HL Deb 14 December 1953 vol 185 cc24-64

3.53 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, it has seemed to me—and I hope noble Lords will agree—that it may be useful for the House if I intervene fairly early in this debate, for I take it that one of the main purposes which the noble Viscount, Lord Falmouth, had in mind in tabling his Motion was to give me an opportunity to make, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, a general statement of our policy on atomic energy. For this I am extremely grateful to him, and I am particularly grateful to him, if I may say so, for agreeing to alter the date of the debate in order to enable me to get over an attack of bronchitis. I should also like to thank him for the far too kind things he said about me personally at the beginning of his speech. I am extremely conscious of my unworthiness for this important job, and I can only tell your Lordships that I will do my very best.

What I would suggest is that I should make a broad statement now and intervene again, if the House will permit it, at the end of the debate, to deal with any further detailed points that might be made, either by the noble Viscount, Lord Falmouth, who has made a certain number of them, or by other noble Lords who may wish to take part. I have been considering how I should deal with this extremely large and very technical subject. It seems to me that the best plan is for me to formulate some of the main questions which have arisen, and are likely to arise, on the Government's White Paper, and try to answer those. By doing this I believe that I shall cover in the most expeditious and convenient way those aspects of the Government's scheme which seem to have aroused the most interest, including, I think, a great many of those points which have been raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Falmouth, in the most helpful speech which he has already delivered to the House, and of course others which may be raised by noble Lords who may take part later in this debate.

The first question to which I would refer is this: Why have the Government decided to set up a Corporation at all? The reason for this is perfectly simple. We must face the fact that the Atomic Energy Project is expanding to such an extent that it may shortly be—I think this is not an exaggeration—among the country's major industries, in terms at any rate of capital investment, if not of workers employed. Its size and great importance for the future of the country require that those responsible for its management must be able to devote their whole time to this work, something which is quite impossible for senior officials, however devoted they may be, in a department concerned with many other things as well.

It is, I assume, common ground between us all, in whatever part of the House we may sit, that industrial undertakings should not be under direct Civil Service control. This was, as I understand it, a decision which was taken by the late Government. When that Government set out, as we all know, to create a series of nationalised undertakings in the years immediately after the war, they set their face against direct departmental administration. They then created, as the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot, will know well, the conception of a statutory corporation which they applied to such services as coal, electricity, gas and so on. All that the present Government are doing is to apply this conception of the statutory corporation to atomic energy. It is true that the Atomic Energy Project is different from the undertakings controlled by the other statutory bodies, to the extent that it is likely to have very little revenue of its own and will, therefore, for much the greater part of its finances depend directly on the Exchequer. That is a difference. Moreover, the subject with which it has to deal has, of course, far-reaching political implications, not merely domestic but also international. These are, I agree, reasons why overall policy must remain firmly in the bands of the Government, and the financial dependence on voted monies is a reason why the Government will be responsible to Parliament for the general financial requirements of the Corporation in a way which does not apply to anything like the same extent in the case of the other nationalised bodies.

These special financial considerations, and the fact that the whole of the staff will at the outset be taken over from the Civil Service, will mean, of course, that the Corporation will require to have exceptionally close links with the Government. But that does not mean—I would emphasise this—that it is suitable for detailed Civil Service control: rather the contrary. It is, as I think the White Paper itself says, at once a research project, working all the time on the frontiers of human knowledge and, at the same time, a large production organisation with wide problems of factory management. For these two reasons, it demands a flexible organisation capable of speedy decisions.

It is at least open to doubt whether the world would have progressed as rapidly as it has done in the last century, if the major new developments in science—steam, electricity, the internal combustion engine and aeroplanes—had been left to be developed by the Civil Service of the day, working on the usual lines of Departmental administration. What applies to those is surely true also of atomic energy—indeed, I think I am right in saying that the United Kingdom seems to be the only country in the world which has not already reached this conclusion. In saying this, I can assure your Lordships that the Government have not been unduly influenced by the form in which the United States runs her atomic energy project. It is, I believe, a fact that practically all the countries which are interested in atomic energy developments have already taken them out of ordinary departmental administration. Canada arid Sweden have State companies; Australia has recently taken these matters away from her Ministry of Supply and has set up an independent Atomic Energy Commission; and similar Commissions have been set up by France, Belgium, Holland and Norway.

I was very glad to hear, if I understood him aright, that the noble Viscount, Lord Falmouth approves of the Government's action in setting up the Corporation, for exactly that type of reason that I tried just now to indicate to your Lordships. But I recognise that he is not altogether enthusiastic about the exact form which the Corporation is to take. He has expressed doubts as to the predominantly functional character of the board and, I understand, suggests instead the type of board which at present exists under some other research organisations. I certainly have no complaint or criticism to make of those hoards. They are extremely well conceived for the purpose for which they are intended, and as we all know, they have done most valuable work. But I am quite certain that, on further thought, the House will agree that the character of the board of this new Atomic Corporation is widely different from those other boards to which I have referred, whose budgets range from about £50,000 to about £500,000 a year. For one thing, this Corporation will be an executive and not, as they are, an advisory body. That, of course, is a fundamental difference. Moreover, it will be a body which is likely to spend tens of millions a year. My Lords, given the existing and proposed organisation, there is I believe really no alternative to that which, if I may say so in the noble Viscount's presence, the Waverley Committee have proposed.

Now a word about the chairman of the board, about whom I thought the noble Viscount, Lord Falmouth, was also critical. In this matter, whilst I have the highest respect for the noble Viscount's judgment, I must confess that I could not agree with him. He said, in effect, that the Government, who have always paid lip service to the appointment of technical men to higher positions in industry, have not in this particular case carried out their own advice. I should have thought that that was exactly what the Government have done. We intend that the board should be composed of technical experts—the greatest in the world: Sir John Cockcroft, Sir Christopher Hinton, Sir William Penney. What does he want better than that? But for the chairman of the board, the managing director of the whole concern, surely other qualities are also required. He cannot, in the nature of things, be a specialist in every field with which the Corporation has to deal. No man, however brilliant, can be an engineer, a chemist, a nuclear physicist and a metallurgist; and if he is one of these he might (I do not say he would) be unconsciously biased in favour of the needs of his own speciality. He must also be able to interpret the views of the project to the Government and the policy of the Government to the project. He needs, therefore, as I see it, not so much pure technical qualifications, however distinguished those might be, as wide administrative experience and outstanding general ability. That is what the Waverley Committee thought and recom- mended. And here, too, the Government have accepted, I am sure rightly, their recommendation. In this field I should have thought that no man was more outstandingly qualified, by experience and abilities, than Sir Edwin Plowden. I feel that we are extremely lucky to have got him for this vital post.

Now, my Lords, I come to the second question, which I think may fairly be asked about the White Paper. Granted that this change is right, why should the transfer be made now? My answer to such a question would be this. The Government have been anxious from the first to ensure that the administrative change should cause the minimum disturbance to the work of the Project. It is for that reason that consideration of the matter was postponed until after Monte Bello. When the practical implications were examined, it was seen that there were necessarily two stages in the change. The first stage is that of making the Project a distinct administrative entity within the Civil Service. The main establishments in which atomic energy work is carried out are quite distinct, and in that sphere, of course, there is very little problem in apportioning separate use. Certain atomic work under the ægis of the Corporation will continue to be carried on in parts of certain Ministry of Supply establishments; but this will be a rapidly diminishing feature as time goes on, particularly since building work is already planned, or in hand, which will enable work at present being undertaken at Woolwich and Fort Halstead to be transferred to Aldermaston.

There is, however, as no doubt will be pointed out to me, a much larger problem of the administrative common services—contracts, housing, hostels, canteens and various inspectorate services, as well as the normal financial and administrative machinery. Until now, these have been provided by those branches of the Ministry of Supply that provided the same services for Ministry of Supply establishments having no connection with atomic energy. Separate services will now have to be brought into being to deal with this. The creation of separate services for the Corporation must necessarily be taken in hand, as your Lordships will see, well in advance of the date on which the Corporation itself will come into existence. It would be most undesirable to make this task still more difficult by trying to deal with it at the same time as we are tackling the totally different problems associated with the transfer from the Civil Service to the Corporation. It is obvious that the creation of such a separate unity and responsibility for the legislation setting up the Corporation must be entrusted to the Minister who will be responsible for its successful working. If I may remind the House, the Waverley Report states: After the Government's decision to set up a Corporation has been taken it will be necessary to draft the necessary legislation and prepare the way for making the Corporation a separate administrative entity. These tasks should be undertaken by those who will bear responsibility for the Corporation's successful working. That view has already been justified by practical experience, since the preparatory work has already shown that it would be quite out of the question to undertake the creation of a separate Civil Service entity and, at the same time, to deal with the problems of transfer to the Corporation. These problems would have to be dealt with in a second stage which involves moving staff out of the Civil Service. On this, all I can say at the moment is that the rights of the existing Civil Service staff will be respected, and that there will be close consultation wilt the staff associations. I do not think I can go further than that at the moment, but I am glad to give that assurance to the House.

Now I come to the third and last question which may be asked about the Corporation. Why has the Lord President been chosen as the Minister who is to concern himself with this all-important subject? Well, my Lords, let me make it clear at once that there is nothing new about this idea. I am pretty sure that I am right in saying that the present Government—and, indeed, the Waverley Committee—were not the first to think that the Lord President is the proper Minister to be responsible for atomic energy. As far back as the days of the last war, when the United Kingdom atomic energy programme was first born, the Coalition Government of that day entrusted supervision to the then Lord President, partly—if I may say so in his presence—for very personal reasons, but also because he was the Minister in charge of Government science projects generally.

When the United Kingdom Project was restarted after the war, the late Government decided to transfer responsibility to the Minister of Supply. I make no criticism of that decision. At the time it was made, I think it was probably absolutely right. There were certainly very good reasons for it. It was reached, as I understand, partly because the Ministry of Supply had at that time spare administrative and industrial capacity, which became available as the war came to an end, but mainly because the immediate object of the project in its initial phase was the making of weapons. The fissile material which the Government aimed at producing could indeed be used either in weapons or, of course, in industrial reactors: but the only immediate possibility, at that time was the making of weapons. Weapons, it was known, had already been made in the United States and at that time no one had any definite idea, I understand, of how an industrial reactor could be made. The industrial possibilities had, therefore, no immediate relevance, so the natural Minister to choose to take charge was the Minister responsible for weapons manufacture, the Minister of Supply.

Here I should like to pay a tribute, if I may, to the late and the present Ministers of Supply and their Department. I would entirely agree with all those who have emphasised the admirable work which they have done. If any change is now proposed, it is not because they in any way failed to do the job which was before them but because, in the view of Her Majesty's Government and their advisers, a completely new situation is now arising that requires new treatment. It had already become clear by the time the present Government came into power that this situation was about to change, and that power reactors for industrial purposes were about to become a practical proposition. It was for that reason that the present Prime Minister—as is mentioned, I think, in the White Paper—stated in Parliament, within three weeks of the Government's assuming office, that he was considering what adjustments could be made in the existing statutory responsibilities of the Minister of Supply for atomic energy.

It was not possible to make any change at that time, for it would clearly, as I have explained, have been most unwise to subject the Project to the strains inseparable from administrative alteration at a moment when it was already under extreme pressure in preparation for the Monte Bello test. That would not have been the moment to do it. But as soon as the Monte Bello test was over, the Government began again to examine the problem, and as soon as the necessary preliminary conclusions had been reached, the Waverley Committee was appointed. It was appointed for the specific purpose—I quote the words: of devising a plan for transferring responsibility for atomic energy from the Ministry of Supply to a non-Departmental organisation and to work out the most suitable form for the new organisation, due regard being paid to any constitutional and financial implications. That is to say, the Government had already taken the necessary decision in principle to set up a non-Departmental organisation, subject to their being satisfied as to the practicability of the necessary arrangements which had to be made.

In this connection, I think it is pertinent to remind your Lordships that during this period to which I have referred considerable advances had been and were being made in our knowledge of power reactors; indeed, by August, 1952, the beginnings of a power reactor programme had already been undertaken. Noble Lords will, I am sure, recognise that once this step had been taken, it clearly became inappropriate that the Minister of Supply, who was mainly concerned with weapons of war, should continue to be in charge of the project. For a conflict of priorities had begun to be visible—a competition between military and civil reactors, and between the claims on the limited supply of fissile material for military or civil purposes. The Waverley Committee, having examined the problem, recommended that an organisation of the type that the Government had envisaged was practicable, and recommended that the Minister responsible: should be one of the existing Ministers of high Cabinet rank who has no departmental responsibilities which would encroach upon the field of atomic energy. This meant, in effect, that the Minister should not be either the Minister of Supply (or any Minister concerned with defence) or the Minister of Fuel and Power. For though the latter has at present no direct responsibilities in this field, he will inevitably, as time goes on, come to have a close Departmental interest in the application of atomic power. The need for a co-ordinating Minister of high Cabinet rank, without Departmental interests of his own, led naturally, I think, to the selection of the Lord President as Minister responsible. It will be his function, under the new scheme, to keep the balance in atomic energy matters between defence and power; and he will have to carry this task of maintaining this balance into his consideration of all aspects of the Corporation's activities. He will also have to bear in mind those biological applications which may well have a growing importance in future. His new duties will undoubtedly be both arduous and extremely responsible; but they will, I believe, be such as can better be carried out by a Minister without Departmental responsibilities which might in any way, even subconsciously, affect that delicate balance to which I have referred.

So much, my Lords, for the present arrangements. I have tried to explain to the House why the Government favour the setting up of a Corporation, why they have come to the conclusion that the time has arrived to initiate this change, and. finally, why they have decided to make the Lord President the Minister responsible for this great new Project. But, in this sphere above all others, the present is linked indissolubly with the future. What of the future? How do I envisage that? He would be a very rash man who attempted to dogmatise on this subject; I certainly do not propose to do that this afternoon. But I feel that I ought, with very great diffidence, to indicate to the House how, according to my present knowledge, I envisage the future, in this country, of the Atomic Energy Project. In speaking of the future, I propose to say very little about weapons, but I should like to take this opportunity of offering our warm congratulations and wholehearted thanks to Sir William Penney, and ail our other scientists and engineers, on the success of Monte Bello and this year's tests in the Australian desert.

Nobody, I suppose, wants this country to use an atomic bomb, and I hope most profoundly that the necessity may never be forced upon us. But the value of the bomb as a deterrent is unrivalled. Indeed, we may say, I think, without exaggeration, that it is vital to our survival as a first-rate nation that we should be up to date and well supplied with atomic weapons. This subject is relevant to our consideration of the plan proposed by President Eisenhower in his speech to the United Nations last week on December 8. I do not propose to speak of that plan today. There will be other opportunities. I should merely like to take this opportunity of expressing the gratitude of Her Majesty's Government for this constructive attempt to lay the way for an easing of international tension and the ultimate removal of this dread of atomic energy which has come to dominate mankind. We trust that the Soviet Union will give this proposal the serious consideration which it deserves.

As to the civil application of atomic energy, I do not intend to-day to say anything about the use of radio isotopes, though their use is rapidly spreading into all fields of medicine, biology, industry and agriculture. For most of us, I imagine, the major interest in the future of atomic energy must be in the possibilities for power. As a source of industrial power, it may well be that mankind will in years to come consider that atomic fission was discovered only just in time. The present rate of consumption of existing fuels in the world as a whole is extremely startling, and the acceleration in that rate is even more fantastic. I should like to give the House one or two examples of what I mean. In the United States one-half of all the coal ever consumed has been burned since 1920, and one half of the oil and natural gas ever consumed has been burned since 1940, while the annual world burn-up of sources of energy in 1950 was ten times that of 1850. That is a sobering, even a frightening thought. I am told that by the year 2,000, at the present rate of expansion, it may again have increased to four times the present figure.

This is only one, but a vital, consequence of the growth in world population and even more of the rapid industrialisation of many parts of the world. Reserves of the fuels used up to now are not inexhaustible, and unless this industrialisation is to come to a sudden stop, bringing the whole world to a halt, new economic sources of energy will have to be tapped. Of course, the total reserves of the conventional sources of fuel are still very great—I may say, vast—but only a proportion is likely to be obtained at prices which even in the fairly distant future are likely to be economic. There remains, therefore, atomic energy as the only means by which a shortage of sources of energy, which might cripple the progress of mankind, can be overcome. This depends on the world reserves of uranium and thorium. Until new and more economic methods of using these—and in particular the breeder reactor, on which experiments are still going on—have become a proved success, even these will not hold out much hope for the continuous supply of energy to the world over the centuries to come. Given such success, and I believe we may hope for that, it has been roughly estimated that if the whole of the uranium and thorium which can be recovered at reasonable, costs can be used, reserves of these materials would be equivalent to from three to six times the world economic reserves of coal and some twenty to forty times the world reserves of oil and gas.

If I were to try and relate this broad world position to the circumstances of the United Kingdom in the years immediately ahead, obviously I should run all the risks of prophesying in a field where fresh technical developments occur every month and where much even of what is known cannot for several reasons be spoken of, because power and weapon progress is so closely linked. However, I can give this information without letting any very dangerous cat out of the bag. So far as we can look ahead at present, there is no question, as some wild reports seem to suggest, of atomic power entirely replacing coal in the whole of British industry. Here I ought to say to your Lordships quite definitely that, so far as my information goes, the only way in which in the foreseeable future the fission process can be made commercially useful is to produce heat. Science at present can hold out no prospect of a direct application of the fission process, like the electric storage battery. Therefore, it is necessary to produce heat. This heat could be used in the crude form. But it would be very expensive to run reactors primarily for that purpose, and industry is most unlikely to do so. Therefore, presumably the main object will be to use the heat generated in atomic fission to produce steam and from that steam to generate electricity. In that process there are considerable economies on a large scale.

For that purpose it is desirable and, indeed, in this country economically essential to generate large quantities of electricity in one place, for obviously the main use of such electricity is to feed it into the grid. The only body, therefore—and this is important—which has any immediate interest in what the atomic energy project is doing is the State-owned British Electricity Authority. It is far too early to-day to make any statement about the nature of the relations in the future between the Atomic Energy Corporation and the British Electricity Authority—whether the British Electricity Authority will build all their own atomic power stations to designs developed by the Corporation or whether they will take some electricity from plants run by the Corporation primarily for military or research purposes. But, whatever the relations between the two turn out to be—and personally I hope they will be very close; indeed, that certainly ought to be—it is clear that so far as development in the United Kingdom is concerned the State-owned British Electricity Authority will be the major beneficiary from the Corporation's work.

The main objectives of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Project over the next thirty to forty years are likely to be, first, the production of sufficient electricity in nuclear reactors to enable the country's rapidly growing demands for electricity to be met without imposing an intolerable additional burden on the coal industry, and, secondly, so far as possible, the replacement of some portion of the 30 to 40 million tons of coal which are now used annually in the generation of electricity, which could then be made available for other and more profitable uses, as in exports. During this period atomic energy is by no means going to oust coal completely. It is only going to form an invaluable supplement to it, to free good coal which is in short supply and to make more coal available for chemical processes which would recover the valuable compounds it contains instead of allowing it to disappear up the chimneys of power stations.

The rate of progress which can be made towards the achievement of this aim depends on technical and economic factors. I understand it is extremely difficult to forecast the technical future of reactors at a time when no country in the world has as yet run a plant of any size for the generation of electricity. A good many of your Lordships will already know that at present we are engaged in constructing a plant at Calder Hall, and until Calder Hall plant is working it will obviously be impossible to say with complete confidence that all the initial problems in generating electricity from atomic energy have been overcome. But I would say to the noble Viscount, Lord Falmouth, that the scientific authorities are reasonably assured that this plant will be technically successful.

A more important point is: will a plant built on this sort of design also be economically successful in the generation of electricity? Before we begin to talk of the price of atomic electricity we must remember that the cost of making steam, which is the only novel part of the process, is considerably less than half of the cost of electricity as delivered to the consumer. Some part of the process of generation and all the process of distribution must be carried on as at present. Even if atomic fission could produce free steam (which is absurd) the cost of electricity to the consumer would sink only from 1.3d. to about 0.9d. per unit. And these are not the only factors that we have to take into account in making our calculations. If we try to estimate what will be the cost of steam from atomic boilers, and therefore the total cost of atomic electricity, we come up against the further question: what are we to do about the value of the fissile material produced in such a reactor? Whether used for military or for civil purposes, it is extremely valuable. But, unfortunately, I understand there is at present no way of estimating what that value is, and we cannot therefore assign any precise figure to it.

At the same time, it is, I think, possible for me, greatly daring, to attempt some assessment of the probable cost. Working on the basis which I have described—which is, I would emphasise, not the most favourable to atomic energy economics—it looks as though the cost of the electricity from plant developed on the lines of the Calder Hall plant would be about ld. per unit at the buss-bar—which I understand means when it goes into the grid. This is clearly not economically competitive with coal-fired generating stations, where the cost of electricity generated in new stations is at present about 0.6d. to 0 .7d. But without, I hope, embarrassing the Minister of Fuel and Power, I may remind the House that coal prices have gone up two and a half times in the last seventy years, and the trend shows no signs of altering. On the other hand, the price of atomic electricity is largely related to the cost of capital investment, which bulks far higher for atomic than it does for coal-fired power stations; and it is certain that later and improved models will reduce the initial capital cost, and that, as a result, the price of electricity generated will drop.

What these later and improved models will be, we cannot yet say. At this stage we know only enough to know that there are countless possible avenues of advance open to us. One of the most important will certainly be a fast breeder reactor. As the House knows from a statement made last January in another place, this is a project which we already have in hand. It may therefore be expected, with some confidence, that at some yet undetermined point atomic electricity in this country will become as cheap or cheaper than coal-fired electricity. The speed at which this point is reached, and the rate of technical success in breaking new ground will clearly determine the time at which atomic energy comes to play a significant part in the country's economy. Very considerable capital investment will be required, and progress will therefore depend not only upon the efforts of the Corporation, but on the views of the Government and of the British Electricity Authority on the proper rate of investment.

No one can now make any reliable estimate on these matters, and I am certainly not going to try this afternoon. I am, however, told that if we can live up to a programme which is already under examination, there is no reason, according to an estimate which I have received, why by far the greater part of the country's electricity should not be generates from atomic energy by the year 2000—that is, about fifty years from now. This is, of course, only one of the guesses which might be made depending on the wisdom of one particular line of future technical policy. In giving it, I am not committing myself to any particular forecast, and still less making any announcement of settled Government policy. We must, however, I am afraid, face the fact that if we are to get into a position to follow up any of these possibilities a great deal of money must be spent during this initial and, to some extent, experimental phase. That is my main answer to the anxiety of the noble Viscount, Lord Falmouth, on this question.

The noble Viscount asked this afternoon, if I understood him aright, if a 10,000-kilowatt plant would not he sufficient. I would say that the Government statement in another place about 50,000 kilowatts, to which he referred, covers two completely different plants; that is to say, the projected breeder reactor, to which I have already referred, and the Calder Hall plant. This would no doubt affect the deduction which the noble Viscount seeks to draw. But in general, I say, with all deference to the noble Viscount, that he is tending to compare the results achieved by our first experimental plants with those expected of fully developed conventional plants. I am sure he will appreciate that the results to be expected from the plants we are now building will not be the admittedly meagre quantities of electricity which they will produce, but rather the experience on which commercial plants will later be designed.

It would, of course, be much easier to do what he suggests and proceed in more leisurely fashion from laboratory to pilot model, and then on to a small-scale prototype, before we tackle large full-scale plants; but we cannot, I submit afford this pace if we are to keep up with developments in the world. Civil and military applications alike—and the military value of all these plants cannot, in present circumstances, be overlooked—make it necessary for us to take risks now, as we have frequently done in the past, by building large plants with, I am afraid, far less preparation than is ideally desirable. As to the Calder Hall plant, as I understand it, we might learn the essential technical lessons from a smaller plant, hut, in the view of all the authorities, it is essential for us to get as soon as possible a more accurate idea of the economics of atomic electricity. It is certain that, to be competitive with coal-fired electricity in this country, reactors will have to be of a fair size, and it would be impossible to get any true idea of the economics of a large plant from experience with a small one.

If I may turn aside for a moment I should like to say a word or two about what the noble Viscount, Lord Falmouth, regarded, I think, as another example of Government extravagance—namely, the submarine reactor. I think the noble Viscount made too heavy weather about the submarine reactor; as I thought, he made a large brick with remarkably little straw. I take it that he was referring to two statements made by my noble friend, Lord Birkenhead, on March 27, 1952 and May 13, 1953, that we are at the present moment devoting a great deal of attention to this project. The noble Viscount, Lord Falmouth, will realise that security considerations preclude me from giving much information on this subject, but I can assure him that he should not read more into my noble friend's words than what he actually said. I am sure there is nothing he need be anxious about at present.

May I now return for a moment, before I finish, to my main theme? I am not going to pretend to the House that we can expect any sudden developments which will bring a dramatic drop in the price of electricity supplied to the consumer, or which will suddenly render existing power stations obsolete or make a dramatic reduction in the demand for coal. There is going to be no sudden miracle. Indeed, the scale of initial capital investment will be much heavier than with coal-fired plants. But what I have said will, I hope, show noble Lords that we can now make informed guesses about the rate at which this totally novel type of plant may spread over the whole of electricity generation. The phenomenon of nuclear fission was, after all, discovered only fifteen years ago. For fourteen of those years, the immediate application seemed to be overwhelmingly military, and the power reactor, I might almost say, was a mere research curiosity. Now, though it was only last year that the United Kingdom was able to decide on the first power reactors she would build, we can, I gather, foresee with confidence that this type of plant will shortly take its place in the framework of the nation's economy, and that it has a vital contribution to make to the country's shortened power resources. This, I submit, is the main, and sufficient, justification for the changes on which the Government have decided.

In what I have said to your Lordships it has not been my aim to paint the picture of the immediate possibilities of atomic energy in too glowing colours. If anything, I have erred on the other side. I make no apology for this. Nothing would be more unwise than to arouse expectations which are not likely to be realised. But, let us make no mistake: taking a broader and larger view, the possibilities in this new field are limitless. For the first time in mankind's history we are no longer dependent for power on muscle, wind, fire and water. The White Paper said, as your Lordships will remember: …it is not too much to say that the exploitation of nuclear energy may come to be regarded as the most important step taken by man in the mastery of nature since the discovery of fire. That, I believe, is no overstatement. Looking, forward, it may well be that future generations will remember 1939 as the year of the discovery of the fission of uranium by Hahn and Strassmann, when the launching of Hitler's war and all those other great events which now bulk so large in our minds have almost disappeared into the limbo of the past.

4.41 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join in thanking the noble Viscount, Lord Falmouth, for initiating this debate, and to say with him how glad we are to see the Lord President at the Box, obviously in roaring good form again. I should like to say how much I appreciate what I am sure all your Lordships will feel was the lucid, eloquent and brilliant essay he embarked upon in describing the present state and the future outlook of this fascinating subject. As one interested in this subject, I listened to it with great attention and enjoyed it very much. I am bound to confess, however, that I was a little disappointed at the Lord President's attempt to justify this complex change in the administration of this matter. Unless it is fully justified, it seems to me a very unwise step indeed, because at a crucial moment it will throw a great burden upon those who are administering and carrying out these highly complex operations.

The Lord President explained that he had no complaint to make about the work which has been done hitherto under the ægis of the Ministry of Supply. I was glad to hear him say that, because I think we have nothing whatever to be ashamed of in the record of Great Britain in this matter. We made a substantial contribution to the Allied effort in it during the war, and at the present time in some regards we are even in advance in research and development of American discovery and achievement. This is due to the brilliant work of the scientists, the organisers, the engineers and the planners who, under the Ministry of Supply, have carried on this remarkable work with surprisingly slender resources. The results are a monument to British capacity to do great work with small tools. Our thanks are due to all those, including the noble Viscount, Lord. Portal of Hunger-ford, who undertook this immense burden as a public duty at a time when he might have asked to be relieved, for the time being at any rate.

I should like to hear more from the Lord President and from the Government as to the reasons why they have determined upon this serious step. There is no question of Party politics here; it is purely an examination of the best method of administration from time to time. There is nothing to be said against the institution of a statutory Corporation. In my view and that of my friends, for certain purposes it is the best instrument which has been devised, and I know that many of your Lordships on the other side of the House will share that limited statement. This instrument has been devised and successfully used in the past where there has been a commercial function of great public responsibility. But in this matter, in the foreseeable future, there is no really commercial function. The new public Corporation will have nothing substantial to sell—unless it be a few isotopes—except, eventually, electricity into the grid; and then its sole customer will be the State-owned electricity corporation. It will have no commercial function at all.

The Lord President said—and the White Paper which summarises the Waverley Committee's recommendations points out—that the public Corporation will have no income apart from Government grants, and the whole of the financial mechanism reflects that fact. The financial control is exactly the control of a Whitehall Department. It has annual grants; it has annual accounts; it has all the terrific commercial disadvantages of that form of financial administration. It is subject to the Comptroller and Auditor General, and, I assume, the Public Accounts Committee. All those are safeguards imposed upon spending Departments and the fact that they are to be imposed upon this public statutory Corporation in my view completely destroys the case for its separate existence.

It may be that the complications of the administration of the Atomic Energy Projects are becoming so vast as to place a great strain upon the Minister and the Ministry of Supply. I do not know that that is so. As the war years recede, and the necessity for tight control over a wide range of metallurgical and other products disappears, the functions of the Ministry of Supply grow rapidly less. I should have been surprised if the Minister of Supply had been unable, with his able staff and remarkably efficient organisation, to discharge these responsibilities. If that were so then I think there would be a case for a separate Ministry or a separate whole section of the Ministry of Supply under a separate Minister—a Minister of State. But what is being created is a hybrid and complex piece of organisation.

The first step is to transfer all this vast organisation from one Minister to another; to pull out of the Ministry of Supply all this complicated structure which in many aspects is integrated with other parts of the Ministry. The Ministry of Supply is in intimate relation—a relation built up over many years, and through unmatched strains and stresses—with the engineering industry and with many ancillary scientific branches. Its officials are the intimate friends and colleagues of the engineering and aircraft industries and all its ancillary trades and researches. It has at its command, and is able best to deploy, an unrivalled band of scientific people. These men are deployed according to the varying needs of the time and the nature of the various developments which are called for. All this is now to be disentangled and extracted from the place where it has grown and where it has functioned, and he transferred—to whom? To the Lord President. The Lord President for the first time becomes the commanding Minister over a vast complex technical department. He has got to create a new Department.

Now, my Lords, the value of the Lord President as a senior Cabinet Minister, giving advice to the Government—advice springing from wide experience, deep responsibilities and great seniority—is largely due to the fact that hitherto the Lord President of the Council has been free of heavy Departmental commitments. For the first time, I believe, the Lord President now becomes a big spending Departmental Minister. I feel that it is a very unfortunate development and one which will rob the Government in future of a most valuable part of the inner Government structure. If there is to be a new Minister of atomic energy, let him be so created, and let a Department be created for that purpose. To have this hybrid of the Lord President's Department with a staff—for that is clearly set out in the Waverley Report—and then to have beside it a statutory Corporation, with another great staff, with all the Civil Service controls and none of the freedoms which are enjoyed by the other statutory corporations, seems to me to invent a most complicated and unnecessary piece of organisation by which we lose much and probably shall gain nothing.

I do not understand why so experienced an administrator as Lord Waverley and his colleagues recommended this, or why the Government have decided to adopt it. Unfortunately, only the barest summary of the Waverley Report has been published, and we are not in possession of all the reasons and arguments which led them to come to this conclusion. Whilst, as I think the noble Viscount knows, I am a great admirer of the chairman of this Committee, I do not understand, in the light of my experience, how they came to make this peculiar recommendation.

I think your Lordships should pay particular attention to some of these recommendations. I have drawn attention to the fact that the Lord President is now to have a big staff and is to become one of the great spending Department Ministers. But the Report draws attention to the fact that this Department must be intimately interlocked with the Ministry of Supply, because of its scientific implications, with the Defence Departments and with the Planning Departments—because no one who has had anything to do with the establishment at Harwell or with the Cumberland plants will be unaware of the extreme importance of carrying the planning Departments along, because of local feeling and the necessary rearrangement of local conditions which these innovations demand. Therefore, I think that, before we can agree to these simple innovations, the Government must explain a good deal more clearly and thoroughly than they have why they have taken this step.

There is another aspect of the matter which seems to me no less serious. Unlike the United States of America, we in this country have had to depend very largely upon the Dominions and Colonies for help in carrying out experiments and developments in these matters. We shall continue to call on them, probably, just as heavily in the future. The relationship between the Home Government and the Dominions and Colonies is something which cannot pass outside the responsible Ministers of the Crown; and one sees this unfortunate public Corporation continually enmeshed in inter-Departmental Committees, which can waste more time than any other human device ever invented. The Waverley Report itself sees that prospect looming ahead. With all this interlocking with defence and planning, and committees of the Foreign Office and the Colonial and Dominions Offices, officials will have to be found to attend the everlasting committees. The Project will be mixed up in the affairs of every other Department; and to create a new body which will be outside the orbit of normal Government working will, it seems to me, cause unnecessary complications.

What is it all going to achieve? It is clear that this new Corporation will be able to pay higher salaries and get more expensive people under the distinguished chairmanship of Sir Edwin Plowden. I have had the pleasure of working under Sir Edwin Plowden, and I know that there is no man better fitted for such a task as that of administrating atomic energy. But I wish he had been given the chance to do it by being at the top of the Ministry that is going to control it. He will find himself hampered by this new organisation. He has come from the Civil Service. He has served under the Crow for many years, as Lord Waverley must well know; and it was possible to secure his services first in the Ministry of Supply and later in the Treasury. I believe that it may be possible to secure his services for this purpose under the ægis of a Government Department. Why not?

If we are to go on with this project, of course we may have to pay salaries higher than have been customary in Government Departments. But in my view there has got to be more flexibility in the payment of Civil Service salaries than there has been in the past. And if I know the Treasury control of this organisation at all, the result will be that this public Corporation will be able to offer salaries just large enough to sow widespread discontent in other public Departments employing scientists yet not large enough to keep people from going to the service of the United States and other foreign States where they pay much higher salaries. That is to get the worst of both worlds. I suggest to your Lordships that this peculiar piece of organisation, which is not a fifth but: a sixth wheel to the coach, will be expensive and quite unnecessary. It will secure for this vital project not the best possible conditions, but, in fact, the worst of every alternative open to the Government.

5.0 p.m.


My Lords, I think your Lordships might naturally expect to have from me some account of the considerations which led the Committee, of which I had the honour to be Chairman, to the conclusions which are set out in the White Paper before your Lordships' House, and that I should tell you something of the inquiries that we made before arriving at those conclusions. I am, however, as the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, has recognised, in something of a difficulty because the Report, in which all those considerations and facts were set out in considerable detail, has been held by Her Majesty's Government, no doubt for good and sufficient reasons, to be a confidential document. I must, however, do my best under the limitations which have been imposed.

Let me say at the outset, therefore, that we did, in fact, make a very careful investigation. We visited all the main establishments and we heard evidence from a great many people closely associated with the existing organisation. We found—and, for the reasons I have indicated, I can deal now only with the salient points—that there were in existence a considerable number of separate establishments. We found that they were linked together very loosely under the Ministry of Supply. In saying that, I might seem to be reflecting upon the Ministry of Supply. Nothing is further from my thoughts. I wholly share the views that have already been expressed in the course of this debate regarding the extraordinarily fine achievement of the Ministry of Supply in this matter; and, in any case, your Lordships will perhaps believe me when I say that I should be the last person to seek to depreciate or disparage in any way the, capacity of Her Majesty's Civil Service to address themselves to any one of a great variety of tasks. After all, I spent some thirty years of my life in various Departments of State, and perhaps I am for that reason in a position to form some judgment as to the suitability of a Department of State, organised on conventional lines, to deal with some of the very novel, very difficult, very complex and highly technical problems that the post-war period has produced.

What we found, when we had concluded our investigations, was that in these various establishments to which have referred there were certain common elements. There were, for example, engineering problems mainly in establishments controlled from Risley, but also in the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment and also at Harwell. We found that, while research was mainly concentrated at Harwell, there were also research undertakings of considerable magnitude elsewhere—in Risley and in the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment. It seemed to us that there were great and obvious advantages in bringing the best available engineering experience to bear throughout organisations which, as I have tried to indicate, until now, have been conducted more or less as separate and distinct establishments. Similar considerations apply to research, and there are also biological aspects of continually increasing importance to be taken into account. In short, while various establishments, including the new generator at Calder Hall, to which reference has been made, must continue to be run, if only for geographical reasons, as separate units, there should be—and this was the clear view of my Committee—effective co-ordination so far as they present common problems.

I indicated a few moments ago that the link through the Ministry of Supply was somewhat loose. That is to some extent, I believe, a matter of history. When it was first decided to give responsibility to the Ministry of Supply in this field of nuclear fission, the scope of the Controller of Atomic Energy was limited to production problems. He had nothing whatever to do with research. He had nothing whatever to do, for example, with the research at Harwell. The weapons project was in an entirely different section of the Ministry. It was not until 1949 that the first steps were taken to bring these three important aspects of the application of nuclear energy together under one head. But, even so, because of the history of the matter and in the nature of things, the co-ordination could never be anything like complete. In the view of my Committee, the necessary coordination will be achieved by the proposed plan.


May I interrupt the noble Viscount? I am taking a great interest in what he is saying because we are very disturbed about this arrangement. Can the necessary co-ordination not be obtained without setting up this organisation? That is the point we want to hear about.


Yes, that is the point.


May I come to the possibility of an alternative?




I have another consideration to put before the House. I want to make the development of my views as simple as possible. The other consideration that I want to put before the House is this: that a balance has always to be kept between the different applications of nuclear energy. As your Lordships have heard, it started as a military project, but the industrial applications of nuclear energy and the biological importance of nuclear energy are coming more and more into the foreground. As time goes on, it is going to be continually more important that a proper balance should be maintained between those different interests—if I may use the word. It is my definite view that that balance would never be achieved under the Ministry of Supply. The Ministry of Fuel and Power will be closely concerned in this matter. The medical departments already under the Lord President are also closely concerned, and the real alternative to this plan would be, as the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, indicated, to set up a new Department.




New Departments are apt to be Cinderellas: they do not have—I speak with some experience —the prestige of an organisation under a Minister of the status of the Lord President of the Council. Moreover, from the point of view of maintaining continuous contact with technical experience outside, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Falmouth, alluded, an organisation of the kind that is contemplated and is set forth in the recommendations before your Lordships is, in my view, likely to prove a much better instrument than any Department which inevitably would be established on conventional lines. At any rate, that is the view which I and the two very experienced colleagues who were associated with me took without hesitation.

Let me make this clear: the decision to set up a non-Departmental organisation was not a matter within the scope of my Committee; that was a prior decision taken by Her Majesty's Government. But I ought perhaps to say, to make the matter quite clear, that I found myself personally in full accord with that decision. Indeed, had I continued to be responsible for nuclear energy after July, 1945, I would most certainly have recommended to the then Government, and recommended to my colleagues, that an organisation on these lines should be established.

There is possibly some room for misunderstanding about the functions of those who are to be directors under the new organisation. According to the plan in the White Paper, there are to be four functional directors: one concerned with production and engineering, one primarily concerned with research, one concerned with weapons, and one concerned with administration and finance. That arrangement does not imply functional management. There will continue to be local management of the different establishments. The directors will not be responsible for particular establishments, but they will have a collective responsibility; and that, I think, is of the greatest importance in maintaining the balance between the different applications of nuclear energy to which I have already referred.

The noble Viscount, Lord Falmouth, described the suggested organisation as analogous to the Railway Executive, which he said had proved a failure and had to be scrapped. I confess I do not know much about the Railway Executive. I had always thought that it was a device established in the First War to provide a convenient means by which, in a time of crisis, the Government might convey instructions to the railways, which were independent commercial organisations. If you look at industrial organisations throughout the country you will find art immense diversity in organisation, and it is surely perfectly clear that the appropriate organisation must take account of the nature of the job to be done. This is a vast undertaking which is in no way analogous to the tasks entrusted to the various research bodies under the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, such as the Chemical Research Board, the Engineering Board, or the Fire Research Board. Those are advisory, non-executive bodies, no doubt doing most admirable work, but in no way analogous to the body that it is now proposed to set up.

The noble Viscount, Lord Falmouth, also criticised the financial proposals in the White Paper. He argued as if the necessity for applying annually for the necessary funds would in practice prove a serious obstacle to development. Surely that is a complete misapprehension, and it means going against the whole basis of House of Commons financial control. The existing arrangements do not at all imply that projects requiring large finance extending over a period of years cannot be undertaken because the finance has to be voted year by year. That is not so, any more than the Army and Air Force (Annual) Act means that the standing Army has to be disbanded each year, This is merely a necessary financial device to ensure ministerial responsibility and Parliamentary control, which, in view of the large sums involved, is surely of the first importance The noble Lord, Lord Wilmot, in arguing in favour of a Department (an alternative which I personally should without hesitation reject), spoke as if he thought that an intolerable burden would be thrown upon the Lord President by this arrangement. If I may say so, I have been Lord President for three years, and from what I know of the way in which the Lord President discharges his duties (and they are not inconsiderable) in regard to the various research establishments—one of which, for example, the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, has grown to very large dimensions—those duties do not by any means impose an intolerable burden.

The noble Lord apparently saw a great disadvantage in the fact that this new organisation will have to be linked up with a number of departments and agencies. But that is inevitable, because of the very nature of the problem. Whether it is a Department or a Corporation, the necessity for providing those links cannot be avoided. He then went on, very much to my surprise, to see in the necessity for continuous contacts with other countries, some strong argument in favour of a Department as against a Corporation. But what of other countries? As the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, pointed out, most other countries—Canada in particular, and certainly the United States—have, for the purpose of regulating the use of nuclear energy, set up bodies in many respects entirely similar to, and in the case of Canada almost identical with, the organisation that is proposed here. I feel perfectly confident that co-operation will be facilitated and not hampered by the constitution that is proposed for this body.

A reference has been made to the question of salaries. That is a difficult and delicate question, as your Lordships will appreciate, but if it were thought for one moment that the necessity for conforming to some general standard in the matter of salaries, even of the highest posts, would not in practice prove a seri- ous obstacle if this work were organised in future under a public Department, all I can say is that that is entirely contrary to my own fairly extensive experience. There will be greater elasticity, greater freedom, less difficulty in maintaining the proper relations between those who are concerned in this work and scientists and technicians employed outside, if all this work is organised in the way proposed under a non-departmental board, than if it were organised under a public Department of the conventional type.

Now, my Lords, one last word. The noble Viscount, Lord Falmouth, expressed to your Lordships considerable misgiving in regard to the selection of the chairman—or perhaps I ought to say in regard to the definition of the requirements of a chairman set out in the White Paper. He said that we must have somebody who understands the language that the scientists and technicians speak. On that I would only ask the noble Viscount to reflect. Do these scientists and the engineers, the chemists, the physicists and the biologists, all talk the same language? One of the great difficulties is that in many cases they cannot understand what the others are saying. They must learn to talk the same language and to talk simply. There is far too much complexity about all these things, and I believe (and I say so with great sincerity) that the appointment of a highly competent layman as chairman of this organisation will serve a very useful purpose in welding together the various technical and scientific elements which have to contribute so much to the working of the organisation.

5.19 p.m.


My Lords, I rise only to address the House on two aspects of the White Paper, mainly concerned with paragraphs 12 and 15, in regard to the financial conditions. The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, has greater knowledge of this matter than any other Member of your Lordships' House, having occupied such high offices as that of Chancellor of the Exchequer. But one does find, when one has worked on an Estimates Committee in another place, that the whole position of Parliamentary control is sliding and slipping at the present time. I think that is inevitable. One of the reasons why the whole detail of the Waverley Report cannot be published is that so much of it is secret. Very large sums are being spent, and quite rightly spent, but it is utterly impossible to publish the facts. All one can hope to do is to allow a Committee of Parliament—presumably of the House of Commons—to have powers to go into all these questions, and trust that it will be able to report that money is not being wasted. As a matter of fact, the great bulk of the expenditure on nuclear energy at the present time is in the competent hands of the Ministry of Works. It is the Ministry of Works that has to deal with this finance, and the supervision and detail of that work is the responsibility of the Accounting Officer of that Department. And that it will presumably remain.

I should like to say, after serving for twelve years on the Estimates Committee, that in a series of Reports we tried to draw the attention of Parliament to the fact that the Annual Estimate leads to waste and extravagance. And I feel it is necessary to say one thing to-day—I do so with great trepidation, in the presence of the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley. The fact is that in these days the application of scientific research and development has made production a matter which must stretch over a period of time. Even in the White Paper there is a reference to: unspent money being surrendered at the end of the year. We were at pains in another place to draw attention to the frightful waste that results from this system, because people say, "The money will only have to go back to the Treasury; let us spend it." But quite apart from that aspect of finance, we have shown how difficult it is for the responsible Department to give a fair estimate of what will be its expenditure in the forthcoming twelve months. After all, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has recognised this in two spheres: in the University Grants Committee, which has a quinquennial basis, and also in regard to D.S.I.R. expenditure, which comes under the Lord President of the Council. So far as the Public Accounts Committee is concerned, the Auditor-General has always stated in all those Reports that he can foresee not the slightest difficulty in carrying out his duties on a quinquennial Estimate just as well as on an annual Estimate.


If the noble Lord will forgive me for intervening, when he speaks about a quinquennial Estimate does he not mean that the money need not be voted separately each year?


Yes, I stand corrected. That is a more accurate way of expressing it. But the quinquennial method removes the difficulty of having to state what will be spent within twelve months, and obviates the necessity for returning to the Treasury anything unspent at the end of twelve months. This means that what may be over can still be devoted to the project to which it was originally consigned. My experience has been that the head of every Department responsible for research has always had more "headaches" concerning the annual Estimate with regard to a project that must take five or ten years to carry out than he has had over almost any other comparable matter.

There is just one other point upon which I should like to touch. Quite rightly, there must be a great deal of secrecy and enforcement of security measures in regard to this business. No scheme has yet been evolved whereby there is Parliamentary control. It is one of the greatest difficulties we face, and it has not yet been solved. Having Harwell close to my home, I have seen the growth of this great tremendous enterprise of nuclear energy. I think one word must be said about the amazing way in which those responsible have been able to carry out the programme at Harwell, year by year and with the utmost accuracy of prophecy. Great difficulties in the matter of obtaining personnel and so on have had to be faced and overcome. I am certain that one of the great advantages of having the Corporation will be that it will be possible to pay people proper salaries—I do not say necessarily basic salaries; I think that is wrong. What worries people nowadays, more than anything else, within my experience, is how they are going, for instance, to educate their children on the salaries which they get and with the taxes as they are. I hope that whatever arrangements may be made the question of allowances will be brought in.

I do not know whether your Lordships saw an advertisement which appeared in The Times a day or two ago. It was an advertisement for a manager for Calder Hall; it really made one lift one's eyebrows. It appears that the Ministry of Supply, in advertising the position of manager of an establishment that is going to cost at least £6 million or £7 million, are offering the "enormous" remuneration of £2,000 a year. How are you going to get a man who has the temptation—if you like to use such a word—of going to other projects in ordinary industry, for a salary like that? If a man has the necessary qualifications and capacity to be put in charge of such an important establishment, surely he is worth a salary in excess of that amount. It is stated in the advertisement that the figure is one which must be offered because it is in accordance with the Civil Service scale. That is surely convincing evidence of the great advantages of having this great affair in the hands of an independent Corporation, which should be free from these restrictions.


If the noble Lord will forgive me interrupting him, may I point out that this problem extends to the employment of scientists in every Department throughout the public service?


I do not think anyone will disagree with that. I believe that the only reason the Government have the service of so many distinguished people at the present time is because of the patriotism and the loyalty of those people, and the fact that they have the chance of doing fundamental research with the best equipment. But it does not follow that potentially good servants are not lost, for such may well be tempted away. One of the great problems with regard to Government scientific research is to make it attractive not only to the scientists but to the engineers, the apprentice engineers and the technicians generally. One of the things to which I think special attention ought to be given is the amazing success that has been accomplished with the apprenticeship system at Harwell. It seems to me that the system worked out at Harwell ought to be recognised as making a tremendous contribution—


If I may interrupt the noble Lord once more, it seems to me that he is not answering the objection of my noble friend Lord Wilmot. I entirely agree that the problem is that of remunerating scientists properly in every Government Department. But are you really going to attract the best possible men and prevent their going to other industries by having a separate corporation in each particular Government Department? By doing that are you not tackling this question the wrong way altogether? By having a corporation in one particular Department you might get over the problem there, but it leaves aside the issue that other Departments which require scientists to work for them must also have the best men to do work which may perhaps be quite as important.


I am sure that I agree with the noble and learned Earl. I believe that one of the matters to which attention should be devoted is the raising of the status of scientists all through the public service. But that cannot be dealt with in considering this particular matter. The setting up of this Corporation here and now will enable those responsible to attract to this service the men they need, and will enable them, I hope, to pay those men an adequate reward.

My last word is this. A great deal has been said about security, which is certainly a most important matter. We have had the advantage of the assistance of people who have come to this country as refugees. A very small proportion of those people have obtained a certain notoriety. But do not let us, because of that, forget the large numbers who have done very great service. These men, after all, are not British by birth. They have served us faithfully, and often they have worked for very inadequate salaries. They are frequently tempted by other countries to go away—indeed, some, it must be admitted, have gone away. But before we condemn these people too lightly, I think we ought to realise the temptations to which they are exposed. I hope and believe—in fact I am sure—that under a Minister like the Lord President of the Council the Corporation will have a great chance of meeting the needs of the country in something which I believe to be of far more importance in the benefits it will bring to medical science and industry than in its destructive use in war. It is my firm belief that so long as atomic development is under the Ministry of Supply, the inclination inevitably will be to consider it in terms of weapons of war. What we must do is to try to turn to the tremendous possibilities that it has for peace and progress.

5.31 p.m.


My Lords, in addressing your Lordships on the subject of this Motion, I feel that I ought first to explain that I am in something of a dilemma. On the one hand, I feel that I have a duty to try to make some small contribution to the debate, though no one realises more clearly than I do how small it will be. This duty arises from the fact that I was Controller of Atomic Energy Production at the Ministry of Supply for five years after the war, part of the time under the authority of the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, whom I should like to thank, not only for the remarks he made about myself but also for the appreciation which he expressed (and which has also been expressed by other noble Lords) of the work of those engineers and scientists whom I had the honour of supervising when I was there. I am glad to know that they are getting on even better since I left.

During those five years, I thought deeply on the question of how the national effort in atomic energy ought to be organised. I discussed it often with men of greater knowledge and experience than I can claim, and I reached quite definite conclusions. I can honestly say that I did not know how right my conclusions were until I listened to the speeches of noble Lords on my left this afternoon. The other side of my dilemma is that the experience which I was fortunate enough to enjoy in the Ministry of Supply obviously imposes severe restrictions on what I can say. It might be regarded as improper, or at least unseemly, for me, an erstwhile official, to use arguments which, in fact, were criticisms of the arrangements under which I was content to work. Though I am afraid I cannot, as it were, lick the hand that fed me, I should not like to appear to bite it—at any rate, not very hard. I trust that your Lordships will understand that, for that reason, my remarks, besides being extremely brief, will be in very general terms.

I will not attempt to offer an opinion on what I may call the political matters involved in the proposal in the White Paper, but will confine myself to what, to me, is the overriding and all-important question: are we likely to make the greatest and quickest development for the national benefit by leaving the day-to-day direction and control in the hands of a Government Department or by giving those functions, as is proposed, to a public authority having no other responsibilities? During the five years to which I have referred I had the benefit of the advice of many great scientists, and although on some things we were not unanimous there was one thing on which we were all entirely agreed: that no one could dogmatise at the present time about what the future of atomic energy holds in store; no one could possibly say what would ultimately be the limits of the benefits which civilisation could get from it and no one could say that this or that field of activity would remain outside its scope. This means, to me at any rate, that it has absolutely boundless possibilities. At any lime somebody may have a brainwave or make a discovery which will open up a whole new range of possibilities.

I submit that this is very new wine, and a Government Department is not the most elastic of containers to put it in or to keep it in. If we are to keep to the forefront of the advances in this field, I believe that there must be a good deal of opportunism, as well as careful planning, and we must not be too cautious or too afraid of trial and error. I believe that those who are appointed to the highest executive posts must be given the greatest possible freedom under the broad Government directives which will emerge from the Lord President in all matters concerning the day-to-day control of their projects. Above all, I believe that the best conditions for progress can exist only if the organisation controlling atomic energy development is self-governed and not merely part of a much larger organisation responsible for a great many other things.

There is one thing that I feel bound to say about the proposed change: I agree that it may well involve some temporary disorganisation. However, I have never seen any reason to think that the setback need be at all serious or last long, and I am absolutely convinced, even if it turns out to be more serious than I expect, that such a setback will be a small price to pay for a really sound foundation for the great developments of the future. It is because I believe that at all costs we must build on a sound foundation, that I feel sure the broad changes proposed in the White Paper should be welcomed by your Lordships House.

5.38 p.m.


My Lords, this is a subject about which I know little. I was not able to hear the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, and I did not mind so much because I thought I should learn more by reading his remarks. This is a subject which one must read and study carefully if one is not familiar with it. So I knew that the noble Marquess would not mind my absence. I have no strong views about this question, but I cannot help recording that do not think the case for this proposal has been made out at all. I rather suspect that the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, and the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Portal of Hungerford, have both felt embarrassed by the fact that they know so much which they do not feel it proper to disclose, and therefore they have disclosed so little that they have not made their case. I remain absolutely at a loss to understand why this course is being taken and I feel the noble Viscounts have some reasons which they have not yet announced to us.

I believe that the problem of the proper remuneration of scientists throughout the whole of the Civil Service must be taken in hand. For instance, scientists working on agricultural research are doing an immensely important work at the present time, and surely it pays us to be certain that we get the best men to do it. I cite them merely as an illustration. This problem runs throughout the whole of the employment of scientists in Government service. I lay down the proposition that in these modern days, when we must have scientists in many Government Departments, it pays to get the best men and, broadly speaking, the right way to do that is to pay appropriate salaries. It may be that certain scientists will have to be remunerated more highly. I can see all sorts of difficulties, but these difficulties we have to face, and we do not face them by taking a particular branch of Government service and adopting the dodge of establishing a Corporation, and then saying to ourselves, "Now we have a Corporation in this little section of service, we can pay these scientists proper salaries." That is only a way of dodging the real problem. I am completely unconvinced by the explanations we have heard. I hope and believe there is nothing, doctrinal behind them—I devoutly hope not.

I should like to say just a few words about the office of the Lord President of the Council. I have never been Lord President, but I have seen the Lord President functioning. I believe that it is a valuable thing in a Government to have some Ministers who are rather, as it were,au dessus de la mêlée. I believe that the Lord Chancellor owed his position, and the influence which he had, largely to the fact that he was rather out of the dog fight, was not competing for anything, and so on. I think that remark applies particularly to the Lord President of the Council. The Lord President in the old days had a Committee, and I presume he still has, and all sorts of problems used to go before that Committee. The Lord President was able to bring to the solution of those problems, I do not say exactly a judicial mind, but something rather analogous to that. He was rather apart from the ordinary departmental Ministers. I feel that that is all to the good, and I think successive Governments have derived great benefit from that fact. I do not doubt that that is very much so in the case of the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, as Lord President of the Council.

I am sorry that the Lord President is now to be directly responsible, more than any other Minister, for this enormously important concern. Because this Corporation, for some reason that I do not understand, is now to be set up, he will have to administer indirectly a vast production department. I beg the Government to consider this point. I would rather that a special Minister were appointed for that task. If you are going to have this Corporation, very well; but let it be under the control of some Minister other than the Lord President of the Council. The noble Marquess will realise that I am not making any criticism of him personally, but I feel that the Lord President's position and prestige in the Government is all the greater because he has no great production department under him. If you are to have this Corporation, then I feel it is a pity that it should be under the Lord President. I should like the Lord President of the Council to remain somewhat detached from ordinary Ministerial duties, and I believe it would be better if a special Minister were appointed. I hope that the Government will give consideration to this matter before it is finally settled.

5.43 p.m.


My Lords, I have already wearied your Lordships with an extremely long and technical speech, and I do not wish to exhaust your patience. I therefore propose to be very brief indeed in the further remarks which I make, and which, indeed, I make only by leave of the House. That course which I have suggested is made much easier for me by the fact that so many of the doubts, so far as there have been doubts, expressed about the wisdom of the Government scheme have already been answered by other noble Lords, such as the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, and the noble Viscount, Lord Portal of Hungerford, who speak with far longer experience of this subject than I can pretend to do. However, there are one or two points on which I should like to say a few words.

First of all, there is the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot, and later by the noble and learned Earl the Leader of the Opposition, who both seemed to be entirely unconvinced as to the necessity for this step. So far as the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, is concerned, I would ask him, if he will, to read the speech that I made. I am afraid that I dealt with this particular point at wearisome length, and I should like him to consider the arguments I used. I do not wish to repeat them, and I am sure he would not wish me to.

The noble Lord, Lord Wilmot, was equally unconvinced. I understood that he was unconvinced, because he said that this new Corporation which is being created had no commercial function to perform. I thought that his argument had a certain illogicality in it, if he will permit me to say so. First of all, he did not say at all clearly what his alternative was. He said, with a sort of question mark after it, that it might possibly be left with the Ministry of Supply. But I thought there was a certain hedging about that view. He then said that, if it was not to be left to the Ministry of Supply, he had another suggestion to make; and it was the one just made by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, as I understood it; that another Ministry should be created. Therefore, the noble Lord is apparently not against another Ministry. Then he attacked the transference to the Lord President just on those grounds, that it would mean building up another enormous Ministry. Actually, I do not think the Lord President will have to do in the least what the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot, feared. He will not be concerned with the day-to-day administration of the Corporation. That will be done by the Chief Executive, Sir Edwin Plowden, and all the other executives of the Corporation. What the Lord President will be concerned with is main questions of policy, whether financial or otherwise and, in particular, the balance of the use of this atomic material between the needs of defence, power, biology and so on, so as to ensure that the broad needs of Government policy and the broad needs of the country are satisfied. For that purpose, he will have, I anticipate (and I hope), a very efficient staff, but a comparatively small one.

I certainly do not envisage—and I am sure the Government do not—the Lord President as being the executive head of another vast Government Department. What I feel the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot, did not quite appreciate is that though the work that will have to be done will not be commercial, in the sense that it will be competitive, it will be industrial, or partially industrial—it will either be industrial or research, if I may put it that way. In the view of the Government, and I believe of the Waverley Committee, too, both research and industrial organisations are not strictly suitable for rigid Civil Service control. That was the view of the Waverley Committee, and it is a view that the Government share. That, put briefly and tersely, is the reason why they propose to make this change. It may be that noble Lords opposite are worried, as I know some of their colleagues have been, by the fear that under the new system there may be less Parliamentary control over the activities of the Corporation.




Then I need not continue that argument further. Actually, I think the Parliamentary control will be greater. Noble Lords will remember that the late Government—I do nor, blame them for it in the least; I believe they were quite right—in their term of office did spend £100 million in this field without Parliament finding it out at all. I do not think that would be possible under the new system.

This brings me to the other criticisms, which I think were made mainly by he noble Lord, Lord Glyn, and by the noble Viscount, Lord Falmouth, who moved the Motion, dealing with the broad general financial arrangements which are suggested. I gather that, in their view, these arrangements are too rigid. There were suggestions that there might have been grants in aid; that there should be borrowing powers; and that there might be five-yearly budgets, and so on—anyhow, a greater elasticity than is allowed for in the Government scheme. The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, has already dealt with this point much more authoritatively than I can, and I should be the last person to wish to pontificate on the subject. Only experience can show what system will be most appropriate. I would say merely this. As the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, said, with great force, as I thought, with any project in which such vast sums of public money are involved it is not surprising that, for the present, at any rate, the Government should wish to keep a firm control on the overall policy. Grants in aid and quinquennial budgets may be required in the future but the analogy made by the noble Lord, Lord Glyn, of what is done in the case of universities, does not seem to me to be a complete ore, because, after all, here in this field of atomic energy we are breaking entirely new ground. I suggest that, in such circumstances, it is inevitable that we should feel our way slowly and see how we get on—indeed, I believe that that is in the interests of the Corporation itself. Now I come to the very important question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Glyn, about the salaries to members of the staff of the Corporation. With regard to that question, I would refer him to the synopsis of the main recommendations of the Waverley Committee, paragraph 18, which is published as an addendum to the White Paper. That paragraph, noble Lords will remember, uses these words: Special arrangements will be required in respect of salaries and conditions of service to enable the Corporation to compete with industry for men for all its top level posts.…. The Government do not dissent in the least from that recommendation. Indeed, it is quite clear, particularly within this special case, that that amount of elasticity is necessary. But one thing is certain. It will be much easier to get that elasticity under a scheme of this character than if the Atomic Energy Project were to remain as part of an ordinary Government Department. I should have thought, therefore, that Lord Wilmot's alternative of another Ministry would have made the situation even worse than he says it will be under the present Government scheme.

Then there is the remark about secrecy which was made by the noble Viscount, Lord Falmouth. If I may say so, with all deference, I entirely agree with him. But then, of course, there are certain aspects in this vast subject on which absolute secrecy is necessary—perhaps more than in any other branch of the public service. There are others where the more knowledge and ingenuity that can be harnessed, the better for everybody concerned. How exactly that is to be done is a matter for most careful consideration, but I can assure the noble Viscount that what he has said will be given all the great consideration that it deserves. I am quite certain that your Lordships will not expect me to say any more this evening. I am extremely grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Falmouth, for tabling this Motion, and to all noble Lords who have found time to take part in our discussions. It has been a valuable debate and it will, I hope, be useful in informing both the House and the country. I can assure noble Lords that everything which has been said will be carefully studied by Her Majesty's Government.

5.53 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in a most interesting debate. I should like to point out to the noble Marquess who leads the House that he was optimistic about the amount of coal we shall save if we turn over to the atomic generation of power, instead of using coal, and in his statement that we can use that coal for the export market. The coal which is used for the generation of electricity to-day is the worst possible coal, which cannot be burnt anywhere else, and I am quite certain that there is no possibility of getting that coal exported.

I should like to say to the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, that perhaps I did not make myself clear in my remarks about the Railway Executive. The Executive to which I referred was the Executive set up after the nationalisation of the railways; it was a body established by the Transport Commission to run the railway part of their undertaking. I was not referring to the Railway Executive which was set up during the war. I should like to support everything the noble Lord, Lord Glyn, said, especially about the wasteful procedure of not carrying over expenditure from one year to another. As one who has been associated with manufacture, it always seems to me that, so far as the Government are concerned, this is a very wasteful arrangement. I know that it is absolute heresy to say that before an ex-Chancellor of the Ex-chequer—


Perhaps the noble Viscount will not mind my saying this. In my view, there is nothing whatever in the recommendations of the White Paper to prevent an arrangement for a carry-forward—something on the lines of the arrangement with the University Grants Committee. But (and this is the essential point) the principle of annual budgeting must be preserved. That ensures Parliamentary control.


I have nothing further to add to this very interesting debate, and I wish formally to ask the leave of the House to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at five minutes before six o'clock.