HL Deb 01 August 1944 vol 133 cc68-72

LORD BARNBY had given Notice that he would ask His Majesty's Government whether, in view of the pronouncements of responsible Ministers on the need for research, they can now indicate their intention with regard to the presentation of an Enabling Bill which would empower the appropriate authority on receipt of necessary indication of desire from any individual industry that an Order be issued, subject to the approval of Parliament, which would authorize statutorily a levy, the expenditure of which should be confined solely to research.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I wish to put this question because I feel it is of real interest to industry in general that there should be before the Recess a statement of Government intentions in this matter. The subject is topical because your Lordships have to-day made possible the passing of an Education Bill which is going to have profound effects on the whole position. I only want the attention of the House for a very few minutes to make sure that the matter included in the question is Covered. I would ask the House to allow me to refer to the report of the Institute of City Guilds of London, published at the end of last year, which gives comparative figures as to university students before the war in Great Britain and in the United States. If these figures are borne in mind, together with the intentions expressed by Lord Selborne, on behalf of the Government in the matter of technical education, to-day, it will he realized that, complementary to technical education is the proper provision for fundamental research. On that point I world like to refer to the report issued just recently by the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee of which the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, is Chairman. It draws attention to the total amount spent on research in America — given as £70,000,000—and compares it with the amount spent in this country,£7,000,000. That body, I may say, does a great deal for the furtherance of technical research.

Then, to save the time of the House, I would like to refer to the report issued recently by the Nuffield College on problems of scientific and industrial research. In Section 23 of that report it clearly sets out the fundamental issues upon this point, but I should say that in the introductory statement some reservations are made. I feel that must quote from that document two sentences. In one it is stated that, in their opinion a system of voluntary contributions to cooperative research associations is inadequate. And it is further stated that until these can be adequately financed by means of general levies payable by all firms, they will continue to be insufficient. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer has given clear evidence of sympathy by the remission of taxation. The Lord President of the Council is charged with the matter and he has expressed his sympathy. There is no question about the intentions of the Government. The need now is that these shall be made good by permitting research on a broader basis, and that requires that if these collective research stations are to be developed they must have more funds. These can only equitably be raised on a statutory basis. The Government through the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research have been generous in their contributions. But it should be the obligation of every firm operating in any recognized industry to make proportionately their contribution to the general good in which they, directly or indirectly, must share.

There are cases in which substantial industries have now reached substantial agreement that more money should be spent, and that it should be raised on a statutory basis. Voluntary levies, most strongly sponsored, have been given a full trial over a number of years and they have proved insufficient. It is fruitless, in the present congested state of Parliamentary legislation, for individual industries to expect to secure special legislation. Therefore the only solution is that there shall be a general Enabling Bill. That must require Government action. I have spoken to some members of your Lordships' House and I do not know if it is clearly understood what is intended by an Enabling Bill. The bringing of it in commits the Government to no further action without the sanction of Parliament. The machinery would provide for any industry, on proof of majority desire, and after due inquiry, to request an order to be issued by the appropriate authority to institute a statutory levy which it would be open to Parliament in the ordinary way to challenge. The proceeds, of course, would be confined to purposes of research. The need is urgent. The intentions of the Government have been made clear and I hope that my noble friend who will interpret to the House the intentions of my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade will be able to give some reassurance to industry that the Government will enable it to raise funds for this object in future in a manner appropriate to what is required.


My Lords, it has been stated on, I think, a number of occasions, and I should like to reaffirm and emphasize it now, that the Government attach great importance to co-operative research as a means of developing to the full the use of our industrial resources, a vigorous export trade and a higher standard of living. To this end the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research makes substantial contributions to the funds of research associations set up by industries, of which, up to the present, twenty-seven have been established, and also itself carries on important research through the National Physical Laboratory and other establishments of the Department. At present, with only one exception—the cotton industry, to which I shall refer later—research associations are supported by the voluntary contributions of firms, or voluntary levies in the industry concerned, and it is sometimes argued—I think my noble friend Lord Barnby said almost as much in his speech just now—that a financial burden of this kind, from which the whole industry tends to benefit, should not, be shouldered by the few on behalf of the many.

It is urged that all members of an industry should be obliged to assist in work which results in benefits to all, and suggestions have been made from time to time that there should be statutory power to impose a small levy over the whole of an industry to provide funds for research and development. The idea of a general Enabling Bill for this purpose is not new. It was discussed with industry over ten years ago by the Advisory Council of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research when there were various opinions with a generally adverse view. Legislation for the rubber industry only was introduced in 1933 and received support from the Government. Some of your Lordships—Lord Lucan and Lord Stan-more for instance—may probably remember that it was passed though this House, but a protest was launched against it in the Commons, aria it was not proceeded with any further. During the war the Cotton Industry Act of 1940 has authorized the Cotton Board, set up under the Act, to impose a compulsory levy on that industry based on purchases of raw cotton by spinners.

The Board's main activities are the encouragement of research, the promotion of exports, the collection of information and statistics of general importance to the industry, and the consideration of other matters of general interest. It makes a substantial contribution to the funds of the Shirley Institute, which is the industry's research association. More recently, a number of industries approached by the Board of Trade and other Departments on general post-war questions have expressed themselves in favour of statutory powers of one sort or another, including in some cases the collection of money for research by means of a levy on the whole industry. The wool industry is one of these. At the same time, the research associations, which have previously been on the whole indifferent to the idea, have considered the matter again and are now much more inclined to welcome an Enabling Bill.

I am now authorized to say that the Government for their part would be prepared to consider sympathetically a proposition for the introduction of enabling legislation for this purpose if there is sufficient demand for it from industry, and the matter will be discussed with industry during the coming months, when post-war discussions are being held with a large number of industries. It would, of course, be undesirable for premature or unconsidered action to be taken on this subject, or for a Bill to be introduced covering one industry only if there is likely to be a demand for powers of this kind from industry generally. The Government will also want to satisfy themselves whether there are other proper objects connected with the furtherance of the export trade or of industry's efficiency generally for which a statutory power to collect money might be desirable. My noble friend, however, may rest assured that this matter is receiving the current and full consideration of the Government, and if there is a real demand for powers of this kind, as is suggested in the question, the Government will be sympathetic to the introduction of enabling legislation for the purpose.