Imperial College, London

The 'White Heat7 Revisited: The British Government and Technology in the 1960s*
n 1960 Great Britain was, without doubt, the scientific and technological powerhouse of Western Europe: research and development (R&D) spending, whether industrially-funded, or government funded, was significantly higher than in any capitalist country other than the USA. However, the rate of growth of the British economy was low. Intellectuals complained that Britain was dominated by the 'establishment', a 'traditional culture', it was a 'stagnant society', the 'sick man of Europe'. 1 There was an implication in this literature that Britain underspent on science and technology. It is significant, however, that critics contrasted Britain only with the USA and the USSR.2 As is
* This paper presents some results of an ESRC-funded research project undertaken at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester between 1989 and 1992.1 am grateful to Richard Coopey and James Small, who both worked on the project, ESRC Award No. Y307 25 3002. Other publications derived from the project include: R. Coopey, The White Heat of Scientific Revolution', Contemporary Record, 5/1 (1991), 115-27; R. Coopey, 'Industrial Policy in the White Heat of the Scientific Revolution' in R. Coopey, S. Fielding and N. Tiratsoo (eds) The Wilson Years (London, 1993); R. Coopey, 'Restructuring Civil and Military Science and Technology: the Ministry of Technology in the 1960s' in R. Coopey, G. Spinardi and M. Utlley (eds), Defence Science and Technology: Adjusting to Change (London, 1993); David Edgerton, 'Liberal Militarism and the British State', New Left Review No. 185 (1991), 138-69; and England and the Aeroplane: An Essay on a Militant and Technological Nation (London, 1991). For their comments on this paper I am grateful to Brendan O'Leary and Leslie Hannah, and to William Walker and other members of the audience of a Conference organized in Florence by the Oslo History of Research Group. I am also grateful to Tony Benn for access to his papers, and to the staff of the John Rylands University Library, Manchester. 1 Anthony Sampson, Anatomy of Britain (London, 1962); Michael Shanks, The Stagnant Society (Harmondsworth, 1961); Andrew Shonfield, Modern Capitalism: The Changing Balance of Public and Private Power (London, 1965); Thomas Balogh, "The Apotheosis of the Dilettante', in Hugh Thomas (ed.), The Establishment: A Symposium (London, 1959), pp. 83-126. 1 Think how often it is argued in Britain that growth is held down by a failure to spend on research and development as high a percentage of national product as do the Americans. In France (and Germany and Australia) the argument tends to be that growth Twentieth Century British History, Vol. 7, No. 1, 1996, pp. 53-82 © OUP 19%




well known, this image of the British £lite as traditional, backward and anti-scientific, and of a Britain deficient in science and technology was picked up by the Labour Party and developed as a central theme of its programme in the early 1960s.3 Then, and since, Labour's 1964 programme has been seen as one which promised to change a supposedly anti-technological and backward country into a meritocratic and technocratic one. 4 1 will argue here, expanding on previous work, that this now conventional picture is misleading both about the technological effort of the British state before 1964, and Labour's own policies in government.5 First, what is striking is Britain's strength in R&D, suggesting that the British £lite was neither anti-scientific nor anti-technological.6 Second, despite Labour's publicly proclaimed enthusiasm for technology and science, in government there was a critical examination of the basis of science and technology policy, which led to policies for technology quite different from those implied by the rhetoric of the 'White Heat': Labour cut defence R&D significantly; sought a commercial return from public investments in civil technology; cancelled many large projects; was sceptical about a number of European ventures; and ceased to believe that R&D was a key issue in economic performance.7 Tony Benn, the Minister of Technology between 1966 and 1970, wrote after Labour's election defeat in 1970:
Technology is so closely linked in the public mind with Harold Wilson's famous 1963 Scarborough speech that most people have forgotten that a grandiose adherence to technology characterised the Macmillan government's thinking. The Scarborough speech broke away from this romantic attitude: it was

is held down by a failure to spend as high a percentage as the British.' (B. R. Williams, 'Research and Economic Growth—What Should We Expect?' Mineroa 3 (1964), 57). 3 See esp. Harold Wilson, 'A First-class Nation', speech at Edinburgh, 21 March 1964. Reprinted in Harold Wilson, The New Britain: Selected Speeches 1964 (Harmondsworth, 1964), pp. 42-56. 4 Samuel Beer has argued that two strands of thought have shaped political culture in the twentieth century: the technocratic and the populist. In Britain the populist dominated, except for a brief technocratic challenge in the 1960s, which led to the Robbins expansion of higher education, the re-structuring of the science policy machinery, and the Fulton Report (Samuel Beer, Britain Against Itself (London, 1982), pp. 111-26). This sums up the consensus view of the matter. It is worth pointing out that this account is one about political culture, and not state culture, though the two are assumed to be much the same thing. 5 Edgerton, England and the Aeroplane. * For a broader perspective on this point see Edgerton, 'liberal Militarism', England and the Aeroplane, and Science, Technology and the British Industrial 'Decline 1870-1970' (Cambridge, forthcoming, 19%). ' It is also important to note that it was in the 1960s that academic units for the study of science and technology policy were created. There has been, howeveT, a lack of cumulation of knowledge in studies of innovation policy in Britain. See David Edgerton, 'British Industrial Research and Development, 1900-1970', Journal of European Economic History, 23 (1994), 49-67, and the final section of this paper.



an industrial speech, and Labour's Mintech [As the Ministry of Technology was often referred to] duly evolved into an industrial department. . . . In Mintech it was quickly recognised that it was not technology that Britain lacked but a strong industrial organization, good management, real attention to application. . . .8 In this article I will show that Benn was substantially correct (although misleading in respect of the Scarborough speech), in both his description of policy, and his analysis of the British condition. Furthermore, I shall argue that in 1964 Mintech was novel but not significant; by 1970 it was no longer novel, but was very significant.9 The turning point was 1966, with the decision to expand Mintech, and Wilson's appointment of the young Anthony Wedgwood Benn to run the new Ministry. The new argument advanced here is primarily (but not entirely) based on a critical examination of long-available sources and arguments and on an awareness that, in some cases at least, the emphases of contemporary commentary and, especially, historiography can be fundamentally misleading. As I have argued elsewhere, the historiography of the twentieth-century British state (and this is true even of wartime) deals almost entirely with civil aspects of the state, and with the political system rather than with the state more broadly.10 This article departs from previous treatments of Labour's technological and industrial policies in the 1960s by looking first at the activities of the largely military Ministry of Aviation, rather than the politically more visible Mintech (second section), and then by focusing attention on the last years of Mintech when, despite its name, it was the most comprehensive production department in British history (third and fourth sections). The older literature tends
1 Anthony Wedgewood Benn MP, 'Yesterday's Men at Mintech', New Statesman (24 July 1970), 76. * Sir Maurice Dean, "The Machinery for Economic Planning: IV. The Ministry of Technology', Public Administration, 44 (1966), 43-60; Norman J. Vig, Science and Technohgy in British Politics (Oxford, 1968); Sir Richard Clarke, 'Mintech in Retrospect-I', Omega, 1 (1973), 25-38; 'Mintech in Retrospect-D", Omega, 1 (1973), 137-63; Norman J. Vig, 'Policies for Science and Technology in Great Britain: Postwar Development and Reassessment' in T. Nixon Long and Christopher Wright (eds), Science Policies of Industrial Nations (New York, 1975), pp. 62-109; F. M. G. Willson, 'Coping with Administrative Growth: Super-Departments and the Ministerial Cadre 1957-77' in David Butler and A. H. Halsey (eds), Policy and Politics: Essays in Honour of Norman Chester (London, 1978), pp. 35-50; M. Beesley and A. Mencher, 'Managing Intervention: An Interpretation of the Mintech Experience', mimeo London Business School, ca. 1975; David Hague and Geoffrey Wilkinson, The IRC—An Experiment

in Industrial Intervention: A History of the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation (London, 1983);

Richard Coopey, The White Heat of Scientific Revolution', Contemporary Record, 5/1 (1991), 115-27. For a left critique see John Hughes, 'An Economic Policy for Labour', New Left Review, No. 24 (MarchyApril 1964), 5-32. " England and the Aeroplane; 'Liberal Militarism'; 'Whatever happened to the British warfare state? The Ministry of Supply, 1945-1951', in Helen Mercer et al. (eds), Labour Governments and Private Industry: the experience of 1945-1951 (Edinburgh, 1992); 'Public ownership and the British arms industry, 1920-1950' in Robert Milward and John Singleton (eds),
The PolUical Economy of Nationalisation in Britain, 1920-1950 (Cambridge, 1995).



to start with a discussion of the science policy debates of the early 1960s, followed by a discussion of Labour's Ministry of Technology, rather than the new Department of Education and Science, which was responsible for scientific research and higher education. I will treat technology consistently, ignoring science and higher education. In contrast to spending on technology, that on science and higher education expanded very rapidly in the late 1960s, but the latter still await detailed, critical consideration, even though near contemporary studies claimed that higher education for science and engineering was over-expanded in the 1960s.11 Critical re-examination is required not just at the institutional level. Much historical work on R&D and technology is vitiated by the assumption that expenditures on R&D and rates of economic growth are positively correlated. In the fifth section of the article I show that during the 1960s influential advisers in Britain did not accept this argument (in my view correctly) and that this rejection had an important influence on policy. In conclusion, I show how since the 1970s analysts have given a less than adequate picture of the 'White Heat', especially by using what I call a 'misallocation model' of British R&D in the 1960s.

The Context of the White Heat Speech In 1963, Harold Wilson, the newly-elected leader of the Labour Party, made a speech at the Party's annual conference which has a central place in the historiography of postwar Britain. It is known for one famous, misquoted, phrase: 'the white heat of the technological revolution', which comes from the peroration:
in all our plans for the future, we are re-defining and we are re-stating our Socialism in terms of the scientific revolution. But that revolution cannot become a reality unless we are prepared to make far-reaching changes in economic and social attitudes which permeate our whole system of society. The Britain that is going to be forged in the white heat of this revolution will be no place for restrictive practices or for outdated methods on either side of industry.12

This quotation suggests that the speech was about adapting to a worldwide scientific revolution, and indeed Wilson waxed lyrical about automation, a buzz-word of the 1950s, and the consequences of unregulated automation for employment. The other main theme of the speech was the need to expand higher education. Historians rightly place

See K. G. Gannicot and M. Blaug, 'Manpower forecasting since Robbins: a science

lobby in action', Higher Education Review, 2 (1969), 56-74. See also my Science, Technology and the British Industrial 'Decline'.
n Speech opening the Science Debate at the Party's Annual Conference, Scarborough, 1963, in Harold Wilson, Purpose in Politics: Selected Speeches (London, 1964), p. 27.



the speech into two contexts: an internal one where Wilson sought to find a political language to supercede the divisions between traditionalists and revisionists; and an external one in which increasing concern with industrial and technological performance, industrial planning, civil science policy and the reform of the state led the Conservative government to create the National Economic Development Council (1962), the Trend Committee on civil research and development, and a new industry ministry under the humbly-born Edward Heath.13 But what was Wilson proposing in terms of policies for science and technology? He argued that the country needed more scientists, to keep them in Britain, to make better use of them, and to stimulate the use of research in industry. Wilson strongly criticized the current use of scientists and technologists: Until very recently over half of our trained scientists were engaged in defence projects or so-called defence projects. Real defence, of couse, is essential. But so many of our scientists were employed on purely prestige projects that never left the drawing board, and many more scientists are deployed, not on projects that are going to increase Britain's productive power, but on some new gimmick or additive to some consumer product . . .M In order to make better use of these scientific resources, Wilson suggested the need for new technological breakthroughs. Instead of 'misdirected research and development contracts in the field of defence', Wilson said, 'If we were now to use the technique of R&D contracts in civil industry I believe we could within a measurable period of time establish new industries which would make us once again one of the foremost industrial nations of the world.'15 Britain's 'scientific wealth' needed to be mobilized, 'for the task of creating, not the means of human destruction, but the munitions of peace.'16 And he concluded: 'For those who have studied the formidable Soviet challenge in the education of scientists and technologists, and above all, in the ruthless application of scientific techniques in Soviet industry, know that our future lies not in military strength alone but in the efforts, the sacrifices, and above all the energies which a free people can mobilise for the future greatness of our country.'17 In his eve of conference speech, Wilson had noted that: 'we have reserves
° See for example, Vig, Science and Technology. Heath was given the title of Secretary of State for Industry, Trade and Regional Development and President of the Board of Trade Qohn Campbell, Edward Heath: a Biography (London, 1994), pp. 146-8). 14 Purpose in Politics, p. 22. By trained scientists Wilson presumably meant qualified scientists and engineers engaged in research and development, rather than all trained scientists (and engineers).
° Purpose in Politics, p. 23. * Purpose in Politics, p . 27. " Purpose in Politics, p. 28.



of skill, and craftsmanship, of science and technology, design and creative ability, of organisation and salesmanship, which, if given full scope, will make Britain what we should be, the pilot-plant, the tool-room of the world'.18 In January 1964 Wilson again reiterated the theme of civil, rather than military R&D contracts, and the need to expand civil R&D and to give it more purpose.19 Wilson also made these points abundantly dear to audiences in the USA. In Washington in 1963 Wilson said that Britain had:
a reservoir of unused and underused talent, of skill and craftsmanship, of inventiveness, and ingenuity, of administrative ability and scientific creativeness which if mobilised will, within a measurable period of time enable us to become —not the workshop of the world; that is no longer our role—but the pilot plant, the toolroom of the world. Our scientists are among the finest in the world. The tragedy is we don't produce enough of them, and those we do produce we do not use intelligently . . . the key to our plan to redynamise Britain's economy, is our plan to mobilise the talents of our scientists and technicians, redeployed from missiles and warheads, on research and development contracts, civil research and development to produce the new instruments and tools of economic advance both for Britain and for the war on poverty in underdeveloped areas of the Commonwealth and elsewhere.20 In an article in the New York Times in 1963, he noted: Our aircraft and missile-defence programmes have familiarised us with the techniques of Government research-and-development contracts and we shall extend them to civil industry—indeed, we shall need to do so if measures of world disarmament or even less far-reaching changes in defence production, are not to produce widespread redundancy among scientists and technical workers.21

Although there were few specifics, the aim was dear: to shift from military to rivil R&D, and to use the methods of the military in the civil sector. The military dimensions of technology policy were critical in the early 1960s, and they were ones with which Wilson had been intimately concerned before becoming Leader of his party. The late 1950s and early 1960s were the years of the Campaign for Nudear Disarmament and of major military-technological fiascos: technological issues were at the centre of defence policy and international relations.22 Criticizing Harold Macmillan

Eve of conference speech on Foreign Affairs, Scarborough, 1963, in Purpose in

Politics, p . 12.

" 'Labour's Economic Policy' speech at Swansea, 25 January 1964, in The New Britain (Harmondsworth, 1964), p. 33. " Harold Wilson, Speech at National Press d u b , Washington, 1 April 1963, Purpose in Politics, pp. 215-6. * 'Wilson defines British Socialism', 15 September 1963, Purpose in Politics, p. 268. n It is also important to note that two important figures in Labour thinking about science and technology, P. M. S. Blackett and Richard Crossman, were also important



after the cancellation of Blue Streak in 1960, Wilson (then economic spokesman) argued that Macmillan had 'tried to find a short cut to greatness, and, as he hoped, a cheap short cut to greatness. The means he chose was to sacrifice the whole of our defence resources to keep up with our nuclear neighbours'. The Prime Minister,
like so many other rather pathetic individuals whose sense of social prestige outruns their purse . . . is left in the situation at the end of the day of the man who dare not admit that he cannot afford a television set . . . and who just puts up the aerial instead. That is our situation, because without an independent means of delivery, the independent nuclear deterrent, the right hon Gentleman's cheap, short cut to national greatness, is an empty illusion.23

In January 1963, in a debate on the Nassau agreement (which gave Britain US Polaris missiles to replace Blue Streak and the cancelled Sky Bolt), Wilson, who since late 1961 had been Shadow Foreign Secretary, further taunted the government's nuclear pretensions. Britain, said Wilson 'should cease the attempt to remain an independent nuclear power'.2* Such a policy carried with it enormous implications for the British militarytechnological base: no new nuclear weapon development, and no new missile and bomber development.
Labour in Office

The British military-technological effort was dominated by the misleadingly named Ministry of Aviation. This procured aircraft for the RAF, funded both military and civil R&D in aerospace, and also in military electronics. The Ministry of Aviation was the government's largest R&D spending ministry by a huge margin.25 Even the civil R&D spending of the Ministry of Aviation was comparable with that of the Atomic Energy Authority, or the research councils, or, the universities (see Table 1). How Labour dealt with the Ministry of Aviation, and the aircraft industry, is therefore critical to any analysis of Labour's technology policy. Although Labour's policy was not clearly spelt out before the election, when it came into office it made some dramatic early decisions.
contributors to the debate on strategy. See R. H. S. Crossman, 'The Nuclear Obsession',
Encounter, 11/4 (July 1958), 3-10; P. M. S. Blackett, Studies of War: Nuclear and Conventional

(London, 1962). ° House of Commons, 27 April 1960 [Blue Streak debate], in Purpose in Politics, pp. 167, 178, 172. Wilson alluded three times to a comparison with the groundnuts scheme —a failed Labour programme to grow peanuts in East Africa in the 1940s which Conservatives constantly taunted Labour with as an example of failed government enterprise. * House of Commons, 31 January 1963, in Purpose in Politics, p. 199. * In this period the new Ministry of Defence undertook very little R&D, and what it did was restricted to conventional army and naval weapons. It was Aviation which dominated warlike R&D expeditures, as had its predecessor, the Ministry of Supply.



Table 1 1963-4 Government Expenditure on Civil R&D £m and Responsible Ministry from 1964

Total Research Councils of which DSIR Universities and learned societies Ministry of Aviation NIRNS AEA

167.6 40.3 25.4 31.2 31.2 7.8 45.0

(to DES) (to DES/Mintech) (to DES) (MoA/Mintech) (to DES) (to Mintech)

NB. This table is of civil expenditures only. The Atomic Energy Authority had substantial additional defence R&D expenditure; the Ministry of Aviation was largely military. Excepting the Ministry of Aviation, most of the expenditures took place within the public sector (if universities are included in the public sector). Source: P. G. Gummett, Scientists in Whitehall (Manchester, 1980) Table 2.1, p. 39.

After winning the General Election of 1964, Harold Wilson offered the job of Minister of Aviation (outside the Cabinet) to Roy Jenkins. Wilson told Jenkins the Ministry was a mess that would take over a year to dear up, after which its functions would be dispersed.26 Indeed, Labour quickly cancelled most of the ministry's large development projects: the P-1154, the HS-681, and most importantly of all, the TSR2.27 The cancellations caused a great parliamentary rumpus; from November 1964, a 'series of four or five major aviation dashes . . . had come near to dominating the House of Commons stage'.28 These actions were not what one would expect from a party committed simply to funding more technology. Nor would one necessarily have expected a Labour government to announce the purchase of US aircraft as alternatives—the F5 (Phantom), the C-130 (Hercules) and the Fill. 2 9 The government
* Roy Jenkins, A Life at the Centre (London, 1991), p. 157. Jenkins, a journalist, had taken an interest in aviation and had written a couple of articles on civil aviation in July 1964 (pp. 142-3). " Jenkins, Life, pp. 160-66. The Hawker-Siddeley P-1154 was a supersonic VTOL aircraft for the RAF; the naval version had been cancelled by the Conservatives; the HawkerSiddeley HS681 was a military STOL transport; the Vickers/English Electric TSR2 was a multi-role supersonic aircraft. For an insider's view of the cancellations see Solly Zuckerman, Monkeys Men and Missiles (London, 1988), ch. 21. " Jenkins, Life, p. 173. a In 1964 Harold Wilson had complained that Britain was importing aircraft: 'Britain pioneered jet aircraft. Yet our airlines are dependent on foreign planes—only in engines do we stQl lead—our Navy has to go to the US for the new aircraft it needs. And to the US for Army and Navy helicopters too: a week or two ago we had the Minister of Defence in the House of Commons not even presenting the facts and the figures because he was



also decided to indicate that Concord (as it was then spelt in Britain) would be cancelled, but, by January 1965, because of the objections of the French (who were nevetheless probably keen to cancel) Concord was reprieved. Labour also undertook a major enquiry into the aircraft industry.30 A committee, under Lord Plowden, reported in 1965. Its central argument was that aircraft projects had to be argued for carefully on economic grounds, and that the aircraft industry received government support quite out of line with other industries, and that a run-down was desirable. The aircraft industry and the aeronautical engineers reacted furiously, even before the report was published. In June 1965 the unfortunate journalist Richard Worcester, a man connected to the Labour Party and critical of the industry, was personally attacked at a meeting of the Royal Aeronautical Society.32 The President of the Society criticized the Plowden Report for not believing in the potential of aviation.33 In February 1966 the Society organized a protest meeting, which attracted nearly 350 people and lasted almost three hours.34 But by the end of 1967 the membership appeared to despair: Roy Fedden argued that government listened too much to scientists and not enough to engineers; meanwhile, the 'industry was too inclined to take things lying down'; Mr Cleaver of Rolls-Royce complained that no one outside the Society seemed to take note of its arguments; F. R. Banks complained that 'no British government of recent years, whether Conservative or Labour, had really believed in aerospace activities' .x There was, therefore, no love lost between aeronautical engineers and the party of the 'White Heat'. From 1967 the Minister of Technology, Anthony Wedgewood Benn, was responsible for the aircraft industry, and his relationship with it was less than cordial. As he recorded in his diary of a speech he gave at a dinner of the Society of British Aircraft Constructors (SBAQ in June 1967:
afraid of having to confess that we had to go cap-in-hand to America for essential military and naval aircraft; whether to import them or to build them here on the basis of foreign know-how on a royalty basis. This is humiliating.' (Harold Wilson, 'A First-class Nation', in The New Britain, p. 45). The British armed forces had purchased US aircraft before, but only in emergencies: in the late 1930s, the Second WOTW War, and in the early 1950s, notably in the case of B-29 (Washington) bombers, but neveT before were foreign aircraft to be the mainstays of the RAF. Of course, this particular pass had been sold with the decision to purchase Polaris. 30 Jenkins wanted to establish a three man committee of inquiry into the aircraft industry headed by Sir Edwin Plowden, and very unusually, having two MPs, Austen Attni and Aubrey Jones as the additional members. In fact the committee was to be much larger, and to exclude Albu. Jenkins, Life, p. 167. " Ministry of Aviation, Report of a Committee of Enquiry into the Aircraft Industry Cmd. 2853(1965). * Journal of the Royal Aeronautical Society, 69 (1965), 611-26. Richard Worcester went on to publish The Roots of Air Policy (London, 1966). " Sir George Gardner, Journal of the Royal Aeronautical Society, 70 (1966), 303. * Journal of the Royal Aeronautical Society, 70 (1966), 545-52. " Taken from Journal of the Royal Aeronautical Society, 71 (1967), 810-12.



I was determined to indicate that there was a difference between the Ministry of Technology attitude to aviation and the old Ministries of Aviation in the past. I said in my speech that in the old days Ministers of Aviation could get money as easily as pinching pennies off an old man's drum, but now it was going to be different and we had to justify every penny. Those present were absolutely livid at this speech. They thought it was offensive, and it led to a major row, but it was the turning point. It was a warning that there would be no more Concordes and that we would expect them to take some risks.36

Benn's diaries contain further evidence of continuing Tory and aircraft industry hostility. At a by-election meeting in 1968 he noted 'there were some crusty Tory ladies there with big hats shouting about TSR2'.37 In September 1968 he recorded of another SBAC dinner: 'I find it offensive meeting these big industrialists who live on government work, who are financed by government, and who are violently, bitterly, anti-government from beginning to end.'38 In May 1969 Benn saw the Chairman of RollsRoyce on television complaining that 'civil servants were not interested in long-term developments and that when you talked to them or politicians about these things a glazed look came into their faces, as if they were thinking of what they were going to have for lunch.' This Benn felt, was 'so unjust and, in the light of all the help we had given Rolls-Royce, so unfair that I wrote him a stinking letter . . . x There was, however, no question that under Labour there were huge cuts in expenditure in industry for military aircraft R&D, from £202 million in 1964-5 to £120 million in 1970-1. This did not of course mean that development work ceased. There were many development projects underway or newly started: the Spey-engined Phantom; the Belfast transport; the conversion of Comets to maritime reconnaissance Nimrods; the Buccaneer Mk2; the Harrier; a dual Harrier; two important Anglo-French projects, the AFVGA (which was intended to replace TRS2 and from which the French would withdraw, scuppering the project) and the Jaguar; some helicopters; and, at the end of our period the beginning of the BritishVGerman/Italian MRCA project, and the conversion of the Victor Mk2 to a tanker. On the civil side, however, R&D expenditures in the aircraft industry increased dramatically throughout the 1960s. In 1964-6 some £20 million was being spent in industry, while for 1968-9 the estimate increased to more than £66 million of which £49 million was going on Concorde.
* Tony Benn, Out of the Wilderness; Diaries 1963-67 (London, 1987) [hereafter Benn I] 28 June 1967, p. 505. Jad Adams, Tony Benn (London, 1992), p. 277, gives a somewhat different text, but notes that the official version of the speech was toned down (p. 499n5.). r Tony Benn, Office vrithout Power: Diaries 1968-72 (London, 1988) [thereafter Benn U\ 22 March 1968, p. 49. a Benn D, 18 September 1963, p. 102. " Benn D, 1 May 1969, p. 164.



Concorde was easily the largest single project, although it cost less than the total of military aircraft R&D. As we have noted, Concorde was started undeT the previous Conservative government, and Labour nearly cancelled it, but it was under Labour that the greatest development expenditures fell (see Table 2). The Minister of Technology was clearly ambivalent about Concorde, and indeed the Ministry was notably reluctant to get involved in large civil aerospace projects. The only major one launched was the Rolls-Royce RB211 engine.* Although the government had co-funded the design study phase of the European Airbus, it pulled out of further development because of the sales prospects, the terms of the agreement proposed (including the lack of commitment to using the RB211) and possible competition from a British aircraft (the BAC 3-11). In the event BAC asked for support for the 3-11, but did not get it. That Mintech's attitude to high technology was highly influenced by economic considerations is dear from space policy. The Conservatives had decided to make the Blue Streak rocket the basis of a European space launcher; by 1964 the treaty establishing the European Space Vehicle Launcher Development Organization (ELDO) was established. In the early 1960s the costs of ELDO were comparable with Concord. Work proceeded slowly, and costs overran, as usual. In early 1966, the British Minister of Aviation questioned the whole basis of the project, arguing that the European market was too small and that in any case Europe could not compete with the USA. Britain's European partners rejected these arguments. Nevertheless, Britain remained in ELDO, but paid less. In 1968, howeveT, after the French vetoed British entry into the Common Market, Tony Benn repeated the earlier arguments, and announced that Britain was pulling out of ELDO. At this time, however, Britain announced it would be developing its own smaller scale programme. In Britain economic considerations were important, while in Europe the desire to build up technological capability took precedence.41 In Britain these technological capacities already existed but were not felt to be proving their worth; in Europe they were being built up in the hope that they would one day do so with no expectation of immediate return. Britain and Europe were in different phases of development. By 1968, on the eve of Concorde's first flight, a decision was needed as to whether the production of Concorde for the airlines should be funded
• This project led to the bankruptcy of Rolls-Royce and its nationalization by the Conservative government in 1971. The RB211 has, in many versions, proved to be a very successful engine. 41 Michelangelo de Maria and John Krige, 'Early European attempts in LauncheT Technology: original sins in ELDO's Sad Parable', History and Technology 9 (1992), 109-37, esp. 125-30. This is not to say that Labour was against European collaboration: Wilson proposed a European Technological Community, and indeed the Labour government pursued a number of major European ventures in military aircraft.



Table 2 Government Contributions to Civil Aircraft and Engine Development from 1945 to 31 March 1974, Cm in 1974 Prices

Total Aircraft Engines Largest Projects Concorde •Olympus 593 *RB211 *Proteus Trident Princess BAC1-11 Comet 1-4 'Eland Brabazon

[Payments] 1505.4 741.2 764.2 406.8 297.0 224.4 72.2 53.5 47.1 45.3 38.0 34.8 32.8

[Receipts] 141.9 54.5 87.4 5.8 nil 10.4 9.2 1.6 nil 6.1 12.2 0.1 nil Mid-point, year 1968 1968 1971 1950 1965 1951 1965 1956 1952 1948

*Engines. The Olympus 593 was the engine for Concorde. Source: N. K. Gardner, 'The Economics of Launching Aid' in A. Whiting, The
Economics of Industrial Subsidies (London, 1976), Table 1, p . 153.

by government. The government inserted a clause in the Industrial Expansion Bill to allow for loans and the government purchase of special machinery (worth some £30 million) specifically for this purpose. While the Bill was much criticized by Conservatives, they did not oppose the funding of Concorde production. The only open opposition to the financing of Concorde production came from two Labour MPs, Hugh Jenkins and Edwin Brooks. They were accused by Conservative MPs of preferring to 'see the Government spending money breeding bigger and better TUC cart horses rather than developing this modern exciting aircraft'.*2 Benn, who had proposed the Bill, went as far as to defend Hugh Jenkins from the charge of being a member of the anti-Concorde 'lunatic fringe', and said that Jenkins 'might well have argued that if we had spent more money on modernizing the railway system, on introducing containerization earlier or going in for fuel cell development or for the battery electric car, this might have brought a better return in terms of money or human enjoyment'. Indeed, Benn indicated that he wanted to 'tilt the balance a little more in favour of surface transportation and not to allow air
" Mr McMaster, House of Commons Official Report [hereafter Hansard] 3 April 1968, col. 521.



transportation to be the only field in which major efforts are made'. Benn had noted 'if . . . I am asked what the market for it [Concorde] will be, it is very hard to say.'*3 Hugh Jenkins withdrew his amendment, referring to the impossibility of winning against 'blind, touching faith', and the 'evangelical enthusiasm', the 'orgiastic atmosphere—it was impossible to break through this sort of conviction'.*4
The Evolution of Mintech

So much, one might think, of the 'White Heat': major cuts in funding for innovation in defence technology, space technology—and barely concealed doubts about the major civil project of the era—Concorde. Far from unleashing money for technological development, the government was less than enthusiastic about very popular British technologies. Does Labour's Ministry of Technology, created in 1964 as the agency to give purpose to the White Heat, make any difference to the story?*5 The first point to note is that in 1964-5 Mintech was very small: it was responsible for the Atomic Energy Authority, the National Research Development Corporation (which Wilson had created in 1948),*6 and some of the laboratories of the disbanded Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (notably the National Physical Laboratory, the National Engineering Laboratory, and the Warren Spring laboratory).*7 Mintech accounted for only about a third of government civil R&D, and of course, a much smaller proportion of total government R&D. It was essentially a ministry of intra-mural government civil technological development, dominated by atomic energy. Atomic energy expenditure amounted to some £50 million, while the rest of Mintech began by spending only about £12 million. Indeed, it was in the field of atomic energy that the Labour
° A. W. Benn, Hansard, 3 April 1968, cols. 527-8. " Hugh Jenkins, Hansard, 3 April 1968, col. 534. * The creation of the Ministry of Technology was criticized on two main grounds: that it separated science and technology (which had to some extent been together in the DSIR) between the Department of Education and Science and Mintech; and, that such a Ministry of Technology suggested that technology was an independent economic variable which could be used to stimulate the economy. This last was precisely the objection to it felt by the future economic adviser to the Ministry, Prof. Bruce Williams (interview with Richard Coopey, 13 March 1991). " The NRDC was a body charged with the commercializarion of patents derived from public sector work. It gave funds to the private sector to develop new technologies. The sums available for this purpose were increased by the Labour government. The form of support was analogous to launching aid for aircraft. Wilson made a number of references to NRDC in 1963/4 as the example ofwhat could be done, referring to Hovercraft, the Atlas computer and fuel cells. " Not all the ex-DSIR applied laboratories went to Mintech: the Road Research Laboratory went to the Ministry of Transport and the Tropical Products Institute to the Ministry of Overseas Development. A number of other DSIR laboratories went to the Science and Engineering Research Council.



government—including Mintech—made a decision which went in a different direction from the aviation cancellations. In 1965 the CEGB and the Ministry of Fuel and Power decided to go ahead with the building of the Atomic Energy Authority's Advanced Gas Reactors, rather than adopt US Light Water Reactors. This has subsequently been regarded as a disastrous choice, but was widely applauded at the time.48 However, the AEA's R&D budget declined under Labour, even though development of the High Temperature Reactor, the Steam Generating Heavy Water Reactor, and the Fast Breeder Reactor continued. The Mintech of 1964-5 did not last. It turned out to be an intermediate stage between wide-ranging discussions about the machinery of government for technology, industry and defence procurement, and the creation of the huge Mintech of 1966-70. Before coming to power Labour had considered turning the Ministry of Aviation, the obvious choice, into a Ministry of Technology; both Harold Wilson and Richard Crossman proposed this.49 In early 1964 Labour-sympathizing scientists, notably Prof Patrick Blackett, rejected the idea of a new ministry based in any way on Aviation: one especially significant reason was the poor reputation of the Ministry of Aviation, not least for cost control.*0 Instead many schemes for revamping the Board of Trade, creating a Ministry of Industry, and so on, were canvassed within the party.'1 Indeed, Wilson did create a new industry ministry. He disliked the existing industry ministry, the Board of Trade, of which he had been President in the late 1940s, and distrusted its laissez-faire orientation, just as he distrusted the Treasury. Much has been written on Wilson's alternative Treasury, the ill-fated Department of Economic Affairs; less attention has been given to the longer lived and more significant creation of an industry ministry more powerful than the Board of Trade. Wilson intended to expand Mintech from the start.52 Its former Permanent Secretary was to write of three Mintechs — the 'Ministry of Technology', the 'Ministry of Engineering' and the 'Ministry of Industry' .M Within five years Mintech became the most comprehensive production ministry Britain has ever had.

" Duncan Bum, Nudear Power and the Energy Crisis: Politics and the Atomic Industry (London, 1978); Roger Williams, The Nudear Power Decisions: British Policies, 1953-78 (London, 1980). " David Homer, 'Scientists, Trade Unions and Labour Movement Policies for Science and Technology: 1947-1964', Aston University PhD, 1986, vol. 2, pp. 194, 196. The White Heat speech made reference to a Ministry of Science of unspecified powers; only in 1964 did Labour start to speak of a Ministry of Technology. 50 In the early 1960s, a major overcharging on contracts for Bloodhound missiles by the main contractor, Ferranti, was exposed. 51 Homer II, pp. 198, 204. " Harold Wilson, The Labour Government, 1964-1970 (London, 1971), p. 8. " Richard Clarke, 'Mintech in Retrospect - V, p. 25.



On its formation Mintech stripped the Board of the Trade of the NRDC, sponsorship of the so-called 'bridgehead industries'—machine tools, computers, electronics and telecommunications; responsibility for mechanical and electrical engineering and standard weights and measures was taken from the Board of Trade in 1965, shipbuilding in 1966, and chemicals and textiles in 1969. The Board of Trade remained as a ministry of external trade and as a regulator of business. More significant were the transfers to Mintech from otheT ministries. Mintech took over the bulk of the Ministry of Aviation (announced in 1966), some functions of the disbanded Department of Economic Affairs (1969)—notably the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation and industrial policy—and the Ministry of Fuel and Power (1969). At the time of the 1969 additions Crossman noted that: 'It looks as if Harold has taken a great deal of care and trouble in the planning of what he really cares about, Benn's new Ministry of Industry, Harold's first love.' [emphasis added].54 Tony Benn had a point when he called Mintech 'the first techno-economic ministry in the world'.5* In Mintech, technical civil servants and administrative civil servants worked side by side, and in its senior levels Mintech had a very high proportion of technically qualified staff. Many of its senior staff had come from the Atomic Energy Authority, for example John Adams and Ieuan Maddock. It prefigured many of the suggested reforms of the civil service made by Fulton. The most controversial, and most agonized over merger, was with the Ministry of Aviation. The Plowden committee noted that the RAF was critical of the Ministry, and that the aircraft industry would have preferred to deal with the RAF directly. The committee put two arguments against such a transfer of Aviation to the Ministry of Defence; the large scale of the Ministry and the need to develop civil aviation, seen as indivisible from military aviation.56 Others saw the issue slightly differently: according to a former senior official of the Ministry of Supply, if Aviation was tending towards more military production it should move to the Ministry of Defence; if the civil side was to be favoured it should remain independent or go to Mintech.57 In June 1966 Wilson announced that while Aviation R&D was to be transferred to Mintech, there was to be a review as to whether the procurement functions might move to the Ministry of Defence; in November 1966 he announced that the Ministry would be transferred en bloc, but that a minister would be appointed to act as the link to defence, and that the Ministry of Defence would take the lead
54 Richard Crossman, The Diaries of a Cabinet Minister, vol. m, (London, 1977), p. 676, entry for Sunday 12 October 1969. • Engineering, 6 November 1970, p. 485. * Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Aircraft Industry [Plowden], p. 87. " Denis Haviland, contribution to 'Relationships between Government and Aeronautics—a discussion', foumal of the Royal Aeronautical Society, 70 (March 1966), 383.



in international co-operation in defence.58 In fact, a split of Aviation into procurement and research would have suited both Mintech and Ministry of Defence, but could not be achieved.59 The merger took place in February 1967: as the New Scientist reported: 'After some years of hesitation, Mr Wilson is at last having his own way over the Ministry of Aviation'.60 Benn was appointed Minister of Technology in July 1966, on the resignation of Frank Cousins, and just after Wilson had announced the transfer of aviation R&D to Mintech. He noted that he had been 'given the chance to create a new department that can really change the face of Britain and its prospects for survival [emphasis added]'. 61 The merger with Aviation was significant in terms of capacity to intervene in industry. As Benn stated while addressing his staff in 1969: Aviation brought in 'scientists and engineers of exceptional ability' and:
an experience of dealing with industry which simply did not exist in any other department in Whitehall. If those who have come with that knowledge of industry into this wider department with its new responsibilities can make that knowledge and information available for more general purposes, then, not for the first time, defence will have pioneered a technology not in hardware but in the relationship between Government and the firms that earn us our living.62

Announcing the further expansion of Mintech in October 1969 in Parliament, Benn argued that 'we have gained very substantially by the merger with the Ministry of Aviation in being able to bring into our work with private industry people who have acquired over the years . . . a great deal of knowledge of the defence industries.'63 It is useful to see 1966, and not 1964, as the key date in the Mintech story. Indeed, the post-1966 Mintech was a recreation, with some variations, of the Ministry of Supply as it existed between 1945 and 1955. This was not a contemporary perception, and has also escaped the attention of historians. The postwar Ministry of Supply, like Mintech, dominated procurement, R&D expenditure, and had responsibility for key civilian technologies and industries, notably steel, engineering and vehicles. It also controlled aviation and atomic power.64 The differences were that Mintech was not responsible for army R&D and procurement, but it did
" Hansard, 16 June 1966, vol. 729, col. 1658-9; vol. 736, cols. 939-41, 21 November 1966. Clarke, 'Mintech in Retrospect - V, p. 32. New Scientist, 9 February 1967, p. 320. The Ministry of Defence, however, tried to get the Ministry of Aviation away from Mintech (Benn II, 13 March 1970, p. 253). Benn I, 30 June 1966, p. 441. 'Minister's talk to staff', Mintech Review (May 1969). Hansard, 21 October 1969, col. 1072. The British nuclear programme was started within the Ministry: it was hived off to the state-funded nationalised industry the Atomic Energy Authority, in 1955.



have additional responsibility for civil research establishments, more industrial sectors and the energy industries. Mintech was broader in scope, and much higher in the ministerial pecking order than Supply.65 Mintech was clearly the industry ministry, while Supply had to share its position with other 'production departments'. Mintech in Action Benn was concerned, just after having become Minister, about his 'big problem which is how we stop ourselves from becoming a party of cancellers, who get the economists in to rule out all the projects advocated by the enthusiastic scientists and technologists.'66 After all, Wilson had proclaimed that the future of Britain depended on harnessing exactly that enthusiasm with public money. Mintech's programme then shifted to emphasize another aspect of the Wilsonian scheme: the shift of resources to new areas. In particular, Mintech stressed the need to shift R&D spending from defence to civil, away from aerospace and nuclear, and from government laboratories to the private sector. These themes were articulated in speech after speech.67 But there was also another shift. From emphasizing innovation as being one of the key problems of British industry, Mintech increasingly focused on questions of production, management and industrial structure. Mintech's major piece of legislation, the Industrial Expansion Act, 1968, was concerned with industrial finance and intervention in industry, not R&D. The Act was essentially an enabling measure, which provided a procedure for selective financing of industrial investment schemes and for the creation of industrial boards, through an abbreviated parliamentary procedure.68 It also made permanent provisions of the Ministry of Supply Act 1939. The Industrial Explosion Act, which applied to all ministers, was Mintech's creation, marking Mintech as the key industrial ministry; it was used to finance Concorde production, the building of the QE2 liner, R&D and general finance for the computer industry, and the finance of three aluminium smelters by the Board of Trade. The Act was the precursor to the much
" On the Ministry of Supply see: David Edgerton, 'Whatever happened to the British warfare state? The Ministry of Supply, 1945-1951', in Helen Mercer et al. (eds), Labour Governments end Private Industry: the experience of 1945-1951 (Edinburgh, 1992).

" Benn I, 22 July 1966, p. 459. " A. W. Benn, The Government's Policy for Technology, Special Lecture given at the Imperial College of Science and Technology, 17 October 1967, (London, Ministry of Technology, 1967) is especially cogent. " The concept of an industrial enabling Act went back to the 1930s, but was usually rejected. Governments preferred the passing of individual Acts of Parliament for particular industrial schemes (e.g. the Cotton Industry Acts). Labour has passed a limited enabling Act for the establishment of industrial boards in 1947. See Tony Benn, Hansard, Vol. 757, 1 February 1968, cols. 1576-8.

70 Table 3 Mintech's Research Establishments CM


AEA Research Group—Harwell, Culham AEA Reactor Group—Risley, Winfrith, Dounreay National Physical Laboratory Fire Research Station National Engineering Laboratory Warren Spring Laboratory Forest Products Research Laboratory Hydraulics Research Station Laboratory of the Government Chemist Tony Research Station Water Pollution Research Laboratory

Royal Aircraft Establishment A&AEE National Gas Turbine Establishment Royal Radar Establishment Signals Research and Development Establishment Explosives Research and Development Establishment Rocket Propulsion Establishment AEA Research Group)—Aldermaston

better known Industry Acts of 1972 and 1975. One useful way of seeing the Act is as extending to sectors other than defence and aerospace, the ability of the state to finance and direct industrial development. From 1967 Mintech was responsible for most of the great government scientific and technological laboratories, both military and civil (see Table 3). These operated within the civil service structure, with the exception of those of the Atomic Energy Authority. Some of these laboratories dated from before the Great War (for example the Royal Aircraft Establishment and the National Physical Laboratory), while many others had been created during and after the Second World War (notably the atomic energy establishments). What to do with these laboratories was a major question for Mintech, but 'in spite of the original expectation, the arguments came to point decisively to redeployment and reduction, rather than expansion, of the numbers in the government-financed establishments'.69 Expenditure was highly concentrated in defence, and in aerospace and nuclear, areas from which government wanted to withdraw, at least partially. The Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston,
" Clarke, 'Mintech in Retrospect - II', p. 140.



began to do a significant amount of non-nuclear civil work.70 The story in the ex-Aviation establishments, which were overwhelmingly military in orientation, is similar. There were reductions in expenditure, in staffing and an increase in the amount of civil work. Even before the Aviation transfer attempts were made to link the military work to civil concerns: Mintech was represented on the Defence Research Committee and links were established between research establishments and Mintech; in March 1966 an industrial systems unit was established at the Royal Radar Establishment.71 In July 1968, when the government announced further cuts in defence R&D spending and staffing it was stated that 'some of those released will be transferred to civil work in the establishments'. 72 Strategies of diversification, and spin-off links to industry, were followed in all the military establishments.73 The Plowden report, it is worth noting, had been very sceptical of Ministry of Aviation suggestions that the aeronautical establishments should retain employment by shifting to civil and non-aeronautical work.74 Indeed, the attempt to use the military establishments for civil purposes was not a great success, as Coopey has pointed out for Aldermaston.75 However, the run-down in defence R&D and the defence establishments was not to continue (see Table 4). In January 1969 Richard Crossman noted:
All our election commitments were to reorientate the whole balance of R&D away from defence to civil affairs. We haven't done it. Instead, Denis [Healey— Minister of Defence] has managed to say that if we are to make major cuts in overseas military commitments we must maintain a predominant position for R&D, and have the best even for our limited, new, European-based defences. If our equipment is reduced it must, he maintains, be of the best and if we are to buy British it means that the R&D can't be cut back in proportion to the cut in our foreign commitments.76

Crossman was wrong to suggest that nothing had been done. As we have seen, cuts in defence R&D were very large, and proportionally larger than cuts in defence spending overall. But from the very late 1960s two big
" See Coopey, 'Restructuring', for details of the Aldermaston case. In the 1950s 10 per cent of Aldermaston's budget was for non-military nuclear work, done to attract those physicists concerned to continue publishing (J. Hendry and J. D. Lawson, Fusion Research in the UK 1945-1960 (Harwell, 1993), p. 34).
71 77

71 The best studied is RRE. See Coopey, 'Restructuring' and Donald MacKenzie and Graham Spinardi, "The Technological Impact of a Defence Research Establishment', in

Statement on the Defence Estimates 1967, Cmnd. 3203 (February 1967), p . 44. Supplementary Statement on Defence Policy 1968, Cmnd. 3701 (July 1968), p. 12.

Coopey et al. (eds) Defence Science and Technology.

Plowden, pp. 88-90. Coopey, 'Restructuring'. * Crossman, Diaries, p. 309.




Table 4 Government Funding of Defence and Civil R&D, 1960-75, Constant 1985 £ millions Defence R&D Total 1960 1965 1970 1975 1,748 1,720 1,325 1,850 Civil [Intramural]


1,543 1,790 2,315

557 705

*1966. Source: David Buck and Keith Hartley, "The Political Economy of Defence R&D: Burden or Benefit?', in Richard Coopey et al. (eds), Defence Science and Technology: Adjusting to Change (Harwood, 1993), p p . 13-44, Tables 2.1, 2.3, 2.4.

new projects were started: the MRCA and the Chevaline upgrade for the Polaris missile. The latter came out of Aldermaston, and was argued for on three grounds: the need to penetrate the defences of Moscow; the need to show the Americans that Britain was continuing with development of nuclear weapons, and driving the whole argument, the need to give more work to Aldermaston.77 It should be noted that Chevaline was a space project as well as a nuclear project.78 By the mid seventies, defence R&D had grown very considerably, and reached levels, in real terms, higher than those of the early 1960s (see Table 4). Mintech's civil research establishments were far from being immune from cuts, and towards the end of the 1960s there was a major reconsideration of the structure and role of these establishments. Already in November 1964 Wilson announced that the AEA was to be encouraged to do non-atomic work, and this became possible with the passing of the Science and Technology Act, 1965. Harwell, in particular, did a great deal of work for the private sector.79 The run-down in civil nuclear development work raised the whole question of what to do with the nuclear establishments, and also other civil establishments. Mintech's key theme in 1969 was the stress on 'Profit through Technology', Mintech had 'gone
" "The Ministry of Technology, 1964-1970' [Witness Seminar], Contemporary Record, 5 (1991), 128-48, esp. 139-42. John Simpson, 77K Independent Nuclear State: The United States, Britain and the Military Atom (London, 1986); Zuckerman, Monkeys, ch. 32. " Gummett, 'Defence Research Policy' in M. Goldsmith, UK Science Policy (London, 1984), pp. 64-5. " See Philip Gummett, Scientists in Whitehall (Manchester, 1980), pp. 129-32.



commercial'.80 Mintech proposed hiving off the laboratories, and merging the AEA into a single British Research and Development Corporation. It is worth noting that the proposed BRDC was significantly larger than any private R&D organization, even though it excluded the military laboratories. The intention was that BRDC would be funded by one-third coming directly from the government, one-third from contracts from government departments, and one-third from industry. The strong implication was that one-third of the capacity was surplus to government requirements.81 The key point of the proposal was to get the establishments out of the civil service (as the AEA already was), to allow the laboratories to link up with industry, and to establish contractual relations with government departments; in other words a partial privatization of the national civil laboratories.82 The case of the AEA is both central and instructive. While Benn praised the AEA and the nuclear industry in 1967, by 1969 he had, according to the industry's severest critic, and no friend of the left, 'seen part of the light' in complaining about the lack of nuclear exports and in proposing to transfer AEA work and staff to the nuclear plant industry. Furthermore, Benn called for the integration of R&D and marketing: as Burn put it "This was of course new, in the nuclear industry [original emphasis]'.83

and Economic Growth

Overall R&D statistics for a number of countries were prepared from the late 1950s, and especially in the early 1960s. Some countries, notably the USA and Britain, had been assembling R&D data for some time, but through the agency of the OECD many countries began to do so in a systematic way. At the same time comparative economic data were becoming more readily available. These allowed analysis of the relationship between investment in R&D and economic performance. The most straightforward inspection of these figures yielded the uncomfortable conclusion that Britain undertook a great deal of R&D yet had a relatively low rate of economic growth. In 1964 Carter and Williams argued that 'It is easy enough to impede growth by excessive research, by having too high a percentage of scientific manpower engaged in adding to the stock of knowledge and too small a percentage engaged in using it. This is
*° Minister of Technology, Address to Press Conference, 15 January 1969, Benn Archive. " Benn, The Engineer, 9 April 1970, 11.
" Ministry of Technology, Industrial Research and Development in Government Laboratories: A New Organisation for the Seventies (London, 1970) [Green Paper].

" Bum, Political Economy, p. 174. Burn also noted that Mintech's scientific adviser, Professor Blackett, had long believed that a mistake had been made in the 1950s in concentrating reactor development in the public sector (p. 174).



the position in Britain.'84 In the mid-sixties Bruce Williams showed formally there was no positive correlation between rates of economic growth and R&D/GDP ratios.85 At the very first meeting that Benn chaired of Mintech's Advisory Council on Technology, Williams, Mintech's economic adviser, and a member of the body, presented these conclusions to his Minister.86 The observation of a lack of correlation, if not commonly known in the 1960s, was known to experts and ministers. In 1967, Benn made clear there was no 'automatic correlation between the amount spent on research and the rate of economic growth', and went on to show there was no correlation at all between civil R&D expenditure and growth.87 Professor Blackett, Scientific Adviser to Mintech, Deputy Chairman of the Advisory Council on Technology, and President of the Royal Society, told the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology:
Britain has the highest research and development (R&D) expenditure of any country in Europe . . . she also has, and has had for at least a decade or more, one of the lowest economic growth rates. This unpalatable fact is clearly one of the main reasons for the intense national self-questioning now going on about the organisation of the national deployment of R&D, both that paid for by the Government and that paid for by industry.88

Indeed, in the late 1960s the Central Advisory Council for Science and Technology argued, implicitly but dearly enough, that the British government, and British industry were spending too much on R&D in absolute and relative terms.89 It noted, correctly, that 'a high level of R&D is far from being the main key to successful innovation', and that 'Capital investment in new productive capacity has not . . . been matching our outlays on R&D'. The report estimated that in manufacturing industry, excluding aircraft, the investment to R&D ratio was 3:!. 90 The report suggested an optimum ratio of approximately Sil.91 Indeed, it also noted what it saw as the high proportion, about one-third, of total Qualified
" C. Carter and B. R. Williams, 'Government Scientific Policy and the Growth of the British Economy', Manchester School, 32 (1964), 199. " B. R. Williams, 'Research and Economic Growth—What Should We Expect?', Mineral, 3 (1964), 57-71. " Benn I, 13 July 1966, p. 452. " Benn, Government's Policy, p. 2. " P. M. S. Blackett, 'Understanding Technological Innovation' Science of Science foundation Newsletter (March 1968). " This body first met in January 1967. It was chaired by the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Cabinet, Sir Solly Zuckerman, and reported to the Prime Minister. On the work of this committee see Zuckerman, Monkeys, 34. " Central Advisory Council for Science and Technology, Technological Innovation in Britain (HMSO, July 1968), p. 9. This was the only report the committee ever published. " Ibid., p. 7.



Scientists and Engineers (QSEs) in R&D.92 It noted that 'high researchintensiveness is not in itself a good thing. It may represent an uneconomic input of scarce and expensive resources to yield only a small commercial output. As a general goal we should aim at a lower research-intensiveness than at present'.93 Asked about the question of investment: R&D ratios in May 1969, Benn answered: 'I agree with the recommendation . . . that more scientists and engineers should be encouraged to go into production, marketing and management in industry, rather than research and development, to ensure a balanced use of scientific and technological resources over all the stages of the innovation chain. This should produce a better ratio between research and development and capital investment'.9* By the late 1960s R&D was not considered to be the problem: earlier it had been seen as a problem only in comparison with the USA and the USSR. Britain, and British industry, it could be argued, were by the 1960s undertaking too much R&D. What is dear is that within Mintech, among its key advisers, and within government, as well as among external academics, there was a strong sense that R&D was not deficient in Britain.95 This was especially true of government-funded R&D. Mintech's actions, not least its increasing emphasis on investment and questions of industrial competence, need to be understood in this light. If we look at overall patterns of R&D spending in the 1960s, some striking points emerge. The first is that the expenditure of Labour's great technology ministry on R&D fell in real terms between 1966 and 1970. Indeed, there was a rise in its civil R&D spending, but this was mostly consumed by Concorde. R&D spending in aerospace and nuclear energy was lower than when Labour came to power. Overall R&D spending, as a proportion of GDP, fell in Britain during the late 1960s.96 But R&D
* Technological Innovation, p p . 10-11. * " Technological Innovation, p . 12.

" "The Minister of Technology speaks to Design Engineering', Design Engineering (May 1969), 30. " Lawrence Pilkington, Chairman of Pilkington Brothers, noted the 'fallacy' that 'R&D expressed as a ratio of turnover', was 'really of fundamental significance', and said: 'I gravely question that British industry needs more R&D' (The Engineer (9 April 1970), 14-5). David Landes noted that in the early 1960s British civil R&D, in absolute terms, was running at four times the level of French dvil R&D, but that France had the higher growth rate (David Landes, The Unbound Prometheus (Cambridge, 1969), pp. 521, 520). * In this paper I have not been concerned with privately-funded R&D, but it is worth noting that one of the key arguments for the mergers pushed along by the IRC was the need to create companies large enough to be able to support large R&D programmes. Indeed, many of the mergers were between some of the largest British R&D spenders. It is striking that as these mergers happened, British industrially-funded R&D fell, in absolute and relative terms, for the first time since the early 1930s. See my 'Research, Development
and Competitiveness', in K. Hughes (ed.) The Future of UK Industrial Competitiveness and the Role of Industrial Policy (London, 1994).



expenditure remained high. However, in the late 1960s, German and Japanese expenditure, especially by private businesses, surged ahead of that in Britain. Whereas in 1960 Britain was dearly ahead, by 1970 it was falling behind. Remarkably, in 1960 it was argued that Britain spent too little on R&D, and in 1970 too much.
Reflections on Contemporary and Subsequent Analysis

No discussion of Harold Wilson and the 1964-70 government is complete without a reference to the 'White Heat', and the establishment of Mintech in 1964. However, the later history of Mintech is ignored by most students of industrial policy (who focus on the DEA and the IRQ, and by students of science and technology policy.97 Much of this neglect arises from the confusing nomenclature, especially in relation to subsequent developments. Edward Heath, although widely regarded as the creator of superministries, in fact dismantled Mintech.98 The procurement functions and warlike R&D, were put into a newly created Procurement Executive in the Ministry of Defence (via a Ministry of Aviation Supply), where they remain. The remainder of Mintech was merged with what Wilson had left of the Board of Trade into a Department of Trade and Industry. Looking back from the post-Heath era it is too easily assumed that Labour's industry ministries were the Board of Trade, the DEA and the IRC, and that all the defence functions were in the Ministry of Defence. Had Mintech been called, say, the Ministry of Industry, Technology, Power and Defence Procurement, the historiography would have been different.99 More straightforwardly, attention to the history of defence procurement and research would have alerted historians to the distinctiveness of Mintech. Both Wilson and Heath were deeply concerned with the structure of government, and both created superdepartments for industry; these differed mainly in that Mintech included most defence procurement and defence R&D.100
w For a review of the historiography of the Labour government's industrial policy, with special reference to the treatment of Mintech, see Coopey, 'Industrial Policy in the White Heat'. " In 1970 Heath put a free market oriented set of ministers into Mintech, headed by Geoffrey Rippon; a forced reshuffle arising from the death of the Chancellor later the same year, saw the appointment of John Davies, an interventionist businessman, to Mintech. Three months later, Mintech was restructured into the DTI and was soon to enact the highly interventionist Industry Act, 1972. From late 1972 Peter Walker was Secretary of State. Campbell notes that the DTI under Walker 'probably did carry more weight than the Treasury, whose advice Heath was by then disinclined to hear' (Campbell, Heath, p. 314). " Heath regarded both the DEA and Mintech as gimmicks, and had planned to put them into the Treasury and the Board of Trade (Campbell, Heath, p. 221). However, between 1964 and 1966 while Mintech was in many ways a publicity stunt, thereafter it was not. 100 Tony Benn became Secretary of State for Industry in 1974, but this was far from being a return to the Mintech of 1970. Not only was defence procurement and R&D gone, there was now a separate Department of Energy, to which Benn would later be transferred.



There is, however, another important reason for the neglect of Mintech in its latter years. In 1980, David Henderson, commenting on a series of papers at a conference on industrial policy and innovation, noted that most of the policy proposals on offer were not novel, and that the history of even the very recent past was forgotten; people wrote as if industrial performance and R&D had not been a central concern of government for decades. In particular the whole Mintech experience was missing from the policy consciousness. Not surprisingly, he experienced a 'disheartening sense of futility and deja vu'.101 The general point that may be made is that analysts have come to assume that British governments have been incapable of, and never have, pursued an active industrial and innovation policy. The whole model of decline believed in by many 1980s analysts—that Britain did not have a 'developmental state'—implies that the real Mintech (as opposed to an insincere initiative of 1964) could not have existed. And yet it did exist. To the neglect of the military, and the failure to recognize the interventionist failure of the British state, may be added a failure to come to grips with the essentials of the economics of British R&D. The dominant mode of interpretation of the postwar history of British R&D is one I will call the 'misallocation model'. This argues that while Britain had high levels of R&D, this was misallocated to defence and prestige projects. A particular version of the thesis was the 'overcommitment' to R&D thesis of the American analyst Merton Peck. Using data from the 1950s and early 1960s Peck noted, in the Brookings Report on the British economy published in 1968, that Britain had the highest research intensity in the capitalist world, even though it had only an average number of scientists and engineers. Peck noted that Britain spent a great deal on military R&D, on basic research, and that it had an industrial sector in which research intensive industries were especially strong. Furthermore, Britain had a low proportion of scientists and engineers in industry, and a low proportion of engineers to scientists and engineers. Peck proposed cutting back on basic research in government and universities, and cutting back the aircraft industry in ordeT to release resources for industrial R&D within industry, noting also that this would also require an increase in non-R&D technical personnel. Peck was however, ambiguous as to whether there was a shortage of the right kind of R&D.102 Later analysts became convinced this was the case. The most refined version

David Henderson, 'Comment' in Charles CarteT (ed.), Industrial Policy and Innovation (London, 1981), p. 173. m Merton J. Peck, 'Science and Technology', in Richard E. Caves et al., Britain's Economic Prospects (Washington, 1968), pp. 448-83. This paper does not discuss the Labour government's policy.




of the argument I will call Freeman's Paradox. For Freeman there was a British paradox: British industrial R&D (that is R&D undertaken in industry) was 'apparently' higher than that of all capitalist countries other than the USA in the 1960s, and yet Britain had a low rate of growth. Freeman studied the distribution of industrial R&D across sectors, and resolved the paradox by pointing out that British industry spent a very high proportion on government-funded and aeronautical R&D. The implication was that subtracting government and aeronautical R&D would have left British industry with less R&D than Germany or Japan, and as a consequence the British economy grew at a slower rate.103 This interpretation, in one form or another, is quite standard in the literature.104 It is important to remember, however, that the misallocation model was central to Harold Wilson's arguments in 1963, and was also implicit in Mintech's policy of shifting money away from defence and prestige projects. Indeed, one particularly dear version of the misallocation thesis was influentially presented by Mintech's former Controller of Industrial Technology, Ieuan Maddock, in 1975. He argued that the distribution of government R&D funds was quite different from that of industrial output.105 The model implied that R&D funding should be distributed fairly across all industrial sectors.106 The most important feature of the misallocation model is that it implies there was a shortage of R&D in Britain in economically significant areas. This assumption has, however, been challenged. Saul noted in 1979 that 'There are those who have argued that expenditure on R&D has been wrongly directed towards the scxalled "high technology industries" and that it should have been spread more widely over industries in general.
Christopher Freeman, 'Technical Innovation and British Trade Performance' in F. T. Blackaby (ed.), De-Industrialisation (London, 1978). "• See, for example, K. Smith, British Economic Crisis (Hannonsworth, 1982); M. Distenfass, The Decline of Industrial Britain 1870-1980 (London, 1992); N. F. R. Crafts, 'Economic Growth', and M. W. Kirby, 'Supply Side Management', both in N. F. R. Crafts and Nicholas Woodward, (eds), The British Economy since 1945 (Oxford, 1991); and Robert Millward, 'Industrial and Commercial Performance since 1950' in R. Floud and D. N. McQoskey, The Economic History of Britain since 1700 2nd edn, vol 3 (Cambridge, 1994). Here I am only taking examples to make the point that this analysis has been accepted almost universally; many other sources may be cited. The argument is derived very largely from Freeman, 'Technical Innovation'. °B Sir Ieuan Maddock, 'Science, Technology, and Industry', Proceedings of the Royal Society London, Pt A, 345 (1975), 295-326. "* There was no reason why there should not be a wide variation in research intensities; R&D inputs, like all sorts of other inputs, vary widely across industries. If one was going to have independent British aircraft one would need to do a great deal of aeronautical R&D (Berrick Saul, There's more to growth than R&D', New Scientist, 23 September 1976, 633-5). Saul is noting that economic arguments do not point to the need for equal treatment for all industries, and that political arguments have a quite legitimate place in decisionmaking about technology.



The evidence for this is not very strong'. Saul was pointing to the lack of positive correlation between economic growth and R&D expenditure.107 Bruce Williams' conclusions should not be dismissed on the grounds that his R&D figures included defence R&D (even though Williams himself thought one reason for the lack of correlation might be that his figures included defence R&D).108 In fact studies from the early 1970s show there was no positive correlation between civil R&D and growth in the 1960s.109 This is in fact a general phenomenon: the OECD stated in 1992 that "The proposition that investment in R&D and technological progress are essential to future growth has not yet been conclusively empirically demonstrated'.110 It has been suggested that even in 1967 the absolute amounts of industrially funded R&D in Britain, Germany and Japan were about the same, while expressed as a proportion of manufacturing output, Britain was well ahead.111 This suggests strongly that lack of bread-and-butter R&D was not a problem. As we have seen, Mintech and its key advisers recognized this point, and increasingly argued that R&D was not really the problem at all. The 1960s saw rapid changes in the understanding of the economic role of R&D; indeed, contemporary arguments are often richer than subsequent commentators' analyses. David Henderson has coined an illuminating and suggestive phrase to characterize the dominant politics of technology in the postwar years— 'bipartisan technological chauvinism'.112 There was indeed in many sectors what Samuel Brittan was to call with respect to state support of the arms trade, 'a near perfect fusion of the right wing belief in "my country right or wrong" and the left wing belief in industrial intervention and subsidy'.113 It certainly existed—note the debate on Concorde production financing discussed above—but we should be careful not to overlook the partisan political dimensions of technology policy: Conservatives were
"* S. B. Saul, 'Research and Development in British Industry from the End of the Nineteenth Century to the 1960s', in T. C. Smout (ed.), The Search for Wealth and Stability (London, 1979), pp. 135-6. ™ B. R. Williams, Investment, Technology and Growth (London, 1967). m R. C. O. Matthews, "The Contribution of Science and Technology to Economic Development', in B. R. Williams (ed.), Science and Technology in Economic Growth (London, 1973), pp. 7-8. See also C. T. Taylor and Z. A. Silberston, The Economic Impact of the Patent System: A Study of the British Experience (Cambridge, 1973); K. Norris and R. Vaisey, The Economics of Science and Technology (London, 1973). '" OECD, Technology and the Economy: The Key Relationships (Paris, 1992), p. 184. Terence Kealey too has shown there is no positive correlation (Terence Kealey, The Economic Laws of Research', Science and Technology Policy (February 1994)). 111 Edgerton, 'Research, Development and Competitiveness'. I make the argument more broadly in Science, Technology and the British Industrial 'Decline'. See, for some other figures, Gummett, Scientists in Whitehall, Table 2.3, p. 58. m See his Innocence and Design (London, 1986). m Samuel Brittain, 'Lessons of Iraqgate' Financial Times (23 November 1992).



especially supportive of aircraft and space technologies.1" One can find many expressions of the right wing techno-nationalism in the literature on aircraft and space. This strand of literature argues that socialist governments, in particular, have run down the key national technologies, with negative consequences for economic performance.115 By contrast, socialist technological chauvinism has been critical of military technology and technology for the rich, and argued for the centralized planning of science and technology for the common good. It has also argued that British business, and/or the British economic system, has not given enough support to R&D. These themes were strongly voiced by Harold Wilson in 1963-4. Such ideas were developed in the 1930s around the left wing celebration of the Soviet model by J. D. Bernal and others, and were extended in the 1940s by Labour-sympathizing scientists. We know much about this tradition, and indeed, its own assumptions have greatly affected the historiography of science and technology policy.116 One common way of understanding the experience of the 1960s is to see it as the failed application of 'Bernalism'.117 But in neglecting non-socialist technological enthusiasm, and military technology and military agencies, the literature misses the central pillar of state support for science and technology, and what was distinctive about Labour's policy. While the ideology of commentary on science and technology is wrongly neglected, and it is vital to recognize the partisan dimensions of technology policy, a purely party political and parliamentary orientation will miss most of what is interesting and important in science and technology policy. The important politics of technology were not especially public, much less parliamentary. There is little linkage between the political salience of issues, and the scale and scope of the state's technological activity. The state machine for promoting science and technology was huge and powerful and was centred on organizations - t h e Ministry of Supply (1945-59), the Ministry of Aviation (1959-67) and the late Mintech (1967-70)—which were not at the centre of political debate or historiographical reflection. The programmes of these ministries
114 De Maria and Krige 'ELDO's sad parable', p. 129 note that Conservatives opposed Labour's hostility to ELDO, for example. 10 Perhaps most cogently in Roy Sherwood's Superpower Britain (Cambridge, 1989). Sherwood sees Britain in the 1950s on a technological par with the USA and the USSR, but argues that it lost its position from the late 1950s through cancellations by both Conservative and Labour politicians unversed in science and technology, under the malign influence of a classically-trained civil service. m David Homer, 'Scientists, Trade Unions and Labour Movement Policies for Science and Technology: 1947-1964', 2 vols., Aston University PhD, 1986, and Fred Stewart and David Wield, 'Science, Planning and the State', in G. McLellan et al., State and Society in Contemporary Britain (Cambridge, 1984), pp. 176-203. '" P. G. Werskey, The Visible College (London, 1978).



lasted much longer than the average length of a government.113 The very public story of Harold Wilson and the White Heat, and the early years of Mintech does not exhaust the history of technology in British politics after the Second World War, or even in the 1960s. A new macrohistory of science and technology, even of government policy for scientific and technological innovation, can tell us that there is a lot to discover, and that the public account and the historical accounts derived from them, are often misleading in surprisingly important ways. There is no better illustration than the fact that in the early 1960s a supposed lack of British R&D was a central political issue, while in 1970, when Japan and Germany had overtaken Britain in R&D, it was not. There was much more to the White Heat than met the eye of both contemporaries and historians.119 The alternative account of the White Heat presented above is linked to an alternative account of the history of British technology. When Labour came into office in 1964 it was not governing a nation which had neglected technological innovation. On the contrary, compared with Western Europe and Japan, the British government and British private industry were very large investors in R&D. What Labour learnt was that high R&D expenditure was no guarantee of economic success; indeed, overinvestment could be detrimental to growth. In contrast to its policies for technological innovation, Labour increased spending on higher education and scientific research (largely in universities) very substantially. But here too we should beware any inference to a lack of science or graduates when Labour came to power. Britain was without doubt the premier scientific nation outside the USA. That is probably well known. Less well known is the fact that graduation rates for scientists, and also for

"* Critics like Burns, Jewkes and Henderson were therefore right to focus on general technocratic ideologies, the nature of the state, and the nature of government-industry relations (Bum, Nuclear Power, John Jewkes, Government and High Technology Institute of Economic Affairs Occasional Paper No. 37 (1972); P. D. Henderson, 'Two British Errors: Their Probable Size and some Possible Lessons', Oxford Economic Papers, 29 (1977), 186-94; and Innocence
and Design.

"* One theme we cannot consider here is the perverse similarity between the 1960s and the 1980s, although we have noted the entrance of market considerations in technology policy, and the proposals to hive off research laboratories. It is also noteworthy that the late 1980s and early 1990s saw falls in defence expenditure of a substantial scale for the first time since the late 1960s. In January 1970 Tony Benn noted a 'tremendous speech' in which Keith Joseph, later to be Mrs Thatcher's Secretary of State for Industry, 'denounced the idea that Government and industry could work close together and said that competition was "magic", and technocracy inefficient. It was a very interesting speech to read because it did throw into relief the distinction between his view and mine, at the same time as underlining certain similarities, in that I was pushing for the efficiency of industry and perhaps underestimating the human factors. I felt that my position must look near enough to his to alienate the students at Keele [where Benn had made a speech] the way it did.' (Benn D, 26 January 1970, p. 229).



engineers, were very high by international standards.120 In retrospect, it seems extraordinary that Labour could have made such an issue out of Britain's supposed technical backwardness. Perhaps that in itself is an indication of the centrality of technology in British politics: only a profoundly technological nation could harbour the technocratic rhetoric of Harold Wilson.
a For evidence on this point see Edgerton, Science, Technology and the British Industrial 'Decline'.

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