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Baroness Barker: My Lords, we, too, welcome the order. I thank the Minister very much for the way in which he introduced them to the House. The format in which they were printed and presented to us was also extremely helpful.
We welcome the order as it has been welcomed by the profession, particularly because it opens up and extends the range of measures that may be taken when a dentist is known to have failed in their performance.
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It introduces powers to insist on further professional training. We have a number of concerns similar to those put forward by the noble Earl, Lord Howe.
We too are of the view that the five-year period of erasure appears wholly arbitrary. It seems insufficient reasoning on the part of the Government to say that it is necessary to have the same term of erasure for different professions.
The effect of a five-year ban on a dentist will be wholly different from a ban on a nurse. That seems not only arbitrary but somewhat draconian, at a time when we already know from the many debates that we have had in your Lordships' House in the past few weeks that there is an acute shortage of dentists. I support the noble Earl, Lord Howe, in questioning the Government in his suggestion that there should be greater flexibility.
I refer to the notification and disclosure by the council in Article 25. It seems unreasonable that there should be a general notification at the allegation stage. Will the Minister say why the Government have not considered implementing such measures only after an investigating committee has looked at the allegations and considered whether there is any foundation to them? The public have a right to know that the dentists in their area perform to a decent standard. However, it is not inconceivable that somebody with a grudge could try to orchestrate a campaign against a dental practice or a particular dentist if he knew that this draconian means of doing so was at his disposal. The Minister needs to consider the issue again.
On Article 39 and dental bodies corporate, I, too, agree with the noble Earl. The issue is about dentists who work for the dental body corporate having to follow practices set by that body, rather than acting on the basis of their own professional knowledge. It therefore seems right that there should be parallel powers, as there are in social care, when CSCI can address practices that are failures of the corporate body, which is the provider, rather than addressing the practitioners on the front line.
Will the Minister confirm that the requirements for there to be compulsory insurance cover will not force dentists to abandon the mutual indemnity insurance that they have hitherto enjoyed? Other Ministers have heard me on other subjects talking about indemnity insurance policies, which can be so limited and exclusive that when push comes to shove, they provide very little cover. It would seem wholly wrong if this power had the reverse effect of making cover within dentistry more limited for patients.
On Article 29, it is welcome that the order provides for dental care professionals to pay their annual retention fee by instalments. Will that provision also be made available for dentists?
Lord Warner: My Lords, several points have been raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, to which I shall try to respond briefly.
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On the subject of the five-year period for erasure being too harsh, I remind noble Lords that patient safety is paramount. It is important that patients are protected from the few dentists and professionals complementary to dentistry who act unprofessionally. Erasure will be used only in the most serious circumstances. The order will give the General Dental Council a range of penalties short of erasure with which to deal with less serious cases.
In addition, the Government want to ensure consistency across the profession. The same minimum period of erasure is already in place for other professions, such as doctors, nurses, opticians and professions regulated by the Health Professions Council.
Perhaps I may gently remind the noble Earl, Lord Howe, that surgeons and physiotherapists also need to keep their hand in, if I may put it that way. We are content that the General Medical Council can match the penalty to the offence in the most appropriate way.
I turn to disclosure. It is important for patient protection that those who employ or contract with dentists are alerted as soon as possible when the GDC is investigating an allegation. That is a tried and tested approach that we consider represents an appropriate balance between a dentist's privacy and the need to protect members of the public, which is the goal of all professional regulation.
Similar provisions already cover other professions, including doctors, nurses and the professions regulated by the Health Professions Council, so dentists are in line with their fellow health professionals in that area.
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, asked about the GDC giving guidance on bodies corporate. It does not do that in the same way that it can for individual dentists. The order does not change the law in the area; it is maintaining the status quo. Ultimately, impaired fitness to practise is by an individual, which are the cases that do the most harm to the patient.
We sought consultation views on indemnity insurance. There was a debate on the type of indemnity that fulfils the requirement; both indemnity insurance and discretionary indemnity were discussed. The only significant issue that arose was the appropriateness of different types of cover. The Government's position, which is reflected in the order, is that registrants should be able to use mutual organisations that provide discretionary indemnity as well as insurance companies.
We have tried to maintain that balance and the order will make indemnity cover compulsory, but it will allow the General Dental Council to decide what cover is adequate and appropriate. We are not seeking to discriminate between one or the other in this area.
I have tried to answer most of the questions. If I find that I have not done so I will write to the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
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Lord Grocott: My Lords, perhaps I may offer a word on timing as we begin the final debate. As the House will know, time is running a little later than we had thought for the obvious reason that there was an unanticipated Statement. The advisory time for finishing tonight is 7 pm. I hope that the House will agree that it is reasonable, particularly for the staff who serve us so well, that we aim to finish at the normal finishing time of 7 pm. We can do that, first, if I finish speaking fairly rapidly, but secondly, in particular, leaving aside the opener, the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and the three winders, if the other speakers could confine themselves to seven minutes we should finish by the 7 pm advisory finishing time.
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood rose to move, That this House takes note of the Report of the European Union Committee on the Proposed EU Integrated Action Programme for Life-long Learning (17th Report, Session 200405, HL Paper 104).
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I would like to start by thanking all of those involved in producing the report on the European Union's life-long learning programmes. It was my first inquiry as chairman of Sub-Committee G and I am grateful to its members for their tolerance and support, their splendid contribution to the report and for their participation in this evening's debate.
I want to thank our Committee Clerk, Gordon Baker, for his efficiency and unflappable demeanour during an inquiry carried out at top speed, ably assisted in the essential nuts and bolts department by Melanie Moore. Oriel Petry, our committee adviser, and our two special advisers, Professor Karen Evans and Mr Mike Bourke, both of whom have personal experience of the Socrates programme, were of immense service to the sub-committee in helping us to understand the subtleties of commission thinking, the philosophy behind the programme and the details of its operation.
The special advisers left behind them a splendid memento in the glossary of more than 190 educational acronyms at the end of the report, which I daresay many people would find useful. We owe a special debt to the British Council, which helped to find witnesses with hands-on experience of Socrates; to the Department for Education and Skills for its detailed response to all our recommendations, as well as for its evidence; and to all those who gave oral or written evidence to the inquiry.
Indeed, the British Council, which acts as the national agency for the commission's programmes, is universally admired by all our witnesses. I am particularly pleased therefore to see that the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, will make his maiden speech in today's debate. I know that
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we are all looking forward to this event. I am also grateful to the members of the sub-committee itself, who will speak today. They will be able to cover some of the matters that I shall not be able to cover even in, I am afraid, a rather lengthy speech.
The report is concerned with the Commission's proposal to renew and partly reform a well known set of programmes for student and teacher exchange across the EU at all levels of education. Activity and education at a European level started in the 1970s and has a secure treaty base.
The most recent version of these programmes, known as Socrates, has run in two six-year tranches since 1995 and was last examined by the EU Select Committee in 1998. Socrates, together with a hitherto separate training programme called Leonardo, was recently the subject of an extensive evaluation exercise on the part of the Commission, and the present proposals reflect the result of that analysis. They are also intended to respond to the demands placed on the EU institutions by the Lisbon process, which has the objective of making the EU,
I leave it to your Lordships to judge whether it is wise to have that kind of ambition. The proposals also interact with the Bologna process, aimed at achieving by 2010 greater interoperability and equivalents in first and second degree courses within a single area of higher education in the EU.
We undertook our inquiry for a number of different reasons. First, we wanted to know how well the existing programmes were working in practice and what lessons might be learned from them. Secondly, we had our doubts about the more than threefold increase in the budget to €13.6 billion for the upcoming period compared with the immediate past. We wanted to know how the budget would be apportioned between different elements of the overall programme.
In the proposed programme, those elements will be Comenius for pupils and teachers in schools, Erasmus for higher education and advance vocational education and training, Leonardo for all other vocational education and training, and Grundtvig for adult and continuing education. We wanted to understand the individual programmes and how effective they were, how many students or institutions were involved, what benefits the programmes delivered and what had been added to the programmes by the phrase "life-long learning". I shall not be able to cover all the answers to all those questions, but I shall do my best at least to indicate some of the broad thrust of our conclusions.
We also wanted to know how much interest the UK Government took in these programmes. Did the Government recognise the benefits that students and teachers obtained from them? Were they embedded in government education policy? It is perhaps worth stating straight away that, in general, the programmes seemed to us to be well founded and of great benefit to those who used them. We had both written and spoken evidence and statistical evidence to support that
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approach. Nevertheless, we all have some doubts about some aspects of them. We want to see a more systematic, qualitative and quantitative analysis of the benefits to those who take part in them and the wider benefits to the EU and its member states, and we recommend that the Commission undertakes that kind of analysis.
On the other hand, although we were unable to judge whether the proposed budget of €13.6 billion is appropriate for the next seven years roll-out of the programme, we still feel that such a large increase requires very sound justification. I believe that in their response the Government have agreed with that approach.
At the same time, we have been broadly critical of some of the administration of the schemea topic to which I now turn. During the inquiry we were fortunate to take evidence from a number of people with practical experience of running the programmes or assisting others to do so. In addition, written and statistical evidence from academic and other sources gave us a wider perspective on the benefits that could be obtained as well as the defects of some of them. I take the Comenius and Leonardo programmes for schoolsperhaps less well known than the Erasmus programme, which operates at university levelas my exemplars for some of the benefits obtained from running the programmes and some of the difficulties faced by those who do so.
The basic building block for achieving funding is the creation of a partnership between schools and teacher training institutions in several EU member states. Within those partnerships the programme can fund in-service training and work experience for teachers; school development projects based on sharing experience of teaching methods; the teaching and learning of languages, including those less widely used within the European Union; and the development of subject-based information networks between schools.
Thus three small primary schools in rural Suffolk formed partnerships with schools in Belgium, Latvia and Lithuania, building on existing strong links with Flanders. Pupils and teachers in those schools have gained in a number of different ways. Children have taken part in visits and in the reception of children coming to their school, and acquired a basic understanding of how to interact with and try to understand foreigners. Imaginative joint educational programmes have kept those contacts alive and play a valuable role in the continuing life of learning and teaching within schools. One example is an art project involving pupils across the partnership schools in each country copying a major artwork from their own country and then discussing with their fellow schools via the Internet and e-mail the problems that they had to solve in doing so.
Teachers involved in the project benefited through exchange of information on teaching practicewhich is always valuable to teachers and valued by themand on the process of learning, a major objective of every good teacher. The experience of successfully organising partnerships and cross-border exchanges
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between teachers and pupils is in itself a process that demonstrates and enhances skills which, while they receive no cash reward, that cannot but assist in future promotion.
Meanwhile, in a 2002 survey, a majority of 311 teachers who had taken part in the Comenius project agreed that participation had increased pupils' willingness to learn other languages, improved teachers' project management skills, contributed to improved teacher practice and improved pupils' general motivation to learn. Ninety-seven per cent would recommend Comenius projects to other schools and teachers. Academic experts confirm those findings. Among other respondents, the Welsh Assembly Government reported overwhelmingly positive feedback from Welsh teachers involved in Comenius projects.
On the other hand, we also heard evidence from an officer specially appointed by a local education authority to encourage access to the Comenius programme by the schools and other institutions within the LEA. That evidence highlighted the fact that in most education authorities there is no such person charged with making the programmes better known and better used. A similar picture of well constructed and successful schemes, funded under the Leonardo programme for colleges and other groups dedicated to improving the prospects of pupils training for work, was made clear to the sub-committee.
The sub-committee was particularly struck by the project managed by Grampus/Clark Mactavish in Cumbria in the context of changes in the forestry industry in the UK and other member states. That has involved mobility exchange projects in 28 European countries involving more than 2,000 people travelling out from the United Kingdom for stays lasting up to six months. Grampus is currently involved in a seven-nation project for developing forest-based recreation by setting up training modules through which best practice and innovation can be exchanged. The output from those activities, apart from the benefits to the individuals involved, include the introduction into the management of forests in the UK of new forestry skills and new products and processes developed in other member states.
At schools and colleges, enormous efforts are made to offer those programmes to children and young people who might be excluded by reason of disability or social exclusion, despite the additional problems caused by, for example, taking groups of young people with physical disabilities on long international journeys to places where they cannot communicate with anyoneto begin with, at any rateexcept the teachers who have accompanied them.
Inclusion is an important theme of the new programmes, and at the level of Comenius and Leonardo it is pursued with dedication by practitioners. However, there are serious difficulties that the schools, colleges and others involved in Comenius and Leonardo have to overcome, and these are reflected in the sub-committee's conclusions and recommendations which are directed partly to the Commission and partly to HMG.
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The two major complaints about how the projects are managed and funded by the Commission are to do with bureaucracy and insufficient funding for unavoidable additional expenditure. Travel expenses of participants in exchange programmes from the furthest parts of the Scottish Isles are often much greater than those from the south-east of England but do not attract additional funding. Teachers who are away from school need to be replaced during their absence but there is no funding for cover. The committee was pleased with the Government's encouraging response to that point.
The bureaucratic method by which the Commission grants are obtained and audited places costs on already hard pressed educational institutions. The application forms are extremely complicated and lengthy and there is a long wait until the response comes through and the institution can be confident that the project can go ahead. This is administrative money paid in advance for something which you cannot be certain that you will obtain.
At the end of the project the audit requirements are totally out of proportion to the relatively minor sums of money spent on any project in any year. Of course, we are all aware that the Commission is under great pressure to prove that it can put together accurate and trustworthy accounts. However, when it becomes necessary to produce every bus ticket as evidence of expenditure to satisfy the Commission, the question of proportionality takes on a totally new meaning.
Other problems lie at the door of HMG that can be partially summed up by the word "disconnect". That word was frequently used by those giving evidence to the sub-committee. Teachers and others trying to carry out projects under these programmes feel that the programmes are little regarded by government and not sufficiently embedded in government policies. They sense a lack of strategic direction. They feel that they get little support or assistance from the upper echelons of education management with some of the practical and financial problems. Nor does the Department for Education and Skills seem to them to be interested in promoting the use of the programmes as a useful tool for education in its widest sense, and teacher training takes no account of them.
Our recommendations to Her Majesty's Government starting at paragraph 390 on page 75 of the report address most of these points and pay particular attention to the need for the department to develop a clear strategy to maximise the benefit of these programmes. We perfectly understand that the amount of money which can be obtained for these programmes is minute by comparison with the total education budget. Nevertheless we all felt that, properly used, they could bring a new dimension into the education of pupils and students.
I have deliberately not covered the Erasmus programme for student exchange at university level or the Grundtvig programme for older people, not because the sub-committee did not consider them to be important or that it did not make recommendations with regard to what should happen in them, but
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because I am aware that others will be doing so. However, I feel that I should not close before mentioning the subject of language in UK schoolsthe subject most referred to in the press coverage of this report. The sub-committee's criticism of the Government's approach to the teaching of languages is contained in paragraphs 399402 on page 76 of the report. We concluded that the UK is already falling behind in language learning capability. This will severely limit British ability to take part in and benefit from the new European programmes, and that will have ongoing adverse implications for the employability and cultural awareness of the coming generation.
The Government contest that view. However, a recent report by CILT, the National Centre for Languages, confirms what we have said by stating that the low level of language ability demonstrated by UK business is exemplified by a European language league table ranking the UK at the bottom with a smaller percentage of the population able to speak another language than even Turkey, Hungary or Portugal. That report establishes a link between the balance of trade between the UK and its trading partners, and the penetration of English within the trading partner. We do better in markets where large numbers of people speak English than we do when we have to sell, as it were, in a foreign language.
The Government have rejected our conclusions on language learning. Perhaps this practical report, which time does not enable me to explain further, will help to change minds on a subject on which every Member of the sub-committee was in enthusiastic agreement. I beg to move.
Moved, That this House takes note of the Report of the European Union Committee on the Proposed EU Integrated Action Programme for Life-long Learning (17th Report, Session 200405, HL Paper 104).(Baroness Thomas of Walliswood.)
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