Mr John Pugh (Education Spokesperson, Education & Skills; Southport, Liberal Democrat)
My hon. Friend has made an acute point. Later this week, we will debate the School Transport Bill, and the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale will have to come clean and admit that his policy would add appreciably to the cost of school transport, which would be required in order to get pupils to turnaround schools.
Finally, Liberal Democrat Members take a different view on accused teachers from that of the Government. The issue of anonymity has been a leading story on the BBC—I heard the Minister on the "Today" programme this morning, and I have seen the press release from the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale. The story is not new—the Minister and I discussed it at the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers conference almost 12 months ago, and the Minister has followed a fairly consistent line on it—but it is serious.
I was not convinced by the Minister's response on the radio this morning. He can correct me if I am wrong, but he seemed to say that malicious accusations could be dealt with by relying on press protocols and attempting to speed up the inquiry process rapidly to dispose of groundless complaints. I support press protocols and speeding up the inquiry process, which is a sensible reaction, but it is a fair objection that there has never been a press protocol that has not been breached on occasions. However fast the inquiry process goes, it is never as fast as the publication of tomorrow's newspaper, and one ill-directed headline can ruin a teacher's professional and personal life. Given that fact, there needs to be a substantive legal reason for opposing the suggestion, and it is not clear that there is one.