The Rt. Hon. Tony Benn P.C. spoke to an enthralled audience on Engineering and Society at the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Annual New Year Reception on 15 January 2004.

Urging engineers to take a more active role in political decision-making, the former industry secretary used a timeline of civilisation development to illustrate the fundamental role of engineers throughout history. Speaking to a packed hall, he said,

‘The advance of civilization is recorded by the state of technology used at different periods from the Stone Age, through the Iron Age to the Industrial Revolution and now the age of Atomic energy, Space travel, the Computer and the Internet.

‘It is no exaggeration to say that, with the tools now at its disposal, the human race could obliterate itself by the indiscriminate use of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, or even by neglecting the effect on the environment of pollution.

‘It is also true that with the resources now available we could almost certainly eliminate many – if not most – of mankind’s greatest problems: disease, ignorance and poverty.’

Going on to address the area of the public engagement in science and technology issues, the message was clear.

‘If the right decisions are to be made by the governments of the world there needs to be a far greater public understanding both of the dangers and the opportunities which are open to us – which require us to take the right political and moral decisions.

‘What is really needed is clarification of the choices we have to make so that we can all be helped to understand the real nature of the decisions and the long-term consequences that may flow from them.’

Labour’s longest ever serving MP, Tony Benn is widely regarded as one of Britain’s greatest living parliamentarians. With a political career that began when he entered the House in 1950, and a member of Labour’s National Executive for 35 years, Tony Benn was a Cabinet Minister in the Wilson and Callaghan Governments from 1964–79, and Chairman of the Labour Party, 1971–2.

Tony Benn retired from the House of Commons in May 2001, ‘to devote more time to politics’.

Ideally placed to speak on the pivotal effect that engineering has on society, Tony Benn was an RAF pilot, and a BBC Producer prior to his career in politics and Postmaster General, early in his political career. As a Cabinet Minister in the Wilson and Callaghan governments his roles included Minister of Technology, Secretary of State for both Industry and Energy and President of the Council of European Energy ministers.

Notes for editors

  1. Founded in 1976, the Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship – comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers – provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

For more information please contact

Claire McLoughlin at the Royal Academy of Engineering