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Baroness Young: I hope very much that the Minister will accept this amendment and also the very important point that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, has made about the teachers being a majority on the general teaching council. Based on what my noble friend Lady Carnegy said, I believe that we would all agree on this issue.
Perhaps I may now return to the amendment before us. This is a serious matter. I have been an education Minister and so has my noble friend Lady Blatch. We all know the difficulties of legislation and we have all had the experience of taking Bills through the House. My noble friend Lord Jenkin has also had a great deal of such experience. But in all the education Bills that I had to take through the House, I am quite certain that none of them appeared as this Bill does. We are a House of Parliament. We are deciding the law of the land, which everyone has to obey. It is not a sixth-form debating society and neither is it a pressure group arguing for something. That is an organisation in a completely different position.
These are very serious matters indeed. No one is being critical about the issue. We are all trying to be constructive about something which we regard as important. So in a sense we are all on the same side. But we are not being offered anything that is clear cut. We are actually buying blind and, as a House of Parliament, we are being asked to buy blind. I believe that is what lies behind the remarks of my noble friend Lord Jenkin. He was quite justified in saying that. I hope that the Government realise how serious this matter is. When people come to look at it they will see that it is impossible to make serious decisions about it.
Lord Butterfield: Perhaps I may enter the discussion for a short time to say that when the question of the general teaching council first came before this House I was then a Cross Bencher and one of those who moved that it should be accepted. It was not acceptable at that time. One of the matters that has emerged clearly in my subsequent discussions over the years with the prime movers behind the general teaching council is their concern that the regulations should include an indication that at least half the members of the council should be elected by teachers. They are very concerned that the teachers could be swamped if the regulations subsequently go against their interests.
Lord Whitty: I do not want to go over again the substantive concerns that lie behind the request for us to adopt the suggested procedure. They have been debated at length. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, referred to changes in function beyond what is on the face of the Bill. This amendment as it stands does not address that issue. Any change in function would indeed require a change in primary legislation. As I understand it, this amendment deals with the composition and constitution of the council. In that regard--
Baroness Blatch: The noble Lord is entirely wrong about what I mean. My amendment means that any regulations made about this part of the Bill shall come before both Houses of Parliament for consideration, debate and approval. That is what I mean.
Lord Whitty: I do not believe that the amendment actually says that. However, I understand what the noble Baroness is driving at. Before we go to the procedural issue, may I say that it is clear from what my noble friend has said that we shall be consulting very widely on the composition and constitution of the council. We intend to issue a consultation document in March. We shall then consider carefully the issues which arise during consultation. We shall try to achieve consensus, including taking into account the points made by Members of this House. All the key interest groups will have an opportunity at that stage to comment on the provisions.
The noble Baroness requests the affirmative resolution procedure. We have to be a little careful about that. That is a procedure which is used sparingly, and quite rightly so. Only half-a-dozen or so examples exist in the education field. It would be unusual for orders specifying membership to be dealt with by the affirmative resolution procedure. On the face of it, it does not appear that our approach is likely to be novel or contentious enough to require such heavy use of parliamentary time and such a substantial procedure.
However, I take the points that a number of Members of the Committee have raised. We shall consider carefully the remarkable consistency of my noble friend Lord Peston on these matters. Perhaps some Members opposite have not been quite so consistent when dealing with similar propositions when in government. Nevertheless, I understand the concerns. I believe that in practice the Secretary of State would not wish to establish a framework for the composition of the GTC that does not command the confidence of the teaching profession, the general public, the council itself and this House. Indeed, without that consensus and confidence the role that we all expect of the council would be impossible to carry out.
Moreover, the amendment as it stands does not deal simply with the initial constitution of the council: it deals with any subsequent change. It will require Parliament to debate the regulations again each time they were changed. That is contrary to the evolutionary process which I thought we all favoured. We would not expect frequent changes in the composition. It could involve the use of parliamentary time to examine very minor changes. For example, in our consultation last year it was suggested that some major and specified trade unions and other representative bodies in the education world might be able to nominate some of the council members. If, after consultation, that was thought sensible and then at a later date some of the organisations named in the regulations changed their name, merged or changed their function, it would be necessary to come back and debate it again in both Houses of Parliament. Another possibility in this context is that the council itself would ask for the framework to be fine tuned if some elements did not prove to be workable in the way that the legislation intended.
Therefore, I am not persuaded that, in the form of this amendment, an affirmative resolution is sensible. It could seriously inhibit the organic development of the general teaching council in a way to which a number of Members of the Committee have referred. However, we should further consider this issue because of the concerns reflected here this afternoon to see whether there is any other form of assurance. We need to come back to this issue at a later stage of the Bill. I take on board the remarks of my noble friend Lord Peston and others. We shall consider this further, with the leave of the Committee.
Baroness Blatch: I take the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, but I repeat that my amendment has been completely misunderstood. It does not refer simply to the composition of the council. If the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, reads the amendment, he will see that it states:
As I have said, subsection (3) states that it shall be set up according to "regulations". We are saying that, because we have had no details whatsoever, we should like to see any details arising from the consultation even though that consultation will not take place until well after the Bill has passed through both Houses. We should see the details of those regulations and Parliament, which I believe is sovereign in these matters, should have an opportunity to see, comment on, debate and, if necessary, vote on the detail.
I said earlier--I repeat it because I mean it sincerely--that I have never doubted the Government's intention to consult. They have consulted widely already. The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, myself and many others in the Chamber are in receipt of many detailed, thoughtful and fully argued representations which give full responses to the suggestion that there should be a general teaching council.
Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord one question before we move on to the next amendment. I am not a betting lady, but if I were I would bet that at the end of the consultation process, with one voice will come at least one message: there should be a GTC and the GTC should have powers. That is what has come out of every representation that we have received from teaching and education bodies. This Bill does not allow for that. It does not allow for anything other than a talking shop. It allows for an advisory body only. Therefore, my question is this: if, at the end of the consultation process, there is an unequivocal response from those who are interested in these matters that there should be a general teaching council with powers, and the Bill has already
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