Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: My Lords, I took no part in the earlier stages of the Bill because I was abroad. I extend a warm welcome to Amendment No. 3 which gives the GTC a duty to have regard to the requirements of disabled people, which brings it into line with the Teacher Training Agency and the HEFCs.

23 Feb 1998 : Column 445

It has been useful way of reminding large organisations what a major impact their decisions can have on individual students. It will be important in this case for the GTC, which will be responsible for the medical-fitness-to-teach regulations, which in the past have been responsible for barring many disabled people from becoming teachers.

I have a question for the Minister. The GTC in Scotland, which already exists, does not have a duty to have regard to the requirements of disabled people. Does the Minister have any plans now to remove that anomaly? As she mentioned Amendment No. 5 relating to the composition of the council and the desirability of including someone concerned with the teaching of persons with special educational needs, I extend it a warm welcome to save time at a later stage.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley: My Lords, I, too, welcome the amendment. The Minister has been as good as her word and brought it back. I think that it is thoroughly satisfactory. I have just one small point. It is no more than a schoolmasterly quibble, if you like. Perhaps I am reverting to type. I wonder whether one can "maintain" and "improve". Are they not in some sense mutually exclusive? Ought one perhaps to say "or improve as appropriate" or something like that? It may have got past the draftsman already, but it struck me that they were two rather different things, and you could not do them both at the same time. However, in principle, obviously, this is an amendment to be welcomed.

I would say the same about the amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, because I believe we need a good deal more--if you like--beefing up on the face of the Bill for this council from the moment that it starts. I am also in two minds about one or two things that appear in the amendment. I shall not go over that ground. I rather wish that the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, had been grouped with these amendments, so that we could have heard her arguments at the same time, and I could have heard those before deciding on this matter, because it covers a great deal of the same ground. Having said that, I certainly approve in principle much that has been put in the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Tope.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I join my noble friend Lady Maddock in offering a welcome to Amendments Nos. 2 and 3. So far as they go, they are significant improvements. I am glad to see that they are going to be in the Bill. I said "so far as they go", because I must say a word in support of Amendments Nos. 12 and 13 to which I have put my name.

One of the key advantages of those amendments is that they get us away from the straitjacket of the existing Clause 2, which is the one that restricts the GTC entirely to the job of giving advice to the Secretary of State. I have always said that legislators, like parents, must learn to let their offspring grow up. They must learn to let the legislative progeny evolve, grow and develop in their own way, rather than perpetually seeking to control them.

23 Feb 1998 : Column 446

Clause 2 treats the GTC like a toddler who is put in leading reins. I know that in dense traffic with a young child that occasionally may be necessary, but to keep them perpetually in leading reins as they grow older, seems to me to be unnecessary. It is likely to diminish the status of the GTC and its usefulness.

The key words in Amendment No. 14 are:

    "The Council may of its own volition".

The words, "of its own volition" cross a crucial watershed which the Minister's amendments have not approached.

I should like to say a few words in support of the particular points in Amendment No. 12. I must admit that I am a little surprised by the Minister's reading of subsection (4)(h) which provides:

    "grounds for suspending and dismissing teachers".

I cannot see anywhere in those words any intention to address individual cases. That was not in our minds. "Grounds" is a legislative rather than a judicial notion. It is general reasons why dismissal or suspension may be justified. The cases are different.

When the Minister talked of matters not on syllabuses or the curriculum, she reminded me a little of a former professor in the university of London--part of what is still known 30 and four years later as the ancien regime--who once said in the History Board of Studies:

    "This proposal originates with the teachers of the subject which I regard as a most improper matter".

I do not share that attitude. It is a little out of date. I was sorry to hear it from the Minister.

I was sorry, though not surprised, to hear what the Minister had to say about funding. That is a ministerial litany. If Ministers in the DfEE, or whatever name it may from time to time be known, have one signature tune it is not "Never on a Sunday", it is "Never on funding". I have been moving similar amendments to education Bills since 1988. They have been turned down every time, but I think that the results show that I was quite right to move them, and I wish that they had been accepted.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Peston: My Lords, the amendments put forward by my noble friend the Minister improve the Bill considerably. I think that they enhance the Bill. I particularly like the expression:

    "in the interests of the public".

I hope that noble Lords have noticed that that is what is said there. That is enormously useful. The distinction between the aims and functions is needed, as was pointed out, and my noble friend has dealt with that. Of course there is no disagreement between any of us on the amendment dealing with discrimination. That was obviously needed. It is a pleasure to see it there.

I agree, although I do not think that it is fundamental, with the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock. I prefer the word "enhance" to the word "improve", but, to use her other word, is a bit pedantic. I would have chosen "enhance" but I do not think that we need to die in the last ditch between the words "enhance" and "improve".

23 Feb 1998 : Column 447

On the remainder, I disagree with the noble Baroness. I stand second to none in my desire to see a considerable increase in funding of education. I think that my record in proposing that, which I have not forgotten now that I am on this side of the House, is not a minor one. I strongly support the need to improve the funding of the education service, but, until I saw Amendment No. 12, it had not occurred to me that that would be a major role for the GTC. When it comes into existence, it will probably find it irresistible to make the odd comment on funding, because all bodies do, but it would not have occurred to me to write that into the Bill.

I also find paragraph (k) confusing. It does not identify the curricula, syllabuses, examinations and testing. My inclination would be to exclude them from the Bill because I do not believe that Clause 2 is constricting. In that respect I disagree with the noble Earl, Lord Russell. On the contrary, I believe that at this stage it gives the general teaching council a massive role.

As we debated in Committee, this is the first stage in the development of the general teaching council. To use the noble Earl's analogy, it is the toddler in reins which many of us wish to see striding ahead on its own. There was some disagreement between us on how powerful the body should be. As my noble friend the Minister knows, I would have gone further, although I believe that the Government's position is within the bounds of reasonable discourse in not going further. If there were ever a matter on which one should agree to disagree this is it.

I share the anxiety of the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, that one does not want to see the general teaching council as an arm of government or in the pocket of the Secretary of State. It is worth getting that on the record. However, it will depend to a considerable extent on who is appointed as chairman, chief executive and members of the council. My noble friend is introducing an amendment relating to the number of teachers who will be members. However, my limited experience shows that the idea that any such person will end up in the pocket of the Secretary of State is unfounded. As soon as the body gets going, led by the chairman, it will start making trouble for the Secretary of State because that is exactly what such bodies do. Perhaps I should not have said that because he might change his mind about whether he wishes to go ahead with the proposal.

However, the reason for the body's existence is to do exactly what is proposed and I believe that it will. For that reason, I believe that Clause 14 is less important than the noble Baroness, said. The body is intended to enhance the professional development of teachers. I am convinced that it will do so. That is one of the most important paths towards improving the recruiting problem. The present trouble is that teaching does not look like the kind of attractive profession that a would-be professional wants to enter. I strongly believe that, even at this early stage, the general teaching council will be capable of returning us to the view that teaching is a noble profession of which one can be proud. However, that does not solve the problem expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I have

23 Feb 1998 : Column 448

seen teachers working in the most adverse physical and psychological circumstances, trying to explain to a group of oversized boys the pleasures of "Romeo and Juliet". The role of the council is to give enhancement to the profession.

I believe that my noble friend's amendment improves the Bill. We have our points on the record, which is helpful, but I am not persuaded that we need to go further at this stage. My noble friend has spoken of the next Parliament and new legislation, and I am convinced that we might have to do more in due course. However, I believe that we can tread a little carefully at this stage.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page