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Baroness Warnock: My Lords, if this body is to be called a general teaching council yet does not have the responsibilities set out in the amendment, it will be rather a fraud on the public. When the idea of a general teaching council was first mooted--and it has been discussed again and again over a long period of time--it was always the intention of those who supported the idea that it should be roughly analogous (obviously there are differences) to the General Medical Council. It would be inconceivable for the General Medical Council to have the role that is seemingly to be allocated to the general teaching council under the Bill. It is a waste of time, energy and money to set up a body called a general teaching council if it does not have the power and responsibility to determine the standards and conduct of teachers, their medical fitness to teach and the other elements set out in the amendment. If those powers are not to be allocated, the Government ought seriously to consider changing the name of this body; teachers and the general public are being misled by its being so called, without its being allocated the relevant powers.
Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, I support the principles set out in this amendment, so eloquently proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. The noble Baroness referred to the General Medical Council and the principles that govern its performance and activities. But it is not merely a question of the General Medical Council. There are now a considerable number of statutory authorities concerned with the regulation of the professions. The noble Baroness referred to the Law Society, but there is in addition the General Dental Council; the United Kingdom Council for Nursing, Health Visiting and Midwifery; there are also now on the statute book laws governing the General Chiropractic Council and the General Osteopathic Council. Every one of those bodies has the authority to remove or suspend from the register individuals practising those professions who may have been guilty of professional misconduct or of inadequate performance.
Let us look, for example, at the General Medical Council. I had the privilege of being its president for a period of seven years after serving beforehand on several of its committees. One of those committees, the Preliminary Proceedings Committee, examines the question as to whether in effect there is a case to answer. If there is, then the doctor who may be accused of serious professional misconduct then comes before the Conduct Committee, which has a full judicial hearing with the advice of a legal assessor, a QC, before deciding whether or not, at the end of the day, to deal with that particular registered member of the medical profession by admonition, suspension or erasure from the register--suspension being for a finite period; or, for a doctor whose behaviour may under certain circumstances demand it, the council has the power to impose restrictions upon that individual's practice.
But, of course, if it is a question of medical fitness to practice, then the procedures through a health committee are more compassionate. There is no power to erase, because the individual requires treatment. Therefore, there is a power to suspend or to impose conditions. Similarly, if the doctor in question has demonstrated an inadequate professional performance, there is a power to require that individual to undergo remedial training before being enabled to return to practice. So the issue is a very complicated one. But the principle remains that each of those regulatory bodies, at the end of the day, has the authority to take action in relation to a professional who has by reason of professional performance, behaviour or ill-health not come up to an appropriate standard.
It is wrong in principle for a regulatory authority being established in this form as a general teaching council not to have the final authority over such action and to leave that by reference to the Secretary of State. Of course, this amendment makes clear that the council will be guided by advice from the Secretary of State. That is absolutely correct. But for the final authority to discipline or suspend, or to act in the case of a teacher whose health is putting students at risk, to be reserved powers of the Secretary of State, is quite wrong in principle. The general teaching council should, in the ultimate, have that authority.
I appreciate that the noble Baroness may suggest, as she did in Committee, that this matter could be introduced later into primary legislation. But the General Medical Council has at least five issues upon which it is seeking amendment to its primary legislation in the Medical Act; the General Dental Council has for four years been seeking amendments to the Dentists Act because there are issues that it wishes to have amended--and they are being told repeatedly by government that there is no chance of primary legislation being introduced. It is therefore now that the decisions need to be taken to give this general teaching council teeth and the authority to deal with the needs of the teaching profession--bearing in mind that there may be some who are concerned as to whether the elected members of the teaching profession will have the full authority and the right qualities to take such action. All the experience of the other regulatory authorities has been that, provided the committees of the council have an adequate balance of professional and lay members and of those representing a wide field of interests--about which we shall learn when the regulations are published--we have to give this council confidence. We have to express our confidence in its ability to act in the way the other professional regulatory authorities have. For that reason, I strongly support the principle underlying this amendment.
Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, I wish to give my support to the amendment, knowing full well how difficult Secretaries of State, government departments and civil servants find it to relinquish control over such fundamental issues. Nevertheless, it is well known among social scientists that the definition of a profession includes that it shall have control over its own registration, and indeed deregistration, of members. It is very much our wish on all sides of this House to enhance the professionalism of teachers and their standing, and their sense of themselves as a profession, which is recognised by the general public and by Her Majesty's Government. Therefore, on those grounds alone, I would urge that the general teaching council is permitted to have control over such matters.
It was some years ago, when I was involved in an OECD education project, that I learnt from our Scandinavian friends a very important truth--namely, if we learn to trust the teachers, then the teachers will in every sense fulfil the best of our expectations. This is a prime occasion when we should learn to trust the teachers.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I described at Second Reading the powers of the General Teaching Council for Scotland. I have since discussed with a number of practising teachers what they value most in the council's work on their behalf. Virtually always their view is that the most important thing they want to pay for in the General Teaching Council is the overseeing of the register.
In Scotland you cannot teach unless you are on the register, so it is very important to be registered. It is highly valued by teachers that the General Teaching Council decides who should be on the register and who has to come off the register, for whatever reason. It operates an extremely successful and firm appeal system for people who are taken off the register. It also decides who should go on to the register after a probationary period, on the recommendation of the school where the person teaches. That, too, is greatly valued.
Some of the other powers are reflected in my noble friend Lady Young's amendments. The noble Baroness is making proposals which, I think she will agree, follow the practices of the Scottish General Teaching Council.
I found in discussions with teachers that the council's advisory role is considered of less value. They feel that there are a number of bodies which advise the Government through which they could put their ideas forward, not least what they now call their unions--bodies which they used to call their professional associations. They can do it that way, and in many other ways. The noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, who is not here today, made the point that there are many people who can advise the Government.
At Committee stage the Minister made a series of quite complicated arguments as to why she did not feel that the time had come for this measure. She should think hard about this. It is not a party political point. The Government will probably set up a body which will be a huge disappointment to teachers and be counter-productive from the point of view of the Government and the department. Merely to advise what other people are doing is not very satisfactory.
I noted what my noble friend Lady Perry said about people who have a power often being reluctant to relinquish it. It may well be that the Minister's advisers quite enjoy their work--it is important--and they will be allowed to go on doing it. The Government have been in office since May; they should take a grip on this issue and consider whether they should alter the kind of council they are setting up. It cannot be exactly like the BMA at this stage--and, anyway, the need is somewhat different--although the information that has been provided is very useful.