition.

I propose to concentrate on two issues that greatly concerned me during the course of the Select Committee's work. In paragraph 40 of the First Report we state— An excellent example of the failure to deal with an immediate and dangerous scientific problem which was clearly identified by the number of deaths and injuries involved, is the apparent self-combustion and exclusion of expanded foam plastic which in turn emits toxic fumes. In paragraph 47 (c) we say that one of the functions of a statutory council for science and technology should be to anticipate and to provide the necessary research and development to deal with any hazards which may threaten the community". The object was to ensure that we anticipate events rather than follow in their train.

The question of expanded foam plastic is crucial. Numbers of people die every week. Despite my constant harassment of Ministers, nothing is done. I pay tribute to the Government for having conceded one aspect of my argument during the course of the Select Committee's proceedings for having granted a small sum for special research into foam plastic.

There have been extraordinary vacillations on the part of Members from which have flowed disastrous consequences. I began arguing the case about foam plastics in 1968, after the fire in Glasgow in which 19 people died. The deceased were members of the union for which I am parliamentary adviser. The one thing which emerged from it all was that working with foam plastic is very dangerous.

On 17th December 1970 I asked the Secretary of State for Social Services (1) what investigations he has instructed to ascertain the proportion of bedding used in the hospital service containing highly inflammable foam filling; how soon he proposes to replace such filling with flame retardent foam; and if he will publish the findings of such investigations; (2) what instructions have been issued to geriatric establishments to ensure that, where foam filling is used in mattresses, that it be of flame retardent material". The Minister's answer was: None at present, but hospitals and authorities will be informed of the results of current research into the advantages and disadvantages of flame-retardent foam as soon as possible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December 1970; Vol. 808 c. 420–1.] On 10th July 1972—the day after the fire at Coldharbour Hospital, in which many people died, I asked the Secretary of State for Social Services (1) what material were specified in the tenders for mattresses and other upholstery…in the Winfrith Villa Wing of the Coldharbour hospital; (2) what materials were used in the fillings contained in the mattresses …. The Minister replied: Polyurethane foam or interior springs with various types of topping for the mattresses and polyether foam with a range of covers for the chairs were both specified and used.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th July 1972; Vol. 840, c. 247.] Even after the great disaster in July 1972 the Secretary of State took no action. I look forward to the report of the inquiry into the disaster at Coldharbour Hospital. No doubt the inquiry will blame the fire on somebody smoking, or an electrical fault, but it will not be the real cause, the expanded foam plastic. In December 1970 I warned the Member of what would happen. On 9th July it happened. The Member should therefore have been able to take action.

Although in this country bedding with polyurethane foam is still being used the United States have taken a very different attitude and have issued a standard. On many occasions I have asked for regulations to be made to ensure that bedding containing foam meets a satisfactory standard. On 1st December 1972—the last occasion when I asked such a Question—the Minister's answer was that he did not consider that we needed regulations.

From June 1973 no mattress manufacturer will be able to sell his product in the United States unless it passes a high standard. There will be a heavy penalty if mattresses are sold which do not meet the standard of non-flammability. The fine will be about £2,500 and/or one year's imprisonment. Powers have been taken under the regulations to ensure that any manufacturer can be told to stop selling a product and withdraw it from the market. If the manufacturer wilfully violates that instruction he can be fined £2,500 per day for every day that his product remains on the market. There is a whole range of other issues of great importance to do with mattress standards, but the Americans believe this to be the important one. They have carried out two years' work and have produced regulations for both domestic and foreign manufacturers.

Yet our Government continually assert that we do not need to take the same action. One wonders what would have happened if we had this standard for the beds at the Coldharbour Hospital, or for the hospital at Durham where, on 27th January 1972, an 81-year-old patient died because his bed caught fire. How long will it be before the Government decide that these deaths must stop? They have some responsibility for ensuring that standards are maintained in order to cut down the number of deaths which occur.

I took this matter up with the Home Office in connection with the dangers encountered when cigarettes were dropped on to bedding, and asked what was the risk of the foam igniting. On 20th October 1971 I had a reply from the Minister saying that tests had shown that neither plastic nor rubber foam ignited from a cigarette falling upon them. He said that the hazard presented by such foams was insignificant compared with that presented with carbon monoxide, which was produced in almost every fire in a dwelling where neither rubber nor plastic foam was present. It is interesting to contrast that with the view of the Department of Employment, which says, in its Technical Note No. 29, The feature that particularly distinguishes foam plastics from most other combustibles however was the production of hydrogen cyanide and isocyanates. These were evolved in amounts fully comparable in toxicity to the carbon monoxide. They represent an important additional hazard which may not previously have been properly recognised. This may help to explain the fact that in some factory fires employees and firemen appear to have suffered long-term effects from inhaling smoke and fumes which did not seem to be characteristic of exposure to carbon monoxide alone. The Home Office tells us that this is all rubbish, and that their advice is that it is no more dangerous to have foam burning. But the factory inspectorate produced its report in 1971. That showed that the toxicity was derived from fumes known in World War I as phosgene.

In December I put further Questions to the Department of the Environment concerning bonfires and the Department's attitude to caretakers who are called to them. Furniture which is thrown on to bonfires often contains polyurethane foam. In addition, children standing around the bonfire inhale the phosgene, and the result is that they are taken to hospital believed to have inhaled ordinary fumes and are treated accordingly. It is not realised that they will suffer permanent lung damage, for there is at present no possible source of a cure. The Minister's answer to those questions was a simple one. He said that he had been advised by the Home Secretary—that was the chap who advised me—that there was no danger. Yet the Department of Employment's Factory Inspectorate has said that there is a serious risk. We therefore have the situation where two Departments are in turn making contradictory statements. I would prefer to take the advice of the Factory Inspectorate, because it is aware that we are facing an extremely serious situation.

On 17th December 1970 I put a Question to the Department of Employment calling the Minister's attention to an incident where a teddy bear had a flame passed beneath one arm and within two seconds was wholly ignited because of the high flammability of the foam filling. I asked, as the use of candles would be prevalent in the coming weeks, whether the Secretary of State would take steps to warn parents and children of the danger of fire involving the stuffing in soft toys. The then Minister of State, Home Office, replied: The fire hazard presented by soft toys depends, in the main, on the ignitability of their outer fabric rather than the flammability of the filling material. I understand that the British Standards Institution will shorly be publishing an amendment to the Code of Safety Requirements for Children's Toys requiring such fabrics to pass a flammability test. My right hon. Friend does not consider that any public warning about the flammability of foam fillings in toys is necessary."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December 1970; Vol. 808, c. 417.] In Crewe, on 13th December 1972, two children died from a teddy bear catching fire. It had been stuffed with foam. I consider that the Minister should be held culpable for this, because in December 1970 I begged him to issue a warning about toys stuffed with foam. The answer I have just read out shows a wilful refusal to appreciate the dangers. Two young children, among many others, have died from the source of danger which I asked the Minister to point out back in 1970. The teddy bear was stuffed with polyurethane foam.

Mr. Neave

Since this is a subject which the hon. Member feels concerns hazards to life and health, might I suggest to him that since various Government Departments are conducting research programmes in this direction he should invite my right hon. Friend the Lord President to tell these Departments that they should make special reports to the House on this question? That would seem to be an aspect of our recommendations that he should follow up. I hope that he does not mind my suggesting that.

Mr. Brown

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. What I was trying to establish was that during the consideration of this subject by the Committee there was no suggestion that Ministers were aware of what was going on in each other's Department, or of what the state of research was at any time. It has been said that the Questions that I put to departmental chiefs were pretty mundane, but large numbers of people are being killed and injured as a result of the use of this foam. It affects all departments of Government—social security, hospitals, local government, education, and the Department of the Environment. They are all involved, and not one was aware of the problem. Our recommendation for a Minister of Research and Development could repair that situation. One such Minister would certainly understand what was happening in other areas.

The second issue to which I want to turn arises in the Second Report at paragraph 30, where we talked of the extent and possible scope of nuclear and non-nuclear research and development. I came to the conclusion that no evidence had been given to the Committee of any research and development taking place into the safety aspects of nuclear reactors. I was most discouraged by the answers given by some of the witnesses. It appears now that the Government are preparing to ditch British technology in the shape of the steam-generated heavy water reactor and go American.

It is the same old story. I sometimes suspect that with high technology Government advisers are happy to make this country the 53rd state of the United States. We just rely on the Americans to give us all we want. It now emerges, I understand, that the Government are being persuaded to buy American light-water reactors mainly on the grounds of cost and availability. A big question mark hangs over the safety aspect of these reactors. I raised this subject during our sittings, yet we had no evidence of any programme of research and development being undertaken to evaluate standards of safety which are built into the light water reactor—the PWR or the BWR.

In the absence of any research we must assume that the Government will have to turn to the Atomic Energy Commission of America for advice. This prospect certainly frightens me. The House will recall that for some years American nuclear reactor manufacturers have not only been supplying their own country with the light water reactor but have been moving increasingly into Europe. There has always been a doubt about the safety of such a reactor. The United States Atomic Energy Commission has always maintained its faith in the safety of this reactor. This faith is based on model tests and simulations. Its judgment was challenged some years ago by a group of scientists called the Union of Concerned Scientists—a small and tight-knit group which published a survey on nuclear reactor safety in July 1971. This was updated in March 1972.

The burden of the argument in that survey was that reactor manufacturers in America and the Atomic Energy Commission were both using questionable methods and data to evaluate the emergency core cooling system. This system was necessary to protect the nuclear plant and the health and welfare of people within its vicinity in the event of a failure in the main cooling flow. It is common ground that unless the emergency system works there will be an uncontrollable accident, with appalling consequences. As a result of this survey the Atomic Energy Commission was forced to hold public hearings on the subject. They commenced in January of last year.

The story of these hearings is fascinating, and I urge hon. Members to read it. The hearings produced some strong condemnation of reactor manufacturers and the commission. They were accused of producing examples of industrial research at its most misconceived and dishonest. When it is realised that the hearings produced a transcript 30 feet thick—I am told—we can begin to appreciate its importance.

Even so, a whole chapter was deleted on security grounds. It was headed: "Major accidents: Causes and Consequences." No one is satisfied with the reason why it was deleted, although it was published in the original survey of the scientists' group. The only answer that was given when the issue was raised was that it was said to deal with the allegedly unlikely event of any such catastrophe happening. I raise this point because I believe that the Granada Television team, which produces "World in Action" is at this moment screening a documentary dealing with these hearings. It is highlighting a fascinating situation. It shows the lengths to which the interested parties will go to suppress information.

I hope that the sub-committee of the Science and Technology Committee can have this film screened. I am advised that it shows men who were employed in various aspects of the nuclear reactor business and who are quite satisfied that there is an inherent danger in this light water reactor. They say that the safety measures for this emergency core cooling system upon which the AEC has placed such reliance, together with other European countries—and which our own Government may rely—are nonsense. The film apparently shows the lengths to which certain people were prepared to go to discharge others from jobs and accuse them of being militants and even Communists. Perhaps some of these people could be invited to give evidence about safety standards before anyone in this country is allowed to purchase these reactors. The AEC is now very much involved in trying to change the standard. I understand that it has not yet stopped the increased growth in the size of the output levels of these stations, but the New York Times recently published a statement saying that this matter has been taken seriously and that regulations are coming out shortly to reduce output levels.

If we have no research and development in this country to evaluate the safety standards of the light water reactor, the only body or persons to whom the Government can turn will be the Atomic Energy Commission of America and the manufacturers who have come out so badly in this report from the United States.

It will be seen from the two examples that I have mentioned, on safety to the community, that I am seriously concerned about the Government's failure to ensure adequate research and development into safety before disasters occur. It is no use having a disaster like the Torrey Canyon and asking why it happened. It is important to try to see into the future. We are responsible for advanced technology. Let us somehow try to anticipate possibilities and make arrangements to research and develop antedotes to them before they happen.

The Government should be seriously worried about deaths and injuries caused by foam fibre. My own union—the Furniture, Timber and Allied Trades Union— and the British Safety Council are doing a tremendous amount of work. It is time the Government decided to introduce regulations on this foam. If it cannot be regulated they will have to decide to ban its use. It seems that the Government must either establish research into this material with more urgency and a greater sum than the £40,000 that they granted as a result of my questioning in the Select Committee, or be responsible for all the men, women and children who are likely to be injured and killed in future.

As a nation, we seem to be satisfied to take any kind of platitude as an excuse. I asked the Minister to produce statistics showing the number of fires, including those involving polyurethane, which had taken place. He refused. We cannot get any statistics because we have not got them. Yet we find in every coroner's report on death from fire that inevitably there is foam in the home. If a child is involved, it is said that he must have got some matches from somewhere and somehow set fire to the foam. In the case of an old person it is said that he must have been sitting in his chair and fallen asleep while smoking, and the lighted cigarette set fire to the foam. Neither of these propositions can be proved. I have quoted examples, and the Minister has said that foam cannot be ignited by a cigarette end. The Americans are using the cigarette test as a means of determining whether foam is inflammable. Therefore, the Minister cannot ignore these matters.

We should not be satisfied, as coroners and fire officers so often report, with giving the public a rational answer that they are prepared to accept. Children do play with matches, and old people probably do go to sleep whilst smoking, but in my view, neither of these propositions cause fires with foam. I believe that it is a question of the material itself, and that the sooner the Government take action, irrespective of all the vested interests who are trying to stop the investigation into it, the better.

8.34 p.m.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

I should like to associate myself with my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) and others who have sent their best wishes for a full and speedy recovery to the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke). Indeed, it is on one of the subjects in which the hon. Member is particularly interested, nature conservancy, that I should like to ask my first question.

Incidentally, it should be said that the Lord President of the Council has set an excellent example by his attendance. I am not carping. I am just a little surprised that during a debate, part of which is on Rothschild, there should be no representative of the Department of Education and Science present.

My question on nature conservancy is whether the Department of Education and Science is sure that, by this separation of the major part of nature conservancy from the laboratories, it has arrived at the best structure. It may be true that structures depend on people and that form here is not the most important thing. Nevertheless, it is a genuine question which arises out of the Select Committee's report, and I should have thought that someone from the DES might have been present.

The truth is that we are having a rather inebriated and desiccated debate precisely because it is six to nine months too late. All this should have been discussed not even in October last year but in June or July at the latest, and preferably in March or April when the rest of the scientific world was having its controversial discussions on Rothschild.

If the Leader of the House can do anything to make House of Commons debates more topical I am certain that that will be to the benefit of the Government machine as a whole. This is especially so when the subjects being debated contain no great party content. Topicality maximises their value, and I shall say hardly anything at all about Rothschild issues, simply because there is no point in doing so. It is past, it is stale, it is something that is all decided. One cannot alter things by saying something about them. Why, therefore, make speeches about things that one cannot alter?

Although it is hurtful and a bit sad-making for men like Sir Gordon Cox of the Agriculture Research Council, it may be true that the right hon. Gentleman's experience as Minister of Agriculture was valid and that the farming community felt that it had not had sufficient value from the ARC. All I say is that it has been put to me by people in the ARC that perhaps the NFU in particular and a number of other bodies did not formulate their requests as clearly as they might have done. But all this is water under the bridge. As regards the ARC, I hope that the new relationship works. It should be tried, and we should wish it well because there is a balance of evidence on the right hon. Gentleman's side.

Coming to the Medical Research Council, may I repeat the question that I put during an intervention in the right hon Gentleman's speech. In all the discussions and in all the letters to The Times it has not been shown that there has been any single significant major occasion on which a request was made from local health authorities, from hospitals or from the Department when it was the Ministry of Health in response to which the MRC has not done its best to help or at least given reasons why, if its research was unsuccessful, it could not be done.

In this context the right hon. Gentleman said that he would keep an "open mind". Many of us have asked our friends in the MRC to monitor the new system. I grant that a certain amelioration has taken place. It is not as bad as many thought. Nevertheless, for some of us this will be a subject of maximum interest over a two- or three-year period and if it so happens that the scheme works less favourably than the right hon. Gentleman suggested it would we shall raise the matter again in the House in the hope of getting changes made. I hope, therefore that it is understood that the new arrangement of medical research is very much on probation and is no fixed scheme for eternity.

The next issue that must be raised again is that of Docksey. I have asked many questions, at business time and on other occasions, about the reasons for the non-publication of the Docksey Committee's Report. I and others understand that if evidence is given on a basis of confidentiality that confidentiality must be respected and that the issue of a breach of faith is involved. I am not suggesting that there should be a series of breaches of faith.

On the other hand, can it be argued, as I thought was implied by the Lord President, who will interrupt if I have misunderstood his argument, that distiguished people who give evidence to Government Committees like Docksey would give different evidence in public to what they give in private? I do not believe for one moment that that is true. I do not believe that on any significant scale the kind of people who give evidence to Government science committees will say one thing out of one side of their mouth in private and another thing out of the other side of their mouth in public.

Mr. Prior

I am not saying that such people say one thing out of one side of their mouth in private and another thing out of the other side of their mouth in public. However, they may well find themselves unprepared to give as much evidence or information when it is known that it will be published as they are prepared to give if it is known that it will be kept confidential.

The right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) mentioned President Nixon's directive that there should be much more open government. But President Nixon also said that the committee in question could sit in executive session. That means that it could go into a secret or private session. It is my guess that it passes the time of day in public and only gets down to the nuts and bolts in private. That is exactly what should be avoided if possible.

Mr. Dalyell

I accept that I may misunderstand the Lord President. As I understand it, it is his argument that they would be more reticent in public than in private. Maybe a balance has to be struck.

Mr. Benn

We would certainly settle for an executive order like President Nixon's to see what happens. The truth is that this country is more secretive about scientific decisions than many other countries.

Mr. Dalyell

It is that secretiveness that bothers me. When I was listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Ronald Brown) it struck me that one could have judged his argument far better had the Vinter Report been published. There are difficult issues of commercial secrecy but the Government might well have considered the publication of the Vinter Report.

Mr. Ronald Brown

I put that question to Mr. Vinter, and the Minister kept trying to cut him short. Mr. Vinter wanted to reply, but the Minister argued that it was a policy decision. I do not concur with that view. I do not agree that advisers would be so reluctant to face questioning as is pretended.

Mr. Dalyell

There is the further argument that there are many people who are reticent about giving secret evidence to a Government because their colleagues may be wondering precisely what evidence they have given. Therefore, there is a real issue of swings and roundabouts. Some witnesses might speak more freely if they knew their evidence could be published.

It will be within the recollection of the Lord President that at business questions I asked him about the Atomic Energy Authority (Weapons Group) Bill which we should have debated on Thursday and which has been put off. It is unnecessary for the Ministry of Defence to say "You request to go to Aldermaston before the Bill comes up to see for yourself what happens on the ground. There is no point in your going to the non-classified area of Aldermaston." It may be that the visit would not be worth while, but that is up to me and my colleagues to judge. The denial of the visit to the non-classified part of Aldermaston when a measure that specifically concerns Aldermaston is to be raised in the House seems to be questionable. I throw in the remark that I wonder how much of Aldermaston needs to be classified after my right hon. Friend the then Prime Minister, who is now the Leader of the Opposition, referred at the party conference in Scarborough, I think, in 1967, to the civilian work that was to be done at Aldermaston. That is the kind of thing that back-bench Members should be able to evaluate. Did the Lord President wish to intervene?

Mr. Prior indicated dissent.

Mr. Dalyell

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will send me a reply.

There are three points, two minor and one major, to which I want to refer. As one who represents a few constituents working at the National Engineering Laboratory at East Kilbride. I think that the Select Committee has been a bit harsh on them. It is all very well telling the NEL to be more aggressive, but precisely how does it become so? It goes to some effort to let industry know what it is doing. If there is fault here it is fault on more sides than that of the NEL. I think that the NEL has been treated pretty roughly, and it is incumbent on those who say that laboratories must adopt a more aggressive sales policy to say precisely what they mean. I shall be convinced by this kind of argument once it is spelled out properly.

There was another point in the right hon. Gentleman's speech which is very important—the whole question of the career structure. It takes us back to Lord Rothschild's appearance before the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee. I failed, despite the questioning on that occasion, to get any very clear idea where all these managerial jobs for scientists who were over 35 or 40 were to be found. There is quite a Civil Service problem here. Many grades of civil servants do not fancy the idea of plum jobs and key jobs—we are talking about these by definition—going to those who have been scientists and hitherto have been on rather different career structure lanes.

The question of jobs for the Civil Service in key positions is extremely difficult for any Government. I wonder precisely what is meant by saying "We are going to make it possible for those with scientific training to have key managerial jobs in the Civil Service." If it is meant simply in terms of directorships and deputy directorships of scientific establishments, that is one thing, but I seemed to detect in the right hon. Gentleman's speech that he was going wider and expressing the hope that many of the key positions in the Civil Service would henceforth be occupied, perhaps along the lines of the Fulton Report, by those who have had scientific training. I would welcome this. All I say is that it is a very difficult problem to implement, granted that there are career expectations by many administrative and executive class civil servants. I would welcome any clothes which the Minister might put on this argument.

I must confess that I agreed with the right hon. Gentleman on the question of a Minister for Science and Technology in the Cabinet. We must all speak person- ally on this. I speak for no one else when I say that I think that this was an unrealistic proposal by the Select Committee and that such a Cabinet Minister would perhaps be batted around by the heads of the great Departments of State unless he occupied one job, perhaps the very important job of Lord President of the Council.

It may be true that if the Select Committee's recommendation were ever to be adopted by the Government a Minister, unless he was to become the creature of other Departments and have a very unhappy life, would have to have a senior pivotal job in the Government—which brings us back to Lord Hailsham and the kind of job he had. I say "kind of job he had" because I am aware that it is not a direct parallel. If this is to be a job at all as opposed to a non-job, it has to be occupied by someone who also has very important relationships with the Prime Minister in particular and with his Cabinet colleagues in general; otherwise it simply will not work.

Mr. E. S. Bishop (Newark)

I was persuaded this afternoon by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) of the problems of having a Minister with these duties within the Cabinet. But I am uneasy about the recommendation of the White Paper that each Department should report to the House independently, presumably on a Vote or on the Consolidated Fund. Some of us who have heard the debate are anxious about how the job will be done without someone having the main responsibility and with the dangers of fragmentation. Has my hon. Friend any comments on that?

Mr. Dalyell

We are all extremely concerned that science training and science in general should be close to the centre of decisison making. On that we are agreed. The only difference is how to go about it. I am all for the whole structure of the Chief Scientific Adviser being discussed. I happen to think that the system now operating is operating pretty well, but that is merely a personal and perhaps an ill-informed opinion.

All I would say at present is that I do not see that a political Minister with these responsibilities will bring about the ends on which we may all be agreed. It is merely a difference about the means rather than the ends. We all will the same end, but we are sceptical as to whether the Select Committee's suggestion will achieve the end that the Committee willed.

I come to what some of us regard as the crucial and urgent decision before the Government and Parliament. I return to the question that some of us raised at Question Time today concerning the post-Apollo programme. As I thought that this debate would collapse early, I gave notice to the Department of Trade and Industry at 4.15 p.m. that I proposed to raised the subject on a second Adjournment debate, and I hope that the Minister has had some opportunity to discuss it with his advisers.

We want to know what discussions took place with our European partners during the Christmas Recess. The scientific Press gave the impression that we were as much at odds as ever, that there were certain differences that could not be glossed over, particularly between ourselves and the French. I invite the Minister to say what he can about the factual basis on which discussions have taken place. What discussions has he and the Under-Secretary had at Washington and elsewhere in the United States?

I was surprised to be told at Question Time that the Americans had not asked for a date by which we should come to a decision on whether to take any part in a post-Apollo programme, for example, in relation to the sortie module, or, anything else in which Europe might conceivable participate. My information—and I hope that I shall be told that I am wrong—is that unless we decide by 1st July, or 1st August, they will give us up and the options will be closed.

Speaking personally—I have no business to speak for my party on this subject because I am not in any sense an official spokesman, but simply someone who hopes that we shall not be left out of this project and that we should keep our options open—I believe that this means committing fairly substantial sums, and I invite the Minister to say what sums have been discussed. Is he in a position to tell the House on what basis and with what guidelines these crucial discussions have been taking place?

It may be that we are starting, rightly or wrongly, on something of the order of Concorde. On the other hand, I should like to know whether some serious evaluation has been made in the Government machine of the price of not taking part in a post-Apollo project.

These discussions are taking place. Can we be told on what serious basis of decision-making and of information the British Government's attitude is being formed? I hope that the Minister will tell us as much on post-Apollo as he reasonably can.

8.55 p.m.

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) that we should have debated these matters some time ago. We are grateful to the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) and his Committee for having given us the opportunity to have the debate today.

Several of us have often asked when we would be able to debate the Rothschild proposals, but we have had no chance to do so until now. Although we are not united on some of the proposals in the Select Committee's reports the House is united, I think, in wanting to discuss Rothchild proposals and in supporting the contention in the Committee's First Report that the Government should not have prejudged the whole issue of the organisation of research by introducing a document welcoming and endorsing the Rothschild proposals when they did.

I support the Select Committee's proposal for the appointment of a Minister for Research and Development. This is supported by the Committee, which looked at all the evidence, but not by this side and, I suppose, not by the Government side. It is opposed by the Government principally on the grounds that the Minister in charge of a Department is fully accountable.

On page 6 of Cmnd. 5177 two naive questions are put. The first is paragraph 9(b), which asks Are the executive Departments not sufficiently good at perceiving their own research and development needs, and in giving due weight to them when allocating resources to their functional tasks? The other is paragraph 9(c), which asks Are any areas of nationally important research and development likely to be neglected without such a Minister to bring them to the Government's attention at a high level? I know a large number of scientists working in several Government research establishments, and over the years I have been able to discuss with them the way in which Departments are organised, the proposals of successive Governments, my own included, the Rothschild proposals and the work of this Committee. The evidence seems to point to the conclusion that, unfortunately, Executive Departments are in most cases not the right people to determine research programmes, because they are too deeply engaged in the shorter-term priorities and too exposed to day-to-day pressures. This is absolutely true of a Minister. Executive Departments are unable to look forward very far.

Their problems—this is true, perhaps even more so, of industry—are today's problems, yesterday's problems and—the furthest in the future that they look—tomorrow's problems. What they should be looking at, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Ronald Brown) said, are the problems of 10 years hence. They should be anticipating the kind of difficulties which are likely to arise and make proposals for them.

The question in paragraph 9(c) of the White Paper leads me to give just one example of a nationally important matter which, although it required research and development work, has been neglected. This is a matter about which the Leader of the Opposition spoke to great point in his speech in Scotland at the weekend. I refer to North Sea exploration and exploitation. This has been possible not because of our own knowhow but because America has perfected the technique of offshore underwater operations.

Two questions arise here. First, why was not British research and development energy allocated to this work in good time? It has been advocated for many years by, among other groups, the Institution of Civil Engineers. That institution advocated this at least 10 years ago. Why was nothing done? Secondly, underwater exploration is now moving out into the deepest parts of the North Sea. We are moving away from the immediate offshore vicinity, and neither we nor the Americans possess the necessary technologies. Responsibility for this research could be divided between the Department of the Environment, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Defence. Probably there are other Departments that right hon. and hon. Members could suggest. Which Ministry is to be responsible for work on this development, if we do any? Had there been a Ministry of Research and Development one would have expected that this would have been something to which it would have given its attention some years ago, and we should not have been in the position in which we now find ourselves.

The Rothschild Report, at paragraphs 49–55, discusses the Haldane principles. Lord Rothschild believes that these principles are no longer valid. He said in evidence to the Committee that an organisation was needed that was competent to do what you ask. Who is asking the questions? It was not clear from the evidence who is asking the questions and what questions are being asked. If the questions are concerned with the immediate problems, I suggest that they are not the correct questions to ask. They ought to be the long-term questions. For this purpose, for it to be done adequately and in the national interest—that is the important thing—we need an independent approach and an independent organisation.

I suspect that the real reason why the Government are not particularly anxious to appoint a Minister for Research and Development is their refusal to admit they were wrong in dismantling the DSIR in 1962, because the establishment of a Minister now would mean that they would have to eat those words, among other words they have eaten, and admit that they were wrong. But since the General Election they have eaten their words and stood policies on their heads on many occasions. Why not in this case?

The Rothschild Report sets out the customer-contractor principle. Lord Rothschild says that the customer says what he wants, the contractor does it if he can, and the customer pays. How does this apply to Government research centres? The name implies what work is paid for, and strictly speaking this is not so; it is rather misleading. Policy directorates lay claim to the effort of the research directorates in any Department for research programmes that it wants to pursue. In any Government Department—this applies to the Department of the Environment and others—it is the policy directorates that are the customers; the contractors are the research stations, sometimes the universities, and sometimes industrial research organisations.

The Government have set up a vast network of research requirements committees. This has all happened fairly recently. I am speaking now from the point of view of scientists who are having to see beyond the effect of what the Lord President described at the end of his speech—to see how it works when one looks at it from the point of view of those scientists working in Government research establishments. There is a vast network of research requirements committees from which the universities and industry are excluded. These consider the research programmes that are put up by the research establishments, the intention being that policy directorates would be more likely to apply the results of research programmes in the formulation of which they have taken an active part.

The proposals of research requirements committees are then vetted by the programme revision committees in the Department, headed by the Chief Scientific Adviser for the Department, and he then submits these to PESC.

Two things stand out in this procedure. First, the hope of increased application of research results by Government Departments has yet to be proven. We have no evidence that this is the way it is working. In any case, if one looked at the research programmes at several of the establishments under different Governments one would see that it was an open question whether the research actually carried out was in the best interests of the nation; if it really was what the nation required, and not what the Department and the scientific adviser to the Minister required. The two things are not necessarily compatible.

There has been an increasing shift in responsibility for research programmes from the directing staff of the research stations—high-powered scientists who have been appointed as directors of our research establishments—to the research committees which exercise not merely an advisory function, which was the intention originally, but an executive function. Under the present system this trend will continue, with more and more responsibility being taken away from those scientists who are directly responsible for carrying out research programmes. This is a thoroughly bad development. The idea that research can be directed by large committees, some of which are overlapping and treading on each other's territory, and composed of civil servants with little or no research background, each pushing its own limited directives, is nonsense. This will not work.

If the Minister would discuss these problems with some of the people actually working in the research establishments, I am sure he would find that there is this concern. We have some very high-powered scientists working in research establishments. They are highly respected in our industry and they have a great international reputation. In setting up their research programmes they are expected to look ahead. The responsibility for setting up the programmes and for stopping them when it is felt that they ought to be stopped should be theirs alone, and not that of the departmental committee. Individual responsibility, as any scientist will agree, is of enormous importance in scientific work.

I believe that our industry in general, and the Government, are bedevilled by the diffusion of responsibility through masses of committees. Our Government research stations were an exception, but they are now being interfered with at an increasing rate under the Rothschild organisation, and the responsibility is being taken away from the directors of the research establishments.

The other important aspect which I find most disturbing is the fact that there is a virtual exclusion of industry from the work of the research establishments under the new arrangements. The conclusion was that once the Government accepted the thesis of Rothschild that the research establishments should work mainly for the Government, industry would come rather far behind. But in the end industry is the user of the research that is done in different research establishments, and in some industries in the past when there was closer contact between research establishments and industry—when they were working very closely together on advisory committees, for example—there was still an enormous time lag between the results of the research carried out in Government research establishments and their application in industry. The building industry is a prime example where the time lag is about 10–15 years. No wonder the building industry is so far behind.

By adopting these proposals the Government have to some degree endangered the Government research organisations. Recruitment to the centres is now subordinate to the Civil Service committees. I believe that in the long run this will become less attractive to young men and women of talent. Recruitment has been taken out of the hands of the research establishments and has become a function of the civil servants; it is they who do the advertising for staff, and the interviewing. This is nonsense. It should remain the responsibility of the staff of the research establishments.

The machinery has become intolerably slow, and in his reply the Minister should give an indication that he intends to look at it urgently and to return this responsibility to research establishments. In my view the Government should re-examine the very sensible proposals contained in the Select Committee's reports that they should consult industry again and swallow their words, as they have done so many times in the past. In that way morale in Government establishments would improve.

9.10 p.m.

Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)

I must apologise for seeking to speak in this debate because, through no fault of my own, I was late in arriving here and have missed most of what has been said. However, I intervene for a few minutes to strike a note of concern about one aspect. It is the Nature Conservancy and the decision to abolish it as it has been known over the years and instead to set up what is to be called the new Nature Council.

At the outset I ought to declare an interest. I have been a member of the Scottish Committee of the Nature Conservancy for a number of years. It is an unpaid job. It is a matter of interest. I want to see the Nature Conservancy go on from strength to strength.

In paragraph 55 of Command 5046 one reads: There is…a duality in the Nature Conservancy in its present form, which has caused stresses difficult to resolve within the present framework. The Government believes that, if the original purposes of setting up a Nature Conservancy in 1949 and of…a Research Council for the environmental sciences in 1965 are both to be fulfilled, it is necessary to make a fresh start.' The fresh start, in effect, means putting the Nature Conservancy in a position where it will manage the nature reserves and the staff to run them.

The first note that I wish to strike draws attention to the peculiar characteristic of the Nature Conservancy as it has been. It was a research organisation as well as an organisation concerned with the managing of reserves. If one refers to the same Command Paper and to the various reports that we are discussing, the point is made that most scientists come into Government service because they wish to pursue scientific careers. But what will be the position of the new Nature Council if it is to be an organisation which virtually manages nature reserves, perhaps giving a bit of advice here and there? There might be a danger of its becoming a glorified park-keeping organisation. If that happens I doubt whether the new Nature Council will be able to recruit the kind of people who have made the existing Nature Conservancy possibly the most outstanding example of such an organisation in the world.

The British Nature Conservancy has been outstanding and unique in this connection. If I understand it at all, part of its power and of its high standing has stemmed from the fact that it is both a research organisation and an organisation managing reserves.

A further point worthy of consideration is that the purpose for which the Nature Conservancy was set up has been extended rapidly. If the Leader of the House cares to read the report of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs he will see that it recommends an extension of the powers of the Nature Conservancy.

We see the Nature Conservancy as one of the most important organs in the countryside in managing reserves and increasingly offering guidance in all the new ideas we have about the environment. It is concerned with living things as well as with what can be seen. If the Nature Conservancy is stripped of its research work it is in exceedingly great danger of being stripped of its personnel. Perhaps this will not happen in the year or two ahead, but further ahead an organisation that does not do this kind of work is unlikely to attract the sort of people who have given the Nature Conservancy the high standing which it enjoys.

The Nature Conservancy is capable of doing much more than its present resources permit. The line we should be taking is to add still further to the resources of that organisation so that it may better carry out the work for which it was created.

The process that is going on is of the carving up of the Nature Conservancy. There is a tremendous amount of unhappiness and uncertainty among the people who make up the organisation. They do not know what is happening or where they will go. This matter must be settled. It should not be allowed to go on month after month but should be settled quickly. I associate myself with the plea made by the right hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke), who is unfortunately unable to be with us, when he asked why it was deemed necessary to make this carve-up. It is necessary to decide the issue quickly and also for Parliament to be given a clear understanding of the pros and cons of the issue.

My association with the Nature Conservancy over a number of years leads me to say that it would be a great loss to the nation if we were to do something which might read all right on paper, might seem all right in theory but would destroy an organisation of such high standing. It could become a much bigger organisation whose standing would grow if it had the personnel. I doubt whether it can possibly recruit personnel if it is not permitted to engage in extensive research work.

9.18 p.m.

Mr. E. S. Bishop (Newark)

I had not intended to intervene from the Front Bench tonight, but I will make a short speech because we have to look at the prospects of research and development work in the years that lie ahead. I am prompted to intervene at this stage following the question which I put this afternoon to the Minister for Aerospace and Shipping about a statement on the post-Apollo programme, and I am also prompted by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell).

I could say much about the report, and much has been said on both sides of the House in this useful debate, but all I want to do is to lift the corner of the curtain about the kind of research and development that is to take place and the impact of post-Apollo on our programmes in the next decade or two. I am particularly concerned, as I am sure are the people in management and the employees of the British aircraft industry, about the kind of work they can expect in the years ahead, in view of the shortage of work to follow the major programmes of Concorde and Rolls-Royce.

In July I had the good fortune to visit Cape Kennedy and see some of the work in the post-Apollo programme. I saw the space tug and simulator and viewed the Apollo 17 project which has now been successfully landed on the moon and has returned. Anybody who visits Cape Kennedy has his eyes opened to the prospects for the future. When one returns to this country one shares the concern felt throughout the British aerospace industry about British participation in the post-Apollo programme.

I was told today during Question Time that the Minister attended the European Space Conference on 20th December and that the conference gave general approval to the sortie laboratory element of the post-Apollo programme to be carried out and managed within a European framework. When we realise the immense opportunities which lie before us, we can only feel concerned at the lack of any information from the Government on this matter. If the Government were to take the opportunity which we on these benches have sought to give the Government, it would reveal a story which would give new confidence to those in the aerospace industry whose future lies under a question mark.

There are two main points which I wish to make. I should like first to refer to the image of the industry in this country, which thinks of it in terms of putting a man on the moon—in other words, as a concept far in excess of anything in which Britain can be involved. The second is the lack of any realisation of the exciting prospects and possibilities of how the post-Apollo follow-up can be used to improve the ordinary, every-day lives of millions of people. We must recognise that a great deal has been learned from the experience of the post-Apollo programme. I refer to all that has been learned in terms of navigation, weather forecasting, the packaging of food, safety, and the use of new materials which can be adapted for use in so many ways. I refer to crop control, medicine, agriculture, oceanography, astronomy, and many other ways, such as the assessment of mineral resources. All these possibilities show that in the next few years there will be dramatic changes in our research and development programmes.

We have heard comments about the work of the Rothampsted Research Station in agriculture and all the rest. We know that in many fields of science and technology and in terms of our own research and development programme the results of the post-Apollo programme can make a dramatic difference to the direction of research in opening up new avenues never before dreamt of and most important to the lives of ordinary people. This can add to the quality and dimension of people's lives in ways which they have never experienced, and it is the post-Apollo programme and work which has been carried out in the United States which has given us some indication of what can happen.

These aspects of the subject indicate the use of new tools for mankind. I was in the aircraft industry for over 20 years before I became a Member of this House, and I know the sort of optimism which would abound if we were let into the Government's thinking on this or on other occasions. I have spoken to people in the United States about possible United States involvement in the United Kingdom programme, but as the months have passed I have seen the options gradually being closed. Britain certainly can play her part in a European context. Although enormous costs may be involved, I do not believe that they will be in the region of the costs of the Concorde project. A great deal can be done if we share the workload and responsibility with our European partners.

At Question Time this afternoon I was told that each country was left free to decide whether it would participate and, if so, the size of its financial contribution. That is all very well as a soup course, but we want to get at the main meal. We want to know to what extent the Government have thought about the matter and how Britain can participate. We want to know how we can participate in the sky-lab, the sortie module and in other ways. We want to know whether we shall be able to use the launching facilities which must come from the United States to keep down costs and to avoid duplication. We also want to know about the financial contribution. Already the British Aircraft Corporation, Hawker Siddeley and others have made a notable contribution with INTELSAT and other satellites.

The Government should give the House more information about their thinking, because there is a gloom over the industry about these exciting possibilities which may slip from our grasp unless the Government recognise that we have a contribution to make and know where their initiatives can be employed. By their answers tonight and by their statements over the next few months the Government can restore confidence to our aircraft industry and open up to the British people and our allies the exciting possibilities which space development and research can bring to raise the standard and quality of everyday living for millions.

I hope that the Minister will give us some information to dispel some of the gloom and give a new sense of security to those who depend on Government thinking now and in the next decade or two.

9.25 p.m.

The Minister for Aerospace and Shipping (Mr. Michael Heseltine)

This has been a debate of almost bewildering breadth, and that is inevitable on a subject of such complexity.

I join hon. Members on both sides in paying tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) and the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) for the considerable reputation they have earned for the Select Committee in dealing with this subject. I say that with some trepidation because I have already appeared before the Committee twice and I do not look forward to repeating the experience earlier than necessary because my hon. Friend and the hon. Gentlemen are persistent and perceptive.

I add my personal words of pleasure at the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) is recovering. I know that my hon. Friend would have loved to take part in our deliberations. We are sorry that he has not been able to do so.

I suppose everyone will agree that the most emotive question that arises from the various debates we have had on this subject and which has surrounded a certain amount of the public dialogue is the question of secrecy, whether Governments should make as freely known as evidently President Nixon had it in mind to do tile deliberations and advice which enable them to reach their conclusions.

I have been personally involved in one such area of controversy; namely, the one that surrounded the Marshall Report in an area of discussion in the aerospace industry. There have been a number of such areas, such as the Docksey Report. There are issues of principle and expediency which make it difficult to give a clear answer in hypothetical situations about what any Government can he expected to do.

I felt unwilling to publish the Marshall Report. Sir Robert Marshall is a very distinguished civil servant in my Department and at that time was answerable to me for a part of my responsibilities. It puts a Minister and his Permanent Secretary in an invidious position if the Permanent Secretary has given his name to a report making recommendations which the Minister is then unwilling or reluctant to accept or, in the reverse case, then accepts. It is the Minister who is answerable for policy. If it is based upon a report associated with a civil servant, it brings into question the whole constitutional authority of ministerial responsibility.

My view is that it is the Government's responsibility and individual Ministers' responsibility to be answerable for policy decisions and not the responsibility of civil servants. A whole range of ques- tions flow from the idea that civil servants should be expected to be answerable in public for reviews which they carry out at the behest of Ministers.

Mr. Leadbitter

I have already stated that it was competent for the Select Committee to deal with the matter in private if Docksey or any other source felt that should be done. The Minister mentioned principle and expediency. Does he not recognise that there is nothing in this report which he could quote in terms of principle or expediency? However, there are other matters of merit which show that there was no clash of the public interest. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry used an unfortunate phrase in evidence; he spoke about a report which clashed with the Government approach.

Mr. Heseltine

The position is clear. I was talking about not the Docksey Report but the Marshall Report, which concerns the internal civil servant producing a report which I was asked to publish. The Docksey Report was different because the issue was not one of principle. It was whether the report contained confidential information which it was felt by the Ministers responsible, of which I was one, it would not be right to publish. We were able to reach an agreement about a shortened, abridged, expurgated—call it what you will—version and the Docksey Report was made available to the Select Committee. That is one way in which it is always possible to accommodate a Select Committee.

If people who draft reports are aware that there may be bits of the reports that might be left out they have to raise in their own minds the agreements they reach with Ministers before submitting the reports knowing that only certain parts may be passed on for wider public discussion.

Mr. Leadbitter

The hon. Gentleman cannot get away with this point about the abridged or expurgated report. The Docksey Report as it came to the Select Committee was not abridged in the sense the Minister is implying. It complied with the normal form of any report which comes to a Select Committee when an author feels that in his or her judgment there is an issue of commercial confidentiality at stake. The report that comes to the Committee is a full one, not abridged.

Mr. Heseltine

But the principle that arises from this is still valid. In this case we were able to deal with the Docksey Report, and I was glad to be associated with the agreement that was reached. There could easily be a situation where that might not be the case. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is absolutely right to question the sort of freedom with which people would give evidence to such inquiries if they knew that there was the possibility of publication on a subsequent and unknown date.

One can too easily think of examples. Consider those being asked about their employers, their trade associations or their opinions of other organisations with which they do business. In human terms they would have to give opinions that were either qualified or inaccurate, or decline to answer, or take a personal risk which we could not expect them to do. I realise that I am dealing with hypothetical circumstances, and I do not think there is purpose in pursuing these objections. The dangers and difficulties exist.

Mr. Palmer

Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that it is, therefore, important that the civil servant or other individual giving advice should remain anonymous? The difficulty arises when names are mentioned.

Mr. Heseltine

That again raises questions. It is perfectly right that people judging a report and the evidence upon which it is based should know something about the people who actually gave evidence. One can think of the most obvious circumstances. One relies on the integrity, quality, background and experience of people giving advice. If we do not know who they are we might say "Who was it who gave this anonymous information so detrimental to a particular cause?" Wherever we look there are difficulties.

Mr. Benn

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for recognising that this is the central theme of the debate. May I ask him to look critically at the argument he has put to the House? The argument he has used against publication of Docksey or Marshall or Vinter was the same argument tabled with enormous force by Whitehall against having a Select Committee at all, on the ground that if we exposed a civil servant to cross-examination he might be asked to say something with which his Minister might later disagree. A man giving evidence might be asked to say something about his employer's attitude towards Government policy. The arguments that will always be used in favour of secrecy need to be looked at critically because a Minister can benefit by wider and more intelligent discussion of the issues upon which he has to decide. It is not always to his disadvantage that others should recognise the complexity of difficulties when they come to consider his recommendation.

Mr. Heseltine

I agree absolutely with the right hon. Gentleman. There is certainly great merit in many areas of policy formation in being able to publish a report and test the water to see that nothing has been omitted. I know of an example myself concerning noise at the third London airport. I considered that this was such a crucial issue and the advice that I was being given was so specialised that it was right to make it publicly available for a given period to make sure that no arguments had been overlooked. For the reasons that the right hon. Gentleman has outlined, therefore, I thought it right to advise the Secretary of State to publish the report, which he did. We are all glad that we took that precaution, even though the original conclusions stood. I would be the first to argue that we should try to use this as a method of procedure wherever possible because there are benefits in having the widest possible dialogue. It helps to keep people interested in the subject, and that is most important.

I shall now move on to the general question of secrecy in the monitoring of the various work that is done in the research establishments and in the work now to be done by the requirements boards and in the whole area that we are now discussing. The Government have stated their intentions that all Departments with a research and development activity should publish an annual report on those activities. We stated that in the White Paper. The intention is that the reports should be published in each summer. Perhaps I may cover briefly the grounds which my Department in- tends to cover in the reports that it will produce.

First, we shall want to see in the report a statement of the total research and development expenditure for the Department. Then we shall want to see the amounts and objectives of research expenditure on separate projects. We would obviously have to have in mind the extent to which confidentiality might be appropriate. Then we should want progress reports which would highlight the successful projects and give reasons for any change in programmes which will be a continuing part of the development. We should want a report on the machinery for developing and matching the various R and D programmes to requirements and resources, and I believe that that will be an important part of the continuing information available to the House and to the public. It is fair to say at once that these annual reports will not try to replace the very detailed technical appraisals of projects which are part of the information available to the scientific community through the more familiar public dialogue conducted in this House.

Mr. Neave

Does my hon. Friend remember the point I made when I said that these reports should be separate documents? In paragraphs 40 to 46 the White Paper seemed to suggest that they should be lumped together in some consolidated form. I hope that that will not be so but that they will be separate documents available to the Select Committee.

Mr. Heseltine

Certainly they will be available to the Select Committee, and we shall look carefully at the suggestions put to the House as to the precise form of publication. There may be various ways of doing it, but the crucial point is that they should be available for the Select Committee and for the House, and that is undoubtedly the case.

The Select Committee's Report was more specifically directed at the three multi-purpose establishments—the National Physical Laboratory, the National Engineering Laboratory, and Warren Spring—where there is a range of programmes which has now been reorganised or is in the process of being reorganised under the requirements board system. The Committee suggested that the industrial research establishments would be better able to transfer their technology to industry if they were more independent, and, broadly speaking, that was the argument that led to the proposal that there should be a research establishment authority. The Select Committee will realise that this idea has been considered over a period of time. It was proposed in 1970 in the Green Paper put forward by the previous Government, and the same sort of case was argued there.

Our view is that we can go a long way—the desirable part of the way—without the dramatic surgery that would be involved in a procedure of this kind. Our view is that there is a close relationship between the funding of research and development which is carried out in the research establishments and the policy issues which the Government Departments responsible for these programmes have to administer. We believe, therefore, that it is necessary to keep the close relation ship there, but we are fully in sympathy with the view that one has to find ways of bringing industrialists and universities into as close a partnership as possible to try to maximise the exploitation of the research and development that is carried out. That broadly reflects the functional approach to Government research and development to which reference has been made.

I should like to refer to a matter which is the responsibility not of an independent authority but of the Minister. Many hon. Members who have spoken have experience, as I have, of operating with responsibility for these programmes not only in Britain but across the European frontiers. Therefore, we are aware of the mixed situation which exists and the way in which, if we have particular questions on space matters, with which I shall want to deal, we are dealing with Ministers who often have specific responsibilities for space matters but do not have across-the-board responsibility for research in the countries in which they have ministerial rank.

I support the view put forward by my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council that to put a Minister with a small secretarial department into the Cabinet to speak for this vitally important sphere of national endeavour and to separate him from the big spending Departments which have the policy responsibilities for the industries within which the research and development is bound to be locked would be a prejudicial act to the research and development activities. Indeed, it is in conflict with the arguments that we have put forward on the need to extend the relationship between industrialists and the Government funding research and development. There would be a fundamental conflict there. So it is right that individual Ministers should be responsible not only for the industries which they sponsor but for the research and development in those industries.

It is arguable, and it has been argued with some logic this afternoon, that the need is not only to pursue the sort of relationship which comes from the Minister but to have some method of comparing research in one sphere with that in another. The reality is that research is probably related to the scale of commitment industrially of the country in any particular sphere. All who have worked in Government, particularly with the allocation of resources aspects, are aware that in the last resort, however theoretically desirable it may be, it is extremely difficult to find constant means of comparing where we should devote our national resources. It is difficult to know whether we are right to put money into roads or into public transport. There is no absolute standard of measurement. We can make political judgments. There are large areas where political judgments have to be made in the allocation of research and development budgets, in support of industry, or whatever it may be, just as there are in the whole gamut of political activity on which we are constantly making judgments.

The arguments go back to allowing Ministers to be responsible for the total range of the industrial spectrum under their control. There was a completely non-party approach on the issue. My view is, therefore, very much on the side that the Government have put forward. But I am absolutely clear that those who argue that we must be sure to exploit—in the proper sense of that word—the research and development which has cost a great deal of public money, are absolutely right. That is why we have introduced the requirements boards system. I believe that people watching their development—they are in a very rudimentary stage at the moment—will come to the view that a real attempt is being made to create a partnership between industry, the universities and the Government.

The House will be aware that we have set up five boards, and there is a sixth to come. We have experimented with the chairmanship of the boards. We have had civil servants and responsible academics, and industrialists in charge of them. The proposal is that the chairman of each board shall sit on a committee—a chairman's board—under my chairmanship. We will act as the co-ordinating body of the requirements boards to steer them in the directions in which they are attempting to go.

The boards will have a real say in executive decisions relating to the programmes and budgets which they administer. This is an attempt to ensure that the customer—the industrialist, in many cases—knows that industry is being consulted. An industrialist on the board may be responsible for the report which will come through every year and be available to the Select Committee and to the House. He may be responsible for reports of programmes and policies in areas for which he is responsible.

When I was interviewed by the Select Committee I remember being probed about the allocation of resources and about how one made decisions on what programmes and policies should apply in any area. The Select Committee made the point that a policy is needed before setting up the board and committing funds. My view is that the board is created and one then gets it to do the detailed survey and analysis work for which it has responsibility. The board is told what money is available. It is told the parameters within which it should allocate its programmes and decide its policies. That will be the basis of the reports put forward and published, which the Select Committee and the House will have a full opportunity to examine and consider.

Mr. Ronald Brown

How many of the people on these requirements boards will be trade union representatives from one or other of the trade unions affiliated to the TUC?

Mr. Heseltine

We have not seen the purpose of the boards as that of having representatives from a group of people. The boards will consist of people who have specialised knowledge of the areas in which the boards operate. It is wrong to try to see it as necessary to have someone from a particular part of the country or region, or from the employers' side or the trade union side. Employers will be on the boards not as employers per se but as experts in particular fields. There is no hard and fast view about this. One can look at it if there is an argument for it, but no representations have been put to me on that issue.

Perhaps I may move on from the question of the requirements boards to that of research and development in Europe. This question was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, Langstone (Mr. Ian Lloyd) who said that we were not getting value for money on a European scale. That, happily, brings me to the question of the post-Apollo programme. Space matters, for which I have a responsibility, provide a clear indication of the lack of value for money in European terms. I think that if I try to set the scene for space matters and deal with post-Apollo I shall answer the points raised by many hon. Members.

We in Europe are spending about one-sixth as much as the United States in the civil field, yet I do not believe that anyone taking a casual glance at the results would say that we were getting one-sixth of the benefits or achievements of the United States. The reasons are obvious. They have one Government, and one agency. We have a proliferation of Governments and programmes. There is no certainty that the efforts of Europe are co-ordinated, or that the industrial capabilities of Europe have been planned. There is much more evidence that various countries are competing with each other in Europe to try to maintain capabilities and be sure that they can bid against other countries or industries for parts of particular programmes.

That being the case, we in Britain have looked at the whole of the European field and not only do we see that; we see a situation in which there is a conflict of judgment about what policies various European countries want to pursue in the civil field. The launcher issue is a clear example of an issue upon which there is no agreement. We have told the Europeans that we believe it would be a helpful step to establish a European space agency, and phase into it the national programmes of the various countries that make a contribution in this field.

I do not need to spell out the advantages that come from that. We are left, however, with a number of problems, including the problem of what happens when one group of countries, or one country, wants to do one thing and the other countries do not. That means that there has to be an a la carte approach to the plans that are pursued. However, at least one knows that the agency will be monitoring the situation and that a central approach can be fed in to the maintenance and creation of industrial capabilities.

The second problem is the level of the budget in with which one is prepared to become involved. This country is willing to see its resources better deployed, but it is not prepared to see its resources increased in terms of commitment in space.

That brings me specifically to the post-Apollo programme. There is the argument—which we have not yet had to resolve—about whether the technological opportunities in post-Apollo are sufficiently attractive to this country's industry, so that we, as a Government, should commit ourselves.

In the post-Apollo programme there are areas of technology which are vastly exciting but in which our participation is not possible. It is conceivable that they might have been open to us two or three years ago, when the offer was first made. If we had had the industry in Europe which was sufficiently rich and powerful to take immediate action we could have had a fairly substantial part of the post-Apollo programme. But time has gone on. It is symptomatic of the European space effort that we were not able to respond with the clarity and speed which would have enabled us to have a substantial part of the programme.

We are now in a situation where we are dealing with the possibility of participating in the NASA programme. It is our view that whilst there may be arguments for being involved in that the priority in Europe is to bring about a single European space agency. Until we get that right we will never get the industrial strength in Europe with which to participate in major partnerships. It is important not to approach the wrong question. The right question is the need to create the framework. If we get that framework, in the context of the progress which we make in achieving that, we consider that our position in the post-Apollo programme has been made clear. The right priority is to get the industrial and political framework which is necessary to put Europe into the space business. That is the position as I have explained it to my European colleagues, to NASA and to the main contractors, McDonnell-Douglas, who I was able to see on my last visit to the United States.

Mr. Dalyell

We are most grateful to the Minister for the serious way in which he has dealt with our questions. However, will the Minister say something about the discussions which he has had with the American Government? Are they showing lack of patience?

Mr. Heseltine

I think that the American Government fully understand the situation. There is no indication of lack of patience. The courtesy which was extended to us did not indicate that. They understand the background which we have put forward. They are aware that the European Ministers, meeting in December, took a decision in principle to establish a European space agency. The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) will be familiar with that. They know that if the agency is established the Ministers agree that it would be perfectly correct for it to manage or carry on the work within post-Apollo, if individual countries wanted to go ahead. One or two countries have indicated that they do, but at the moment the United Kingdom has not done so.

That deals with the post-Apollo programme in the limited time which I am able to give to it. I hope that what I have said will add to the knowledge which the House has on the subject.

One or two questions were raised by the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) which I may mention briefly. The Harrier aircraft is undoubtedly a most remarkable piece of technology. However, the difficulties of achieving a suitable pay load, together with the noise factor, make it unthinkable at this stage for this development to appear in the civil market Undoubtedly it is making a contribution in the military field which is highly appreciated. That cannot be disputed.

The question of nuclear power tot desalination was also raised. The reason that no sales have been made in South America is that we are unable to produce a system of sufficient power to enable us to sell it. However, the importance of the system is understood if we can make it work. Research is going on in this country.

The next question concerned carbon fibres and the RB211. The original carbon fibres did not stand up to tests because of bird damage, and we had to replace them with metal technology.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) raised the question of the ARC at Rothamsted and made the point that his constituents had represented to him their anxieties about the Green Paper. Some period of time has now elapsed between then and now, and I think that the anxieties in the research councils are of a different order of magnitude from what we heard today from the hon. Member for the Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter), who gave some quotations surrounding earlier uncertainty. When we go in for changes in any area there is an element of uncertainty, and representations naturally take place. That process occurred in this case, and the dialogue has been interesting and important. But now there is a great deal more understanding of what the Government are trying to do.

I remind my hon. Friend of four points which I think will help in his case. The first is that the transfer of funds from the ARC to the Ministry of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food is to be spread over a period of years. Secondly, there is the assurance that in the first year the funds transferred will be spent through the ARC itself. Thirdly, the departmental view as to where work will be carried out in research and development will be decided not only on the basis of which laboratory is to carry out which work but with a view to maintaining certain levels of employment so as to avoid violent fluctuations. Fourthly, the Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is a distinguished ARC scientist himself. I hope that these four points reassure my hon. Friend that the anxieties which were put to him some time ago ought now to have been allayed.

I turn now to the question of the Nature Conservancy and the question of the NERC. The Nature Conservancy was in existence before the NERC was created. It thereafter became involved within the framework of the NERC and had two broad functions—research and management—in the various activities concerned. The crucial point is that when the Department of the Environment was set up it was rightly understood that it would be the major weapon in the environmental battle which everyone supports and that it was right to give it the widest possible opportunity to co-ordinate activities. At that stage the Government, having considered the evidence about what should be done, had to make a decision. The evidence put to them was totally conflicting. The Government were advised to do diametrically opposed things—to leave the situation as it was, with integration under the Department of the Environment, or to have integration between the two. In the end it seemed sensible to transfer the Nature Con- servancy's management areas under the new Nature Council to the Department and to leave the research in the NERC, The Nature Council to be set up will have the ability to conduct expenditure on research through the NERC. I believe that that should help to allay some of the anxieties.

I repeat that I am aware that I have been able to cover only a few of the subjects raised in the debate. I hope that I have covered them in some detail, because they merit it. The House, I am sure, agrees that this has been an extremely valuable debate. I hope that I have been able to leave the impression that we are as concerned as the Select Committee, which has done, I believe, a remarkable job. Although we look forward to a period of stability in research and development, we will keep a very close watch on the day-to-day operations being set in motion and will exercise a degree of flexibility within the general policy of trying to have a period of calm.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of the First, Second, Third and Fourth Reports from the Select Committee on Science and Technology in the last Session of Parliament and of the relevant Government Observations (Command Paper Nos. 5176 and 5177.)