Government Scientists (Pay)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th February 1974.

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5.43 p.m.

Photo of Mr Airey Neave Mr Airey Neave , Abingdon

I hope that it will be in order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I offer my good wishes to you on behalf of all hon. Members and say how much we have valued your distinguished service in the Chair over so many years. We wish you every success in future.

I am glad that you are in the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the last Adjournment debate of this Parliament. I am grateful that the House has completed its business in time for me to speak a great deal longer than would have been possible on a more normal occasion.

I wish to raise a subject which is of the utmost importance to the whole scientific world and to our research and development programme—namely, the morale of Government scientists, which at present is extremely low. The House will be well aware that in my constituency are the great laboratories of Harwell, Culham, which is just outside my constituency but where many of my constituents work, and the Rutherford Laboratory. The standard of living of Government scientists employed in these centres and a great many others has been hard hit not only by inflation, about which we shall hear a lot in the coming weeks, but by the policies of the Civil Service Department.

I shall give a few illustrations of what I mean by cuts in the standard of living of Government scientists. The salaries which I shall quote are scale maxima. I am referring to the period from 1963 until the present time. The Rutherford Laboratory, which is a part of the Science Research Council and is in my constituency, is one of the most important science and research laboratories. A principal scientific officer of the main key grade, which initiates and controls assembly work, had in 1963 a salary maximum of £2,810. In 1973 the salary maximum was £4,575, hence a 63 per cent. increase in 10 years. However, the price index change over the past 10 years has been an increase of 78 per cent.

Those figures illustrate a fall in living standards equivalent to 8 per cent. over 10 years and an even greater fall over any other shorter time scale. That is an unprecedented situation. I can find no other profession or occupation which has suffered in the same way during the past 10 years.

My second illustration concerns the senior scientific officers whom we used to call senior experimental officers. It is a second key grade. Their work carries responsibilities for the whole range of scientific work. In 1963 the salary maximum for such officers, men and women, was £2,179. In 1973 it was £3,640. The salary change in 10 years has been 67 per cent. but the price index change has been 78 per cent. Hence there has been a fall in their standard of living of 6 per cent. Again, I do not know of any other occupation which has been suffering so badly, although there may be those which come close to it.

The Civil Service Department is entirely to blame for the situation. It has been following mistaken policies regarding the determination of scientists' pay in the Civil Service. The scientists have been having a very bad time. In addition, British research and development and technology have been threatened by the Central Electricity Generating Board. There is a huge nuclear reactor programme involving American light water reactors upon which the Select Committee on Science and Technology has recently reported. I am glad to say that many of the recommendations of the Committee, of which I am chairman, seem to have found favour in the House. I take this opportunity of saying that were the CEGB programme to be accepted by any incoming Government after the General Election it would do tremendous damage to British research and development and to the morale of Government scientists.

I do not take a jingoistic view about reactors. The Select Committee considered the matter from a technical, economic and operational rather than from a chauvinist point of view. I welcome the presence in Britain of the Canadian Ministers—namely, the Federal Minister of Energy and the Ontario Minister of Energy. I hope that a technology agreement can be reached on the CANDU reactor which will relate to the steam generating heavy water reactor which we are developing. A know-how agreement would be valuable.

I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to tell his noble Friend the Secretary of State for Energy that no decision should be made until the House meets again. The House was, of course, to have a debate about the subject next week. I think that all hon. Members feel sufficiently strongly about the matter to consider that we should not be faced with any kind of fait accompli. I ask my hon. Friend to carry that view to my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Energy.

Photo of Mr Airey Neave Mr Airey Neave , Abingdon

I am sure that the hon. Lady does not want to buy American reactors any more than I do.

Photo of Mrs Renée Short Mrs Renée Short , Wolverhampton North East

The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood. If a decision is made and it is the wrong one, we will change it.

Photo of Mr Airey Neave Mr Airey Neave , Abingdon

I return to the question of Government scientists. I have had perhaps 500 letters in the last week. I have had no time to open a great many of them, but those I have opened describe the financial difficulties of many creative and brilliant people. It is a most disturbing situation for the country to find itself in at a time when we specially need their services in the development of new energy resources.

I should like to know what the Government's attitude is towards scientists. I have been in this House for a long time, and I have never been satisfied with the attitude of any Government to scientists. By permitting this gap to arise between the pay rates of administrative grades and those of the scientific grades, the Government have given rise to a feeling that they are anti-science, and in particular that the administrative grades of the Civil Service do not favour scientists at all in having permitted these discrepancies to continue.

The pay of the Science Group in the Civil Service has been referred to the Pay Board. I should therefore say something about the previous history since I, with other hon. Members from both sides of the House, played some part in the controversy.

For 24 years, between 1947 and 1971, the pay of Government scientists was based on what were described as internal relativities. The pay of the administrative, technological and professional grades was related to the pay of Government scientists. What has gone wrong, in that Government scientists find themselves now in such an unhappy situation, is; the abandonment of that principle. This was the big mistake that the Civil Service Department made from 1969 onwards. The Institution of Professional Civil Servants, which has always played a great rôle in this matter and represents many of my constituents and the constituents of other hon. Members present, had its representations refused by the CSD on this point.

The CSD insisted on a disastrous—that is the only word I can appropriately use—pay research system, with the results that have now arisen with such evil consequences for the scientific world. The claim at the time in 1971 was referred to the Civil Service Arbitration Tribunal. It was an improvement on the CSD offer, but it never solved the basic difference—that scientists' pay in the Government service should be determined by internal relativities and not by a relationship to outside organisations.

This was the case put by the IPCS. It said that a substantial difference in scale in organisation existed between the employment of scientists in Government service and the employment of scientists in outside organisations, especially in industry. I work in a firm which employs scientists, and I confirm much of what the IPCS has said.

In industry the emphasis is on applied research. Industry does very little basic research, whereas in the Government service the scientists do both basic and applied research. Above all, they undertake project management, particularly in the Ministry of Defence. There is, therefore, a clear distinction between the sort of work scientists do in industry and other organisations and the work which scientists do in the Civil Service. Trying to establish a fair comparison through pay research on such a basis was not successful and led to the present crisis.

Another very substantial difference is that in the Civil Service the age groupings of scientists are quite different from those in industry. In industry, for example, the largest concentration of scientists in research and development is in the 26 to 30 age group. They do not continue, as scientists do in the Civil Service, much beyond the 35 to 40 age group in such work but go into management, administrative jobs and so on. There is a distinction between the two types of occupation. In the Civil Service the largest concentration of scientists in research and development is in the age band 41 to 45.

The pay research unit in 1971 was, therefore, pursuing entirely false comparisons which could not succeed and could not usefully be made. It was the abandonment of the relativity between scientists in Civil Service and those employed in the administrative, professional and technological grades that caused the present disastrous dispute, which has been going on since 1971. As no solution seems to be in sight, I thought it essential to raise the matter.

The CSD has stuck firmly to its point about comparisons, despite very strong pressure from hon. Members, some of whom are present in the Chamber. I was aided by the late Sir Harry Legge-Bourke in going to see my noble Friend Lord Jellicoe and then my noble Friend Lord Windlesham, the present Lord Privy Seal. We have warned Ministers time and again that a proper solution could not be found unless they abandoned their mistaken policies of 1971.

What the Civil Service Department should have been discussing was the gap, growing all the time because of inflation, between the pay of scientists in Government service and the groups in the administrative, professional and technological grades. I ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary whether he feels that there has been prejudice at work against the scientists within the Civil Service itself. I hope that this is not true of the administrators. Yet how can the Department have allowed a gap of nearly 25 per cent. to have arisen after these years of dispute? In the circumstances, I am entitled to ask whether any prejudice exists.

Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham

My hon. Friend has spoken of declining morale among scientists in the Civil Service. Is he aware that last week at the Natural Physical Laboratory at Teddington, in my constituency, 400 scientists stopped work, held a meeting and went home because they felt so indignant about this matter? This is the first time that such a thing has happened in the history of the service. Does it not show the extent of the feeling and the urgency and seriousness with which we should expect the Minister for the Civil Service to treat the matter?

Photo of Mr Airey Neave Mr Airey Neave , Abingdon

I thank my hon. Friend very much. He was right to refer to the situation at the NPL. Unless my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary can say something effective tonight, the situation will recur elsewhere. There will be protest actions in many places. Scientists are not militant people. They are very reasonable. All the letters I have read from them are couched in moderate terms. The last thing they want to do is to be involved in industrial action. They want to get on with their work.

The effect of the policy followed by the CSD meant that, after the review award in January 1971, those in the scientific officer and assistant scientific officer grades were already 7 to 8 per cent. behind those in the administrative officer grades. This has grown to an average of 25 per cent. It cannot be allowed to continue.

Throughout 1972 the Civil Service Department was in dispute and an independent committee was suggested. This was overtaken by the Government's counter-inflation policy. When I have spoken from time to time with the Civil Service Department it has given me the impression that what we are talking about is the result of the Government's counter-inflation policy. This situation existed long before the prices and incomes code was introduced. The question of whether scientists in the Civil Service should be on a par with those in administrative grades had nothing to do with the code.

The Institution of Professional Civil Servants continued to press for new methods of determination and the reference to the Pay Board was made last year. The choice remains between pay research and internal relativities. We cannot criticise the Pay Board. It received the reference only in October 1973. This is a complicated matter. The failure to reach a solution was the responsibility of the other bodies, principally the CSD, for following what I believe to be a mistaken policy.

The 1973 substantive review was deferred by the standstill and stage 2. Meanwhile the standard of living of scientists in my constituency and elsewhere in Government service continued to fall. Between 1st January 1971 and 1st January 1973, when the substantive review was due, it fell between 18 per cent. to 19 per cent. behind the weekly wages index. It was estimated that real cuts in living standards were between 8 per cent. to 9 per cent. Obviously there will be a serious sense of bitterness and unfairness if this sort of thing is allowed to continue.

The Government are the biggest employer of this type of scientist. They should act as a reasonable employer. I do not believe that they have done so. My hon. Friend must tell us that they intend to do so in future. I need hardly remind the House, since we have been reminded of them from the Labour benches, of certain melancholy facts about the increase in retail prices. They rose by 27·1 per cent. between January 1971 and November 1973. Wages rose by the larger amount of 39·9 per cent. in the same period. On the other hand, look what happened to the scientists.

Between 1st January 1971 and 1st January 1974 a principal scientific officer now earning £4,895 has received an increase of only 19 per cent. compared with the overall wage increase of 39 per cent. He was well behind in the race. A senior scientific officer earning £3,895 today has received an increase over the period since 1971 of 19·7 per cent. A higher scientific officer earning £2854 today has received an increase of 21·4 per cent., while a scientific officer earning £2,329 today has received an increase of 22·6 per cent. and an assistant scientific officer earning £1,729 today has had an increase of 23·9 per cent.

We have therefore clear evidence that all these persons employed by the Government in various scientific grades received increases well behind those which the rest of the working community received. This is the reason for their sense of frustration and their feeling that, unless they become militant and take some protest action in the laboratories, which they do not wish to do, they will not get anywhere with my hon. Friend's Department.

Let me give a few illustrations of what this means to individuals. I will not quote names. I have had letters from practically every scientific establishment in the country complaining that the administrative officer grade is so much ahead of other scientific grades. One person writes: By comparison, for example, with salaries in the administrative Civil Service, equivalent scientific grades are up to 30 per cent. underpaid. Take my own grade as an example. In January 1970 this was equivalent to that for an administrative principal and attracted the same salary. Now, at the top of the scale, there is a difference of close on £1,000 a year. This is an enormous discrepancy. My correspondent continued: Such unfavourable comparisons obtain throughout all the lower rates with the result that morale is at an all-time low and recruitment thin. If we are to get the best brains into science, we will not do it in this way. A number of people have written to say that they will be leaving the scientific world on that account.

Another person writes: I am a senior scientific officer aged 45 employed at the UKAEA at Harwell on a salary of £3,800 per annum, top of the scale. My position is head of market intelligence, in charge of seven staff supplying market information in support of our commercial programmes, which are currently bringing in an income of over £5 million per annum. During the past three years I have seen my executive juniors who are employed in a secondary support rôle to scientists at Harwell outstrip me, both in earnings and standard of living. My 23-year-old godson is now employed at Harwell as a junior graduate engineer on a salary approximately equivalent to my own. That is the position in which people who have spent their lives in science are finding themselves. They are being outstripped by supporting staff doing administrative jobs. These people are important to the running of the laboratory. This produces an absurd situation. Even in the private office of the Lord Privy Seal the scientists employed there is receiving considerably less than the other officials. Surely my hon. Friend and my noble Friend cannot permit this situation to continue any longer. They must find a means of ending it.

I have received a letter from someone in the computing group at Culham. He says: Since I started working at Culham my real standard of living has steadily declined, especially over the past two years. My mortgage increased by 37½ per cent. from September 1972 to September 1973 and it is now quite apparent that unless I get a substantial rise in salary very soon I shall have to sell my house because I can no longer afford it. While I realise that part of the current inflation is caused by external factors this by no means tell the whole story. At least some of the blame must be laid at the door of the Government. He goes on to explain the position and says: It is now the case that people working in Culham who are designated administrators are earning £1,000 a year more than I, despite the fact that my work is 80 per cent. administrative. This situation not only makes no sense but it is damaging in the extreme for science today and for the future of the country in my view in its great research projects. Although I have had more time than I expected to have tonight, and I have received many more letters, some of them very painful ones, from young scientists who regret having chosen science at all, I will not take up much more time because I am aware that others wish to speak.

This is a most melancholy state of affairs. I have always supported the claims of scientists in this House and I feel very unhappy about the current position. We are penalising some of the most creative and unselfish people in the country who have never complained until now and who have not become militant despite these big discrepancies. At last they are driven by these frustrations to protest to the House. We need these people for the big programmes of research that are required to make our country prosperous.

On 17th January 1974 the General Secretary of the IPCS, Mr. McCall, wrote to the Civil Service Department saying that scientists were already suffering these severe cuts in their standard of living and that no reasonable employer could expect the scientists to wait for a further period before their pay was improved. He went on to say: The Lord Privy Seal has stated that there can be no doubt it is in our common interest to find a solution to these difficulties as quickly as possible". Since 1971 I have been told that by two Lords Privy Seal——

Photo of Mr George Machin Mr George Machin , Dundee East

Does the hon. Gentleman feel that this can be dealt with by the Government as employer making the necessary adjustments, or by the Pay Board through its relativities report?

Photo of Mr Airey Neave Mr Airey Neave , Abingdon

Probably by the latter, but the Government have to consider the interim claim put in by the IPCS.

My hon. Friend the Minister will probably tell the House that the Government are bound by the decision of the Pay Board, but there has been a delay in the Pay Board's report which is not now expected to be made as early as was hoped. I was in touch yesterday with the Pay Board and I received a promise that the report would be hurried up. The Government will be bound by the Pay Board's decision, but in the meantime Mr. McCall has put in an interim claim.

In view of the unusual circumstances in which the House meets today, I suggest to my hon. Friend that he should arrange straight away to sit down with the Pay Board and the IPCS to talk about this interim claim. Otherwise by the time the election is over the gap which is now 25 per cent. will have become even wider, more people will have suffered because of it and some may have left the scientific world, with great loss to the country. My hon. Friend must reassure these men and women. They are responsible, moderate people who do not like militancy or protest action, but that might come, with great harm to scientific interests, if the Minister cannot give that reassurance.

I hope that the Minister will consider all I have said and what other hon. Members will say in support of my case. The Government will no doubt be bound by the Pay Board's report, but they will still have to resolve the main disagreement that in future the status of scientists within the Civil Service should be a much better one. Any future Government after the election must have a definite policy of parity between the administrative and scientific grades, otherwise we shall never recruit the best young people either into the scientific Civil Service or elsewhere. The Civil Service Department will have to change its policy, and the House should press it to do so.

6.14 p.m.

Photo of Mrs Renée Short Mrs Renée Short , Wolverhampton North East

I am glad to have the opportunity to follow the powerful case made out by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave). We all respect his interest in scientific matters, and he has done a great service in bringing forward this matter.

I agree with everything that was said by the hon. Gentleman. The general public do not understand the difficulties that scientific civil servants have had to endure for so many years. This is not recent; it is a matter of long-standing dispute amongst scientific civil servants. Civil servants are divided into three grades, the administrative, executive and clerical grades, the professional and technical grades, and the scientists. The Pay Research Unit, which reviews Civil Service salaries, on 1st January 1973 could have awarded an increase in pay to the scientific Civil Service, but did not do so because of Government policy at the time. The administrative, executive and clerical grades had an anomaly award in November 1973 which was not backdated but was paid in November 1973. The professional and technical grades had a rise in January of this year.

The scientific grades from senior principal scientific officer upwards are tied to the administrative grades, which had a rise in November 1973. The scientific grades from principal scientific officer downwards did not get that increase. They feel bitter about it because they are having to meet all the increases in the cost of living that have been brought about largely by the Government's policies.

In the administrative grade the principal is the equivalent of the principal scientific officer. It might be useful to compare the equivalent grades of administrative officers and scientific officers to see the differences in the salary at the beginning and end of the grade. The comparison shows the mean way in which we treat our scientists. There is at least a difference of from 25 per cent. to 30 per cent. between the salaries of administrative officers and those of scientific officers below senior principal scientific officer. The scientists are always behind the administrative officers.

The difference between the principal scientific officer and the principal in the administrative grade is £900 per annum. In addition, the principal scientific officer's promotion prospects are much smaller and he takes much longer to acquire his qualifications than does the administrative officer. The principal scientific officer reaches his grade at the age of 34 or thereabouts, but the principal gets there at 28 or even younger so that he is able to earn a higher salary for a longer period.

There is a gap between the bottom of the senior principal scientific officer grade and the top of the principal scientific officer grade, which stands at £1,400 per annum. If an officer is promoted to senior principal scientific officer from the top of the grade below, his increase amounts to one-third of his existing salary and he gets that in one go. There is no justice in that fantastic situation.

There are a large number of posts in the Civil Service that can be filled, on the one hand, by administrative, executive or clerical grades or, on the other hand, by scientific grades. The salary for the man who gets the job depends on the entirely arbitrary decision whether he is a scientist. If he is a scientist and fills the job, he gets less than the man who is in the administrative grade, even though the job is precisely the same and the job specification and the requirements which the officer has to meet are exactly the same. This situation is grossly unfair. It is no wonder that the Institution of Professional Civil Servants is so concerned about the position.

The latest pay award of 7 per cent., announced only a few days ago, has not changed the differentials in salary between the scientific and the administrative grades. I should like to give the Parliamentary Secretary some comparable salaries. The lower range executive officer at age 18 starts at £1,360 and rises to £2,782. The comparable scientific grade is the scientific officer, but he does not enter the grade at 18 because he has to take his degree and he is 21 when he enters the service. He begins at £1,410 a year and rises to £2,329. The next administrative grade is the higher executive officer. He starts at £2,953 and rises to £3,534. The comparable scientific grade is the higher scientific officer, who starts at £2,221, which is over £700 less, and rises to only £2,854—well below the top of the administrative scale, which is £3,534.

The senior executive officer starts at £3,756 and rises to £4,542, whereas the senior scientific officer starts at £2,798—almost £1,000 below—and rises to £3,895. The principal starts at £4,360 and rises to £5,913, and the principal scientific officer starts at £3,715 and rises to £4,895, which is over £1,000 below. It is interesting to see where the Member of Parliament fits into the scale which I have just read out. The senior principal scientific officer, on the other hand, who has had a maximum increase of £350 under the 7 per cent. increase, now receives a salary of £6,300, which is an enormous increase over the principal scientific officer grade. If the principal scientific officer is promoted to the next grade, he gets over 30 per cent. of his original salary in one fell swoop.

The difficulty is that the Pay Board said that it could not make up its mind how to fix the salaries of scientific staff. This is the indication I have had, but the Pay Board should be told that the delay has continued for long enough and that these anomalies should be removed.

As for salary-fixing within the Civil Service, the salaries are fixed not by the scientific staff but by the administrative staff—and the administrators make sure that they get their increases regularly year after year without difficulty; they also make sure that the scientific grade salaries are kept below the administrative grade salaries. This situation surely cannot be tolerated. It is grossly unfair, and it affects recruitment into the scientific Civil Service. The Government are the largest employers of scientists in the country and give interesting and stimulating careers to our scientists, but we should at least see that they are properly recompensed.

Our senior scientists have to carry out a great deal of negotiations with administrators in industry and those who work in research departments, and also take part in high-level discussions with their opposite numbers in industry, but, compared with their colleagues, they are at a considerable disadvantage. Furthermore, they are frequently very much better qualified academically than are the people in industry with whom they have to negotiate. But the return they get is far below that given in industry. This is not a situation which any reasonable Government should tolerate. Therefore, it is not surprising that there has been a walk-out at the National Physical Laboratory, or demonstrations at the National Engineering Laboratory and the Building Research Station. There have also been at many research institutes sit-ins, walk-outs and meetings held in Government time. However, for some reason those events have not been newsworthy and, so far as I know, have not been reported in the Press. But they have happened and are an indication of the serious unrest that exists in the scientific Civil Service.

The Minister can perhaps claim some credit for the fact that the Government have successfully stimulated the scientists in their employment to stand alongside the consultants in the hospital service, the ambulance men, the hospital ancillary workers, the power workers, the miners—workers who have either taken industrial action or are about to do so. They have united a very wide cross-section of people across the board, because of the shabby way in which they have been treated, in taking action against the Government. The Government, by their pay policy and by the way in which the Pay Board is encouraged to deal with legitimate claims, are turning all moderate people into militants. I am referring to claims by people who have been silent up to now and who do not exert the normal pressures which other staff in industry and in some of the professions tend to exert.

I hope that the Minister will tell the Pay Board to get on with the job. I hope that he will say that immediately there should be some interim award and that forthwith there will be a proper review of the salaries paid to the scientific Civil Service at all levels to bring them completely into line with comparable administrative grades. This is the only way in which any kind of equity can be established to halt the decline in recruitment into the scientific Civil Service. This problem is a serious side result of the Government's policies.

6.28 p.m.

Photo of Hon. John Astor Hon. John Astor , Newbury

I wish to intervene briefly, but I hope as forcefully as possible, to support my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) since I, too, have a substantial number of scientists living in my constituency and working in Government establishments in Berkshire and the immediate neighbourhood.

The facts and figures have already been clearly explained by my hon. Friend, and the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) elaborated on them and gave further examples. I hope that many of the factual figures will already be known to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary of the Civil Service Department.

I wish to stress one aspect of this subject. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will make a great mistake if he seeks to under-estimate the strength of feeling among Government scientific officers. They are a responsible section of the community and only reluctantly have they decided to resort to industrial action. They would not have taken such a decision unless they regarded it as a last resort. I have had the opportunity to talk to a number of my constituents and I have received many letters on this topic. There is undoubtedly a great feeling of disillusionment and anger and in many cases this has turned into bitterness. This is having a bad effect on the establishments. I am repeatedly told that morale has never been lower. The standard of work is suffering from the feeling of frustration and injustice and there is also difficulty in recruiting the best type of graduate into the service.

All this will have a long-term effect on the scientific service unless the Parliamentary Secretary is able to take quicker action. No one could deny, on the figures already outlined, that the scientific civil servants, at least up to PSO grade, are due for a pay award. It may be some time before the Pay Board can report and full negotiations can take place under whatever scheme is arrived at. I urge the Parliamentary Secretary to consider making an interim award without delay and without prejudice to any final negotiations. This is almost the only way open to him at present to correct the feeling of injustice and restore the morale of the service, and I hope that he will take immediate steps so to do.

6.31 p.m.

Photo of Mr Christopher Woodhouse Mr Christopher Woodhouse , Oxford

My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) has put the case so fully and eloquently that there is little to be added. What needed to be added has been forcefully said by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Astor).

Neverthless I wish to add a few words because, although there is probably a greater number of Government scientific workers employed in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon, there are a great many living in my constituency. I receive letters from them, similar to other letters which have been quoted in the debate.

There is a curious historical reason for the connection between Harwell and Oxford. When the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority Establishment was being set up soon after the war, great nervousness was expressed in the University of Oxford about having this danger-out establishment on its doorstep. Apparently many dons were under the misapprehension that radioactive fall-out would flood all over the neighbouring counties. When it was explained to them that many high-grade scientists would work at Harwell and would want the proximity of an academic community, for obvious scientific reasons, the dons at Oxford, I am told, said "Could not the establishment be put near Cambridge?"

The Atomic Energy Authority nevertheless persisted, and that is why I, too, have a constituency interest in the matter. I have received many letters from Government scientists who live in Oxford. I shall quote one letter, which I received this morning from an employee of the UKAEA. He writes: The Civil Service scientific staff and other Government scientists have been very badly treated in terms of pay increases; our standard of living has been viciously eroded over the last three years. Even the Civil Service Department has admitted to the Pay Board that they are concerned about wastage and difficulty in recruitment.Scientists have been extremely patient and have conceded many points on timescales to allow genuine study of the whole basis of pay settlements. They are now growing desperate. I have never experienced such bitterness and desperation among the lowly-paid junior members. No doubt that letter, or the spirit of it, can be reproduced many times in the correspondence which hon. Members on both sides, as well as myself, receive. That is why I wish with all the emphasis at my command to support the arguments of my hon. Friend. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to assure us that in the next Parliament no Member of Parliament will receive any such letters again.

6.35 p.m.

Photo of Mr Michael Hamilton Mr Michael Hamilton , Salisbury

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) on his good fortune in arranging this debate, particularly on a day when he is not restricted to a total of 30 minutes. This enables many other hon. Members to speak.

In Salisbury, in my constituency, there are several establishments—Porton, which was visited recently by a Select Committee which included the late Sir Harry Legge-Bourke, and Boscombe Down, which many hon. Members will know is an advanced Farnborough. Many scientists work at these establishments. I have talked to them and been impressed by their remarkable restraint and moderation. I have studied the history of their remuneration and I am sorry to say that the bulk of the delays have fallen during the time of the present administration.

I sympathise with the feelings of these scientists and the treatment they have received. I hope that we shall have a reassurance this evening that no more time will be wasted and that matters will now be put right.

6.37 p.m.

Photo of Mr David Mitchell Mr David Mitchell , Basingstoke

I expected that this debate would take place shortly after 10 o'clock. I was in a Committee, and it was only by chance that I realised that the debate had started. Therefore, my notes, containing statistics with which I intended to blind the Minister and your good self, Mr. Speaker, are not with me at the moment.

I have been profoundly impressed by the case presented by the scientists in my constituency, where, in parts of Basingstoke and in Tadley, Pamber, Ash-ford Hill, Kingsclere and Mortimer, a considerable number live, and work for the AWRE. Their case is wholly reasonable. I understand that some of my colleagues have already made much of the statistical case, and I am sorry that I was not present at that time.

My point is twofold. First, the matter is now with the Pay Board, and I have written to the Chairman of the Pay Board about it. I am given to understand that there are very important detailed problems which arise because of the way the difference of opinion has built up over a period of time.

There are questions about whether the Pay Research Unit did its job fairly in regard to the scientists. The Pay Research Unit compared the pay of career structure scientists employed at the AWRE and in other sections of the Government service with those employed in private industry, but in private industry after a man reaches 32 years of age or thereabouts he ceases to be classed as a scientist and is classed instead as an administrator, a manager or in some other category.

In effect, therefore, the pay research unit compared the pay of Civil Service career scientists throughout the whole of their working life with the pay of others up to the age of 32 or thereabouts. That cannot be a fair comparison. It seems to me, therefore, that there is a strong case for a thorough inquiry.

If there is to be a thorough inquiry, however, there will be delay. If the Pay Board is to look into many other problems, some of them perhaps even more pressing, which people would like to refer to it, a considerable period will elapse before that thorough analysis of the problem is completed.

In these circumstances, I asked the Chairman of the Pay Board whether he could make an interim award. After all, the men about whom we are concerned are moderates, the very sort of people whom we should be encouraging. There is to be a General Election, in which the prime issue will be about whether militancy or moderation should be the guiding light in our economic affairs. Therefore, if there is to be a delay in dealing with the justifiable case which this body of moderate men have, it is essential that they be given an interim pay award.

I am assured by the Chairman of the Pay Board that that cannot be done by the board. It can be done by the Minister. I shall, therefore, delay matters no further so that the Minister may give us some encouraging news. If he does not, he will find confronting him, when the House next assembles, some very incensed Members of Parliament who are thoroughly convinced of the justice of the cause of the scientists employed in the Government service.

6.41 p.m.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Warren Mr Kenneth Warren , Hastings

I regret that I had to leave the Chamber for a Committee so that I did not hear all the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave).

It is essential that the scientists are looked after by the Government in a way in which they cannot look after themselves, because the need is for continuity in their structure of employment and this the Government have not so far given to them. All that the Government assure them of is employment but without ensuring continuity of comparison with their colleagues in private industry with whom they have to deal, or continuity of comparison not only with private industry in this country but with those with whom they have to deal overseas both in industry and in other employments who receive a much better deal from their Governments.

I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon on one point. He said that scientists in Government employment have to look after project management whereas those in industry do not necessarily have the same responsibility. In my experience I have found that responsibility equates between private industry and the Government service, and this makes it all the harder on Government scientists who find that their responsibilities are not recognised as they are in private industry. Moreover, as my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. David Mitchell) explained, comparisons taken beyond about 32 years of age mean that Government scientists, as they get older, suffer particular inequalities.

The Government are to be commended for much that they have done in offering scientists the sort of continuity of employment in their specialist careers which private industry fails to offer. Often in private industry one sees at work the famous "Peter" principle that everybody shall be promoted to the level of his own incompetence, and many scientists are made administrators and managers without any hope of their being as good in the tasks to which they are promoted in private industry as their colleagues would be in the Government service.

It cannot be over-emphasised that people who choose a specialist career in science at an early age cannot change to some other career at a later time. One must safeguard and look after these people, and this only their employer can do. Their employer, the Government, must set the prime example, for in this sense the Government are the prime employer of the scientific and technical capability of our nation.

I draw attention also to the famous customer-contractor principle which the Government have introduced. The Government are the customer, and they have to set an example to those who are their contractors. In this relationship they should set, above all, an example in the way they employ those who support them in their service.

5.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr David Renton Mr David Renton , Huntingdonshire

Not for the first time during the many years he has been in the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) has put us all in his debt for his parliamentary initiative. Today, again, he has done a public service by raising this matter.

My mind goes back to the late 1960s, in the days of the Labour Government, when we were all worried about the brain drain, especially of scientists. Thanks to an improvement in direct taxation and to various other factors, that brain drain has to a considerable extent declined under the present Government. But I find that some Civil Service scientific officers in my constituency are worried about the long delay in ensuring that they receive the emoluments to which their skill and special training entitle them.

I refer in particular to those who work at the Natural Environment Research Council at Monks Wood, at the Agricultural Poulty Research Station at Houghton, and at various Royal Air Force establishments, of which there are several in my constituency. They have all put it to me that, although the Government have undoubtedly treated them fairly in certain basic matters, the long delay in reaching various decisions is causing them great frustration.

These scientists have asked me to urge that the Civil Service Department should approach the Pay Board and ask for an early decision on the anomaly issue which the Pay Board has to decide, and which, I understand, only the Pay Board can decide.

I hope that, in coming to that decision, the Pay Board will bear in mind what was said in the Fulton Report about the relative position of scientific officers in the Civil Service as compared with those in the administrative and executive grades. Fulton suggested that, in order to attract the right type of officers and to get the best out of them, there should be an understood degree of comparability between the scientific grades and the administrative grades. That is what we want to see. That is what we want an early decision on.

When I saw representatives of the civil servants only a week ago, I said to them "If you are trying to breach stage 3 of the prices and incomes policy, you will, I am afraid, get no sympathy from me". But they convinced me that what they were asking for was in no way a breach of stage 3. It is all within the statutory incomes policy. But there has been the terrible delay to which reference has already been made, and I hope that we shall hear from my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that such delays will be quickly overcome.

I realise that this is not the best moment for my hon. Friend to make weighty pronouncements of Government policy, but—Heaven knows—these civil servants have waited long enough. They are entitled to an answer from the Government even now, and I hope that the answer which they receive will be prompt and clear.

6.49 p.m.

Photo of Hon. Tim Sainsbury Hon. Tim Sainsbury , Hove

A Committee elsewhere in the building prevented me from hearing all this debate, and I apologise for my earlier absence.

I endorse what my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) said with reference to the Fulton Report. It is my experience that where one is employing scientists in an organisation along with administrators and others, it is essential, if those scientists are to be satisfactorily integrated in the total organisation, that they be on a proper basis of comparison with their colleagues. The practical experience of industry is that this satisfactory integration can be achieved only if their salary scales and their terms and conditions of employment are treated similarly.

Scientists, of all people,, are rational men, and their reason must lead them to suppose that any further delays in this matter would be unreasonable.

6.50 p.m.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , St Marylebone

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) on raising this important matter even at this late stage of this Parliament. He speaks not only with a deep constituency interest of the research establishments in his constituency but also as Chairman of the important Select Committee on Science and Technology, to which he has given considerable personal drive. It is fair to say that, although any member of any Government would say that he would not entirely agree with all the recommendations of its various reports, the Select Committee gives us a great deal to think about and acts, as a Select Committee should, as a goad to the executive.

There are not many Ministers fortunate enough to reply to an Adjournment debate in which nine hon. Members make speeches and in which two others make fairly lengthy interventions. I am glad that I have this opportunity to answer all the matters which have been raised.

The debate has focused attention on the very difficult situation of pay for Government scientists. It is a situation that no one could have foreseen, and it has caused acute problems for management as well as for individual scientists.

I regret these present difficulties as much as anyone. It is a situation which my hon. Friend referred to as "a melancholy position", and I agree with his epithet. We in the Civil Service Department recognise fully the importance of the work of Government scientists for future scientific and technological development. I assure the House that there is no prejudice in the Civil Service against scientists. The wicked administrators do not positively arrange pay research to their own advantage and to the disadvantage of scientists. In fact, we go out of our way to try to open up the career prospects for scientists in Government service. Very often scientists join the Government scientific service because they want to go on in a particular scientific discipline, but we try to ensure that there are plenty of opportunities for those who wish to switch into a more regular administrative rôle in the Civil Service.

Photo of Mr Airey Neave Mr Airey Neave , Abingdon

If there is no prejudice among the administrators, are not the results extraordinary? There is a 25 per cent. gap between administrative and scientific grades.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , St Marylebone

I am about to seek to explain that situation. I agree readily that it is unsatisfactory, and I want to point some way forward.

It may be helpful if I outline the recent history of scientists' pay. I do not quarrel with the analysis of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short).

In January 1971 the scientists' last pay research review gave them increases of between 5 and 10 per cent., averaging roughly 7½ per cent. In 1972 they received increases of between 7 and 7½ per cent. under a general Civil Service pay settlement. In April 1973 they received an increase within the £1 plus 4 per cent. limit of stage 2 which was an average of a little over 6 per cent. As from 1st January of this year they will receive a stage 3 settlement of 7 per cent. and more at some lower levels.

The Government scientists have not been able to benefit from the provisions of the stage 3 code designed to deal with pay anomalies caused by the standstill. I recognise that this has put their pay behind that of their colleagues in other grades who have benefited in this way, and I very much regret that. The reason for it is that scientists are not satisfied with the methods of pay research.

After the pay research exercise in January 1971 they felt, for reasons which were quite understandable and which were mainly concerned with differences in the scales of research and development in the public sector and in the private sector and differences in career and age structure, that it did not produce fair comparisons. They made that point to us in 1971. Therefore, they decided that they wished to seek an alternative method for determining their pay.

As a result of their decision, no pay research survey was mounted for the review due to them in January 1973. By the time of the pay standstill there were still no formally agreed means for determining their pay, and I regret that there is still none.

The pay of the rest of the Civil Service—the other 475,000 non-industrial civil servants—is determined by comparing the work that is done in government with work done outside government For the administrative grades and right down to messenger levels this produces comparisons which the grades, through their negotiating unions, have found satisfactory. It also provides a basis for determining the pay of some 80,000 professional and technical people in the Civil Service who are not scientists—architects, draughtsmen and so on.

The scientists maintained that using this basis of comparison, which is appropriate for so many different tasks and skills which are used in the Civil Service, was not appropriate for them. It was quite within their right to do so, of course. But there was this dispute about the basis for determining their pay which has taken them out of the anomaly exercise from which the rest of the Civil Service has benefited.

My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon suggested that there had been unnecessary delay in solving this problem. He will know that a joint examination of the problem by the IPCS and the CSD was agreed in September 1971 after the pay negotiations on the scientists' last pay research review were completed. Further information about the employment of scientists was sought by joint visits to a number of firms, and we tried hard to find a solution in joint discussion with the IPCS in the light of this. I regret that this was unsuccessful.

Then we considered whether the matter should be put to an independent committee whose decision would be accepted by both sides, but stage 1 of the incomes policy was announced before that committee could be established.

Some harsh words have been said about my Department's rôle in this. But it is fair to say that it takes two to make a dispute, and the Government believe that the pay of scientists should be determined by pay research in accordance with the general principles laid down by the Priestley Commission by comparing work inside government with work outside government.

The IPCS genuinely believes that pay research is inappropriate. In these circumstances, both sides have undertaken to refer their difference to the Pay Board, and we have both committed ourselves in advance to accept the outcome.

Various suggestions have been made by hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Astor), the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East and my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. David Mitchell) all suggested that there should be an interim pay award—in other words, that the increase should be granted to Government scientists—and to this end the IPCS has submitted a claim. This is being examined. But pay increases must be contained within the provisions of the stage 3 code. Agreement has already been reached for payment to the scientists of the 7 per cent. or £2·25 a week permitted under the code.

It has also been suggested that the Pay Board's Report on Relativities might hold the solution for a way out. The Government are considering the report and are in consultation with the CBI and the TUC about it. But the problem of scientists' pay seems, on the one hand, to be the basis of determining their method of pay and, on the other hand, internal pay differentials. I am advised that this possibly puts it outside the scope of the Report on Relativities. Nevertheless, when we have reached conclusions about the way ahead on the Relativities Reporft we shall be able to see whether it has anything to offer in the scientists' case.

I now turn to the matter of the Pay Board. As I told the House, we made formal reference to the Pay Board in 1973 We have asked it to recommend the method and criteria for determining scientists' pay. This is the matter in dispute, as it were, between the two sides which have agreed to accept the Pay Board's recommendations.

The board, which is not committed to any particular timetable, has said that it hopes to be able to report by the end of March. Both my Department and the IPCS have urged upon the board the importance of reporting quickly. My Department is giving the board all the help that it can to ensure that all the necessary information on comparisons is to hand.

I appreciate how strongly scientists feel on the matter. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East, my hon. Friends the Member:, for Abingdon, Newbury, Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse), Salisbury (Mr. Michael Hamilton), Basing-toke, Hastings (Mr. Warren) and Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) have spoken about the representations that have been made to them. They have left a vivid impression on me how strongly their constituents who are affected feel about the matter. I will undertake to draw to the attention of the Pay Board tomorrow not only the debate but the strong feelings that have been expressed. I think that the board will then be able to appreciate more vividly than if the debate had not taken place the depth and breadth of feeling that there is in the scientific community regarding this matter.

I am afraid that the problem of scientists' pay is difficult I wish to make it clear that I am as anxious as anyone to see the problem resolved satisfactorily and as soon as may be. I will do all that lies in my power to facilitate the Pay Board's task. I want to seek a speedy and satisfactory solution to the problem.

As this is the last occasion on which I shall address the House whilst you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are in the Chair, and as I understand you will be retiring at the end of this Parliament, I should like to say what a pleasure it has been to serve under you as Deputy Speaker of this Parliament. I am sure that in saying that I am expressing the views of all my colleagues.