HL Deb 27 February 1980 vol 405 cc1347-453

3.24 p.m.

Lord GREGSON rose to call attention to the Finniston Report, Engineering Our Future (Cmnd. 7794); and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I was delighted when I saw from the list of speakers this afternoon the tremendous response to the debate which we are having in your Lordships' House. I must also say, of course, that this brings problems and the essential problem is that of time. I promise your Lordships that I will try to set an example in keeping my remarks as brief as possible and I am sure you will forgive me if I appeal to those who follow me, as the wish of the House has been expressed in resolutions, to keep their remarks, please, as brief as possible in order that those who follow late in the list may have a chance to make their contributions.

The committee of inquiry chaired by Sir Monty Finniston was set up by the then Secretary of State for Industry because of the concern that was felt at the continuing decline of British manufacturing industry, recognising the essential part that must be played by engineers and technologists if any recovery was to be attempted. But in parallel it should be remembered that prior to the committee of inquiry being established, considerable disquiet was expressed regarding the disagreements that existed between some of the multiplicity of learned institutions, particularly regarding the registration of engineers. This lack of agreement of the institutions on important questions was significant since in the main the institutions set the standards for engineers in this country.

The committee started its work right at the end of 1977 and reported in January of this year and a very interesting, important and formidable report they have produced—a report which must be of crucial concern to all sections of the community. They have enquired closely into a wide aspect of the problem and have dealt with a tremendous quantity and range of evidence. I think we owe a great debt of gratitude to Sir Monty Finniston, his committee and their secretariat for the very considerable effort, time and trouble that they have devoted to producing this report.

The committee's work has been concerned with what it calls the engineering dimension; that is, the engineering functions in all aspects. The report seeks to establish that engineering is essential to the economic and material wellbeing of an industrialised country such as this and that in more recent times we have not encouraged engineering to develop and to play its full role that is so essential. The report goes on to analyse the reasons for this and to make recommendations for the better utilisation of engineers, their education and training and the organisation of the profession. The report inquires into all these aspects in great detail and in fact it contains some 80 recommendations. It would be impossible for us in this debate this afternoon to discuss all those recommendations, even in a cursory manner, and I will confine my remarks to some of the major questions that I think the report raises. I know that the noble Lords who follow in the debate will provide comment on many of the areas that I do not touch upon and with far more expert opinion than I could bring to bear. I am particularly pleased to see that two maiden speeches are to follow early in this debate from two people with such extensive knowledge of the engineering industry, and I look forward very keenly to hearing those contributions. I also found it a delight that we saw the Introduction today of another noble Lord, Lord McAlpine of Moffat, whose extensive knowledge and experience of the civil engineering industry I am sure will be of great benefit to the House.

I believe that there is now a clear understanding that the accelerating decline in manufacturing industry poses a serious threat to the social and economic wellbeing of this country; but I think the statistic that really brings it home to me most clearly is the statistic of the ratio between our manufacturing exports and our manufacturing imports, since we virtually earn our living by our trade. In 1963 the surplus of exports of manufactured goods over imports was some 50 per cent. In 1979 the surplus was little more than 4 per cent. It is in fact rapidly approaching zero. The direct effect of this is that over the same period our standard of living, measured by GDP per capita, has reduced by some 25 per cent. compared with other industrialised countries in Europe. There is little doubt that, if it were not for the accident of North Sea gas and oil, we should by now have moved out of the twilight of comparative decline into the darkness of absolute decline.

One can already hear the call for import controls and tariff barriers, but for a trading nation that depends so critically on its exports to pay for 50 per cent. of its food and nearly all its raw materials the repercussions of such a course would, I believe only make matters worse, although, as the report points out, much more could be done in this country in the field of licensing, and I personally believe that we should now look more closely at some forms of mandatory local manufacture.

I believe that the Finniston Report has clearly established that there is an urgent need to take action. Chapter 2 of the report concerns itself with the need to bring about changes within industry and the need to bring about a change in the national attitude to the engineering dimension. The present Secretary of State for Industry has voiced his concern about the anti-business culture that pervades the attitude of this country in all walks of life. But I further believe that even within the business community there is a tendency for an anti-industry culture, and the combination of these two lies at the root of the problem of national attitude to economic improvement.

If we are to see an increased engineering dimension in industry in order to develop the new products and new processes that are necessary to rejuvenate our industry—and this need has been clearly shown by the recent report of the ACARD committee on innovation and the Corfield Report on design for manufacture—then it must by some means be paid for. We cannot have an increased engineering dimension in industry without somebody paying for it, and at a time, as the report points out, when industrial profitability is at an extremely low level, and from the squeeze of 18 per cent. inflation and 20 per cent. interest rate, and the very high exchange rate, profitability is being squeezed even smaller. We have an enigma of the chicken and egg variety.

I do not believe that the solution to this problem receives the attention that it should in the report, I believe we require a radical change in our approach to the assessment of company performance. We need to emphasise the extent to which development monies are being spent to ensure the future wellbeing and profitability of any enterprise. The report suggests that the Government should take the initiative to encourage and foster this investment in industry, but I believe that industry could do a lot more for itself, with the assistance of the accounting profession and those sections of the City which influence investment. Development money spent in the year should be considered to be of equivalent importance to historical profit, and investing institutions, particularly the pension funds and insurance companies, must be encouraged to put more weight in their assessment of a company on the development expenditure in terms of being assured of future performance and not short-term profit. I believe that only if the engineering dimension is measured and shown this way will industry stand any chance of recovery from its downward spiral. Development expenditure within the present accounting standards is normally written off in the year it occurs and must, therefore, be paid for directly out of profits. Given the present low profitability, the situation is in fact self-inhibiting, which I believe is a root cause of the critical problem of the lack of product development in this country.

I therefore believe that some pump priming will be necessary, and would suggest that this could most readily be injected if development costs properly verified ranked for additional tax relief. As I have said, it is only North Sea oil and gas which support us above the pit of absolute decline, but in economic terms North Sea oil and gas have a comparatively short life before they too begin to decline—maybe less than 10 years, and in terms of the problems we are facing that is an awfully short time.

It is, I believe, a regrettable situation that in view of our need to expand engineering activity we are today faced with a shortage of engineers and supporting technical staff, which will intensify if we make even a small step down the road to recovery. All sections, be it industry, academic establishments or the learned institutions, must take some part of the blame for this situation, and urgent measures must be taken by them all to try to rectify the position. The shortage of technicians is probably the most critical and urgent problem. This almost certainly stems from the badly organised change from part-time to full-time education brought about by the application of the Robbins Report. I regret that the Finniston Committee did not consider it within their mandate to investigate and recommend on the urgent problem of the shortage of technicians. I would therefore urge the Government to institute an inquiry without delay into this problem, as recommended by the report, because I consider it is a constricting restraint on the ability of manufacturing industry to break out of the constriction and the decline which British industry has been experiencing for many years.

The Committee spent considerable time and report in detail on the future education and training for the engineering profession. I believe that what they recommend goes a considerable way towards correcting a fundamental fault in the present situation. That is the lack of industrial experience that is built into present programmes. Industrial employers must this time play a major part in determining the requirements and providing training. We must not get it wrong a second time. Although I support very firmly that we must provide as quickly as possible the best education and training routes that can be devised, we must remember that this starts at school around the age of 12 and is a 10-year cycle, so that we really have to regenerate with the engineers we have got or those who are already in the pipeline, which makes the task even more formidable. I would at this stage pay tribute to the work that has been carried out in the past by the Engineering Industry Training Board, but I will say no more of that because I fully expect that in the speeches which follow more will be said of this organisation.

The real minefield that Sir Monty and his committee were asked to enter and negotiate was the question of the organisation of the profession, which, considering the rapidly deteriorating situation of the manufacturing industry, clearly shown in this report, is probably the least important problem that was considered, but undoubtedly it is the most contentious. However, for the sake of status and the future wellbeing of the profession, including the importance of updating technology, I consider that the organisation of the profession must be improved. The profession suffers, like the trade union movement in the United Kingdom, and probably for the same reasons, from a multiplicity of organisations covering various aspects of its activity. This, of course, has created difficulties in the past, but I believe that the institutes took an important step when they established, first, the Engineering Institutions Joint Council, which body eventually changed its name to the Council of Engineering Institutions—the CEI—when it secured its own Royal Charter in 1965.

For many reasons, some of which are self-evident, it has taken a great deal of time to get anywhere with the CEI, but I believe that it is now beginning to shape itself. However, there are still many problems to be solved. Within the organisation of the profession there is an important job for a central organisation to carry out—namely, the qualification and registration of engineers and the control of engineering practice and conduct. This leads me to one of the most important recommendations of the Finniston Report, which is the setting up of a new statutory engineering authority to deal with the education, qualification and registration of engineers, and to influence the policies of employers, the Government and others concerned with engineering. In the words of the report: The authority would play a key part in correcting the historical neglect in Britain of the engineering dimension and creating a climate in which it can thrive".

It would have the task of monitoring the progress of the changes recommended by the industry and of reassessing its proposals in the light of changing circumstances and practical experience.

The recommendation for an engineering authority was considered by the committee to be essential to the introduction of many of the other proposals mentioned throughout the report. I agree that something must be done to bring together the various common interests that are at present acting in relative isolation from one another. These include working engineers and their institutions, employers, engineering teachers, public agencies and the Government. It is unfortunate that the media, in highlighting this recommendation, have labelled it with the ugly title of "Quango", because I think there is a strong case for self-regulation, which could be self-costed, and which would not be a Quango by its present definition.

However, whatever name one gives to a co-ordinating body, whether it is "authority" or "commission"—as the Chinese have just announced in their interpretation of the Finniston Report—is a question for debate. I might say to the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, that the Chinese have appointed a vice-Prime Minister as the chairman of their commission. But it is important that there should be an organisation playing an essential propaganda role for the engineering dimension.

Nevertheless, there are many problems to be solved, including the question of civil engineering and engineering consultants whose requirements differ greatly from those of manufacturing industry. There is the need to harness the tremendous voluntary effort that supports the work of the learned institutions, and there is an absolute need to draw in the engineering employers who have largely been shut out in the past, to the detriment of the engineering profession and the industry as a whole.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, there are 80 recommendations in the Finniston Report, some more important than others. Many would have a profound influence on the various organisations and institutions, and, properly applied, could result in a vastly improved future for the economic wellbeing of this country beyond North Sea oil. Some have likened the recommendations to a proposal for revolution, but then I believe that something needs to be done urgently. The Department of Industry has launched an urgent consultation exercise, which I applaud, but it will take time to resolve the differences of opinion and, in fact, to get it right, as we must this time. I believe that there is also a conciliation and arbitration task to be performed. I also believe that this would be better done outside the executive.

I would, therefore, suggest that the Government should set up a steering committee, with a target of bringing about a resolution to the problems involved in setting up an organisation in the image of the proposals of the Finniston Committee's Report, with a time limit of 12 months. The terms of reference should be fairly wide and based upon the initial stage of the consultation that is already under way. The steering committee, while moving firmly towards its purpose, could continue the consultation exercise, and it would help the debate and the public understanding if the steering committee were to issue interim reports, say, on a quarterly basis. The committee should consist of a small number of people and be chaired by a leading industrialist. In order to save time, the Government should consider whatever legislation may be necessary in advance of the establishment of an organisation in 12 months' time.

We have had many reports on comparable subjects in the past, stretching back nearly 150 years, most of which are still lying on shelves, gathering dust. We now have the Finniston Committee Report—a brilliant analysis of a critical problem which faces this nation. We also have a host of recommendations towards a solution. They may not be perfect and they may not be all-embracing, but we must do something. It may, indeed, be our last chance. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.48 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join with the noble Lord in expressing our warm congratulations to those who have served on the committee with Sir Monty Finniston, and to Sir Monty himself, for all the hard work that they have done. I should like to thank them for the thoroughness of their examination within the terms of reference that they were given, and for making their report so readable and free of jargon. It would also be right to express our thanks to Mr. Arthur Palmer, M.P., the former chairman of the Select Committee on Science and Technology in another place, who probably did more than anyone else to set the Finniston inquiry in motion. I would remind your Lordships that it was Mr. Palmer who wrote to the then Prime Minister in July, 1976, suggesting a broad inquiry into: the education, training, organisation and representation of engineers"; and I took that phrase from the memorandum which he then submitted. His call was taken up by the Electrical Power Engineers' Association, the union of which he is a distinguished member.

We may not be as good as the Germans, the Japanese or the Americans in translating the work of engineers into products that will sell on world markets, but we do have some talent for producing well-argued reports, identifying the mistakes that we have made in the past and the steps that we need to take to put matters right in the future. The trouble is that after a brief chorus of acclaim, these reports are nearly always consigned to dusty pigeonholes, while their recommendations are quietly forgotten.

During the 1960s, as Sir Monty himself reminds us in his report, there was a series of masterly reports bearing on what Sir Monty calls the "engineering dimension"; and I think it is worth giving the definition of that in full from Sir Monty's introduction. By the "engineering dimension" he means: the effectiveness of manufacturing organisations in translating engineering expertise into the production and marketing of competitive products through efficient production processes". On this subject and related matters we had in the 1960s Dainton on the flow of candidates in science and technology into higher education; Swann on the flow of graduates from these faculties into employment; Feilden on Engineering Design; Jones on the brain drain; and Zuckerman on technological innovation. Those were all first-class diagnoses, and yet today, as Sir Monty shows so clearly, we have slipped even further behind our main competitors in this engineering dimension.

Why is this? I think—and the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, mentioned this en passant—that engineering ranks pretty low down among the list of occupations in public esteem. About two-thirds of the people questioned in a survey specially conducted for the Finniston inquiry believe that an engineer is somebody who does manual work. The design and manufacture of goods is thought of as being in some way morally reprehensible, particularly if it happens to be profitable, while among those who were not hostile to business, the model which is held up for admiration is the manipulator of financial assets, like Mr. Jim Slater, rather than the originators of great engineering concepts, whose names remain virtually unknown to the general public.

Millions of children emerge from our schools almost totally innumerate and few people care a damn. The ones who take the chemistry, physics, mathematics route in the upper reaches of the secondary educational system have been directed by their teachers towards the pure sciences rather than to engineering, which has been viewed as the soft option for the less gifted students, and certainly not a career path suitable for a girl. It is disastrous for the nation that, as Sir Monty showed, only half a per cent. of the stock of engineers are women. We have thus excluded half the talent which the profession ought to have been able to recruit. Even today only 3 per cent. of engineering students are women. This is one of the most shocking statistics in the whole report.

These of course are not the only reasons why Britain is the sick man not only of Europe but of the whole developed world, but I think they are some of the most important. We would do better, my Lords, to concentrate on the practical steps that have to be taken now to improve our manufacturing performance rather than to imagine that rescue is to be sought from monetary gurus like Professor Milton Friedman, or that salvation demands an armageddon between the Government and the trade union movement.

That is not to say that I entirely agree with the diagnosis in the Finniston Report. I do not believe in the "long-term growth of the economy" because I think that energy and material supply constraints, coupled with pressure from the newly industrialised nations in the Third World, are going to mean the levelling off or even the decline of output in Western countries, measured in conventional terms, although perhaps at the same time the "use value" of the products we manufacture will continue to rise. If I can take an example, the 1980 model Ford family cars in the United States weigh about 350 kilogrammes less than the previous year's equivalent without any sacrifice in performance or space, thus saving material and giving better specific fuel consumption.

If my view of the future is correct, the engineer's role becomes even more vital, because we shall be struggling to maintain a reasonable share of a diminishing world manufacturing output, and our success in doing that will depend not only on the labour productivity of industry, on which the whole of the emphasis is all too often laid in these discussions, but equally on the efficiency of the material technologies we apply and the economy in use of the goods that we are offering on the world market. The Finniston Report does register the point that problems of resource supply call for engineering-led responses, but I do not think that one paragraph in the whole report really does justice to the importance of the engineer's role in making the best use of materials as they become scarcer and more expensive.

There is a lot more one would like to say about the Finniston diagnosis of these problems, but in the time available I am going to limit myself to some remarks only on the management of change, which is referred to in Chapter II. The brake which is preventing the application of known technologies is the human fear of immediate redundancies, and the natural reluctance of the workers affected to accept that in the long run the persistence of antiquated work practices can lead to the death of a whole industry. I believe that we no longer make many typewriters in this country; the motor cycle industry has almost vanished. Shipbuilding has shrunk disastrously, and now our major car manufacturer seems to be heading for disaster. I noticed that British Leyland has published an advertisement in today's Guardian showing in very striking manner the way in which the share of the domestic market in various engineering products has declined over the last few years.

As unemployment rises there is a tendency to fight even harder to protect the jobs that still remain, entrenching old technologies still more firmly and thus enabling our foreign competitors to make yet more devastating inroads into the British market. Getting this alarming diagnosis across to the public is not merely a matter of using the NEDC machinery more effectively, as is suggested here. It is surely a political question and the lead has to come right from the top. It has to be accompanied by a sympathetic understanding of the problems of the unemployed, and far more vigorous action than we have seen so far to alleviate them wherever possible.

I make one concrete suggestion here. As the committee point out in paragraphs 3.29 to 3.31—and the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, has already referred to this—the question of the acute shortage of technicians was not strictly within the terms of reference of the committee, but it may prevent the initiation of engineering projects altogether, or it may have the effect of causing employers to recruit or divert professional engineers into support work, thus wasting scarce talent and perhaps starving other employers of the professionals they could use as such. Why not offer special payments to mature students on technician courses so as to make up their income to the amount that they were receiving in their last employment? This might well tempt former steelworkers, for example; and though it might look expensive on paper this scheme would be more likely to remedy the shortage of technicians, which is costing industry and the nation, as the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, pointed out, such a very large sum in lost output.

I must now turn to the central recommendations of the committee; the creation of a new Engineering Authority, the registration of engineers, and the new model of engineering "formation"—a word used in the report to describe the combination of education and training. The Confederation of Engineering Institutions dislikes the idea of a single authority to undertake the two very different functions of acting as the registration body on the one hand, and at the same time being the "engine for change" in altering national attitudes and priorities for the engineering dimension.

The CEI is opposed to statutory registration, believing that the principle of self-regulation should be retained. But the members of the profession, it appears, are overwhelmingly in favour of statutory registration, according to a survey conducted among 5,000 members of the electricals and the civils. They considered that a national authority was needed to set uniform standards of education and training, to improve the level of qualifications and to uphold professional standards. These objectives have not been achieved by the existing system, under which the engineer acquires the title "Chartered Engineer" when he becomes a member of one of the CEI institutions, but certainly there is no uniformity between the formation of chartered engineers of different kinds.

May I just refer to the views which I have received only this morning from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, the institution of which I have the honour to be a member. I understand that they prefer the system of self-regulation described by the noble Lord, Lord Gregson. I can only say to my colleagues in the mechanicals that we have not been very good at self-regulation in the past, and one of the ways I see of combining the best features of self-regulation with the existence of a statutory authority would be that in the legislation, when we come to consider it, the Secretary of State could be obliged to consult with the major engineering institutions in appointing the members of the new authority, in much the same way as we did in the case of the health and safety executive.

The level of academic attainment varies widely between one engineer and another and the postgraduate training offered by employers is more uneven still. One young man I read about who got a first in chemical engineering was driven out of the engineering profession altogether by the appalling training scheme offered by his sponsors, British Gas. A very close relative of mine is equally derogatory about British Steel, and I am afraid that if these large and prestigious employers have so little idea of how to maintain and stimulate the enthusiasm of graduates, it is hardly surprising that so many qualified men drift away from industry. We desperately need an organisation with the power to monitor the training offered and to insist on improvements where necessary.

In this connection, since a large number of engineers go on in the end to become managers, training in management should be a recognised part of their formation. It is disappointing to find hardly any recognition of this in the report. There is a vague mention of engineers' need to understand management principles at the start of their careers, in paragraph 4.25, and a recommendation that support for TOPS courses in management should be extended, in paragraph 4.109. The committee say it is too early to pass judgment on the enhanced courses now being offered at ten institutions, which include some management science. In my view that is not an adequate response to our needs, and one would hope that in whatever follow-up is organised by the Government—whether in the form of a steering committee as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, or some other means—the management dimension of engineering formation is given greater emphasis.

I now come to the proposals for acquisition of engineering qualifications in the future. The committee want to divide engineers into three groups: the Registered Engineer (Dip) who takes a four year Master's degree followed by two years' practical training; the Registered Engineer who takes a Bachelor's degree followed again by two years' training; and the Registered Associate Engineer, who takes an HNC, HND or the new TEC qualifications, plus three years' experience. Here I have to agree with Lord Howie's footnote which describes this three-tier structure as an unnecessary upheaval. To do what the committee suggest would mean scrapping every single engineering degree course now offered, and the number of man-years of precious engineering talent that would have to go into planning the new courses defies the imagination. In any case, if we are to set up an authority with powers to regulate standards, would it not be better in principle to allow it to do this job for itself rather than to present it with a fait accompli before it has even come into existence? Far better, surely, that we should adopt an evolutionary approach and allow the authority to consider what can be accomplished within the framework of the resources available to the universities.

In this connection, I have to say that while your Lordships and many other interested bodies are discussing these valuable ideas for boosting the contribution of engineering, the engineering faculties of many universities are suffering catastrophic damage from the indiscriminate cuts in higher education. Since engineers tend to be fairly mobile, and since to an extent there are still more attractive jobs available to them outside the universities, more engineers are leaving their posts than dons in other disciplines. And as many universities are dealing with the cuts by a policy of natural wastage, I know of certain institutions of higher education where engineering is bearing the brunt of the cuts. So if the Government want to do more than pay lip-service to the importance of engineering, they should be prepared to offer the institutions of higher education a special payment equal to the amount needed to replace any losses of engineering teachers they may sustain.

This brings me to the task the authority would have of promoting the engineering dimension. It would have to start at the top and persuade Ministers to make exceptional decisions showing their own recognition of the priority if we are to have any success with industry. The Government treated defence as so important that it had to be not only exempted from the public spending cuts, but actually favoured with extra resources. If we are not prepared to do the same for engineering, we shall have nothing worth defending.

I hope the authority would not become too involved in tea parties with the Manpower Services Commission, N EDO, Government departments, employers' organisations and so on, merely adding another cog to the bureaucratic wheel. Of course it will need to form a broad appreciation of what is going on in all those bodies, but if it is to wake them up from their slumbers, it should be totally independent, vigorously missionary, highly visible, and even sometimes uncomfortably provocative. I do not expect to see anything quite so extreme, but I hope that in the future the engineering profession may be able to look to someone as powerful, eloquent and forthright as Sir Monty is himself to keep them and their vital work constantly before the public.

4.6 p.m.


My Lords, I am fortunate indeed that a subject as important as the Finniston Report has enabled me to make my maiden speech and, perhaps more important still, because at times the report is controversial, not in a party political sense but as a result of the conflicting interests of all the organisations and institutions which at present make up the means by which we produce professional engineers. Your Lordships must have heard from time to time apologies from beginners like myself for possible indiscretions, and I am no exception in notifying the House of that in advance. I also wish to declare not a pecuniary but a very vital interest in the outcome of the Government's consideration of the Finniston Report.

The noble Lord, Lord Gregson, was kind enough to refer to the EITB, of which I have the privilege to be chairman, and which has statutory responsibility for the training of all persons in the engineering industry. It is usually considered that this body does training only for the shop floor, but I repeat "everybody". It trains craftsmen, technicians, clerical workers, foremen, managers and, certainly by no means least, the professional engineers who were the subject of consideration by Finniston.

We must not consider the training of professional engineers in the abstract, for I agree very much indeed with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in emphasising as does Finniston, the need for academic training to be associated with practical training. An intellectual was once described as a person educated above his intelligence, and although that is a gross exaggeration, like most exaggerations it contains a germ of truth. Too many very well qualified engineers spend their time in research and development and not in the practical application of their knowledge.

We should therefore welcome the very careful and detailed analysis which the Finiston Report contains regarding the present position of engineers in our society. The measures to improve the training and deployment of those engineers, and their status, are essential if we are to regenerate our manufacturing base and improve the competitiveness of British industry. But—and there are always reservations—there are certain reservations or questions about some of the report's proposals. If I stress these, however, it is only because the subject is so crucial and because action on the report's recommendations is so important that we really must get it right this time.

Much has been said about the three R's in our elementary education; and I am pleased that it is no longer regarded as reactionary to emphasise this part of the school curriculum. But there are also three R's in connection with Finniston. The first is concerned with the role of the new authority. The report says much —and in precise detail—about the role of the new authority, but it is less clear about—indeed it leaves very vague—the relationship which the new body, if it is set up, would have with existing bodies. This is the first of my reservations. If the engineering authority were set up and operated in such a way that it became a new bureaucratic body supervising the EITB's or any other organisation's work, it would not help, indeed it could hinder, the very achievement of the objectives set for it. If, on the other hand, it were to operate in such a way as to involve all those organisations, drawing on their experience, and delegating authority in appropriate areas, it could indeed become the "engine of change" we all seek.

My second "R" is on the question of resources. The report suggests that the new authority should be directly funded by the Government and that its annual cost would be in the region of £10 million. But where will the funds come from? The training of professional engineers is a very expensive operation, and employers need cash incentives as well as exhortation if they are to undertake it. The report talks about "badgering" employers, but our experience is that this is not enough. The EITB has spent £5 million on supporting initial training—and this is but a small proportion of the total cost which is borne in the main by industry. Therefore, it will become more and more difficult for the training board to find this sort of money. The Government cuts w ill make it difficult; indeed, they may not only make it difficult for us; they may even make it impossible. How then is this training to be financed in the future? It is unfortunate that this question was outside the remit of the Finniston Committee, but the Government are undertaking a review of the 1973 Employment Retraining Act, and they will have to address themselves to the problem of funding if Finniston's proposals for action are to be made a reality.

My final "R" is on the question of remuneration; and here I wish not so much to make a reservation; but to put forward a reminder of what Finniston had to say about remuneration or rewards. I quote from the report itself: Industry must establish the rewards and prospects for good engineers which will attract more of the country's most able young people into a lengthy and demanding engineering formation and thence into manufacturing industry". Unless that is done, no central agencies, no academic institutions, no professional institutions, and certainly no training organisations can succeed in tackling the problems we face.

My reservations may seem a backhanded compliment to Finniston, but let me assure your Lordships that this is certainly not my intention. We have within our shores—and sometimes I become despondent over the constant cry that we are a poor nation—some of the finest brains and skills, and Concorde, carbon fibre and the Hovercraft are indications of this. We have, additionally, another immense resource. It has been said many times that we are an island built on coal, floating on seas of natural gas and oil, and surrounded by plentiful supplies of fish. We are perhaps the only nation in the world who can create a shortage of all four at the same time. But if we can apply these brains and these wonderful assets of energy and natural resources—the real wealth of our country —to our wealth-producing manufacturing industry, then we should indeed be a wealthy nation. However, unless we do that, rising living standards, care of the sick and the aged, new roads and hospitals, and a decent standard of education for our children will be but a dream.

Many of us have given a lifetime trying to ensure that our manufacturing industry —and in particular the engineering industry—plays such a role as I have described. Future debates both in this Chamber and in the other place will create much dissent and acrimony about how we should run the economy. But Finniston, in my view, and in the view of my board, points the way to harnessing this wonderful wealth that we have, and if we harness it in such a manner as to ensure that it is shared by all, there can indeed be a happy future for us all. Therefore, I hope that the Government will give a general welcome to Finniston, but will seek clarification on its operation. In my view we have but a short five or 10 years in which to reestablish ourselves as a leading industrial nation. Finniston is but a start to that process, and I hope that the Government will give it the means of fulfilling its recommendations.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, it is indeed a signal and unusual honour to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, upon a most impressive maiden speech. He will certainly be a very great asset in your Lordships' House, and I hope that he addresses us frequently. Since he is the Chairman of the Engineering Industry Training Board, it was particularly pertinent that he should speak in this debate. I am glad to say that he and I were born in the same year, and I hope that we may get together on this subject on another occasion. I am glad, too, as a good European, that the noble Lord is President of the European metal workers.

We are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, for calling our attention to this report, which we must recognise as a very important, and indeed stimulating and comprehensive, piece of work. We must offer congratulations upon it. I ought to say at the outset that I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, back on the Opposition Front Bench. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Peart, is still there. I wondered whether there had been a little reshuffle lately; but it is just like old times, if I may say so.

It so happens that I first met Sir Monty while I was Under-Secretary of State with my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, who I think regrets that he is not in the Chamber at this moment, because I have discussed this matter with him. My noble and learned friend was then President of the Council and Minister for Science, and together we made preparations for the establishment of the Council of Engineering Institutions and Chartered Engineers. It was also about that time—and I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, here—that the Robbins Report was presented in this Chamber by (if I may be so immodest as to say so) myself, making my maiden speech as a member of the Government on that occasion. Of course, that report produced certain changes, to which Sir Monty has said industry has not become accustomed. Others may say more about that later.

At that time Sir Monty was the inspiration of international research and development in Newcastle, and I may say that he used to hold me spellbound. In this second Elizabethan age, I thought of him as another Dr. John Dee, the hermetic magus or (shall I call him?) secret alchemist of the first Elizabethan age. I felt when talking to him that I could be back in Renaissance England with a philosopher-magician who was nonetheless a respected practical scientist and engineer—a man who certainly came near to being the kind of universal man it is so difficult, if not impossible, for any of us to be today. Dr. Dee was my favourite Cambridge mathematician and astrologer, not least because of his clever engineering stage-effects in his production of "Peace" by Aristophanes. That was in 1546; but it was in 1963 that my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham and I were thinking deeply about how to enhance the status of the engineer in our society, and together, as I say, we laid the foundations of the Council which was finally set up in 1965 by noble Lords opposite, including, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton—and, as has already been said, there were no party politics involved here.

If I may continue for half-a-minute on a personal note, ever since I took a degree at Cambridge in English literature and history, with a year of economics in between, I have regretted that in my day most of my friends and contemporaries were not interested in engineering. Although I lived very near Jesus College, where many of our best engineers were taking their degrees, very few of my friends in Trinity, whether classical scholars, historians or even scientists, saw much of them. It is horrifying to recall that they were perhaps considered as a kind of breed apart. The arts and the sciences, yes; the humanities, the theatre, they were approved: but mechanical engineers were something different. I am even more disturbed to learn that even today there is still something, if not so much, of this attitude persisting in some of our universities, even if we do all know that the engineering department at Cambridge is in the very front rank.

In the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Holland and other countries, the fundamental importance of engineering to the economy of a country is I think appreciated by all. Yet here, unlike in Germany or the United States, an accountant or financial adviser is paid considerably more, very often, than the engineer, on whom the industry basically depends. That is why, in the 'fifties and 'sixties, I was filled with remorse that one had not recognised the value of the engineer. Mind you, it seemed that those disciplines were perhaps harder, more difficult, than some others. Not that a classical education or learning Middle English is not a hard discipline; and I would of course entirely deplore it if a university education resulted in taking too narrow a view, or specialising too closely. It is for that reason, if I may say so, that the Bessborough Prize at a famous Canadian university goes to a science or engineering graduate who also produces a good paper on the arts.

At all events, my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham and I laid the foundations of the CEI, which we thought, with its charter, would enhance the status of the engineer. I hope that to a certain extent it has done so; but I certainly feel, reading Sir Monty's report, and especially perhaps between the lines (if anyone can ever read between the lines), that he and his colleagues consider the Council has not done as much as might have been hoped. There is so often in this kind of debate a sense of déjà vu. The topics have been hardy perennials over many years: how to ensure that the education system gives people an education geared to the demands of an industrial career; how to encourage employers to create an environment in which engineers and others become central players in industrial enterprises; above all, how to realise the undisputed wealth of creative engineering talent in the form which matters—that is, as the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, said, producing competitive products efficiently and made to satisfy world market demands—and, of course, how to attract talent into the technical side of industry.

How long have we been talking about these things? How many official reports and inquiries have there been into them? The Finniston Committee traces their lineage back to 1852; I trace them back to Dr. Dee in the 16th century. But even my own 1973 report on industrial research touched on them. Your Lordships have only to read pages 15 to 20. All these reports have been dealing with much the same question. But what has happened? What improvements have all our learned analyses and brave words brought about? If we read the analysis in the opening chapter of Finniston, the answer must be: not much; certainly not enough.

Obviously, this is a large and complex subject. The issues are inextricably bound up with one another, like one of those carved nests of Chinese spheres within spheres, which we all examine with such care. Finniston found he had to invent this new term, the engineering dimension, to embrace them all. Within this dimension a great many people, working through only slightly fewer organisations, have expended their energies and time to seek improvements within particular areas. They have achieved successes. Why else would British engineers be in such demand among foreign employers? I know personally how much German firms appreciate the quality of British engineers working for them. And why would Japanese entrepreneurs be so avid in seeking out new developments from United Kingdom engineering schools? But the fundamental problems persist. We have not "got it all together"; and I agree that the end results of our past efforts have proved, if anything, less, perhaps, than the sum of the separate contributions which have been made.

Sir Monty, as we have heard, argues strongly for new machinery, based upon a new engineering authority, which would provide a focus for activities in different areas within this dimension—in education, in industry, in government and in the profession. I was, as I say, among those who sought to create just such a focus over 15 years ago. Since its inception, we have seen the CEI grow so that it now embraces 16 member-institutions and another nine affiliates. It has achieved much within the area of professional qualifications and organisations. It has built the Engineers' Registration Board which seeks to do many of the things Finniston advocates should be functions of his high authority—especially in devising common standards for the formation of engineers and in working to encourage engineering teachers and employers to provide young engineers with the kind of experience and education which will meet those standards.

There is one thing that cannot be ducked. For all its efforts, the CHI has not had so much success in two critical areas: raising public understanding of the importance of excellent engineering and able engineers to people's working lives and economic welfare; also it may not have been sufficiently successful in educating employers to appreciate that if they want to have high-calibre, motivated and properly prepared engineers to support their enterprises then the onus lies with them to create the attractions which will bring them into engineering.

Before making up my mind about the necessity to establish a new body—and I recognise the cogent arguments of the electrical engineers on this subject and of the Institute of Chemistry—I should like to say this. The report seems to me to some extent to distract attention from the real problems of industry which have so little to do with engineering and much more with economic and social problems. It is true that the report proposes the establishment of an authority with two distinct and very different functions: one, to regulate the engineering profession; and, two, to act as an engine for change in altering national attitudes and priorities. Some people believe these two roles are so different that a body properly constituted for one would be unsuitable for the other. I think it is true that the proposals could be disruptive and certainly costly in terms of public funds, as we have already heard.

The proposals also may be said not fully to acknowledge the important principle of self-regulation to which the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, referred and which is a characteristic of all professions in this country. I like Lord Gregson's idea of a steering committee or a working party to be set up; and I hope that my noble friend Lord Trenchard may say something on this point.

Sir Monty's report describes the situation in other countries. I think I shall not go into them at the moment, except to say that, in each of the major cases, there is some State involvement. I am not certain whether, necessarily, in this country State involvement would be altogether desirable; I am not certain whether in this country it would not be preferable to base our moves on what already exists. I think that there is something to be said for alternative proposals which would be less costly and quicker-acting and would avoid an extension of Government intervention. I think that in this particular case a council with a Royal Charter may be more appropriate than a statutory authority and that there is something to be said for building on and strengthening the arrangements that now exist through the present, or a reformed, CEI and also the existing registration board. I certainly think that the term of the chairmanship of the council should be extended beyond one year and that, generally, the council should be more like what the General Medical Council is to the medical profession.

Frankly, my Lords, in coming to the end of my remarks, I do not think that the main problems of manufacturing industry are going to be resolved by organisations of this kind—whether it be a continuing council, registration board or a new authority. They may help; but our present economic problems are much more deep-seated. They have been discussed at length in your Lordships' House, especially by my noble friend Lord Trenchard, and I will not go into them now. I hope, therefore, that my noble friend will study the report with care and consult all those interested before the Government take a definite position. Maybe they will think it desirable to set up the kind of steering committee which the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, suggested.

We must all agree that there is a need for changes and especially a deeper understanding of engineering during the academic training process. I certainly believe that there should be more incentives to encourage our young to go in for what I believe to be the harder disciplines rather than the arts and humanities. I am sure that this would make an important contribution to the recovery of this country from its present grievous economic ills. What I have said should not detract from my appreciation of a most significant report, which is of great value in this continuing debate. I trust that within a limited time-scale action will be taken and that the report will not be pigeon-holed. As previous speakers have said, particularly the noble Lords, Lord Gregson and Lord Avebury, we must do something; and, above all, the point about the shortage of technicians and technical training should be taken fully on board by Her Majesty's Government.

4.37 p.m.


My Lords, having already received a great deal of kindness and understanding from all quarters in this House in the time that I have been privileged to be part of it, I have an uneasy feeling that I may be overdoing things by now asking for that indulgence which is invariably extended to maiden speakers. My credentials for intervening in this debate are, unlike those of the noble Lord, my maiden partner today, and in spite of the very kind remarks earlier from the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, slim. However, I have decided to take part today because I have spent my working life in an engineering environment; that is, some 40 years in the Royal Air Force. I am a chartered engineer and a member of two of the professional bodies represented on the Council of Engineering Institutions. I have, at least, therefore, an interest to declare and some experience with which to support a hopefully brief contribution.

I am sure that the House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, for introducing this debate at what is a comparatively early stage in the life of the Finniston Report, that quite outstanding product of an exhaustive two-year inquiry of crucial importance to manufacturing industry and the engineering profession as a whole. As the initial response to the report has already shown, although there is general support for its central theme there is by no means a consensus among the many individuals and organisations in industry and outside concerning some of its 80 recommendations. That is hardly surprising in view of the radical nature of the most important of the proposals. The Secretary of State for Industry has already made clear that the Government are anxious to respond quickly and constructively to the report, and has called for the views of those concerned by 1st April.

In the circumstances, it is perhaps understandable that there are some who are finding the timescale difficult to meet. Mindful of my licence to practise today, I should like now to turn to the report itself and select just two of its proposals for comment. My remarks will of course represent my own views and not necessarily those of the professional bodies with whom I am identified. The Finniston Committee's most important single recommendation, as we have already heard, is the establishment of a new statutory body—a national engineering authority, no less. On the existence of this statutory organisation rest many of the remaining 79 recommendations and, according to the report, the only real hope of providing the necessary focus and impetus to achieve the desired aims.

There is no denying the depth of the analysis nor the strength of the argument which led the Finniston Committee to this conclusion. The recommendation is bold—some might say breathtaking—and certainly positive. Implicit in it is a determination that there shall not be a repetition of the fate experienced by similar inquiries over the past 150 years. But there are certain drawbacks apparent in some quarters. Again, we have heard these. Very generally, the debit markers include the substantial public expenditure plus an extension of Government involvement; the upheaval with possible loss of morale caused by revolutionary rather than evo- lutionary change; and a negation of the principle that professions in the United Kingdom are largely self-regulating.

These are all serious issues and should not, I feel, be dismissed as mere bellyaching by those with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, always provided that those same interests have a viable alternative to the Finniston authority to propose. Although the Finniston Committee saw no prospect of any existing body or amalgamation of bodies meeting the need for such an authority, it seems to me to be at least conceivable that CEI may be able, with perhaps a radical alteration of its constitution, and by making the optimum use of its established machinery and experience, to find some alternative which would meet the challenge. The current consultative process may throw up such a proposition. In the meantime, I remain open-minded on the issue, convinced of the logic and principles expressed by Finniston and waiting anxiously—but, I confess, not too hopefully—to see whether a superior solution tailored to the national interests, is forthcoming.

I do not equivocate on my second point: the need for a statutory register of qualified engineers. Finniston would have this regulated by the engineering authority. CEI already has, and has had for some time, an Engineers' Registration Board (ERB) which regulates the affairs of chartered engineers, technician engineers and technicians. Whatever the outcome of the engineering authority issue, I believe that a national register, with all that this implies, rather than the voluntary system now in being, should be established.

The Finniston inquiry was, as its terms of reference required, primarily concerned with manufacturing industry. However, as Finniston has said, the report is relevant and applicable, in the context of national economic needs, across all areas of engineering activity. My Lords, I speak as a retired RAF engineer branch officer. At the risk of appearing to pontificate, I endorse that statement from the serviceman's point of view. It prompts me to express to your Lordships one disappointment and one hope arising out of the report. But first, if your Lordships will allow, a snippet from my curriculum vitae by way of partial explanation of my attitude to these matters.

At the age of 15 I became what is known in the RAF as a "Trenchard brat". In deference to the noble Viscount, the Minister who is to reply for the Government, I hasten to explain that this expression is a term of endearment and respect for the late Lord Trenchard, father of the RAF and founder of the RAF aircraft apprentice scheme. I am proud to share this background with, and bask in, the reflected glory of one of this country's most eminent engineers and jet engine pioneer, Air commodore Sir Frank Whittle. All that may sound like a classic in "line shoots", as of course it is.

I am therefore somewhat disappointed that the Finniston Committee's remit did not include a review of engineering technicians and that there are therefore no proposals for the formation and progression of this most important element of the engineering dimension. The report does however draw attention to the acute shortage of technicians and to the serious weakness in manufacturing industry that will exist so long as the technician gap persists. I concur absolutely with what the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, says. I also hope that an urgent and complementary review of this area is instituted without delay.

My second point—my hope—is that Finniston will inspire the Ministry of Defence to think again about engineer representation on the Air Force Board. The previous and very brief incarnation of such a post at this top policy-making level, known as the Air Member for Technical Services, ended after five years in 1951. I feel sure that the restoration of this post, or a similar opportunity for career engineer officers, would not only boost recruitment but encourage industrialists to take comparable action.

Finally, my Lords, no less an authority than the Vice-Chancellor of Aston University is reported to have suggested not so very long ago that the aristocracy was to blame for giving engineering a poor image. This was a reference to the notion that historically the aristocrat only did fine arts and science, and regarded people who made things as unimportant. I am sure your Lordships agree with me in saying that Sir Monty Finniston has not been so hard on that section of the Community as perhaps on others. However, a picture has been painted of this nation's past and her attitude to engineering which is at once fascinating and disturbing. We have now a blue-print for an engine for change, designed to reverse the decline in British manufacturing industry. As Finniston has warned us, this engine, or any other built with similar design aims, will not on its own get us anywhere. This engine needs a driver and, moreover, the concerted efforts of everyone—Government, institutions, industrialists, engineers and non.engineers alike —with the national will to win, to ensure that we emerge intact and on top once more from the industrial revolution ahead.

4.51 p.m.


My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl on his speech. He tells us that he has spent 40 years in the engineering world. I think he has shown to us this afternoon that in this House he will be an excellent advocate not only for the engineering profession but also for the Air Force as well. I think perhaps this is the first time that we have welcomed a "Trenchard brat" into the House, but if that is a term of endearment then I am sure the House would endorse it. It is very rarely that we have the benefit of hearing two maiden speeches, and from such experts on the subject that we are considering. I should like to add my congratulations to those which have been already extended to the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, by the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough.

I suppose it is appropriate that this House should wish to consider and debate a report of such importance as the report of the Finniston Committee on engineering and our future. Noble Lords have spoken of different aspects of the engineering dimension. I want to concentrate on a limited section of the report, but nevertheless one which I think is of the utmost importance. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said that he found the statistics on women in engineering the most shocking statistics in the whole report. I want to refer to those sections of the report on attracting more women into engineering—a mere page and a quarter of a very long report. I should like to quote from one paragraph: …less than 1/2 per cent. of the current stock of engineers are women. Engineering has thus been recruiting from only half of the population. That is something we must surely take very serious note of, and I welcome that forthright statement in the report. I think it is obvious that this situation is a contributory factor to the problems faced by the engineering industry, a contributory factor both qualitatively and quantitatively. I am glad that Sir Monty Finniston himself has not only featured it in his report but also in public statements, where on a number of occasions he has referred to the recognition of the crucial importance of women to the future of the industry.

Having said that, I hope it will not seem churlish to add my regret that the issue has not been brought out more clearly in other sections of the report. It is, as I say, concentrated into a page and a quarter. There are implications throughout the report, and in particular in the education and training sections, but this is the only specific reference, except for one important exception: that is in the recommendation for the establishment of an Engineering Authority, which outlines four important issues which that authority will have to tackle. The last of those four items is: …attracting more women into engineering and the provision of conditions assisting women to maintain their careers in engineering. I think that again underlines the importance that the committee obviously attached to this: the fact that they brought it out as one of the four most important functions of the proposed new authority.

I am glad to say that some of the statistics show a slight improvement on the position indicated in the report. For example, in the latest statistics we have available on the intake of undergraduates, we find now that 4.9 per cent. of all undergraduates in engineering are women. That is a slight improvement but it is not a sufficient improvement, because if we look back over the whole of the past decade we find, for instance, that women undergraduates in the universities have increased from being 30 per cent. to being 40 per cent. of the total intake, across all the faculties; but in the engineering faculty they have increased from being 2.1 per cent. to only 4.9 per cent. So we are not getting the proportionate increase in our universities of women who are tackling this very important subject.

There are some suggestions in the report as to how the situation should be dealt with, and the report refers to what it calls "sex differentiation in the curricula". It suggests that it may be possible at a later time in a student's history for both young men and young women to switch, for example, from doing a degree in mathematics to doing a degree in engineering. What the report does not do, though, is to bring out a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, in his introduction; that it is at the age of 12 when options are begun to be made which will affect the future careers of young people. I would suggest that in the interim period, until we can eradicate these so-called" sexual differentiations in the curricula", which are not going to be easy to eradicate, it would be helpful if, for example, the Department of Education and Science were to look at the possibility of offering extra facilities to young people with qualifications in 0 and A-levels in Arts subjects and helping them to switch to science and the practical subjects. This is a matter which has already been brought to the attention of the Secretary of State, and J think it would be helpful if this House could underline the importance of helping young people who have made a wrong choice, perhaps because they have not had the right career guidance at the right time, to change over to more suitable courses.

I am particularly pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, was able to participate in the debate today. The report does not make any mention of some of the initiatives which the Engineering Industrial Training Board has made to help women overcome the handicap that they have in the engineering field. I should like to say how glad I have been at some of the initiatives which they have taken: in particular, to encourage girls into technician training. Several noble Lords have mentioned the fact that technician training is not mentioned in the Finniston Report—it was not within their terms of reference—but the EITB has taken very useful initiatives in this area. It is important that we not only recognise this, but underline the need for the experimental initiatives that have been taken to be widened and made more broadly applicable.

I would also mention an initiative which has been taken by the West Midlands Engineering Employers' Federation. They have sought to become a designated training body, under the Sex Discrimination Act, which enables them to put on positive training for women in engineering. They are just starting out on the provision of courses for women in management in engineering, which is another very important initiative. I should like to think that other regions of the Engineering Employers' Federation might follow the path of the West Midlands Association.

Another aspect of the report which I welcome is the acknowledgment that is given to the importance of helping women who have taken a break from employment to come back into the industry. They may have left because of family responsibilities. But the report acknowledges that such women should be given help in the form of the provision of part-time employment and also of refresher courses. It is very encouraging for me that the report should be so forthright and so enterprising as to mention part-time employment, because so often we regard part-time employment as a filler-in, as it were, between the job that a young woman does on leaving school and the job that she might do later on in life.

This report seems to recognise it as part of the career structure and, if we are spending money on the training of women in the engineering field, it is essential that we maximise that expenditure by using the services of those women in this way. Of course, it recognises the fact that we do not necessarily have to have just one career pattern—the normal career pattern that most men have followed in the past —but that there can be a career pattern which is more suitable to the needs of women.

So I would say that if the recommendations of this report are accepted and are worked on with some urgency, we could see an improvement in the situation of women in engineering in this country, which, at the very least, might bring us into line with our competitors in Europe and in North America. I am quite sure that the House will endorse the fact that we cannot afford not to be competitive with Europe and with North America in any way, particularly in the utilisation of our human resources.

5.5 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, for giving us the opportunity of this debate. My noble friends on these Benches are grateful that it did not take place a week ago, as I understood it might have done, in which case it would have preceded the talk that we had last Thursday from Sir Monty Finniston, and we should not therefore have been so well informed as we are today. It is good that this debate. has attracted two maiden speakers, whose speeches were of such distinction, and it is my great pleasure to congratulate them both.

When, in 1977, I heard that the Finniston Committee had been set up, I was shocked that engineering —the most venerable of our modern professions, going back to 1818 —should be subject to a Government inquiry. That seemed to me a disgrace. Then I realised that, for the last 30 years, I had travelled this country wherever I could find an influential audience, telling them of the doom to come if we did not change our suicidal attitude to productive industry and attract some of the best brains into engineering. This, of course, was criticism of the profession, but mine was a solo voice. It was not the only one and there were many more distinguished, but they were all soloists.

Now we have this great orchestrated work of the Finniston Committee, which covers most of the complex scene and makes far-reaching recommendations for change. I should like to congratulate Sir Monty's team on so thorough a review, and for presenting it in so digestible a form. I believe that the report is one of the most important ever produced on the industrial scene, and I trust that the Government will act on it, particularly on the setting up of the Engineering Authority, which seems to me to be its novel feature.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, I am going to draw attention to a few of the main points in the report, particularly those dealing with engineering itself. The first three chapters are a masterly summary of the present industrial position, particularly in manufacturing industry. The civil and constructional engineering scene is not considered. On the whole, they manage things perhaps rather more efficiently. It covers much the same ground as we did in your Lordships' House in the three debates held in the second half of 1978, beginning with that proposed from these Benches on the need to encourage innovation and enterprise. Finniston's main concern is to find ways of doing just that and to plot a course of education and training —called, as we have heard, "formation" —for the engineers who are the prime movers in these activities.

As the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, has said, the first chapter pulls no punches. It points out that our relative industrial decline, if allowed to continue, will lead to a growing impoverishment in the years to come. The report confirms what we have already heard here, that the best United Kingdom firms are excellent, but there is a wide spread in the level of productivity between them and the worst. Finniston found one common characteristic among the best firms. They had built on excellent engineering, integrated with enterprising and forward-looking market and product strategies. Their management regarded engineering as the common factor linking the various functions within the organisation into the engineering dimension which has already been defined.

Finniston confirms that the United Kingdom is acknowledged internationally as rich in inventiveness and creative talent. Unfortunately, this is not harnessed effectively by manufacturing industry because, compared with continental Europe,

there have been neither the cultural nor the pecuniary rewards in this country to attract sufficient of the brightest national talents into engineering in industry. Financial rewards, or the lack of them, I know all about, but the word "cultural" defeats me. The dictionary definition of "culture" is intellectual development. Engineering, as I am sure the Finniston Committee realises, provides all the intellectual challenge that anyone could desire. What I believe they mean is not "cultural" but "social"or" snobbish." The value attached to the engineering dimension among our successful rivals abroad is reflected by the high earnings of engineers and by the presence of engineers in top policymaking councils of industry and the nation. Improved standing of engineers will only come with enhanced recognition of the nature and importance of engineer- ing, but the Finniston Committee has no more idea than I have, I believe, of how this essential recognition can be brought about in this country except through the activities of the Engineering Authority which it proposes should be set up.

Finniston then turns to innovation, which must become the way of life for successful manufacturing companies, and it is a very long way from becoming that. The committee says that innovation is largely handicapped in this country by the predominantly non-technical background of the directors of engineering firms from whom the decision-takers are largely drawn. I must agree to some extent with that, but, as an innovator, I have found that the not very bright practical man is about as difficult to persuade as any financier.

Chapter III deals with the supply and demand of engineers. There is a most revealing diagram in Fig. 3.1 which underlines the changes that have taken place in the past 15 years since Robbins opened higher education to all. This removed, at a stroke, the source of supply of most engineers employed in productive engineering. Up till then it had employed a capitve class, fully employed in the works during the day and studying in their spare time, mostly in night schools. They had a thorough understanding of industry, or at least a thorough understanding of the firm in which they worked, if not of much more. It was a wicked system. But Fig. 3.1 shows that even now 70 per cent. of those 40 years of age and over came up this hard way. The majority of those at the head of manufacturing industry must therefore be in this class. They are attempting to carry out a very tough job under, to them or to anyone, insurmountable difficulties: the loss of a captive, well-trained labour force.

The complaints of these hard pressed men bulk too large in Chapters III and IV of the committee's report. They do not understand, and so fear, university education and they are naturally somewhat resentful of the beautiful opportunities now given to the young. Their comments, echoed by Finniston, show some bias against brains. As the report says, and I have heard this so many times myself: Many employers made the observation that their best engineers sometimes had poor academic qualifications. They preferred to recruit well-rounded individuals with perhaps a 2.1 or a 2.2 degree than an academically bright but personally less capable Ph.D. or first class Honours man". Of course, an engineer must be well rounded, but to my knowledge there is no correlation between brains and the lack of practical ability. The truth is that the first-class man may be less tolerant of an inefficient employer and he may be foolish enough to show it. What industry and engineering needs is what they have abroad: ready access to the best brains in their countries.

Chapter IV deals with courses of instruction and it may appear to be highly technical to some of your Lordships. It covers what the report calls "formation" —what we used to call education and training. It proposes that more "practical" work should be introduced into university courses. No engineering professor worth his salt would object to this. In fact, the report generously says that many already provide excellent design and practical problems, with emphasis on synthesis rather than analysis. But this approach to education is much more difficult than the old-fashioned methods, and many education institutions will need help from industry —a branch of industry that cannot help itself now by providing the sandwich courses that they like. But the help will —indeed, must —come from the proposed Engineering Authority.

I am going to resist discussing any further the courses that Finniston proposed. I do implore the committee to look again at this chapter. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and with the footnote written by the noble Lord, Lord Howie. We have some very distinguished schools of engineering in this country. They are quite capable of dealing with all that is required here, without some of the disruptive moves that there would be between existing stock and new entrants; so with great self-control I am not going to enlarge on this any more. All I would do is to implore the committee to look again at paragraph 4.50 in particular which deals with the way they would treat three-quarters of the output of this invaluable profession, described so glowingly in the first three chapters of the report. What they say merely aims to provide manufacturing industry with the fodder it learned to deal with in the bad old days of evening part-time study.

I was sorry to hear that the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, was so unfortunate as to move in such narrow circles when he was up at Cambridge. Engineers in Cambridge never were a breed apart. I can assure the noble Earl that at Trinity in his day at least 10 per cent. of the undergraduate population would be engineers.

After graduation, the formation process to which I have briefly referred will continue. What is sketched is ideal and it would be the responsibility of the employer. But the employer, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said, will in few cases be qualified at the moment to take this responsibility. Again this is where the Engineering Authority must step in. It must be there to co-ordinate effort, to promote the whole exercise, to accredit academic courses and the formation process in industry which we talked about in the academic field and register as the qualified product of the system.

May I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, that the question of women in enginering, while close to my heart, is a very great worry. All I can say is that the last active job I did for the Institution of Civil Engineers —I think in 1970 —was to chair a working party on women in engineering. All the evidence we got showed, of course, great enthusiasm, but I realise that we are not doing anything like enough. As women outnumber men by two to one among my grandchildren, I am very much concerned about this.

I want to make one last point. I feel that the Finniston Report makes the right decision about leaving the professional engineering institutions with the job they do so well; that is, to continue their work as learned societies and not to have the responsibility of accrediting courses and so on. If this is a source of disappointment to them, it is a source of great sadness to me because from 1936 until 1973 I was continuously involved with one or other governing bodies of these institutions. While they have done so well as learned societies I feel they have always hidden behind the Royal Charters that made them such, and so have been ineffective in preventing the depreciation of our profession until it ranks so low in public esteem.

They have been equally ineffective in caring for the material wellbeing of their members —at least of their younger members. Other professions analogous to engineering, such as medicine and architecture, have learned societies but this has not prevented them from raising and jealously guarding the status of their professions. I have known many able secretaries of the major institutions but we never found one with real statesmanlike qualities; engineering was unfortunate in not finding a MacAlister to serve it, although we once came very near to doing so. Medical men in your Lordships' House may remember Sir Donald MacAlister of Tarbert who virtually ruled the medical profession for 27 years from 1904 to 1931 (when it was quite a respectable thing to do) as President of the General Medical Council. By 1905 his younger brother John had formulated a scheme for amalgamating the medical societies of London and then of all in the country into the Royal Society of Medicine, of which he became secretary. John's son Ian was Secretary, from 1908 to 1943, of the Royal Institute of British Architects and made that the effective profession with high status that it is today.

Even in those days some of us were very worried about the profession of engineering and a group of us just before the Second World War were determined to attract a member of this remarkable family (who were kinsmen of my wife) into engineering administration. We set our sights on one or other of Ian's three sons. Sadly, all were war casualties, two being killed on active service, so our plans came to naught.

There is one small matter I should like to put in, remembering that I was a member of the University Grants Committee for 10 years. In section 4.91 something is said about UGC funding and I should like to give one warning. In what I feel were the "good old days" we thought of engineers as people who produced "hardware"; now of course there is something almost equally important, and that is "software". All engineering departments deal with computers but the basic fundamental work, the development of computer languages, is more often the work done in departments of computer science and it will be important to remember this when applying for additional funds (which I hope will be forthcoming from the UGC) for engineering, otherwise, university bureaucrats being what they are, the funds may go astray.

I have made clear my support for the proposals to set up an Engineering Authority. As the report says in chapter 6: A fundamental shift is required in national priorities at many levels". An engine of change" is required to overcome the inertia and negativism of prevailing attitudes and to press for actions to advance the national economy through the engineering dimension. We need an authoritative champion. I realise that there is a danger that this engine may produce a lot of gas and may not move —no one could fear bureaucrats more than I do, but our efforts for a century and a half have been so fruitless that we must have this authority and we must see that it is effective.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to speak as a member of the Finniston Committee and like the noble Lord, Lord Baker, I am a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, so therefore I may be thought to have some interest in whatever comes out of what the Government decides to do after reading the committee's report. I must begin by adding to the congratulations which have been offered to the two noble Lords who have made their maiden speeches today.

The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, was great —the experience of one part of engineering and, more recently, the training of engineers. He drew our attention to one part of the report which really we did not make very prominent —money. He said that an important element in the status of engineers and the place they take in society was related closely to remuneration. So it is. Perhaps all our difficulties about getting better engineers and more of them could be solved quite simply if employers just paid them more and we did nothing else. I am not sure whether that is the whole answer, but it is certainly part of the answer and it is a part which we mentioned in passing in the report.

Also in passing we mentioned another part of it which is very close to the early life of the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon. We touched on trade unionism in relation to professional engineers. We quite rightly did not descend into the great battlefield between the contending trade unions. In the report we do not say that this trade union is more suitable for professional engineers than the other one but we endorse the general attitude of the Council of Engineering Institutions that trade unions are here to stay and that where professional engineers feel it appropriate to join trade unions they certainly should not be hindered or discouraged from doing so. I myself would not only not hinder them; I would actively promote it.

The noble Earl, Lord IIchester, is a most interesting addition to our ranks. He is yet another chartered engineer. The interesting thing which we notice is that the means by which we come here, whether it be by the hand of patronage or by the hand of providence, seems to produce a much larger proportion of chartered engineers in this House than the more democratic procedures produce in the other House. I can see sitting in front of me a fellow chartered engineer who has had the same experience as I have; namely, of having been raised into the other House by the hand of democracy and ejected from it by the same hand —although not quite at the same time —showing that democracy, like the rest of us, has a left hand and a right. I add to the congratulations which have been offered to these two recruits to our ranks.

Before I say much about the report, I should pay some tribute to my colleagues on the committee; I think it right that this should be publicly and sincerely done. In the two years of our deliberations we owed a great deal to the dynamic zest with which we were led by Monty Finniston. I am not sure that I always felt that he was leading us in the right direction, but he was always leading us somewhere. He did not sit back in his chair and allow the committee to lead him. It is largely due to his energy and drive that the report was completed in virtually two years. Sometimes I thought we might have taken just a little longer to do it, but Monty wanted it quickly and under his lash we produced the report in two years. That says a great deal for the dedication of my colleagues on the committee and for the manner in which they tackled this extremely important, very complicated and wide-ranging inquiry.

The committee has given some leadership to the Government and to the nation as a whole. I hope it will lead engineering into some kind of promised land. Whether or not it will I have some doubts, but my doubts may be set at rest when we see what the Government eventually produce. I signed the report, although I had some doubts in the course of our two years deliberations about certain decisions we were coming to. Here and there I felt the committee was mistaken, and elsewhere I felt it was bluntly wrong. But felt that, regardless of my occasional disquiet, the total strategy of the committee and of its report was unquestionably correct, and for that reason it seemed to me important that everyone should sign the report and support the strategy, whatever doubts we may have had on lesser matters, matters of detail, important detail but matters of detail none the less.

The committee's strategy was right. It was to produce better engineers and to make better use of those engineers in industry, and the result of that would be better engineering and a stronger and more effective economy. Of course, that is only part of the economic problem. We know, as I think Lord Bessborough said earlier, that the economic problem is much more complicated than that; it goes far beyond mere engineering. There are all sorts of difficulties and complications and dangers in the economy, some of them quite out of our control. But in so far as engineering is responsible for the difficulties, the committee felt that it was producing solutions which would lead to improvement and to economic strength. The report, I think it fair to say, pays more attention to producing better engineers than it does to industry making better use of the engineers it gets. I think the balance was slightly wrong there and I think that was a pity.

Since I am going to disagree with some parts of the report, I should first of all indicate those parts with which I do agree, and your Lordships will find that there are more of those than of the ones I disagree with. I think the committee was right to propose a new engineering author- ity. I very strongly support this. The institutions have been in existence since the first one —Institution of Civil Engineers —was founded in 1818. I think it fair to say that although they have done all sorts of things extremely well they have in the end failed, much as Lord Baker said a moment ago. It is not their fault. Hundreds of men, and women too, throughout this period have played a dedicated part in trying to impress on industry the things that they were trying to do to improve the art of engineering and the science of engineering. Dozens and dozens of committees, endless meetings, proselytising, learned papers, conferences, seminars, books, are some of the endless list of activities through which the institutions have tried to promote engineering and to improve it. If they have failed it is not their fault. It is quite clearly a failure on the part of employers who have been unwilling or unable to appreciate what the institutions were trying to do and have been unwilling to use the institutions as a yardstick for engineering success and engineering excellence.

The committee accepts that the institutions have failed and that is why we propose a new authority. If the institutions had been successful a new authority would not have been needed. It is because they have failed that it is needed. But, unfortunately, the report does give a slight impression, unwittingly, that all the institutions have failed equally. It is not at all true. The Institution of Chemical Engineers plays a very powerful and strong part in the chemical engineering industry. The Institution of Civil Engineers and the other institutions in the construction world are very influential and successful in that world. And let me say this: if the other major institutions had been as successful in influencing their industries as the Institution of Civil Engineers has been in influencing its, this inquiry might not have been needed, and certainly a new authority would not have been needed.

Turning to education, it is right to propose that engineering courses should be more practical than they are now. Many courses are already as practical as need be and we say that in the report, but despite what Lord Baker says about PhDs, (and I am sure he is right) it is engineers that are needed, not quite so many engineering scientists. There is a need for engineering scientists, but in science not in engineering. Some balance has to be found between them. The committee was right, I think, to demand that engineering teachers particularly should have considerable, and preferably lengthy, experience in engineering in industry, in commerce, before they became teachers, and should be prepared from time to time to change Box and Cox between the academic world and industry. It is not easy, of course. People have got their careers to follow; they have got promotion to seek, and they cannot just jump about. Nevertheless, the principle that people should move more readily from the academic world into industry is a very serious one. I think the committee is absolutely right about that.

The committee is right, too, to stress very strongly the need for continuing education among engineers themselves. We get a little bit fancy about it; we call it "ontinuing formation", but we really mean continuing education or in-career training, as it is often called. But the important proposal we make there is not merely that engineers should pursue education throughout their working lives; the point we make is that engineers should have a statutory right to time off to pursue continuing education where the courses are available and where they want to follow them, and the new authority would be encouraging them to follow these courses.

The committee is right, too, to ask for registration of engineers beyond the scope of the ERB as it now exists. The real reason for doing this is partly that the ERB only registers people who are in institutions and therefore misses out a good many who are not; and many of them are excellent engineers whether they are in institutions or not. But much more important, the engineering employers have very largely ignored the work of the ERB and it seems very unlikely that they are going to change their tune, so a new statutory registration system might help there.

The committee hope that the register will become, in effect, a licensing system. I very strongly endorse that. But there is an element of pious hope about that. I incline to the belief —I may be wrong; I hope I am —that since engineering employers have paid scant respect to the ERB, which is a voluntary register, there is little certainty that they will pay much more respect to yet another voluntary register, even though a statutory one. The committee felt that its statutory nature would give it a kind of dignity which would compel engineering employers to pay heed to it. The committee may be right. I merely say that I am slightly sceptical. I think that some compulsion might well be needed and we might well have to extend licensing in the future much further than we have been doing.

Where has the committee gone wrong? I think it has gone wrong in not paying sufficient attention to the construction industry. The committee, quite rightly I think, regards engineering as one profession right across the disciplines. But it is a profession with differences. Civil engineers are not exactly the same as electronic engineers. The differences between them are not merely matters of size; it is not just that one deals with a tiny electronic piece of equipment while the other deals with a massive power station or dam or large structure.

As I have already said, one major difference is that the institutions in construction have been effective and influential, and that should not be merely cast aside or forgotten. In fact, the qualifications of the Institution of Civil Engineers are so regarded in the construction industry that last year's president of the ICE was able to say in a public address that a system of licensing by consent existed in civil engineering. That might have been a slight exaggeration, but it is an exaggeration with a very great element of truth in it.

Another difference is that the construction industry is very largely run by engineers. That is a great difference between it and manufacturing industry. It is not always the case that manufacturing concerns are run by engineers, although they are sometimes. It is almost always the case that construction concerns are run by engineers. That is one difference, and it is a very clear and large distinction between construction and the rest of the engineering world.

There is another difference. The economic failings of construction are of a different order. Manufacturing industry sometimes fails because it cannot meet a market of the consumer kind. Construction sometimes fails because its market has been taken away. To a very large extent its market consists of public expenditure, and to a very large extent the construction industry is in the hands of Government or local government which, when dealing with their economic problems, utilise construction as a regulator. That is a great difference. It is a different kind of failure to meet the market because the market is of a different kind.

There is another difference which can be much more in mind. When people criticise the performance of the engineering industry —as very well they might —they should find time to reflect that the export performance of the construction industry is second to none. That results in a difference between the construction industry and the rest of engineering in terms of measuring economic success or failure.

I now turn to the proposals for education. I think that they are too complex and that they are also unnecessary. I have put a rather brief footnote on page 116 to that effect. I am extremely pleased to have the support of the noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Baker, for my footnote. I hope that that will be taken into account by anyone who happens to read Hansard in the next few days. I believe that we fell into a fairly elementary error here. Naturally, as a committee we looked at structures and tried to analyse them, and thought that we could replace an existing structure by a new and presumably better one. In a committee it is extremely easy to deal with something about which you can draw a diagram. Uses of engineers are rather more difficult. However, the education structure can be analysed, examined and redrawn. That is what is said.

I shall now explain the elementary mistake that we made. We went abroad in batches all over the world. We saw that Germany had an engineering education structure of one kind —indeed, our proposals are largely based on the German pattern; perhaps I should say that they are influenced by the German pattern. We visited France and saw that France has an engineering formation which is totally different from that of Germany. It is at the exact opposite end of the spectrum from that of Germany. In Germany it is highly theoretical and practical; in France it is highly theoretical. The difference is as wide as possible. We saw that the United States has another form of engineering formation, and that Japan has something between that of France and the United States.

But the lesson we should have drawn is that, despite those differences in the structure of engineering formation, good engineering resulted in the end. Therefore, prehaps the structure was less important than we took it to be. I think we dealt with structure because it was something with which we could deal easily; we produced an enormous chapter —which I believe has damaged our report because it is so large (and it could not escape being large for it went into great detail) —so that the report looks like a report on engineering education with additional frills. The frills are, in fact, far and away the most important part, as the engineering authority is far more important than the actual shape of the engineering formation, important though that is.

Without going into any great detail, I believe that the existing two-tier structure ought to be retained. Broadly speaking, chartered engineers and their equivalent —whether or not they are chartered —should be one tier and engineering technicians the other. I think that the institutions are on the right lines —although we might argue all day about the precise details which they have put forward —in that they believe that qualifications for the upper tier, the chartered engineers, should be raised, so that the threshhold between chartered engineers and technician engineers is raised a little. Surely that is the sensible, correct and most economic way of dealing with that difficult problem. In any case, I am by no means certain that our universtiies —admirable though they are —can reliably select the leaders of the engineering industry at the age of 19. There are some things that they can do, but I do not think that that is one of them. This is what we have asked them to do in the report. I am fairly sure that the universities can sort out those who are likely to succeed in the M.Eng. degree, but in the report we are asking them to go ahead and lead the engineering industry. I do not think that that can be done, and it is a mistake which we have made.

I should like to say a few words about the organisation of the profession. As was said earlier, it has traditionally been self-regulating. I do not, in fact, believe that the engineering profession changes that all that drastically; undoubtedly, it changes it a little. Let us not forget that if the proposals of the committee are put into effect, a majority of the new authority will still be practising professional engineers. To that extent at least the profession will be self-regulating, although it is true not in the old way. This is where I dissent a little from my colleagues on the committee, this time in an anonymous footnote —I felt that one footnote at a time with a name on it was more than enough. I believe that there should be reserve places on the authority for the institutions, and that to make that sensible —and you could not have anymore than four or five reserve places —the institutions should be encouraged or even badgered into amalgamations or confederations, in which the construction group could come together. We do not really need all the civil engineers, structural engineers, the water engineers, the highway engineers, and the municipal engineers —I do not know if I have missed any out. We need some kind of construction group. If architects could be induced to come in, so much the better and —let me utter an engineering heresy —even the quantity surveyors, because they are quite important in the construction world. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, does not go with me all the way, but it is something to be thought about. Places should be reserved on the authority for the institutions to restore, to a greater extent than our proposals do, some element of self-registration.

There are also difficulties about existing stock, which is a very difficult problem; I believe that it is almost impossible —I may be wrong —to fit the existing stock of engineers (such chartered engineers as, for example, are in your Lordships' House) into the proposed three-tier system. If we stick to a two-tier system, there is not much difficulty about it; the chartered engineers would go into the top tier and the others into the second tier. However, it is a difficult question and the committee, realising the difficulty, marched straight up to it, looked it squarely in the eye and then turned and fled. If noble Lords read the report, they will notice that we do not actually make a proposal. We make three or four different proposals which we think the authority might adopt or think about.

Let me now turn to the Government. There are apparent signs —although I know nothing about this really —that the report might not be pigeon-holed, provided there is a sufficient demand from engineers and engineering for its proposals to be put into operation. I believe that the Government's time-scale is too short. It took us two years to digest this material and produce proposals. I think that industry should have been given more than 21/2 months to examine these proposals, think about them, and come back with counter-arguments, perhaps, or even with agreements. I do not think that we are in all that much of a hurry that we cannot spare another fortnight, or even another month. The "Titanic" may be sailing across the Atlantic, but we have not quite hit the iceberg yet.

What should be done then? I am hesitant about Lord Gregson's proposed steering committee, despite what I have said about taking a little longer. We have just had a committee to look into the whole of this business. To set up another one right away before the ink is properly dry on our report is over-egging the pudding. What Sir Monty's committee has proposed should be looked at by the Government, studied and examined, and they should go ahead with the legislation, provided that they have the demand they want from industry.

They should go ahead with the legislation needed to set up the new engineering authority. But they should try to fit the institutions into the authority rather better than our proposals do. They should also study the special relationship between the construction industry and the rest of the engineering industry, and look at that problem rather more sympathetically than the committee felt able to do. With those minor reservations from the proposals of Sir Monty and my colleagues, I would commend the report to the House.

5.53 p.m.


My Lords, I think that I should, first of all, express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, for giving us the opportunity of debating the Finniston Report at this early stage. Having said that, I should like to offer my sincere thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, on what I thought was an absolutely brilliant maiden speech. If the noble Lord maintains this standard, he will be one of the people who sends Members hurrying in from the refreshment rooms whenever they see his name go up on the monitors.

If ever a committee or a commission was set up publicly to inquire into a profession which everybody thought was good I have never heard of it. I think it follows from this that when a commission is set up to inquire into a profession a large number of people think that there must be something sadly wrong with that profession and so I believe that the terms of reference that were given to Sir Montague Finniston's Committee were perhaps a little unfortunate.

They can be read as implying —and they certainly have been read by some people as implying —that Britain's unsatisfactory industrial performance is due to the fact that our engineers are, at the best, indifferent and, at the worst, incompetent. Nothing could be further from the truth than this. There are of course bad British engineers and in some fields of industry our British engineering has not been at all good, but by and large professional and technician engineers in the United Kingdom are quite outstandingly good; and the tragedy is that this is realised and recognised in pretty well every overseas country and the only place where it is not recognised is in our own country at home.

I do not think that it is right to make a claim of that sort without giving some sort of supporting evidence, so I should like to take up a few minutes of your Lordships' time in giving a few examples, taken quite at random, to show what is done by British engineering. They add to the few examples given by the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, which indeed were very well chosen. Let me go lower down the scale than he did and look at the road vehicle industry; the motor industry, if you like to call it that. It is an industry where we are outstandingly unsuccessful; where we lose money. But if you look at the engineering in that industry you will find that there is a firm on the South coast which acts as design and development consultants for pretty nearly every motor manufacturer in the world; motor manufacturers not merely in this country and in other European countries but also in Detroit and Japan.

If you go a little further into this unsuccessful motor industry and see what British engineering can do, you find that it has produced the one really imaginative post-war design of motor cars. I refer of course to the Mini Minor with its pioneering system of suspension and its transverse engine layout, which has been copied by manufacturers all over the world. When you look at our railways you find that our railway engineers are used as consultants all over the world on railway modernisation and on new railways. When you look at their more detailed work you will see that the system of suspension which was evolved by the engineers at the British Railways research station at Derby solves a problem which had bedevilled railway engineering since the time of George Stephenson.

If you move outside the field of mechanical engineering and look at structural engineering, there is not any difficulty in finding similar examples of excellence there. The principles of design which were evolved by British engineers and were first used by British engineers on the Severn Bridge solved a problem that has bedevilled suspension bridges for centuries. It was the application of those principles which enabled the British consultants to obtain the contract for the design and supervision of construction of the great bridge over the Bosphorus.

In civil engineering you can still again find plenty of examples. Having worked for the World Bank I can assure your Lord-ships that, with their knowledge of consulting engineers in most countries, it was not without absolute confidence in their performance that they appointed a firm of British consultants to act for and on behalf of the World Bank in co-ordinating and supervising that greatest and most complex of all civil engineering projects in recent years, the great Indus Basin scheme, with its huge dams at Mangla and Tarbela, with its link canals and with its barrages at Chasma and in other places. One can find these and other examples of excellence all over the world.

The truth is that in most cases where British industry is unsatisfactory, this lack of success is not primarily due to bad engineering. The chief causes are lack of business vision, lack of entrepreneurial ability, lack of a steady purpose and the all too frequent adoption of "stop-go" policies.

There are very few good engineers who are satisfied to see the results of their work only on paper which they know is predestined for the wastepaper basket because the work they are doing has been badly directed. Good engineers like to see the outcome of their work in tangible artefacts, and if they cannot see that they are likely to move to other employment or other countries where they are likely to get more satisfaction. What is perhaps worse, or at least as bad, is that they are likely to advise their bright young friends against entering a profession which has failed to give them satisfaction.

Engineering is a very old profession, indeed much older than the noble Lord, Lord Baker, suggested when he dated it back to 1829, because although they were often military or canal engineers, there were engineers working 2,000 years ago. However, most of the great engineers of the past were first and foremost craftsmen who had supplemented their craftsmanship with theory which, to the modern engineer, is simple. Developments in engineering theory and practice have outdated the earlier methods of training which produced those engineers and changes have been made in the system of engineering training and education to produce something which is suited to a profession which not merely uses more sophisticated theory but also lives —and this is important —in a different social environment.

When many changes have been made, it would be surprising if every one of them had been a change for the better, and in the last two years the Finniston Committee have examined the pattern that has evolved to see where and whether there is need for adjustment. Our thanks are due to them for the painstaking and thorough job they have done. I strongly suggest, however, that their report should be regarded as a Green Paper; it should on no account be regarded as a White Paper.

The important recommendations of the report are that the education and training of engineers needs to be reviewed, and there I would emphasise that, in engineering, education and training go hand in hand. It would be fatal if it were said that training is an industrial matter and is the responsibility of the Department of Industry while education is a matter for the Department of Education and Science. In engineering these two things must go hand in hand and it would be fatal to divorce them from one another.

The report recommends that the competence of engineers should be validated at appropriate stages in their careers and it recommends that the relationship between industrial engineering and engineering research should be examined. These are important recommendations —they are are not the only recommendations of the report —and in principle I support all of them. But it is being assumed by some people that the recommendation of the report which is of outstanding importance is that an engineering board should be established to regulate the profession. I suggest that the need for such a board should be thought of as being contingent on the action which is found to be necessary in regard to the report's other recommendations. If what is found to be necessary there can best be achieved by establishing an engineering board —and my inclination is to believe that a board with chartered powers is necessary —then a board should be formed, but the formation of a board should be regarded as a means to an end and not as an end in itself.

If a board is found to be desirable, it must be so constituted that it does not take the control of the engineering profession out of the hands of engineers, any more than the GMC, which controls the medical profession, takes the control of that profession out of the hands of the doctors. I believe that the question of registration, which is a complex one, should be left until it has been decided whether the formation of a board is necessary, because whether compulsory registration or some other form of registration is practicable I think depends on whether it has been decided that it is necessary to form an engineering board.

As I have already said, I hope we can regard this debate as little more than a First Reading. We should not go too deeply into the detailed recommendations of this carefully prepared report until the many bodies concerned —the institutions and institutes, the vice-chancellors' committees, and the many other committees which are concerned in this —have had an opportunity of examining and discussing the report. I hope that will be done without delay, because delayed decisions undermine morale.

6.10 p.m.


My Lords, first, may I add my gratitude to that already expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, for introducing this very interesting subject today, at a very timely moment, in my opinion, as I am sure that the collective wisdom of your Lordships coming out of this debate will be a great value to all those who will be discussing this matter over the next few weeks. I also wish to add my congratulations to the noble Lords who have made maiden speeches. The noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, spoke in his usual vigorous fashion, which was very good to hear, on a subject on which he has very great knowledge and to which he has made a very considerable contribution. I was glad that the noble Earl, Lord Ilches-ter, in his speech drew our attention to the fact that all engineers are not necessarily in industry. He referred to engineers in the Services and, if I may, I shall return to that point a little later.

I think that Sir Monty Finniston and his team are to be congratulated upon the immense task that they have performed in bringing this report forward to us. I should like to join most warmly with the noble Lord, Lord Baker, in complimenting Sir Monty Finniston on the excellent readability of the report. It would have been very indigestible had it not been presented in the way it was. First, I am sure that we would all agree very much with the economic analysis with which the committee opened up the subject, and I for one am delighted that in doing so they drew attention to the immense importance of our wealth-creating industries in meeting some of the economic problems which were referred to; and within that to the important part which engineers have to play in ensuring success.

I shall confine my remarks mainly to the industrial side of the problem as touched on in the report, but that does not in any way mean that I do not agree with the educational proposals; I agree with them very much —in particular the recommendation made about starting education at an early age with an adequate standard of mathematics and physics teachers in schools. There is another small, but important point; namely, the need for those who do technical subjects to be educated with an ability to communicate as well as to understand their technologies.

I was most interested in the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Baker, coming before the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, on the latter's minority report on the three-tier proposals for higher education. I hoped that he would develop his argument a little more, and I look forward to developing it perhaps on another occasion. My own thoughts were very much along the lines of those of the noble Lord, Lord Howie. Here was a proposal for a very considerable upheaval; was it really necessary? I think that that can be judged only by those who are kneedeep in the higher educational system. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, was one of those, but he shied away from the subject, though I think that he made it clear where his sympathies lay in regard to this matter. I wish to refer to another small point regarding the report itself. I do not see the point of changing the title "Chartered Engineer". We have all got used to it. We all know what C.Eng. means. Why bring in another row of titles? I hope that some means can be found of sticking to what we all now know about.

I now turn to industry's role in all this. The report emphasises the important part industry must play in the solution of this problem, and I wholly endorse that view. This is basically where the short-term problem lies. Certainly, in the long term, education and other matters come into it, but in the short term it is industry that must rectify such problems as there are.

I find myself very much in sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, in thinking about this. The report and discussion on it tends, if we are not careful, to denigrate our engineering performance, and I should like to emphasise what the noble Lord, Lord Hinton, has said to us. Many of our problems have nothing to do with technology or standards of engineering. They are due to other matters of a deeper and (shall we say?) of a more economic or management nature, rather than due to technology. In fact, I am very puzzled—and I am sure that many of your Lordships are—because if you look around British industry, you will see that there are many areas of very considerable success. The noble Lord, Lord Hinton, has touched on these.

Now, why in certain areas do we have great success, touching the heights in the world markets, the best in the world in their field—and there are a number of different ones? Yet in other fields we seem to lag behind and are not able to stand up to the competition. The reason cannot lie in the supply of engineers because they are showing what they can do in the successful area. So why is this success not happening elsewhere? I do not believe that it is all Finniston; I do not believe that it is all training and producing engineers. In saying this, I do not in any way wish to denigrate the report—it is a very important contribution to the subject, but it is not the whole problem.

Looking at the matter from an industrial point of view I think that much of the responsibility for early action rests with industry. I was most interested to hear the noble Earl, Lord Ilchester, refer to industry and to the fact that engineers are not all employed in industry; they are certainly not all employed in productive industry. They are employed in a whole variety of areas. The Services were referred to. They are also employed in the public services, in service industries, the nationalised industries, Government departments, local authorities, civil engineering and consulting engineering. Engineers are everywhere, not just in productive industry. I think that the report, perhaps due to its terms or reference—which were to review manufacturing industry—rather focused on manufacturing industry in relation to engineers. In fact, the solution to the whole problem is everywhere where engineers are employed, not just in industry. That is one of the points that I want to make.

Within industry itself what must we do? I am a firm believer in the recommendations in the report about getting closer associations between industries and schools within their own communities, and between industries and the relevant universities. I think that this is most desirable and that we must do much more of it. It must go both ways. It is something which we must develop, and it is up to those in industry to see that this is done. We have to go out, go into the schools and get in touch with the teachers and with the universities.

I should like to see many more exchanges between universities and industry—and I include polytechnics in that, too. Many of us have tried this, and I do not know why it has not worked. It is not a new idea, I might add. I think that this is terribly important, but why has it not worked? I think it has not worked because I am not sure that when it comes down to the working level either side particularly want it; it is an inconvenience, an embarrassment in some respects, and is difficult to fit into organisations and so on. But I believe that because of its importance it is up to us in industry to see that it is made to work.

Within industry itself, the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, touched upon the keystone to my mind when he said that industry must reward engineers adequately. That is the fundamental of the situation. My experience of young people is that they are fairly canny in choosing their careers. They make inquiries among their parents and their friends as to where they should best set their course. They look at the progress of this person and that person, and they ask, "Where am I going to be at the age of 30?" They have a look around, and I do not think that they think that where they are going to be at the age of 30 in the engineering professions is nearly good enough. We must look at this question in industry, in all branches of engineering employment. I am referring particularly to the high fliers, because we complain that we are not getting the high fliers into engineering. The high fliers are the ones who will look to the heights. They are the ones who will be asking, "Where will I be at age 30?" If we want the high fliers, we must show them that there is a reason why they should choose engineering. Again, I think that is a job for industry.

My Lords, we must also do more in the way of training and progressive training, career progression. This is not good yet, by any means. I think the EITB has done a first-class job and, if I may say so, I hope it will continue to do so, as part of the structure which Finniston is proposing. I would also hope that the system which was introduced whereby those firms or organisations which did not spend adequately on education had to put funds into the kitty, to pass it on to those who did, will continue under any new scheme which is introduced.

But, if I may say so, I think a key point here in training is the point which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, which is that industry has not recognised what has happened to it since the Robbins Report. We have seen the disappearance of the Higher National Certificate and the people who came up, as he said, the hard way, and I do not think any of us has really worked out the effect of that, though we are beginning to see it now. Those men played a key part in our engineering scene, and for some reason or other (I do not know why; it may be that it is a reflection on our university training) the same types are not being produced, or we in industry have not adjusted our training to cater for the new type of person who is coming into our hands. I think we have got to grasp that problem, and grasp it hard.

We talk about engineering resources. I think we have to ask ourselves: Do we use them properly? Again, I think the answer must be, No. The stock of engineers is limited; the stock of able engineers is limited; and we have got to see that we use them. The supply of technicians—and that is a matter which has been touched upon during this debate—is very important, because if you do not have an adequate supply of technicians then you find engineers doing technicians' jobs, and therefore you are not using your stock properly. Equally, I think there is unnecessary duplication, sometimes—too many competitors, you might say; too much duplication. Sometimes there is too much duplication between customer and supplier; sometimes there is too much duplication between consulting engineers and those who are supplying the equipment. That is very expensive. It is expensive in money and it is expensive in that rare commodity, engineers.

I think that free movement is a very important and desirable factor, but there can be too much free movement. Again, I think we must adjust for that; the men themselves must not lose out, of course. But it is a fact that an engineer becomes competent by living with the job, by growing with the job and by getting it into his fingers, in his feel. If he keeps on moving from one activity to another to advance his career, he loses that feel and he has to start all over again. In this respect, I must say one thing on behalf of manufacturing industry. They get a bit tired of the service industries, and particularly, if I may say so, the nationalised industries, who are continually topping their pay scales in order to attract men out of productive engineering. As a result, we lose the experienced fellows to a job in which they are not experienced, I think to the detriment of the whole.

Finally, there is one point to which I would draw your Lordships' attention. Again, I do not think this is fully understood; and it is the important role, in the context we are talking about, of the monopoly buyer. The monopoly buyer is a very important force in this country. A great deal of the engineering effort of the country is dictated, in fact, by the monopoly buyer. Therefore, he has a tremendous responsibility on his shoulders. He has the responsibility of directing the vast engineering teams of a whole range of supplying industries. What is more, and what is vitally important, he is determining what products those industries are going to have to supply to the rest of the world. My Lords, the rest of the world does not buy unproven equipment: it buys equipment which is proven in the home market. If the equipment which is proven in the home market is unsuitable to their requirements, they do not buy it—and you can only afford to do the development once. I think the power or the importance of the monopoly buyer is not yet, even today, fully realised, after 25 or 30 years of living with a monopoly buyer; and I think we must look at that, particularly in the context of using our engineering resources to their best effect in the national interest.

So much for the role of industry in this very important subject—and I think this is very much the key. But there is finally the question of the organisation of the profession, and I should like to touch on that. It is a very important recommendation by the Finniston Committee. I think it is important that there should be a register which is recognised by employers and by the profession itself, and which commands the necessary respect. The report started by expressing doubt, and I will quote it to your Lordships. It expresses doubt as to whether the existing system is constituted in a manner which can adequately achieve the critical objectives". This is referring to registration. A little further on it comes to a firm conclusion, because it firmly concludes that a register based on the existing machinery cannot achieve this ". So they have gone into this pretty closely. I think the profession itself, or many in the profession—in fact, I know—will say that it can be achieved through self-regulation, through the existing system and an adaptation of it. Fine—let them prove that it can. If so, well and good. But that does not seem to have been the case up to now.

Then the Committee goes on to outline a further role for the authority—that of approval of courses, and promoting and overseeing the advancement of the engineering dimension. Is that not a good term, by the way? I think the term "engineering dimension" is first-class; it covers the whole multitude of things that we are talking about. I think it is vitally important that this role is carried out equally effectively, and I think that this is really where the statutory authority needs to come in. Such a body must be able to go for the Ministry of Education and get something done about teachers and schools, and so on. It must be able to go to the universities and speak to the vice-chancellors with authority, and similarly in other quarters. Therefore, I am very much of the opinion that this authority is the right way to go about it; and, if so, then I think it should take aboard the registration role as well.

One has a certain amount of reservation about this. It will be debated, I am sure, ad nauseam; but I think my noble friend Lord Bessborough brought this very much to my notice when he said, "This has all been said before". He referred to his own study on the subject, and others have referred to the fact that it has been said before. Therefore, what must come out of this is not just another report which goes on the shelf, but something which is going to lead to action—and I think the authority is probably what is required in order to see that there is action. In this respect, if this whole debate is not going to be lost in a flood of rhetoric—and there is a devil of a lot of rhetoric on the subject, I can assure your Lordships, in all areas of the engineering world at the moment—it has got to be done pretty quickly; otherwise, it will all disappear in a fog. My own view is that I would go for the authority. I would get it set up, and I would let it deal with a lot of the detail which is amassed in this report. I do not know how quickly it can be set up, and I hope that perhaps the Government can tell us. These things take a long time, sometimes. One thinks something is going to happen quickly, and it does not always; but I would support the authority idea if it can be established quickly.

Finally, I should like to make one point about the steering committee suggested by Lord Gregson. I was going to make another suggestion, but my suggestion and his are not very far apart. I was going to suggest that the Government, in considering the welter of advice that they will get on this subject (and I am sure there will be a welter of advice; just as much as the committee itself has had, and probably a bit more) might be well advised to have a small group to help them, which I was going to call an advisory group. I should like to suggest that they consider calling on the Fellowship of Engineering, which represents the leading engineers of this country from all disciplines, to provide such a small group or cross-section of engineers to be available to advise them on the great deal of advice which they will get from many quarters, and to help them to arrive at the right decision.

6.30 p.m.


My Lords, may I join with others who have expressed appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, for having given us the opportunity to debate this interesting and important report, and may I join with those who have congratulated the two maiden speakers. I owe your Lordships an apology immediately for intervening in a debate when I have no specialist knowledge whatsoever in regard to engineering or the engineering industry, interesting though I find it. I can best earn your Lordships' forgiveness by delivering possibly the shortest speech on record. The professions are very anxious about one aspect of this report, and it will not require a lot of your Lordships' imagination to know which one it is. It is the recommendation that sets up a statutory authority and, having set it up, disposes of the professional body or bodies who at the moment regulate most of the affairs of the engineering profession, including those which deal now with professional ethics and professional discipline.

The suggestion made in the report which has not yet been detailed in this debate —and therefore I will be forgiven if I draw your Lordships' attention to what is involved—is set out on page 155, at paragraph 6.19, of the report and says that the leader and members of this suggested statutory authority will constitute an executive board of the authority. The suggestion is that it be of some 15 to 20 members and that, initially, these should all be appointed under statute by the Secretary of State for Industry. There is then a requirement in regard to consultation; there is a reference to the fact that the condition should be that a majority of the members should be qualified engineer and that at least three should be non-engineers; and that after the authority has been established for a while (and I am paraphrasing paragraph 6.20), and is deemed to be sufficiently representative of the profession, consideration should be given for a system of elections whereby a proportion—and I emphasise the word "proportion"—of the members of the authority should be elected from the register by registered engineers.

I have said that I am not competent to talk as an expert in regard to the engineering profession. Indeed, in the report the committee seeks to differentiate in some way the engineering profession from other professions by saying that it was clear from the evidence that they collected and from their survey results that the professional status of engineers is not generally acknowledged in this country by the public and by employers to the extent that it is for doctors and lawyers. That may be so; and it may be a question of exception being made for the treatment of engineers. It is not for me, as I have said, with my lack of specialised knowledge to contribute usefully to a debate on that matter. I only want to tell your Lordships that I speak in the interest of my own profession and at the wish of the Law Society. I have it on the best authority that the views I express are those views which the Bar Council would, in much more eloquent and erudite language, want to express and I am also associated in my views by members of other professions.

It is part of the vital professional fabric of this country that the professions are regulated by their members who look after their ethical code and their discipline; and that they have their independence. This is the first time that I can remember—although others more experienced than I am may tell me that I am wrong—that one is seriously considering taking one of the professions and regulating its discipline and its affairs by nominees of a Minister of the Government. This is an extremely serious step and a very serious precedent. I humbly agree with those of your Lordships who have talked in terms of caution being exercised in regard to consideration—certainly, I hope of this aspect of the report—before one plunges into a very dangerous move indeed.

It would be, in my judgment, a sorry day for this country and for the learned professions if this precedent were ever to be followed in the future and that we were discussing in this House or elsewhere the management of those professions by ministerially-appointed nominees, be they members of that profession or not. I shudder to think of a Minister of Justice appointing those who would, in fact, be in charge of my profession and I would hesitate also with the utmost anxiety before I saw a Minister of Health appoint those who would be in charge of the medical profession in regard to their ethics and the conduct of their affairs. My Lords, I undertook that my speech would be short. I hope that its shortness will not make it any less effective in regard to the point I am trying to make.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him if he will give an absolute assurance that if this analogy would not apply to the legal profession, would he still have made something like the speech he made? And does not the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor appoint the judges?


My Lords, if I merely had to deal with an intervention of that kind by dealing with the parallel of the Lord Chancellor appointing the judges I should not have to detain your Lordships for very long. My profession, I am proud to say, is not regulated by any Minister. The fact that, quite obviously, our judges, who are completely independdent, are appointed by the Lord Chancellor (as I understand it, on the recommendations of the Bar Council with whom he usually confers) and matters of that kind have nothing to do with the regulation of my profession. The legal profession is not regulated by the judges. We are independent of them, as they are of us.


My Lords, will the noble Lord answer the first part of my question?


My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will repeat it.


My Lords, were he given an absolute guarantee that this analogy would not apply to lawyers, would he still have made his remarks relating not to his own profession but generally about professions.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for repeating his question. I had not understood it at first. Certainly I would have made this speech. If I had got the guarantee that my own profession was safe, I would have made it on behalf of other professions who, with honour in this country, have managed to look after their own affairs—and to look after their independence, too, which in my view is one of the most valuable assets they have.

6.40 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my voice to those of other noble Lords who have thanked the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, for initiating this debate so quickly and who have complimented Sir Monty Finniston and his committee. Unlike a number of reports produced in recent decades, Sir Monty's comes at a time when one feels instinctively that it must be acted upon. The industrial state of the nation demands it. The engineering institutions have been struggling with professional standards long enough, and the education sector is posed for change. We need effective leadership; and Sir Monty has proposed an Engineering Authority to provide it. I hope he gets his way. Before I go on, however, I must add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, and to the noble Earl, Lord Ilchester, for putting their great experience of engineering and industry to the service of the House for the first time, and with such grace and force.

I am not an engineer, my Lords, although I am grateful to be an honorary one. My desire to speak in the debate derives from the fact that as head of one of our largest university institutions of science and technology I am privileged to have among my staff some fine engineers. Many of them have spent long periods in industry or as consultant engineers. For several years they, together with their students, have been experimenting with new engineering courses which approximate to what is now being recommended for the master of engineering degree. It has taken them out into industry, and it has brought industry into the determination of our academic affairs as never before, to our mutual benefit.

It is on the basis then of my experience at Imperial College that I dare to speak about the engineering profession. The first thing I would say is that an authority, broadly representative of the profession but free from loyalties to individual engineering institutions, can express much clearer views to industry, education and Government that the Council of Engineering Institutions has done. The essence of a profession is that it should be self-governing. The CEI has struggled valiantly to provide self-government, but it is essentially, it seems to me, a confederation. Confederations are often too divided to provide strong guidance. We need a federal body, and this is how I see the major recommendation. The main direction of the committee's investigations and the emphasis of its conclusions are focused, as other noble Lords have said, on maufacturing industry. However, engineering activities and the engineering profession itself are much broader than this, as the noble Earl, Lord Ilchester, in particular has already emphasised.

The report shows that fewer than 40 per cent. of graduate engineers are employed in manufacturing industry, and many of the professional bodies are only indirectly concerned with manufacturing. Civil engineers, mining and metallurgical enginers, structural engineers and municipal engineers, together with a large proportion of other branches of the profession, fall well outside the ambit of manufacturing industry As the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, has said, they each have their distinct characteristics, as do the industries that they serve. Even in the central disciplines of mechanical and electrical engineering a substantial proportion of engineers are concerned with installation, operation and maintenance, and not with manufacture.

The committee, of course, was well aware of this, and in his personal preference the chairman says: We hope that all engineers and all employers of engineers will read this report. It is relevant and applicable in the context of national economic needs across all areas of engineering activity ". That is a passage has already been quoted. In one sense this is the most important paragraph in the report because the engineering profession, despite its internal differences and disagreements, has a coherence and natural unity which make it quite unrealistic to assume that changes in its fundamental structure could be effected piecemeal. The task of implementing the report is therefore much greater than may be appreciated by those who think of it purely in terms of manufacturing industry. I doubt whether it can be done without an authority having some kind of statutory power—a federal authority, as I venture to describe it.

At the same time, I am anxious that there seems to be in inconsistency in Chapter VI which deals with the nature of the Engineering Authority. In paragraph 6.17 it says that the authority must have the independence and authority necessary for it to command national and international respect and to overrule vested interests where these contradict the national interest ". In paragrah 6.28 it says that Government ought not to be able to issue strategic directions to the authority ". Who is to be the judge of the national interest, especially when it differs from that of the engineering profession? I doubt whether any Government will delegate to an independent authority their right to judge the national interest. One cannot have it both ways, and I sympathise with the misgivings of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon.

However, I now turn to my proper "last", which is the educational sector. Education begins in the schools, and I heartily agree with the committee's recommendations 33 to 36. It is especially necessary that all school children should have a sound grounding in mathematics. Many syllabi nowadays teach the power and the beauty of mathematics, and this is a good thing. It is part of our culture. Too many syllabi, unfortunately, leave our young people unable to perform practical calculations and unable to appreciate physical magnitude. I well remember two students of mine fresh from school, one of whom stated with confidence that the earth was 3,000 miles from the sun and the other that the diameter of an atom was 109,737 centimetres!

We all look forward to the outcome of the Cockcroft committee of inquiry into the teaching of mathematics in the schools. It is in the schools too that young women must be attracted into engineering—a matter on which the report places great emphasis and to which especially the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, has drawn attention. From Imperial College I can offer the encouragement that in terms of first-class degrees and graduation prizes our women students do twice as well as the men. The only thing stopping them is prejudice, in the home and in the schools, based upon ignorance of what modern engineering actually entails. The links proposed in paragraph 4.9 between industry and the schools will be very important here.

The report draws attention in paragraph 3.29 to the shortage of technicians but leaves it to others to deal with it. I agree with other noble Lords that this is a pity. The educational system has failed the nation in the training of technicians because so many of the institutions that used to produce them were allowed to ape the universities instead. This is much more serious than many of the matters considered by the committee. I hope that the Engineering Authority will give immediate attention to filling the "technician gap".

Coming now to the proposed degree courses, I rather welcome the fact that the committee did not attempt to lay down—or perhaps failed to lay down—precise syllabi. Nor should the Engineering Authority, although it should certainly provide guidance, particularly on objectives and standards. A university course, to be any good at all, has to be a living thing. It has to evolve with time. It has to reflect the attitudes and personalities of its teachers. It is far better that a teacher has fire in his belly and that he speaks with conviction than that he conforms to a set syllabus. But the tenor of the report is clear enough. The courses proposed reflect the needs of industry more accurately then most of those now available. The B.Eng. stream will offer a supply of practically orientated engineers to fill the gap left by the disappearance of the pre-Robbins part-timers. The M.Eng. stream will cater for those who show leadership potential as well as academic brilliance at an early stage. Both combine engineering and training into what the committee call "formation", and this is good. It is what we are doing in several universities at present, including my own.

As the noble Lord, Lord Baker, has said, it will not be easy to design the new courses nor to run them in many existing academic departments. Probably most academics do not have the personal appreciation of "the engineering dimension" to be able to offer such courses with conviction. An analogy is often drawn with medicine. Just as medical schools do not presume to educate their students without extensive help from practising doctors and surgeons, so engineering schools should require a significant injection of practising engineers.

But teaching is a profession too. It is not everyone who has the skill and the will to undertake it. Not long ago one of the foremost engineers in this country, the head of a great industrial firm and a former professor, told me how, as a student in Cambridge, he had been inspired by sitting at the feet of Rutherford. I asked him whether he would occasionally let our students sit at his feet, and he hastily withdrew. I hope that the engineering authority will contain great men like him, but I also hope they will occasionally let our students sit at their feet. Second-rate engineers—people for whom industry no longer has a useful role—will be worse than useless as teachers; and perhaps that is the answer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Nelson of Stafford, about the difficulty of exchanging engineers between education and industry. The authority itself must give the lead.

The success of the degree proposals will depend on industry confirming the different roles envisaged for the B.Eng. and M.Eng. streams and the correctness of the 3–1 ratio between them. If confirmed, we shall then face the problem of producing and maintaining courses for the two streams in the right ratio. The report does not provide a convincing picture of how this can be done. It is obvious that academics will aspire to offer the M.Eng. stream. B.Eng. courses will not be forthcoming for the majority of students unless the message that they are the ones most needed is insisted upon by the Department of Education and Science, the University Grants Committee and those responsible for the polytechnics, guided of course by the views of the Engineering Authority.

I believe that the number of institutions offering the M.Eng. degree should be severely restricted to at most 8 or 10, and those institutions should concentrate their efforts on this kind of course. My reasons are two-fold, and are from experience. First, it is very expensive to run alternative courses in parallel. Secondly, the degree of industrial involvement necessary for the M.Eng. course is very great. The experimental 4-year courses that we offer at Imperial College in chemical, electrical and mechanical engineering involve the closest participation of over 40 major industrial firms. They take part in the selection of the students, in the planning and monitoring of the syllabus and in the provision, supervision and assessment of project work. To spread such courses thinly over— 48 universities and university college, 28 polytechnics and 12 other institutions would simply be counter-productive, as the report rightly implies. I predict that there will be great difficulty in choosing the institutions allowed to offer the M.Eng. degree. Nevertheless, the choice must be made, however harsh.


My Lords, may I intervene? Would the noble Lord not agree, on this very important point on selecting institutions which would be able to offer the M.Eng. course, that it places a further barrier in the path of the professional engineer in that selection will be at the age of 18, when he comes into the university, rather than at 19, after the first year? In practice, any young man who goes to an institution which has not been chosen to offer the M.Eng. course could not switch at the age of 19 if he finds he has the aptitude to do so.


My Lords, that is always the difficulty in higher education. The Finniston Report recommends that there should be some possibility of transfer between courses. I think there ought to be some possibility of transfer between institutions also, to meet this point. These chosen institutions, it seems to me, should also play a major part in the continuing education of top-flight engineers, through short courses and collaborative research.

The committee's main suggestion regarding research is the creating of an engineering design and development council. This seems to me to be a significant reversal of the Rothschild principle, because it implies that priorities for applied research and development would be determined by "technology push" rather than demand pull ". The council would stand between the "customer" and the "contractor", in Rothschild language. I think it is an unnecessary piece of bureaucracy.

The report in fact does not have a great deal to say about research. As two of my colleagues, Professor Swanson and Professor Sayers, have written: The proposals for engineering education rightly stress the importance of young engineers knowing about present manufacturing techniques and their organisational implications; but it would be easy to put the proposals into effect so as to turn out people competent in today's technology but inadequately equipped to invest tomorrow's. Indeed, the Committee's proper insistence on the importance of engineering teaching and research being closely related to the practical problems seems to have led it to forget about the more fundamental research programme of many engineering departments in universities which underly the more directly applied research of the future ". New developments in engineering, as in other activities, do not simply happen: they grow from a complex assembly of fundamental researchers, application scientists and engineering experimentalists, interacting so as to provide a corpus of ideas and knowledge which is the source of progress. The educational system must produce these people and it must propagate the new understanding they contribute. This means specialist work at the highest level, and it is not provided for merely by an M.Eng. course which is— heavily oriented throughout towards design, synthesis and engineering applications ". The committee, it seems to me, have let their enthusiasm run away with them here, even to displaying an aversion to fundamental research and a disregard for science which will certainly contribute no cure for the ills of engineering. Other countries, our competitor countries, know that scholarship begets progress and that the universities are the fountainhead of scholarship. We cannot afford to deny that knowledge to ourselves. This should be understood by all engineers, but the top-flight M.Eng. stream, at least, must be one in which scholarship is prized as well as practicality, and is unmistakably seen to be prized.

6.57 p.m.


My Lords, before I say my few words, may I add to what has already been said by other noble Lords and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, and the noble Earl, Lord Ilchester, for the superb maiden speeches they have made this afternoon. May I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, for giving us the opportunity to discuss what is a vital matter at this particular time.

Much has already been said for, and some against, the Finniston Report. I hope that my comments will avoid, so far as possible, covering ground which has already been covered very adequately, but as a civil engineer who has spent nearly 50 years in the profession and in the industry I am a little disturbed that much of the evidence given to the Finniston Committee by the Committee of the Institutions of Civil Engineers and Structural Engineers, particularly in relation to the education and training standards which have been achieved by these institutions in respect of engineering practice in the construction industry, appears to have been omitted from the report. I feel that what has been done in that particular field was of great importance and, in some respects, it was the beginning, almost implementing some of the recommendations in the report.

I do not for one moment wish anyone to assume from what I am going to say that I do not consider the Finniston Report to be a most important document, looking as it does at some of the root causes as to why Britain's manufacturing performance has fallen behind that of her international competitors. Few would in fact question the assumption that in proving the engineering excellence embodied in the products offered by British companies and in their manufacture is a task demanding national priorities, and is one of immediate importance to us.

Page 3 of the Finniston Report states that: Since a modern industrial society of this sort is, in essence, an engineering society, prosperity depends on engineering excellence in its broadest sense, including design, marketing and servicing. British industry's response to the growing challenge from its overseas competitors through the last century has been manifestly inadequate and Britain has been outpaced in many areas where once it led the world ". As an engineer, I am a little concerned that this form of comment might imply that the reason why British industry has lagged behind its competitors is the fault of the engineers. Of all the countries the one that has, I feel, to some extent disregarded the engineering qualifications and the value of an engineer's contribution as an acceptable qualification for senior appointments in industry, whether they be technical or not, is this country. For years, Continental countries, particularly France, have given considerable encouragement to their engineers to seek senior executive positions in all walks of industry, and it is something that I should very much like to see here.

Whenever I am asked what my profession is, I say with some pride that I am an engineer. But when you look at the person—and it does not happen often—you can almost see his mind ticking over. He looks at your hands and is somewhat surprised that they are not covered in grease and a little dirty. That is very much one of our problems. People in this country do not look upon engineers as other than those who go around in dungarees and attend to machines.

This country has been behind many other countries in recognising the qualifications and training which fit an engineer for senior executive positions. Therefore, it is most encouraging to find that the report states that our future prosperity depends upon engineering excellence in its broadest sense. But engineering excellence is, to a very great extent, already here. We have it. We have had it for a very long time. The trouble is that it has not been properly used and for that you cannot blame the engineers or the engineering institutions. It is, I am afraid, very much an attitude of mind in this country and I welcome the report's reference to this fact.

Again, quoting from the report, it states, … that it is not enough for engineers to be on hand as tame technocrats. They must be integrated into the company's effort at all levels of authority and decision-making in these activities ". With this, I wholeheartedly agree, but, with all respect, to achieve this I cannot see that we need another Government department. The report goes on to say that insufficient use has been made of engineering talents available in the country. Your Lordships will hardly be surprised if I tell you that engineers have been saying that for a very long time, but, again, you do not need a completely new Government department, with all that it would cost, to implement that proposal.

I agree with the report when it states that, engineers in general need a wider perception of their role in business enterprise. Too many seem satisfied to remain in a technical role ". I have met few engineers who would agree with that statement. The majority consider that they should have more say in the running of the business that they are in, or in business generally. In any profession, whether it be engineering or any other, you will always have to face the fact that there will be a number who do not want to get involved in the rough and tumble of management. They are very happy to sit at their drawing board and to design. I was never capable of doing that, so I went into management. Nevertheless, you have to produce engineers for two specific roles. There will be those, we hope, who take a much greater and much more active part in the management of business in the future, but we also have to provide those who can produce and design new ideas and see them through to fruition.

Leaving the general for a moment, and turning to the particular, what fills me with some alarm is the statement that the new authority will be the champion of change in engineering dimensions. The authority will deal with the education, qualifications and registration of engineers and will have an important role to play in influencing the policies to be pursued. That sounds remarkably like a takeover bid for all the professional institutions. I am sure that it is not intended and I doubt very much whether it would succeed even if it were.

I hope that I have not appeared to criticise the report too much. May I say that I entirely agree with one particular aspect; that is, the recommendation that if the authority is established it will play a key part in correcting the historic neglect in Britain of the engineering dimension and in creating a climate in which it can thrive. But as was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, in his very excellent speech, can this not best be achieved by possibly establishing a steering committee? I do not believe that a major revolutionary change of this nature should be made without having such a committee sitting and, at least, having an opportunity to study the snags and to make final recommendations.

It is extremely important that the existing professional institutions in this country are fully consulted. The engineering profession has never really received the assistance, support and recognition which are given to it in other countries. I read a letter from the Department of Industry addressed to one of the well-known engineering institutions. One of the paragraphs stated that the Secretary of State for Industry had already made it clear that the Government were anxious to respond quickly and constructively to this report. I was about to say that that might be a change, but on this occassion, for once, I beg the Government to take this a little slowly. One can make haste and achieve very little. I was very glad to hear the words of the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, who also referred to the question of the steering committee.

There is in this country an excellent engineering profession. There is an excellent engineering industry, as a whole. You must be careful not to take it up by the roots. To establish a statutory register of qualified engineers is also something which causes me a little concern. It appears to me to be unnecessary for the new body to do this. We already have a register of engineers in all the professional institutions. The report also mentions that one of the objects would be to have control over engineering practice. Again, this is taken care of at the moment through the professional institutions.

There is much in the report which could be, and I hope will be, of great service to the engineering profession as a whole. We have professional institutions covering every field of engineering and long established examination structures. I accept that perhaps there is a proliferation of these institutions, but there are many forms of engineering. All these institutions are well organised and well run for the benefit of the members of the institution, the general public and the country as a whole. The work that has been undertaken by their members all over the world, for the benefit of this country, stands as a record of their achievement.

Is it proposed that all these institutions, and their examination structures, will come under the review and control of the new body which is suggested? If so, before any good comes out of it a period of uncertainty will exist. If it is felt that all these various institutions should have a co-ordinating body, I would not disagree; but I would say that we have in existence —it may not be in its perfect form, but it is there and it is a foundation upon which to build—the Council of Engineering Institutions. Secondly, young though it may be, there is the newly formed Fellowship of Engineering.

It is good engineering practice to be sure of your foundation before you build a structure. Even though these two bodies to which I have referred are not old in time, they are very old in experience. They are set up on a firm base. I feel that they should be consulted and that they might well be the vehicle by which these proposals could be established.

This is a very big step to take. The institutions, the engineering profession and the engineering industry in this country earn a very considerable sum of money overseas for this country. Their reputation is probably second to none. Whatever rules are made as a result of the Finniston Report, I do earnestly suggest that we should avoid in any way disturbing or disrupting the existing organisation. Nevertheless, I agree entirely with the recommendation that it is very necessary indeed that the status and standing of the engineer individually and the engineering profession should be raised to a level in this country which it is fortunate enough to have in many other countries of the world.

7.14 p.m.


My Lords, as a Cross-Bencher I have been fortunate in hearing a talk given to us by Sir Montague Finniston himself. Everything said in the report on the present state of affairs would, I think, be agreed by most people. The report is one of many, stretching back nearly to the beginning of this century. They all analysed our defects in much the same way but few of their recommendations were ever implemented. As an inventive nation we still hold our own, but in developing new ideas and in marketing them we fail. The development of new ideas is, of course, the responsibility of engineers but the right climate for their work is essential. Radar is a classic instance. It had to go to America to produce a usable product. Admittedly, this was in the war, but nevertheless it is typical of our later performance.

What worries me about the report is that many of the recommendations, however good in theory, are never likely, in my view, to be adopted, and the time-scale to reap their benefits is far, far too long. I simply cannot imagine any Government setting up a completely new and powerful engineering control body in the teeth of opposition from the major engineering institutions and other similar but smaller bodies The Government have more pressing battles to fight. I am afraid that the best should not be the enemy of the practical good. We must build on what is there, by perhaps giving greater power to the major institutions. Direct consultation with the numerous smaller institutes may be democratic but takes too long and is apt to lead nowhere. Affiliation with the major institutes could be a practical solution.

As to university education, the ivory tower which I bitterly attacked some years ago still exists, but much has changed. I hope that the attitude that, because they were universities, whatever they taught and however badly they taught it was self-justifying, is no more. It is important that universities realise that they, and they alone, should not be the sole arbiters of what should be taught in disciplines that have a direct bearing on the requirements of their students when they leave university.

I am afraid that criticism can be levelled at industry. Their view—that they prefer to train recruits direct from school rather than from universities—is suspect. In the first place, they often tend to provide no useful training at all, and in the second they condition the younger men to accept what should not be accepted. "Does his face fit?" sometimes means, "Does he upset the managers who should long ago have been demoted or retired?"

Finally, and in conclusion, I think that in this emergency—and it is one—we should try to persuade the able mandarins of the Civil Service to forsake their files and normal methods of consultation. They should take positive action on this report, or some items of it, on the basis of informal consultation alone. It may be necessary, perhaps, to have a Green Paper. However, to consult on this report overall, will, I am sure, once more lead to no action whatsoever. Correspondingly, the institutions, who are informally consulted at times, must be able to give their advice without necessarily the delay which occurs when everything has to be referred to their councils—meeting, in some cases, at three monthly intervals. I believe most strongly that effective action to improve the present situation is needed, and that the Finniston Report can provide a basis for taking now some effective action.

7.19 p.m.


My Lords, I start this evening from a viewpoint rather different from the one I had earlier this afternoon, because it seems to me that running through our debate is the theme of urgency—not only urgency in so far as the overall problem is concerned but urgency to deal, one way or the other, with the Finniston Report. I find it quite extraordinary that the Department of Industry can really expect the institutions to respond to the report published just a few weeks ago by 1st April.

The report is essentially in two parts, one dealing with the organisation and one dealing with the training, and yet we have the Department of Education and Science having set up a working party some many months ago to organise a conference which is to take place in October of this year on engineering education and training. How can a proper judgment of Finniston in terms of the education and training of engineers be taken when the institutions will not have made their considerations nor submissions until probably a time when that conference has taken place? I am tempted to suspect that a decision has already been taken. Perhaps that is an unworthy suspicion and I hope my noble friend Lord Trenchard, when he replies, will disabuse me of that.

The suggestion throughout the report is that the engineer's role is not fully appreciated. Being one of the lower orders of engineers I can fully appreciate that, but I suggest that that is not because the engineers are not good enough. It is because industry, particularly in the postwar years, has not deemed the engineer to be as valuable in the organisation as the manager with the financial and economic background and disciplines. Consequently, the engineer has been removed from any great managerial role and put into that described in the report as "the technocrat"—almost, as the noble Lord, Lord Mais, described, the man in the overalls with dirt under his fingernails.

I think that is really the trouble, because there is no doubt that there are institutions which have grasped the nettle of opportunity for their members quite firmly and have changed their practices, their structure, and indeed the method by which their entrants will qualify for the higher orders within the institutions. I think particularly of Mr. Breedon's efforts on behalf of the Institute of the Motor Industry and of a committee set up by the late Lord Rootes to examine that particular industry's lack of professional managers—and engineers were part of it. It was a matter of minor impact in the great national affairs of engineering, but in that particular industry fairly traumatic; and it took six years to design the new training scheme which was basically a formation scheme, as Finniston suggests, one of progression through the career. It meant a total change in the method of admission to the institute. It was so reasonably successful, as it started a year or 18 months ago, that the employers are taking note of it and many advertisements featuring vacancies in that industry particularly invite institute members to apply. As the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, said, perhaps the answer is to pay them more. Certainly the IMI are encouraging the employers; if they employ corporate members and graduates of the institute they deserve more and it is for the industry to pay more.

There is in the summary a nasty, spiteful little piece which I think is a quotation from the Prince. I am going to say that it is really quite wrong to suggest that those who have done well under an old order would be the enemies of a change. I think that is absolute nonsense. Those who have done well under an old order may well see how much better they might have done had the order been changed. I do not believe that those who are currently resisting some of the recommendations in the Finniston Report are necessarily enemies of change.


My Lords, which is the quotation? And did the noble Lord say "the Prince"? Is he referring to Machiavelli?


My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has correctly identified the quotation.


My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord can give me the reference.


It is there, my Lords.


I am sure it is, but I just wanted to look at it.


It is on page 6, the second paragraph. The actual quotation is on page 6 of the summary.


Oh, the summary.


I did say that it was in the summary.


My Lords, that is why I was asking the noble Lord to help me. The big version is blank—I do not have the summary.


My Lords, turning to the new degree structure, and having already introduced that by virtue of speaking about the conference in October, I find at this stage that my thinking runs that creating a new, as it were, elitist degree could seriously put in imbalance those awards in other disciplines. I should think that the argument as between degree awards as a result of purpose training and purely for scholarship—the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, in his very interesting maiden speech—might be destroyed. It seems to me here that this sets another hare running, whereas the degree award system as between one discipline and another might well be complementary, and I find myself more in agreement with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, on this point.

Certainly when he was speaking about the differential between the chartered engineer and the technician engineer (I happen to be one of the latter) I could fully appreciate that. This differential between one group of people and another —or this lack of differentiation which has happened since the end of the war, I believe is one of the root problems of our industrial failure. We have not encouraged excellence and the differentials have become smaller and smaller.

It is late, but perhaps I may turn to the other main point, the organisation. I can see no justification whatsoever for a new engineering authority. I am tempted to quote from Romeo and JulietA rose by any other name ", because I cannot see it performing any different function from that which a revised council of engineering institutions could perform. One noble Lord earlier this afternoon described it moderately as a "Quango". I would have suggested that it was going to become one of the super-Quangoes. I cannot see that there is any justification whatsoever for the Government to be invited to put 10 million per annum, including pump priming, into an organisation which has, in the generality of everything, a very narrow meaning. Their role is to put such money into education and training overall. Governments' role in these matters, I believe, is very much wider. It is their responsibility to make policies that provide, and encourage industry to take advantage of, those opportunities which are available to it. It is, I believe, industry's own responsibility to fund any organisation which is going to bring industry a direct reward by virtue of having better qualified and more people. I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, will be able to tell us something of the Government's views with regard to that kind of responsibility.

So far as I remember, having listened to most of the speeches, it was my noble friend Lord Bessborough who in fact made perhaps the only plea for a re-examination of the Council of Engineering Industries. There is a lot of criticism—it may be implied, but it is there all the same—in the Finniston Report of the CEI. Certainly it has not done well, but I think before the CEI is totally condemned one wants to examine why it has not done well. I think one of the reasons is probably the reluctance of individual institutions to give up their sovereignty to another power. I invite your Lordships to wonder whether those same institutions are likely to give up any sovereignty to an even larger super-power, the new Engineering Authority.

The inconsistency I found within this context was that the report advocates the wider use of the NEDC and the Fellowship of Engineering. Indeed, it says we should build on these two organisations. Why, then, not build on the CEI? It seems to me that it is far better to go with the devil you know than the one you do not know. It is rather better to make something of what we already have than to tear it down and start again, with no certain guarantee of success and with all the dangers implicit in the delay this will entail. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Mais, who made this point.

Within that authority's range of responsibility is the registration of engineers. Many noble Lords have spoken about this. There can only be one thing wrong with individual institutions registering their engineers, and that is that registration following membership: there might well be some way of the institutions amalgamating so that there were fewer of them embracing more potential engineers and making a registration. Individual branches of engineering do demand separate requirements, and I believe it is better for the institutions of each branch of engineering to determine what those requirements are rather than a massive central bureaucratic organisation.

My Lords, obviously I am not terribly enthusiastic about the new authority, but whether Finniston's solutions are right or not they focus attention on it. Out of the kind of conversations that are going to take place—not only in the next few weeks; I do urge the Government to allow these debates and conversations to take place over some months—solutions may well be found, and the country and the manufacturing and engineering industries may well find themselves even more indebted to Sir Monty Finniston and his committee.

7.34 p.m.


My Lords, I am no engineer, and I will not at this hour spend any time on the detailed proposals, educational or otherwise, in the report. I should like only to emphasise two messages which I think are implicit in it. The first is that as a nation we are ultimately dependent upon our engineers for our prosperity. The second, which is in my view just as important, is that as a nation we have consistently undervalued our engineers. We have accorded to them, as noble Lords have said, the status of only second-class citizens. This cannot be corrected by improving the education of our engineers or by a reorganisation of the structure of the profession. It can only be corrected by educating the public. It is, moreover, a task that in England is a formidably difficult one because of the backdrop of history.

In England, to be in trade has always been definitely non-U. Most of the professions have been definitely U, but engineering because of its association with trade has never been so regarded. Many will claim that this is a changing situation, but I do not believe that. We even make jokes about it. All chief engineers in ships are Scotsmen. It is because educated Englishmen would not get oil on their hands? The attitudes of middle class parents and of school teachers are, of course, very important forces in moulding the careers of the brightest of our young people. All too often these attitudes enbrace four things. First of all, that a degree in humanities is the only really liberal education; secondly, that if you must study science let it be pure research or let it be medicine, never let it be technology.

A recent report in The Times indicated that of our very brightest young people, those with the best results in A-levels, the largest number applied for veterinary medicine and medicine itself, not for engineering. The third aspect of this attitude is, avoid a career in industry at all costs, for there is nothing noble or edifying about the profit motive, which in industry is all-powerful; profit becomes almost a dirty word. Fourthly, in any case, industry does not offer a safe career, there is a risk about it. You can have security in other jobs, like education or the Civil Service. The ultimate nonsense about security is that at about the age of 23 or 24 in a university you can achieve tenure till the age of 65, and you cannot be got rid of in some universities unless you indulge in gross and continuous moral turpitude.

It seems to me that these attitudes have to be got rid of, and the only way of getting rid of them is by training teachers; and I do not think we should waste time about it. It is not only that school teachers must teach mathematics and technology to children so that they can become engineers; they have also got to teach them to be enthusiastic about industry and to look forward to careers in industry. Without that we cannot hope to attract the brightest young people into engineering. My Lords I do not think there is much time. I think we need an emergency programme, not just the long-term programme which has been the subject of most of this debate. I think that emergency demands that we update the existing engineers that we have, and we should also update our existing school teachers to do the things I have been describing. We might then hope to improve the situation in the short term. I think, too, that we must use every method that the Finniston Report suggests.

But perhaps I may be forgiven if I end with a plug for one particular method; namely, the use of the mass media for distance learning. By using the mass media for communication it is possible to reach both engineers and school teachers while they still remain in full-time employment, thereby keeping scarce manpower in full employment. This is seen as a major hurdle in the Finniston Report, the hurdle of releasing people to go back for continuing education. Such methods also maximise the use of skilled but very scarce teachers in new engineering principles. They are also cheap, and they make a maximum impact because of the immediacy and drama of television as a pedagogic signal. Even at this difficult time, I hope that the Government will act quickly on at least this one of the recommendations of the Finniston Report.

7.41 p.m.


My Lords, the hour is indeed very late. Some time ago I went to China and when I was there a Chinese sage said to me, with great feeling, that in his experience the brain could continue to absorb only for as long as the seat can endure. With that as a background, I shall be very brief indeed. This has been an extremely informative, most helpful and useful debate. The report itself is a very great State document and—although it is slightly unusual to say this—I believe that the author is within earshot, and it is therefore appropriate that I should mention the fact in the hope that he will overhear it. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, for introducing the subject to us and add my congratulations to our two maiden speakers. The noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, was once a member of my council and I made him negotiate with the trade unions. He gave them the worst time that any man ever gave trade unions in history because all the tricks they knew he had taught them, for he had learned the counters and they had not.

However, it is difficult to know what I can add to this already very useful, informative and helpful debate. But there are one or two points that I must make. First, people are used to not going into industry, and we wonder why. At the moment very little manufacturing industry in this country is paying more than about 2 per cent. or at the most 3 per cent. on its invested capital. Why should anyone ever want to go into an organisation which is doing as badly as that when it is obvious that so much more money can be earned by selling off the property of a bankrupt firm. These days that is where the money is made and people realise it.

It is not reasonable to expect schoolboys to go into industry out of a sense of what I might call public duty in order to improve the lot of their peers. If industry is as poor as it seems likely to be at the moment, it will never attract good recruits, Finniston or not. That is my first and most important point. We can never expect the number of recruits we need until there is a chance of improving the prospects for manufacturing industry by some means, which undoubtedly must be fiscal in the first place.

I was interested to look up the very first speech I ever had the privilege of making in this House about 17 years ago; it was on the Industrial Training Act. I spoke to your Lordships then about the acutely embarrassing problem of educating engineers; I hesitate to say this, but many of the points which have been raised today are points that I raised in my maiden speech. I spoke of the extraordinary importance of combining both the academic and the practical experience. I said that any member of any profession has to undergo this kind of experience. A lawyer is subjected to the instruction of his pupil master; a doctor, after he has graduated from medical school, has to go to a hospital and practice the profession under skilled supervision. So does any member of any other profession, including an engineer. I also said that in my experience no man can count himself an engineer until he has been frightened out of his wits at least twice. In other words, engineering is sometimes embarrassingly, dangerous, and people must be prepared to accept responsibility for their actions and not try to cringe behind a committee structure elsewhere.

In Manchester in my time there was the best system which the world has ever seen for educating engineers. It was in Metropolitan Vickers in the days when that great organisation was so called. It was organised by a man called Fleming, whose name should be revered but who has, in fact, been forgotten. It started in 1902 and went on until he retired, when he was succeeded by Lord Jackson of Burnley, whom many noble Lords will remember.

In those days the best graduates from the best universities in England went to serve their time, to use a perfectly proper phrase, as graduate apprentices at Trafford Park. There they were exposed to all sorts of manufacturing processes. They learned what it feels like to test a turbine which might explode; they learned what it is like to be involved in the casting of great steel ingots; they learned what it is like to be responsible for turning those ingots. This system educated all the best engineers in the world. We had a saying in Manchester in my time that all the engineers can be divided into two categories: those who work at Metropolitan Vickers and those who used to work there. That was perfectly true. They reckoned to keep only about 40 per cent. of the graduates of this training school; the remainder went to run the rest of British industry and the rest of world industry.

For example, if you went to South America, South Africa or Australia, you found that the man in charge was an ex-Met. Vickers apprentice. I met the chief engineer of Trans Canada Airways who was an ex-Met. Vickers apprentice. The chief engineer of the Pickering Nuclear Power Station, about which I spoke to your Lordships some time ago, was an ex-Met. Vickers man. They can be found all over the world.

However, admirable though it was, the scheme was closed down because the accountants got at it. Their view was that we could not expect one firm to educate men for the rest of industry. In a sense I suppose that that is true. On the other hand, if industry could revive something half as good as that, nearly all the problems to which the Finniston Report draws attention would almost certainly go away.

There is one particular matter to which I must draw attention, because when I was trying to run an engineering school it used to exercise me very greatly. We went to enormous lengths to try to persuade people to move in and out of industry and in and out of the academic world. To my knowledge the only man who did it often and successfully was Lord Jackson. The reason was a very simple but also a very irritating one, and I should like specifically to ask the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, whether the Government will take this on board, because it will do an enormous amount to help solve the problems of integrating industry with universities. It is a simple question about the portability of pensions. Noble Lords may think that it is trivial, but it is true to say that any engineer who has considerable industrial experience and moves out of industry into a university loses a great deal of credit with his pension scheme. Years ago when I was a Minister of State I tried to get this problem examined, but the Treasury flatly refused to have anything to do with it. They said that it would be too expensive, by which they meant that if a man went from Trafford Park to Manchester Tech., with a reasonable sort of pension, that pension would come from the Treasury. The fact that he would bring with him an absolutely invaluable experience did not seem to be financially significant to them. I should have given the noble Viscount notice of this question but I am afraid I forgot. I ask the noble Viscount to see whether or not this matter can be looked at again, because it would do more in a single, quite simple administrative action to integrate industry with universities than any one other action one can think of.

To summarise, engineering was invented twice—it was invented by George Stephenson in England and by Vauban in France. Vauban was, of course, a military engineer and aristocrat, and ever since then engineering in France has been associated with the military, the aristocracy and with the Grandes Ecoles. It is completely élitist and utterly unlike engineering in this country. We have suffered greatly in England from confusing the two sorts of engineering. The other thing from which we have suffered—and this is a silly thing to say—is the fact that the great technical universities on the Continent were called technische hochschule "and this was translated, "technical high schools". That was a totally misleading concept. If we had only taken the French example and called them Great Schools, we might have got on better.

There is no doubt at all that the education of engineers on the Continent, involving, as it always has done, a much closer integration between universities and industry than we have had, has been much more successful in many ways. The university of Aachen, which I used to know very well, was most intimately mixed up with the industry of the Ruhr. I remember going with the late Lord Hives when he was chairman of Rolls-Royce. He went to buy some machine tools. I went with him to the firm of Schiess. I asked him how many graduate engineers they had recruited that year. The answer was 137. The entire British machine tool trade that year had recruited two engineers altogether, ever since when they quoted that as the base in terms of which they rated their percentage increases.

I make the point that industry on the Continent has always been closely associated with education. There has been a constant interchange of staff between the one kind of institution and the other. The rector magnificos of the University of Aachen had himself been a consulting engineer. The Ruhr brought its problems to him as a matter of course. So Aachen is part of the Ruhr. I remember when I first went to Manchester Tech. someone asked me what was my greatest ambition. I said this: "I hope for the day when someone will come to me in a state of great confusion and say, 'I cannot tell where the Tech. ends and Metropolitan Vickers begins'." There had been a time when that was true. Arthur Fleming used to use the principal's office as an extension of his own to run courses in the Tech. for graduate apprentices, for ordinary apprentices, and undergraduates.

Professor Miles Walker, who was at that time the professor at Manchester Tech., was the best known professor of electrical engineering in England. He was the chief designer for Metropolitan Vickers protecting machinery section. The links were intimate, effective and enormously valuable to everybody—and the whole system was abolished by the accountants. Accountants have a great deal to answer for, but I cannot think of a worse thing than that.

So we have an opportunity to bring at least some of these old traditions back. The Finniston Report realises the enormous importance of the pupillage as well as the undergraduate courses. One point I would make is this. It has been said several times this evening that the institutions behave differently. This is true. The Institute of Civil Engineers in particular, has an extremely well and highly organised system of pupilage. So good is it that Dutchmen like to come here from the technical university of Delft, which I know well, to study under the auspices of our own institution of civil engineers which is so very good.

It is quite different in character from many other of the learned institutions. I have been bitterly disappointed all my working life with the way in which some of these institutions have failed, in my view, to rise to the extraordinary opportunities they have of taking the lead in creating, out of a collection of quite ill-assorted people, what ought to be a very distinguished learned profession. It is partly due to our tradition. To the Stephenson tradition as distinct from the Holbein tradition. It is partly due to the collapse of a good deal of industry.

Do remember always that in the time when Lancashire was prosperous it was not prosperous because its universities were good. Lancashire became the wealthiest part of the world when it had probably the most illiterate population to be found anywhere. Men married and signed their name with a cross at a time when the textile trade was sweeping the markets of the world, and people came with their qualifications from Zurich, from Delft, from Charlottenburg, and settled in Lancashire because there they found the conditions which made it possible for them to exercise their talents.

British industry became prosperous not because of what it did to educate its men, but because it provided opportunities for educated men who flocked here from all parts of the world. I must say again that it cannot become prosperous only by educating engineers. It has to do other things too. One of the things it must do is to make it possible for industrialists to make a reasonable profit and pay more than the 2 per cent. or 3 per cent. they get at the moment, when you can get 15 per cent. on gilts. This is a very curious contribution to this debate, and I apologise for it because the hour is so very late.

7.55 p.m.


My Lords, first of all may I, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, make his apologies for not, as a maiden speaker, being here. I think that perhaps some other noble Lords who have spoken might also well be here. I do not know that the standards have gone up since I had the privilege of leading your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, is in fact meeting the graduates for the EITB Fellowship, so his is a very respectable alibi. I should like to congratulate him really genuinely. I think we all thought his speech was most notable. The noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, was fortunate to be in the position to congratulate him.

May I also congratulate Group Captain Lord Ilchester. If, as I suspect, he is a product of Halton, then I have a very high opinion of him. He made a point about the Air Force Board. It always was a slight mystery to me when I was an airforceman why everybody had to be "general duties", and this is again part of this generalist concept. Some of them were actually engineers too; but that is another point. I could tell you one or two stores about Halton, but I will not do so tonight. I expect the noble Earl could tell more.

May I also take this opportunity to make a small apology—only a small one —to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. He quoted from Engineering Our Future, the shortened version. Is it arrogant to say that I have read only the long version, which does not contain that particular quotation? That is what I was looking for. But having said that, may I press on and perhaps enter one or two defences of the Finniston Report. We all have great difficulty in criticising it because so many of us are personal friends and are very fond of Sir Monty, but none the less, there are things to be said.

I think the greatest achievement the committee had—and this is a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, who does not seem to be here was that they did proceed with great speed. This in itself was a great virtue, but therefore inevitably there are defects. It is rather unfortunate, but perfectly right, that a member of a committee of inquiry can make a speech criticising the commission of which he is a member (he cannot expect the Government to reply to that) but the unfortunate chairman and others, about whom we cannot even take notice of the fact that they might be somewhere in the offing, are unable to reply.

There has been some implication here of this, and while inevitably in a report of this kind people will not exactly misinterpret it, they may get the emphasis wrong. Certainly Sir Monty Finniston and the report did not put all the blame on the engineers. They did blame, if anything, industry and our social system rather more delicately than I am about to do myself. Nor did he say that engineering companies were not good enough. There are representatives of companies involved in engineering who are doing extraordinarily well in the world. There have been examples of companies which have been run entirely by engineers, like Rolls-Royce, which have not done so well at certain times, and we cannot really blame that on the generalist. There has been some superficial misunderstanding. But if one is going to have an "engine for change", which is what Sir Monty and his friends have said, then in fact you cannot throw it out.

Let us accept also that there are what might almost be called social anthropological tribal aspects of this matter. "Why", say the chemists, "should the engineers have an authority? Why cannot we have one too? "I know there is an answer to that but I have not time to give it. My noble friend has actually given it to me. There are those who may find something divisive about this. Actually the Institute of Marketing probably will not ask for an authority. It takes a brave man someone rather like Sir Monty Finniston to do so. But they will none the less wish to put their point in. The Royal Institute of Chemistry will be making its submission to the effect that it does not want to be separated off, and there are others; I am not sure where the metallurgist comes into this situation.

That brings me to the point, to refer to the remarks of my noble friend Lord Mishcon, about professional standing. There is an enormous difference between the professional standing of the lawyer and that of the engineer; kindly, one could say that the engineer produces wealth while the lawyer does not, but that is not the difference I see. The profession is different because the engineer is frequently a man under authority, although he may be occupying a managerial role, and indeed one of the criticisms I have heard of civil engineers is that they tend to try to be too professional and do not move directly enough into project management.

I will give an example because I operate personnel systems in a large organisation. The only people who do not report for policy to a principal, to a director, in that company—I actually drew this up—are the lawyers; they report for pay and rations, but I deliberately excluded them, though I would not dream of doing so for the engineers. If one looks at the report, one sees that they say the CEI and the professions, for understandable reasons—they put it rather politely—have failed to some extent in this matter. Certainly, this is something the Government will have to look at, and it is in the context of the nature of the authority.

I know that Sir Monty Finniston attaches considerable importance to the opening chapter, and while I support the main thrust of the report, dare somebody who is not an engineer—perhaps because I am not an engineer—comment that the language is so strange that one of my friends who is an engineer said it could have been written only by an engineer? In my simple way I thought a dimension was an actual linear measurement, but I gather it is not; it is something that is imprecise, and perhaps this comes from the questions of the fourth and fifth dimension. It is just arguable whether, instead of talking about the "engineering dimensions", we should be talking about the "engineering syndrome". There are obviously grave psychological anxieties; I will not say they are any more paranoid than lawyers at certain moments, but nevertheless I am surprised that apparently they are supposed to suffer from inferiority complexes.

They may not be appreciated and perhaps they have good reason for feeling that, and I shall demonstrate that they have not been paid enough and, as for a feeling of not being appreciated, I think it is true in our technological society that that can happen. But I should have thought that the professional man, the last man I should have thought would have suffered from a feeling of inferiority and lack of appreciation, was an engineer, many of whom are fulfilling a most creative and specific role and are very often able to see the fruits of their work. However, if we do not appreciate our engineers enough, then, as I say, they are not alone, and that is to some extent—the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, touched on this—the product of our history and social system. It so happens that we had one distinguished speaker today—I am not certain, but I think the noble Lord, Lord Baker, was the trinity —who spoke about this, and I must say that when I was at Oxford, although nobody ever mentioned engineering, I reckoned that scientists and engineers were people who walked down the road and some of my culture brushed off on them.


My Lords, am I to assume that the noble Lord is comparing Oxford engineering with Cambridge engineering?


My Lords, I knew I was on dangerous ground, but I wanted to bring the noble Lord, Lord Baker, into my winding-up remarks since I had the privilege of knowing him for a number of years. It is a problem because we live in a society which has still failed to cast off the old traditions. The concept of the gentleman has a good side but it also has a bad side. I am old enough, as is the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, to know that there was a time when a gentleman did not indulge in trade, and we are not talking just about Jane Austen.


My Lords, is the noble Lord not going a little far in attributing all these attitudes to history? In the 17th century there were not the same inhibitions. The younger brother of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, Lord Guildford, who became Sir Dudley North, went into trade at a very early age and made a colossal fortune, and he, I fancy, was typical of many. I suspect that these inhibitions, the nature of which I do not deny, date from much later and are chiefly Victorian.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, is a very good attender in your Lordships' House and usually chooses to make his speech by way of an intervention at this stage in the evening. I had not of course finished my remarks, which I was about to qualify. Of course, there are exceptions and I was going to say on another aspect that this concept is, I think, relevant to our time. After all, reports about superiority and some of these developments have been coming up time and again, and noble Lords have referred to them today, and this is one of the consequences of our never having been subjected to the pressure of invasion and losing a war. I do not want to call Corelli Barnett and others in support, but unfortunately we still have not adapted our attitudes enough, and that politely has been said by Sir Monty. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, who is an economist rather than an historian, will also admit that some of us have read our history.

That brings me to the point that there are aspects of the report which worry me a great deal. I am worried at the emphasis on the need to get away from the use of the word, "arts ". The Royal Society of Arts is an institution devoted very much to technology. One noble Lord referred to "artefact". I can see the point of having higher degrees of excellence—and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and others who emphasised some of these points—but I wonder whether a Master of Arts suffers gravely from the fact that he is called a Master of Arts rather than a Master of Engineering; or a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science.

I think our obsession with failures is in danger of leading us into superficial and indeed unscientific and philosophical concepts. One talks about the "industrial arts", and if one goes back into history one finds the educated man—the educated gentleman, if I may say so—being deeply concerned either with turnips or doing his experiments —he may actually be making his coachman fly in the glider for Sir George Caley and a member of the Royal Society on a much broader basis. We should therefore be careful about reading too much into some of the anxieties which engineers have felt about this.

I have, I regret to say, to make some criticisms—I think it is important that they should be made—of the economics in the report. For example, take paragraph 1.2 (I hope I shall have the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, with me on this); manufacturing does not generate 30 per cent. of the nation's wealth, but 30 per cent. of the annual income. That is quite an important distinction, and, after all, I must not look below the Bar because nobody is really here except us to listen to this.

Paragraph 1.7 shows the decline in Britain's share in world trade in manufactures, but it actually excludes the United States. It is a rather convenient omission. There are a number of aspects to this matter. Paragraph 1.10 would be more correct to say that Britain's gross domestic product had grown less rapidly than those of the European countries, but it does not make us automatically the poorest country. I would just say that this is where my engineering friends say that it must have been written by an engineer. There are certain technical sides to this report which it is proper to criticise and which I am surprised have not been picked up.

Let me say a little more about the status of the engineer. When I was Civil Service Minister I had, not once but twice, deputations from the CBI complaining that we were paying our scientists and engineers in the Government service too much. I remember that each time I said, "Is it possible that industry is not recognising their worth or paying them enough?" On another occasion I took a seminar in Oxford, still under a ministerial hat, in which we discussed the application of science and technology in management. Many people, distinguished academics, managers from industry and civil servants were discussing how you take an engineer and convert him into a manager. Do you catch him at the age of 21?—as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, tried to do with some of his management activities. I think that that is too early. Do you do it when he is aged 35? The ICI man came along and said, "Well, we don't have any problem". We then discovered that 70 per cent. of the staff in ICI at that time were either scientists or technologists, and only 30 per cent. were generalists. The simple fact was that the black men outnumbered the white men. I hope the analogy is apparent: that in fact in this sense engineers and scientists were still regarded as a less worthy and rather special class. Are the standards of the civil engineer too high? Is he too professional? I take the point that there is some very high quality engineering, but is it a fact that he is reluctant to move into managerial responsibility to which I have referred?

I shall move on as quickly as I can. I am sorry for the educationists who are waiting anxiously for me to finish—

Several noble Lords

The Bishops.


Bishops—and cathedrals. I apologise. Let me turn to the principal proposal, the setting up of an engineering authority. I and others have been involved with reports—the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, mentioned one—and, to put it politely, nothing very much happened. The dynamic gradually goes away. People talk about it, they deal with bits of it. We have had report after report, doing something about the engineering professions; they were not going to solve our problems but they might do something towards that. Perhaps an Engineering Authority will in fact ginger the professional institutions into doing more. There is nothing like a bit of competition—and I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth. It is very easy to condemn them. It is very easy to condemn the CEI. I think that I should be very reluctant to condemn the CEI, rather than the components who make up the CEI. I certainly would not blame their officials, some of whom I know and who are admirable.

When it comes to the appointing of the authority, I know that we have a dilemma here. There are suggestions that it should be a chartered body. There is a vague idea that if the Privy Council appoints it, the Government would have no hand in it. This is not true, because, of course, the Privy Council does not really exist in this way and the departments have to comment. But frankly, from my experience, and I shall even say from my experience of this rather over-enthusiastic Government under which we now live, I would rather trust Ministers and their civil servants, even if the odd mis-appointment is made, to make the best appointment and not necessarily just leave it to particular institutions.

The Government are going to have to look at this matter in detail and they may be able to evolve a formula. Therefore, I support the constructive suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, modified a little by the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Nelson of Stafford; namely, that if something is to be done, we ought to get on with it. It is even for consideration as to whether if the Government in principle decide to set up an authority, and recognise any amount of harmonisation to be achieved, it may well be that there could be an embryo organising committee, not composed just of engineers— on that I think all of your Lordships would agree; one could even add an economist as well, though I am no economist.

I should like to touch on two points. The Fielden Report stressed that we ought to find a way to do something for engineers in the way that "All Creatures Great and Small" has done something for vets. The veterinary schools, we are told, are crowded out with people trying to join them. I think that there should be some sort of drive—and some parts of industry are doing it. Curiously enough—this is a small point—in the mining industry an organisation called NIMCU is doing a very good job, not necessarily in recruiting mining engineers, but in putting across the background and the significance and the importance of the mining industry. It is on the importance of industry that I am sure Sir Monty Finniston and the members of the committee, as well as the Members of this House, agree most.

May I also express my appreciation of the Warner Report. I happen to be President of the British Standards Institution, and I am personally worried in this regard. I hope that the suggestion that NEDO will begin to involve itself is taken up. The report refers to the machinery of the National Economic Development Council, and says that the new engineering authority should be used to bring together the relevant official bodies, institutions and industrial sectors to develop a national policy for standards in quality using the Warner Report as a starting point. This is a matter of increasing concern: the need for more work in the field of quality assurance There is nothing wrong with standards; the need is to apply them. British Standards are very good, and I have been told that in many cases the European Commission look to us for standards.

I do not want to take any more time. I end with one point which may have a political feel to it. It is a fact that those countries which are held up to us as the most successful countries, whom we should emulate—I am talking about France, Germany and Japan—are all countries where there is much more government intervention than we have in this country. I appreciate that the Government are following a philosophy—and let me say that, although I think much of it is wrongheaded, they are following it with courage. But I think that somehow, in some of these areas, we must use the power of Government to move things along, and that in a sense is what the Finniston Report is about.

8.19 p.m.


My Lords, may I echo what all of your Lordships have already said, and thank the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, in particular for introducing this Motion at this time. It fits exactly and neatly into the Government's consultation period. May I also thank the noble Lord for the tone that he set in the debate, which was totally non-political; a tone which I think has been kept by every speaker since. This has shown this House at its very best. I shall even promise not to comment upon the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, about intervention. We also owe to the noble Lord, Lord Baker, thanks for this Motion, in that I watched in the No Day Named section of the Minutes this Motion, or words very similar to it, which had been set down for a very long time, which indicated his never weakening interest in this immensely important subject.

Next let me again pay tribute from the Government's point of view, as my right honourable friend has already done, to Sir Monty Finniston and his committee. It is perhaps almost impertinent to pay tribute to them; but after he had published his report I and my colleagues were fortunate in joining Sir Monty and his committee for a dinner, and the enthusiasm and bubble among all the members of that committee was indeed a tribute to the chairman and to their own dedicated efforts. It was a highly enjoyable evening. There were three lady members of the committee present, and I think that the need to encourage engineers from the fair sex was well understood by the committee, but it is, of course, a general subject well outside this particular area.

I must add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, and to the noble Earl, Lord Ilchester, on two really magnificent maiden speeches. Funnily enough, both of them were connected with what the noble Earl, Lord Ilchester, told us; namely, the Halton-brat or the Trenchard-brat training. I was delighted that there was a mention of this in this debate. I was opening a factory in Newcastle not long ago and was completely failing to understand some new control switch gear. I said to the chap who had invented it, "Where on earth did you learn all this?", and he said, "I was a Trenchard-brat". One does run into them during one's industrial career; I have run into them all over the place.

The link between the two maiden speeches is that I can remember, when I was literally the height of this Table, or very little higher, the predecessors of the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, coming to tea with my father, when he was trying to persuade them that the Halton training must be accepted by the trade unions so that the large numbers of technical people needed in the Air Force could find jobs and be accepted thereafter in civilian life. He also regarded it as vitally important that this link with civilian life should be maintained in what he always called a technical service. I think even Sir Monty Finniston would be amused by one of his old letters, which I gave to Trenchard Hall at Cranwell some years ago. It contained the lovely phrase, Engineering is not just putting a crankshaft in a bearing. We have the photographic engineer, the wireless engineer, the clothing engineer and many other kinds of engineer". Indeed, although the areas have changed, that it still true.

I do not know whether it is in order for me to say so, but when the noble Lord, Lord Howie, made his interesting contribution—and I looked up to make sure that I had not missed some minority report in the Finniston Report—I thought at first that he was perhaps damning with faint praise; then I thought that he was praising with faint damns; and finally I thought it was another tribute to Sir Monty that he had a unanimous report and only the odd footnote of exception.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Viscount would allow me to say that I am by nature a compromiser. The only trouble is that sometimes the other fellows will not compromise enough.


My Lords, again I recall a remark of my old father when he said: I don't want very much in this world; I just want my way". I do not know whether it is in order, but, anyway, I should like to say that I have noted with great interest that Sir Monty has spared five hours to listen to every speech in this debate.

For me this really could be a complete holiday, and indeed it is, because in the middle of the consultation period I have to be virtually totally non-committal; and I could simply wind up the situation by saying what a wonderful debate it has been and we will read it all again carefully.

Unfortunately, I have had 30 years as an industrialist, and I cannot entirely resist the opportunity to make a few comments, both from the Front Bench and at times a little embellished as a result of that long industrial experience. But, first, we are in the consultation period, and I have noted what a number of noble Lords have said, that we may be hurrying this too much. I noted what my noble friend Lord Lucas said, that we seem to have got the consultation period out of gear, in that we in the Department of Industry had asked (and we have asked) for certain comments on a limited number of recommendations, which include the Engineering Authority, by the 1st April; and the Department of Education and Science has said that it intends to respond to a great deal of the detail in relation to the educational recommendations at a conference in October.

We are, of course, in constant touch, and we shall be consulting each other on all aspects of the report, but some clearly affect industry more than education. I do not think, therefore, there is any hiatus of consequence. There is the question of how fast we should move. I believe there is merit in moving as soon as possible. There is an inertia about this kind of affair, and water does not stay on the boil; it goes away in steam. This whole area is now under the spotlight. We are all interested in it, we have all read it and we are all looking at it. Let us try to move on with the maximum possible speed while it is in everybody's mind.

I am not going to comment in any way on the points that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has made in relation to the statistics used about the serious industrial situation in this country. I believe (and I accepted the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, led into this debate) there are so many statistics to show how badly we have done in industry that it does not really matter which ones you take. My own favourite current one—and I admit that it changes from time to time—is that if, from 1979's balance of payments figures, we subtract the credit that arises out of the North Sea oil and gas that has come on stream over the years we have a deficit left in those figures of £10,000 million. So I do not think that any of us wishes in any way to question the seriousness of the industrial situation. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, about the importance of oil; and it is indeed the reason that half the population still has not really realised how serious is the situation. It may be that we would get very much prompter action, very much more automatic action, from both industry and from the educational area, and even perhaps from the engineering institutions, if everyone realised just how serious the situation would be without North Sea oil and gas.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Viscount? On the subject of North Sea oil and gas, I think it is fair to say that an enormous amount of effort and investment, which conceivably could have gone elsewhere, have gone into the development of these fields. I am sure that he did not want to give the impression that it was manna from heaven. I accept the value, but none the less there was very heavy investment, and even risk of life.


My Lords, I did not want to give the impression that the oil companies and all the supporting expertise has not been a miracle of modern industry by both British and international companies, nor that it is not of enormous importance; but merely to point out that the rest of industry on which we will depend when oil and gas run out is in every bit as serious a situation as the Finniston Committee Report implies. We also accept the importance, not the total importance but the very great importance, of the manufacturing industry within industry as a whole. Of course, all of us in this debate have accepted the vital importance of what the Finniston Committee have christened the "engineering dimension". While it is vital for all manufacturing businesses, the number of vital cogs that the engineering side provides is quite different in different kinds of business; and I shall, if I may, return to that a little later.

I note that I missed one suggestion that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, made: that the decision in relation to the central authority might already have been taken. Let me assure him that that is not so. Let me first say that there seems total unanimity with the Finniston Committee's conclusion that we have far too few engineers although we have some of absolutely first-class quality. I want to assure the House that the Government accept that premise: that we are up against a very serious shortage and that, however hard we work, it will take a long time to solve. Therefore, we also accept that it is vital that the current engineering stock is used to the best possible advantage and that all the supporting echelons of that stock are therefore also important.


My Lords, before the noble Viscount continues, would he deal with the question I raised of the run-down of engineering faculties in the universities? If the Government accept the serious position and the inadequacy of our engineering stock, what steps are they taking to ensure that where important engineering lecturers and staff leave universities, they have the funds to replace them?


My Lords, I will come later, if I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, to the question of those we are losing, where engineers go and also what might be done in the shorter term. But, in general, the Government's position at the moment is the acceptance of the seriousness of the position. At this stage, we are open to consultation—of which this debate is an important part—on the methods of putting it right.

If I may come to the institutions—and we are aware that they are not happy on some aspects of the Finniston Committee Report and that the committee has raised major questions in relation to the role of those institutions and to the possible changes in it—I want to assure the institutions that in our review and in this consultative period, we shall be taking great care to try to ensure that the good work, the accepted good work, of different institutions is retained. I know that Sir Monty Finniston would have wished that that was done. Having said that, I think at this stage I can say that the Government take note of the very unsatisfactory situation, and that I, today, have taken note of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, and others in describing the existing institutions as not having been fully effective in looking after their profession. I accept that we are dealing at the moment with an unsatisfactory situation, and I hope that the institutions, in giving us their views about what we should do, will start from that point and will therefore give us constructive advice—either along the lines of the Finniston Committee Report or along alternative lines; but on lines which are determined to recommend change and improvement for the future.


My Lords, has the noble Viscount any comment on the notion that there is a different relationship between the Institution of Civil Engineers and its industry and the relationship between some of the other institutions and their industries; and does he draw any conclusion from that?


My Lords we shall read with interest the views of each individual institution. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has raised a point which clearly is an important and broader one outside this particular area. We shall certainly consider what he has said. But let me just point out that, as I read the Finniston Committee Report, they have started from the premise that all is far from well and, against that, have recommended (if you like) an intervention at this stage and in this current situation. I have found myself making these notes with some interest in order to say them to a noble Lord on the other side of the House; nevertheless the Committee has not recommended that this body should be left permanently at the dictate of appointments of Government. There could be an analogy in the "hospital" role of the NEB that we have retained: namely, that one keeps the patient there until such time as he is fit to be returned to private enterprise. Nevertheless, we will consider carefully the general point made; but I want to stress that, as I read the Finniston Report, the recommendation is temporary. I have noted various suggestions that have been made to give the institutions a bigger part in the nomination of the authority or in consultation with the Secretary of State; and all these suggestions will be looked at by my right honourable friend.

Let me now turn just to the Quango—and let me call it a Quango—recommendation itself. Let me say quickly that there is no dogma in this area on this subject. We felt that there were far too many Quangos, generally. We have axed a number of them, but we have kept a large number and have paid tribute to the work that a large number of them are doing; so that this issue is not going to be decided on philosophical grounds as to whether one likes Quangos or not.

I should like to draw to noble Lords' attention that what I think the Finniston Committee recommended here is an authority which is not a big bureaucracy but which is made up of figures of immense standing in industry and in the profession, who would decide policy and who would very much work through the existing organisations in this field. We need to view the recommendation and make our comments to Government in the light of that.

The cost figure: Sir Monty has been very careful to add up all possible costs and contingencies. The cost figure is one that I do not think we should necessarily either accept or often look at. We need to look at whether a relatively small authority of highly distinguished people could take a major step forward in putting right a situation which at the moment is not right.

The employers' situation: we have had some excellent contributions in this debate. I know that employers are taking the Finniston Committee report very seriously, and some of them have asked us—as some of your Lordships have—to allow more time for consultation because they really want to thrash it out among themselves. This is a very healthy sign. I noted, reading the report, that most of the individual engineering companies that I know gave evidence to the Finniston Committee. I also noticed that a very large number of the more general processing companies—where although engineering is vital it is perhaps a smaller cog in the whole wheel than in engineering companies—did not individually give evidence.

This enables me to introduce a point which those who are giving us views might care to bear in mind; that is, that we have very different degrees of importance—weighting—in different kinds of businesses: for marketing, for science in its broadest sense, chemistry, microbiology, for general production matters, for selling and for market research. The weighting is different and all are always interrelating. The successful business is the one where the specialist of one kind looks across his own frontiers to the business as a whole and talks with his colleagues.

I raise this because I think that we need to consider whether this question of the standing and the pay of the engineering profession as a whole in this country is due to the shortage of the engineers—and I w ill describe how I think that might be—or whether it is in fact the other way round. The high flyers go when there is a shortage—and there are high flyers in our engineering professions, as noble Lords have made very clear today. They go to the engineering businesses because there they can see that there are already chairmen of some of those businesses who are engineers, and they I think will do very well.

I also believe that it is probably not true to say that those high flyers or high quality engineers in our biggest and strongest engineering businesses are paid very badly. What is left over is available to the wide range of processing industries where, though engineering is vital, it is a lesser component part. While I am sure many mistakes and lack of recognition of status exists, I also wonder whether, taken as a whole, those that are left over in this serious shortage are in fact underpaid: I find this difficult to accept because certainly in my own experience one has seen clearly what one needs in different areas. It may have taken time sometimes to see it. One has said: "We must have an engineer of that kind". I personally believe that the shortage is the predominant point here. The pay and the standing follow a little from the fact that there are just not enough properly qualified engineers in the bulk manufacturing industry as a whole.

Whether this is so or not, let me make a quick comment or two on the subject of whether we have snobbery against industry and against engineers in particular. I would join those who believe that the degree of snobbery generally against industry has declined, and that it is perhaps no longer much more of a major factor than it is abroad. I have told this House once before that my wife's American grandmother refused point blank to tell all her American relations outside Chicago that I was a soap salesman in Canada when I was a soap salesman. She told them instead that I was in a secret diplomatic job.

I believe that the main area where snobbery has hung on is actually in our educational establishments. This is where we are different from other countries. This is where we have a problem in that we do not have the emphasis that we should have on mathematics right through higher education to industry. I believe that we are all agreed on that. I took note of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Perry of Walton, on the fact that first there have to be many more teachers and also teachers who do not just teach mathematics as such, but who can encourage the children to really see industry and engineering as an exciting, worthwhile and rewarding job. This brings in the anti-profit notion which has gone deep into our educational establishments.

In the time left to me—without keeping your Lordships very long—let me say that the Government welcome all the efforts made at present to link schools and local business communities, to link industry and university education. My noble friend Lord Nelson of Stafford mentioned this today. His company with Bath University have been pioneers in this area. We have less of it again than other countries of which I have experience—much less of it not only in this field, but we have much less in teaching computers, microprocessors and the like.

The Committee's report bears on the question of innovation. At this late hour all I want to say on that is that it should not be assumed that we are not centrally supporting innovation to a pretty high degree. Here I include the energy area But in all the Department of Industry schemes amount to about £100 million a year. About £25 million a year is devoted to non-nuclear energy, and then £125 million to nuclear energy. These are not inconsiderable figures, and there is considerable backing for research and development and for innovation. I believe that this will increase and it is not entirely dependent on the current cash flow position of certain businesses. If, as some noble Lords have said, industrialists can see quite clearly that if they do get ahead in a certain area there are going to be no impediments, no price controls and the like to take away from the eventual return, I believe that money will be forthcoming.

Let me echo also that the Government entirely accept that we are still inventing many new things. When I first came into Government, I questioned whether the heavy period of our inventions had not been before the war and in the early years after the war. I am assured from all sides that this is not so, that clearly we do have an immense talent and we clearly have had it for a very long while.

Recently I went to a famous Swiss firm called Sultzer, which makes marvellous marine engines, and I said: "You are nowhere near the sea and you have to ship each engine. Why are you in the marine engine business?" They said: "Our predecessors tried to engage Mr. Watt: he would not come but he sent Mr. Brown"—and that is why Sultzer are in marine engines. This process is still going on and there have been important and interesting letters in the newspapers concerning it.

Finally, let me say two things. This debate will be a very valuable source of information and suggestions, right through from the suggestions for a Steering Committee and suggestions not quite on the same lines, but on other lines. We shall weigh all the information and look at it carefully. Against the background of history which your Lordships have drawn on today, it would make little difference to your Lordships for one junior Minister to follow his brief and say, "I guarantee that we will not let dust collect on this report." I can only say that I know of that history. That makes one humble. However, we shall do all we can to see how we, the industry and the institutions can contribute towards arriving at some solutions to this major problem.


My Lords, before the noble Viscount sits down, may I ask him whether there is any hope at all of getting some relaxation of the Treasury rules which immobilise industrialists and prevent their going to universities?

Viscount TRENCHARD: My Lords, I will write to the noble Lord on that. I personally am a believer in the interchangeability of pensions.


My Lords, may I also intervene, because I think I may have been the Minister who refused to agree at the time? I would say that the noble Lord would be very unwise to make any promises of any kind at all.

8.52 p.m.


My Lords, may I first say that I draw comfort from the final remarks of the noble Viscount in his suggestion that hopefully the Government will not let dust settle on this report. As the noble Viscount has already said, I think we have had one of the outstanding debates of this Session and I must thank all noble Lords who have taken part in it. It has stood up to the highest standards of your Lordships' House. I must especially thank and add my praise for the speeches made by the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, and the noble Earl, Lord Ilchester. Recognising beforehand that they were engineers, I, in my opening remarks, predicted the standard of their contributions and I must say that I feel fully justified in what I said.

May I also say that I feel very keenly for Sir Monty Finniston, in that he has sat through six hours of debate without being allowed to contribute—and that must have been very, very difficult. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.