Labour fails to support engineering enthusiasm

Only Conservatives turn up for big debate in the Commons

By Anthony Gould

Last week’s House of Commons adjournment debate on engineering was attended by only three members – all from the Conservative party.

A spokeswoman for shadow science minister Adam Ingram said it was unusual for frontbenchers to attend such debates. The debate coincided with the weekly meeting of Labour MPs addressed by Tony Blair.

In the event, the half-hour discussion – held to coincide with the launch of the Year of Engineering Success – was dominated by its initiator, Michael Fabricant, a member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, who could not resist pushing the party line on opposition to the minimum wage and the social chapter.

However, he spelled out the importance of engineering, pointing to a workforce of 1.8million and a total 1996 sales forecast of £163.5bn, including £81.5bn of exports.

Compared to other industries engineering was very successful, but it still suffered from a poor image, he said.

He called for less specialisation at A-level, a move Fabricant hoped would reverse the trend in which `Britain breeds inarticulate engineers and innumerate art graduates’. He also suggested a statutory register of engineers.

Fabricant capped his speech with a negative campaigning soundbite: `My saddest fear is that, if perchance there were a Labour Government, we would see years of engineering success replaced by years of engineering failure.’ Labour was not there to respond.

Science minister Ian Taylor, added: `There are 84 chartered engineers on the boards of the top 100 companies’. Graduates, too, had a real incentive to join the profession: the average starting salary for engineers, he said, was £15,900 – compared to the average for graduates as a whole of £12, 250.