HC Deb 15 January 1997 vol 288 cc360-71

  1. '—(1) Where a person of not less than 14 years of age is convicted of an imprisonable offence, the court by or before which he is convicted may make an order that he shall be subject to corporal punishment.
  2. (2) The Secretary of State shall, by statutory instrument, subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament, make rules for the administration of the sentence of corporal punishment.'.—[Mr. Marlow.]
Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time. I tabled the new clause with the support, after a short trawl, of 29 of my hon. Friends. I am committed to the powers and sovereignties of the House and, in general, I do not believe that any international involvements or commitments should stand in the way of the House doing what it believes to be right for this country in this country.

It may seem to some bloodthirsty, even Neanderthal, to propose anything as mediaeval as the reintroduction of corporal punishment, but unfortunately—as everyone in the House must know—most of our citizens, especially the law abiding, the old, the poor and defenceless, are daily threatened by an escalating savagery and barbarism that is much more bloodthirsty and Neanderthal than corporal punishment while their tormentors, who so readily and callously destroy peace of mind and quality of life, have nothing to fear. As we all know, crime—particularly hooligan crime—is getting worse. As yet, no effective solution has been proposed, still less enacted.

That is fine for us in this place who, by and large, have a good standard of living. We are privileged, and we have a choice as to the area in which we live. We are cocooned in our relative prosperity. But for many of our constituents, life is hell. It is different out there. If hon. Members had to live in the intimidatory conditions imposed upon many of our constituents, we would be less precious, less squeamish and less elitist in our approach to the problem. As the problem has worsened, we have wrung our hands—but otherwise looked away.

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We have a duty that for too long we have neglected. We need to make an urgent impact, and to do that we must be imaginative. We must break away from the parrot cries—one of which we heard earlier from the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth)—about the need for better rates of detection. Of course we need better rates of detection, which will help. But we need effective deterrents—deterrents that truly deter. We need effective treatments—treatments that reform. By no stretch of the imagination are either of those available yet.

I recommend two approaches. First, for those who have gone off the rails for the first time, I recommend the judicious development of a system of outward bound training. Those who, perhaps, have had a bad start in life or who have taken a wrong turning can be sent on a course into the mountains to work with and take responsibility for others as part of a team. They can be challenged and, perhaps, they will succeed. If they satisfy the rigorous training conditions, they can pass out with an award of esteem. For many of our confused and alienated young, such a scheme could establish a basis of purpose and confidence in their lives on which they could build to become useful and satisfied citizens, rather than being sucked deeper into a vortex of a criminal sub-culture.

Those who are more hardened and contemptuous of society—and only them—I would threaten with the new clause. Corporal punishment should be made available to the courts in place of imprisonment, with a system of corporal punishment introduced later by statutory instrument. At whom would I target this punishment? Basically, anti-social youth—the mugger, the ram-raider, the vandal, the graffiti artist, the hooligan, those who seek to intimidate potential witnesses and the tin-pot Napoleons who seek the admiration of their peers by ever more outrageous behaviour.

Why should we apparently seek to turn back the pages of history? I believe that our first duty is to safeguard the quality of life of many of our citizens whose lives have been made miserable by these malcontents. I believe that no current deterrent or penalty is effective, and I do not believe that any Member of this House can honestly say that corporal punishment would not be a deterrent. I do not believe any historical analysis that suggests that corporal punishment fell into disuse when it was last available because nobody wanted to use it as it was not effective. However, circumstances at that time were different from those of today. At that time, we had a disciplined society—now we do not. Corporal punishment would have a great effect on criminal patterns of behaviour. Bullies are also cowards.

I do not envisage corporal punishment as a daily occurrence, and some judges and magistrates may be reluctant to impose it. In most of our cities the cane could be kept in the cupboard, but threats—along with reports of the circumstances of its occasional use—would be sufficient for it to work. Some hon. Members may feel that such a proposal is out of date—even barbaric. They have had more than a generation to prove their case and to suggest alternative remedies. They have manifestly failed.

Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen)

Does my hon. Friend agree that we are often told that there is no evidence to suggest that corporal punishment would work, and we are asked why we propose it? Does he further agree that there is no real evidence to suggest that corporal punishment would not work as a deterrent?

Mr. Marlow

Common sense, our experience of history and evidence from other countries in, for example, the middle east—although I am not suggesting that we follow the line taken in the middle east—suggest that such policies are a deterrent.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

Has the hon. Gentleman studied the effect of secure training orders on young people? The Government introduced those orders only recently. Is he saying that they have already failed?

Mr. Marlow

I am not saying that any particular course of action or proposal from the Government has failed, but everyone would agree that the levels of crime—particularly hooligan crime—and disruption on some of our poorer estates are much greater than those of the past. We have a continuing social problem and although some measures are doing some good, we have not solved the problem yet.

Without the reintroduction of corporal punishment, we will not satisfy the needs of our constituents—whatever pious hopes we have and however liberal we might feel. Something has to be done. The present system is not working and we do not have a solution yet. My final point is that a truth—an unpleasant truth, but a truth nevertheless—that has been proved by history is, sadly, that civilisation cannot be maintained without an element of barbarism to protect it.

Mr. Llwyd

I did not intend to contribute to the debate, as I have other—if I may say so—more important matters that I wish to discuss later. I have seldom disagreed so vehemently with any hon. Member.

Mrs. Peacock


Mr. Llwyd

I thank the hon. Lady for that—that was typical of her contributions in this House. I disagree root and branch with what the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) said. He ignored the fact that a large percentage of young people involved in crime are from traumatised backgrounds themselves. They have seen domestic violence—sometimes severe violence—at first hand. They have seen mother being kicked around and father being dragged out by a brother-in-law, and so on. The sanction that the hon. Gentleman now wants is for society to traumatise those young people yet again. He used the word "barbaric", but that is too soft a word for what he intends. I think that his is the authentic voice of darkness and regression in this House. This is nonsense in what is supposed to be a serious debate about penal policy.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

More and more in my postbag, I receive requests from quite mild constituents who wish the return of corporal punishment. These often come after pictures of the battered features of elderly ladies and gentlemen—or, not infrequently, stories about 70 or 80-year-old women who have been raped—appear on the front page of our local newspapers.

It has been said that corporal punishment does not work. Yet years ago, I practised as a barrister in the courts in the east end of London. On one occasion, we were discussing corporal punishment before the court commenced. The probation officer was vehemently against it, and said that his client that day had been caned on the Isle of Man but was back before the court once again. There then came a voice from the corner saying, "I wouldn't do it again on the Isle of Man". That is the point. Those who have had a dose of corporal punishment do not come back for a second one. It is not a glorious punishment about which they can boast to their colleagues.

I believe that corporal punishment would act as an enormous deterrent to muggers and those to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) referred—those to whom the dignity of life of others is of no importance. They humiliate people and steal their prized possessions, and they deserve corporal punishment.

Mr. Warren Hawksley (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

I support the new clause. I have argued for corporal punishment on many occasions and I am pleased to do so again. Last year, I introduced a ten-minute Bill that attracted more support than I had expected. I served on the Standing Committee on the Bill now under discussion, but I did not table an amendment. However, in 1984, I believe, on the Criminal Justice Bill, there was a whole day's debate on an amendment that I had tabled on the subject. It is an important subject, about which our constituents are concerned. They believe that corporal punishment would be a deterrent, and to my mind that is extremely important.

The Isle of Man has already been mentioned, and my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) asked in an intervention whether there was a case against corporal punishment. Before I tabled my amendment in 1984, I visited the Isle of Man to see what the position was. At that time, the law was still on the statute book there, but was not being used.

I was told by the chief constable on the island that when crowds came over from Liverpool and Manchester for football matches, people arriving in the harbour at Douglas would invariably ask his officers on the gates whether it was true that there was still corporal punishment on the island. When they were told that that was indeed the case, the response was, "Don't worry, Guy, we won't cause any trouble while we're here." Corporal punishment is a deterrent, and that was demonstrated on the Isle of Man. I strongly believe that we should reintroduce it here. The Opposition will no doubt suggest that it is degrading and that the European Court of Human Rights would say the same. When we talk of degradation, we should think of the victims, and how degrading it is for them.

There has been another change since 1984, because the Government have been questioning the powers of the European Court of Human Rights. When the renewal came up, serious doubts were expressed, whereas I remember that when I asked the then Prime Minister in 1980 whether she would withdraw our signature from the convention, she said no. I believe that the time is coming when the court will take so different a view from ours on what the law should be that we will withdraw from it.

On the categories of offenders on whom the courts should be able to impose such punishment, I believe that they should include youngsters who attack elderly people and mug them for only a few pounds. I believe that their treatment of those elderly people is a degrading act, and that corporal punishment would be of great advantage in such cases. When it was known that a court was prepared to order such punishment to be carried out, there would soon be a reduction in such crimes. Even if some benches were initially nervous of introducing it, other benches would quickly prove that it was working as a deterrent. It is with great pleasure that I support the new clause.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

It is no part of the case against the reintroduction of corporal punishment to deny that some young people are recalcitrant, that their crimes against those more vulnerable and weaker than themselves are horrible and that the state has found it difficult to determine a satisfactory system to punish them or to teach them the error of their ways, but the facts do not support the contention that corporal punishment can be brought back to fill that gap.

The experience of the use of corporal punishment in this country was not the glowing success that is implied by the supporters of the new clause. Corporal punishment has proved ineffective in the fight against crime: when it was available for robbery with violence, before its abolition in 1948, three separate Government surveys found that offenders who underwent it committed more subsequent crimes than similar offenders who received other sentences.

Mr. Marlow

The right hon. Gentleman is talking about a different age, with different circumstances, morality and expectations. If that is his argument against the reintroduction of corporal punishment, perhaps he would allow a trial period, to see whether it would work in today's circumstances.

Mr. Beith

I shall go on in a moment to put the case why we should not reintroduce it at all, but I think that I may be permitted to draw on the experience of Britain in the post-war years if others can draw on the experience of the Isle of Man to try to make their point. The comparison that we must make is with the time when corporal punishment existed here.

Before 1948, the number of robberies with violence had been rising steadily, yet it fell in each of the three years after abolition and did not rise again to the same levels until 10 years later. That suggests that corporal punishment was not a crucial or even useful factor in preventing those crimes.

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Many of the young people whom some Conservative Members would consider suitable for corporal punishment have already been the subject of severe physical punishment or attack in the course of their upbringing.

Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

Of course, the right hon. Gentleman is right about that, but the new clause would give the power only to the judge, who would have all the evidence at his fingertips. I have put my name to the new clause because I am happy to leave it to the judge to make what he feels to be the wisest judgment in a particular case.

Mr. Beith

The hon. Lady has a point. If the power were available to them, judges would be likely to use it very infrequently, because they would be persuaded by the arguments that I am advancing. I am arguing against the reintroduction of corporal punishment, as did the right hon. and learned Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), who said that it would be the reintroduction of a system that has been unfashionable since the days of Palmerston; he delivered a scathing attack on the idea that it could properly be reincorporated into our system. In the inconceivable event—given the Government's stated opposition—that the House reintroduced corporal punishment, it would be used very little by the courts.

Reintroduction would contravene our international obligations under the European convention on human rights, as was clear from the 1978 Tyrer case and from our experience in relation to the Isle of Man. Those who have begun to try to persuade the Government that we should withdraw from the convention should have regard to the fact that we subscribe to it not simply to set a standard against which to judge what happens here, but to assist the upholding of human rights in countries throughout Europe. To withdraw from the convention would be to withdraw our support for the upholding of human rights in all respects, and that would be an extremely bad step for Britain to take.

Reintroduction would also create problems in relation to the medical professions and the law. A medical practitioner would have to be present when corporal punishment was administered, which would contravene the World Medical Association's 1975 Tokyo declaration, which laid down that doctors should not participate in, or be present at, any procedure during which cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is used.

Mr. Hawksley

When I tabled my amendment in 1984, the British Medical Association issued a press statement saying that it would not support it, but I had letters from doctors throughout the country saying that they were prepared to carry out their responsibilities if the law approved.

Mr. Beith

I have said in another context that one can find some doctor somewhere to support any proposition. In a very different area of argument and policy, I have argued strongly against the idea that two doctors signing a form demonstrates that something is acceptable. That, however, is another subject.

The medical profession contains a wide variety of people, but there is a prevailing assumption in it, here and abroad, that the skills of medical science should not be used in support of degrading or cruel punishment.

The true burden of the case is that corporal punishment is not effective: its record would in no way justify the sacrifice of principle and international obligation that would be involved in reintroducing it.

Mr. Marlow

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Mr. Beith

No, I am coming to the end of my remarks, because I am looking forward to hearing the official Labour party view, which I take to be strong opposition, although these days one cannot be entirely sure; I do not know precisely what methods are considered appropriate to sweep the squeegee merchants and graffiti artists off the streets, but I hope that that will soon become abundantly clear.

Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

I should be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman, when commenting on the Labour party's policies, would refer to what Labour Members have said and not to the inaccurate phrases used in The Times. We are precise in what we say, and our opposition to this new clause is clear, so we do not need to make a meal of it.

Mr. Beith

I hope that that opposition will take the form of a short and concise speech setting out in terms that the Labour party will oppose the amendment. Labour Members must be trying to keep a low profile if we have to rely on a mere intervention in my speech, whereas the Government will not be able to keep a low profile. I look forward to a stalwart rebuttal of the case for the new clause from the Government.

Mr. John Townend (Bridlington)

I want to take up Opposition Members' point that corporal punishment is not a deterrent. In recent years, there has been an explosion in crime and vandalism by young people. We are seeing a decay as a result of the ending of caning in schools.

I can give an interesting example of a headmaster of one of the large comprehensive schools in my constituency, who is now retired and whose school I visited seven or eight years ago. He was well known for his left-wing views—he is certainly not a member of the Conservative party—yet he said to me, "John, you would be surprised that, when it comes to the cane, I agree with your views. I have never used the cane very much. I have used it sparingly, but I believe that I have saved five or six boys from a life of crime, because I caned them at a critical stage in their school career when they were turning into bullies and little thugs." That is very true.

Ten or 15 years ago, it would have been inconceivable that 12, 14 or 15-year-olds would be capable of stealing not one but five, 10 or 15 cars. I cannot help but believe that it would be far better for them, and far more effective, if they were given six strokes of the cane the first time they were caught, rather than being warned or freed to steal more cars and to put their lives and those of many others at risk.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

The hon. Gentleman referred to the explosion of crime in the past 10 or 15 years. Has it occurred to him that one of the hallmarks of the Thatcher-Major period is the creation of a selfish society, in which avarice is at the forefront? Among the consequences of the Government's policies in a range of areas are the growth in crime and the lowering of values.

Mr. Townend

That is a load of nonsense. Young children who steal cars do not do so to use them. I own a hotel, and I can tell hon. Members that such young people play Monopoly. They go up to the hotel at the top of the hill and steal a blue car, and they bring it down and dump it at the hotel at the bottom of the hill and steal a red car. They steal cars because they think that it is a great game. I am convinced that if they were given six of the best they would not do that.

What is the ultimate deterrent in schools now that we do not use the cane? It is exclusion from school. Youngsters are excluded and end up on the streets. Is that not an invitation for them to become involved in crime and to commit vandalism? There has been an enormous increase in crime. We cannot possibly have enough places for so many young people. In my constituency, a place for one of those youngsters costs an astronomical £57,000 a year.

We cannot ignore costs. One of the best arguments for bringing back corporal punishment for youngsters is that it is very cheap. If they are caned the first time that they do something and they do not do it again, we save a lot of money. If they do it again, we should perhaps consider other options.

I hope that the Government do not argue against the amendment on the ground that we are signatories to the European convention on human rights. We were one of the founders of the European Court of Human Rights. When we signed the convention, human rights meant no torture, no arrest without trial, a free press and free speech.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

My hon. Friend will be aware that the convention was never put to the House of Commons. It was signed by the Labour Prime Minister, but no discussion took place in the House—if it had, the document would have been a jolly sight more workmanlike.

Mr. Townend

My hon. Friend is right. If the founders had stuck to their original intentions, there would have been no problem, but, just like the European Union and every bureaucratic body, the court is always trying to extend its competence.

We face appalling problems of crime and juvenile crime. It cannot be right that, if elected Members of the House decide to bring back the cane and judicial corporal punishment, we should be prevented from doing so by a foreign court with foreign judges—except for one British judge—with a completely different history and from a completely different culture. It may be acceptable to the Italian people never to have corporal punishment, but I do not see why there must be conformity on this matter.

In my constituency, people are pig-sick of vandalism, thuggery, old people not daring to go out at night and cars being stolen and vandalised. If we do not do something about the problem in the next 10 years—I say this seriously—we will have what none of us want: an increase in vigilantes. I support the amendment.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean)

This has been a short but interesting debate. I listened carefully to my hon. Friends the Members for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow), for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman), for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Hawksley) and for Bridlington (Mr. Townend). My hon. Friends know from which direction I come on these matters, although I confess that my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) thinks that I am going slightly soft in my old age. He has accused me of being an unreconstructed wet, and has threatened to put me through the wringer to dry me out a bit. However, most of my hon. Friends do not take that view of my attitude to these matters.

I am not satisfied that corporal punishment would, in practice, be a useful punishment today, or that we should seek to provide for it in the Bill. It is now almost 40 years since corporal punishment was abolished as a sentence of the court. My hon. Friends argue that corporal punishment would be a deterrent. If it were to act as a deterrent, it would have to be used regularly, predictably and immediately. Frankly, I do not believe that that would be the case.

Mr. Townend

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Maclean

I shall give way in a moment.

Corporal punishment has a role to play for parents who administer sensible discipline to their children owing to the immediacy of the infliction of the punishment on the youngster who is doing wrong. Judicial flogging in the cool light of day after many months or, I suspect, years later after dozens of appeals—as in some of the cases in the United States—would not be an effective deterrent.

Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if we were able to use corporal punishment in schools—as we always did—it would not be necessary to have judicial corporal punishment, which he condemns?

Mr. Maclean

That is an entirely different area, into which I will not stray, because we have a lot of other business to conduct. No doubt, a philosophical debate on the merits of corporal punishment at all levels of society—in schools, by parents on their children or judicial flogging—would be an interesting occasion at some point, but I do not want to get into that at the moment.

Mr. Townend

My right hon. Friend said that if we reintroduced corporal punishment it would have to be used regularly to be a deterrent. Does he accept that it is a deterrent in the Isle of Man, although it is used only once or twice a year on average? It was also an effective deterrent in schools, although the headmaster to whom I referred used the cane only once a term.

Mr. Maclean

The climate was different when we last had corporal punishment. Many people would assert—although I may not be one of them—that judges in those days were more robust than some are these days and that they had harder attitudes to the punishment of criminals in the 1930s and 1940s. If, in that climate and with that sort of judge, corporal punishment was not used then, do my hon. Friends seriously think that if it was back on the statute book today judges would rush to use judicial flogging? I cannot imagine it happening. If judges in the 1940s did not use it, I am fairly certain, without impugning the integrity of any of today's great judges, that few would use it now.

There is another dimension, and this is not an excuse that I am hiding behind but a practical legal fact, as the infliction of judicial flogging would almost certainly be contrary to the UK's obligations under the European convention on human rights. If my hon. Friends want to debate the convention, they can table a suitable subject that may be selected by Madam Speaker for debate on the Adjournment or on some other occasion.

I will not now debate the merits or demerits of Britain's signing the convention. We are party to it and the British Government have no proposals to withdraw from it at the present moment. That means that we are bound by the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled in 1978 in the Tyrer case, which involved a birching on the Isle of Man, that such punishment was incompatible with article 3 of the convention. It found that the birching imposed on Tyrer constituted degrading punishment within the meaning of article 3 and emphasised that it considered corporal punishment to be "institutionalised violence", with the individual being treated as an object in the power of the authorities".

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Mrs. Peacock

I am listening carefully to my right hon. Friend, but what about the almost institutionalised violence that many elderly people suffer in their own homes? Rightly, they and their relatives believe that some pain should be inflicted on the young people who cause that damage.

Mr. Maclean

Such violence is deplorable, which is why we have increased the penalties for those who commit it. Clauses 1, 2 and 3 propose some of the most dramatic action taken since the war to deal with habitual, persistent and violent criminals. Clause 1 introduces automatic life sentences for the most violent criminals. Clause 2 proposes seven-year sentences for the evil people who peddle drugs. Clause 3 deals with persistent burglars who terrorise people by their activities. My hon. Friend supported those measures. The Opposition could not make up their mind, but one day I hope that they may vote for them. That is the action that we are taking. Such penalties, the increasing numbers in prison and our success in getting crime down over the past three years mean that the policies of imprisonment have worked. We will continue those policies.

Mr. Walter Sweeney (Vale of Glamorgan)

I am sure that Conservative Members warmly welcome tougher penalties for persistent offenders, whether they are violent offenders, burglars or sex offenders, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the short, sharp shock of corporal punishment might deter less-experienced offenders from carrying on with a life of crime, so that they would not reach the stage envisaged in the Bill's first three clauses?

Mr. Maclean

I have listened to what my hon. Friends have said on that matter. We could have an interesting, and long, philosophical debate on the deterrent value of corporal punishment, but that is irrelevant to today's debate. It is crystal clear that the reintroduction of corporal punishment would be contrary to article 3 of the European convention on human rights. There is no point in speculating on the merits of something that the House could not introduce while Britain is party to the convention. That is why we have concentrated on making the present range of punishments as effective as we can by strengthening the powers of the courts, increasing the sentences of imprisonment that can be imposed on the most violent offenders, increasing financial penalties and toughening community sentences with the rigorous new standards that we have introduced.

New clause 14 would reintroduce judicial punishment. I have given good, practical reasons why we cannot accept that, without entering into philosophical arguments about deterrence. That and the Isle of Man case are separate from the use of corporal punishment in schools or in the home. I do not want to be drawn into discussing those contentious issues because they are outside the scope of the debate. I emphasise that a parent correcting a child with a smack as an immediate response to misbehaviour is wholly different from a court, perhaps many months after the event, ordering a flogging.

As there is no prospect of corporal punishment being restored—even if it was, I see no prospect of judges ordering judicial flogging instead of any of the available penalties—we should not whistle in the wind for something that will not happen. We must make our range of penalties tough and punitive. The prospect of a long spell in prison is likely to be a highly effective deterrent. We can already see the success of our "Prison Works" policy, which will take out of circulation many of the persistent and dangerous criminals whom my hon. Friends abhor. I commend that course of action to them and, with the greatest respect, I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North that I cannot accept his new clause.

Mr. Michael

The Minister had a difficult row to hoe in responding to the debate, but he should not have misrepresented our position on the Bill. We have made it clear that we want consistency and progression of sentencing in our courts so that appropriate sentences are given, particularly to repeat offenders. We have explained the best methods to achieve that, especially in Monday's speech by the shadow Home Secretary.

New clause 14 is a diversion from the serious debates in which we have been seeking to make the Bill more effective and improve its consistency. We will return to some of those important issues when this new clause has been dealt with. The Minister rightly referred to it as whistling in the wind. We oppose it and will vote against it, if it is put to a vote.

Mr. Marlow

By leave of the House, I have the greatest respect for my right hon. Friend the Minister, particularly for the massive and good work that he is doing in his current job. Although his arguments might convince a minority in this House, beyond the Home Office insiders and professionals, he would not begin to have an audience outside it. He said that the prospect of prison is a deterrent, but it manifestly is not for the people for whom corporal punishment would be appropriate. Violence, hooliganism, vandalism, graffiti and the mugging of old ladies are going on apace and are increasing day by day. Prison is there as a deterrent, but it is not working and we need something else.

My right hon. Friend the Minister made several arguments. First, the European convention on human rights is not supported by and is not an acceptable argument to Conservative Members. It has to go. We have a Government in our own country and we have to decide in our own Parliament. We ran the affairs of a third of the world until 30 or 40 years ago. Surely we are allowed to govern ourselves now. Cannot we make our own decisions? We are a mature democracy.

Secondly, the Minister said that it would be months before sentences were carried out. That is not an argument against corporal punishment but against the judicial system. Vandals and hooligans should be in court on Tuesday and punished on Wednesday; if they do it again on Thursday, they should be back on Friday.

My right hon. Friend knows in his heart and in his bones that there is a massive problem out there. He is doing what he can, but the new clause is a weapon that we could use. If he is uncertain whether it will be successful, we could use it for a trial period and suck it and see.

My right hon. Friend has listened to the arguments and we have had a good debate. It is my intention—the large number of my colleagues in the House reveals that it is also their intention—to give the subject an airing. It is time that we started to fight back and moved to defend the people who are suffering. We are all right; we have a privileged life style, but many of our constituents are suffering and we are not doing enough to help them.

I see no purpose in pushing the new clause to a vote, but this is the beginning and its time will come.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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