HL Deb 28 February 1972 vol 328 cc784-926

2.39 p.m.

THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH rose to call attention to the Green Paper, A Framework for Government Research and Development (Cmnd. 4814); and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I feel that at the outset we should like to thank my noble friend the Leader of the House for the fact that he is in his place to-day, and also for giving up time for this debate when we know how busy he is with his new duties in getting Britain moving again after the strike. I am certain that his new appointment as Co-ordinator is welcomed, not only by noble Lords on these Benches but by those on the other side of the House. I feel that I should also—I think I am right in doing this—congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, who is to speak after me, on assuming his new duties which I see are announced in the Daily Telegraph to-day as Opposition spokesman in your Lordships' House on foreign affairs and science policy. Evidently it has not appeared in the Sun, but I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and I am sure that he is going to make an important contribution to this debate.

During the seven years that I was spokeman for science and technology on the Front Bench, mostly in Opposition but also in Government, I made a study of the different aspects of science policy. One aspect which interested me most and which, in my view, lies at the heart of our debate to-day is the extent to which academic freedom and the independence of research organisations should be respected. What I personally have written on that subject, and also on the related subject of the misuses of science, has been inspired not only by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, whom I hope we shall be seeing a little later this afternoon and with whom I served when he was Minister for Science, and whose book Science and Politics several of your Lordships will have read, but also by my interest in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, in his address to the British Academy in July, 1966. There was one sentence in that address which I shall always remember. It was: We know what unfreedom is, for we have seen it, and still see it, in many parts.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, that the terms of the Haldane principle regarding the independence of the Research Councils may be somewhat outdated. I also judge the risks inherent in "unfreedom" in this country to be minimal. It seems unlikely that in the foreseeable future we shall have a Marxist régime in power in this country, or a Lysenko in our Ministry of Agriculture. None the less, one never knows what may happen, and I still believe that academic freedom is something we should respect and cherish, especially, but not only, when it comes to basic research.

On this I would say, despite cries of alarm from many distinguished scientific friends concerning Lord Rothschild's proposed reductions in the financial autonomy of the Research Councils, that the noble Lord is not decrying basic research. He has spent many years of his life on it, as I know well. Nor is he decrying a reasonable degree of academic freedom. On the contrary, his proposals retain intact 75 per cent. of the Department of Education and Science's science budget outside the direct control of what he describes as the "customer departments"; and in addition, if your Lordships look at page 7 of the Green Paper, he provides for a 10 per cent. surcharge to enable basic research to be undertaken. Indeed, only a proportion—a varying proportion it is true—of the work of the Research Councils is recommended to be paid for by the customer or executive Departments.

I understand why the Agricultural Research Council, where it is proposed that a very large proportion of the work should be funded by the Ministry of Agriculture, may be unhappy at the change; but I also understand the reasons why the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, has recommended this. He knows the work of the Agricultural Research Council very well, having been chairman of it for ten years. And I must repeat what I have said in previous debates in your Lordships' House: that when I was Parliamentary Secretary for Science, I was I not altogether happy with the work of some of the A.R.C. units, feeling, among other things, that on the biological side there was probably some overlapping with the work being clone by the Medical Research Council. Indeed, in going round the institutes and units of the A.R.C. (there were 44 of them in my clay), I often thought—and I am speaking entirely personally here—that it would have been preferable if some of them had been obliged to operate perhaps rather more under the system of the co-operative research associations of the old D.S.I.R., which are now the concern of the Departments of Trade and Industry, the Environment, and of course the Ministry of Agriculture. I have always felt that the research association formula was in principle a good one; that is to say, that Government contributed if industry did. The research associations, even if they have their problems, are good examples of the customer/contractor principle at work. I am glad that the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, who now probably knows more about it than anyone else in your Lordships' House, is going to speak in the debate.

But whether Lord Rothschild's recommendation in his famous Table 4 on page 12 of the Green Paper as to the percentage of work which should be done under the customer/contractor principle is the right one or not, I do not know. I should have thought that it would be difficult to fix precise percentages in the case of any of the Councils. But the enunciation of this principle is of course the nub of his Report and the principle is certainly not new to your Lordships. In our debates in recent years many of your Lordships on all sides of the house have advocated more contract research—contract research not only put out to industry, but also to universities and other research organisations, somewhat on the lines of the way that these contracts are placed in America. With the Government, I certainly support the principle as described by the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild.

At the same time, I think that we in this country should maintain a significant body of scientists engaged in independent basic, strategic or perhaps some tactical research not necessarily commissioned by an Executive Department. And, as I have already implied, I think the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, clearly accepts that most basic and educational research should not come under the customer/contractor principle. Indeed, he leaves the Councils with direct control over more than £75 million a year—that is out of about £109 million, I think, last year.

In his Report the noble Lord clearly recognised that a non-scientific customer—who may be spending very large sums of public money—needs the advice of scientists in formulating and expressing his research and development requirements. These must be expressed in a form in which scientists at the bench can begin to help him. In this way the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, has made the important suggestion that an organisation under a high level chief scientist should be set up in each Department to look after its customer interests on all scientific matters, while the controller R and D would be the contractor providing the research and development service. I fully endorse these suggestions. The chief scientist should not only help the Department to recognise the power and the limitations of science; he should also act as an informed and sympathetic focal point for working scientists to put their own ideas to the Department. Thus, the chief scientist should ensure that the essential dialogue between customers and contractors really does take place. And with such a chief scientist in each Department, the Research Councils need not fear that good ideas would be suppressed or that science would be crippled.

Sir Frederick Dainton, for whom I have very great respect, has also made recommendations. Although his Report was written without knowledge of what Lord Rothschild would recommend, nevertheless both identified the same basic problem: the need to link more closely the Research Councils with executive Departments. There was this common ground. Thus both Rothschild and Dainton have the same ends; only the means differ. While Rothschild emphasises the use of contracts to make the applied work of the Councils more responsive to the nation's needs, Dainton, while recognising that some contract work is desirable, says that the main links should be formed by strong departmental representation on Research Council committees. In addition, Dainton emphasises the unity of science and says that the work of the Councils should be overseen by a powerful Board of Research Councils. This Board—I am not certain what the Government think about it—would decide on broad priorities as between one Council and another, possibly even extinguishing an old Council or creating a new one. Such a Board would also help to co-ordinate scientific programmes which increasingly work by scientists of many different disciplines in different Research Councils. It is signficant that in his evidence to the Select Committee, Sir Harrie Massey, a former Chairman of the Council for Scientific Policy, said of that body that he would like to see it acting with rather more teeth and in a more critical way. It is important to note that the Government believe it right for the Research Councils to be preserved under the Department of Education and Science. This was perhaps the main point in Dainton's Report. The Government also recognise the continuing need for a body to give authoritative advice to the Secretary of State on the allocation of the science budget.

In view of the fact that there is this common ground between Dainton, Rothchild and indeed the Government, your Lordships may well ask why the the Rothschild recommendations have caused, if not acrimony, at least a considerable fluttering of wings in scientific dovecotes. My own view is that this has been largely due to the manner of presentation of the Rothschild recommendations, and even perhaps some of the noble Lord's subsequent observations at meetings and elsewhere. These may well have provoked wider criticism than might otherwise have been forthcoming. It so happens that I have known the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, for many, many years. I used to see him quite frequently when I was an undergraduate at Cambridge and he was doing research work in the Zoology Department. He is among other things, a distinguished biophysicist. I used to be fascinated by his descriptions of his experiments in making electrical measurements on frogs' eggs. Well, although I was then, like some others at Cambridge, at the painful end of his caustic wit and, shall I say? his abrasive candour, I still have an affection for the noble Lord and I find him now considerably less provoking than he used to be. But, even if his attitude is sometimes provoking, even if he may perhaps—I do not know—be sometimes deliberately trailing his cloak, I wonder whether this has not been a good thing. Has he not succeeded in bringing science back into the public arena of discussion, where it always should be? Surely this two-day debate is evidence of this. But seriously, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, has served a useful purpose in causing this controversy and in making all those concerned with the organisation of research think again deeply about what they are doing: whether what they are doing is worth while in terms of the needs of society, whether perhaps some qualified scientists in certain areas could not he better employed, and whether rather more direction from the customer, from Parliament and from Government is not desirable for the national good.

I would not deny this basic contention. Nor would I deny the need at this time for more purpose-directed or, as the Americans say, mission-oriented research commissioned by Government Departments for their social purposes. And I might add here that it was the noble and learned Lord, now the Lord Chancellor, who said in his book, published in 1963, that … each Ministry should learn to regard the application of science as one of its main responsibilities ".

Already then he advocated the appointment of chief scientists in each Department, in addition to the retention of the Research Councils. Of course Lord Rothschild, quite rightly in my view, now wants to go further than this and have more scientists at all levels in Ministries.

I have attended several meetings of the Select Committee on Science and Technology in another place, and I would congratulate the Chairman, Mr. Airey Neave, on his handling of these meetings. I was also impressed not only by the evidence of the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild and his assistant but also by the testimonies of Sir Frederick Dainton, Sir Alan Hodgkin and Sir Harrie Massey. Even if many of us cannot altogether agree with them in their resistance to any whittling away of the autonomy of the Research Councils, I think the Royal Society should be congratulated on the clear way in which they have stated their case. The submissions of the Research Councils, too, have also been cogently presented. But if I may make this observation, I am glad that the Select Committee is now to take its evidence not only from the heads of the Royal Society and the Research Councils but also from my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, as well as from senior officials concerned in the Department of Trade and Industry and other customer Departments, including the Department of the Environment, which will be funding part of the work of the Research Councils under the Rothschild scheme. I am glad that my noble friend Lord Sandford will be speaking to-morrow on how his Department intends to handle these matters.

Now although the Dainton Report is limited to the Research Councils, the Rothschild Report and the Green Paper itself are concerned with the whole of Government research and development. As The Times leader pointed out this morning, something like five-sixths of this total of £645 million—this is given in Table 2 of the Green Paper—-is already commissioned directly by Government Departments, either through their own establishments or through their contacts with universities or industry. Defence research and research sponsored by the Department of Trade and Industry accounts for the largest parts of it. These very large sectors of Government research and development have received little attention in public debates so far, but I think they deserve it.

Of course the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, did not have time to prepare a detailed report in depth—that might well have taken perhaps three years—but even if not a great deal of specific evidence is produced to support his contentions, this does not mean, in my view, that the customer/contractor principle is not sound or that the accountability of the Research Councils to Parliament has not been somewhat nebulous; for I believe it has. Government Departments certainly seem to me to be more obviously accountable than the Research Councils have been, for the programmes of the Councils are not, I understand, approved by Government or Parliament in advance but only annually reported on after they have been undertaken. You may therefore get a certain imbalance in the allocation of funds. All of us could probably quote many examples, and the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, quoted some the other day in the Select Committee. He said—I think it was for 1968–69—that molecular biology received £867,000, while research on ageing received only £14,000 and dental research only £57,000.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that subsequent to this evidence having been given to that Committee those figures were corrected by another witness, who showed that the figure for research on ageing was many times larger than that originally quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild?


My Lords. I should be interested to know from the noble Lord exactly how much is now spent on ageing. I am grateful for this correction from the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and I am glad that he is to speak later in this debate. I shall listen with great attention to what he has to say to-morrow. These were the figures that I was given; no doubt they have been corrected.


My Lords, may I interrupt? This is a key point. Would not the noble Earl agree that molecular biology and the work going on in this field might have some bearing on ageing?


Yes, this is quite possible. We can all pull out figures of the amount given to each kind of research and argue these points. I did not want to make an specific suggestions because I knew that if I did we should greatly prolong the debate. Whether these are the best examples or not I do not know; but they are examples which have been cited, and I shall be interested to listen to other examples which noble Lords may give, maybe to justify the existing system. At any rate, there has been some criticism of the allocations after they have already been made. I think personally that a good case is made out for proposed programmes and budgets to be looked at by Parliament in advance. I know that this may not be easy, but a serious attempt should be made to arrange for advance scrutiny, at least in Committee.

I am coming to the end of my remarks, and I should like to say that it is significant that not all scientists disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild. I note that my friend, Sir Harry Melville, a former Secretary of the D.S.I.R. and a former Chairman of the Science Research Council, thinks that, if anything, the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, does not go far enough. He considers it would be far better to go the whole hog—not, perhaps, entirely in the direction of my noble and learned friend, who I was hoping would be in his place on the Woolsack at this moment. Sir Harry Melville considers that Research Council funds should be administered from a single source; that is to say, from the Department most concerned. I also see that Dr. Gill, of the Department of Pharmacology at Oxford, considers the Rothschild proposals to be modest (a surprising attitude!). direct and to involve the minimum interference with the independence of the Research Councils. I further see that Dr. Rotherham, Vice-Chancellor of Bath University and a scientist of considerable experience with the C.E.G.B. and elsewhere, speaking on an interesting programme on B.B.C.2, I think last week, strongly supported the Rothschild principle. Professor Harvey Brooks, the distinguished American physicist, whom I personally would judge to be the world's leading authority on science policy, has said that the Rothschild proposals are mild by Amerian standards and go in a direction which has proved successful in America.

These favourable comments—and there are a number of others that I could quote—are reassuring. In Canada, where the same kind of self-analysis in regard to scientific policy has been going on in recent years, Senator Lamontagne has produced two voluminous reports—I have one with me—and indicates, quite rightly, that the science debate ranges between two extremes: those who believe that virtually all R. and D. should be controlled by Government, and those who believe in the great, autonomous republic of science in which scientists would be completely free to decide which lines of research it is most desirable to pursue. I hope that in this country we may, as we usually do, achieve the kind of happy mean which I believe Lord Rothschild's recommendations, however they may have been presented, represent. I hope and expect that both the country at large and scientists themselves will be the stronger for them. But, above all, our aim must be to make R. and D. pay off to the greatest extent possible for the welfare of the nation.

We have to recognise that although we in Britain have spent more on research as a percentage of the G.N.P. than most other countries in recent years, our rate of economic growth has been slower. I hope and trust that the adoption of Lord Rothschild's main recommendations will help rectify this situation. But this should not mean that a very considerable amount of research will not continue to be done by the Research Councils on their own account. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.7 p.m.


My Lords, all over the developed world there is a move to harness scientific research to the perceived needs of society. It is what we are talking about there; it is what they are talking about in the United States where they have a great new programme called Research Applied to National Needs—RANN for short—and where they have coined the unlikely neologism "society-related" for the kind of science which is good. In 1972, the United States Government scientific research will go 57 per cent. to defence; 27 per cent. to space; 10 per cent. to health and 3 per cent. to science, education, commerce and transport together. So they clearly have something to worry about. So, presumably, have the Chinese who have at present what they call, "the mass movement to carry out scientific experiments". Canadian and Russian science policy is also searching for the socially fruitful, and so are we through our chosen instruments of the Green Paper and Parliamentary debate.

To-day we have to hold in mind clearly that we are talking about a small thing—a small thing indeed. The only contentious part of the Green Paper is the Rothschild Report, and the only contentious part of that is the part about Research Councils. We have to hold in mind that Government research and development is 51 per cent. of all R. and D. in this country and that Research Council money is 12 per cent. of Government R. and D. money, making it therefore 6 per cent. of all R. and D. money in the country. If the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, proposes, as he does, that one quarter of the money which passes at present from the Secretary of State for Education and Science to the Research Councils should pass in future from the executive Ministers to the Research Councils, he is talking about 1½ per cent. of all the R. and D. money in the country. We are debating financial peanuts but not political or scientific peanuts.

The Government have not endorsed the Rothschild or Dainton proposals. They welcome and endorse in this Green Paper the customer/contractor relationship in applied research. They say that "subject to this principle" it is right to leave the Research Councils with the Department of Education and Science. And they say it "continues to be desirable to have a body of authoritative advice" available to the Department of Education and Science on budget allocation. They carefully do not endorse the Dainton Report and they carefully do not endorse Lord Rothschild's detailed proposals. One is tempted to say, "Good! The field is still open." But I fear we cannot say that because the customer/contractor relationship is specifically endorsed by the Government, and the whole operations of the Research Councils are specifically to be subjected to its implementation. Or so at least it was, oddly enough, before the Government began their discussion period. Perhaps they now see grounds to change their minds. In any case, it certainly behoves us to examine what this customer/contractor relationship is, or is alleged to be.

In the Rothschild Report the customer is thought to be an executive Minister, as for instance a Minister of Agriculture or a Secretary of State for the Environment or Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, advised by a chief scientist who is to be carefully chosen and carefully built up. The contractor is seen to be the Research Council, and that is to be administered by a Controller of Research and Development, who also is to be carefully chosen and carefully built up. But if we go a little further into the Rothschild Report we find that the Controller of Research and Development—like the customer; that is the Minister—may commission work at universities and elsewhere; that is to say, the contractor may himself be a customer in his turn. Here we begin to sec the limitations of the whole antinomy. To stick with the phrase "customer/contractor" for the moment, there never was, and never can be, in the field of research a customerless operation. Somebody always decides that something should be done and provides the money for it. The only question then is who should the customer be.

But, before getting on to that, let us for a moment look at these words themselves: "customer" and "contractor". Lord Rothschild himself has of course in the hearing before the Select Committee of the House of Commons on Science and Technology taken them back, and has said that if he had reflected better when he wrote his Report he would have used the words "user" and "commission" that is to say that the user, or potential user, of research results should commission the research from researchers. His second thoughts are to be preferred, but third thoughts could be better still. I sympathise with the Government, left high and dry with this useless phrase, customer/contractor, nailed to their masthead, but I hope the courage of their convictions will be no greater than that of their chief advisers and that they will refloat the ship under the more defensible device which I shall shortly suggest.

It has been pointed out often enough by the numerous and vociferous critics of the Rothschild proposals that a customer is someone you find in the market place making his choice between competing wares, and the contractor is someone who competes with others in tendering for a contract put out to offer by an entrepreneur. In both cases we have the market place; we have free competition. All such ideas are totally out of place in the field of Government research, since the Government research is precisely that research which no one else will do or pay for. If anyone else would do it, it would not have to be done by Government. The Government are therefore supplying a lack which the operation of free market forces in industry and elsewhere has left. If the market were enough, there would be no need for Government research; but it is not, and therefore there is Government research and it is monopolistic, as Lord Rothschild says. How could it be Government research and yet not be monopolistic? Are there to be two or more Governments which must compete with each other in this field?

I think it would be better if this debate were conducted in future using the words which mean precisely what is done and which imply no analogies. And what is done is not done as between two parties in a typical arm's length, market place contract; it is done between at least three. At one end of the scale is the consumer or user of the research, be he car manufacturer or family doctor or agricultural chemical manufacturer, or what-have-you. In the middle is a person or body acting in some shadowy way as his agent, who causes the research to be done in the way that he judges will be useful to the consumer or user, and who normally finds the money for it. At the other end of the scale is not, my Lords, by any manner of means, a contractor. At the other end of the scale is a researcher. The chain therefore is researcher, financing agent, user. Indeed, if we are to talk about customer and contractor we might just as well reverse the whole picture and say that the researcher—the laboratory or Research Council or whatever it is—is the customer. The researcher goes out seeking money from where he may obtain it. He is at the receipt of custom in the form of grants; he is a customer for money, whereas the financial agent, be that a Minister or an industrial corporation or whatever it may be, is a contractor in the sense that he contracts to pay over a certain amount of money for a certain length of time to the researcher to carry out the project agreed between them.

I believe that the whole false, commercially oriented picture of customers and contractors is something which can only obscure the issue we have to face, and that it is already doing so. It is in a way characteristic, perhaps, of the Party opposite that they should so willingly adopt this irrelevant commercial terminology to describe some of the processes of government. There is something in common, perhaps, between the Rothschild Report and the Duncan Report on the Foreign Service. The Duncan Report sought to commercialise diplomacy; the Rothschild Report seeks to commercialise Government R. and D. The Labour Government resoundingly pigeon-holed the Duncan Report.

Lord Rothschild leaves out the Science Research Council and the Social Science Research Council. One can understand why he leaves out the latter. It is indeed, as he says, very new and it also spends comparatively little money. But the reason he gives for leaving out the Science Research Council seems to me oddly unconvincing. It is that science is not synonymous with research and he is talking about only research. Well, my Lords, agriculture is not synonymous with research either; nor is the national environment; nor is medicine. It seems to me a pettifogging linguistic point. I cannot believe, and I do not think anybody who has looked at the situation can believe, that the Science Research Council is less likely to produce research results of practical application to industry than the other Research Councils are to produce research results of practical application to agriculture or medicine or what-have-you.

At a meeting of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee Lord Rothschild gave another reason for his exclusion of the Science Research Council. It was that this Council was much occupied in the education of scientists in research. But I think all the Councils are, and therefore. I do not see the force of this reason either. But there is worse to come logically in that Lord Rothschild recommends that the Science Research Council should be examined in the same way as he has examined the others but at a later date. This negates the very reason for which he said it was not expedient to examine it now. If it needs examining, it needs examining now, with the others. The truth of the matter, in my view, is that it does not need examining, but to say so would go more than halfway to admitting that the others did not, either.


My Lords, may I intervene? Does the noble Lord realise that the Science Research Council, according to its observations on the Rothschild part of the Green Paper, is already in the process of an examination, with the D.O.E. and the D.T.I., of the programmes it is undertaking that might be of interest to those Ministries and which they might agree to fund?


My Lords, I was at the moment addressing myself to the Rothschild Report without going into other examinations of all these Research Councils, which, very properly, are frequent and of different degrees of thoroughness.

There is also in the Rothschild Report what I can only describe as a total fog on how capital expenditure, as opposed to recurrent expenditure, is to be handled in the proposed carve-up. The House will remember that he recommends that three-quarters of the expenditure of the Agricultural Research Council, half that of the Natural Environment Research Council and one-third of that of the Medical Research Council should be controlled no longer by the Secretary of State for Education and Science but by, respectively, the Minister of Agriculture, the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Secretary of State for Social Services. Does this apply to capital expenditure too? I could not make it out. There is also the point which one, cannot help regarding as a little sinister, although it has not been touched on much in the public discussion, and that is that once the proportion, Lord Rothschild thinks the due one, of the Medical Research Council revenue has been transferred to another financial agent—namely, the Department of Health—it should suffer a 10 per cent. per annum reduction for three years, so that it should, in effect, be cut by one-third.


My Lords, I wonder whether I might interrupt the noble Lord for a moment. I have been listening intently to what he has said and, though I have not been able to check this particular point because there has not been time, it was my understanding of Lord Rothschild's proposal that we should suffer not more than a 10 per cent. cut.


My Lords, it was up to Lord Rothschild to propose that it should suffer no cut or that it should suffer an increase.


My Lords, I would interrupt the noble Lord again: He said "suffer a 10 per cent. cut", but I think that in his evidence to the Select Committee Lord Rothschild made it clear that there could possibly be an increase. Surely the noble Lord must admit that it was specifically stated as "not more than a 10 per cent. cut", whereas he stated it was a 10 per cent. cut flat.


My Lords, I beg the noble Earl's pardon if I am wrong. I do not know whether the House will wish me to pause and look for it in the Report. It is in fact paragraph 33, and it says: Furthermore, after this first year, the Departments should not reduce their payments to the Research Councils by more than 10 per cent. per year for three years. Ten per cent. per year for three years looks to me like a 30 per cent. cut at the end of the three years. I fully take the point that Lord Rothschild was not saying that this must be done, but these were his words and not anybody else's, and if he was determined that it should not be done no doubt he would not raise the question.

Lord Rothschild also says that as regards the proportion of their revenue which is to go to applied research and is to come under his plan in future from the executive Ministers, the Research Councils should not be allowed to reject contracts proffered to them by Departments except for reasons agreed to by the Department. In his evidence before the Select Committee of the House of Commons he withdrew this also and said that all he meant was that a Department should not be expected to pay a Research Council for work which the Research Council cannot or will not do. I think this is a fairly spectacular back-track, because in his Report it is clear that if the Research Council stated to the Department concerned reasons for which it thought it ought to reject the proposed research project, and if the Department did not accept those reasons, then the Research Council would not be allowed to reject that project. In other words, it would have to do what the Department told it, not only when it considered the project useless but even when it considered it supererogatory or even impossible. It is a far cry from this to the new position where, if the Research Council rejects the proposed project, all that happens is that the Department does not have to pay for it—which one would hardly have expected in any case.

Again, it is very noticeable that Lord Rothschild, almost alone in the scientific world, believes that there are only two sorts of research—basic and applied. Most other scientists think that there are certainly three: basic, strategic applied and tactical applied. This subject has been discussed fully in countless publications before and since the Zuckerman Report of 1961, and is specifically endorsed by, I think, all the Research Councils and by the Royal Society at the present moment. In his report Sir Frederick Dainton also rejects the bipartite division of research and adopts the tripartite division, and even leans towards the doctrine of the seamless web.

In a letter to the New Scientist on December 16, Lord Rothschild said: Dainton and I are both making definitions and provided you understand and stick to them any reasonable set of definitions is just as good as any other. But, my Lords, if you make a bipartite definition you are precluded from making a tripartite administrative distinction. Lord Rothschild says that applied research ought to be paid for by the executive Ministers while pure research continues with the Secretary of State. Now if there are only two categories, that means that very much more is to be paid for by the executive Ministers than if there are three or more categories, in which case one would assume that only the furthest over towards practicality—namely, tactical applied research—would be paid for by the executive Minister. This is not just a matter of haphazard naming of parts; it is a matter of profound policy distinction. Indeed, it has been calculated that the famous Table 4 in the Rothschild Report can only have been worked out on the basis that all of what Sir Frederick Dainton would call strategic applied research is meant to go over.

Lord Rothschild himself has often pointed out that all the public discussion has centred on his chapter about the Research Councils, and this is true. He himself is fond of saying that he does not discuss the situation where he finds nothing wrong, and I intend to apply that principle to the discussion of his Report. I do not propose to discuss the rest of his Report because I find nothing wrong in it. I think his chapters on the disposition of scientists in the Civil Service, on the upgrading of talent therein, the to-ing and fro-ing of scientists and others in and out of the Civil Service, and on the chief scientific adviser, are all good.

The organisation of direct departmental R. and D. is of course far more important in the purely material sense than is that of the Research Councils; it accounts for 88 per cent. of Government expenditure. If executive Ministers cannot get the research they need out of the Research Councils (and there is no evidence that they cannot), I think that before changing the latter one should make sure that their in-house arrangements and their arrangements with the universities are in order. I should like to see parts of in-house research budgets administered at a rather lower level than the present; in a big Department why should we not give each junior Minister and his corresponding Deputy Secretary a separate slice of the cake? We might even contemplate allowing divisions within a Department to divert some of their main budget heads to research, if they thought it would help them govern the country better.

The present in-house system has real defects. The bureaucracy is still there, the deadweight of administrators ready to ride Ministers off research which might lead to reform, or facilitate reform. There is the needless classification, about which Dr. Kenneth Mellanby has written forcefully from his own experience. There is the danger of a Minister's falling into the ready-made views, if not of his administrators then, beyond them, of his chief scientist, and these will be one-man views, a thing which by definition cannot happen with a Research Council. More dangerous than any of these is the fact that some of the Departments, and particularly the D.T.I. and the M.A.F.F., are more the servants of their respective industries than their guides or masters. We need make no bones about it; it is difficult now for Ministers to get research done in-house which will have any other bearing on their client industries than a straight increase in production, productivity or competitiveness. If a line of research, say of environmental application, looks likely to lead to the conclusion that, in the interests of society as a whole, car manufacturers or farmers must go through a troublesome period of adjustment during which their profits or incomes may waiver for a while, can anyone doubt that research is more likely to be done by a Research Council than by a Ministry?

To turn from the Rothschild Report to that of Sir Frederick Dainton and the Council for Scientific Policy is like turning from Sapper to the later Wordsworth. Lord Rothschild does not deign to state the problem; he only proclaims his solution. Sir Frederick Dainton talks kindly and courteously about everything. If it had not been preceded by the Rothschild Report I do not think that the Dainton Report would seem very good. It is too diplomatic, it is rather uncertain and bland and it is sometimes bureaucratic. But what a relief it is, after the breezy "back of an envelope" approach of Lord Rothschild! The Dainton Report is the kind of Report which makes one feel, "Well, I should think that's probably all right"; and indeed, that is the feeling I have about it. But it is important that the Government themselves and, if possible, this House also, in its debate, should form its own opinion of the matters at stake, and not go on feelings.

So let us look at the reactions there have been from outside. The Rothschild Report has been resoundingly attacked by scientists; it has been attacked by all the Research Councils and by the Council on Scientific Policy, by the Directors, for instance, of 35 agricultural research council institutes and units, by the Institution of Professional Civil Servants, by the Director of the Atomic Energy Research Establishment and so on and so forth. All this one might expect. because many of them Lord Rothschild proposes to carve up. But he does not propose to carve up the Royal Society, and the Royal Society Paper on the Green Paper we are debating to-day is a block-buster, or at least it would be if the Rothschild Report were a block. My noble friend Lord Blackett will be saying more about that, so I will not continue.

The Royal Society Report roundly endorses the seamless web view of scientific research, and during the course of its august commination describes the Rothschild Report as extraordinary, superficial, perfunctory and arbitrary. The Research Councils have all picked holes in Lord Rothschild's reasoning and even in his grasp of fact. We have already heard of the famous question of ageing. What happened was that Lord Rothschild originally wrote down a figure of, I understand, £9,000 as being spent on research into ageing, but he did not discover that this was only research on ageing as such and not research on the particular conditions which appear in old age or on the troubles which in old age affect particular organs; in other words, it covers only those research projects which do not have the name of an organ or a disease in their title but do have the word "ageing" in their title. This is perfunctory all right, and I think the Royal Society's word was justified.

My Lords, nowhere in the Rothschild Report is there any suggestion that anything has gone wrong. There is no examination of the services or disservices rendered by the Research Councils to the community. Changes arc recommended, but not on the basis of alleged defects. So we have to look elsewhere for opinions on this matter. Have others jumped in to supply the lack of foundation for Lord Rothschild's strictures? They have not. The Secretary of State for Education and Science, when she was asked by the Select Committee on Science and Technology whether she considered the work of the Research Councils important, replied with the single world, "vital". When she was asked whether she was satisfied with the way they were carrying out their work, she said that she was.

Again and again in the course of the debate since the appearance of the Green Paper the question has been asked: "What research projects suggested to the Research Councils by executive Ministers have been rejected by them?" The answer has never been forthcoming. Dr. Edmund Marshall asked a question in the House of Commons: "Has the Medical Research Council ever refused to do a research project suggested to it by the Department of Health?" Mrs. Thatcher answered that question, "Never". A supplementary question about other Research Councils elicited from her the answer that she knew of no occasion when they had either. That is an answer of immense importance. Parliament must assume that it was given after careful examination of the facts. Parliament must take it to be not only literally true, in the sense that nowhere on the files is there a letter from the chairman of a Research Council saying, "We refuse", but also true in the real and meaningful sense that Ministers and Departments have no complaint about the willingness of the Councils to meet their needs. One could not think otherwise without accusing the Secretary of State of irresponsibility, or at least carelessness.

So far what I have been saying tends to the conclusion that this crucial 1½ per cent. of our national R. and D. expenditure, which all the row is about, should not be handed over to the executive Departments concerned. But we should beware of saying that a thing should not be done simply because the case that it should be done has been ill-put. It may be that it should be done in spite of the fact that Lord Rothschild says it should. The thesis that executive Ministers, as the elected expression of the popular will, should have a greater say in the direction of applied research is an attractive one. Many Ministers and ex-Ministers can tell stories of their inability to get the research they needed. I can tell such a story myself, but I have been going on longer than I meant to. The moral of it was that I was ridden off the idea of research because it was going to lead to a policy that my administrators did not like, not because I was wanting to get it from a Research Council; I wanted to get it in-house, but I could not even get it in-house. The moral is: see to the in-house arrangements first.

Nevertheless, Ministers are the voice of the people and they are responsible to Parliament. But then the Secretary of State for Education and Science is herself a Minister and also answerable to Parliament. Lord Rothschild asserts that she is the wrong Minister for applied research. He gives no reason for asserting it, but there might theoretically be a reason. The Royal Society and all the Research Councils assert that she is the right Minister for applied research and they give strong reasons for asserting that. So it seems to me that the right course of action now is to do what the Royal Society says; make no change until there has been a proper inquiry into what, if anything, is wrong. And if such a proper inquiry did show that something was wrong in the relationship between the executive Ministers and the Research Councils, and did show that Mrs. Thatcher has been less than frank in her answers to the House of Commons, there would still be no call to give the executive Ministers power to order the Research Councils about, or withhold funds from them, because the Secretary of State herself already has those powers. I am more inclined to think that this is the right course because I believe that there is something wrong, hut that it does not lie in this area at all. It lies not in the relationship between pure and applied research but in the relationship between research and development. Although the Green Paper is called A Framework for Government Research and Development, it hardly touches on development at all.

The development aspect is the one that worries me and, I think, many of my noble friends and many people in the country. It is almost a truism that although we do fine research in this country we cannot exploit it. This is borne out by the figures. This country has the highest ratio of research and development expenditure to economic growth of any developed country. Our R. and D. is 2.6 per cent. of gross national product. Our growth rate is 2.7 per cent a year. For America, the corresponding figures are 3.7 per cent. and 4.2 per cent.; in France it is 1.9 per cent. and 5.6 per cent.; in Japan 1.5 per cent. to 11.3 per cent. I think the House knows that I am not the indiscriminate friend of economic growth as traditionally defined, but these figures are pretty striking. Lord Rothschild just jokes about them. But should we not try to find out where the failure lies? Is it a failure of effort, of financial courage. of financial caution, or, as I suspect, of communication, in that research results just lie about unread, gathering dust?

So what should we ask the Government to do? I think we should ask them to tell us a good deal more about the international aspects of all this, for one thing. We are going to join the European Economic Community, but there is nothing about it in either of these Reports. Where are we going to fit in to the multilateral and bilateral research programmes of the Community? German contributions to those projects have increased by 30 per cent. over the last four years. The French contributions have decreased by 15 per cent. and the Italian by 18 per cent. What is our intention? Will the money we put in come from the Research Councils? If not, where from? I hope that the Government will also tell us what they propose to do about world research efforts, particularly in the context of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, which we are to debate on a later occasion. As to what Lord Rothschild recommends, I hope the Government will pause and think carefully and that they will do their thinking in clearer language than Lord Rothschild's. A proper respect for words is a condition of clear thought, and that in turn is a condition of wise action. They have the Dainton Report to guide them and the Royal Society paper.

In conclusion, let us remember that the whole Research Council system was set up only in 1965. Is it really time to pull it up by the roots yet? Everybody agrees that the Deperatmental assessors on the Research Councils should become full members. If an executive Department wants a job done, it can probably get it done much better by agreement through the existing Research Council machinery than by any big stick. And if a big stick is needed, the Secretary of State for Education and Science already has one. Above all, the executive Ministers have plenty of research establishments of their own from which they can beg, request, commission, require, order or extort research as they think fit. The Rothschild proposals are, it is true, a small step. But they are a step in a highly suspect direction. The Government should not take that step unless they can produce the reasons for it. Now, at the end of a three-months discussion period, this House has a good right to ask that the Government reject those proposals of Lord Rothschild which touch the Research Councils, and reject also the misleading language of customer and contractor.

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, I was hoping to be able to follow the noble Lord. Lord Kennet, who demanded clarity of thought on this subject, but the longer he spoke—and it was a long speech—the more confused I became as to what he wanted the House to do. There was a deep antagonism to Rothschild, but short of either starting afresh or maintaining the status quo I am at a loss to know what conclusion to draw from that speech. The one thing about Rothschild is that it is refreshing. The normal White Paper or Green Paper or consultative document couched in the bromides or soporifics of faultless Whitehall prose fall usually—and I think the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, indicated this—like a pebble into a pool and then gradually the ripples fade away. Those who know Lord Rothschild would not accept that. With Rothschild the pebble is treated with ignominy and the whole brick is dropped into the water. The result is, not unnaturally, a storm of controversy which has certainly blown the cobwebs away. I am sure that The Times must have been very grateful for this particular controversy which filled their columns for so long. But this is not to say, my Lords, that Rothschild is the only one in step and that all the others are wrong.

The point of this debate I think should be to discuss what could be a viable reorganisation of our research, and I believe that the Rothschild concept is well worth consideration. First, I must say that I think a lot of blank cartridges have been fired during the semantics battle of this controversy. Exception seems to' have been taken in many quarters to the division of research by Rothschild into two simple and simply understood categories. One is "basic" and the other "applied". It does not seem to me to matter whether one uses the word "fundamental" or "pure" or "basic". If one wants the category may be further refined by more detailed definition, but I understand these words to mean research which is done solely to increase knowledge.

It is often motivated, rightly, by the curiosity of an individual, and as Rothschild has said elsewhere, "One should never try to justify this type of activity on the ground that it may help mankind even if it does so." Society will go on backing this type of research, and so it should; but the amount of the nation's resources allocated to it must be a political decision while the scientific decision as to how that amount is subdivided should surely be left to the scientists. By "applied" research I understand research and development with a practical application as its objective. I think Rothschild is right when he says that in this field the customer says what he wants, the contractor does it if he can and the customer pays. I do not understand the pathological hatred which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has of anything which savours of something commercial. It seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, has had the full wrath of Lord Kennet vented upon him because he has used the words "customer" and "contractor". There must be something terrible about that to a progressive Socialist in the decade in which we live.


Would the noble Lord yield to a further distinction, possibly also to a logician whether progressive or retrogressive? The real point is that it was an inappropriate analogy.


That is a matter of judgment; it is a matter of opinion. To me it seems to be something which everybody in the country should understand, "customer" and "contractor", and I could not follow the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, through the labyrinth he made in which, so far as I could see, the customer turned out to be the contractor and the contractor the customer. This may be logic but to my mind one really needs notice of that type of logic.

As I said, this seems to me a healthy and businesslike way of doing things. As Rothschild says, the end product of applied R. and D. is a product, a process or a method of operation. The major question therefore is, who should commission such work? It does seem odd to me that an appreciable part of the work of the M.R.C. and a major part of the work of the Agricultural Research Council and the Natural Environment Research Council is applied, but that this work has no actual customer to commission or approve it. It seems to me that this is quite contrary to the principle which interests me of Ministerial responsibility for establishing the national need and determining the priorities in which the resources should be used. If it is said that Ministerial Departments are incapable of defining objectives, then I would have thought the answer is that the sooner they become capable of doing so the better; and the creation of the chief scientist position, I hope with an adequate staff, should educate the Department at all relevant levels as to what the researchers ought to be finding out and developing. I say "at all relevant levels" to meet the point which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, made. I do not think all the decisions should be made at the top. I hope that there would be a certain amount of co-ordination so that we do not get a waste of resources in the Department itself.

I believe that this is quite vital in the medical and environmental fields where I am sure the Departments must be in the best position to assess the cost savings which are likely to result from successful research programmes. I do not think that one has to imply criticism of the worth and organisation of the Research Councils up to now if one accepts the Rothschild concept. That is very important. I believe that the sums of money which will be needed in the research field are such that much better political control and understanding is needed. It would be a pity if these Research Councils, which have done so much good work, took the Rothschild proposals as an attack on their integrity or their competence as scientists. That is not the point. The point is surely political accountability. I believe that it is right to integrate science and the scientist into Government activity to a far greater extent, as the noble Earl, Lord Bess-borough said, than it has been in the past. Certainly I am attracted by the idea that people other than scientists shall have a say in the priorities given to the various projects. For instance, I think there is a strong case for more research into the efficient use of hospitals and other areas bearing directly on the wellbeing of patients. Even Professor Swann, of Edinburgh University, relates how he and others on the M.R.C. were concerned to stimulate more dental research on the grounds that dental treatment costs the nation hundreds of millions of pounds a year. He said, "We failed, I fear, to make any impact on the problem". I am hoping that that problem will have a better impact made on it under the Rothschild dispensation. But as I say we do not need to criticise the Research Councils to be persuaded that more political involvement could be an improvement.

I hope that public debate will lead to greater public understanding and that something in line with the broad aims of the Rothschild Report will eventually emerge. Some of the scientists I have spoken to in industry see nothing odd about this customer/contractor principle at all. They have been working on it for years, and it is pointed out to me that much Government R. and D. is already administered on this basis. Most university research departments accept the principle as quite normal. In fact, in the mining industry with which I am concerned, this is the normal way of dealing with research projects in the applied field. It has been said that Government Departments may stonewall and may be slow to accept new ideas for research. I rather doubt this. If the projects are properly defined by the scientists and technologists in the first place I believe that they will be accepted with alacrity. But if that were to happen, if they were slow, and if scientists felt they were frustrated and that they were not getting a fair crack of the whip, there is no reason why some type of research forum should not act as a court of appeal in cases of this sort. It may be a council rather like an existing Research Council, the sort of body that might take a broader view of a particular piece of R. and D. than one individual Ministry. Its job might be to evaluate and assess the project, so that the Government could, if they wished, reconsider it.

But, my Lords, as I say, I hope that public discussion will not proceed on the basis that Rothschild is an indecent assault on the Research Councils, but will recognise that it does provide a foundation on which our research organisation can be adjusted to meet the demand for political accountability and Ministerial responsibility.


My Lords, before the noble Lord concludes, may I ask him a question? When he refers to the Research Councils' not doing certain types of work and this work being transferred to the Ministries, does he mean that there is to he a ban on the Research Councils doing any sort of work which can be regarded as applied?—because that seems to be the real essence of the Rothschild's proposals, not that the Ministries should undertake work. This is already being done. Surely the point is that certain things will be removed from the Research Councils.


My Lords, the noble Lord has given a most remarkable description of what I said. I did not touch on that point at all. If he will read my words in Hansard I am sure he will see what I did say. The noble Lord will have plenty of opportunity of making that point when lie speaks to-day or to-morrow.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, would he not also admit that there is a risk that the quality of research may suffer if the principle of accountability is pushed too far?


My Lords, everything suffers when anything is pushed too far. My plea is a plea for moderation in all things.

3.51 p.m.


My Lords, as a professional scientist who has not contributed to the spate of letters which we have seen in The Times and elsewhere recently, I am very grateful indeed to my noble friend Lord Bessborough for giving me the opportunity of making a few general remarks about the Green Paper which is before us in this debate. This is not a new debate. The subject before us this afternoon is something we have been debating for a very long time, and the Green Paper is only the latest of a long series of Reports, reviews, and the like, discussing this problem of how Government should best, on the one hand, promote and, on the other, participate in, research and development.

The Green Paper now before us consists of two Reports, and I find it a pity that I cannot really approve of the way in which either of them is written. I find the Report of Lord Rothschild altogether too terse, too brusque; and, what is worse, it is spiced with the kind of management jargon which has recently achieved a wholly undeserved popularity in industry. On the other hand, when I turn to Sir Frederick Dainton's Report, I find a long piece of what I call "standard Whitehall officialese", and it is none the more convincing for that. All this is very unfortunate, because both of these Reports contain points which are good—indeed, in several respects they make in a broad way similar points. I happen to agree with Lord Rothschild's general objectives, and I believe that if his recommendations were properly expounded they would give us a reasonable framework on which a satisfactory organisation could be developed.

I think it is important, as Lord Rothschild, points out, to draw in a general way a distinction between pure research and applied research. I do not like the terms particularly, but they are commonly used. To my mind, pure research is undertaken basically with the object of extending the frontiers of knowledge, whereas applied research necessarily has a practical or economic objective. There is otherwise no essential difference as regards method or approach, between the two. Government must act as patron for pure research, albeit a not wholly disinterested patron, but their direct concern is quite clearly with applied research. In this they should, and indeed in many fields already do, operate on a kind of customer/contractor principle as enunciated by Rothschild. I use these words just now—not that I approve of the term "customer/contractor"—because what Rothschild describes by them is a principle already employed by Government in much of their support of applied research. Surely there can be no quarrel with this. The precise form of intradepartmental organisation most appropriate to handle R. and D. is certainly open to discussion, but I imagine that most of us would agree that it should be, so far as is possible, uniform.

I should like to remind your Lordships that in its First Annual Report published in 1948 the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy dealt at some length with this problem. It held that executive Departments of Government—in general the users of the results—should be assigned and be expected to assume a more positive role in the organisation and direction of research required for their own purposes. In particular, it stated that: (1) The Executive Department should be responsible for identifying problems requiring research, settling their order of priority, deciding where the various investigations should be carried out and applying their results. (2) The Research Councils…should, as in the past, be free to initiate background research where they thought fit, free from administrative control of the Executive Departments and consequently from considerations of day to day expediency. They should also undertake research at the request of the Executive Departments. To this end, the Council recommended in that Report that each executive Department having scientific and technical responsibility should have a scientific staff headed by a Chief Scientific Officer. All these recommendations, in the context of 1948, bear a remarkable resemblance to what I think Rothschild is trying to recommend in 1971.

My recollection of these recommendations is that they were accepted in general by the scientific community, and efforts were made to implement them in varying degree by various Government Departments. But that they were not in practice fully implemented—or that, where they were, some of them fell away after a bit—was due in part to the difficulty or recruiting and retaining a first-class Chief Scientific Officer and staff in Departments which, then at least, did not involve their scientists in any form of policy determination, and had no laboratories capable of carrying out any of the research they required. A post whose occupant merely arranges the long-range contracts with some external organisation to do research with which he then has little or no contact, and who has no concern with general policy matters, is hardly likely to attract, let alone to retain, a first-class man. I would hold that, despite the various changes which have been made in the organisation of Government since 1948, the Advisory Council's recommendations at that time, now reinforced by Rothschild, remain valid.

It is the possible effect of the Rothschild proposals on the Research Councils which seems to have aroused a great deal of controversy and has led some scientists to suggest that the aim of the Report is to destroy the Councils and cut hack on basic or strategic research. This seems to me a quite extraordinary suggestion. I myself can find no evidence in the Report to support it. although I admit, as I have already said this afternoon, that the Report is so brusque in tone that it perhaps encourages readers to put the worst possible inerpretation on the statements which are made in it.

I do not propose to elaborate here the origins and the history of the Research Councils. They have served us well and they will no doubt continue to serve us well; but the great increase in Government involvement with science and technology, and the speed of advance of the latter, make it inevitable that changes should occur from time to time in our organisation. I believe—and I have said so in your Lordships' House before—that research institutions can flourish over a long period only if they have either clear-cut practical economic objectives, such as one has in industry, or some training function ensuring a steady throughput of lively young minds, such as one has in the universities. Where there is no training function, and where objectives are too loosely defined, permanently staffed research institutes lose their effectiveness after a time. Where institutions are engaged on applied research, the closer they are to the users of its results the better will they perform their task. The transfer of establishments such as the Road Research Laboratory and the Hydraulics Research Station to executive Departments from the old Department of Scientific and Industrial Research was based on considerations such as that, and I have not heard any evidence to suggest that the work of these laboratories has suffered very greatly thereby.

The Rothschild Report notes that the Science Research Council and the infant Social Sciences Research Council are both concerned essentially with the promotion of science and with research involving a training function, and it proposes that they continue as now to be wholly financed through the Department of Education and Science. The other Research Councils—the N.E.R.C., the A.R.C. and the M.R.C.—are all concerned additionally and in varying degree, with applied research; and indeed the pure research which they do is increasingly being concentrated—and properly so, in my opinion—in institutes or units located in, or in close association with, universities, teaching hospitals and the like. The applied research which they do—or some part of it, at least—is, or surely ought to be, of interest and importance to the nation, and it is therefore difficult for me to see why the appropriate executive Department should not have some say in agreeing priorities and programmes for such work, and why it should not pay for it.

It is evident from the very names of many of the establishments owned or grant-aided by the A.R.C., that their work is, or should be, of direct concern to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Very substantial contract research for outside bodies—or customers, if you like—involving what has been called "strategic" research is not unknown in, for example, the Plant Breeding Research Station of the A.R.C. Again, it can hardly be argued that Lord Rothschild's proposal is entirely revolutionary, so far as the A.R.C. is concerned, when one remembers that at the present time the appropriate Ministries have four representatives on the Council; and that in Scotland the institutes corresponding to those of the A.R.C. in England are actually administered by the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, which in effect acts in partnership with the A.R.C. in running them.

A great deal of heat seems to have been engendered by Lord Rothschild's proposal that, in future, some 25 per cent. of the present budget of the M.R.C. should be met by the Department of Health and Social Security based on this customer/contractor relationship. I am in no position to argue whether or not that figure of 25 per cent. is correct. Frankly, I should have thought it was high, and I would counsel the Government against a too easy acceptance of figures like that. Equally, in the absence of more evidence than is given in the Rothschild Report, I cannot assess the percentages quoted for the A.R.C. or the N.E.R.C. But there is surely some pro portion in each of these Councils which could be dealt with in that way. Even with the Medical Research Council, the Common Cold Research Unit could be paid for and run in association with the Department of Health and Social Security—a Department which already pays for an appreciable amount of research in teaching hospitals—without necessarily destroying the scientific integrity of the Unit.

I see no suggestion in the Report, unless I seek to put the worst possible interpretation on details, that the amount of research done by any of the Research Councils should be curtailed: only that the applied elements in research should be paid for by one or other of the main users of the results, and that these users, through their own scientific organisations, should have some say by direct representation in determining the programme for such research and in monitoring its progress. But of course none of this will work unless Departments have first-class Chief Scientists playing a full part in policy determination, and unless Departments themselves show a good deal more flexibility in operation than most of them have done in the past. Nothing kills scientific initiative quicker than bureaucracy.

My support for the general framework set out by Rothschild rests on my interpretation of these proposals, which I hold to have been ill-explained in the printed text; and I hope that the Government, when they come to produce a White Paper, will seek to clarify some of these by setting them out in more detail. For one thing, the expression "customer/contractor" is, in my view, unfortunate on several grounds, as is evidenced by the response that this Report has evoked, particularly among biological and medical scientists. If the customer/contractor relationship really meant that research was to be reduced to a series of short-term developmental programmes presided over by some malignant bureaucracy in Whitehall, then the whole proposals would be laughable. But I cannot believe that this is intended. It is up to Government to make this clear and to reassure the scientific public—and, indeed, the public in general—on this point, and also to refrain from making sweeping statements about the proportion of Research Council expenditure which might be operated on this customer/contractor basis without more consideration and consultation. As I see it, properly handled the Rothschild proposals call, and should, lead to a greater measure of partnership—and I really mean partnership—between Government Departments and Research Councils; and a partnership that would also extend to the universities and to industry. That is something we all want to see and something we should be trying to get; and we must not be blinded by the wording of the Report to the value of some of the points that are in it.

I have one final point, my Lords. I referred earlier to my belief that the failure of the proposals made in 1948 by the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy to gain full acceptance, was due in part to the difficulty of developing real scientific strength in Departments which relied largely on outside agencies to carry out what little research and development they thought worthwhile. I still believe that scientific strength in executive Departments of Government is of paramount importance and, partly for that reason and partly in the interests of efficient applied research, one should seek in the longer term to put Government laboratories engaged specifically on applied research for Departments under the control of those executive Departments rather than under the Research Councils. The Research Councils, I believe, should be left to encourage and support pure, background or strategic research (call it what von will) in the way that they have shown themselves in the past to be supremely capable of doing, and to do it, for the good of the nation, in association with the training function which is performed by our universities.


My Lords, before the noble Lord finally terminates, may I intervene? I attended very carefully to his speech and, while he is asking for changes, he did not, I think (unless I missed something), give any concrete instances of anything he thought was wrong, any defects, at present. Am I right in that conclusion?


My Lords, I did not suggest that anything is wrong with any of the things that the Research Councils are doing. I think that there is quite a bit of work which they are doing and which, in the interests of the nation, would be better done in closer association with the executive Departments of Government. But I do not want anyone to think that I belittled the work done by Research Councils.


My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned the Common Cold Research Unit. Does he believe that its work would he better done if the pay came from elsewhere; and, if so, in what respect?


My Lords, I cannot believe that it would be worse done.

4.11 p.m.


My Lords, after that brusque exchange I should like to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Todd, when he said at the outset of his remarks that this Green Paper, on which this debate is centred, is in fact but the latest in a long and distinguished line of explorations of relations between science and public policy, extending from Hal-dane in the fledgling clays more than fifty years ago, through Gibbs-Zuckerman in 1961, to Trend in 1963 and now to Dainton and Rothschild in 1971. All of those earlier Reports, in their time, influenced thinking about science in the service of the public; and I think the volume of recent public comment and the number and the names of noble Lords who are proposing to speak in this debate show that this will be no exception to this general rule.

I should like first of all to thank my noble friend Lord Bessborough for his constructive and forward-looking speech. My noble friend has introduced many debates on science policy in this House, speaking against a background of deep personal interest and knowledge. I am glad that he has chosen to do so again to-day, since he has given me the opportunity to state the Government's general standpoint in those areas where they have taken decisions and have announced those decisions in the Green Paper; to pose some of the questions—and there are many, as we have already seen at the outset of this debate—on which decisions have yet to be taken; and, above all, to listen. But may I, at this introductory moment, congratulate, as others already have, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, on his début in his new functions on the Front Bench—his birthday, as it were, there? May I also take this opportunity to congratulate my noble friend Lord Albemarle on not his first but his 90th birthday to-day? Perhaps I should also draw attention to the fact that we have a distinguished Member of your Lordships' House sitting, rather unusually, in the Official Box to-day, in the person of the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild. I can assure the noble Lord that there is a good precedent for that; I have done the same in my time.

My Lords, there is one matter which I should like to underline straightaway, and that is to point out that this Green Paper is indeed green. Its colour means that it is what it looks like—a consultative document. In this, as in other areas, this Government mean what they say, and here we are saying that we wish genuinely to consult on the basis of this Green Paper. That is why your Lordships will see my noble friend Lord Sandford (who has another engagement at this moment, but who will shortly be attending this debate) and me more in our listening than in our revealing roles these next two days. The Green Paper may be thought by some of your Lordships to be something of a hybrid. The two Reports which it contains certainly have some stylistic differences; and I hope that the noble Lord in the Box, as it were, in more ways than one, has not taken too amiss some of the criticisms of his peculiarly pungent prose style.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Earl would permit me to interrupt him. I did not know it was in order to refer to Lord Rothschild's presence in the Box. If I had known. I should of course have passed the bouquets before getting on to the horrible bits.


I am sure it is grossly out of order, my Lords, and I am grateful to the noble Lord. Lord Kennet, for reminding me of it, but I think we take these things fairly lightly usually in your Lordships' House. To a certain extent, although much less so than some would have it, these two Reports differ in content, and I think it might be helpful, therefore, if I were to say a word about the origins of what I think has become one of the Stationery Office's best-sellers.

The genesis of the Green Paper lies in the reorganisation of central Government which took place in 1970, and which was followed by a review of many major functions of government, including that of research and development. As a contribution to this review, the Council for Scientific Policy, with the support of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, asked a Working Group, under the chairmanship of Sir Frederick Dainton, in October, 1970, to advise on arrangements for organising and supporting pure and applied scientific research and postgraduate training.

The Report of this Working Group on the future of the Research Council system was received by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in May. 1971; and we are very much indebted to Sir Frederick and his colleagues—and they are all very busy men—for it. It is a Report that was not brought forth without some degree of labour. Their inquiry was, however, limited in its scope, and the Government were anxious to review the whole of their activities in a field in which, on behalf of the public, they spend so much. Last winter, therefore, we asked one whose credentials in this field are not slight—Lord Rothschild—who had just been appointed Head of the Central Policy Review Staff (an organisation which has already made its mark in and on Whitehall), to report on the organisation of Government research and development as a whole. His report was received by us in October of last year.

My Lords, it has been suggested that we have allowed insufficient time (not in this debate. I am glad to see, as yet) for proper consultation on a matter of this importance—and it is a very important matter. We have, of course, made it clear in the Green Paper that we propose to allow time for wide public debate and to discuss the issues involved with the scientific community. Our original aim was to complete these discussions by the end of February of this year, and to publish our final conclusions in a White Paper as soon as possible thereafter. However, it was put to us at an early stage, at a notably well-attended meeting of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee before Christmas, that although the Green Paper was published well before Christmas, these time limits did not allow really sufficient time for proper and considered comment, and we forthwith extended this period of consultation for another month. This means that this debate—and I think this is useful—is taking place well within the period which we have announced and allowed for discussion. Certainly the volume of evidence and comment which has poured in from all quarters and every shade of opinion makes the claim that there has not been sufficient time for the scientific community, in particular, and the public at large, to consider the implications of the Green Paper a little difficult to sustain.

I trust that your Lordships will forgive me if I elaborate just a little at this point on the extent of the discussion, comment and consultation in the three months since the Green Paper was published. During this time, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science and I have separately met representatives of all five Research Councils, the Council for Scientific Policy, the Royal Societies and the wider scientific community. Sir Alan Cottrell, my noble friend Lord Zuckerman's successor as Chief Scientific Adviser, has meanwhile been holding intensive parallel discussions. In addition, my right honourable friend and I intend very shortly to meet representatives of these bodies, again collectively, to ensure that we have fully hoisted in their points of view. In addition to these meetings, over 400 written submissions have been received by the Chief Scientific Adviser in response to an invitation in the Green Paper, including a very great many from Research Council establishments and from institutions and scientists, individually and in groups, of every discipline and point of view. All this is in addition to a certain amount of comment in the Press. Indeed, the documentation in this Green Paper is now becoming almost as weighty as the collected works of the Common Market Commission.

In addition, my Lords, and in parallel, there is the inquiry which is being conducted by the Select Committe on Science and Technology in another place. I personally believe that this particular Committee is making a most valuable contribution to better understanding and presentation of issues of science policy. They maintain a high level of discussion and their Reports contain a wealth of information not otherwise, or easily, available. The Government naturally will want to take careful account of the views of this distinguished Committee. There is of course a balance here. On the one hand, there is the need for us to take decisions reasonably soon, so that a degree of certainty can be given to the scientific community on these matters which affect them so closely. We need soon to acquire a firm footing on a plateau of stability in these matters. On the other hand, there is the need to make sure that sufficient time is allowed within Government for consideration of the many important points made during the discussion. Given that we are still in the period of consultation, and given that the Select Committee has yet to report, it would be unwise of me to make any firm commitments about the exact date by which the Government will be ready to announce their conclusions; but I hope I am not being too optimistic to suggest that we aim to reach decisions in the early part of the summer and to publish a White Paper on our findings as soon as possible thereafter.


My Lords, the noble Earl has paid tribute to the work of the Select Committee, as did the noble Earl who introduced the debate. Is it not desirable that he should give an undertaking this afternoon that no final decisions will be taken until the Select Committee have had an opportunity to submit their report to the Government, bearing in mind that so much useful information is coming out of the investigation? We had one example, the work on ageing by the M.R.C., where facts elicited by the Select Committee in their interview of witnesses had not been known hitherto. Is it not therefore desirable that no final decisions should be taken until the Report is received?


My Lords, I have paid tribute to the Committee and have said that we wish very much to take their findings into consideration. It is my undertstanding (and I have been in close touch with the Chairman of the Committee on this matter) that the Report on the Research Council aspect should be available just before or at about Easter. This would certainly fall into the programme on which I have touched. It was also my understanding that thereafter they would like to undertake a quick inquiry into other Government civil research and development in the five-sixths not covered by Research Council expenditure. Furthermore, it is my understanding that that Report should be available during May, which again falls within this programme.


My Lords, while I am not taking part in this debate I have listened with interest. There is one small area of scientific research—I trust that I am not out of order in raising this matter—that I should like to see encouraged. Looking at history, one reads of men like Wait and others, who, alone and lonely, made their discoveries. I think the Government should look into this area of research to make it easy for people in the preliminary stages to get patents and the protection necessary to the small man. They are not all "crackpots" and "nut cases".


My Lords, if the noble Lord was out of order I am glad that two people appear to have been out of order this afternoon. I will certainly give the noble Lord an undertaking to bear in mind the points he has made.

Coming back to the point that I was discussing with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, I should like to say that inevitably there will be a period after the date we have set for the ending of formal consultations when the Government will need to take stock of what has been said; and, naturally, the Government would wish, even during "injury time", to take note of any new points that might be raised. But there must come a time when consultation has to stop and when the time for making and announcing decisions has to start.

I should now like to turn to the contents of the Green Paper. As I have already suggested, much remains to be decided, many questions remain unresolved. Nevertheless, my Lords, three clear decisions of principle have been taken and were announced in the Green Paper. It might be helpful if I were to indicate what those decisions were, what was in the Government's mind when they were taken, and to what extent the Government's mind remains open. I must of course emphasise at the outset that the review is not concerned solely with the research sponsored by the science budget of the Department of Education and Science and carried out by or through the Research Councils. It extends across the whole spectrum of research and development supported by Government. Thus, although some £110 million is at present allocated to the Research Councils through the science budget, a further £535 million—making £645 million in all—is carried out directly by Government in their own establishments or by contracts with industry, the universities and so on. Although, therefore, some five-sixths of the research and development sponsored by the Government is not conducted through the Research Councils, and although three of the six chapters of the Report by Lord Rothschild are concerned with this R. and D. and its organisations, public discussion on the Green Paper has centred almost exclusively on the possible impact of these proposals on the Research Councils. Vitally important though this area is, it would be wrong if this very large area of "departmental" research and development were to be ignored in the debate.

The Government announced in the Green Paper that they endorsed the customer/contractor principle described and supported in his Report by Lord Rothschild, and considered that this principle should be implemented in respect of applied research and development carried out or sponsored by the Government, whether by the Research Councils or elsewhere.

It is important to be clear what the Government mean when they speak of "applied research and development". It is particularly important that this question should be answered, since it is to this "applied R. and D." that the customer/contractor principle—call it what you may—that has aroused so much discussion is held to apply. The essence of the definition lies in the distinction between the nature of scientific work and the purpose for which it is undertaken; or, to put the word "purpose" another way, "why it is done and who wants it done"; and it is in this latter sense that the term has been accepted by the Government in the Green Paper. This ground is indeed littered with semantic pitfalls and it may be that the term "applied" is in itself somewhat misleading, since its use tends to obscure the essential points of the motive for which research is undertaken rather than the kind of work, in purely scientific terms, that is being done.

In any event, my Lords, in classifying research and development as he did in his Report into "tactical", "strategic" and "basic"—a broad classification which most of us would, I think, accept—Sir Frederick Dainton was describing scientific activity. Lord Rothschild, on the other hand, was distinguishing between science which is of direct interest to Government Departments and is helping them to meet their Departmental objectives, and that which is not. In terms of scientific activity, the former, which may be described as "applied" or "commissionable" or in any other terms that convey the essential meaning, may, I suggest, extend across the whole of the Dainton spectrum from tactical, through strategic, to basic; although I would certainly grant that its centre of gravity would tend towards the tactical, which of course does not mean that it should be necessarily short term.

Having described applied research and development in this sense, Lord Rothschild in his Report sees Government as the "customer" for it, acting through executive Departments concerned with relevant areas of policy; and it is his contention that these Departments must decide what they want and must be responsible and account for the applied research and development needed to underpin their objectives, just as they are responsible and accountable for other spending aimed at the achievement of their policy ends.

I think I should make it clear that the Government are convinced that in principle this is right. We shall remain committed to this principle—indeed, I think that very few of the Rothschild critics have sought to controvert it, as such. But I must equally stress that we are not at this stage committed to any particular recipe for its detailed application. Even so, and while these detailed decisions remain to be taken, it is already clear that the application of the principle must inevitably lead to certain changes. So far as departmental research and development is concerned, a new relation ship is called for between the elements requiring and the elements carrying out research and development, so that the former is responsible for decisions to spend money on research and development in a certain field, and the latter is responsible and accountable for the quality of the service provided.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Earl will allow me to interrupt him. What he is saying is of the utmost importance and I have no doubt that his words will echo down the generations from to-morrow's Hansard as a statement of Government policy. For that reason I am glad that he has been kind enough to allow me to interrupt him to ask whether he can give us an example of basic scientific activity. He has laid very great stress on the distinction between activity and research. What is basic scientific activity, as opposed to basic scientific research?


My Lords, since my words are going to "echo down the generations", and since I have pondered them very carefully, I do not think that I am going to give any off-the-cuts' reply on a matter as recondite as that which the noble Lord has just asked me.

Having said that, I should not like to give the impression that the customer/contractor principle has burst upon Departments as a new revelation with the publication of this Green Paper. The Green Paper, issued in November last year, was preceded by the Rayner Report on The Organisation for Defence Procurement and Civil Aerospace; and this established a framework which is now being developed for research and development in that field which conforms very closely to the essential elements of the customer/contractor relationship. My Lords, a great deal has still to be done in this field. My noble friend Lord Sandford will be expanding on this when he speaks to-morrow. Meanwhile, I would only wish to make clear that the other major customer Departments—the Department of the Environment; the Department of Health and Social Security; the Department of Trade and Industry; the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; the Scottish Office and so on—are already developing new structures broadly speaking on the lines proposed in the Green Paper. A case in point is the new arrangements for fisheries research announced only last week.

If I may turn now to the Research Council activity now funded by the Department of Education and Science, the first thing to be said is that in broad terms the same principles should, in the Government's view, apply. To the extent that the science budget can be said to include applied research and development as I have described it, a Minister other than the Secretary of State for Education and Science—for example, my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, or the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, or the Secretary of State for the Environment and so on—is responsible for the policies to which research and development relate and should. in the Government's view, account to Parliament for funds spent on it and for actual research and development programmes. This, I think, is very close to the point which the noble Lord, Lord Byers, was making. I am very clear myself that this is right. More important, the Government are clear that this is right. But what is still very open for discussion (and this is an area which I hope that this debate will serve to illuminate) is the degree to which applied research and development can and should extend through the area defined by Sir Frederick Dainton as "tactical" to the areas described as "strategic" and "basic" in the work of each Council; and the effects on the Councils themselves of applying the customer/contractor relationship to such activities.

My Lords, on this aspect of the matter there is one important point which I wish to make; and this brings me to the second of the three firm decisions on which in the Green Paper the Government were firm. This was that, subject to the application of the customer/contractor principle to the degree held to be correct, it would be right to maintain the Research Councils and to maintain them under the sponsorship of the Department of Education and Science, if only, for one thing, because of their close links with the universities. Since the Government have stated their belief in the essential rightness of the Research Council principle, it follows as night follows clay that we believe they should remain viable and able to maintain their scientific integrity. I therefore wish to take this opportunity of making it crystal clear that if we were persuaded that the transfer from the Department of Education and Science to an executive Department of a given proportion of the present allocation of funds to a Research Council was likely to render that Research Council incapable of maintaining its viability, or of maintaining its scientific integrity, then that transfer would not take place.

In the celebrated Table 4 of his Report, Lord Rothschild has made specific proposals about the proportion of funds that should be transferred. They were given by the noble Lord, Lord Todd, in his speech. Since I am wearing my green hat this afternoon. I have no intention of entering the lists for or against Table 4. Nevertheless, my Lords, on this, as on other matters, the Government are willing, and indeed most anxious, to hear the views of your Lordships.

This brings me to a point which, despite the strong emphasis that both Reports forming part of the Green Paper have laid upon it, has not been understood, or indeed recognised widely enough in the public debate in the last three months or so. During the debate fears have been expressed about the impact of the policy I have been describing on both Departmental and Research Councils' Research and Development programmes.

The scientists concerned have been anxious about the possibility of dictation by non-expert Departments; about the possible loss of scientific independence; about the fragmentation of programmes. But, if I may say so, these fears are based on a misconception. As I see it, it is absolutely fundamental both to Sir Frederick Dainton's and to Lord Rothschild's theses, and certainly to the Government's own approach to this matter, that scientific effort cannot—I repeat, cannot—be effectively mounted by imposition. It is right, as I have sought to demonstrate, that executive Departments should take responsibility for those R. and D. programmes that are designed to enable them better to meet their departmental objectives. But from my own personal observations I am totally convinced of one thing; that is, the need for a close, continuous and mutually understanding dialogue between those Departments and those—be they Research Councils or be they not Research Councils—who are responsible for carrying out those research programmes.

My Lords, this concept of a close and continuing dialogue is explicit in both the Rothschild and the Dainton Reports and I should like to make clear that the Government accept it absolutely. As I see it—and here I am speaking personally—a number of clear consequences follow. I say that I am speaking personally because the Government have gone firm on only three principles—the third I will come to in a moment. In the first place, while not wishing to inject a lot more bureaucratic grit into the works, I believe that if and when this customer/contractor relationship is progressively implemented (or call it what you will; I think one might find better terminology than that) we shall need to develop a mechanism in order to ensure that the dialogue between Departments and Research Councils, and indeed other research organisations, is really close and constructive.

Secondly, the ability of Departments to enter into effective partnership—I like the word I picked it up when it was used by the noble Lord, Lord Todd—with the Research Councils will, in a large part, depend on their having available sufficient high-level scientific advice and the right organisational arrangements. They should, in sum, have something like the chief scientist organisations proposed by Lord Rothschild. Lord Rothschild also made clear in his Report that only when the Government are satisfied that a particular customer Department has established a chief scientist organisation which is really satisfactory should it become responsible for the funds whose transfer he suggested in his Table 4.

I have made it clear that at the present time neither I nor the Government are committed to Table 4 or, indeed, any other table. But I should like to make it equally clear, speaking personally, that if substantial transfers of responsibility for funds to the customer Departments are to be made, I accept absolutely the Rothschild proviso that such transfers should be made only when we are all completely satisfied about the scientific set-up within those Departments. I am sure myself that this is right. I ant also sure that this will mean an upgrading of scientists and scientific advice within some Departments.

I also believe that a further important consequence will flow from the acceptance of this principle—one which unites both Rothschild and Dainton, and indeed their critics: that is the need for us all to do what we can to ensure greater mobility, including more movement of scientists into and out of Departments—from universities, from Research Councils, from industry, from Government research establishments and so on. We also need far greater mobility within the Scientific Civil Service and between it and other branches of the Service—an area for which I have a certain direct responsibility. My Lords, in sum, it is my belief that full acceptance of the customer/contractor relationship implies a significant upgrading in the role of scientists in Government. I also believe that this is a point which has escaped a lot of people.

Lest it be feared that I have neglected that part of the present science budget that will continue in future to be funded by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science's science budget, may I say that the Government have announced that they wish to retain a body of authoritative advice on the allocation of these funds. That is the third principle on which we have gone firm. Sir Frederick Dainton, in his Report, made constructive proposals about the method by which this advice should be provided. His suggestion that this advisory body should represent an important stage in the dialogue of which I have spoken and which I am convinced is vital, will receive the Government's close attention, as will the other suggestions that have been made on this particular point. Having referred to the science end of the spectrum, may I refer briefly to events at the industrial end, too?


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Earl at this point? Since he will have an opportunity for his words to go echoing down history, if the House gives him leave tomorrow (and perhaps I should have interrupted him earlier in his interesting explanation as to the extent to which Government Departments could contract out when this contracting principle comes in) may I ask whether we are to understand that it is to cover, possibly, contracting for strategic research and that it will not be confined, as the implication of the Report is, to a specific objective? I am looking at paragraph 9(a) of the Rothschild Report. It may be that the noble Earl would like to consider his answer. If it could be wider, it is rather important, because of the spectrum argument.


My Lords, I think I can give the noble Lord my answer without further consideration. Certainly that would be a reasonable interpretation to place upon the words that I have just uttered and which your Lordships will be able to see in Hansard to-morrow. But the proviso I make to that, as indeed to any transfer of funds, is first the establishment of a proper chief scientist organisation in the consumer Departments, the necessity for proper dialogue and the need for a better mechanism through which to conduct that dialogue.

I now turn to the work of the industrial research associations, whose importance and great value we all recognise and for which the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, speaks in more ways than one. I have been interested to learn that the conference of industrial research associations, under the direction of the noble Earl, Lord Shannon, is proposing to commission a review of the scope, organisations, functions and methods of operation of the research associations with the object of increasing their industrial effectiveness—the matter of development, on which I think the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, quite rightly dwelt—and I would inform the noble Lord that the Ministers making grants to the associations are considering carefully what support they may give to this study.

My Lords, I have spoken for quite long enough, partly, I must admit, owing to a number of welcome interruptions, but more especially since it is really more for me to listen than to speak in the debate. Let me, however, add this in conclusion. The Green Paper is not, and should not he seen as, an attack on science. Still less should it be seen as an attack on the Research Councils, the value of whose work is recognised not only at home but also abroad, and also, may I add, specifically, by the Government. Nevertheless, there is so much to be done. The nation's health, the improvement of the environment, productivity in agriculture, the development of technology—everywhere there are advances to be made, and the Government need the maximum contribution from science in making those advances in face of other demands on their resources. The Government have no interest in anything that would make science less effective in meeting the needs of the nation—far from it. Nor is there anything in the Green Paper, or in the minds of the Government, that should be taken to imply that the total spent on research and development is likely to be reduced. Even so, it cannot be assumed, nor should it necessarily be assumed, that our present arrangements are sacrosanct and that all change is for the worst.

All of these activities should constitute a common enterprise for those who require, and those who do, research and development. Each must learn to recognise the potential contribution, problems and requirements of others. Here there is a lack of understanding. It is my personal belief that the proposals in the Green Paper afford a challenge and an opportunity to us all. Certainly the scientists themselves will face new demands on their skills. But the proposals in the Green Paper offer, in my view, a golden opportunity to scientists to come into Government and sell their wares, not as subordinates but as equal participants in the process of formulating policy and of recognising and utilising the means by which policy objectives are achieved. To echo the words with which my noble friend Lord Bessborough ended his speech, it is my earnest hope that the result of our deliberations will be stronger science and a stronger country.

It would, I think, not be unfair to say that the discussion of the Green Paper so far has been accompanied by a certain degree of warmth. Perhaps, therefore, it might be appropriate for me to end with a quotation which could be described as the modern equivalent of the quotation from the Book of Prayer with which Sir Frederick Dainton's Report begins—it may be familiar to some of your Lordships: If we have shortcomings, we are not afraid to have them pointed out and criticised, because we serve the people. Anyone, no matter who, may point out our shortcomings. If he is right, we will correct them. If what he proposes will benefit the people, we will act upon it. My Lords, I make no apology these days for quoting Chairman Mao. If Presidents can do so, so can I. In any event, it is in that attentive posture that the Government propose to listen to this debate.

House adjourned during pleasure, and resumed by the Lord Chancellor.

4.48 p.m.


My Lords, may I start by saying how happy I was to hear the eloquent speech of the noble Earl the Leader of the House, with his most encouraging statements about the future of Government policy. I really am delighted. He said so many things that I will also be saying that I feel they must be right. I want first to say a few words about one or two items of extreme controversy about the Green Paper. I do not think there is disagreement on a large number of factors, but on a certain number they are extremely important. and it is on the success of finding a solution to these problems that the success of the future White Paper will rest. It is important to start with a view as to what are the people who are worried thinking about—and there has been a lot of worry. There has been a flood of literature which one can hardly read and cannot remember if one does read it. However, it is important that it is available.

I want to say a word or two about the Royal Society. The Royal Society has played a role in this through its activities. Quite recently it has issued a memorandum—many of your Lordships, I know, have seen it—on the whole question of the criticism of the White Paper. This is a serious document of about 50 pages—roughly as big as the Green Paper itself—and I think it is extremely well written. My own views, although I had nothing to do with the drawing up of the Paper, are very close to those contained in it. In fact I believe that the best comments I have ever seen are those collected in this Royal Society paper. It was written and put together by the President, Sir Alan Hodgkin, and the officers and members of the Council, totalling in all 21 at Council level, covering almost all the major scientific disciplines. In addition, over 100 Fellows submitted written comments and about 170 attended meetings in the Royal Society rooms to discuss the subject. So they have done their homework in quite a big way.

In addition to the main memorandum produced by the Council of the Royal Society, an Appendix has been produced by a body of the Royal Society, the Industrial Activities Committee. This committee was set up two and a half years ago, under the chairmanship of Sir James Lighthill, for the study of industrial science and technology problems. This document seems to me an extremely valuable one, and I will quote from it in a moment or two. I believe that it has filled an important gap, because the Rothschild Report hardly mentions industry at all.

I would emphasise that I shall be making extensive use of the views contained in the Royal Society memorandum, but this in no way indicates that I believe that the Royal Society has a monopoly of wisdom: it has not. Many other admirable documents could be obtained from other people, but as this memorandum exists and is, I think, valuable, I would commend it to those who are interested. The Royal Society's memorandum contains 17 conclusions and recommendations—far fewer than the 50 or so contained in the Green Paper—which can be taken as indicating the views of a large number of Fellows of the Royal Society. The last of these conclusions reads as follows: Our general conclusion is that the Rothschild Report is a misleading simplification which does not provide a satisfactory frame work for Government Research and Development. That is a forthright statement that may possibly be modified when people have heard the wise words of the noble Earl the Leader of the House. However, that was the view of the Royal Society, and it is a view with which I also agree. Then the memorandum says, in Conclusion 2: We regret that so much discussion has centred on medical, environmental and agricultural research, in which this country has a good record, and so little on the exploitation of Governmental research in the industrial sector, which we regard as of cardinal importance and of greater financial significance. Recommendation 5 reads: We consider that the Medical, Agricultural and Environmental Research Councils are major national assets and we have found no evidence in the Green Paper or elsewhere that they have failed in their duty to the nation. On the contrary, their record stands high by international standards. Conclusion 6 says: In our view, implementation of the Rothschild proposals on a scale approaching his Table 4 would impair the activities and morale of the Medical Research Council and might destroy the Agricultural and Environmental Research Councils. We heard from the noble Earl that dangers of this sort will be carefully watched. I am very happy to hear it.

The Industrial Activities Committee of the Royal Society, which has among its members about 20 distinguished industrialists, covering most fields of industrial technology, included in its Report the following words: The Rothschild proposals appear as an exercise in theoretical management which has no foundation based on successful experience. They will only serve to increase the army of accountants engaged in cross-costing, in the end producing mole heat than light. They can only lead to more centralised bureaucratic control, which will stifle initiative rather than encourage it. That was the industrialists' view. The Committee then proceeds to reject Lord Rothschild's dichotomy into basic research and applied research and development, and agrees strongly with the high importance of the intermediate category—strategic applied research, as defined by Dainton, or objective basic research, according to Zuckerman. The Industrial Committee's Report continued: Any new framework of Government R. and D. that ignores the very existence of strategic applied research would be a national disaster. It is in fact essential to maintain conditions in which special encouragement is given to such research, generating new reserves of knowledge in scientic fields of proven practical utility in order to make possible the next tactical advances when they are required. This, I think, is an extremely clear statement of the industrialists' view of the role of strategic applied research as a key to their activities.

In the Industrial Activities Committee's final paragraph the Committee's views on the customer/contractor relationship were outlined thus: We reaffirm in conclusion the suitability of the customer/contractor relationship to tactical applied research and development aimed at specific objectives such as a process, a product or a method of operation. We stresss their general unsuitability, however, for the management of strategic applied research, as already defined.


My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that Lord Rothschild said in amplification of his Report that he did not like the use of the word "tactical" because it implied the short term? I do not know in what sense the noble Lord is using the word, but applied research may be very long-term, and Lord Rothschild gave examples of R. and D. which had extended over twenty years, and which had a tactical application.


My Lords. I am using it in the sense of Dainton—work done for a specially defined objective, be it long-term or short-term: it is still "tactical" in that sense. To go back to the main Committee, they say: The ultimate objective of our proposals is that there should he a partnership between user Ministries and Research Councils in running programmes which all parties agree fall into the 'applied research' sector. This is merely a statement, again, of what they all believe. They continue: Some activities of A.R.C., M.R.C. and N.E.R.C. are suitable for a customer/contractor relationship, but the case for a change should be demonstrated in each instance and freely negotiated before take-over. We do not consider that the activities suitable for such a relationship would be more than a small fraction of that proposed by Lord Rothschild in Table 4. We fully agree with Lord Rothschild's emphasis on the importance of employing high-level scientific advisers in Ministries. We hope that the duties of these scientists will include not only the placing of contracts but general supervision of the Ministries' research and development activities. We also hope that these scientific advisers will contribute to the activities of the Research Councils by chairing committees or boards, joining visiting groups and so on. At the same time we hope that the Research Council scientists will collaborate more fully with Ministries in ensuring that research is used most effectively for the national good. In these few remarks, I have indicated some of the main aspects of the Royal Society's Report commenting on the Green Paper. I hope that others will make a study of what has been written. I think it provides a better framework for Government research and development than the Green Paper. although this may be modified in the future. It is not perhaps out of place to consider the Green Paper as a first approximation of the framework for Government R. and D. and to consider that the Royal Society has provided perhaps a slightly better second approximation. We all await with excitement the arrival of the White Paper which will, we hope, produce the final answer.

4.59 p.m.


My Lords, I think we are all grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, for giving us the opportunity to debate these matters this afternoon. During the year when the two Parties faced one another across this House or were running up to the wicket before the General Election, I was spending a somewhat nostalgic year, knowing that my own retirement from a 20-year-old hobby was approaching and that I should be put out to grass after some 20 years' service for the Science Research Council and its predecessor in years gone by, the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. Partly because of this, and partly under the stimulus of an invitation to lecture in America on the Government's financing of research, I honed to do some thinking. In consequence, I reached my own plateau of stability—if I may borrow a term from the noble Earl, the Leader of the House. Following the General Election and the taking of office by the present Government, I was interested to watch them, as it appeared, climbing the same plateau on which I had established myself a little while before, and I was gratified to find that they were doing many things on their own initiative that I should have done had I been a dictator; that is to say, the regrouping of responsibilities within a number of conglomerate Ministries following the dissolution of the Ministry of Technology which did not prove itself a stable political entity.

When the Green Paper was published I did not ask myself so much, "Do I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild?" or, "Do I agree with Sir Frederick Dainton?", but, "Are they climbing the same hill that I have climbed, and are they going to fetch up on the same point?"—the point at which the Government appeared to have reached at that time. I was unable to feel that they had or were going to do so from their approach to the matter. Since then a remarkable change has taken place in the Dainton Report which has now run to Edition 2, a fact which is not generally known and does not seem to have received much publicity. It takes the form of a memorandum from the Council for Scientific Policy to the Minister of Education and Science which she has released as a public document and has permitted Sir Frederick Dainton to table in evidence before the Select Committee in another place. I would therefore associate myself with the views of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that it is extremely important that the Government should take due cognisance of what has been done there, because it seems to me that Dainton Edition 2 is almost identical with the point I had reached independently.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Earl for a second? I am not feeling particularly proprietory here, but he said that he associated himself with what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said about the desirability of the Government taking due cognisance of the hearings and findings of the Select Committee in another place. All I should like to do is associate myself—as I thought I had made clear in my own speech—with those sentiments.


I realised that the noble Earl had given that assurance, but t wanted to associate myself with Lord Avebury's requirements at the same time. It seems to me that where the Rothschild document has caused some confusion is that it has tried to compress into a single relationship three relationships to which any Government must have respect in the financing of Government science. The first relationship is the customer/contractor one. The customer and contractor arc entirely independent of one another until they enter into a contract. Their degree of interdependence is then settled by the terms of the contract. Following its discharge and the closure of the contract, they become independent again. There is nothing particularly esoteric about this; it is in common use between Government Departments and Research Councils, Government Departments and universities and Government Departments and industries, and because of its simplicity I see no reason to dwell on it.

A much more important relationship, because it is concerned with something like five-sixths of Government science, is the simple relationship between master and servant. Scientific civil servants in the National Physical Laboratory are responsible ultimately to the Minister who takes responsibility; at the present point in time that is the appropriate Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry. If you are going to have conglomerate Ministries and multi-establishment administration, then the line and staff problem, the pons asinorum of large-scale administration, has to be solved and the policy-forming machine has to be located at the correct point in the command structure. On all this the Rothschild Report has some good textbook stuff to say, and I agree with a great deal of it. It is a great pity that Rothschild took so much time on one-fifth of Government-financed science and paid no attention to the other four-fifths, in his own words, or, possibly, five-sixths as has been quoted in the House this afternoon. There may be good reason for this. He may have found it embarrassing to comment too closely on the Department of the Environment and the Department of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Defence when each one of them is conducting its own independent investigation into its organisation. I have no objection whatsoever to these Departments entering into an introspective frame of mind, provided that they do not emerge from it in an introverted frame of mind.

In this connection we must face what the real problem of master and servant is, forgetting for a moment about the line and staff problem in multi-establishment administrations. It is that the servant is an expert and the master is a layman. Whereas it is the duty of the servant to subserve his master's wishes, his master is not in a position to formulate those wishes in precise terms. In these circumstances, if he takes his servant as his adviser, the servant can break free of control and please himself. The answer to this is to provide to the Minister an official source of expert advice over and above that provided by his servants, in the form of an advisory council, or appointed visitors, or various other devices which are fairly well understood and known in administrative circles.

There is a general prejudice against advisory councils because it is felt that they are ineffective. Why are they ineffective? There is a very good reason for it; namely, the executive Department which is to be kept under observation, interrogation and review by the advisory council is usually allowed to write the council's terms of reference, and it does so in such a way as to ensure that the Department will not be kept under effective rapportage. For this we need tough-minded Ministers who will insist on writing the terms of reference for their advisers, and that brings me to the third relationship which pertains in this field. My noble friend Lord Todd touched on this matter but I wish to expand further on it. That is the relationship between patron and client. I use the word "client" in the old classical sense: an independent individual who is, nevertheless, dependent in one respect—that is finance—upon another. Call it, if you prefer, patron and protégé. The protégé makes a demand on the patron; the patron makes a response to his client.

The University Grants Committee and the Research Councils are the meeting point for demand and response between client and patron. They have nothing to do with the customer/contractor relationship; they have nothing to do with the master and servant relationship. A professor at a university may be the incumbent of an endowed chair; he may not draw upon any public funds whatsoever so far as his maintenance is concerned, but so far as his research is concerned he must have a patron of last resource. Put the total funds of the Rockefeller, the Ford and the Nuffield together; they will not run to a 300 GeV particle accelerator. For this only Government can bear the burden. For this reason the U.G.C. and the Research Councils must be sister bodies within one Ministry, because one deals with selective and the other with non-selective support for the same protégés or clients.

For some years I was a member of the Computer Board for Universities and Research Councils. My responsibilities, along with those of my colleagues, were to see that our universities were properly endowed and equipped with computers. Because that was our task we discharged it. The money we had available was spent on computers. Had that money been made available to the University Grants Committee it would not have been spent on computers; it would have been distributed over all departments in universities on an equalitarian basis, because in university government equalitarianism is the great enemy of selectivity. In so far as this House and the Government, and previous Governments, have all wanted at least some selectivity in these matters, we must get away from equalitarianism and we must have specialised bodies whose function it is to support research selectively.

So long as Research Councils do this and no more and support research students, they are I think in the clear; and because the Science Research Council does this and no more it is in the clear and escapes without scathe from the Rothschild criticisms. But it does not follow that other Research Councils do. The reason is very simple. There is no distinction, my Lords, between pure research and applied research; if a university faculty is technological it will probably be doing applied research; if it is not technological it may be doing what is called pure. basic or fundamental research I do not think the distinctions matter very much. But what the Research Councils support is university research and possibly university-like or academic-like bodies. It is perfectly fair to my mind to question whether they are doing the right thing if the Research Councils embark upon grey areas lying in the field of in-house executive research that has no bearing on universities. These are grey areas. Because I call them "grey" I do not mean that one adopts a "thumbs down" approach to them from the outset. It is perfectly in order to question their propriety; but I think it is worth looking at their characteristics.

Most of them are semi-academic and often independent foundations. There is very often a high staff turnover between them and the universities. They often offer space and facilities and hospitality to university workers which are not available in their home universities—for example, the research vessels of the National Institute of Oceanography. They are often prestigious bodies with an international reputation, attracting Nobel Laureates as directors. They are frequently engaged on applied research. The direct connection is not with teaching, as in the universities, but with some forward projection of what may be of benefit to humanity at some distant point in the future, but without being too specific as to exactly where that benefit will lie; that is, with strategic research in the Dainton sense. In addition, they may be entrusted with certain statutory responsibilities, just as the National Institute for Geological Science is entrusted with statutory responsibility for the geological survey of the country.

So far as the Medical Research Council is concerned, I would acquit it of doing anything it should not do in these grey areas. So far as the Natural Environment Research Council is concerned, I would also acquit it. But, in the context of the Natural Environment Research Council I would suggest to your Lordships that we should not suppose there is a spurious unity between it and the Department of the Environment because the word "Environment" occurs in both names. The Department of the Environment is a conglomerate with statutory responsibility for the avoidance of pollution, for housing, for transport and for public works. One of the Rothschild recommendations is concerned with the hydrological work of the N.E.R.C., which he recommends should he united with the Hydraulics Research Board and the Water Pollution Research Board of the D.E. This seems to be based on the philosophy that things that are wet ought to be classified together, and I do not accept this. If I may go back twenty years, I remember that great master of hydraulics, Sir Claude Inglis (and his hobby, of course, was running the Indus River), telling me that we just had not got a theory of estuaries. He said, "It is a waste of time people coming to me for advice about estuaries. Nobody understands estuaries." The position is not so very different to-day. But the Natural Environment Research Council is making a little beginning on trying to understand estuaries. It would be a complete blunder to go and hand all that over to the Department of the Environment. It is not ready to be used yet. We must spend much longer learning about these things.

If you want to take two subjects that make a natural marriage take meteorology and oceanography. We shall never understand the oceans until we understand the atmosphere, and we shall never understand the atmosphere until we understand the oceans. But the National Institute for Oceanography belongs to the N.E.R.C. and the Meteorological Office is an executive responsibility of the Ministry of Defence. I see my noble friend Lord Shackleton smiling at this point. I very much doubt if Defence would agree for the sake of scientific tidiness to abandon its preference for political untidiness, and I do not think you can find scientific tidiness, or impose scientific tidiness, in a politically untidy world.

I come lastly to the Agricultural Research Council. Here I really cannot defend about one-quarter of their budget from the standpoint of its propriety as a proper occupation for a Research Council. I illustrated in a letter to The Times the case of the National Institute of Agricultural Engineering. I do not know whether we even ought to have a National Institute for Agricultural Engineering. Other people get along without one. But it still may be a good thing to have. But, having got one, whether it should he run by the A.R.C.; whether it should be run by the M.A.F.F.; or whether it should be an industrial research association, I really do not know. The subject has never been discussed. What I do know is that it used to be run by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, as it was, and was not run very well; it was handed over to the A.R.C. for a "face lift", which it got. If it is going to be handed back again to the M.A.F.F. I would want some sort of guarantee that it is going to be better run than it was in the past.

My Lords, one of the disadvantages of speaking from the Cross-Benches is that the clock is behind one and I have no idea how long I have been speaking. But I should like, so long as I can hold your Lordships' ear, to illustrate the complete disaster that this split budgeting is going to produce is some fields. I am Chairman of the Institute of Cancer Research, which is a post-graduate teaching school of London University. It draws one-half of its funds from the Medical Research Council and one-half from charities. Of the half that comes from charities, again a half is anonymous and reaches us as legacies, where the legator has no further say in how its money is spent. But half comes from the Cancer Research Campaign, which does of course have a say in how its money is spent. I assure your Lordships that it is difficult enough dealing with two patrons, but this problem is eased by the the fact that they each speak with one voice and have a joint committee which deals with us at the Institute of Cancer Research. But, under the present proposals, if they were implemented literally by Her Majesty's Government, I should have three patrons on one side of the house, and another on the other. First of all, I should have to go with each project, one by one, to the rump of the budget left to the M.R.C., and that proportion of it which they felt they were able to dispose of for cancer research. Then I should have to go to the applied science side of the D.H.S.S.; and finally I should have to pick up something from the general research fund of the D.H.S.S. I really would not want a responsibility of that kind for split budgeting. There would be so many masters it would drive me round the bend. No one would want to be chairman of a body placed in that position.

To be constructive and just to recapitulate what the second edition of Dainton really recommends, the Council for Science Policy should remain advisory. One must clearly separate advisory from executive functions. No executive can report on the adequacy of his own execution to his masters; someone else must do that. And if in the original version of Dainton you converted the Council for Science Policy into an executive Board, then you would have removed from the Minister a source of advice as to how her Departmental arrangements were going, and you would have to interleave yet one more layer into the command structure, rendering it to that extent more opaque. But in the second edition of Dainton he accepts that it should stay advisory. Its terms of reference should be to take the whole system under review and to act as a sort of licensing referee for in-house research conducted by the Research Councils on an executive basis, to keep each Research Council under observation, interrogation and review, and to report annually and recommend as requisite. It needs a whole-time Chairman; it needs a strengthened secretariat and the chief scientists of the main user Ministries ought to be members of it; the chief executives of Research Councils should be present as assessors. If you put the chief scientists of the user Ministries on that strengthened Council for Science Policy they will be able to voice any criticisms they have at an effective level. At the moment either they or their representatives as assessors can only voice their views in a meeting where they are one among a number of interested parties.

My Lords, everybody wants to know why so much money is spent on so many projects of which they understand so little. This is a perfectly reasonable request and the answers should be supplied. Attempts to supply answers have been unsatisfactory in the past because too many cooks have spoilt the explanatory broth. There has been too much jargon, too many neologisms and the consequence has been a 25-year nagging match between the Parliamentary and Governmental side of life and the Research Councils. Attempts by past Governments to mollify critics have justified the criticism made by Lord Beeching in a notable oration to the London School of Economics on Government and management namely, that Governments react as bad top managements react, by applying all sorts of selective inducements and controls while failing to put their own broad policies right.

My Lords, "hope springs eternal in the human breast" and I have looked to this Government as I have looked to all their predecessors for a better, clearer standard of performance. I want to see clearly defined terms of reference, clearly stated principles, clearly demarcated areas of responsibility, a clear separation of advisory and executive functions, a proper textbook solution of the line and staff problem wherever it occurs and a coherently formulated public policy with respect to what the Government will support and what they will not support. For example, we are expanding the universities according to the doctrines of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins. If we pursue them then we must accept their implications. More students—does this mean more facilities, more teachers, more research students and therefore more research and more money for Research Councils? Yes or no? These are typically the sort of questions we sweep under the carpet. It is the principal source of the nagging that goes on between executives who are trying to implement Government policy, and implement it properly, and Governments who or whose predecessors have committed themselves to more than they should have and are then trying to slide out. It is because we are in danger of doing just this at the moment that we are also in danger of perpetuating the nagging match instead of ending it.

In common with the noble Earl the Leader of the House I want to see the governing community and the scientific community reach the same plateau of stability, and this is unfortunately what the Green Paper does not give us yet. It gives us a formula instead—the customer/contractor principle. In this sort of context a formula is a spurious labour-saving device—the labour of mental effort. My Lords, these matters will not be resolved without mental effort on behalf of Ministers who have responsibility in these fields. I enjoin this effort upon those responsible, for more is at stake on this occasion than just the latest of many attempts to push the budgetary furniture around.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we all feel enormously grateful to my noble friend Lord Bessborough for introducing this debate on a subject of which he has a very wide knowledge indeed. I also feel it a great honour to follow the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury. I wish I could speak with one-hundredth part of his knowledge. I feel that if he had spoken after me he would probably have included me in the category that he mentioned of "something wet". But I have learned one new word—"neologism". My noble friend has been out and looked it up in the dictionary and has told me what it means.


My Lords, could the noble Viscount now inform the House what it means?


My Lords, I am afraid I have forgotten.


My Lords, perhaps I can help my noble friend: it means a new coinage, in point of phrase.


My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend very much indeed and I recall that it is precisely what my noble friend told me. My excuse for butting in as a layman in this scientific symposium is that for five years I had the great privilege of being chairman of the Medical Research Council. Also, when I was at the Ministry of Agriculture many years ago I had some secondhand knowledge of the A.R.C., but it is only about the M.R.C. that I want to speak this afternoon, and I realise that it is a small segment of the total field. My noble friend Lord Bessborough said that Lord Rothschild had succeeded in stirring up interest. He has indeed, and greatly accelerated what I believe is known as a rapid determination of blood to many illustrious heads. By so doing, I think he has rendered a service.

Others far better qualified than I have criticised the Rothschild Report for its over-simplification, its terse assertions and its conclusions which seem to have been advanced in some cases without much supporting evidence. Some of those alleged defects may he due to the commendable brevity of that Report but I would not venture to comment on that matter at all. It is clear that many distinguished scientists do not accept that pure and applied research are two distinct sectors to be separately administered. On the contrary, they say that one merges into the other and pure science often makes many direct contributions to the solution of practical problems.

Speaking as an ex-Minister who has worked in several Departments, and as an ex-Chairman, I want to say that I think it is doubtful whether some of the themes in the Rothschild Report, if carried out literally, would be a good idea. I am aware that by saying that I may qualify myself for making one of those terse assertions that have been criticised in the case of Lord Rothschild, so having made it perhaps I ought to say why I think that. I should have thought that the customer/contractor system is often a perfectly sound basis for some research projects, particularly when it is a question of the application of existing knowledge. In the Medical Research Council, as has been mentioned, that system is already practised in the case of a small proportion of the Medical Research Council's operations, and it works satisfactorily. But were it to be extended to anything like the 25 per cent. recommended in the Rothschild Report I should have thought that it would have damaging effects on the remainder of the Council's activities.

The Medical Research Council spreads its expenditure over grants to individuals, grants to groups (mainly in the universities or teaching hospitals) and its own staff and units. If the 25 per cent. recommendation were adopted I should have thought that individual research workers and those in universities are likely to suffer unless the total funds were increased proportionately, because I think the Council would feel the most specific responsibility to its own staff and units. Incidentally, the Medical Research Council has not one Department to work with, the Health Department, but in fact does work for up to 10 different Departments. The Rothschild Report implied, I think, that the Departments would welcome more customer/contractor projects. The Medical Research Council has of course Departmental representatives as assessors on the Council, and on the Clinical Research Board more than half of the members of which are in fact nominated by Departments. So they are in a position to request and press for more. Yet during the time that I was there I do not recall their doing so. These alleged failures in communication should be identified, and then they could be dealt with.

The proposal that the Departmental representatives should be full members, instead of assessors, seems to me a good one. The Tropical Research Board is a partnership between the Medical Research Council and the Department concerned and gives satisfaction, I believe, to both. On the other hand, the proposal that Departments should have a sort of veto on the Research Council's right to decline a particular contract seems to me unrealistic, and I was glad the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, told us that he believed that Lord Rothschild had rather backtracked from that particular suggestion.

My second worry is that the Rothschild Report seems to give only the faintest praise to the principle of scientific independence and rejects as irrelevant to-day Lord Haldane's insistence on the importance of independence, but again it does not give evidence as to why it does so. I should have wondered whether the principle which Lord Haldane laid down was irrelevant to-day. About the fact that in the ultimate resort the payer should call the tune there will be no dispute. It is right that the Government should decide what total sum should be allocated for research in each of the main fields. That must be a political decision. It is right also that Departments should keep in close touch with the spending bodies and that the scientists concerned on those bodies should have an informed appreciation of the national needs. After that I think the maximum discretion should surely be given to the scientists themselves to sort out the priorities within their fields. The Medical Research Council has always been fortunate enough—and I am sure the same is true of the other Councils—to secure on the Council, and on the boards and committees, the services of scientists of the very highest standing. These distinguished and very busy men will not serve if they have to act simply in a subordinate role, with no opportunity to exercise their judgment in matters on which they are highly qualified to do so.

There is, I think, a sort of implication in the Report that members of the Council are ivory tower academics shut off from the practical problems of the world. The truth at the Medical Research Council is very different indeed. Many of its scientific members are practitioners in direct contact with real life problems, physicians treating patients, surgeons operating, obstetricians delivering babies. In choosing priorities, a major factor in the Council was always the social importance of the proposal, the national need and the dividends the nation would be likely to get out of it. Another important consideration with the Medical Research Council is that from time to time it is given the task of carrying out an investigation into a matter of wide public interest and sometimes in politically sensitive areas. Examples of that were the Windscale incident and the nuclear fall-out. Its report will surely carry greater weight with Parliament and with the nation coming from an independent body than if it were to emanate from a Government Department whose prestige might possibly have been involved.

The independence of our present Research Councils is a quality that is widely admired and envied by many foreign observers. If I may, I would like to quote one short passage from the Medical World News, which is an American journal: If true economy is not penny-pinching but making the most effective use of available resources, then the Medical Research Council, Britain's equivalent of the National Institute of Health, must have retired the trophy. With a budget that has never touched 50 million dollars, compared to the National Institute of Health's current 1.6 billion, the M.R.C. has nevertheless been responsible for some of the most important scientific advancements of our time, producing crucial work in molecular biology, immunology, chromotography, protein synthesis, epidemiology, among other fields. That is a strong tribute I feel.

There was a nice story that Professor Wade included in a letter he wrote to The Times on this subject. A distinguished American professor talking to his colleagues said: Gentlemen, I believe I could make a good case for establishing a monarchy in the U.S.A. If we had a monarchy we could have a Privy Council and then we could have a Medical Research Council. It would be worth restoring the monarchy for that. I think that is not a bad tribute. I think it would be a terrible mistake if we were to weaken or dilute the independence of our Councils, and the Dainton Report clearly thinks so too. So did the authoritative Trend Report about 10 years ago, to which I do not think Lord Rothschild refers in his Report.

The last point is that Lord Rothschild appeals for realism and seems to doubt whether there is enough realism with some of the Research Councils. All I can say is that of all the bodies I have belonged to none impressed me more with a greater sense of realism and relevance or kept end aims and objectives more in view than the Medical Research Council. Practical applications were always kept well to the fore. There were some priorities we should have liked to increase, but sometimes the men or the women were not available at that time to do the work. The Rothschild Report seems to assume that requests for applied research will always stem from the customer, the Departments. But often I think it is the other way round. The Medical Research Council, being closer to the frontiers of knowledge, sometimes found a project which the Council suggested to the Department might be of interest to them, and sometimes were able to warn them of something that was going to hit them. After all, the main purpose of medical research is to get new knowledge so that hitherto intractable problems can be solved; and about 90 per cent. of the work of the Medical Research Council is really of that kind. I believe that over the years the Council has made dramatic contributions to the solution of practical medical problems.

Improvements to the organisation, I am sure, can be carried out; as an example, bringing the Departments closer in touch with the work of the Council. But I think it would be a national tragedy if in seeking improvements in organisation we were to discard any of the fundamental strengths of the Research Councils. To adopt a sadly unscientific analogy, do not let us throw the baby out with the bath water. I think we have good reason to be proud of the record of the Research Councils generally. I may be biased about the Medical Research Council; if so, it is a bias that I acquired as a result of my experience of working with that body and not a preconceived one. The noble Lord, Lord Platt, who was a distinguished colleague on the Council at the same time with me, knows the affection in which I have always held that body. I apologise for my ignorance of other Councils, but I think some of the things I have said may be applicable to them too.

As a layman, I believe that the system advocated by Trend and modified by Dainton, and amended again in the light of complaints that can be substantiated and dealt with, will serve the interests of the nation best. I trust that the Government, attaching weight not to my humble opinion but to opinions expressed so powerfully by so many eminent scientists, and notably by the Royal Society itself, will so decide.

5.40 p.m.


My Lords, in intervening in this debate I hope that I may be able to make a useful contribution, much of it of a somewhat personal nature, having recently retired after nearly 40 years in academic laboratory medicine. I have also been associated with veterinary medicine as a member of the Scientific Committee of the Animal Health Trust for 25 years and with some engaged in non-medical biological research as a Governor of Imperial College for 20 years. It so happens that 30 years ago this month I first took my seat in your Lordships' House and during my time here we have had many notable debates on scientific subjects. None has been more vital to the future of research in this country, and in particular biological research in all its aspects, than this debate to-day for which we are greatly indebted to the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough.

I should first like to add my tribute to those of other noble Lords and in particular the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, for all that the Medical Research Council has done to promote medical research in the nearly 60 years of its existence. Directed by experts in many fields, who themselves are, or have been, actively engaged in research, and with its policy of "backing the man", it has ensured that the money allocated to it has been used to the best advantage in obtaining results over many fields, both fundamental and applied. As an example, there is the outstanding work carried out at its Molecular Biology Unit at Cambridge, where there are no less than four Nobel Laureates on the staff.

In more applied fields, their achievements have been equally outstanding. Among them have been methods of treating tuberculosis which have reduced the cost to the N.H.S. by £50 million in 20 years. Nor have the benefits from this work been confined to this country alone. Under the scientific direction of the M.R.C., and working in conjunction with the W.H.O. and the Indian Government, a Tuberculosis Chemotherapy Centre was set up in Madras in 1955 to try to solve urgent problems of treatment of this disease in developing countries, and in this they have done invaluable pioneer work. A leading part in this has been played by Dr. Mitchison in the Bacteriology Department at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School and my successor there as Professor. Some of your Lordships may know that he and his brother, the eminent immunologist who for many years was on the staff of the M.R.C. and is now also a professor, are sons of a late greatly respected Member of your Lordships' House, Lord Mitchison. It is difficult to believe that the work I have referred to, which is of such international importance for the eradication of tuberculosis, would have been initiated and carried through under the direction of the D.H.S.S. It is, in fact, very difficult to believe that there can be any serious criticism of the way the M.R.C. have discharged their obligations and therefore justification for the cuts in their allocation involved in the Rothschild Report.


My Lords, the noble Lord has quoted a number of success stories for the M.R.C. It must be obvious that in the course of their work there have been some failures. This is inevitable, and the neutrality of the comments made by scientists would he much enhanced if they would admit that there are cases of non-success as well as success. It does not support the case to pick out successful things and to fail to refer to the fact that there are other types of endeavour which have not succeeded so well.


My Lords, I fully agree. As a research worker for many years I realise that only too well; but on the other hand, I think that the quality of the direction has been such that they have had a greater proportion of success in their research than I suspect any other body could have had. This is my own personal view anyhow.

Among the criticisms that have been widely ventilated it has been said that they concentrate too much on fundamental work—some people have said so, but that has been modified this afternoon to a certain extent—and not enough on applied medical research, or at least some aspects that are urgently needed from the point of view of the National Health Service. But is the importance that the M.R.C. attaches to fundamental work—a view held by scientists the world over—misplaced? Are they all wrong? I for one cannot accept it. As the word implies, it is basic to the increase in knowledge in any applied field, even though the connection may not be obvious, or at least not for many years. It is surely significant that it attracts many of the most brilliant and able minds in the scientific world and that the Nobel prize is awarded in so many cases for such work.

In my humble view, if as a result of the reallocation of funds for research, resources available for fundamental aspects were to be cut—as may well be the case—in spite of what has been said by some noble Lords this afternoon—two things would happen. The standing of our country in medical research as a whole would be drastically lowered and many of our most able research workers would be driven to go abroad to carry on their work—a course of action, incidentally, that might be facilitated by our entry into Europe. No, that is not the answer.

Can anything be done to meet the point that more research should be carried out in the applied field on problems of immediate and particular importance to the Health Service on the unfashionable rather than the fashionable diseases? Here one must ask, what makes a research worker take up a particular line in the first place? There must be many reasons. One may be an inclination, born perhaps of personal experience. What made me take up research into haemolytic streptococcal infection shortly after qualification? Looking back, I think I was influenced by a personal experience as a medical student when a patient with whom I was concerned developed a fatal puerperal sepsis in those pre-antibiotic days. I recall, too, when interviewing a candidate for an Animal Health Trust Veterinary Research scholarship—one obsessed with the idea of working on a particular disease of sheep. It transpired that this had decimated his father's flock and he wanted to spend his life investigating the cause.

But of course very often the research worker enters into his vocation with little or no idea of the line he wants to take up. He may be accepted to work for a higher degree, or given a staff appointment in a department under a professor who has a team working on a particular research project. It may be at a later stage of his career he becomes interested in a certain condition and may be drawn into research in that particular field. On the other hand, he may choose fundamental rather than applied work because of certain qualities in his mental make-up and he may also have received an exceptional training in the basic medical sciences involved. But whatever may be the reasons, once having embarked on a project he or she is naturally most anxious to see it through. There is always that possibility of the break through just around the corner and few would want to be diverted before their ideas were exhausted.

Much of research, as has been said, is essentially long term. Workers would certainly greatly resent being pressurised into taking up another line of research through premature withdrawal of financial support which, to them at any rate, seems a great danger if the Rothschild proposals are implemented. This is one reason for the intense antagonism with which these proposals have been met by practically all the scientific community. I do not propose to enlarge on the others. They have been fully ventilated in recent letters to The Times, in representations made by official medical bodies and the universities, and also in the present debate, and I am sure they will be later on.

It seems to me essential to bear certain points in mind when considering these proposals as they affect the direction of applied research. First, the reallocation of resources must be introduced very gradually and its effect on the quality of research assessed impartially before making any major change. It is of little use demanding that work should be done in a certain field if only those of inferior ability are prepared to undertake it and the ideas are just not there. It would be simply a waste of money. In considering the reallocation of funds, a sensible compromise, it seems to me, would be to maintain the M.R.C. grant at its present level and to divert only that increment they might expect to receive yearly to compensate for inflation to the Department of Health for customer/contractor research and then to judge by the results.

Secondly, as I think has been emphasised already, representation of the D.H.S.S. on the Council should be strengthened to facilitate exchange of views and to avoid duplication of effort and waste of money. Thirdly, some way must be found of interesting the potential research worker at an appropriate stage of his career in fields that the D.H.S.S. would wish to see pursued. This may not be easy. Fashionable lines of research tend to be self-perpetuating, attracting as they do many of the more able minds to work under prominent men in university departments where such work is in progress. As a step in this direction, I wonder whether some lectures, seminars and discussion groups might be arranged at university medical schools and research institutes at which experts nominated by the D.H.S.S. might make their case for lines of research they wished to see developed, assess the talent available, exchange ideas as to how the problems might be tackled, and find out whether there were, in fact, any that were soundly based. This would, in my view, do much to foster confidence in the new proposals on the one hand, or provide a yellow light to proceed cautiously on the other.

The fourth point I should like to emphasise is the effect that the Rothschild proposals, if implemented, might have on university medical research and, therefore, on university medical departments, the training centre for the research worker of the future and hence the cornerstone of the whole edifice of research. As has been repeatedly pointed out in debates in your Lordships' House, the expansion of the universities, along with the ravages of inflation, have created a chronically serious situation so far as academic medical research is concerned. This, if it had not been for the M.R.C., would have largely come to a standstill; and it is difficult to visualise the D.H.S.S., with more narrowly defined objectives, adequately taking its place. If the reallocation of funds for research is being considered on the scale envisaged, the needs of university departments must be reassessed. Even though the M.R.C. has given invaluable support to the universities, it has far from met their needs, nor is it its responsibility to do so. Neither has the U.G.C., with its vast commitments in other fields and the resources made available to it, been able to do so.

One dreads to think what the situation would be if it had not been for private philanthropists, foundations and voluntary fund-raising organisations, who have done so much to till the gap and to provide funds for new buildings, extensions and equipment, and at least temporary staff appointments, to meet the needs of teaching and research in expanding fields of medicine. It is all wrong that they should be depended on indefinitely. Even their resources and goodwill must be exhausted in time, and they are hardly likely to be encouraged by the present proposals. A review of university medical teaching and research needs, as a distinct facet of medical research in general, is, in my view, urgently required.

May I now turn for a moment to veterinary research. Many of the points I have made with regard to medical research apply with as great, or even greater, force in the veterinary field. While the position of the M.R.C. would be rendered very difficult if the Rothschild proposals were implemented, that of the A.R.C. would be virtually impossible. As some noble Lords have pointed out, it would cease to exist in its present form. Here again it is difficult for many of us to accept the validity of the criticisms levelled against it. Even more than the M.R.C. it has been engaged on applied research work and it has an equally outstanding record of achievement. There is, for example, its work on the production of strains of barley and on selective weed killers, which together raised the value of the barley crop in 1963 by about £17 million, or twice the total A.R.C. budget at that time. Work on copper sulphate in pigs' diet resulted in an improvement in growth and meat yield to the tune of £2 to £3 million yearly. A similar success story is seen in dairy research which, with improvements in hygiene, plus antibiotic research, has drastically cut the incidence of mastitis—a disease, I may say, of particular interest to myself with my interest in streptococcol infections. Many other examples will be doubtless familiar to your Lordships with agricultural interests.

Since there seems so little, to me, to criticise in the policies of the A.R.C., one wonders whether the real point of criticism lies in the direction of research. It is difficult to believe that this could be bettered by transferring it to the extent proposed to the Ministry of Agriculture. No one has put the case for the A.R.C. more cogently than the late Sir Frederick Borden in a letter to The Times of December 31, and even more trenchantly in a commentary in Nature on January 7, written only a few weeks before his death. Renowned for his fundamental research with Dr. Pirie on the biochemistry of the tobacco mosaic virus and other viruses, which helped to lay the foundation of molecular biology, he was also deeply concerned with applied research in agriculture, and no one was more qualified than he to advise on the subject we are discussing to-day and to emphasis the interdependence of these two ends of the spectrum of research. His death is a great loss to his own field of plant pathology, one that is becoming of increasing importance in the conservation of food resources in a world with a rapidly expanding population.

This brings me to consider, finally, what should be our overall aims in the development of biological research. What is, in fact, the greatest need of the world from this point of view? It must surely be research to help meet the threatened population explosion, the consequences of which have been emphasised in several debates in your Lordships' House, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Snow. Looked at from this angle, our objectives in the field of applied biological research take on a very different emphasis and certainly an entirely new dimension from those we have been discussing to-day. We have to consider not only the National Health Service requirements and those of our own agriculture, important though these may be, but also the needs of the developing countries. In the medical field, there is the overwhelmingly important problem of research into birth control and methods of application. There are also others connected with diseases such as malnutrition and protein deficiency. In non-medical fields there is the research into the vast range of problems in veterinary, agricultural and marine biology concerned with increased food production and conservation.

Time does not permit me to enter into all the other aspects of the problems posed by world over-population, and they are of course familiar to many of your Lordships. But the question has to be asked: Is the research effort in progress or being planned, whether it be under the direction of the Councils, including the Science Research Council, or the Ministries or both, remotely measuring up to what is required? To that question there can be only one answer. It may be that an entirely new organisation composed of experts in all these fields is required to provide the necessary direction, drive and co-ordination of effort on an international scale, such as I suggested in a recent letter to The Times. What is certain is that more money must be made available. There seems to be no reason why a proportion of the funds set aside for aid to the developing countries should not be used for this purpose. As T mentioned in a previous debate in connection with financing the training of doctors from overseas, this is a form of aid with strings to which no one could surely take objection.


My Lords, is the noble Lord await that two-thirds of the expenditure of the Tropical Medicine Research Board, which amounts to nearly £1 million for the current year, was in fact paid by the overseas development administration?


My Lords, I am fully aware that a very big effort has been made. But in view of the magnitude of the problem far more should be done than is being done at the present moment, and with far more sense of direction and far greater co-ordination with other bodies concerned, including those from overseas. As I was saying, no one could take objection to that form of aid, particularly as the work could be carried out only with the fullest collaboration with the countries concerned. What is unquestionable, also, is that the matter is one of extreme urgency and one in which our country must play its full part. It is for this reason that I feel the subject should be fully ventilated in this debate.

6.2 p.m.


My Lords, some common ground is emerging above the flood, largely owing to the emollient influence of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, the Leader of the House, and I think none of us wants to depart very much from that emollience. Yet a certain amount of harm has been done, and it is wrong to sweep that under the carpet and think that everyone is happy and everyone agrees. That is not true. So let us be as emollient as we can and accept that harm has been done which probably can be put right, particularly if we can build upon the common ground. I think anyone from Mars, or even from Japan, would find a lot of this discussion very curious. In particular, it is about a tiny fraction of the whole of research expenditure. It is what in military terms would be called a "sideshow of a sideshow". Of all this country's expenditure on research and development, the amount which it is proposed to change is something between one and two per cent. and yet it has—and, in my view, rightly—attracted great attention and great anxiety.

The Royal Society is about as level headed and unhysterical a body as this country possesses, and when the Royal Society takes the trouble to produce a memorandum which is, in all but name, a State document noble Lords really must pay some attention to what is being said. There have been very few similar cases since the War when the Royal Society, with full authority, has really applied itself to a problem of contemporary interest. Those of your Lordships who are total outsiders—I am a near outsider, but not a total one—may have gained the impression at certain stages of this debate that the persons who are advocating so strongly a customer/contractor relationship are the practical-minded, hard-headed men with no nonsense about them, who are met on the other side by people who have never managed anything larger than a school chemical laboratory. That is almost the opposite of the truth. Anyone who cares to read the Report of the Royal Society's Industrial Activities Committee will find that it is compiled by people who have run enormous laboratories, large industries, who are utterly unprepared to be put off with anything which is not rooted in experience. This is one of the most important aspects of the whole of the Royal Society's memorandum and, to be honest, I really do not think any noble Lord ought to take part in this debate without having read it.

Why, then, considering the smallness of the sum involved, has there been this quite strong undercurrent of feeling among sensible people? As someone who is an outsider of the scientific community, though with close personal connections within it, I think I detect three elements. The first is that the scientific community is extremely suspicious of one-man efforts. It has suffered a good deal in this country through exactly that. We tend to believe that you get one person who can speak about all science and for all science. That is wrong. It leads to great mistakes in judgment. You need a far wider and deeper combination of experience to pronounce very much on anything to do with either pure or applied science. Science is a collectivity, a corporate activity, a cumulative activity, and the scientific community in general is extremely chary of all one-man pronouncements.

The second is a purely intellectual matter. It is the division which the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, makes about pure and applied research; and, as the Royal Society memorandum states, he appears to be almost the only person who would divide the entire operation of science in just that way. It is perfectly true that there is a tiny bit of applied research which acts as he suggests, which can be treated as he suggests, where there is some common ground and where you can have what have been called "consumer/contractor relations". Almost the whole of applied science, though, is utterly different. Off-hand, I can think of almost no major practical advance in human affairs which has been made by that kind of applied research. Most things have been done by what I admit is given this very clumsy name "Strategic applied research"—when you set out with a very vague and broad feeling that something may happen, though, certainly, no customer can give you instructions as to how to do it; and when you yourself will be very lucky if you have any idea of what is to emerge. That is really what applied research is like, and it is this major omission which has bedevilled a lot of the discussion and which, I have to say, has misled certain noble Lords in their speeches this afternoon.

The third difficulty is slightly more trivial; it is about the consumer/contractor relations. I think the words give rise to uneasiness because they suggest a crude commercial approach, and also because I think that very few people who have ever dealt with any sort of applied research believe that it is a very sensible approach in any way whatever. Your Lordships should go and talk to the Bell Telephone Company, who really do applied research in a way in which we cannot do it. They would think this a childish simplification. It is true that occasionally in the Bell Telephone Company there would be some broad practical thing to be asked for—contracted for, if you like—and done. But, again, that would be something like 10 per cent. of their total operation. However, when all that is said, I do not think that is really what has made the scientific community so worried. I think it is something very much deeper, and I think I can put it in one word, "confidence". Noble Lords, particularly noble Lords opposite, are in the habit of using "confidence" in the way the City of London does, or big business does. That is a perfectly legitimate form of confidence, which we badly need; but it is not the only or the major resort of confidence. Confidence is a thing which ought to be present in the whole of society but of which our society is desperately short—much more so than ever before in my lifetime. The hysteria we get into when we win a match in the World Cup at soccer, for instance, is a sign of how deeply we want something to make us feel that we are pretty good at some activity.

Now the one activity in which we are unquestionably right at the top of the world class is pure science. I can say this while some of my noble friends, like Lord Blackett and Lord Todd, cannot, because I am not a professional and I can see them from outside. I believe that if you go anywhere in the intellectual world you will find we are not given much praise for most things. In the case of the things we used to do well, like running our affairs amiably, I am afraid the feeling of others is that we have lost that touch. But they would still feel that in pure science, as opposed to any kind of applied science, strategic or tactical, we are certainly still No. 2 in the world, which is a very remarkable thing. The Americans have it all made as No. 1; but most outsiders—say, a sensible Swede—would say, I think, that in most (though not all) fields of pure research, we are certainly either No.2 or No.3. That ought to be, and should remain, a source of confidence. Let us not throw it away. I believe that a great deal of the feeling in the scientific community is that a certain slapdash approach, a certain (what shall I call it?) cavalier treatment, might begin to corrode this particular excellence of ours.

Here may I speak just for one moment on almost the one thing I can talk about from experience? I am fairly sure that if this confidence is affected—at least, I was sure until I heard the emollient speech of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, this afternoon—this lack of confidence will increase. If so, I assure your Lordships that there will be great difficulty in getting young sicentists to enter the profession at all. In some ways, I thought the most impressive and important part of the Royal Society's memorandum was a very short paragraph under the heading "Morale". It is all too easy to affect morale. Governments are rather bad at thinking about morale: they are inclined to think what is no longer true in a non—deferential society, that you can do almost anything with people; that you can simply tell them what to do, buy them and sell them. This you certainly cannot do with most parts of the population; and you certainly cannot do it with prospective scientists.

There are not many reasons for becoming a scientist. One is that a man cannot help it, and that is true of the very best. The rest go into it as they go into other professions, as at one time they might have gone into the Civil Service; and most British scientists could do many other things. They would make decent scientists, decent administrators—what you will. Unless the profession retains some of its traditional charms, I have no doubt that the entry will lose both in quantity and in quality. One of its traditional charms is that people are allowed to do interesting work. Your Lordships should remember that this or that particular hit of the most applied of applied research is to nearly all decent scientists very dull. People will do it out of duty, but they will not, except very occasionally, do it out of enthusiasm. What they like, therefore. is a chance of a rather mixed scientific background, in which they can do a bit of this, if they must, and do the rest of science when they get the chance.

We must be very careful not to disrupt the flow of talent into what is still a very difficult profession. Scientists have to work harder at universities to get a degree. There is some vague shift in the climate because the bad results of technology have become very apparent, and people are rather too soft-minded not to see the good results of technology as well. That has affected the flow into science. I believe that it is this feeling—a thing in itself comparatively trival; what is, after all, a minor administrative change—that may upset the whole way in which the young regard science in this country; and this we really must not permit. Some parts of the Green Paper are mildly attractive. We all agree about chief scientists we all agree about making the best use of people in the Scientific Civil Service. But those are really decorations compared with the real thing. Scientists live by doing science, and not by giving advice. Therefore, we have to make the part of the work which is really scientific as attractive as it can be.

Lastly, my Lords, I believe there is common ground. I believe it would be possible to take from, say, the Department of Health, certain bits where the Minister and his officials would be better advised on social priorities than scientists are likely to be. This can very well happen. I do not believe in the wisdom of customers, but I do believe that certain social priorities are more clearly seen by politicians and by civil servants, maybe, than by some scientists. Therefore I think there is a bit (nothing like as large as is suggested in the Green Paper) which could be abstracted from the ordinary run of M.R.C. work and, by agreement, selected and worked upon: if you like to call it customer/consumer, do so. This, I fancy, could be settled quite easily by sane and rational discussion between the M.R.C., the Department of Health and, I should like to think, the Royal Society. They are now so actively involved, it seems to me, that the Government would be very foolish not to use them until this issue is finally settled.

I was going to finish with a plea to the Government not to make up their mind too soon, and not to have the White Paper appearing with the remarkable speed of the Green Paper, in about a fortnight's time. But I think that is a plea I need not make because, much to all our pleasure, the noble Earl the Leader of the House gave us reassurance on that particular point.

6.17 p.m.


My Lords, when I came here to-day I had the intention to be considerably more critical about the proposals before us than I am in fact going to be. The reason for that change in my original intention stems from the speech of the noble Earl the Leader of the House, whose benevolent interpretation of the "Book of Rothschild" has, I think, deflected many of us from our original criticism. But I want to make a few remarks, concentrating on just two matters, in the hope that somewhere—although inevitably, I am afraid, I shall cover a certain amount of ground which has already been covered—I may at least add a gloss to what is already familiar.

When I first saw the Green Paper with its title, A Framework for Government Research and Development, I opened it with keen anticipation in the hope of seeing resolved an organisational problem which I feel has long required serious attention. I say straightaway that I was disappointed. I found in the Government's page and a quarter (which does indeed carry the title of the Green Paper as a whole) little to indicate that the organisation of development had been considered by them or by the contributors to the rest of the Green Paper. I know, of course, that in the White Paper on The Organisation of Defence Procurement a great deal was said about the organisation of development in one particular area; but it was not all-embracing by a long chalk, and in one or two respects it was, if I may say so, not entirely satisfactory.

Then, in the section which most of us have been concentrating on to-day—the section by the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, which is called "The Organisation and Management of Government Research and Development"—there is again certainly very little that could be characterised as even part of a framework for development. The concentration is on the organisation of Government-financed research—and only some of that research. As has been said several times this afternoon of the 1971–72 Research Council expenditure, only half is considered at all—to be precise, £56.4 million out of £109.5 million. The total Departmental research and development expenditure for the current financial year is £645.5 million, as budgeted. The argument in Lord Rothschild's pages is concerned, then, mainly with 8 per cent. of the Government outlay in this research and development field. Moreover, the terms of reference of the final section, Sir Frederick Dainton's section, are restricted entirely to the future of the Research Councils system. All this was to me at any rate disappointing. It would seem that of R. and D., the "R" is £109.5 million and the "D" is £536 million; and the framework for "D" is conspicuous in its absence from the considerations in the Green Paper and its appendices.

Admittedly, in his section Lord Rothschild sees the need for a controller of research and development in Government Departments. But the framework in which the controller is to work is not adumbrated. What is more remarkable is that in the Government's piece at the beginning, while they say clearly that they propose to consult with the Royal Societies, the Council for Scientific Policy and the Research Councils—and I think the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, told us of their main additions to this list—they reveal in the Green Paper no intention of consulting bodies concerned with development, bodies such as the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, the Institution of Electrical Engineers, the Royal Aeronautical Society and many such others. Perhaps most remarkable of all is that in the discussion in the Press—and I have followed the discussion in The Times closely—almost all the correspondents concentrated their attention on scientific research and ignored development. But not entirely. One exception was on February 3 when there was published a very interesting letter from Sir Richard Clarke, who pointed out, as I am pointing out from rather a different viewpoint. how extremely lopsided the comment has been. Another exception was in The Times leader this morning.

It could possibly be inferred from this that there is great dissatisfaction with the organisation of research but little to be criticised in the organisation of development. In my view such an inference would be inaccurate. I suggest that the position is that the framework for development was not dealt with in the Green Paper (as the title suggested that it would be) and so development has attracted very little comment. I believe that the Government would find it profitable to concentrate some attention on its organisation for development. Certainly from Department to Department, certainly from technology to technology, there is no uniformity in its system; and perhaps there should not be. One gets the impression of a sort of "Stop-Go" philosophy which in one area at least has been depressing in its effect on the development of machines which, in the view of some of us, are essential to the economic welfare of this country. Some noble Lords will not be surprised if I confess that in front of my mind when that remark is made is the aircraft field.

The noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, mentions in his Paper in page 3 some examples of end products or objectives of applied research and development; and they are very good examples. What I should have liked to see thereafter is a description of what he considered would be the most effective organisational means for selecting such objectives, the best means of achieving them by way of research and development and the best way of deciding upon the Government's role, if any, in the programme.

My Lords, criticism of that kind is not helpful. May I therefore indicate briefly what I believe are some of the basic requirements which the development framework must satisfy? Government are concerned with preserving the healths of industries on which we depend for economic progress and defence. The healths of these industries depend upon the technological advances of their products and upon their being able to move forward steadily rather than spasmodically. These days, many of their new products depend upon Government development aid—partly financial, partly through Government establishments. I believe there needs to be created machinery—and I prefer "machinery" to "framework"; it is more dynamic—by which Government and industry can collaborate more effectively to decide upon the development plans most likely to satisfy Government needs in defence and to produce material prosperity in this country and industry. The machinery must provide for specification of objectives against a background of realistic budgeting. There must be produced imaginative and long-term specifications as well as severely practical and short-term specifications. The policy must be continuous. The customer/contractor relationship is part of the correct basis for all this, but the customer must not be always looking for quick returns.

My Lords, the other matter on which I want to comment is of a different kind. In the areas of applied research in the physical sciences (by which I mean those at the base of the various engineering technologies, areas in which I believe I can claim enough experience to be entitled to an opinion) broadly, the customer/contractor relationship is right despite the strictures which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. made on it. To be explicit, I believe that in development and applied research in the fields of mechanical engineering, civil engineering, chemical engineering and aeronautical engineering, the relationship is applicable. However, it is not seriously discussed in this context in the Green Paper and no recommendations for changing the present situation in these areas are made. But there are recommendations based on the relationship in the fields of medicine, agriculture and the environment, and they have attracted the major part of the attention of noble Lords to-day. I do not think I am entitled to speak on those fields: I have no skill in them; but as an engineer I cannot feel comfortable about applying, without a great deal more inquiry, a principle in relationship appropriate in one area of expertise to an area so different in character.

In the field of technology we are in the position, broadly, of applying to the creation of things scientific facts which have been discovered or which, when gaps in knowledge are realised, usually can be discovered. In other words, there is a vast pool of scientific fact and scientific method from which we can draw the knowledge necessary to advance technology from its state to-day to its state to-morrow. The fundamental position, as I see it, in the medical field, is different. In medicine we are not involved in creation—at least I hope not. Medical knowledge is applied, if I may use engineering terminology, in maintenance, in quality control and in the eradication of faults. There is not the same wealth of theory by which to apply scientific fact to the solution of the technological problem. In fact, the scientific side is charactertised less by theory than by a vast empirical knowledge expressed in terms of experience and technique.

It is because I see so tremendous a difference between the basis of engineering technology and the basis of what I may be permitted to call medical technology that I feel that only with the greatest caution can a principle or a theorem which seems utterly logical in the one context be applied to the other. In fact my suspicion extends beyond the medical area and across the whole biological field. I am therefore worried, as other noble Lords have been, when I see the proposals for putting so much of the Research Council expenditure in the hands of certain Government Departments to be operated on the so-called customer/contractor basis. The general idea may or may not be right, I do not know; but I know that I should prefer a more tentative approach.

In paragraph 31 of Lord Rothschild's Paper, he says that the recommendations in Table 4 imply a 25 per cent. reduction in the D.E.S. vote for the Research Councils. This is indeed true. But the proposals of the Table are really much more sweeping than this percentage implies. No change from the present situation is proposed for the Science Research Council or the Social Sciences Research Council, but of the £56.4 million allotted to the Agricultural, Medical and Natural Environmental Councils, it is proposed that £27.7 million—as near as makes no difference 50 per cent.—is to be handed to the Departments. I believe that if this recommendation were interpreted literally, it could be a devastating blow to the research councils concerned, but I was very much comforted in this connection by what was said by the noble Earl the Leader of the House. I am comforted, too, by the interpretation which the noble Lord, Lord Todd, put upon the Rothschild recommendations. If I may say so, however, in the case of Lord Todd it seemed to me that his prescription approximated closely to what I have been familiar with for a long time; in other words, Departments in my own experience have been represented by Councils and there was a quite amicable collaboration between them. I still find it a little difficult to see how one can improve on that situation in these areas.


My Lords, may I say to the noble Lord that I did say that the implementation of these proposals, thought, would increase the degree of partnership between them. I did not suggest that there was any change in the type of partnership which the noble Lord has been speaking for.


My Lords, if we can suppose that the interpretation of the proposals will be to intensify and improve a relationship which I think we are now agreed already exists, I will support them utterly. But I cannot help feeling that the intention was something rather more radical. Nevertheless, I would say once again that I am comforted by what the noble Earl the Leader of the House has said because I think that any literal interpretation or anything approximating to it would be a very unsatisfactory situation. I wonder whether it would be worth the while of the Departments concerned—the M.A.F.F., the D.H.S.S. and the D.O.E.—to find this £27.7 million, or some part of it, from their own resources, so that they could do more of this customer/contractor kind of research in the fields which we have been considering.

So there, my Lords, are my two matters. Reversing the order in which I have spoken on them, I believe that we should be very cautious about applying the customer/contractor principle in medical and biological fields because they have a character quite different from that of the technological field in which the principle is widely applicable. Secondly, I believe the framework within which over 90 per cent. of the R. and D. expenditure is incurred should receive far more attention than it has received so far.

6.33 p.m.


My Lords, I have the honour to preside over two bodies which might, very loosely, be termed governing bodies of institutes which derive a large part of their funds from the Agricultural Research Council: the Agricultural and Horticultural Research Station at Long Ashton, which derives nearly all of its funds from the A.R.C., and the Meat Research Institute which derives 50 per cent. of its funds from the A.R.C., the other 50 per cent. coming from the Meat and Livestock Commission. I do not propose this evening to speak for those two Institutes, for their directors have both made their views known. I think I can say that their views and the views of many of the scientists in those Institutes and perhaps of many of the members of my Committees are broadly (or at least they were broadly) in the anti-Rothschild lobby. On behalf of one of those Institutes I forwarded to Sir Alan Cottrell comments critical of the Rothschild recommendations. Perhaps I should say that I do not speak for Rothschild either. It is my son who works in the "Think tank" and not I, and any views I may express to your Lordships are therefore my own.

When the famous Green Paper was published in November last, your Lordships will remember that in paragraph 6 the Government preface stated that no decision would be reached until time had been allowed for wide public debate". I cannot believe that the Government can have had any idea that the debate would be so wide, so public and so ferocious. The Green Paper immediately became a best-seller and was sold out within days of publication; and the time by which comments were to reach the Government Chief Scientific Officer had to be extended by a month so that the poor man could have time to read them all. The noble Earl the Leader of the House told us to-day that he had already received some 400 representations.

I think that it may be worth while to consider for a moment why this has happened, or one of the reasons why it may have happened. Is this an instance that science and the scientists have to-day taken the place in the minds of many people—perhaps one should say in the minds of many scientists—that religion and the priesthood once held? Religion had its saints; science has its Nobel Prize-winners. Religion had its blasphemy laws; science has its Haldane principle. Proposals therefore that could in any sense be said to erode the power of scientists are resisted with as much passion by our latter-day saints as the Church at one time resisted heretics. Though I hope that we may be lucky enough to avoid the thumbscrew and the stake, we certainly have not avoided the inquisition. There are at least two busy Parliamentary Committees taking evidence and examining witnesses. Airey Neave is the new Torquemada.

But I think that the main reason why the controversy has been so sharp is that Lord Rothschild himself is a scientist. If he had indeed been what I suppose most members of the general public thought that he was, a financier, the scientists might have found it easier to laugh him off as an ignoramus. But here is a man who has been working all his life in a research laboratory; who is a Fellow of the Royal Society; who has been Chairman of one of the much-criticised Research Councils—he was Chairman of the Agricultural Research Council for 10 years. But he has had the blasphemous apostasy to proclaim that the "Pope of Science" is not infallible.

My Lords, I feel that in joining in this debate I am a very small minnow in a very deep pool of very large Tritons. I have read as much as I can of a large mass of stuff that one must read to follow this controversy in public, and I have been interested—I throw this out as a comment; I do not know what to think of it—to see in what one might call the "trade Press", though I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, would not approve of that term—if one might so describe Nature or the New Scientist—that the editorials have been far less critical of Rothschild than the contributions by the learned scientists, many of whom think that they are under attack.

If I may, my Lords, I will address the few words which I wish to say to your Lordships to what I think is the basic point of Lord Rothschild's thesis—accountability. The noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, when he opened the debate this afternoon, said this was "somewhat nebulous" accountability. I think perhaps that sums it up. Lord Rothschild has explained during the inquisition and controversy that has been taking place that one of the purposes of his definitions of pure and applied research was to try to identify accountabilities in an unambiguous and unequivocal way. My Lords, I agree that his exercise in taxonomy, or classification, has caused some misunderstanding. But we shall all read with great interest in Hansard to-morrow the explanation of the noble Earl the Leader of the House on just this point.

Lord Rothschild is not, of course, talking here of the straight financial accountability, the working of which is so well understood in the Civil Service: of the accounting officer. He is talking here of what he calls scientific accountability but what I should rather call political accountability. As he himself has put it in answering a question: Answering, to someone, albeit in broad terms, for the scientific or research content of programmes, and responsibility, therefore, for their relevance to national requirements. Lord Rothschild contends that Research Councils are not accountable in the sense that a Secretary of State is functionally accountable to Parliament for the behaviour and activities of his Department. It is this kind of accountability that he believes it is important to inject into the Research Council system. Greater accountability surely must he injected into the organisation and management of Government research—and let us not lose sight of the fact that it is Government research that we are talking about.

I have a note on this difficult question of priorities, but my noble friend Lord Bessborough has got into trouble on that already. I have this famous figure of £867,000 spent in 1968–69 on molecular biology. But I think I will leave it at the exchange the noble Earl had, although I was going to mention dental research and not ageing. I wondered about this, because the dental services cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds a year, and dental disease causes us all considerable discomfort. Yet in the year under review quite a small sum, about £57,000, has been spent on dental research, while the medical Research Council have for 20 years, with four latter-day Nobel Prize-winner saints, been conducting research into molecular biology at their laboratory in Cambridge.

Lord Rothschild was very quick to say that he was not competent on the evidence before him to judge whether these priorities were right or wrong; and I, for my part, could not possibly claim to know. But what he wanted to know then, and what I want to know now, and what I think all of us ought to want to know is: who set these priorities? So far we have had no very clear answer.


My Lords, has it occurred to the noble Earl to urge the Government, or any Government, to carry out the policies that the medical researchers had advocated with regard to dentistry? Has it occurred to him that the Government also have the responsibility to carry out the results of research. which will go a long way to curing the problem?


My Lords, I am clear that the Government have responsibility for carrying out the results of medical research. If the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, will allow me to continue, it is Government responsibility that I want to make the point of my remarks. I hope it will not be argued by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, or anybody else that the Secretary of State for Education and Science has accountability for the Research Councils merely because she has the statutory power of issuing directions. For no Secretary of State has yet issued such a direction, and Sir Frederick Dainton in his evidence to the Select Committee thought it would be most unwise if a Secretary of State was ever to issue a direction. The most that the present Secretary of State has done is to have discussions sometimes. If you will bear with me, it might be interesting to remind your Lordships of that question and answer. It is question 254 in the evidence: Q. The Secretary of State, Mrs. Thatcher, told us that, so far as she knew, the power to direct Research Councils had never been used. Is that your experience? A. That is certainly my experience. Then the next question, No. 255: Q. She has not in fact exercised any direct control by giving any direction to the Research Councils as such? A. No. She has discussed with me sometimes proposed allocations. Is it sufficient for the Secretary of State to sometimes discuss with the Chairman of the Council for Scientific Policy proposed allocations?

I do not think anybody will deny that the accountability is, as my noble friend Lord Bessborough said, somewhat nebulous at the moment. After all, no one denies that the Councils are autonomous; and I do not think you can be truly autonomous and truly accountable at the same time.

When Sir Frederick Dainton was asked about this accountability by the Select Committee he replied (if I may paraphrase) that he did not really think that accountability was as important as having it quite clear that all the activities of Research Councils were completely open to inspection at any time, and that they regularly published all that they were doing. But is that quite a sufficient answer? Lord Rothschild. in the Green Paper, sets out clearly how the Government support basic research, as he describes it. and commissions applied Research and Development. The support is given by the D.E.S. via the U.G.C. to the universities, and via the C.S.P. and subordinate Research Councils to the institutes and units. The five Research Councils therefore are only subordinate to the C.S.P. in respect of the allocation of funds; they are autonomous in respect of their programmes.

It is Lord Rothschild's whole contention that the autonomy in respect of the programming for applied Government research should be called in question. He affirms—and I know that this has caused great umbrage among certain scientists—that however distinguished, intelligent and practical scientists may be (noble scientists will remember these words; Lord Rothschild has been much blamed for using them), they cannot be so well qualified to decide what the needs of the nation are and what their priorities are as those who are responsible for ensuring that those national needs are met. The people who are responsible for ensuring that the needs of the nation are met (the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, interrupted me on this) are the Ministers; and it is these Ministers—the Ministers of Agriculture, of Health and of the Environment—who should be in a position to commission work which in their view is needed, and to have the funds to pay for it. Lord Rothschild makes it absolutely clear that in his view there must be satisfactory chief scientist organisations in the Ministries to advise the Ministers before funds are transferred to those Ministers from the Secretary of State.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Earl for a moment? Is he suggesting that Ministries at the moment are not able to finance research?—because in my experience all the Ministries do so.


Ministries do finance research. But the contention of the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, as I understand it, is that before greater funds are put in the hands of the Departmental Ministers of Health, Agriculture and the Environment for the five Research Councils it is essential that there should be strong chief scientist organisations in those Ministries. I should have thought that that was quite unexceptionable.

Noble Lords may remember that for some time there had been a proposal mooted that the A.R.C. should be transferred bodily to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. This was long before Lord Rothschild or the "Think tank", or whatever it is called, was thought of in this context. I am not at all sure that it was not in the time—the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, referred to this—when the Party opposite were in Government. Anyhow, it is interesting to read it quite openly stated, in the introduction to Sir Frederick Dainton's Report, on paragraph 2, that his group undertook the inquiry into the future of the Research Councils system because they considered that the proposal to transfer the A.R.C. to the M.A.F.F. was a fundamental and ill-advised change. They and many other scientists have criticised Lord Rothschild for saying that certain principles were "self-evident"; but Sir Frederick's group did not shrink from saying that this proposal—which had not previously been discussed with the C.S.P.—was ill-advised and that no case had been made out for it. However, the Dainton Report is, on its own showing, a defence of the Research Council system, and perhaps therefore it is a rather negative Report. Its main conclusion is that there should be a new chartered body to supervise—"supervise" is perhaps not too strong a word—the Research Councils and of course the scientic heads of the Research Councils would be sitting on the Board.

The conclusions of the Dainton Report could perhaps be summarised thus: "The Research Council system is good: it upholds the Haldane principle of non-interference with scientists—also good; it is autonomous, and that is also good. But in case anybody worries about that aspect, we recommend that a new and very much larger scientific body be set up to keep an eye on the whole thing". But, my Lords, if it can be shown, as I believe it can, that there is not sufficient Parliamentary control of such Councils now, the fact is that under Sir Frederick Dainton's proposals there would be less, because there would be this large new chartered scientific barrier between the Councils and Parliament.

Lord Rothschild's approach is very different. He says that there must be more accountability and that the responsible Minister must carry the responsibility. But he says they cannot do this effectively unless there are strong scientific officer organisations in their Ministries to advise them. This is an absolute sine qua non, and without it there can be no meaningful partnership—as the noble Lord, Lord Todd, so cogently put forward—between the Research Councils and the Departmental Ministers. I was delighted to hear my noble Leader endorse that principle when he spoke this afternoon. The Rothschild Report on the organisation and management then is a positive Report, with recommendations designed to provide a framework in which the efficiency of Government R. and D. could be maximised. His chief recommendation is that we should apply the customer/contractor principle to all applied R. and D. so that national needs and priorities can be assessed by those whose responsibility it is to assess them. The customer should be the departmental Ministers for a much larger proportion of Government R. and D. than at present.

There, my Lords, are the two alternatives. You "pays your money and you takes your choice". To me both the logic and the common sense of the matter are clear, and I hope that when the Government are ready to take their decision they will not depart from the line they took in the memorandum published as a foreword to the Green Paper, which says, in paragraph 5 on the first page: The Government endorse the 'customer/contractor' principle and consider that it should be implemented in respect of applied research and development carried out or sponsored by the Government, whether by the Research Councils or elsewhere. Once that principle—over which Lord Rothschild got into such terrible trouble for calling it "self-evident"—is accepted, the rest follows. The point I have been discussing is met, for then there will be full and clearly defined accountability to Parliament, which in my view does not exist at present.

6.55 p.m.


My Lords, I am afraid that I am going to talk almost entirely about the Medical Research Council, having had the honour to sit for four years on the Council, on its Medical Research Board and on its Tropical Medicine Research Board—though unfortunately not under the chairmanship of the noble Viscount, Lord Amory. I must admit to being a great admirer of the achievements of the Council during its more than 50 years of existence.

One must agree, obviously and entirely, that the amount of money that can be devoted to research must be the responsibility of Government, and I also agree that much developmental research may well be carried out on a customer/contract basis. I cannot accept the view that developmental research can be clearly separated from so-called basic research. There is a very large grey area in which these two forms of research mingle and in which both play a part. I would separate first of all operational research, which I regard as being the duty of the Department of Health or of other Departments. In the case of the Department of Health, this will mean looking into the efficiency and objectives of the National Health Service, into the causes of maternal mortality, investigating the misuse of medicines and the most effective use of hospital beds. These do not require a customer/contract: these are the problems of Departmental research. There are quite clear developmental research problems. The noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, referred to dental research, and I suggest that a major piece of dental research would concern the addition of fluoride to our drinking water and the cure and prevention of caries in this country. The optimal methods of coronary care, the organisation of renal dialysis units and (dare I say?) the prevention of cigarette smoking, which the Medical Research Council has shown to be such a potent cause of cancer—these all call for developmental research.

Basic research is seeking new knowledge, often along new pathways. The Medical Research Council has an enviable reputation for its basic research, and often this basic research leads to clinical advances which were not expected. No one could have known, when Dr. Paton and Dr. Zaimis, of the National Institute of Medical Research, started work on the methonium compounds, that this would lead to a revolution in the treatment of high blood pressure. It is implied in the Rothschild Report that clinical research is applied or developmental research, and I would disagree most strongly with that view. Clinical science has been recognised as a separate discipline ever since the days of Sir Thomas Lewis, and no customer/contract could have led to his classical work on heart disease and on circulation. Advances in medical knowledge are now coming from the clinical units and clinical laboratories, and this clinical science and research depend upon the initiative of individuals who have the curiosity, aptitude, training and opportunity to carry out their investigations.

The Royal College of Physicians has a special interest in the maintenance of standards in medicine, in undergraduate and in postgraduate education; and this education can be successful only if it is carried out in an atmosphere of research. Young men must see medicine advancing: they must be attracted into research. I have a great fear that any reduction in the funds available to the Medical Research Council—and I am sure that this applies also to the other Research Councils—would lead, even if returned on a customer/contract basis, to serious repercussions on its training programmes, is scholarships, fellowships and grants, which do so much to initiate young men into research and which have led to so many of our research workers starting their distinguished careers. The noble Lord, Lord Stamp, emphasised the poor sum which professorial units in medical schools receive for research from the University Grants Committee, and how dependent they are on research grants from the Medical Research Council. It is vital in my belief to maintain Medical Research Council funds and their support for research in professorial units. Any change now in the availability of funds for training in medical research will have severe repercussions in 10 years' time when we shall find that we are short of well-trained medical research workers.

If I may take particular exception to one paragraph in Lord Rothschild's Report, it is to paragraph (44). I should like to quote from it: No-one should be appointed Director or Deputy Director of a laboratory or institute unless he or she has had a spell of at least one year in the Department's headquarters in London, preferably on the administrative side. This would have prevented almost all Directors of Medical Research Council units from taking up posts, and would have excluded all four Directors of the National Institute of Medical Research, Sir Henry Dale, Sir Charles Harrington, Sir Peter Medawar and the present Director, Professor Arnold Burgen. Just fancy spending a year on the administrative side of a department before going to direct a research unit! I find it difficult to conceive of this Chief Scientist in the Department of Health being able to initiate customer/contract research in the innumerable fields of medical research without expert advice; and where will he get this expert advice but from the same experts who advise the Medical Research Council? Are we to see the establishment of a mini-Medical Research Council in the Department to advise the Chief Scientist? This seems to me wasteful of scientific manpower.

The Green Paper suggests that there is a lack of liaison between the Department of Health and Social Security and the Medical Research Council. The noble Viscount, Lord Amory, has dealt with this point. There are close links between the two, the Department is represented on almost all the committees and boards, and if the links are insufficient these could surely be increased or modified without disrupting the morale of the Medical Research Council. In the final analysis, my Lords, advances in knowledge depend upon ideas, and good research depends on men, opportunity and morale. I fear change for change's sake, and I would make a plea that the Medical Research Council, which is admired the world over and not only, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, by scientists, should not be emasculated for the sake of administrative tidiness.

7.3 p.m.


My Lords, it is particularly gratifying to me that whereas last November in the economic and industrial affairs debate on the Address in reply to the most gracious Speech I think I was almost alone in mentioning research and development, to-day, thanks to the Motion of the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, there are many noble Lords who are anxious to make valuable contributions on this very important subject. Personally I feel a little out of place in this debate, coming as I do from industry and not from the ranks of the scientists. Perhaps that will explain my views.

Although my prime interest, as your Lordships know, lies with the industrial research associations, which are not directly affected by either of two Reports which form the subject of the Motion for this debate, I welcome the thought that we are heading for a well-considered statement of policy and what Government will feel is their role in organisation and in research and development in the future. Such a statement is long overdue, and I find it very interesting to note the strong similarity between the Green Paper we are discussing and that on the same subject by the previous Administration, only this time—thank heaven!—we are not to be saddled with B.R.D.C. Here I must admit that I am a little confused with the strictures of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, as the previous Green Paper continually referred to the "customer", although it refers to B.R.D.C. as the "contractor".

Since they were faced with the same problem of defining the Government's role and participation in this field it is perhaps not altogether surprising that both Administrations should have evolved the same underlying solution; namely, the customer/contractor or similar relationship. Further, it may be just a coincidence that it is exactly the same paragraph, No. 4 in the foreword of each Green Paper, that makes exactly this same statement. There is nothing new in this idea; it merely rings old, familiar bells.

For the information of noble Lords who do not have a copy of the 1970 Green Paper, I may say that paragraph 4 ends with these words: The new corporation would carry out most of its work for both Government and Industry on a contract basis to ensure that its programme reflected the needs of its customers". It is over this customer/contractor relationship that much—


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord so that the House is not misled? There is absolutely no resemblance in the areas of science, research and development with which these two Green Papers are concerned. One is concerned with in-house Government research and the other. to-day, is outside Government.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, too, once again, I should like to quote what Mr. Benn said on television on February 14: Actually this is an old argument that has been developing for some time and we began to introduce similar ideas with a Green Paper I published two years ago. He said, "similar ideas".


My Lords, may I thank the noble Earl for his intervention? I was proposing to try to make the same point. I think it is the principle that we were talking about. As the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, has just said, Mr. Wedgwood Benn is claiming the credit for this; I think we might as well let him have it.


My Lords, Mr. Wedgwood Benn was proposing to pass research and development from executive Departments to something else. The Rothschild Report is proposing to take it from something else to executive Departments.


I agree; I was discussing the principle of the customer/contractor. That was the point I was trying to make. It is over this particular principle that much of the argument and controversy is now raging, as everyone will agree. Further, I do not think I can add anything to this argument, or further fuel to the flames, because the research associations with which I am intimately connected, as the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, has already said, have always operated on exactly this principle for up to half a century. They do not know any other principle; they know that it works, although life may be leaner and harder than on other bases. They also know that if someone does not want their work they are just not paid for it; and even if the research associations understand, as the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, so eloquently put it, the fluttering of feathers in the scientific dovecotes. they find it difficult to join in fluttering with those who are worried that they are going to start experiencing some of the chill commercial winds which always have been the normal environment of a research association.

I must resist the temptation to subject your Lordships to a second performance of my speech last November, however much I may feel that it is relevant to to-day's Motion. Then I made many references to the lack of implementation of the results of research and development in our own industry: how in many cases we were manufacturing in accordance with last generation technology and were relying on having to import the new. I implored Government to assist in redirecting our major research effort into those industries which produced our national bread-and-butter, and less into those areas which are just internationally prestigious or interesting while being complete economic and commercial flops, if not disasters. Furthermore, I asked that such research monies should be put into what are shown to be the most appropriate and cost-effective organisations. I was most pleased to hear this afternoon from the noble Earl the Leader of the House that it was the Government objective to have a stronger science and a stronger country.

To-day we have present many noble Lords with far, far greater knowledge than I have to advise the House on Research Councils and the activities of those universities who are now (if I may put it this way) getting aboard the industry consultant bandwagon; so I will not detain your Lordships further on those points. But in the industrial field we must welcome, in addition to the very commercial customer/contractor principle, the observations that effective research, certainly in the industrial area, must be multidisciplinary; the observations on the need for co-ordinating related work, defining for once in terms of figures the ratio between very necessary development and research work; and also the emphasis that the customer should be in a position to understand and define his needs. We should observe these points.

Here I must strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, though he will perhaps be surprised to hear this, in saying that we should develop the channels of communication whereby, as he so ably pointed out, the results of the work are disseminated to the points of application to ensure an economic return. As a very small example, it was for this reason that a number of research associations, realising that not only had they themselves done considerable work on water pollution but that work had been done by research establishments and other bodies, formed themselves into an advisory committee to collect all relevant information so far as possible, so that any industrial inquirer could he informed quickly where the work on his problem had previously been carried out and to whom best he should address his inquiry. They did this because it was becoming apparent that much of this work was in danger of duplication through ignorance. It was not, one might say, a very dramatic development, but if, as it will, it increases the actual commercial value of the results of previous work it is certainly something not to be sniffed at. This is a practical attitude, even if not academically glamorous, and in my opinion is all the more valuable because of it.

Much of research and development organisation has just "growed up" in the most ad hoc fashion; and the time came long ago, in my opinion, for a comprehensive survey to co-ordinate all the national resources in this field. not just to consider individual reports on various sectors in isolation. Other Government reports we understand, and I hope, are on the way to assist in considering these other resources. It is to this end, as earlier this afternoon in the debate the noble Earl the Leader of the House announced, that the research associations, being individual and autonomous bodies, are themselves commissioning a review to be carried out on themselves by an independent committee of inquiry. This will be their contribution towards such an overall survey. I am pleased to be able to say that they are particularly fortunate also in that the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, who has moved the Motion before us this afternoon, has kindly consented to take the chair of this committee. Such a voluntary offer to be the subject of an impartial examination is unusual, if not previously totally unheard of, but I would remind your Lordships that, although it may not come from the most glittering, highly publicised centres of excellence, it comes from those who are convinced that, without exception, they are the most commercially cost-effective units operating in this field.

7.15 p.m.


My Lords, I should like first of all to make clear the limitations of my own knowledge. I have spent my life in industries which have depended on research in the physical sciences. I know nothing whatever about research in the life science's, and anything I say to-night must be taken as having reference only to our research in the physical sciences. With that important limitation, I should like to differ both from Sir Frederick Dainton and from Lord Rothschild in one small but I think basically important point. Sir Frederick Dainton divides Government funded research into tactical science or strategic science and basic science. Lord Rothschild divides it—his nomenclature changes at different points in his Report—generally into pure and applied science.

My experience is that when considering, as I think we are doing in our talking about the Green Paper, the organisation, financing and administration of research, it is better to classify research into curiosity-oriented research and product-oriented research. To give an example of what I mean, I would regard the research which is founded in CERN and much of the research which is sponsored in the universities as being curiosity-oriented. My product-oriented research is aimed at improving prosperity within a reasonably foreseeable, although perhaps a fairly far distant, future. But I must emphasise that in all the research departments for which I have had ultimate responsibility, a great deal of my product-oriented research has been basic or fundamental, and there has always been a dialogue between my project-oriented research and the curiosity-oriented research workers. I suggest that this classification of research is of some importance because, while curiosity-oriented research can quite satisfactorily be carried on in academic isolation, all my experience leads me to believe that product-oriented research must be closely integrated into the whole organisation which is responsible for the product. I wonder whether the essential differences between Sir Frederick Dainton and Lord Rothschild may arise from the fact that Dainton looks at the organisation of research through the eyes of an academic scientist, while Lord Rothschild looks at it through the eyes of a man who in recent years has worked in industry.

What I should like to suggest is that neither philosophy is absolutely right or absolutely wrong. There is a need (as Sir Frederick Dainton does) to respect the unity of science. There is, on the other hand, a need for close integration of product-oriented research into the product or organisation. In the broad field of Government research these two philosophies arc bound to be in conflict with one another in certain areas, and it seems to me that what is necessary is to decide which philosophy should take priority in which area. I suggest that there is no doubt whatever that the curiosity-oriented research of the sort which I mentioned before—the work that is done in CERN or in the universities—should continued to be sponsored and funded by the Department of Education and Science. It is interesting to remember that a great deal of the work which is funded by them in the universities can be considered as product-oriented, if one remembers that its ultimate aim—or one of its most important aims—is to produce better graduates.

But at the other end of the scale, where research is mostly connected with the product, I am generally in support of Lord Rothschild and differ from him only because I think there may be some cases in which lie has not gone quite so far as I should have wished to go. Lord Rothschild speaks about the customer/contractor relationship. Wherever it can be achieved I much prefer to have my research departments as equal partners in my product-oriented organisation. I believe that possibly there may be some fields of Government research where that could be done.

I will give your Lordships one example from some work that I did in the Ministry of Transport in 1965. At that time I considered, among a great many other topics, the question of the roads department in the then Ministry of Transport and its relationship with the Road Research Laboratory, and I said in that report: The problem is to plan to secure the design and construction of new roads and road improvements costing, outside the urban areas, about £100 million a year". It seems to me that the pattern of organisation required is of an industrial rather than a Civil Service nature. I do not suggest that the work should be taken away from the Ministry of Transport but that within that Ministry an organisation similar to that of one of the nationalised industries ought to be created. That organisation should be under the control of a director-general, who should be the sort of man who is found as chairman of one of the great nationalised industries. Under him there should be four directors—one for research, one for planning, one for engineering and one for administration, finance and contracts. Management should be on industrial lines and direction be by an executive committee acting in the same way as a board of directors. The advantages of such an organisation are that it would ensure a more industrial outlook of what is essentially an industrial problem. It would give greater continuity of career service and would ensure greater integration of research with planning and construction. I believe that last point is of outstanding importance. Research is not effective unless the research team is fully integrated into the organisation which it serves.

Although the road research department was later moved into the then Ministry of Transport, that organisation was not adopted, but if it had been adopted it would not have been an innovation because it was used, and used with considerable success, in various departments of the Ministry of Supply during the war, and was used again with great success in the Atomic Energy Department of the Ministry of Supply in the seven years after the war before the Atomic Energy Authority was formed. I believe, too, that it was used in post-war years in connection with the Royal Ordnance factories. There may be few other cases within Government Departments where such complete integration would be possible, but there are certainly other cases where this type of industrial organisation might be used. There are cases, for instance, of the building research laboratories and of the R.R.L. at Crowthorne, where the research establishments are placed under the control of the Ministry which makes most use of their work, and I believe that this should be done wherever possible, at any rate, even though in some cases in order to achieve it, it might mean that existing organisations would have to be split up. These I suggest are cases where the unity of science ought to take second place.

I realise of course that if this were done it would lead to some duplication of research, but I do not believe that, provided there is reasonable overall control, duplication of research is entirely a bad thing, and I myself would certainly sooner risk some overlapping of research programmes than risk a failure to integrate research into my product organisation. If one wanted to test the validity of that thesis perhaps one might look at the I.C.I. organisation. It is a great many years since I saw it from the inside, but I suspect that if one looked at it now one would find that, as in the days when I saw it, there is a considerable overlap of research between the research departments of the various I.C.I. divisions, and that this overlap is accented as a reasonable price to pay for the full integration of research into the overall organisation of those I.C.I. product divisions.

Between those two extremes of curiosity-oriented research which may be done in academic isolation and product-oriented research which is so peculiar to a single Government Department that in my view it should be brought within that Department, there is a great broad, grey area where the work of Government research organisations is used by many different Departments, and in that grey area I find myself generally in agreement with Lord Rothschild, and certainly in agreement with him that the Government Departments which use research should have strong scientific organisations within them. Having got that, I think that the pattern which Lord Rothschild suggests might be made more acceptable if one spoke not about a customer/contractor relationship but about a relationship of sponsored research. But, having said all this, I think that perhaps the worst mistake that could be made would be to say that Rothschild is absolutely right and Dainton is absolutely wrong, or, vice versa, to say that Dainton is absolutely right and Rothschild absolutely wrong. There is no question, I think, of absolute rightness or absolute error in this. What I suggest one should be looking for is a series of compromises in which one gives priority to one or other of two equally valid philosophies in different fields of Government research.

7.31 p.m.


My Lords, it gives me great pleasure this evening to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hinton, with whom I worked as a colleague in the same company many years ago. In those days we operated under different names. I find myself very much in agreement with what he has said, and he speaks with great authority on the subjects on which he has spoken.

In listening to this debate and in reading the various Papers which have been written on this subject, the Rothschild Report, the Royal Society document and many articles in newspapers and the like, one is driven to the conclusion that there is not so much a disagreement in principle as a disagreement in the extent to which the principle should be applied. I noticed, like the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, that the leading articles in the scientific journals were much less anti the Rothschild proposals than were the letters to the same journals. I think that some of this disagreement in the application of principle is caused by the brevity of the Rothschild Report. I myself find it refreshing in many ways, but I can quite understand that it put various people's backs up.

I think most people agree that everything is not perfect in the field of Government sponsored research. Professor Dainton admits this by saying that there is some disillusionment with science and there needs to be increasing selectivity in support of science, and that the Research Councils will have to be increasingly well- informed about national needs and objectives. Although perhaps having an unfortunate name, the customer/contractor relationship receives support from the Royal Society document, but only for the more directly applied research and development aimed at a specific objective.

This problem is primarily one of organisation and management. What I missed in all the documents that I have read were the objectives of the Research Councils which are under discussion. The Green Paper does not state them at all. The Royal Society document gives their general aims—I imagine that those are largely quoted from the charters—but does not give their objectives. If you are trying to design an organisation it seems to me essential that the first thing to do is to get down what are the objectives of the bodies with which you are dealing. I have the feeling again that some of the disagreement arises from the fact that different people regard the objectives as different, that they have in mind different objectives for the Research Councils. It is impossible to get people to agree on what is the best organisation for something like this work which we arc considering now if the different people discussing the subject are thinking about different objectives. I suggest that this is one of the things which the Government have got to establish rather more clearly before they come out with their first proposals.

In industry, in which my experience has been, product research is initiated in one of two ways. First, the commercial people, the people who know and are assessing the market, see a need to be filled and go to the technical people, the research people, and ask them what are the possibilities of filling it, and then a research project will be set up. Secondly, which in fact is the more common, the technical people come up with some idea of what may be technically possible; then go and see the commercial people and ask what use it is likely to be and whether it has a potential. Then considerable investigation has to go on in which one of the main factors is assessing the market; this may require a full market research. But both of those factors depend immensely on intercommunication and collaboration between those who understand the requirements of the market and the people who are going to conduct the research and development. The two bodies of knowledge are rarely present in one person. This collaboration and intercommunication must be continuous. It is not something which is done once and for all and then the research and development people get on with their project; it has got to be a continuous process.

I do not believe the national requirements are all that different, although the commercial motive may he replaced by some social or environmental motive; and the inter-communication requirements are similar. I think this is the fault, or one of the faults, in the Dainton proposals for the setting up of co-ordination at a high level; that although there will be independent members of the co-ordinating council it is necessary to ensure that there is co-ordination all the way down the line.

I am sorry that there is nothing, or very little, in the White Paper about research in relation to industry. The noble Lord, Lord Snow, said that our reputation in this country in pure science was extremely high. He did not say what our reputation was like in the application of science, and in particular the development into production and marketing. We have often been told that British industry is much slower in moving to the production stage than, for instance, in the United States. This is a matter that needs investigation, because if it is true, as I believe it is, then the country should do something about it. I was wondering whether this reputation for pure science has not got some effect on why the good young scientists rarely go into applied science.

Much of the research in the universities is done in particular by young scientists working at the same time for a second degree. Are these good young scientists being directed more and more into pure science? It may be it is right that they should be. If so, does it mean that fewer of the high grade young scientists are being directed into fields which will promote their career in industry or outside the universities, and in particular for the benefit of the country? I do not know what the situation is, but it seems to me that a considerable proportion of the young scientists working for a second degree will have to move from the universities. Their careers and what they are going to do in the future should have a bearing on what they do when they are at the university.

It is often said that the pure scientist looks down on the applied scientist. I know that I am using terms which mean different things to different people but I think your Lordships will realise what I am driving at. If that is so—and I have never seen it officially denied that the pure scientist tends to look down on the applied scientist—does it mean that enough people are going into applied science? I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Todd, said that institutions must either have clear objectives or an educational element, meaning by the "educational element" that they have a continual flow of bright young minds through the institute. There is an implication in that, it seems to me, that institutions which have an educational element will not have clear objectives. If that is so, that indicates that a great number of young scientists are moving to the field of pure science.

To sum up, my Lords, it seems to me that it is an excellent thing that the Government are putting out this Green Paper and making such wide consultations before coming to a decision. There is no doubt that this matter is extremely complicated; there is no doubt also that our scientists have a great deal to do in promoting the future welfare of this country and they must work in an environment which they consider satisfactory.

7.42 p.m.


My Lords, I speak only for medicine and the medical aspects of research. Like my noble friend and colleague Lord Rosenheim, I was a member of the Medical Research Council for four years. Unlike him, I had the wonderful experience of serving under the most expert and also most genial chairmanship of the noble Viscount, Lord Amory. I was afterwards chairman of his Clinical Research Board for three years so I had some opportunity to learn something of the organisation of medical research. May I say that I agree with most of what my noble friend Lord Rosenheim has said, including his strictures on Lord Rothschild's paragraph 44 about the importance of training in organisation before becoming heads of research units. But I have in my time, not so many years ago, ventured some rather outspoken comments on what I considered to be the errors of commission and omission in the clinical research field, for which I earned a good deal of criticism from some of my scientific colleagues and friends: and the words of the noble Earl, Lord Waldegrave, brought back reminiscences to me. In fact, I think I narrowly escaped being destroyed by a laser beam.

I have read the M.R.C. evidence to the Select Committee in another place, with most of which I agree, but I speak with no brief for the M.R.C.: anything I say represents my own views, based on this background of experience and not actually representing the views of anyone else. I have also read, ad nauseam, the correspondence in The Times, strangely so much of it coming from my own profession although we are only a fairly small part, albeit a very important part, of the total research budget and the total activities of the Research Council. In it I have read the general condemnation of Rothschild and all his works and this has done a great deal to put me on his side.

Greatly fearing that your Lordships may find my speech reminiscent of a Times leader, I propose first of all to put forward some of the arguments which I feel are in favour of the Rothschild theses as I see them in medicine and then rather suddenly to veer towards the other side and state some of the serious reservations which I have about them. It is, of course, all too simple to hold that there is no dividing line between basic and applied research; the pursuit of the one may lead you into the domain of the other. This every scientist, including the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, knows and, also like the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, acknowledges.

My noble friend Lord Rosenheim's comments on the grey area between these two sides of research nut me in mind of the fact that in biological as in all natural phenomena there really are no dividing lines, not even in the atmosphere. Hoving lived in Manchester for many years I am only too familiar with the grey area in Manchester when the air around is so damp that you do not even know whether it is raining or not. In spite of that, there are some days when it is unequivocally raining and other days when it is unquestionably, if rather unexpectedly, dry. Similarly, there are areas of research which are unquestionably practical, purpose motivated, devoted to the solution of a specific problem—applied, call it what you will—in which a customer (shall we call him?) seeks a contractor who will give him an answer to the question. In medicine the customer will often be some person or body responsible for public health; for example, the Department of Health and Social Security. Of course it may be the Pharmaceutical industry which is also extremely interested in customer/contractor research.

Taking a few examples, the D.H.S.S. may want to know facts about such mundane things as the use of beds or the use of health centres. That is what we call operational research and is properly done by the Department through its own organisation. But it may want to know things which are more clearly concerned with the clinical work of the doctor: why it is, for instance, that if you go in for a hernia operation under one surgeon he will have you out of hospital and home in two days, whereas another surgeon will have you in hospital for a fortnight. These are things which the Department has a right to be curious about; for instance why deaths from an operation for enlarged prostate are considerably more in the non-teaching than in the teaching hospitals. Incidentally, in case noble Lords think it is a bias on my part, I think there are good reasons for this. I think people who go to teaching hospitals are to some extent a selected section of the population. I only give it as an example of the kind of research and the kind of questions which the D.H.S.S. have a right to ask. Why in one London borough is the proportion of children who have had a tonsils operation by the time they are 10 years old about 60 per cent., while in another London borough next door the proportion is only about 10 per cent.? What happens to the 500,000 women (I think that is the figure) who are at present on the contraceptive pill? I am thinking of what is happening to them as minor events, and not merely of the number of deaths, which the Registrar General can tell us. These are matters of clinical research of the very greatest importance. The Department of Health surely have a right to be able to go to a contractor and say, "We want this information", or else to provide the contractor in their own Department. The contractor should surely have the right, if necessary, to give a reasoned statement of why he cannot promise to give the answer; why the time is not ripe for a particular piece of research, or why the expertise, the apparatus, or something else is not available.

There is nothing wrong with this, and the M.R.C. will say, quite truthfully, that it is already doing some of these things—albeit, I might add, in a few instances rathe reluctantly; that it is doing contractual research (and of this there is no doubt), and that it has never refused a good request from the Government of the day to do research of this kind. But this is an answer that we have to accept with just a little caution. I have never in my life refused to do an abdominal operation, for the simple reason that I am a physician and nobody has ever asked me to do an abdominal operation—which is rather a good thing. The M.R.C. has a reputation for scrupulous regard to method and adherence to the strictest scientific standards, and it is on this that its great international reputation very largely rests. Its members have all had scientific training, and are accustomed to the discipline of scientific thinking.

It is commonly thought, possibly wrongly in the case of some projects, that (shall we put it in quotes?) "The M.R.C. will not be interested: it is operational research; it is only a matter of counting heads", and so the problem never even reaches the M.R.C. at all. But given a problem of scientific content which requires all the resources of medical science for its solution, the M.R.C. will seize on it avidly, provided that it is sponsored by scientists of known reputation. But a great many of the important problems of the day for public health are much more of the customer/contractor type. It goes further than the M.R.C. In industry, for nistance, I have already referred to the fact that the phamacological firms are not primarily interested in pure, fundamental, basic research, but they are desperately interested in the best method of controlling high blood pressure, or treating or preventing migraine; and these are very important problems in the general health of the population. Drug firms have in the past been responsible for a great many of the advances in therapeutics which have led to the cure of pneumonia, septicæmia and tuberculosis, and responsible for new anæsthetics which have made operations possible. All this has surely been of the nature of customer/contractor research.

It may be fair enough to say that if Fleming had not been doing free basic fundamental research he might never have discovered penicillin. But it is equally just (is it not?) to say that had he handed his idea over to a contractor, perhaps a big drug firm, and told them to get on with it; to find out how the stuff could be produced on a grand scale, and then to start a major exercise to discover how it worked and what its chemical structure was, the world might have had penicillin and the other antibiotics ten years before it did, with the resulting saving of millions of lives and much suffering—a much more important thing than the postponement of death by cardiac transplantation. A "scientific roulette", says Rothschild of the Fleming type discovery. But nowhere has Lord Rothschild said or even hinted that basic, free theoretical research should cease, or even that it should be slowed down, as I understand it.

My years at the M.R.C. left me with the greatest possible admiration for its organisation, for the quality of its scientific advisers, for its establishment of the National Institute of Medical Research at Mill Hill (which I think is a tremendous achievement of British medical research), and for its encouragement of young researchers, and its support of research in universities. But it did leave me sometimes with the uneasy feeling that the pursuit of the best may sometimes defeat the good, and that in problems of the health of the community there are times when the detection of trends and the mere counting of heads, the routine search by technicians for a chemical variant of a known drug, may yield far more dividends, in terms of health, than the exploration of the physiology of the failing kidney, on which I have spent a good deal of my time, and for which it is quite easy to get support from the Medical Research Council.

Therefore, my Lords, I do not reject out of hand the basic idea of the customer/contractor principle, but the Department of Health and Social Security of course has its own research potential and its own research programme. Already it does organisational research, though many of us think not enough. Already it very importantly supports research in, particularly, the non-teaching hospitals, which have not such a claim on university and M.R.C. funds and cannot easily support research; and therein the seeds of ideas may be sown and stimulated among physicians and surgeons who are in parts of the country where the big university organisations do not exist. Of course it has initiated quite a good deal of clinical research on its own initiative, and I have myself chaired a Committee on coronary heart disease, for instance, run entirely by the Department. Whom do I find around me on that committee on coronary disease? All the same old faces that I should have seen on a similar Committee of the Medical Research Council.

So I ask myself, if we are going to switch customer/contractor research on to the Department, shall we not be setting up what my noble friend has just referred to as simply a mini-M.R.C.? There are only a certain number of clinical scientists to go round, and I wonder how sensible such a solution would be. I think that the M.R.C., for all its protestations, does not always do as much of this kind of practical customer/contractor observation as it might do, and for this I think the Department is just as much to blame, if anyone is to blame at all, as is the M.R.C. The Chief Medical Officer at the Department is an assessor or an adviser to the M.R.C., and attends its meetings, as does his opposite number, Sir John Brotherston, from Scotland. So far as I remember, the Clinical Research Board consists of about 12 members, half of whom are, I think, nominated by the Department of Health in collaboration with the M.R.C. I see that the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, agrees. Those six people nominated by the Department, and the Department's own chief medical officer, are there and must surely carry some of the responsibility if the M.R.C. is not carrying out enough applied research of this kind. So it seems to me that this means that a good deal of getting together and rethinking is necessary.

The Department is also hampered in its research in another way. It is fairly safe for it to count the number of unoccupied beds, but as soon as it begins to tamper with decisions of individual doctors it is in dire danger, and it knows it. There are many cases where it dare not even issue a directive, for if it does and a doctor has not followed it he may lose an action brought by a patient for malpractice. Worse than that, the Department would be accused of interfering with clinical decisions. The surgeon who keeps his hernia cases in for a fortnight, and the other surgeon who lets them out after two days, will both immediately justify their ways and speak about interference with clinical decisions. That. again, brings me to think that although there is a great deal of research of this kind which should be done, the best way of getting most of it done is through the existing mechanism of the M.R.C. with quite a bit of rethinking on both sides. Thus, as I think the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, who opened the debate said, all the emotions stirred up by Lord Rothschild's Report may end up by being a very good thing and may start a lot of people thinking again.

Finally, I should like to say something in favour of the M.R.C., in case anyone really thinks that I am a serious critic of it, which I am not. It has a worldwide reputation for excellence and it is absolutely true to say that it is the envy of other developed countries. I also think that in some way its autonomy must be secured at all costs, so that it can give really independent advice without being accused—even completely wrongly—of being under the influence of Government or of anybody else. Its support and encouragement to research in universities and among young men is an extremely important activity of the M.R.C., as is its National Institute for Medical Research at Mill Hill. None of this must be lost. But, so far as I know, Rothschild has nowhere suggested that they should be lost; only that a substantial amount should be paid over in another way. This may be right, but I hope that it will not be done too suddenly, because the M.R.C. always has a lot of long-term commitments to the units which it has established and to the people who work in them. If its budget were suddenly reduced, it would be bound to go on with its long-term projects, which would at once mean that it had no money left for the new men with the new ideas who are going to be the important research workers of the future and whose careers have depended so much in the past on M.R.C. support. It would be a disaster if anything were done to destroy either the efficiency or the morale of that institution.


My Lords, before the noble Lord concludes, I wonder whether I may ask a question about something he said. I followed his observations with considerable interest and was reminded of a very distinguished Harveian Oration which he delivered not so many years ago. I have had the opportunity of quoting it on more than one occasion, and it has got me into trouble on more than one occasion. The noble Lord pointed out, quite correctly, that the pharmaceutical companies have been responsible for many of the developments which have had a major impact on the practice of medicine. I accept that and I followed him very closely there. But I have asked myself whether or not those developments of the pharmaceutical industry would have occurred if they had not been led by men who had made basic discoveries in laboratories of the kind with which the Research Councils, in their more strategic activities, concern themselves, or in university laboratories. Therefore, will the noble Lord elaborate on his point about Fleming's discovery of penicillin and on the possibility of penicillin and antibiotics in general having been brought to the pitch to which they have been brought if this idea had been handed over by Fleming at a particular moment in the way he suggested?


I do not think noble Lords will expect me to answer that question in full. All I would say is that I do not think there is any serious difference between the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, and myself on this point. A great many basic ideas come from basic university research and I want this to continue, as does Lord Rothschild, so far as I can see. The Flemings of the future will continue to discover something like penicillin. But there was that unfortunate gap of many years ago when this new idea was not developed, and if the general customer/contractor principle had been more generally acceptable among scientists—perhaps the time was not ripe then—we might have had penicillin some years earlier than we actually had it.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord who the contractor or the customer would have been in this particular incident of penicillin?


My Lords, if I may intervene I should like to put the record straight, because I think it will also cover the point of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. In the course of his research, Fleming came across a mould in the neighbourhood of which bacteria did not grow, and he concluded, very properly, that there was a substance or substances, which was preventing the growth of bacteria. I believe I am right in saying that at that time he consulted his colleague, Professor Raistrick in the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Raistrick was Professor of Biochemistry there, and he set about trying to isolate that material. Your Lordships will of course realise that, as a chemist, I shall naturally say that perhaps he was not so "well up" in some of the techniques that were necessary, but he made an effort and found that penicillin is a very unstable substance. He was unable to isolate it in order to find out exactly what it was, and after trying it for a year or two he put it on one side.

Now it lay on one side until shortly before the last war, when it was picked up again by a chap called Ernst Chain who was working in Floret's laboratory in Oxford. He got it out and had a look at it, and he isolated the substance responsible for the effect. They had it tested in a clinical trial. I have heard from my medical colleagues various views as to how good the clinical trial was, but at least it gave a positive result. The result was that through the Medical Research Council and the Ministry of Supply in this country, and through the American Government in the U.S.A., the pressure was put on to find out what penicillin was, and to make it available. Investigators in this country, and industrial investigators here and in the United States, were supported—I will not say I regret that they were supported—by the Medical Research Council and the Ministry of Supply on a customer/contractor basis; and this is how we got penicillin.


My Lords, I take it that the noble Lord, Lord Todd, is agreeing with everything I said. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, was asking the question that Lord Todd was answering, so I did not immediately answer Lord Shackleton. The question is: who is the customer and who is the contractor? The answer is: does it matter? The point of the principle is that someone asks for a specific solution to a specific problem. It does not matter whether it is a drug firm, a university or the M.R.C. or who is the person best qualified to give the answer. It may be that the best qualified people may say that the answer cannot be given at the present time, just as nobody can at the present time say, "I could solve the cancer problem for you within a year if you gave me the money". So I think that is the answer.

8.12 p.m.


My Lords, I do not propose to follow this interlude in our discussion except just to remark that this is one of the many cases in which fundamental scientific discoveries are made, and they are never made upon the customer/contractor basis. If we had had to wait for that we should have waited many years before Michael Faraday laid down the principles of electromagnetism or Einstein had developed the principles of relativity, upon both of which discoveries enormous practical developments have since taken place—and they have no doubt taken place very largely on the contractor/customer principle which is concerned, as the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, has quite clearly pointed out in his Report, with the practical application of research and development of processes and products which are of economic importance. Of course, industrial research associations work upon this principle. They are engaged in producing material commodities, or processes for making them, for an economic reason. More than that, an enormous amount of research is done by great industries such as I.C.I., Unilever or Shell and others. However, that is done not upon a customer/contractor basis but, as the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, pointed out, upon a master and servant basis; the people who conduct the research are the employees of the industry.

My Lords, unfortunately it very often happens that scientific discoveries do not lead to the production of some commodity out of which a profit can be made, and in such cases the incentive to put them into operation is very largely lacking. This is illustrated by a number of things which in my opinion at any rate are of very great importance. It is now some 40 or 50 years ago since Sir Albert Howard, in India, conducted his researches upon soil fertility and the nutrition of plants and animals, and yet our Ministry of Agriculture paid not the slightest attention to it until, within the last year or so, it at last produced a Report which indicates that soil fertility in this country is now in peril owing to the enormous use of artificial fertilisers. Similarly, at about the same period Sir Robert MacCarrison conducted his very remarkable researches upon human nutrition in India, fortified by animal experiments, as a result of which he pointed out that the great diseases of civilisation which are so little amenable to medical treatment—vascular disease, gastrointestinal disease, dental decay and others—were caused by the sophisticated impoverished diets used in the Southern part of India; whereas in the North, where they were living upon foods which were not sophisticated—foods of a very simple character grown upon fertile soil—these diseases were almost totally absent. But does our Department of Health pay the slightest attention to this kind of research? It was fortified by the Peckham experiment in this country, but it was not acted upon. Surely this is something which deserves a lot of consideration. It is all very well to have a great deal of scientific research which is devoted to producing material articles, but we also need to pay attention to research which is going to protect the lives and happiness of the population in their most vital aspects.

Let me point out also that, conversely, pseudo-science is recommended for action. Even in this debate to-day the noble Lord, Lord Rosenheim, was suggesting that the public water supplies in this country should be fluoridated, when it is well known that an effective dose is in the chronic toxic range and when in any case it is quite inefficient, producing a reduction in dental decay equal to a delay of one tooth for one year, which is neither here nor there. That is how pseudo-scientific results are recommended for action, and indeed adopted in principle by the Department of Health.

The noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, has suggested that certain activities, or the responsibility for them, should be transferred from the Research Councils to various Government Departments. I want particularly to refer to the proposal that there should be transferred from the Research Councils to the Department of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture the responsibility for certain aspects of environmental research. This is a problem of the greatest and most pressing importance. We are all aware that environmental pollution has been increasing year after year and that to-day, with the increase in population, it is reaching dangerous proportions. Environmental research involves the use of quite a number of scientific disciplines which require to be united within one organisation in order to get a proper balanced view of the whole problem. To deprive the Environment Research Council of part of the function which is at present performed would certainly be a most retrograde step. On the contrary, we ought to be fortifying and expanding, its work to enable it to cope with this problem as speedily and as completely as possible.

In this respect, I want to refer back for a moment to the industrial research conducted by the industrial research associations, which are subsidised and aided in one way or another by public funds. It is industry that is causing a great deal of the pollution from which we are suffering, and in the future it ought to be a condition of Government assistance to industrial research associations that where practical applications of scientific knowledge are devised those who operate them should give an account of what, in practice, is involved in them; what are the waste products that will arise out of the manufacture and how it is proposed to dispose of them. This information is of the utmost importance. We do not have it at present, and there is no systematic means of getting it. More than that, when a new product is devised, some attention ought to be paid not merely to the processes by which it is produced but also to what will be its ultimate fate—because it will sooner or later be worn out and discarded and in that way will add to the total of the pollution from which the environment is suffering.

We have had an illustration recently in the proposal that milk should in future be supplied in plastic bottles. What is the consequence of that? There will be 10 million or 20 million plastic bottles put into the waste bins every day of the year—to be disposed of, how? This is why it is absolutely important that we should have advance information, and not information long after the event when somebody suddenly discovers that the environment has for years been polluted—for example with lead from petrol. Lead pollution of the environment has now reached the point at which people who are interested in agriculture are advised that it is dangerous to use compost derived from municipal dustbins in order to refertilise the soil because the refuse contains so much lead and so much zinc.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I have a particular interest in the question of milk containers. If it were possible to treat the plastic milk containers so that they were inflammable, as was done with the waxed parchment containers in the past, if that small technical advance were made, would that not meet the difficulty? Are we not at the moment in a state of incomplete technical advance? Will not complete technological advance soon take care of the plastic milk bottle?


My Lords, that is conceivable, provided that the products of combustion were not highly toxic, as they might easily be. It really reinforces the point I am trying to make: that instead of being wise after the event, and trying then to cope with the problem, we should be a little wiser before and if possible prevent the problems from arising. That is my plea with regard to scientific research in this country. I hope that regard will be paid to it and particularly to the point about not fragmenting environmental research and so making it dissipated and ineffective.

8.27 p.m.


My Lords, I am afraid that much of what I was going to say has already been said. I wish first to present concisely my own interpretation of the situation that has arisen, which coincides with much of what has already been said in this House; and secondly I wish to make a precise comment and suggestion about research by the Royal Colleges which I hope her Majesty's Government will consider a reasonable request. I must confess that I have found much of what I have read about the Green Paper somewhat confused and confusing, although many comments have been shrewd and informative. Inevitably my remarks are mainly directed to medical research, and much of the comment has been on the effect the Report will have on this. The proposal responsible for most of the disquiet is the formal endorsement and extension of the contractor/customer principle. Arising from this is the proposal that certain activities of the Research Councils should pass to Government Departments, and with them a good proportion of the funds at present allotted to the Research Councils. In the case of the Medical Research Council, the proportion of its funds that it would lose would be about 25 per cent., which equals £5.6 million per annum.

I do not propose to recount yet again the arguments for or against the division of research into basic and applied research. The Medical Research Council and most of those who support it feel that no evidence has been put forward to explain why the M.R.C. will lose 25 per cent. of its funds because of its principle. The M.R.C. receives full support for its claim that its organisation and integration with the Department already does substantially what the Rothschild Report suggests it should do, and that it is willing and eager to increase the participation of the Department with the Council's work if this can be properly apportioned. Many noble Lords this afternoon have spoken in firm support of the Council. At the same time the position of the Council as a central and independent co-ordinating body in medical research must be maintained, and that will not be secured if it is deprived of a quarter of its funds. I was relieved to hear the reassuring words of the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, that Her Majesty's Government are sensitive to this. The loss of this sum of money would cripple much of the work of the Medical Research Council and especially that part relating to research in the medical schools and universities. It would gravely impair the quality of undergraduate and postgraduate training of doctors and specialists of all types, and this would impede the future training and organisation of research.

The funds that the universities receive for basic research are limited and are not being increased from the University Grants Committee. If they are further diminished by smaller Medical Research Council funds the result will be disastrous in its effect upon the maintenance of university research standards. It would also involve loss of insurance of continuity of support that scientific staff receive and which is so important. The noble Lord, Lord Todd, emphasised the ill effects on university research, as did also the noble Lord, Lord Stamp. This impairment of university research must ultimately be damaging to the patients.

The position of the M.R.C. as a central co-ordinating body in medical research should be maintained. It could be inefficient and extravagant if any change towards a separate or a second controlling body within the departments caused reduplication of staffing and of the work that the M.R.C. already does so efficiently, especially through its advisory committees. Few people would deny that a certain fraction of the work of each Research Council should be on the R. and D. policy and a customer/contractor basis. What this fraction should be is less certain, and much of the work of the M.R.C. could not be handled on a customer/contractor basis. My own opinion and that of the Royal College for which I can speak is that research and development can play a substantial part in medical and in surgical research, and my College feels that there are good grounds for close liaison with the Department of Health in this policy and practice.

It would seem that we are being unduly influenced by American policy and practice in this matter. Much of their research, both in the major and also in the minor key, is based on the R. and D. principle. The outstanding example is the man in the moon project. In this they have achieved brilliant success and they now seem to say that if they can do this by spending dollars, they can, in a like way, find the cause of cancer in x years, and they plan accordingly. Getting to the moon is a physical achievement determined in great part by physical and mathematical facts, and it is naïve to assume that the same success can be achieved in the biological or biomedical field. I hope that our policy in this matter of organisation of research is not going to be unduly influenced by what the Americans are doing. The American type of research planning can be enormously expensive without attracting any commensurate degree of success.

My Lords, the object of my remarks is to support the many views expressed against the over-dominance of the customer/contractor principle as expressed in the Rothschild Report. The second point on which I wish to speak is concerned with the position of the Royal Colleges in relation to research, and especially in regard to the research they do themselves. I would remind your Lordships of the special position that the Royal Societies have held for very many years, in that they have received a direct grant from the Cabinet Office for their research activities in pure science. Her Majesty's Government have approached the Royal Society for advice on this matter of research and development. Understandably, no one could give better advice in the field of pure science; but they are less able to do this in the field of medical research. For advice on medical research the Royal Colleges of Medicine, of Surgery and of Obstetrics have to be consulted.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord will allow me to interrupt him? At the moment the Royal Societies get their grants from the Secretary of State for Education and Science. Lord Rothschild thinks that this is not good enough and that it ought to be paid by the Cabinet Office.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. The importance of the Royal Colleges to-day must be even greater than in the past, because of the great and increasing part which the National Health Service plays in the life and affairs of the nation. I wish to point out that the Royal Colleges receive no special grant for research as do the Royal Society, and I suggest that this deserves adjustment.

A century or more ago the Royal Colleges were essentially professional bodies concerned with maintaining the interests and standards of the various branches of the medical profession. They also act as examining bodies. For these functions they could scarcely attract a Government grant. There have, however, been profound changes in the work and function of the Royal Colleges during this century, and notably in connection with research. This research is often financed by the University Grants Committee, the M.R.C. or by certain special trusts, but a proportion of the expenses for its support falls upon the individual college which, within its own limited funds, has to provide long-term facilities, such as laboratories, staffing, administration, general upkeep and the special equipment to enable efficient research to be carried out. It therefore follows that the colleges are exposed to considerable expense in providing for the research they do, and the present inflation is making it no longer possible for them to continue to do this from their own meagre resources.

My Lords, I suggest that there is a strong case for the receipt of a Government grant to assist in the provision and maintenance of the basic requirements for research. It may be that in the case of some of the Royal Colleges their expenditure on research is reasonably met from their own resources. Some have no research laboratory but usually have the heavy expense of maintaining a library which is an essential tool or workshop for research in a scientific discipline. Some colleges have heavy research commitments, and in this connection I speak particularly of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, of which I have particular knowledge. Perhaps here I should declare a special interest, in that I am specially concerned with research at the Royal College of Surgeons; but I am not influenced by any personal motives, nor indeed by my special loyalty to the Royal College of Surgeons. It simply happens that my knowledge of the situation enables me to present what is, I submit, a point of wide interest and importance touching on the research activities of all the Royal Colleges.

To take the example of the Royal College of Surgeons further, I should tell your Lordships that it has nine scientific departments—including a very active and successful department of dental research—some of which are partly concerned with teaching, but all are concerned with research and some entirely with research. Moreover, some depend for their very existence on money coming solely from the funds of the College, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for this support to be maintained. The very continuance of research is therefore threatened. I have in mind that there is thus a strong case for their receiving a grant in respect of this research that the colleges support, apart from any grants received from the Research Councils which are directed to the support of specific projects and not to the basic requirements that they will not support.

My Lords, I wish to emphasise that this change in character and activities of the Royal Colleges is something that has developed during the last several decades. It has thus altered the essential nature of the Royal Colleges as mainly professional bodies, and has brought certain of their activities closer to the purely scientific activities of the Royal Societies. Now that the Government's policy in regard to research, and especially medical research, is being so closely inquired into, I suggest that the Government could well give attention to the provision of special research grants direct to certain of the Royal Colleges.

I do not suggest that a Government grant should be automatic. Any grant to support the research facilities of a special Royal College would depend on that College making out a case for support. The amount of money involved is not large; indeed, it would be relatively trivial when considered in relation to the total funds allocated for research. Although the grants would be small, their absence is a defect in our medical research organisation and they would succeed in sustaining the invidual efforts of particular Royal Colleges. A loss or impairment of the research facilities of the Colleges could be a loss of their ability to help with any R. and D. maintenance in which they are at present well equipped to co-operate in many ways.

8.38 p.m.


My Lords, we are coming to the end of the first day of what we might call the "Second Reading debate" on this Motion, and I think that most of your Lordships who have been present the whole day will have found it remarkable in so far as some of the earliest speeches have had quite a considerable effect on those that have been made later and on the whole atmosphere in which this debate is being conducted. I feel that anything I say now on the "Second Reading" side of it would be hut a vain repetition. I must confess that I commiserate very much with the noble Lord who is to speak immediately after me and who, I think, has had only the advantage of hearing the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, the noble Lord, Lord Brock and myself; and one of those speeches, as he will find out shortly, will not provide him with very much fat when he comes to speak.

I have seen no hint in Rothschild, in Dainton or in anything that anybody has said this afternoon to indicate that hidden away among the research institutes are bodies which in addition to their research functions have statutory and executive functions which do not fit into what I will still call, in spite of the semantic arguments that have taken place, the customer/contractor system, nor, indeed, I think, into the Research Council system at all.

The one that I know best is the one of which I happen to be a member, the Nature Conservancy, which was set up in 1949 with three statutory functions; namely, to provide scientific advice on the conservation of the fauna and flora of Great Britain; to establish and maintain nature reserves; and to organise and develop research on scientific services related to those functions. It was recognised from the beginning that those functions were inseparable. This point was made about that sort of research by the noble Lord, Lord Hinton, a few minutes ago; it was accepted as recently as the year before last by the Select Committee on Science and Technology, and I do not think anybody would say anything otherwise to-day. In fact, just over 55 per cent. of the expenditure of the Conservancy goes on information and looking after nature reserves; about 40 per cent. goes on research directly applicable to those matters; and about 5 per cent. on what some of us still call basic research.

Quite clearly, the Rothschild principle cannot be applied to that. The same body has to carry out both the research and tile other statutory functions, and often the same individuals are inevitably involved with both. But under the Science and Technology Act 1965 the Conservancy was put into the Natural Environment Research Council, where it had to compete with other purely research institutions for NERc's resources. Broadly, among the important public at large—that is to say, those interested in conservation and the natural history of this country—there has been a considerable amount of disquiet, which some of your Lordships may have noticed in a letter recently addressed to The Times and signed by Mr. Peter Scott and others giving as the considered opinion of the conservation movement generally that the Conservancy's conservation functions had suffered due to the way in which it was put into NERC under the 1965 Act. They point out, for instance, how the Conservancy had spent but £100,000 since 1968 on reserves, whereas the voluntary bodies had spent the better part of £500,000. They make other criticisms, and suggest that the Conservancy should once again be put into the position of being responsible to one Minister, and one Minister only. This is a suggestion with which I myself and the majority of the members of the Board would agree.

But what is more interesting is the solution that has been put forward in the Green Paper by Rothschild, in his recommendation No. 55, but for entirely different reasons. It is because that has been done for entirely different reasons that I have ventured to draw the attention of your Lordships to this one tree in the wood at which we have all been looking this afternoon: because one feels that a sort of impetus has been started, a principle has been accepted, and unless one looks closely at the details involved—as indeed, I think, in the introduction to the Green Paper, the Government tell us to do—there is a risk that similar things may happen for reasons which are not entirely apposite to the particular institution concerned.

To give one other example, in the same paragraph Lord Rothschild recommends that the Institute of Hydrology should be merged with the totally different Hydraulics Research Station. His reasons for so recommending seem to me to be unjustified if you look at the two institutes side by side, but they follow on with a swing from the whole principle which underlies his Report. It is a principle with which fundamentally I agree, and I was pleased to hear what the noble Earl the Leader of the House said. I must confess that it cleared my mind. which had been very woolly up to that time: and I am grateful for that. The point I am trying to make in making this special pleading about one institute is that it is important that we should not be carried away by the swing and inertia of having accepted a principle, but should look at all these things in detail before the final decisions are made.

8.47 p.m.


My Lords, I am not going to reply to the noble Earl who has just sat down. I do not think his reflections, whether polite or not, were called for. I leave it there. In this long debate, and also in the large letter columns of The Times, we have had an extraordinary outburst of criticism which is really based on the well-known fact that the best homines economici in existence are obviously academic. They have antennae which vibrate when any curtailment of funds is threatening even by the third remove and they react, of course, very bitterly.

My Lords, when tigers and lions come up and roar I think the lesser beasts ought to be silent. I have, however, two reasons which have influenced me in saying a few words in this debate. The first is that we have been unlucky, or incompetent in applied research. The atomic programme, much of the airspace industry, the electricity generating programme, and our experience in many other fields, testify that we have not made good use of good money and good men. This is also attested by the regrettably high capital output ratio in this country as against, say, that in Germany, France or Japan. A reform is clearly in order. Is the Rothschild reform the right one? I admit that there must be reform.

My second reason for participating in this debate is that I had an active if wholly unsuccessful part in trying to mitigate the unfortunate Heyworth Committee from which the S.S.R.C. sprang and have been able to watch at close quarters its development. I have even been able to draw some lesson from the way that it was handled by the academics, by the Civil Service and by the politicians. The politicians, I am sure, were always extraordinarily polite, and in my opinion too humble when they were confronted with expertise of either an administrative or a scientific character. I think that on the whole I would back the politician in these matters.

I have always been against the centralisation of power in research. There should be co-ordination both in respect of subjects and in respect of men, because otherwise a great deal of waste occurs. But that does not mean that the central decision-making machinery should be so fashioned that in an important field certain people over a long period of time exert a total influence—because we are all human and fallible, and the top of the Establishment, in the way of things, obviously is elderly and therefore not as elastic as one might hope. I am quite certain therefore that if co-ordination is to he assured it should be assured without a monopoly power over the spirit—not a matter where monopoly can offer compensation in terms of increasing returns.

Having been for the whole of my life—indeed, I still am—at the receiving end of the professorial oligarchy, and having watched how professorial appointments are managed not merely in the political sciences but also in the natural sciences, I have my doubts whether one ought to have institutions such as the Councils which are manned really on paper form rather than on performance. Thus I approached the Rothschild Report full of prejudice in its favour. I have no doubt, for instance, that the second paragraph in Lord Rothschild's submission to the House of Commons Committee is one of the most interesting, because new, remarks made on this subject in this country; but I still have veered away from the Rothschild Report. I must confess that. This was for reasons which I have considered with the utmost attention.

I have always understood that Lord Rothschild, whom I know very little, was a tough, critical and indeed impatient man. I now find that in some respects he is a man not only of distinct illusions but also of great romanticism. I do not wish to comment on his distinction between pure natural science and applied research in that field, though I must say that I am very doubtful about that sort of distinction being drawn in the political sciences—in politics, sociology or economics. I cannot and do not wish to add to anything that has been said on this subject, because I am not competent to do so. What I am competent to do, having been for four or more years in the same position which Lord Rothschild fills, though without his panache and freedom of expression, is to comment on his idea that, somehow or other, Government Departments are better fitted to advise, as the ultimate consumer, on that kind of activity.

He illustrates this rather wishful thinking by the reference to the rather inadequate membership of the Research Council. This occurs in a paper that he gave in Manchester, which has been published (I think fully) by the Guardian. I should like humbly to ask him to reflect on who appointed the Research Council, which he found so lacking in competence. It was of course appointed by the Government Department responsible, and it was not budget-wise responsibility but subject-wise responsibility. These people are appointed by a sort of mutual exchange of names; and sometimes it takes the, to me, very extraordinary form of passing to and fro little notes, which are stuck together in the Treasury. Then these are flicked around, and sometimes one name comes up—mostly the same name comes up. British life in this respect can really be compared with Egyptian dynasties: Lord X was a Dynast from, say, 1952 to 1956, and Lord Y took over from 1957 to 1960. Then, for some odd reason, one went back for a little period again—a sort of counter-revolution in the dynasty—to X, and then one ended up with Z, who is still in full control.

Now it seems to me that without a thorough reorganisation of the structure of scientific advice-making, indeed without a scientific Cabinet de Ministres of the French type in these affairs we shall never get very far. The Rothschild Report as it is now reminds me of an Hungarian story. The lion wanted to organise an orchestra, so he distributed all the instruments to the various animals, none of whom had been trained to play these instruments—and a fantastic cacophony ensued. The lion roared, Let us change instruments"—and still there was no training. The cacophony remained. I do not think, after what we have experienced in the last few years in applied research, we should turn away in the complete way that Rothschild recommends from the Research Councils to Departments. Let us phase them in gently by additions rather than by substitutions, and let us see how the change goes. Let us be very careful lest we change from one oligarchy which has not proved very good to the same oligarchy under another name. This is what I find so—hesitantly as I speak—ill-advised in the Rothschild Report, of whose spirit and intention I very much approve.

8.57 p.m.


My Lords, may I add a very few words to this debate as it draws to a close to-day, and may I observe to the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, how much I enjoyed his speech? For once, I found myself in agreement with him—indeed, at the end of my few remarks I am going to reach the same conclusion as he did. I was particularly interested in his reference to Lord Rothschild as a romantic. From what my friends in the scientific world tell me, that is not quite how they see him now: but the noble Lord's reference to his sympathy for politicans will no doubt be very welcome to my noble friends on the Front Bench.

Noble Lords have already expressed pungent criticism about Lord Rothschild's Report, and I go along with that, and particularly with what the Royal Society said. So I will spare noble Lords a repetition of that. I will only say that to me it was a surprisingly brash statement. I say "surprisingly" with good reason, because Rothchild's recommendation to transfer three-quarters of the Agricultural Research Council finance to the Ministry of Agriculture is the exact reverse of his view some seventeen or eighteen years ago when he was Chairman of the Agricultural Research Council and I was Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture. At that time certain agricultural research stations came under the direct control of the Ministry of Agriculture, with advice from the A.R.C. The noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, as Chairman of the A.R.C., insisted that they should be transferred from the A.R.C. in the interests of scientific control and scientific independence. After a very long dialogue, which went on for two or three years, the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, finally won the day and we in the Ministry of Agriculture very reluctantly gave in. In the light of hindsight the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, was right. I recall the incident not to discredit the Rothschild Report, but to illustrate that this is a perennial problem and judgment differs from one decade to another—evidently the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, does, too.

I found fault with the Government statement in the foreword to the Green Paper. There is a strong implication of a hasty decision to adopt the policy advocated without adequate consultation—at that time none at all—and a rushed timetable to publish Government decisions (as is intended next month) in a White Paper, presumably to fit in with Lord Rothschild's timetable for the new system which is designed to start on April 5 this year. My noble friend Lord Jellicoe, who unfortunately has left the Chamber, made a speech which calmed the indignation in my breast and probably in a good many others. As the noble Lord, Lord Snow, so charmingly said, his emollient words did much to soothe us and make acceptable what had not been acceptable before. We want to get this right; we want to express criticism where we think it is deserved, but at the end of the day we have a common interest. We want to get right something which is extremely difficult. I thought my noble friend Lord Jellicoe's revised timetable a much more sensible approach: first, we should consider the Report from the Select Committee of the other place; consider consultations that have taken place; consider the views of noble Lords here; publish a White Paper in the summer and then give the Government's decision.

My few words are directed to the Agricultural Research Council because have had relationships with it over the years and because no other noble Lord has said a word about it—and believe me, there are some very unhappy people working in that sphere of scientific research at this time. I hope my friends there will observe the strength of my loyalty which has kept me here until 9 o'clock to speak on their behalf. The Medical Research Council have many friends here who have spoken most eloquently and with great authority. There is no doubt at all, I am sure, in the minds of my noble friends on the Front Bench of the extent to which the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, got that wrong.

Let me turn to the Agricultural Research Council. Lord Rothschild's recommendation in Table 4 is that no less than 75 per cent. of the present expenditure of the A.R.C. should be transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture. He does this on the basis that he defines 25 per cent. of the work of the A.R.C. as being basic research and 75 per cent. as applied research. I need hardly say that if this recommendation were implemented there would be wreckage of much of the A.R.C.'s work and much of the work of many of the research stations. In passing I will observe that Lord Rothschild's method of examination seems totally inadequate for an extremely complex, difficult subject like this. He sent out a written questionnaire. The questions were good enough, but naturally, when the questionnaire reached various research stations, different scientists answered it in different ways. We all agree that it is impossible to be precise in defining what is basic and what is applied—and, indeed, "strategic" was never mentioned. The result was that everybody filled in the questionnaire differently. Nobody went to the stations and asked for questions and made an examination in depth. The result is that we have a superficial impression.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I do not think he can quite say that nobody went to these stations. Is he referring to the questionnaire that Mr. Galley put out? He undoubtedly came to both the research stations with which I am associated and he talked to the Directors.


My Lords, I am delighted to hear that he went there. Perhaps this was a special privilege for my noble friend. This was not the general experience. The actual position in the work of the Agricultural Research Council is that, far from 25 per cent. of their work being basic research and 75 per cent. of it applied research, only 20 per cent. of their work is applied research and 80 per cent. of their work is fundamental or strategic research. Whether the questioners visited any stations or whether they took it all on paper, they got a mightly wrong picture out of it; and it was a very, very poor examination.

I should like to give one brief illustration of the research station of which I have the privilege to be Chairman of Governors, the Animal Virus Research Station. This spends about three-quarters of a million pounds a year and has a team of about 30 scientists. Its main work is the study of the foot-and-mouth virus. It has associated work with some of the other viruses, some exotic, some not. Its status as a research station is equal to the best. The American station at Plum Island is also in the top class. We stand together as the two foremost research stations in animal virology in the world. We also have the world reference library for this virus. The range of research is as follows: basic research. 40 per cent., and of the remaining 60 per cent. only about 10 per cent. applies to British agriculture. about 50 per cent. being devoted to world agriculture. What could be more fantastic than to apply Lord Rothschild's formula of 75 per cent. of the expenditure on this research station going over to the Ministry of Agriculture in this case? It is an absolute fairy tale. Nobody has looked at it at all.

There is a question here which goes to the root of the whole problem. Is it worth while, is it good value to the taxpayer here, to have this high-powered team of scientists studying this virus which does not exist in this country, spending three-quarters of a million pounds of taxpayers' money? This question goes to the root of the whole problem. And how are Ministers to make up their minds? Indeed, how am I as a lay chairman to make up mine? I confess that I have found it very difficult.

I could see that they were all doing very good work, but I still could not make out why it was worth our while to do all this. So a few years ago, when I was in America, I paid a visit to the American Research Station at Plum Island, and there I asked them the questions that I rather hesitated to ask our own people: why were they spending all this money? What was the object of their work? How did they think they were giving good Value to the American taxpayer? They answered me very promptly. They said, "We have just had a Congressional inquiry and we are able to give you very good answers." They then explained to me that they had an enormous herd of cows; they had an enormous herd of cloven hoof animals of all kinds, running into literally thousands of millions of dollars' worth of stock, and they reckoned that it would be worth their while as an insurance policy to know all about this virus which might come into their country and decimate their herds of cattle. They also felt that if they helped to check it in surrounding countries—in Mexico, for example, where they were particularly anxious before—they would have, as it were, an outpost to defend themselves. They made out their case very well and I had this in the back of my mind. I went home and was able to see this matter in a new perspective. This was of very great help to me.

What is needed in all this work for politicians is a high-grade scientific adviser who can give scientific advice of the kind necessary, covering the field necessary, and who, to put it in crude terms, is on the Minister's side. Therefore I very much support Lord Rothschild's recommendation that chief scientific sections should be set up in each relevant Ministry. I am sure this would be of the greatest possible help to Ministers. They would have a continuing dialogue with the Research Council and the research stations, and they would be able to give the Minister reliable advice.


My Lords, would the noble Lord want to establish a Chief Scientific Officer who was there from whatever his age at entry until the age of 65, or would he want scientific advisers who are brought in by Ministers as Governments, or even Ministers, change? It seems to me that this is a tremendously important question. If somebody who is an "administration wallah" is to be advising the Minister, I believe that we shall get out of this proposal crystallisation and ossification of the relationship between the Government and science.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his intervention, which I agree is "spot on". This is the problem, or was the problem. It seems to me that he is with me in the idea of the appointment of high-grade scientists, but he feels doubt, which I share, about the scientist staying there for ever so that Ministers become the prisoner of the high-grade scientist. This is a point we must turn over to my noble friends on the Front Bench. They might very well ask Lord Rothschild to turn his mind to it, because it really is a relevant problem. How is one to attract the kind of man who is wanted if his stay is to be at the appointment of Ministers? This is a very good point indeed and deserves more consideration.

To come to my concluding words, I would suggest this point to my noble friend Lord Jellicoe, I agree that we want this relationship with the user—I prefer that term to "customer"—but I would suggest that the line advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, is right. Try it. Do not attempt to apply it right across the board. That must be wrong; there will be many places where it simply will not fit at all. I have indicated that. But select one or two research stations and try out this dual financial control for a year or two and see how it works, and proceed in the light of results. But, for Heaven's sake! find a name other than the "customer". I have never before heard Whitehall called a "customer". There is, I believe, a tradition in some parts that the gentleman in Whitehall knows best, but I did not think that was identified with this Front Bench. However, try it out and see.

In the meantime, let me recall, before I finish, that the relationship works pretty well now in the Agricultural Research Council. Senior officials from the Ministry of Agriculture are on the Council or governing bodies. The Chief Veterinary Officer, for instance, is on our governing body, on the Agricultural Research Council. And, possibly even more important, of all the Council members, governing body members, and committee members throughout this whole structure of research stations, numbering altogether about 200 people, no fewer than half of them—about 100—are farmers. They really are the customers. This really does matter. So there is no ivory tower here, as is implied by Lord Rothschild's Report.

Finally, I would support the noble Lord, Lord Snow, in his plea to my noble friend for the Government's retention of the Haldane principle of scientific independence. I am sure that Lord Rothschild is wrong in paragraph 54 of his Report. I am sure it continues to be of paramount importance, if we are to attract the right kind of scientist, that there should be scientific independence.


My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, may I ask him, bearing in mind his great knowledge of the Agricultural Research Council, whether he thinks that the proportion of 80 per cent. basic research to 20 per cent. applied research is roughly right?


My Lords, my figures were 20 per cent. applied research, and as to the 80 per cent., the actual description I gave was of fundamental or strategic research. Noble Lords can see in the brief picture I gave of the old virus research station that a great deal of this work is not basic, but it is applied in Africa, in Asia and in South America. Therefore it is strategic, but only 20 per cent. is applied.


My Lords, if I may intervene for a moment, I think the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, gave the figure of 20 per cent. applied in the harshest and most simple sense of the word "applied", the rest being spread over the whole board.


My Lords, I made my opening observation on this point and it came very close to the figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, namely 25:75.


Thank you, my Lords, I find myself in good company.

9.16 p.m.


My Lords, I should be grateful if this high-powered dialogue could continue, because I have sat here this afternoon listening to the contributions made by distinguished Members of your Lordships' House and the few points that I had have all gradually disappeared. However, as I very much disapprove of speeches being read in this place I have taken the trouble to learn mine by heart, and unless I say what I have learned I shall not get through at all. So I apologise in advance, and the record will now start. I have a great aunt who is 93 and who is very lively still. Recently she told me about a conversation that she had in the last century. It was after Mass—many of my relations were Roman Catholics in those days—and the Holy Father turned to her and said, "My child, this man Darwin—if you believe any of his teachings you are committing a mortal sin". My Lords, I know that whatever I say to-day is bound to be considered impertinent, and in spite of the great tolerance towards youth shown by the noble Lord, Lord Snow, I am sure that after his moving speech he will perhaps not wish to see me, and indeed possibly not to speak to me again.




But, my Lords, I have detected a strong similarity between the reaction of the Churches—or some Christians—to Darwin and the reaction of some of the scientific community to the proposals in the Rothschild Report. I can claim to have no special knowledge or qualifications to speak in this debate, except that I have no special interest to protect or preserve. I have no knowledge of science, basic, applied or whatever, but I am interested in the processes of Government and in the way that Government is or is not responsive to the needs of the people. It is from that angle that I should like to make a few comments.

From some of the comments made in the Press and elsewhere one would think that there was this lapsed, heretical basic research worker—a sort of Martin Luther Rothschild—who had been unleashed on the scientific establishment, who was opposed to all basic research and who thought all Research Councils were bad. I hold no brief for Lord Rothschild—he is well able to look after himself—but, studying what in fact he has said, I ask whether it is not more likely that he is implying that the Research Councils are good but could be better from the national point of view. So much of the comment on the recommendations in the Rothschild Report has been distorted or twisted or has omitted important considerations. For example, to-day in your Lordships' debate very little mention has been made of the research surcharge, which would surely give great freedom to the commissioned agency. Again, there is the reinforcement of the scientific Civil Service: surely this is a worthwhile idea, but very little comment has been made about it.

I should like now to say a word about accountability, because I think this is an important point, and I would follow on from what my noble relative Lord Waldegrave said. As I understand the present position, under the auspices of the Secretary of State for Education and Science there are presented to Parliament reports, historical accounts and records of what the individual Research Councils have done. They are retrospective; they look backwards. And quite understandably, because the umbrella of her Department's responsibility goes so wide that the practice has grown up of her not being answerable for the expenditure of the individual Research Councils. In contrast to that situation, as I understand it, the recommendations of the Rothschild Report are these: that the individual and different Ministers would become accountable to Parliament for the research and development commissioned by their Departments, and they would be able to explain the decisions that had been taken by them and their Departments, partly because they had a reinforced scientific Civil Service and partly because the decisions had been implemented and formulated with the help of that strengthened scientific Civil Service. I should have thought that that was an improvement on the present position.

Again, on the vexed question of the alleged principle of the customer/contractor relationship—I do not think it is a principle, but the extension of an idea—I of course have no experience that is relevant to a scientific field, but I would just offer, very humbly, as, if not the man in the street the Peer in the corridor, an example. I have recently engaged an architect; I have an approximate budget in mind and I have a fairly specific objective. But I do not know what makes walls stand up or fall down, and I do not know what makes good or bad foundations. Although there is a contractual element, in that we had a legally binding interchange of letters, the actual objective will or will not be achieved by a series of continuing discussions in which we evolve towards the practical objective. And, of course, experts on my side, such as solicitors, and on his, such as surveyors, are called in. I do not think this is a particularly degrading relationship, nor, so far as I can see, does he. If this is applicable to the fields which we are talking about to-day, I cannot see the objections to it. But perhaps there is something sacred about science in this respect. I may be wrong. I think it would be better if Parliament and Ministers answerable to Parliament were able to give to the nation more account of the Government's spending in these fields, and I think that the Rothschild proposals would help in that direction.

Many of your Lordships will have noted the beginning of the Dainton Report in which it says: Yet we have good hope, that what is here presented, and hath been … with great diligence examined and approved, will be also well accepted and approved by all sober, peaceable and truly conscientious … sons. I do not know about that. But that intrigued me, and I spent some time, as there was no parallel to it, in thinking of quotations to introduce the Rothschild Report. I rejected one from the Book of Job which says: … the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. I came down in the end to a very small emendation of a poem by Marvell which would go: Had we but World enough, and time, This coyness Dainton were no crime ". I thought, although it suggests an unfair degree of overlap between the two Reports, and suggests that the territories covered by the two are similar or comparable whereas in fact they are almost complementary, that it strikes the right note, especially considering the speeches we have had in your Lordships' House to-day and the speech of the noble Lord who immediately preceded me. There is too much assumption perhaps in some circles that everything is all right, and I am not quite sure that we have "world enough and time …".


I wonder whether the noble Lord could answer me one question?


I doubt it.


Would he prefer Government research into the means of eliminating lead from vehicle exhausts to be paid for and administrered by the Transport Industries Division of the Department or by the Science Research Council and the Natural Environment Research Council?


My Lords, I would ask the noble Lord to advise me which would be more likely to succeed, and I would support that.


My Lords, I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned until to-morrow.

Moved, That the debate be now adjourned until to-morrow.—(Lord Sandford.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.