HL Deb 18 November 1965 vol 270 cc697-704

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Draft Social Science Research Council Order 1965, laid before the House on October 27 last, be approved. It now appears to fall to me to lull the House. The terms of reference of the Committee on Social Science under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Heyworth, were to review the research at present being done in the field of social studies and to advise whether changes were needed in the arrangements for support and co-ordination. The Committee advised that such changes were needed, and put forward as their chief recommendation the establishment of a Social Science Research Council. The Government's acceptance of this recommendation in principle was announced in both Houses: of Parliament on June 2. On August 5, the House of Commons was informed that Dr. Michael Young had accepted an invitation to become Chairman of a Social Science Research Council, and on November 2 the names of the fourteen members were announced; and noble Lords will no doubt have seen them.

It will be recalled that, while subsection (1)(c) of Section 1 of the Science and Technology Act 1965 provides for the establishment of new Research Councils, subsection (4) of that section requires that no recommendation shall be made to Her Majesty to make an Order in Council declaring a body to be a Research Council for the purposes of the Act unless a draft of the Order has first been laid before Parliament and approved by a Resolution of each House. Specific references were made during the debate on the Second Reading of the Science and Technology Bill (Hansard, December 11, 1964, cols. 1980–1981) to the possible application of this section to a Social Science Research Council. On October 29, Her Majesty was pleased to order that the Social Science Research Council be incorporated by Royal Charter. The approval of the House is now sought for this draft Order, which specifies the objects of the Council and declares it to be a Research Council for the purposes of the Science and Technology Act.

There is a rather long history to all this. In 1946 a Committee under the chairmanship of Sir John Clapham considered whether additional provision was needed for research into sociological and economic questions, and decided that at the moment there was not a case for a Social Science Research Council. They argued that the chief need was more provision for routine research. I think it is fair to say that since that time we have lagged markedly behind the United States of America in the field of social studies.

However, that Report led to some effort on the part of the Government and the University Grants Committee to foster growth in this field. Over the period 1947 to 1952, £1.2 million, or slightly more, was allocated to universities specifically for the social sciences. This gave an impetus, particularly to the teaching of the subject, which has had far-reaching effects. Most universities in this country now offer social sciences, and the proportion of undergraduates entering social science faculties has risen steadily from 11 per cent. in 1959–1960 to 14 per cent. in 1964–65. Postgraduate students have increased at least as fast as this. Of course it is part of the function of university teaching staff to carry out research and, in addition, some have developed special centres to co-ordinate interdisciplinary research in the social sciences. The Heyworth Committee found that many of these centres were well-established and that the provision for research was more stable and wider in scope than when the Clapham Committee reported.

There have been corresponding developments outside the university field. The number of research institutions outside universities concerned with various social studies has increased since 1945 from 7 to 18. Industry and commerce have played a large part in financing some of these institutions, and are employing more and more social science graduates; and central and local government departments and agencies have been showing much awareness of the significance of the social sciences.

The Heyworth Committee estimated that the total expenditure on research in these subjects for 1964–65 was running at about £6½ million. Judged in the light of these developments, the Hey-worth Committee decided that the social sciences were ready to move to a new level of performance, and that there was a need for resources to support not only applied research but also research which held special promise for future development. For this the appropriate co-ordinating body is clearly a Research Council.

The Committee has recommended that the Council should consist of an independent Chairman appointed by the Secretary of State for Education and Science, and that the majority of the members should be social scientists, but that some members should possess practical experience in industry, and the Central Government should be represented on the Council and on these Committees by assessors. This is perfectly in line with the form of the established Research Councils. The objects of the Council should be to provide support for research in the social sciences, to keep under review the state of research in those sciences, to advise the Government on the needs of social science research, and so on—in other words all the normal func- tions of a Research Council except direct research itself. So the Government have concluded that the broad field involved calls for a somewhat larger membership than the Heyworth Committee actually recommended: that is, the Chairman plus fourteen, rather than the Chairman plus ten or twelve.

They accept in general the proposed functions and powers of the Council. These are embodied essentially in Article 2(1) of the Charter, and in the Schedule to this Draft Order, which is drawn up in terms similar to those which appear in the Charters of other Research Councils. More so than in the case of other Research Councils, the Social Science Research Council will be breaking new ground, and its first task will be to decide in detail its own programme of activities and its methods of working. No doubt it will concentrate initially on the support of research now being carried out in the universities and elsewhere, and on providing a focal point for the co-ordination and dissemination of information. The Council will not for the time being set up research units of its own.

One of the Council's problems will be to define its own sphere of operations. The term "social science" covers a number of disciplines and fields. Economics is one of the major ones, sociology is another, social psychology, social anthropology and political science. These will be the main immediate concern of the Council. But the field upon which these studies impinge is wider, and it will be the task of the Council to co-ordinate its work with that of other bodies, including the existing Research Councils. The Council will be assuming some of the functions hitherto carried out by the Human Sciences Committee of the Science Research Council and the Department of Education and Science in regard to post-graduate student awards. The precise demarcation of responsibilities will obviously be a matter for examination by all the bodies concerned when the Social Science Research Council becomes operative.

These arrangements will include the appointment of assessors from Government Departments, as I said before, as well as the representation of the Council on inter-departmental Committees concerned with research in the social sciences undertaken or commissioned by Government Departments. Of this there is quite a deal, and this kind of inter-weaving is common practice in the relations of existing Research Councils and Government Departments. The precise arrangements will be for discussion and agreement with the Council in each case.

The Government wish to reiterate their gratitude to Lord Heyworth and his Committee for a penetrating and comprehensive contribution to knowledge in this vital and comparatively new field. I personally should like to say how important I believe both their recommendations and the future work suggested will inevitably be. I commend this Order to the House in the conviction, which I share with the Heyworth Committee, that investment here will in the course of time—and not too long a time—be more than repaid by the improvement in the efficiency of the national economy and also in the quality of our national life. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft Social Science Research Council Order 1965, laid before the House on October 27 last, be approved.—(Lord Snow.)

3.49 p.m.


My Lords, we are most grateful to the noble Lord for giving us this detailed statement explaining this particular Order. He has answered many of the questions which I was going to put to him. We are particularly grateful to him because it was we, on this side of the House, who appointed the Heyworth Committee, and we are glad that its recommendations are to be implemented. I would repeat what we said in this House in June of this year, when we expressed our gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Heyworth, and his colleagues for their work.

I wish to ask the noble Lord whether he could expand a little on the objects of the Council as given in the schedule, which are very brief indeed and do not perhaps give a clear idea of the wide scope of this work. I think he has given us a good description of the work in which the Council will be involved. There were always people who felt that the social sciences were already covered in the other Research Councils and in the universities, and some thought that this was sufficient; but I think a good case has been made out for co-ordination, which is, after all, the object of this Council. As the noble Lord said, it is not going to have any new units of its own, which I think is good. I also think it is good that Her Majesty's Government are to be represented on the Council, and perhaps this accounts to some extent for the larger membership of it. All I can say is that we wish Dr. Young and all his colleagues well in their work, and I hope we shall be able to have some sort of debate on it, perhaps at a later date.

There is one point I want to ask the noble Lord. Under the Summary of Principal Conclusions and Recommendations of the Heyworth Report, No. V, it is stated that expenditure of the Council may be of the order of £600,000 during the first year and £1,100,000 during the second, and that it would rise in the fourth year to £2¼ million. It says that not all this is new expenditure. I do not know whether the noble Lord is now able to give more of a breakdown of these fairly considerable sums. If not, I leave it to him to communicate with me. We welcome this Order.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Snow said he was going to lull us with his speech. He did not lull me; he got me hopping mad. I am sorry to be so emotional after his quiet remarks, but I had read the Schedule to this excellent Order and was greatly encouraged. I thought it was first class, setting out things I had been hoping for for years. Then he gets up and says it is not doing anything, not going to have any bearing on direct research, it is going to be a co-ordinating body. If that is it, we have been "had" again. Some of us have been fighting for a Social Science Research Council for twenty years. My noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger and I, since we have been in this House, which is not twenty years, have certainly fought hard for a Social Science Research Council and we think this is a great day; we think this is "it", when we have won at last—at least, we did until my noble friend Lord Snow started talking. I am sure he feels as passionately as I do about social science, because this is one of the ways we can move mankind forward; it is one of the great hopes for mankind.

The noble Lord, Lord Adrian made a wonderful statement about the value of social research as the most important kind of scientific development now. The noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, said it was about the most important thing for the future of mankind. I have believed this for years. And social research is frightfully hard to do, because we are researching about our own behaviour, finding out how and why we behave, and nobody likes knowing the truth about himself. It is very difficult stuff, and this is why the official creation of a Social Science Research Council, to stand alongside our great Medical Research Council, is, or ought to be, and I hope still is, an event of historic importance. When your Lordships were discussing the Science and Technology Bill and the Heyworth Report I was chained, gagged and confined down on the Front Bench. I did not like it a bit. Not that I was in any disagreement.


My Lords, may I ask the Leader of the House if this is a marathon between the noble Lord, Lord Snow, and his noble friend behind to see who can occupy most time in what was supposed to be a Statement and question?


My Lords, this is the moving of an Order. It has been moved, will now be discussed and eventually my noble friend Lord Snow will reply.


My Lords, had it been a question, I certainly should have shut up long ago. It is, in fact, a very important Order, making a great step forward in the history of our little Island. I remember the last time I addressed your Lordships on this subject, six years ago. My old friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth poured cold water on me from a great height. He was a very conservative Socialist in some respects, and certainly social research was not one of the things he really liked. I am pleased and proud that a Labour Government should have created the Social Science Research Council in so short a time and, if I may say so, should have put Dr. Michael Young in charge of it, because I cannot help feeling that if the noble Lord, Lord Snow, thinks it is going to pursue the pedestrian course that he has described in Dr. Michael Young he will have a great surprise. Dr. Young is not that sort of person; nor, for that matter, is the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, who is on the Council.

There is a very important part of this Order in the Schedule which is paragraph (b): "to provide and operate services for common use" in social research. The Government already have a service for common use in social research, the Government's Social Survey. I spent a large part of the war helping to create this Survey, and it had a chequered career; it was nearly wound up three times. But it is, in fact, an extremely useful piece of social research machinery, and I do not believe any other country in the world has the benefit of being able to do social research whenever the Government require it. I see the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, nods agreement. It works as a common service for any Department needing social survey investigations, and it is located in the C.O.I.—quite the wrong place; it is for historic reasons it is there. The proper place is under the Social Science Research Council, where it will be available not only for Departmental investigations but also non-Departmental studies which the Council may consider worth while in the public interest; and it will thus bear the same relation to the Social Science Research Council as the National Institute for Medical Research bears to the Medical Research Council. I hope as soon as the Social Science Research Council has settled down Her Majesty's Government will give consideration to putting the Social Survey under its control.

I hope the Social Science Research Council is going to act courageously, that it is not going to funk investigating topical and difficult subjects, and that it is not going to churn out dull reports but is going to be vigorous and energetic and tackle things that matter, because unless it does it will not be any good. I think my right honourable friend the, Minister for Science and Education has chosen well in choosing Dr. Michael Young to be its Chairman; I believe he has chosen the man for the job.


My Lords, may I take the opportunity of congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, on his voluntary translation from the Front Bench to the Back Bench?

On Question, Motion agreed to.