HL Deb 04 June 1985 vol 464 cc686-91

5.10 p.m.

The Earl of Shannon rose to call attention to Industry Year 1986; and to move for Papers.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, in opening this debate I should like to say how grateful I am that so many and eminent noble Lords have signified their intention of participating. Most particularly I should like to welcome the contribution of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon, who will be addressing your Lordships for the first time. We await his participation with interest. I rise to draw your Lordships' attention to Industry Year 1986. Many of your Lordships may well ask, "Why is this necessary; and, anyway, what is it?" Perhaps a little introduction may be necessary.

We are the country which invented the Industrial Revolution and for at least a century we took great pride in our industrial achievements. We were proud of such men as Bessemer, Stephenson, Arkwright, Watt, Brunel and many others who made this industrial supremacy possible. They helped to make our country the manufacturing centre for most of the world. "Made in Britain" was the hallmark of everything that was good, solid, reliable and of advanced design and technology.

How sadly has this position deteriorated. Even at the Great Exhibition of 1851, when we thought that

Lord Gray of Contin

I am not suggesting that the noble and learned Lord was unconscious. I am suggesting that I took from his remarks that he agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, that it would be preferable to have included in the legislation that which I suggested. But if I misunderstood the noble and learned Lord, I unreservedly apologise to him.

I should like to say something about why we think that Clause 5 is necessary. In public sector schools in Scotland, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson, well knows, it has been the long-standing aim to work towards complete abolition of corporal punishment and, notwithstanding the proposed legislation, that aim remains. Most education authorities will have completed the process of abolition before enactment of the provisions and, at most, the legislation should apply to only some 8 to 10 per cent. My figure is 10 per cent.—but I accept the guidance of the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, and his 8 per cent.—of the Scottish pupils in the public sector.

We believe, however, that authorities should proceed to abolition on a voluntary basis and after consultation with all of the local interests involved. But until total abolition has been secured, it is necessary to make provision in respect of those pupils who will remain liable to receive corporal punishment. Further, the fact that an education authority has given a direction that corporal punishment should not be used in its schools does not in itself set aside a member of staff's common law right to administer such punishment.

Noble Lords will appreciate therefore that, for this important reason, it is necessary to introduce a provision that a member of staff's existing right to use reasonable and moderate corporal punishment cannot be justified, not only in circumstances where the pupil has been exempted through parental choice, but also where the education authority itself has abolished corporal punishment. The Bill is also necessary to ensure compliance with the judgment of the European Court so long as corporal punishment exists. This clause contains much the same provisions as are included in Clauses 1 to 4 which apply to England and Wales and which we have already discussed in detail.

There are a number of other differences in the Scottish provisions, although, as I have indicated, by and large the provisions reflect closely the intention for the rest of the country. One of those differences relates to the position of young persons; that is, pupils aged 16 and 17 years. It is the intention that where views on the use of corporal punishment are to be canvassed in the case of young persons, it will be the young persons themselves whose views are sought. This mirrors the position accorded to young persons in other aspects of Scottish educational legislation; for example, placing requests.

The Scottish provisions also reflect the different system of school government north of the border by recognising the position of education authorities as school managers and leaving to them decisions as to the introduction and maintenance of corporal punishment registers.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, referred also to his Amendments Nos. 73 and 77 and although they are related to another clause I shall briefly deal with them in answer to the points which he made. What we are talking about are amendments designed to change the commencement and extent provisions of the Bill so that it does not apply to Scotland, and to leave only Clauses 1 and 7 to be brought into force by a commencement order. This is, of course, unacceptable, as we have made clear on several occasions during the course of our consideration of the Bill. The legislation—

Lord Wilson of Langside

I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but it is not Clauses 1 and 7. I explained that there was a misprint and that Amendment No. 73 should read at the end "and insert (`and 2')", not "(`and 7')".

8.15 p.m.

Lord Gray of Contin

I accept what the noble and learned Lord said and I am sorry I did not note that at the time he spoke to the amendment. The position in Scotland is, of course, very much different from that in other parts of the United Kingdom. There has been substantial progress with regard to the policy of voluntary elimination, as I have described already; so much so that only a small percentage of pupils in Scotland will be affected by this legislation. But unless and until the process of voluntary abolition is completed, we must ensure that in those areas where pupils are still liable to receive corporal punishment there must be respect for the philosophical views of parents who are opposed to its use.

I hope that in view of that explanation the noble and learned Lord will feel that he does not wish to press his amendments, and, so far as Clause 5 is concerned, I trust that I have been able to persuade my noble friend Lady Elliot, the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, and his noble friends, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, who moved so succinctly that the clause be not part of the Bill, that it is right that it should be included. I am afraid I must insist that it remains part of the Bill.

Lord Wilson of Langside

I am most grateful to the Minister for his careful reply. He was good enough to say that my Motion had been presented succinctly, but apparently not sufficiently succinctly to enable him to understand what at the outset I was getting at. It is for your Lordships to say whether that was due to a lack of clarity on my part or to a bit of obtuseness on his. But one of the questions I was asking—and I am not satisfied with the answer which the noble Lord has given—was why the Government could not have applied themselves to the problem of continuing the elimination by voluntary means in the time which has been taken up with the preparation and presentation of this Bill. After all, it will be some time before the Bill is passed by this House, receives Royal Assent and is eventually brought into effect. One question I wish to ask is: why was the time not used to press on with the elimination by the voluntary process?

I shall not detain your Lordships' Committee tonight. I shall certainly come back to this point because I am not at all satisfied. I do not think that the Government have given an explanation. What I tried to suggest was the incompetence of the Government's handling. No reference was made to the fact that there was no consultation at all with the Educational Institute of Scotland. How extraordinary.

Lord Ross of Marnock

I intervene only to ask the noble and learned Lord a question. Is he surprised that there has been no contact with the Educational Institute of Scotland? The noble and learned Lord seems surprised.

Lord Wilson of Langside

I am not surprised by anything in the sphere in which we operate in the Palace of Westminster. I was very naïve when I first came here. I am still naïve, but not all that much. I beg leave to withdraw at this stage my opposition to Clause 5, but I shall certainly raise it again at the next stage of the Bill. I shall not move my two amendments.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 [Northern Ireland]:

On Question, Whether Clause 6 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Blease

I intervene very briefly in this Committee Stage of the Bill on a point of clarification. I have been sitting through the debate and am very conscious and very aware of the sympathetic understanding of the noble Baroness in connection with this very difficult, ponderous and complicated piece of legislation. I do not wish to burden her further with Northern Ireland affairs, but this question has been the subject of some discussion in Northern Ireland. Perhaps the noble Baroness can clarify one or two points.

The explanatory notes to the Bill refer to Northern Ireland. The Bill says: Clause 6 applies to Northern Ireland and provides that an Order in Council which is made under the Northern Ireland Act 1974 for purposes corresponding to those of the Bill is to be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament rather than to affirmative resolution procedure". Does that mean that if or when this Bill is given the Royal Assent, the corresponding legislation will then be provided in Northern Ireland by an Order in Council? Am I correct in assuming that the procedure arrangements under the Northern Ireland Act 1974 do not allow for amendments to such an Order in Council? If this is so, whatever the final provisions of this Bill, will they be incorporated in total in the text of a proposed Northern Ireland Order in Council and become the law of Northern Ireland? I do not know whether that confuses the matter or whether clarification is possible at this stage. I would welcome some clarification.

Baroness Cox

This clause provides simply that the Order in Council extending the provisions of the Bill to Northern Ireland be subject to the negative resolution. Regulations made under Clauses 3 and 5 will be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution in either House. But for Northern Ireland it is important that we follow the same course for the Order in Council and I trust that your Lordships will agree to the Motion on those grounds, that it is one of compatibility.

Lord Blease

That might certainly be understood by the legislators and perhaps by some Members of this Committee, but to the ordinary public and to a number of persons in education in Northern Ireland to whom I have spoken it is not clear what is proposed in the Order in Council or whether there will be further consultations in this respect.

Baroness Cox

I shall study very carefully the points which the noble Lord has raised and will be very happy to take advice and write to him.

Lord Blease

I am obliged.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 [Short title, commencement and extent]:

[Amendment No. 73 not moved.]

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 74 Page 10, line 3, leave out from ("force") to end of subsection (2) and insert ("not more than six months after the day on which the Act is passed.").

The noble Baroness said: With this amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 75. Amendment No. 75: Page 10, line 3, leave out from ("force") to end of subsection (2) and insert ("on 1st January 1986.").

These two amendments refer to the date on which the Bill will come into force. They provide a date for implementation earlier than the Secretary of State might otherwise decide. We understand that the Government intention is that the Bill should come into force in September 1986. This is four-and-a-half years after the European Court ruling in the case of Campbell and Cosans. It seems intolerable that parents should have to wait a further year after the passing of the Bill before they get the rights which are supposed to be guaranteed by the Convention.

Schools and LEAs have known of the Government's proposals since July 1983 and therefore have had ample time for preparation. A Government who so constantly say they are committed to law and order should take seriously meeting international treaty obligations without this sort of unjustified and quite unnecessary delay. I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Hayter)

Amendments Nos. 74 and 75 are alternatives.

Baroness Cox

This amendment seeks to bring the legislation into effect by January 1986, but it is the Government's view that that would give schools insufficient time to review their disciplinary arrangements and to canvass the views of parents and to reach decisions about the provisions for exemptions. It is perhaps important to remember that in the first, ear of operation schools wishing to use corporal punishment will need to establish their own ways of working and will also have to canvass the views of parents of all pupils likely to be on roll at the operative date. This is a much bigger exercise than the one which will be undertaken in subsequent years when the schools will need only to deal with each new intake.

When introducing legislation of this kind which can affect the disciplinary arrangements of so many schools it must be right to give the schools adequate warning and time for preparation. Those schools which have used corporal punishment and placed much reliance on it will need a transitional period to make the necessary adjustments. Therefore the Government believe that a more realistic timetable and one which we at present envisage would be to look towards 1st April 1986 as the first date on which schools could canvas parents and begin to set up registers, and then 1st September 1986 as the date for the full implementation of the scheme. That was the thinking behind the timetable.

Baroness David

As I said when I moved the amendment, schools and the LEAs have known of the Government's proposals since July 1983, and so they really have had plenty of time to think what they are going to do. I dare say that they should like to push the whole thought of the Bill out of their minds, as it is such a ridiculous Bill, and in that case they may not have made the preparations. However, I do not think that it is worth taking this matter any further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 75 to 77 not moved.]

Clause 8 agreed to.

Schedule agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.