HL Deb 30 November 1966 vol 278 cc715-8

2.35 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the first Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty' s Government what steps are being taken in order to increase the proportion of qualified scientists and engineers entering productive industry.]


My Lords, the need of industry for more qualified people has again been emphasised in two reports last month to my right honourable friends the Minister of Technology and the Secretary of State for Education and Science from the Committee on Manpower Resources for Science and Technology. The job of attracting more of our abler young people into industry is still to a large extent related to the question of raising the status of engineers, and to this end the Ministry of Technology has initiated various activities, among the most important of which has been the Engineers' Day Exhibition recently opened at the Science Museum. The Science Research Council' s new Science and Industry Award scheme should encourage more young graduates to enter industry, and, with the Council's other new award, the Industrial Studentship, should help increase the flow of young people between the academic and industrial environments, in both directions. Post-graduate and other courses specially designed to equip graduates for the special requirements of industry are being supported by the Ministry of Technology.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his reply, but would Her Majesty' s Government not agree that all these processes are extremely tentative, indirect and long-term? Will they therefore consider some much more direct method, such as fiscal incentives for firms to employ these people? Because we cannot wait twenty years. Will Her Majesty' s Government consider more direct methods?


My Lords, any suggestion from the noble Lord, who has been so closely involved in this, will of course be considered seriously. I agree with the views he has expressed on the urgency of the problem, and certainly I shall pass these on to my right honourable friend the Minister of Technology. I am sure the noble Lord will agree that there is of course no single answer, but I too believe that any short-term steps that can be taken should be taken.


My Lords, on this whole question of the redeployment of scientists and engineers into industry, have the Government considered helping by transferring pension rights if these people go over into industry from Government establishments?


My Lords, one of the difficulties is that many industries still do not have pension schemes which are transferable, and with this rather untidy national situation it is not quite so simple as it might appear. This may be easier between university and Government, but where industry is concerned there are complications. This is one of the built-in factors. I would not wish to over-emphasise its importance, but I would certainly agree that this is an important consideration.


My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that the really serious matter is not simply the failure of industry to recruit enough engineers but that virtually no pure scientists are being recruited by industry? It is surely an extremely grave matter that in the Swan Report, which has been published recently, it is revealed, I think, that only one physicist out of every hundred produced by the universities went into British industry; at the same time, I believe that something like thirty went into American industry.


Again, my Lords, one must, of course, look at the particular industry. It would perhaps be desirable to have more engineers and fewer physicists. This is another side of the equation. The noble Lord shakes his head in contradiction, but this is a complicated subject. I fully take the point as to the need. I think it would be accepted by many people that certain sections of industry have been very much behindhand in recognising the need for research. But, of course, the Question relates to "productive industry", and I was rather assuming it did not relate to the research and development side.


My Lords, is not one of the difficulties a psychological one: that a lot of very clever lads who get trained up in science are extremely nervous of facing the world and tend to concentrate on an academic career? In my day, of course, we were roughly kicked out to face the world. Do the Government not think that some modification of the educational process might encourage people to strike out for themselves and face the world?


My Lords, I am not really aware of the rough kicks to which the noble Lord was himself subjected, but I accept his statement that it is occasionally desirable to push people in at the deep end. But this subject is more complicated than that. This is a matter of status and opportunity, interest and the particular medium in which people work. There is a major educational problem involved here. My noble friend' s Question was related primarily to the steps that can be taken now. The general atmosphere, and the psychology and motivation of our society, obviously also have a considerable bearing.


My Lords, is not one of the difficulties facing industry the fact that so many of these excellent scientists and engineers, instead of seeking employment in this country, are seeking it abroad simply because they find taxation so high in this country? Would it not be much more helpful if somehow or other these young men, when they earn big money, were allowed to retain it in their pockets instead of having so much of it taken away from them? That is a real reason why we are losing so many of our best young people to America, to other countries in the Commonwealth or elsewhere abroad.


I will not follow the noble Lord in this interesting subject; but if he has any constructive suggestions of a kind which he failed to put to the previous Administration, then we shall be glad to hear them.


My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that the fundamental cause is a shortage of science teachers who prod able boys and girls in the right direction?


My Lords, the shortage of science teachers is certainly another problem. We are, I think, beginning to get in to what is reasonably called a vicious spiral. This starts in the schools; but I should be going very wide if I started to go into the question of balance between teaching at the universities and at the schools, beyond saying that my noble friend' s remark is very relevant?


My Lords, may I, for the sake of clarity, make it clear that my question referred to the productive industries but also to the research and development staff within the productive industry.

Back to