HL Deb 09 May 1933 vol 87 cc776-89

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the Bill of which I now have to move the Second Reading is a Bill, as your Lordships will have observed, that provides for the payment to the Rubber Research Association by every manufacturer of rubber of a contribution proportioned to the amount of raw rubber delivered to him. The rate of contribution is to be calculated to produce the annual sum required for the purposes of the Research Association—namely £15,000—and I am advised that on the 1931 and 1932 consumption figures this would require a contribution of more than one-forty-fifth of one penny per lb. There are clauses which deal with the method of collecting the contributions, the maintenance of secrecy as to manufacturers' consumption, etc., Clause 6 requires a report by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research on the work of the Research Association to be made to Parliament within five years, five years being the limit of the duration of the Bill; and, further, lays it down that such Report shall not disclose any confidential matter without the consent of the Association.

The Research Association, of which mention is made in this Bill, and to which the money found by the Bill is to be paid, has, as some of your Lordships know, a large and, I think, comprehensive membership in the various branches of the rubber industry. It is one of the co-operative research associations which were formed under the Government scheme of 1918 for the purposes of which Parliament granted a sum of £1,000,000. The particular Research Association that deals with rubber was formed in the year, I think, 1920, and since that time has been responsible for providing and equipping its own workshops, laboratories and library. During the first five years of its life it received grants substantially on the basis of £ for £—£1 for every £1 contributed by the industry— and it was, I suppose, at that time hoped that in due course the industry would become so convinced of the value of their co-operative research organisation that after the first five years no further financial assistance would be required from the State. That hope, unfortunately, has suffered disappointment, and the Government grant, which was decreased after the fifth year, has now definitely ceased, and, at the end of February last, owing to lack of funds, the greater part of the Association's staff was dismissed and their premises were placed on what, I believe, in the Navy is termed a care and maintenance basis.

The Bill that I bring before the House this afternoon is no new one. In one form or another it has been introduced by private members in another place four times. First in 1927 when it had the support of members of all Parties, and again in 1928, when the then President of the Board of Trade, now Colonial Secretary, spoke in favour of it. In 1930 it secured a Second Reading by 148 to 10 after being supported in speech by the representative of the Board of Trade in the then Labour Government, but was again held up by congestion of business. Finally, last December, the Bill was introduced under the Ten Minutes Rule but its Second Reading was blocked by several private members, and accordingly the Bill was withdrawn last month in order to give an opportunity to the Government to introduce it in your Lordships' House.

The reasons that have led the Government to take that course are shortly these. I am advised that if the Bill is not passed by the end of the Session there is, in fact, no alternative but the closing down of the Rubber Research Association for lack of funds. That, in the view of the Government and in the view, I think, of those who are best qualified to judge from knowledge of the circumstances of the industry, would be in the highest degree unfortunate. The adoption of the Bill, therefore, by the Government is due to these exceptional and urgent circumstances, and must not be taken to indicate that the Government will be prepared to adopt a similar course in regard to other Bills dealing with the interests of particular industries. Indeed, one reason for making an exception in this case would be to give an opportunity for a trial of this new method of raising funds for industrial research associations. Your Lordships will observe that the Bill as drafted is due to expire at the end of 1938.

In making themselves responsible for the Bill the Government would not have decided upon that course if they had not understood that the overwhelming majority of the trade are in its favour. I believe, indeed, that it is no exaggeration to say that the Bill has the support of almost the whole of the rubber industry. It is, of course, true that a petition against its provisions that I hold in my hand and which your Lordships, I think, also have received, has been signed by a number of firms, but I am informed that very few of the firms signing that petition are rightly classed as large consumers of rubber. On the other hand, as against that, the Bill is endorsed most warmly by such organisations as chambers of commerce, various scientific bodies, the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and, lastly, the Board of Trade.

I may perhaps quote a sentence or two from the Report that was made by the Balfour Committee on Industry and Trade in 1929, which is relevant and I think your Lordships should have present to your minds. The Committee stated: We have watched with interest and sympathy the steps taken by the rubber industry to secure the necessary funds for the operations of the Research Association through a small levy on imported rubber. We hope that this scheme will receive legislative sanction, and that it may serve as an example to other industries to adopt measures, suited to their special conditions, for placing the finances of their research associations on a permanently satisfactory basis. It is the hope of His Majesty's Government and I think of all who are interested in the project that discussion in your Lordships' House may perhaps disclose the ground on which any opposition to the Bill may be based. If such opposition exists it may be possible to meet it by explanation or by amendment of the Bill, and in that case the Bill should not occupy any long time either in this House or in another place. There are others here who are better equipped than I am to speak of the valuable work done by the Rubber Research Association. I understand that we shall have the benefit of hearing on this point the testimony of the noble Lord, Lord Rutherford, who, as your Lordships are aware, is Chairman of the Advisory Council of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.

It is not necessary for me to emphasise to your Lordships, even were I competent to do so, the importance of research in industry in these times of intense and concentrated international competition. I have seen it stated, with with what truth I know not, that prac- tical development of, and demand for, the industrial products of rubber have outstripped the scientific knowledge on which improved production and commercial development must ultimately take place. It may interest your Lordships perhaps to have one example, and one only, of the kind of point to which I am advised the development of commerce makes it desirable that research should be applied. That example is research into the changes that occur in vulcanised rubber from the influences of such factors as heat and light and long storage. Obviously that becomes a matter of first-rate commercial importance when sending rubber, whether in the form of motor tyres or in any other form, to oversea markets. I am quite sure that I shall carry the assent of all your Lordships when I say that research is perhaps even more important now than before owing to the recent changes in fiscal policy. The nation has decided to afford to industry a measure of protection in the home markets which postulates and demands increased vigilance for the maintenance of efficiency so that the public may reap the full benefit of such technical advances as may be made.

It may be asked why, if such support for research is forthcoming in the rubber industry itself, the Research Association should not be continued on a purely voluntary basis. The answer that must be made to that is that, in fact, that has not proved possible. I am advised that a minority of firms remain obdurate against subscribing to the Association and that the great majority prefer the methods of levy proposed in this Bill to any other method of contribution. I think your Lordships will recognise that in a case like that of research, the benefits of which are equally open to all those engaged in the industry, it is only fair that the expense of conducting that research should be shared equally among all those concerned who will benefit by the positive results achieved. That is the Bill, and I hope I have said enough to put your Lordships in possession of the reasons that have led His Majesty's Government to introduce it in this House. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— (Lord Irwin.)


My Lords, I am sorry that on this occasion I do not quite see eye to eye with the noble Lord the President of the Board of Education. I was the Minister responsible in 1914 for securing a promise from the Treasury to help research work. The Treasury undertook at that time to provide £1,000,000 per annum to help industry, and I explained at that time that the money was very much required in the interests of the country and in the interests of industry to help forward scientific investigations in connection with a great number of processes. The contribution then promised did not materialise until 1918. It was one of the things connected with my humble administration of which I am most proud that I was able to help research through a Government grant, but I always intended that there was to be a necessary accompanying contribution from industry. I wanted to secure co-operation of a voluntary kind and not of a compulsory kind between industry and the State. I think it is a bad principle to compel by Statute everybody nolens volens to contribute to a fund. If there is an overwhelming number of individuals in an industry who believe in research work they ought to be prepared to put their hands in their own pockets, and I am not in favour of the Government withdrawing their support from the fund or attaching a condition that everybody in the industry shall pay whether they like it or not. I do not think that is a sound principle. If you want to get the best results from research work you want those who contribute to it to be supporters of research and believers in it.

There are only two precedents that I know dealing with contributions from an industry. One is the case of the cotton industry where a contribution was raised by Statute from the industry in order to promote the growing of a commodity. There is nothing really comparable to that in this proposal, because we all know that not only is the production of rubber adequate but there is surplus production. The other precedent is one with which I am very familiar. That is the welfare contribution exacted from the coal trade. Everybody knows that that has not been altogether an unqualified success. There is a great deal of waste of money, and if people are compelled to contribute to an organisation such as is proposed in this Bill I am afraid there will be waste again. Where the law enforces it I think enthusiasm for research is probably diminished. I for one object strongly to compelling everybody whether they like it or not to contribute. At the same time I am fully in sympathy with the main object of the Bill, which is to promote research work and the advance of science and the advance of the discovery of processes in connection with the production of rubber.


My Lords, the Bill before us, which I am glad to support, raises some very interesting questions regarding the relations between research and industry. I would like first of all to mention some general considerations on the problem of the organisation of the technical resources of this country in order to obtain the maximum efficiency in industry, a problem which I am sure your Lordships will agree is one of importance if we are to hold our own in the international competition of to-day. Since the War there has been a growing recognition of the importance of research in industry. As your Lordships know, a number of research organisations have been founded. A few have been under the control of the State, but the great majority of which I wish to speak to-day are the result of voluntary co-operation of the firms in individual industries. These bodies are known nowadays as research associations and the Rubber Research Association, with which we are dealing, is one of many examples.

As Chairman of the Advisory Council of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research I have had many opportunities of getting some insight into the working of these associations and I can unhesitatingly assert that they have done work of very great value to in dustry. Of course it is very difficult to assess the cash value of the results obtained, but I think it is clear that the value of the accumulated effects of these research associations amounts to several millions annually. As an example I might take the case of the successful Research Association of the British Electrical and Allied Trades, where it was estimated in 1929 that the saving that had accrued to the user from the work of the Association amounted to a million pounds annually; and in later reference to this the President of the Association stated that if an estimate were made today that sum would be even greater.

At this point I would like to emphasise not only the value of research associations to the respective industries, but the services these associations render in a wider sphere. It is true that an association must be judged primarily by the results it obtains for the industry and for those firms which provide the funds for the support of the association. But we must not, therefore, regard these research associations as isolated units working in watertight compartments. We must recognise that they have very many points of contact with other organisations of a similar type. There is a constant exchange of information about ideas and methods. In looking at the research associations, therefore, we should not regard them as a number of isolated entities, but rather as a network of organisations which strengthen one another and which collectively form an exceedingly important part of the superstructure of industry to-day. In another direction, too, these associations are of great importance. By contact with their member firms, by the study of the literature of the world bearing on their problems, and still more by continuous research, they acquire an experience, a knowledge and an authority which allow them to give a representative opinion on subjects connected with their sphere.

This point of view can be very well illustrated by the Rubber Research Association. This Association stands between the grower of rubber and the user of the manufactured article. In both of these directions the Rubber Research Association has established close contacts. On the growers' side the Association is in close touch with the Joint Advisory Committee which has been formed in London by the Malay and Ceylon growers. In addition the Federated Malay States through the Rubber Growers' Association have given a grant to the Association with the view not only of extending the uses of rubber, but of finding new applications for this substance. On the users' side I might refer to the important question of standardisation. This Association has co-operated with the British Standards Association in preparing a number of new specifications and amending others. I could, also, if there were time, give a number of interesting examples, taken from a recent Report of the Association, especially in connection with the technical advice which has been given to Government and other Departments. It may no doubt be said that you might get this information by consulting individual firms, but it is obviously a great advantage to have this information concentrated in a single central institution where consultation is more rapid and also more effective. Such a central organisation, it seems to me, is of very great importance to the industry as a whole.

I think sufficient has been said to indicate the importance of this Robber Research Association not only to 'the industry itself, but on account of the general services which it renders to the community as a whole. The disappearance of this Association, with which we are threatened, would be a great loss to the industry and would make a gap in the industry which it would be very difficult to fill. The work that it does is, it seems to me, of such national importance that it is essential it should continue. This adds force, I think, to the contention of those in the rubber industry who desire that the cost of this research should be equitably distributed throughout the whole industry. It must be borne in mind that all the firms that have supported this measure have been themselves generous contributors to the Research Association in the past.

Now I come to another question— namely, the method of finance proposed in this Bill. As has been pointed out, this is the first time with regard to research associations that the voluntary principle has been departed from. However, the idea of a general levy to support the research associations has been mooted from time to time, and during the last year or two the Advisory Council of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research has considered the question of the possibility of a general Enabling Bill, under which Orders in Council could be made authorising a particular industry to have a compulsory levy, provided that the great majority of that industry are in support of such a measure for raising funds. We took the opinion of industry as a whole through the research associations, and while the answers were various the general result of the replies obtained were against such a proposal. It was clear that the majority of the associations valued their independence and their wide powers of autonomy under the voluntary system, and were a little alarmed lest, if they came under a compulsory levy, their independence might be to some extent jeopardised, and the interest of some of the now enthusiastic workers might wane, and there might in consequence he a loss of close contact between industry and the Research Association.

Naturally, when we consider that these views come from those who have taken a prominent part in developing these associations, they must be regarded with respect, but I am not at all sure that the objections are as strong as are supposed. However, the Advisory Council felt that under the conditions they could not take any further steps; but this does not preclude them from supporting a case like the present, where a practicable scheme for a statutory levy has been worked out and has the support of a large majority of the firms in the industry concerned. I think I am voicing the views of the members of my Committee in saying that we whole-heartedly support the enactment of this measure, especially when we consider that the alternative is the disappearance of this Association, which has done such valuable work for the industry.

I would now like to say a word on research in rubber, with which your Lordships are, no doubt, all quite familiar. You will be aware that rubber is remarkable not only for the variety of its uses but for its possibilities in the future, and from the scientific point of view it is of extraordinary interest in all its aspects. When we consider the extent of the production of the raw material in our Empire, and when we also consider the wide use and possibilities of this remarkable material, I think we would all agree that some form of scientific organisation to deal with research on this subject would have to be originated if we had not already a research organisation for the purpose. I think it is clear that there must be, in whatever way it is obtained, a strong central organisation for carrying out fundamental inquiries as to the applications of this protean material, and research free from the restrictions inevitable in research work in a works laboratory, where there is pressing need for prompt practical results.

At the same time I would like to state that the Advisory Council do not underrate the importance of the voluntary principle in financing these organisations. I think we all agree that it is of very great importance that the Research Association should be deeply rooted in the industry; that it should be governed by councils elected by the industry, and should, in fact, be an integral part of the industry itself. It seems to me, however, that the departure from the voluntary principle in the case we are dealing with to-day is more apparent than real. It is not a case of a Bill which is foisted by an arbitrary Government on an unwilling industry, but it is a proposal matured within the industry itself, and which has the support of a great majority of the industry. The industry now asks in this case that legislative sanction should be given the levy. As has been pointed out this Bill is for a limited period of five years, and there is then a possibility of reconsidering the question. It has been mentioned that there is a possibility of the Research Association losing contact with the industry under such a compulsory levy, but I am quite sure that the Research Association will pay even more attention to the industry than before when its own continued existence depends upon the extent and value of its contributions.

In supporting this measure we know that the great majority of the industry are behind it. It is true that there is a small minority against it, but it seems to me it would be very unfortunate if the existence of a small minority should wreck such a promising movement for the consolidation of the research interest in the rubber industry. The point before us to-day may seem a small one, but viewed from the, wider aspects it is a question of great importance for the future, and in a sense it is a test of the attitude of the representatives of this country to research in industry. As a man of science I have had opportunity of seeing, and have seen, the remarkable effects of the application of science to the improvement and development of industry. I am convinced that research is one of the most potent of weapons for combating the evils of waste and inefficiency in industrial production, and I hope that this House in passing this Bill will show unmistakably its belief in the application of scientific methods and scientific knowledge, as an important aid in keeping this country in the forefront of progress.


My Lords, I do not doubt that the noble Lord who has just spoken is perfectly right in everything that he has said about the value of this Association, but I am a Conservative and, being a Conservative, I am in favour of freedom, and I hold that you have not the right to go to any ordinary citizen who is not a criminal or who has not done anything against the criminal laws of the land, and say to him: "You have to subscribe to something which we think you ought to subscribe to. You have got to conduct your business in the way we think you should." That, to my old-fashioned Tory ideas, is quite an extraordinary proposal, and I hope that my noble friend Lord Irwin, in his new-found zeal for compulsion, will not bring in another Bill of this kind.


My Lords, may I intervene for one moment in support of this measure to say that I agree very much with what the Government propose and disagree very much with what has fallen from the noble Lords, Land Banbury and Lord Gainford? It seems to me that they are both prepared to allow any members of the industry to subscribe, and to take Government money in addition, to support research in the rubber industry, and they are prepared to allow the slacker members of the industry to get off scot-free. That seems to me a very unjust proposal. I cannot see why, if they are prepared to take Government money for this purpose, they should not be prepared to take the money of those people who are directly interested, and who will otherwise get off without paying a penny. As for compulsion, after all, we have all seen a great many new things done in the management of industry in the last few years, and we shall probably see more, and not less, compulsion in the future. We cannot altogether avoid that, and I have never thought that it was against the principles of good government to compel people to do things that are obviously fair, obviously just, and obviously sensible. In this case, in addition, they are desired by the majority of the industry.

I hope that in similar cases in other industries, if this proves, as I am sure it will prove, a success, the same thing may be done again. I hope that the Government will not be alarmed by any of these cries of compulsion and lack of freedom, and will not be afraid, in order to assist industry, to bring into line the small minority of very conservative people who are not prepared to help their own industry by means of proper research. No one knows better than the noble Lord, Lord Rutherford, that in modern science small quantities of impurities will prevent a proper reaction from taking place, and will destroy much valuable work. The same principle seems to me to apply in political and national affairs, in which small bodies of people should not be allowed to hold up the obvious and correct direction of progress.


My Lords, I need hardly say that I go a very long way with my noble friend Lord Gainford, who was, as he reminded us, principally responsible for the initiation of Government assistance for research work, in his suspicion of the element of compulsion. I do not know, however, that I need say a great deal by way of reply to him because it has really been said by Lord Melchett. I would admit, of course, that on principle a great many of us would feel some reluctance to apply compulsion to minorities, but it is really, I should have thought, all a question of degree; and the noble Lord who spoke second, and who intervenes all too rarely in our debates, seemed to me to provide the conclusive answer when he pointed out that the Bill is really a departure from the voluntary principle more in appearance than in fact. I cannot, of course, pretend to go quite so far in Conservative principles, as he would regard them, as my noble friend Lord Banbury. I have learnt a great many of my Conservative principles from him, and I am afraid that since the time when we were associated in another place he has somewhat departed from, the doctrine that he used to preach to me there.

The noble Lord, Lord Rutherford, rightly I think, reminded your Lordships that this proposal does, in fact, command the overwhelming support of the industry concerned; and I confess that, if it is thought right in these days to apply the principle of compulsion in such a case, for example, as the prohibition upon individuals from growing a certain acreage of hops, which your Lordships thought it right to approve last year, I cannot sea why it is improper to take steps to ask all users of rubber to make this infinitesimal contribution towards work of which they will all enjoy the benefits. Having regard to these facts, and to the fact that there is a time limit on the Bill, and for the reasons given, I hope that your Lordships will agree to allow the Bill to be read a second time.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.