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European Communities (Amendment) Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

Business of the House: Debates, 27th January

Lord Richard: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That Standing Order 38 (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be dispensed with on 27th January to enable the Motions standing in the names of the Lord Kimball and the Lord Willoughby de Broke to be taken before the Local Government (Experimental Arrangements) Bill.--(Lord Richard.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Teaching and Higher Education Bill [H.L.]

3.15 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Baroness Blackstone.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Boston of Faversham) in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [The General Teaching Council]:

Baroness Young moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 11, at end insert--
("( ) The principal aim of the Council shall be to maintain and enhance the standard of teaching and the quality of learning in schools.").

The noble Baroness said: As the noble Baroness and the Committee will be aware, when we debated this matter at Second Reading I said that I supported in

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principle the establishment of a general teaching council. I think that was a view which was agreed throughout the Chamber. Looking at this matter in some detail, I was somewhat surprised to note that there did not appear to be any aims set out in the Bill as to what exactly the council is expected to do. Amendment No. 1 is grouped with Amendment No. 2, which stands in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock. The first part of that amendment reads almost exactly the same as my amendment.

I hardly think my amendment requires a great deal of explanation because it is perfectly clear what it aims to do. I should like to think that there could be no possible disagreement among ourselves on these aims. Perhaps the Minister could say why a measure such as this was not included in the Bill as it is important to set out somewhere that we believe that the general teaching council should promote good, high standards in education through the teaching profession. This is not a complicated amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Tope: As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has said, Amendment No. 2, which stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Maddock, is, I believe, at the beginning word for word the same as the amendment of the noble Baroness. However, we may have gone a little further in spelling out the matter. I believe that the noble Baroness said there was no need to explain the amendment as it is self-explanatory. I am sure that is true but nevertheless it is important in that much of today's debate on this and subsequent amendments will concern the nature and the constitution of the general teaching council.

I believe that there is a wide welcome, certainly in the profession, and, I think, in this Chamber, for the establishment of the general teaching council. So far, so good; but simply setting up a general teaching council in itself is not enough. What is important is what it will do and what its functions are. It is important that it is seen to be independent and not, as I said on Second Reading, a rather toothless poodle of the Secretary of State. It is important that it commands the confidence of the profession. The amendment which I shall move today is the start of that process.

It is important that the purpose and the function of a general teaching council is enshrined in legislation. We have stated that in our amendment. As I have said, the first part of it reads word for word the same as that of the noble Baroness, Lady Young. However, we also say that the council needs,

    "to safeguard the interests of young people as learners".

It is important that that is recognised specifically. It is also important--perhaps even more important--that the council enables the,

    "teaching profession to exercise responsibility for the standards and quality of its professional service".

That is crucial if the council is to gain the acceptance and support of the teaching profession. For those reasons it is important that the Bill recognises that that is what the principal aim and purpose of the general teaching council should be. I am sure that the Minister

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will agree with the sentiments. I hope that she will also agree with the importance of providing this in the legislation.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I strongly support the general purpose of the two amendments. Amendment No. 1 states simply the aim of the council; and I can see no reason that it should not be incorporated in the Bill. Doubtless the Minister will tell us what she thinks about that.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that the council should enable the teaching profession to exercise responsibility. However, I do not think that the council as recommended in the Bill goes far towards that aim. We shall doubtless go through the various functions of the council as we go through the Bill. But it is purely a consultative body. It is very much a creature of the Secretary of State. We shall decide whether that is right as we go through the Bill. But as the Bill stands I do not think that it would be right to incorporate paragraph (b) because it does not describe what the council does. I wish that it did.

Lord Mishcon: I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Tope, will help me to consider his amendment with the seriousness that I am sure he would wish. Does the noble Lord want the council to enable the teaching profession to offer advice, or does the noble Lord mean in paragraph (b) that it is the council which will offer advice? My point is genuine; I do not seek to raise a pedantic point. I do not understand what the words of paragraph (b) mean.

Lord Tope: I shall try to clarify them. As the Bill stands--we seek to amend this at later stages--the role is simply advisory. I seek to provide that the council should have given to it the responsibility for maintaining the standards of the teaching profession, in much the same way--I do not wish to draw too close an analogy because I do not know enough about them--as the General Medical Council or the legal profession.

Lord Mishcon: The noble Lord has not followed my point. I am sure that it is my fault. At the end of paragraph (b) the amendment states, "and to offer advice". Does that mean that one wants the council to offer advice; or is the provision governed by the words at the beginning of the amendment,

    "to enable the teaching profession ... to offer advice"?

Lord Tope: I am sorry. I misunderstood the question. The intention would be for the council to offer advice.

Lord Glenamara: I warmly welcome this part of the Bill. It is the only part of the Bill that I welcome. I think that I am the only person who in the past has tried to set up a teaching council. The attempt came to grief because the unions fell out among themselves. That was 30 years ago. But I very much welcome this provision.

Having said that, I deprecate the fact that this is an ungenerous way to make the provision. As I see it, a general teaching council gives a measure of home rule to the teaching profession. If it does not do that, it is

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really not worth while. There are plenty of bodies to give advice. This body should govern the teaching profession. Therefore it must control ingress to the profession and egress from it and not simply be able to give advice on those matters.

The second point of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, goes a little way towards that aim. I very much welcome the amendment. I hope that the Minister will be able to accept it.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon: I support the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara. We had a Question today on recruitment to the teaching profession. The Minister said that she believed the establishment of a teaching council would go some way towards giving the profession confidence.

However, unless the teaching council has a greater measure of responsibility than at present, it will not serve that purpose. The raising of morale will result as teachers feel that they have some responsibility for the standards of the profession. On those grounds, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tope.

Lord Quirk: I most certainly strongly support the first part of this Bill in relation to the general teaching council. I echo the words of other noble Lords who have wished to see a strengthening of the role of the general teaching council which to some extent is in both the first two amendments: the spelling out by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, of the principal aim of the council, being thus and so, but more particularly with the wish of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, to see the council made responsible. I think that this sense of responsibility, the additional powers to the general teaching council, will be very much welcomed in the teaching profession.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: I, too, support the noble Baroness's amendment. It is important that in a precise and clear way the aim of the council is described. The problems that face the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, show the dangers of not giving a narrow and precise definition. At later points in the Committee I shall be worrying at other broad definitions.

We have to be cautious of replacing the Secretary of State entirely by the teaching council. To a degree, I shall support certain of the Government's ideas in seeing an evolutionary approach as being better than writing this council in letters of stone from the beginning.

I utterly share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, of the value of the proposal. However, the problems of 30 years ago, which I, too, remember, could occur again if we rush at this too quickly. Therefore there will be points where I and my noble friends will be pulling in a little the Liberal horses.

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In general, I advise support for the precise amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I share the worries of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, about the vagueness of paragraph (b) in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Tope.

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