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Earl Russell: I should like to reinforce the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I thank the Minister for a very long and carefully considered reply. I told her that this amendment was probing in the first instance. I take her point that if the words are removed altogether unless they are replaced with something the general teaching council will not go ahead. That was not my intention.
But there is one point on which I believe that there must be a misunderstanding between us. The Minister said that she was not prepared to answer the question as to the extent of the vires conferred on her by this Bill. What is the extent of what we are authorising the Secretary of State to do if we pass these words? That is an important question. The Minister is asking the Committee to give her powers. She will be accountable to the House for the use of those powers. In any normal transaction it should be possible, if one asks for powers, to answer the question, "Power to do what, may I ask?" I appreciate that Ministers always want flexibility but I do not see why we should confer regulation-making powers on Ministers at all if they are not prepared to tell us the extent of those powers.
The reply of the noble Baroness is also out of line with the answers given by other departments. As recently as last Tuesday the Department of Social Security, which makes plentiful use of regulation-making powers, organised a briefing meeting in the Moses Room, for which I thank it very warmly. I raised the equivalent question about a regulation-making power in that Bill and was answered very quickly. I was told that there was a block in the wording which ensured that the consequence that I feared was not within the vires conferred by the legislation. I found that answer convincing and I accepted it instantly.
I should like to put one specific question about these vires. Is it necessary for the Secretary of State to introduce regulations to set up a general teaching council at all? The word is "may", not "must". Clause 1 provides:
The commencement clause is open-ended. The Minister might do well to read the memorandum submitted by Sir William Wade, printed in the first report of your Lordships' Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, in which he said that an open-ended clause might amount to an improper delegation of power in that it left it in the Minister's discretion whether the Bill came into force at all. With a "may" in the regulation-making powers, that is doubly the case. It strengthens the point that what Sir William Wade was addressing was the criminal injuries compensation provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which, as we all know to our grief in many subsequent late nights, were never brought into force.
Is there anything in the wording of the Bill that means that the Secretary of State "must" bring the GTC into effect? I noticed also that the Minister did not answer a Question I asked her about when the powers to bring in tuition fees were conferred. That Question has been down for Written Answer for over a week, so someone in the department must have notice of it. If I am considering conferring powers to do things that I do not foresee, at the very least I might have an answer to the question as to when I was a party to conferring on the Government powers to do something I do not want them to do, which I never for one moment foresaw that they could do under the powers that I was conferring. Before taking the matter any further, I should be grateful to have some answers.
Baroness Blackstone: I am grateful to the noble Earl for raising all those questions. I return to what I said before. In any legislation of this sort, particularly where a new body is being introduced, there is always a need for regulations to set out how it should operate. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, suggested that the consultation should have been done before the Bill was introduced. We could have approached it that way. I accept that that would have been one way of approaching the matter, but it would have delayed the introduction--something that everyone on all sides of this place would like to see introduced.
Baroness Blatch: We are having a kind of chicken-and-egg debate. Is the Minister suggesting that we can get on with establishing the body more quickly ahead of the consultation than at the end of the consultation? Whichever way round it is done--Bill and then consultation, or consultation and then Bill-- I cannot see how the timetable is telescoped in any way whatsoever.
Baroness Blackstone: The noble Baroness was an experienced Minister who was a member of the previous government for a long time. She will know that the opportunities for any government department to bring
The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked whether extra powers would be introduced. The answer to that is no. The GTC can only have the powers that are laid down in the regulations, although it will be possible to add additional powers by order, but only where they are related closely to those on the face of the Bill. Otherwise we would need new primary legislation. I hope that that is clear.
Baroness Blatch: I am sorry to intervene again, but it is important to get this straight. It is not clear. The Bill as it stands confers on the Secretary of State powers to make secondary legislation. Under the Bill as it stands, is it possible to end up with a body that is anything from one having advisory powers only, on the one hand, or all the powers that have been talked about in the course of the debate, on the other? Is it limited at all? If we are allowing for regulations to give us any kind of body--from one extreme to the other--it is important that the Minister sets that out now.
Baroness Blackstone: Yet again, of course I cannot set that out at the moment. As I have said repeatedly, we are consulting on these matters. We are consulting on the constitution, the membership, and the powers of the GTC. Until we have done that, it is indeed open. The noble Baroness is right when she implies that under the Bill there is a wide range of possibilities. I readily and happily admit that. That is helpful, because it means that we can listen to the views of the profession, and, as she said earlier, views are varied. We shall need to take them all into account, and discuss and negotiate with the different sections of the profession what seems to be the most sensible way of moving forward. I hope that that reply is helpful. It is designed to be.
Baroness Blatch: It may be me, but it is not entirely clear. I am not asking the Minister to tell me what powers this body will have at the end of the day. I am just asking her whether the secondary legislative powers which are going to be given to the Secretary of State will include the power to create a body that has, on the one hand, advisory powers only, or will the power be wide enough to create a body that has all the powers necessary for dismissal, teacher training, and the promotion of teaching as a profession? If the teachers
Baroness Blackstone: As I understand it, they do. At the initial stage, the Secretary of State will not want to give the GTC all those powers for the reasons that we have made clear--until it is well-established and has some experience of playing an important and significant role in raising the standards of teaching and of the teaching profession in this country. It is important that we do not rush into anything. I am now reading a note that has come from my civil servants--the powers and functions are set out in the Bill. The noble Baroness asked whether secondary powers might result in a range of different roles for the GTC. The answer is that the powers and functions are set out in the Bill. Clause 1(4) sets some parameters. We must consider the range of interests to be represented, for example. The Bill does not otherwise set limits. It would be hard to do so without constraining the scope for consultation.
Earl Russell: The Minister does not need to justify a regulation-making power. We are too early to consider that question. We cannot decide whether we need a regulation-making power until we know: a power to do what? I want an answer to that question. I want an answer to the question whether there is anything in the Bill that means that the Minister "must" introduce a GTC. I want to know when we conferred upon the Government the power to introduce tuition fees without additional legislation.
Those are three perfectly fair questions. The first will recur on about 20 amendments in the remainder of the Bill, and I shall ask it again. May I have an answer, please?
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