Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Forth: Rubbish.

Mr. McLeish: Despite the curious comments from the Opposition Benches, I shall try to deal with the issues.

As well as making some other excellent comments, my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Mr. Godman) raised the question of architectural competition. We envisage an expert panel as part of the process, which will include representatives of varied interests in Scotland. The panel will recommend a shortlist of two to three options from which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State can choose. We are currently looking for options for a Parliament in Edinburgh. We do not consider Holyrood palace a serious option. We want a Parliament that is fit for a new millennium and an enduring Parliament to ensure that public access is combined with excellent debate which leads to high-quality legislation.

The hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Morgan) raised issues about anomalies in functions. We believe that the White Paper sets out clearly the

31 Jul 1997 : Column 552

matters that we propose should be reserved, at paragraph 3.3, and the reasons why, at paragraph 3.2. The hon. Gentleman picked out certain matters and claimed that they are anomalies. He should recognise the overall structure and logic of what we have proposed. Having dealt with some of the issues that have been raised in the debate, I of course intend to write letters of clarification to hon. Members on any outstanding matters, informing them of detail.

Part of the general thrust of the Conservative opposition could be summed up in very few words. A party in turmoil should not try to undermine a White Paper. It should try to understand it first so that it can contribute a little better to the proposals. A party in retreat should not become an English national party. I suggest that the Conservatives on the Opposition Benches should appreciate that, in Scotland there is a healthy debate with the Conservative party, to which they are contributing absolutely nothing.

The important point is that the comments tonight from many Conservative Members will not protect the Union; they will threaten the Union. The logic of the Conservatives' position is difficult to understand. If one is so far out of touch, having any impact on reality becomes a strange occurrence.

The Conservative party simply will not learn. After 1 May, the White Paper and the referendum proposals, it is in a very vulnerable position. It has no Members in Wales or Scotland. The people of Scotland must now get to grips with the issues. Conservative Members have had a problem discussing the position of the Secretary of State for Scotland, because their attitude is fraudulent. They have already abolished the Shadow Secretaries of State for Wales and for Scotland, and the contempt that they have shown in opposition would continue into government.

On 11 September, the Scottish people will have a chance to vote. Parliamentarians in Parliament have had a chance to discuss--

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.



That Sir Paul Beresford, Mr. Keith Darvill, Mr. David Drew, Mr. Clive Efford, Lorna Fitzsimons, Mr. Barry Gardiner, Mr. Damian Green, Mr. Eric Illsley, Chris McCafferty, Mr. Piers Merchant, Helen Southworth, Mr. Paul Stinchcombe, Mr. Andrew Stunnell, Mr. Paul Tyler and Mr. Nicholas Winterton be members of the Procedure Committee.--[Mr. McFall.]

31 Jul 1997 : Column 553



10 pm

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West): I wish to present a petition that has been organised by SKAT--

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray): Hear, hear.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Order. The hon. Gentleman is trying to address the House.

Mr. Kennedy: That is the first time that I have been heckled while presenting a petition, but there is a first time for everything.

Mrs. Ewing: It was supportive heckling.

Mr. Kennedy: Yes, it was.

SKAT stands for Skye and Kyle against Tolls. The organisation has generated a considerable response of several thousand signatures in recent weeks.

The petition reads:

who is, fortuitously, in his place tonight--

    to make good that pledge.

    And the Petitioners remain, etc.

It is my pleasure to present the petition on behalf of SKAT and in its support.

To lie upon the Table.

31 Jul 1997 : Column 554

Engineering Industry

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. McFall.]

10.2 pm

Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby): I am grateful for the opportunity of this Adjournment debate to make my maiden speech on the last day of this part-Session of this most memorable and historic Parliament. I am proud to be the first Labour Member to represent the constituency of Crosby. Boundary changes have meant that I have two predecessors, and it gives me genuine pleasure to pay tribute to both of them. I inherited the wards of Seaforth and Waterloo from my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Benton). His concern and diligence are legendary in Bootle, and I hope that I can follow in his footsteps and uphold his standards. He is a lovely man and very kind to his constituents.

My other predecessor was Sir Malcolm Thornton, who served in Parliament from 1983 to 1997. Sir Malcolm contributed much to the local community during that time, and he will perhaps be best remembered in the House for his commitment to education and employment. Those are also my passions. I thank him, on behalf of the people of my constituency, for his service, and personally for his magnanimity and charm in defeat.

My wonderful constituency lies between Liverpool and Southport. It is a constituency of great contrasts, including as it does the heart of the Liverpool docklands, where generations of local people have earned their livings. It also includes the residential area of Waterloo--not the scene of Nelson's great victory in 1815 but the scene of the Labour party's great victory in 1997. We then reach Crosby, which is thought to have been established in about 900 AD by Norsemen. The people of Crosby are rightly proud of their ancestry and their community.

Moving further north, we find a pearl on the north-west coast--Formby. It is a place of great beauty, a habitat of wildlife such as red squirrel, beautiful pine forests and the natterjack toad. Formby, too, has a proud history involving the sea, and has provided generations of sailors who served this country with pride. It is said that the first potatoes grown in this country were harvested in Formby, brought there by Sir Walter Raleigh himself. I commend Formby as a place to visit. A stroll through the pine forests cannot fail to refresh and inspire.

I shall now deal with a subject which, as the House will come to know, is my personal passion--engineering. I am a member of a group of people who have traditionally been seriously under-represented in the House and under-rated outside it. I am talking not about women, the disadvantaged or the disabled but about a group of people who have done more to improve and sustain our quality of life than any other group in the world. It is a group of people without whom life as we know it today would simply not exist. We would still be living in caves. In short, I am speaking about engineers and the wonderful, diverse, challenging, rewarding activity of engineering.

I am a chartered engineer, and at the last count there were just seven of us in the House, representing just 1 per cent. of hon. Members. In the German Bundestag, the figure is about 6 per cent. and in the French National Assembly it is about 5 per cent. I intend frequently to speak about engineering during my time in Westminster,

31 Jul 1997 : Column 555

not because I am riding a personal hobby horse but because I believe that engineers are vital to the well-being of our nation and because it is in the national interest to ensure that the engineering community is vigorous, healthy and respected.

Engineers are responsible for just about every aspect that makes life worth living. The food we eat, the water we drink and the clothes we wear are all brought to us by engineers. The cars, trains, boats and planes that we travel on are products of engineering, as are the roads, rails, waterways and runways that carry them. The hospitals where we are cared for and the equipment used in them are designed and built by engineers. The communications revolution is theirs; it is also ours.

Engineering is probably the most innovative and exciting profession. Indeed, it reaches parts that other professions could never hope to reach. If invaders from Mars--I expect them very shortly--wanted to disable and conquer our wonderful planet, engineers would be their most sensible and prime target. This country has a national genius for engineering, and some of the finest work in the world is done here. British people record more patents than any other nationality in the world. We continue to do so in the face of adversity that has plagued my industry for the past 20 years.

Engineers are highly successful in both career and salary terms. An engineer has a better chance of becoming a chief executive than a person from any other profession, a better chance of becoming a university vice-chancellor than someone from any other discipline, and a better chance of enjoying his or her job than any other worker. I lost a lot of money coming to this place, but I would not change my decision because I came here to make people more aware of what my profession can offer society. That fact makes it all the stranger that engineering is not a career choice for most of the nation's youth.

I arrived in engineering by accident. I emerged in a wonderful dockland environment, working on huge machines where there was a thump, thump, thump and a grind, grind, grind, but at the end of the day we had produced beautiful things of which we, and the nation, could be proud. The result of the lack of youth involvement is that the profession is not getting its fair share of the nation's top quality young people. As in some other areas, this is especially so for women.

Women mechanical engineers represent only 3 per cent. of the total number of people in our profession. It makes it very lonely. It also makes it very difficult for other women to follow. We cannot deny the contribution that 50 per cent. of the population could make. By not involving women in industry, we lose the chance of doing better, and our nation always deserves to do better. I firmly believe that, although we have the lead in some matters now, that lead could be even greater with the greater involvement from the female population.

We are clearly not lighting the spark of interest in the young. That is a matter that the engineering community must address. It is surely a matter that the Government should address as a matter of urgency. Why? Because, as far as our well-being as a nation is concerned, engineering is an industry that must deliver. It must deliver because of the financial contribution that engineering makes.

31 Jul 1997 : Column 556

It is often said by Government Departments, among others, that engineering accounts for 5 per cent. of gross domestic product in this country. It is a figure that annoys me intensely, because it is based on a deeply flawed definition of what is and what is not an engineering company. Official statistics relating to the engineering sector tend to include only the manufacturing industry, but that is nonsense.

What about construction, petrochemicals and the service industries? Almost all the companies operating in those sectors are engineering-led and dominated. They employ huge numbers of professional engineers, technical engineers, and semi- skilled and skilled workers. They should all be considered when calculating engineering's contribution to GDP. If they were, the true figure would rocket to 40 per cent., so it is easy to understand why we need a world-class engineering base in the United Kingdom to remain competitive. It is easy to understand why we became less competitive in the 1980s, when that figure was not appreciated.

The Labour Government talk a lot about education, health, the environment and other issues which we consider crucial to the nation, and rightly so, but without engineers and engineering, the necessary wealth to pay for all these areas of need would not be created. United Kingdom engineering employs more than 1.7 million people. I feel very proud to represent them this evening. I hope that the House can see them all, because they stand with me now as I speak. I carry their hopes and ambitions, and it is not my intention to let them down or divorce them at any point. They have sustained me and given me great pleasure, and will continue to do so.

UK engineering earned £75 billion in exports in 1995. It contributed in the region of £10 billion in corporation tax. Engineering underpins our whole economy. That is one dimension that distinguishes engineering from science. This is a pithy issue for the House, where engineering is considered to be embraced by science.

Engineering is not science. I am not a scientist. I am an engineer, and so are 1.7 million other people who chose to go into engineering because it is not science. Science is the process of discovering nature and its laws. Without scientists, where would we be? However, engineering is about using those laws to make things. We articulate design. Our job is to take concepts and dreams and make them into reality. In so doing, we make money and create jobs. That is the purpose of engineering. That is what we do very well. We work hand in hand with scientists, but we are mutually exclusive, except on a very narrow boundary.

There is clearly an important link between the two disciplines, but an equally important distinction. Science is a net consumer of national wealth. Some of my colleagues may argue with that. By comparison, engineering is a net generator of wealth. So why do the Government have a chief scientific adviser and not a chief engineering adviser? Perhaps the Minister for Science, Energy and Industry will assure me that he will consider making such an appointment as soon as practicable.

Of course, much of the responsibility for promoting engineering must remain on the shoulders of the engineering community itself, but what can we in the House and in the Government do to help? There is quite a lot that we can do. We need to recognise the

31 Jul 1997 : Column 557

contribution that engineers make to the national well-being, and publicly demonstrate our commitment to it.

We need to make positive reference to engineering at every opportunity, publicly encouraging our young people to make it a career choice. In other words, we have a responsibility to talk it up. Talking up engineering means more money for the nation. More money makes us a stronger economy and we need to be a stronger economy on a world platform. We need to allocate parliamentary time to debate engineering matters. Having recently been appointed to the Select Committee on Science and Technology, I hope that engineering will feature strongly in that Committee. We need to allocate Government resources to promoting engineering, and I commend the Government for the initiatives that they are taking. I shall refer to the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts later.

We need to create an education system which better meets the needs of industry. That is clearly a fact and many statistics are available to prove it. We need to listen to the engineering community when formulating policy because many people in the engineering community are desperate to be heard. If we silence them, we lose advantage. We must encourage them to join us. We lose nothing and stand a chance of gaining many things.

Engineering impacts not only on every aspect of our daily life but on every aspect of our political life. Ministers in all Departments should think about engineering when formulating policy. It is quite a clarion call, but it would be a call well worth listening to.

In short, we must give some positive leadership in an area so fundamental to our well-being. We can give a signal to the rest of the country that we believe that engineering is vital. We have kept the profession in the dark for too long. This would surely go a long way to raising the status of UK engineering and persuade the brightest and best of our young people that as a career it is not only exciting and remunerative but highly valued by our peers and the wider public.

On 1 January 1996, an important event took place which historians will look back on as a watershed in engineering history. On that date, our 39 engineering institutions--by the way, I belong to the best, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers--having gone their own different ways for more than 150 years, agreed to bury the hatchet. That was vital, because the various engineering institutions had their own vested interests and failed to come together to lobby Government effectively.

Those institutions decided that it was time to lobby Government effectively after being totally ignored by the Conservative Government for the last 17 years to the detriment of our industry. They formed a partnership with the Engineering Council. The Government subsequently recognised that new beginning by signing a memorandum of understanding with the Engineering Council, the profession's lead body which sets out formally the respective responsibilities of Government and the council in promoting engineering as a profession.

That is an important beginning but should not be seen as an end. There are 1.5 million engineers out there just pleading for the Government to demonstrate that they think that engineering is important. They appreciate--I appreciate--how much they contribute, but it is demoralising that our nation's leaders have seemed unable

31 Jul 1997 : Column 558

to find the words to say so. We are fed up with being pilloried. Perhaps if we in the House can pay engineers more than lip service, an arts-graduate-dominated media might follow suit.

I also find it odd that, as the law stands, anyone can call himself an engineer. That is a sad fact. People are prohibited by law from calling themselves a medical practitioner, a lawyer or even a gas fitter unless they are qualified and licensed to practise. The reasons for that are obvious. There are serious safety and ethical ramifications in failing to do those jobs properly.

But consider the anomaly. Someone can legally build a bridge, design an aircraft or put the Jubilee line right underneath the House and jeopardise Madam Speaker's sleeping arrangements without the need for any licensing. Imagine the potential disaster inherent in any of those operations. The majority of problems facing our environment can be solved only by engineers. We talk about sustainable development. Engineering is associated with being the generator of pollutants, but it will also be the solution. We must seek to consult the engineering profession if we are to manage our future more efficiently.

We need to seek the contribution of the profession in a more pro-active way, and I can suggest a forum for doing so. We now have a national register of qualified and competent engineers maintained by the Engineering Council, but it does not have any legal status as yet. It does not encourage the industry to demand that engineers and employers be on the register. If employers do not demand registration, engineers do not always aspire to it.

The Government could correct the anomaly at a stroke by affording the register the same legal status as that held by other professions. I hope that the representatives from my profession can articulate an argument that the Government will find acceptable and that they will introduce the register. That is significant for our nation, and it would afford us a greater status on a world platform. We must allow our engineers to move more freely in a competitive world market.

We are not absolutely criticising the previous Government. There is almost a complete damning, but not quite. The previous Government's "Action For Engineering" initiative was a short burst of hope and was welcomed. Unfortunately, it died a quick death after two years. I urge the present Government to do more and to throw their weight behind the imaginative promotional campaigns emanating from the engineering community.

I refer the House to the YES campaign--the Year of Engineering Success. It is managed by Mary Harris, a wonderful engineer who has done a stalwart job. Unfortunately, the money provided for her lasts for only a year. I ask the Government to consider allowing the YES initiative to come under NESTA--the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts.

I urge the Government and the House to fix their attention on engineering. Certainly it is the goose that lays the golden egg for all developed nations, and the sooner we accept that and develop policies to match it, the sooner we will be able to draw the full benefit for our national well-being. I am proud to be an engineer and I understand the contribution that engineering makes to this nation. I commend our profession to the House, and I hope it will receive its sympathy, understanding and support.

31 Jul 1997 : Column 559

Next Section

IndexHome Page