HL Deb 03 March 1981 vol 417 cc1340-57

4.11 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, that the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Skelmersdale.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[THE LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Clauses 1 to 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 [Powers to promote careers in industry etc.]:

Lord Howie of Troon moved Amendment No. 1: Page 4, line 22, after ("Charter") insert the terms of which are in accordance with the provisions of Schedule [PROVISIONS OF ROYAL CHARTER FOR BODIES FALLING WITHIN SECTION 6(5)] to this Act."].

The noble Lord said: This is a paving amendment leading to Amendment No. 3; the amendment numbers seem to have gone somewhat awry, in that we have Nos. 1 and 2 followed by an unnumbered amendment, and then No. 3. However, I am sure we all know where we are and I propose, if the Committee agrees, to discuss Amendment No. 3 at the same time as Amendment No. 1. Indeed, as all the amendments appearing on the Marshalled List relate more or less to the same subject, it might be for the convenience of the Committee if we discussed them all in one general debate and then moved them as appropriate in order, should we wish to do so. Do I have the agreement of the Committee to proceed in that way?

Several noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Howie of Troon

I should begin by declaring an interest in this matter, as a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, which is one of the chartered engineering institutions involved in the discussions relating to Clause 6, and as a one-time member of the Finniston Committee, from whose recommendations the entire matter arises. The first point to which I shall address my remarks is whether Amendment No. 3 is relevant to the purposes of the Bill, and I believe it is, for two reasons. The first is that Clause 6 indicates the kind of body to which the Government will guarantee loans at some later stage and lists the objectives of that body, the main one in my view being the first one that is listed. The second reason why my amendment is relevant is that Clause 6 refers to a Royal Charter, and my amendment does so as well.

Indeed, the amendment puts flesh on the various objectives in Clause 6(2) and goes on to indicate various important matters which should be referred to in the Royal Charter mentioned in the clause. That is important because Clause 6 was criticised in another place, largely because it put forward a metaphorical blank cheque in that it said that guarantees for public loans should be made for a body set up under a Royal Charter without specifying in any way what that Royal Charter should be about. That was criticised in another place, in my view rightly. Amendment No. 3 is designed to fill in, as it were, the figures in that metaphorical blank cheque; but I hasten to say, bearing in mind the constitutional position of your Lordships' House, that I have no intention of filling in any real figures; they are metaphorical figures only.

I am encouraged in my belief that the various items I have listed in what I accept is a very long amendment—I apologise for its length—should be in the charter because the amendment is taken almost verbatim from the Royal Charter which is now being discussed between the Government, the engineering institutions and various other public bodies: the Royal Charter, an amendment to which can now be found in the Library and to which the Minister referred on Second Reading. I should add that although the charter is in the Library and although my amendment is taken almost verbatim from it, the engineering institutions have turned it down flatly and have said it is not good enough for their purposes. That is a pity.

The Finniston Committee reported just over a year ago suggesting certain changes in the engineering régime in this country, all of which were expected to lead to some kind of improvement in engineering and, with a bit of luck, to an improvement, in part at least, in the economy. One of Finniston's proposals was to set up an engineering authority. That proposal the Government have accepted and they are proposing an engineering council. There was, however, a difference between Finniston and later commentators on his report. Sir Monty and his colleagues, of whom I was one, believed that an engineering council—I will use the word "council" rather than, as he described it, "engineering authority"—to have teeth and clout, would best be set up under a statute of some kind. The engineering institutions, partly from their history, believed it preferable that an engineering authority, if there was to be one, with whom they could work, would best be set up under a Royal Charter.

Their reason for that suggestion was partly historical; their own institutions and council of engineering institutions are set up under Royal Charters and they have found that a comfortable way to proceed and an efficient way of carrying out their business. But they had another and deeper reason; namely, they felt that if the new council were set up under a statute, it would bring in politics, and the engineering institutions wanted to avoid like the death the bringing in of politics to engineering. They felt that setting up the new council under a Royal Charter would keep the politicians out. I am not sure whether that was a wholly good idea, one with which your Lordships will agree with entirely, but nevertheless it animates the whole discussion. The engineering institutions wish to be free and independent of politics and they feel, wrongly I believe, that a Royal Charter would protect them in a way that an engineering council set up under a statute would not. The Government agree with the institutions and have decided that a council should be set up under a charter rather than a statute.

I believe there is a strong argument in favour of the statute, one which was never made by the Finniston Committee, and perhaps that was a pity. It is that whether the new council is set up under a statute or a Royal Charter, the procedure under which it will be set up is one of consultation, discussion and attempts to reach agreement between the Government and the various interests involved, be they the engineering institutions, the industrial organisations—trade unions and so on—or the academics. In any event, there will have to be discussion and agreement.

There is I believe one quite strong argument in favour of the statutory approach as opposed to the Royal Charter approach, and it is as follows. If the Government had proceeded under statute, they would still have had to reach agreements, but at the end of the day they would have been in a fairly strong position to say, "Look, we have had consultation. We have had discussion. We have had disputation. We believe the answer is this". They would have reached what I can describe as the highest common factor in the search for agreement.

If, on the other hand, the Government proceed, as they have done, at the wish of the institutions, along the road of the Royal Charter, they give away their right to say, "This has gone on long enough. This is what the agreement ought to be". I am not saying that the Government ought to be dictatorial; nor do I believe that they would be in a matter of this kind. But they would be able to say, "This is the end of the road".

The Royal Charter route is open to reaching not the highest common factor, but the lowest common denominator. I am perfectly sure that Ministers and others who have been involved in the discussions throughout the winter and the late summer of last year have probably now come to agree with me and are realising that they could have done with the additional clout which the statutory route would have given them. So I think that the statute route would have been preferable, because the Government and Parliament could have brought the argument to an end, and it would have been right to have done so.

I believe that, despite what I have said, agreement on the Royal Charter is fairly near, or at any rate the difference between the two sides is fairly small. It so happens that in my private life I am involved in discussions with the National Union of Journalists over a wage claim, and the difference between me and the union is very small. I believe for that reason that agreement is near, though I do not think that the union believes that. What I am saying here is that, although the difference between the Government and the institutions and others is quite small, agreement ought to be near, but might not be. I should like to think that agreement is near, and if agreement is near, much of what I am doing today might turn out to be unnecessary.

I believe that whether agreement is near, or whether disagreement is merely small, there would be no harm done if Parliament, in the shape of your Lordships, were to give those involved in the discussions a fairly sharp push towards agreement; to give them a reminder that they are not involved in the discussion for their own purposes but rather that both sides are involved in the discussion in order to reach an agreement which goes along the lines—which they have all accepted—projected by the Finniston Committee, because it was thought that those lines were advantageous to the country as a whole.

Apart from its inherent virtue, that is my main reason for putting forward the amendment—to give a push to the current discussion. The amendment has another advantage. It provides the Royal Charter which the institutions want, and it also gives statutory backing, which I think is needed.

Let me very rapidly go through the provisions of the amendment. I shall not read them out; there are far too many of them. The amendment discusses the objects of the new council and it puts flesh on the objects already listed in Clause 6 of the Bill. I think that that is necessary. It goes on to discuss the powers of the new council. I think that that is quite important, because the powers which the council is given under the charter which is being discussed and which is included in part in my amendment allow the council to do certain things by itself. But the powers also allow the council to do certain things in collaboration with other bodies, the engineering institutions and others. I regard that as quite important, because, in so far as I am aware of the manner in which the discussions have gone on, it seems to me that the institutions have continually been suspicious of the Government's intentions. They have felt—wrongly, I believe—that they were being ignored. They have felt—again, wrongly, I think—that they were being pushed aside. They have been suspicious that the council might usurp the things which they have done for a long time; in the case of my own institution for the last 150 years or so. So they perhaps have history on their side in their suspicions.

I believe that those suspicions are unfounded, and the amendment will give the Minister the opportunity to explain that they are unfounded. Incidentally, I do not think that he will have any difficulty in persuading me, but he might have some difficulty in persuading the institutions outside. That is a very important point, because it has, I believe, been germane to the manner in which the institutions have tended to drag their feet.

The amendment goes on to list the titles which engineers should be given when they are registered. This is quite important because the charter is really asking the institutions to give up titles which are theirs and yield them to a new body, of which, as I say, they have been slightly suspicious. The only reason why the Finniston Committee did not adopt the titles proposed in the charter was that we knew at the time that the titles belonged to the institutions and we could not command them in any way. We should have liked to retain the title "chartered engineer" and other similar titles, but we proposed the title "registered engineer" only because the other title was not ours to give. We knew that it was their title and that if they could be persuaded to yield it that would be valuable, but we could not demand that they should.

I think that the Government request to the institutions to yield the title "chartered engineer" and the other titles which the Engineers' Registration Board uses is correct. Of course that gives the institutions certain leverage in the discussion—leverage which they quite properly use. However it should be made perfectly clear to the institutions that, while Parliament is willing that they should exercise the leverage which they quite properly have, that does not give them absolute leverage, and that the leverage should be tempered with common sense.

The amendment goes on to refer to the possibility of removing people from the register, and in this respect it goes rather farther than the institutions already go; and that I believe is to go farther in a desirable direction. The amendment refers, too, to assistance to Ministers. That is an area where the institutions are very suspicious, because it is in the clause in the charter which relates to giving assistance to Ministers that the institutions see the hidden hand of political domination.

That was not the intention of the Finniston Committee when we said that attention should be paid to what Ministers and Government wanted. We were not talking about domination of the engineering profession by Government, and, disastrous as the present Government may be, not for one minute do I believe that their intention is to dominate the engineering profession through the Royal Charter. I am certain that that is not the intention of the Government. I believe that the Minister should take this opportunity to reassure the institutions and to make it quite plain that he is not talking about political domination of a profession and that here again their fears are exaggerated and unfounded.

The amendment talks of the accounts and the report, and here I have added to the draft charter, in that I have said that the report ought to be presented to Parliament. I believe that it should be so. I shall not elaborate on that because I see that that is the subject of a later amendment, and no doubt we can discuss it then.

When we come to the membership of the council, I have elaborated on the charter quite a bit and have made three different additions to it. First, in that part of the charter which talks about engineering employers and managers I have added trade union representatives. I took that idea really from a letter which was sent to Sir Keith Joseph by John Lyons, the General Secretary of the Engineers' and Managers' Association, on 2nd February, in which he suggested that the trade unions ought to be put into the charter. I think this is quite important. Mr. Lyons' position is important, because he was in a sense one of the instigators of the Finniston Committee in that it was he who moved the successful resolution at the TUC some years ago which encouraged the then Government to set up the committee. I am encouraged to add trade unionists to this part of the charter by the comment made by a Government Minister at the Committee stage in another place, when he assured the Committee that trade unionists would be appointed to the committee. If they would be appointed to the committee, it seems to me more sensible not merely to rely on his word (not that I doubt it) but to put a provision into the charter and enshrine their appointment to the committee, just as others are enshrined.

My second addition to the charter, which I have set out in my amendment in Clause 8(2)(c), is to suggest that: four places shall be reserved for members selected by the Secretary of State for Industry from lists nominated by the engineering institutions …". That particular proposal was taken from an anonymous footnote to the Finniston Committee which was written by a member of the committee who I normally find extremely reliable. The point about it here is that reserving four places for the institutions does two things. It ensures that the institutions are directly represented on the council, and that should reassure them in certain of their fears about the nature of outside domination. Of course, it would also prevent domination of the council by the institutions, because although we have reserved four places, four places would be a minority on the council and the council would not then be the handmaiden of the engineering institutions. They would be represented there, but they would not dominate the council.

In the same way, in paragraph (d) I have asked for two places to be reserved for representatives of the technician engineers and the engineering technicians. I have really said that because if the register goes ahead as proposed by the Government in the charter, roughly on the same lines as the engineers' register which already exists, a very large number of people on it, and possibly at some time a majority of the people on it, would be either technician engineers or technicians, and it would be quite wrong if they were not directly represented on the council which governed them. It would be wrong, too, if they were to rely for their representation on the good offices of other people. Since they would make up a sizeable number of members on the register—as I say, probably a majority —I think they should be directly represented upon it. They would not dominate it, of course; there are only two of them—one for each of these two large sections. They would not dominate it, but they would be directly represented there and their voice would be clearly and openly heard.

I want to say one thing very rapidly, because I know I am taking up a good deal of the Committee's time, but this is an important matter. On numerous occasions when we have discussed this council questions have been raised about self-regulation of the engineering profession. My noble friend Lord Hinton has mentioned this, and my noble friend Lord Mishcon has mentioned it as well. I believe that the council as defined in the charter, by which two-thirds of its members will be practising engineers, would represent self-regulation by engineers. It would not represent self-regulation by the engineering institutions because they would not be a majority. But if a majority of the council—two-thirds, in fact—were themselves practising engineers, that represents, to my mind at any rate, self-regulation by engineers, and is a complete answer, I believe, to the protestations of the institutions and others on that behalf.

The main purpose of this amendment is to permit debate on the arrangements which lie behind Clause 6 of the Bill. As I said earlier, Clause 6 is in a way a metaphorical blank cheque. We are being asked to give the Government power for something at which we can only guess, and I think that should be made clearer. But another purpose is to remind everybody engaged in discussion of the future of the engineering profession that the Finniston Committee did not reach its conclusions without careful consideration spread over rather longer than the recent discussions have taken. Monty Finniston tried to propose arrangements for engineering which would lead to improved engineering and accommodate the vested interests in engineering but not yield to them. It gave them a place, but did not permit them to dominate. The engineering institutions are very good (and I have been a member of the Civils for a very long time now) but, even so, the engineering institutions should not be taken at their own valuation. They should be taken really at the valuation which industry puts upon them, or which industry can be persuaded to put upon them. It would be wrong now if the changes which were made were not real changes.

I believe, as I have already said, that agreement is quite close, or at any rate that the area of disagreement is narrow, if that is the same thing; and I welcome that. But, in concluding, I should like to remind the Committee of the last paragraph of the letter which John Lyons sent to the Secretary of State for Industry on 2nd February, and which I have already quoted. Lyons said this: if however the Institutions refuse all reasonable compromise on this vital point, and threaten to oppose the creation of a Chartered Engineering Council on the basis of your revised draft Charter, we would urge you strongly to go for a Statutory Council without delay, when Parliament could determine the powers it should have". I draw attention to that fact merely to remind the Committee that this is not just a discussion between the Government and the engineering institutions. Other organisations are just as interested in engineering as the institutions are, and the trade union movement is certainly one of them. It would be a great mistake to yield to the institutions, admirable as they may be, at the expense of these others. I beg to move Amendment No. 1 which stands in my name.

4.40 p.m.

Lord Rochester

I agree that it is convenient that we should take all these amendments at one go, so to speak. The noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, in moving his amendment has sketched in the background sufficiently clearly to ensure that there is no need for me to go over that again. I should therefore like to speak now to Amendment No. 2, in my name on the Marshalled List, and in doing so to refer to a limited extent to the amendment which has just been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, and also, with the agreement of the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, to say a few words on the amendment which he will shortly be moving to leave out Clause 6. I hope that this will mean that the Committee will not have to suffer listening to me more than once. I rather think that what I shall have to say on the amendment of Lord Hinton of Bankside will place emphasis on the matters that he may deal with.

In a situation where, as Lord Howie of Troon has reminded us, there are conflicting views on whether the proposed new engineering council should be a statutory body or a body set up by means of a Royal Charter under the auspices of the Privy Council, the purpose of my amendment simply is to mark out a ground on which I hope we can all stand; for I am convinced that if engineers and engineering are to be held in higher esteem in society, and particularly among students, the action to be taken to achieve that objective must have the widest possible agreement. The amendment standing in my name, therefore, seeks simply to provide for the progress of the new council to be discussed by Parliament annually for the first three years of its existence during which its members are to be appointed by the Secretary of State and the Government will be empowered to give it financial support.

The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, seeks to achieve, as I understand it, rather more than my amendment in that he is aiming to obtain statutory authority for the charter and on a number of points his amendment (as he himself made plain) goes further than the charter. Specifically on the matter covered by both his amendment and mine, the requirement that a report of the engineering council should be presented to Parliament, he is asking for provision to be made for this to be done on a continuing basis whereas my amendment has a more limited objective. I welcome his proposal that included among the members of the new council should be some trade union representatives of the engineers. I understand that the Government already have in mind that there should be at least one such member of the council, but that seems a pretty meagre representation.

So my amendment represents an attempt to reach the consensus that I feel sure we all desire on what is not a party political question; and I confess to having had some difficulty in drafting it. It is designed to deal with the new engineering authority, but I suppose that it is possible that if a report of every organisation persisting in promoting the practice of engineering and receiving financial aid has to be laid before Parliament annually, as the amendment provides, that might prove to be too many of them for the purpose I have in mind to be easily achieved.

Any advice that Members of the Committee have to offer on this point will be very welcome; but I suggest that we direct our attention primarily, so far as my amendment is concerned, to the principle underlying it as it affects the proposed engineering council. That principle is that since, according to the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum of the Bill, altogether about £1 million of public expenditure is being incurred annually, "for the purposes specified in Clause 6", the Government should be accountable to Parliament each year at least for that presumably substantial part of the total expenditure which will be used for promoting the practice of engineering by the new council. If that principle can now be agreed, I feel sure that any imperfections of drafting in my amendment can easily be cleared up at the Report stage with the help of the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, now that he feels that he is, as he testified to us last week, in a state of grace and has been called to the "Ministry of Enlightenment".

So far as the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, is concerned, I wish to relate what I have to say about the clause as a whole more particularly to subsections (1)(b) and (1)(c) of that clause. As I said at Second Reading, it is welcome, that specific statutory authority is now to be provided for recurring Government expenditure to finance activities aimed at improving mutual understanding between industry and education, particularly at the schools level. But, as I also said then, time and again, arising from the evidence which has been given to your Lordships' Select Committee on Unemployment which is chaired by my noble friend Lady Seear—and I am glad to have her support at my side—our attention has been directed to the vital need to improve the links between industry and education in this country.

A number of us made a trip to Western Germany to see what went on there in this regard because, although in that country there is as everywhere else in the industrial world an increasing problem in relation to unemployment in general, the problem relating to young people, and more particularly school-leavers, is really negligible compared with the problem in this country. We found that that appeared to be attributable largely to their dual system of vocational training, as they call it, wherein young people spend a substantial part of time both in on-the-job training at work and also in further education in vocational schools, so that there is that combination of training and further education.

In Western Germany a large part of that overall training and education is financed if not by the state, at least by the provinces or Länder, as they are called. I do not doubt that there will be some reference to that point in the report of that Select Committee which will eventually be presented to the House. Speaking for myself, I feel we have a lot to gain from the German experience in that regard. So I am more than ever sorry that, as I understood what it was that the Secretary of State had to say at Second Reading of this Bill, the Government, so far from devoting more resources to these activities, are proposing to reduce the expenditure and indeed the staff engaged in them.

The noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, looks a little puzzled. If he wishes to intervene I hope he will do so. It may be that he will be able to give me some reassurance a little later.

The Earl of Gowrie

I intervene now while the point is fresh in the mind of the Committee. The Government have repeatedly said that they very much admire and have learned from the German experience in training. But the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, must also make it clear that Germany is now exactly twice as rich as this country per capita. That is a regrettable situation but it limits our freedom of manoeuvre.

Lord Rochester

I have no more to add on the point except that any saving in this direction seems to me, at least in our present circumstances, to be very shortsighted. That is all I have to say as to my amendment, my comments on Lord Howie's amendment and on the amendment which will be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside.

4.52 p.m.

Lord Hinton of Bankside

I willingly accepted the suggestion that these amendments should be aggregated for discussion. It was felt that the discussion of them might become slightly convoluted if they were dealt with in the order in which they appeared on the list. Indeed, I am not free at the moment from the impression that our debate is getting a little convoluted. I believe that it is proper for me to draw attention at this stage to the amendment which I set down which is to omit Clause 6.

Perhaps I have been negligent in that I did not see Lord Howie's amendment until I came into the Chamber this afternoon. Nor indeed did I bring with me the Hansard of the previous debate on Second Reading. However, I clearly remember saying in that debate—and I was not contradicted—that, as I understood it, we were not debating the Finniston Report. We were merely debating certain financial powers which the Secretary of State thought that he might need from any action which was taken arising from the Finniston Report. I suggest that this is still the case today and that we are discussing merely those financial measures and are not discussing the Finniston Report. I hope that that is the case.

I remember that when I was doing research at Cambridge under the late Sir Charles Inglis, he said to me: "You know, Hinton, I claim that I can make the best extemporary speech in Cambridge provided that I have a month in which to prepare it"! I have found that to be so in my own case. I shall without any doubt wake up at two o'clock tomorrow morning with a most fluent speech dealing with all those points which have been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Howie. However, for the moment, I should prefer to confine myself to what I conceive to be the purposes of this Bill; that is, to provide certain financial powers.

In the Second Reading debate, I drew attention to the fact that there was a suggestion that the Minister should appoint for the first three years the members of any body which he set up; but, thereafter, that body should be self-governing. I feel most strongly about this. The point was made both by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and myself that the engineering profession, like all of the other learned professions, is entitled to be self-governing.

In speaking on that occasion, I drew attention to the fact that, by clever manipulation, it would, under the terms of Clause 6(5)(a) and (b), be possible for the Minister to appoint the members of whatever body is set up at anytime in the future. This, I am sure, would be resented by the whole of the engineering profession. It is a learned profession and it should, like all other learned professions, be self-governing. I drew attention, also, to other weaknesses which I saw in Clause 6. For instance, to the fact that the financial terms on which the Secretary of State could make grants to such bodies as were set out were less generous than the terms which are granted to other learned societies. I said that I felt that, although the first point that I had made might possibly be remedied by altering the word "and" at the end of Clause 6(5)(a) to "or", the whole clause was open to such objection that it had better be withdrawn.

My view on that is, if anything, strengthened by what has been said this afternoon. This is a matter which is, I suggest, too important to be dealt with in a miscellaneous clause tacked on to the end of a Bill which otherwise deals with very different matters. I should still be most happy if the Committee were to decide that, rather than come to any other conclusions this afternoon, the wisest course might be to arrange a debate in which the whole matter, and not merely the financial clauses, are debated.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

Other noble Lords have underlined their reservations about Clause 6, and the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, has made certain proposals for improving it. The noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, has said, as I was going to say, that Clause 6 is a miscellaneous clause at the end of a miscellaneous Bill and that engineers rightly feel that this is a very odd way to be treated: it demeans their profession. As the noble Lord, Lord Howie, has referred to the letter from the presidents of the engineering institutions, I would only add that the letter did underline to the Secretary of State their dissatisfaction with this clause and with these proposals as they stood. To be successful, an engineering council needs to be supported by the employers, the professions and the trade unions, but it seems unlikely to happen with the proposal in the Bill at the present time, as clearly it does not have the support of the profession.

As has been said, the proposal differs from that made in the Finniston Report, in that the proposed body will be a chartered body accountable to the Privy Council and not a statutory body accountable to Parliament. That point was underlined by the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon. The profession is fearful of losing its independence: that would come about if the Government appointed all the members of the proposed council, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Hinton, said on Second Reading, the Bill as it stands means that they could continue to appoint those members.

I think we accept that regulation of the profession is needed but the proposals as at present tabled do not seem to be adequately thought out. That point was underlined very clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Howie, when he sought to insert the whole terms of the charter into the Bill and, indeed, made a number of amendments to the charter as it has been laid in the Library by the Government.

There is concern that another chartered body existing alongside the present bodies would come to be regarded as a co-equal body and not as primus inter pares. I think all I would say in supporting what has been said by a number of speakers this afternoon is that clearly there is a considerable degree of dissatisfaction about the proposals in Clause 6 as they now stand. It seems to me that the wisest course would be for the Government to take on board that there are these reservations and to have a look at them again before Report stage.

5.4 p.m.

The Earl of Gowrie

We have had a very interesting and informed debate, and one would expect that any debate which had been contributed to by the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside, would be particularly informed in this field. It was started by the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, who gave us a lucid explanation of the subject.

The Government decided against a statutory body after taking fully into account the very wide range of views and all the submissions which we received on the Finniston Report. There was considerable agreement on the need for a new body to act as a focal point for the engineering profession, but equally there was a widespread feeling that a statutory body, as wished for by the noble Lord, Lord Howie, would represent excessive Government interference in the regulation of what almost everybody wants to be a self-regulating and independent profession.

The report itself did not recommend any statutory powers for its proposed engineering authority: nor did the bulk of the evidence submitted to the Government by industrialists, institutions and educationalists. They indicated a strong preference for a royal chartered body; so I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howie, on his ingenious attempt to turn the engineering council into a statutory body. But I do not think his amendment would have that effect. Indeed, its effect could be to prevent the Secretary of State from guaranteeing the obligations of the proposed engineering council. This is because the Secretary of State would only be able to guarantee the obligations of a body of which the charter was as specified in the proposed schedule. However, the version included in the noble Lord's amendment—the version dated 23rd January—has been undergoing some revision to take account of the comments received by my right honourable friend. In consequence, the final version of the charter will not be identical in every respect to the version which the present amendment seeks to introduce in a schedule to the Bill. So I am sure the noble Lord would not intend to constrain us to a draft of the charter which had not been the subject of the necessary consultations which are needed if we are to reach the consensus which we are trying to achieve.

The noble Lord, Lord Howie, asked for reassurance about the Government's overall position. We have made clear at every stage during the passage of this Bill that nothing in our proposals is intended to diminish the importance of the engineering profession or its institutions; and I will come back, if I may, to that central point at the end of my remarks.

The noble Lord also asked about the use of the "Chartered Engineer" title. We want to proceed here by agreement and the extention of the "C. Engineering" title is a point we are discussing with everyone concerned: the profession, the employers and those concerned with education. Of course it is a difficult issue and the House will not expect me to say very much at this stage as these discussions take place, but I would emphasise that the Government's purpose has been made clear. It is to widen the recognition of all concerned with engineering, and most of all the generality of employers, and to make everyone recognise the importance in the national interest of educating, training and using effectively individuals holding the qualifications of the new council. To do so we will need to reach a conclusion which is as far as possible acceptable to everyone. We recognise that this will require give-and-take all round if the council is to be successful. In this situation I think it is unlikely that success could be achieved by unduly restricting access to the title.

The noble Lord, Lord Howie, said that my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry said in another place that trade unionists would be appointed to the council. I understand the point the noble Lord was making. We recognise that there are many interests involved besides the engineering institutions, but we want to avoid members of the council acting not as delegates but in their own right.

The noble Lord, Lord Howie, has suggested particular representatives and the Government are well aware of the importance of the first appointments to the new body, because the success of that body will depend largely on their being recognised as a well-balanced team, and of course my right honourable friend will bear that very much in mind when he makes his initial choice. With this in mind, the draft charter already specifies that, so far as practicable, the chairman and other members shall together have a wide knowledge and experience of all matters relating to the practice of engineering. I do not think it would be useful to go beyond this and specify particular interests which must be included. No one will sit on the council as a direct representative of any organisation.

I come now to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, from the Liberal Benches. The noble Lord explained that the purpose of his amendment is to require the proposed Chartered Engineering Council to submit an annual report to the Secretary of State and to require the Secretary of State to lay this before Parliament. As I shall try to explain, such a proposal would not be acceptable to the Government. But I think, first, it might be helpful if I explained that this proposed amendment, would not have the precise effect that the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, desires, as I think, in all fairness to him, the noble Lord may have acknowledged.

As the noble Lord said, the amendment would not only require a report from the engineering council, if and when we provide it with grants or loans, but it would also require a substantial number of other bodies, which currently receive support from the Government in connection with industry/education links, to submit an annual report which my right honourable friend would have then to lay before Parliament. This is because the phrase, the promotion of the practice of engineering in subsection (1) encompasses other bodies, in addition to the proposed Finniston engineering council.

As an illustration, I am able to tell your Lordships that, in the financial year 1979–80, we supported projects by 17 bodies at a total cost of some £32,000 which would have been caught by the proposed amendment; and to date, in the present financial year, we have supported a further 23 projects at a cost of £40,000. So I am sure your Lordships will accept that the effect of such a requirement would be seriously out of proportion, and would be likely to reduce the number of cases where we could support promising industry/education activities.

But I, in my work in a different Ministry, of course, care passionately about the improvement of training, and we are constantly, with the MSC and with the industrial training boards, trying to refine and improve our training and to get industry to do so as well. In an intervention, I have already paid tribute to the inspiration that we have had from looking at the German model, but I made it clear that, at the moment, the German model is a good deal further ahead than our means allow.

May I turn quickly now to the other purpose underlying the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rochester. We have given the matter serious consideration since it was raised in another place, but our view remains that it would be inappropriate to require the proposed engineering council to submit an annual report to the Secretary of State. As I have already emphasised, our intention is that Government involvement in the body should be limited to appointing its chairman and members just during the initial three-year period, and standing behind it financially to the extent that this proves necessary. Any requirement for the body to report to the Secretary of State would, in my view, be taken as an attempt by the Government to increase control of the council—the very point that the noble Lord, Lord Hinton, was anxious about.

At the same time, of course, we recognise that there will be a great deal of interest in the way that the council progresses, and my right honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary therefore undertook that we would consider whether copies of the council's annual report and accounts should be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses. We will certainly give consideration to that, and I have taken note of the interest expressed here this afternoon. But for the reasons that I have given, I would prefer that your Lordships do not at this time accept the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rochester.

The noble Lord, Lord Hinton, argued that Clause 6 would enable a Secretary of State, if he chose, to continue to nominate the members of the council beyond the initial three years that we envisage. I can assure the Committee that the noble Lord's fear is without foundation. If your Lordships care to examine again the draft charter which we have placed in the Library of the House, you will see that it is made quite clear that the Secretary of State's power to make nominations shall extend for only three years. Nothing in Clause 6 would enable the Secretary of State to amend the charter in any way. It follows that the provisions could not, therefore, on any interpretation, be used to extend the Secretary of State's powers of nomination in the way that the noble Lord suggested they might. I can understand that the meaning of subsections (4) and (5)—

Lord Hinton of Bankside

If I may intervene, I spelled out in the Second Reading debate the way in which those subsections could be used in order to enable the Secretary of State to nominate the members of the body in perpetuity. He has only to foreclose on the loan, after which the body would have to go to the money market to raise such amount as was outstanding, and the body would not be able to do that without getting a Government guarantee. I suggest that if such a Government guarantee were given, the subsections to which I referred could entitle the Secretary of State to make nominations.

The Earl of Gowrie

My instinct is that if the Secretary of State wished to proceed in such a tortuous way to try to establish this control, which we have repeatedly disclaimed having any interest in, and which we do not feel the legislation allows, he would find it much more convenient—presumably, he would enjoy a parliamentary majority of some kind—to come back to Parliament and take control directly—

Lord Hinton of Bankside

If the noble Earl will forgive me once more, I said very clearly in the Second Reading debate that I did not for one moment suggest that the present Secretary of State would do this, but that once the Bill is on the statute book it could be done and the present Secretary of State cannot commit his successors.

The Earl of Gowrie

Of course I recognise that, but I am not making the point simply about the present Secretary of State. I was trying to say that it would seem to me that this route to control would be so tortuous as to argue that a subsequent Secretary of State, assuming he wished to take control, would simply take it by legislation. But we have tried to draft these provisions very carefully to identify the engineering council and also to define the borrowings which may be guaranteed as those incurred while the Secretary of State appoints the members, and that provision is the one which should set the noble Lord's mind at rest.

It grieves me that we should be apart on this, because I recognise from all that he has said—and, of course, from his career, to put it mildly—that we are after the same thing in this legislation. But all the advice I have is that, while the meaning of subsections (4) and (5) of this clause which relate to the guarantees to which the noble Lord has just drawn our attention, may not be immediately apparent, this is simply because we had to introduce the Bill before a name had been settled for the new body and that causes some drafting difficulties. But as I have just said, the provisions were carefully drafted to identify the engineering council and also, therefore, to define the borrowings which may be guaranteed as those incurred while the Secretary of State appoints the members. Therefore, I think that we can reassure the Committee that no amendment is required to clarify or to restrict this meaning of the clause.

Over and above that, we have made it clear at every stage during the passage of the Bill that nothing in these proposals is intended to diminish the importance of the engineering profession or its institutions. Nor do we see any continuing need for Government involvement in the chartered engineering council. While we are willing initially to appoint its chairman and members, we will do so in such a way as to reflect the broad range of interests involved. Then we shall leave the council to get on with its work. At the end of three years the council will, after consulting widely, recommend how further members of the council will be elected or nominated. But that is all in line with the way that my right honourable friend has made it so clear that the Government are not seeking to regulate the profession.

In the light of these repeated assurances, of my explanation of the difficulty we have had in that the name of the body has not yet been established, and of my repeated indications of the way we have drafted the Bill to define the borrowings which may be guaranteed as those incurred while the Secretary of State is in the process of appointing the members, I hope that noble Lords will feel themselves able to withdraw these amendments.

Lord Howie of Troon

I do not in fact intend to press my amendment. I am reluctant, however, to withdraw it immediately in case, by so doing, inadvertently I prevent others from speaking in reply to later amendments. I assure the Committee that I shall certainly do so in the fullness of time, but first may I make one or two comments.

One of the values of today's debate is that it has given to the Government an opportunity, which I believe they have taken, to allay the fears of the institutions, fears which were very clearly illuminated in the various interventions and comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hinton of Bankside. His place as an eminent engineer at the head of the profession is absolutely unrivalled. The fact that he is subject to these fears is a very real measure of how far they spread throughout the profession. I think that the Government have to my satisfaction, as a much more junior member of the profession than the noble Lord, managed to allay these fears, and I sincerely hope that both he and others of influence in the profession will feel the same.

However, I agree very strongly with the noble Lord about one point which he raised: partly because of these fears and partly because of the place which engineering has in the economy of the country as a whole, the entire matter is too important to be brought in at the tail end of a Bill which deals with entirely different matters. I quite understand that the Government were looking for an opportunity to do something and to take quite beneficial powers, and that they took advantage of a Bill which happened to be there and added a clause on to the end of it. But I do not really believe that this is the correct way to deal with an important matter.

My next point arises from the comments of my noble friend on the Front Bench. He quite rightly drew attention to the dissatisfaction of the institutions with certain aspects of the proposed legislation. However, I would remind him that although the fact that the institutions are dissatisfied is of interest and of importance in the disccussions, this by itself does not mean that the Government are wrong. I would ask him to think over that point very carefully during the remainder of the discussions on the Bill.

My last point relates entirely to the comments of the noble Earl the Minister on my Amendment No. 3 in which I introduce into the legislation part at least of the charter. The noble Earl was quite right to say that my amendment was the wrong one, in the sense that the charter which I used for the amendment has been overtaken by events and has been turned down. There have been discussions since then which no doubt will lead to an amended charter in the fullness of time.

I am inclined to think that the best way to proceed is this. Should there fail to be proper agreement between the Government and the various interested bodies during the next week or so, the right thing would be for the noble Earl to put down at Report stage an amendment similar to mine but based on the revised charter, so far as it had got by the time we reached Report. If it is inappropriate for the noble Earl to do that and he cares to give me a copy of the charter in the state which it has then reached, I shall be happy to put down the amendment for him. That would overcome the difficulty to which he quite rightly drew our attention.

I wish to withdraw Amendment No. 1, the amendment which we are debating in the formal sense, but may I ask whether I should do so now or later?

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

The noble Lord should do so now.

Lord Howie of Troon

I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 1.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.27 p.m.

Lord Rochester moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 4, line 24, at end insert— ("( ) Every body which in the opinion of the Secretary of State is assisting in the promotion of the practice of engineering and to which he makes a grant or a loan under the provisions of this section shall, not less than once in each year commencing with 1982, make a report to the Secretary of State as to the discharge of its functions and the Secretary of State shall forthwith lay a copy of any such report before each House of Parliament.").

The noble Lord said: With the permission of the Committee, may I formally move my amendment. I am disappointed with the response of the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, to my blandishments. I think I made it plain that I recognised it was possible that if a report from every organisation assisting in the promotion of the practice of engineering had to be laid before Parliament, there might prove to be too many of them for the idea to be practicable. I take the point which the noble Earl made in response to that. I acknowledge those practical difficulties.

At the same time I suggested that in considering my amendment the Committee should address itself to the principle underlying it in so far as it affected the engineering council. I said that that principle was that since so much public expenditure was involved, it was only right that during the period that this expenditure was so involved the Government should be accountable to Parliament each year, at least for that part of the expenditure which was concerned with the promotion of the practice of engineering through the engineering council. So I acknowledged that point and I am rather sorry about the response to it of the noble Earl.

I was not planning that this report should be made to Parliament indefinitely but only for a limited period. I note what the noble Earl has said about the possibility of reports being deposited in the Library and I understand that he is to give further consideration to that matter. But my overall feeling is one of disappointment.

In all the circumstances, 1 do not think that I should seek at this stage to press my amendment further but I should like to reserve my position so far as the Report stage is concerned. I still hope that on this general question, having in mind all the amendments, it might somehow be possible to reach a measure of agreement, not simply between the movers of the amendments this afternoon but with the Government. With those reservations, therefore, I beg leave at this stage to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

[Amendment No. 3 not moved.]

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.