HL Deb 11 May 1954 vol 187 cc469-519

3.24 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Atomic Energy Authority Bill be read a second time. As your Lordships will remember, the last time we discussed atomic energy in this House was nearly five months ago, on a Motion which stood in the name of the noble Viscount, Lord Falmouth. In the course of that debate I explained, to the best of my ability, the Government's proposals in the White Paper. I dealt, in particular, with the following three questions: First, why did the Government decide to set up a corporation at all? In reply to that question I explained that the atomic energy project had ceased to be merely a vehicle for producing the atomic bomb and was on the way to becoming one of the country's major industries, in terms of capital investment if not in numbers of employed. This, in the view of the Government, made it unsuitable for normal departmental administration and called for an organisation on industrial lines like that adopted by the previous Government for coal, electricity and gas. I then turned to the second question: Why should the transfer be made now? Here I explained to the House that preoccupation with the preparations for the Monte Bello test had made it unwise to make the change immediately the Government assumed office, but that the rapidly growing importance of the peaceful uses of atomic energy made further delay, at least in our view, undesirable.

Finally, I dealt with the question: Why has the Lord President been chosen as the Minister responsible for this great new extension of national activity? In reply to that question I explained that the Minister of Supply had no doubt been the natural Minister to assume responsibility when the project was first restarted after the war, for during that period the military use of atomic energy was, as we all know, paramount; but that now that a power reactor programme was already under way a very definite conflict of priorities had begun to emerge— 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 had already recognised in their Report that this conflict made it inappropriate for either the Minister of Supply or any other Minister primarily concerned with defence, or, indeed, for the Ministry of Fuel and Power, to have departmental responsibility for the whole of atomic energy. This responsibility ought henceforth to be placed on one of the existing Ministers of high Cabinet rank who has no departmental responsibilities which would encroach upon the field of atomic energy. I explained to the House that the Lord President had been chosen both because he had no Department and because he was the senior Minister generally responsible for the Government's contacts with scientific and technological activities.

My Lords, I have tried very briefly to define the arguments which I used in that debate. Since then, the Transfer of Functions (Atomic Energy and Radioactive Substances) Order, 1953, has come into effect. Ministerial responsibility has been transferred from the Minister of Supply to the Lord President and a new Department of Atomic Energy has come into being. But, as I think I explained to your Lordships on the last occasion, it never was the Government's intention merely to create a separate Department of State staffed by civil servants to be permanently responsible for atomic energy. The Department which has been carved out of the Ministry of Supply under the Transfer of Functions Order has been essentially a transitory one. It is merely a stage on the way to the creation of a new type of organisation proposed by the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley and his colleagues in their Report. It makes the atomic energy project a self-contained entity ready for transfer to that new organisation. This process is already, indeed, nearly complete. Machinery already exists within the Department to deal with those administrative common services, such as contracts, housing, hostels, canteens, and some of the inspectorate services, as well as some of the normal finance and administrative machinery which was, up to last year, provided by branches of the Ministry of Supply not exclusively concerned with atomic energy. The nucleus of this process has been a transfer of staff from the Ministry of Supply. The administrative problems of disentanglement from the Ministry of Supply—if I may use such an expression—having now been solved, we as a Government are ready to take the next step, which is to separate the now self-contained organisation from the Civil Service altogether. That is the purpose of this Bill which I have the honour to introduce in this House this afternoon.

Before looking at the Bill in detail I should like to remind the House that it takes as its starting point the existing body of atomic energy legislation; that is, the Atomic Energy Act, 1946, the Radioactive Substances Act, 1948, and the Transfer of Functions Order, 1953. The purpose of the Bill is, in fact, not to provide a new statutory code for atomic energy but only to do what is necessary to amend and adapt existing legislation in order to set up an Atomic Energy Authority and invest that Authority with the appropriate duties, powers and liabilities for the work which it has to do. The Bill, therefore, starts, as I have said, from the present situation under which the Lord President is engaged in carrying on the atomic energy project by virtue of powers which have been conferred upon him by existing legislation. On the appointed day upon which the Authority takes over from the Lord President, those are all the powers that the Authority will need. Those powers are, therefore, transferred to the Authority by Clause 2 of the Bill.

The powers so transferred are those which will enable the Authority to produce and dispose of atomic energy and radioactive substances under the Acts of 1946 and 1948. Other powers conferred by the Atomic Energy Act, 1946, will not be transferred, but will remain with the Lord President. These, of course, are powers which involve control over, and encroachment on, the life of the public—powers of compulsory acquisition of minerals, plant and rights under contract; control of information, patents, radioactive substances, and so on. They are, as I am sure noble Lords will agree, essentially ministerial in character and could not properly be vested, or so I should have thought, in a non-Governmental authority. These powers, which are conferred by Sections 4 to 12 of the Atomic Energy Act, 1946, will remain unaltered in the hands of the Lord President, with only such minor amendments as are necessary to enable him to give the Authority the benefit of the powers, where he considers it expedient. These minor adaptations of the Act of 1946 are contained, as your Lordships will find, in the first Part of the Third Schedule.

Now I will come to the actual provisions of the Bill itself. The provisions of this Bill, so far as the creation and constitution of the Authority are concerned, are very like those of the other post-war Acts which have created statutory corporations, and it includes a number of common form provisions which will be found equally in the Coal Act, 1946, the Electricity Act, 1947, and the Iron and Steel Acts, 1949 and 1953. For instance, Clause 1, which deals with the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority; Clause 5 (1), which deals with the powers as to the purchase of land, the carrying out of works and so on; Clause 7, which deals with machinery for settling terms and conditions of employment of staff, and the First and Second Schedules all contain much which is, I expect, by now familiar to all those noble Lords who have studied these subjects.

Clause 1 follows fairly closely the proposals of the Waverley Committee as to the membership of the Authority. It provides for a Chairman and not less than seven nor more than ten other members to be appointed by the Lord President. Three of these other members will be persons who have had wide experience of, and shown capacity in dealing with, problems associated with atomic energy. One is to have had experience of administration and finance, and one, following the pattern of earlier Acts, is to have had experience of, and shown capacity in, the organisation of workers. This last provision, as your Lordships will know, was inserted in another place. The number of workers to be employed by this particular Authority is, of course, considerably smaller than the number of those employed by most of the other nationalised industries. It is in capital investment, rather than in direct use of manpower, that atomic energy makes its main demands at present on our national resources. But the Government fully accept the view that this new member to whom I have referred may well have a valuable part to play in the affairs of the Authority, and we believe that his special experience will lend wisdom to their counsels. We are very happy that such an Amendment has been introduced.

Clause 2 sets out the functions of the Authority. As already explained, it does so by reference to existing legislation. The definition of the Authority's powers under Clause 2 (2) is copied, with minor variations, from Section 2 of the Atomic Energy Act, 1946. The principal differences are (I think I ought to explain this to your Lordships) these. First, in order that there may be no doubt at all, it is made clear that all the Authority's powers can be exercised outside as well as within the United Kingdom. The Authority, in our view, must have power to carry out anywhere in the world any of their functions under paragraphs (a) to (d) in connection with, for example, schemes for intra-Commonwealth development of atomic energy for power, the Eisenhower Plan, or the strategic dispersal of atomic plants. The Authority must also have power to make arrangements for the conduct of research of the kind contemplated in the first part of paragraph (e) with persons abroad as well as in this country. Clause 2 gives it that power. It also gives power to the Authority, with the approval of the Lord President of the Council and the Treasury, to make grants or loans to persons outside the United Kingdom, as has already been done in a number of cases in connection with uranium supplies. The powers under paragraph (f) to distribute information and to provide education and training in atomic energy should clearly also not be subject, I should have thought, to any territorial limitation.

Secondly—and here I come to the second variation—neither the power to make arrangements with universities and other institutions, given by Clause 2 (2) (e), nor that given by Clause 2 (2) (f), to distribute information and educate and train persons, appear in terms in the Act of 1946. They are an addition to that earlier Act. The first was then thought unnecessary because it was covered by the general contract powers of the Ministry of Supply. But now that a separate Authority is being set up, I am sure that your Lordships will agree that express provision has become desirable. Moreover, information, education and training are, of course, now coming more and more to the fore with the need to bring industry into the peaceful developments of atomic energy. They are activities which may cost public money and should therefore clearly be covered by a specific power.

I come now to the very important first proviso to Clause 2 (2) which regulates the relationship between the Authority and the Ministry of Supply. On this, I am sure the House will wish me to go into a little more detail. The first three lines, as your Lordships will see, prohibit the Authority from undertaking any weapon development or production except in accordance with arrangements made with the Ministry of Supply but the last four lines allow the Authority, of its own initiative, to undertake any experimental work which may lead to improved types of explosive nuclear assemblies, a term which includes the assembly of fissile material with the associated circuits and conventional explosive—that is, the atomic warhead. The Authority is limited, therefore, when working independently of arrangements made with the Minister of Supply, to experimental work on atomic warheads.

The way the machinery will work is this. Service requirements for the development and production of atomic weapons will be stated by the Service Departments to the Ministry of Supply, in the normal way, and the Ministry of Supply will be responsible to them for meeting such requirements. The Ministry of Supply will be, if I may use such a term, the sole Service approval authority for the weapons as a whole and for their component parts. The Ministry of Supply will then place contracts with the Authority for atomic warheads to meet specific Service requirements, and also for such other components of atomic weapons as may be agreed between the Ministry and the Authority. I know that that is a complicated piece of machinery, but I thought it very important on the question of division of responsibility that I should make it as clear as I could to the House.

Before leaving Clause 2 perhaps I may also say a word about the relationship between the powers which the Bill gives to the Authority and those already possessed by the electricity authorities. The Atomic Energy Authority is given power by this clause to produce and dispose of "articles" required for the use of atomic energy, and under Section 18 (2) of the Atomic Energy Act, 1946, the reference to "articles" includes a reference to electricity. This, read together with Section 23 of the Electricity Lighting Act, 1909 (as amended by the Electricity Act, 1947) means that the Authority could, so long as it did not make electricity generation its primary business, produce electricity as a by-product of its undertaking and do any necessary work to supply electricity to the public. This power to supply electricity as a by-product would be similar to that possessed by some other major undertakings. But I should make it clear that the Government certainly do not intend that the Authority should use this power so to generate electricity except as a byproduct of the manufacture of fissile material, or as a product of experimental power stations; nor do we intend that the Authority should in any case supply electricity to the public. It is not, in any way, meant to compete with the electricity boards. The precise arrangements to be made between the Authority and the electricity authorities must inevitably, as I am sure your Lordships will understand, take time to work out. But I can say now that the broad policy will be that the Authority will not construct transmission or distribution lines outside its own premises, and that it will offer to the electricity boards any electricity which it generates and which may be surplus to its own internal requirements.

My Lords, I come now to Clause 3. Clause 3 deals with the powers and duties of the Lord President in relation to the Authority. The general duty, under Section 1 of the Atomic Energy Act, 1946, to promote and control the development of atomic energy, will continue to rest with the Lord President, and it will be his particular duty to ensure that the proper degrees of importance are attached by the Authority "to the various applications of atomic energy"—scientific, technical, medical, biological or military. The placing of this duty upon the Lord President underlines the Government's intention that overall policy in this respect shall remain in the control of the Government.

The clause goes on to give the Lord President power to control the Authority by giving it "such directions as he may think fit"—he has full power to do that. The House will notice that this provision differs, to some extent, in its wording from that of similar clauses which have been used to define the powers of respective Ministers in relation to other nationalised Corporations for which they are generally responsible. Those other clauses have conferred on the Minister the power to give the Corporation in question directions of a general character as to the exercise and performance by them of their functions in relation to matters appearing to the Minister to affect the national interest. We have come to the conclusion that that formula is not entirely appropriate to the present case. In view of the political, international and security aspects of atomic energy, and the complete financial dependence of the Authority on public funds, the relations between the Government and the Authority will evidently have to be closer than is the case with Corporations whose activities are mainly non-contentious, domestic, non-secret, and financially self-supporting. The Lord President will, therefore, require more unrestricted power than is given in other Acts to issue "general" directions. I hope that I have made that point clear.

On the other hand, it would of course entirely defeat the whole object of the Bill, which is to create an organisation with freedom to run its day-to-day affairs, if the Lord President were to be made answerable for every detail of the Authority's activities and to be, if I may use such an expression, constantly butting in on them. That would be entirely wrong. Clause 3 (3) therefore provides that the Lord President's directions may be "of a general or particular character" but that he (here I quote some words which I think are extremely important) shall not regard it as his duty to intervene in detail in the conduct by the Authority of their affairs unless, in his opinion, overriding national interests so require. I hope that your Lordships will note those words. The effect of Clause 3 as a whole is thus to give the Lord President complete freedom to intervene; but it includes a proviso, in the sub-paragraph to which I have just referred, that he shall not regard it as his duty to intervene unless in his judgment his intervention is imperative in the national interest. That is the way we seek to strike the proper balance. The general purport of the clause is that, subject to broad general control of policy, and under a financial ceiling, the Authority is to be free to conduct its day-to-day affairs on sound business lines, without ministerial or official interference. The only exception to this rule will be when some consideration of national interest is strong enough to override it.

That brings me to Clause 4, which deals with the provision of finance to the Authority. Clause 4 recognises the complete dependence of the Authority on public funds, with the corollary of ultimate ministerial responsibility for, and Parliamentary control of, the Authority's expenditure. For some time to come the Authority will, of course, earn only a negligible revenue. It is essentially, as I think I explained in my earlier speech, a research and development project. Its revenue may increase as time goes on, but it seems inevitable, from the pioneering nature of the Authority's duties, that it will, at any rate so far ahead as we are likely to be able to look, require a large annual grant from public funds. If some unforeseeable development changed that situation, and the Authority were to develop sources of revenue sufficient to make them self-supporting, then, of course, the provisions of Clause 4 would be inappropriate; but a development so wide as that would imply such a revolutionary change in the Authority's affairs as to call for fresh legislation. That would, of course, be a matter for Parliament to consider when the time came.

My Lords, the heavy dependence of the Authority on public funds is again recognised in the income tax provision in Clause 6 (2). As your Lordships will see, the Authority will not be required to pay income tax on its lands and premises under Schedules A and B or on certain other income. After all, that is mere common sense, for the only result of making a charge of that kind upon it would be that a great deal of time and effort would be spent on determining the amount of tax to be paid by the Authority to the Inland Revenue, which sum would then immediately be reclaimed by the Authority from the Exchequer. No one could benefit from that but the largely increased staff which the Inland Revenue would no doubt have to take on. The exemption does not, however, extend to tax on trading profits under Schedule D. In practice, as has been explained, the Authority are unlikely to have such profits, but if they have there is no reason why they should not be liable to tax, like everybody else.

Clause 5 is concerned with provisions about compulsory purchase and about the application of building by-laws. These are, generally speaking, in standard form, and therefore I think I need not trouble the House with them. Clause 5 (4), however, is new. The widespread use of atomic energy is bringing with it a new problem—I refer to the disposal of radioactive effluent, whether in the form of gas discharged from chimney stacks, of liquid passed from tanks, or of contaminated solid material. Whereas up to a few years ago the only sources of radioactivity were naturally radioactive elements like radium, to-day radiation in atomic reactors is producing a new industrial waste which is highly dangerous and contains radioactivity greater by several orders of magnitude than anything that has been known before. The atomic energy project has always devoted special attention to this new problem. The greatest care has been taken not to allow discharges which could give rise to any contamination of air or water exceeding the levels laid down by the Medical Research Council. There has also been constant consultation with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and also with public bodies such as the Thames Conservancy and the Metropolitan Water Board.

If Parliament approves this Bill, and the Authority comes into existence, it will not, except where specially provided—as in Clause 6 (5)—enjoy Crown powers. It will, therefore, become subject to the general law as to the disposal of industrial effluent. This law, which is spread over a number of Statutes, has been framed, in the light of experience, to deal with many forms of chemical and noxious wastes. But it was not, of course, framed with radioactive waste in mind—that, if I may say so, is a new horror—and the public and local authorities which administer the various Acts are in no way equipped to deal with the detection and sampling of waste of this type. The only authorities who do possess the necessary trained staff and equipment to watch the public interest, in what I think your Lordships will all agree is a vital matter, are, in fact, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries; and as they have this necessary staff and equipment it is provided, in Clause 5 (4), that no waste shall be discharged by the Authority, except in accordance with the authorisations given by those Ministries, and the jurisdiction of other authorities is set aside. In certain cases, however, where it is proper, the Ministries are required to consult the river boards and local authorities and others whose interests are affected. These provisions, I would emphasise, are concerned exclusively with radioactivity in waste. So far as all ordinary forms of industrial waste are concerned, the powers of the usual authorities remain intact. Moreover, these special provisions are to last, unless extended, only for a period of seven years. For we hope—I say "we hope"—that by the end of that time radioactive waste will itself have become so familiar that simpler methods will have been devised for its detection, and local authorities will have been able to equip themselves with suitable staff to do this particular job.

Finally, I come to Clause 6, which is entitled, "Miscellaneous provisions, as to the Authority." That is, of course, an omnibus phrase which might, I think, give the impression that none of the provisions in the clause is of any great moment. That would be a very wrong impression; for the clause contains one very novel and interesting feature. It incorporates a number of provisions under which the Authority is treated as if it was the Crown. The first of these is to be found in Clause 6 (1). In this case, it is the Authority's land which treated for rating purposes as if it were Crown property. This means that the Authority will pay a contribution, in lieu of rates, on similar lines to those contributions which are made in respect of Government property. That provision is included, if I may explain it, because, for security reasons, rating valuations will have to be carried out by the Treasury Valuer and not by local valuation officers. Another provision in Clause 6 (3) provides that any place belonging to or used by the Authority shall be deemed to be a place "belonging to or used for the purposes of Her Majesty." This makes it possible to apply to the Authority the provisions of the Official Secrets Acts with regard to prohibited places. Special provisions follow about entry on to those parts of the Authority's premises which are declared prohibited places under these Acts, and by the Third Schedule all members and employees of the Authority are brought within the scope of the Official Secrets Acts.

The Third Schedule also contains a number of other provisions, as your Lordships will see, to the effect that for the purpose of particular Acts the Authority shall be treated as if it were the Crown or a Government Department. This treatment of an organisation which has been specifically declared to be not in the nature of a Government Department is, of course, most unusual. It may even be said to be unprecedented. But I believe that it is quite inevitable. In this matter, if we are to keep up with our most powerful competitors—and some of them are extremely powerful—we have got to give the United Kingdom atomic project the best chance we can; and it follows that, in some respects, the Authority will have to have the best of both worlds—that is to say, it will have to have both the freedom which is normally possessed by industrial corporations and also certain powers and privileges which are normally reserved to the Crown. Nearly all these Crown powers are connected in one way or another with the need for security in the carrying on of the project, and the special provisions in Clause 6 and in the Third Schedule, to which I have just referred, are designed to secure that the same security protection which has hitherto guarded the project shall continue to guard it in the future.

My Lords, I am afraid that I have kept the House for some considerable time, but may I, in conclusion, say this? This Bill is, as your Lordships will have seen, in mere amount of print a short one; and, what is more, as I have explained, it breaks very little new ground. As I told your Lordships at the beginning of my speech, in substance it has very much in common with the preceding legislation of 1946 and 1948; and, in form, it has been mainly modelled on the type of structure which was developed by the Government of noble Lords opposite for statutory corporations. But that does not mean that it is not an important Bill. It is, indeed, in the Government's view, a very important Bill. We believe that the setting up of the Atomic Energy Authority will prove to be an essential milestone in the development of the United Kingdom atomic energy project, on which so much depends for us all. We believe that the flexible organisation which we are creating under this Bill will not only be able to keep pace with all developments in the field of atomic energy, and, above all, in those peaceful uses which are now coming so much to the fore, but will also be able to cope with the equally important task of passing on the knowledge of atomic techniques to British industry.

As your Lordships know, we are not alone in the steps we are taking. I believe that every other country which is active in the field of atomic energy has decided against attempting to use the machinery of a Government Department for the purpose of the development of this new source of power. I am not sure about Russia, but it would be true of other nations. All have moved in the same direction as we are moving now. These countries are striving, as your Lordships know, so far as their resources allow, to develop as rapidly as they can this new source of power. We have a great record in this country in the field of atomic energy. Our association with those basic discoveries from which more recent developments have flowed, our pioneer work, with Canada and the United States, during the war years—these are things of which I think we are all extremely proud. And our need for new sources of power in this little island, with its teeming population, is certainly second to that of no other country in the world. We cannot afford to lag behind. This Bill, I hope and believe, provides the framework for a rapid and fruitful advance, and it is in that spirit that I commend it with confidence to the House. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Marquess for his extremely lucid explanation of this Bill, which he rightly describes as one of very great importance. I should also like to thank him and the Government for meeting many of the wishes of my friends which were put forward in another place on the Committee stage of the Bill, and for embodying in the Bill a number of suggestions which were then made, particularly that which provided for a person of experience in labour and trade union affairs to be a member of the board. Since the production of the White Paper which followed the Report of Lord Waverley's Committee, and the debate which we had subsequently in this House in December, we have had time to give this matter a good deal of thought. Although there is no question of any important political principle involved in this proposal, I am sorry to say that, after reflection, I cannot support it. I regret that I still think that this proposal is ill-timed. Because of the magnitude and importance of the work involved, and because these proposals, which are far-reaching are, in my view, brought forward at the wrong time, they are gravely unwise. I shall try to show why we cannot escape from these conclusions.

I think it important to make the following point. I have seen statements which tended to convey the impression that this form of organisation was recommended by the most distinguished Committee over which the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, presided. I think that is not the case. The decision to make this grave change at this time was announced by the Prime Minister, on his own responsibility and without any recommendation of a Committee, on April 28, 1953; and it was not until subsequently that Lord Waverley's Committee was appointed with terms of reference which expressly excluded the consideration of this basic policy question. The Committee were directed To devise a plan for transferring responsibility for atomic energy from the Ministry of Supply to a non-Departmental organisation. Their opinion of the wisdom of the plan was not sought, and was excluded by the terms of reference. Therefore, this Committee, consisting of the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, Sir Wallace Akers and Sir John Woods—and I could wish no better Committee for the purpose—were a Committee for effecting a policy already determined by the Government.

The reason why this transfer is ill-timed I shall seek to show. In my view, the Government have not yet made out a case for making this transfer now. I believe that it will hinder and hamper for some time to come, and at a most vital stage, the growth and rapid development of the economic civil uses of atomic energy. What is more—I make this point very seriously, and I am glad to see the noble and gallant Earl the Minister of Defence here—it will gravely jeopardise the production of the most effective and modern atomic weapons; and this is supremely important at the present moment. At this time it is vital that we should keep the lead in the rapid development of revolutionary new weapons. Unless we keep the lead, we may fail to enforce the keeping of the peace for long enough to work out proposals which will secure agreement of the great Powers to cease from war-like acts and preparations. This is the greatest and most urgent task which falls upon the Government to-day. I beg that the Government will utilise the meeting of the Disarmament Committee in London, which is about to begin, to bring home to the nations involved the whole question of atomic weapons and the results of their use in warfare and spare nothing to secure agreement to end war. There is no other hope for the survival of mankind; a future war is bound sooner or later to involve these weapons and the destruction of life on the earth.

War must not be allowed to start. But it seems to me that the transfer of this vast and complex organisation into an entirely new form is extremely unwise. I was not at all convinced or comforted by the explanation which the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, gave of the functions and position of the Ministry of Supply under this Bill. If noble Lords will look at the top of page 4 and read again the clause which defines the relation of the Ministry of Supply, with their responsibilities for equipping the Service Departments with weapons, and this new organisation not yet created, they will see that they are extremely uncertain and confusing, and inevitably will cause delay and confusion at the worst possible time. The clause says: The Authority shall not,"— it begins with a complete negative— save in accordance with arrangements made with the Ministry of Supply, develop or produce any weapon or part of a weapon … That is all it says about the part of the Authority in the provision of atomic weapons: that they shall not do anything unless arrangements have been made with the Ministry of Supply. There has been built up through the years inside the Ministry of Supply a practically autonomous organisation. It is a brilliant piece of work, and we are greatly indebted to the noble Viscount, Lord Portal of Hungerford, for the part he played in it with others. There it is—a working, living organism, which has done its work amazingly well.

Some time ago, I listened to a speech which the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, made in your Lordships' House on this matter. I was extremely surprised at what he said, coming from one whom we know has great knowledge and authority in this field. He sounded a note which was completely out of harmony with the facts as we know them. He said that unless reorganisation was undertaken without delay, this undertaking "will disintegrate and decay." He said that in July, 1951. He painted a picture of a tottering and decaying organisation which had failed in their tasks and must immediately be replaced by something sound, commercial and reasonable. Nothing could be further from the truth, as the Government have shown in the excellent publication which has recently been issued, the first story of Britain's atomic achievement. A summary of essential paragraphs in this work, which I commend to noble Lords, if they have not already studied it, is to be found on the back page and, with your Lordships' permission, I will read it, so that the vast achievements in atomic energy which have been carried out under the Ministry of Supply should be understood and acknowledged before we hastily plunge into this new and untried form of organisation. It says: The narrative tells how in less than five years a new industry worth some scores of millions of pounds was built; every factory came into operation within a month of the estimated date; the cost of every plant was within a small percentage of the estimated sum, and the first bulk output of plutonium was produced on the date specified. It is an achievement which will stand comparison with any other in the history of British industry. They are the words of the Government's own publication; and the narrative here set out makes that an understatement of what is contained in this volume.

This work is still going forward on a gigantic scale. It is still partly experimental. The great fast reactor which is to be constructed in the north of Scotland, and which is an essential part of any commercial use of atomic fuel, has not yet been built. The pilot plant of the electricity generating station fed with atomic fuel which is to be operated at Calder Hall in Cumberland is not yet working. We do not know yet what are the problems of the new type reactor, which is essential for an adequate supply of the fuel; and we do not yet know all the problems which are bound to arise in the application of this fuel to an electricity generator. So we are still in the stage of growth, experiment and development. The work is moving with enormous speed. I do not think anybody who knows the facts will deny that it is moving perhaps as fast in Britain as in any other country in the world. But this is not the time for creating a commercial organisation; that will come later. When that stage is reached, then I agree that that would be the appropriate form of organisation. My case is that this is ill-timed, premature and breaking into a chain of events which we cannot afford to interrupt. That is what it does.

First, it will retard the development of what we have come to call the civil uses of atomic power; and secondly, it will jeopardise at a most vital moment the rapid experiment with and provision of atomic weapons. It separates two functions which ought never to be separated—namely, research and development and the duty of ordering production. The noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, in his most interesting speech—although I did not agree with his conclusions—pointed out most conclusively that that is a fatal separation. But it is separated here. The ordering authority for atomic weapons is the Ministry of Supply, but the research and development work is done by the Corporation. The Corporation are no longer an autonomous part of a great organisation, but are a separate body, like the Coal Board or the Electricity Authority. Those who have had experience of trying to make contacts with these new public corporations know that it is not easy, and that they tend to encase themselves in layers of a new kind of red tape, newly invented, with which we in Parliament will have to deal one of these days.

What are the arguments in favour of this plunge, this gamble, with these vital stakes? They seem to arise from a sort of distrust of the powers and abilities of a public Department. That I feel to have been completely answered by the achievements of the organisation as it is at the present time. It is said that a Department is unsuitable for trading activities; that it has not any commercial "know how"—to quote the phrase which I believe the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, once used. "They ought to talk the language of trade." But who are the people who are going to "talk the language of trade"? Who are these new industrial magnates who are going to infuse this thing with commercial adaptability? Their names have been announced, and they pleased me immensely. They have a great record of performance. We know what they can do—because all of them have been doing it all the time in the Ministry of Supply. They are exactly the same people who have been responsible for these remarkable achievements: Sir John Cockroft, at present head of the atomic organisation under the Minister of Supply; Sir Christopher Hinton, who played a monumental part in all this development; and the great scientist, Sir William Penney. The Chairman, Sir Edwin Plowden, is a man whose abilities and charm in public organisation have been proved over and over again. But Sir Edwin Plowden does not come straight out of big business; he comes from the Treasury, where he has long been the chief Government planner; and before he went to the Treasury, I had the pleasure of working with him in the Ministry of Supply, and before that he was in the Ministry of Aircraft Production. Those are the people, the very same people, who have successfully carried on this thing. All that has been done is to hamper and impede them by making them create an entirely new form of organisation at a most critical time.

It is said that a Government Department has such financial handicaps; it is tied up by the Treasury, and has all this annual accounting to do. Then it is said that it is hampered by Civil Service scales of pay. Let us look at the Bill and see how much freedom is to be given to this new corporation. I know that in private life, as a company director, I should not like to have the clauses here set out in my Articles of Association—I do not think we should get on at all. Look at Clause 4. Under that clause any revenues of the Authority for any financial year must be paid into the Exchequer. So they will be working on an annual budget again. The Comptroller and Auditor-General plays the same part in relation to their financial arrangements as he does in the case of the Ministry of Supply. There is, in fact, in the relations of the Treasury and the Auditor-General with this new corporation, no change from his relations with the Government Department.

As to salaries, it is not true that the atomic energy organisation of the Ministry of Supply was bound down by the ordinary Civil Service scales of pay. Men, some of whose names I have mentioned, and many others, have been paid at rates of pay comparable with what they would earn in commercial undertakings. It is only right and proper—and I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, said—that we should employ people in this sort of work at more commercial rates and upon more commercial contracts. That is exactly what was done in the atomic establishments of the Ministry of Supply. The noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, shakes his head, but he should look at the rates of pay paid to some of the people, and when this Authority gets going he will see how far these rates are exceeded. I am afraid that one of the results of this talk and the production of this Bill will be to spread a great deal of discontent among the staffs who have to be employed. In fact, the Treasury will not allow them to be paid very high salaries. Conditions will be much the same as they are now, and I think it is quite wrong to lead people to suppose that this Bill will make a big improvement in their conditions of employment, when in fact those of us who know how these things work know that, in the main, it will have no such effect.

Now it is said that the Ministry of Supply are an armaments Department, and that, in view of the developing civil uses of atomic power, it would not be right that this should be undertaken by an armaments Department—I examine these arguments, because they ought to be examined. But is the Ministry of Supply solely an armaments Department? Not at all. The provision of armaments for the Fighting Services is one of its important functions, but in order better to perform that function, and for other reasons, the Ministry of Supply are the Government's Department, dealing with the whole field of metallurgical engineering, aircraft, radio and telecommunications and many other industries. The Ministry of Supply make upwards of 10,000 commercial contracts a year, running into hundreds of millions of pounds. The Department certainly talks the language of commerce; its corridors are trod every day by the toughest commercial characters. They sit and help it on its committees and organisations. The Ministry are hand in hand with industry in this country. That close relationship, hammered out in war and cemented in the difficult days after the war; the knowledge which the men have on each side of each other; the knowledge which industry has of the working of the Ministry; the day-to-day experience and rubbing shoulders together, have developed all through these years. This is of immense value in saving time, getting good relations, good products and prompt deliveries, and also all the things that can be done while sometimes you are waiting for the contract to be signed. Is this to be thrown away? It will mean starting again with a brand new organisation, with everything having to be worked out all over again.

Then there is the vast research side of the Ministry of Supply. If there is a commodity in short supply to-day, it is research scientists. One of the benefits and merits of the present organisation is that you can deploy your scientific assets to the best advantage, in accordance with the needs of the current time—and those needs are always rapidly changing. You may need suddenly to put all you have into the rapid development of guided missiles or commercial aircraft. You may suddenly need to switch that first priority into something quite new and not yet thought of. You have to improvise a staff. You have to "put the heat on" research; you must have a pool of people you can call upon and deploy according to the circumstances of the time. In the Ministry of Supply, which contains the biggest pool of scientific knowledge there is in this country, that can be done. Outside in a separate organisation, there will be immense loss through the failure to make use of this remarkable and unique pool of science, experience, understanding, and commercial "get-together" which has been built up through the years.

I will not detain your Lordships by belabouring the subject. It seems to me a great pity that we did not leave this thing a little longer until we really had got within sight of the commercial user, when we could have made a commercial organisation fit into the purposes as it then would be. However, I do most sincerely wish to add this. Although I think the decision is not a wise one it will no doubt be carried out. In those circumstances, of course, we all of us wish it well. I hope that all my fears will prove to be unfounded. I hope that this organisation will go forward to a bright future, that what the Government have done will prove to have been the best thing, and that I have been altogether mistaken. Of course, we shall never know how much better it might have been if it had been done my way instead. But, we do all hope that this scheme will be a great success. Certainly it starts with great promise in the men who have been appointed to the board and those who will serve them. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this thing. It has limitless possibilities for destruction and for human happiness. If we cannot bring warfare to an end, then warfare will bring us all to an end. Perhaps we should deserve no other fate. But if we can use this thing to make men happier, instead of destroying them altogether, then it seems to me that we are at the dawn of a brave new world. With this great limitless power there need be no more barren areas, no more famine and no more mass human misery, for we shall have the endless power to cure it, if we will only use it aright.

4.28 p.m.


My Lords, the scope of this discussion is limited by the terms of the Bill. All of us might feel tempted, on an occasion like this, to discourse at large upon atomic energy, its utility and its danger to mankind, but that would be rather for the occasion of a debate upon Defence and not upon this particular Bill. Nevertheless, the Bill in itself, as has been said by the mover, the Lord President of the Council, is one of great importance, and that has been emphatically endorsed by the noble Lord who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench. In future times the industry arising out of atomic energy may prove to be one of the key industries of the world, and future generations may look back upon this early stage, and upon discussions such as this that go on in our generation, as the beginning of a new industrial age. Atomic energy has immense possibilities for the supply of power in all countries for all purposes, industrial and agricultural, whether directly as energy, or indirectly through the production of heat and the supply of electricity. This new industry may in course of time prove to be as important as is already the air transport industry. For Britain, in particular, it may be of great economic moment, and it is right that its development should be proceeded with actively here, for the whole of what is now almost a world-wide enterprise arises out of British scientific discovery, the discovery of the structure of the atom by J. J. Thomson and Rutherford, at the Cavendish Laboratory, in Cambridge. Steam was the result of the pioneering inventive work of Watt and Stephenson; electricity, of Faraday, and the whole of the electrical industry all over the world springs from him as its founder. Now we have this third great technical development, the use of atomic energy in the service of man.

I was sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, and his friends have thought it necessary to oppose this Bill. I am not quite sure that they come to it with a wholly unbiased mind. I think I saw a little trend of Socialist dogma here and there in the speech of the noble Lord who has just sat down. After all, we cannot forget that the Labour Party include in their announced purposes the nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange. They look forward to the gradual development of that policy, to approximation year by year, decade by decade, generation by generation, to that ideal. But to them any proposal for the denationalisation of anything that has already come into the hands of the State must really be objectionable indeed.


The noble Viscount must forgive me. I should point out to him that the new Government mechanism is wholly Socialistic. It is entirely Governmental and is founded on the models set up by the Labour Government.


Then I do not quite see how that interruption justifies the noble Lord's speech. I will leave his first thoughts to answer his second, because the whole of his speech was an able presentation of the case against removing from the hands of a Government Department to another authority an industry so important as this.

For myself, and I speak also for my friends on the Liberal Benches, we approach these matters without bias. We are perfectly prepared to adopt nationalisation when it seems likely to prove the most efficient and satisfactory means of procedure. We supported several of the most important measures introduced by the last Labour Government for the nationalisation of particular industries, but, at the same time, to a case such as this, which is really a new case, we bring an unbiased mind. It seems to me and to my friends that the Government are quite right to take the view that this is not a matter for the Government and the Civil Service to control. For a Parliamentary Minister to be at the head of the day-by-day direction, or even the immediate control, of an enterprise such as this seems to us not the right course. I see the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, in his place, but not, I regret to say, in the list of speakers and I hope that the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, will goad him into speech and that we shall have the benefit of his opinions to-day, as we have had them on previous occasions.

It is quite obvious that at this stage this industry, if it is to become an industry, cannot be left merely to ordinary private enterprise. It has to be wholly financed from public funds as yet, and therefore cannot be left to private enterprise. Any form of private enterprise which was tied by the obligations necessitated by the whole of its capital being furnished by the Treasury would not be likely to succeed. I trust, however, that the new Authority will foresee and encourage devolution to private industry, so far as that is practicable, and, as the fundamental work is accomplished year by year, that a great part of this work in providing apparatus and appliances to the public and to other authorities in different countries of the world will be handed over to private industry, which is likely to do the work as effectively as the great aeroplane manufacturers have been able to do their work in recent years. If this is not to be an ordinary Government Department, and if it is not to be private enterprise, then obviously we must establish an intermediate body; and that is what this Bill now proposes to do. To us it seems that the course proposed is the right one and that we should give this Bill our cordial support.

4.36 p.m.


My Lords, I am very glad to have an opportunity of saying a few words in support of this Bill. I listened attentively to what the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, had to say in opposition and I frankly greatly regret that noble Lords opposite have not seen their way at this stage to support the proposals in the Bill. The main objection put forward by the noble Lord to what is proposed now seemed to me to be that in his view the proposals were ill-timed. I am not sure that I should not agree with that, but in a different sense, because I would say that it would have been better had the plan for which this Bill makes provision been carried into effect much sooner.

The noble Lord was, of course, quite right when he said that the decision to entrust this immensely important task to a non-Departmental organisation was a decision of Her Majesty's Government taken prior to the appointment of the Committee of which I had the honour to be Chairman. I should like, however, to make it clear that if I had not found myself in sympathy with that basic proposition I would never have agreed to be Chairman of the Committee. Your Lordships are probably aware that for a number of years I was responsible in a Ministerial capacity for the development and application of atomic energy. As Lord President of the Council, I was invited to undertake that responsibility in 1940, and I had opportunities of watching the development of the organisation, not merely up to the time of the dissolution of the war-time Coalition Government but for some years after, because the Labour Government, when they came into office, were good enough to invite me to continue in a general way to have oversight of the organisation.

My interest in the subject of atomic energy goes back much further than 1940; it goes back, in fact, to the year 1903, when I was entrusted with research into the radioactive properties of uranium in a German university. Ever since then I have watched with special interest the astounding developments that have taken place, and, as I have said, I had, as Lord President of the Council and subsequently as Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Atomic Energy, exceptional opportunities of observing the development of the organisation. I make no secret of the fact that if a decision had rested with me in 1945, I would have advocated entrusting the whole responsibility in this field to a non-Departmental organisation. My noble friend, Lord Cherwell, knows very well that that is the case. The noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, paid a well deserved tribute to what has been done up to now—he said "by an organisation in the Ministry of Supply." I should prefer to say "by organisations under the Ministry of Supply," because there were several organisations, very loosely held together. What they achieved is set out graphically and impressively in the document from which the noble Lord quoted.

I do not think any words can be too strong to commend the qualities displayed during the intervening years by those who were responsible in various capacities under the Minister of Supply. The noble Lord paid a deserved tribute to the work that had been done in the Ministry of Supply by the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Portal of Hungerford. I suppose I was, in a sense, responsible for his being there. I know very well the great value of his contribution. I take the view that, having regard to probable future developments of which we see impressive evidence to-day, a closer integration of the various organisations handling the problems of atomic energy in various connections is very necessary. There is not only the question of armaments: there is the question which is coming more and more into prominence and in which people in this country have played, as the noble Lord said, an extremely important part—the industrial applications of atomic energy. And there are the important medical and physiological applications of atomic energy.

It seems to me, and has seemed to me ever since I first had an opportunity of studying these matters, that a closely-knit organisation covering the whole field, organised in a way which would ensure that the various directions of development would be kept in proper relation to one another and a proper balance maintained, was vastly important. I am not going to say that it would have been impossible to go on under a Departmental form of organisation. As I am sure noble Lords will recognise, I should be almost the last person who might be expected to disparage the capacity of Departmental organisations to handle all sorts of subjects. I have spent the greater part of my life in Departmental organisations. I have served in Departments carrying out the traditional functions of the great Departments of State—the Colonial Office and the Home Office; I have served in public Departments called upon suddenly to handle novel problems, such as the National Health Insurance Commission and the Ministry of Shipping during the first great war, and I have seen how adaptable, how resourceful and, on the whole, how efficient a Departmental organisation can be. But there is no use hiding from ourselves the fact that the traditions and the experience of Departmental organisations have been developed in the discharge of tasks very far removed from those which have to be discharged by this new non-Departmental organisation which it is now proposed to set up.

I think we shall secure in this organisation a more complete and effective integration of the different parts of the organisation, a better balance. Of course, we are taking over into this new organisation those men of outstanding quality whom the noble Lord mentioned by name and who were, almost without exception, brought into the organisation when I personally was responsible for it. They have worked well. They have been handicapped by being under a Ministerial organisation covering a vast field. If it were thought right to continue to keep the development of atomic energy in a Departmental organisation of the normal type, I would have urged strongly that that organisation should be separated from the Ministry of Supply and that a separate Ministerial Department should be set up. The change there would have been a disadvantage, as compared with what is now proposed, in that it is of immense value to have as the responsible Minister someone of the commanding stature of the Lord President of the Council. He happens to-day to be a Member of this House. He might be a Member in another place, as indeed I was and as Mr. Herbert Morrison was; but, on the whole, I think it much better that this organisation should be detached and that, with the necessary provision for Ministerial responsibility for matters of high policy and for adequate financial control, there should be a close-knit, homogeneous organisation such as is now proposed.

I should have liked to see the number of people at headquarters who will form the board of this organisation kept rather smaller than is now proposed. I welcome the change that was made in another place to which the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, referred. It was decided to provide for the inclusion among the directors of someone with special knowledge of labour problems and the handling of personnel. That is very important from the point of view, on which my Committee laid stress, of giving the most complete assurance to the staffs of all grades in this organisation that they will have fair treatment and that appeal may be made to Ministers in any matter that may cause them concern in the future.

The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, raised the point, which I venture to think is of great importance, of providing for more and more devolution to industry of work in connection with the development of atomic energy. I believe there is a great future for us in that direction, not only in regard to the organisation of power stations and the effective collaboration which I hope will be developed between the Atomic Energy Corporation and those responsible for the generation of electricity, the Electricity Authority, but also in regard to the inventing, the devising and the manufacture of all sorts of plant and equipment for the application of atomic energy. I think we may well develop an important export trade in that connection.

My view, which I have expressed in unqualified terms in favour of an organisation of this kind, has been strengthened by what I have seen in other countries, in the United States of America and in Canada. In Canada, originally at our instance, important developments have taken place in this matter. The Canadian Government some time ago decided to entrust all the work to a body or bodies not dissimilar to that now proposed. It is well known and one must admit it, that, despite what the noble Lord was good enough to say about the important and spectacular developments that have taken place here, the developments in the United States of America, with their vast resources and their extraordinary capacity for mass production, outstrip anything on which we can pride ourselves. I hope I have said enough to make it clear that I have no doubt at all in my mind—and I was glad to find in the earlier debate that I was strongly supported in my views by the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Portal of Hungerford—that this is a step in the right direction. I cordially welcome in particular the words with which the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, concluded his speech. I am sure—I venture to prophesy to this extent—that he will find, as time goes on, no reason to regret that he ended on that note.

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships for long, but I want to deal with one or two small points in the Bill and to ask your Lordships' patient consideration of them. In the first place, as I think noble Lords who study this matter will agree, it is rather extraordinary that we are still sticking to the old description "atomic energy" instead of using the more general term "nuclear energy," which is a much more accurate description and which, in the course of a comparatively short time, as science develops in the general nuclear sphere, may be the description that will have to be used. The other matter that I want to mention to your Lordships the question which has been raised in the Lord President's speech, in regard to the effect of radioactive waste. From the point of view of public opinion, that is a matter of tremendous importance. Harwell is situated in my old constituency. It was necessary to arrange that the water supply from the Thames should be pumped to Harwell, dealt with at Harwell and passed back to the Thames. As the Metropolitan Water Board are responsible for the quality of the water, it was necessary to see that the filters were of great efficiency; and the fact is that now, as the water emerges from Harwell it is far better, far clearer and less contaminated than any other water in the Thames. I think that ought to be remembered as a matter of importance, because up and down the country river boards and local authorities may become rather exercised in their minds as to the effect of getting rid of this waste material. I think that the experience at Harwell completely proves that there is no reason at all for alarm.

There are two other matters which I wish to mention. One is in regard to the two-year period during which negotiations can take place about the conditions of employment of those engaged in this vast industry and how they will fit into the new organisation. I do not think your Lordships are in any doubt about the wonderful work that has been done, not only by the scientists who have been mentioned but also by hundreds of engineers whose work has been essential for the prosecution of these plans. These men have made a great contribution to the developments that have taken place. During these two years I think we have to be quite frank. These negotiations are essential; but in another place it was laid down by the Minister in charge that any man who applied for work would have to accept conditions which are abnormal and, so far as I know, do not exist in any other industry—that is to say, that men considered to be an abnormal security risk must accept the fact that they cannot be employed. I think that is very important. None of us likes this screening that has to be done, but for security reasons it is essential that it should be carried out. I am quite sure that the great mass of those employed will accept that condition and will be only too ready to see that employment is not given to those who might endanger the security which is necessary in various aspects of this arrangement.

There is another particularly important matter where I trust that, in these two years of negotiation, some contact will be made with the Ministry of Labour to set up a special arbitration organisation. It is most important with this work that there should be no stoppage, be it for whatever cause. This is a continuous process, and grave damage would be done and tremendous financial loss incurred if, by any chance, for any reason whatsoever, there was a break in the continuous process. I am quite sure that those engaged in this work would be more than willing, as this is a public utility of such tremendous importance, to subject themselves to a special form of arbitration. At the present moment there have been discussions on this matter, but it is imperative, in my view, that during this two-year period it should be emphasised that it is essential that there should be some special arbitration machinery. If noble Lords will read the result of the recent conferences at York and at Blackpool of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, I think it will be appreciated that the responsible leaders have a difficult task in keeping some of the more unruly members in order; and if we are to take what they say as gospel, it is essential that special provi- sion should be made to prevent action which would be very detrimental to the national interest.

Finally, my Lords, I want just to mention the question of finance. When the debate on the White Paper took place in your Lordships' House, I felt that the question of finance might be looked at again. I understand that there is quite a possibility that the sale of isotopes will increase considerably, and everything ought to be done to foster that. I cannot help thinking that, if we want to foster development, the last thing to do is to return to the Treasury any money that the Authority is able to win: it ought to go to the organisation and not pass back to the Treasury. It seems to me that there is room for some improvement there—at any rate to form the beginnings of an independent financial set-up, which I very much regret was not originally included in the Bill. I think it is probable that within fifteen years experiments will be made so that the railways of this country may be operated by local power stations of a breeder type affecting 400 miles of track. That will lead to the elimination of waste in the consumption of coal through what is undoubtedly the wasteful method of the old-fashioned, ordinary steam locomotive. If we can get electrical and breeder stations we shall be able to reduce our transport charges very greatly.

It seems to me that if there were set up some system whereby bonds could be issued, to be taken up by the public, as a "lock-up" for a time, it would save the Treasury what they have got to find, which is, I believe, £46½ million this year and £55½ million in the next financial year—mostly expenditure of a capital character. It seems to me perfectly legitimate that the taxpayer should be asked to find the money for maintenance, but I think that there might be some means of relieving the taxpayer of the original cost of capital expenditure, on which most of this money is to be spent. There is no reason why A.E.A. bonds should not be a good investment. I believe that in time to come they would be of great value, and it seems rather a pity, just at the time when we are bearing such a tremendous financial burden, that some means could not be found for financing these projects, which in the end are bound to provide a return of great value, both to those who are interested in them and to the country as a whole.

In regard to the matter of coal production, we are nearly at the limit of what can be obtained from the mining industry, and if the Electricity Authority projects which are now in consideration are carried out, it will mean that the 46 million tons of coal a year which are now devoted to conversion into electrical energy will need to be increased to 60 million tons; and it does not look as though that 60 million tons will easily be found. Therefore, it is providential that this vast and powerful new form of energy has arrived just at this moment. I feel that we should all do everything in our power to support those who have done such wonderful pioneer work, and help forward the new authority in every way we can.

5.0 p.m.


My Lords, this is a machinery Bill and in spite of the kind words of the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, at the end of his speech, he was unable to find much merit in the Bill itself. It seems to me that the Bill is clear and flexible and a simple solution by Her Majesty's Government of the problem of, on the one hand, providing overall control of policy by the Government, and on the other, harnessing to this new development the technological resources of British industry. Surely, if you do not set up a new Department, such as that which the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley mentioned and then rejected, it is right that a senior Cabinet Minister, such as the Lord President, should be the Minister in charge, for there is scarcely a Government Department which is not interested and upon whose interests this atomic energy development does not impinge. There are the Treasury, the three Service Departments, the Ministry of Fuel, the Board of Trade, the Ministries of Transport, Housing, Planning, Agriculture and many others. And I hope sincerely—I am going to refer further to this in a minute or two—that I can include in that list of Departments affected the Commonwealth Relations Office and the Colonial Office.

We are on the threshold of a tremendous new vista of chances for the application by British genius of this new development. I believe that we may lead the world in this development, as we have in the steam engine, in electricity, and, since then, in aviation. It is right surely that the Government Executive should play their part. But on the other hand, it is most necessary that the inevitable restrictions, as Lord Waverley said, of a departmental organisation should not hold back that development. Lord Wilmot of Selmeston mentioned Watt, I think. If Newcomen or Watt or Stephenson or Brunel had had to confine all their plans within the restrictions and boundaries of a Government Department, and get them through the financial branch, through the administrative branch, the staff branch and all the other branches, I feel that they would not have contributed anything like so much as they, in fact, did to British industry and British commercial success in the world. The developments which they initiated would certainly not have come about as they have done. It seems to me that the strength of this Government proposal is that we shall now be able to harness different teams of scientists working along different lines of development, different teams of scientists working for different industries and different interests, whereas if it were all kept within the limits of a Government departmental organisation that could not possibly come about. I think this is, as it were, a truly British solution. It is true that it is a hybrid, and it is trying to get the best of both worlds—overall Government direction of major policy and administration and achievement by commercial interests.

The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said that this was not an appropriate occasion upon which to dwell on the fascinating future of atomic energy and its application. He then proceeded to do so in a most charming, though brief, way, as did, equally briefly, my noble friend Lord Glyn. But I think it is right that, in dealing with this Bill, we should have in our minds something of the possibilities which open up before us in the not far distant future. In ten years, the experts say, piles like those in Cumberland will produce power at one penny a unit, which is approximately 50 per cent. higher than the cost with a modern boiler plant. With nuclear energy costs falling and coal costs rising, it is calculated that in twenty years' time atomic energy may be able to compete on level terms with coal. It will not be a rival to coal, but will be, surely, an additional source of energy contributing to our national wealth. The best estimates put Britain's coal reserves as at about 200 years. That is not a long period in the industrial life of a nation. Here, surely, is a saver for British industry, and its early and skilful application may enable us to stop burning wastefully in grate and boiler our most valuable chemical raw material—coal. Let us remember that the Ridley Report, only some eighteen months ago, foresaw a shortage of 20 million tons of coal in this country per annum by 1960. Beyond Britain's frontiers, world oil and coal supplies are getting less, and they are getting more expensive to produce. In 100 years we may be dependent upon new raw materials required for this atomic development.

For these reasons, I wish to ask the noble Marquess the Lord President whether he would consider (the matter may, of course, already have been considered, and if so I should be glad if he would tell me) whether there could be a geological survey of raw material resources throughout the Commonwealth and the Colonial Empire, a co-ordinated geological survey on a scale which has not been envisaged hitherto. A second request I would make to the Lord President is that he should tell us whether he could consider associating, in some bold, positive and close manner, the Governments of the Colonial territories, possibly through the formation of some central organisation. I do not expect the noble Marquess to give me a full answer in this matter to-day, but perhaps he will tell me if he would consider the idea, and whether he would favour associating these Governments with the geological survey for raw materials, and also with the industrial progress in applying this new source of energy.


The noble Lord, as I understand him, is referring to raw material resources in respect of atomic energy.


Yes, most certainly in respect of atomic energy. It is not for us to say what the independent equal partners on the British Commonwealth are doing or are to do in this direction. On the other hand, if there were some Commonwealth board co-ordinating our research, development and application with the parallel work carried on in the Commonwealth, we might go forward as a powerful Commonwealth unit in this great work.

I believe that there is a chance, in this new development of nuclear energy, and its application, for Commonwealth and Colonial Empire unity of a new kind. It would avoid all those international restrictions on inter-Commonwealth commercial unity which your Lordships know of and which I am not going to touch upon today—the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs, the most-favoured-nation clause and other measures. In this matter, I believe we should be able to go forward as a Commonwealth and Colonial Empire unit, in a great new unity which will give us, if we take full advantage of our opportunity, ascendancy over all other countries. I conclude by saying that, in this great new development that Britain has, I see another chance of showing that capacity to lead the world which we have shown twice since the Industrial Revolution and may yet show a third time.

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, we had an interesting debate on the White Paper in December, when the Lord President of the Council explained to us in some detail what the Government had in view. To- day we welcome the Bill which is the result of that White Paper. I am sure many of us have thought that a Bill of this kind is long overdue. The atomic energy project has become a vast undertaking, spending something like £50,000,000 a year, a huge sum, comparable to all the amount of money spent last year by the British Electricity Authority in installing new plant in their stations. This gives us an idea of the vast responsibility of those in charge of this undertaking. It also makes large demands on scientists and technicians of all kinds of the highest quality, to whom tribute has been paid again in this debate. We all must be proud of the results which have been attained. Surely an organisation of this magnitude and importance is entitled to a board of its own. Surely it is entitled to have a Minister who is directly responsible to Parliament for its work. What is the present position? It is merely a department of the Ministry of Supply.

I speak as one entirely outside these activities, as one of the general public. I cannot have anything like the knowledge of the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston. To the man outside, who tries to follow the different activities of that Department, it seems, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, will agree, a wonderful example of the theory of indeterminism—no one has the foggiest idea of what anything is about. We have the names of important gentlemen in various departments, but no man in the street can follow where anybody begins and where anybody ends. I am certain that a unit of this kind, which is a unity in itself, will be far more successful if moved from the conglomerate mass which the Ministry of Supply appears to be to the ordinary man. and put under a board of its own. Then we shall know who are the prominent people responsible for running the organisation. We shall have the advantage of knowing that they will issue reports from time to time and that perhaps we shall be able to ask questions of the Minister about how the project is functioning. At the present moment to the man in the street the whole thing is obscure and indefinite. From that point of view I strongly welcome this Bill.

There are two main activities in this Bill: one deals with the supply of extra violent explosives and the other with the supply of energy for generating power. As has already been mentiond, another important question is the auxiliary production of radio-active isotopes for medical and other purposes. What I am glad to see has not been excluded from the Bill is the extension of knowledge for its own sake, which perhaps to some people may be the most important point in the whole matter. It is tragic indeed, and some people are very much worried about it, that this great organisation is being used to produce this dreadfully destructive element. I feel we must have our feet on the ground in considering this matter. The scientists are not in the least to blame. It was their duty to explore nature and record their discoveries in the hope of again and again extending the field of human knowledge. It is the wickedness of man, who came along and discerned in this wonderful invention a method whereby he could destroy his fellow men. It has nothing to do with the scientist. The blame rests on the whole of human nature. We have to be realists in this matter. I ask myself, where should we be to-day, in the turmoil that exists in the world, if we did not have the atomic bomb? Where should we have been yesterday if Hitler had had the atomic bomb before we had it? We have to approach these things from a realistic point of view, though I pray that no occasion ever shall arise when this terrible weapon has to be used.

I welcome the setting-up of this high-powered Committee to make recommendations to the Government on how this important department is to be administered. In the last few years we have too often seen great undertakings initiated without a proper survey of all the conditions involved. Too often has production been jumped into without anybody considering the scientific and economic problems which must be carefully considered before any scheme can be successfully started. I recall to your Lordships the disastrous effect of the groundnuts scheme, a thoroughly desirable object, into which the Government entered without a careful analysis of the scientific problems. The deserved result was that the whole thing was an unfortunate failure and cost the nation £40,000,000. Here the Conservative Government have not followed that example and have carefully gone into this question. From the names of the gentlemen who form this Committee, men with vast experience of these questions, we know that no better solution could possibly be arrived at.

I wish I were as happy about some of the statements made about the development of nuclear energy for power purposes. Much has been claimed, it seems to me rather irresponsibly, by various speakers at different times, and the public is being led to believe that some vast development is about to come which is going to make a great change in the generation of power. We know that the station activated by thermo-neutrons will cost about twice as much as an ordinary power station. We know that its thermal efficiency will be only 20 to 25 per cent., whereas in a standard steam station it is now in the neighbourhood of 35 per cent. We do not know accurately the cost of uranium fuel, but I have seen figures quoting £5,000 a ton up to £20,000 a ton. Nobody knows the real market price of uranium metal or the quantity used to generate a kilowatt. Estimates have been made of the cost of power delivered to the Grid, but in view of the many variables, all these are uncertain and unreliable, except to show that the cost of power generated by this process at the present time—and it looks to me as if it will be a long time before we shall be able to increase the thermal efficiency of these thermo-neutron stations—will be considerably higher than that produced in the ordinary, traditional type of coal-fired station.

What is the coal position? We have heard a certain amount about that to-day. The coal position, as it appears to me, is this. These traditional-type power stations burn the worst form of coal it is possible to find: it is filthy muck, containing a large quantity of ash and also a high percentage of sulphur. Nobody else wants it, and nobody else will burn it. If you did not have your huge furnaces at your power stations to consume it, that coal would be a drug on the market. The present position is that the Coal Board are developing mechanisation at the coal face as fast as possible. I am sure we all agree that that is the right policy. One of the results of mechanisation at the coal face, however, is that, unfortunately, you will increase the percentage of fines in many instances by 20 per cent. So, in a few years' time, there will be a great deal more of this type of coal to dispose of and the only way to dispose of it is in the grates of power stations. If you were to cut out coal-fired stations using this horrible stuff, you would at once raise the price of coal to all the coal consumers in the country, because there would be from 40 to 50 millions of tons which it would be impossible to dispose of. I feel that unless the advocates of the generation in the United Kingdom of power on a large scale by means of atomic energy are able to bring forward schemes whereby the cost of energy delivered to the Grid will be considerably lower than that of the cost of coal-produced electricity, there is little chance in this country of our seing any big development in the next fifty years.

But it is a different matter when you consider the position overseas. There are overseas many areas which are remote from coal and oil supplies, which have no hydro-power, and where the cost of transport is high. If you had a nuclear station, you would require to bring, say, only 50 or 100 tons of uranium metal, and that would probably last from five to ten years. Overseas there seems to me to be, in special instances, a great opportunity for power stations operated by nuclear energy. It is for that reason that I particularly welcome paragraphs (e) and (f) of Clause 2 (2), which enable manufacturers and consulting engineers—who are immensely important in this overseas business—to come into the picture, to be brought up to date and to be told exactly what is possible in the matter of these great nuclear developments.

There is one other point on which I am afraid I must quarrel with the Bill, and that is the matter of its nomenclature. The noble Lord, Lord Glyn, has already mentioned it, and the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, has mentioned it on other occasions. Surely, we should try to put this right. It is horrible to call this "atomic energy." Clause 2 (2) (a) says: to produce, use and dispose of atomic energy. … Surely, the words, "to produce, use and dispose of the energy of the atomic nucleons" would meet the point; and if it were introduced in that one case, it would make some of us feel much happier. I am sure we are all glad that the Minister who will have these immense responsibilities is the noble Marquess, the Leader of the House. He will have enormous responsibilities in balancing up the technical and economic claims. What is more, from the experience we have had of him in leading this House, I am sure that there is no better modulator to slow down high-speed neutrons in the Ministerial pile than the noble Marquess, the Leader of the House.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, I did not intend to intervene in this debate, because the best I could hope to do would be to give the Bill my blessing, and a blessing from a layman is not likely to be very efficacious. An inefficacious blessing, I suppose, is at best a bore, and at worst an impropriety. I suppose that I have been connected with atomic energy longer than any one of your Lordships—since 1940—and, as your Lordships may remember, I moved a Resolution in this House in 1951, which was accepted, asking for something on the lines of this Bill. I see no reason to go back on anything that I said on that occasion. But apart from the fact that I have definitely come to the conclusion that this Bill is a big step in the right direction, there is the other fact that it is supported by a man who has had such close experience of the matter as the noble Viscount, Lord Portal of Hungerford, and by the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, who spoke. I think, then, that there can be no question that it ought to be accepted. Moreover, the very able men who were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston—whose tribute I should like to echo—are all in favour of this Bill, although he said they were to be hampered and hindered. Therefore, I feel that we can, without hesitation, accept the Bill as drafted. I am glad that the noble Lord opposite ended his speech as he did, with good wishes, and I am sure that they will be echoed on all sides, not only in this House but in the country.

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, we have had a debate in which there has been a good deal of agreement and a certain amount of disagreement. Nearly every speaker has emphasised the great potentialities of atomic energy, both for peace and for destruction, and there is no possible dispute about that aspect. Most speakers have emphasised the great industrial possibilities of atomic energy, from the point of view of this country, in particular; and the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, especially referred to the fact that we had one more opportunity of surmounting our economic difficulties by means of atomic energy. We all agree about that. The margin of disagreement is a narrow one, but it is important. My noble friend Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, in his admirable and well-reasoned speech, made it clear that this was a difference of opinion about machinery, and not about principle. We are all agreed that in one form or another the future of atomic energy must be in the hands of the public. I was sorry that the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, suggested that this was a doctrinal matter on the part of the Opposition—it is nothing of the kind. We are normally perfectly happy, either with departmental methods or at proceeding by means of a public authority. We have adopted either method for the purposes of nationalisation, according to which we considered the more efficacious for the purpose, and therefore no question of doctrine comes into the matter.

We have taken this Bill on its merits. I admit that there is a good deal of weight on the part of those who have expressed themselves in favour of the public authority. There is the view of the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, and the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley. It has been suggested—I do not know with what authority, but I am prepared to accept it—that the three gentlemen whose great services have been commended, and who will take part in the undertaking, are also in favour of it. But, on the other side, there are the two Ministers of Supply who have been concerned with this undertaking—my right honourable friend Mr. Strauss and my noble friend Lord Wilmot of Selmeston—who are both as strongly opposed to this method at this time as other noble Lords and other people are in favour of it. I do not know the views of the present Minister, because he has not expressed them—but at any rate he has not expressed himself in favour of these proposals. Therefore, there is weight on both sides.

I thought that my noble friend Lord Wilmot of Selmeston made a strong case against this particular method of achieving what we all wish to achieve. The weight of opinion—and I want to say this to the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, and others—is not conclusive. I recognise the great authority with which the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, speaks on these matters, but since he referred to the debate of July 5, 1951, I feel bound to remind him that, in a number of statements he made, he was not entirely a good prophet. For instance, let me quote one thing that he said at that time (OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 172, col. 670): … things have become so urgent that we cannot just sit back until the House reassembles after the Summer Recess and watch this great and vital project decline, as I feel it is bound to do unless it is reorganised. Well, we did sit back. We waited until the Recesses of 1951, 1952 and 1953.


The noble Lord must not forget that in the interval there was an Election and a change of Government, and new hope sprang in the breasts of the members of the project, as it did in the country.


The noble Lord will bear in mind the date of the Election, and also that a good many Recesses have taken place since. I am not chiding the Government with not having proceeded with this matter quickly. I am pointing out that the things which the noble Lord foresaw—this complete decline and decay of the whole organisation—have not taken place. On the contrary, things have gone exceedingly well.

The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, said that an acute crisis had been reached in July, 1951. That was not so; there was no acute crisis. The Ministry of Supply carried on, with the results which my noble friend Lord Wilmot of Selmeston read out, and with the approval of the whole House. This was published nearly three years later—three years after the noble Lord had been prophesying doom and depair. We now find it possible for this same Government, of which the noble Lord was so brilliant a supporter, to say that the obstacles were overcome in less than five years. "Less than five years" includes a considerable portion of the time after the noble Lord had prophesied this doom—half of that period, during which, according to him, the organisation ought to have gone into decay, resulted in these brilliant results. Every factory came into operation within a month of the estimated date, and so on. My noble friend Lord Wilmot of Selmeston read it all out. Therefore, one cannot feel completely confident that this is a better method than the other, especially when one considers some of the arguments which have been put forward. For instance, the noble Viscount hoped that it would be possible to devolve a good deal of the work of the undertaking to private industry. Well, we all hoped that. I think private industry has a great contribution to make—there is no dispute about that. But it could make that same contribution under the Ministry of Supply. Surely the Ministry of Supply have been contracting out and getting private industry to make things in exactly the same way as this undertaking will do. I cannot see that the fact that the Government desire private industry to take a part in this project is a justification for the setting up of this Authority.

I do not want to repeat all the arguments which my noble friend Lord Wilmot of Selmeston put before the House. They have not been answered. The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, was very emphatic in his views, as he is entitled to be, and I hope that we are equally entitled to disagree. But with all respect to the case he put forward to-day, I do not think he seriously controverted the case which was put forward by my noble friend. I am content to let my case rest on what he said, and to cut my remarks short and just ask one or two questions of the noble Marquess on the Bill itself. The first is something which puzzles me, and I thought the noble Marquess dealt with it rather lightly. That is in Clause 3 (1), where it says that it is the duty of the Lord President of the Council to secure that … in the conduct of the affairs of the Authority, the proper degrees of importance are attached to the various applications of atomic energy. The noble Marquess gave examples, mainly physiological, industrial and so on. I should like to ask him: What is the position of the military side—the warlike purposes? When the Minister (it may not always be the noble Marquess) has to decide upon the proper degrees of importance as between the various applications of atomic energy, has he, for instance, to decide whether at any particular moment it is more important to proceed with the manufacture of weapons of war-like purposes than to provide for the use of atomic energy for medical, physiological and industrial purposes? If we do not talk about manufacture but talk about research, would he regard it as his function to decide upon the relative importance of those matters? After all, they are matters which would have to be settled in the highest quarter. If that is so—and I imagine that the noble Marquess would not, in many cases, take upon himself the responsibility of a decision of that kind—does that not rather weaken the point made, that it needed a Minister of very high authority in charge of this to make such decisions? The most important decisions of all would, I imagine, be matters for the Cabinet itself, or even for the Prime Minister.

The other point I wish to ask on the Bill concerns security. The noble Marquess did not refer to the First Schedule, and I am not complaining of that. But if he will look at the First Schedule, Paragraph 7 (4), he will see that Except with the consent of the Lord President of the Council, the Authority shall not dismiss any officer or other person employed by them on the ground that his political associations render his continued employment undesirable in the interests of national security. "Political associations" is a very vague term. Whether that is deliberate or not I do not know, but I understood that in another place some assurance was given that these words would be looked at again and amended. I wonder what the noble Marquess would say, for instance, about the political associations of certain people who are at present in another place. Would they be regarded as unsuitable for employment? It would be a very difficult decision for the Authority to make, and a difficult decision for the Lord President of the Council to make by way of appeal. I think two things about this matter. One is that those words ought to be much clearer, and the other that there ought to be some machinery for a right of appeal on the part of anyone whose bona fides are attacked. There is nothing in the Bill about that, and although it is a Committee point and can be dealt with in Committee I regard it as a matter of fundamental importance.

I would say, for myself, that I have not been shaken at all by what has been said in favour of this Bill. I still have grave doubts whether this is the right method of approach at the present time. As my noble friend said, we are at the beginning of these things; we shall see our way much more clearly in a few years. In the meantime I should have preferred to adopt the philosophy of noble Lords opposite at the present time, that is, the philosophy of conservatism, or preserving what is good and of not making changes, particularly revolutionary changes, unless a case has been made out. I feel that at the present time the case in favour of this change is not proven, but I would join my noble friend in accepting the position. After all, the Government have had to make up their minds on this subject, and I admit that there has had to be a weighing-up of the arguments on both sides. Any Government worthy of its salt has got to make a decision, and I do not complain that the decision has gone the way it has gone, even though I do not agree with it. But the decision having gone that way, and the Government having decided to go forward with this Authority, I join with my noble friend in wishing it every possible success. Certainly I can say on behalf of my noble friends that we shall put no difficulty in the way of ensuring that it does meet with the greatest success in the future.

5.44 p.m.


My Lords, after listening to this very interesting debate I do not think there is a great deal that I need add in winding up to the rather full speech I delivered earlier this afternoon. I am happy to think that generally the Bill has had what I think I may fairly call a favourable reception. Even the noble Lords, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston and Lord Silkin, about whose remarks I have something to say, gave in their closing words what may be regarded as a modified and somewhat reluctant blessing to the Bill. No doubt—and I fully understand it—both those noble Lords would, for a great many reasons, have preferred, at any rate for the time being, that atomic energy should remain under the Ministry of Supply.


For the time being.


Lord Wilmot was quite frank about this; indeed, he emphasised it in a large part of his speech. He criticised the whole of the new structure which the Government was setting up and he pointed out that the decision to make this change was not the result of the Report of the Committee over which my noble friend, Lord Waverley, presided, but was taken before the Waverley Committee was set up. It is perfectly true that the Government thought that that was the right course to take before they set up the Waverley Committee, and that is why they set up the Committee. But it remains equally true that it was the function of the Committee to examine the question whether such a set-up was practicable, and I should have thought no one who read the Report of the Committee could form any other conclusion than that the members—and it was a unanimous Report—regarded this proposed change not only as practicable but as extremely desirable. Indeed, if any noble Lords had any doubts about that before they came into this House this afternoon, those doubts certainly have been resolved by what the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, himself has said to the House. He made it perfectly clear that he would not have accepted the Chairmanship of the Committee at all unless he had strongly approved of the Government plan. Therefore I think that that argument may be regarded as finally settled. In his view as to the desirability of this set-up, the noble Viscount had the extremely powerful support of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, who spoke with all the authority of a lifetime, both over matters of science and over matters of administration.

The noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, seemed to feel a strong anxiety lest this change should prejudice the development of atomic weapons. He said, as I understood him, quoting from the Bill, that the Authority would not be able, except by arrangement with the Ministry of Supply, to produce atomic weapons or components of weapons, and he feared that that might lead to a dangerous slowing-up, as I understood it. I must confess I was a little surprised to hear that argument coming from his mouth, because, reading the debates in another place, my impression, at any rate, of the views of quite a large number of his Party was that they wished rigidly to control the production of these weapons; indeed, many of them would like to see the production stopped altogether.


I do not agree with that.


That may be regarded, perhaps, as a new example of nuclear fission. At any rate I am happy to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston, does not share that view, and, what is more, fears that we shall not get enough bigger and better weapons. Indeed, we none of us want the weapons for our own purposes, but only for the purposes of bringing nearer enduring peace. That is common ground among us all. After listening to his extremely interesting and very well argued speech, however, I still could not see why he was so worried, because, after all, the position after this Bill has gone through will be that it will be only by arrangement with the Ministry of Supply that the Authority will be able to produce atomic weapons. So far as weapons are concerned, that will be exactly the position that existed before, and Sir William Penney and his most able and devoted assistants will operate just as they have done in the past. I can see no reason why there should be any more delay under this system than under the system that obtained before. Nor do I admit for a moment that there will be a kind of iron curtain dividing those engaged in research and those engaged in the manufacture of weapons. There will be the same close and cordial collaboration that there has always been. It is true that the fact remains that the purpose for which the Ministry of Supply was brought into being, and the purpose for which it exists now, is to produce weapons for the Service Departments. That is its function. But now the sphere of atomic energy—and this is the main argument that we put forward—is rapidly developing far beyond that. Indeed, already at this moment it covers in its civil uses a wide area with which the Ministry of Supply have in fact nothing whatever to do.

It seems to me, therefore, rather surprising that noble Lords on the other side of the House still remain so biased in favour of this system which they set up to deal with completely different circumstances. I am not in the least complaining that they should have set it up at that time, but they appear to be quite unable to face the fact that those circumstances have entirely altered. Actually, had the decision of Her Majesty's Government been what the noble Lords, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston and Lord Silkin, have to-day advocated, I believe that it would have been far more difficult, with the best will in the world, to hold the balance between military and civil requirements. I hope that it is to the civil use of atomic power rather than to the military use that the eyes of mankind will more and more turn. And yet that is an aspect which I do not think received sufficient emphasis in the speeches from the other side to which we have listened. I am glad that no references were made to-day to the bombs themselves. I did not advert to that subject and do not propose to do so now, because the actual weapons come very much outside the purview of this Bill. They are entirely a matter for the Government, and not for the Authority which it is the purpose of this Bill to set up. It may well be that the time will come when noble Lords in this House will wish, very properly, to discuss that subject, and we shall be happy to meet them when they do; but this is not the right occasion. In the same way, it would not be the right occasion to discuss the Eisenhower Plan. Those types of political problem do not arise on this Bill.

The purpose of this measure, as I explained just now, is purely and simply to transfer the machine for research, development, and pioneering into atomic energy from the Lord President to the Atomic Energy Authority.


If the noble Marquess will forgive me for interrupting, so that there shall be no misunderstanding on a vital matter, would he explain whether the Ministry of Supply will have a research organisation to guide them in their ordering programme, comparable with the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, which they must have to discharge their function in ordering military aircraft?


I do not think I can go into that now. In fact, I am not equipped to go into the exact machinery which the Ministry of Supply will have, but I do not anticipate that there will be this division, as I said. I should have thought that those who are engaged in the research which will be going on at Aldermarston and places of that kind will keep in the closest contact with the Ministry of Supply. I do not anticipate that that difficulty is likely to arise.

There were a number of questions asked which do come within the purview of this Bill. I will try to answer them. First of all, there was a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inch-rye. He asked: Could there be a geological survey of the Commonwealth and Empire both for mineral resources and for raw materials as they affect atomic energy? I can assure the noble Lord that these practical questions are under constant study at the present time, and the extension of Commonwealth co-operation is very much in our minds. That really is the reason for the provisions of the Bill under Clause 2 (2) to which I referred, and which, as the noble Lord will remember, would enable the Authority to carry on its operations outside the United Kingdom.

Then there was a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Glyn, about screening for security purposes. I was glad to hear him say that the great majority of the workers would like these necessary measures, to ensure that unreliable men were not employed in positions of great national importance. I am sure that that is true. I am sure that it will remain true so long as they feel—and I hope they will feel—that every precaution is taken to ensure that justice is done in all cases. That raises a question mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, at the very end of his speech. He said that a final decision with regard to the removal of men would rest with the Lord President. That is quite right and, in my view, should be right. He said that he did not like the existing wording which referred to "political associations" and so on. He mentioned the fact that this matter had been discussed at some length in another place and asked whether the Government had come to any decision yet. I can assure the noble Lord that we are well aware of the difficulty of this particular point. It is still under discussion, and I hope that we shall have an Amendment which we shall be able to put down by the Committee stage. If there is anything I can tell the noble Lord on the subject, I shall be happy to have his collaboration over it.

Then the noble Lord, Lord Glyn, made a financial point. He said that the sale of isotopes was likely to increase. I think that is perfectly true. He said it was rather hard that, when one portion of the Atomic Energy's business was going to profit, that profit would have at once to be paid back into the Treasury. I think that the profit will go up but, of course, we must not over-estimate the amount of money involved. It will be an absolute "drop in the bucket" compared with the total expenditure of the Authority. All that expenditure will, ultimately, have to be borne by the Treasury. Therefore, it is a little doubtful whether it would be worth while creating some special plan by which they could keep the profits from this very small, though important, part of their activities. I will certainly pass on what the noble Lord has said to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I should not like to give him any assurance that his idea, excellent though it is, will be adopted.

The noble Viscounts, Lord Samuel and Lord Waverley, both spoke of the importance of collaboration between the Authority and industry—certainly the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley did. It is, and of course must be, the policy of the Atomic Energy Authority to disseminate information with regard to the techniques of atomic energy to industry generally, as and when possible. We regard that as one of the most important functions which they will have to perform. As noble Lords know, there are already reactor schools in existence, and a wider and wider measure of collaboration is being built up. I hope that it may be possible to extend these contacts in the fullest practicable measure as conditions allow. I should not like to go further than that to-day, but, as in so many things, the spirit in which one approaches the problem is probably the most important point in solving difficulties. I can assure the House that the Government are most anxious to make progress in that direction.

Then there is the question of negotiations on staff terms and conditions, a matter which I think was referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, and the noble Lord, Lord Glyn. I would only say at present that we know that anxiety has been expressed, both here and in another place, as to the future of the staff engaged in this project. The Minister of Works gave an assurance during the Second Reading debate that the Authority's terms would be not less favourable than those enjoyed by the staff in the Civil Service. Since then, these improvements have been discussed in detail on the Departmental Whitley Council, and the staff have been given a good deal of the information as to the probable conditions of employment under the Authority. They have, I understand, expressed themselves as generally satisfied with the way things are going. Of course, a great many points remain to be settled, and these will have to be worked out during the period in which the staff remain seconded civil servants. But I believe there is no reason to suppose that any of the points which remain outstanding will present great difficulty; I think the situation in that respect appears to be most satisfactory.

My Lords, in conclusion I would say this. It is of course profoundly true, as was emphasised, I think, by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel and others, that with the discovery of nuclear fission, with all that is implied by that, for good or for ill, a new era is opened for the world. It may be an era of unexampled brilliance for mankind, or it may be an era in which mankind by its own folly puts a termination to its own existence. The possibilities of this era are absolutely infinite. What is to be the final outcome of these tremendous events, beside which I feel that even those great world wars that we have just experienced will soon appear to be mere episodes in the past, we do not yet know; but at any rate I think we can say this: that the purpose of the measure which we are discussing to-day is purely beneficent. Its object is to ensure for mankind generally, and in particular for the people of this country, new sources of power for the supply to industry of such products as isotopes, to which reference has been made, and which have already been used with such success in the treatment of disease—that these new sources shall be secured for the benefit of mankind, and that their production should be largely increased for that purpose. I am certain that this is an object which must appeal to all of us, in whatever part of the House we sit. I am very grateful to all those noble Lords who have taken part in this debate this afternoon. I can assure them that we shall give careful consideration to everything that has been said, and if we can with advantage meet any of the points that have been made, we shall certainly make provision for that in the Committee stage. In the meantime, I hope that the House will now feel ready to approve the Second Reading of the Bill.

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