HL Deb 29 November 1945 vol 138 cc153-64

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the purpose of this Bill is, I think, effectively set out in the Explanatory Memorandum which is attached to it. It may be regarded as accepted by all that adequate expenditure on research is endorsed by all parties and certainly it is endorsed by industry. Therefore I propose, in the relatively short time at my disposal, to confine myself more to the manner in which it is proposed that this shall be achieved, having, as I say, taken for granted the need to expand facilities and the resources available for research. It will be agreed on all sides that the war has shown the advantages to be obtained from research, and that fact puts it beyond doubt that research is a proper charge on industry. I take it as accepted, too, that it is recognized that there are two means by which effective research can be carried out. Research is either individual or collective; and it may be taken for granted that in most industries the number of units large enough or powerful enough to be able to afford the expenditure to do it individually, is limited.

To have an effective research station involves an expenditure of at least £30,000 for all the equipment which would be necessary. It would require a staff of very substantial' size, probably up to zoo. Alternatively, therefore, the system adopted has been that of collective research. All the units in an industry contribute towards a fund which will achieve the fundamental research which is to be available to them all. It is well known that the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research is the body which Parliament has established through which research is co-ordinated and directed. It receives a large sum voted by Parliament out of which it is empowered to make block grants to different industries. It should, of course, be borne in mind that these grants are, in the main, coupled with an undertaking by the industries concerned that they will themselves raise an appreciable amount of money. The grants are on a determined ratio basis, relating funds raised by the industry to the grant made by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.

In the main, experience of raising money by voluntary contributions has been unsatisfactory. There is of course in this fact nothing very different from experience in other spheres. A moment arrives when, under the pressure of hard times, those who have been contributing generously become embittered against those who have contributed nothing but have nevertheless taken full advantage of the contributions of others. That is why, in the main, research based on voluntary contributions has been unsatisfactory. I do not suggest that a great deal has not been done or that the research stations which are in receipt of these grants have not achieved a great deal in spite of the difficulties under which they work. I would add that there are two fundamental objections to be considered. On the one hand, with an insufficiency of income there is a tendency to show quick and glamorous results by catch-penny operations; and on the other hand, in times of prosperity there is a generous contribution, which is a charge on E.P.T., while in hard times there is a marked tendency for subscriptions to fall off.

The Bill itself proposes adequate safeguards. First of all, I should say that the Bill aims to put into the hands of the Government powers whereby they may, on appropriate application from any industry which has shown, or can show, to the Government Department concerned a majority in favour of it, impose a statutory levy involving a contribution by all units in that industry. The safeguards are in the Bill with an appropriate direction for minorities to ensure that they shall have the opportunity to put forward grounds for dissent. Lastly, as regards these safeguards, for those who have a strong dislike for State interference beyond what is considered appropriate to safeguard the contributions which the State makes through the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, it may be said that industry governs itself.

In this, as in all matters, it is possible to find objections, and objections have been advanced. I will anticipate the objection which will doubtless be made by the noble Lord who is to reply, that it is difficult to define who would be an appropriate contributor from any industry. All I can say about that is that during the war occasions have arisen when it has been necessary for the prosecution of the war to ensure that every unit in the country should come under some particular classification. Therefore, that objection which existed before the war is now removed. There may equally be objection to the proposal which refers to a maximum contribution not exceeding 1 per cent. as being a heavy one, if it be—as is suggested in Clause 3—of each contributor's annual turnover or revenue in the industry or class of industries to which the research association relates. I suggest that the amount is flexible and allows industry itself to determine how much it considers necessary to raise. Beyond that, I would say that one is fully conscious that in this, as in every other Bill, there is ample opportunity for improvement by Amendment, and I doubt not that effective discussion would suggest means of improvement. Therefore, I hope that my noble friend will give me some encouragement.

I would like to remind your Lordships on this vital matter of research that figures show that in 1939 we did not spend more than 100th of 1 per cent. of our national income on research. That would amount to £500,000 for the collective expenditure of all research stations in the country. For a nation like this, with its tremendous industrial turnover, it was quite insignificant and insufficient.


May I interrupt the noble Lord?


If my noble friend will allow me to finish, I admit that the last figures just published show a total amount of £1,200,000, which, I assume, would amount to about one-fiftieth of 1 per cent. of our national income.


I do not want to quibble over figures, but I am anxious that the noble Lord should make it plain whether he is speaking of collective research only. I feel sure he would wish to make that plain.


I believe the figures were from official sources which referred to collective research. I would certainly wish to be corrected if I understate the amount which is at present being spent, and I should be glad if the noble Lord could tell me that the correct figure is already several times the amount I mention. It will be within the knowledge of all your Lordships that there exists an important and influential body called the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee which is composed of members of both Houses, and representatives of a great number of research bodies throughout the country, and also individual operators in research. It is fortunate in having as its President the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, whose active interest in research over a great number of years is well known to every member of your Lordships' House. It may well be that, in spite of what I am sure must be his own personal sympathy for this Bill, the noble Viscount, should he intervene, may, in the desire for impartiality, take no definite line with regard to it. With regard to that Committee, there seems grounds for stating that an overwhelming majority favour the Government taking these powers. It is true that in this, as in everything else, there are those who take an opposite view. In this Committee, I suggest, there are one or two individuals who are more vocal than influential, and who have persisted in their opposition to this in discussions which have taken place, while those who support it, though numerous, are less persistent.

I ought to say here that since this Bill was put on the Order Paper I have received communications from a very wide circle, and from several of the associations, who express their strong support for these powers being taken. In addition to that, I can quote instances of industries which are properly organized now and feel conscious of the insufficiency of their efforts, but who are being denied powers to raise the money to do the very thing they wish to do in order to make themselves efficient, by bringing to their members the advantage of all the research that they want.

With the indulgence of the House I would like to make reference to a personal experience. For many years I was the Chairman of the Research Association of one of the major industries of the country. I have had, from hard experience, intimate knowledge of how it is not possible for long to get effective agreement on a voluntary principle because, as I have said, in hard times there is resentment by those who do pay against those who do not, and there is disruption of the personnel owing to a feeling of insecurity due to insufficiency of funds. I remember fifteen years ago going to the then President of the Board of Trade, who happened to be Mr. Willie Graham, then a member of the Labour Government, and pressing him to take these powers. He reflected, and finally told me he could not do it. I sadly came away after having said to "The trouble is, your Labour Government is much too conservative." However, time has passed and we still have not arrived at the point where powers have been taken.

I would mention a fact that must be within the knowledge of all your Lordships, that most emphatic approval of the principle of research has been given by successive Lord Presidents of the Council. The present Prime Minister, Sir John Anderson, and Mr. Herbert Morrison have all expressed themselves in that sense. I do not think I can do better than quote to your Lordships from an address made by Mr. Herbert Morrison to the Research Associations as recently as November 6 last: Scientific research has, and will continue to have, the full support and encouragement of His Majesty's Government … The research associations are of special importance … No single section of industry can afford to be without this essential scientific partnership. … Expenditure on scientific research should be regarded as an essential cost.… A percentage should he spent by very concern in its industry.… In the national interest, the Government intends to do everything in its power to assist cooperative research. No words that I could add in recommending this Bill to your Lordships could improve upon those of the Lord President of the Council.

For that reason I hope the Government, if they are to be free from the charge of hypocrisy, will indicate their intention to accept the principles of this Bill. I would remind your Lordships that the powers which this Bill seeks to put into the hands of the Government are small compared with the powers which in recent weeks we have thrown into their lap, not without doubts from this side of the House. I find myself in this unusual position: that, so far from this Bill going too far, it may well be that I am guilt, of moderation. But, curiously enough, this should be the side of the House which should be opposing the Bill and the Government side should be accepting it with alacrity, because it seeks to implement, to the fullest degree, for the benefit of industry, powers which are modest compared with others the Government have taken, and which would put industry in a position efficiently to carry out what is required. I can only, in conclusion, hope that if my noble friend, on behalf of the Government, is not able to accept the powers sought in this Bill, he will at least give an assurance that the intention of the Government exists to give something perhaps more swift and more effective. I have pleasure in moving the Second Reading of this Bill.

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

4.24 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the energy and public spirit the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, has Shown in drafting and bringing forward this Bill, and also to the devotion with which he has pursued this most important subject over a long period of years. I do not know any similar example of fidelity since Jacob laboured fourteen years for Rachel. If I remember aright, he got Leah after seven years but he got Rachel in the end. I hope the noble Lord will be equally fortunate, but I am not in a position to promise him Rachel at the moment.

It seems to me possible to distinguish four propositions in the case that the noble Lord has presented so dearly and concisely. First of all, he argued that British industry needs more collective research; secondly, that more collective research involves more money; thirdly, that more money means a compulsory levy by industry on industry for industry; and lastly, that a compulsory levy of that kind requires legislation on the lines set out in the Bill before the House. The noble Lord will forgive me if I do not indicate in detail the attitude of the Government to each of these propositions, but, as he says, we are all here at one in accepting the vital necessity of collective research and, indeed, of technical research of all kinds. He was kind enough to take out of my mouth and save me the trouble of quoting the words I was going to quote from the Lord President of the Council about the importance that the Government attach to this subject; but I cannot help recalling to the noble Lord the sentence that came after the first one he quoted. He did not remind the House of the Lord President's claim that this was a scientifically-minded Government. I do not know how true that would have been until recently of those of us who sit on these Benches, but since the accession of Lord Rothschild and the reappearance of Earl Russell it may be that you will be more inclined to agree with the Lord President in his description of the attitude of those who support the Government.

Your Lordships will recall that on the 1st of August last year, the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, asked whether the Government would introduce a Bill of the kind now before the House: The noble Lord, Lord Templemore, in whose footsteps as spokesman for the Board of Trade I tread with proper diffidence, replied on behalf of the Government that discussions were about to take place with many industries on their post-war problems, and he promised that this subject of a statutory levy would be among those upon which industry would be consulted. That is in the recollection of the House. Those consultations have duly taken place. Some eighty or ninety industries have been asked for their views on the principle of a statutory levy to finance either technical research alone or technical research along with other desirable co-operative activities. I cannot think the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, would have considered the reply from industry to this approach very encouraging. There was, it is true, no active opposition to the principle of an enabling Bill, but only about a dozen industries out of the eighty or ninety consulted indicated that they might take advantage of such legislation to finance any of the joint activities mentioned; and I may add that apart from the wool industry—


May I interrupt the noble Lord? Was that poll taken during the life of the present Government or of the preceding Government?


I am not in a position to answer that within the next half-minute.


You will forgive me if I suggest that if it was taken during the life of the present Government, there might have been some hesitation because of fears of the policy of the present Government.


I will let the noble Lord have further information on that point. At any rate, the consultations took place since August 1, 1944. Apart from the wool industry who are at present formulating their own scheme, and the rayon industry, no industry seemed to consider the matter of great urgency. Notwithstanding this rather negative attitude of industry, the Government remain of the opinion stated on behalf of the Coalition Government that, in suitable cases, where the majority of an industry want it, a statutory levy for research and possibly for other purposes may be a good thing. The subject is important, and it would undoubtedly be valuable to have the power to make such levies if it could be got without holding up equally important and more urgent parts of the legislative programme.

If I may interrupt myself for a moment to reply to the noble Lord, I can now inform him that the questionnaire was sent out and the replies all received before the election. Taking into account, however, the extreme pressure on Parliamentary time during the present Session, the Government will be unable to give facilities for Lord Barnby's Bill. I hope that your Lordships will not conclude that in consequence any research work will be held up that would otherwise be undertaken. Lord Barnby's proposals are very properly directed to providing adequate and stable finance for industrial research associations. That, I need hardly say, is also the object of the Government. But whatever may be the position in the future, finance is not at present the main trouble.

May I briefly remind your Lordships of a few facts? During the war the number of research associations increased from 25 to 30; another eight industries are at present forming these associations and a further half dozen or so are considering following suit. During this time not one of the present associations, so far as is known, has been held up by financial considerations in expanding its activities. The noble Lord shakes his head; he may be able to give us further information later, but that is our information at the moment. Contributions to research associations from industry have increased from £289,000 in 1938 to £616,000 in 1944, but it is estimated that the 1945 contributions will amount to £725,000: that is an increase to about two and a half times the 1938 figure. The contribution of the Government to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research has increased more than proportionately. In 1938 it was £174,000, and it is estimated that in 1945 it will reach £441,000.

I am further entitled to remind your Lordships, though I am in no way anxious to make a Party point, that the present Government have recently given evidence of a fresh and determined initiative in this matter of grants for collective research. The Lord President, in his speech on November 6, from which the noble Lord quoted and from which I also quoted, announced two, some would say three, important changes in the Government's policy of research grants. A grant will no longer be regarded as temporary assistance to help with the formation of associations which will ultimately become self-sufficient, but will form a permanent contribution to their work, and the basis on which they are made will be adjusted in a manner favourable to the association. Further, the Government will be prepared to make special grants to associations to cover particular items of expenditure on new buildings, especially expensive equipment or plant necessary for development. Those announcements are, I think, evidence of a new and determined initiative.

I hope you will not regard us as in any way complacent concerning the amount spent on collective research, but it should be borne in mind, as I sought to bring out by an observation earlier, that the figures quoted refer only to collective research. The amounts spent in the form of individual research are very much larger. The main difficulty, as many of your Lordships are aware, confronting these associations at the present time is physical rather than financial; it is the difficulty of obtaining the scientists, the buildings and the equipment required. In those matters the Government are taking every possible step to assist industry in the way that industry desires.

The reply given by the Government does not, perhaps, go as far as the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, wishes, but I am asked to emphasize that the Government do appreciate that in some industries a statutory levy would give research associations the security of revenue necessary to allow them to plan useful long-tern research and would have other advantages. That fact is fully recognized by the Government. Accordingly, the Government still have the matter much in mind, along with the allied question of statutory levies to finance other desirable co-operative activities. The Government would have liked to be able to say this afternoon that facilities could be provided for Lord Barnby's Bill, although in their view, even if this could have been clone, it would have been necessary to see what Amendments would have been required, and, in particular, to see whether the scope of the Bill would not have had to he widened. The Government certainly do not wish to discourage industries which have plans under consideration from proceeding to work them out in detail, even if those plans will ultimately need statutory power to give effect to them. Within the limits I have just mentioned, anything which the Government can do to further projects of this kind, will most assuredly be done.

In conclusion, may I say to the noble Lord who has introduced this Bill, that I would like to assure him, on behalf of the Government, of the importance that the Government attach to a rapid improvement in the scientific basis of our industrial production. The Government can do a little to help in that matter, but primarily such improvement must depend on the willingness of industrialists themselves to devote resources to research, both co-operative and private; and it must depend still more on the willingness of industrialists to exploit the results of scientific research. It is the aim of the Government to encourage throughout industry a lively and inquisitive desire to be informed of the new methods and the best ways of using them. That attitude will, I am sure, commend itself to the noble Lord who has introduced the Bill, and to all members of your Lordships' House.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, I would like, first of all, to say how very much I appreciate the considerate mariner in which my noble friend has replied to my remarks. I am at a disadvantage, as any mover of a Motion always is, particularly regarding a matter of a technical character like this, in not being able to grasp thoroughly the references to possible action by the Government. So far as I have been able to assess the remarks of my noble friend, I feel he has given me a substantial reassurance as to the sympathy of the Government in regard to the need for statutory powers and as to their readiness to provide every facility in the way of grants for research. My noble friend foreshadowed possible legislation when the Parliamentary timetable permitted, but I think it would have been of greater consolation to industry if he had been able to say the Government could see their way to let this Bill proceed through this House, when it would have had to await its fate in another place. Time is the essence of this. Industry needs this reassurance. I would therefore have liked to have had some indication of the date when the legislation foreshadowed might be introduced.

My noble friend has said that finance is not the main difficulty. It is not for the time being. As he knows well, personnel is a much more difficult problem at the moment, but we hope that that situation will not continue for long. The need for security of revenue is recognized, but only on the basis of generous assistance given by the Government. As a believer in robust individualism, I am not among those who believe that industry should be relieved of the necessity of putting up funds itself and should depend entirely on the Government. My noble friend has foreshadowed the generous policy which the Government intend to follow. I would urge him to ask the Minister concerned, are President of the Board of Trade, to reconsider the present position and to see if he cannot give some encouragement to these associations, by indicating an earlier date when something in the way of legislation may be promised. I would remind your Lord- ships that It is sought only to put enabling powers into the hands of the Government. In view of the reassurance which my noble friend has given me, I ask leave to withdraw my Motion and the Bill.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill, by leave, withdrawn.

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