HC Deb 28 January 1997 vol 289 cc157-76

  1. '( )—(1) The Secretary of State shall establish a body to be known as the General Teaching Council for England and Wales.
  2. (2) A body established under this section shall have the functions of advising the Secretary of State as to the following—
    1. (a) rules and guidance as to the professional conduct and discipline of teachers:
    2. (b) the qualifications to be required of persons seeking to become or remain teachers:
    3. (c) the professional development and appraisal of teachers:
    4. (d) such matters, including matters relating to education or the employment of teachers or other persons connected with 158 education as the Council may consider relevant to the promotion of good teaching in England and Wales; and
    5. (e) any other matters the Secretary of State considers relevant.'.—[Mr. Kilfoyle.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Kilfoyle

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

In Committee, there was general agreement on the need to raise educational standards by improving the quality of work of individual classroom teachers. The Minister conceded that a general teaching council could make a contribution to raising the morale and status of the teaching profession. He raised a number of quibbles, which could easily be dealt with.

First, the Minister asked whether, given the widespread support for such a body, it needed to be set up by statute. The answer is clearly in the affirmative, for reasons that flow from the nature of the organisation and its necessary status and functions. If it is to police professional conduct and discipline, it must have universal coverage and the ability to apply sanctions. If it is to discharge its duty effectively, there can be no opportunity for the small number of teachers who may be subject to discipline to avoid it simply by opting out of the organisation.

There are already a number of professional associations that teachers can join on a voluntary basis. Although those bodies do much good work to promote better professional standards, they exist primarily to protect the interests of their members—long may that continue. It is significant that the teacher associations strongly support the establishment of a statutory general teaching council. They recognise that it would have to be a fundamentally different organisation.

There is already a voluntary GTC, which exists to promote the creation of a statutory general teaching council. It is widely supported by organisations representing teachers, their employers and the wider community. They recognise that their objectives cannot be achieved by an expansion of voluntary activity.

In Committee, the Minister asked whether the general teaching council would require public subsidy. The answer is emphatically no. That would be not only unnecessary but undesirable. Independent funding would help to guarantee the independence of the body.

There are approximately 500,000 teachers in Britain. If they were all required to pay a registration fee of just a few pounds a year, the GTC would quickly achieve an adequate budget for its relatively modest costs. The universal requirement for teachers to register would simultaneously keep the fee low and ensure that the organisation remained independent of Government, without resorting to mass voluntary membership. It could thereby be both professionally independent and rigorous on standards. That is another reason why it would require a statutory basis. Teachers have made it clear that they would willingly subscribe the small registration fee necessary for the benefits that would accrue—as they do in Scotland.

In Committee, the Minister asked how the general teaching council would relate to the Teacher Training Agency. A general teaching council would encroach on the territory of the Teacher Training Agency, but its role would be complementary rather than one of substitution. The Teacher Training Agency is charged with spending public money on the recruitment, initial training and continuing professional development of teachers—a vital function. Since its inception, it has quite properly conducted wide consultation.

The general teaching council emphatically would not be a creature of Government and would not be concerned with spending decisions, but it would be an extremely useful source of consultation and would provide a mechanism for the dissemination of ideas and good practice throughout the teaching profession. It would also have sufficient breadth and legitimacy through its broad representation to gain respect for its work in upholding professional standards that a small appointed body, however well managed, would be hard pressed to emulate.

Finally, in Committee the Minister said that the general teaching council was an idea that had found its time, and he acknowledged that it had merit. However, he was worried about certain difficulties that he felt needed to be resolved before the matter could progress.

There may be matters of detail to be resolved, but new clause 10 deals only with the broad principle, which the Minister accepts. It will be for the Secretary of State—hope, a Labour Secretary of State—to determine its implementation. There are no serious obstacles. The proposal has greater support and fewer intrinsic problems than almost any of the educational innovations that the Government have forced through in recent years.

Why is the Minister so easily discouraged by such trivial difficulties? The truth is that he is not, and nor is the Secretary of State. According to a splash exclusive by Mr. Chris McLaughlin and Ms Alison Brace in The Mail on Sunday, a once-removed organ of the Conservative party, the centrepiece of education policy for the Conservative Government, if they were fortunate enough to win the next election, would be—surprise, surprise—a general teaching council. There has been a metamorphosis in attitudes if that is the true direction of Conservative party policy, because in 1993 the Government voted against the establishment of a general teaching council. We welcomed the Minister's semi-Pauline conversion in Committee towards the principle of a general teaching council.

The hon. Member for Crosby (Sir M. Thornton), Chairman of the Select Committee on Education and Employment, is also very much involved, and I believe that he will attempt to catch your eye later, Madam Speaker, to put a specific perspective on the notion of a GTC.

We make a very simple offer to the Government. If there is only a smidgen of truth in the story that was published as an exclusive in The Mail on Sunday—if, as I believe he does, the Chairman of the Select Committee represents the consensus that exists in the House on this vital issue for the further professionalisation of teaching—there is a very simple solution. That is for the Government to accept today the new clause, which we tabled in Committee and withdrew.

Whatever objections needed to be accommodated or changes made, we would be willing to meet in a cross-party consensus, which I believe exists among most Members of the House on the need for a general teaching council. We would meet the Government on that, and we would support those necessary, perhaps technical, amendments when the Bill went to another place. There will be no problem if there is agreement on principle.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)

I am seeking to follow the hon. Gentleman's arguments closely. Will he enlighten the House as to whether, at present, the teaching profession is the only liberal profession—if I may call it that—that has no professional council of this type, and, if that is the case, what does he believe is the historical reason for that?

Mr. Kilfoyle

I believe that it is the case, but I cannot be 100 per cent. sure—I am not an expert on other professional organisations. My experience as an ex-teacher is that, for a very long time, there has been a claim in the profession for such an organisation to represent teachers as a profession. The hon. Gentleman will know that, in 1918, a teachers registration council was set up, which fell by the wayside mainly because it was a voluntary organisation, which one had to subscribe to. It was not the type of organisation that we envisage today.

Regardless of history, if the Minister was right—I believe he was—in Committee when he said that this was an idea whose time had come, I believe that there may be cross-party agreement that could ensure that the measure was passed smoothly, with great expedition. I dare say that views are held on both sides of the House suggesting that that might not be as easily accomplished as I might like to hope, but at least we could establish the principle.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham)

I have listened carefully to what my hon. Friend has said, and I accept that the reason why we do not have a GTC now is that the Government have continuously opposed it, at least since I entered the House in 1987.

I fully support a GTC, but I have a specific question to ask. Subsection (2)(a) of new clause 10 mentions rules and guidance as to the professional conduct and discipline of teachers". Will my hon. Friend enlighten us about that? I would not want a general teaching council to become the watchdog of the teaching profession, and be obliged to take disciplinary action against its own members. If that were the intention of the new clause, I should be very worried.

Mr. Kilfoyle

There is absolutely no intention to subvert the legitimate rights of individual teachers to seek the support, for example, of their professional associations—quite the reverse. One of the objects of establishing a GTC is to ensure that professionalism is maintained. There may be ambiguities or uncertainties in the new clause. Our offer to proceed on the basis of a cross-party consensus is made on the understanding that we can then establish where there may be loopholes in the clause as it stands. We ask the Government to accept adjustments to the clause in another place.

Sir Malcolm Thornton (Crosby)

I think that everyone in the House will be familiar with my support for a general teaching council, support that predates my entry to this place, and has remained consistent ever since. In the report of the Select Committee on Education and Employment in 1990 there were references to past recommendations for a GTC. The Committee referred to a century of aspiration followed by a generation of disappointed initiatives. That shows that the idea of a GTC is by no means new. Indeed, the idea has been around for 100 years. As I wrote in an article that appeared in The House Magazine, I believe that the council's time has come. It is important to reflect on why that is so.

Why has it not been possible to establish a GTC? One reason was insufficient unanimity among those who wished to form a GTC. That very dissension among those whom a GTC should have united was one of the early stumbling blocks. To a great extent, that dissension no longer exists, but it is present to some extent.

The House will know that I have exercised my right in the ballot of private Members to introduce a Bill that would, if enacted, lead to the introduction of a general teaching council. I have in my hand the Bill as published. The Bill would move us far away from the broad principles that are set out in the new clause. However, as I have made abundantly clear to right hon. and hon. Members, including Ministers, to the supporting forum, and to those who have agreed to sponsor the Bill—two sponsors are in the Chamber—the measure represents an attempt to establish a principle. We do not intend to push it towards enactment within this Parliament. There are good reasons for saying that.

It is perhaps important to reflect upon those things that have changed. A unique blend of people involved in education support the principle of a GTC. They are members of the supporting forum. Thirty-two organisations believe in the principle and recognise the value that the establishment of a GTC would have for the teaching profession. Over the years, every opinion poll has shown that teachers feel strongly about a perceived lack of esteem for the profession. Many of us who work in education feel that teachers deserve esteem, and that it is long overdue. That is the underpinning of my support for a GTC.

There is a unique alliance. As I wrote in an article with which right hon. and hon. Members will be familiar, it answers completely the Government's requirement of 1991 that a GTC should be one that emanates from, rather than is imposed on, the teaching profession. This emanates from the teaching profession, teacher associations, higher and further education and all who are involved in education in any way. All their shoulders are behind the wheel.

Mr. Forman

My hon. Friend's words of wisdom are well worth heeding. He mentioned higher and further education. Does that imply that, in his mind, if such a council were to exist in future, it would include teachers in higher and further education, or would it be confined to teachers in schools?

4 pm

Sir Malcolm Thornton

My hon. Friend raises an important point. At this stage, there should not be over-prescription. The problem that my hon. Friend seeks to address is an outstanding issue and has still not been decided by the forum. It is the will of the people who work in those two important sectors to be part of the overall concept of a general teaching council. The council's remit would reflect the wider aspects of teaching and learning, and the way in which the whole teaching profession presents itself. Those matters still need to be discussed.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Since I qualified as a teacher, I have supported the principle of a teaching council and the concept of teaching as a profession dedicated to the community and to the future of our society. In that respect, teachers are public servants. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a difficulty may arise if local authorities—in the old sense—disappeared and were not the employers and inspectors, and therefore not the administrators of local standards, with responsibility for the local public? Should not that matter be taken into account when considering the pros and cons of such bodies?

Sir Malcolm Thornton

Clearly, everyone who is involved in the oversight of education and is quite properly concerned about standards must have a say and a stake. That is very important. I do not believe that the role of a general teaching council and whatever role is envisaged for local education authorities are necessarily mutually exclusive: they should be complementary.

It is also important to say clearly at this stage what a general teaching council is not and should not be. It is not some sort of super-union. It would not have any responsibility for negotiating pay and conditions, which would remain firmly in the hands of individual teaching unions, and would be the ultimate responsibility of the pay review body. The council is about setting standards, and ensuring that those who are called to what I believe is an honourable profession are represented at national level.

The aim of my private Member's Bill was merely to establish the principle. I fear that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) is pushing us a little too far. The forum—the people who have pursued this matter for many years—is not yet ready to determine the way in which a general teaching council would operate. The Bill—which I described as a full set of measures—is an attempt to deal with certain issues in considerable detail, and those issues could properly be considered by a future general teaching council. When I and some of my hon. Friends who support the Bill met representatives of the forum, it was forcefully brought to our attention that some matters are still to be considered.

We should say clearly that it is the will of the House to establish a general teaching council. The hon. Member for Walton made that clear, and I welcome the fact that such a consensus has emerged. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister for an assurance that the Government are prepared to consider granting the statutory status that I believe to be essential if the council is to command the support that it needs to command.

Mr. Kilfoyle

Will the hon. Gentleman enlighten us a little further? What immediate difficulties and obstacles does he consider to lie in the path of the establishment of an effective and efficient general teaching council which could not be dealt with, given the support, help and encouragement of the Government of the day? Can such problems be addressed only in the fulness of time, or are there ways in which they could be speedily circumvented?

Sir Malcolm Thornton

I understand what the hon. Gentleman is trying to ask, but in all honesty I cannot give him a specific answer, because the details were raised only peripherally with my colleagues and me during our discussions.

The first essential underpinning of the council, however—in this connection, I note what my hon. Friend the Minister said in Committee—must be unanimity, and agreement between it and existing professional organisations. That would provide an upward thrust which I believe the House of Commons, and indeed the other place, would find it difficult, if not impossible, to resist, and should not in any event wish to resist.

It is, I think, accepted that a general teaching council will not be established overnight. It will probably take the council at least three years to evolve, and to find requisite and acceptable methods for the election or appointment of teachers, who will have a major part to play as members of the body. Other questions are still outstanding, such as what other members there should be and how they should be elected.

Mr. Steinberg

I thank my hon. Friend—for I have been working along with him for so long that I now regard him as such. He has spoken of all-party consensus. Does he envisage a leading role and a majority say for the teaching profession on the governing body of the council?

Sir Malcolm Thornton

If it is indeed to be a general teaching council, I do not see how it could function in any other way. I am grateful to my hon. Friend—if I may call him that, as a fellow member of the Select Committee—for his opening comments. For many years, the Select Committee has demonstrated the way in which it is possible to unite behind a principle whose benefits can be envisaged.

The hon. Member for Walton drew attention to elements of the new clause relating to discipline. Those are matters of detail, but of important, significant detail.

I hope that the debate will generate the realisation—and a message to that effect, which the House can send those outside—that the time has come to establish a general teaching council, and that the will for it to be given a fair wind exists in all parties. Members of the forum, who have worked tirelessly, and with belief in what they are doing, for many years should understand that hon. Members on both sides of the House are saying, "Get on with it; present detailed proposals. Then we can enter into serious negotiation." I believe that that can happen.

I want specific legislation, early in the new Parliament, to give effect to these proposals, and to provide the teaching profession with the representation and, above all, the esteem that it needs and deserves.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

I am absolutely delighted to follow the hon. Member for Crosby (Sir M. Thornton), whose involvement in the issue and whose concern for it is well known by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I agree with the vast majority of what he says, but I come to a different conclusion.

There is considerable support among hon. Members on both sides of the House for raising standards in our education system. There is a genuine acceptance that we can do that only if we have highly dedicated, highly skilled and appropriately qualified teachers who are enthusiastic about their work. Unfortunately, many teachers are bowed down by the constantly changing demands that are made of them, the increased pressure, the lack of resources to support them in their work, and the poor state of the buildings in which many of them have to operate. As a result of those pressures, sadly, many teachers—about four out of five—are leaving the profession before retirement age.

As we know, the Government's response to that has been to introduce overhasty changes to the teachers' pension arrangement. Some such changes might be needed, but it is equally important that the Government should have considered why so many teachers are leaving the profession, and should have begun to try to deal with those concerns.

If we are to improve the status of teachers, so that not so many leave and so that we can re-enthuse the profession, we need to ensure not only that they are given the tools to do the job and opportunities for high-quality service or continuing professional development, but, perhaps above all, that we truly raise the profession's status, so that teaching can again be considered a highly valued profession. Perhaps the best way of doing that is to ensure that the profession has its own professional body: a general teaching council.

Like the hon. Member for Crosby, I do not believe that the new clause goes far enough to establish the sort of general teaching council that I want. Like the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg), I want to make it clear that the council will be led by the profession. I want to go further than I suspect the hon. Gentleman wants to go, and ensure that the council will control entry into the profession and be responsible for removing people from it if they do not meet high standards, but the new clause does not deal with any of those matters. It sets up a body that is purely consultative, but its final paragraph contains the option—the opportunity—to build on such a body.

The hon. Member for Crosby said that the time for a general teaching council had come. I agree and we need to take action now to show the teaching profession that we truly value it. It would be appropriate to establish the general teaching council in the limited form proposed in the new clause and later, through subsequent legislation, to add measures that I know many hon. Members would like to introduce. Therefore, I urge the hon. Member for Crosby and his hon. Friends to consider whether it would be sensible to make a start today and to accept the new clause.

4.15 pm
Mr. Forman

I have listened carefully to the speeches made so far and have sought to clear my mind a little on some of the ideas that have been put forward.

I am prepared to accept that my hon. Friend the Minister of State might argue that the Bill is neither the place nor the best legislative vehicle through which to introduce such a measure. None the less, not having had the benefit of attending debates in Committee, I think that it would help the House and those who follow these debates if my hon. Friend could find a brief way of summarising the Government's reservations about the proposal. I, for one, think that, in principle, it is a good idea. It is probably long overdue from the professionals' point of view. Above all, such an initiative could remoralise rather than demoralise the teaching profession, which is urgently necessary for reasons that will be familiar to the House.

The first intervention made by the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) was, if I may say so, not of the best. If one is to have a valid general teaching council that does all the things that a real profession would expect of such a body, it is absolutely essential that it should have real influence and power in the spheres of disciplinary action, professional standards and the rest. He has simply to draw a parallel with, say, the General Medical Council, the Bar Council or the Law Society to see the force of that argument. The teaching profession is every bit as important as the medical and legal professions and should have in its realm a professional council that is as prestigious and useful to its status as the other bodies to which I referred.

Mr. Steinberg

I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument, but what worries me is that such a body would become the profession's disciplinary watchdog. I personally would not want it to go down that line. I believe that present mechanisms adequately cater for bad teachers, and there are disciplinary measures in schools and local authorities. I would not want a specific watchdog to be set up as the be all and end all of discipline in our education system. That would be going down the wrong path.

Mr. Forman

As I am sure the hon. Gentleman will have noticed, the essence of most professions is that they make themselves freely and willingly responsible for standards, discipline and status in their professional sphere. It would therefore be a little odd if the teaching profession, which is a noble and long-standing one, were a large exception to that general rule.

One point that arises from my intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Sir M. Thornton) is that, if the body were brought into being, its remit should be confined to those who teach in schools. There is something very distinctive about school teaching that merits the uplift and extra esteem that the device could introduce. I should be a little wary about extending it into the sphere of further or higher education.

Bearing in mind what hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, I entirely agree that, for such a body to be a success, it is important that it commands in advance, as my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby said, virtually universal agreement and support among those who would fall under its remit. I am gratified to learn that, through the auspices of the forum to which my hon. Friend referred, that is the direction in which things are moving.

Such institutional measures, which are after all intended to last for decades, if not centuries, are best if they can be removed from any temptation to engage in party political squabble. The model of the Dealing committee—in which we are approaching some of the thorny issues of further and higher education under the auspices of the great, good and wise Sir Ron Dealing—should be borne in mind when debating such a measure, which for reasons that still elude me, has not been brought to fruition over all the years since it was first mooted.

I look forward to my hon. Friend the Minister's speech. I say to him and the House that it is about time that we got on with this rather good idea, even if we can make progress only in principle.

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)

In considering new clause 10, I should like only to express—in a non-carping manner—my surprise and disappointment that it provides for a general teaching council for a unit known as "England and Wales". One persistent irritation of being Welsh is that one consistently finds that political decisions about one's country are made within that type of framework and with the use of the phrase "England and Wales". There is such a thing as "Scotland", and there is such a thing as "Northern Ireland", but then there is something called "England and Wales". It reminds one a bit of "Sam'n Eric" in "Lord of the Flies"—except that that phrase denoted two equal individuals making one whole, whereas I do not believe that anyone regards "England and Wales" as a union of two equals.

Plaid Cymru and I favour a significantly distinct approach in many aspects of education policy in Wales, and specifically in mechanisms to maintain and raise standards. We sincerely believe that, over the past decade and more, many of the Government's reforms have been largely irrelevant to Wales. Although some of the reforms have been damaging, many of them, at best, have been merely irrelevant. That is why we are in favour of a radically different approach. We propose a parliament for Wales, which would have the power to design radically different proposals.

New clause 10 has been tabled by Labour Front Benchers—one of whom is the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), who supports Labour's policy of establishing an assembly in Wales. A consistent claim has been that, although it would not have primary legislative powers, such an assembly would enable the development of distinct policies for Wales. I have received assurances from Labour Front Benchers that their Welsh Assembly would be able to pursue significantly different policies in Wales. It therefore seems very strange that we are now considering a general teaching council—a very significant body—for "England and Wales", and not for Wales and for England.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

In the hon. Gentleman's discussions with the Labour party, has it pledged any money to those "significantly different" organisations?

Mr. Dafis

No, we have not got round to discussing pounds, shillings and pence—or pounds and pence, or whatever we have these days. However, I have been given the impression that Labour envisages that its assembly in Wales will have power to do something significantly different.

We do not have to think about the future when we discuss such organisations, because there are already many separate and distinct institutions in Wales, some of which were created by the Conservative Government. Although the Welsh Joint Education Committee was established just after the second world war, the Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales was created by the Government, and all praise to them for that. Wales also has its own inspectorate, which works within the Welsh Office, and the Welsh Language Board has responsibilities for education in Wales.

By establishing those bodies, the Conservatives have recognised the distinctive Welsh education tradition. It is ironic that the tradition has not been recognised by those who tabled new clause 10—who belong to a party that wishes to enhance further the Welsh dimension by establishing a democratically elected body in Wales.

My comments are not intended to criticise Labour Front Benchers, but are intended to gain an assurance that after the Bill sinks without trace—as is likely at some stage in its passage—they will seriously examine the unquestionable need for a general teaching council for Wales. The fact that the new clause does not include that principle does not close the door on the possibility of creating such a council in future.

We know of the Labour party's intention to introduce a Bill on education as a priority after the election. I expect that Bill to be framed in such a way as to facilitate a distinctive Welsh approach to education. If that Bill makes provision for a general teaching council, it will be unacceptable for it to make no provision for a body for Wales.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Mr. Eric Forth)

This important debate has raised several points, not least of which is a paradox apparent in what has been said by almost all those who have spoken. Everyone has agreed that there is widespread support among teachers for the idea of a general teaching council. The word "unanimous" has been used several times. I am always slightly wary of that word, particularly when we are talking about nearly half a million people, but I am prepared to accept the belief of all those who have spoken—not least my hon. Friends the Members for Crosby (Sir M. Thornton) and for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman)—that there is widespread, nay overwhelming, support among teachers for some form of general teaching council. That appears to be a widespread view in the House today.

The argument continues—I have a little difficulty with this—that the creation by teachers of a general teaching council would raise the esteem in which they are held. Hon. Members have mentioned the General Medical Council and the Law Society. I am not sure whether the existence of the Law Society in itself means that we all respect solicitors. My own dear wife is a solicitor and an attorney at law, so she is pretty heavily legally qualified, but I do not know whether she would urge me to say that mere membership of the Law Society means that she is automatically held in esteem by everybody who meets her and deals with her.

Mr. Forman

My hon. Friend is in danger of misunderstanding the argument put to him by hon. Members on both sides. We have said that the measure might help. It would be a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition to raise the esteem of the teaching profession in the eyes of the public and would help to remoralise the teaching profession. That is an important point. My hon. Friend should not exaggerate his counter point. We were merely saying that the measure would be one contribution.

Mr. Forth

That is a helpful point, which I shall come to in a moment. What my hon. Friend said depends on further conditions being met. In any case, let us suppose that a council might make a contribution of the kind that is sought. As my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby pointed out, there are still other matters to be resolved.

That brings us to what the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) said. He started out bravely and at some pace, saying that of course it was obvious that we needed a statutory basis. He said that the reasons were— I made a note of the words that he used and I think that I am quoting him accurately—to "police the conduct of teachers" and to "apply sanctions".

That sits oddly with the fact that the new clause does not mention anything of the kind. It refers to a body advising the Secretary of State on matters similar to those that I have just mentioned. This is at the heart of the points raised several times by the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg). Would the body seek to usurp or replace the functions carried out variously by the Teacher Training Agency, the Department for Education and Employment and others, or would it only advise? We need to be clear on that before proceeding.

The argument of the hon. Member for Walton was inconsistent. He claimed to have resolved all the questions that I raised in Committee, but we have run into difficulty straight away. On the one hand, the new clause says that the proposed body would "advise" but, on the other, the hon. Gentleman says that the body needs a statutory basis so that it can "police the conduct of teachers" and "apply sanctions" where necessary.

On funding, the hon. Member for Walton was good enough to point out that he certainly had no intention of involving public subsidy. If I remember rightly, that is slightly at odds with the Bill presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby, which at least provided for public moneys to be made available—partly on an up-front and temporary basis, but I think that there was the possibility of on-going public funding.

The hon. Member for Walton said that there would be a universal registration fee to be paid by all teachers. If there is so much support and enthusiasm among teachers for the idea, I wonder whether that would be necessary. He also said that teachers would willingly subscribe, presumably a modest amount, to carry the enterprise forward.

People who have from time to time accused me of a certain cynicism will not be surprised if I say that, had there been so much enthusiasm for the proposed body, and for so long—as many hon. Members have claimed—is it not odd that, despite all their ingenuity and commitment, they have not been able to make their case more strongly up to now? Is it not at least possible that there is still sufficient disagreement on some of the fundamentals to have held back the enterprise thus far?

4.30 pm

That brings me to some of the more important remaining problems, which will allow me partly to answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington a moment ago. The matter of the composition of the proposed body has not yet been tackled; I think that it was touched on in the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby but not resolved, and we all understand why. Would the body comprise, as the hon. Member for City of Durham said, a majority of teachers? That question is probably fairly easily resolved: most would say that a general teaching council should almost certainly comprise a majority of teachers, but that brings us to the crucial issue of representation and, in turn, the method whereby the members would be appointed. Would they be appointed by election, appointment or invitation? What would be the relationship between this body and the teacher unions?

I know that some teacher unions have reservations about the composition of the body and its relationship with them. Were we to follow the model outlined by the hon. Member for Walton, that body would have the power to "police" and "apply sanctions", and would thus have a direct influence on the members of existing unions. Those are crucial issues, and I am not sure that they are capable of being resolved quickly or fully enough to allow us with confidence to accept the hon. Gentleman's proposal. My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby was typically much closer to the mark in his analysis. His Bill took a more cautious approach, because he recognised that many important questions had yet to be answered.

One way forward would be to accept a statutory trial and then fill in the gaps later, but that is probably a dangerous and undesirable approach. I was rather intrigued by the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby that we should adopt something like a Dealing approach: we would say to a group of respected people, "Here is an idea that has widespread support; let's see whether we can resolve some of the important problems, and get sufficient acknowledgment of where the body should be heading and what its role should be, and then see whether it requires a statutory basis." There may be considerable promise in that approach, and it is one to which we should pay some attention. The answer to whether we shall consider the matter further is yes. Given my hon. Friend's Bill and the support expressed in the House today, the proposal certainly merits further, urgent and serious study by those who have expressed interest in it.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) raised the question whether there should be one body for England and Wales or separate ones. That is a legitimate question, given—as he rightly said—that we have acknowledged many times and in many different ways the distinctiveness of Wales, not least in education. That is another question that deserves attention and consideration.

Although I believe that progress has been made, not least through the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby, which enabled us to focus much more on the issue than might have been the case in the past, I still have sufficient doubts about the desirability of new clause 10 to be unable to recommend it to the House. I hope that the House will not be persuaded that we should add the new clause to the Bill, with all the questions that we have identified left unanswered. That would be unwise. Were we to have a general teaching council, it would be a better one if we were to pause at this stage and make a serious attempt to answer some of the unanswered questions. We could then return to the subject with fuller answers.

Mr. Kilfoyle

I was taken by the contribution by the hon. Member for Crosby (Sir M. Thornton), who has a long and honourable tradition of support for the concept of a general teaching council. I know that he has genuine differences with us about the difficulties that we would face in trying to implement a general teaching council, but when he was asked about ways in which the obstacles that he foresees could be circumvented, he was unsure. I think that he said that he did not know and that that would be a matter for some deliberation. If I understood him correctly, he also said that it would take at least three years for the notion of the general teaching council to evolve into its correct role.

The hon. Member for Crosby made an important point about the need for unanimity among the different professional groups involved. With his long and illustrious involvement in education, he will recognise that one of the more quixotic elements of education policy making is the need to consider the many and various differences of opinion—many of which would be expressed about a proposed general teaching council. Sometimes one has to have a bit of vision to supersede the various legitimate rivalries within the profession. The hon. Gentleman also made the essential point, with which I am sure we all agree, that a general teaching council is a sine qua non for raising the morale and status of teachers. That point was reinforced by broad support from the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman), who also made a telling comment about the need to remove the issue from party political squabble. I shall return to that point.

I do not wish to touch on the political sensitivities of Wales, which were raised by the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis). Suffice it to say that it is as important to establish the principle of a general teaching council for people in Wales as it is for those in England.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

If a decision is made that it is in the best interests of the profession to have a general teaching council for Wales and England, surely Scotland and Northern Ireland deserve the same treatment.

Mr. Kilfoyle

I agree that if the principle is good, it should be universally applied; I understand that such a body currently exists in Scotland.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

For the sake of clarification, may I point out to the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) that the Labour party's policy document for Wales states that, in all probability, there would be a separation after the Welsh Assembly had been created, but in the meantime we wish to set down the principle of a general teaching council for England and Wales?

Mr. Kilfoyle

I am grateful for that constructive intervention and I shall not follow the Welsh issue further.

I shall move on to the comments made by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), who said that he and his party would ultimately go much further in defining the remit of a general teaching council—many hon. Members might agree with him. The important point is that the council should be allowed to reach the evolutionary stage to which the hon. Member for Crosby referred, and to develop professionally, with the full involvement of all its members.

I understand the concern expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) about the council's role vis-à-vis the professional responsibilities of individual teachers. The sometimes onerous responsibilities of the professional associations and trade unions must also have been at the back of his mind. That is why I repeat to the Minister that we would fully support any proposals from the Government that might cater for those issues. The new clause merely provides powers to the Secretary of State to set up a general teaching council as he or she may see fit.

The Minister spoke about the widespread support for the idea and asked whether it would raise the esteem in which the profession was held. I refer him again to the comments of the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington. The measure is one of a package that would go some way towards restoring the morale and esteem of teachers, which have been sorely dented in recent years by the depredations of the Government and their agents, who have set out deliberately to undermine the standing of teachers in the community. We feel that the new clause would be a small step towards restoring the balance.

The Minister asked why, if there was such enthusiasm for the idea in all sectors of education, the general teaching council had not yet taken off. He should know, because he was a virulent opponent of such a council. No succour has been offered to those who want to establish it—except by Opposition Members.

The Minister dons his conciliatory hat on the crucial question of the Dealing approach. He uses that as a smokescreen, simply because of the Government policy set out in the article to which I referred, in The Mail on Sunday. He looked bemused when I spoke about that policy; but the Secretary of State and Ministers are quoted in the article. Unless The Mail on Sunday completely fabricates quotations, the word has certainly gone out that the Government intend the council to be a plank in their education policy at the general election.

The Minister does not want to consider the new clause because the Government want to steal the credit for the idea at the general election, although they have a long history of opposing the establishment of a general teaching council.

Sir Malcolm Thornton

The heartening point that has emerged from the debate is that there is clear support for the principle of a general teaching council. There is some disagreement, as expressed by my hon. Friend the Minister, about whether it should be a statutory body. I believe, for powerful and long-standing reasons, that it should be. We have had a good debate, because there is clear agreement about what the teaching profession needs. The idea is driven by the support from below, but supported by the political umbrella above. That message should go out loud and clear from the House today, and I would not want—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. This is turning into a mini-speech.

Sir Malcolm Thornton

I shall be brief.

Madam Deputy Speaker

No, the hon. Member has finished.

Mr. Kilfoyle

I do not want to claim prescience about what the hon. Gentleman was about to say, but I assume that it was a cri de coeur for a bipartisan approach to the issue, asking that we should not vote on it today. I do not doubt his sincerity, which is recognised by all right hon. and hon. Members, but I also do not doubt the fact that there is a political issue at stake. We have a party in government that refuses to acknowledge that a general teaching council is of itself a good thing.

The Minister can make all the noises that he likes, but he has done no more than to express doubt about whether our proposal represents the most efficacious way of establishing a council. He said that a general teaching council had never been established, despite the overwhelming support throughout the teaching profession. We are offering the Minister and the Government the opportunity to test that support and to propose in the House of Lords whatever changes he and the Secretary of State consider appropriate. We are promising support for the Government, as long as we get the general teaching council on the statute book.

Mr. Dafis

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kilfoyle

No, I will not.

There is no turning back, and everyone involved should move forward with an idea that, to use the words of the hon. Member for Crosby, has met its time. We therefore intend to press the new clause to a vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 252, Noes 298.

Division No. 54] [4.45 pm
Adams, Mrs Irene Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Ainger, Nick Coffey, Ms Ann
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Cohen, Harry
Allen, Graham Connarty, Michael
Alton, David Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Corbett, Robin
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Corbyn, Jeremy
Ashton, Joseph Cousins, Jim
Austin-Walker, John Cox, Tom
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Cunliffe, Lawrence
Bames, Harry Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try SE)
Barron, Kevin Cunningham, Dr John
Battle, John Dafis, Cynog
Beith, A J Dalyell, Tam
Benn, Tony Darling, Alistair
Bennett, Andrew F Davidson, Ian
Benton, Joe Davies, Bryan (Oldham C)
Bermingham, Gerald Davies, Chris (Littleborough)
Berry, Roger Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)
Betts, Clive Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Blair, Tony Denham, John
Blunkett, David Dewar, Donald
Boateng, Paul Dixon, Don
Bradley, Keith Dobson, Frank
Bray, Dr Jeremy Donohoe, Brian H
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Eagle, Ms Angela
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Eastham, Ken
Burden, Richard Ennis, Jeff
Caborn, Richard Etherington, Bill
Callaghan, Jim Evans, John (St Helens N)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Fatchett, Derek
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Faulds, Andrew
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Campbell-Savours, D N Fisher, Mark
Canavan, Dennis Foster, Don (Bath)
Cann, Jamie Foulkes, George
Chidgey, David Fyfe, Mrs Maria
Chisholm, Malcolm Galbraith, Sam
Clapham, Michael Galloway, George
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Gapes, Mike
Clelland, David Garrett, John
George, Bruce Marek, Dr John
Gerard, Neil Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Gilbert, Dr John Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Godman, Dr Norman A Martin, Michael J (Springburn)
Golding, Mrs Llin Martlew, Eric
Gordon, Ms Mildred Maxton, John
Graham, Thomas Meacher, Michael
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Meale, Alan
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Michael, Alun
Grocott, Bruce Milburn, Alan
Gunnell, John Miller, Andrew
Hain, Peter Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Hall, Mike Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hanson, David Morgan, Rhodri
Hardy, Peter Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Harman, Ms Harriet Mowlam, Ms Marjorie
Harvey, Nick Mudie, George
Hattersley, Roy Mullin, Chris
Heppell, John Murphy, Paul
Hill, Keith (Steatham) Nicholson, Miss Emma (W Devon)
Hinchliffe, David Oakes, Gordon
Hodge, Ms Margaret O'Brien, Mike (N Walks)
Hoey, Kate O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld) Olner, Bill
Home Robertson, John O'Neill, Martin
Hood, Jimmy Orme, Stanley
Hoon, Geoffrey Pearson, Ian
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Pendry, Tom
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Pickthall, Colin
Howells, Dr Kim Pike, Peter L
Hoyle, Doug Pope, Greg
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Powell, Sir Raymond (Ogmore)
Hughes, Robert (Ab'd'n N) Prentice, Mrs B (Lewisham E)
Hutton, John Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Illsley, Eric Primarolo, Ms Dawn
Ingram, Adam Purchase, Ken
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampst'd) Quin, Ms Joyce
Jackson, Mrs Helen (Hillsborough) Radice, Giles
Jamieson, David Randall, Stuart
Janner, Greville Raynsford, Nick
Jones, Barry (Alyn & D'side) Reid, Dr John
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn) Rendel, David
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Jones, Dr L (B'ham Selly Oak) Rogers, Allan
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd SW) Rooney, Terry
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Jowell, Ms Tessa Rowlands, Ted
Kaufman, Gerald Ruddock, Ms Joan
Keen, Alan Sheerman, Barry
Kennedy, Charles (Ross C & S) Sheldon, Robert
Kennedy, Mrs Jane (Broadgreen) Shore, Peter
Khabra, Piara S Short, Clare
Kilfoyle, Peter Skinner, Dennis
Kirkwood, Archy Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Lestor, Miss Joan (Eccles) Smith, Chris (Islington S)
Lewis, Terry Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Liddell, Mrs Helen Snape, Peter
Litherland, Robert Soley, Clive
Lloyd, Tony (Stretf'd) Spearing, Nigel
Llwyd, Elfyn Squire, Ms R (Dunfermline W)
Loyden, Eddie Steel, Sir David
McAllion, John Steinberg, Gerry
McAvoy, Thomas Stevenson, George
McCartney, Ian (Makerf'ld) Stott, Roger
Macdonald, Calum Strang, Dr Gavin
McFall, John Straw, Jack
McKelvey, William Sutcliffe, Gerry
Mackinlay, Andrew Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
McLeish, Henry Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
McNamara, Kevin Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
MacShane, Denis Thurnham, Peter
McWilliam, John Timms, Stephen
Madden, Max Tipping, Paddy
Maddock, Mrs Diana Touhig, Don
Mahon, Mrs Alice Trickett, Jon
Mandelson, Peter Turner, Dennis
Tyler, Paul Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Vaz, Keith Winnick, David
Walker, Sir Harold Wise, Mrs Audrey
Walley, Ms Joan Worthington, Tony
Warden, Gareth (Gower) Wray, Jimmy
Wareing, Robert N Wright, Dr Tony
Watson, Mike
Wicks, Malcolm Tellers for the Ayes:
Wigley, Dafydd Mr. John Cummings and
Williams, Alan (Swansea W) Mr. Eric Clarke.
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Cran, James
Aitken, Jonathan Currie, Mrs Edwina
Alexander, Richard Curry, David
Alison, Michael (Selby) Davies, Quentin (Stamf'd)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Davis, David (Boothferry)
Amess, David Day, Stephen
Ancram, Michael Deva, Nirj Joseph
Arbuthnot, James Devlin, Tim
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Dicks, Terry
Ashby, David Dorrell, Stephen
Atkins, Robert Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Dover, Den
Baker, Kenneth (Mole V) Duncan, Alan
Baldry, Tony Duncan Smith, Iain
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Dunn, Bob
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Dykes, Hugh
Bates, Michael Elletson, Harold
Batiste, Spencer Emery, Sir Peter
Bellingham, Henry Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'ld)
Bendall, Vivian Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Beresford, Sir Paul Evans, Nigel (Ribble V)
Biffen, John Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Body, Sir Richard Evennett, David
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Faber, David
Booth, Hartley Fabricant, Michael
Boswell, Tim Fenner, Dame Peggy
Bottomley, Peter (Eitham) Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Forman, Nigel
Bowden, Sir Andrew Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Bowis, John Forth, Eric
Boyson, Sir Rhodes Fowler, Sir Norman
Brandreth, Gyles Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Brazier, Julian Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Bright, Sir Graham Freeman, Roger
Brooke, Peter French, Douglas
Brown, Michael (Brigg Cl'thorpes) Fry, Sir Peter
Browning, Mrs Angela Gale, Roger
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Gallie, Phil
Budgen, Nicholas Gardiner, Sir George
Burns, Simon Garel-Jones, Tristan
Burt, Alistair Gill, Christopher
Butcher, John Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Butler, Peter Goodlad, Alastair
Butterfill, John Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Linc'n) Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Carrington, Matthew Gorst, Sir John
Carttiss, Michael Grant, Sir Anthony (SW Cambs)
Cash, William Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Channon, Paul Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Chapman, Sir Sydney Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Churchill, Mr Gummer, John
Clappison, James Hague, William
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochf'd) Hamilton, Sir Archibald
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Hampson, Dr Keith
Coe, Sebastian Hannam, Sir John
Colvin, Michael Hargreaves, Andrew
Congdon, David Harris, David
Conway, Derek Haselhurst, Sir Alan
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F) Hawkins, Nick
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Hawksley, Warren
Cope, Sir John Hayes, Jerry
Cormack, Sir Patrick Heald, Oliver
Couchman, James Heath, Sir Edward
Heathcoat-Amory, David Page, Richard
Hendry, Charles Paice, James
Heseltine, Michael Patrick, Sir Irvine
Hicks, Sir Robert Patten, John
Higgins, Sir Terence Pattie, Sir Geoffrey
Hill, Sir James (Southampton Test) Pawsey, James
Hogg, Douglas (Grantham) Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Horam, John Pickles, Eric
Howell, David (Guildf'd) Porter, David
Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk) Portillo, Michael
Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W) Powell, William (Corby)
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Rathbone, Tim
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensb'ne) Redwood, John
Hunter, Andrew Renton, Tim
Hurd, Douglas Richards, Rod
Jack, Michael Riddick, Graham
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Robathan, Andrew
Jenkin, Bernard (Colchester N) Roberts, Sir Wyn
Jessel, Toby Robertson, Raymond S (Ab'd'n S)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Jones, Robert B (W Herts) Roe, Mrs Marion
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Rowe, Andrew
Key, Robert Rumbold, Dame Angela
King, Tom Ryder, Richard
Kirkhope, Timothy Sackville, Tom
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Sainsbury, Sir Timothy
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Scott, Sir Nicholas
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Shaw, David (Dover)
Knox, Sir David Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Kynoch, George Shephard, Mrs Gillian
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Shepherd, Sir Colin (Heref'd)
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Legg, Barry Sims, Sir Roger
Leigh, Edward Skeet, Sir Trevor
Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lester, Sir Jim (Broxtowe) Smith, Tim (Beaconsf'ld)
Lidington, David Soames, Nicholas
Lilley, Peter Speed, Sir Keith
Lloyd, Sir Peter (Fareham) Spencer, Sir Derek
Lord, Michael Spicer, Sir Jim (W Dorset)
Luff, Peter Spicer, Sir Michael (S Worcs)
Lyell, Sir Nicholas Spink, Dr Robert
MacGregor, John Spring, Richard
MacKay, Andrew Sproat, Iain
Maclean, David Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
McLoughlin, Patrick Stanley, Sir John
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Steen, Anthony
Madel, Sir David Stephen, Michael
Maitland, Lady Olga Stern, Michael
Major, John Stewart, Allan
Malone, Gerald Streeter, Gary
Mans, Keith Sumberg, David
Marland, Paul Sweeney, Walter
Marlow, Tony Sykes, John
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Mates, Michael Taylor, Sir Teddy
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Temple-Morris, Peter
Mayhew, Sir Patrick Thomason, Roy
Mellor, David Thompson, Sir Donald (Calder V)
Merchant, Piers Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Moate, Sir Roger Townsend, Sir Cyril (Bexl'yh'th)
Monro, Sir Hector Tracey, Richard
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Tredinnick, David
Moss, Malcolm Trend, Michael
Nelson, Anthony Trotter, Neville
Neubert, Sir Michael Twinn, Dr Ian
Newton, Tony Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Nicholls, Patrick Viggers, Peter
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Waldegrave, William
Norris, Steve Walden, George
Onslow, Sir Cranley Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Ottaway, Richard Waller, Gary
Ward, John Wilshire, David
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill) Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Waterson, Nigel Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesf'ld)
Watts, John Wolfson, Mark
Wheeler, Sir John Wood, Timothy
Whitney, Sir Raymond Yeo, Tim
Whittingdale, John Young, Sir George
Widdecombe, Miss Ann
Wiggin, Sir Jerry Tellers for the Noes:
Wilkinson, John Mr. Bowen Wells and
Willetts, David Mr. Roger Knapman.

Question accordingly negatived.

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