HL Deb 11 March 1965 vol 264 cc188-96

3.25 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Snow).


My Lords, having spoken on this Bill, both on Committee stage and on Report, I apologise for speaking again. What I have to refer to is a point which arises out of an Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Snow, to paragraph 4 of Schedule 3, an Amendment which I cordially accepted. But in the course of moving the Amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Snow, said this: We have therefore decided that the Science Research Council should be authorised to recruit new staff to the Rutherford Laboratory on terms which would enable them to be members of the Atomic Energy Authority's pension scheme if they so choose. They do not intend to apply this measure to the Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire, which is not in close proximity to Harwell and to which the same arguments do not apply.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 264 (No.48). cal. 24. March 9, 1965.] I wish to say a word or two about the exclusion by administrative action of the staff of Daresbury Laboratory from the provisions of this enactment. Perhaps I had better say a word or two about the relations of these two laboratories. They are both laboratories of NIRNS. Harwell, the larger and more important one, which started eight years ago, is convenient and accessible to universities in the South of England. It was always agreed that as and when further facilities should be provided, they would be provided in an area which would be more accessible to other universities. Hence the establishment of the laboratory at Daresbury, which is convenient to the universities of Liverpool and Manchester, which have strong departments in nuclear physics. At Harwell laboratory work has been going on for many years, but of course the Daresbury laboratory was started only two years ago and it will still be, say, eighteen months before research work starts there. Both laboratories are equally laboratories of NIRNS and are on the same footing.

The noble Lord, Lord Snow, gave one reason why the provisions of this Bill, as amended, should apply to the Rutherford Laboratory and not to Daresbury. That was that the Rutherford Laboratory was next door to Harwell and that fact would make recruitment more difficult, if they could not have A.E.A. pension terms. I hope the noble Lord will forgive me for saying that this really does not justify a decision to cut the staff of Daresbury out of the A.E.A. pension scheme. Perhaps the noble Lord thought there was no staff at Daresbury because it is still being built, but, of course, that is not so. A highly technical laboratory of this kind cannot be built without expert staff being taken on to do the preliminary work of design and planning, and already there are at Daresbury 100 staff members, who are under the A.E.A. pension scheme. In time, when the laboratory is finished, the staff will rise to 350.

Under the decision announced by the noble Lord, Lord Snow, the existing 100 will have A.E.A. pension scheme terms and the rest would have to have another pension scheme. If we allow for those working at Harwell, out of a total of 1,550, 250 would be outside the A.E.A. pension scheme and 1,300 within—a very difficult arrangement. I want to emphasise that these two laboratories are engaged in work which is precisely identical in character, and employ the same kind of staff. The only difference is that at one laboratory the main instrument is the proton accelerator and at the other the electron accelerator—not, I think, a reason for justifying a separate pension arrangement. One of the arguments used in discussing these pension arrangements is that it is desirable to have uniformity of conditions over as wide an area as possible, and, within reason, that is sense. But surely it can be no sense to have a staff of 1,550 engaged in nuclear research in two establishments and to say that 1,300 of them may be on one set of conditions of service and 250 of them on another. I can see no justification for that.

Perhaps I owe your Lordships an apology for not having raised this matter on the Report stage. There were three reasons why I did not. The first was that, although the noble Lord, Lord Snow, very courteously showed me the terms of his Manuscript Amendment, I was not aware from what he said that he intended to propose the exclusion of the staff of the Daresbury Laboratory from the benefits of the scheme. Quite frankly, I doubted whether I had heard the noble Lord aright, and I wanted to hear what he said and follow the matter up before I commented on it in detail.

The second reason why I did not say anything on the Report stage was that I was feeling very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Snow, for the Amendment that he had put down, and I did not wish to mix up my thanks and gratitude to him for the Amendment he had put forward, with criticism on one other point. The third reason was a personal one. On Tuesday last I had the misfortune to arrive in the Chamber late. I was unable to move my own Amendment, and it was moved for me by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne. I was overcome with feelings of shame, and not wishing to draw attention to myself, I thought that the less I was heard in the proceedings the better. But I have now made a rapid recovery from this unusual state, and I feel it is essential that I should put this point, and put it firmly and forcibly.

I put it forward for two reasons. The first concerns what in some countries is called the legislative history. But I was the Member of your Lordships' House who raised this matter, and it seems to me that if I allowed this Bill to pass into law without making any protest about the exclusion of the Daresbury Laboratory this might be regarded, so to speak, as forming part of the legislative history of the enactment and might weaken any protest which I or other people might wish to make at a later date.

The second point is that I wish to urge the noble Lord, Lord Snow, to think about this arrangement again, and not to stick to this decision (if decision it is) that the future entrants to the Daresbury Laboratory should be excluded, not by Statute—the position is covered in, the Bill now before your Lordships—but by an administrative arrangement. I hope the noble Lord will be able to say that the arguments I have used really do provide good reason for further and early consideration of the decision which he announced on the Report stage. Frankly, it seems to me that the decision reached is not a sensible arrangement, and I do not think it would be regarded as acceptable. So far as I can see, this Amendment is not based on any principle; it is administratively very inconvenient; and again, so far as I can see, it will not benefit anybody. I hope that I may be forgiven for having put the point bluntly, and it in no way lessens my gratitude to the noble Lord for the considerable progress which he has already made in this matter, which I hope may be completed before long.

3.34 p.m.


My Lords, I am sorry if the efforts I made to assist the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, led to some embarrassment on his part; and I hope your Lordships will not think there is anything in the nature of an unholy alliance because I rise to my feet again to support his plea to the noble Lord, Lord Snow. I put this plea perhaps a little differently from the way the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, put it. If I may, I would remind your Lordships of exactly what was the issue that was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, during the Committee stage. It was that the present employees and the new employees of the National Institute of Research into Nuclear Science should be able to enjoy the benefits of the pension scheme administered by the Atomic Energy Authority. That was the issue, and the Amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, made provision for this. The Amendment was not related to any particular laboratory, or the situation of a particular laboratory; it was related to a category of employees working under the National Institute.

We welcomed the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Snow, when he put down the Manuscript Amendment embodying what the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, said, and, indeed, in one respect going slightly further, This, on the face of it, appeared quite satisfactory. Then the noble Lord, Lord Snow, in explaining the matter, said—and I am afraid that I did not appreciate its significance at the time—that a distinction was going to be drawn as an exercise of discretion between the Rutherford Laboratory and the Daresbury Laboratory. It was the first time, I must admit, that I had ever heard of the second laboratory. But are they not both under the National Institute? It is true that the Schedule as drawn contains the word "may", and it may be argued that the word "may" is permissive. But there can be no doubt, I should have thought, that the whole of the debate showed that the wish of this House was that those employed by the National Institute should be entitled to come under the pension scheme of the Atomic Energy Authority.

It was in the course of Lord Snow's speech that he quite frankly said—and I repeat that I did not appreciate its significance at the time—that administrative discretion was going to be exercised between the two laboratories. I must say, now that I appreciate it, that I feel this represents a departure from what was generally understood, and certainly what I understood, which was that all those employed in this Institute were to be on the same pension scheme. It seems to me extremely odd if, at the end of all this discussion, there will be one laboratory in which this nuclear research is going on where it will be possible to find people doing precisely the same jobs on different terms of employment.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Snow, has fought a great battle; and he has won, I think, at least 90 per cent. of it. I ask him not to accept defeat with regard to the last 10 per cent., but to give us his assurance that he will reconsider what he said with regard to the Daresbury Laboratory, and give us at least some hope that he will be able to tell us in the near future that this exercise of discretion, which, after all, can affect only a small number of people adversely, will be reconsidered.

3.39 p.m.


My Lords, I am sorry if I was guilty of unintentional discourtesy on Tuesday. I thought that the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, had actually read the relevant parts of my speech before I made it.




I am sorry. I thought that he had.


Quite frankly, if I had read it then, with the distinction, I should not have known what it meant. But, in fact, I did not see it.


This point does not affect the substance of the Bill. It was an honest attempt to announce an administrative decision. The Bill is permissive, but this is an administrative decision. I am really sorry that noble Lords are disappointed that the staff of the Daresbury Laboratory will be recruited under the normal Science Research Council terms. I can well understand the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, wishing to have his attitude on record.

I am afraid that I cannot add anything useful to what I said on the Report stage. As the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, handsomely remarked, whatever we do in this whole matter, there are going to be anomalies. That is a necessary condition of the whole operation. We have tried to deal with these anomalies with all the consideration open to us. We have tried for a long time and at considerable expenditure, if I may say so, of man-hours. We accepted, and most willingly, the special arguments about the Rutherford Laboratory. There the scientists are working within touching distance of the Harwell scientists, and it is reasonable that they should work on the same terms. This was a point that was constantly pressed upon us in the conferences that we had, with many people—scientists and others—and, as I say, we most willingly accepted it. But this special argument does not apply to Daresbury, and we therefore concluded—and on the Report stage I reported this as an administrative decision—that the scientists there should not be distinguished from their colleagues in other establishments controlled by the Science Research Council.

3.42 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps I might say a few words generally about this Bill. I think it has been greatly improved by your Lordships in regard to Schedule 3, even if the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, is not quite happy on this specific issue. Of course, in another place points of contention arose under Clauses 4 and 5. Clause 4, as your Lordships know, extends the functions of the Atomic Energy Authority and permits the Authority to undertake research not necessarily directly connected with atomic energy. As we heard from the noble Lord just now, in answer to my question on de-salting, I think this is one of the principal subjects on which the Atomic Energy Authority will be working—


Are now working.


—and are now working, although the Bill has not yet been passed. None the less, I think we should welcome this, although it was thought in another place that these extensions of the powers of the A.E.A. might draw skilled workers away from industry. In the same way, I feel that we must respect the assurances which the Government have given us in this matter.

Likewise, under Clause 5(1)(b), we on this side, I think quite rightly, had some fears that under the present Government the furthering of the application of the results of scientific research might lead to a further degree of nationalisation in the industries concerned. However, again we accept the assurance given by the Secretary of State in another place that that is not the Government's intention, especially in view of the fact that the wording in this part of Clause 5 is indeed very close to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research Act, 1956. We hope, therefore, that words which might, perhaps, not have been suspect had they been proposed by the previous Government, will not be used for the wrong purpose under the present Government.

In so far as Schedule 3 is concerned, do not think I need say any more. My noble and learned friend has dealt with this point. Much as we may sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, I do not feel that we on this side of the House can at this rather late stage go any further than we have already gone in supporting him. And, of course, we supported him in an entirely non-partisan spirit. We did not consider this question of the pensions of NIRNS employees to be in any sense a Party political matter. If in your Lordships' House we had wished to raise Party political issues in this Bill, we could easily have done so under Clause 5. But we did not. Indeed, as I say, we accept the assurances given by the Secretary of State.

We supported the Amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, entirely on their own merits, just as we welcomed the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Snow, which has largely met our points, even if the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, is not yet completely happy. At all events, we were not suggesting here that there might be any question of hidden nationalisation. We merely agreed with our noble friends on the Cross Benches that it was better that those employed in the National Institute and the Atomic Energy Authority should benefit from a similar pension scheme, since they work so closely together.

During the Committee stage, I said that the whole problem was who should keep in step with whom. It seemed to the noble and learned Viscount, and to myself, to be clearly more important that the employees of the Institute should keep more in step with the Atomic Energy Authority, the universities, and even perhaps with industry, than that they should be uniformalised (if I may coin a word) within the Civil Service. The noble and learned Viscount adduced all the arguments which weighed most heavily in this respect, and I need not repeat them now.

As the noble Lord, Lord Snow, agreed, this was an extremely complex matter, although I must say that the more I looked at it the less complex I thought it to be. The principle of the matter is really quite simple and straightforward: should we, as the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, said, drag down the new staff in NIRNS to a lower level, benefit-wise, than that to which existing staff had been accustomed? Our answer to that was emphatically "No", and I am glad that the Government, after perhaps some weeks, have come to agree with us. But this was a matter of principle in which we believe that scientists throughout the country are interested. I believe it to be a very important principle, and I hope that scientists throughout Britain will recognise that we fought this battle in their interests.

I am certain that the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, was right to press his Amendments. I felt so even more strongly when I listened to my noble and learned friend, Lord Dilhorne, for I know that he was looking at this matter with an entirely fresh mind and judging it in a completely impartial and even, might I say, judicial manner. We were therefore very glad to see the Amendment which was ultimately moved by the noble Lord, Lord Snow, and accepted in this House. We hope and feel that it will now be accepted in another place to the satisfaction of the Opposition, and particularly one Conservative Member who first proposed a similar Amendment.

We now accept this Bill as it stands. It is, of course, still complicated by the fact that two Ministries, rather than one, are now involved in its application. I hope, however, that the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, who is responsible for the Science Research Council, and the noble Lord, Lord Snow, who is concerned with the Atomic Energy Authority will remain two, shall I say, heavenly twins (or, might I perhaps say, Siamese twins) and that they will not permit themselves to be separated.

On Question, Bill read 3a, with Amendments, and passed, and returned to the Commons.