HC Deb 28 February 1967 vol 742 cc244-7
13. Mr. Dobson

asked the Minister of Technology what are the latest figures available on the brain drain; and whether he will make a statement.

28. Mr. W. Baxter

asked the Minister of Technology what steps he is now proposing to take so as to halt the brain drain of graduates in technology who are at this time required in British industry.

Mr. Benn

It was decided in 1963 to stop the collection of detailed statistics of the qualifications of migrants. In that year the net loss was 1,400. The Working Group on Migration under Dr. F. E. Jones is considering the brain drain problem. Meanwhile, as announced in the recent debate, I am pressing forward with interim measures; and the question of statistics is being re-examined.

Mr. Dobson

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. May I ask whether or not his Department has had an opportunity to examine figures recently supplied to him by S.B.A.C.? Can he confirm or deny their accuracy, and is he aware of the need for accurate figures in the industry so as not to upset people who remain loyal to the industry in this country?

Mr. Benn

I think my hon. Friend will find that there is another Question on the Order Paper today on the S.B.A.C. figures to which he has referred. I agree that further statistics are required, but in 1965 17 million people moved into and out of the country, and to get accurate figures of qualifications is very difficult.

Mr. W. Baxter

Are these graduates, who are educated at very considerable expense to the public over the years and who cost millions of £s, made aware of their obligations to the nation before their education is finished? Will my right hon. Friend consider the necessity of prohibiting the setting up by America of agencies in this country for the purpose of more or less poaching on the preserves of British industry?

Mr. Benn

These issues were dealt with in the recent debate. We considered it but did not think it right to rule out advertising, because this really would not be effective. The discussion of this issue has guaranteed that it is brought home to all those who are at universities, but we must take into account the fact that a young man who goes and who returns probably contributes more to this country by his experience abroad than if he had not gone.

Mr. Onslow

The right hon. Gentleman said that 17 million people moved in and out of this country in 1965. Surely he is not attempting to identify emigrating scientists by counting them at the Customs? Has he not more sophisticated methods than this?

Mr. Benn

The more sophisticated methods were discontinued by the party opposite in 1963. One of the reasons why we are having to tackle this problem is that the statistics are not available. The General Register Office is now conducting an inquiry into this. We shall have more accurate figures later.

17. Sir E. Errington

asked the Minister of Technology from how many companies in the aerospace industry he proposes to require information in connection with his inquiry into the extent of the brain drain.

Mr. Benn

Questionnaires have been sent to 34 companies in the industry. These include all firms employing 50 or more qualified workpeople and a sample of smaller firms and cover 90 per cent. of all qualified staff in the industry.

Sir E. Errington

That makes ridiculous the Minister's statement about the 17 million, does it not? It is not very difficult to obtain this information. Will some more positive action be taken to get complete information?

Mr. Benn

The old Ministry of Aviation Central Statistical Branch has been doing an annual survey of this for some time. The survey for the current year will be published in April. That is a very different thing from providing comprehensive and accurate statistics covering the whole field.

Mr. Rankin

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Comprehensive Designers Ltd., which is a branch of Lockheeds of America, is offering total wages of £50 a week? Does not he realise that that is the reason for the drain to comprehensive designs? What steps is he taking to meet that challenge?

Mr. Benn

That is a different question and does not involve people emigrating from this country, which is the subject of the Question.

Mr. R. Carr

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the S.B.A.C.'s inquiry covered ten times as many firms as the number he mentioned? Why, then, is he so sceptical about the S.B.A.C. results? Why does he not act upon them more quickly?

Mr. Benn

The S.B.A.C. survey covered 436 firms and got a 70 per cent. response. It included 100 firms not classified by the Ministry of Labour as being in the aircraft industry. The definitions in that questionnaire were rather looser than those which had been used in the annual Ministry of Aviation surveys. It is really that our own survey should be awaited before final decisions or thoughts about it are reached.