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Baroness Maddock: My Lords, I rise to support the intentions behind Amendment No. 8. It sets out very worthwhile functions which the majority of your Lordships' House believe the general teaching council should have if it is to do everything we hope that it will, particularly in raising the status of teachers and encouraging more teachers into the profession.

Other amendments in this group deal with the responsibility of the general teaching council to look after the register and decide who should be a qualified teacher. We welcome that but, as many of your Lordships know, in earlier debates we on these Benches set out wider provisions for the general teaching council. We would like to go further, but we certainly support what the noble Baroness has so eloquently put before us today.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, we very much support the noble Baroness in this matter. No one disagrees that at some stage the teachers ought to be given powers; certainly over the register and possibly more powers later. That is agreed by everyone.

Secondly, although I have had no experience in Government I know that everyone agrees that the department would face enormous difficulties in passing primary legislation to award this body control over the register.

My noble friend proposes that the Government should find it in their hearts at least to give this body power over the register. I repeat again, at the risk of boring but it needs to be said, that everyone agrees that it ought to have that power--the noble Baroness, all her noble friends and people in the other place. The argument is about time, and everyone agrees that to pass primary legislation would be hard.

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Why are the Government not prepared to concede this point? It would be easy to accept my noble friend's amendment. It would please the teaching profession, who will get very annoyed when, in the next Parliament, the department cannot find the time for the legislation. This will increase their frustration. As the noble Baroness knows, those teachers who are prepared to wait expect that in the first Session of the next Parliament the noble Baroness or her successors will put this forward. They will be very annoyed when it does not happen.

As anyone who studies history knows, bodies which are consultative but without power in the end become discontented bodies. The constitutional history of many countries bears this out. As the noble Baroness agrees with me and my noble friend that this body is important and ought to have and will have some power, why not swallow one clause and give it some power now?

Lord Mishcon: My Lords, before the House comes to consider this question, I hope your Lordships will forgive a pedantic lawyer if he raises a point arising from the words of this amendment. I assure your Lordships that he is doing it to help and for no other reason.

Under the wording of this amendment, are we deciding that the council should have powers to do things which are unqualified, or are we saying that those powers should be qualified? I say that because subsection (2) of the amendment says that

    "The council may be required to seek advice from the Secretary of State; or such other persons or bodies that he may from time to time designate".

If I may refer to that latter wording, are we saying that the council is bound to consult any person or body that the Secretary of State designates and has to follow that advice, or are we saying that it shall seek that advice?

That happens to be rather important because the first person whom the council may have to consult or take advice from is the Secretary of State. Are we saying under this amendment that if the Secretary of State advises something the advice has to be followed, or are we saying merely that the council has to take advice? That would not be so important were it not for the other power that the Secretary of State has, which is to designate anyone or any body. Is the council bound to take that advice, or not? Should the wording be, "to seek and follow advice", if that is the intention; or should it be just, "to seek advice", with the council having the power to refuse to accept that advice? One often hears a judge in a criminal court saying to an accused person, "I think you should seek advice". That does not mean that the accused, having sought that advice, is bound to follow it. What does the amendment mean?

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, before the noble Baroness replies, perhaps I might strike a slightly discordant note. There seems to have been a tremendous love feast in favour of the amendment, but I confess that it leaves considerable doubts in my mind, particularly the words,

    "The Council shall be responsible for determining the ... standards of teaching".

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I hear from the Conservative Benches everybody advocating that, but in the 1970s and 1980s our education system got in such a frightful mess because the standards of teaching were being determined by the schools and the teachers. The Conservative Government had to introduce an elaborate structure, including Ofsted and the national curriculum, in order to regulate the standards of teaching. Perhaps the Minister could explain that when she responds.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Young will respond to all the questions posed to her. Perhaps I may come in behind the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. I have practically sat at his feet and accepted his views on almost anything. He is such a wise counsel in this House.

I hope that the principle of the amendment will be accepted. From the first round of consultation an unequivocal voice has come from the Minister and others in the department that if there is to be a general teaching council, it should have responsibility for standards of professionalism, teaching and the other matters set out in the amendment. Subsection (1) of the amendment gives responsibility to that body for those matters. As I understand subsection (2)--again it would be helpful to be advised on this point--it will be important for the council to seek advice (as I see it, advice is advice; it is no more than that) from the Secretary of State in order to carry out its duties properly.

If one takes the General Medical Council model, to which we have referred in the course of speaking to the amendment both on this occasion and on a previous occasion--this may partly be an answer to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne--the body that will represent teaching professionalism and the professional standards of teaching, when it is transparent and has that responsibility, (a) it will behave responsibly and (b) it will act in the interests of the profession as a whole. It is that which we are trying to get at, rather than leaving it to holes in corners and behind closed doors in classrooms, where things went very wrong in the 1960s and 1970s.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, this has been an interesting debate and the House will expect me to reply in detail. I therefore apologise for the length of my response. At the risk of abandoning the idyllic pastures--or pastoral idylls--I am afraid that we cannot accept the amendment.

Clearly the aim of these amendments, in essence, is to give the general teaching council, instead of the Secretary of State, full and final responsibility to decide who to register and who to deregister. I repeat the arguments made by my noble friend Lady Blackstone at earlier stages that, though this may be a desirable ultimate objective and may well be a target to aim for once the council is up and running, we do not consider it sensible to make provision for that at this point. The difference between us therefore is not one of principle but of timing. Nor is it a question, as the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, suggested, of people being reluctant to relinquish powers. It is a question of when the optimum moment to change the responsibilities will be.

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We outlined a number of reasons in Committee why the time is not yet right. The noble Baroness and others argued that this Bill should leave more room for the GTC's role to expand without the need for further primary legislation. We envisage the GTC's role evolving over time, and that approach had some support in the House during the Committee and earlier stages. However, it would be wrong to include such an intention on the face of this Bill before we have some real experience of the GTC in operation.

Reference was made to this being a matter for the next Parliament. I remind the House of the timescale. The GTC will not be in operation under this legislation, however good a wind this House and another place give it, before the year 2000. Without disclosing the date of the next general election, by the time of the next Parliament the GTC will have been in operation for less than two years. It is therefore for the next Parliament to assess its effectiveness and its ability to take on additional roles, as envisaged by the amendment.

The amendments essentially deal with two separate issues--the entry to the profession and the issue of barring. In relation to entry to the profession, this Government were clearly elected on a platform of raising standards in schools, and therefore the standards of the profession are essential to that strategy. It remains our view that regulating the quality of teaching in the maintained sector--schools paid for by the public through their taxes--in the immediate period should ultimately be the responsibility of the Secretary of State. He is accountable to Parliament and to the electorate in a way in which the GTC, as envisaged, would not be.

However, I agree that the GTC must and will have a major role, and a role which will develop over time. The intention clearly is that the Secretary of State will look for advice from the GTC on how the standards for entry are working and the case for any change. He will look to the GTC in that area to work in strong partnership with the Teacher Training Agency, which has not been referred to a great deal in this debate but which already has statutory and administrative powers in this area. We believe that in moving to set up the GTC we are already giving a measure of self-regulation to the teaching profession--something that teachers have been denied for so long. The council's role will grow over time.

Reference was made to the General Medical Council. But the General Medical Council has been in existence for over 150 years and there was no state regulation of the medical profession before that time. The noble Lord, Lord Walton, referred to other professional bodies. They are dealing with much smaller professions than the teaching profession. We are talking of over 500,000 people. Before the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, refers to dinosaur stages of evolution, as he did the other day, we are not saying that it will take 150 years, but it will take a couple of years before we can be sure that the general teaching council will be able to take on these serious responsibilities.

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