Robert Maxwell – 1964 Maiden Speech in the House of Commons

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Robert Maxwell in the House of Commons on 3 November 1964.

It is with a great sense of humility that I rise to speak here for the first time. I am the representative for Buckingham, one of the nicest constituencies in the Home Counties. Our people are known for their warm-heartedness, hospitality and responsibility.
It would be fitting for me to pay tribute to my predecessor, Sir Frank Markham, who championed well the cause of Buckingham over the past thirteen years. He is a courageous man. During the recent battles on the Resale Prices Bill, he did not hesitate to vote against his Government in the cause of social justice.

My constituency, like the rest of southern England, by and large, is prosperous. It contains five towns, Bletchley, Wolverton Urban District, Newport Pagnall, Linslade and Buckingham, as well as over 100 of the loveliest villages of England, which, as a result of the recent railway closures, suffer from a severe lack of adequate bus services, a situation which is causing great hardship to many private individuals as well as to farmers and to businesses.

Many of our villages lack ordinary amenities such as sewerage and lighting systems. Most of our roads are not capable of handling modern traffic. There are hardly any amenities for our young people, and a great deal remains to be done to make the lives of our retired citizens more in keeping with life today in a highly civilised and prosperous industrial society.

In my constituency, the two major industries, in addition to the railways and railway workshops, are brick and cement manufacture. These industries are daily discharging into the atmosphere millions of cubic feet of harmful gases and dust, polluting the air in a way dangerous to health and often making life quite intolerable for many thousands of my constituents.

Working conditions in the brick industry leave a tremendous amount to be desired. In many respects, brick manufacturers, as the House knows, have failed the nation time after time by not providing sufficient capacity to produce the bricks we require and, more particularly, by their failing to explore and introduce quickly new scientific techniques of manufacture. Working conditions in the brick industry are shocking, with the consequence that manufacturers cannot attract sufficient labour from home and have to import large numbers of people from abroad to man their works. This brings serious social and housing problems on all the people and communities living around brick and cement works.

I earnestly hope that the new Government, jointly with the brick industry, will take urgent steps to increase brick output and improve working conditions, as well as to tackle on a multidisciplinary scientific basis the grave problem of air pollution. It is not enough for the inspectorate of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government to say that the industry is doing all that it can to abate the nuisance. The time has more than arrived for it to be tackled in a really serious way through the new scientific disciplines which are available, if there is the will in the industry and in the Government to do so.

I hope that the Minister of Transport will confirm soon that he will refuse to sanction the closure of the Oxford Bletchley-Cambridge line. People in my constituency have already suffered grievously from Beeching closures, and, because of the considerable expansion of population in this part of Buckinghamshire, it would be social as well as economic madness to close this important line. An example of the last Government’s mistaken economics, which, I hope, the present Minister of Transport will re-examine, was the recent closing of Castlethorpe railway station in my constituency. The Government are paying a subsidy of about £3,000 per annum to a private bus company to provide an unsatisfactory bus service to the village, whereas Castlethorpe station could be kept open at a cost of only £1,300 per annum. My constituents and I do not understand why this valuable modern station, on which many tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money were recently spent, was closed down, particularly as it is on the main line along which trains continue to run.

I look forward to the Government lifting the restrictions on the railway carriage workshops which in the past have prohibited them from accepting contracts from private industry or from abroad. I hope and expect also that the Minister of Transport will use his good offices with the Railways Board to have its workshops division substantially improved working conditions in railway workshops.

I very much welcome the Government’s proposals to help our industries to gain the full benefit of advances in scientific research and technology. At this point, I wish to refer to the strictures which the Leader of the Opposition seemed to think it right to cast on the creation of the Ministry of Technology and on the Government’s examination of the Concord project. The House may wonder what authority I have to deal with these matters. I was chairman of one of the working parties appointed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) in his previous capacity as Opposition Front Bench spokesman on science and education, and I had the responsibility and privilege of chairing the committee on science, Government and industry. Also, I am a publisher of scientific magazines and books, and I earn my living by being in the closest touch with scientists from all over the world. I can say without any doubt that many leading American scientists have advised the American Government not to enter into a project such as Concord because of grave scientific doubts about its real feasibility and its cost, and I very much support the Government in their determination to review this costly project for which there does not appear to be any real social or economic demand.

I hope to be able to prove to the House that the new Ministry of Technology is certainly one of the answers that the Government needed in order to get British industry to apply the results of research faster and better than it has done in the past. It is now well understood that the growth of our economy, the welfare of our citizens, our national security and the aid that we can afford to give to under-developed countries all depend to a growing extent upon the effective use that our industries make of new technology.

In recent years the rate of increase in our gross national product per worker and per capita has slowed down and has been substantially less than the increase of almost all highly industrialised nations. It is apparently not fully realised that scientific discovery followed by technological research and development produces nothing, other than knowledge, for society. They must be followed by their applications through the combined use of capital, and equipment and human resources—labour and management—to produce an economic good.

It is commonly accepted that management in British industry, both private and nationalised, by and large has failed badly to make use of science and technology as an aid to increased productivity and profitability. For example, of the first fifty ethical drugs prescribed by doctors under the National Health Service, in order of sales value used in this country, only three were discovered and developed in this country—ordinary penicillin and the new Beecham penicillins, Broxil and Penbritin.

It is generally agreed that one of the major obstacles preventing the wider application and use of science and technology in British industry is that there does not seem to be, at present, an effective organisation or method to convey to individual companies, their management and foremen, the new technology in a form which points the way to its practical applications.

The other major problem is the great gulf, and lack of communication that exists between the pure scientists and the applied scientists, the universities, the technical colleges, the trade research associations, industry and government, and, finally, the gap that exists between management and scientists in individual firms.

The whole issue may, therefore, be summed up as being a problem in communication of information and the need to change attitudes of mind. I submit that the creation of the Ministry of Technology is a massive and positive step in bringing about the necessary alteration and to obtain the needed change of attitude.

The Government should provide something which has been lacking in our country for a long time—a sharp and independent means for recognising when the mission of a Government research and development establishment has lost its validity, and the practical means for re-directing the establishment into more productive channels either within or outside the Government Department that originally sponsored it. When the independent nuclear deterrent is abolished, the problem of what to do with the Aldermaston Weapons Research Establishment is a good example of the kind of problem that I have in mind.

The present system of awarding development contracts tempts private companies to talk their way into a development programme with promises of results which wise technical judgment would deem unattainable. Blue Streak and various other failed home-produced missiles and weapons come to mind. The present arrangement does not provide for adequate penalties for failure to achieve promised results, nor does it give sufficient incentives for a high level of technical performance. It also offers incentives to contractors to make systems complex and expensive or to prolong the development work. All this is most wasteful of our vital scientific and engineering manpower as well as of the taxpayer’s money.

Finally, the present defence research contract arrangement with its built-in competitive incentives and inadequate penalties for poor technical performance leads to the proliferation of many research and development groups in private industry of sub-critical size or quality. This is another important example of where the new Government’s changes in the organisation of science and engineering may prove to be most helpful and valuable both in saving taxpayers’ money and in making better use of our scarce national resources in science and engineering.

The Government and our scientific and engineering community should make it one of their major joint tasks to employ our new-found ability to combine the great diversity of scientific and engineering skills and disciplines to make a massive assault on very large-scale national problems. The effectiveness of employing this new Government tool has been demonstrated during the last war and in the massive U.S.A. and Russian space programmes. The social innovation of use in peacetime of this new Government tool is of even greater consequence in the long run than the scientific and technical innovations on which most of our attention is presently focussed. This is the spill-over from defence of the greatest national and social consequence, and we as a country have so far failed to use this instrument in peacetime. There can be no doubt that the development of this new capability has endowed us as a nation with great new powers. I am sure that the new Government will use this social invention for peaceful purposes and not just confine it to the defence sector.

The Government should show the way how to use research and development in the modern inter-disciplinary way through industry to improve and raise the quality and excellence of the environment in which we work and live. Familiar examples of the material waste and erosion of the aesthetic environment which are very complex and which can only be solved on a multidisciplinary basis are traffic congestion and air and water pollution.

The strength of British science depends on the initiative, imagination and intelligence of individual working scientists and engineers. The best possible programme formulated at the top can be made entirely ineffective by the people who are carrying it out. The purposes of organisation for science and engineering in the Government must be to ensure quicker identification and support of new ideas and maintain support for basic research and development to guarantee that the most important national technological jobs are tackled by the most able people. I am convinced that the Government’s arrangements for the organisation of science and technology will do that.

In conclusion, I wish to thank you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and hon. Members for tolerance shown to me this day.