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Volume 640: debated on Tuesday 9 May 1961

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Geological Survey Board (Geophysical Department)


asked the Parliamentary Secretary for Science if he will give details of the staff employed by the Geophysical Department of the Geological Survey Board.

Seven scientists are employed, and four more scientists are being recruited. Ancillary staff are provided as a common service to all branches of the Geological Survey and Museum.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is a need to expand the department much more because we still need a proper geophysical survey of the country's resources? Will he try to recruit on a larger scale?

I fully agree with the hon. Member that we should do more than we are doing at present. There has been great difficulty in recruiting suitably qualified staff for geophysical work in face of commercial competition and the attractions of research in the universities, but, as I said in my original Answer, we are doing our best to recruit four more scientists.

Machine Tool Industry, Scotland


asked the Parliamentary Secretary for Science to what extent he is supporting scientific research in the machine tool industry in Scotland.

The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research supports the Machine Tool Industry Research Association and the Production Engineering Research Association, both of which carry out research in this field and have Scottish members. Research of direct value to the machine tool industry in Scotland is carried out at the National Engineering Laboratory, East Kilbride, and also in the National Physical Laboratory. In addition, a research grant on the mechanics of metal cutting has been made to Glasgow University.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the light engineering industry in increasingly having to look abroad, to Italy, France, Germany and the United States, for machine tools because of the shortage and lack of modern machine tools in this country? Will he and his Department take more energetic steps to see that there is more scientific research and development on machine tools, not only in Scotland, but in the United Kingdom as a whole?

I fully agree with the hon. Member that more research and development are needed in future than has been the case in the past in this industry. However, we have only recently set up the Machine Tool Industry Research Association and we have very great hopes of it.

University Research


asked the Parliamentary Secretary for Science what is the percentage of the total national expenditure on research and development which is allocated to university research.

Expenditure on research and development at universities is incurred at their discretion and is not determined by allocation. The Advisory Council on Scientific Policy recently estimated that in 1958–59 expenditure at universities amounted to about 5 per cent. of the total national expenditure on research and development. The proportion of basic research which is done in universities is, of course, much larger than this.

Does not this figure of 5 per cent. compare very unfavourably with the amount allocated in the United States, which is about 9 per cent., and, in view of the fact that the universities are responsible for the best fundamental research as a whole, should not greater assistance be given to them?

I think that one has to be careful in talking of any of these percentages, first, because it is very difficult within a university allocation to allocate that part of a man's salary, that proportion of the cost of buildings, and to say how much is to be considered the cost of research and how much the cost of teaching. Secondly, it is a fact that basic research, which is just that type of research upon which the universities particularly specialise, costs much less than applied research and very much less than development.

Cancer Research


asked the Parliamentary Secretary for Science, in view of the fact that progress in cancer research is limited, not by lack of finance but by the number of experienced scientists available, what plans he has for extending the provisions for post-graduate research in the life sciences.

The main bar to rapid progress is neither a lack of funds nor a shortage of experienced scientists engaged on the problem, but a relative lack of new ideas and promising leads. My noble Friend will give his full support to any encouraging new lines of study.

As regards post-graduate research financial support continues to be provided by the Medical Research Council to an increasing number of research workers in aid of an extensive programme of clinical and laboratory investigations. A list of these will be found in the Council's last report.

While thanking the Parliamentary Secretary for his Answer, may I ask him whether he does not agree that if we want to have promising ideas and new methods of approach it may well be necessary to have suitable men who are capable of delivering them to us? Does not that mean that we must give more money to promising young people in this form of science?

We do, of course, continually increase year by year the amount of money we spend directly, through the Medical Research Council, upon cancer research. The figure has risen from £175,000 in 1949–50 to £650,000 in 1960–61, and I am advised by the Council that merely to devote more staff to this research would not guarantee any advance towards a solution of this problem and might well retard solutions being found to other scourges of humanity.

Would my hon. Friend fully accept the statement contained in the Question that cancel research is in no way limited for lack of funds?

Nuclear Reactors (Research)


asked the Parliamentary Secretary for Science if he has now reached a decision with regard to the application from the London University Imperial College of Science and Technology for permission to build a low-power nuclear reactor.

The Government has approved in principle the provision of three reactors, which will be available to Universities and Colleges of Technology for teaching and research. One will be sited in Scotland and one in Lancashire. It is proposed to site the third in the London area. This will be available to the Imperial College as to other institutions in London. Negotiations on arrangements are continuing.

While thanking the hon. Gentleman for that reply, may I ask whether he is aware that we are being very late in supplying these low-power nuclear reactors? Can he give the House some definite date on which they are supposed to be erected?

Yes, indeed; it is to be for the Universities of Manchester and Liverpool. As regards the exact site, I should like the hon. Gentleman to put a Question on the Order Paper in order that I may be absolutely accurate.

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that sites have been fixed for the reactor to be used by Liverpool and Manchester Universities and, therefore, can he state where it is to be exactly, because two years ago he was given an indication about the arrangements made for Liverpool and Manchester?

I admit that there has been considerable delay since the projects were first mooted, but this has been necessary in order that we should decide where best to locate the reactors in order that they could be put to the maximum amount of use by the various universities and the colleges of technology. We could not possibly permit, with public funds, reactors to be allocated for every single institution of higher education.


asked the Parliamentary Secretary for Science if he will give details of research being conducted in the development of small and medium nuclear reactors.

I am advised by the Atomic Energy Authority that it is not at present developing small and medium reactors.

Is the Minister aware that only recently a factory which produces small reactors, and its research organisation, was closed down: namely, the Hawker-Siddeley nuclear power research centre at Langley? In view of the fact that the Americans now have a virtual monopoly in the export of small reactors, when are we going to do something about it?

Small reactors, and in fact medium reactors, have already been designed by commercial undertakings. There is the point of the work which the Authority ought to do. As nuclear power is very dependent on economies of scale, and as the prospects of achieving competitive nuclear power in this country within the next ten years are based on building units of large generating capacity, it is surely right that the main emphasis of the Authority's attack should be on problems relating to that. On the other hand, the Authority is undertaking research into a large number of fields of study which would be applicable both to small and large reactors.

While we recognise that the Authority must do the main research on power reactors, this specialised field is now being neglected. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that I have given the Minister an example of one major firm which has been doing remarkable work in this field, and yet now it has closed down and nothing is being done?

I think that the hon. Gentleman is inaccurate in his final statement, but if he cares to put a specific Question on the Order Paper, I will look into it and make certain of the degree of his inaccuracy.

Medical Research (Cardiovascular Disease)


asked the Parliamentary Secretary for Science what knowledge has been gained by the Medical Research Council about the relationship between the hardness of local water supplies and mortality from diseases of the heart and arteries.

A recent statistical inquiry undertaken by the council in the county boroughs of England and Wales has shown that the death-rate from cardiovascular disease tends to be higher in areas with soft water supplies. It is not yet known, however, whether the relationship between water softness and cardiovascular disease is one of cause and effect.

Hydrofoil Craft


asked the Parliamentary Secretary for Science what official United Kingdom experiments have been made with hydrofoil ships; what were the results; what were the maximum speeds obtained; and what are the plans for future development of ships with under-water wings.

No research work specifically concerned with hydrofoil craft has been carried out since the war by D.S.I.R. Some experiments have been made at the National Physical Laboratory to measure the performance characteristics of foil sections considered suitable for propeller blades. The results so obtained are of general value and can be applied to non-cavitating type foils for hydrofoil craft.

Is it not astonishing that a country with our maritime traditions has done virtually nothing in this field, in view of reports of what has been achieved in Scandinavia and, indeed, in the United States, where they are already contemplating quite large sea-going vessels travelling at very high speeds indeed?

I do not think it is fair to say that we have done nothing in this country, since the National Physical Laboratory has undertaken basic investigation into fully cavitating and ventilated hydrofoils. I would also remind my hon. Friend that this country holds the world's water speed record with Bluebird, which uses hydrofoils.