Zuckerman Archive: Overseas Research Council

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 1187 SZ/ORC
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      1 box; three files; 1.5 linear feet

Scope and Content

File SZ/ORC/1, Ad hoc Working Party on a Centre of Tropical Agriculture, 1954-1961, consists largely of correspondence, much of it with the Hon. Alexander Geddes. Geddes was a prime mover in the scheme to establish a Centre of Tropical Agriculture, either in London or in a Commonwealth country, and was a consultant on the development of mineral and water resources and agriculture with strong links to the Caribbean region. The thrust of his thesis was that, in developing countries in particular, population growth was vastly outstripping capacity to produce enough food to prevent famine, let alone improve standards of living. A centre was needed to provide a focus for all the work being done in the UK and elsewhere in the Commonwealth - currently largely haphazard and unco-ordinated. [Proposal for a Centre of Tropical Agriculture, by A.C. Geddes, July 1961]. Geddes envisaged a centre with full-hearted Governmental support, but independent of it [op. cit.].

Following a meeting in May 1955 called by the Lord President, Lord Salisbury, and involving Sir Geoffrey Clay, Sir Alexander Todd, and Solly Zuckerman, as well as Geddes, a working party, chaired by Zuckerman, was set up to investigate the proposal more fully. The Working Party's members were drawn from Rothamsted Experimental Station, the Colonial Office, Wye College, ICI, and Cambridge University. It reported in 1956, favouring the establishment of a centre since investigations showed that there was a need for such an institution and that no existing organisation either met that need or had the capacity to develop in such a way as to meet it.

No action was taken, but promotion of the scheme continued, and in 1958 another informal committee was set up, this time under the chairmanship of Sir Jock Campbell, of Booker Brothers, McConnell & Co. (a commodity company), later to be a founder member of the Overseas Research Council. Both Zuckerman and Geddes were members of this committee. Again the proposal was endorsed.

Campbell's committee suggested appointing a study group to take the scheme further, for which a Government guarantee over three years was asked. The request for a guarantee was submitted to the Treasury, where it was considered that the matter should be shelved pending a review [op. cit.]. On 24 November 1959 the Overseas Research Council set up a Sub-Committee to deal with the matter, under Zuckerman's chairmanship (see SZ/ORC/3/4). The file concludes with Geddes' efforts in July 1961 to resurrect the scheme.

The Overseas Research Working Party, the subject of File SZ/ORC/2, was set up in July 1957 under the chairmanship of Sir Alexander Johnston of the Treasury, in the light of a Report on Technical Assistance produced by the Committee on Commonwealth Economic Development (a Cabinet committee, chaired by Lord Perth). The Committee's action reflected the concern being felt over the loosening of ties between Britain and the other Commonwealth countries as the latter achieved independence, and the likelihood of a diminution of British influence. Its report had recommended centralisation of scientific research in the Commonwealth under the aegis of the Lord President of the Council. Such a move had significant policy implications and further examination was deemed necessary. This was the task of the Working Party. Solly Zuckerman was not a member of the Working Party but, with Sir Alex Todd, was called upon to give the views of the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy.

The Working Party submitted its report on 30 January 1958. The report listed three options for the overall organisation of research: a Commonwealth Cooperative Research Organisation, which would require a commitment to provide mutual assistance from other Commonwealth countries; a UK General Oversea [sic] Scientific Research Agency, to promote research assistance to overseas countries, not exclusively those in the Commonwealth; and expansion of the scope of the existing Colonial Products Council in the form of an Oversea [sic] Research Council, which would be an advisory body covering all UK-assisted research carried out overseas. The last appears to have had the support of the majority of the Working Party's members. The Working Party also recommended the transfer of responsibility for the Tropical Products Institute to the Lord President, within the DSIR.

Both Solly Zuckerman and the Lord President's Office representative on the Working Party, Roger Quirk, had reservations about the Working Party's recommendations, and indicated in memoranda to the Lord President that the research council option was the least appealing. In a draft minority report, dated 5 November 1957, [not published] Quirk described it as more open than any of the others ... to the criticism of perpetuating colonial aternalism, while Zuckerman considered it devoid of executive responsibility and therefore without teeth. He and Todd had suggested the Research Agency option, preferably quasi-independent of government.

On 30 April 1958 the Lord President chaired a meeting of his scientific advisers (Todd, Zuckerman, Sir John Cockcroft (AERE), Sir Harold Himsworth (MRC), Sir Harry Melville (DSIR), and Sir William Slater (ARC), and his officials Roger Quirk and E.D.T. Jourdain, to canvass their views on the Working Party's report. They also considered the question of an Institute of Tropical Agriculture, in which the Duke of Edinburgh was now taking an active interest; the Lord President expressed the opinion that tropical agriculture in some ways presented the real crux of the problem [record of meeting]. It was agreed that contact should be maintained with the progress on the proposed Institute. The Lord President's view that the majority recommendations of the Working Party should not be challenged directly was supported, together with his suggestion that his advisers should attempt to break up the problem and to deal simultaneously with its various aspects on parallel lines.

There ensued discussions within Cabinet on both the Working Party's report and the Institute of Tropical Agriculture, which resulted in the setting up of a Ministerial Committee on Assistance in the Field of Scientific Research to Commonwealth and Foreign Countries in July 1958. The outcome was the establishment of the Overseas Research Council at the end of July 1958, with a formal announcement of its creation at the Commonwealth Economic Conference in Montreal, on 23 September 1958.

The Panel on Research in Africa, the subject of Sub-file SZ/0RC/3/3, was established in 1959 to provide a forum for liaison and collaboration with the Panel under Dr Noyes, which had been established by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in order to advise the International Co-operation Administration (I.C.A.) on the means by which scientific and technological assistance could be provided to assist in the progress of the less well-developed countries in Africa [minutes of first meeting, 5 March 1959]. The US government regarded overseas aid to developing countries as a means of forestalling the growth of the influence of the USSR in these countries. The establishment of the Panel followed a programme of informal meetings in London in late January 1959 between Sir Alexander Todd, Solly Zuckerman, and the chairmen of the research councils and representatives of the ICA and the Rockefeller Foundation.

The Sub-Committee on a Proposal for an Institute of Tropical Agriculture, the subject of Sub-file SZ/ORC/3/4, was established on 24 November 1959 and was chaired by Solly Zuckerman. The other members were Sir Jock Campbell, Mr G.W. Nye, Sir Joseph Hutchinson, and Sir William Slater. The terms of reference were: To prepare a paper, on the lines suggested at the meeting of the Overseas Research Council on 24th November, 1959 ... on the need for an Institute of Tropical Agriculture.

It appears that only one meeting was held, on 9 December 1959, attended by Zuckerman, Campbell, and Nye, after which a report was submitted to the ORC in January 1960.

The Sub-Committee concluded that there was a strong prima facie case for establishing in the United Kingdom an agency to foster our contribution to tropical agricultural science but that it was not possible at this stage, and without examining the whole matter a great deal further, to set out in detail what would be the most appropriate structure and constitution... or what its precise functions should be. A study was recommended, in the light of which the case for a permanent agency, and its form, would be considered by those responsible for the study. A priority for the study should be the needs of tropical countries for expatriate staff, the extent to which those needs could be met by the development of existing organisations, and the extent to which a new agency was desirable that could provide a link between existing organisations and countries wishing to employ UK personnel.

It was proposed that a steering committee, composed of the members of the Sub-Committee with the addition of Sir Alexander Fleck, should be set up, a Study Director appointed, and a small secretariat provided to support the Director. It was estimated that the study would not exceed 10,000 p.a. for, at the most, three years. It was felt that it would be inappropriate to seek funding for the study from private, industrial, or commercial sources.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Overseas Research Council was established in 1958, following the recommendations of the Overseas Research Working Party, and a Ministerial Committee (see File SZ/ORC/2). The Council's terms of reference were: To advise the Privy Council Committee on Overseas Researchon the formulation of United Kingdom policy in respect (a) of scientific research undertaken in or for overseas territories both within and outside the Commonwealth, (b) of methods of making the results of research available in these territories, and (c) of assistance to the scientific services of those territories;on the co-ordination of the activities of United Kingdom Government organisations in the development of science in the civil sphere in overseas territories; and on co-operation within the Commonwealth, with other countries and with international agencies in promoting such development.

The Council was chaired by Sir Robert Aitken, Vice-Chancellor of Birmingham University, and Solly Zuckerman was a founder member as were the chairmen of the other research councils (MRC, ARC, and DSIR).


  • SZ/ORC/1 Ad hoc Working Party on a Centre of Tropical Agriculture, 1954-1961
  • SZ/ORC/2 Overseas Research Working Party, 1957-59 [in two sub-files]
  • SZ/ORC/3 Overseas Research Council, 1959-1961 [in four sub-files]

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Please refer to the fonds-level description for GB 1187 SZ.