‘Parliament needs more people with an engineering background'

‘Parliament needs more people with an engineering background’Conservative MP, Michael Fabricant reckons that the future for the UK lies in science and engineering, but Britain is its own worst enemy by degrading the profession. We need more engineers in the seat of power. Melanie Reynolds canvassed opinions
Do you know who your Member of Parliament is? Would it make any difference if they were a qualified engineer?
These can be tricky questions. For the majority of people the only time they consider politics is when there is a general election. Even then most people vote for the party rather than the person, the candidate is usually pretty irrelevant.
So, how many of us are aware of what our MP used to do in their former incarnation?
There are 659 elected Members of Parliament in the House of Commons and if you survey the notes on each MP’s background there are recurring themes for previous occupation. The most popular areas seem to be education, the legal profession and the media.
But if you look hard then the term engineer appears often enough to be noticed as well.
Over 25 MPs include the term engineer in the description of at least one of their previous jobs. These descriptions vary widely though: from power station charge engineer through work study engineer to chartered electronics engineer.
It appears that amongst the elected, in common with their voters, the word engineer covers a wide variety of jobs not just those that the institutes would want classified as such. And this subject is one that Michael Fabricant, Conservative MP for Lichfield, holds dear to his heart. “Engineering is Britain’s future, science is Britain’s future, and the use of the word engineer in the UK is deplorable,” said Fabricant giving the case of an ‘upholstery cleaning engineer’ as an example. “It downgrades the profession and acts as a dis-incentive to people to get into engineering at school.”
As one of only seven chartered engineers in the Commons, Fabricant is an advocate of the need to raise engineer’s profile by ensuring only those qualified to do so can call themselves engineers.
Fabricant believes strongly that the Commons could do with more people from diverse backgrounds to bring in fresh experience and ideas. “It’s a form of masturbation. I mean there’s no cross fertilisation at all when people come into the House of Commons with nothing fresh to offer,” he exclaimed. “We should have more engineers. We should have more MPs who have done something more than just merely having done a politics degree and spent all their time in politics.”
The Labour MP for North West Norfolk, Dr George Turner agrees with the sentiment. “I think it’s beneficial and that parliament should have more people with science and engineering backgrounds,” said Turner.
Although coming from a physics background Turner spent the years before entering parliament as head of Electronic Engineering at the University of East Anglia.
Turner’s background provided him with a scientific approach to problem solving but he has to temper this approach with the human factor now. “In science and engineering you may be the only person in the room to be right,” explained Turner. “But in politics you find that what people think is sometimes more important than what the facts are.”
But the importance of engineering to the UK is evident to him. “If we’re to earn our way in the world, it’s going to be by being constantly up-to-date in terms of what technology allows us to do,” said Turner.
Jim Dowd, Labour MP for Lewisham West could not agree more. Dowd started life as an engineer with a five year apprenticeship at GPO (now BT) before moving on to work as an electronics engineer at Plessey (now Marconi Communications). Despite leaving the profession he believes that engineering is critically important.
Dowd believes that as a small trading nation the UK cannot compete on an hourly rate basis with the developing world. “What we need to sell is the skills of our people and engineering and technical skills are paramount amongst them,” he said.
Dowd agrees with George Turner on the way that his background has affected his method of tackling problems. “Engineers by temperament and training do tend to be fairly logical individuals and that has its advantage in so far as you can look at the practical implications of problems and how you solve them.”
But it can have its drawbacks too. “Sometimes the thinking can be stereotyped and predictable, but the combination I think is quite a reasonable one,” continued Dowd.
It appears that despite having left a technical career behind all three have taken a piece of the past with them. And crucially they all still believe that technology is of the utmost importance to the UK.
As Michael Fabricant put it: “I believe it is not old fashioned to say it is engineering that puts the ‘great’ in Great Britain. As long as we stay on the forefront of technology, it is very much still the future for Britain.” MPs with a technical or science background
   
Less than 10 per cent of our MPs have a technical or scientific background. LABOUR
Joe Ashton – design engineer (engineering draughtsman)
John Austin – medical lab technician
Margaret Beckett – metallurgist
Harold Best – electrical technician
Richard Caborn -skilled engineer
Ian Cawsey – IT consultant
David Clelland – electrical tester with technical and vocational training
David Crausby – engineer
Lawrence Cunliffe – mining engineer
Jim Cunningham – engineer and a member of the Science and Technology Select Committee
Claire Curtis-Thomas – chartered mechanical engineer and a member of the Science and Technology Select Committee
Jim Dobbin – microbiologist for 33 years with NHS
Brian Donohoe – apprentice engineer, draughtsman, contract engineer
Jim Dowd – telecoms engineer at Plessey (now Marconi Communications) and a government whip
Paul Flynn – chemist steel industry
George Galloway – engineering worker
Dr Ian Gibson – scientist and a member of the Science and Technology Select Committee
Mike Hall – scientific assistant
Fabian Hamilton – computer systems consultant
Doug Henderson – apprentice at Rolls Royce
Jimmy Hood – miner (engineer)
George Howarth – engineer
Adam Ingram – computer programmer and systems analyst
Brian Jenkins – instrument mechanic at CEGB before joining Jaguar Cars as an industrial engineer
Dr Lynne Jones – biochemist and a member of the Science and Technology Select Committee
Martyn Jones – microbiologist in brewing industry
Dr Ashok Kumar – chartered chemical engineer, research scientist with British Steel and a member of the Science and Technology Select Committee
Dr Stephen Ladyman – computer manager at Pfizer Control Research
Bob Laxton – telecommunications engineer and a member of the Trade and Industry Select Committee
Terry Lewis – power station charge engineer
Dr John Marek – lecturer in applied maths
Paul Marsden – civil engineer
Jim Marshall – research engineer
John McWilliam – BT engineer, member IEE and chairman of Information Technology Committee
Bill Michie – lab technician in steel industry
Dr Douglas Naysmith – scientist
Bill Olner – C&G Mechanical Engineering
Gwyn Prosser – chartered marine engineer
Ken Purchase – worked in aerospace engineering
Lawrie Quinn – chartered civil engineer
Jeff Rooker – chartered electronic engineer
Ernie Ross – quality control engineer for Timex, apprentice marine fitter at Caledon Shipyard
Robert Sheldon – qualified engineer
Dr Phyllis Starkey – scientist
Roger Stott – GPO telephone engineer
Dr Gavin Strang – agricultural scientist
Graham Stringer – analytical chemist in the plastics industry
Stephen Timms – telecoms analyst
Dr Desmond Turner – biochemist and a member of the Science and Technology Select Committee
Dr. George Turner -head of Electronic Engineering at the University of East Anglia
Brian White – systems analyst CONSERVATIVE
David Atkinson – diploma first class automobile engineering
Ian Bruce – an apprentice at Marconi for three years before becoming a work study engineer
Michael Fabricant – chartered electronics engineer
Laurence Robertson – work study engineer LIBERAL DEMOCRAT
Richard Allan – MSc in IT, computer manager for Avon
Family Health Services Authority
Tom Brake – computer consultant
David Chidgey – chartered civil engineer
Nigel Jones – worked in the computer industry for 25 years as a computer programmer, systems analyst and systems designer. He is the Science & Technology spokesman for the Liberal Democrat party. ULSTER UNIONISTS
John D Taylor – civil engineer SCOTTISH NATIONAL PARTY
Alasdair Morgan – computer systems and IT manager and a member of the Trade and Industry Select Committee SCOTTISH LABOUR
Thomas Graham – machine and tool engineer
And those seven chartered engineers:
David Chidgey – civil
Claire Curtis Thomas – mechanical
Michael Fabricant – IEE
Dr Ashok Kumar – chemical
Gwyn Prosser – marine
Lawrence Quinn – civil
Jeff Rooker – IEE
In the parliamentary guides MPs can list the subjects that they take a special interest in. This makes it easier to contact the right person for the subject you are interested in.
Engineering
Hazel Blears, Frank Cook, Bill Olner
Engineering and Technology
John Battle, Brian Iddon
Engineering Services
David Chidgey
Science
John Battle, Jim Cousins, Ian Gibson, Brian Iddon, Robert Jackson, Lynne Jones, Martyn Jones, Phyllis Starkey
Science and Technology
Michael Clark, Stephen Ladyman
Space Technology
David Atkinson


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