HC Deb 30 January 1973 vol 849 cc1167-216

Order for Second Reading read.

3.42 p.m.

The Minister of State for Defence (Mr. Ian Gilmour)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The purpose of the Bill is to transfer from the Atomic Energy Authority to the Ministry of Defence the activities of the Authority's Weapons Group, together with its associated lands, premises, property and so on. In practice this means the transfer of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston, its outstations and its activities.

As the House will remember, work on the research and development of nuclear weapons started after the last war mostly in what is now the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment. However, the facilities needed were so extensive and so specialised that a separate research establishment at Aldermaston was set up. All this formed part of the then Ministry of Supply, but with the creation of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority in 1954 the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston was taken out of the Civil Service and formed the basis of the Weapons Group. This group now comprises not only the establishment at Aldermaston but also an outstation at Foulness, and a few small units mostly in the Aldermaston area. About 80 per cent. of its efforts is in the research, development and production of explosive nuclear devices for use in nuclear weapons.

The transfer we are proposing will be an important step in the overall rationalisation of our defence research and development establishments. As the House knows, the fundamental recommendation of the report prepared by Sir Derek Rayner was that defence procurement activities embracing all stages of all defence procurement from research through to production should be brought together into a single organisation within the Ministry of Defence, and it is an essential feature of the procurement executive we have set up that all the research and development establishments concerned with defence are brought together under a single management. Apart from other advantages, this has enabled a start to be made on rationalising the facilities and resources of the various establishments.

One of Sir Derek Rayner's recommendations was, of course, that the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment should be brought within the Ministry of Defence. That is what the Bill does. I shall deal with the wider issues which have been raised by the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) in a few minutes' time. But I should like first to deal with the detailed points in the Bill.

Clause 1 gives effect to the main purpose of the Bill. It provides that from the appointed day those activities of the Weapons Group which involve work on explosive nuclear devices will be carried out by the Ministry of Defence and not by the Authority, unless the Authority is specifically authorised or a contract placed with it to do such work. It also transfers the property and everything connected with the property of the group to the Secretary of State for Defence, with the exception of patents and other industrial property to which I will return later.

Clause 2 deals with the effects of the transfer on the people at present employed in the Weapons Group. We want all the people engaged on work now performed by the Weapons Group to continue their jobs in the Ministry of Defence, and the clause terminates their contracts of employment with the Authority and enables them to be taken into the Civil Service. There have been consultations with the Civil Service Commission, and all the Weapons Group employees will be offered immediate and continuing employment in the Civil Service.

Mr. David Mitchell (Basingstoke)

have a number of worried United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority workers in my constituency. Unlike the Civil Service, the Authority recruited people rather later in life, and these older men need the option to continue working until they are 65 to qualify for an adequate pension. Can my hon. Friend give me a complete assurance that they will have that option?

Mr. Gilmour

I am coming to the conditions of employment, but I can give my hon. Friend that assurance.

Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

My hon. Friend will be aware that one of the establishments concerned is in my constituency, at Foulness, and that there has been anxiety among industrial employees there that their pay and conditions may be worsened, despite the assurances given by my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State in another place. Can my hon. Friend assure me now that that will not be the case, and that before the Bill leaves this House steps will be taken to make that absolutely plain to the staff concerned?

Mr. Gilmour

As I have said, I am just coming to this point.

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. We have been consulting the staff and trade union representatives about the terms and conditions of service for staff who will be transferred, and I am happy to say that good progress has been made towards reaching agreement. Some adjustments to present terms and conditions are inevitable, but the principle on which we are acting has been laid down by my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State in another place. This is where I can give my hon. Friend the specific assurance for which he has asked. The principle is that, taken as a whole, the terms and conditions of each individual after the transfer will be no less favourable than those provided for in existing contracts.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

The negotiating committee apparently has not met since January 1972, and we are told that meetings in June and August were concerned with the interim payment and not long-term issues. I am willing to be told that this is a matter of no great substance, but I should like it to be cleared up.

Mr. Gilmour

There was agreement in principle with the trade union side in January 1972, and since then a grading exercise has been in progress to try to find the Civil Service equivalents of the various grades in the Authority. I understand that final agreement is very close, but I accept the hon. Gentleman's point that it has taken rather a long time.

The present position is that a general agreement covering the terms and conditions of service of industrial employees has been reached and that an agreement for non-industrial staff is at an advanced stage of preparation, in which only points of detail remain to be settled. The terms and conditions of non-industrial staff in the Authority and Civil Service are already very similar. There are, however, certain differences, the most important of which concern superannuation and retiring age. We have agreed that non-industrial staff should be able to remain in the Authority's pension scheme, with the associated pay and retiring age provisions, if they so wish. Clause 2 provides the necessary powers.

Clause 5, together with the Schedule, deals with the principles governing the exchange of information covered by patents and other technical information between the Secretary of State and the Authority. In general, the Bill leaves the ownership of existing patents and technical information with the Authority. This is because it has been found impracticable to segregate those patents which are relevant to the Weapons Group from those relevant to the civil activities of the Authority. There is, however, an important exception made under paragraph 3 of the Schedule, which is that information relating to explosive nuclear devices will become the property of the Ministry of Defence.

Clause 6 is a logical consequence of the decision to transfer AWRE and its activities away from the Authority. The Authority's powers under the Atomic Energy Authority Act 1954 to produce, use and dispose of atomic energy and to carry out research were subject to the restriction that they were not permitted to develop or to produce any weapon or part of a weapon except in accordance with arrangements made with the then Minister of Supply and now with the Secretary of State for Defence. However, Section 2(2) of the 1954 Act empowered the Authority to conduct on its own initiative experimental work which might lead to improved types of explosive nuclear assemblies for use in weapons.

Now that the responsibility for carrying out all work on explosive nuclear devices and the facilities for undertaking it are put into the Ministry of Defence this power is now redundant and is repealed by Clause 6. Additionally, Clause 6 widens the prohibition placed on the Authority, in that it provides that it is not to undertake any work on explosive nuclear devices, whether for warlike applications or otherwise, except in accordance with arrangements made with the Secretary of State.

It is the Government's hope that we can complete the legislative process in time for the transfer to take effect from the coming 1st April. As early a date as possible is very desirable both for organisational reasons and in order to end any uncertainties for the staff concerned.

As I have already said, the work of the Weapons Group is predominantly military. That is why it is right to bring it into the Ministry of Defence alongside the other military research and development establishments under a single management organisation. We can then deploy our resources to meet the needs of defence programmes in the most efficient and flexible way. But, like other military research and development, the work of the Weapons Group has a link with civil developments, and in the past this has shown itself in worth while contributions to basic nuclear technology. Moreover, some of the specialised skills and facilities at Aldermaston have been used to advantage in certain aspects of the civil nuclear power programme. The most notable example is the contribution made by Aldermaston to the Authority's fast breeder reactor work.

It is the Government's intention that this work on the civil power programme, and other civil work of the kind which the Weapons Group has undertaken in the past for various customers, should continue uninterrupted, and the expertise and facilities at Aldermaston and its outstations will continue to be made available for this purpose under contractual arrangements made with the Ministry of Defence.

Mr. Dalyell

As the hon. Gentleman emphasised, possibly rightly, the civil work done at Aldermaston, why were he and his colleagues so reluctant to allow hon. Members to go to look at non-classified work? If it is emphasised, why does he object to our looking at it?

Mr. Gilmour

I emphasised it because the predominant amount is in fact military. As I told the hon. Member in my letter, it is very difficult, virtually impossible, to abstract the civil from the military work and most of those concerned are engaged in different activities. As the hon. Member knows, this has been the position under all Governments.

I come back to the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East. When the Government announced their decision on this matter, the right hon. Gentleman told a rather startled House that this was not just an administration change since it embodies changes of national policy of the very highest importance The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that to put scientists working on nuclear weapons under the Minister responsible for their possible use is a major reversal of British policy over a long period."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th August 1971; Vol. 822, c. 1860–62.] Then, almost a year later, in July, 1972, the right hon. Gentleman said in the House, …I strongly believed, that nuclear weapons should be under a civil Minister, as they are in America, under the Atomic Energy Commission, rather than being transferred to a Defence Ministry where they become part and parcel of a defence policy, without reference to their political implications".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th July, 1972; Vol. 840, c. 345.] The right hon. Gentleman's remarks contain a number of confusions, misunderstandings, and errors about a variety of matters, including the constitutional position, the production of nuclear weapons, the circumstances in which they might be used, and the position of defence Ministers.

One of his major errors is to forget that our political system is one of collective responsibility. That is certainly the case in the nuclear field—even, I should imagine, the same applied under a Labour Government. There is no question of the Secretary of State for Defence having an entirely free hand either in the production or over the strategy and use of nuclear weapons.

As my right hon. and noble Friend, the Secretary of State for Defence, said in another place: …in this very important area the responsibility for policy has been, and under the proposed new arrangements will continue to be, a collective responsibility of Her Majesty's Government. This applies as much to decisions on the nuclear weapons programme as to decisions on strategy, and this responsibility would in no way be lessened by the measures now proposed. The Secretary of State for Defence is and will continue to be the departmental Minister responsible for giving effect to the government's approved policy."—OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords. 16th November 1972 Vol. 336, c. 827.] The right hon. Gentleman's next confusion is about the existing position. AWRE is now and always has been essentially a defence establishment. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen), who was, after all, a Defence Minister from 1968 to 1970, wrote in his book "The politics of Defence". recently published: Although responsibility for the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston was nominally shared between the Ministry of Technology and the Ministry of Defence, this had little practical effect So much for the right hon. Gentleman's claim that what we are doing now is a major reversal of British policy over a long period". In fact it is not a reversal at all, still less a major reversal.

The right hon. Gentleman is evidently also hopelessly confused about the part which AWRE plays in the cycle leading to the creation of an operational nuclear weapon. The operational nuclear weapon systems are already in the custody of and under the control of the Ministry of Defence. AWRE's role in the production of weapons is confined to the production of certain components of nuclear warheads. These have no military value until they are assembled with other complex mechanisms into effective working warheads. This assembly is undertaken in Ministry of Defence establishments and the AEA has never had anything whatever to do with it.

Furthermore, the nuclear warheads have to be incorporated into an effective means of delivery before they comprise an operational nuclear weapons system. This work, too, is organised and controlled by existing Ministry of Defence establishments, until they can hand over the operational nuclear weapon systems to the Armed Forces. So on practical and technical grounds as well as on political and constitutional ones, the right hon. Gentleman's claim that we are mak- ing some great fundamental change is sheer fantasy.

If the right hon. Gentleman were right and the sponsorship of AWRE by another Minister were the only serious restraint upon the Secretary of State for Defence, then the present system might indeed be dangerous because, as I have shown, AWRE is concerned with only part of the production of nuclear weapons and on the right hon. Gentleman's hypothesis the Secretary of State for Defence would have a free hand over the rest of the process. But of course the right hon. Gentleman's premise that the divided responsibility over AWRE is important is quite wrong. His proposed safeguard is as illusory as is his alleged danger.

All that the transfer of AWRE to the Ministry of Defence will mean is that whereas it is now working under contract to the Ministry of Defence, in future it will receive its orders direct. The transfer represents no change of any significance in relation to the responsibility of Defence Ministers, on behalf of the Government, for the number, quality, and deployment of nuclear weapons.

My final proof of that proposition comes from the right hon. Gentleman himself. In March 1970 he published a Green Paper called "Industrial Research and Development in Government Laboratories, a New Organisation for the Seventies". In paragraph 19 of that paper, we find the following words: It might be judged appropriate to transfer AWRE to the Civil Service, either to the Ministry of Defence or to the Ministry of Technology, when it might be possible to rationalise AWRE's work with that of other Research Establishments concerned with Defence". As the House will have noted, there is no mention there of great constitutional issues or of major reversals of British policy. There is not even mention of the right hon. Gentleman's alleged strong belief that nuclear weapons should be under a civil Minister.

When the right hon. Gentleman was in office, he envisaged, with complete equanimity, the transfer of AWRE to the Ministry of Defence. All that has happened since that Green Paper was published—except of course that the right hon. Gentleman has changed his mind—is that all the other defence research establishments have been brought to- gether into the procurement executive. In those circumstances even a Labour Government, indeed even a Labour Government with the right hon. Gentleman as the relevant Minister, could hardly have been so silly as to bring AWRE into the Civil Service and then place it all alone in the Ministry of Technology when all the other establishments were in the Ministry of Defence. In other words the logic of the right hon. Gentleman's own Green Paper leads straight to what we are proposing this afternoon.

I have dealt with this issue at some length, because 18 months ago the right hon. Gentleman asked for a debate about it in advance of Second Reading. It therefore seemed right to discuss the matter in detail.

In conclusion, as I have told the House, this is a simple, sound and sensible piece of administrative reform and northing more. As such I commend it to the House.

4.2 p.m.

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

I am grateful to the Minister of State in that, when moving the Bill, at any rate he addressed himself to some of the arguments that I have raised on this matter, even though I found his presentation of those arguments worthy of further consideration. The Opposition is not opposing the Bill, although it raises important matters which it is right that we should be discussing.

The Minister described this as a "simple, sound and sensible" Bill in that it makes what is apparently a minor transfer of a defence establishment—because Aldermaston is primarily such an establishment—from the Atomic Energy Authority to the Ministry of Defence. Before 1955 the development of nuclear weapons was conducted under Civil Service auspices and therefore to some extent this represents a reversal of a previous practice. It follows also from the thinking of the Government about the way in which Government research and function should be exercised, namely that these should be linked as far as possible to the user Department.

We discussed this recently in our debate upon Rothschild, to which I will return, when we pointed out that a succession of Governments, including the last one, progressively transferred research establishments to the relevant Department. The Road Research Laboratory was transferred to the Ministry of Transport, the Building Research Station to the Minister of Works and then the Department of the Environment and subsequently RAE Farnborough and RRE Malvern were moved, as a result of the inquiry set up by this Government, into the Department of Defence. As often happens over a period, Governments follow a developing pattern of thought about the organisation of business. That is understandable and natural.

It can be seen that there are other aspects in the Bill which merit some consideration. I want to turn to some of the points raised by various hon. Members in interventions during the Minister's speech. These interventions related to staff matters. The transfer even of British Nuclear Fuel staff from the AEA into a separate company, which was the first proposal for hiving off, one which came when I was the responsible Minister. caused considerable concern to the staff involved. The AEA had deservedly built up a worldwide reputation not only on the military side but on the civil side, dealing with reactors and some nonnuclear work. I pay tribute to the AEA and its staff. It felt that to break up this great unit was a mistake.

I must candidly admit—and the House knows it very well—that anxiety was expressed by it on that score at the time we brought forward our proposals. The Green Paper to which the hon. Gentleman referred—proposing a British Research and Development Corporation—which came out I believe three years ago this month, was an attempt, more general but related to nuclear weapons, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, to preserve all that was best in the AEA and to link that with the other establishments on the civil side.

Having said that, I must draw the attention of the House to the fact that when the Government set Rayner to work on his proposals I am assured that on the staff side there was no consultation with staff or even, as I understand it, much consultation with the AEA about the reorganisation of the Weapons Group. It is true that in the Green Paper, where we were talking about what would happen to the remains of the AEA if the British Research and Development Corporation were set up, it became clear that the Weapons Group would not be appropriate in such a group. The Minister properly said that alternatives were put forward in the Paper for transfer back to the Civil Service, either to the Ministry of Technology or the Ministry of Defence.

This was not a substantial point in that the Paper was not about the Weapons Group of the defence side. It was a consequence, referred to as a byproduct of the reorganisation of civil research. At any rate—I rely upon the representations made by the staff—the project team, presumably set up under Rayner, took no evidence from the headquarters of the United Kingdom AEA. I understand that the Authority's management only informed the staff informally before the project team reported. It would have been a little more candid if, in presenting his report, the Minister had felt able to say that it has long been the desire of the Minister of Defence to get hold of Aldermaston. This view has not been widely or wholly shared within Whitehall.

The hon. Gentleman spoke of collective responsibility. Collective responsibility among. Ministers, a well-established principle, should not be used to cover up from the public the debates that occur within Whitehall and even between Ministers on the proper disposition of resources of one kind or another. It is true that the Ministry of Defence wanted Aldermaston. It is true that in promoting this Bill the Government have achieved for the Ministry of Defence what it wanted. The question which the House has to decide, although I have said that we will not express this in a vote, is whether the Minister has given enough reasons to justify that transfer and whether there are other factors that ought to be taken into account. The Minister spoiled his case by not arguing, as he might well have done, about the merits and demerits of alternative dispositions of AWRE, the various ways of handling both the defence and research needs of Whitehall.

I turn now from the representations made to me by the non-industrial staff to some points of substance made by the AWRE industrials themselves. The industrials at AWRE represent about 40 per cent. of the manpower involved in the transfer and their worries arise from the differences in conditions between the current employer, the AWRE, and the Civil Service. As the Minister knows very well, because I made representations directly about this myself, there was a period of difficulty in the summer into which I need not go in any detail, arising from pay arguments which bore upon the transitional difficulties arising from a shift from one to the other. The Bill, if passed, will end the contracts of employment which AWRE employers have with the United Kingdom AEA. It is of great importance, therefore. to those industrials—who, as I say, represent 40 per cent. of the staff—that adequate terms are negotiated to fulfil the Government's general assurance that terms as a whole for those being transferred will be no less favourable than those in AEA employment.

I must say to the Minister that I am somewhat surprised, bearing in mind that the first statement of intent of this kind, which brought forth my first comments which he quoted, goes back nearly two years, there has been so little progress in settling these arrangements with the staff involved.

The differences in conditions concern, of course, the retirement age, to which references has already been made. The non-industrial staff are being allowed to keep the retiring age of 65. The question is what compensation, if they are required to retire earlier, would be made available to the industrials. What are the redundancy compensation provisions, since Civil Service terms are linked to a retiring age of 60? What terms will apply to AWRE male employees, who have a contractual right to serve until 65? What about craftsmen and craft apprentices, who represent a large part of the industrial labour force at AWRE, because AEA has a common craft rate, worth £29.95 a week at AWRE, and Civil Service research and development establishments have a basic rate of £28.60 and an R & D rate of £31.60, with the great majority on the latter. What the craftsmen at AWRE are worried about is that some of their jobs will be assessed at the basic rate in the Civil Service, and they feel that in the transfer this point should be made clear for every individual involved.

Next we come to the non-craft wage rates, where there is a well-understood job evaluation system which was carried through by negotiation in the interests of productivity, whereas the Civil Service does not have job evaluation but divides posts up into a number of bands, I think 20 in all. The problem of the non-craft rates is not yet solved. Finally, the AEA scheme being contributory and the Civil Service scheme not being contributory is a gain for most, but a large minority do not contribute anyway and this is either because they were not eligible to join the AEA scheme or because they were civil servants when it was set up. I have drawn attention in some detail to the points raised by the industrials because the Minister, in replying, may want to discuss them.

I turn to the wider question, on which the Minister was perhaps a little premature since he had not had the opportunity of hearing my argument developed. This is the third debate that has occurred on one or other aspect of science and technology within the past six weeks. The first was on the Concorde Aircraft Bill on 11th December when the House was urging that more information should be made available by the Government and the Government declined to provide the information we wanted. The second debate was on the day the House came back, when we talked about research development establishments generally, Rothschild and the reports of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, when similarly there was a demand for further information and a general reluctance by the Government to give it. Now we come to the most difficult area of all, which is the area of debate touching on the most secret technology to be found anywhere in this country, or indeed anywhere in the world. It is not possible for the House to ask for information about atomic weapons or the production of components for atomic weapons, or even to ask how many people are involved, what the true budget is, or anything of that kind.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), who intervened, asked whether he could go and see non-nuclear work at Aldermaston. The Minister said that this work was so carefully protected and had to be so closely linked with the military work that it was not possible for Members of Parliament to go there even to see the non-nuclear work that is being developed. Therefore the House has to address itself to the problem of how to control the production of nuclear weapons in the light of the fact that there are sound military reasons why information should not be made available. For the Minister just to dismiss this as a lot of nonsense is greatly to underestimate the nature of the worldwide debate that is going on about the control of science and technology.

Mr. Dalyell

Could I make it clear that in my original request to the Minister for Defence I specifically said that of course I understood that they would not want to show me the highly classified parts of the work?

Mr. Bean

Of course. Obviously the Minister could not possibly allow my hon. Friend to see the highly classified work.

The question is, given that that is the case, how does Parliament exercise any sort of supervision over this work? Of course the answer lies in trying to see that, although we can know nothing about it, the structure of Government is organised so that this debate takes place effectively inside the Government even though we ourselves cannot participate in the debate. That is the point and, if the hon. Gentleman, in presenting his Bill, had even recognised that there was a problem instead of brushing it aside so contemptuously, he would have got a better hearing from the House.

I want to put another point to the Minister. If we blank out public debate on a subject for security reasons—and I am not seeking any change in military security; how could I?—we also blank out to some extent ministerial debate, because a Minister discussing housing policy, education policy or roads policy is informed by reading in the Press at the time the debate occurs intelligent comment by those outside the Government. He reads what the education correspondent of The Guardian says, what the environment correspondent of The Times says. He has the benefit of what professors writing from the universities may say. But in the nuclear field the Minister has no such advantage, because the cloak of secrecy which there has to be is so great that the Minister is entirely dependent on official advice.

There is no alternative. I accept that. But we should not underestimate the danger that comes into governmental control of the establishment when the Minister is entirely at the mercy of official advice. He cannot challenge that advice. Indeed, he has no qualifications to challenge technical advice. He has nobody outside he can bring in, like all the economic advisers Ministers bring in to ask the Treasury whether it is the only way. He is entirely at the mercy of the people who give him advice.

How do we overcome this difficulty without a breach of security? That is the problem to which the House ought to give a little attention. The Department of Defence—and I am not blaming it because, after all, every Department has a departmental view—wanted to control Aldermaston. I am not suggesting that it was for any particular reason other than that of management efficiency. If one is responsible for the defence of the country, one wants to have within one's hands all the military research that goes with it. Even though there was never any complaint about the way in which the Atomic Energy Authority serviced the Ministry of Defence, there was a slight uneasiness in Ministry minds about getting these components on a contract basis from an agency responsible to another Ministry. That is the beginning and end of it. That is why the Ministry of Defence wanted it. It is neater and tidier. That is what Sir Derek Rayner thought up in his report.

Were it anything but nuclear weapons, I would be 100 per cent. in favour, because that is how Government works effectively. But there is a difference between having one Minister with access to all the briefing on a key subject such as nuclear weapons and having two Ministers with such access. I accept that there is a collective responsibility and that the Cabinet, or such committees of the Cabinet as are thought necessary, will discuss all these sensitive questions. I accept that the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Office would obviously involve themselves deeply in matters of this magnitude. I accept that the Treasury has an interest in the question. I accept that the Foreign Secretary has an interest in the relationship between defence and foreign policy. All of this we must understand and accept.

But having said that, if that is the only stream of advice which comes on nuclear weapons as a technical briefing, reaching the Secretary of State for Defence and, through him, the Cabinet, it is a reduction of the degree of debate within the ambit of national security which is provided by having a Minister for Trade and a Minister of Technology also briefied on these matters.

Mr. Gilmour

Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that his position of being nominally responsible for Aldermaston gave him a unique standing to understand the advice on nuclear matters, apart from the Secretary of State for Defence? It seems from his argument that his responsibility was purely nominal so that he did not have this position in debate.

Mr. Benn

If we can get debate on this issue, it is worth having. Of course, as Minister of Technology, responsible for the Atomic Energy Authority, it would not have been for me to move into the area of responsibility for nuclear weapons. But given that, and having no link with the AEA, it meant that for scientists there was no alternative Minister to whom representations could be made. We know enough about the agonies of conscience of those working on nuclear weapons. I am not saying that that point ever arose, but there is always a potential conflict between the scientist working in an area where, for his user Department, he is simply an agent of policy, and the scientist who wishes to see a broader development taking place.

Let us take an example not entirely theoretical. How far should non-nuclear work be built up at Aldermaston? I deliberately encouraged it. We had the forensic laboratory and the work done on artificial limbs for thalidomide children, for example, using the little servo-components which had been developed. There is a very great difference between having a Minister with sponsorship responsibility for the AEA, including Aldermaston, trying to develop nonmilitary work, and using it simply as a military establishment doing a little work on the civilian side. The difference is in the emphasis.

The point is substantial. If there cannot be a public debate on nuclear weapons, then there is a duty to see that there is an internal debate on nuclear weapons within the Government. It would be wrong to suppose that the control of the military industrial complex, to which President Eisenhower referred in his farewell address, is not a real problem for all Governments in all countries. Anyone who has followed the court case over the Pentagon papers in Washington now knows, for example, that the Pentagon deceived the President in some aspects of military policy.

I am not accusing or criticising anybody. All I am saying is that, if we are to make a case, on behalf of the people we represent, on the control of science or technology—whether it be the different aspects of medical research, civil aircraft like the Concorde, or industrial research and how it should relate with industry—there must be a debate going on somewhere, and it must be a genuine debate.

There is a difference between a Cabinet briefed on these matters and a Cabinet in which only one Minister, plus the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister, has been briefed. This is the point I made when I used the term "constitutional" in my argument. I have now had the opportunity to develop it a little more fully. I believe that it is a point of substance which cannot be brushed aside by suggesting that there has been a change of view.

I have not changed my view on this matter. I have been consistent. I have always wanted to see the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment under civilian control. It was working wholly on contract for different Ministries. That was the system we preserved and maintained until, with the change of Government, the Defence Ministry got its way through the agency of the Rayner Report in line with the present Government's policy of linking research to user Departments.

The question was left open in our Green Paper. We said that we were looking simply at the civil research facilities of the Government. We believed that it would be better if there were a civilian system. Without prejudging the decision we knew we would later have to take, we said that it should be the Ministry of Defence or the Ministry of Technology. But the hon. Gentleman would be wrong in supposing that the decision he has announced and embodied in the Bill was taken by the Labour Government. It was not—for many reasons, including those I have given, because I am reflecting now the view that I reflected then.

These are genuine problems, and if we are anxious to educate people to understand their democratic responsibilities in a general sense, we must not burke the issue of democratic responsibility even where we are all handicapped by the cloak of security. If, therefore, we cannot have a national debate—which we cannot—let us see that we have a genuine debate in Government.

It may be that the Government think this problem to be unimportant and are going to do nothing about it. I cannot expect the Minister in reply to go much beyond what was said in opening, but Ministers should think seriously about this matter because it is clear in any society in the world that these weapons of appalling destructive power are not as completely under human control as we would like, and I have no apology to make for bringing the situation to the attention of the Government and the House.

4.28 p.m.

Mr. David Walder (Clitheroe)

I think that the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) would agree that he has gone a little wider than the Bill. But his arguments have mystified me a little as he has in a sense blown alternately hot and cold. I have not had his advantage of having tiptoed along the corridors of power. His first suggestion, that the Ministry of Defence wanted Aldermaston, sounded very sinister, although he modified it later by saying that this was an administrative convenience.

I did not follow the right hon. Gentleman's point about the security element. The security element which attaches to the use of atomic energy stems, as I see it, from one side of the matter which is concerned ultimately with the manufacture of weapons. On the other side we have the peaceful uses of atomic energy.

At Aldermaston, we have an establishment which has primarily been a defence one but has also been concerned with the peaceful uses of atomic energy. If the military side is kept, as it were, outside the Ministry of Defence, although in a sense only notionally, I do not see that this alters the situation whereby inevitably we are to have, and rightly so, a security blackout over all those matters which lead towards the production of nuclear weapons. I do not quite see how that is possible.

The right hon. Gentleman may have exaggerated a little in suggesting that there could be an inter-ministerial debate between a Minister of Defence and a Minister of Technology—or whatever his title might be—on this matter, because primarily they are concerned with different things and the fact that they are all at one stage under one roof does not lead to the kind of debate he has in mind.

While he was talking I confess I thought that it might be instructive to ask the man in the street or the man on an Aldermaston March who controlled Aldermaston. I wonder whether the answer would have been "The Atomic Energy Authority" or "The Minister of Defence". I know that the right hon. Gentleman is a great vox populi man himself and I do not think he would dismiss this as an argument.

Reading through the Bill, I would have thought the difficulties were all in the present system rather than in the change that is envisaged. In this one has inevitably sometimes to surmise and guess because one has no direct knowledge, but I would have thought there were certain administrative difficulties at Aldermaston when there is a division between those who are ultimately concerned with the weaponry side and those who are concerned with the peaceful uses of atomic energy.

As the right hon. Gentleman has already said, this is a process of rationalisation which if perhaps not recommended was envisaged in the Green Paper, if not in particularly strong words. "It may be judged appropriate …", I believe, was the beginning of the sentence and I would consider this change to be an appropriate one. I do not think we shall get very far if we look round for international parallels. That of the United States is very different because there is a different constitutional set-up and the position of the President is different. Ultimately, he is commander-in-chief of the forces, which of course makes it very difficult to draw parallels between our system and theirs.

So far as I am concerned, and as long as the situation of the present employees is considered—and of course those who become civil servants will not suffer; in fact, as I understand it, they might gain some slight advantage—I am perfectly happy to support the Bill. Rationalisation has been the popular and indeed the sensible cry so far as defence matters are concerned for a long time, and I believe that this is one step in the right direction.

4.32 p.m.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Sutton)

I believe the House is wise to tackle this problem in the spirit in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) addressed himself to the issue because I believe we are dealing here with an extremely complicated and serious issue. The actual question of the transfer that is envisaged in this Bill is, I believe, the "icing" on the issue. We have here an opportunity to look at the whole question of how we develop, within Government and outside Government, sensible, rational discussion about what is probably one of the most important problems facing the world at the moment. I believe that the question of nuclear proliferation is the most serious problem facing the world through the 1970s and 1980s. I will come back to this later because I believe that the Bill gives us in this House of Commons an opportunity to question whether the existing set-up is the right one.

The Minister, in kindly mentioning my book and quoting from it, I feel did less than justice to the fact that the whole book is an appeal for more open discussion about these matters, and a basic criticism of the way in which this House over the years has allowed itself to be bludgeoned by the security classification that exists on military matters, and has refused to take unto itself the powers it should take, and also whether, if it cannot itself exercise those powers—and we recognise the need for such security—there is some other organisation of government in which we can vest those responsibilities.

Mr. Gilmour

I merely quoted from the hon. Gentleman's extremely interesting book and did not seek to imply anything else.

Dr. Owen

The right hon. Gentleman's point that he quoted is perfectly fair. I do not personally believe that the establishment of the ministerial responsibility that we had when we were in office, which was a continuation of that of the previous Conservative Government, was sufficient to encourage the kind of discussion I want. I believe that the most serious question we have to raise on the whole issue is how much longer we can go on with a situation where we allow the "need to know" to be the sole determiner of how many people are informed about these things. The real fact of life is that the "need to know" classification is drawn by the military so tightly that very few Ministers and even very few Cabinet Ministers know anything about this area of decision making. Let us not delude ourselves, many decisions are not made by the full Cabinet, as we all know. Not only is it very difficult for all Ministers to get hold of information, but the number of civil servants and military people involved in these decisions are very small.

The question Parliament must ask is this: is the circle too small and too rarified? Is the atmosphere under which decisions are made something about which we can be happy? That is particularly important at the moment because there is no doubt that in the next decade the British Government will face important decisions on nuclear weapons, and in part those decisions will rest on the quality of the advice that comes from the present research establishment at Aldermaston. When the Prime Minister, who will ultimately take most interest in the decision, as is right, comes to the House and claims to have made the decision on the basis of national security in the interest of the nation, the House will want to know how well based that decision is likely to have been. That is the kind of issue I would like us to discuss.

My personal belief is that the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. David Walder) was too dismissive about United States experience. It is true that the separation of the executive from the legislature there and the fusion of the executive and legislature in this House pose very different problems. But we ought to face the fact that the United States have an Atomic Energy Commis- sion outside government, predominantly civilian appointed, answerable to the President, who produce an annual report which is considered in very considerable depth by the Joint Atomic Energy Commission of the Senate and the House. There is nothing like this in this Parliament of ours.

It is well recognised in Washington that the Joint Atomic Energy Committee of the House and Senate is one of the most powerful. of all committees. Even Presidents have found they have been unable to get policy changes because they have come up against the resistance of this committee. It is a really strong democratic safeguard. No such safeguard exists in this House. It is right and proper that we should question this. One of my criticisms, which I ventured to put forward in my book, was that at the time when discussion was taking place on what I believe was a most significant part of the whole nuclear weapons debate, namely, the question whether to continue to test multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles in the United States, in 1964, 1965, 1966 and 1967, there was absolutely no debate whatever in this country, despite the fact that in the free world Britain was the only country which had scientists capable of taking part in that kind of debate and at least questioning and challenging some of the evidence put forward by Pentagon scientists before Congressional committees.

There was no similar debate here. In the United States they questioned whether it was possible to have a MIRV moratorium. I personally believe that had there been such a moratorium in 1967 or 1968, or even in 1969, the escalation in the arms race that we have seen and will see for the next 10 years would have been prevented. Do not let anybody be deluded by SALT 1. We know that in the first part of the SALT negotiations there has been a small and important quantitative reduction but we are seeing a major qualitative surge in nuclear armaments that would have been almost inconceivable 15 years ago. Within our system there was no public debate. We also had little or no private influence on what was going on inside the United States.

One of the central arguments of those of us who have reluctantly put up with the fact that there is a case for Britain to have nuclear weapons has always been that we have a voice within the alliance, not a super-power voice but an influence, and one of my objections is that we have never properly used it. Just as the House is afraid to claim the right to discuss these issues, so is the Ministry of Defence. Our admirals are petrified of questioning the American Pentagon and the American Navy. They seem to feel that, if they do, all the Polaris agreements will be cancelled overnight. They have a total misconception of the American attitude. The Americans do not mind criticism. They are open people, perfectly prepared to have arguments and discussions. We have been far too timid in our relationship in that alliance between two nations, two navies and two groups of scientists on the whole question of atomic energy.

Of course, there have been problems with nuclear weapons. There have been the McMahon Acts and differences between the two countries but, broadly speaking, there has been a close relationship. The advantage of a close relationship is that it provides an opportunity for us to use our influence, even at times arguing against our strongest ally.

Is the Prime Minister satisfied that it is sufficient just to rely on the advice of civil servants and Ministers? It is interesting to note that on this question successive Governments have felt dissatisfied with the existing system and have always appointed commissions of outside scientist to look into it. Sir Solly Zuckerman—now Lord Zuckerman—Lord Rothschild and many of the most eminent scientists have looked into these matters and advised governments. They have been asked to do so because Governments have not been happy that they are getting exactly the right advice.

There is something to be said for the appointment of an atomic energy commission. We are now facing the problem that the international safeguards on the amount of uranium existing in the world are woefully insufficient. It is estimated that 300.000 to 450.000 kilogrammes of plutonium will be accumulated in civil nuclear power stations around the world by 1980. This amount will reach into millions of kilogrammes of plutonium before the year 2,000. Yet less than 10 kilogrammes could destroy a medium-sized city, and a small fraction of the plutonium output of even a modest nuclear power programme could produce a threat to international security.

I am extremely worried about the gas centifruge programme and the whole question of the conditions under which the Dutch, Germans and ourselves who went into that programme for the peaceful use of enriched plutonium will sell that technology. It has been admitted that we shall sell it to countries which have signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty. I am not at all sure that we should sell it to any country, whether or not it has signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

These are matters which are intimately related to the subject under discussion. The only scientists who are capable of constantly drawing the attention of the Government to the dangers of the proliferation of plutonium and enriched uranium resulting from civil nuclear engineering are the people who understand the complexities and changing technologies of nuclear weapon manufacture.

Over the years we have been able to take comfort from the fact that nuclear weapons cost such a vast amount of money to produce that they could be produced only by the super-powers. The United States took five years and 2 billion dollars to develop the A-bomb. The United States Government and the private nuclear power industry in the next 20 years spent 3 billion dollars developing nuclear power energy. But this has all changed. It is now estimated that the manufacture of fission bombs is nowhere near as difficult or expensive as was once thought. Ten fusion warheads a year could be made at an estimated £3.5 million capital cost and would cost £400,000 a year to run. Of course, delivery systems can be very expensive, but the estimated cost of producing one 20-kiloton plutonium warhead per year for 10 years is about £2 million a year. These are big sums of money, but not the astronomical sums they once were. There is a real danger that the three or four countries who have a nuclear power programme might feel justified in going into a relatively low-cost nuclear warhead programme, and they certainly could if they so wished.

That danger does not directly relate to the provisions of the Bill, but what does relate to them is the question, are we confident that the sort of advice that was previously available to the Ministry of Technology will still be freely available? I am not at all certain how government in this area should be organised. I was profoundly disappointed with the innovation, which I strongly welcomed at the time, of a Minister of Disarmament. I have come to the conclusion that a Minister of Disarmament separated from the Minister of Defence is so impotent as to be useless. I think that we have to vest our Secretary of State for Defence with responsibility for disarmament and make certain that he sees both sides. It is quite possible to do this. Robert McNamara, the American Secretary of State for Defence, took immense interest in the question of proliferation, and I think that history will judge his period in office as most significant for the constant concern which he showed for proliferation and arms control. How to do it is a difficult problem.

The spirit in which I approach the Committee stage of the Bill is not just to allow it to go through on the nod though I am not opposed to it. I think that the rational decision to put the Weapons Group under the Ministry of Defence is probably right, but that is not to say that I think even this situation is anywhere near satisfactory. We should see what additional arrangements can be made to satisfy the legitimate interests of this House.

For instance, we do not know how much money is spent at Aldermaston. The only way in which hon. Members and the public can find out what has been spent at Aldermaston is by looking at Class XII, Vote 7 of the Defence Budget. There, under the different general headings, is accumulated what is spent at Aldermaston. Some people say that ignorance is a good idea. It is a definite policy within the Ministry of Defence to present the programme so that it is quite impossible to know what is happening at Aldermaston and whether any major changes have been made. Is that satisfactory?

The hon. Member for Clitheroe made great play of collective decision-making and Cabinet decision-making, but our history shows that the key decisions on this issue have been made by the Prime Minister. The Attlee decision was made without full discussion in the Cabinet and many other decisions have been made by a very few Ministers. On occasions, that is justified. It is hard to know exactly what the House has the right to know. All I can say to hon. Gentlemen who may think that we have no right to any further information is that they should look at the questioning that goes on at the Joint Atomic Energy Committees in America. For instance, questions are asked about underground testing, which is a key issue at the moment.

The House castigates the French for atmospheric testing. I suspect that throughout this year great play will be made of this. Let us not be under any illusion: this is an extremely difficult matter. It was this House of Commons and the Americans and the Russians who decided, after they had finished atmospheric testing, to have a test ban treaty and to go underground because we had underground test facilities. The French do not have those facilities. I am not defending the French nuclear programme, but the question we should be asking ourselves is whether some of our underground test knowledge or facilities should he put at the disposal of the French rather than that the French should continue polluting through atmospheric testing. Many people say that they should not do it at all, but they will go on doing it and the question is whether we should allow such pollution to continue. These are questions which need to be discussed in the House a great deal more rationally than they have been in the past and on the basis of a great deal more information.

Against the background of increasing concern among practical scientists who know a great deal about the subject, we must consider the whole question of safeguards for plutonium, the way in which it is flown or shipped around between countries and also the safeguards on the handling of uranium. The ease with which somebody in a guerilla organisation could obtain the basic ingredients of a primitive nuclear bomb is causing genuine concern to those who know about these matters.

Our international safeguards are appalling and the British Government have a responsibility to lead public opinion on the question of arms control and safeguards. We now have a problem within Europe in terms of the safeguards that will be needed, and especially about what will happen to Euratom. Will the Government ensure that within the countries of the Nine we shall have much tougher and more stringent safeguards than exist at present?

These are central problems and as we go towards gas centrifuge techniques we must ask what safeguards there will be. Should we sell the process to the rest of the world and should we make money out of it? Alternatively, should we decide not to spread it throughout the world? These are open questions.

In what forum will these important decisions be discussed? At present there is no way even of discussing these matters, and it is only because we have this Bill before us today that we are able to mention these matters now.

I shall probe these matters in Committee in that spirit. I appreciate that the Government have a legitimate interest in safeguarding security, but they may have to consider making changes in the machinery of Government to satisfy the legitimate demands of the House of Commons. I hope that in Committee the Minister will look at this matter with a view possibly to making some major changes in the way in which we now conduct our affairs. If the Minister consults some of the eminent scientists concerned in this subject such as Lord Penney, the present Chairman of the AEA, Lord Zuckerman and Lord Rothschild, he will realise that there is considerable concern about the present way in which these matters are discussed and the way decisions are made within Government.

4.54 p.m.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

All of us who are interested in these matters owe a considerable intellectual debt to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) for his book on defence. Incidentally, I understand that his book has been published in Japanese. Perhaps it is typical that other countries are more interested in my hon. Friend's deep view about defence than we are in this country.

This is a very strange debate. It is strange that I am able to make my remarks at such an early hour in the day when we reflect that only 15 years ago there were major figures in this country for whom these issues were at the top of their minds. Within 10 years of Hugh Gaitskell's passing, one may well reflect that both he and Aneurin Bevan gave a great deal of their political lives to this kind of issue. But what do we see today? We see a few people on the Government Front Bench, with no Cabinet Minister present—and I make no particular criticism, because the Opposition benches are equally sparsely populated. It is a reflection on us that in the United States and Japan and in certain other countries they go into these issues far more deeply than we do. This is neither the time nor the occasion to say things about contemporary Britain, but one can only imagine what Hugh Gaitskell and Aneurin Bevan might have thought about this situation had they been here today.

I feel that in the cold print of HANSARD my speech will look strident and a little aggressive. It will be the speech of a Member who has nothing like enough information on which to form any rational convincing judgment about the purpose of the Bill but nevertheless a Member who is uncomfortable. Therefore, I shall use my time not stridently but quietly, gently and seriously in seeking to probe the Government's mind on this subject.

The Minister made exactly the speech I had expected. I do not mean to be offensive to him, but I thought he dealt with the arguments advanced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) a little too easily. I do not share the Minister's equanimity. Perhaps I can be forgiven for going back 18 years in dealing with the interesting question of what happens to leaders at the very pinnacle of power. How much collective decision-making was there when it came to the crunch in 1956 at the time of Suez? If the literature of that time is to be believed, what we had was a neurotic and ill Prime Minister, the then Sir Anthony Eden, who took his decisions with, at the most, three or four other people. Therefore, this question of collective decision-making is not as simple or straightforward as it is said to be, because leaders become hypertensive.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South East, in a most reflective and thoughtful speech, mentioned the situation in the United States. I do not want to be autobiographical, but I recall an interview lasting an hour and a half with Walter Rostow during the Lyndon Johnson Administration which took place in the macabre White House basement operations room. Here was a man who had lectured to us some years before, who was an intellectual who had gone wrong, who was certain of his own sense of power. At the summit people take leave of reason if they are infatuated with their own power. The British situation may not be the same. There are differences between London and federal Washington since the pinnacle of power is not with us. In matters of ultimate control people who are lonely and cut off from many of the human relationships of politics make strange decisions.

I address myself to the British position. The Minister spoke of Cabinet responsibility. I should be interested to hear what happens in the present Government. My suspicion is that what happens is not quite so different from what happens in a Labour Government. I understand—and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East, will correct me if I am wrong—that no member of the Cabinet outside the Overseas Policy and Defence Committee had anything to do with these decisions. Furthermore, I understand that certain Ministers at certain times—I refer to the then Lord President of the Council—were rightly or wrongly, for reasons which may be understandable in certain circumstances, not told about certain highly sensitive aspects of defence policy.

Mr. Gilmour

Let us put the record straight. I referred to collective responsibility, not Cabinet responsibility.

Mr. Dalyell

I am searching for truth—whose collective responsibility, if it is not Cabinet responsibility?

Mr. Gilmour

The hon. Gentleman knows that these matters are not normally discussed. The original Attlee decision was made, I understand, in the Defence Committee of the Cabinet. That information has been published. There- fore, responsibility can be collective without necessarily always being a Cabinet decision.

Mr. Dalyell

It was made without Herbert Morrison's cognisance. He was the second or third most important man in the Government, and in a sense this makes my point for me. I am not trying to score easy debating points, but it is obvious that the Attlee decision was made almost certainly without the knowledge of Herbert Morrison who at that time occupied a key position in the Government. I may be told that these matters operate differently in Conservative Governments. I do not think they operated quite so differently in 1956, if Lord Butler is to be believed.

When we talk about these arrangements not being normally discussed, I am prepared to discuss them. It cannot be challenged that these arrangements are made by the Prime Minister, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff and probably the Secretary of State for Defence. If I am not wrong about these normal arrangements, they mean three or four men. At present we have a Prime Minister who is a remote man even to his colleagues, a Secretary of State for Defence who holds no elected office, and the Chief of the Imperial General Staff. This is not satisfactory. For that reason, I thought that when my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East, argued about the reduction in the number of people who were consulted on such crucial issues, he was on the right lines.

I hope that the argument is theoretical. Without pressing it too far, I say that although I was not convinced about my right hon. Friend's argument when he first put it to us, at any rate he demonstrated today that an argument of this kind cannot be brushed off or put aside. It is not easily dismissed.

I listened carefully to the Minister, and I take his point that whole nuclear weapons are not manufactured at Aldermaston. It is the arugment about special pants being manufactured there and about Aldermaston being responsible for a few parts. Yes. But in toto. Surely the same argument applies to other sections of British research and British industry which are responsible for the manufacture of the total weapon. I thought that this again was a somewhat incomplete argument trying to dismiss what my right hon. Friend said. For that reason, on this issue, like my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton, I, too, will be probing at some length before 1st April during the Committee stage.

My other source of discomfiture is not relating to this kind of theoretical, if sinister, consideration. My fear is that this once high-quality establishment has become a bloated white elephant or a scientific albatross hanging round the necks of the taxpayer and the Treasury. I choose my words carefully. I do not normally talk about establishments being "bloated white elephants". If I had been allowed to see something of it, it may be that I would have used a different phrase. But for the moment "a bloated white elephant" is the phrase that I choose.

For good reason or bad, it is far from clear what the bulk of the scientists there actually do now. They exist ostensibly to carry out research in weapons systems. Does that simply mean helping to create bigger and better nuclear weapons? If so, are we dissatisfied with the weapons that we have for use in some foreseen defence scenario?

I find it difficult to escape the conclusion that Aldermaston exists at its present size because Aldermaston exists at its present size. It is the old problem of the mechanism of shrinkage for any establishment whose objects and usefulness, which may have been great 10 or 15 years ago, are now no longer what they were. My attitude is not one of sarcasm. The mechanism of shrinkage of scientific establishments which have outlived their usefulness and descended down the slope to scientific mediocrity is difficult for any Government.

Scientists and civilian workers at Aldermaston, like the rest of us, have wives, children and homes. If a man has been at Aldermaston for 10 years, if his wife has her friends in the neighbourhood and if his children at school are approaching their "O" or "A" levels when interruption is undesirable, there is a tremendous temptation to humane Government employers—and in most ways the Ministry of Defence is a very good employer—to say, "We must find other work for these scientists and other employees to whom we have con- tractual and moral responsibilities." It is wholly to the credit of the civil servants in the Ministry of Defence that they should take this attitude.

However, in response to an article which appeared under my name in New Scientist of 18th January, I had a letter which I ascertained that I could quote without attribution, saying: The reason why you MPs are not being allowed by the Ministry of Defence to visit Aldermaston before discussion of the Bill in the Commons is nothing to do with any secrets which you may discover, or security. That is not the real reason at all since in a day's visit you could not conceivably learn anything of value to a potential enemy, least of all if you are not an up-to-date qualified nuclear physicist. Certainly I am not that. Anyway, I made it clear in my original letter to the Secretary of State for Defence that I did not expect to be shown highly classified work. My correspondent went on: You probably realise that the real reason why they do not want you or any other MP snuffing around Aldermaston is that they are afraid you may instinctively tumble to the truth, that the place has become a racket, a scandal of public expenditure where unions and management connive with baffled senior servants at the Ministry of Defence to sustain jobs for which the need disappeared 10 years ago. Personally, I would not use the word "racket". I am sensitive to the human situation of many families involved in a rundown at an enormous establishment such as Aldermaston at a time when equivalent scientific jobs are impossible to find.

If the purpose of this Bill is the humane and gentle slimming of Aldermaston, and the Government claim that this is more easily achieved by bringing Aldermaston into the Ministry of Defence, I say that perhaps they are right to do so. But nothing in the Minister's speech or in any intervention made from the Treasury Bench has suggested that the humane slimming of Aldermaston is the reason for the change. If that is the reason for it, I hope that we shall have some comment later in the debate. If I am told that the purpose of the Bill is candidly that there should be a mechanism of shrinkage in a very difficult situation and that it is easier to shrink Aldermaston by taking it into the Ministry of Defence, that makes sense. Probably it is the best way to go about it, and I understand the Government's difficulties in this respect.

I am not sore and I have no trace of pique about not being allowed to go to Aldermaston, chiefly because of my limitations in making any kind of judgement. But I should like to be told that a competent body spending more time than a one-day visit would be allowed to go to Aldermaston to make some kind of reflective judgment.

It is not for me to make too many suggestions for the composition of such a body, and I make it clear that I have not consulted any of those whom I am about to name and they would have to react for themselves. I hope that they will not be embarrassed.

I should like to see as the chairman of such an investigating committee either Sir Brian Flowers, or perhaps Professor Colin Adamson of the Regent Street Polytechnic, or a major industrialist. I should like to see the Chief Defence Scientist, Sir Hermann Bondi, a member of such a commission but not the chairman of it. I should like to see someone from one of the trade unions nominated. There are many young competent trade unionists who could give assistance to such a commission in passing judgement. The other two or three members ought to be specialist physicists, metallurgists, or people from some other discipline.

I am not suggesting that it is a long commission, but I think that some kind of report, revealing no secrets, ought to be made to this House and to the scientific community in general outlining what precisely Aldermaston is up to and what its future is. I maintain that serious consideration should be given to such a task force which should do its job within a specific time.

The truth is that I do not know, my Front Bench does not know and Ministers in this respect do not seem to have very much of a clue. I should be interested to know—I ask this as a purely interrogative question—whether any Minister has spent a day at Aldermaston in the last two years.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

I spent a day there shortly before Christmas.

Mr. Dalyell

I am glad to hear that.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. Antony Buck)

I was there two weeks ago.

Mr. Dalyell

It is entirely to the Minister's credit. I am glad to hear it.

I should like this commission to look at certain specific questions which may not have engaged the Minister's day. First, I should like it to reflect on fusion research, and in particular whether the fusion watt done at Aldermaston might be better done at Culham. I will certainly listen to any Minister in Committee or at some other time who may say, "For years many of us, particularly on this side of the House, have thought about the making of scientific swords into ploughshares. We have constantly reiterated the need for defence research establishments to do civilian work." If it is said that this has been tried but not found satisfactory and that we must understand that there are limitations in this respect, I shall accept it. It may be more difficult than many of us expected six or seven years ago. Therefore, I should like to know why work on fusion that takes place at Aldermaston cannot be transferred to Culham and, indeed, whether Aldermaston personnel will be transferred there.

The second related question concerns work on laser fusion. Similarly, could not this be done at Culham or some other civilian establishment? It is difficult for me, and possibly for the Minister, to pass any judgment on this matter. However, I should like an outside judgment extra Aldermaston to give some kind of reflection.

Precisely what valuable civil work is being done at Aldermaston? For example, what work is being done for hospitals? Here, again, there is difficulty. People who have money available on the magnitude of Aldermaston may not be cognisant with the problems of hospital administrators who work on tight budgets. A good deal has been said, not least by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition when Prime Minister, about the work that would be done at Aldermaston on medical research and bio-engineering. I should like to be told, either in Committee or even in the wind up, what is being done, whether it is on any significant scale, and whether, on reflection, the Government think that it should be done at Aldermaston or would be better done at some medical research centre—I do not necessarily say Mill Hill—under the auspices of the MRC. It may be that experience has taught us that this kind of worthy work cannot be done at a military research establishment.

Should Aldermaston part with its non-secret research? I should like that question answered in some detail before we reach the Committee stage.

I could make a much longer speech, but I do not think it would be appreciated and it might be an abuse of time. I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and doubtless my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Bishop) in saying that some of us would like to scrutinise this legislation in depth. The Government will get it through much more quickly if they are as candid and forthcoming as it is possible to be.

5.16 p.m.

Mr. E. S. Bishop (Newark)

I thought that the debate was started in rather low key by the Minister who seemed to suggest that there was not much to this measure—indeed, that it was a matter to be played in low key because it was a logical move to make the Ministry of Defence the organisation responsible for taking control of the functions of the AEA. Other matters were also considerably played down.

We had interventions by several hon. Members who had constituency interests and were rightly concerned, but in the main the debate has been carried on by about half-a-dozen hon. Members. It is a sign of the problem that we face that so few are here today to speak on a most important subject. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) and my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. Davis Owen) and West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) raised the level of the debate to such an extent.

I want to begin by reiterating briefly some of the questions about the administrative changes which will take place presumably by 1st April. One question which the Minister might answer is, why have the Government taken so long to bring about this change which was envisaged to have taken place by 1st April 1972? In the extra year which has been available—I understand that the Bill is expected to come into force on 1st April 1973—one would think that the administrative changes and the problems of consultation with the trade unions and civil service employees would have been sorted out and agreement reached.

I understand that about 5,700 staff are to be transferred to the Ministry of Defence and will go on the Defence budget. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian rightly said, many human problems are involved. The Minister touched briefly on some aspects which concern the non-industrial and industrial staff. As my hon. Friend implied, there will be a digging up of roots, friendships and homes in making some changes.

We need more information on the changes and differences between the Civil Service and AEA rulings about pension rights, superannuation, the preservation of career prospects, and other aspects of that kind.

The Rayner Report suggests that this is a logical move because all the establishments concerned with defence will now be under one head in the Ministry of Defence. How does the hiving off of the work going to the Ministry of Defence affect the AEA when the AEA has already lost work on nuclear installations which are now carried out under the Nuclear Installations Bill? This may suggest a certain fragmentation of functions in atomic energy into at least three spheres. The Bill is in keeping with the Rayner recommendations so far as the changes mean that the user Department becomes responsible.

In many ways this should simplify control and direction and rationalisation of resources of the various establishments. I hope, therefore, that the important aspects of staff and human relations will get consideration from the Minister. Undoubtedly he will be able to say more about that aspect in Committee. As I have mentioned, the pension schemes and other rights should be preserved and, if possible, improved.

I should also like the Minister to list the various aspects of atomic and nuclear energy production and research and development, and say who will control them in the future. What greater coordination will there be between the new overseers?

Another aspect which should concern the House is the safety and security precautions. Will the know-how and established procedures also be transferred? Some would say that there is an argument for transferring all defence and research development, and so on, to the Ministry of Defence. But there is also an argument on the other side for the keeping of all nuclear energy developments under one control. This was referred to in the debate in the other place. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East posed a very important question when he asked about the opinion of the authorities concerned in this move. Undoubtedly there was a great deal of concern behind the scenes. The House is entitled to know the reactions of all the authorities whose future has been affected by the moves which are now being made.

I echo some of the questions of hon. Members on this aspect. A major upheaval of this sort has to be considered. When one considers the advances in science and technology and the way in which project teams and others are built up, one fears that there is some danger of these teams being split up, with the consequent loss of time and progress which would not have occurred without this interruption. Will the project teams be split up? What delays and disadvantages will accrue by the change of management in the establishments concerned?

My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian raised the question about the effect upon the teams who have been working inextricably together and who in the future may be split up. Many of us would say that it is no good saying that this is quite an insignificant kind of move, because many of the staff will be affected in so many ways. We have a right to know what that effect will be and what is being done to mitigate it.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South-East said that the structure of Government should be reorganised in order to allow Parliament to have confidence in knowing what is going on. At that point the debate reached the level that it should have reached much earlier, because this is the essence of it. My right hon. Friend reminded us of the fact that this was the third debate on science and technology in a few weeks. I would add that this is the third time that the House has had the brush off in this way. We remember the debate on the Concorde Aircraft Bill, in which the Opposition moved that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee because we felt that although the Bill merited general support for what it sought to do, the House was entitled to know for what purpose the money was wanted, how it would be spent and, most important, the ways in which the spending and future policy would be monitored. We had no satisfaction on that. Those of us who have sat through the four meetings of the Standing Committee on the Concorde Aircraft Bill have been pressing time and again to be given the opportunity of being let into the background of the Concorde project so that we may have greater confidence in the running of it. That was the first brush off we had.

On Monday 22nd January we had the Select Committee report concerned, Dainton and Rothschild on research and development policy. Here again, there was a great divide and the House showed a real anxiety about the need for Parliament to have the information so that we could monitor what was happening.

In many ways, the Bill which started off so easily today simply as a transfer of functions and responsibilities has been raised to a much higher level, where the echoes of the last two debates return. The House and the country are extremely concerned about how we shall get to know what is happening, what ministerial control exists and to what extent Parliament is entitled to have the information which is absolutely necessary if we are to be sure that the uses of nuclear energy for civil and for defence purposes are as they should be. One can ask how Parliament is to know and what changes are to be brought about by the Government in order to see that Parliament gets the information it ought to have.

The Government recently published a White Paper called "Public Money in the Private Sector." That publication is very important in relation to Concorde and to this measure because it gets down to the substantial questions which have to be asked and, indeed, answered—"answered" is the relevant word here—as to how public accountability can be assured.

We also come now to a change from public money in the private sector to public money in the public sector. To some extent this is covered by the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries. But here again we come to the next question—how we shall get to know when commercial secrecy is being covered by defence and military safeguards which the Government put forward from time to time as being essential and a reason for the House not getting the information it wants.

In church last Sunday we prayed—I think that it was in the Prayer for the Church Militant or a Communion Service—for truth, unity and concord. Knowing last week that decisions would be taken in a few days' time, my mind was on the Concorde especially. Today we have had a considerable unity in the Chamber, but the real question is about truth and how one gets to know the truth in this or any other situation.

The dilemma has been spotlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton, who spoke about the transfer of the hereditaments and other functions being the icing on the Bill. He asked the very important question how we develop rational discussion on nuclear power and responsibility. This dilemma has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian. In these matters, where there is no information there can be very little public debate. Where there is very little public debate, Ministers have no chance of being influenced by the concern which lies underneath the surface and is not evident on occasions when it should be.

This is a debate about the functions of the Minister and Parliament, and how the British nation can be let into these matters which are of very great concern to all of us.

I remember a defence tour of the United States which I undertook a few months ago. I had the chance of visiting a nuclear submarine, the "Simon Bolivar". Like many others, I was greatly impressed, in a two-hour visit, with all the nuclear and other trapping there and the tremendous responsibility which those who run the United States Navy carry from time to time. When one goes to Washington to see the hot line to the Soviet Government and the safeguards necessary to ensure that nuclear energy is used in the most responsible way, when one sees the enormous responsibility resting on the shoulders of the President of the United States and Mr. Melvin Laird, the Secretary for Defence—whom I met—and when one discusses the kind of loneliness they experience, one can see in a kind of perspective the responsibility which rests upon our Ministers.

This responsibility rests on our Ministers, who have a loneliness that they cannot share. The House is also lonely in this respect because it does not get the information and background. The House has no knowledge of the real problems, possibilities and policies necessary to shoulder these very heavy responsibilities. As science and technology gets more and more advanced and sophisticated so it becomes more remote—far too remote for most of us. We enter worlds which are far above the heads of the ordinary people we represent.

In the days that remain between now and the Committee stage the Government have a responsibility, therefore, to make sure that some of the questions raised today, expressing concern and misgiving, receive satisfactory answers. This is a void which must be filled. When I mentioned it last week in the debate on the Dainton and Rothschild report about the sophistication of research and development—and that applies to nuclear energy and to the potentiality of it—I could see that we were developing into a field which was barred to the ordinary hon. Member and to the people in this country. It applies also in the development of science and technology with the exciting prospects of post-Apollo and many other projects.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton pinpointed the dilemma which exists when he said that there is secrecy that cannot be justified by the need for military and commercial secrecy. He also raised the question of the signatures to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the wisdom of selling know-how to others. That brings us to another dilemma, that of advanced countries in science and technology having information which might be shared. The time must come when we decide that certain information cannot be shared because it is so critical to the future wellbeing of so many citizens.

We live in a world of greatly advanced technology and problems of its understanding grow in magnitude in a world which is obsessed with trivia. In view of the coverage in the Press this morning given to questions of coffee pots, we can only hope that our debate this evening will merit the same kind of coverage tomorrow morning because it affects some basic issues facing the country. The Government have a responsibility to make certain that in the near future the questions raised in the debate are given answers if there is not to be growing misgiving among those who are deeply concerned.

5.33 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. Antony Buck)

I first came into contact with the work of the Atomic Energy Authority when I visited Dounreay in the early 1960's. That was under the auspices of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee. One of those who was chiefly responsible for stimulating my interest in this sphere was my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke). He has devoted an enormous amount of time and energy to these matters, not least as Chairman of the Select Committee on Science and Technology. It is a disappointment to us all not to see him in his place here today, but I know that his many friends on both sides of the House will be glad to hear that when I spoke to him on the telephone about these matters today I found him to be in excellent spirits. It is our ardent hope that he will be back before long so as to contribute his wisdom and knowledge on these matters to our debates.

I should like to associate myself with what has been said about the good work that has been done by the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment and I should like to pay a tribute to the cooperation which those concerned have given to my Department in the detailed discussions and negotiation which have been made necessary by the legislation which is proposed. I should like to pay a tribute to the Atomic Energy Authority for its co-operation which I am sure will continue. It was my pleasure to visit Aldermaston earlier this month. As we have heard my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister of State have also paid visits in recent times to the establishment in order, so far as they were able, to familiarise themselves with something of the work of the establishment. However, the fact that I have paid a visit does not mean that at this stage I can automatically answer detailed questions about what happens there. In Committee I shall do everything I can, as will the Minister of State, and so far as security barriers allow, to provide answers to questions by hon. Members.

I felt some sympathy for the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). I heard him make his heartfelt plea at business questions a short time ago that it had not been possible to visit the establishment. Immediately after that I had further discussions to see whether it would be possible to meet his wishes. I hope he will accept that, following precedent, it was not possible, largely because of the intermix which exists there. These are factors which he recognised in an article he wrote in the New Scientist on 18th January. I believe that he recognised the force of the arguments put forward in the letter to which he referred in courteous terms in the article.

When I visited Aldermaston I was struck by the immense complexity of the work there and by the dedication of those concerned. I remember feeling the same sentiments when I visited Dounreay. Of course I do not have the technical expertise which some hon. Members may enjoy. I do not accept for one moment that it is in any way fair to describe the organisation as a white elephant in the way in which the hon. Member for West Lothian described it. I take it that he was speaking for himself and not for his Front Bench. There has been a substantial cut in the number of staff employed over the years and a streamlining of the establishment. If there were any truth in the suggestion, I would have thought that to have been a strong argument in favour of the move we are making now. Perhaps a new light should be cast upon it, but I am not suggesting that there is now to be a sudden purge there or anything of that character. That is not our intention and the work prospects of those employed there are utterly assured.

Mr. Dalyell

I was not suggesting that there might be a sudden purge. I consider the Ministry of Defence to be humane employers. My point about the white elephant is that sufficient facts should be forthcoming to convince me and, more important, many others, that Aldermaston is not a bloated white elephant. Responsibility for proving Aldermaston not to be a bloated white elephant rests with the Government.

Mr. Buck

I hope during the course of the Committee stage that we shall have an opportunity to convince the hon. Member that there is nothing bloated or white elephantish about Aldermaston. We shall certainly do our best. I do not have sufficient confidence in my powers to be able to do that here and now but I can assure him that I saw no element of flab when I was there. My technical knowledge is not sufficient to enable me to answer the hon. Member in the way that I should like. But when we get down to what is called in the current parlance "the nitty gritty". I hope that I shall be able to do so.

Mr. Dalyell

I cannot detect flab either and that is why I think that serious consideration should be given to a commission under Sir Brian Flowers which would be in a position to detect flab.

Mr. Buck

I think that we shall be able to convince the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) by a long way, at any rate, so long as he maintains his usual open mind and attitude on these matter in Committee, without the necessity for there being the need for a commission.

I was impressed by the dedication of those concerned. I did not see arguments to substantiate the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman that the institution is one which he describes it as possibly being. I should like to correct any impression that there may be that the transfer of the Atomic Energy Authority to the Civil Service is, almost by definition, a change for the worse. That has sometimes been suggested in some of the writings and perhaps by some of the interventions in this debate. I remind the House of the words of Peter of Blois, who is well known to everyone in the House as a medieval cleric of great distinction who, almost eight centuries ago, said: I do not condemn the life of civil servants, who even if they cannot have leisure for prayer and contemplation, are nevertheless occupied in the public good and often perform works of salvation. I suggest that those who will be transferred to the Civil Service will continue to work with the same dedication in future as they have done in the past.

The right hon. Member for Bristol. South-East (Mr. Benn) in what was, as one expects, a most interesting speech, raised the question whether it is right and logical that the research and development of nuclear weapons, as well as their production, should be placed under the Secretary of State for Defence. That was the basic issue. As hon. Members are aware, what is being done in the Ministry of Defence, is not solely under the control of my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. It is directly superintended by a Cabinet Committee. I take note of the point raised by the Opposition of the importance of our getting this right. With respect, the suggestion that, because it is all to come within the Ministry of Defence, it will preclude "Whitehall debate", is not valid. Although I have been in Whitehall as an Under-Secretary of State for such a short while this suggestion seems to be a travesty of the true position. I cannot see that the position will be worsened. It will be no worse than it was in the right hon. Gentleman's day. Indeed, the substance of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, so far as I understood it, was that things under the earlier regime did not work very well. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman never paid a visit to Aldermaston.

I am hopeful that the new system as envisaged by us under the Minister of State will provide ample opportunity for debate within Whitehall. Of course, the point which has been raised by the Opposition about the need to get information to Ministers and, as far as possible, to a wider audience, is a matter of substance. I look forward, as I know my hon. Friend will, to hearing practical ideas put forward in committee relating to that matter.

Mr. Benn

Lest there should be any misunderstanding about the points that I made, it was no part of my argument that under the Government's proposals the whole nuclear business, the production, control and potential, was being transferred to the hon. Gentleman's right hon. and noble Friend. We know that a Cabinet Committee will continue. However, to clarify the point at issue, even in a Cabinet Committee, which is a committee whatever it is called and however many there are, the weight that Ministers carry depends upon the extent to which they have original briefing by people knowledgeable in the subject. The proposal amounts to a narrowing of the original briefing from two Ministers to one Minister. That is indisputable. Whether the Minister who used to be responsible for the Ministry of Technology or the Department of Trade and Industry took an interest in nuclear matters is not the point. The point is that there was an opportunity to preserve within the Cabinet Committee the potentiality of a real debate between two Ministers, each of whom had to be listened to because he had statutory responsibilities. I make that point because I do not want to be misunderstood.

Mr. Buck

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. My understanding of his speech—I should like to hear about this in greater detail—was that although there might have been two Ministers responsible in the earlier regime, in fact this debate could not take place. Indeed, that was not a very successful set-up. We can pursue that later. I take the point that there were two Ministers involved. There is likely to be a greater involvement than just that of my right hon. and noble Friend on a continuing basis. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman knows much more than I do about Cabinet Committees. However, I understand that it should not be a problem. The basic problem is to try to get as much debate about these matters as is consistent with security. That is a point which I look forward to discussing, in so far as it will be in order, in Committee.

Mr. Dalyell

I have two specific requests. First, can we before the Committee stage—I do not expect the Minister to reply to this now—have some general view of the future of laser research at Aldermaston and whether it could be transferred to Culham? I should like to hear a general statement on the relationship between Aldermaston and Culham. Secondly, it would be useful to have a clear statement about the Government's general philosophy about the extent to which civilian work can be done sensibly and legitimately in military establishments.

Mr. Buck

I shall take the hon. Gentleman's last point first. It is intended that the balance which there is at the moment between civilian and military work should continue. I should say "known" nuclear military work. I must be careful what I say. Some of it cannot possibly be described as civilian work. It is intended that the 20 per cent. should continue. However, it is wholly sensible that it should remain under the basis of a Ministry of Defence establishment. It seems wholly right that it should be there.

Mr. Benn

indicated assent.

Mr. Buck

I see that the right hon. Gentleman nods in agreement. There should be no change. I can give the right hon. Gentleman a complete assurance about that matter. I see nothing which is not sensible about this type of work—some of it civilian work—continuing under Ministry of Defence establishments. I see no difficulty about that.

I was told something about lasers when I visited Aldermaston. I will look into the hon. Gentleman's point about whether it is appropriate for that kind of work to continue at Aldermaston, or whether a case could be made for a transfer. Frankly, I have no view about that at the moment. I will try to be in communication with the hon. Gentleman before the Committee stage so that he shall have as much information as I am able to give him.

Generally, the purpose of the Bill as as indicated by my hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe (Mr. David Walder) and as is agreed by both sides of the House, is that of simplified management which will lead to progressive rationalisation of Defence research and development facilities. The growth in the cost and sophistication of the work underlines the need for rationalisation of this sort. It is rationalisation which was acknowledged by the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East, in an earlier paper for which he was responsible and to which reference has been made. I need not quote from that again. We have covered it sufficiently. It remains on the Table for Members to read. I am glad that we have reached a similar conclusion to that originally arrived at by the right hon. Gentleman. I look forward to hearing in Committee whether he is still in favour of putting it under a Ministry of Technology and not the Defence Department.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clitheroe mentioned the different types of system in other countries. Labour Members have said that in some ways the United States system is superior. We have often envied, certainly as backbenchers, the powers of Senate committees to put Government Departments to the inquisition. There are great dangers in trying to take international parallels too far here. But perhaps we can learn something from the systems of other countries, and we look forward to hearing these matters developed further at a later stage, if hon. Members wish.

We feel that what Sir Derek Rayner suggested was right. The right hon. Gentleman's detailed point about the consultations before Rayner perhaps concerns history, but I shall seek to discover whether there was sufficient consultation. If there had been any feeling in the scientific community against what was recommended, we should have expected more of an outburst in the scientific Press at the time. Although a layman in these matters, I have looked back to see whether there was any such outburst, and there was none. I see the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) nodding agreement.

This leads me to suppose that we have a large element of scientific backing for what is suggested, although the hon. Member for West Lothian may choose to quote one particular letter which expresses doubt about that. If there had been any substantial body of scientific opinion hos- tile to the Rayner recommendation, surely it would have manifested itself in the learned journals to which scientists are often contributing?

Mr. Dalyell

That is not a legitimate conclusion. The science writers, like most others, do not know enough about the matter to form a conclusion.

Mr. Buck

The scientists could read the Rayner Committee recommendations, which were that these aspects should come under the Defence Department. If there is any depth of feeling about the matter it is surprising that there was no such out-bust from scientists. I did not make a 100 per cent, search in the learned journals, but I was unable to find anything of the kind.

Mr. Benn

I did not make anything of this, because I thought the argument stood on its merits, but, looking through my papers, I see that the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science made a statement, dated 14th August, in which it criticised the transfer for reasons not dissimiliar to those I mentioned. We are dealing with an area in which there is fairly tight secrecy, which diminishes debate. Incidentally, if this is the hon. Gentleman's first speech as a Minister—I have not heard him before—may I express my good wishes to him.

Mr. Buck

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, especially as it seems that he has almost bowled me out on one point. He has not bowled me out, because I think the point is well taken that if scientists had had any strength of feeling about the matter there would have been an outburst in the journals. We would not expect unanimous support. While there may be criticism or a feeling of unease in the document to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, the point remains legitimate that if there had been widespread unease there would have been quite an outburst in the learned scientific Press.

I should like to reassure the House that the reactor research groups and particularly the Safety and Reliability Directorate will continue to play the same roles. There is no question of a barrier coming down between the AWRE and the AEA in these vital matters or any other. When I was at Aldermaston I looked particularly into the safety side, which must concern responsible politicians, which we all are by virtue of our position in the House.

The right hon. Gentleman raised a number of detailed points about the staff side, but perhaps I may leave them to Committee.

Mr. Benn

indicated assent

Mr. Buck

I have here the material to deal with them, but it is appropriate to do so in Committee.

Another point concerned the falling behind in the timetable. One reason was that the last Session was rather crowded.

I had thought that prima facie the point about the negotiations was one which could be made, but having gone into it I find that the final details of transfers should be settled only at the last minute because the final agreement must be based on the current situation. Therefore, while it was possible to obtain broad agreement on certain matters the details of the agreements, the gradings and so on could be settled sensibly only when we came near to the possible transfer date.

My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braille) raised the question of employees who were constituents of his. Briefly, the position is that there is an overall grading-up. Wherever there is a change it will be to the advantage of the person concerned. Certain options on pensions and so on will be left open. The negotiations, which are in their final stages, both as to industrials and non-industrials, have gone very smoothly. I can repeat the assurance given by my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State in another place that no one will be worse off, though employees will sometimes have a choice. We can consider the details in Committee.

Having gone into the matter with some care, I should like to underline the weight of evidence for introducing this change. A similar change, if not a change in exactly the same form, was envisaged by earlier Administrations. There seems to be broad agreement on its desirability. I note with pleasure that the Opposition do not intend to divide against the Bill. We look forward to considering it in further detail in Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).