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Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I welcome Amendment No. 2 and I am grateful to the Minister for taking on board the points enshrined in the amendment tabled in Committee by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and myself. The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, referred to raising the standards of the teaching profession and enhancing the standing of teachers. They are desirable objectives, but they cannot be achieved in a vacuum. I suggest that Amendment No. 2, which sets out the principal aims of the council, will set in context the enhancement of teachers' standing and will help to achieve the objective of improving the status of teachers. I strongly support the amendment.

Lord Butterfield: My Lords, perhaps I may make a small criticism of Amendment No. 2. I am anxious that when the teachers of this country read about the general teaching council they do not feel that it is lording things over them. I suggest that it might be more diplomatic to change the wording in subsection (b) of her amendment. The words,

imply that in some cases the professional conduct among teachers is in need of improvement. I should prefer wording such as, "to encourage the highest standards of professional conduct among teachers". That leaves out any question of judgment of the present position.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, perhaps I may draw on my experience of Scotland and give the benefit of that to the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock. If a general teaching council is to achieve all the objectives in her Amendment No. 12 it will need to have many committees and spend a great deal of time at a central point discussing them and deciding what to say. One of the problems for the general teaching council in Scotland is that members must be sure that it is worth paying their membership fees. They believe that if the council has executive powers and is taking actions which affect the issues it is worth doing so. They find no satisfaction in funding a talking shop. That applies also to teachers who must fill in for school teachers who are absent because they are members of the general teaching council. Therefore, from a local authority point of view, I doubt whether Amendment No. 12 is wise.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I, too, join the choir of praise for Amendment No. 2. It may therefore seem ungracious if I am then critical of what

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has been omitted. The Minister may remember that when we discussed the Bill on Second Reading I supported the Government's evolutionary approach. But when it emerged that their evolution was at a dinosaur-like pace and that we had to wait until the next Parliament I began to worry. When I discovered that evolution was blocked by the fact that the Bill cannot be altered except by primary legislation--and we know that there is little possibility of that in this Parliament--my worries became considerable.

I should have liked the Minister to include in Clause 2 powers to control the register on the grounds of professional conduct. I and my noble friends will support her amendment to that extent at subsequent stages of the Bill. However, I believe that the Government are making a great mistake and that teachers will be resentful of paying money to a general teaching council which will have no powers. It will become a source of discontent. I have spoken to my own union, the National Association of Head Teachers, and to two other unions and all of them share my opinion on the matter. Even at this late stage, I urge the Minister to discuss with her colleagues in the other place the possibility of at least giving the teachers some control over the register as regards standards of teaching and the quality of learning. Otherwise, I see great problems ahead.

My noble friend Lady Young will debate the issue later when we return to it, but it is important. The council will become not only a talking shop but a discontented talking shop. The teachers will not be pleased that the Government have created a council with such limited powers. Like everyone else, I welcome the support given to the disabled and to the whole intention of the Bill, but without powers it is a sorry business.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon: My Lords, I wish to make a point which I made in Committee but which has not been made on Report. I, too, welcome Amendments Nos. 2 and 3. I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, and to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, about the powers of the general teaching council. I particularly noted the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, about the words in Amendment No. 14:

    "The Council may of its own volition undertake activities".

That distinguishes it from the parallel clause for the General Teaching Council in Wales. Although many phrases are the same, there it is the Secretary of State who instructs the council to undertake work.

The point I wish to make is not unlike that made about teachers paying fees. I wonder who will consider it worth belonging to the general council. It is clear that if the general council is to be effective it must have people of the highest calibre, but they will only be attracted to it if they feel that it can undertake work of real significance. In my view, unless greater powers are given to the General Teaching Council in the Bill I am not clear that people of calibre will be willing to serve on it.

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6 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am sorry that Members of your Lordships' House have not been entirely in support of Amendment No. 2, although I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, who supported it, as did one or two others who have spoken in the debate. In my view the amendment clearly states the principal aim of the General Teaching Council, showing how it would represent professional standards and promote a positive image of teaching. Of course I accept how important that is in the current teacher supply situation. The council will play a vital role in improving standards of teaching and professional conduct and will raise the quality of learning.

I believe that the amendment fully reflects the principle behind the amendments tabled at Committee by the noble Baronesses, Lady Young and Lady Maddock, and the noble Lords, Lord Northbourne and Lord Tope. It was intended to do so. However, I am delighted that Amendment No. 3 is widely supported by noble Lords. It will ensure that needs of disabled people are taken into account by the GTC in the course of its work.

Perhaps I may deal straight away with the point made by the right reverend Prelate. He asked whether it would be likely that people of high calibre would come forward if the powers of the GTC were limited in the way that we suggest. I cannot judge what will happen in the future, but the Government believe and hope that after so many years of waiting for a GTC, something which the teaching profession has wanted for a long time, excellent people will come forward who are willing to serve and will do so.

I add that we have said all along that we wanted an evolutionary approach, as the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, said. The NUT which is the largest teachers' union takes that view. I received a letter recently from the General Secretary of the NUT which said:

    "The Union believes that the establishment of the GTC...should be by way of a small number of enabling clauses, followed by subsequent regulations...

    "As the largest teacher organisation, we believe that the creation of a body which is entirely new requires a 'step-by-step' approach which seeks to achieve consensus. Placing all the powers of a GTC in primary legislation could create division rather than consensus".

Although I do not always agree with everything that Doug McAvoy says on all matters, on this occasion he has set out in a clear and succinct form some important reasons for supporting the Government's approach.

The noble Lord, Lord Butterfield, criticised Amendment No. 2 on the grounds that it might be slightly insulting to teachers. I do not believe that. We can all improve our standards and I say that as someone who was a university teacher for a long time. Good teachers believe that it is always worth looking at how to do things better and how to improve.

Lord Butterfield: My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt--

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, that brings me to the question raised by the noble Baroness,

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Lady Maddock. Should we use the term "enhance" or "improve"? I do not see much difference between them, they seem to be similar and I am not strongly wedded to one or the other.

The noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, said that in a schoolmasterly way he would question whether we could say both "maintain" and "improve", and that in some way they are contradictory. I see his point, but the wording has been through the parliamentary draftsmen. They think it reasonable and not contradictory, and I hope that the noble Earl can accept that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, raised one or two questions about whether we would be jeopardising the independence of the GTC in the way in which we have worded our amendment. My noble friend Lord Peston suggested that that was not the case and I strongly agree. The Government wish to see a strong and independent GTC giving independent advice to the Secretary of State. It would defeat the object if that were not the case.

The noble Baroness and other Members of your Lordships' House raised the issue of whether what her amendment says in relation to individual appointments and dismissals cuts across employers. The noble Baroness said that there was no intention to do that. I can take the matter away and examine it, but my advice is that the way in which it is currently drafted means it could well be interpreted to cut across the role of employers.

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