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Research Apparatus And Chemicals

Volume 155: debated on Monday 12 June 1922

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asked the President of the Board of Trade whether his attention has been drawn to the statement by Sir J. J. Thomson, O.M., F.R.S., in his recent presidential address to the Institute of Physics, to the effect that the Safeguarding of Industries Act had increased the difficulties of research in this country; that he had lost more time since the War by the use of imperfect materials than in the previous 40 years he had been working; that over and over again apparatus which had taken a fortnight or three weeks to construct had cracked during the next night with the result that the whole thing had to be repeated; and whether he will consider Sir J. J. Thomson's suggestion that a system of licences under the Act for research institutions should be set up?

I have not seen the precise statement quoted by the hon. and gallant Member, but I am aware of Sir J. J. Thomson's general attitude on this matter, and that he did refer to difficulties alleged to he caused by the Safeguarding of Industries Act. I would point out, however, that the inferiority of apparatus and materials cannot be ascribed to that Act, since there is no prohibition of importation and the duty is not of sufficient magnitude to deter an investigator from obtaining foreign goods if their quality is appreciably higher than that of the domestic products; and I may add that there is conclusive evidence that Germany is far from maintaining her pre-War standard of quality. The answer to the last part of the question is in the negative.


asked the President of the Board of Trade whether his attention has been drawn to a statement by the director of the Royal Technical College, Glasgow, that certain organic chemicals obtained from British firms in this country have been found impure and useless for research and experiment; and whether he can take steps to secure to such scientific institutions the necessary materials with which to carry on their work?


asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that the secretary of the Royal Holloway College states that, as a result of the passing of the Safeguarding of Industries Act, practically all research is greatly hindered by the necessity of preparing compounds which formerly one could buy, and that at the present time research students at the college spend from one-third to one-half of their time in preparing compounds which formerly could be bought; and whether the Government can do anything to assist those students in this matter?

I am aware that statements of the kind quoted have been made. I would point out that imports are not prohibited, and I suggest that it would be a useful course for research workers and others concerned to place themselves in direct communication with the British makers of fine chemicals, who will, I am confident, welcome any detailed criticism and co-operation in the development of the British industry, to their mutual advantage.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that they have put themselves in direct communication with British makers? Does he not think that the use, of these articles is rendered prohibitive by the increase in prices, and does that not prevent research being carried out in a proper way in this country?

These men have no time to go to the laboratories to tell them how proper materials can be got from Germany. Is not the present arrangement hampering research?


asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is aware that the chemistry department of the University College, Dundee, has stated that the Safeguarding of Industries Act has put an additional tax on the department, particularly in the provision of materials for research; that research work is undoubtedly hampered by the Act; that they have had to abandon certain work which they would have undertaken had the cost of materials been less; and whether he will consider raising the public grants to such institutions by the amount of the tax imposed on them by the Act;

I have not seen the statement to which the hon. Member refers. I doubt, however, if the increased cost of research can be properly ascribed except to a very limited extent to the operation of the Safeguarding of Industries Act in view of the great increase in cost of all kinds in recent years, and I hope that the stimulus given by the Act to scientific work in industry in this country will more than off-set any disadvantages. The distribution of Exchequer grants to universities and colleges is made after a very careful consideration of their individual needs, and I cannot undertake to direct a specific increase as suggested in the question.

As the President of the Board of Trade told the House that it was the right hon. Gentleman who "left this foundling upon his doorstep," does he not feel morally bound to compensate for the harm he has done?