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Baroness Maddock: My Lords, I and my colleagues believe that this is a key amendment that has been much saluted by many professional teachers, unions and associations. As we have already heard in debate this afternoon, if the GTC is to be a professional body
Earl Baldwin of Bewdley: My Lords, I believe that that is a very fair point. That is a quite separate point from the amendment as drafted, and I do not believe that it is in any way fatal to the amendment. However, it may be worth considering that point at a later stage.
Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for raising this issue because it is based upon a principle that we have debated in extenso this afternoon. I believe that if the general teaching council is to fulfil its functions this particular authority should be vested in that council.
I wholly appreciate from earlier discussions that this will not commend itself to the Minister on the Front Bench. However, in answer to the point just raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, in all of the other statutory authorities concerned with the regulation of the professions there is a statutory right of appeal on points of law to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. At Second Reading I urged the Government to accept in principle that this council should be answerable not to the Secretary of State but to the Privy Council. That was not accepted. I wholly agree with the noble Lord that if this amendment or something like it is accepted there must be a statutory right of appeal on a point of law, if not on the issue of professional conduct or behaviour. Certainly in respect of the General Medical Council and other medical bodies the Privy Council, in its judicial committee, has invariably ruled that it is not qualified to comment upon professional matters but only on points of law.
If a similar amendment were accepted it should be qualified because the council should have the power to suspend or remove from the register, or attach conditions to the registration of, any person who, it decides after due inquiry, has fallen short of appropriate standards of conduct and professional practice. Those are important changes because the power to erase would be draconian. Other conditions should be inserted in any such amendment in order to qualify its power.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I agree that there must be a right of appeal. In the medical profession there is a right of appeal to the council. Other professions also have a right of appeal to the professional body. The spirit of the proposal is right, but it needs fining down. One needs the power of suspension and the discretion of the tribunal to impose conditions. I have appeared before the GMC on several occasions. It uses its discretion magnificently in order to enable it fairly to do justice on the facts of each case. I wholly support the concept and ask those who propose it whether they are prepared to take it back and redraft it in order to take on board a more suitable form.
The Lord Bishop of Ripon: My Lords, I, too, support the amendment in principle but wish to clarify one matter. The noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, said that any powers given to the GTC under the amendment would not affect the existing powers of the Secretary of State. Is that correct?
I understand that the role of the Secretary of State in such matters referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty--that is, child abuse--would not be affected by the amendment. As was said by the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, it relates to matters of professional conduct. It would also be the case that the role of the Secretary of State in relation to other employees of a school would not be affected. However, we are talking about a power, in addition to the existing role of the Secretary of State, which would not be affected by the amendment. I should be grateful for clarification that that is the case.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, we are covering ground which we went over in relation to amendments proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. The amendment would give the GTC power to remove a person from the register of teachers and therefore from the profession. The noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, indicated that he saw that coexisting to some extent with the Secretary of State's powers, particularly in relation to child protection. While I understand that that is the intention, I am not sure that the wording makes it clear and whether it subsumes any of the Secretary of State's existing powers in relation to professional standards or misconduct.
The amendment does not set out the circumstances which would enable the council to remove a teacher from the register. Nor does it show the process which would have to be taken in order for that to stand up. Points have been made in relation to an appeal. As regards professional standards and competence, my difficulty would not be with the objective of ensuring that incompetent teachers are removed. Clearly, we are all committed to that. However, at this stage we do not envisage the GTC having that role in dealing with individual cases.
At earlier stages we accepted that it may be appropriate to give the GTC a clear advisory role in relation to the circumstances in which teachers might be suspended or dismissed. On Monday, when we discussed Amendment No. 12 of the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, my noble friend Lady Blackstone undertook to reconsider bringing forward an amendment to achieve that. Earlier today, I undertook to look again at aspects raised in the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, as to whether we could strengthen the advisory role of the council in this area.
I repeat that although the noble Earl indicated that his intention is that the GTC will deal only with debarring or deregistration cases about professional standards, and that child protection would continue to be safeguarded by the Secretary of State, the amendment as worded does not make the distinction sufficiently clear.
Perhaps I may address the intention of the amendment. Coexistence in this way is an interesting suggestion. We are not confident that it can work in practice. Even if a clear distinction can be made between one kind of case and another, it is possible that it could run into the difficulty of fragmenting what is currently an effective and coherent system for dealing with cases of misconduct. We believe that it is right to maintain a single system which has been proved to work and which commands the confidence of both the public and the teaching profession.
We believe that we should see how the GTC discharges the advisory function envisaged in Clause 2(4), which is a significant innovation in its own right. For reasons spelt out earlier today, let us first see how that works and how it settles down and then consider the case for any further change. For the time being we consider that the Secretary of State should retain the ultimate responsibility for a single coherent barring regime to deal with misconduct by teachers and others who have contact with children. Despite what the noble Earl said, we believe that the amendment as drafted would lay us open to confusion, apart from the absence of detail on establishing fair processes for dealing with professional standards and debarring from the profession for that reason.
I hope that the noble Earl and those who support the intention of the amendment understand some of those arguments and that even those who wish to support the noble Earl's principle will recognise that the amendment does not achieve the objective they are seeking. Therefore, I hope that the noble Earl will be prepared to withdraw his amendment at this stage.
Earl Baldwin of Bewdley: My Lords, I am grateful to everyone who has taken part in the debate and for the contributions made. I listened very carefully to what was said by my noble friend Lord Walton and in particular by the Minister. I am not as anxious as he is about whether the wording would achieve what we set out to achieve. I believe that it would and that some of his objections are not valid in terms of deficiency.
I came to the amendment with every intention of pressing it because I thought that it had logic and very many things on its side. I have had to re-think, having heard one or two of the comments of my noble friend Lord Walton of Detchant and the two noble Lords who put legal points. My conclusion is that, dearly though I would like to press the amendment, it is more important to get it right. I have every intention of bringing it back at the next stage, but I shall certainly take into account what the Minister said and consult with others. I shall take my noble friend's views into account. The notion of suspension is worthwhile and important to include. Therefore, with every intention of bringing the amendment back at the next stage, at this point I beg leave to withdraw it.