HL Deb 15 February 1982 vol 427 cc371-414

3.33 p.m.

Lord Sherfield rose to call attention to the First Report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology on Science and Government, and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. The report which I am introducing to your Lordships today is the first report in this Session of the Select Committee on Science and Technology. It deals with the provision and co-ordination of scientific advice to the Government or, in other words, the way in which the Government receive and take advice on policies for science and how effectively the system is working. It was with some hesitation that the committee embarked upon this inquiry. It is a well trodden path through an extensive jungle in which it is easy to get bogged down or deflected into side paths. Many experienced feet have trodden this path: Lord Trend's, Lord Rothschild's to name only two; and in the related field of scientific manpower, Dainton's, Holdgate's and others.

The Select Committee on Science and Technology in another place in 1976 made a report and recommendations and received the Government's reply in 1977. In 1979 the Government published as a Command Paper a Review of the Framework for Government Research and Development. The committee were aware of the opinion expressed in this Command Paper that none of the arrangements for the provision of scientific advice was working so badly as to require a substantial change, but they were equally aware of considerable disquiet in the scientific community and elsewhere about these arrangements and they therefore decided to chance their arm and take the subject on board.

The committee first set out to define the field of inquiry. They decided to concentrate mainly on the way in which the Government ensure that their policies take account of scientific and technological considerations and respond to changes and developments in both fields. They decided not to tackle the question of technology assessment, but to regard it as a subject for possible future inquiry.

There was at the outset some criticism that the terms of reference mentioned only science and that this implied a preoccupation with pure science as against technology and engineering. The committee were at pains to make it clear that they were concerned with science and technology, that their terms of reference were not to be narrowly interpreted, and that no application of the sciences was excluded from their inquiry. The committee—and I quote: regrets that the artificial distinction between basic and applied science has become a central tenet of scientific organisation even though the reasons for this distinction are well understood". Nowadays the influence of science and technology is, or should be, felt in the great majority of policy decisions and programmes, and the best possible advice should therefore be available to and heeded by the policy makers. So much by way of preamble.

At this point I wish to record my thanks to our many witnesses of distinction and experience who devoted much valuable time to giving us oral and written evidence. Then I want to mention in particular our specialist adviser Dr. Peter Warren, Deputy Executive Secretary of the Royal Society, and our Clerk. Without them this report would not have appeared, or, if it had appeared, would not have been nearly so well written. I should like also to thank the members of the committee for their support and on occasion for their forbearance. I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, are overseas and cannot take part in this debate this afternoon.

Perhaps I might also be permitted to refer sadly to the death of the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder. Although not a member of the committee he took a keen interest in its work and attended at least one meeting. He would have made an outstanding contribution to our discussion today. He will be greatly missed in your Lordships' House. I wish also to refer to the untimely death of Dr. Alfred Spinks. His valuable evidence to the committee must have been one of his last public acts. He was very helpful earlier to the Select Committee on the European Communities over a report on Community research into biotechnology; and nothing seemed to be too much trouble for him. His death is a grave loss to British science, to industry, and to the country as a whole.

Before coming to the recommendations of the committee, I will attempt a highly simplified, introductory historical account. The Haldane system, set up in 1918, provided that a Minister without Portfolio, the Lord President (and later the Lord Privy Seal), should be responsible for the Research Councils and the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. It was a centralised system and lasted in substance for many years. Then from 1961 to 1964 there was a Minister for Science: the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham (as he then was), with a small staff which took over the function in relation to science and technology hitherto performed by the Lord President, including the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. This worked remarkably well. A strong Minister, with too small a staff to be able to perform the double banking which is the bane of most nationalised industries, was an excellent recipe for the times.

In 1962 a committee under Lord Trend was set up to consider and recommend on the political control and administration of science and technology. This report recommended changes of organisation on the basic and on the applied side. The recommendation on the basic side was put into effect by the Science and Technology Act 1965, which brigaded science with the Ministry of Education and remains to this day substantially unchanged. His recommendations on the applied side, admirably conceived, were burnt up in the white heat of Sir Harold Wilson's technological revolution, and rose from the ashes in the shape of the Ministry of Technology.

With the demise of that monstrous department, the organisation of the applied side remained fragmented and decentralised. The main responsibility for research and development devolved on the departments —a process accelerated and strengthened as a result of the Rothschild Report of 1971 on which the Government acted in 1972. The Lord Privy Seal still retained some authority on the applied side and was the titular chairman of the Advisory Committee on Applied Research and Development—"ACARD" for short—when that was set up in 1976. But his responsibilities were terminated in 1979. Over the same period, a similar devolutionary process affected the position of Chief Scientific Adviser, who after the heady days of Lord Zuckerman and Sir Alan Cottrell—to use shorthand—more or less disappeared into the Cabinet Office and the "Think Tank". This is an admittedly impressionistic account, for which, however, chapter and verse will be found in the report.

It is therefore, in view of the historical background, perhaps not surprising that your committee has recommended leaving the organisation on the basic side more or less as it was set up under the 1965 Act, but has proposed a considerable strengthening of the organisation on the applied side and at the centre.

I now turn to the recommendations of the report. I shall deal with them briefly, they are carefully worded and do not readily lend themselves to paraphrasing. I draw particular attention to the concluding paragraphs which sum up the general view of the committee, but I forbear to quote from them. Essentially, the committee proposes the strengthening of the existing arrangements at three levels: ministerial, high official, and departmental. They propose the establish- ment of a Council on Science and Technology, covering both the basic and applied aspects, which on the applied side should subsume and be responsible for the functions at present discharged by ACARD. In particular, this committee should present annually a "state of the nation" report on science and technology to Parliament.

At ministerial level, the committee do not recommend the setting up of a Ministry of Science and Technology, for the reasons given in Chapter IV. 8, but do propose that a Cabinet Minister should be designated to speak for science and technology. They are of course aware that the present Prime Minister has assumed the responsibility for co-ordinating scientific policy; and, en passant, I note that this represents an encouraging innovation since she is, I think, the first to have had any scientific background or qualifications. Certainly Mr. A. J. Balfour was deeply interested in the physical sciences, but he approached them from the philosophical rather than from the practical angle. The committee had doubts, however, whether a Prime Minister really has time, among all the other preoccupations of the office, to perform this function.

One member of the committee, the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, while fully endorsing the recommendations of the report, would have liked to go further on this point and propose the revival of a Ministry for Science, on the lines of the department presided over by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, to which I referred earlier, and with which the noble Earl was himself connected as Parliamentary Secretary. The noble Earl later spoke for the then Opposition on science and technology. He regrets that he cannot be here to elaborate on this view in this debate.

At high official level the committee propose the appointment of a Government chief scientist, working from within the Central Policy Review Staff. I myself was much impressed by the evidence of Dr. Ashworth, until recently the chief scientist in the CPRS. Although of relatively low rank, he evidently succeeded in assuming many of the functions which the committee would assign to a Government chief scientist. All of which left me with the feeling that if you do not have a chief scientist it is necessary to invent one. The Government appointed Dr. Robin Nicholson to succeed Dr. Ashworth before the committee's report was published, with one step up in rank (which was certainly a step in the right direction), but his terms of reference remain, I think, to be spelled out in detail.

I have said that the committee did not propose any major change in the arrangements for dealing with basic civil science and research under the Department of Education and in the role of the Advisory Board for the Research Councils. However, in Chapter IV.23 of the report, we draw attention to certain weaknesses in this area which we think the appointment of a Council on Science and Technology would help to remedy. As regards the Advisory Board for the Research Councils' we recommend that the chairman should have a more nearly full-time appointment and should perform for the Department of Education and Science more of the functions envisaged for chief scientists in other departments.

We also make in Chapter IV some comments on the relationship between defence and civil research and development and make some suggestions as to how this might be improved. We heard evidence to suggest that even in the Lord Zuckerman's day this was not satisfactory, and it is probably no better to-day.

In this connection, the committee were concerned at the disappearance of some advisory bodies which had been performing useful liaison functions; two, in particular, being the Aeronautical and Electronics Research Councils. These were bagged (if I may put it that way) in the recent Quango shoot.

Lastly, in Chapter IV.55 the committee gave consideration to the administrative and financial effects of their recommendations, which even in a period of acute financial stringency, they do not think are excessive. Before I conclude, I should like to make one or two general points which have struck me personally. First, I was a little surprised and a little shocked at the strength of the evidence suggesting that the relationship in the Civil Service between the generalist and the scientist still leaves so much to be desired, and the strength of the language in which some of it was framed. Moreover, most of the many schemes which have been tried to remedy this seem to have failed or miscarried.

For reasons indicated in our report, the latest proposal emanating from the Holdgate Report on Civil Service manpower and discussed by the committee in paragraph 43 of Chapter IV is the appointment of a number of "technological generalists"—an animal new to the members of the committee—as Under-Secretaries, or working with them. The committee endorsed this proposal, but recognised that the modification in attitudes in the Government service, which is clearly needed, depends on changes which cannot be introduced quickly but which relate to circumstances which reach far back in the educational system itself and which are indeed endemic in our society at large. These considerations led the committee, though it was outside its terms of reference, to emphasise in paragraph 42 the need to extend the teaching of science and its applications in the school curriculum.

Secondly, there was the question of how much attention should be given to the systems adopted in other countries. The committee received some evidence about the position in the United States, and obtained some detailed information, attached to the report, about what goes on in Germany and Japan and what went on in France prior to M. Mitterrand's assumption of power. But, in the event, the committee considered that the machinery of advice is an essentially national affair which has to develop from existing structures. In practice, France is essentially dirigiste and Japan is even more so, while Germany and the United States are federal countries and, in the United States at any rate, a rather formidable and possibly top-heavy superstructure has been built up by Congress. None of the systems would transplant easily, even if it were desired to make radical changes in our present organisation, which the committee does not recommend. We recognise that there have been enough upheavals in the last few years, and accept the view that further fundamental reorganisation might do more harm than good.

We tried to avoid being dogmatic. We know very well that the arrangements in force at any given time necessarily reflect the interplay of personalities and groups, and that the actual administrative machinery may be of secondary importance. More than once we were reminded, when pointing out what seemed to be weaknesses in the existing system, of the strength and influence of the "old boy net"; but this, though I would never underrate its role, is not really good enough in the circumstances of today, which require a more visible—"transparent" is the popular word—organisation. What is needed, in the committee's view, is a general strengthening of the scientific dimension in Government, especially at the centre, and an upgrading, in every sense of that word, of key posts and advisory bodies.

My Lords, your committee has not attempted an exhaustive report. It felt it desirable to focus its inquiry on what seemed to be the central issues, though it necessarily considered and touched on many other relevant questions. I certainly felt myself that we could have gone on taking evidence for several more weeks and that at the end of the day we should not have modified our main conclusions, though perhaps there would have been changes of nuance and emphasis. In reports of this kind, if I may briefly bridge the two cultures, I think the old tag applies: "Bis dat qui cito dat" namely, He gives twice who gives quickly". So I recommend the report to the House and to the Government. It has not been in the Government's hands for very long, and many interests and departments are involved, so I, at least, shall not expect any definitive replies from the noble Baroness who is to speak for the Government. I have no doubt that several constructive points will be made in this debate, of which she will wish to take account. But I hope that the Government will not take over-long in formulating their views. The same old Latin tag applies to them, as to the committee. I beg to move for Papers.

3.56 p.m.

Lord Peart

My Lords, I wish to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, on his introduction and the way he has introduced this very important discussion on science in Government. For the first time, we have had a committee from this House looking into scientific matters. I recall the memorandum to the Procedure Committee, and I think I am in order if I quote it: It will be recalled that, during the last Parliament, both Houses of Parliament set up select committees to examine their procedure, and, following the report by the Commons committee, the Commons have resolved to establish a number of select committees whose functions would be related to particular departments of State. Arising out of this decision, the Commons now appear to have discontinued their Subject' Committees, including their select committee on Science and Technology.". I think, like most of us, that it would be sad if we did not have some sort of committee that we have openly in a parliamentary and scientific committee; and of course we have agreed to this. We have proposed that the House of Lords should set up its own Committee on Science and Technology. I think that in time this committee will become a very important one, and I am sure that noble Lords welcome it very much.

I am sorry that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is not here today, because, as we all know, he was a spokesman for science. I was a shadow in another place and I must say that he was kind to me. He let me have access to material which helped me in my job, even though I was a critic in another place.

I have in my hand a copy of Hansard, reporting the last debate we had in another place, where we decided to support a Minister for Science rather than a Minister of Science. I hope very much that noble Lords who are interested in the matter will read the report of that debate, which was a very fine one. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, of course, at a later period went into another field.

I believe the reports are important. I have an interest in this because I was a Minister involved, especially when I was Lord Privy Seal, and I was responsible for setting up ACARD with its staff. I think that ACARD has worked very well. We have produced on occasions some very fine pamphlets. I have one here in my hand, which I believe should be read by all who are interested, entitled Industrial Innovation. It is a short, sharp, snappy pamphlet which provides a lot of information. One document, R and D for Public Purchasing, is much longer, but is still a very important document. I hope that noble Lords will get one of these documents from the Printed Paper Office. Others are Computer Aided Design and Manufacture, which is very important, and Joining and Assembly, dealing with the impact of robots and automation.

These publications are the result of hard work by people whom from time to time we invited to help us with the formulation of policy which affected certain areas of industrial development. I think that ACARD has played an important part. I hope that it will not be destroyed, and that it will give the necessary advice to the Government and to the Prime Minister who will be responsible for scientific matters in the Cabinet.

This is the beginning of an era when, over a long period of time, we shall have various first reports from different bodies, such as we have had from the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield. We have been very lucky to have both the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, and my noble friend Lord Shackleton in at the birth of these boaies. They have played their part in a big way, which will be appreciated by scientific opinion in the country. People sometimes think that scientists are snobs—and, indeed, this was said by someone in evidence—but I do not think that they are. I was a humble geologist and was trained by Arthur Holmes, who certainly sent out from Durham some very fine students. Scientists are sensible and there should be no description of that kind.

The title of this report is Science and Government, and the committee have conducted an inquiry into the provision and co-ordination of scientific advice to Government. The noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, went on to discuss scientific policy but, as he said, it is not today that we shall finally be able to get to grips with this subject. The noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, quoted the noble Lord, Lord Todd, in his final anniversary address as President of the Royal Society, and the subjects which we should carefully consider are, first, a policy for science and for its promotion, so that it flourishes as a branch of culture and supplies trained manpower to meet the country's needs; and, secondly, a scientifically based policy and the promotion of activities involving scientific research, which are essential to the national interest. I could go on and on about that.

I believe that we need to have many more scientists. Many of our departments now, outside ACARD and other scientific bodies which we have created, could still have their own personnel. in my own former department, the Ministry of Agriculture—and I am sure that my colleague Lord Hughes would agree with me—we had a very fine department, from the point of view of our manpower giving scientific advice to the farming community. That was an example of science being used properly and well. We had created a body which set out to improve standards of food and animal prosperity, if I may use that term. It was the same in many other departments. MAFF had its bodies, many of which are listed here, and other bodies included the research councils, the Advisory Council for Applied Research and Development, the Advisory Council for Research and Development for Fuel and Power, the Advisory Council for Scientific Policy and so on.

Looking at this first report, we see clearly that the Government need and seek advice in all these aspects. But the inquiry would have been unmanageable if it had tried to cover each aspect in equal depth. The first two aspects of this document have, therefore, been given less attention than the third. But all three aspects are bound up together, because healthy science is essential to the supply of both advice and advisers; and research depends heavily upon public support. I hope that we shall go forward and set our eyes on other parts of the world, where we can give an example. After all, we need more soil scientists, we need more geneticists and we need more people in this field of activity abroad. We also need more nutritionists, who are scientific. We know that the FAO employs many such people, and this work should go on. I hope that we can be assured of a good supply of first-class scientific endeavour from our own scientists, when they become very experienced in their discipline.

So I welcome this approach. I believe that this is a good day for science. We wish the committee well and will study these important documents, so that one day we can have a debate specifically on these matters. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, spoke in the way he did, and I hope that when my noble friend Lord Shackleton comes back he will recognise the appreciation he has had from all of us.

4.6 p.m.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, I had the honour and privilege of serving as a member of the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, and I should like to congratulate him on the great amount of work which he did as chairman of that committee. It is always a great pleasure to serve under such a brilliant, hardworking and experienced chairman as Lord Sherfield. I should also like, on behalf of your Lordships, to congratulate him on his comprehensive and attractive speech, which makes my task easier. I propose to dwell on two matters with which the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, dealt generally. The first is the national concern about the lack of scientific and technological understanding by administrators in Government; and, secondly—the point to which the noble Lord referred generally—whether the vast amount of money which is spent on defence research and development is being communicated effectively to United Kingdom industry and civil sources, wherever appropriate. On page 10 of the report it is stated that time and time again witnesses spoke of the lack of scientific and technological understanding by administrators, and I should like to quote, as an example of what a witness said, the evidence of Dr. Spinks.

However, before doing so, I should like to join the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, in paying great tribute to the late Dr. Spinks. We at the Patent Bar knew Dr. Spinks as a famous research director of ICI, who had founded one of the most profitable limbs of that great company—the factories dealing with pharmacology. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society and, for the past seven years, had been chairman of ACARD which, as the noble Lord, Lord Peart, indicated, produced a large number of valuable reports relating to specific issues in the future of British technology. Therefore, to quote from his evidence in that context is for me a poignant matter. But this is what he said in answer to a question put to him by the noble Lord, Lord Flowers: I have some basic, very general concerns … but I think my broad concerns are that in spite of some pleasant exceptions the highest levels of the Civil Service are inadequately educated in science and technology, and grossly so, in my view. Secondly, I think the Government and Members of Parliament in general contain insufficient science or technology graduates or even those who have any significant interest in either subject, and I feel this is a matter of grave national concern ". The noble Lord, Lord Peart, mentioned the work of ACARD which, under the chairmanship of the late Dr. Spinks, has been such a great success. As we state on page 12 of our report, ACARD was the channel for the temporary secondment of industrialists and other advisers outside the Civil Service into the Cabinet Office machine. The report goes on to say that in its evidence the Royal Society pointed to the benefits to be obtained from high quality people from outside Government being on short-term secondment to the staff of the Chief Scientist. The lack of scientists, or the need for understanding by the Government of the importance of science and technology is made plain in this report. I am sure the Government will accept that part of our report which suggests that the dimension of science and technology in government as a whole ought somehow to be strengthened.

I turn now to my second main point: whether the results of the vast amount of money spent upon defence research and development are being effectively communicated to industry and to other civil fields, where appropriate. In the course of the evidence given by Sir Ronald Mason, the Chief Scientist at the Ministry of Defence, at question 359, reported on page 114 of the evidence, I asked him whether he was in control of disclosure of this kind to industry and what procedure is adopted by the Ministry of Defence to get this kind of information to industry. I did this because of my fortunate experience at the end of the last war concerning the development of a policy for exploiting inventions resulting from research which had been paid for by the Government during the war. The answer to my question was given by Sir Ronald Mason in these words: The answer is, no"— that is, they have no organisation for ensuring that these inventions can, somehow, be distributed to industry— I know of no coherent organisation that does, as it were, oversee the possibilities of technology transferred out of the defence sector into the civil sector. Now that is not to say that this does not occur". Sir Donald Mason gave instances of what had happened during the last 20 years, and then he said: There certainly has been a marked lack of exploitation of some very important inventions". In that context, it is fair to say that perhaps industry is largely to blame, in particular in the 1960s, when, for certain reasons, they were unable to find the investment necessary to put into industrial practice some of the inventions which had resulted from defence research and development.

I should like to mention my experience at the end of the last war, when I was an insignificant scientist in the Directorate of Scientific Research at the Ministry of Aircraft Production. The late Sir Stafford Cripps, himself a distinguished member of the Patent Bar, a one-time Fellow of Mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge, with vast experience of industrial science and industrial technology, and a member, as Chancellor of the Exchequer at that time, of Sir Winston Churchill's Cabinet, insisted that some inventions which had occurred during the course of wartime research and which had been paid for by the Government could be a valuable source of revenue, if exploited commercially. Sir Stafford Cripps set up a committee at the then Board of Trade under the late Sir William Palmer. Distinguished civil servants, directors of contracts of the various departments, were members of this committee. The Treasury Counsel attended regularly. He was the expert on patent matters. Afterwards he became Mr. Justice Lloyd Jacob. The present patent judge, Sir John Whitford, assisted Mr. Justice Lloyd Jacob at those meetings. I was allowed to be on the fringe of the Palmer Committee merely in order to assist the team of civil servants to "translate", if that is the correct word—at any rate to assist the team to understand simple scientific matters.

The Palmer Committee was a financial success. I remember how successful was the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, who I am so happy to see in his place, in exploiting Government-owned inventions in the field of aero engines. The work of the Palmer Committee led to the formation of the National Research Development Corporation, which has been so successful in exploiting and fostering innovation. If once again I may refer to myself, I found myself suddenly thrust at the head of a very small section, known as Patents II, whose sole purpose, just after the end of the war, was to exploit Government-owned inventions. I still remember the great trepidation with which I approached the Dunlop Corporation to try to get them to exploit a Government-owned invention—a tyre which had prevented "shimmy" on the back of Hurricanes and Spitfires. When our fighters came in to land, sometimes in the dark and in muddy conditions, the back wheel used to shake about and cause terrible accidents. Mr. Marstrand, at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, invented a double tyre, the Marstrand tyre. It was my duty to try to persuade the Dunlop Corporation to take a non-exclusive licence under a Government-owned patent. It was a difficult operation. Even now I am amazed at my courage in going forward like that. However, after several hours I came away with a non-exclusive licence under that patent. I draw attention to the Palmer Committee's work because it was the inspiration of a man who understood the connection between science and technology and industrial requirements.

I am tempted to mention another aspect of the report which deals with education generally and to emphasise how important it is to teach more science and technology in schools. I hesitate to say that, towards that end, aspects of the classics should perhaps be sacrificed, in view of the connection between the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and certain Oxford colleges. Therefore I refrain from trespassing in that field.

May I conclude with two apologies? First, I must apologise to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for the fact that it was only this morning that I was able to indicate to her two specific matters which I was going to raise. My second apology is for the fact that unfortunately I shall be unable to stay until the end of the debate this evening.

4.20 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, although I am at present a Member of your Lordships' Committee on Science and Technology, I was not a member when this report was formulated, and therefore I approach it as a lay reader. I find myself in the rather peculiar situation of commending the report's positive proposals while dissenting rather powerfully from a major premise with which the report begins. The committee begin, I am afraid, by falling into the familiar trap which dogs Anglo Saxons who talk about this subject, and which is perhaps responsible more than anything else for the failure of scientific knowledge to make its full impact in Government—which was the theme of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran—and it runs through this report. That is to say, they use the curious English word "science" to mean exclusively the natural sciences, whereas in the languages of our more successful competitors no such limitation is made. "Science" in French means the entire range of human knowledge. The same is true of wissenschaft in German, or nauka in Russian, and I suspect in derivatives of all those three main branches of the European languages. This has practical importance.

The noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, said that we should not pay over much attention to what is done in foreign countries; that in respect of the way in which advice is channelled to Government each country will follow its own particular pattern. Nevertheless, I think it is interesting that in the report from Her Majesty's Embassy in Paris it was pointed out that both the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and the Comité National de la Recherche Scientifique cover all branches of learning. Indeed, of the eight sections into which that committee is divided, one deals with the human sciences (social) and the other with the human sciences (humanities). Basically, so far as one can penetrate how things are done in Japan, the same is true there. This view, which I would commend to your Lordships, that science is simply organised knowledge of all kinds, with fluctuating categories and different methods according to the subject matter, is often challenged by vested interests on both sides of the divide which the committee perpetuates.

There is, for instance, in the committee's report the evidence they received from the Social Science Research Council, at present receiving the critical attentions of the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild. That council said that, social science is essentially different from other sciences". One could hardly have a better example of the confused thinking which has at times emanated from that body. In the first place, there is no such thing as "social science". There are "social sciences". In the second place, the differences between the social sciences and branches of the natural sciences are no greater than, say, the difference between theoretical physics and biochemistry. The subject matter is different; the appropriate methods and techniques are different. When we come to the research level in the real world, we constantly find ourselves having to ignore this distinction. Between the Royal Society and the British Academy there are problems of overlap. For instance, is demography natural science or social science? There is the possibility that some areas of inquiry that might well be of importance for Government policy, such as psychology, are discriminated against by both; at least, the evidence presented by the British Psychological Society would suggest that to be so. So this is not purely a theoretical point.

There are, after all, two reasons for public money going into the sciences at all. First, promotion of knowledge is the duty of any civilised society. Secondly—and this has obviously been important, rightly, for our committee—it has practical implications for Government policy. But the areas of policy with which government deal are largely those in which they are concerned not with the promotion of a particular piece of scientific research or even the ordering and commissioning of a particular piece of scientific equipment— except, perhaps, in the defence field—but with the likely impact upon human beings, their employment in industry or agriculture, their health, their housing, and their propensity to crime. In other words, it is the bringing together of what the social sciences can do with what the natural sciences can do that is the essence of nearly all Government policy.

It was put much better and more briefly than I can do by Mr.E.C. Bentley when he wrote the famous clerihew: The science of geography Is different from biography. Geography is about maps, Biography is about chaps". But maps are also about chaps. They are one of the ways in which we perceive the movement of society and of the economy. Hence the anxieties which are now being expressed in various quarters about the maintenance in its traditional form of the Ordnance Survey—our great national contribution to cartography.

The reasons why this subject has preoccupied both Houses of Parliament more often recently than in previous years has been the speed of technological change and the much disputed effect that it will have, particularly on patterns of employment. We are often told that in a world that has micro chips there is no possibility of ever reaching levels of full employment again. I myself am very suspicious of that kind of argument. Nevertheless, we have now a Technical Change Centre in which the Social Sciences Research Council and the Scientific and Engineering Research Council are co-operating. But it seems to me that to single out technical change as though this were a totally new feature is to blur the fact that there can never have been a period in which this linking of social and natural sciences was not essential.

The difficulty seems to be—and it is one consequence of this neglect of the social sciences in the consideration of this subject—that the social sciences appear, perhaps justifiably, to be less well developed than the natural sciences. When we enter an aircraft we entrust ourselves to aeronautical engineers in a way in which no Government in dealing with matters of the economy would be wholly wise to entrust themselves to the advice of professional economists. But is this more than to say—if the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, will pardon me—that economics are rather in the situation of, let us say, chemistry in the 18th century? Then, they had not solved the problem of combustion; and it would appear that we have not solved the problem of inflation. Therefore, I regret that our committee did not recommend that its proposed Council on Science and Technology—one of the principal proposals, as the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, has pointed out—should also include representatives of the social sciences.

If that is too ambitious, I cherish a hope, though I do not expect it to be fulfilled, that Lord Rothschild will suggest, for the same reasons, the amalgamation of the Social Science Research Council and the Science and Engineering Research Council, because I think it would be very good for social scientists to be constantly brought up against people whose livelihoods depend upon their ability to furnish proof. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, said, there are important consequences from both approaches as to what goes on in our schools and our universities, but, as we are to have in two days' time another opportunity of discussing the matter, perhaps I could leave the point as I have made it so far.

4.31 p.m.

Lord Todd

My Lords, the subject of this report which has been so ably presented to us today by my noble friend Lord Sherfield—and to whom, I must say, is due most of the credit for getting a report out at all, through the magnificent way in which he handled the committee of inquiry in the chair—is one which has been argued about and debated by many people for many years, and particularly has it been prominent since the time of the last war, and that in practically all countries.

The problem of how to ensure that government gets the best available scientific advice to help it formulate its policies is not a thing that originated in the war, but it certainly came to the forefront when at the end of the war shattered economies had to be rebuilt and when one saw the tremendous technological advances made during the war through the application of science and science-based technology; when one looked at these there was a very prevalent feeling that if one only gave science and technology their head all would be well and the millenium would be just around the corner. Of course, it did not work out like this. For one thing it was very quickly discovered that the machinery which would be necessary for the transmission of scientific advice to government and its integration into policy making was not at all easy to construct; certainly not under conditions which existed in peacetime was it likely to work as easily as it had done during the war.

This country was very early to take up and try to do something practical about this matter. As early as 1947 it set up, under the chairmanship of Sir Henry Tizzard the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy, whose function was to assist the Lord President of the Council, who was in charge of scientific matters in the country, in the discharge of his duties for the formulation and execution of scientific policy. I believe that my noble friend Lord Zuckerman and I are the only extant founder members of that body. He was, I think, deputy chairman throughout the whole 17 years of its existence, and I had the honour to be its Chairman for 12 years from 1952 onwards until its demise in 1964.

During its lifetime that council offered advice to government on very many problems which are still with us today. Indeed, if Government, and for that matter Members of your Lordships' House, would today look back at the annual reports of that council, which I am sure are lying somewhere in Whitehall accumulating dust at the present time, I think they would doubtless be very surprised at the timeliness of much of the advice that council offered to government and which was frequently ignored or forgotten. Just to give one example of the difficulties one encountered about getting advice followed, I was looking the other day at the annual reports of the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy, and you will read there, in the first report, in May 1947, the council recommended to Government that all executive departments should have their own chief scientific advisers, as we called them then, chief scientists as we call them today; and it set out what it considered to be the proper duties for the research councils on the one hand and for executive departments on the other. It suggested that executive departments should with their scientific staffs he responsible for identifying the problems which required further research on them, for arranging that that research be carried out, and in that way to handle departmental departments; and it was suggested also that the research councils should carry out some of this contract work for executive departments but for the rest should be allowed to develop what was called then fundamental research in such directions as seemed appropriate to them untrammelled by any day to day considerations such as affect departments. I will only say about that that 25 years' later in a report called the Rothschild Report these matters were again formulated, and something has been done about them, but it did take an awfully long time to get a number of these things put through.

In 1964 the old Advisory Council on Scientific Policy was wound up. This was at a time when quite drastic changes were being made leading to the introduction of a more decentralised —or a better word would be a more fragmented—system of providing advice to Government, a more fragmented system which to my mind was very much less satisfactory than what had gone before, but was accepted since it was apparently part of the white heat of technological revolution which was to be wrought by the incoming Labour Government of the day.

It is true that the need for a full time scintific adviser to government was recognised, and indeed my noble friend Lord Zuckerman was the first occupant of that position. I should say, in passing, that I think he might well agree with me that it was partly, at least, the absence of a full-time scientific adviser within government that prevented the old Advisory Council on Scientific Policy from achieving perhaps more than it did in fact manage to achieve.

But alas, the appointment of chief scientific adviser was accompanied by other changes, in which not only was the old Advisory Council on Scientific Policy dissolved but a great mistake was made in separating science and technology from one another. That was at the time we had set up the Ministry of Technology. You cannot separate science from technology in the modern world; it is a nonsense. That, I have always felt, was a very retrograde step and made matters for a number of years very difficult. Not even Lord Zuckerman could fix this, because as we know, the position of chief scientific adviser to government lasted only for about a little less than 10 years. Following the retirement of Lord Zuckerman, his place was taken by Sir Alan Cottrell and on his retirement there were no further advisers appointed.

Since those days there have been a number of steps taken to tighten up the organisation for the proffering of advice to Government from scientific sources. But I think that further action is still needed, and the action which I think we ought to take is that which is outlined in the report which is before us today: I commend that report very strongly to your Lordships.

In essence, what the report asks is that there should be, first, a high-level scientific adviser in Government—and I am glad to say that a step in that direction has been taken by the appointment of Dr. Nicholson—and we believe also that there should be alongside him an independent advisory council with a wide remit covering both science and techology. In practice it would be essentially a development of the present ACARD, which was mentioned earlier today. The new council would be more akin to the old Advisory Council on Scientific Policy, whose remit extended over the whole field. I would say here to the noble Lord, Lord Peart, that I do not denigrate ACARD in any way. It has done a magnificent job and, like the noble Lord and other speakers today, I deeply regret the loss of Dr. Spinks, who chaired it so ably.

As I have said, I do not denigrate what ACARD has done, but in a way ACARD perpetuates the foolish division between science and technology. I do not want the advisory body for the Government to be simply an advisory council on applied research and development. We want one that covers the whole matter, whether it is applied research or any other kind of research.

The report suggests that there should be this council with a chief scientific advisor. The committee also considers that there should be, as there once was, a Cabinet Minister who will be spokesman in the Cabinet for scientific and technological matters. Whether that post should be held by the Prime Minister is, I suppose, a matter for debate. I personally feel that, with the best will in the world, a Prime Minister would be so loaded with other problems that science, under such an arrangement, might be too often pushed into the background. But, whether that be right or no, the main thing is that any Minister charged with this responsibility should be one of seniority and influence, since he will certainly not find himself invariably in agreement with some of the departmental Ministers.

But even given those, to me, desirable changes, I am not sure that all will be well. We all know that nowadays science and technology permeate almost every aspect of our lives, and that there is hardly an area of national policy in which science does not or should not play a part. It would follow, I think, from that, that those involved in the final formulation of policy should be sufficiently aware of and knowledgeable about science, to make sensible decisions. Unfortunately, and despite the Fulton Committee recommendations, there are still far too few senior members of our administrative civil service who have any real acquaintance with science and technology, and yet much of the responsibility for the formulation and execution of policy rests, in fact, with those senior civil servants. This is a point which was made by several witnesses to the Select Committee, and it is hard to see it being put right over anything but a very considerable period of time, because, after all, this is a matter of education.

Our educational patterns were laid down a long time ago and the social attitudes on which they rested were, and are, very slow to change. In those that we follow there is rather firmly embedded the idea that to be an administrator one should eschew the natural sciences in favour of the humanities and, on the other hand, there is an idea that those who include science in their education are necessarily going to be specialists who should thereafter pursue scientific or technical careers leaving the running of the country—and, even today, of much of its industry—to administrators who are often quite ignorant of, and, indeed, sometimes almost despise, science and technology. That is certainly not the case in most of the industrial countries which are our competitors—for example, France, Germany, the United States and Japan—and we are certainly feeling the effects of this.

I believe that it can be put right; I believe that it must be put right. But, since it involves quite substantial changes in our civil service, in our educational policies and perhaps in politics as well, I am afraid that it will take time. Meanwhile, we must do all we can to mitigate the effects of our present educational and administrative deficiencies. That is one of the main reasons why I think the report before us today is important and why I hope that its recommendations will be speedily accepted and put into operation.

4.46 p.m.

Lord Flowers

My Lords, once again the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, has led his Committee, of which I had the honour to be a member, through a minefield or vested interests to a handful of proposals for reform with which we could all readily agree. His secret, he has often confided to me, is that he never tries to achieve too much at one go. This time, at least, I think that he has been too modest, for he has achieved a great deal.

I am very glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Todd, who speaks with such authority in this field, and I am in very substantial agreement with his views. must confess that the whole exercise had a considerable effect on me. I began it sharing with others a feeling of unease, but believing that the present system was good enough and new enough not to want to tamper with it. It seemed to me that we should simply learn to use it better. In my view, one of the curses of government is tampering too often with the machinery unless there is very good cause: it leads to cynicism and lack of confidence.

However, as our inquiry proceeded I became convinced that our system for providing scientific advice to government was deficient in one major respect which could be changed without upsetting everything else. In the words of the report there was a vacuum at the centre. The recognition, in the words of Professor Maurice Kogan, that, the starting point for good policy-related science is not in fact science but the policy problems it attacks", had been so influential that the capability for evaluating science and technology advice at the centre of government has been seriously weakened by intentionally scrambling it with the provision of other sorts of advice, We had moved from a point perhaps 15 years ago when arguably the provision of advice about policy-related science had been too centralised— even too personalised —to one in which there was now almost no centre at all, and a fair number of unco-ordinated official advisers, not all of whom had good access to Ministers.

Sir Alan Cottrell, in his evidence to us regarding his role as the former Chief Scientific Adviser, made an eloquent appeal for scientific advice to be presented unscrambled. He said: The ministers are the ultimate blenders. If they are handed their material already blended, they cannot themselves do their own task properly… [They] should not have to depend only on science already pre-blended in some overall judgment. The role of the Chief Scientific Advisor is to provide that independent scientific input ". The trouble with science and technology from the present point of view is that they are all-pervasive. They do not confine themselves in an administratively tidy fashion. Let me give two topical examples. Biotechnology had its origins in the belief of the Medical Research Council a quarter of a century or so ago that understanding biological processes at the molecular level would one day be the basis of medical care. That day has not yet arrived, but the same essential idea is now seen as making possible the generation of new species of crops, of providing a new way to synthesise substances as far apart as alcohol and insulin, of offering improvements in the treatment of sewage and of new techniques for the extraction of minerals from ores.

The true importance of biotechnology to the nation cannot be seen until its contributions to health, agriculture, industry and the environment can be unscrambled from the policies of the responsible departments of state and reconstituted into a policy for biotechnology spanning many departments. That task was done for us by the Advisory Council for Applied Research and Development—ACARD—under the chairmanship of the late Dr. Alfred Spinks. From this Bench I wholly echo the remarks which have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Peart, about the work of ACARD, and those which he and other noble Lords have made about Dr. Spinks.

My second example concerns information technology, which has resulted from the combination of microelectronics with high speed digital telecommunications. Its origins lie with solid state physics and with computing science and, in earlier guise, it had already revolutionised scientific research by the provision of massive arithmetical power. It is now clear that its applications will affect pretty well every activity and profession: marketing, secretarial services, video-communications, consumer advice and perhaps protection, access to libraries, environmental monitoring, educational aids, automated design and manufacture, criminal detection, leisure activities, and so on almost indefinitely.

Again, the true significance to the nation could not be seen until it could be unscrambled from the policies of departments with responsibilities for the various areas of application—in this case, every single department of government—and reassembled into a policy for information technology. Here I think that the credit should go to the Central Policy Review Staff—the CPRS—and especially to Dr. Ashworth, its former chief scientist, who drew attention to the matter from the centre. As a result, we now have a Minister responsible for information technology. We hope that one day he may announce a meaningful national policy.

Not all scientific or technological activities, of course, are so all-pervasive; but enough of them are to justify an intelligent focus at the centre of government. As we say on the first page of our report: Co-ordination has to be achieved, to make sure that the Departments are not pulling in different directions on scientifically-based issues and that significant areas of research are not overlooked when they are peripheral to the interests of several Departments and central to none". What is so special about science and technology? Are not economics and social policy equally all-pervasive? Yes, indeed they are. So much so that they have Cabinet Ministers and very senior specialist officials to speak for them. We are claiming no more for science and technology.

Thus, we propose that there should be a senior Minister who should speak about science and technology in Cabinet, a chief scientific adviser within the Cabinet Office to act as an intelligent focus for Government—and I agree that the recent appointment of Dr. Nicholson is a good step in that direction—and a Council for Science and Technology to advise him and to provide him with a link to the scientific community in all its aspects.

I hope that we have said enough in our report, in spite of the strictures of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, to make it clear that our proposed council would not be a creature solely of the pure scientists. Many of the problems before it would have to do with industrial innovation, with turning scientific knowledge into technological applications—with the very activity in which Britain is considered so weak. It would need among its members engineers as well as scientists, industrialists as well as academics, sources of venture capital as well as innovators, and, indeed, also social scientists.

However, none of this will be of any avail unless the Government perceive the need for scientific advice and unless they are a capable of digesting it. It is quite clear from the evidence of the Royal Society that the status of scientific advice within the governmental system has been steadily eroded during the last decade or so. One can point to a number of factors—the lowered standing of several Government laboratories, the down-grading of several top scientific posts, the abolition of several advisory bodies on the grounds that they are Quangos—even the apparent discourtesy with which the Government's appointed advisers are sometimes treated. The noble Lord, Lord Todd, has spoken of the fate of some of the advice given by the former Advisory Council for Scientific Policy. Let me briefly give three more recent examples.

It is the duty of the Advisory Board for the Research Councils to advise the Secretary of State for Education and Science about his scientific responsibilities. It is clear from Sir Alec Merrison's evidence to us that the ABRC was not consulted beforehand by Mr. Mark Carlisle about the consequences that university cuts, effected through the University Grants Committee, would have on the programmes of research chosen for support on their merits by the research councils. Yet, this duality of funding is fundamental to the support of scientific research in this country. I doubt whether it was a deliberate discourtesy; I suspect it was that the officials advising Ministers simply had not understood sufficiently the importance of the dual funding system.

More recent is the case of the Social Science Research Council, to which the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, has already referred. Here there is published evidence which leads one reasonably to suppose that behind the backs of the ABRC the present Secretary of State was plotting with the Treasury to have the SSRC abolished in favour of the natural sciences. No doubt the SSRC is an uncomfortable protege for government. Its job is peculiarly to study the process of decision-taking and policy formation, not least in government, and to fund others to do the same in universities and elsewhere. It is no doubt irritating to have one's judgments and policy decisions questioned and criticised, especially if one is of an authoritarian bent. I am sure that the ABRC would have defended the role of the social sciences on the grounds that they try—and it is a difficult task—to provide a rationale for policy formation in diverse fields—indeed, that they form the backdrop of values against which the successes and failures of the natural sciences and their applications can eventually be judged by society at large.

My third example of apparent discourtesy concerns the recent decision to cancel the drilling programme which had been undertaken by the Institute for Geological Sciences in the hope and expectation of being able to find a solution to the vexed problem of the disposal of nuclear waste. I do not want to argue the case for the drilling programme today at all; I would be the first to admit that the Government had got themselves into an impossible position from which they had to escape. I merely want to say that the Government have an Advisory Committee on Radioactive Waste Management under the chairmanship of Sir Denys Wilkinson, our most distinguished nuclear physicist, and, to the best of my belief, they did not consult their committee before announcing the cancellation. No doubt Sir Denys was informed a day or two beforehand, as indeed I was myself, but that can hardly be described as consultation. Of course, the Government have a perfect right to ignore advice rendered to them, no matter how distinguished the advisers. It is all the more unfortunate that again there appears to have been an inability to understand on the part of those advising Ministers.

The Government, in announcing their cancellation of the research programme on the disposal of high-level, heat-generating waste coupled it with a statement that the disposal of intermediate-level waste was in any case more urgent. Agreed; but the disposal of intermediate-level waste also requires a drilling programme, as, no doubt, the Government's committee would have advised had they been consulted. An alternative explanation, that the Government feared the physical confrontation that might continue to accompany the drilling programme, hardly bears contemplation.

These three cases are unhappy examples of "the capacity of Government to absorb advice without betraying any sign of being affected by it" which on page 8 of our report we find so discouraging. I have described them as discourtesies, yet they could be ascribed in the last analysis to ignorance as much as to discourtesy—ignorance that the advice had been proffered; ignorance that it was relevant; ignorance of what it had implied; ignorance that it might have needed elaboration when circumstances changed.

Our report rightly stresses the apparent inability of the Civil Service to implement the Fulton Report of 1968 by recruiting persons of scientific and engineering background into administration. The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, has already referred to this. Of course, there are some very honourable and distinguished exceptions, but, according to the management and personnel office, only 18 of the 242 graduates admitted to the Civil Service over the past three years, and destined for the top administrative jobs in Whitehall, took degrees in science subjects and mathematics. Is it to be wondered at, therefore, that the Government find it difficult to assimilate their scientific advice?

My Lords, our report is one I find easy to accept, as I do Lord Sherfield's masterly introduction of it, with one proviso. This concerns the rejection of a Ministry of Science and Technology. On page 18 we write: Given the nature of British governmental organisation, a separate Department of Science and Technology could only be made to work if one were prepared to contemplate a major upheaval of departmental responsibilities and the dismantling of the Rothschild system". Our witnesses were unanimous on this point—the CBI, the Royal Soceity, individual scientists and industrial firms, and the members of your Lordships' Committee. The whole scientific-industrial establishment was against the idea, and much of our report depends upon that rejection. It seems to me a good point at which to question our collective wisdom.

There is no uniquely correct way of organising the machinery of government. It must, of course, be done against a certain historical perspective, although, one hopes, with a certain degree of efficiency and consistency also. The fact is that other countries do it differently, and some of those countries are better at organising and taking advantage of science and techology than we are. I refer especially to France, Germany, Japan and the United States. It is possible to argue that this has nothing to do with the machinery of government—that the course of industrial innovation is determined much more by the attitudes of investors and unions than it is by anything that governments may or may not do. The fact is that France, Germany and Japan all have organisations equivalent to a Ministry of Science and Technology, responsible for the encouragement of research and development and its application to the economy. At the very least it is a recognition that science and technology are important enough to be given a place at the high table.

Of course, the argument does not stop there, and I will end by quoting from Sir Alan Cottrell's evidence to us given on page 189 of Volume II. He said: There is what you might call the German/American model which is really a sort of benign laissez faire. … Then there is the French/Japanese system which is a dirigiste system. … I think that as long as we have the present Civil Service system we could never succeed in trying to emulate the French and Japanese. Therefore, in the sense that we cannot change the Civil Service, I would say that it is better for us to move more towards the German/American pattern, which is not to intervene directly in industry ". I found that a profoundly interesting remark. It brings us back to the role of the Civil Service in the organisation of science and technology. Perhaps we were at fault in not devoting sufficient attention to Sir Alan's remark. Had we done so we might have found ourselves on sounder ground than mere unanimity (if I may put it that way) in discussing the pros and cons today of a Ministry of Science and Technology.

5.5 p.m.

Lord Zuckerman

My Lords, I have studied the report of the Select Committee with considerable interest, and at the outset I should like to congratulate the chairman, my colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, and the members of his committee for having assembled so much useful information and having pulled it together so well. They have made a number of recommendations. These were outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, when he opened this debate. I want to refer to only two of them.

The first is the recommendation for a Central Council for Science and Technology, the second concerns the position and functions of a Chief Scientific Adviser at the Centre. If there is time I may refer to the question of to whom either such a Central Council or Scientific Adviser should report. Let me also say at the outset that I agree completely that there is no point in changing anything abruptly at the present moment. Obviously, as this and as previous debates have demonstrated, one has o regard the whole of the subject of integrating scientific with other advice to the Government in a flexible way, as a matter of continuous change, of continuous evolution. But one must also have—and this will be well recognised, and I think Sir Ian Bancroft made the point in the evidence he gave—a certain measure of stability.

The specifications for the proposed Central Council for Science and Technology have at least been partly based upon what was assumed to be the way the now defunct Central Advisory Council for Science and Technology—not the earlier Advisory Council on Scientific Policy, to which my noble friend Lord Todd referred—conducted its business. That is to say, the Central Advisory Council for Science and Technology which was established shortly after Mr. Harold (now Sir Harold) Wilson took power.

The first thing I want to point out is that science was not separated from technology. I am afraid that there have been a few errors in the references to what this council did, and indeed I do not recognise any direct questions about what this council did in the evidence which was presented by the various witnesses who appeared before the Select Committee. One or two members of that central council are present today.

The council did not meet only once. That was a mistake. It met at least as frequently as the old Advisory Council on Scientific Policy; that is to say, at least every month. It never issued reports, bar one, I believe, and that was on innovation. It did not publish a record of its proceedings because those proceedings were confidential or secret. We would never have been able to work if the council had not abided by the rules of the Civil Service when discussing Government policy. We could not, as it were, leave the council chamber and walk out in the streets and accost a journalist and tell him what it was we had been discussing.

Sir Ian, in his evidence, also in reply to a question, said that he did not believe that this particular council had been as effective as people might originally have hoped. But it all depends on what you mean by publish a record of its proceedings because those proceedings were confidential or secret. We would effective. I myself served first on the Barlow Committee, which set up the old Advisory Council on Scientific Policy, and the Defence Research Policy Committee. I served, as the noble Lord, Lord Todd, has said—I forget for how many years, his figure rather frightened me—on the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy. I was chairman of the Defence Research Policy Committee, and then I was chairman of the Central Council. Let me say straight away that from the point of view of action that council, which did not report, was more effective than most of the other bodies of which I was a member. Among some of the things it did, to which I can refer because I am certain I am not revealing any state secrets—and a few of these have been referred to in the memoirs of ex-Prime Ministers—

Lord Home of the Hirsel

Not guilty, my Lords.

Lord Zuckerman

—was the setting up of the Royal Commission on the Environment; that was a recommendation of ours. I find that in his memoirs Sir Harold Wilson gives me the credit for having done a lot of the background work for setting up the Department of the Environment; if I did, I must have done so in passing.

We were able to interrogate Permanent Secretaries on particular issues; and I see here today one former Permanent Secretary who appeared before us. Reference has been made in the debate to Mr. Wedgwood Benn and the "red hot technological revolution". I can recall two occasions when Mr. Benn came to explain to this body, over a matter of hours, what he proposed doing. Either because of his failure to persuade his colleagues, or because the election came, he did not—I seem to recall—do what he proposed to do. It was an effective body and if the new council that is now proposed is to do as well, it will need some of the links which the old Central Council had.

What is more, whereas I do not recall the old Advisory Council on Scientific Policy ever having been called in by the Prime Minister, on one occasion—and I am not speaking now about the Chief Scientific Adviser at the Centre—the entire Central Advisory Council for Science and Technology was brought into No. 10; its members were asked to do things. They also made their own suggestions. If another body is established, I suggest that the old files be consulted In fact, I see absolutely no reason why, if anything which was deliberated upon by the old council (the one which operated in secret) is worth consulting, it should not be published.

Why did it die? I reckon it died for two or three reasons. At first it was not intended that it should die, and again I do not think I reveal a single state secret when I say that I was instructed by the then Prime Minister, Mr. Heath, to approach a number of people who were going to serve on the new council, when reconstituted. Letters went out and I got replies, but then nothing further happened. I suspect that nothing further happened largely because the CPRS was being set up at that time, that Lord Rothschild had come in as head of the CPRS and that the CPRS was skating around trying to define its own particular confines, its own area for operations. So the proposal that the Central Advisory Council for Science and Technology should be reconstituted was pushed to one side.

There is another possibility. I retired not very long after, and my successor, Sir Alan Cottrell, to whom reference has been made, was put into post, but, regrettably, at one pip below the one I had occupied, so he did not quite have the contacts which were necessary to deal with the then Head of Her Majesty's Civil Service, whom I see sitting in his place today. It died for those reasons. I would definitely say there is work for a new council, though I disagree, but only slightly, with the sentence at the end of the report when it says that, many of the functions which the Committee have identified as necessary "— for the new council— are in fact being carried out by one means or another". I believe a number of things which could well be carried out arc not being carried out.

Every Government department in the discharge of its statutory duties employs scientists to a greater or lesser extent. If the chief scientists and their staffs in departments—the noble Lord, Lord Peart, referred to his experience when he was Minister of Agriculture; I am referring to scientists employed within the department—are at all efficient, they will also be initiating, such as those matters to which the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, referred when he mentioned new breeds of agricultural crops, or new pesticides or, say, even biotechnology. Those are matters for departments to initiate and if the departments fail to do so, then they arc not working as they should.

That is not the function of the centre; the centre should be kept informed, but the centre is an extremely busy body. The Cabinet Office is not an idle place at any time, and Prime Ministers and Ministers are overwhelmed with advice from all quarters. They have to reach decisions on a variety of matters, some of which may necessitate the consideration of scientific factors but many of which do not.

What the central body should do is deal with the trans-departmental problems. I shall give some examples which come from the past, and then I shall make a few suggestions about the present. The Thames barrage was a matter dealt with at the centre. It was not, when it came up, a specific project relating to a particular department; that it became only after a decision had been taken. The advanced passenger train, whatever we may think of it today, would never have got off the ground—perhaps that was an unhappy way to phrase it; it would never have got onto the rails, where it appears to have stuck—had it not been for the ability of the central council to use its muscle in order to redeploy departmental resources to which the Treasury had already agreed.

The noble Lord, Lord Balogh, who I see in his place, will recall the early days of oil and gas exploration. That was another matter which, while directly the concern of a Ministry, a department, was also something about which the Prime Minister had to be informed constantly; that was also done through the scientific element in the Cabinet Office. It was also a matter which, I believe, came to the central council. When new projects come up, they demand new resources. Resources have to be provided and the Treasury has to agree. Each department has its own priorities when it puts forward new proposals for new scientific and technical work, and somehow or other it is necessary for the priorities of the different departments to be sorted out at the centre so that one achieves a set of governmental priorities. Where major scientific matters are concerned, that is a critical job for a central council. I shall deal with its nature shortly.

The Treasury is there to deal with priorities about general policies, but the Treasury does not have, and never has had, a very strong scientific element in it; and I am glad it has not. It was once put to me that I should shift my office to the Treasury. I think I was right when I said I thought it would be the wrong place; that it was the Cabinet Office where the priorities had to be decided as between one set of departmental scientific priorities and another.

There was a snag, though, about the central council, and I think it would be a mistake to pass it over: the central council never dealt with defence and the central council as such—and I emphasise "as such"—never dealt with nuclear policy. Those two matters were in fact dealt with in the Cabinet Office through subcommittees ad hoc set up as part of the function of the Chief Scientific Advise[...], with its members drawn mostly from the Central Advisory Council for Science and Technology. I see in their places today two noble Lords who served on one of those committees.

I believe that the ABRC and ACARD do not constitute a problem so far as a central council is concerned. They would in effect be sub-committees of such a council, in the same way as I believe that there arc means of sorting out the problem of defence and nuclear matters. Unless the latter problems arc properly sorted out, it will be impossible to convince any scientist, looking in from the outside, that the Government's priorities in the disposal of what resources can be made available for science and technology are as they should be.

There are problems, new problems, which could be tackled by a central council. I imagine that had such a council existed, my friend the present Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would not have set the badgers onto me. He would have seen to it that a central body was asked to inquire into the question of whether or not policies of his department were adequate in this respect, instead of innocently—I was the innocent one—drawing me into a one-man inquiry as though I were a central body. Well, I have had the badgers yapping at my ankles ever since.

Another job for a central council would quite definitely be to keep the chief scientist and scientific advisers of departments on their feet—I mean on their toes. We do not want them in the air, but we definitely want them with their feet on the ground, and we want them to know about each other's problems. As I think I said in my evidence to your Lordships' Committee, there has been only one occasion of which I know when having all the chief scientists around the table, with their opposite numbers in the administrative class of the Civil Service, we managed to get moved around a sum of money, I think it was £25 million. That was a colossal achievement. No one has since moved that amount of scientific money around a table; chief scientists do not willingly give up the resources that they have. That would be a job for the central council.

I disagree with what is suggested in one of the paragraphs of the report about the size and composition of the council. It seems to me to be too big and to be designed as a representative body. I do not think that it need be representative. It should merely be a body that is competent to call upon the right advice when it needs advice in particular fields. The other thing that I think is wrong—and this is based on experience—is the recommendation for a part-time chairman. He would be overwhelmed; not only would he be overwhelmed, he would also be by-passed. You have to be in there, where the work is taking place, all the time, otherwise you will not know what is going on; and even when you are there, you may not know what is going on.

I should like to turn for a few moments to the question of the functions and place of the chief scientific adviser. The Prime Minister of the day and the Government — the Cabinet — have a machinery for settling priorities, in addition to the political pressures that help to determine priorities. That machinery is provided by the Treasury. I think that the Prime Minister in particular, and the Cabinet, when it operates as a single co-ordinated body, also need machinery for providing advice on the priorities of matters of major national policy that are conditioned by scientific developments. The Prime Minister might be pressed upon, but the Prime Minister can never evade the major matters of policy which are affected by scientific considerations. I think in particular of matters—I am thinking back—such as the test ban negotiations, the non-proliferation treaty and defence projects. The reference to scrambled or unscrambled advice is very relevant here, because the most successful military aircraft that we have produced in recent years, the Harrier (the P11-27 as it was), was in fact rejected by the people who were supposed to be responsible for it. It made its way through only as a result of particular bits of pressure applied at various stages of its course to production. In other circumstances it would have been condemned in the same way as there are similar instances in recent American defence history of major projects which have failed to get through. as well as a few good ones that have got through contrary to advice.

There are a number of issues where a Prime Minister and the central part of Government need immediate help and advice. Reference has been made to some of the advice I gave regarding the "Torrey Canyon". The "Torrey Canyon" was a 48 hours (so far as I can recall) adventure for me, pulling together the necessary expertise to get people to deal with the wreck—not to deal with it in the end, but to say how it might be dealtwith had we the legal right to do what was necessary at the time. But that was a relatively minor matter. Because of his central position, the chief scientific adviser must have an absolute continuity of interest in the purposes of the Government which he is serving. I cannot see that being done except by someone who is accepted by the machine, his colleagues and his political masters.

Obviously in the end it will depend, as the report says, upon personalities, not just the personalities of the chief scientist, the chief scientists of departments, or those below them, but the personalities of the Ministers whom they serve and of their colleagues in the Civil Service. I am happy and proud to say that I have enjoyed the friendship of most, if not all, of the people with whom I have worked. I do not believe that one can work satisfactorily unless one has the confidence of one's colleagues, and unless one appreciates their problems as well. Being called in as an expert, even if one has the rank of Permanent Secretary, when advice is needed for a decision at the centre is one thing, but it is not the same as being at the centre and being one of those who is there to say what should be called in in the way of advice and information.

I shall not say anything about the place of scientists in the Civil Service—the point has been made more than once—but I would say that I like the recommendation for the setting up of a new central council because it would also provide a reservoir of men who might be recruited to positions such as chief scientists, either in Government departments or at the centre. One knows only too well that at present one fishes around widely. It would be wise if one first collected potential candidates for the high position in a central body such as the council that is now being recommended.

Finally, so far as reporting is concerned, whether to a Minister or the Prime Minister, in the end it must be the Prime Minister. If the reporting is to a Minister, he must be a Minister who has the ear of the Prime Minister; otherwise I feel that the function which has to be carried out at the centre will fail.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Kings Norton

My Lords, I should like to add my thanks to those which the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, has already had, not only for the way he has introduced this important report but for the way in which he conducted a very difficult and complicated inquiry. I have called the report important, my Lords, but, for me, one part of it transcends the rest in importance. This is the section on the Civil Service—four pages which I hope Her Majesty's Government will study, not only with sympathy and understanding but ultimately with the determination to take action, difficult though I know this must be.

The basic problem has been identified many times in the past. This afternoon it has been mentioned specifically by the noble Lords, Lord Sherfield, Lord Lloyd and Lord Flowers; and we have, I think, to try once again to make some progress. To identify a problem is not to solve it, and although it was highlighted, as the noble Lord, Lord Todd, remarked, a decade and a half ago by the Fulton Report, there has since then really been no appreciable advance along the path to solution. I am referring once again this afternoon, of course, to the lack, at the decision and policymaking levels of the Civil Service, of enough administrative civil servants with scientific and technological knowledge. To quote from the first paragraph on page 27 of the report: In a system of Government which separates civil servants into generalists and specialists—with the former almost alone advising Ministers, formulating policy, controlling the Government machine and exercising financial control—the paucity of scientists and engineers coming through as potential Permanent Secretaries is, as the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Industry put it, a structural weakness ". I recall, my Lords, that when, in 1954, I was a member of the Scientific Manpower Committee, presided over by my noble friend Lord Zuckerman, I examined the academic qualifications of civil servants at Permanent Secretary level. There were, somewhat surprisingly, 52 of them. None was an engineer. One was a physicist. He was the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Pensions. Today, in an almost equally abundant galaxy, there are two Permanent Secretaries with scientific backgrounds, both engineers. One is Permanent Secretary of the Department of the Environment and the other, very appropriately, the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Education and Science. But 2 per cent. in 1954 and 4 per cent. in 1982 is slow progress; and, to quote again from the report: There is an overwhelming case for a changed attitude to science and scientists in the Civil Service and for a higher Civil Service which makes use of all the talents ". I think those are wise words.

The attitude which is criticised in the report has been described by Lord Todd: it is, in effect, that a person educated in the humanities—in history, in the classics, in languages—is ipso facto suited to become an administrator, whereas a person educated in the sciences—in technology, in engineering—is not. Cobblers, physicists and engineers are expected to stick to their lasts. They may, in the context of the report, advise, but they may not decide.

I am, I know, putting in black and white terms an attitude which in reality is not nearly so definite; but despite the 100 per cent. increase in the last 30 years in scientifically qualified Permanent Secretaries—from one to two—the approximation is too close to be comfortable. It is this attitude which has to be changed. Parents must believe and schoolteachers must believe, just as civil servants must believe, that a person educated in a scientific or technological discipline is, other things being equal, as well fitted for high administrative office as one educated in the humanities. In fact, today—a time when almost every activity is influenced by or depends on advancing technology—one might be excused for believing that the technologically-trained person is the better fitted.

To change from the old attitude to the new may well be achieved more easily in the Civil Service itself than in the older schools and the more conventional homes. The evidence to the inquiry made clear that the need for change was certainly appreciated by some senior civil servants, and the Holdgate Report suggested steps which can be regarded as first steps towards improving the situation. But how can a campaign for a change be carried further? The committee state in their report that they believe there is a strong need for strengthening scientific education in schools; but though, as one of the committee which produced the report, I concur in that statement, on reflection I know that it is not enough. There has also got to be the change in attitude to which the report itself, and noble Lords this afternoon, have so emphatically drawn attention.

My Lords, the old-fashioned attitude we are criticising is not uniformly distributed. Not unexpectedly, it is most deeply entrenched in the older schools. Not unexpectedly, an old service—the Civil Service—has long depended, consciously or unconsciously, on the older schools, schools with splendid academic records but biased towards the older disciplines. Newer schools—70 years ago I entered one of them—have more balanced attitudes.

The Civil Service must, I think, broaden its recruiting base and helped, perhaps, by the Department of Education and Science, persuade the schools with outdated outlooks to adopt more modern ones. I know very well how difficult it is to find the practical and effective steps to take, and perhaps it is rather feeble just to suggest that one possibility might be high-level courses or seminars for careers masters. But careers masters I have met—and not so long ago—certainly need instruction in the disciplines of science and engineering; and if, following the Select Committee's view, a Cabinet Minister were designated to speak for science and technology, in my view he could assume no more important a task than seeking to achieve the change we have been talking about.

That change in attitude is achievable, I have no doubt, because the change has occurred in industry. It has further to go, but the difference between the composition of the boards of engineering companies of 30 years ago and their composition today is clear. There are many more directors who are engineers today than when I first joined the board of an engineering company nearly 30 years ago and found myself the first engineer they had had on the board. There are fewer guinea-pigs. There seem to be just as many accountants; but, when advancing technology goes hand in hand with enlightened finance, you have a powerful combination for success. So we must make sure that we promote in industry only enlightened accountants.

I think your Lordships will find that in our most successful industrial organisations the engineering element is strong in the team at the top, and that for the most part the engineers have come from what I have called the newer schools. Unless we develop this change of attitude further in industry, and achieve it in the Government machine, we shall drop further behind the other great industrial countries in the technology race, which, in the end, is the prosperity race. It has been remarked already this afternoon that in France, in Germany and in Japan the scientist and technologist play vital and intimate roles in the Government machine—in the Civil Service, as we call it. For example, the French Civil Service is permeated with the capable and often brilliant products of the Grands Ecoles, and a leading scientist is a member of the Government. Unless we can parallel—not copy, by parallel—this kind of organisation, I believe we shall drop further and further behind our competitors in the technology race.

5.40 p.m.

Lord Swann

My Lords, I doubt whether the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, needs yet another congratulation from the most junior new boy of his committee. Nevertheless, I should like to join with the other Members of the committee in saying that he has done a splendid job, with a rare capacity for distilling wisdom from a plethora of opinion. I want to pick up what I think is the most important thing that emerges from all the evidence that came in—and I believe that other noble Lords will feel the same—namely, the feeling that in recent years Governments have in some way downgraded the status of scientific advice. Noble Lords have talked solemnly and seriously on this matter, and I hope I shall not be thought frivolous if I take a more lighthearted look at it because true words are often spoken in jest.

Whenever a problem looms up these days in the interface between Westminster, Whitehall and the world at large, my mind turns to a BBC series where, for once, the corporation has managed to fulfil its three statutory duties—informing, educating and entertaining—simultaneously in the same programme. I refer to "Yes, Minister". I hope that I may be forgiven if I name names in the rather peculiar circumstances of this case. Your Lordships will recall that there is first and foremost the right honourable Jim Hacker lurching from one preposterous, ephemeral and usually self-inflicted crisis to another, his eyes firmly fixed, to the exclusion of everything else, on the media and the opinion polls. Then there is the inimit- able Sir Humphrey Appleby, his Permanent Under-Secretary, whose eyes are also fixed firmly on two things, two different things. One is restoring the tranquillity within his department and the other is preserving the status quo. With remarkable adeptness, he does both and extricates his Minister from political crises, but invariably at a price, the price in general being the Minister having to give up what he wanted to do. Your Lordships may have noticed that that large and omnibus "Department of Administrative Affairs" appears to have no chief scientist, or, if it does, he maintains a very low profile. I think that it did have a chief scientist, but Sir Humphrey has managed to downgrade it, possibly turning it into two junior, not-so-chief scientists; and readers of the report will know that there are precedents for that.

To be serious, neither of those characters looks ahead one minute further than he needs, and both wish profoundly that tranquillity can be restored to their respective lives. I think there is an element of truth in that in the governmental machine, and understandably so, after all; for if you have more than enough troubles which are of the moment, you do not go looking for troubles which are further afield. Science, after all, is trouble. It may not be trouble in the long run—indeed, it does much for society in the long run—but in the short run it upsets all manner of people and it upsets all manner of ways of doing things and of thinking; and whereas a week may be a long time in politics, a week is an extremely short time in science.

One used to think that there was a gap of perhaps 50 years between a basic scientific discovery and its being practically applied to the benefit of mankind. The gap has become a bit shorter with the years, but not perhaps all that much shorter. Biotechnology, about which we hear so much, is only now becoming a practical proposition. Yet it is based on the essential discovery, the nature of DNA, which was made something over 30 years ago.

The trouble is not so much as many of my scientific colleagues seem to think: that Government, and civil servants in particular, are in some deliberately offensive way doing them down or ignoring them. Though I like to regard myself as a scientist with a belief in a certain amount of original sin, I do not think that they go round doing that. It is more likely, I think, that you would find some sort of correlation, or rather an inverse correlation, between the general political tetchiness of society and the small amount of notice that would be taken of scientific advice because the governmental machine is too taken up with short-term things.

I find myself wistfully wishing that in some way or other there were embedded in the governmental system a "Department of the Longer-term Future". I do not think that the "Minister of the Longer-term Future "would cut a great deal of ice in Cabinet, but I wish he existed in some form because, apart from the occasional initiatives around the place and, perhaps, a periodic interest by the "Think Tank", I believe that there is not enough long-term thinking in Government and there are many pressures which make it difficult to achieve.

That is not to disagree with the report where it wants to see more civil servants with a scientific background, where it wants to see much more to and fro between the Civil Service and other walks of life, scientific and industrial; or where we hoped that education would play its part in closing this great gap. All these things would help, but I do not myself believe that science is going to be utilised to the full—and when I say "science ", like everyone else I include all the sciences—for the benefit of society until Governments in some way manage to think further ahead in everyday practice and not simply in election manifestoes.

The committee examined at some length—and we have heard a lot about it—what one can call the apex of the pyramid of science and Government; and it made a number of recommendations. They have been commented on and I will not comment on them further, save to say that I agree with them and that I think that were they to be put into practice it would be to great advantage. The Committee also says in one paragraph that perhaps it should look, at some point in the future, at the effectiveness of research and development and at what happens at somewhat lower levels. That would be a good thing to do. The dual support system, as it is called, whereby the University Grants Committee provide the base and the research councils provide many of the running costs for research in the universities, is creaking quite badly. The research councils, I think, have been one of the great British success stories, but some of them are more successful than others.

We have heard a little today about one of them, the Social Science Research Council, which is, so one reads, under threat of conceivably being closed or, if not that, perhaps amalgamated with the Science and Engineering Research Council, or some similar fate. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, welcomed the idea that it should be joined with the Science and Engineering Research Council. At risk of prejudging what my old friend Lord Rothschild may have to say, I do not have that amount of faith in my natural-scientific colleagues in thinking that they would be all that good in applying their minds and methods to the social sciences; nor do I go along with the notion that, because the social sciences uncover uncomfortable things about, among other things, Government, they must necessarily therefore be subversive. That is rather like saying that because the Daily Telegraph sometimes uncovers scandals it must be Left-wing.

Also, I think there is a risk in the social sciences that, in order to be respectable, they feel they must use a lot of quantitative techniques borrowed from the natural sciences and, I suspect, occasionally to use them to excess. If you put them in a natural scientific milieu, I am pretty certain that the pressures would be to use them to even greater excess.

Allied to the research councils there is the departmental chief scientist system, the customer contractor principle. That, too, works better in some places than others. I think all these things are worth looking at in some further report. They are all matters essentially within the competence of Government to do something about them. But, of course, one cannot in a free society expect Government to reform everything and I cannot help but be interested in other people who either are or ought to be trying to do something to bring about drawing the full capacity to the benefit of society out of the sciences. Undoubtedly—and it comes through clearly in the report—it is not being drawn out to the full at present.

The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, mentioned briefly a technical change centre. I should like to say a word about that, because I am chairman of its governors. It is I suppose a Quango of sorts except that it is partly financed—and was substantially financed in its earlier stages—by the Leverhulme Trust. It was set up on the prime initiative of the much maligned Social Science Research Council, though the Science and Engineering Research Council also provides funds. It is meant—and it is showing every sign that it is going to succeed—to be a body that will examine the obstacles that society in the most general of ways puts in the way of adapting to technical change, and the obstacles to wealth production that seem to be thrown up more in this country than in most others. We have at any rate started very recently. We have a distinguished economist, Sir Bruce Williams—a former vice-chancellor of Sydney University and an economist in innovation—as its director; the erstwhile research director of Delta Metals as the deputy director, and a growing group of younger and older people who are going to do some excellent work. I hope that, within a year or two, we shall see some of the first fruits of that. Unlike perhaps some semi-academic institutions, we have very much taken on board the fact that you do not usually get much done unless you follow up your reports and make sure that people read them, are interested in them, and do something about them.

Industrialists could do much more than they do. Trade unionists could do much more than they do. Financiers, again, could do more than they do to draw out the capacity of science for the benefit of society. How many scientists, I wonder, are there to be found in the upper reaches of the banks, merchant banks, and big pension funds who, after all provide much of the support for industry and its innovations.

Without Government setting an example in this aspect, one cannot necessarily expect that things will happen very fast even though I do not think that Government can be solely responsible for those types of ills in society. I hope, therefore, that the Government will not just take note of this report but actually do something about it. The report may not—I do not suppose it will—do them much good in the lifetime of this Administration. It will, I suggest, do much good in the long run for posterity which is after all the factor in the equation that is so very often ignored in the every-day rough and tumble of politics except paradoxically in times of crisis, like wartime, which after all was the time when scientific advice was valued as never before, and I rather think as never since.

5.55 p.m.

Lord Adrian

My Lords, I rise nearly at the end of this timely and important debate to follow those who have spoken already who all have a very great deal more experience of either Government or science or both than I have and they wield a very great deal more thunder. I should like to add my tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Shcrfield, who was chairman of the sub-committee. It was for me an enjoyable and educative privilege to be a member of that sub-committee.

An experimental scientist at the lab. bench—which is what I have been most of my life—and especially a university scientist, neither has, nor indeed expects to have, very much contact with Government and the formation of Government policy. So you will readily understand, my Lords, that, pitched in at the top—if I may so describe your Lordships' Select Committee—I had a lot of homework to do to understand the existing ways in which the Government receive and is offered scientific advice. At all events, I find myself in agreement with the conclusions of what I hesitate to say is an admirable report—although, of course, it is an admirable report—and to lend what little weight I can to support it.

There is one subject on which I want to talk. It has been touched on already by the noble Lords, Lord Swann and Lord Flowers. It is an aspect of Government policy of which I have direct experience. That is the policy of Governments for science: their policy—and I quote the report—for the promotion of science so that it flourishes as a branch of culture and supplies trained manpower to supply the country's needs". I know that it is a matter to which the Committee gave less attention than to the determination of public policy in the light of available scientific information. But my excuse for turning to it is that I am directly involved; indeed, I have to declare an interest. My own scientific research work has been largely supported by funds provided to a university by the University Grants Committee and only from time to time for particular aspects of the work or for expensive apparatus by grants from the Medical Research Council. In the course of 20 years at Cambridge, as well as research, I have taken part in the training of doctors, medical research scientists, physiologists and the like. This is a familiar enough pattern at our universities and is well known as the dual support system. It has widespread support, I believe, and has in the past worked very well.

The research councils and universities both provide funds to university laboratories so that research and training can co-exist as parallel and interacting activities. Research and training benefit immeasurably from each other's presence.

It is held by many—not least by the University Grants Committee and the advisory boards of the research councils—that this dual support system is under grave threat, and that scientific activity and especially the training of future scientists in universities will be seriously diminished by the current reduction of expenditure on higher education. It is not my present purpose to question that cut—right or wrong—for present certain damage against possible future gain, it is the policy of this Government. But the expenditure White Paper (Cmnd. 8175) had this to say about the support of science: the Government wish to give protection to the support of basic science, an activity which underpins further developments and is a particular strength of the United Kingdom… The plans allow for provision for science to be held broadly at the current level throughout the period. It should thus be possible for the research councils along with their other activities to maintain their selective support for research in universities and polytechnics at broadly the current level at a time when provision generally for higher education is planned to decrease ". One may indeed be grateful that the science Vote is to be maintained, but this reads as if the Government have forgotten that science in universities is supported in part by Government monies dispensed by the University Grants Committee.

I do not believe that the DES is as forgetful as that—indeed they tell us that it is, of course, open to the University Grants Committee and to individual universities to cut the diminished cake as they think best; to concentrate resources on particular areas of research; to cut arts subjects more to maintain science; and failure to do so will make the Universities themselves responsible for any damage to scientific activity.

But universities are like Cabinets, made up of spending departments, each jealous to maintain its share of the budget; and the outcome of their bargaining is unlikely to leave science support by universities undiminished or university science undamaged. And the damage to scientific endeavour will not be slight, because, in a climate of declining resources, it is easier to spread the misery than to back excellent work by cutting mediocre scientific work the harder.

It does not seem to me to matter much who is to blame: what matters is that damage almost certainly there will be. I believe that if the Government could be persuaded of the seriousness of the threat to scientific activity—and it cannot be said that nobody is telling them about it, because it featured in a Times editorial only at the end of last week—they would not display such complacency. I believe, moreover, that they could do a great deal more to encourage universities to achieve a rational contraction and one that is consistent with the importance which they say they attach to basic scientific research in universities. I would hope that they could show more public awareness of the difficulties they have imposed on universities and, if it is indeed their judgment that basic science should be supported at the expense of other studies, it should be said clearly and at the highest level. Indeed, there will be protests about academic freedom and interference with universities, but the Government will have made public the logic of their present actions and they might thereby persuade universities to follow their lead. Without that lead, science and engineering research at universities and, even more importantly for the future, the training of scientists and engineers are bound to become less effective, and to an extent which I fear has been underestimated.

It is my understanding that the Advisory Board of the Research Council is engaged at present on a study of the support of university scientific research. I do not doubt that they will be concerned to limit so far as possible the damage which seems to flow from present policies, and I hope that when their conclusions are published the Department of Education and Science will be able, this time, to give careful thought to their recommendations.

I have spoken long enough and about a matter which is perhaps not central to your sub-committee's report, but, without flourishing basic science and science training at our universities, advice given to Governments will become in time poor stuff. It is a measure of our country's present plight that I have had to ask myself whether the Government machine would very much care.

6.3 p.m.

Lord Wynne-Jones

My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, will have been delighted with the response made by this House to the Motion which he has moved. Having served on more than one occasion on a committee under the noble Lord, I know how skilfully he succeeds in making a committee do its work properly while at the same time guiding it with a suavity which is unbelievable.

When I first came to your Lordships' House I was informed, and indeed learned, that the business of this House is conducted without a chairman. But that is not true when it comes to a committee of your Lordships' House and the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, is one of the most expert of all the chairmen under whom I have served. I think he is to be congratulated both on the Report and the high success of the debate.

Of course, it makes it very difficult for anyone, like myself, who comes at the end of the debate to say anything at all, because the subject has attracted some of the leading experts in the country. We have listened with fascination to what has been said, starting with the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, and followed by the noble Lords, Lord Peart and Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, who, although not a scientist, gave us a very clear and specific point of view. After that we have had a succession of speakers: the noble Lord, Lord Todd, and the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, to whom I listened with fascination and with very great agreement, because he put a number of points which I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Young, will have to cope with when she comes to reply, because they were extremely cogent to the whole problem of government and science. Then we had the noble Lords, Lord Zuckerman, Lord Kings Norton and Lord Swann, and now the noble Lord, Lord Adrian.

I do not want to say much about the report because it has already been discussed so well, but I noticed at one stage that the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, asked a question—a question which he put to Sir Ronald Mason. It interested me because I spent a portion of the war at the Royal Aircraft Establishment and found it fascinating to see for the first time in my life how a Government establishment was run. The noble Lord, Lord Adrian, raised a point which I believe is very pertinent. On page 120 he said: What worries me is this: that this kind of enclosed scientific community might not generate necessarily the best advice for the money expended ". Sir Ronald Mason did not entirely agree with that point, but I must confess that the whole time I was working at the Royal Aircraft Establishment I was worried by the very point which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Adrian. I think this is a matter which is important in the running of Government research establishments.

It seems to me the difficulty is that they are not subject to external criticism, in the same way as those of us who spent our lives working in universities were. We were subject to the criticism of our scientific colleagues throughout the world. Within the particular institution in which one happens to be, one may be regarded as an expert because after all there are very few people in the same institution who are doing the same sort of work as one is doing oneself; but one is subject to criticism from experts outside. That is not true to the same extent in a Government establishment and I think that because of this great care ought to be taken to try to see how Government establishments can be linked to the general scientific world in order to encourage that type of criticism. It may come in a variety of ways: it may be by secondment or by the exchange of staff or it may come in a number of ways. But, in my opinion, it does not come by having an inspection by a committee.

My experience of inspections by committees is that a committee is the easiest body to deceive, but naturally that does not apply to a committee of your Lordships' House. When you have an inspection committee coming round to see how an establishment is run, I do not believe that it gets the right sort of answer necessarily. However, these are points of detail with regard to the way in which Government research is administered. The point with which we are concerned in this debate, and the purpose of this excellent report, is to bring home to us the close connection between science and Government. I suppose that before the first world war—certainly in this country—the problem was scarcely thought of. I may be wrong, but I think that it was Lord Haldane who was one of the first to call attention to this. He was the person who, I think, was primarily responsible for the setting up of the DSIR and he played a vital part in getting Government and science together.

In the whole period between the two great wars, most scientists were not really very much interested in politics. I remember as a young man talking to a very distinguished scientist, under whom I worked in Copenhagen for a year. I discussed with him the question of science and politics and he said "I don't see why a scientist should be interested in politics". That was, I think, a very general point of view. Wherever you went, you found that scientists did not take a great interest in politics. What probably started it was the big depression in Europe and in America, and the political stirring of the Spanish Civil War also had an enormous effect as well. It was that sort of thing that began to make scientists feel that, after all, you could not go on studying your science in a vacuum. You were living in society and, therefore, you had to take part in it.

We have to bear in mind that the country that probably did most to make science the keystone of their whole policy was the Soviet Union, because it was part of their basic philosophy that science was the driving force of social change. They believed in this firmly and they have continued to believe in it. If one goes and looks at what they do, one may approve or one may disapprove, but one cannot but be amazed at the staggering developments which they have made in teaching and applying scientific work. If we in this country, and others throughout the world, are to continue to make social advances and advances in our whole civilisation, we cannot do it without science.

But science is not a handmaiden. It is not something that can just be used for doing one or two particular jobs. When you want to build a supersonic aircraft—if you want to; when you want to build a nuclear missile—if you are mad; if you want to do things like completely changing your agriculture—which has been referred to in this debate today, you have to bring science in and it must come in at the start.

I liked the remark of the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, about the essential need of having any scientific advice at the centre. It must be there, because it has to be the driving force. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, will excuse my using science in a slightly restricted sense, but I think he will understand what I mean. I do not mean that science is the only way of doing things or of governing society, but it is the most creative force in everything. It is the one thing which must change. It is a dangerous force. It is not something which you can just leave by itself. It is something which has to be linked with Government. Because of this, we must have not just one person who is representing science to Government, but a strong committee to help, because one man does not do it all by himself.

As I think the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, suggested, it is a big mistake for Government to drop the idea of having a Minister of Science and Technology. There should be a Minister of Science and Technology, because that is the only way in which you get the representation at the highest councils of Government. I believe I am right in saying—if I may go back to the Soviet Union again—that the President of the Academy of Sciences is ex officio a member of the Supreme Soviet. That is a vital and important matter. We ought to have something like that in this country, and there should be represented at the highest level the best possible scientific advice.

Reference was made at the beginning by the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, to the sad loss that we had with the death just over a week ago of Lord Ritchie-Calder. Lord Ritchie-Calder played a vital part himself in trying to make science popular. He was not a trained scientist himself, but was a brilliant journalist who learned all about science. He learned how to get in touch with the scientist and to convey what the scientist was doing to the ordinary person. Perhaps that is what we are lacking a bit today. There are not enough people who are capable of doing that superb job which Ritchie-Calder did. I think that this debate has been extremely valuable and I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, will feel that she is able to respond to this debate in a way that will encourage those of us who feel that the future of this country and of humanity depends upon the linking of science with politics.

6.18 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, this has been a most interesting and important debate. I, too, should like to begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, who introduced the Motion and who chaired the Select Committee which has produced such a very valuable report on Science and Government. I should like to thank, too, all those noble Lords who have spoken in this debate this afternoon. Before turning to respond to the debate, I should like to pay my tribute to Lord Ritchie-Calder, who was a member of the Select Committee on Science and Technology. He was a man who was widely respected and liked on all sides of the House, of which he was a Member for 16 years, and his wealth of varied knowledge was reflected in his contributions to many different aspects of the work of the House.

1 should like to say at the start that we shall consider very carefully all that has been said in the debate today. Both I myself and the Government, as a whole, are well aware of the importance of science and technology in securing the prosperity of the country and in the development of Government policy. If I occasionally refer only to science, that is in no sense to ignore technology. Much of what I have to say will refer to both pure science and its application; not merely to engineering but also to other disciplines such as medicine, agriculture and architecture.

The select committee's report is an important document which demands careful consideration within Whitehall, to which this debate makes an important contribution. Careful consideration necessarily takes time, but I have already told the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, of our timetable. We hope to be able to reply to him about June. The major question to which the committee addressed itself and to which, I think, all noble Lords spoke this afternoon is how the Government should organise themselves to deal with science issues, assuming that they can be comprehended as a whole. In a most interesting speech, the noble Lord, Lord Todd, gave us a very good historical analysis of the different forms which this Government organisation had taken over the years since the war.

We all listened with great interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, had to say from his long experience as a scientist in the centre of Government. As he said, policy formation in Government depends upon very subtle teamwork in which informal contacts and networks are as important as formal ones. Formal hierarchical structures, and the positions of individuals within them, while important, may be misleading. What matters is the ability of individuals to make an effective contribution to the solution of the problems of the day.

Moreover, not all the people in Government who contribute scientific advice to this process are in fact labelled as scientists. For instance, it would be wrong to ignore the important scientific component in the advice the chief medical officer gives to the Secretary of State for Social Services or the Director General of the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service gives to the Minister of Agriculture.

This all means that any central chief scientist has to be careful not to cut across the important links between scientific advisers in departments and their Ministers. Nevertheless, there is an important role for the central science adviser, and this has been recognised by the appointment of Dr. Nicholson in this post. The noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, asked me what are the terms of reference of Dr. Nicholson. It might helpful if I explain that he is there to advise the Government at the centre—the Prime Minister and the Secretary of the Cabinet—on the overall co-ordination of the Government's scientific interests and effort. He is able to provide, or organise the provision of, advice on scientific matters, or scientific aspects of other issues which come to Cabinet committees, and also provides a scientific and technological input to the studies of the Central Policy Review Staff.

The House may also like to know that he is, ex officio, a member or assessor of both the Advisory Council for .Applied Research and Development— ACARD—and the Advisory Board for the Research Councils, ABRC. Therefore, he sits on both of the high level committees which, between them, take an across-the-board view of British science and technology. He also has a general international responsibility which covers the United Kingdom's bilateral scientific and technological agreements with other countries and the European Communities' research and development budget, as well as other international scientific fora. So we recognise that his position is an important one and that there is much to be done at the centre, though we will have to look critically at the recommendations of the committee on grading. 1 do, however, take note of what the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, said on that particular aspect. Your Lordships, however, will recall, following the Wardale Report on grading of the higher Civil Service, that the Government accepted its conclusions that there should be firm control of the number of posts and grades.

The next issue is that of a Minister for Science and Technology and the proposed Council on Science and Technology. We shall be analysing very carefully what the committee had to say and the further comments of almost every noble Lord who spoke today. I hope that my noble friend Lord Beloff will forgive me if I do not follow him down the path of his very interesting and philosophical contribution to today's debate in which, if I have understood him correctly, he proposed that the Council on Science and Technology should include a number of social scientists, if not a proportion of the Social Science Research Council, because I think it is better to keep to the proposals that the committee suggested.

Before saying anything further, may I also mention that I listened with great interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, had to say and to the examples which he gave of scientific developments which have been promoted by a central organisation or council. This will be of particular interest to members of the Government.

It seems to me that there are a number of questions which have yet to be answered. In posing them, I am conscious of the strictures of the noble Lord, Lord Swann, that either I shall be behaving like Jim Hacker and simply asking questions which lead nowhere or (though I am sure that I should never be able to behave like him) Sir Humphrey Appleby. Nevertheless, there are a number of questions which need to be asked, even at this point, in order to get clarification of what is proposed.

Crucial, it seems, is whether or not a Minister for Science and Technology could be effective without a strong department. If I understood correctly the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, he himself did not think that a large department was desirable. Would that mean that he or she would have to take over the responsibilities for science policy—policy for science, that is, if I use it in the sense which the noble Lord, Lord Todd, did in his final address to the Royal Society: policy for science at present exercised by the Department of Education and Science and, indeed, that for applied science and technology exercised by the Department of Industry, the Department of Energy and other departments.

But should not science policy be closely linked with policy towards the universities and for higher education generally? This is particularly important in the light of the dual-support system to which the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, referred. What would be the role of such a Minister, particularly in Cabinet? To take an example, surely a Minister for Science and Technology would have to have an interest in questions relating to defence and defence science. But would not such a role demand a large department in order to provide effective briefing? On the other hand, another problem may be that there is not enough work to keep a Cabinet Minister fully occupied with science. But equally, if it is not a full-time job it could often be squeezed out by the other pressures on a busy, non-departmental Minister.

There is also a wider question which this proposal implies. It seems to me that a Minister for Science and Technology would come under pressure to take a more dirigiste line, something which has been mentioned by several noble Lords in the debate, in setting research priorities rather than leaving it, in the basic research field, to the scientific community as individual scientists, or through the research councils, to decide how available funds should be used, and in the field of applied research to the individual departments with their chief scientists. Would not his appointment tend to lead the Government, with the advice of experts, to take a more forward role in the promotion of scientific policy and research priorities? The Japanese are said to have prepared a plan for science, with a 30-year time horizon and to have identified certain areas of science which they regard as industrially crucial and on which they are going to go "nap ", and there might be pressure for us to do the same, rather than continuing to advance on a broad front. Would this be acceptable to the scientific community and would it, indeed, be desirable?

I turn now to that part of the report which concerns departments' use of science in policy-making. This is particularly important, since the central role can only be one of co-ordination, and the impetus in commissioning scientific research and feeding scientific issues into policy-making has very much moved to departments. Perhaps I can draw an analogy here between the organisation of government and the organisation of computer systems. While the trend in the past has been to have very large "mainframe "computers into which all the work is centralised, recent developments in information technology have made it much more attractive to go for a "distributed "approach, in which emphasis is based on communication between decentralised units rather than on concentration and centralisation. We must build further on this and ensure not only that departments as a whole maintain or procure adequate scientific capabilities, but also that the various parts of departments are also fully aware of the input that scientific research and analysis can provide to day-to-day policy work. There can be no unique structure for this; departments must work out their own arrangements to meet their own needs.

Until now I have been speaking about issues for which I do not have specific departmental responsibility, though of course the Management and Personnel Office is keenly interested in many of the issues which have been debated and which have arisen. However, on the organisation of the Civil Service, I do have a departmental responsibility and, if I may say so, I feel on slightly surer ground.

If I might answer the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, about the number of scientists in the Civil Service, the noble Lord quoted figures to show that relatively few people with science qualifications come into the Civil Service as administrative trainees. In fact, the figures are higher than the noble Lord suggested. Over the past three years, out of a total of 244 entrants some 28 graduates of science and science-related subjects entered as administration trainees. This represents 11 per cent. of the intake. That may not seem a high figure, but the fact is that many fewer scientists than arts graduates present themselves as candidates for the administrative trainee competition. Those science graduates who do apply are just as successful as other graduates in the competition, as the figures published by the Civil Service Commission show.

In fact, people enter the Civil Service by a wide variety of routes, nor are civil servants with university educations in scientific subjects confined to the science group. About half the qualified scientists coming into the service come into jobs not directly related to their degree specialism. It seems to me—and here I echo what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton—to be of prime importance to develop personnel management systems that will identify the potential high-flyers within all our various entry groups, and make sure that their careers are planned and developed in such a way that they are able to get to the top.

The committee are also concerned by the divide which too often occurs between the generalist and the specialist. The noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, explained that this division had been visibly and forcefully expressed to the committee. We agree that this is an important gap to close. f should say at once that we do not propose to label a separate group as "technological generalists ", but rather to train and develop able members within the scientific and professional classes more broadly from an early stage in their careers. While some scientists prefer to continue practising their specialism, and there are schemes such as individual merit promotion to enable them to do so, we must endeavour also to identify and use to the full those rather rare people who can operate successfully as both scientists and administrators; who can indeed bridge the communication gap.

The noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, referred to the words of the late Lord Ritchie-Calder who said how important it was to be able to communicate about science. These are the "technological generalists "we are proposing to develop. We aim to equip such people to undertake a whole range of departmental jobs, whether in management or in policy formulation which demands a scientific input. We are at one with the committee with their thinking on this subject, and we are actively pursuing the subject with departments and setting out the principles upon which departmental action should rest.

At higher levels we have introduced a system of succession planning for senior appointments, which include such appointments in the scientific and technical fields. In addition to planning for the succession to these posts, departments will identify early in their careers officers likely to rise to the highest levels of service and prepare career plans for them. Such career planning can help scientists and engineers to acquire the broad range of experience and the formal training in management and other skills which they will need to fill higher posts. We shall pay attention in running the system to ensure that potential is identified wherever it may be found in the Civil Service, and not just in Whitehall.

Before concluding what I have to say, I should like to answer two questions which have been raised during the course of this debate. The first question was from the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, who expressed concern about the dissemination of defence research into the industrial sector. The Government attach importance to this and we will consider carefully the committee's recommendations that there should be greater co-operation between the Department of Industry and the Ministry of Defence in reviewing defence programmes. I understand that the Ministry of Defence already makes a contribution to the planning of some Department of Industry programmes. We will also consider the suggestion that civil departments should be represented on the Defence Science Advisory Council. I will ask my noble friend Lord Trenchard to look at these matters and perhaps he will write to the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, if there are any further points he wishes to clarify about the arrangements for technology transfer in defence.

The noble Lord, Lord Flowers, asked a question about the disposal of nuclear wastes. He referred to the Government's decision to discontinue the drilling programme in connection with high level radioactive waste. He argued that it ought to have continued with the aim of making provision for the geological disposal of intermediate level waste. I am advised that the Government's statement in December emphasised that priority will now be given to making progress towards the early disposal of intermediate level wastes as these have a lower level of radioactivity and there is no technical advantage in delaying disposal. We are going to publish a White Paper and these issues will be fully dealt with there.

The noble Lords, Lord Adrian, Lord Flowers and Lord Swann, all raised the question of the dual support system, for the support of scientific research in universities. Those noble Lords will know that a joint working party of the Advisory Board of the Research Councils and the University Grants Committee has recently completed a study of this question which it is expected will be submitted shortly to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. I would like to assure the noble Lords who have raised this point that I will certainly draw to his attention the points which they have raised in this debate.

In conclusion, I am conscious of the fact that I have not been able to give answers to all the points raised by your Lordships during the course of this important debate this afternoon. I would like to assure all those who have taken part that the debate will help very considerably in preparing the Government's response to this important report. I will read the debate carefully in Hansard tomorrow and I know that it will be studied by the Government. Before I sit down, I should again like to offer our very considerable thanks, not only to the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, and his committee and secretariat, and to all those who have spoken, but also to those who prepared evidence and other reports for the committee.

6.39 p.m.

Lord Sherfield

My Lords, there is another debate on a scientific subject coming up with a number of speakers, so I shall make my reply as brief as possible. I should like first to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate and express appreciation for the constructive ideas which have been put forward. One of the advantages of a debate on such reports is that it gives members of a committee an opportunity to place their own gloss on the recommendations in the report and also to range more widely than the recommendations in the report itself. Then I should like to thank all those noble Lords who paid compliments to myself; more importantly, all those who paid compliments to the committee as a whole; and, most importantly, all those who paid compliments to the recommendations made in the report.

I will refer briefly to one or two points which were raised. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, accused the committee of falling into the trap of defining science too narrowly. I would suggest to him that we saw that trap before we fell into it. Certainly we did not take any narrow view of science, and, if we expressed ourselves badly, that was our fault. As for the question whether the Social Science Research Council should be represented on a central council and in what form, the committee took care not to lay down any particular views about the composition of the committee, because that is a matter which is perhaps more appropriately considered by the Government.

The noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, in a most interesting and important speech, referred to the central council which was set up in Sir Harold Wilson's Administration. Perhaps it was due to the fact that its deliberations took place behind closed doors that its work did not appear sufficiently in the evidence which we received. Again I would say to him that his remarks on the scope and terms of reference of the central council were of great interest, but that we did not seek to elaborate on the composition of the central council and its precise terms of reference.

I welcome the remarks of those who did not think we had gone far enough, particularly in relation to setting up of a Ministry of Science and Technology. I would rather have that said than that we had gone too far, because it helps to bring out for the Government the essential moderation of our recommendations and will encourage them to follow and implement them.

The noble Baroness asked me some searching questions, which I will not try to answer too closely tonight because I think they need some further reflection. As regards the functions of the proposed Cabinet Minister who should be designated to speak for science and technology, what we said in chapter 4, paragraph 11, was carefully thought out and I would not want to elaborate on it, except perhaps to add that it was certainly in my mind that such a Minister would rely to a considerable extent on the advice of the Central Council of Science and Technology, if one were set up, and on the chief Government scientist. Whether he could function effectively without a department is a matter which no doubt the Government will consider, but we did draft carefully the paragraph of the report to which I have referred.

I should like to thank the noble Baroness for telling us in greater detail about the terms of reference of Dr. Nicholson, and particularly what she said about his responsibilities in the international field. I did not in my opening speech take up that point specifically, but we were impressed by the fact that this was an area in which a good deal of strengthening of the existing responsibilities of the chief scientist was needed.

My Lords, with those few remarks, I will merely say that your Lordships will look forward to the summer equinox, which I believe to be the target date for the substantive reply of the Government. I beg leave to withdraw my motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.