HC Deb 13 June 1980 vol 986 cc1030-87 11.38 am
Mr. Waldegrave

If anything, that short excursus from our debate reminds us of the importance of the subject. The ability to provide the necessary level of local government services for our people, and the ability to influence the world in ways that this House likes to influence the affairs of the world, both ultimately rest on our industrial and economic strength. That brings us directly back to the subject of the debate.

I have two, perhaps three, interests to declare with regard to this matter. The first is that for five years I have worked, and still work part-time, for the largest independent engineering company in the country. I am probably correct when I say that it is a company that employs more engineers than any other company in the private sector. Secondly, I am liaison officer of the West of England Engineering Employers' Federation. Thirdly, Bristol university is situated in my constituency. That has a distinguished engineering department, to which I shall refer in a moment.

There is an important dichotomy in the debate, in that it falls into two halves. First, we have our opinions on the many detailed recommendations of the excellent and intellectually distinguished report. Many hon. Members will be putting forward individual views about specific recommendations. Secondly, at the heart of the debate lies a different question. Do we accept the underlying analysis of the report, and the single central recommendation that goes with it? Do we accept the analysis which says that at the heart of our 100 to 150 years of relative economic decline, compared with our most powerful industrial competitors, lies the undervaluing of the engineering and productive culture in our wider education and social system?

As has already been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson) the analysis is not new. It is also widely accepted. I do not think that many in the country would disagree with it. All the papers and submissions given to the Government or to individual hon. Members endorse it. I should be surprised if we found anyone putting forward a very different opinion in this House today. We must admit that it lies at the heart of our problems, and has done so for too long. In a complex variety of ways we have undervalued production and overvalued the generalists, the administrators, and those produced by the great administrative schools and universities, which were related to a world imperial position. I shall not go further, as that speech has been made for the past 150 years both in the House and outside.

If we accept that analysis, we must turn our minds to a difficult problem. How can Governments change the underlying temper or direction of the culture of a country? We cannot do that only by making sensible speeches on the matter. One unsatisfactory aspect of government is that when a report is commissioned—as with the Finneston report—a distinguished team carefully balances submissions from all interested bodies. But when the Government receive the report it goes back to the people who made submissions to the commission and whose evidence has been carefully weighed by the expert reporting team. The Government then try to put together their own pattern of balance. If there is to be any point in such reports and Royal Commissions, the Government must delegate the balancing and the assessment to those distinguished people who were initially chosen to do the job. Of course there may from time to time be controversial recommendations on which the Government would take a view, but I hope that we shall not go around the same circuit again of trying to balance all the views—that is exactly what the House asked Sir Monty Finneston to do, and that is exactly what he has done in a decisive and successful way.

At the heart of his recommendations lies the engineering authority, and at the heart of that recommendation is the argument that could be summarised as being the "engine for change" argument. We must pay the greatest attention to that. The Engineering Employers' Federation welcomes the idea of an engineering authority. It makes some sensible and detailed recommendations about the form in which any such authority should be established; for example, it should be small, and it should not be a delegated body whose members speak as delegates of various other interests. The federation is involved in industrial production, and it is right to say that the authority should be at least half industrial-based in its membership. It must not turn out to be another institution dedicated to the provision of non-customer based engineering. It must have its roots firmly established in production. In effect, that means that the biggest representation must come from industry.

Large engineering firms, such as the firm for which I work, take a rather distant view of the matter. That will have come through in their submissions to Ministers. They are big enough to look after themselves. They carry out most of their own engineering training. They often operate as trainers for a large part of industry. One company within my group, Marconi, feels that it is virtually operating as a university. There is practically no electronic engineer in Britain who has not been trained by Marconi at some time or other. I hope that Ministers will not be over-influenced by the slightly distant view taken by some of the large companies. They are in a position to take care of themselves.

The big companies do not present the problems. It is the quality of the whole range of medium and smaller-sized companies, carrying out subcontracting and specialist precision engineering, that is crucial to the overall quality of our engineering sector. I hope that we all agree that if we establish an authority, as I hope we shall, it should be firmly based in engineering.

The Engineering Employers' Federation makes various other points. It does not care for the word "authority ", preferring" council". We should not attach too much importance to that. I prefer the word "authority" because it is decisive and powerful.

Do we accept the engine for change argument?

There is a spirit abroad in the land, not only in my party but in others, which is suspicious of institutions established by the House and which do not have a clear remit to which we can call them to account. The new phrase for such institutions is "quangos ". We fear that institutions may be established whose accountability will be limited because the remit is not clear.

The engine for change argument implies that the Departments responsible to the House are not the best institutions to engage in negotiations with education authorities, firms and so on to produce the right detailed recommendations. It implies that we must establish a new body with delegated powers, but that we are not quite sure about its functions. We know the general line and ultimate objective—namely, to raise the general status of engineering production in the community—but we are not quite sure about the list of recommendations that will emerge over a period.

That makes people uncomfortable. It is right that that sort of body should make people feel uncomfortable, because it involves a measure of delegated power. Perhaps the right phrase would be "delegated persuasive ability "—that depends on the effectiveness with which it works—but my view is that we should swallow those reasonable and genuine qualms because such a body should have been in being for 100 years. If it had been, not many would now say "That dreadful quango should be abolished ", any more than many of us say—except from time to time Ministers for Health—that the BMA should be abolished or, indeed, the BBC.

If I may wander into political philosophy, such an authority should be one of the great central institutions or pillars of what Disraeli would have called the multi-pillar State. It should work under a general remit from the Government, but not under direct departmental control.

We should not be too bemused by the word "engineer ". One of the best reasons to be wary of the reservation of jobs argument is that, when talking about raising the productive culture of the country, we tend to talk only about engineers in the traditional sense. As technology is fast moving, we may decreasingly find this appropriate. We may have to talk as much about chemists, physicists and so on. Unless we use a very wide definition of "engineer ", we may find ourselves having invented or allowed a power which would be a block to necessary change because it would try to reserve jobs for men trained in older engineering disciplines when some new discipline would be just as good.

I think that employers will find themselves opposed to any system which prevents them from employing the Freeman Dyson, or whoever is the genius of the day, who may have odd and unpredictable qualifications, but may be just the man for a particular job. We should not set up yet another closed shop.

The education points take us wider than that. The objective should be to introduce into our culture a new generalist. That may sound paradoxical. We should be saying that the generalists who will find themselves in administrative jobs should often come from a generalised engineering background. This is the great difference between this country and other countries. As a classicist, I should be averse to having fewer classicists. The right hon Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I, and, to keep in with the Whips, my hon. Friend the Member for the City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) and other classicists feel that there is an important role for properly educated generalists, and of course there is. However, as a classicist I am afraid I should be willing to swap most of the people with a PPE degree for those with degrees in engineering or science-based disciplines in the widest sense.

There are very few engineers in the House, in the upper reaches of the Civil Service, the Armed Forces, the law and in all the other professions attached to the great pillars of State which make up a pluralist society. We are talking not only about increasing and improving the specialised education of engineers; we are trying to feed into our university system the understanding that an engineering education at its first undergraduate level can be just as good a generalised training as in any of the other disciplines. That does not mean that we do not want highly trained, elite, specialised engineers with further degrees. That is a different point. However, we must not let the message go out that we are talking only about the training of engineers, because we are not.

I should like to refer to a letter from Professor Andrew, of the university of Bristol, which has one of our most distinguished engineering faculties. I am astonished to find that he says that the average level of intake is better than three Bs, which I think means at least one A. That is a great deal higher as an average level of intake than any Oxbridge college known to me can boast, yet Professor Andrew says that there are too many engineering graduates who are dull, unreceptive and unadaptable, and he is right.

I say that with respect to my own friends and relations, including my brother, who is trained as an engineer. This is part of the problem. It is because we have separated out the engineers. One of the problems of any great engineering firm is to find engineers—I dare say that I shall get into trouble for this—who can string two words together on paper, can make a proper submission and talk properly. In this place we have people who can do nothing but string words together. Of course, that is the other extreme and we do not want to go that way. But we must get engineers well trained in communicating and getting their arguments across so that they can inject into our society the kind of expertise, mental disciplines, and understanding of production and engineering problems that is necessary. They must be able to do that to stand up against the traditionally trained generalists for any jobs, boards or Civil Service competitions that may be going.

I hope that we shall take the risk of fully endorsing the engineering authority in its proper sense—not as a committee to advise and consult, but as a powerful body with enough delegated powers to be able to tackle the underlying problems. We want it to be able to knock together the heads of the universities and the polytechnics with the heads of industry. It must be able to recommend changes and be sufficiently powerful and prestigious so that when it knocks on Ministers' doors it will be regarded as very serious not to accept its recommendations.

There is one point on which I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ripon. I do not agree that the only way to give the authority teeth is to go further down the job reservation path. There are other ways of giving it teeth. In Britain, we tend to treat some institutions seriously and others not so seriously. This authority should be on the A list. This should be the one that the private secretary lets in to see the Minister and does not say that the Minister is very busy and cannot see it until three weeks next Tuesday.

The primary role of the authority must be to try to go back to before that period in our history when the dictates of empire swung the objectives of our education system towards administration. It should go back to that more productive eighteenth century culture most dramatically to be found in Scottish universities at that time when it was not thought that an educated man had to be innumerate and to know nothing about the physical sciences, and when the word "philosopher" included natural philosophy as much as an understanding of the Nicho-machean ethics. It should comfort those of us who are conservative and traditionalist in some sense to know that this is going back to an older tune, not venturing on a new one.

I commend the Finniston report to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench. I hope that they will take the opportunity of being the first Government for 150 years, following their predecessors who appointed the committee, to grasp the opportunity and seriously set about making the omelette, which will need the breaking of a few eggs in the process.

11.58 am
Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, North-East)

It gives me great pleasure to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave). We have already done a little work together on Finniston and its outcome. I liked the point that he made about the generalist. The truth is that the harsh disciplines of science and technology are just as good for making a man eventually a generalist as the study of ancient Greek. One of the great generalists of all times was Leonardo da Vinci. He was an amazingly ingenious engineer and a clever scientist—also a man with all-round culture. As the hon. Member for Bristol, West said, if there is now this gulf betwen cultures it did not always exist.

I should declare my interest. I am by training and experience a chartered engineer and a fellow of two of the institutions much concerned in this matter. My union, the Electrical Power Engineers Association, now part of the EMA federation, has also taken a close interest and been very active.

I am grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for referring to the part that I have played in pressing the need for an inquiry into the engineering profession. In July 1976 I wrote a memorandum to the then Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Heyton (Sir H. Wilson). He looked on it favourably and passed it to the then Secretary of State for Industry—my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Varley). My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield had to contend with much opposition on the matter. He had to override his officials who were lukewarm about an inquiry and who did not think that it was necessary. Officials always feel that they know better than Ministers.

My right hon. Friend stuck to his beliefs, and the inquiry was duly appointed under the expert chairmanship of Sir Monty Finniston. I remain sad that there was also opposition to the inquiry by the Council of Engineering Institutions. I recall that with sadness, because its earlier opposition to an inquiry has taken much from the force of its criticisms since the Finniston committee reported. It is perhaps unfairly charged with being obstructionist from the beginning.

Why was there an adverse reaction from part of the engineering industry when the Government proposed to take a close look at it? Doctors and medical people generally do not feel that way. They like to put themselves in the public eye. When an inquiry was proposed into the legal profession the lawyers were in favour of it. They felt "If you cannot beat them, join them." The early reaction of the CEI is curious to many people, but I think that I understand it, because there has always been a state of mind among those in professional engineering that craves for status and prestige but feels that it can be brought about without what is loosely called "politics ". I presume that by "politics" they mean governments, Ministers and Members of Parliament. But the suggestion of the CEI for the appointment of the Finniston-proposed engineering authority by the Privy Council overlooks the fact that the Lord President of the Council is a member of the Administration of the day. So it is a distinction without a difference. If there are many Members of Parliament who do not know a lot about engineering, there are, I fear, many professional engineers who do not know a lot about parliamentary government.

Since the publication of the Finniston report it has become the fashion here and there, to say that the causes of British industrial decline should be sought elsewhere than in the deficiencies of engineers. In the bloody-mindedness of trade unionists or, I suppose, people with the long weekend habits of directors, that is part of popular mythology, whether or not it is accurate. However, that sort of argument is irrelevant to the Finniston inquiry.

The inquiry was not looking for a single cause of poor industrial performance, and it is wrong therefore, to charge it with finding a single cause. It is rather like the theologian who was arguing with the philosopher. The theologian accused the philospher of looking in a dark room for a black cat that was not there. The philosopher replied "Yes, I know, but you have found it." The Finniston committee has not found the black cat—the single cause—because it does not exist.

The Finniston committee carried out its instructions; the terms of reference are listed in the report under four headings. They can be summarised as identifying specific questions relating to the contribution of engineers and engineering to the efficiency and effectiveness of our British manufacturing problems. It has identified one uncomfortable truth. While our best engineers can equal any in the world, there are far too few, and the general run of modern engineers—especially the younger men—are not well-qualified by today's international standards. They are not well-qualified compared with, say, engineers in France, Germany, the United States and probably the Soviet Union.

There is a shortage of first class recruits to the engineering profession. Numbers alone are not sufficient. The graduate entry system, as practised at present—I am not, of course, against engineering graduation—has proved to be inferior in many ways in producing competent engineers, compared to the old higher national certificate method. I have some knowledge of that method, because I was trained by it. It was a harsh system, under which an engineering apprentice or student rose at 6 o'clock in the morning and was at the works by 7 o'clock. He worked throughout the day, with a break for lunch. He finished at about 5 o'clock, went to the technical college or polytechnic, and studied until about 10 o'clock at night, week in and week out during the winter for five years.

It was a hard system, and not one to which we wish to return. History has now passed it by. But it had the advantage that for five years when a would-be engineer was working, learning and training, industry became the whole world to him. It was around him and on top of him, and he could not escape it.

In recent years, the engineering degree or qualification has often moved away from industry. In many universities industry is seen rather as one sees an object through the wrong end of a telescope. It is seen as something rather small. An engineering degree has become one of many degrees that a student can take. In my view, the Robbins report is much to blame for that, with degrees for all. Looking back at it, it was not necessarily the best of reports.

Since the war we have moved away from the solidity and earthiness of the old mixed work and study, training for the majority of engineers. Men who hold high positions successfully in, for instance, manufacturing industry, the electricity supply industry and the Post Office, whose minds are broad and big, were trained by that old system. But we moved away from it—rightly, of course—without achieving the quality and depth of degree engineering that is now taken for granted in countries that are in competition with us.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) and I have both visited Japan. We know that to get to the top in Japanese industry it is preferable to be an engineer. To get to the top in British industry it is preferable to be an accountant, a lawyer, a merchant banker, or a diplomat.

No wonder, therefore, that British engineers of the younger generation do not have the esteem or the comparative cash rewards of their foreign counterparts. Nor can they hope to achieve the high positions in society, in government and in administration that they can on the Continent.

With regard to diplomats, J asked the Prime Minister about the functions of the permanent secretary in the Department of Energy; and whether experience in diplomacy and oriental languages is a necessary or desirable qualification for this post. The right hon. Lady, after explaining the functions of the post, made the suggestion, rather lamely, that if the new permanent secretary could speak Arabic it would be useful in negotiating oil contracts. I then made the point that, with all respect to the talents of the gentleman appointed, Sir Donald Maitland, there had been, surely, a special opportunity here to appoint as head of a Department someone whose mind had been sharpened by the harsh disciplines of science and engineering. I asked Why do we go on supposing that to know everything about nothing in particular is a good thing? The right hon. Lady made an ingenious reply to that, as one would expect, but she concluded her answer with an interesting sentence. She said : With regard to choosing an engineer or a scientist as head of that Department, there are, I am afraid, very few candidates available."—[Official Report, 20 May 1980; Vol. 985, c. 245.] That in itself is something of an explanation of the failings of our society, and strengthens Finniston's criticism of the present system.

I recall that when I was Chairman of the former Select Committee on Science and Technology we had before us a very eminent civil servant who was questioned about the number of scientists and engineers available. The Minister may remember the incident, because he served on the Committee when I was Chairman of it. We asked a question about the number of scientific and technically qualified people available in relation to the particular subject. The answer was that there were so many scientists. I asked how many engineers there were, to which the senior civil servant replied that they were always included under the same title.

This is the extraordinary attitude that is prevalent in quarters in which people should know better. Obviously, engineering uses science to an enormous extent, but engineering, as a human activity, predated science. Indeed, in some ways it is an art as well as a science; sometimes it is an instinct. Not to recognise in this country that high-quality professional engineering exists in its own right, in some ways as an end in itself and in other ways as a stepping stone to the highest positions in industry and government, is to turn our minds and our thoughts away from the real world.

I do not accept every suggestion made in the Finniston report, which is an enormous document. I am not too keen on calling chartered engineers "registered engineers" in future. I think that the term "chartered engineer" is well understood. After all, we talk of chartered accountants, chartered surveyors, and so on. The public understand something about these terms. I should have thought "registered" would be a change for the worse.

It was not the business of the Finniston committee to look at technician engineering, but that is very important. The statistics show that in these days the ratio of chartered engineers—professional engineers—to technician engineers is moving against the technician engineer, for some curious reason. It should be moving in the other direction, because chartered engineers often require the support of a team of technician engineers in order to work effectively.

I know that the Finniston committee was not asked to look at the position of the technician engineer, but I should have thought that the rather elaborate threefold structure proposed was unnecessary. If we were to refer in the future, as we did in the past, to chartered engineers and technician engineers, I think that the position would be better understood.

Although the report is rightly in favour of a statutory register—that is the whole foundation of the proposal, and something that we must have—it has not recommended licensing as such. This matter will have to be looked at for the future. Under the register it may be necessary to have licensing for particular responsibilities—for example, where there are large industrial plants at which explosions can occur, and also in the case of nuclear power stations, great chemical plants, oil rigs, and so on. There is a case for having registered engineers— chartered engineers, as I prefer to call them—licensed to carry out that kind of task and to accept that kind of responsibility.

I add my plea to the pleas made by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House that the debate should not be simply another review of the Finniston report. It is proper for us today to ask for the Government's intentions. If they cannot give them today, they must give them very soon. Consultation has gone on quite long enough. Action should now take the stage. The TUC, the CBI and the Engineering Employers' Federation all support the essential Finniston.

Among the engineering institutions, apart from the CEI, there are differences. The Institution of Electrical Engineers has played a valiant part and a very open-minded and progressive part from the beginning. It is in favour of the Finniston recommendations being carried through in their essentials. That means the setting up of the proposed authority. I should have preferred to see a "council ". The hon. Member for Bristol, West said that he would prefer to have an authority. He has connections with the GEC, so I suppose there would be some confusion, if a lesser body were to be set up after the GEC was already in existence.

The appointments to the authority should be made by the Secretary of State for Industry. The exact composition of the authority is now open for discussion. The profession, of course, wants a considerable number of professional engineers or representatives of institutions to be on the authority. I would be rather against the institutions, as such, being represented directly. It is far better that the Minister should use his judgment in making the appointments.

There can be many variations in the mix. It is not really critical. As I have said, we need action. I do not believe that the professional institutions have either the authority or the will to act on a voluntary basis to achieve the aims of Finniston. There is nothing static about professional institutions—or there should not be—because life is changing all the time. New institutions spring up as they are needed. There are many examples. Some old institutions are probably not quite as necessary as they were in the past. There is, understandably, a vested interest, and they sometimes go on beyond what should be their natural life.

In an earlier intervention I made the point that if the institutions had become what they were originally intended to be, namely, learned societies, they would be likely to respond quite naturally to changes in technology, to respond to new skills and ideas coming forward, and to new discoveries being made. They are not in a position to do on an amateur basis what the Government should do. There is no reason why there should not be a special levy towards the cost. However, it would be foolish to quibble about the cost when faced by the risks if we fail to act.

As the Under-Secretary said, the climate of opinion is favourable to action. If we lose the opportunity to make this great human gift to the industrial needs of our country, we may not be given such an opportunity again.

12.20 pm
Mr. Kenneth Carlisle (Lincoln)

I very much welcome the chance to take part in the debate, because my constituency of Lincoln lives off engineering. A large part of its output is exported, and the city and its jobs depend not merely on supplying a cosy protective market in Britain, but on competing on equal terms with the best engineers in the world. Lincoln does that now, and will continue to do that, together with Britain as a whole.

It may be argued that the engineering profession is not doing well enough and that we should do more. Indeed, that may be even more vital in the coming years. That is why I welcome the report. It focuses attention on engineering and brings into relief the things that must be done to enhance the standing and achievement of engineering if we are to survive as a prosperous country.

The report broadly and starkly depicts a crisis in manufacturing. As short a time ago as 1963, 15 per cent. of the world trade in manufactures came from this country. In 1977 that figure had fallen to 9 per cent. Throughout the century this country has earned a large surplus through manufacturing. At present our trade is just in balance, but threatens to fall into deficit. Productivity has risen at a slower rate than that of our com- petitors. It is now less than half that of our neighbours in France and Germany. As a result, our profitability has consistently been the lowest among the major economies.

A particularly worrying trend is that we tend to export cheaper manufactures, but import more sophisticated goods. Inevitably that trend will lay us open to fiercer competition from the newly-industrialised countries. All those trends result from our failure of achievement in the engineering dimension.

Of course, there are exceptions. All hon. Members know of businesses that do very well. Indeed, some businesses in my constituency do well. However, the gravity of those trends is self-evident. I sense that all hon. Members are united in the belief that we should reverse them. The pace of technological change is bound to get faster. We therefore have little time in which to reverse those trends. We all recognise that the role of engineering in that struggle is crucial.

The Finniston report does a great service, because it emphasises the fundamental nature of the changes that must be made and that they are bound to take time. They cannot be accomplished overnight. As we have heard, a major change in cultural attitudes is required as much as anything else. We have many outstanding engineering achievements to our credit, but a widespread acknowledgement of engineering is lacking. A mix of disciplines unite to form a total engineering package.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson) mentioned the need for salesmen and managers to be engineers. In Europe, engineering is considered a third culture, that can hold its place alongside science and art. That is not so in Britain, where it has always played a secondary role. We lack the cultural or pecuniary awards to attract the best people into engineering. Any reform should give priority to allowing engineering its rightful standing in society. We must attract our best people and graduates into the profession.

The report sets out a practical programme for achieving those reforms and bringing about the cultural revolution. It regards the the creation of the engineering authority as crucial to that end. As we have heard, the authority will be the engine of change. Its central role will be to promote the engineering dimension. Some argue that the existing Council of Engineering Institutions could develop to fulfil the role of an engineering authority, but experience suggests that that would not be so. In reality, the council is the servant of its component institutions. It must cater for the self-interest of those institutions, and is consequently pulled in various ways. It cannot concentrate on promoting the unified wider interests of engineering. In contrast, the new authority should be independent of the engineering institutions, although its members must be acceptable to those institutions.

There has been considerable debate about the exact constitution of the authority. However, there has not been much argument about the need for it. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave) put it more eloquently than I could, when he said that the authority must become one of the pillars of society. If one wishes to achieve success in any venture, one must find the best man to put at the top. The engineering authority must promote engineering. Nobody should doubt the formidable task that would face that industry if it did not have some powerful body to coordinate its efforts, with a responsibility to concentrate wholeheartedly on promoting engineering.

The aims of the Finniston report are bound to fail. Our national approach to engineering cannot be achieved merely through the activities of the new authority. The beginnings of change lie deep in our educational system. That is why I welcome the involvement of the Department of Education and Science in all aspects of the report. Excellence in engineering must begin with the teaching of mathematics and physics, but there is a desperate shortage of qualified teachers. For example, when a comprehensive school in my constituency advertised a top mathematics job it received only three applications, and another comprehensive in my constituency cannot find a physics teacher, although Lincoln is traditionally an engineering city.

When other subjects are advertised, those schools are inundated with applications. That is not good enough. We shall never make achievements in engineering without teachers. Perhaps teachers' salary scales should be revised in accordance with deficiencies in supply and demand. We must have sufficient teachers of good quality in such vital subjects.

The Finniston report demands a broader school curriculum. As students may eventually be encouraged to turn towards engineering, the option of becoming an engineer should remain open to them for as long as possible. In addition, a potential engineer should be given a much broader outlook. When one contemplates the breadth of disciplines involved, one cannot but agree with Finniston, which argues that the links between schools and industry should be closer. The report states that Finniston would like to see every secondary school involved in one or more schools/industry scheme, and every company developing links with at least one local school. That happens in Lincoln and elsewhere. The results where it does happen are good. However, it should happen much more, and we can still do much better. I hope that the Government will take active steps to encourage it.

We must, at the earliest age in our schools raise the prestige of the engineering profession. That is vital for our national survival. If we are to do that, we must have a good supply of schoolteachers in the necessary subjects, a broadening of the curriculum and closer contacts with industry.

We all recognise the serious economic state that gave rise to the Finniston report. The report underlines the critical role that engineering has to play in our economic survival. It emphasises how fundamental the reforms will have to be if basic attitudes are to be changed and if the engineering dimension is to achieve its proper status in society. Perhaps the most useful achievement of the report is to bring home to us the seriousness of the problem and how fundamental the reforms must be if we are to succeed. It is a practical report. I have referred to the engineering authority and the education system, but progress and change are needed on many other fronts.

These issues are so important that the report must not be allowed to accumulate dust on the shelves. We expect the Government to take the report on board with the utmost seriousness and to ensure that action results.

12.32 pm
Mr. Gwilym Roberts (Cannock)

I am pleased to take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle). The small attendance in the Chamber probably reflects the absence in the House of an engineering dimension and the strong belief that Governments will not move quickly to implement some of the proposals.

Listening to the debate I have been worried by the general suggestion that the engineering problem is purely a British one. The lack of status for the engineer is widespread. It exists not only in Western countries. The other day I happened to be involved with some Russian statisticians. They told me that the man who carries out original research work in the Soviet Union receives a great deal of money and enjoys considerable status, whereas the development engineer is badly done by. The problem exists far beyond Britain, but undoubtedly there is a real British problem.

Much of the problem stems from the image of the engineer. The popular image is still that of the oily-handed mechanic. The media play some part in perpetuating it. The scientist, whether good or evil, is "a great guy" in media terms, while the engineer is given a minor role.

The real problem lies in our education system. This is where I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Lincoln. Early on in schools children get the impression that the engineer is not "respectable ". Teachers are so often divorced from the business and industrial scenes. Few of our teachers are aware of manufacturing problems in Britain. That lack of knowledge is not confined to education at primary or secondary levels. More frightening are the changes that have taken place in the polytechnics, which are extending throughout the colleges of technology. I refer to the movement away from engineering, towards the more academic courses. That cannot help the development of engineering and the growth of manufacturing industry. There is an education problem, which is worsening. I accept that my right hon. and hon. Friends have some responsibility for the movement that has taken place.

The more major problem is the attitude of employers in both the private and public sectors. It is difficult for engineers to make progress in line management and to maintain their engineering role. There has been some progress in getting more engineers into management, but few of them maintain an engineering role when they move in that direction.

I could not disagree more with my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) in his view that that difficulty is due to failure of communication on the part of engineers. That is completely wrong. The problem lies with those who appoint senior managers and directors. They appoint their like. That may change in time. The change is not taking place fast enough to meet our problems.

I welcome the report's major proposal to set up an engineering authority. The authority should be responsible to Parliament but it should represent the major engineering institutions. The authority is the greatest single contribution to providing status for engineering. However, it must not be considered an alternative to the Council of Engineering Institutions and the existing registration system. It must not be considered as an alternative to what we have already. The authority must be looked on as an addition to the existing structure.

I could not disagree more with the three-tier proposals in the Finniston report. For once, I agree with the submission of Lord Howie of Troon, who argued strongly that, as far as possible, the need was to maintain and strengthen the existing examination structure. There is a danger that the more tiers there are the greater the tendency will be to create second-rate and third-rate citizens, which we should avoid at all costs. The CNAA has made important contributions, but it has created second-rate students with the HND. Movement to a three-tier system would be wrong.

The creation of an authority is not the answer to all the problems of manufacturing and engineering. Its major contribution would be to focus attention on the problems. The question of solving them goes far deeper. The answer lies in pay and promotional opportunities in industry. As anyone in engineering knows, Government pay policies have created difficulties for graduate engineers. Many companies were unable adequately to pay their graduate engineers, many of whom had to go to smaller firms for their salary increases. We no longer have that problem. Now is the time for the private sector to ensure that their graduate engineers are paid adequately.

Promotional opportunities should be made available to engineers—and I use the term "engineer" in its widest sense. It is difficult to distinguish between mathematicians of different types. There is a leaning towards the wishy-washy disciplines—the pseudo-sciences, economics and accountancy. They tend to take precedence in promotion. The situation is possibly worse in the public sector. Few top civil servants are engineers. Many Departments have highly skilled engineers, but few of them have top jobs. That applies even more in public sector industries. How many chairmen of electricity boards have been appointed because they also had first-class engineering qualifications? Pay and promotion are the problems in the public and the private sector.

The Government must act quickly. They have three roles. First, they must set up the authority to act as a focus. More importantly, they must look at our education system. I have been involved in training engineers and I am extremely concerned about the changes. Thirdly, and most important of all, in the public sector the Government must give a lead to the private sector by demonstrating that pay and promotion opportunities are available for engineers.

12.44 pm
Mr. John Ward (Poole)

I declare an interest as a fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers and of the Institution of Structural Engineers. With slightly more hesitation, I confess that I am an elected member of the Council of Engineering Institutions. I understand that there are nine chartered engineers in the House, and we have heard from two of them today. I have one other claim to speak, in that I was one of the few Members who submitted evidence to the Finniston inquiry. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Walde-grave) will forgive me, because I was a graduate of a Scottish university, and probably that makes it all right to be a politician as well.

I think that today's debate has illustrated adequately the danger of leaving the engineering profession to politicians. Although we have not yet had an engineer as a Prime Minister, we are making some progress, because for the first time in history we have a Prime Minister who is a graduate scientist.

A few people will not support the objectives of the report in so far as it seeks to improve the engineering strength of industry. My fundamental criticism of the report is that it gives the impression that deficiencies in the qualities of engineers are responsible for the malaise that has for years affected British industry. I do not believe that that is true. We in the engineering profession are looking for the same things as the rest of the country. We know that wealth must be created before it can be distributed. We know of the need to control inflation, because in the engineering industry, above all, heavy investment is important. There is a danger that in making so many recommendations for fundamental changes we shall distract from the real problems of manufacturing industry, which have little to do with engineering alone. They are concerned with the economic and industrial affairs of this country. Once these problems are solved and the national climate exists for expansion, I am sure that the engineering profession will react to the opportunity.

Many hon. Members who have read the report will be aware that it concentrates on the problems of manufacturing industry and the manufacturing sector of professional engineers. That represents less than 50 per cent. of engineers in this country. The recommendations in the report are too drastic and too radical. Above all, they are much too optimistic in what they believe can be achieved. Because I am an engineer, I support progress and controlled change, particularly in engineering. We can and should build on our present systems. We should define our objectives and gradually move towards them. If Finniston is 100 per cent. right and we adopt all the recommendations, everything will be fine. But if Finniston is only 75 per cent. right and we adopt all the recommendations, the result will be chaos.

One of the omissions from the report is a reference to technicians. Industrialists in my constituency are more concerned about lack of technicians than about the numbers of graduate engineers. The report contains a number of contradictions. I cannot agree that we should produce as many engineers as possible. It is quality that matters, not necessarily quantity.

I agree with many of the report's recommendations of the education and training of engineers. I refuse to use the word "formation" for engineers—that sounds like something that was dreamt up in an iron foundry late at night. Perhaps "moulded" might be a better word, but I shall stick to education and training. I want nothing to do with registered engineers in any of their three forms. It has taken us years to get the term "chartered engineer" accepted in this country and, even more important, accepted abroad. It has also taken many years to obtain recognition and registration of a form, which a new string of qualifications would not help. In fact, it would only confuse the issue.

The report refers to some 80 engineering institutions, but, of these, I think we would accept that the civil, mechanical and electrical engineering institutions are by far the largest. If we examine their role, I think we will conclude that to date they have served their industry well through voluntary effort. It has all been done without great expense to the public. In suggesting that the role of qualification should be removed from the institution, I think that the report may have overlooked the fact that there are many members of institutions—let us be honest about it—who pay their subscription merely to be able to put the qualifying letters behind their name, so that when they are seeking employment or—that dreaded word—" status ", it is granted to them. If we take away the role of qualification from the major institutions, they will have little source of income and will be in a worse position to fulfil their other important role—that of a learned society.

Mr. Palmer

Does the hon. Member agree that it is, nevertheless, a curious situation in this country that if one forgets to pay one's subscription, one ceases to be a chartered engineer?

Mr. Ward

It may indeed be curious, but presumably if one does not pay one's subscription to any club, one can no longer enjoy the facilities. It may not be one of the better points, but it is one of the points to which the Council of Engineering Institutions has given consideration.

The term "engineering" covers, as I have said, many skills. It rather tends to concentrate on the manufacturing side and to ignore the needs of, for instance, the construction industry, where the institutions of civil, structural and municipal engineers have a high standard of qualification. Indeed, there are those in the profession who whisper that those three should merge and form an authority for the construction industry.

Let us examine the Institution of Civil Engineers for a moment. It was founded 162 years ago, and it has always played an important role in the training of young engineers. Professor Chilver's committee is in the process of improving the qualifications needed. The traditional method of training and final qualification for the Institution of Civil Engineers is based on a personal assessment of a candidate's professional competence by his peers—a number of senior engineers, some of whom will have been involved in his training.

That system has served the construction industry well, and I am concerned about how an impersonal body, however well set up, such as an engineering authority, would replace the qualification fun-ority, would replace the qualification function. As with the Institution of Civil Engineers in its more specialised field, the Institution of Structural Engineers demands higher and higher qualifications and skills from new entrants.

I return to the proposed engineering authority, which, to judge from speeches today, would be launched with almost evangelistic fervour. I was about to say "arrogant enthusiasm ", but perhaps I should control myself. After all, it suggests a single simplistic solution to all the problems of the engineering profession. Such a new authority, under the control of the Government and financed by the Government, would bring politics into the profession. I cannot believe that if political patronage is used to appoint its members, ultimately it will not to some extent be under the control of the Government of the day, and therefore bound to follow their whims.

If I may be so bold, as a relatively new Member of this House, as to convey the message that I was asked to bring from industry, it is this : "We want less Government interference, not more. We want less regulation and more opportunities to meet our competitors on an equal basis." If they examine the record of Government interference in industry to date, I think that many hon. Members will support my argument.

We sometimes hear talk about the engineer's status. As an engineer, I am never sure whether we are talking about status or money. "Money" is a dirty word. "Status" is a nice clean way of saying" I want a rise ". If we are talking about status, surely it would be wrong if this great profession were to become a tool of the Government. In regard to the legal profession, a noble Lord has already expressed his reservations on this point. One can imagine what the legal or medical professions would say if they had to be controlled by a new quango.

The intention behind Finniston is to raise the status of engineering, and make it a more attractive profession. It would be a retrograde step to put it under Government control. That would put engineers in an even worse position than they are in today.

In spite of the enthusiasm in the House, I believe that much of Finniston cannot be implemented, because a number of professional institutions are against it. One institution has gone so far as to say that the report is misconceived and damaging. I do not agree. I believe that its analysis and its alternatives are useful. But the House must be careful in supporting the Minister when he makes his choices. All that I have read about Finniston leads me to believe that if we are not careful we shall destroy much that is already good and put an unknown quantity in its place.

Finniston dismisses the Council of Engineering Institutions as having achieved very little and being under-funded. I agree with the last sentiment. It has been under-funded for years, because it was created as a co-ordinating body by the various institutions, but it has made progress. It now has on it elected representatives equal in number to the institutions' representatives; representatives elected by all corporate engineers who are members of institutions. That gives those of us—I am one—who are elected the chance to speak for the profession and its needs without being beholden to any institution.

The council has done much in the training and registration of engineers. It has established a uniform and widely accepted system of examination, which has replaced the previous hybrid examination. It has established an engineers' registration board and encouraged many people to join it. The register now has 270,000 names on it. Before we talk about registering engineers we had better decide what we should do with those who are already on that register.

The CEI would be the first to say that it has not achieved all that it wished to achieve, but it has perhaps made a few faltering steps in the right direction. It has taken account of what it has done and then tried to improve itself by changing its charter. As British industry becomes more involved in exports, the CEI's work in obtaining recognition abroad of the term "chartered engineer" will become more and more valuable.

I turn to the education and training section of the report, although I know that this is largely to be dealt with at a conference in the autumn. The liaison with schools—engineers going into schools and persuading school leavers to enter the profession—has all been done by the CEL I have here a pamphlet produced by the CEI, which tries to prove with easily assimilated illustrations that when someone is deciding whether to become a solicitor or a vet or to enter one of the other glamorous professions he or she should also consider engineering. It tries to show that the engineer no longer spends his life up to his elbows in oil, and that this country's future could well depend on engineering.

I must agree with hon. Members who have said that we must be careful in defining "engineer ". I am not sure whether Einstein would have qualified as an engineer under our present proposed definition, but he had a considerable effect on engineering in this country. Let us by all means have our register, but let us build on the register that already exists and be careful not to make fools of ourselves, because on the fringes of engineering there are scientists and many trade unionists who are proud to call themselves members of an engineering trade union. Where do they stand once we start registering engineers? Where does the jobbing builder stand who will knock out a fireplace, having first put in a lintel to hold up the chimney? I do not think that he would qualify as a registered engineer, but he has 40 years' experience and knows what he is doing.

The proposals in the Finniston report which I can support, among others, are those which consider education, especially in our schools. The fundamental fact that we in the engineering profession must face is that we start with one hand tied behind our backs. When Johnny decides on his career, if he is bright he does Latin and two other languages, if he is a little less bright he may do biology and chemistry, but if he is even less bright he finishes up doing O-levels in various subjects which have little relevance other than to prove that he can read and write when he leaves school. It is this middle section for which engineering has to compete. It is competing with the medical profession, veterinary surgery, science, and so forth

I welcome the discussions which my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has been having to ensure that every child gets some scientific education at least to O-level. That provides a choice. It is wrong that in the second or third year of secondary education a child should be put on a certain line. At the conference in the autumn which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry is sponsoring, I hope that there will be sufficient time to expand on this theme.

If we are to maintain a standard of education and training for all engineers, it is no good the Government saying that they want more engineers and then make it very difficult for engineers to reach the top ranks of the Civil Service. I do not take quite so dismal a view of the possibilities of engineers getting to the highest ranks of industry. I am reminded that the president and vice-president of the Institute of Directors arc chartered engineers. But we never hear about it, because people tend to drop their engineering qualifications when they move into management. I have many engineering factories in my constituency whose managing directors have very high scientific and engineering qualifications. However, they do not seem to advertise those qualifications. The fact that they are the managing directors of their companies is quite sufficient. Perhaps a television series glamorising engineering, such as has been done for the medical profession, might improve the image of the engineer.

The constant repetition of the Finniston recommendations may cause people to think that there is only one way forward, but it seems to me that three main roles are envisaged for the new engineering authority. The first is the regulation of the engineering profession, including the setting of standards. The second is to act as a voice for the profession at home. The third is to act as an engine for change.

To my mind, the right course is to build on the Engineers' Registration Board that we have already. We should leave the qualifications with the major institutions. We should set up something along the lines of the General Medical Council and include elected members, representatives of engineering institutions, the teaching institutions and people from outside the profession. Above all, we should retain the title "chartered engineer ".

Much has been said about the activities of the Privy Council. The Council of Engineering Institutions operates under a charter which has to be approved by the Privy Council. Because recently it has been going through the process of changing its charter to allow for elected members, it has perhaps become a little confused about the activities of the Privy Council.

Membership of an institution should still be the normal route for qualification, although we still have to provide for the mavericks who will not join any body if they can help it. The money for this new body must come from registration fees, and the body itself must be self-financing. We do not want status conferred by the Government. We want status to be earned.

I envisage some reform, with the Council of Engineering Institutions acting as a spokesman for the profession and perhaps providing co-ordination on technical affairs. I should like the engineering profession to expand its activities in schools, although I appreciate that it is already doing a great deal.

I should like to take this opportunity to draw the attention of hon. Members to the exhibition in the Upper Waiting Hall, which has been mounted by the Association of Consulting Engineers and which, as I said last night during our debate on the construction industry, helps to illustrate how much the profession and the contracting industry earn overseas.

As I have said, many engineers are already running successful companies, but it is no good speaking as though all the problems that we face today can be put right by the Finniston report. It is perhaps salutary to remind ourselves that just 30 years ago a similar report was produced, which called for a Royal Institute of Technology. I understand that that report is still gathering dust on the shelves in various Government Departments. I should not like to see such an institute. I want the good parts of Finniston accepted, but I want to see them converted so that they are built on the good system that already exists. I urge much caution before we consider licensing.

My final plea is that, whatever comes out of the great debate on Finniston, there should be no new Government body to control this profession. We need a body which is independent, which can speak with an independent voice, which is independently financed and which can do what the lawyers and doctors have done for themselves. We do not want another quango for which the long-suffering British taxpayer must pay. We want a recognition that over the years the profession has striven hard to put itself right, but with precious little help. I believe that the help, will and recognition now exist. Let the profession get on with the job. Above all, there should not be another Government-controlled body.

1.7 pm

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline)

I doubt whether I am expected to follow the course outlined by the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Ward). I remind him that he is, I think, a graduate of St. Andrews university, which, I imagine, was set up by the Government of the day. He ought, therefore, to accept that form of Government interference in industry and education.

My first point is that, while we are discussing the broader implications of Finniston, this debate is not really about an inquiry into the general aims of the engineering dimension. The report is really about British industry. I suggest that we are discussing a non-political matter. It is not an apolitical matter. The divisions of opinion which have been expressed across the Chamber, which have been demonstrated in many of the excellent speeches, are not party political.

Without discounting the broad terms of reference contained in the report, I do not think that we are talking about primary or secondary schools, engineering education or professional institutions. Rather, I believe that we are talking about British manufacturing industry, its relative decline and its relationship to the vital engineering dimension.

With my background as a failed engineer and a past economist, it is not my intention to knock British industry. However, our survival as a leading manufacturing nation is directly attributable to United Kingdom industry. Our difficulties reside not in the fact that we must be as good as our major competitors but rather in the fact that the nature of our economy requires us to be better. Generally, I do not think that we are succeeding in that regard.

If we take a narrow definition of engineering industry to include mechanical engineering, instrument engineering and electrical engineering, an index of industrial production with 1975 as its base of 100 shows a decline to 97.5 in 1976, 97.7 in 1977 and 99.4 in 1978, rising to a mere 101.3 in 1979, with an almost certain impression that there will be a fall in 1980. The total numbers employed in the industries show a fall from a peak of 2,073,000 in 1966 to 1,783,000 in 1979.

Many would argue—and I caution them against it—that the United Kingdom is entering a post-industrial phase, and that the numbers in such industries are bound to decline. I resist that argument because its acceptance manifests a dangerous outlook. Such an acceptance has blunted our competitive instincts and led us to the view that we have to succumb to the fear of competition from abroad. That has considerable sociological implications because it goes against the British character.

While I am concerned about industry, I am also concerned about the man and, with respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short), the woman also. It is significant that during the debate no one has mentioned the great area of recruitment and educational potential that lies in the young women in Britain. I was remarkably put down when I visited the United States recently. One young lady, whom I addressed in a cavalier fashion by asking "Are you a secretary or a personal assistant?" replied "No, I am an engineer. "She flashed her fraternity ring at me showing the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I wished that the floor would open up and swallow me. That is an indication of the vast reservoir of talent to be culled into the engineering profession.

As many have indicated, the engineering industry is not one of oil and grease, but a sophisticated area of activity. I shall quote the Kipling poem "M'Andrew's Hymn ", which refers to an old Scots engineer, in his lowly fashion, saying : What I ha' seen since ocean-steam began Leaves me no doot for the machine : but what about the man? Indeed, what about the man and the woman? If we acknowledge that the wide-ranging inquiry advocated by the Secretary of State will produce results, we must ask : "What sort of results are we expecting?" The danger of such an inquiry is that the Secretary of State will go for a consensus and the lowest common denominator. He should not do that. He should be bold and imaginative.

The lowest common denominator approach is the one that we have heard from the hon. Member for Poole—the approach of the Council of Engineering Institutions that wants to defend the status quo. That will not do. Its major arguments are about self-regulation and the fact that manufacturing industry accounts for fewer than half the number of professional engineers. It is not my intention to disparage the role of the CEI. I prefer to consider the most positive submissions coming to the Secretary of State from the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers the Institution of Electrical Engineers and their broad acceptance of Finniston. I do not quarrel greatly with the concept that the engineering authority might come under the Privy Council. That does not worry me unduly, although I should prefer a stronger statutory body.

I do not like the term "Central Engineering Authority ". I should prefer "Council of British Engineering ". I support the hon. Member for Poole in arguing for the retention of the title "chartered engineer ". However, one point with which we should concern ourselves is that made by the former president of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, Lord Scanlon, in his excellent maiden speech in the other place. As a member of that union, I, too, ask : "Who will pay? "If the education and training of professional engineers is to be industry-orientated, industry must make its contribution. That will bring a closer interrelationship between the academic profession and institutions and industry. But the Government must also make their contribution. They cannot stand back and expect the initiative to come from both sides of industry and the academic institutions, including the universities.

I am attracted to the teaching company scheme initiated by the Department of Industry and the Science Research Council four or five years ago. Under that scheme, industries second staff who are graduates to work jointly with universities in tackling problems encountered in industry. I am heartened to learn that this type of problem-solving approach is increasingly finding its way into the educational programmes of undergraduates. That is the way that we wish to go.

I turn now to the concept of the central authority, or whatever name we give to it. My main desire is that it should have power to focus national attention on the importance of engineering and the engineer and to produce an annual report for debate in the House. How we get that interrelationship is a matter for discussion and debate. But it is essential that we draw the attention of the nation, through the House, to the engineering dimension so that we can all measure progress from one year to another. That would involve the Government of the day taking decisions arising from the report and would call increasing public attention to them.

I realise that these are broad and complicated aspects. Finniston has indicated where we are now—point A—and has given us a desirable goal—point B. It is difficult, in the realms of discussion and the number of people we have to take with us, to see how we can reach those suggested aims. The important point is to call the attention of the public to the significance of the engineering dimesion.

At the risk of upsetting my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield), I suggest that the Government should look at the public relations aspect and perhaps consider inaugurating a national engineering day. Perhaps I may be vainglorious enough to suggest James Watt's birthday, 19 January, for such a day. Only through imaginative means can we call the attention of the public to the importance of engineering and its contribution to the nation's economy. I recognise that these are complicated matters. However, we shall not attain the objects envisaged in the Finniston report if the Government of the day are not bold and imaginative. I appreciate that we shall have to go through the educational aspects later in the year.

It may be a carping criticism on which to end, but it is a great disappointment to me that no Scottish Minister has seen fit to grace the Government Front Bench, because no part of the United Kingdom is more dependent on ensuring the enhancement of the engineering dimension than Scotland. I wish the discussions well and earnestly hope that the Government will initiate action as soon as possible.

1.20 pm
Mr. Gary Waller (Brighouse and Spenborough)

It is encouraging that the Government have given a number of indications, including the speech of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, that they will not sit back following the publication of the Finniston report. The report draws attention to problems that are highly relevant to Britain's current economic malaise. It makes many positive and constructive proposals. Sir Monty Finniston has drawn attention to the fact that previous reports on these matters have, unfortunately, been pigeonholed. I echo his heartfelt sentiments that urgent action is vital, in justice, to those who have contributed in many ways to the report. Some of its recommendations are controversial. My hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Ward) indicated that in his speech. Proper consultation with all the interested parties is essential, although I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave) that they should not provide an excuse for delay.

The report has already been usefully debated in another place, and I congratulate the Government on finding time for this debate today. We should not draw too much significance from the fact that it has been relegated to a Friday because of the heavy legislative programme. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson) that it is sad that more hon. Members could not have been here to listen and to contribute to the debate, but I understand their desire to be in their constituencies today. In my experience in the House during the last year I have found that many of the best debates have taken place on Fridays.

Central to Finniston's analysis of the present situation is the fact that the status of the engineer in this country is lower than it should be. Every hon. Member who spoke used the word "status ". Many people who should consider engineering as a career are deterred from doing so, perhaps because they are frightened of getting their hands dirty, or perhaps because engineering jobs in private industry are not sufficiently highly regarded in comparison with the risks. When the return on capital employed in companies is only about 2 per cent. or 3 per cent., I do not think that any further elaboration from me is necessary. I agree that the status of the engineer should be elevated, and the creation of an engineering authority can do much to advance the engineering dimension in national economic life, and particularly in manufacturing. I should like to consider what is meant by "status ". The report takes full account of the need for all the bodies and agencies to work closely together with industry. It also calls for more cooperation between universities and colleges, and large and small companies. In this regard we can learn a great deal from the examples that the French and Germans can provide. Perhaps as a means of according proper status to engineers and to the engineering profession, Finniston puts forward new degree programmes leading to the awards of Bachelor of Engineering and Master of Engineering degrees, and also a package leading to registration as a registered associate engineer for those engineers who will play a vital, practical supporting role.

There is a vital need for specialist engineers, but, as the report acknowledges, there is also a need to bridge the gap between engineering and management. The answer is not necessarily to graft on a management unit to a course that is predominantly concerned with engineering. It is all too easy to do that and to think that the management side has been dealt with. That is not enough. The needs of industry for future managers can be met advantageously by educational routes additional to those proposed by Finniston. Interdisciplinary courses—such as that in industrial technology and management which takes place at the University of Bradford, which I visited recently—provide an increasing number of graduates for production management and related functions in manufacturing industry.

The course that I have just mentioned is a broadly-based one, which bridges the gap between industry, engineering and management. It includes two placements in industry providing opportunities for the sort of practical experience which several hon. Members have mentioned as being absent from many courses embarked on at the present time.

Those who have graduated from this course have gained positions in production and marketing, in management services, in research, in purchasing, in personnel and in finance, as well as in engineering. The programme provides an understanding of the principles of materials, of engineering technology and of quantitative techniques, but also examines the social context of production, including communication and marketing, and covers the theory and practice of organisations and industrial relations. This kind of course should go some way towards resolving the problem about communications in industry that was highlighted by the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams).

Each student has to complete two major academic projects, and some graduates will use their experience as a basis for a more specialised course in engineering. In those cases the course provides a start, but only a start.

One of the five major elements in the course is called "Man in Industry ". I do not think that this automatically means that woman in industry is excluded. It is interesting to note that the number of women who take this more broadly-based course is very much greater than the number of those going into engineering as a whole, which seems to me to be another reason to commend it.

I hope that it will be agreed that the more broadly-based approach has a great deal to commend it, particularly because our peculiarly British failing has not been in inventiveness or engineering skills but in exploiting our inventions successfully. The danger is that the publicity and prestige associated with the academic qualifications that Finniston proposes may deflect all the best students into specialist engineering courses, whereas many of them would have much to gain from a more broadly-based course that docs not preclude subsequent specialisation.

Perhaps rapidly changing technology makes the need for a broader understanding particularly great. The report takes account of this factor. As is stated in the summary, engineers need a wider perception of their role in a business enterprise than now seems to satisfy many of them. We must make sure that the pursuit of excellence takes sufficient account of the fact that this excellence can be achieved in various different ways.

I was particularly interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for Ripon had to say about Hong Kong and Japan. In Japan, the marketing came first. After the war Japan imported its technology but became extremely expert at marketing it, even though it may have acquired the technology only on licence. Since then the engineering skills have come, and Japanese products are as good as any, but it was the marketing skill and the ability to promote the products that created the great growth that we all know about in Japan.

I mentioned the need to raise the status of engineers" but it is surely extremely important to stress that they must not become a race apart, in the way that was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West. He said that he would regret that, and I would regret it just as much. Engineers need to keep their feet firmly on the ground.

I suggest that part of the problem is that almost anyone who is slightly involved in the engineering industry likes to call himself or herself an engineer. A fitter with the slightest skill may call himself an engineer. This has made it more difficult to increase the prestige of the profession.

More prestige does not necessarily mean separate facilities. British engineers have tended to go for prestige and status because there has not been the remuneration that engineers and managers in other countries have been able to obtain. They have looked for facilities such as separate dining rooms.

We have a great deal to learn from the Japanese, who have no sense of aloofness. In Japan everybody is working for the same ends, whether it is the managing director or the sweeper. If someone does not turn up to work on the shop floor because he is ill, the manager will work on his machine. It will not be thought that he has lost any status, or that his dignity is reduced because he has done so.

The search for what I think is the wrong sort of status in British industry comes about because in many instances other rewards have been absent. Raising the status of the engineering profession should not divide engineers from others among the work force. That is a factor that the engineering authority should take into account.

The authority must also ensure that industry plays its part in bridging the gap between it and academic and training institutions. For example, in the training of medical students it is taken for granted that hospital experience will be made available. Industry should accept an equally positive role in the training of its future management. I understand that at Bradford university those who run the course that I have described find difficulty in persuading firms to take on those who participate in the sandwich part of the course that they run.

The engineering industry training board, which I visited a few weeks ago, provides support. However, that support needs to be regulated in a much more logical way. The chairman of the board, Lord Scanlon, made an extremely powerful speech on the report when it was debated in another place. More well-aimed publicity is needed to encourage industry to make places available for relevant undergraduate experience.

In welcoming the report's conclusions, I merely argue that creating the formal structures and putting the legislative requirements on the statute book will not be enough. We may think that that implementation will be enough and that as a result all the problems will be solved. Nothing could be further from the truth. The implementation of the proposals in the report would provide, to use Sir Montague Finniston's own words, "an engine for change ". The engine will need continually to be fuelled and to receive regular maintenance if it is to operate efficiently and to the benefit of engineering and of Britain as a whole.

1.33 p.m.

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

At the end of the debate a great deal of what I wanted to say has already been said. I shall have to engage in some elimination as I proceed.

I am delighted that we have had the opportunity to debate the Finniston report. I hope that we shall take action on its positive aspects. There has been no shortage of reports to successive Governments on this subject. For example, there was the Dainton report on candidates in science and technology in higher education, the Swann report on the entry of science graduates into employment, the Fielden report on engineering design and the Zuckerman report on technological innovation. There have been many guidelines.

It is a sad fact that fewer gifted young people are encouraged by their teachers to opt for engineering. Although many engineering managers visit our schools, the attitude of young people stems from the attitude of their teachers. That is something that we must change As my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Douglas) pointed out, it is an unusual career for a girl. About nine months ago I was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I was amazed at the number of female students. It was an eye-opener. There are a few progressive professors of civil engineering in our universities who encourage women students to study civil engineering. All hope is not lost.

As many hon. Members have said, part of the trouble is that our professional engineers do not enjoy the same status as their opposite numbers in Frence and Germany. In those countries a professional engineer has the status of a Minister of a federal government. Products of the Grandes Ecoles and of the Technische Hochschule achieve great eminence as consulting engineers, heads of great industries and as academics. However, we often prefer lawyers, accountants and those who do not have scientific training to head our industries. Instead of looking to practical, trained engineers and scientists to improve our industrial performance, we tend to find people such as Milton Friedman. He is helping the Government to make an even greater mess.

We need to improve education if we are to produce better engineers and scientists. However, as a result of cuts in education, universities are unable to replace staff. School leavers—our future technicians—are unemployed. They cannot undertake the training that they need. The prospects are therefore grim.

Last night there was a debate on the construction industry. It is interesting that the two debates followed each other. Yesterday's debate made clear that public sector contracts, on which civil engineering firms and others depend, are being cut back. At the same time our capital structure is ageing and deteriorating, and is not being enlarged or replaced. As a result, a massive amount of expenditure is being laid up for the future. If this vital area is to be improved, the Government must show that they are willing to give the same priority to developing industry as they are willing to give to defence. If they do not do that, the decline and waste in graduate and postgraduate education will continue.

The report makes proposals about the acquisition of engineering qualifications. If those proposals are adopted they will cause a great upheaval. Hon. Members have already mentioned that engineers can be separated into three groups. However, if the proposals were accepted a drastic reorganisation of degree courses would be involved. That would take a long time to set up and cannot be done overnight, or even within a year.

I should also like to draw attention to Lord Scanlon's speech during the debate on this report in another place. As one would expect from a man with unrivalled experience on the shop floor, he made a balanced and practical speech. He said that we had five to 10 years in which to get it right, and in which to establish ourselves as a leading industrial nation. He warned against setting up another quango. He thought that too many qualified engineers spent their time on research and development. I do not accept that that is true of a large number of civil and structural engineers. They apply their training and knowledge in a practical way. In every part of the world one can find our eminent engineers. Well-known firms are adding to our export achievements by designing and carrying out important projects.

Civil engineering is highly competitive. During the past decade there has been a decline in the volume of work. As a result, more civil engineering firms have had to look abroad for work in order to survive. In a highly competitive market they face severe competition from German, Japanese and Korean firms, particularly in the Middle East.

For a long time I have felt that Governments should give practical help and encouragement to such activities of civil engineering firms. Indeed, I pressed my party to do that when it was in office. I understand that the Engineering Employers' Federation supports the proposal to establish an engineering authority. However, civil and structural engineers and the Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors have put a contrary point of view to me. Of course their problems are different from those of manufacturing industry.

Those engineers believe that the addition of a statutory Finniston register is unnecessary and would not enhance the status of chartered civil engineers. The hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Ward) made the point that the appropriate institutions should continue to carry out the accreditation of professional examinations and company training programmes. They do not dispute that standards of certain degree courses should be improved, but believe that that should be achieved through the existing machinery rather than by setting up another authority.

The proposed new engineering authority will have no new powers outside the field of statutory registration, and will have to rely on persuasion, as the institutions do now. However, it will have almost 40 new tasks assigned to it, according to the report. The costs will be considerable and, to some degree, there will be a duplication of what is being done by the institutions. The institutions have to review educational training and standards constantly. After all, human lives depend on what civil and structural engineering firms do. They already do an enormous amount for accreditation and qualification.

At root lies the problem of the supply of science teachers in schools. I hope that the Government will take on board the urgent need to improve the supply and qualifications of science teachers. There is a need for new technology in our schools. We are far behind many other countries. We need to encourage girls to enter engineering courses and equip themselves to work in the new technology. Already a whole new vista has opened in that field, and we are far behind. Financial support has been inadequate. We hear the siren voices on the other side, calling all the time for more cuts in Government expenditure, but, without resources and without teachers, any hope of implementing the remainder of Finniston will be lost.

1.41 pm
Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)

I join the Under-Secretary of State in the two tributes that he paid. The first is to Sir Monty Finniston and his committee. The committee must have been much overworked. To produce such a large report with so many recommendations in a relatively short period must mean that the gentleman in the driving seat was driving the committee extremely hard. I, too, pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer), on whose initiative the committee was set up. In July 1976 he wrote to the then Prime Minister suggesting an inquiry, and we listened to his contribution with great pleasure.

I join hon. Members on both sides of the House who say that it is a pity that such an important subject should have had so small an attendance. Looking at the Press Gallery, one notices that the lack of attendance is not confined to hon. Members. In a strange way, perhaps the Finniston report is essential if only to bring about a different attitude and atmosphere in the engineering industry.

If I may be forgiven for capping the splendid Kipling quotation by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Douglas): Lord, send a man like Robbie Burns to sing the Song of Steam! or whatever came later. It occurs to me that Kipling did not say "send a man like Alfred Lord Tennyson to Sing the Song o' the Internal Combustion Engine ".

Apart from scansion, there was another reason why a Scot was chosen. The Under-Secretary of State in his journeys around the world will have observed many traces of British engineering. Also, he talked about engineering at the end of the nineteenth century—the Chinese railway and so on. I suspect that most engineers who at that time were engaged in work abroad were Scots. The reasons for that were that they came from a country that had to export its brains and the status that they received in other parts of the world was often greater than that in their own country.

There is a lesson there for us in the twentieth century. I am glad that the Minister paid tribute to British engineers. The demand for British engineers abroad is still very strong. We are not dealing with an industry that is producing duds. We are dealing with one that is in great danger in our own country.

This debate is certainly due, perhaps even overdue. The Finniston committee has tried to remedy the deficiencies of half a century or even a century. However, at least we have all become aware of the problem. The quality of speeches in this debate has been extremely good. I do not wish to sound patronising. I am not an expert, and sometimes I find that listening to experts is not the most interesting occasion, but on this occasion, when so many hon. Members knew what they were talking about, the debate has been one of the most interesting in which I have participated. In a way it is a pity that we have been almost unanimous in our views. Only the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Ward) raised the flag of revolt. I wish that the Secretary of State had been present, because his seal of office would have added something to our discussions. The Minister has pointed out that there is a plethora of Ministers on the Front Bench, and we take it that the three who are there are almost the equivalent of the Secretary of State.

I turn to one of the points raised by the hon. Member for Poole, when he talked about the manufacturing industry. Personally, I was rather taken by paragraph 12 of the Finniston report in which a study is quoted, and the suggestion is made that half of those employed in non-manufacturing sectors depend for their jobs on their links with the manufacturing industry. That is an important observation, and it is not obvious until one goes into it.

Finniston diagnoses certain symptoms in our industry with which we need to deal urgently. Our manufacturing performance has been overtaken by our major overseas competitors. Our share of world markets has slipped in almost every sector : cars, ships, chemicals and steel making—we have gone right down in all of them. In the same period, whole manufacturing industries have simply vanished—motor cycles, cutlery and typewriters. That is the position, and there are consequences that none of us can afford to neglect. Import penetration has grown to the point where we have become, almost unbelievably, a country that imports more manufactured goods than it exports. That, in turn, means that this country, once the workshop of the world, is becoming its supermarket. That bodes ill for all of us.

In the light of the Finniston report, what can be done to try to halt and reverse the spiral of industrial production? I have a certain amount of common ground with other hon. Members. Unless we take our engineers more seriously than we have in the past and harness and utilise their skills and talents, the position will get worse and eventually become disastrous. The fact is that things either get worse or they get better. It is an axiom of life that they never stand still. That is our present position.

What I felt was a little troubling about the Minister's speech—which otherwise I enjoyed, as the whole House did; it was a very thoughtful and good speech—was that it did not seem to give that punch, that decision, that we would wish. It may be that in a few weeks' time the Minister or his right hon. Friend will say "It is all there, we are going ahead ", but the fact is—my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) pointed this out—that there have been many previous inquiries, widely acclaimed at the time, and perhaps even endorsed by the Government of the day, that have then been left, as the hon. Member for Poole said, to gather dust on the shelves.

In this instance that must not be allowed to happen, particularly when one realises that it is not only in this House that there is a large majority in favour of these measures. It is a large majority right across both sides of the House. There is also a large majority in favour of them in the TUC, the CBI, the Engineering Employers' Federation, and some of the learned societies. Therefore, we are talking about a global view.

That brings me back to the immediacy of the problem. I hope that the Secretary of State will not allow any more dust to gather. It is a matter of only a few weeks before the House rises for the Summer Recess, anyway. I hope that we shall have a definite, clear indication that we shall go ahead with the recommendations.

When the report came out, I said that the Labour Party, including myself personally, wholeheartedly supported it, and that if the present Government did not implement it a Labour Government would do so. However, because this matter is so important for all of us, I hope that the Government will accept the report and go ahead as quickly as possible to bring in the necessary legislation.

The trouble is that legislation takes time. With the best will in the world, time is one of those commodities that we do not seem to have. Therefore, I support the suggestion to set up a shadow authority, which should start work as soon as possible on defining its functions and the methods of work, until the necessary legislation can be passed. In that way we can save a great deal of time. I recommend that course of action.

There is an awful lot that can be said about so many parts of the report. Incidentally, when the Minister was talking about the Government and employers and what their relative roles should be, it occurred to me that out of 80 recommendations in the report, there are 18 that employers are advised to carry out. Therefore, there is there a clear recognition of what must be done by both sides. That is all to the good.

I want to make some detailed comments on the proposals. First, I believe that the authority must have on it a majority of professional engineers. They must be independent of their individual institutions. This is a case in which I do not believe in a mandatory form of selection.

Mr. Douglas

Or reselection.

Mr. Silkin

Or reselection. It is the independence that is needed, so that they can look at the wider picture. That is important.

I put my next comment to the hon. Member for Poole. I put it as respectfully as I can, because he has a lot of experience in these matters, and I have very little—perhaps only a lawyer's feeling for criticism of what others do ; I do not know. The experience with the Council of Engineering Institutions shows that a body built on a delegate basis puts people into a straitjacket. I do not think, to judge from what I have read, that the authority could work on that basis. However, I go this far : I believe that initially it must be appointed by the Government, that somehow it must work to be, if not self-regulating, self-governing, as soon as possible. This is a profession that needs a degree of launching and priming. The last thing that it needs is nannying.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) spoke about the difficulties that would arise in such an authority, with so many different groups revolving round. It occurred to me that the solution might be to have a series of rotating chairmanships, at any rate for an initial period, so that the chair would go from representatives of a particular sphere after a period of, say, two or three years on to the next. Perhaps every third or fourth chairman might be a layman. I believe that in that way there would be much greater interest, and it might help some of those who object to being left out and some of those who object to being brought in. Perhaps some thought will be given to that idea in due course as the authority emerges—if, as I hope, it does emerge.

The question of the Privy Council, raised by the hon. Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson), causes me slight difficulty, because, like the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-East, I think that the idea of having the Privy Council is intended to solve a particular problem but that it does not sove it, because in the end there is a Minister responsible, and in this case it is the Lord President. In the future he may be someone who knows something about the subject, but I have known many Lords President in my time, and I would not have put any of them in charge of the engineering profession. Perhaps we are really looking for a single channel of representation so that this child knows where its home is. That can no doubt be worked out in due course.

I find the arguments against the statutory regisration of qualified engineers extraordinary. It seems to me to be an absolute imperative. The irony is that in many of the countries where each of the major institutions has members there are systems of statutory registration. It is nothing new or unusual. It is extraordinary that in this country today an engineer does not need professional qualifications in order to practise. Unqualified people can describe themselves as engineers and can work and offer advice, just as before about 1922 anybody could call himself a dentist if he wishes. Sixty years later, I prefer the qualification and the registration that evolved in that industry.

I do not want to deal for too long with education and training, partly because I promised the Minister that I would give him enough time—and I am very much aware of the clock—but also because I very much approve of the idea of the two-day conference in October. I think that we shall learn a great deal from that, perhaps more than at this stage I would want to contribute, although I take many of the points made by my hon. Friends, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Cannock (Mr. Roberts) and for Wolverhampton, North-East and by Conservative hon. Members. Some sort of basis ought to come out of the October conference, and I am happy for the moment to suspend my judgment on it.

I end with one thought which touches partly on education and training and partly on the general scope of this subject. We have not got bad engineers——

Mr. Douglas

I think that my right hon. Friend has just concluded his comments on the forthcoming conference. However, will he concede that one of the difficulties which should be avoided at the October conference is that of getting bogged down in the politics of education, thus delaying initiation of the essential elements of the Finniston report?

Mr. Silkin

I agree. It hope that the Minister can reassure us about that. I am sure that my hon. Friend's intervention was worth the minute that it knocked off the Minister's time. I hope that it will be a conference where people take off their coats and get down to the real basic facts.

This is a challenge. We have not got all that much time. My hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) said, without prior consultation with me, that he thought it would be 10 years before we had a proper newly-formed profession. Curiously enough, that was the period in my mind, and probably in the minds of other hon. Members.

Let us remember that we have good engineers. We need a profession which is given the status and the opportunity and, above all, is the natural profession to think of when considering top management. I look forward to the day when that is true not only of men but of women, too. To his eternal credit, this was pointed out first in this debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline. Not entirely to my surprise, he was supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East. It is important that this future for young people in the industry shall be given. It is part of the reason. It is perhaps the most important part of all. Then the day will come when, as the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave) foretold, training and education will not be limited to classicists, for example.

There was one terrible disadvantage to the old, long-lasting imperial regime of China, which lasted between 3,000 ad 4,000 years. The top civil servants and the top people in industry were always examined on their knowledge of the Mandarin language of about 2000 B.C. Let us not get a modern equivalent of that in our country.

2.3 pm

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Neil Mac-farlane)

I want to express my appreciation of the very important contributions made from both sides of the House in this most useful debate. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry will read the debate carefully to take note of the many constructive arguments put forward on this very important occasion.

I intend to respond to the various matters referred to by hon. Members, and then I shall go on to detail some of the conclusions that we have reached at the Department of Education and Science. I have to tell hon. Members on both sides that I shall refrain from dealing too much with Department of Industry matters because the educational impact has been emphasised and I do not want to run the risk of overlapping too much the province of that Department.

I deal first with the matter referred to by the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) and the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Douglas) about the forthcoming conference, and later in my remarks I shall develop the greater detail of that conference.

We have set up this two-day conference, and it is being run by a totally impartial committee. Here I must correct my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Ward), who suggested that the conference was being sponsored by the Department of Industry. In fact, it is being sponsored by the Department of Education and Science and it is being chaired by the former deput chairman of the National Enterprise Board, Mr. Dick Morris, with a totally impartial committee drawn from a wide background, which I shall describe in due course. We hope that the political aspects will be totally left out of this important conference, and in a moment I shall discuss some of the likely themes of the conference.

The hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) was good enough to pass me a note to indicate that he had to leave early to fulfil a constituency engagement. However, I want to refer to one or two of the comments he made in his speech. He gave an interesting philosophical and Historical survey. I do not know whether he carried every hon. Member with him in his opening remarks, but from his own previous position at the Department of Industry he knows of the importance of industry and education. The unit, which has a close involvement with my own Department and the local education authorities, has made a not insignificant contribution to bringing that recognition into the classroom.

The hon. Gentleman referred to a shortage of skilled engineers. We all have views on that definition. One of the things that we have discovered in our travels around the cities of the United Kingdom during the past 12 months—no doubt Ministers in the previous Administration discovered the same thing—is that there does not seem to be a great shortage of first-degree engineers, whereas there is a tremendous shortage of skilled labour and technicians. What worries me so much about the curriculum in our schools is that against a background of unemployment there is always a pool of skilled jobs on offer in every major industrial town. That is something that worries us deeply, and that again brings us back to the question whether we are matching our national needs.

My Department is sponsoring a dozen or so conferences, to be held in the fall of this year, which are to be chaired by myself and ministerial colleagues. They will continue until early 1981. They will cover all 105 local education authorities, the regional CBI and the teachers' unions. We hope that that will be the second phase of the all-important dialogue that is still necessary to some of the previous initiatives.

There has been a very good reception so far from the many organisations that have been running exercises designed to improve co-ordination between schools and industry. However, over the past few years I believe that we have tended to rely too much upon the nationalised industries and multinationals for the links with our schools and colleges. I believe that the help that we received from the late Sir John Methven and hope to receive from the Association of British Chambers of Commerce—we shall be ex- panding our dialogue with chambers of commerce later this year—has played and will play a significant part. We now want to ensure that all sizes of companies and firms in manufacturing industry are involved in the schools. I hope that industry itself will march 50 per cent. of the way and that it will be met on the other 50 per cent. of the way by the schools, the head teachers, the chief education officers and the chairmen of the education committees.

Those are important initiatives. I welcome the dozen or so initiatives that are already in train, aimed at trying to improve secondment from teaching into industry and vice versa. I should like to see more industrial organisations adopting schools in their areas and providing equipment. When equipment becomes obsolete, it could be given to the physics or chemistry laboratories, or to the science teachers. Such initiatives could be undertaken, and they are not a great drain on resources.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson) has over the past six or seven weeks spoken for the better part of an hour and a half on this subject. He was lucky enough to come second in a private Members ballot some weeks ago, and to a certain extent I was able to reply on that occasion. His record on this subject is second to none. In opposition, he made an enormous contribution with his own committee, and we are grateful for the wise counsel that he brings to the subject.

My hon. Friend talked about the pattern of education in our universities. I suspect that he was also thinking of the pattern in our schools. He was perhaps reflecting, as I have over the past year, that perhaps the Education Act 1944 was not so bad when it described the importance of the grammar school, the secondary school and the technical college. The great tragedy is that those have been phased out. We now have the comprehensive system. One of the great regrets is that possibly the Government and the country have never spent enough money on technical education in secondary schools.

I turn to the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Palmer). I am almost inclined to call him "my hon. Friend" because in the last five or six years we have spent many hours together on the Select Committee on Science and Technology. He made a number of important points in his speech. He referred to the status of engineers and covered a number of issues that were dealt with in the Select Committee reports in the mid-1970s. Certainly, the hon. Gentleman's record is also second to none.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the role of schools and education, and the absence of engineers in senior boardroom decisions. Perhaps he will cast his mind back a few years to the time when we were studying small engine technology. He will recall that we took evidence from a major motor manufacturer and discovered that the seven board members present were accountants, lawyers or financiers. We tried to find an engineer but, alas, there was no engineer on the main board. I must beware because my master at the Department of Education and Science is a barrister. I must be careful not to get into trouble with him by criticising the role of the legal profession.

The right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) referred to the status of the engineer, and also to engineering courses. He suggested widening the role and the curriculum which engineers study. The enriched engineering courses began three years ago, and are commonly known as Dainton courses. Although they do not receive a wide enough coverage in our universities and polytechnics—only seven cover that four-year degree course, a number give an extra year of language training, and Birmingham university does a business study course—some activity has taken place over the past few years, and that is important.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave) rightly identified the importance of generalised engineering education. That theme has come out of the Finniston report, and also from the experts around the country. It is essential that engineering becomes far more generalised and that it should be underpinned by a sound knowledge of the basic subjects. That will come out of the curriculum survey which my right hon. and learned Friend announced as coming to fruition some time later this year. We shall invite local authorities to review their curricula. We acknow- ledge fully the points made by hon. Members on both sides of the House about the shortage of maths, science, physics and chemistry teachers. I would add a further shortage, namely, that of craft, design and technology teachers. There will be a serious shortage of science and maths teachers over the next few years, and there is no doubt that the position of craft, design and technology is equally worrying. Numeracy and literacy standards appear to have dropped. I would add another dimension—the teaching of dexterity. That must start at an early age in the classroom. The teaching of metalwork and woodwork is all-important as an early forerunner to entering the engineering profession.

We have tried to encourage and to recruit those faced with early retirai, and who hold a science degree, to retrain for teaching. We do not intend to lower the standards, but a number of ex-employees of private industry who retired in their early fifties have been recruited.

The hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts) said that the status of engineers was not recognised and that there was a shortage in many of our nationalised industries. Over the past five or six years we have had an extremely competent and able set of leaders in most of our nationalised industries. The engineering profession is well represented, especially in the area of energy. I hope that that sets the hon. Gentleman's mind to rest, because a number of engineers are heading the nationalised industries.

I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I do not mention all the points that have been raised. We are acting on the important points about teacher shortages. We are trying to encourage a recognition by local education authorities, through our conferences, of the importance of engineering subjects and the industry links.

The hon. Member for Dunfermline, in an informative speech, referred to the teaching company scheme of the Science Research Council. That has made an important contribution over the years. I have seen the precise work carried out by the engineering board of the Science Research Council. Hon Members may be interested to know that the council has approached me because it is keen, due to the increase in its engineering work, to expand its title to "The Science and Engineering Research Council ". The non. Member for Bristol, North-East will remember that that was once a recommendation of the old Select Committee on Science and Technology. The council approached us formally and asked my Department for its views on the desirability of such a change. My right hon. and learned Friend and I are considering the matter. I do not wish to prophesy what might happen, but I thought that it might be of interest to the House because it introduces another dimension.

The hon. Member for Dunfermline referred to the importance of women in engineering. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) referred to that matter as well. I am sorry that she had to hurry her speech towards the end to enable her right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford and me to come into the debate.

I was interested recently to receive the Royal Society's response to the report of the committee of inquiry into the engineering profession. I recommend hon. Members to read that report because it is an extremely effective document. The report coincides with many of my own views on the situation facing us. The report at page 6, paragraph 4, states : It is undesirable to treat education for engineering in isolation from education in science and its applications. We strongly support efforts to persuade more girls to tackle appropriate combinations of subjects leading to engineering careers. We fully acknowledge that point.

The role of the conference over the next few months will, I hope, be of interest to hon. Members. If I sketch in the background, it may be of interest.

Mr. Douglas

I do not want to appear churlish, but will the Minister indicate the relationship of the Scottish Education Department to this conference?

Mr. Macfarlane

I think that in the course of developing my argument I shall answer some of the matters about which the hon. Gentleman is anxious. Expressing a parochial interest which is not far removed from his, I think that the Scottish engineers' contribution to this country has been very significant.

My Department wrote to over 50 of the major educational organisations in January following publication of the report inviting views on the educational issues. We also issued an open invitation through the press for anyone who had views on the educational aspects of the report to let us have them. The response has been most heartening. We have had over 100 replies from individual universities and polytechnics and the departments within them. Sir Monty has obviously struck a chord with many of those responsible for educating our future engineers. In common with many of those consulted by other Departments, they broadly accept Sir Monty Finniston's diagnosis, but there is a wider spectrum of views about his prescription for action.

We hope that all the universities and polytechnics have now responded. I also hope that the Scottish universities are playing their part. If the hon. Member for Dunfermline is anxious to know about some of those institutions I shall be happy to write to him in due course.

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East referred to the engineering debate in education which has gone on for a number of years and the fact that many reports have been produced. Sir Monty points out that his report is the latest in a long line of reports from eminent committees on this subject. We fully acknowledge that. Indeed, I could add others to the list quoted by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East—Dainton, Fielden and Bolton. There have also been recent reports from the major engineering institutions—Dawson, Merriman and Chilver, to name but three.

Some important initiatives have flowed from this debate : the development of enhanced courses at a number of universities and polytechnics, the development at a number of universities of courses more specifically related to industry's needs and the establishment of the national engineering scholarship scheme by the previous Labour Administration run jointly by the Government and industry to encourage more of our most able young people to consider careers in manufacturing industry.

While the position is worrying, a number of initiatives have emerged since the great debate in the mid-1970s. Everybody acknowledges that there is a long way to go, but I believe that we are climbing back up to what we should be achieving. The strength of our system is that it has the flexibility to allow innovation of the kind that we have announced over the last few years to flourish.

Finniston points to the need for improvement in the total process of professional preparation, and the consensus of comment is strongly on his side. But I have said before, and will continue to insist, that it by no means amounts to an indictment of present engineering degree courses. On the contrary, the report pays tribute to the many strengths of our engineering education—and hon. Members on both sides of the House have acknowledged that point today—and, more importantly, the esteem in which it is held overseas.

I hope that I do not introduce a sour note into the debate, because it has been constructive, but I was disappointed to read that the Institution of Electrical Engineers, in a recent published contribution to the debate, described our degree standards in this subject as generally below those in other highly industrialised countries. I consider that to be a wrong diagnosis, and I should like that placed firmly on the record. Our academic engineering education is of a standard to match the best, but the formation package for engineers as a whole needs to include a better grounding in engineering practice—the application of engineering principles. This is as much a challenge to industry, which must take the prime responsibility for the stage of formation which follows graduation, as to the education system.

While it was still in preparation, we realised that the publication of the Finniston report would be an ideal opportunity to focus the continuing debate on engineering education and training. For that reason we decided to sponsor the two-day conference. We see this as an occasion to bring together all those with an interest—the educators, the employers of engineers and the engineers—to discuss the issues together with an independent and impartial chairman for each of the six sessions.

In order to prepare the ground for the conference, last year my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science appointed the steering committee, to which I referred, under the chairman of Mr. Dick Morris. I wish to place on record the enormous contribution that he has made in setting up the conference. Much hard work has been put into it by him and his committee. I should also like to thank the Institution of Civil Engineers at whose premises the conference will be held on 15 and 16 October, and the Institution of Electrical Engineers for the secretarial work that it has carried out for the committee.

It may be for the benefit of the House if I indicate the background that determined the appointment of members to that committee. We appointed Sir John Atwell, a mechanical engineer; Sir Kenneth Corfield, an electrical engineer; Mr. Dowd, principal of the Oldham college of technology, and also a mechanical and production engineer; Mr. Geoffrey Hall, the director of Brighton polytechnic, and a chemical engineer in fuel technology; Mrs. Innes, a head teacher from Newcastle upon Tyne, whose school has a good record on science and other related subjects; Lord Scanlon; Professor West, vice-chancellor and principal of the University of Bradford, and an electronics engineer; Mr. T. O. Williams, a director of British Aerospace, Preston, and an aeronautical and production specialists; and Mr. Muir Wood, a civil engineer. We believe that we drew together from the various regions a fair cross-section of experience. I am grateful for the work carried out by Mr. Dick Morris, given his present commitments in private enterprise.

The main task of the Committee was to prepare papers for the conference on the six major themes running through the education and training proposals of the Finniston committee. Those themes are : first, a subject designed to discuss attracting enough suitable young people, including a fair proportion of the most able, to a career in engineering; secondly, their basic formation—the first main educational course and associated practical training; thirdly, accreditation of both elements of the formation package : fourthly, recognition of professional competence; fifthly, practical experience, continuing competence and updating of knowledge; sixthly, and perhaps most important, the relationship with the technician support base—the formation of the higher level technician—and links between it and full professional formation. That conference will start on 15 October I believe that we have covered the important points because we have included experts as opposed to civil servants and officials who organise the Department. I say that without deprecating the work of the civil servants and officials.

We have tried to assist the experts in preparing the conference. They have carried out separate consultations with the major interests of both sides of industry, the professional institutions and the academic world. I understand that they have received responses, many of them lengthy and detailed, from over 150 separate organisations and institutions, and that they are now well ahead with their task of preparing conference papers.

Mr. Palmer

Will the Minister tell the House whether the date of the conference has any bearing on the date of the decision by the Government on the Finniston proposals?

Mr. Macfarlane

There is no significance in that. We felt, when the report was published in January, that there could not be a snap conference. Such a conference could not be set up in such a short space of time. Once one gets beyond May or June one is well out of the conference season. We felt that October was the better time. It will be just after the conference season, but perhaps this conference will strike a better chord with the nation than the conferences that precede it.

The discussion and decision-making processes of the recommendations are still going on between Departments. I hope that the contributions that have been made in the debate will help to prompt the views and opinions of Ministers.

I am happy to tell right hon. and hon. Members that the reports that we have had so far have been lengthy and detailed, from over 150 separate organisations. Demand for places at the conference is also very strong. It is particularly pleasing to know that each side of industry will be well represented at the conference. I hope that Members of Parliament will also be present to contribute and listen to the discussion.

I should like to record my appreciation of all the work that has been put into the preparations for the conference. The members of the committee have given their services completely freely. They have travelled from all over the country. The interest that the conference is generating is a measure of the success of their efforts, and I am very appreciative of them.

The conference will not be limited to those questions on which Finniston has made specific recommendations; it will include in its agenda the supply and training of technicians, which Finniston recommended. That is important, and I have referred to it already. The conference will address itself to all the main recommendations in the report, and our hope is that some main lines of consensus will emerge from it to assist the Government in reaching their conclusion.

I want to emphasise the importance that we attach to the preparation and training of young people of all ages and all levels in schools and in colleges. Although we can try to put things right at top level, the lead times over the next decade in reviewing what is in our curriculum are important. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East referred to equipment. The pace of change is extremely fast. There is the use of audio visual equipment, the use of computer technology in classes, and so on. We have announced a programme for further finance alongside what local authorities are already doing.

We have problems with the shortage of teachers in these subjects, but we believe that the atmosphere is getting better. I take the optimistic view that industry is beginning to get more involved and to understand better the way in which it should be advising teachers on what it wants to come from the classroom. That is of paramount importance.

We acknowledge the role of the Department of Education and Science. A number of initiatives were set up by the previous Government and we shall be continuing with them. The Department of Industry and my own Department are now working very closely together to try to ensure that industry and schools get together on a new footing. For far too long the grass has grown and not too much has been done. In many respects industry has not played the role that it should play, and has played in other countries.

I repeat my appreciation of the contributions that have come from all quarters of the House this afternoon. It has been an excellent debate. I echo and endorse what the right hon. Member for Deptford said in that respect. I hope that the contributions from hon. Members and their conclusions will be read closely by the responsible Ministers and that hon. Members will try to find time to attend the conference in October.

It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.