HL Deb 04 February 1965 vol 262 cc1268-302

4.15 p.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.


My Lords, after that slight interruption I have to resume my speech on the Second Reading of the Science and Technology Bill, which is now again before us. The Bill sets out in general terms the main objects of the two Research Councils now to be created, and provides a procedure whereby similar information will be given to Parliament in connection with any future proposals to create additional Research Councils. The Bill provides financial authority for the Secretary of State to meet the approved expenses of the Research Councils, and to support scientific research in his own Department. This provision is particularly related to the responsibilities which the Department is taking over from the D.S.I.R. in respect of scientific information. It will have a general responsibility in this field, and will administer the National Lending Library for Science and Technology. The Research Councils and the Ministry of Technology will, of course, continue to be responsible for scientific and technological information particularly related to their own fields of interest.

I now turn to those provisions of the Bill which will be concerned with the Minister of Technology and his Department. The other main purpose of the Bill is to make provision for the Minister of Technology who, as the Prime Minister has stated, has the general responsibility of guiding and stimulating a major national effort to bring advanced technology and new processes into British industry. In pursuance of this, Clause 5 of the Bill enables the Minister of Technology to expend public funds in furthering the practical application of the results of scientific research. I would say in passing, in view of certain doubts which were expressed elsewhere about the scope of Clause 5 (1) (b), which I have just quoted, that it goes no further than the power already statutorily vested in the Council of D.S.I.R.

The establishment of a Ministry of Technology symbolises the Government's determination to adopt a fresh start and a new approach, and, while intensifying the research and development effort available to it, to concentrate particularly on stimulating its applications in industry. The Minister will have many methods open to him, and many resources on which he will be able to draw, including the services of an Advisory Council on Technology with a distinguished membership. One of the members of that Council is my noble friend Lord Brown, who will this afternoon be making his maiden speech in this House, and to whose contribution I am very much looking forward. I am sure that the whole House would wish him well, both in his task on this Council and also when making his maiden speech. Among the resources 1 would, in particular, mention those elements of D.S.I.R. which will be transferred to the Ministry of Technology, the Atomic Energy Authority and the National Research and Development Corporation.

On the dissolution of D.S.I.R., for which, as I have said, the Bill provides, its responsibility towards industry, including most of the Research Stations, will be transferred to the Minister of Technology. Responsibility for the Atomic Energy Authority has already, by Order in Council, been taken over by the Minister of Technology. While this transfer has been effected under other powers, Clause 4 of the Bill contains provisions of relevance to it. This clause extends the research functions of the A.E.A. so that it is enabled to carry on research outside the field of atomic energy if the Minister of Technology asks it to do so.

This means that the considerable resources of skill and expertise and the facilities that have been built up in the A.E.A. can be made available, as opportunity offers, to support the Ministry of Technology's task of stimulating technological advance in industry. In view of the discussion that took place in another place on the purpose of this clause, I would assure your Lordships that there is no sinister intention behind it. The clause simply ensures that one of the country's main repositories of scientific talent and resources will be available for deployment in directions where national needs may be greatest. The third main resource available to the Minister which I mentioned is the N.R.D.C. While this is not affected by the Bill, your Lordships will wish to know that an Order in Council is being laid to-day bringing the N.R.D.C. within the Minister of Technology's responsibility. It is hoped to introduce a Bill shortly which will have the effect of increasing the Corporation's effectiveness. For the first time, these three main resources—namely, the industrial elements of the D.S.I.R., the A.E.A. and the N.R.D.C.—are being brought under one control, allowing a rational integration of the contributions each can make.

To turn from the resources to the methods being adopted by the Minister of Technology, the Government are determined to use what weapons they can to promote technological advance. One such weapon for obvious consideration is the Government's own enormous spending power. A review is under way to establish the feasibility of orientating purchases and contracts in directions which will aid technological progress. Included in the consideration will be purchases made by the authorities directly and indirectly financed from public funds. It is not intended at this stage that the Minister of Technology should take over the purchasing functions of other Government Departments. Subject to whatever results may emerge from the review referred to, the Minister of Technology's function will be to assist and advise his colleagues on procurement by their Departments and by the organisations within their responsibility.

Remedy must be preceded by diagnosis, and it is obvious that before he can act the Minister must have the fullest information about the technological strengths and weaknesses of those sectors of industry with which he will be chiefly concerned. To this end the Minister is setting up a number of technical appraisal teams manned by engineers, scientists and economists from within and from outside the Government Service. Their functions will be to study the performance and products of sectors of industry, identify any technological weaknesses that may be revealed and consider the ways in which these might be remedied. Among other methods are the intensified placing of development contracts with industry, possibly under the supervision of the appropriate research station, thus ensuring close cooperation between Government and industry; steps to improve the supply and status of engineers who are so crucial to accelerating technological advance; and action to ensure that in the engineering field the British Standards Institution is making the maximum contribution to the Ministry of Technology's objectives,

Finally, in this connection, I would refer to the Minister's sponsorship responsibilities for the computer, electronics, machine tool and telecommunications industries. This function of sponsorship is a further method or instrument which the Minister will deploy in his task of promoting technological advance. These are all industries whose own technological advance is basic to technological progress across the whole, or at least a large part, of the industrial and commercial front. These are all industries with a high technological content and it is in the most technologically advanced products that our national performance has not keep pace with the highest standards elsewhere. The term "sponsorship" is by no means a new one. Between every major industry and a Government Department there is a relationship in which issues of common interest to industry and the Government fall within an area of discussion, correspondence, and formal or informal contact. It is this relationship which is conveniently covered by the term "sponsorship". In general, sponsorship provides an arrangement whereby a Department is in a position both to take account of the needs and problems of industry in the formulation and administration of policy and to interpret Government policy to industry. It also provides a means whereby an individual industry is given a point of entry to the Government machine.

My Lords, I have given a short survey of the responsibilities, functions and plans of the Minister of Technology in support of which Clause 5 sanctions the expenditure of public funds. No one can deny that in considerable measure this country's future depends on the success with which we exploit its resources of scientific and technological skill. With the loss of our overseas investments, with the emergence of more and more countries as our competitors we must, given our lack of natural resources, exploit to the maximum these non-material resources of skill if we are to pay our way in the world. The Government believe that the proposals of this Bill will result in a more widespread and vigorous application of scientific development in British industry on which the prosperity of us all is so dependent.

The major reorganisation whose key features are embodied in this Bill will, of course, affect the work and employment of a great number of staff. Most of those concerned are civil servants, and will continue to be civil servants; but there are a number who are at present in the service of independent bodies and who will be taken over by the new Research Councils (they will not thereby become civil servants), and a number who are now civil servants who will in future be employed by the new Research Councils. As my right honourable friend said when moving the Second Reading of this Bill in another place, the Government are fully consulting the representatives of the staff concerned, and assurances have been given as regards their future terms of service.

As I have said, I think the general lines of this Bill are agreeable to most shades of political opinion. A reorganisation of civil science is urgently necessary; a new impetus must be given to the support and development of science and its application to our national purposes. The Bill makes possible some of the essential features of this reorganisation.

My Lords, although this Bill makes an attempt at organisational coherence and administrative symmetry, we realise that Brute reality is too complex to catch in any framework in which we may try to fix it as my noble friend, Lord Snow said, in a notable phrase, in the debate of December last. The nation can hope to secure the maximum of benefit from our expenditure on research only if everyone concerned is determined to co-operate to the full: industry with the scientist; scientist with scientist; Research Council with Research Council; Department with Department, and Minister with Minister. Otherwise, however good the framework, there is a danger of the whole thing becoming bogged down in time-wasting and exhausting demarcation disputes. We present this Bill as the best framework we have been able to devise, and I commend it to your Lordships.

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

4.28 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that we are all very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Champion, for the charming and comprehensive way in which he has presented this very important Bill to us. I would agree with a great deal of what he has said; although this is not surprising as a lot of it is Conservative policy. I would agree with the importance of the independence of the Research Councils, for instance, and welcome his statement that the Minister of Technology is going to encourage other Departments, as I understand it, to purchase their requirements from British industry and so stimulate the development of technology. I should also like to say a word of welcome to the announcement of the appointment of Sir Graham Sutton as the chairman of N.E.R.C. and to wish him well in his new and important duties.

I would particularly welcome the statement that the noble Lord, Lord Champion, made on the importance that the Government attach to the status of the engineer. I should like to ask him—and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Snow, will be able to say a word about this—whether the Government have in mind to take action to improve the status of the engineer in Government service. At the moment there is no doubt that his status is certainly inferior to that of the administrative civil servant.

But, in spite of this wide measure of agreement, it is our duty to examine this Bill critically, but, I hope, constructively. Before we can judge its value we must take a look at the wider landscape within which the Bill is only a part. There are many important features in this wider landscape which we can identify and with the prosperity of which we are deeply concerned. The many fields of medical knowledge under the care of the Medical Research Council are some, and the work of the Agricultural Research Council and of the new Natural Environment Research Council will become increasingly important as our island becomes more and more crowded and industrialised.

At this moment in our history, however, I believe it will be generally agreed that the feature which dominates the whole landscape, as the noble Lord, Lord Champion, agreed, is the prosperity of industry and its ability to make and sell its products in the competitive overseas markets. If this area fails to prosper, the investment required to exploit the other areas will dry up. For this reason, and because these fields do not raise any fundamental issues of policy, nor are they controversial, I intend to concentrate today on the relevance of this Bill to the needs of industry, and mainly to the proposals for dealing with the D.S.I.R. and those relating to the Ministry of Technology.

First, as regards the D.S.I.R., I think there is general agreement, in spite of the splendid work this body has done in the past, that there is a need to reallocate its functions, to combine them with those of other bodies working in a similar field—for instance, N.R.D.C.—and generally to bring the organisations up to date. We should agree that the Trend Committee Report made a considerable contribution towards a solution of this problem, though, in my view, the Report puts a good deal too much emphasis on the academic and scientific aspects and too little on the technological and industrial. As I said in a previous debate, the problem of effectively applying new knowledge to industry does not stop at applied research; it extends through development of new products into manufacture and marketing.

Since this spectrum, starting with education in academic institutions and finishing with marketing in industry, is so broad, it clearly cannot be handled by one Minister or Government Department. So we have to determine where a break shall be made in this very wide spectrum. I think it is unrewarding to continue the sterile discussion and arguments about the boundaries of basic and applied research. What really matters is the environment in which the work is done and the primary objective of those who do it.

The Government have recognised this by the responsibilities given to the Secretary of State for Education and Science and to the Minister of Technology. Whilst some may not agree that this is the best division, it is certainly a very possible one and one with which at this stage I would not wish to quarrel. But the acceptance of this division as a possible way of proceeding does not necessarily lead to agreement that the formation of a new Ministry of Technology is the best way of harnessing science to industry.

For let the noble Lords opposite make no mistake about it, we on this side of the House are not at all interested, as some of them appear to be, in harnessing science to Socialism, nor indeed to any political creed. We are interested only in harnessing science to industry, leading to its greater prosperity. I am glad the noble Lord opposite agrees with that. No doubt they agree that this is an important objective, but may I say that I am in some doubt whether noble Lords opposite appreciate all that is involved in a more prosperous industry. This is no mere debating point, for a proper understanding of this is fundamental to the whole issue which we are discussing— that is, whether the provisions of this Bill, so far as they effect the application of science and technology to industry, will have the maximum beneficial effect.

Do noble Lords opposite accept, for instance, that one important criterion of the efficiency and prosperity of industry is the profits which are made? If they do, then no doubt they will agree that one of the aims of setting up the new Ministry of Technology is to help industry to become more efficient and so make greater profits. I am glad to see that noble Lords agree. Certainly it is the objective of noble Lords on this side of the House to stimulate the use of scientific knowledge in industry to enable companies which make efficient use of it to prosper and increase their profits at the expense of those who either cannot or will not make use of scientific advances. And those who have the courage to take risks, to promote new ideas and to exploit new knowledge and sell in the highly competitive overseas markets, will need capital as well as faith and patriotism.

I am glad to see that noble Lords opposite are agreeing with my remarks. Perhaps they will also agree with me that this capital is best provided through the normal machinery of the capital market, except in very rare cases that will have to come before Parliament. This certainly is the Opposition's view. For, as has been made clear in another place, we are totally opposed to any further nationalisation of industries, or parts of industries, because experience has shown the great problems involved in the financing of nationalised industry and how unsuitable they are for trading in a competitive market, particularly the international market. We are also fully aware that the capital investment in these new industries, which is so important, will not be forthcoming unless successful companies are allowed, and indeed encouraged, to make and distribute adequate profits to attract it.

I hope that your Lordships will not think that I have strayed too far from the general provisions of the Bill. But, in my view, we cannot judge a Bill of this kind without fully appreciating the background to it. This background consists partly of the factors I have mentioned and partly of the general intentions of the Government as indicated by the various pronouncements made by Ministers. But I must say that much of what has been said and written gives many of us grave cause for concern, even for suspicion of some of the motives behind this Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Champion, has assured us that there is no need for this concern. But I must put to your Lordships some of the things that have been said which give us cause for concern. For instance, the Minister of Technology, Mr. Cousins, himself wrote in Tribune only last year: There is no reason at all why public ownership should not be put into the new and modern industries right from the word 'go'. No reason at all—except that in our view it would be both wasteful and inefficient. He went on to express the opinion that: It should also be obvious that some of the industries in which the greatest progress has to be made, and where the greatest investment has to be put in, will not develop properly unless they are in public hands. That statement, of course, is entirely unsupported by events in America, Japan and Germany, three of our leading competitors in the technological field. There is the statement, too, in the Labour Party Manifesto: A Labour Government will go beyond research and development and establish new industries, either by public enterprise or in partnership with private industry. The last thing I want to do is to bring unnecessary or irrelevant Party issues into a debate in this House, but so much emphasis was given in another place to assurances—and the noble Lord, Lord Champion, gave assurances to-day—that there was nothing sinister in the Bill, and No 1ntention of achieving any further nationalisation by backdoor methods, that I felt bound to indicate to your Lordships the background to our concern. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Snow, when he replies, will be able to reassure us on these points.

Let me now turn to the main provisions of the Bill. First, as I said earlier, I very much doubt whether the setting up of an entirely new Ministry of Technology for the purpose of stimulating the use of scientific knowledge in industry was either necessary or desirable. I believe that this purpose could very well have been achieved in other ways, by appointing a Minister of State, with suitably qualified staff either within the Department of Education and Science or within the Board of Trade. In view of the prime objective, with which we are all in agreement, of applying science to industry, and so stimulating our exports, I myself prefer the latter alternative. At the same time, other Government Departments could have had their scientific staffs strengthened, and in this way the better use of science would have been stimulated throughout the whole Government service. As it is, I believe that there is considerable danger that, by excessive concentration within the new Ministry, the reverse will occur.

My Lords, technology is not something that can be handed out: it cannot be handed out either to Government Departments or to industry. It will be of value only if the user organisation contains people who understand how to use it and appreciate its importance for the work. And judgment is also required as to how science can be applied to obtain the best value from scarce resources. Finally, there must be enthusiasm and incentive to apply scientific knowledge to the day-to-day problems; and this comes best from within the organisation which is going to use the knowledge and has a practical job to do, rather than from carrying out research. I hope that the Government will have regard to these considerations as the provisions of the Bill become effective.

With this point in mind, I would draw your Lordships' attention to Clause 4 of the Bill. Subsection (1) gives the Minister of Technology power to direct the Atomic Energy Authority to carry out research in any field—and the noble Lord, Lord Champion, referred to this. This is a vast extension of the power given to the A.E.A., and surely requires some explanation.


I will give it.


When pressed in another place for an example of the kind of work intended, the Government spokesmen could give only one example, that of desalinisation. In general, the Government's agreement appears to be based on the general principle that: The Authority has built up most valuable teams of workers and acquired equipment and to get the full use out of them it is necessary to widen the range of work which it can do. Let me assure noble Lords opposite that I am not suggesting anything sinister in this attitude: it is just that I think it is unwise. To my mind, this is a most dangerous argument when applied to a research team working in a Gov. ernment establishment which is remote from all the day-to-day problems of competitive industry.

If these people are not needed in the A.E.A. for doing the work for which the A.E.A. was set up, surely the strength should be run down and these highly qualified engineers and scientists found jobs in industry, where they would be of far greater value to the national economy. To freeze them in a particular organisation goes against all the exhortations of the Government to move effort into the most important sectors of the economy, and for flexibility to meet the challenges of the future. And it is also, surely, an absurdly apt example of Parkinson's Law, "That work expands to occupy the men available". It sounds rather like that, and I believe that the noble Lord opposite is almost agreeing.

Perhaps there may be special cases where it is desirable for different but related work to be done in the A.E.A. But surely in such cases Parliament should be given an opportunity to debate and to pass judgment on the proposals, particularly in a case like this, where the Minister of Technology is being given power virtually to alter an existing Act of Parliament, the Atomic Energy Authority Act, 1954. On Second Reading in another place the Government undertook to consider this point, but I cannot see any evidence that they did so seriously, nor can I see any valid argument against the Amendment proposed requiring the approval of Parliament for the Minister's directions. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Snow, will be able to deal fully with this matter when he replies.

There is another much more detailed point connected with the Atomic Energy Authority: it concerns the pension position of those staff who are transferred from the employment of the A.E.A. to the National Institute for Research in Nuclear Science, which under the provisions of this Bill will come under the new Science Research Council. As I understand the position in Schedule 3, the staff so transferred will be able to remain within the pension scheme of the A.E.A., but any new staff who come into the National Institute for Research in Nuclear Science will have to come under the normal Civil Service pension scheme.

If I understand it correctly, the A.E.A. scheme is considerably more flexible than the normal Civil Service scheme, and enables staff to transfer between universities, industry and the Institute with greater ease and without the problems of their pension. It therefore seems to be a very bad step, and against the policy which the Government have advocated, of flexibility and having people moving about to meet the new demands, to make this provision and so prevent the staff of the N.I.R.N.S. from remaining in the pension scheme of the A.E.A., whether they are existing staff or newly joined staff. This matter was considered in another place, but the Government apparently felt that the Amendment there proposed led to some undesirable features and could not be accepted. I hope that the matter can be given further careful consideration, because I do not think it has been considered sufficiently up to date.

Turning now to Clause 5, subsection (1) gives wide power to the Minister concerned to give financial support to the carrying out and supporting of scientific research—and this point also was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Champion. But it is not at all clear what precisely this subsection means. I do not think there can be any argument but that it gives very wide power to the Minister. It would, so far as I can see, allow him to manufacture, and even to sell, and to do that on a subsidised basis if he wished to do so. Since action under this clause would often be taken in the normal course of business, it would be unreasonable to suggest that this should be a matter to bring before Parliament on each occasion. But surely there should be some restriction on this authority.

This takes us back, to some extent, to the earlier point that I made: that we are genuinely concerned about some of the motives behind some of the clauses in the Bill. Would it not be possible to devise a suitable Amendment that would restrict the authority within reasonable limits, without affecting the intention which we understand is behind this provision, and which the noble Lord, Lord Champion, explained earlier? An Amendment to cover this point was resisted in another place, on the grounds that it was too restricting. I would ask noble Lords opposite to have another look at this and perhaps bring forward an Amendment on the Committee stage. I think it will be agreed that reaction in the country to further nationalisation proposals, by whatever means, is not very favourable, and I am sure noble Lords opposite would not wish to incur any further unpopularity. We do not want them, therefore, to be tempted to slip in nationalisation of any kind by the back door. We should not like them to be exposed to that temptation, and I hope that noble Lords opposite will give careful consideration to the point which I have raised.

I have tried to show that we have no quarrel with the main objectives of this Bill. We welcome wholeheartedly the aim to improve the administrative arrangements for Government support of scientific research, in the widest sense, and to stimulate a greater and more effective application of scientific knowledge in industry. All this is common ground, and much of the Bill is inherited from the previous Government. But we are mystified and gravely concerned, as I have mentioned, at some of the detailed provisions in the Bill.

We should like to know much more about what the Government intend to do when this Bill becomes law. The noble Lord, Lord Snow, mentioned on an earlier occasion that they were doing a lot of listening in his Ministry, and he gave us some hope that we should have an early statement. I hope that he will be able to give us at least part of the statement to-day on how the Government intend to carry out the provisions of this Bill. Have they yet decided, for instance, how they will handle the complicated matters of space research, which are at the moment in the hands of so many different Government Departments? We should also like to be sure that action will not be limited to some of the physical action which has been suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, "a kick in the backside", or that advocated by the Minister of Technology himself of "shaking the machine tool industry".

So far as this Bill is concerned, we ask the Government to show their intentions clearly, not only by verbal assurances but by bringing forward Amendments to clarify the points that we have made, and so remove misunderstandings and suspicion which mar what we believe to be an otherwise useful Bill. Finally, we want to know for certain whether this Bill is one of the first cousins of a nationalisation measure, or whether it is to be a pure-white snowdrop heralding the spring of advancing science.

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, on the occasion of this, my maiden speech, I crave your Lordships' indulgence for what I have to say. I am nervous of the occasion, because of the high standard of debate achieved in this House; but I am heartened because, in spite of some of what I have heard this afternoon, I still think the Bill, which is concerned with the relation between science and technology, is no partisan issue. It is my hope, therefore, that what I have to say may prove acceptable to your Lordships.

I support this Bill because it shows the determination of Her Majesty's Government to forge a closer union between science and technology—for this union of the two is nothing less than the interaction between theory and its practical application. It is when theory is tested in practice, and practical affairs are ordered on scientific principles, that the enduring enrichment of knowledge and of our material prosperity are both assured.

But in giving support to the Bill I desire to draw the attention of this House to the threat that exists, and, indeed, has existed for more than a hundred years, to this wedding of science and technology. Science is now regarded, I think, in our universities as a more or less respectable branch of learning, but the same cannot yet be said of its technological partner. For example, as your Lordships surely know, the output of graduate mechanical engineers fell by over 600 from 1960 to 1962. The number of graduate production engineers—and I emphasise the word "graduate"—passing out from our universities and our colleges of advanced technology in 1964 was a mere 64—no more. The White Paper, Cmnd. 2146, comments as follows: The number of technologists who qualified from all sources in 1961 was about 340 less than previously estimated, and the number qualifying in 1964 is likely to be 2,050 less than estimated … The reduction is likely to be particularly marked in the case of mechanical engineers. One of the disastrous effects of this growing shortage of engineers is that the majority of posts in industry concerned with manufacturing method are filled with those who have not had the benefit of a university education. It is in this respect that we differ so markedly from our European competitors. It is easy to see why this gap exists. Production technology is one of the most applied of the disciplines. Important sections of our society still look down upon a man who employs his hands in using his mind, Our schoolmasters believe in the basic disciplines, and bias their pupils towards them. Our universities give low status to applied science, and industry too complacently tolerates the results. The same White Paper from which I have already quoted has this to say: This kind of intellectual discrimination against engineering is notably absent in European countries. In 1945, plans were made to expand the number of scientists and technologists, but the professional humanists were once again successful, as they have been so often in the past, in arguing that the non-science departments in universities should be expanded to the same extent—not because more Arts graduates were necessarily required, but for the sanctimony of preserving the balance of the universities, whatever that phrase may really mean. Science and technology were to be kept in the same straitjacket as they were in before the war.

In 1956, the Ministry of Education, led by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, stepped into the picture, realising that the universities could not be expected to have that understanding of the national need that would strengthen their will to educate technologists in the required numbers. Ten technical colleges were taken over and became what are popularly known as Cats (colleges of advanced technology). Despite pressure from the universities which temporarily deprived these Cats not only of the title of "University" but also of the right to award degrees, or to appoint professors, progress was nevertheless quickly made. These colleges are to-day producing graduate technologists of a new kind who are of the very highest importance to industry. In 1963-64 their total student population had risen to something over 11, 000, of whom 8,700 were taking sandwich courses in some form of applied technology.

Up to the publication of the Robbins Report, the Cats were, unlike the universities, directly responsible to the Ministry of Education. But in accordance with the recommendations of that Report, they have since become responsible to the University Grants Committee. Now this move seems to have been the signal for a change in the pattern of behaviour of these Cats. I think the move contains within it the seeds of what might be an educational disaster; for it now seems clear that within three to five years seven of these Cats will have largely ceased to use the sandwich type of education, in which there are alternating periods of college teaching and practical experience. Under the pressure of this change of circumstances, these Cats are changing their attitude to their original educational objectives. This in spite of growing approbation from a wide section of industry about the results of these sandwich courses. Indeed, the D.S.I.R. Report on Engineering Design, sometimes referred to as the Feilden Report, has this to say: Our consideration of the various types of engineering education offered in this country and abroad has led us to conclude that what is known in Britain as the sandwich course is the most suitable preparation for a career as a professional engineering designer. This predicted desertion of the sandwich course method indicates a drift away from science-linked technology towards the more basic science subjects at a time when our country needs a much higher proportion of technologists.

It was assumed that the U.G.C. would continue the policy of the Ministry of Education by giving due priority to the building up of these colleges which in most cases are still very much in an embryo stage. Apparently, however, this is not to be. There is little evidence in the recent mode of allocation of the sum of £33 million for new building space in 1966-67 by the U.G.C. that such priority has been given to technology. For example, in the case of Brunei, a college with which I must declare my association as chairman of the governing body, building plans for 1966-67 to cost £½ million had been discussed previously with the Ministry of Education, but the grant from the U.G.C., instead of £1½ million, has become £620, 000.

It would seem, as in years gone by, that all available arguments, however flimsy, are seized upon as a means of avoiding change in the traditional pattern of universities. For example, the existence of 1,000 vacant places for science and technology in our universities and Cats was used as an argument against the giving of adequate priority to further expansion in this area. Superficially, I think this made a sound and very good reason; but I put it to the House that it is a most dangerous argument. The current shortage of young people who desire to study technological science is a very serious national problem. There is a shortage of those who desire to do so. But this must be solved, and of that there is no question. Somehow technological work must be given higher status in the eyes of our society so that our youngsters are attracted by this sort of career. Technological universities cannot be developed quickly, but choice of careers by young men can change, or be influenced to change, overnight. When this change occurs, as it must and will, we shall again be short of places if we have not already provided the necessary facilities.

Our position in these matters relative to the U.S.A., Germany and Russia is not to-day a favourable one, but this is not a situation which has arrived upon us recently. It has been growing upon us for a century and I want to take, and I hope your Lordships will allow me, a brief look at this long history of neglect, in order to put the issue into somewhat sharper focus. Professor R. V. Jones of Aberdeen University, in a paper published in the Bulletin of the Institute of Physics, in April, 1962, has described this process with great clarity, and I propose to summarise his comments: First it has to be observed that it was the vigorous interaction of science and technology, and not science alone, which led to economic progress in the 19th century. For example, the first vacuum pumps were made by Von Guericke, who was stimulated by his failure to pump water to the top floor of his house. These pumps, developed by Boyle, led to the study of the behaviour of gases. Joule, of kinetic theory fame, was a brewer. James Watt was an instrument maker who became technician to the University of Glasgow. He formed a friendship with Black, then a lecturer, Black, stimulated by the Scottish distillers, originated the concepts of specific and latent heat. In other words, during this period we had a brilliant band of technologists, Brunei among them, who without Government assistance built up our greatness to the peak of the 1851 Exhibition, at which we won nearly all the premier awards in most of the classes. These men—Watt was foremost among them, and I am happy to claim him as a fellow townsman of Greenock—literally provided the motive power for the Industrial Revolution and contributed more than anything else to Britain's recovery after the loss of America; and this is indeed a thought for us, my Lords, in this House to-day. Already, however, there were signs that we were lagging behind the Continent in technical education. The Ecole Polytechnique had been founded in Paris in 1794, and the Technische Hochschule in Berlin in 1799, and these were to form a pattern of education in applied technology in Europe which we have not been able to achieve in this country.

My Lords, the general complacency received a great shock in 1867 when Professor Playfair of Edinburgh University returned from the Paris Exhibition with the news that, out of 90 classes of goods exhibited there, Britain had achieved awards in fewer than a dozen. In his letter to The Times of May, 1867, he says: So far as I can gather by conversation the one cause on which there was most unanimity of conviction is that France, Prussia, Austria, Belgium and Switzerland possess good systems of industrial education for the masters and managers of factories and that England possesses none. Later, in 1873, he wrote: … new professions are arising but for these our old universities make no provisions. Playfair and others forced a Royal Commission on Scientific Instruction in 1871, and another on Technical Instruction in 1881, and much development was indeed stimulated. The Central Technical College, now Imperial College, was opened in 1884. Plans had been prepared to make it a full technical university, but, as in the case of the Cats eight years ago, the Government on that occasion refused co-operation and it did not become a university for many years. Technical colleges were started all over Britain; new university colleges with technological departments and bias were established in Newcastle, Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds, Nottingham and Sheffield. Yet, despite the stimulus, technological education still failed to catch fire.

My Lords, where do we stand to-day? We have, rightly, given up our Empire, but by so doing we have lost our chief sources of raw materials and our easy markets. Now our standard of living is, as other noble Lords have pointed out, dependent upon our ability to equal and to surpass the technological advances of others. This Bill, with its emphasis on the union of science and technology, is a contribution to that end. But is it enough? It deals administratively with the deep-rooted problem of our failure to grasp the vital importance of technological and manufacturing activities in our society. We still suffer from the same impediments as those encountered in the last century, and these impediments are deeply embedded in the universities. Over the last hundred years they have failed to keep up with the times, to change sufficiently rapidly to meet the reasonable needs of the society which supports them.

How has this happened? Much of the answer to this question is to be found in the structure of our university system. Here we will find that the nation has abdicated; has given up its right, in the name of a false interpretation of academic freedom, to set any policy, however broad, within which it wishes our universities to teach. Let us first look at how society sets its policy in financing the universities—the function of the U.G.C. itself. The chairman of this body, in describing its function to a meeting of the chairmen and principals of the colleges of advanced technology last year, likened it to a "septic tank" whose function it was to decontaminate the flow of money from the Treasury to the universities. I think that description is, in fact, accurate.

Is it a state of affairs which is tolerable? I would suggest not. For whereas it admirably serves the continuing need of established academic activities, it does not allow for those major changes in the directions which require the active participation of society itself. Thus, apart from a small proportion of the financial grants by the Government to the universities which are specially earmarked, the universities are autonomous bodies. In our zeal to maintain academic freedom, we have invited the unfortunate consequences which Professor Jones has so ably described. We have confused individual academic freedom, which is a thing we must protect with our lives if necessary, with institutional academic freedom, which is a very different kettle of fish. By so doing we have sacrificed the authority to decide how many students we train in different disciplines.

It might be argued that the problem is not a serious one since most universities have councils with lay members in a majority and that the existence of these councils is protection against the dangers inherent in academic control. The Robbins Report comments as follows on the functions of these university councils: It is no part of their function to interfere in the business of internal academic organisation". And again, later, the Robbins Report says: Decisions about, for example, the size of the university and of individual faculties are approved by council usually with very little discussion, on the recommendations of senate … such policy-making is thus essentially in the hands of the senior academic staff. It might be argued that the Vice-Chancellor, who is appointed by the council, in most cases would normally be invested with the necessary authority to shape the policy of the university along viable lines. Unfortunately, it is unusual for Vice-Chancellors to have any defined authority, and again the Robbins Report has this to say: His is a rôle which, probably fortunately, is seldom precisely spelt out in written constitutions. As I read that, I wondered—fortunately for whom? The Provost of King's College, Cambridge, told the Franks Committee recently—and I quote from a recent issue of the Guardian: It was extremely difficult to ask a great university to abolish its own powers of individual self-government but these powers prevented long-term planning. Adversely affected interests could get together to vote schemes down and it was generally difficult to get agreement on detailed schemes. If, then, neither the Government nor the University Grants Committee nor the councils of the universities, nor the Vice-Chancellors, can decide on change, we are again in the hands of the senates of universities and the great networks of committees which these senates proliferate. Durham University, I know, two or three years ago had 70 such committees. This is the nub of the matter to which I wish to direct the attention of the House. Vital decisions about our system of education are being made or not made by interested parties, and J am using the term "interested parties" in the strictly legal sense. We have placed the senates of our universities in a grossly unfair position. They are in the position of syndicalists, and that is a position which precludes them from adopting that breadth of outlook which the nation now demands.

I therefore advocate the study by an appropriate body, perhaps under the aegis of the Ministry of Education and Science, of the organisational structure of universities and their relationships to central Government with a view to the introduction of such changes as will render them more quickly responsive to national economic priorities. Such a study would be a logical extension of the principle underlying the Bill before the House: the principle that Her Majesty's Government must be concerned in the whole field of science and technology. Because I strongly endorse this principle I, therefore, support the Bill.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Brown, on the clarity of his maiden speech and his plea for the union of science and technology. The noble Lord is obviously a man who can apply his mind with equal skill both through his hands and through his tongue. He has indubitably proved by his speech how he has benefited from the discipline of a technological education. I would differ from him somewhat in his criticism of the governing bodies of the universities. He rather regarded us all as of the Oxford and Cambridge constitution. I would remind the noble Lord that the four ancient Scottish universities are governed by courts of about 20 to 25 members, of whom about half are academics and the rest are more—shall we say?—practical or technological persons. I would congratulate the noble Lord on his chairmanship of Brunnel College and wish him well in his chair- manship of the Advisory Council on Technology.

This Bill is a piece of useful administrative tidying up. The Committee of the Privy Council is an excellent device for fostering a new development, since it gives that degree of flexibility in administration which is essential to a new enterprise. The device has worked well with the Medical Research Council and with the Agricultural Research Council and, so far as I am competent to judge, it has been as successful with the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. In this connection, I would support the points which were so clearly made by the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, and which derived from his great practical experience in these matters.

In view of the increasing importance of research, both scientific and technological research, as the basis for the material prosperity of the nation—or perhaps I should more correctly say, in view of the fact that we now more fully recognise the fundamental importance of such research—there is good reason for bringing together these diverse councils and agencies under two administrative umbrellas which can better explain and justify their actions than could the somewhat amorphous office of the Lord President of the Council. Increasing recognition of the importance of these Councils must mean increasing interest in their activities. Public interest in research work, while a good thing, has its dangers, since the public cannot be expected to be able to evaluate long-term research projects, and these are the very ones which will contribute the most to the ultimate wealth of the nation.

But bringing these under the control of a conventional Government Department is not without some danger. The noble Lord, Lord Champion, referred to the civil servants. This is especially so with a new Government Department into which there is always a danger that some of the less brilliant civil servants may conveniently be shunted. There is also the proclivity of certain civil servants themselves to attempt to control in some measure the direction of research. The same sort of thing is liable also to happen to the politician, but here the likelihood is not so great. The politician is usually in closer touch with reality and is usually without any personal aspiration to be considered as a scientific expert.

There is, however, great temptation to both politician and civil servant, the more so to the civil servant, to use certain of the findings of research to further a preconceived policy and to gloss over equally important results which are not in accord with that policy. These dangers must be resisted, for if the political and Civil Service heads in combination preen themselves on their scientific knowledge, then great harm will certainly result. Accordingly. I would congratulate the Government on appointing as chairmen of two of the Councils such eminent scientists as Sir Harry Melville and Sir Graham Sutton.

Another danger is that of another Government Department office being located in London and drawing an ever tighter rein on the research prosecuted in the peripheries of the nation. It is to the everlasting credit of the Medical Research Council and of the Agricultural Research Council that the scientific activities they have supported and have sponsored are well distributed throughout the land. This is in no small measure due to their direction by scientists who have shown considerable administrative ability. The same cannot so confidently be said for the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, though it would be unfair to condemn them. Their development at East Kilbride in Lanarkshire has fully justified what was regarded some twelve years ago as a somewhat hazardous adventure. We need much more of this kind of thing. Might I suggest that in the same way as Government Departments consult the Royal Society of London, so, as regards problems in Scotland, there should be similar discussion with the President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and also consultation with the Scottish Council for Development and Research?

Such technological research has been well described as the infrastructure of industrial expansion. At present too much of that infrastructure is in the South-East of England and too little in the North. The noble Lord, Lord Brown, has referred to the technological development of 150 years ago in Scotland, and especially in Greenock. There is no reason why that should not be brought back into life again with adequate opportunities for technological research in Scotland. In view of this and of the anticipated scarcity of office accommodation in and around London, is it ridiculous to suggest that this new Ministry of Technology should itself give the lead in this matter by getting itself located elsewhere—possibly in Manchester or even in Newcastle-upon-Tyne?

There is one last point I should wish to make—namely, that our universities, given the opportunities, have great capacity for research and experiment. When I say "universities" I mean universities and the technical colleges which are so rapidly becoming universities. They have great capacity for research, either in the seclusion of the university laboratories or, better still, in conjunction with specific industries and firms in their neighbourhood which are anxious to cooperate.

It is appreciated that the Research Councils must establish great institutes and that these may devour the greater part of the money available for research. Most of these great institutes—one thinks immediately of the Medical Research Council at Mill Hill and the Agricultural Research Council Institute at Aberdeen, the Rowett Institute—have fully justified their existence. But the wind of scientific genius blows waywardly, and those who are responsible for selecting the scientific staffs of these great institutes occasionally miss some genius who finds a job in a university; and, perhaps more occasionally, they also make a mistake and take on to the permanent establishment certain scientists who flowered some years ago when, on graduation, they achieved First-Class Honours and failed to develop further thereafter.

I would therefore conclude by making a plea that the possibilities of more research work being done at the universities should be ever to the forefront of the new Ministry. In the past, there has been much success in scientific discovery by the adoption of the sound military principle of "reinforcing success". I hope that this will be cardinal in the policy of the new Ministry. Anyhow, there is satisfaction in knowing that this plea for the encouragement of research at the universities falls on the receptive ears of the noble Lord, Lord Snow. Upon him falls the responsibility of shaping the course of this new enterprise, and I hope that his successors will be equally enlightened as to the part that the universities can play. I am sure we all wish him well in this venture.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, when I came here this afternoon I had not intended to take part in this debate on the Bill which is before the House, because I have expressed my views on these problems in earlier debates, and it seemed to me that this was a Bill of a rather technical character, the objective of which is really to rearrange the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and other great organisations of that kind which provide the generalship in relation to scientific work in this country. These proposals have received the approval of the House, and certainly I am wholeheartedly in support of them.

What has brought me to my feet is the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Brown, which I found most interesting and quite stimulating, although I am afraid I disagree with a great deal of it. In effect, the noble Lord blames the universities of this country for the shortage of technologists. He made a forthright attack upon them. As one who has spent most of his working life in the service of a great university, I am naturally taken aback to some extent when I hear made an attack of this kind. I think it is right and proper that anyone who takes the view that the universities are in fact to blame should express his views about this matter.

I am quite sure, from my close knowledge of the organising bodies in the universities, the senates and the Vice-Chancellors and o: hers, that there is no body which would welcome more a really impartial investigation into the part which the university has been playing of recent years in regard to this problem of science and technology. There is no doubt at all—the noble Lord, Lord Snow, has emphasised this, as have many others—that recent figures of entrants into the technology departments in the universities, and indeed into the Cats, have been most disappointing, and it is quite natural that people like the noble Lord, Lord Brown, should look round for the causes of this. I think this is a really important exercise, because we have to find the cause of it if we are to keep our heads above water, I think he is making a mistake when he puts the blame on the universities. They are providing these places, but the boys and girls are not taking them up. It seems to me to be putting the cart before the horse to say that it is the fault of the universities. The places are there. They are not being taken up. The boys and girls make up their minds as to what they are going to do, before they come to the universities. It may well be that Lord Champion is right in saying that it is because of the influence of the teachers. I think that is an important element which needs to be looked into: that it is the schools rather than the universities. I am not sure that that is the whole secret, or even the most important element in the situation, but certainly it is a matter which must be looked at.

The failure of girls to go into this work is more evident in this country, I think, than in any other of the great industrial countries. Certainly, it is much more evident here than in the U.S.S.R. Anybody who has spent even a short time in the U.S.S.R. must have been struck by the great enthusiasm of women engineers and women technologists in that country, and by the way the Russians are able to take advantage of the fact that their women are receiving education and progressing in this way. There is no difficulty in finding places for women in the technological departments of our universities and in the Cats. The point is that they just do not apply; and we must find out why that is. Is it not the atmosphere of society, rather than what happens in the university, that provides the answer? I would be prepared to lay a bet with Lord Brown that he will find much more readiness in the universities than up and down the country to have both the girls and the boys joining in the work of the science and technological departments of the universities.

I should like to repeat a question which I put to the representative who spoke on these matters in the previous Government, and which I mentioned in the speech I made in this House just before Christmas. I expressed the hope that, as we now had a Labour Government, I should have an answer to my question; but the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, who was speaking on that occasion ignored the question, just as much as Lord Hailsham (as he then was) had ignored me in the past. This point has come into the debate this afternoon. One important consideration is the fact that the leaders of industry are not themselves technologists. Such men are rare, apart from those to be found in our outstanding business organisations, such as I.C.I., English Electric and one or two other companies. It is rare indeed to find a man with technological training and a science degree in the ranks of management in our industrial concerns. This is one of the most important reasons why many of our best young men who have technological or science degrees do not feel tempted to go into industry.

It has been pointed out that in this country engineers are not so highly regarded as they are in Germany, France, the U.S.S.R. and the United States. Why is this so? I feel that it is because, with the few exceptions I have mentioned, they are not welcomed into the managements of the great industrial concerns. If my noble friend Lord Snow meets the sort of young men that I meet, he must have found that they are frequently very frustrated. Often they are taken into industry because it has become the custom to employ a certain number of technologists, otherwise the firm might lose face with the industry round the corner. This means that these young men are unable to pull their weight. I am informed that the turnover in research establishments is astonishing. I have made this point before, but have never received an answer to it.

Do the Government know what is going on in this respect? Does Lord Snow know the turnover in a big research department of industry? We must find out why these young men are throwing up their jobs and going round from one department of industry to another, looking for somewhere where they will get a real chance to do a job—for that is what the want. I do not think that this difficulty is to be laid at the door of the universities. The malaise is much wider indeed; and until we find the cause of the malaise, and put it right, we shall not make that progress in industrial development which all of us realise is absolutely essential to the future of this country.

5.33 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Brown, on his maiden speech, and especially on the clarity and interest of his remarks on the day-to-day history of science which he gave us. I felt that that, at least, was not above my head. Before his speech, I felt that the House was listening to a "closed shop" affair and a "closed shop" debate. I wrote down on a scrap of paper a few letters of which I thought some of the technologists would be able afterwards to tell me the meaning. I will read them out. They were: M.R.C., A.R.C., C.S.I.R., L.R.D.C., A.E.A., U.G.C. I shall take them home with me, and possibly my wife will be able to help me But it is difficult for anybody who is not a technologist and who is not up in these matters to understand, even in this House, what all these initials mean. In fact, of course, I do know what they mean, but the organisations referred to are certainly not easy to identify.

I would not agree with Lord Brown in his criticism of the universities. I myself was not in one, but I live close to one and therefore meet a lot of the people in it. I find that they are very much looking for some movement forward. After all, at Oxford there is a suggestion that girls should come into one of the colleges. I do not think that it will be carried, but it is evidence of movement to the front. I would point out that the technical colleges in our part of the world—and I speak only for one county—are progressing in a most remarkable way. They are increasing in numbers, and the expense is going up hand over fist. I believe that in a few years' time those colleges will turn out the people required for the technological task.

5.37 p.m.


My Lords, we must adjourn just before six o'clock, so you will probably be relieved to hear that I do not propose to speak for any longer than the time which remains between now and then. Fortunately, there is no need for me to do so for, apart from the fact that the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, occasionally trailed his political coat, there is not to-day a great deal of argument on either side of the House.

I think your Lordships would like me to express our congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Brown, upon a most interesting maiden speech, with a good deal of which most of us would agree and with some of which we shall probably slightly disagree. He reminded me of one of my favourite stories of 19th-century Cambridge, for the history of university reform has not been one of singular and staggering success, or, at least, of singular and staggering good sense on all sides. The proposal was that the Cavendish Laboratory should be established—not, to most of us, anything which would seem very revolutionary; but in 19th century Cambridge this was regarded as almost worse than abolishing the University altogether. The Master of Sidney Sussex College delivered himself of the following phrase: Englishmen are Englishmen and Prussians are Prussians, and this will be so until the end of the world. This was his most convincing argument against the foundation of the Cavendish Laboratory. And I am afraid that to do anything with institutions of a university nature without causing either intolerable friction, on the one side, or loss to society, on the other, is going to take all our wits.

This is not our main concern at the moment, but it is a very important concern with which the Department of Education and Science is wresting every day of its life, and about which most sensible and responsible people are becoming increasingly concerned. I think the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, realises that he is preaching to the converted when he suggests that we ought to use all the influence we have to bring research contracts to universities. That is absolutely accepted. If I may add just one word of gloss on that, I am not the former Rector of St. Andrew's for nothing, and I should like to see much more of this go to Scotland.

However, what are we really talking about to-day? Obviously, technological education is a vital part of all this. But it is only one part in the major task, which, quite simply, is ensuring that we can revive this country's industries. I entirely agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, in his Dr. Jekyll mood, that in fact it is absolutely important here to be as hard-headed and practical as we can make ourselves. This is our intention. We genuinely believe in tech- nology, and technology is our best hope of practical economic salvation. This we believe. We are being as empirical about the matter as we possibly can. The noble Viscount, I think, is not quite so empirical because his normal good sense is sometimes distorted by the force of his political fervour. It is very important to be empirical on both sides of the House, because suspicion begets suspicion and we shall not do any good unless both sides approach this problem as free as possible from any ideological preconceptions; and remember, my Lords, that Conservatives can have ideological preconceptions, too. It is an illusion to think that ideology belongs on only one side of this House.

Therefore, we decided to be practical. It was with that intention that we instituted the Ministry of Technology. It seemed to us the best method—not necessarily the only method—by which we could inject our faith in technology into the whole of the national system. There could, of course, be other methods, but particular times often require their particular administrative and organisational forms. In 1940 it was almost certainly right to have the Ministry of Aircraft Production, not only for practical reasons, but in order to point to the whole society what had to be done. In just the same way, we felt, after thinking of all kinds of alternatives, with technology so underrated in our economy, with all the problems that the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, has mentioned, that it was vital to make it absolutely clear that we stood by technology as a major concern.

I do not believe that this would, in fact, have been achieved by having a Minister of State in another Government Department. The noble Viscount should know that a Minister of Cabinet rank can carry the imperators of technology with very much greater force than any junior Minister. This fact was weighed up. It could have been done in several different ways, but we felt that we had to have a Minister of Cabinet rank and a Department concerned with the spreading of technology wherever technology was necessary. Of course, we know that technology does not exist by itself. It is only living where it can be got into the users' hands. Of course that is true. But this was a cold and considered decision. There could have been other possible solutions, but looking back over the last three months I am increasingly certain that it was the right one. I wish I could give noble Lords one important indication why I am almost certain that it was the right one, but that I shall have to reserve for my memoirs.

Therefore, my Lords, I suggest that we leave this particular discussion of whether or not the Ministry of Technology should have been set up. I think the discussion has now gone as far as is useful. The Ministry has been set up and we have got to live with it, and I suspect that any further discussion on this is quite unprofitable. With your Lordships' permission then, I should like to deal with certain detailed points which I think I can cope with fairly quickly.

The noble Viscount, speaking as Dr. Jekyll, was, in fact, concerned about the status of engineers, and here I am glad to welcome all that he said. He knows that I have shared his concern for many years. It is vital that we should be able to give engineers that professional standing and social respect which they have in most advanced societies; which they have all over Western Europe, in the Soviet Union and in the United States. This we must do. In fact, one of our first tasks was to set up what is called, in the horrible jargon of the trade, a study group, to think of all the possible causes of this relative lack of respect for engineers in our country, and the kind of methods which we could use to improve the situation. One of the difficulties was pointed out by the nobie Lord, Lord Chorley. I am afraid that I cannot give him any comfort, except to say that we all know that certain industries, or parts of industry, are not good at using the technologists which they get.

It is not easy to deal with this kind of personal problem. There is no perfect way of using engineers and scientists, and it is only the best firms which make a really good shot at it. But we believe that the use of engineers can be radically improved if we devote a certain amount of analytical thought to the matter, and if we try to spread into parts of industry not used to the employment of real professionals the kind of skills which advanced industries already know something, though not enough, about. This I believe we can do fairly fast. The remainder of the methods which we are trying to think of to improve the status of engineers I need not detain your Lordships about for long. Pay is obviously one factor in certain parts of the professional world, and there is also social recognition. All this is being studied.


My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point, could he answer the specific question whether particular attention is being directed to the status of the engineer in the Civil Service?


My Lords, that is part of the survey. I should perhaps be going further than I ought if I said "particular attention", but it is part of the survey. The noble Viscount, in his Hyde mood, made some remarks about profits. Of course, we want industry to make profits. What kind of people does he think we are? The only important thing is that the national wealth should be increased. After we have increased the national wealth, it is perfectly reasonable for the entire country to decide how that wealth should be distributed. But, of course, we must first get the wealth.

I should have thought that this was a case where suspicion had run away with the noble Viscount, as in one or two of his subsidiary points, for in fact any empirically minded men are concerned with the fact that this country is not only doing fairly badly but is getting rapidly worse. This we cannot face. We see no reason why we should not make a fairly rapid recovery, but unless we do then everyone here knows that we are in for serious trouble; and there probably comes a point where the position is irreversible. We are not anywhere like that yet, but here we have to abolish suspicions, to be empirical, and to see that the wealth is made. As I say, the arguments as to distribution can come later. The first thing is to increase the national wealth.

In the course of his Hyde exercise, the noble Viscount was very worried about the Atomic Energy Authority, and about certain extremely innocent provisions which have been put at their request into this Bill. I have exactly five minutes left, and I think I can just manage to deal with this. This is very simple. The Atomic Energy Authority at Harwell, and various other of its research laboratories, have some of the best and the most highly-powered scientific research teams in the world. In the course of their work on atomic energy projects, certain other things tend to get thrown up, just by chance. For instance, they have to be extremely skilled at certain sorts of minor instrumentation, microscopic instrumentation. They get interested in desalination through atomic power plants, and they get interested in desalination through other methods. This is what, again in this horrible jargon, is called "fall-out"—something that happens as an accidental result of what you are doing.

The Atomic Energy Authority, the day we took office, asked to see us and said, "This could be commercially very valuable, because we can carry some of these projects quite a long way, using such skills as we have got and such people as we have got, and in fact it would be wasteful if you did not use these assembled, working teams." Again we agree, but, of course, in general we wish to distribute the talent which is concentrated in some of these establishments into industry. But it is absurd not to use working teams—happy, having good things to make which can be of commercial profit. It is quite absurd to break their morale and not use them if they wish so to be used.


My Lords, I do not want to interrupt the noble Lord because I know he is short of time, but the point I was trying to make was that these people and these skills could be better used in industry for exports. The question is, not whether they can do useful and interesting work and enjoy it, but whether they can make the most contribution to exports in a Government establishment or in industry—and our view is that it would be in industry.


That, I am afraid, is a matter on which there is a real division of opinion. The Atomic Energy people themselves are quite convinced they are better used in carrying these things through to an early stage of development. Nobody thinks they are going to make these things: they are going to carry them through to what is prototype development. They have already carried certain projects so far so that we can see our way to a substantial commercial profit when they are finally "farmed out"—and on this the professional advice was unanimous.

The second and very tedious thing, I am afraid, for most of your Lordships, is the status of the scientists at N.I.R.N.S.—another of those words which the noble Lord, Lord Saye and Sele, objects to, and very reasonably so: I hate to speak this language. This is irrelevant, but it has not been taken lightly. The problem is simply this: the people at N.I.R.N.S. come under a Science Research Council. Those already in employment carry on with their existing pension rights, and so on. The new entrants, it has been decided by the Department of Education and Science, should come in on the same terms as people going to other Research Councils. Either way, you get it wrong. If you bring them in on the same terms as in other Research Councils, they are on slightly different pension arrangements from their older colleagues in N.I.R.N.S.: on the other hand, if you bring them in at the same rate as their older colleagues in N.I.R.N.S., they are on different terms from those of identical people employed by other Research Councils.

This has been threshed out, to my certain knowledge, twice by the last Secretary of State for Education and Science, and once by the new incumbent, my right honourable friend Mr. Crosland. We are distressed that this dilemma should have arisen, but, nevertheless, we feel that this decision, for the moment, at least, is the right one. But I can throw out one ray of hope. We are at the moment seriously looking into the whole pension system of the Civil Service, these para-Civil Service organisations, universities and industry in order to produce the maximum mobility between all these four, and we therefore believe that probably this will not be such a serious problem in, perhaps, a year's time.

I think, my Lords, I shall now have to sit down, as we must adjourn for the Royal Commission.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.