HL Deb 16 November 1972 vol 336 cc822-41

3.43 p.m.


, My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The purpose of this Bill is to transfer the activities of the Atomic Energy Authority's Weapons Group, together with its associated property, rights and so on—in practice, the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston and its outstations—from the Authority to the Ministry of Defence.

I should like to say right at the outset that the Bill does not involve any change in responsibility for nuclear weapons policy, but I will return to that point later. Perhaps I may begin by reminding your Lordships of the arrangements for nuclear weapons research and development in the United Kingdom.

After the last war, this kind of work was first undertaken in part of what is now the Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment. However, the work demanded extensive and highly specialised facilities, and so a separate research and development establishment—the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment—was set up at Aldermaston. And in 1954 this establishment was transferred to the newly created Atomic Energy Authority, where it formed the basis for the Weapons Group. This now comprises not only Aldermaston but also a sizeable outstation at Foulness, and a few very small units mostly in the Aldermaston area. The main task of the Group, some four-fifths of its total effort, is research, development and production work on explosive nuclear devices for use in nuclear weapons; but the Group also undertakes some civil nuclear work as part of the Authority's programme, as well as some non-nuclear work on behalf of various Government Departments and outside customers.

As your Lordships know well, the problem of how best to organise Defence procurement has been with us for a great many years. When we came into office we set up a Project Team under Mr. Derek Rayner to study this problem, and its recommendations were published in a White Paper in April, 1971. The fundamental recommendation was that Defence procurement activities should be brought together into a single organisation within the Ministry of Defence; and this has been implemented by the setting up of the Procurement Executive inside my Department, embracing all aspects of Defence procurement from research through to production. An essential feature of the new organisation, to which I attach great importance, was the bringing together into the same organisation of all the Research and Development establishments concerned with defence. Apart from simplifying the policy control and direction, this has enabled a start to be made on rationalising the facilities and resources of the various establishments, and we are at present engaged in con- sultations with the staff associations and unions on our proposals for the first stage of rationalisation.

One of Mr. Rayner's recommendations was that the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment should be brought within my Department. Following consultation with the Atomic Energy Authority during the summer of 1971, to see how best the functions of the A.W.R.E. could be rationalised with those of the other research and development establishments, the Government decided that this could be effected only if the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment were brought under the same management as the other establishments. I accordingly told your Lordships, in my Statement on August 5, last year, of our decision to transfer the A.W.R.E. to the Ministry of Defence. This Bill is to give the effect to that decision. Perhaps I may very briefly explain to your Lordships the principal provisions of the Bill.

Clause 1 gives effect to the main purpose of the Bill, and it provides that from the appointed day those activities of the Weapons Group which involve work on explosive nuclear devices will be carried out by the Ministry of Defence and not by the Authority, unless the Authority is specifically authorised or a contract placed with it to do such work. It also transfers the property and so on—everything connected with the property—of the Group to the Secretary of State for Defence, with the exception of patents and other industrial property to which I will return later.

Clause 2 deals with the effects of the transfer on the people at present employed in the Weapons Group. We want all the people engaged on work now performed by the Weapons Group to continue their jobs in the Ministry of Defence, and this clause terminates their contracts of employment with the Authority and enables them to be taken into the Civil Service. There have been consultations with the Civil Service Commission and I can say that all the Weapons Group employees will be offered immediate and continuing employment in the Civil Service.

My officials have been consulting with the staff and trade union representatives about the terms and conditions of service for staff who will be transferred, and I am happy to say that good progress has been made towards reaching agreement. Some adjustments to present terms and conditions will be necessary, but the general principle will be maintained that, taken as a whole, terms and conditions after the transfer shall be no less favourable than those provided for in existing contracts.

The terms and conditions of non-industrial staff in the Authority and Civil Service are already very similar in many respects. There are, however, certain differences, the most important of which concern superannuation and retiring age. The Authority's main pension schemes, unlike that of the Civil Service, are contributory; non-industrial staff pay contributions at the rate of 6 per cent. of their salary, and to allow for this their salaries are in general 7 per cent. higher than in the Civil Service. This means that their net pay is marginally higher—about one-half of 1 per cent.—and also that their pensions, being based on gross pay, are 7 per cent. higher. At the same time, the normal minimum retiring age for men is 65 instead of 60. We have therefore agreed that non-industrial staff should be able to remain in the Authority's pension scheme, with the associated pay and retiring age provisions, if they so wish. Clause 2 provides the necessary powers; and I should like to add the assurance that there is no question of staff who opt to stay in the Authority's scheme being compelled at some future date to change to the Civil Service scheme.

The case of industrial employees is rather different. Their pay and grading structure has evolved on different lines from that of the industrial Civil Service, and we are examining this to ensure that the transfer from one structure to the other goes smoothly. Where the rate for the job in the Industrial Civil Service is higher, those concerned will get the benefit; in other cases, existing pay rates will be retained until they are overtaken. Understandings have been reached between my Department and trade union representatives on these and other conditions of service. Clause 2 also preserves the powers of Authority constables who are transferred with the Weapons Group and taken into the Civil Service.

My Lords, Clause 5, together with the Schedule, deals with the principles governing the exchange of information covered by patents and other technical information between the Secretary of State and the Authority. In general, the Bill leaves the ownership of existing patents and technical information with the Authority. This is because it has been found impracticable to segregate those patents which are relevant to the Weapons Group from those relevant to the civil activities of the Authority. There is, however, an important exception made under paragraph 3 of the Schedule, which is that information relating to explosive nuclear devices will become the property of the Ministry of Defence. But the Authority will be required to make available to the Secretary of State such facilities as he may need for the use of the patents remaining the property of the Authority. On the other side of the coin, the Bill also provides for access by the Authority to information of which custody and control will pass to the Ministry of Defence with the transfer of the Weapons Group. I think this is an important point, as the Government are anxious to ensure that the transfer of the Weapons Group does not impede the exploitation by the Authority of peaceful applications of nuclear energy.

Clause 6 is a logical consequence of the decision to transfer A.W.R.E. and its activities away from the Authority. The Authority's powers under the Atomic Energy Authority Act 1954 to produce, use and dispose of atomic energy and to carry out research were subject to the restriction that they were not permitted to develop or to produce any weapon or part of a weapon except in accordance with arrangements made with the then Minister of Supply and now with the Secretary of State for Defence. However, Section 2(2) of the 1954 Act empowered the Authority to conduct on their own initiative experimental work which might lead to improved types of explosive nuclear assemblies for use in weapons. Now that the responsibility for carrying out all work on explosive nuclear devices and the facilities for undertaking it are to be put into my Department, this power is now redundant and is repealed by Clause 6. Additionally, Clause 6 widens the prohibition placed on the Authority, in that it provides that they are not to undertake any work on explosive nuclear devices, whether for warlike applications or otherwise, except in accordance with arrangements made with the Secretary of State.

My Lords, I will not dwell on the financial arrangements which are the subject of Clause 8, except to say that the net cost to public funds will be affected by the Bill only to the extent that, as I explained in dealing with Clause 2, there are some differences in the terms and conditions of service of employees of the Atomic Energy Authority and those of the Civil Service. Since negotiations are still in progress I cannot put a figure to this, but it seems unlikely that the cost will increase by more than £200,000 a year.

My Lords, perhaps I may end by making some rather more general comments. First, I hope that the transfer can take effect from April 1, 1973, both for organisational reasons and so that we can end the uncertainties for the staffs concerned. Following my Statement on August 5, 1971, it was suggested that to place the production of warheads for nuclear weapons directly under the control of the Secretary of State for Defence, and no longer under a separate Minister responsible to the Cabinet for nuclear matters generally, raises a point of constitutional significance. I think that this criticism overlooks the fact that in this very important area the responsibility for policy has been, and under the proposed new arrangements will continue to be, a collective responsibility of Her Majesty's Government. This applies as much to decisions on the nuclear weapons programme as to decisions on strategy, and this responsibility would in no way be lessened by the measures now proposed.

The Secretary of State for Defence is, and will continue to be, the departmental Minister responsible for giving effect to the Government's approved policy. At present, the development and production by A.W.R.E. of nuclear warheads required for the weapons programme is carried out under contracts placed by the Ministry of Defence with the Authority. After the transfer this will become a matter for direct management within the Ministry of Defence. In other words, there will be a change in the administrative methods, but no change in the essen- tial responsibility. The work of the Weapons Group is predominantly military, and I am quite sure that it is right to bring it into the Ministry of Defence along with the other Defence research and development establishments, and under a single management organisation. It is only in this way that we can so use our resources as to meet the needs of Defence programmes in the most efficient and flexible way.

But in stressing the predominantly military nature of A.W.R.E. I am by no means overlooking the considerable contribution which it has made to basic nuclear technology, nor the extent to which the skills and special facilities at Aldermaston have been used to great advantage in some aspects of the civil nuclear power programme. Civil work at present carried out at A.W.R.E. accounts for about a fifth of the establishment's effort. Part of this is devoted to the Authority's research and development programme on the fast breeder reactor, most of which, of course, is carried out in the Authority's Reactor Group.

I can assure your Lordships that this work, together with the other civil work at A.W.R.E., will continue uninterrupted: the expertise and facilities at A.W.R.E. will be made available to the Authority and the Department of Trade and Industry under contracts which they will place with the Ministry of Defence. I am particularly concerned that my Department should maintain close relations with the Authority and the Department of Trade and Industry, just as it has in the past in connection with the military programme. All we are doing is simply reversing the present contractor-customer roles. Your Lordships may wonder about the effect that this transfer will have on the remainder of the Authority, and I can say here that the remaining part of the Authority—that is, the Reactor and Research Groups and the Safety and Reliability Directorate—will retain a vital role in the further development of nuclear reactors and other civil applications of nuclear research.

Finally, perhaps I may remind your Lordships that at the end of the last Session my noble friend Lord Alport urged Her Majesty's Government to ensure that in the present Session an appropriate number of Bills should be introduced in this House; and I recall that this proposi- tion received a wide measure of support. My Lords, this Bill is my contribution to meeting the wishes of the House, and I hope—though I doubt it—that it will earn your Lordships' gratitude and will be given an unqualified welcome. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

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

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, picking up the last point of the Secretary of State's speech, I am certain that the House is grateful for the acceptance of its view, expressed so forcefully, that the early introduction of important legislation should take place more frequently than in the past. This has its disadvantages because I have been pitchforked in at a late stage and at rather short notice to reply to the Secretary of State on this Bill. The Bill itself is of interest. Of course, as he said, it does not come in any way as a surprise. It was recommended by Mr. Rayner and foreshadowed by the Secretary of State himself last August. As I myself said in the House, I think that the new system of procurement for weapons and other forms of defence equipment is to be welcomed. So far as I can see at this moment the new system is working well. I personally have no criticism of it.

But having said that, there are one or two questions that I should like to put to the Secretary of State at this stage. The time scale seems to have slipped a little. The Rayner Report, so far as I can recall, suggested that this transfer of the Weapons Group should take place on April 1, 1972. It is now taking place in April 1973. The complex negotiations with the Civil Service, or, rather, with the employees of the Atomic Energy Authority relating to their transfer to the Civil Service, seem to have dragged on. Again, my information, although it may be imprecise, is that some of the key negotiations were started only on the 2nd of this month. So, perhaps, when he replies the Secretary of State might indicate where the friction and difficulties have come about in the transfer of the Weapons Group to the Civil Service and to the Secretary of State's own Department. I know how difficult these things are and I am not making a big thing of it, but there seems to have been some slip.

Taking the list of clauses that the Secretary of State mentioned, may I ask one question on the transfer of the out-station at Foulness? Is this out-station going to remain at Foulness or, when the great airport is established, will it have to go somewhere else? My own recollection is that it lies to the North of the airport and therefore could remain undisturbed. But I think that noble Lords would like to know about that. Clause 4 deals with personnel. May I say that I have one or two probing Amendments to put down at the Committee stage? I am certain that the various issues are not of first importance; nevertheless, I think that a public clarification of the situation would be welcomed by the thousands of people concerned in their transfer. I have heard that negotiations are going reasonably satisfactorily but a statement in this House is always helpful.

I turn to patents. Perhaps I might link that interesting subject with a question which I think is of importance and which relates to the whole of the financial implications for the Defence budget, of the transfer of this very substantial organisation from the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority to the Defence budget. I believe that we are reaching a critical stage in the financing of our defence programme. I touched on this matter last week and I will raise it again on the Order which I think we are to discuss on Tuesday next. I think it might be useful to do so then. But certain important new weapon systems are coming into being. If we talk about comparability, if the Serviceman is to be paid the equivalent of his counterpart in civilian life (as he now is) this very labour-intensive activity will cost a great deal more just in paying the troops. At the same time, the cost of the advanced technology that we must have if we are to achieve our defence aims will go up. So we are now transferring 5,700 individuals plus, presumably, a great deal of production costs to the Defence budget from whatever budget covers the Atomic Energy Authority. I hope that this transfer will not, as it were, be forced into a straitjacket and result in a reduced amount of resources required for defence. During the last debate, the noble Baroness. Lady Tweedsmuir, pulled my leg on this. I stand unabashed by what I said then. I think it is of importance and per contra I am hoping that a share of any of the earnings that may come from the patents which apparently remain with the Atomic Energy Authority will come as appropriation in aid against the expenses arising from the transfer of this large establishment.

My Lords, those are really the only points that I have to make. There is no doubt that the work done by the Weapons Group and the Atomic Energy Authority has kept this country in the forefront of technical advance—though perhaps we have not used the knowledge that we have acquired as wisely as we might. Nevertheless, the very great nuclear energy programme that we have undertaken in this country—and some extremely interesting other research work has been done as a result of studies here—is of tremendous importance to our standing in the world as a nation capable of understanding and executing advanced technology. I am glad that the cross-fertilisation of ideas between the Weapons Group and the rest of the Authority will continue. I am glad that the Secretary of State has given this assurance which I am sure will be welcome by everybody working in the Authority as a whole.

4.6 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that when the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, says that the introduction of this Bill into your Lordships' House is something for which we should be grateful, we are grateful. But I hope that the noble Lord does not really mean that, because we are grateful to him for bringing the Bill first to this House, we are therefore not allowed to discuss it. He suggested that we ought to give it an unimpeded Second Reading because we are so grateful for his action in bringing it here. I believe that our best way of showing gratitude is to show that we take the Bill seriously and are prepared to discuss it in depth.

This particular Bill is one which at first sight seems quite reasonable; but I wonder whether, when we look at it carefully, it is really such a reasonable Bill. We used to have an Atomic Energy Authority. That Atomic Energy Authority has been split up. We have had a Nuclear Installations Act, which separated the nuclear installations part from the Atomic Energy Authority. We now have this Bill dealing with the weapons side, removing the weapons side from the Atomic Energy Authority. One of the great advantages of having a single overall Authority to deal with all atomic energy is that the whole of it is really one field.

The noble Lord said that in this Bill—and we see it when we look at the details of the Bill—any matter dealing with explosive nuclear energy is to be removed from the Atomic Energy Authority and brought under his own Ministry. This is a very queer sort of decision; because in one sense all atomic energy is explosive. One can set a certain defined limit: one can say that when the reproduction rate is less than 1 it means that you do not get an explosion; and that when it is greater than 1 you do get an explosion. This is a question of the chain length of atomic reaction. But this is a very arbitrary way of dealing with the whole matter. Supposing that we had decided to deal with the burning of eases in this way and were to say that any gaseous mixture that exploded was to be the business of the Defence Ministry; whereas any gaseous mixture which did not explode should be dealt with in some other Ministry. We should end up with a ludicrous situation because, after all, every motor car engine has an explosive mixture in it, and in fact progresses by a series of explosions inside the engine. So this is a very queer way of separating off a particular field of work. It is certainly reasonable to say that it is the business of the Ministry to be dealing with actual weapons. But this goes far beyond dealing with actual weapons; this deals with the whole study of all those matters which concern atomic explosion. This, in all rational procedure, would surely be the business of the Atomic Energy Authority, and to separate this arbitrarily from the Atomic Energy Authority and put it under the Ministry of Defence is I believe a retrograde step. I think it a move entirely in the wrong direction.

My Lords, when one is dealing with the application of scientific work to weapons it is important to realise that most of the essential basic scientific work comes not from the weapons side but from the investigation of the scientific problem itself; in other words, it is the Atomic Energy Authority which should, and probably will, supply most of the ideas. The noble Lord neatly inverted the whole position at the end when he said that he was going to have the consumer/contractor basis reversed. Exactly, my Lords. But what has he done? He has turned it not into a consumer/contractor basis at all, but rather on to the basis that it is the consumer who also does the contracting. In other words, the Ministry of Defence, the consumer, is now also to be the contractor. This is the exact opposite of what is meant by the consumer/contractor basis. I submit that the real purpose of the Bill and its effect has not in the least been made clear. It seems that it is an attempt to take a substantial amount of work and put it under the particular Ministry which likes to feel that it will have control.

During the war I spent some years in a Government Department working exactly in this kind of way. I was at the Royal Aircraft Establishment which was responsible for those matters which concerned military aircraft. It can be said that anyone had access to what they did, but that is quite untrue. You had access to what was done in the Royal Aircraft Establishment only if you were engaged on military work; if you were engaged on producing either aircraft for military purposes or anything concerned with aircraft for military purposes. This, so far from making the work better, made it worse. It inhibited development because, by restricting it in this way, the proper flow of information from the industrial and scientific bodies concerned with main development to the Royal Aircraft Establishment was never really fruitful.

It is true that the Royal Aircraft Establishment was usually able to get the information it wanted, but it was very difficult for bodies outside the Royal Aircraft Establishment to get hold of the information which was in the Establishment. That could have been useful for civil aircraft but it was not made available. It was only after the war when there was a deliberate attempt to break this down that any real progress was made. I think that the Royal Aircraft Establishment has improved enormously by being less of a military establishment than it used to be. It did excellent work at the time of the Comet disaster. A special tank was set up for investigating how the Comet had failed. And recently excellent work has been done on the "Concorde" development. But these are things which are being done not as military projects at all but as civil projects, and I submit that the attempt to separate the military from the civil in this way will be very much to the disadvantage of both.

My Lords, there are two other points that I should like to mention. The noble Lord has explained to us that the position of the staff will be properly safeguarded and I am prepared to accept what he says. But I would ask whether he has an assurance from the unions concerned that they are satisfied, because this is a very important matter. If the unions are not satisfied there may be some difficulties. The second point I would raise concerns safety. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, will remember that when the Atomic Energy Authority Bill was before your Lordships' House I raised the question of the safety of installations and asked to what extent the unit inside the Authority would in future be concerned with the safety of installations. As the noble Lord will remember, he gave assurances at the time which I was glad to have. But, as I pointed out to him then, I did not feel that they were as satisfactory as actually writing them into the Act. I believe this to be an important question because over a number of years the Atomic Energy Authority has had a unit at work dealing with safety in connection with nuclear work of all types, and they have an immense amount of expertise. When one separates off different parts of the work from the Atomic Energy Authority one ought to make certain that the services of that unit are fully available to any other body which is set up. I believe that where one has, for instance, nuclear installations in the country, it ought to be compulsory for them to consult this unit. That is not so at present, and I think that it should be. I believe, also, that if one is to have what at the moment I do not approve of—that is, the separation of the weapon section from it—in the same way there ought to be this same unit responsible for nuclear security.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, I would not want to oppose this proposal to transfer the Weapons Group from the Atomic Energy Commission to the Ministry of Defence; frankly, I do not know enough about the techniques of the matter to express a very competent view. But I would join with the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, in asking the Minister to explain in a little more detail, if he can, what was the actual compelling motive, the underlying reason for this, on the face of it, rational and logical reorganisation. Perhaps I got him wrong but I think I heard him say that the responsibility for giving the green light to any new development in the field of atomic weapons and new devices is collective—just as is the policy and strategy in the use of atomic power. Also that under the existing arrangements his Department was quite competent to see that the new kind of devices were what they wanted; that the general policy to be pursued was his, and that he was in any case in a position to give effect to it. If that is so, my Lords, why was it necessary to proceed with what is, after all, a rather complicated and difficult transfer involving all kinds of details—Service pensions, and goodness knows what?

Secondly I should like to ask, and in this I think I can follow the noble Lord. Lord Wynne-Jones: was there any material opposition to this proposal? Were the Atomic Energy Commission themselves happy about it? Or was any view expressed on the general lines of Lord Wynne-Jones's suggestion, that perhaps it might be better to leave things as they are; that the existing system is not necessarily inefficient; that you could make an equally good case, or almost an equally good case, for letting atomic energy be developed as a whole rather than splitting it up into its war weapons and its peaceful components? I cannot venture a definite opinion myself, but I think it might be in the general interest if the noble Lord could come a little cleaner on these rather fundamental questions.

4.21 p.m.


My Lords, as someone who has links with a laboratory that has had the privilege of using some of the research and some of the work done by the Atomic Energy Authority, I should like to pay tribute to the Atomic Energy Authority for the research work it has done in the field of radioactive isotopes and in other fields that are used in biochemistry and medicine. When I uttered a "Hear, hear!" as the Minister was speaking, he hinted that the peaceful uses of the atom would still go on as before. But Lord Sherfield's book on the future of atomic energy, which he was kind enough to present to the Library of your Lordships' House, puts forward certain caveats and other things at which we should be looking.

To say, "I would put forward this warning", might sound a little too pompous and didactic, so let me put it interrogatively. Are we likely to recruit the same quality of scientific experts to the Atomic Energy Weapons Division as we should to the whole atomic energy body if it were kept as one group? There is a growing resentment among many scientists in the world at the particularisation of atomic energy merely on the explosives side. I do not wish to repeat questions that have already been put by noble Lords, but there are certain questions to be asked. I think this is a good opportunity to pay tribute to the Atomic Energy Authority for the work they have done in the field of medicine and biochemistry to help people in research and for some first-class cures that have been made possible as a result of their work.

4.23 p.m.


My Lords, unlike my noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones, I am not a professor of science. Where affairs in Essex are concerned, I am merely one of the locals. I want, very naïvely and innocently, to ask a question, and I hope that the answer will clarify my present state of mind. The word "Foulness" has sprung up again in a new guise. I had a few words to say a year or so ago in its old connotation in connection with the airport. Clause 1 of this Bill deals with the atomic aspect of Foulness. It does not mention the Shoeburyness military experimental establishment. I should like to know whether the non-atomic part of the Shoeburyness experimental establishment is to be taken over. I presume not. Will the atomic element in the Foulness establishment remain there when the airport is open? My noble friend Lord Winterbottom has touched on this point, and I think it is important that we should have a reply from the Minister.

My Lords, it was my educational pleasure a year or two ago to go round Foulness, properly escorted, of course, and what I saw happen there during one minute of my visit rather startled me, and would probably startle a pilot who was coming down to land on the new Foulness Airport. So I am asking whether, when the airport is ready, this atomic portion of Foulness Island will be transferred to some other place. Incidentally, I might ask at the same time when the Shoeburyness experimental establishment is to be transferred. And will this new proposal contained in the Bill have any effect in delaying the construction of the airport?

4.25 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps I might first of all associate myself with the tribute paid by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, to the Atomic Energy Authority for what they have done in the peaceful uses of atomic energy. I think we should all join in that tribute. Certainly it is the intention of my Ministry to co-operate, to collaborate and to offer the facilites at Aldermaston in exactly the same measure as they have been offered in the past when the establishment has always had to cope partly with the military side and partly with the peaceful side of nuclear energy.

My Lords, let me try to answer some of the questions that have been put to me by various noble Lords. It is perfectly true, as the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, said, that the time-scale slipped; indeed, this Bill is exactly one year later than we had hoped it would be. The delay has nothing to do with the negotiations, but is entirely due to the legislative programme last Session. If your Lordships recall sitting most of the time through the Summer Recess, you will appreciate that to have imposed the present Bill upon that legislative programme would have ensured that it would receive an even more wintery reception than it has had, I am sad to say, from some of your Lordships this afternoon. I think we should have had to carry out the negotiations very much more quickly with the staff side and the unions than we have done. But there have been some quite difficult points to resolve. I can assure your Lordships that, apart from some comparatively minor points, there is nothing outstanding which has not been agreed. I believe that the assurance I have given this afternoon about employment, pensions and so on, together with a letter that I have written earlier to-day, should meet the very proper anxieties of those who work in the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment.

Both the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, and the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, asked about the out-station at Foulness. This, as noble Lords will realise, is quite unaffected by the Bill. The Bill does not do anything about the out-stations: all it does is to transfer their management to the Ministry of Defence. There is no nuclear testing going on at Foulness. But of course we are examining whether or not the high explosives which are used in conjunction with the nuclear programme are really compatible in that location with a new airport; whether it will be necessary to move it, and if so, to where. I would only remind your Lordships (the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, knows that the Shoeburyness station is going to be moved) that if by a decision on the siting of the Third London Airport you make it impossible to leave the Shoeburyness station or the Foulness station, about which we are talking here, at that place, then it is necessary to re-locate them somewhere else. I hope your Lordships will understand that if we are to have defence forces in this country there must be ranges where there can be testing and experiment.

I perhaps understand even better than the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, the pressures that there are on the Defence Budget, and in particular the increasing proportion of the Defence Budget which is spent on personnel rather than equipment. This is something which is affecting the Defence Budgets of every country in the West, but, of course, for obvious reasons, does not affect the countries of the Warsaw Pact in the East. This is something about which we shall increasingly have to be concerned, and I shall be glad to have a debate with the noble Lord about it next Tuesday. But, in so far as his concern is that the inclusion in the Ministry of Defence of the A.W.R.E. will have an effect on the Defence Budget, I am glad to tell him that this is not so, because we already pay for it; it is already on the Defence Budget, and does not have any effect on it except in so far as the different terms and conditions of service will increase it by, as I think I said, about £200,000 a year.

The noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, and to a lesser extent the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, questioned the whole principle upon which this Bill is based. I confess that I start from an entirely different standpoint. I start from the standpoint of the Minister who has to run a Defence Budget of some £3,000 million a year and get value for money. A very laree part of the money—not perhaps such a large part as we should like—is spent on research and development and production. I do not believe it is possible to use economically the resources which I have at my disposal at the Ministry of Defence unless I am actually managing all the establishments where there is research and development and production for the Armed Services. For me, this makes an absolutely unanswerable case for transferring the A.W.R.E. to the Ministry of Defence, where four-fifths of its production—an enormous proportion—is on defence equipment. For my part, I regard it as absolutely essential, if we are to control the Defence Budget, to rationalise and to run things sensibly, that the Minister in charge of Defence should have the management of these out-stations.

I was rather interested to see that the noble Lord should have chosen the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough as the example with which he hoped to beat me, because I am wholly responsible for the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, and the noble Lord, if I understood him rightly, was praising the civilian work that that Establishment does. My Lords, I see no difference between the Royal Aircraft Establishment and the proposals which are in this Bill about the A.W.R.E. I assure him, if such assurance is necessary, once again that the civilian side of the A.W.R.E. at Aldermaston will go on in exactly the same measure as it has done in the past, with the co-operation of the Ministry of Defence. Does the noble Lord wish to interrupt?


I thank the noble Lord. My point was that the A.W.R.E. used to be entirely a military establishment, and since the last war it has moved more towards civilian work. This, I think, is a very good thing and I can only hope that under the noble Lord's direction the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment will also move in the same direction.


My Lords, I do not know that it will move in the same direction, because 20 per cent. of the work done there is already civilian work, and I should not like to see any decrease in the proportion of the work done for the Ministry of Defence when such work needs to be done. But, as I have told the noble Lord, I have every intention of seeing that the civilian work goes on in exactly the same measure as in the past.

I forgot to say earlier to the noble Lord that there is no intention of trying to stifle discussion on this Bill. I was merely trying to congratulate the Government, and in particular myself, on having honoured a pledge to bring in a Bill at the start of a Session. However, having sat in this House for many years now, I am not so foolish as to suppose that a remark of that kind would stifle any kind of discussion that your Lordships might wish to have.

The noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, asked me two other questions: first of all, whether the unions were satisfied. I think I answered that point in my reply to the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom. There have been some difficult negotiations, but I think that they are pretty well all right now. I can assure him that the safety arrangements will be exactly the same and that we shall have the same call on all these safety arrangements as we have now. I think I answered just now the point raised by the noble Lord. Lord Gladwyn; I do not think I need to "come cleaner". I have told him why I wanted the A.W.R.E. to become part of the Ministry of Defence: because it seemed to me straightforward and logical. There was nothing wicked or underhand about it, and I hope he will feel that—


My Lords, I was not suggesting that for a moment. All I was saying was that I understood from the noble Lord's speech that at the moment he had complete control of this weapons group. Therefore, if he had complete control at present as regards production and so on, what was the real necessity for transferring it? Really, I only asked a question.


My Lords, the reason is because I do not manage the group. It is managed by the Atomic Energy Authority. All I want to do is to manage it, because I spend the money, and it is spent largely on defence equipment. This is the whole purpose of the Bill.

My Lords, I said at the outset that I hoped the Bill would have the unqualified support of your Lordships. Of the noble Lords who have spoken, none gave it unqualified support, but perhaps I may take it that on the whole your Lordships, with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, accept the principle of the Bill; and no doubt we can debate during the Committee stage some of the other points that have been raised by your Lordships this afternoon.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the whole House.