HL Deb 27 July 1965 vol 268 cc1155-8

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how often the Advisory Council on Technology has met, what staff it has and which particular projects it is studying.]


My Lords, the Council has met ten times. It is serviced by the staff of the Ministry. The Council's terms of reference are to advise on the application of advanced technology in British industry, and in doing so it has given attention to the industries for which my right honourable friend has sponsorship responsibility. Among other subjects considered have been the status of engineers and designers, the development of British standards for export markets, the promotion of the metric system and problems of industrial structure.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for that information. As I understand it, the Council must recently have been meeting fairly frequently. May I ask him whether the Council are in fact considering the rôle, the structure and the terms of reference of the Ministry of Technology, in view of the recent all-Party criticisms—very serious criticisms—of its present top-heavy organisation? May T also ask—and I want to avoid any obstructive criticism here; we should all like to be helpful—whether a real effort is being made to get the organisa tion of the Ministry right? In addition, may I ask the noble Lord, if it is not asking too much, whether or not he considers that perhaps the Ministry has taken on the wrong industries to over-haul—the ones that we know are already advanced—and would it not be better, also, to consider, for example, the adequacy of the building industry? How in these matters, too, is work divided between the Department of Economic Affairs and the Ministry of Technology? Is there not some overlap here?


My Lords, I think that to answer those supplementaries completely would require quite a long speech. First, I am sure that the noble Earl is much too sensible a man to join in the foolish and ill-informed vendetta against my right honourable friend. Secondly, the noble Earl has been in Government and he knows the form when a Select Committee report. The Select Committee report to the Treasury, the Treasury informs my right honourable friend, and my right honourable friend then writes back to the Treasury. I cannot anticipate the terms of his reply, except to assure your Lordships that it will be good reading.

On the matter of the concern of the Council with the structure of the Ministry, this has, of course, not been part of their duties. It would be ridiculous for them to occupy themselves so. This is a matter of pure internal administration which, as I say, will be covered in my right honourable friend's reply to the Treasury. As to the industries which my right honourable friend has chosen for sponsorship, this was a cool and deliberate choice and we are quite sure this is still right. The building industry is covered by another Ministry—the Ministry of Housing and Local Government—and has its own sponsoring department, and a very active one. We chose industries, in the first instance, whose disappearance from our economy would in our view do untold harm. The fact that they were advanced made it, in fact, easier rather than harder, to try some methods of injecting technology. It will then be our duty to try to do the same process on other industries.


My Lords, the noble Lord began his answer by referring to ill-informed criticism—I cannot quote his words quite accurately. Would he make it clear to whom he was referring? It would appear that he was referring to the Report of the Estimates Committee.


No, my Lords; I was referring to sources much wider than that.


My Lords, if the Advisory Council are considering the metric system, which is a long-term job, are they also considering the decimal coinage system, which is much less long-term and might have a very considerable effect upon our technological advancement?


My Lords, the question of decimal coinage is, in fact, strictly a duty of the Treasury. But it is obvious that in the course of our concerns this cannot go completely unthought of.


My Lords, may I also ask the noble Lord, on this question of overlapping in regard to the Department of Economic Affairs and the Ministry of Technology which I touched on, whether he is satisfied that the work of the Advisory Council on Technology and that of the Council for Scientific Policy under the chairmanship of Sir Harry Massey is adequately coordinated? Is the work of those two bodies co-ordinated? For example, is atomic energy research a matter for the Advisory Council on Technology or for the Council for Scientific Policy, and maybe the Science Research Council, under Sir Harry Melville? May I also ask the noble Lord, finally, whether it is true that Professor Blackett, who I think was on both Councils, is now to resign?


My Lords, the answer to the last part of the question is, No. The relations between the Council for Scientific Policy and the Advisory Council on Technology are close and are joined by common membership. I think there is no danger of any serious lacuna between them. The relations of the Ministry of Technology with the Department of Economic Affairs must be close. This is necessary and inevitable, just as the relations of the little "Neddies" with our analytical groups must also be close. I think there is little danger of over lapping, but in fact it was a case where it was better to have overlapping rather than a gap.

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