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The noble Lord said: My Lords, my purpose in asking this Question is to draw attention to the importance of engineering to the UK and to the difficulties of keeping the profession supplied with new blood at all levels. I should also declare an interest as chairman of SETNETthe Science, Engineering and Technology Networkthe purpose of which is to support schools in the teaching of science, technology and mathematics, in particular by facilitating interactions between employers, professional institutions and schools.
It is to engineers that we owe much of what we regard as the essentials of modern lifeour roads, our telephones, our cars, our domestic appliances and our ability to capture, store, transmit and manipulate data on an unthinkable scale. Without the machines for imaging and analysis, many of the advances on which modern medicine depends would not have been possible. Moreover, it has been saidnot purely in jestthat civil engineers have done more for world health than the medical profession, by providing clean water supplies, modern drains and sanitation.
Be that as it may, it is beyond dispute that such developments have massively reduced mortality and significantly contributed to the massive growth of the world population. The present population is imposing
This has been recognised anecdotally for years, but it has recently been quantified by Sir Gareth Roberts in his excellent report, SET for Success, on the country's future needs for scientific and educational manpower. Furthermore, a recent survey of SMEs in the UK revealed that for the first time skill shortages had overtaken shortage of finance as the main obstacle to growth.
Roberts also made a number of proposals as to how the problem might be tackled. It is most welcome that the Government have indicated that they intend to implement the Roberts proposals. This reinforces the continuing efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury of Turville, in his capacity as Minister for Science and Technology. He has been indefatigable in his support of initiatives to stimulate the interest of young people in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and to help the engineering profession, sometimes, I might say, in spite of itself.
Turning to recruitment to the engineering professions, it is important to recognise that the problem is not confined to the UK and is recognised in most parts of the developed world. In contrast, in the developing world engineering is seen as a rung on the ladder to prosperity. In consequence, engineering schools in North American universities and, to a lesser extent, in the UK, are richly populated by very able engineering students from South East Asia.
The disciplines on which engineering largely depends are mathematics and the physical sciences. Every engineer needs at least some knowledge of these and there are difficult concepts to be grasped. Moreover, because the subjects are largely incremental, difficulty with the earlier stages will, more than in many subjects, make later stages totally incomprehensible. Add to that the fact that it is possible to be totally and incontrovertibly wrong, and this amounts to a group of subjects that some may find daunting. These subjects are not easy to teach.
This underlines the seriousness of the situation described by Robertsmany of those teaching maths and science in our schools are having to teach far outside their areas of special expertise. For example, two-thirds of those teaching physics at key stage 4 do not have a physics degree, and a third of them do not
Whatever general deterrent factors there may be, they seem to act more strongly on girls than on boys. Boys far outnumber girls in choosing physical sciences and mathematics at school, and even more so in choosing an engineering career after school. It may be that some of the aspects of engineering that are most appealing to young men are distinctly unattractive to young women. Some of the best recognised success stories of British engineering today are the aero-engine and aerospace industry, not to mention world leadership in the design and construction of racing cars. These are outstanding engineering achievements, but the testosterone-rich activities that they support may be a positive turn-off to young women. Showing them that there is more to engineering than this, and convincing them that it is a diverse, interesting and worthwhile profession, must be a priority.
Of course, whether teachers, career advisers, family or friends advise a pupil to think of a career in engineering science depends to a large extent on their view of engineering and of engineering employers. This is another area where things may go wrong. Schools are busy and under great pressure. This means that there is not much time for anything that does not directly fit the curriculum. Well intended offerings from potential employers and other external bodies that do not fit easily into the syllabus, or which simply appear at the wrong time, are put to one side or perhaps binned. This is a great pity because some of the material has been very carefully prepared and is potentially useful.
The other potential disaster area is work experience. If the employer plans work experience schemes properly and there is commitment at all levels, they can be a great successand some are. In other cases, there is commitment at a management level but this is not carried through to the practical level, where the visitor from school is seen as an unwelcome extra burden and may be given little of interest to do or, worse still, nothing at all. Sadly there is clear evidence that some of these schemes are counter-productive.
That is the bad news. The good news is that all or nearly all of these difficulties can be remedied and, in some cases, action is already underway. On the fundamental problem of mathematics teaching, the Government have already announced an inquiry into post-14 mathematics. The dearth of properly qualified maths and science teachers can ultimately, however, be rectified only by increasing the number of good university graduates and by making the teaching of these subjects in schools a competitively attractive career. However, in the short term, the Roberts' proposal to bring part-time student helpers into classrooms on a regular basis to support teachers may offer some relief.
A number of the Roberts recommendations related to the work of SETNET with schools. SETNET responded with implementation proposals that went to the Treasury, DTI and DfES four months ago. Positive replies were received from the Treasury and DTI, but from the DfES there has been, unfortunately, a deafening silence. In view of the department's interest in and responsibilities for STEM work in schools, I find this surprising. I should like to ask the Minister whether the DfES intends to reply and, if so, whether it is interested in implementing the Roberts proposals in so far as they bear on schools.
In conclusion, we are left with broader and traditional perceptions of engineering. In presenting themselves, I believe that more institutions and employers must consciously go beyond the macho image and give equal emphasis to the humanitarian and socially valuable sides of engineering. Overall, everyone must continue to drive home the message that not only has engineering a major contribution to make to the solution of the problems of both the developed and developing world, but, more important, that no solution is possible without it.
Lord Hunt of Chesterton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, for introducing this important debate. I should declare an interest: I have a Bachelor and a PhD degree in engineering and I am now a professor of climate modelling. Giscard d'Estaing, who was the President of France, trained as an engineer; Wittgenstein became a philosopher. So the first important point to make is that an engineering education is a good basis for life as well as for the utilitarian factors outlined by the noble Lord.
I have had experience in research and teaching in the United States and on the Continent and have been engaged in the practical engineering and consulting industry in a small company, one of whose senior managers is a woman engineer who was very well educated at Cambridge.
The Question before us is whether there will be enough well-trained engineers in the future. One can break this down into a question of supply and demand. What is the state of demand in the UK? In this country, the demand for engineers is less prescriptive than in some other countries. Many jobs that are done by engineers in Germany, for example, are done in the UK by people without formal engineering education such as physicists and mathematicians, in much the same way as some excellent people in the City do not have degrees in economics and management but have
However, we must consider the fact that there is a demand for engineers to deal with important practical problems. One of the most important questions of demand is the size of the engineering and manufacturing industry. Is this in relative decline? There seems to be some evidence that it is, despite some bright spots, from small high-tech companies to large aerospace companies.
There have been many calls in this House to sustain manufacturing. The Government are taking an intelligent approach, but I am sure that they could do a great deal more to use their purchasing power to help the UK. In my position as chief executive of the Met Office, it was galling to see the UK having considerable purchasing power as regards computers, satellites and so on, but that these were not being used as efficiently or effectively as they might have been.
Overseas commentators on the UK's engineering and manufacturing industry have referred to the fact that many of our big strengths have declined, and that in some large construction or satellite projects there are simply no UK engineering companies bidding for jobs.
A further important question in relation to demand is that of salaries. Starting salaries for engineers are much lower than those offered to economists in the Citythey are only half or even a third of the amount. I do not know whether the Government can do much about that; but they can encourage companies that employ engineers. That is one of the ways in which the Government should be seeking to support engineering and high-tech industries. Certainly there are bright spots: some small companies pay salaries that people find attractive.
The next question relates to supply. What affects the supply of engineers? Is engineering fun? Is it challenging? Is it attractive to the best students? Well, of course it is. Students can gain remarkable satisfaction from engineering work early in their career. I worked on a building site in Cardiff and had the interesting experience of talking to a foreman who said to me: "Julian, what are we building here, a watch or a refinery?". So I had an early learning experience in approximation!
More seriously, there are doubts as to whether people entering the profession meet the correct standards of entry. This point was made strongly by the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh. I refer not only to standards in mathematics, but to people's curiosity and their physical intuition. Are these people the best and the brightest?
Teaching is very importantthe Roberts report is important. But we have to recognise that we share this difficulty with other countrieswith the Netherlands and Germany in particular. But by comparison with those countries we should recognise that considerably more women are entering engineering in the UKnot
How can the supply of engineers be increased? One of the most important points is that we need to make engineering exciting. We need to be seen to be dealing with the greatest and most important problems. We should be encouraging the existing centres of engineering excellence, of which there are a number in the UKfor example, Surrey Satellite Technology is a remarkable institution. Based at the University of Surrey, it produces satellites and provides services all over the world. It is probably not well enough known.
It is notable that, when deciding on a university, students consider factors such as research and approbation. Therefore, we should make a strong connection between the idea of centres of excellence and recruitment into the profession. Perhaps the Government place more emphasis on scientific centres of excellence and not enough on engineering centres of excellence. The Royal Academy of Engineering is conscious of this and has helped with chairs in sustainable development and other areas. But there are a number of areas where the UK seems to be lagging behind and where some big centres would be appropriate.
Commentators from abroad have said that in some areas of engineering British universities are not as strong as, for example, the major research schools in the United States. What is being done about this? One interesting initiative is the grouping together of departments to form major centresfor example, Cardiff and Bristol in hydrology; the Yorkshire universities; there are some activities in London; and now we see Cambridge and MIT connecting together.
What else could the Government do to improve engineering in the universities and to make it more exciting and excellent? One of the most important requirements is to break down rigid departmental barriers, to ensure that courses are more imaginative and more inter-disciplinary, to ensure a more international aspect to education, with students spending time in foreign universities.
It is important for the Government to do more as regards the role of engineering. We have Chief Scientists in many departments; one government department has a chief mathematician. But we do not hear very much about chief engineers. The Ministry of Defence has a Chief Scientistthe noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, held the post. I believe that there was a chief engineer in MAFF. We should see more appointments of that kind.
Furthermore, the Government need to emphasise engineering in their major policy areas. Clearly, when we are reducing pollution, attempting to deal with floods and developing transport, the role and importance of engineering need to be emphasised. That role also needs to be emphasised in bio-engineering. I want to reinforce the point that health is now as much a matter of engineering as it is of medicine. Bio-engineeringfor example, micro-chips
My final comments are possibly a departure from the Roberts report, despite a comment that I made to the writers of the report. I believe that universities could do a good deal more to involve the private sector in teaching and research, by means of secondments and so on. The arrangements are still quite stiff for that kind of university/private sector involvement. It would be another important way in which to make engineering seem more attractive.
Baroness Platt of Writtle: My Lords, as an aeronautical engineer, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, for introducing this important debate. There is no doubt that we need more young peoplegirls as well as boys, as all speakers have saidto pursue a career in engineering. All the time one reads of skills shortages, emphasised by employers, and at all levels. That means encouraging the very able to go for chartered status. But chartered engineers need teams of incorporated and engineering technicians to work with them.
One reads in the financial columns of impending recession. If we are to export successfully in world markets, we need the innovation of world-class engineers to improve productivity and efficiency in manufacturing without destroying quality. We have to compete on price and build sustainability into the equation as well. It is not an easy task.
At the same time we need to improve our health service. That will need engineering innovation, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said, to use surgical and medical skills more efficiently to the benefit of patientskeyhole surgery, radiotherapy, prosthesis and aids for the handicapped. The IT system in hospitals and pathology labs needs to be compatible with that of GPs if endless time is not to be wasted in outdated communication. That is a challenge in itself.
We need to encourage more young people to succeed in maths and science and see how exciting and rewarding it is to exercise those skills to overcome problems in their employment. Pay is reasonable. Every engineer can carry a chief executive's baton in his or her future knapsack. There are about as many engineers as accountants as chief executives in the FTSE 100 companies. And of 43,000 directors of manufacturing companies more than 10,000 are engineers. Unemployment is very low.
Why do not more young people choose engineering careers? It is partly because it is not a school subject. So there are precious few teachers to market it. At the same time, there is a shortage of good maths and physics teachers to make their subjects exciting, attractive and fun. That problem needs long-term emphasis for its solution. Lord Dainton told the
The Government's Ambassadors scheme is good. We need young and enthusiastic engineers who are prepared to go into schools to describe the excitement and rewards of their chosen profession. That will not happen by magic. The young engineers who would do that best are probably at the most demanding time in their careers and at home with young families needing their attention. There is no doubt that giving interesting presentations to schools helps to develop young engineers' marketing skills. Employers need to recognise that by making it easy for staff to have time off. In the longer term, the firm will benefit in this way and in recruitment from the next generation. I am patron of the WISE campaign, Women Into Science and Engineering. We have given the Ambassador scheme our database of young women engineers prepared to speak in schools.
It would also be a good idea to recruit careers advisers from suitably qualified young women who are bringing up their families but are prepared to work part time. All schoolteachers and careers advisers should value middle-ability children more highly, especially those with practical skills. In these days of league tables and targets, too often they are undervalued. Yet they will provide the skills base of the teams I referred to earlier, led by chartered engineers. Very often they will find more suitable education paths in post-16 further education, but clear encouragement needs to be given. Modern apprenticeships in engineering provide a good path. But, once again, far more encouragement needs to be given to girls. We have reached 15 per cent of women undergraduates in engineering, but only 2 per cent in modern apprenticeships, yet girls form over 50 per cent of the population. What a waste of potential skills.
WISE is held back from its excellent work by lack of money. The WISE buses are coming off the road next July having given literally hundreds of thousands of schoolgirls practical experience in using mechanical and electronic equipment on board the buses. We have been running WISE Outlook three-day programmes in FE colleges for 13 to 14 year-old girls, where, once again, they have hands-on experience of work in engineering and meeting women engineer role models to encourage them to enter the field at technician level. These have been financed by DTI until September when funding will be stopped. Such successful flagship projects backed by FE colleges and engineering employers need continuing finance. I hope that at the end of this debate we shall receive assurance that serious consideration will be given to their resumption.
Lord Methuen: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, for raising this very significant matter. The recent poll on great Britons shows that people are not unaware of the contributions made by British scientists and engineers. Brunel, Newton and Darwin all did well in the poll. But we must understand why young people are not coming forward to be trained as engineers and scientists.
I was lucky as a child because I knew I wished to be an engineer by the time I was eight or nine, and I had the support and encouragement of my parents to become one. People seem to think that engineering is dull and boring, but I seldom found that so during some 40 years of industrial experience. Perhaps I was lucky, because I had the privilege of working, among others, for two first-class companies, IBM and Rolls-Royce, in which engineers were valued and exploited.
There is a big cultural issue here. Engineers in this country simply do not have the status that they have, for instance, in Germany or France. Nor do we yet have some of the eye-catching successes such as the French TGV high-speed trains and other European achievements. Perhaps that is due to the status of the title "engineer" being degraded over the years. Anyone wielding a spanner, without any qualifications, seems to call himself an engineer. By contrast, on the Continent the title is always used in addressing people, thus emphasising the status of his profession. I was often told off by my Austrian in-laws if I did not address them as "Magister" in recognition of their qualifications.
There are also salary implications. Engineering is seen as a poorly paid profession, lacking in status compared with the medical, accountancy and legal professions. Why is this? I believe this begins at the earliest stages of our education in the toys we play with and in our earliest schooling. Most of my generation was brought up on Meccano, a brilliant method of training and inspiring any budding engineer in the creation of structures and machines. There is nothing in our shops today, I suggest, that encourages a child in such a creative manner.
How many of our teachers, at all stages, have any experience of the world of engineering or the practical skills that go with it? Previous speakers made that point also. It would be beneficial to recruit mature people into our schools, perhaps on a part-time basis, who have industrial experience and who can inspire our children with what can be achieved as an engineer. There are salary implications, but those should not be insuperable.
The situation in our universities is also critical. Home student applications for civil engineering courses are down by some 50 per cent and there are some 30,000 vacancies on science and engineering courses. Many graduates choose not to take up engineering but become management consultants or enter other professions where they see better salaries and job prospects. Entry salaries in the engineering profession may be less than that of a police recruit, emphasising the low regard in which engineers are held.
Part of the problem is not only the undervaluing of teachers in general but the lack of mathematics and science schoolteachers, as pointed out earlier. Pupils opt for A-level courses in arts subjects, which they consider more interesting and less difficult. The Government should be encouraged to support the adjustment of salary scales to ensure adequate remuneration of teachers in those subjects.
At undergraduate level, we need to take more account of the benefits of vocational and sandwich courses and subsequent apprenticeships. I benefited personally from a sandwich course having always been a very practical person. The mixture of coursework and industrial experience is an invaluable part of any engineering training. The Government should also consider the implications of top-up fees for engineering and science university courses. Fees will be yet another disincentive to students contemplating those courses. Universities in turn need to train the next generation of research leaders and lecturers to fill existing gaps.
I await with interest the Minister's response. What Brunel achieved 150 years ago, we can still achieve in this erafrom the civil engineering works on the Channel Tunnel rail link to the highly successful achievements of our trail-blazing microelectronic firms.
Lord Haskel: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, asks an important Question and I congratulate him on asking it. He also reminded us that small and medium-sized enterprises are now more concerned about skill shortages than about finance.
What is it about the way we run our businesses that has caused this shortage of well-trained engineers? In recent times, I have put it down, in a word, to sub-contracting"outsourcing", to use the current jargon. By outsourcing to smaller firms, one also sub-contracts the need to train. There are of course great advantages to sub-contracting work to specialist and skilled sub-contractors. It keeps costs and overheads down. British industry has become very skilled at that, and it is very highly valued. The financial markets sometimes value that skill more highly than ability to do the job itself, especially where the supply chain is well run.
Let us consider the railways. We have been told that recent accidents have occurred because of poor engineering. The cause of this poor engineering is that Railtrack's sub-contractors and its sub-contractors' sub-contractors just did not have enough well-trained engineers. In an interview in today's Financial Times, the chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority implied that that was one reason why major projects for the railways are threatened.
So what can the Minister do about it? He certainly cannot change the culture of British industry. What he can do is encourage the organisations that fill the gap created by this outsourcing culture. These small sub-contracting firms employ very few graduate engineers. Most of their engineers have to be trained within the business itself, and that is where the training and the professional organisations play such a crucial role.
I am speaking of organisations such as EMTA, the Engineering Marine and Training Authority. In its work on the new sector skills councils, it plays an important role in enabling and encouraging those firms to run engineering modern apprenticeship programmes. Other noble Lords have spoken of the need to attract young people. They do attract them. Thanks to EMTA, engineering is still top of the league for the number of people registering to do modern engineering programmes and has the highest completion rate. Yet there is a decline in the number of people starting engineering modern apprenticeships. That must be a cause for concern.
Is it because there is less status in vocational training than in academic training? Perhaps it is. So we must seek to draw well-trained engineers of the future by attracting able young people from all sectors of society. That is why I think that we must give equal esteem to academic and vocational training. NVQs, Higher National Certificates and Higher National Diplomas as well as academic qualifications should all be equal as part of the advanced modern apprenticeships.
Even in the smaller firms, well-trained engineers have to be up-to-date engineers. They have to develop with the job. It is in keeping their members up to date that the professional organisations have an important role. I know that the Society of Operations EngineersI declare an interest as its patron; it is a professional organisation which is part of the Engineering and Technology Councilis addressing this issue by developing a professional development record for its members. Members will be required to show evidence of continuing professional development on an annual basis. The society provides
The culture of outsourcing seems to have been successful in terms of profitability, but less so in terms of productivity. It seems that we are as profitable as most other economies in the OECD but somewhat less productive, as the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, told us. However, increasing productivity is not only a matter of good engineering; it is also a matter of management. All employers, large and small, need engineers with these management skills. Good management is not just a matter of being nice to people; it means building up the human capital by measures such as sharing information, encouraging personal development, andperhaps above allintroducing the five main lean techniques which are known to raise productivity. That is why successful organisations and companies provide their engineers with opportunities for personal development as well as training in new engineering.
It also seems to me that another new skill is emerging which well-trained engineers have to acquire, particularly in larger companiesthe skill of exercising personal judgment on where to draw the line between loyalty to the company and loyalty to society. In recent months, we have had a number of corporate scandals, and from these we have learned that in some companies there is a savage peer review process. It is savage in order to instil fear into those who might otherwise have challenged the integrity of the business. That gives every incentive in a company to cover up bad news.
It seems to me that well-trained engineers in the future will have to be provided with the confidence to see things through their own eyes rather than through the eyes of their masters. Well-trained engineers will need to learn that ethical behaviour is economically productive, and that shedding your reputation may temporarily increase your bank balance but is bad for your career. I think that that is another important task for the engineers' professional organisations.
In time, the outsourcing culture will change; some say that the pendulum is already beginning to swing back. Meanwhile, however, in the vocational sector we are dependent on the training organisations for teaching engineering and management and on the professional organisations to continue this work by keeping engineering knowledge up to date and personal skills up to scratch. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will promise them his support in this work.
Lord Freeman: My Lords, although I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, said, I was not impressed by the argument that, on balance, the principle of outsourcing has had a detrimental effect on the quality of the training and skills of engineers. As the Scots would say, I think that his case is not proven.
I declare an interest. Although I am not an engineer, I am a chairman of an engineering company which employs 4,000 engineers. I therefore speak not only from my own limited practical experience but from the experience of my colleagues.
It is important to reflect on the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh: will there be enough well-trained engineers in this country in the future? The answer may be yes in terms of the total number of engineers. However, I do not think that we should be confident about the quality of engineers unless certain steps are taken not only by the Government but by the profession as a whole.
I agree with what the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Methuen, had to say in describing the fall in the status of the engineering profession. Perhaps since the second world war or the mid 1950s, it has gradually eroded, especially compared with Germany and France. There seems to be a growing failure to recruit the brightest and the best of our schoolchildren and even the university students who are studying engineering to stay in the profession. That is very sad.
I am told that in some cases, our universities are accepting even C and D grades at A-level to attract students into engineering, which cannot be good in terms of quality graduates. Media studies, law, in particular, and investment banking as careers seem to have been more attractive in the past two or three decades than engineering. It may be that the crisis in the investment banking industry is one of the best things that has happened to the structure of our economy in terms of shaking out some of the brightest and best who may have been attracted in the past to enter other, perhaps more productive, sectors of the economy.
I have four suggestions, which are all very brief, but before I turn to them, we should recognise that there has been a change in the demand for the type of engineers in our economy in the past 30 to 40 years. We have moved from a situation where the great need was for mechanical engineers and technicians through to the use of computer-aided design, to cite one example. Now the emphasis is on engineers who are skilled in computer sciences and electronics, as the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, mentioned in her contribution. Indeed, I was so enthused by it that I shall go straight home after the debate to encourage our teenage daughter to reconsider her future career prospects. There has been a change in the mix of skills required in the profession. There is now much greater emphasis on multi-disciplinary and commercial skills.
My first suggestion relates to university funding. This is a major problem across a number of disciplines, but particularly for engineering. It is a four-year course and is expensive in terms of qualified teaching staff. I was appalled to hear what the noble Lord,
I shall not repeat what the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, said about attracting more girls into the profession. Her words were full of wisdom. My second point relates to parents and teachers. It is often their lack of encouragement to schoolchildren about entering the engineering profession that is at fault. I suggest that the industry should make the specific effort of showing parents and teachers what engineering companies in our modern society are all about. I found it helpful in my constituency when I served in another place to show that they are not just about metal bashing, but are one of the most exciting parts of our economy. I pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, at SETNET, and to the Arkwright scholarship scheme. We should have 10 times the number of Arkwright scholars in our schools rather than the limited number of 150.
Thirdly, we should be teaching our engineers more broadly at university. They need to know about risk management, financial planning control, marketing and project management. There have been some disasters for which previous Administrations and previous Ministers, including myself, must take some of the blame. Disasters such as the Jubilee line and the West Coast Main Line makes one wonder whether, had the engineers in charge had broader training, education and experience, some of the problems of cost overrun and engineering faults might not have occurred.
Finally, we need to bring more engineers into the heart of government, both national and local. If the Deputy Prime Minister reads this debate, he will see that I am suggesting that he should have a senior engineer in his department. We have lost city engineers from local government. They should be replicated. We need more engineers on advisory bodies, especially in the Civil Service. We must give our engineers a much higher status. By doing so, we shall meet our recruitment targets.
Lord Howie of Troon: My Lords, I am happy to take part in this debate. As Members of your Lordships' House will know, I am a chartered engineer, a fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and I have dabbled in a number of other engineering societies. I was an engineering journalist for a long time; I still am. I have published engineering books. I was a member of the Finniston committee into engineering 20 years ago.
I shall say something about the living memory of the previous speaker. I raised this subject, or something like it, 10 or 12 years ago from the other side of the House. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, as he managed to attract more speakers than I did. The impact of my contribution of 10 or 12 years ago has not impinged on the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, as yet. We have said very much the same tonight as we said then. Very little has changed.
I shall be brief. We are supposed to have eight minutes, and I see that we have quite some time left. I shall say a little about higher education. I was pleased, in a way, at the tribulations regarding A-levels recently. I know that that is unkind, but I have never regarded A-levels as the golden whatever. The impetus that the problems with A-levels gave to considering taking up the international baccalaureate seemed to me quite a good idea. However, there is an easier way to go about the matter, which would be less chauvinistic, I suppose.
Some noble Lords may have heard of the Scottish higher leaving certificate, which is an excellent way into higher education. It has produced a substantial number of reasonably successful, though not always magnificent engineers. The English should take up something like the Scottish higher leaving certificate, tweak it in whatever way they feel appropriate and call it the English baccalaureate, or something of that nature. Honour would then be satisfied on all sides.
I scribbled down my next point while others were speaking, which I am now trying to read. There is a duty on the profession. I speak as someone who has had a career in consulting engineering in the construction industry, so I shall not bother too much with mechanical engineering, and so on, important though those things are. I shall stick to the area about which I know a little.
There is a tendency to expect things to be done for the profession. But the profession must do things for itself. The first and most important thing it must do is to pay engineers more. To do that employers should charge higher rates. Noble Lords will have noticed that in recent years a profession has grown up which is very popular. Its leading membersnow that "my lads" are in powerare invited to Downing Street. I refer to the design profession, a new profession that charges a lot of money and achieves its purpose very well.
At this point I shall irritate the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. She will remember that some years ago she and I had lengthy conversations about compulsory competitive tenderingI forget who was the Prime Minister at the time but the Conservative Party was in powerwhereby design engineers, that is, consulting engineers, were obliged to compete with each other for commissions. That was always wrong. The noble Baroness will remember that we had those entertaining discussions over several weeks. She won partly because of her superior debating powers and partly because she had more people on her side than I had on mine. However, competing for commissions was a grave error.
The cost of design, particularly in construction, constitutes a tiny part of the whole life cost of the project. I do not know how "my chaps" have reacted to the matter of competing for commissions as I do not follow such matters terribly closely. The noble Lord, Lord Methuen, spoke of Brunel who has been in the news lately. When Isambard Kingdom Brunel wasI almost said "touting"hoping to get the commission to design the Great Western railway and he came up against the directors of the board who were putting up the money, he told them, "I shall not give you the cheapest railway line. I shall give you the best railway line". That is exactly how the client should expect his consulting engineer and designer to approach a project. The client should not ask for the cheapest design but rather the best. The best design will be more expensive but the engineers involved will be paid an appropriate sum.
Finally, I agree with almost everything that has been said on all sides of the House, even as regards comments with which I do not normally agree. The status of engineers was mentioned. I have been involved with the Institution of Civil Engineers for more than 40 years. We babble on about status and so on. I have always advised engineers to do one thingit was done by the members of the design profession whom I have mentionedand that is to blow their own trumpets. Engineers should not expect to be recognised for what they produce or the marvels that they achieve or for the fact that they are the most important people on earth. They should blow their own trumpets and tell people what they achieve.
That brings me to my very last point which I shall recount as quickly as I can. I note that the Whip in the person of the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, is starting to squirm, as it were, but I shall let her squirm for a moment or two longer. One of the better things that the party opposite produced while in power was the copyright Act of 1988 which introduced the moral right for an architect to be recognised from the start as the designer of a building. In the course of our debates we decided that that right should belong to people other than the relevant architect as, especially in the case of modern buildings, the role of the engineer is at least as significant as that of the architect and sometimes more so. It was agreed that both architects and engineers should have the moral right to be recognised in the way that I have described. Unfortunately, Whitehall being what it is, it could not accept the notion that the then Bill should be amended to include the phrase "architect and/or engineer". However, it accepted a reference to the author of the building or structure. That, of course, confused the issue. Engineers have not really noticed that omission and have not blown their own trumpets in that regard.
I am aware that the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, who will reply to this debate is not in any way to blame for that situation. However, I believe that that matter should be clarified and that the copyright Act should be amended to make it clear that architects
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