§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Lord Howie of Troon rose to call attention to the status of qualified engineers and of engineering; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am pleased to see the assembly of noble Lords who have put down their names to speak on this Motion and am particularly glad that two noble Lords have chosen to make their maiden speeches on this subject today.
§ I hope that noble Lords will not think that I am too vainglorious if I start by saying that the development 1130 of civilisation since its beginnings has been greatly dependent on the inventiveness, imagination and foresight of engineers. The ancient civilisations of the Middle East depended on feats of irrigation and flood control and a programme of public works of a magnitude sometimes rising to grandiosity. Some years ago a colleague of mine, the late Sir Harold Harding, an eminent tunneller, reminded us that six out of the seven wonders of the ancient world were all the work of structural engineers. When we talk of the ancient wonders, we do not normally think of them as engineering works, but that is what they were.
§ The physical environment in which we live today is no less the work of engineers. If you look around, virtually everything you see is the work of engineers, with perhaps a certain amount of help from architects and farmers. The infrastructure in which we live and on which we depend is largely the work of engineers. The quality of civilisation is measured by the achievements of its artists, philosophers and men of affairs, but let us not forget that, were it not for engineers, those men and women would still be scratching their ideas on the walls of caves. Yet, for all that, the engineer and his profession are not awarded the status in our society commensurate with the contribution that they make to it.
§ Can anything be done to remedy that state of affairs? Much of the remedy lies in the hands of the engineers themselves. For a start, they could blow their own trumpet a bit more loudly than they generally do. I hope that I help to do that today. The engineering employers could pay their employees more, thus encouraging clever people into the profession. The industry could do that for itself, but the Government could help. This is not a party matter as governments of all political persuasions have neglected engineering. The Government have a role to play.
§ That lack of recognition was observed several years ago by the Finniston committee of inquiry into the engineering profession which, as noble Lords will remember, reported to Parliament just over 11 years ago. The committee commissioned a survey among the general public to discover public attitudes to engineers and engineering. The findings of the survey were somewhat miserable. It discovered that nearly one-fifth of respondents expressed complete ignorance about what engineers did. About two-thirds perceived an engineer as someone doing manual work, probably with machinery. Only 13 per cent. associated the title with design or research work at a professional level. When given a definition of a professional engineer, half the sample then perceived the title as denoting someone senior, but only a minority, and then only when prompted, thought that a professional engineer would require a university degree. The committee also noted a misleading and somewhat irritating national tendency to regard engineering as a subordinate branch of science. In that respect noble Lords will have noted that the so-called Science Museum is packed full of engineering and has little science in it.
Most of Finniston's inquiry was aimed at manufacturing industry and not at construction, which is my own line of country. He stressed the
crucial part that manufacturing still plays in the British economy, although a smaller part than it once played. The committee said:
Engineers were involved in each stage of the manufacturing process, from the technical appraisal of world market opportunities and the translation of those appraisals to the design of products and systems to exploit the opportunities through to the development, manufacture, sale, delivery and service of the products".
That continuous interplay provided the basis of what Finniston called "the engineering dimension". The committee proposed that a statutory engineering authority should be set up, with government funding, aimed at promoting the engineering dimension and correcting the misleading, and often plain wrong, perception of engineering held by the general public, the media, the education establishment and, it goes without saying, Whitehall.
§ That sensible proposal was not taken up by the Government. Instead, they set up the Engineering Council, a non-statutory body without much in the way of public funding apart from a modest £3 million start-up grant covering its first three years and possibly as much again for a variety of specific purposes since then. In all fairness to the Engineering Council, it tries to blow the engineers' trumpet as well as it can, although sometimes with an uncertain sound. Some industrial concerns, notably British Gas, have joined in too.
§ Although the Government have given the Engineering Council a certain amount of support and offered support in the form of ministerial encouragement, they could have done more overtly to encourage the profession. Let us compare its treatment with that of another profession, a glamorous, new one which has reached stardom in the past 15 or so years and has obtained the approval and support of Downing Street; namely, design.
§ Design is a concept of which engineers are well aware. It is right at the centre of the engineering dimension, but, as the structural engineer Ted Happold pointed out in a recent lecture, engineering design is a technological idea as distinct from a visual style or fashion. The newly fashionable design profession is overwhelmingly concerned with style, although it is fair to say not entirely. Nothing infuriates an engineer more than to be told that someone has designed a train when what he has done is chosen the upholstery, had speedlines painted along the outside of the carriages or done a nose job on the 125, as Sir Peter Parker immortally put it. He might be even more irked to learn that the Government not only entertain leading designers to parties at No. 10 but also fund the Design Council to the tune of £6 million a year, so I am told. That is about as much in the last year as the Engineering Council has received since its inception eight or more years ago.
§ The reason for all that lies deep in the two-culture society which older Members of the House will remember was described by C.P. Snow, later Lord Snow, a generation ago. In one of its dual capacities, design sits happily among the arts and is therefore respectable and enjoys space in the intellectual parts of 1132 the better Sunday newspapers. In its engineering capacity it does not. I believe that polite circles do not realise that engineering design exists.
§ That blind spot is a feature of British intellectual life. It amused Ted Happold, whom I mentioned a moment ago, to quip that everybody knew Whistler's mother but not too many knew that his father came over from America to learn about railway engineering from George Stephenson. As a matter of fact, Whistler's uncle came over at the same time and both of them went back to engineer the Baltimore-Ohio railway. Happold was making a joke, but to engineers at any rate it is a slightly sour joke.
§ The same blind spot applies when we turn to the accreditation—I have mentioned this in the House before—of a new building to a designer. It is a fact of modern architectural design that a good deal of it is of a highly engineered nature. Going back in time a little, it is widely thought that Paxton designed the Crystal Palace. But the real hero was Charles Fox, who made it and in fact designed it. Paxton conceived it and deserves the credit for that, but the real hero was an engineer. Noble Lords will recall that the architect Utzon, faced with the difficulties and impracticabilities of realising his scheme for the Sydney Opera House, was encouraged to flee and the design was completed by Ove Arup. So when we talk about the Sydney Opera House, we should say that it is Ove Arup's Sydney Opera House with a little help at an early stage from Utzon.
§ There is much more I can say along that line and I am sure noble Lords will be pleased to learn that I have some time left in which to say it. Let us turn to some of the more notable buildings of the present day: the Pompidou Centre in Paris, Lloyd's in the City, the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank, the new terminal at Stansted which was opened a fortnight or so ago and the proposed new international extension at Waterloo Station, which some of us had the opportunity to see a week or so ago—although that is not quite true because we saw a hole in the ground where the station eventually will be, but we saw pictures of the station. All those structures, which are eminently interesting and highly notable, are works of architecture which would have been impossible without high grade engineering. The juncture of architectural style and design with engineering design is what makes such buildings realisable.
§ It is an area in which the engineer should be given equal recognition and status with the architect. The engineer should demand it. However, he does not have the opportunity to do so because, as noble Lords will recall, when the copyright Act went through Parliament in 1988, it was proposed that the copyright of a building should be held by the architect and a new right—the moral right to be recognised publicly—was also to be held by the architect. Eventually the Government were persuaded that the engineer should have a place as well. But they were not sufficiently straightforward merely to put into the Act the words "engineer" and "engineering structure". What they did was curious. They changed the word "architect" to "author", to include engineer. They also defined "building" so as to include a "fixed structure". That 1133 was a parliamentary draftsman's way of confusing a fairly straightforward issue. It is true that a building is a structure. But there are a great many structures which are not buildings—the most obvious is a tunnel or a lock gate. That kind of clarity is readily observed by engineers but apparently is hidden from parliamentary draftsmen.
§ I end by asking the Minister to do two things only. One is to help improve the status of the engineer and engineering. I suggest that he re-reads the Finniston Report and reconsiders the Government's response to it to see how well the Engineering Council meets the propositions laid down by the Finniston committee. One last thing I ask the Minister to do is to insist that his colleagues in government and the Civil Service should read a book called Zen and the Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. If he is worried about the title, I can tell him that there is not much Zen in it—in fact there is no Zen in it—but there is a good deal which explains the attitude of the engineer and even more important what engineering is all about. That book should be compulsory reading in Whitehall. I know that the Minister has read it but I am quite sure that not too many of his colleagues have done so. I sincerely hope that they will.
§ My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Lord Lane of Horsell
My Lords, as a new Member of your Lordships' House I am very conscious of the privilege and of the opportunities provided. I hope that I may be forgiven if, at the moment of embarking on my maiden speech, I am more conscious of feelings of apprehension than of privilege. I am particularly pleased to speak on such a vital subject as the status of engineers and engineering. I am much obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, for introducing the debate.
I am not an engineer and crave the indulgence of those who have professional expertise in the subject. I am a chartered accountant. I have been in practice for some 40 years throughout which time I have been well aware of the skills and abilities of the qualified enginee r and of engineering. Since in many ways they are synonymous with manufacturing industry, I suppose that engineering has provided a substantial part of my fee income, albeit indirectly, for the whole of that period. I am therefore conscious of the need to maintain and enhance the status of engineers in Britain.
It is unfortunate that as part of our strange, historical, anti-industrial culture, the engineering skills held in such high honour in countries such as France. Germany and Japan do not receive equal esteem in Britain. That state of affairs has arisen despite the good intentions of government, employers and trades unions and the fact that engineering is a vital component of manufacturing industry. Fifty per cent. of British engineering graduates enter the manufacturing sector. Thus, in theory, when manufacturing flourishes, so do engineers. In recent years there has been a sustained growth in manufacturing in Britain in output and exports. Yet I do not believe that in themselves those great 1134 achievements have been reflected in the enhanced status of qualified engineers. Acknowledgment of their importance within industry is essential if their status is to be improved. Equally vital is an acknowledgment of the importance of the engineer within society in general. As a professional but an outside observer, that aspect is of particular interest to me.
As in so many elements of life, everything begins at school. The traditional anti-science basis of much education in Britain has done little for engineering. I hope very much that the new national curriculum, whereby all pupils in maintained schools must study science, mathematics and technology during their entire time at school, will not only ensure that those who wish to pursue a scientific career have a better grounding but also that those who take up non-scientific careers will have a basic understanding of scientific disciplines. In the very long term this should of course promote a greater appreciation of engineers and of the value of science and engineering throughout society.
I have been given some statistics which show that the number of engineering graduates produced by our higher education system is growing fast. It is projected to rise by a third to 28,000 in 1993-94. From a broader spectrum of qualifications in 1986, the percentage of the age group of young people with higher education qualifications in engineering was greater than in either the USA or Germany. That is at least impressive, if only to correct the common impression that we always lag behind our partners in these fields. One can detect a number of initiatives that should provide new and growing opportunities for young people—girls and boys—to embark on careers in science and engineering.
I have little doubt that the standard of our qualified engineers is comparable to that of any of our European partners. But it is not enough simply to provide growing opportunities for the education and training of engineers, vital though such opportunities are. What is necessary, and necessary now, is an across-the-board recognition of the importance of the engineer within our companies.
Starting salaries for engineering graduates in industry tend to be low. Senior salaries at the end of a career also tend to be low. I suspect that there is a general perception that engineering is not a route to the top in industry. Too many science and engineering graduates tend to swap career paths into what they see as easier and faster routes to the top through the disciplines of accountancy, law and merchant banking.
As I said, we need to develop a recognition of the importance of the engineer across the board and on the board. Other leading industrial countries appear to have more engineers at company board level than we do. Clearly British companies need to recognise more fully the importance of engineers. Engineers must learn to apply their skills in a company-wide context. Major innovations have undoubtedly been made in that field and in training generally. The skills revolution is undoubtedly taking place. How best can we secure standards and ensure that those standards 1135 are met in increasing numbers? It is in the world of education that the foundation has to be laid. The status of engineers has never been more important. Enhancement of that qualification and status should flourish as industry, in the centre of our national and economic life, also flourishes.
I thank your Lordships for listening to me so courteously. I am glad to have had the opportunity to make my maiden speech on a matter of great interest to me.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Lord Kirkwood
My Lords, on behalf of the House I should like to compliment the noble Lord, Lord Lane of Horsell, on his excellent maiden speech. He is clearly a man who is well-informed on matters involving manufacturing industry. He spoke with great sympathy of the problem of engineers even though he happens to be an accountant. We look forward to contributions that he will no doubt make on this and other subjects in the future. I understand that he is a member of the MCC. Perhaps the best way that I can put it is to say that he has made a splendid first innings and I wish his batting average well in the future.
I too welcome the opportunity in the debate to air an issue which many people regard as being at the root of the so-called British disease. It is the attitude of our society towards manufacturing industry, and, bound up with that, the esteem in which engineers and engineering is held by the educated and influential classes. It is a moot point whether, by winning the Battle of Waterloo, we lost a more important battle: that is, to obtain an education system capable of providing people with the right skills and attitudes for a modern society whose wealth and quality of life is based on a sound manufacturing industry. France's Ecoles Polytechniques were set up primarily to provide military and civil engineers well grounded in mathematics and science to maintain the French empire. They were educated men who had a high status in their society. The Continental engineers from present day polytechnics and from Technische Hochschule are their direct descendants. They enjoy the same privileged reputation.
However, as a result of Waterloo, the Napoleonic influence unfortunately did not cross the Channel. By comparison the British engineers who helped to create the Industrial Revolution in this country—brilliant and ingenious though they were—were men without formal education in science and mathematics. They were not university men. The brilliant Essay on Technology and the Academics by the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, describes well the resistance of the English universities to the penetration of science. Some of those men were illiterate.
In spite of the changes that have occurred in our education system, the fact remains that engineers in Britain are regarded in some circles as tradesmen or craftsmen rather than professionals alongside lawyers, doctors—and perhaps I should add accountants. Engineering is still seen as a dull, dirty occupation requiring brawn rather than brain. I wonder how 1136 Wittgenstein, who was trained as an aeronautical engineer, would have regarded that. The depressing fact is that many able young people in the process of choosing careers also have that view and opt for some apparently more glamorous and rewarding career. The idea therefore becomes self-fulfilling.
As a proportion of the population Britain produces fewer engineers than competitor nations. The figure is about two-thirds of graduates at first degree level compared with Germany, and one-half compared with Japan. No doubt the poor performance of manufacturing industry cannot be blamed entirely on the lack of qualified engineers in this country. Obviously poor marketing and bad management must play a part. However, good product design, high quality, high productivity and low cost are factors in which technology plays a key part, and so should properly trained engineers. Improvement in the UK's manufacturing output will not be achieved without the right quality and quantity of engineers.
Paradoxically a recent ACOST report on education and employment states that many of our graduates in industry complain of being bored and not stretched. They feel entirely under-utilised. Frequently they are required to carry out undemanding tasks which could and should be done by technicians and craftsmen. Clearly there is a management problem here. The lack of an infrastructure of trained technicians is perhaps an even greater scandal given the unemployment of youths in the 16 to 18 year-old bracket.
The ACOST report concerns itself with the education of scientists and technologists and the fall in graduate numbers in both categories. It draws attention to the fact that science and technology courses are seen as dull, crammed with facts, lacking excitement and delivered in formal lectures with little opportunity to develop other talents such as communication skills. There seems to be more than a little germ of truth in those accusations. The changes that the report recommends should be considered seriously by all in education.
Part of the problem in engineering and technology is that many teachers have little contact with industry, with small knowledge of the problem solving that goes on in industry and the excitement that that can generate. The interchange of staff between education and industry can help, though difficult logistical problems are involved.
It appears from the report that television, radio and the press are the most influential factors in determining the attitudes of the young towards careers. Unfortunately, they have more influence than parents or teachers. If we are to change the attitudes of the young we must enlist the support of these powerful and persuasive influences. The suggestion of soap operas involving the day-to-day exploits of engineers has been ridiculed. However, I can see no problem in occasionally introducing practitioners in order to show that they eat, drink, procreate and generally misbehave like everyone else and to destroy the present-day dull stereotype.
More importantly we engineers need a champion on the box. We need an enthusiast such as David Bellamy or David Attenborough, or a robust 1137 iconoclast such as John Harvey-Jones. We do not need more programmes such as "Tomorrow's World" or "Horizon", where the audience is presented with scientific marvels or wonder products which create a gap between the viewer and the subject. The viewer needs to become intimately involved in understanding the kinds of problem faced in engineering. They are not merely the technical problems of stresses, strains and structures but the overall problems involved in, for example, building a bridge or developing a new aircraft. There are problems such as the limitation imposed by materials, the legal and social requirements and the ways of dealing with pollution effects. In the human dimension there is also the effect of public reaction. Youth often holds technology responsible for the damage done to the environment. While that may appear to be unfair to industrialists and technologists since the public as customer demanded the goods, it is only by better and different technology that we can bring about improvements.
In devising a solution the well-rounded engineer must be alive to all those factors. In some degree they may be incompatible. There are no perfect solutions; compromises must be made. The situation is more akin to that which confronts his or her professional colleagues in the law and in medicine than that of the pure scientist, whose problems are generally more clearly defined. For an engineer satisfaction and excitement is achieved by obtaining an effective and economic solution to a problem. If the sense of excitement and worth can be passed down we shall be a long way down the road towards recruiting young men and women to a great profession that can and must influence the quality of life for us all.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Lord Amwell
My Lords, it is with some trepidation that I rise to speak for the first time in your Lordships' Chamber. I ask for the indulgence of the House for the few words that I have to say.
I am of course greatly indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, for initiating this important debate. It seems to be a truism that when two or more engineers are gathered together sooner rather than later the discussion will turn to bemoaning their low status in this country. The debate gives us an official opportunity to do so and as a practising chartered civil engineer I wish to take advantage of it. Most of my comments will be based on my experience in civil engineering but they hold true in most other aspects of engineering.
It is always a slightly unnerving experience for a qualified British engineer to go to other countries in Europe or in the third world and to find that he is treated as someone rather special just because he is an engineer. That is an experience that he never has at home. What therefore is this abstract thing called status? The Oxford dictionary presents a problem for it contains two definitions which appear in the context of today's debate to be mutually contradictory. The first is "relative importance" and the second is "social position".
If relative importance was the criterion the status of qualified engineers and engineering would be of the 1138 highest because without them modern civilisation as we know it today would not be possible. Perhaps I may take this Chamber as an example—I should be speaking much louder because there would be no amplification, no television and no electric light. We should to all intents and purposes be back in the 17th century. Every development since then necessary for a modern civilisation has been and continues to be provided by engineers. One has only to look at the situation in Kuwait, or worse still in Iraq, to see what deprivation is brought about by a complete breakdown in the engineering infrastructure.
Therefore, as regards the criterion of relative importance, most if not all other professions would bow to engineering. This is of course what happens in other more successful nations such as Germany and Japan but it does not happen here.
On the other hand, social position is what every engineer believes he lacks relative to most of his fellow professionals. That definition is the crux of today's debate. The noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, has identified the British perception of an engineer as an artisan who comes to mend the tap, the car or the telly. The preface "qualified" or "chartered" engineer does not change the image.
Yet the chartered engineer, like most professionals today, must be a graduate and undertake a lengthy post-graduate training in order to achieve chartered status. The average period to become a chartered civil engineer, including obtaining a degree, is nine years. That is indeed longer than is the case in most other professions. What reward can an engineer expect from society for all this hard work? Certainly no social position and in financial terms a very bleak outlook indeed.
On graduating his salary may be close to or even slightly above that of other graduates. But we need to look further into the future to obtain a better perspective. Seven years after graduation a graduate in the financial sector can expect to be earning 60 per cent. above the average of all graduates of his age; a lawyer 20 per cent more; an accountant 15 per cent. more. However, a civil engineer will be earning 4 per cent. less than the average graduate. That is a position beaten only by teachers and social workers.
Does any of this matter? Does it matter that one relatively privileged professional group lacks status compared to other professionals? Yes, I am certain that it does. Ours is a country that lives and exports on the quality of its engineering products. Those products are brought into being by the design skills of professional engineers. Without adequate numbers of those engineers the ability in this country to create properly designed, well engineered, competitively priced products will progressively diminish. I do not believe that anyone would disagree that we have seen that ability diminish during the past 20 years; some would say during the past century.
But the number and quality of youngsters hoping to become qualified engineers is in decline relative to the number of graduates in other areas. In 1988 engineering firms outside the construction sector took in 20 per cent. of all graduates but reported a shortfall in their requirements of a further 20 per cent. The 1139 construction sector took in just 8 per cent. but reported a shortfall of a staggering 24 per cent. Graduates either were not available or could not be persuaded to come into engineering. According to the laws of supply and demand such a shortfall should produce an increase in the number of engineering students. However, I understand that while it is rising slightly, it is not rising fast enough to meet the shortfall in demand. Teachers and parents seem to continue to believe that engineering is poorly paid and of low overall reward.
The result is a failure to attract post A-level students on to engineering courses and, on graduation, there is a loss of the cream of engineering graduates from their natural home in engineering into other professions. There is no doubt that part of the problem can and should be laid at the door of the engineering profession for failing to promote more widely the value of what it does. Also, it is part of a wider malaise in Britain that seems to me deliberately to undervalue the work done by those who make things.
I have no instant solutions as to how that balance may be redressed. However, solutions must be found if we are to avoid slipping further behind the rest of Europe in our engineering base and if we are to remain an economic force in Europe in the 21st century. I thank your Lordships for listening to me on this difficult occasion but fortunately I am speaking on a subject in which I have a close personal interest.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, it is my pleasure and privilege on behalf of the whole House to be the first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Amwell, on his maiden speech. I must confess that I had not had the pleasure of meeting the noble Lord before today but I am sure your Lordships will agree with me that the noble Lord's speech demonstrates very clearly his knowledge and experience of these matters. Also, it was a good trailer for the many contributions which I hope that the noble Lord will make in the future. It is a tradition of our Cross-Benches that they represent a considerable degree of expertise in all sorts of different subjects. The noble Lord is a very welcome addition to that great range of knowledge.
It is the practice in your Lordships' House that a maiden speaker should be congratulated only by the speaker immediately following him. However, I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I express a few words of appreciation for the maiden speech of my noble friend and kinsman Lord Lane of Horsell. I am delighted to have my noble friend alongside me if only because I am married to his daughter. I look forward to my noble friend's contributions in the future.
The House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, for raising this important matter. I must start by declaring an interest as a director of a company involved in engineering and also as president of METCOM which is a group of trade associations within this sector.
The noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, and indeed those noble Lords who spoke after him have referred 1140 to the importance of engineering which is, I suppose, self-evident. After all engineering represents nigh on 10 per cent. of our gross domestic product and plays an absolutely crucial role in many of our national activities as I discovered, if I did not appreciate it already, when I served as Minister for Defence Procurement in the Ministry of Defence. Imagine defence procurement without engineering!
That percentage of GDP—about 10 per cent—is historically rather low. In earlier times it was much higher. I suspect that some of the decline from those historically high levels of engineering activity as a proportion of the whole was inevitable and perhaps not altogether a bad thing. Nevertheless, I believe we should now be thinking of ways to inject new life into the sector. That is why I welcome today's debate. Clearly, training will play a critical role. I warmly endorse all the recent training initiatives which the Government have taken. Governments do not have a magic wand and, less still, unlimited funds. I believe that the industry, teaching and training establishments and, indeed, engineers and potential engineers must try to do more.
First, I believe that the industry itself can help to raise the status of its qualified engineers, no doubt by paying them more, as the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, and my noble friend Lord Lane said, but equally importantly, by seeking to fill middle and senior level managerial posts from the ranks of those with relevant qualifications. If the term "relevant qualifications" is to include engineering qualifications, then engineering training should include some instruction in management skills. Increasingly, I hope that it will.
One way the Government could help in a process to which I know they attach importance would be by the creation of, for example, a Queen's Award for engineering excellence. There are already several important Queen's Awards which are much sought after and highly prized. A new award in this sphere would be a source of encouragement and inspiration. I believe that there is already a Queen's Award for technological achievement which is not quite the same. I see that the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, is nodding her head. She will know what I am talking about because I believe I am right in saying that when she was Lord Lieutenant of London she would have presented many such awards.
Secondly, I should like to refer to the role of the universities and polytechnics. The enormous degree of freedom which they enjoy in spending the large sums of public money placed at their disposal has not served the taxpayer very well. While more and more of our young people enter those establishments—and rightly so—fewer and fewer are emerging with the qualifications which our nation so badly needs. Should not more of the funding provided for the purposes of higher education be earmarked from the start for courses in the disciplines which we all so badly need? Why is it so improper for universities to say to potential undergraduates, "You may come here to read an engineering subject but not, for example, 1141 the history of sociology"? Nobody admires sociological historians more than I do, but as a nation we do not need as many of them as we do engineers.
I shall put that another way. Would it not be possible to say to universities and polytechnics that they should ensure that perhaps 10 per cent of their graduates have studied subjects of direct relevance to manufacturing industry which, after all, creates at least the same percentage of our national wealth and sometimes a much greater percentage of university funding?
I recognise that academic freedom is an article of faith which we in this House especially hold dear. However, surely we are entitled to ask the defenders of the present system within academia what steps they propose to take to ensure that their institutions begin to serve the country perhaps rather better than has been the case recently. Mere calls for more money will not do.
Finally, I turn to engineers and potential engineers. I hope that our young people will not be easily seduced by the apparent easy wealth to be derived from, say, a career in front of a video screen which, as recent history has shown, is not always all that it is cracked up to be. As the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, said, engineers should blow their own trumpets rather more, and here the professional bodies have a role to play.
The long term future of our economy depends crucially on the health of our manufacturing industry within which engineering plays a vital part. Of course the Government can help but in the end, as Charles I said before his execution:Put not your trust in princes for in them there is no salvation".No! The key to progress in this matter lies within the industry itself and within the educational and training establishments. It depends upon the enthusiasm and dedication of those who can restore Great Britain to its rightful place as a major world producer.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, I am glad that this debate has involved participation by a number of noble Lords who are not engineers. It is very much up to us to do our best to cure the inferiority complex that I detect in some of my engineering friends. I hope to do that by referring to one engineer in particular.
The debate is timely. Within the past few weeks Gordon Eddie, a distinguished engineer, died. He worked in the Torry research station as an engineer. Much of the development in regard to fishing trawlers and freezing was brought about through his efforts. He happened to be a member of my team in the Falklands. I there discovered what one may call the cultural background of an engineer.
Gordon Eddie had a capacity to understand issues which the rest of us did not naturally understand. Matters arose on which we needed his kind of mind. At an early stage he said that it was time he went to examine the freezer which was on one of the islands in the Falklands. He had to swim to reach it. When he arrived he found that it was about to blow up. His help in that incident was a benefit we had not foreseen.
1142 He was of value also when we examined the airfield and considered the possibility of its taking long-range aircraft. If that had been possible, the Falklands war might have been avoided. His understanding of the LCN—the bearing quality of the runway—was fundamental. That cultural background—the engineer's background and understanding—is of great value to the community today.
It is difficult to say to what that background is due. I believe the engineer needs to he much more bold, proud and confident of his abilities. He deals in practicalities. As one engineer explained to me, he deals in three dimensions. He must plan. Finally, he is essentially concerned with making the project work. No scientist could work successfully without the engineer putting into effect his work.
I hope noble Lords, and particularly those who are engineers, will not feel at a disadvantage alongside those who work in the City. Their community value is much greater to the public at large. Therefore I congratulate my noble friend Lord Howie on introducing this important debate.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Lord Crook
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howie, for introducing the debate this evening. I am a chartered civil engineer and proud to be one even if it means that from time to time I dirty my hands in carrying out my work; that is not important.
The noble Lord, Lord Howie, referred to the fact that few people know what an engineer is. Several speakers drew attention to the common misunderstanding that they repair washing machines and motor cars. Even members of my family appear to be under that misconception. It is part of our problem that anyone in this country may call themselves an engineer. Somehow or other the honourable appellation of mechanic is no longer fashionable. We do not see mechanics in garages any more; it is engineers who come to fix our cars. I do not know why that is. There is nothing wrong with being a mechanic. In Victorian days the mechanics' institutes were very much the educators of a large number of our technological population.
Be that as it may, it must be borne in mind that in many continental countries the term "engineer" is reserved for what we in this country call a professional or a qualified engineer in the terms of the Motion before us. It is a strange fact that architects have reserved their appellation in a way that engineers have not. I do not know how that came about, but one must qualify as an architect before one may use that description.
Much has been said about the relative remuneration of engineers and that of other professional people. Perhaps we should bear in mind that in only recent history engineers tended to be drawn from a class that was already well endowed with social status; they entered engineering—certainly in the branch of civil engineering that I entered—as a way of exerting a useful and constructive influence on the life of the country. As such, when one became an entrant into a 1143 firm of consulting engineers one did not expect to be paid. One's parents tended to pay for one's two-year or so apprenticeship.
A rueful story is told in our profession of one gentleman who, after two-and-a-half years, approached the boss and asked whether he could have a salary. He was told that the boss man deprecated the mercenary attitude creeping into young engineers; whereupon the young man fled without a salary for yet another few months. I was brought up in the aftermath of that era. Engineers were not supposed to be paid very much. We were told that we had job satisfaction and that that was as much as anyone could reasonably expect. The realities of buying groceries were not considered.
Engineers are much to blame for the situation in which they find themselves. One of the problems is that engineering is far too interesting, despite the gloomy picture that may be painted by some people of the apparently boring nature of what we do. I have a vivid memory of conducting some experiments on a working model of a dam. A small boy whom I had brought to see it stood with his mouth open in awe and said, "Do they pay you as well?" I had to assure him that in fact they did.
We in our profession do not help ourselves. We are too interested in what we do and we are content, to some extent, to take a subordinate role in the affairs of industry in return for a quiet life and the opportunity to do the things we really find interesting. That is not the way in which one progresses in this world. However, it certainly is an interesting occupation. Colleagues of mine have done fascinating things such as exploring the Antarctic or mapping rivers in Africa that had never been explored. That is fine, but one becomes hooked on that and expects to spend the rest of one's life doing such things and not progressing further.
We are not helped by our education. I took a three-year engineering course. There is much to learn in engineering. We must learn a lot of technology. At no time was it even hinted that we might find ourselves administering large enterprises. Someone else did that. Our job was to be good technicians and to ease the work in progress. We had no training whatever in any part of business administration. We were left to pick that up for ourselves as our careers proceeded. Therefore, when we got older we merely visited on our subordinates the injustices that had earlier been visited on us. That is no basis on which to be in a position to administer any sizeable organisation, but it is one in which so many of us find ourselves.
My son is a mining engineer. He has had the wit and support to spend two years taking a Master's degree in business administration. He had reached a ceiling in engineering. He is a very good engineer but he needed more. He now has that additional qualification and he is going way ahead—and good luck to him. It is people who have a combination of knowing how things work mechanically and knowing how industry should work who ought to be able to play a major part in making the industries of this country more efficient. We rely too much on 1144 administrators being in a totally detached occupation where it is considered almost to be wrong to know how you make the product that is being manufactured. That situation must end for the benefit of the whole community. Perhaps we can look forward to engineers receiving a longer and more broadly-based education in order that they may carry out these tasks in the future.
§ 6.42 p.m.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, I hope that the House will not mind that my name is not on the list of speakers, but at least one speaker has dropped out and there is some time available. I wish to add my support to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. I am not an engineer, but I admire engineers in their occupation and what they bring to the various parts of British industry. I wish to mention two matters, one from the past and the other from the recent past. My only connection with engineering is that my wife is a great, great grand-daughter of I. K. Brunel. I am reminded of the versatility of engineers at the beginning of the last century. His father, Sir Marc Brunel, has his portrait in the Committee corridor of this House. He started by making a tunnel under the Thames at Rotherhithe through which trains are still running.
The versatility of British engineers at that time was really impressive. I was on the committee which brought the "Great Britain" back from the Falkland Islands in the summer of 1970. When she arrived off Avonmouth they wanted a descendant of I. K. to be there. Because of that, immediately after the election, instead of doing what I should have done and at once taking over a department, I and my wife went, with the Prime Minister's agreement, to greet the great ship as she came into Avonmouth.
Engineers in this country did have great panache. I wish that could be revived. I was reminded on that journey that I was travelling along a railway which had been laid out by I. K. I travelled through Box Tunnel, which had been built by him; I saw the Clifton bridge, which had been designed by him, and then I saw one of his great ships. His versatility was incredible. The part played by the engineers of the 1840s was mentioned by Lord Clarke in his television programme "Civilisation". I. K. was described by him as a romantic imperialist. I hope that we shall see the days of British engineers coming back into the media and into the romantic sphere as well as the hard professional side of their lives.
I now come to more modern times and to my late friend Sir Monty Finniston. After a very long and successful career in business, in which he ended up as the head of British Steel, he gave his time in semi-retirement to championing the profession and status of engineers in this country. He made an impressive start in a way which I hope will continue. What has been said in this debate in forwarding the role of engineers in our society I hope will continue to be supported by Parliament. I too am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, caused this debate to take place. I join with those who wish that engineers may be allowed not only to gain their training and 1145 advance in their profession but also to play a role which will become more and more important in British life.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, the House will be grateful to my noble friend Lord Howie of Troon for bringing this extremely important matter before your Lordships. I congratulate the two maiden speakers. Both of them are very distinguished: one is an accountant, the other a chartered engineer. They put more or less the same point of view although from slightly different angles. I was particularly glad to see my noble friend Lord Shackleton back in his place and speaking with the firm voice we are accustomed to. He encouraged engineers, as did the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, who spoke after him, to blow their own trumpet more vigorously. They should not be the shy flowers that they sometimes are.
There is no need to stress the importance of the subject. All noble Lords will be aware of it. The future of British industry and, to a certain extent, the future of our body politic, depends on having a strong manufacturing industry and within it a strong engineering component. Whether we speak about engineers or engineering—the people or the activity—I believe that all noble Lords are in agreement that both are of supreme importance if we are to prosper as a community.
As regards engineers, the status and skills required are part of the overall problem of the balance of rewards in society. Those rewards can be measured in both monetary terms and in the degree of esteem accorded to engineers. We have to think about them. As regards engineering activity, there is no doubt, as my noble friend Lord Howie of Troon said, that we would not have had any major achievements behind us or, we hope, in front of us, were it not for the engineering industry.
It is slightly sad for those of us who believe in increasing employment to see that, despite rapidly increasing unemployment, there is still a shortage of skilled engineers in industry. The CBI estimates that a quarter of manufacturing companies are short of graduate engineers. There are still pockets of craft shortages. The fall in engineering employment throughout the United Kingdom between 1978 and 1990, as reported by the Engineering Industry Training Board, is shown by the figures. Total engineering employment fell by about 36 per cent.; craft jobs' employment by 44 per cent.; electrical engineering employment by 44 per cent.; electronic engineering employment by 11 per cent.; instrument engineering employment by 26 per cent.; and machine tool engineering employment by 59 per cent. That is not a very happy story for our engineering industry.
However, there has clearly been a shift in the pattern of employment. Certainly, over the past few years, engineering in its broadest sense has employed more graduates than it did 10 years ago. We have to accept that the level of expertise and skill in the engineering industry is increasing, as it should as technology engineering becomes more sophisticated.
1146 The first question that I put to your Lordships is: what is our record in producing qualified engineers? How does it compare with other countries? If it compares unfavourably, why is that so? The noble Lord, Lord Lane of Horsell, devoted much of his speech to that matter, as did other noble Lords.
The Japanese output of graduate engineers is two and a half times higher per head of population than the British output. For engineering graduates in mechanical engineering it is 3:1 in their favour; in chemical engineering, 5:1; and in production engineering it is 9:1. The ratio of applications for engineering places in universities is 4.7:1 in Japan's favour. The same is true of craft and technician levels. We are well behind the rest of Europe, but the Japanese figures show that if we are to catch up with their performance in productivity we have to produce more qualified engineers.
There may be disputes about the figures, as there always are, and about how many graduate engineers are produced. The Government will quote figures from the Employment Gazette, no doubt saying that we are doing very well, which will be challenged by the Engineering Council which disagrees and says that we are doing badly. But the summary I would suggest is that we have not had a bad record over the past few years in doctorates, although our record is not so good in masters degrees and first degrees. During the same period France has doubled—and is planning to double again—the number of qualified engineers coming out of universities. So even if our record is better than it was, it is still not good enough for the future.
Time moves on, and we cannot just talk about quantity. We have to consider quality as well. Whereas in the past, whatever the figures may be, we could argue that the main source of concern in the United Kingdom was the low numbers of university-trained engineers—and to some extent I would argue that it still is—the future concern in comparison with Europe must be as much with the quality of engineers coming out of our universities and polytechnics as with the quantity. It must also be directed towards retraining those who take their degrees but who need further training later in their careers. That applies to every profession. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Lane of Horsell, will recognise that that is as true in engineering as it is in accountancy.
That brings me neatly to my noble friend's Motion about the status of engineers, which a number of noble Lords have discussed. What is the underlying problem? It would be idle to pretend that the problem is new; it has dogged the United Kingdom ever since the great days of the last century, described by my noble friend Lord Shackleton and by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, when engineers enjoyed a very high status.
The Finniston Report, to which a number of noble Lords have referred, included a survey, from which my noble friend Lord Howie quoted, showing that 13 per cent. only of the public associated the word "engineer" with design or research work at a professional level. There are fears that young people are being put off even before they get to secondary 1147 school. Manufacturers have recently taken part in a scheme to bring primary school children into factories and workshops, and there has been another scheme to reach secondary school teachers. Those are very new schemes but they should really have been in operation for a long time. Engineering and manufacturing has not sold itself well to young people. They are not persuaded that it is a good and satisfactory career. Engineering is believed to be dirty, ugly and unglamorous, with low salaries and low status. That is the perception that young people have about engineering as a career.
Even when young people go to university and study engineering they still apparently have a low motivation. As some noble Lords have remarked, they tend to go into the City of London to become analysts rather than into industry. A recent survey showed that 5,000 only out of 14,000 engineering graduates intended to go into engineering. That may be due to pay. As the noble Lord, Lord Amwell, said in his maiden speech, there is no doubt that engineers lag behind other professions in pay. For example, 63 per cent.of chartered engineers earned less than£25,000 in 1988-89. That is not a very substantial amount for a qualified engineer. It is possible to earn much more as a junior foreign exchange dealer in the City.
Therefore, given that there is an underlying problem and given that the engineering sector and the Engineering Council have not sold themselves, one must ask what are the answers? Are there any answers?
There is one point on which I would take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. The Government have a much greater responsibility than he implied. I am not suggesting that he said the Government had no responsibility, but I would argue that they have a major responsibility. We must start with Finniston. As my noble friend Lord Howie said, Finniston made a series of detailed recommendations for a new qualification structure, and for an engineering authority to oversee a national policy for standards and quality. Not much of that has been implemented. There are those who would argue that that is too engineer-dominated, but I think we should look at it again.
There is also bias against mathematics and science in schools. It may be that the new national curriculum will help to correct that, but many people who are much more qualified than I am criticise the bottleneck of A-levels which forces people to specialise away from those disciplines. I include in those critics the Engineering Council and the Secondary Heads Association.
As many nobles Lords have pointed out, we should be prepared to raise the status of engineers by promoting them to senior management positions. There is no reason why engineers should not become managers, administrators and directors in the same way as others do. That happens in German and Japanese companies, which do not seem to suffer. Possibly one should argue for higher pay. I should also argue for encouraging more women to come into engineering, which is still seen very much as a male 1148 bastion. The number of women on engineering degree courses rose from 7 per cent. in 1984 to nearly 12 per cent. in 1989, partly as a result of the women in science and engineering campaign of the Engineering Council. There are many opportunities which the Government must seize.
Those are some of the answers. Nevertheless, we have to come back to what Government can do to help. I should like to quote something that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, the chairman of Rolls-Royce, when he was chairman of the Engineering Council. He said:Normal market forces will not work to make up the severe shortfall and provide the skills base needed by modern industry and commerce".I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tombs. It is wrong to expect normal market forces simply to provide what we are all hoping and expecting to happen. Market forces must be helped by government. That is the main message that I would give to your Lordships from this Dispatch Box.
There are several ways in which government can help. We in the Labour Party have proposed the setting up of technology trusts which would improve the technological level of small and medium size engineering firms. We should like to see the application of new generations of automation in small and medium size firms which would raise the skills level of those employed and also the productivity inside firms. In our view there is a long way to go. Government must take the lead in upgrading, automating and linking those islands of automation together geographically.
We must also take much more seriously the idea of an Open University for engineers. The Open University, as the House will remember, was one of the great inventions of the Government of 1964-70. We can now use technology of all sorts—for example, satellite technology. We can deliver through that technology to the workplace the methods of updating skills as well as full courses up to degree level so that every firm in the country becomes part of a great university. That is happening in the United States. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has started a form of general university education in firms in the state of Massachusetts and outside. It is also being started in Stanford by Stanford Research in California and in Texas. There is no reason at all why we should not learn from those examples. Those are successful models. They form groups of companies associated with a university or research institute. We can base them on colleges of further education, if that is appropriate for us. We should be using all these methods to encourage engineering to become a much more respectable, much more developed and much more technologically sophisticated in perception career for people.
I do not wish to take up too much time. I wish to reiterate and re-endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, said. Although I disagree with him on a number of matters, particularly the role of government, I do believe that government, the engineering industry and engineers themselves, must think imaginatively if we are to address seriously the problems raised by my noble friend Lord Howie. A 1149 healthy engineering industry—mechanical or electronic—lies at the heart of any policy to improve national productivity across the whole economy. We should do well to remember that. Engineering is still far too frequently identified in the public mind with metal bashing. We must do something to correct that. The engineering of tomorrow will be in automated systems; robots, data processing and sophisticated material such as that. It is that image that has to be promoted and promoted actively. It is only the Government who have the capability to do it. We must think long term. The Government cannot collectively wash their hands of the subject. On the day when Rolls-Royce has announced 3,000 job losses it is a message that I believe the Minister would do well to heed.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Lord Hesketh
My Lords, we are doubly blessed today by the debate brought to the House by the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon. We are doubly blessed because it is a subject of great interest as well as of import: doubly blessed because we have had the pleasure—I believe for all of us—of two superb maiden speeches.
We have had the pleasure of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lane of Horsell, with a professional career outside engineering, viewing with enthusiasm and sympathy what he sees as some of the problems. I enjoyed his speech greatly. I very much hope that it will be only a short time before he returns to contribute further to debates in this House.
The noble Lord, Lord Amwell, rightly reminded us all that had it not been for the contribution of the engineers we should be in need of some form of prescriptive medicine to maintain our voice boxes. Then there is electric light that allows the Minister to read from his brief at the Dispatch Box. More to the point, he pointed out that the cure for the black clouds over Kuwait will above all be engineering solutions. I look forward to further contributions from the noble Lord.
I feel I should declare a humble interest as an honorary fellow of the Society of Engineers. But I declare a life-long enthusiasm for British engineering ability. I also declare an interest through the hero of my boyhood and adult life, I. K. Brunel.
It may be an unfortunate comparison, but when the great tunnel was dug under the Thames both father and son gave a huge banquet in the tunnel to celebrate its construction. I wonder whether in 1993 a great banquet will be given under the Channel in order to celebrate an equally stupendous achievement of engineering. It is worth remembering that when R. J. Mitchell was chief designer at Supermarine before the war the position was considered of sufficient importance for him to have a chauffeur driven Rolls-Royce to come to work in every day. I wonder how many chief designers in 1991 are driven to work in that way?
Individuals have to make choices whether to study to higher education entry level, which subjects to take, whether to enter the higher education system at all and which course to follow. Having made those choices 1150 they will make decisions about employment and whether to stay with the profession of their choice. In order to make wise decisions they must understand the implications of those choices, together with maintaining the interest and enthusiasm for their subject. There is no doubt that many people outside of the engineering profession are still uncertain about the nature and range of work involved in engineering, together with career prospects, potential rewards and status.
Raising the status of engineers is primarily a matter for the engineering profession itself. Employers need to provide factual information on what the work of the well qualified engineer demands. They need to provide career progression, both in technical and managerial roles, and recognise this with appropriate pay differentials throughout the career that follows. They must ensure that skills are used to greatest advantage, with divisions between engineers and technicians. Anecdotal evidence of qualified engineers mis-employed as technicians does no service to recruitment to the profession. Employers need to demonstrate that engineering compares well with other career options.
There is a cultural change needed covering the spectrum from home to company. Government and the engineering profession are pursuing a course to see this come about. I shall give an example of a very recent co-operative activity that develops this theme. The Department of Education, the DTI, the Science and Engineering Research Council and the Fellowship of Engineering provided financial support for a pilot series of three BBC programmes on Science and Technology, "The New Explorers". The aim of these programmes, broadcast in February 1991, was to present science and technology research and the strategies that lie behind it to a wider audience.
Another example of seeking to bring about this cultural change is the "Women into Science and Engineering" campaign which is designed to encourage more girls and women to consider careers in science and engineering. This point was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel.
There is considerable evidence that the structure of teaching and learning embodied in the GCSE balanced science approach is motivating more young people to see themselves as scientists. This, combined with the requirement that all young people should study science and technology within the national curriculum to the age of 16, augurs well for attracting people into the engineering profession.
The status of the engineer is, I freely admit, partly dictated by salary levels. The Engineering Council's 1989 survey shows that increases in engineering salaries were at a rate above the retail prices index. In contrast to this, figures from the Engineers' and Managers' Association report, An Engineering Vacuum, of February 1990 indicate that the salaries do not always compare favourably with other professions. The evidence may be incomplete, and salary levels are not of course uniform across employers. But if employers truly now recognise that engineering 1151 skills in industry need to be enhanced, it is for employers to consider the relative importance of those salary levels.
There are many UK bodies and institutions active in working to enhance the image of technology and science. Notable among them is the Engineering Council. The Engineering Council has as one of its objectives to promote the status and practice of engineering generally with a view to improving competitiveness. It was set up in 1981 following Sir Monty Finniston's committee of inquiry into the engineering profession. The form that this body took was a result of the industry's own preferences. The Government also supported it with initial pump-priming of some£3 million over three years as grant in aid.
On a personal note, the death of Sir Monty Finniston in the early part of this year was a sad loss to the United Kingdom and to the engineering profession in particular. It was his drive and enthusiasm which ensured that the committee of inquiry that was set up in December 1977 under his chairmanship published its report entitled Engineering Our Future in January 1980. Indeed that title is perhaps a fitting tribute to the man himself, who had done so much for engineering and engineers.
The Engineering Council enjoys the continuing support and co-operation of the engineering profession, and it is now self-supporting as an institution. Even so, with about 50 separate engineering institutions in the UK, there is still considerable opportunity for joint activities under the auspices of the council. This is necessary in order to avoid a fragmented approach to meeting the profession's needs.
The Engineering Council has a range of continuing activities. It maintains and develops the register for chartered engineers, incorporated engineers and engineering technicians. It operates through education and training initiatives to ensure industry's needs are met. It runs schemes, seminars and conferences to promote the career image of the engineering profession. The Government provide specific financial assistance for some of this important work; for example, the neighbourhood engineers scheme. The neighbourhood engineers scheme aims to secure closer links between engineers and secondary schools to improve the understanding of the role of engineers by school children, their parents and teachers. The scheme does this by attaching four or five local engineers to every secondary school in the country. It is amazing how the arrival of a young female engineer in a school can change perceptions.
Government support, both past and present, reflects the importance we attach to the engineering profession. It is vital to the UK economy and particularly to manufacturing industry.
Sufficient numbers of engineers are required if British business is to hold its own in what is an increasingly competitive international market oriented world. Engineers must be well educated and technically skilled. They must maintain their skills throughout their careers even though the subject is 1152 increasingly complex and changes are happening all the time. The Government's policy is to ensure that education and training remain relevant to the needs of the economy and that all those involved—government, employers, training providers and individuals—should play their part in developing the skill of the nation.
Perhaps a most recent pertinent example here is the tax concessions to individuals who are financing their own training towards a recognised qualification. This issue was raised by both the Engineering Council and the Engineering Employers Federation, among others, and has been acted upon. Indeed, my department's objectives, revised and publicised last week to take us into the 1990s, include listening to the concerns of business and ensuring that they are taken into account in the development of government policies, including education and training.
The DTI's objectives also include encouraging the spread of technical skills and closer links between business and the science base. We are already active on several fronts in this area. One example of a very successful partnership between academia and industry is the teaching company scheme, where DTI is the major sponsor. This scheme encourages young, able graduates to apply and develop their skills in industry under academic supervision and gives them an early opportunity to influence company growth and technology transfer. It is reassuring to note that out of more than 380 current teaching company programmes, 82 per cent. are in manufacturing industry. Fifty-five per cent. are in small and medium sized enterprises which can provide an excellent first training ground for the young engineer who wants to make a success of an industrial career.
Universities, polytechnics and colleges are autonomous in academic matters, but employers, professional institutions and grant awarding bodies can influence degree content. In responding to such expressions of demand, institutions will be given an incentive to recruit additional students in the more expensive engineering subjects by the shift from the flat rate to differentiated tuition fees from Autumn 1991, which I hope will go some way to answer the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne.
In response to industry's need for more broader based engineers, the Department of Trade and Industry is supporting the Engineering Council's integrated engineering degree programme to develop multidisciplined engineering degree courses. Stimulation of innovation is another of the department's objectives. Innovation is a major source of competitiveness and engineers have a crucial role to play in this important area. In this context manufacturing industry and the construction industry need qualified, flexible professional engineers. They are needed to implement a company's advanced manufacturing technology strategy, to push forward its programme of product innovation and improvements and to contribute a technical perspective to a company's successful business plans. Some engineers will develop wider business skills. We would encourage companies to invest in such people, to develop these skills and to consider them on merit for 1153 senior positions, a point made by the noble Lords, Lord Crook and Lord Trefgarne. The message of the DTI's "Managing into the 90s" campaign is this: there has to be a broader spectrum and business must be made accessible to engineers for the further advancement of their careers.
Many of the world's most competitive companies are now breaking down the artificial barriers between company departments and functions, order processing and production, purchasing and design, design and manufacture and despatch and service. Engineers and engineering have a vital role to play here and can be a key to a company developing and implementing a competitive strategy based on integrating its separate departments into project teams.
Many of the world's most successful manufacturing countries have more engineers at board level than we do. As part of encouraging UK companies to look at their competitors, we want more of them to examine that issue to see what lessons we can learn. But it must not and cannot happen by government decree. British engineers must earn their right to a position at the boardroom table just as they do elsewhere. Boards must recognise the importance of engineering and engineers must recognise the importance of setting their engineering skills within a business context.
The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, referred to the status of engineers. At one point he seemed to indicate that we might have been better off in terms of the academic recognition that would have been applied to engineers had Napoleon crossed the Channel. That would be something for the House as a whole to decide rather than the DTI spokesman from the Dispatch Box.
The noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, referred to the difference of recognition accorded to architects and structural engineers. That is something which needs to be faced by the professions and not by the Government. He recommended that the Government should read Zen and the Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance. I can assure him that I have read it and will ensure that it has a wider distribution.
The only issue on which I disagreed with the noble Lord was when he said that design had received too much attention. This is one area in which I believe British engineering has not achieved success. Some of its products would have had far greater commercial success had they been better designed and had they included a greater proportion of what the consumer wanted as against the technical capability involved. That applies especially to consumer durables.
The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, made a good point Chen he referred to the presentation of the engineering profession. He said that if there were a David Bellamy of engineering, engineering status would benefit. I am sure that that is true. I fear that I can be of no help in providing a constructive answer as to who that individual should be.
My noble friend Lord Trefgarne proposed an extension of the Queen's Award scheme and suggested the possibility of a Queen's Award for engineering excellence. I thank him for his suggestion and will take it back to the department. He also referred to the 1154 desire to influence academic institutions to grant a higher percentage of degrees relevant to engineering. I believe that I answered that point earlier.
Evidence was given of the need to combine business skills with engineering skills. There is little dissension in the House on that point. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, reasonably said that figures could be bandied about. At this hour I fear that that would not be of advantage to the debate. In fairness to the noble Lord, he did very little bandying about of figures and so I too shall desist from doing so.
The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton. drew our attention to his interesting experience in the Falklands and the ability of an engineer to have lateral and interesting thoughts regardless of where in the world he is put down. I am sure that we know that to be true, but perhaps we need to be reminded of it.
The noble Lord, Lord Crook, referred to misunderstandings. He said that engineers are often seen as no more than the men who come around to fix the washing machine. That is not a state of affairs that any part of the House would wish to encourage. Far from it—we wish people to desist from that misguided belief.
We have had a constructive debate, and we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, for providing us with the opportunity to discuss the subject.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
My Lords, I was pleased by the Minister's reply. He said that he disagreed with me on one matter, and, to tell the truth, I was surprised about that. He was right. I was not talking about the necessity for style but about the over-importance attributed to stylists in our society. We probably agree about that point.
The debate has been interesting and was enlivened by two maiden speakers. The noble Lord, Lord Lane, is, in my experience, a peculiarity, in the sense that he is a chartered accountant who not only understands engineers but speaks nicely about them. I gathered from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, that what the noble Lord, Lord Lane, has done is to come here to join the family business.
The other maiden speaker was the noble Lord, Lord Amwell. He spoke as the third chartered civil engineer in the House. We are all sitting here beaming at one another. That restores the status quo of a few years ago. The other two members of the profession were the late Lord Hinton and the late Professor Lord Baker, whom older Members will remember. The two maiden speeches were delightful and I hope that we shall hear much more from the noble Lords.
I was especially glad that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, intervened, although unfortunately he has left the Chamber. He admitted that he was related by marriage to the late Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who also seems to be a hero of the Minister. I am beginning to wonder about my touch, because the last time I spoke in a debate in the House I spoke about Ironbridge and the noble Lord, Lord Ross, said 1155 that he was descended from Abraham Darby. I do not know who will rise to claim acquaintance with whom the next time I speak. I shall have to be careful.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, reminisced and mentioned the versatility of I.K. Brunel. I recall that, when he was building the Great Western Railway, he was sitting at his desk one day when one of his young men rushed in in a flurry to say that a bridge which had just been finished had fallen down. "Thank God", said Brunel, "I was just about to build 20 more like it".
I was greatly taken also by a comment which was not made in the debate. It was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, as she passed me on leaving the Chamber. She chided me for not mentioning the Women's Engineering Society. I am happy to say that two noble Lords mentioned women in engineering. They are important. What is interesting is that at long last the idea is getting about that engineering at the professional level is a genteel profession and one which ladies can undertake just as readily as gentlemen. We hope that the number of women engineers will increase. When I was an engineering student there was only one lady engineer in our class, and she led a busy life one way or another.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams, mentioned one or two points which attracted my attention. One related to what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said when he talked about people's perception of engineering. The British are often accused, especially by designers, of being visually illiterate. That may well be true and no doubt it is a bad thing. However, much more important is that the British are technologically illiterate; that is not merely bad, it is catastrophic.
My noble friend Lord Williams drew our attention to the position of the engineer in France. That is a cultural matter which relates to what I said earlier about the two cultures. The French system naturally assumes that engineers will take a leading role and rise to the top of society. They have a tendency to become presidents. I admit that the French definition of an engineer is not as close and tight as ours, but engineers are greatly respected in France. In Britain, no such respect is given to them.
Before closing the debate, I wish to take up the points which the noble Lord, Lord Crook, made about the narrowness of engineering education. He mentioned his own. The problem with both his and that of others—I do not single him out here—is that he was educated in the wrong country. Had he been educated in Scotland, he would have taken the higher leaving certificate instead of three tight A-levels. He would then have gone on to a four-year engineering degree which, even in the 1940s when I took it, included management. Mind you, he would have had to go to Glasgow University or what is now the University of Strathclyde to do it, but it would have done him nothing but good.
I am grateful to everyone who spoke in this extremely interesting debate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.